Categories
Kinda funny

4 Ways The Confirmation Bias Can Screw You Over

When I asked some of my friends if they’d like to read a blogpost about confirmation bias, quite a few of them said they hadn’t heard of the term.

 

So let me start with a very quick definition: Confirmation bias is when you look for evidences to match your conclusion, rather than coming to conclusions given some evidence. Or, in other words:

It is when we have a strong belief, and we keep looking for evidence to support it, and disregard all evidence against it.

 

I have been working in the data science team of Zendrive since January. Often at work, I see my seniors reminding themselves to derive conclusions based on data, and data only. Now, as emotive, irrational human beings, it is impossible to escape this bias. What I’ll try to do is point out some of the areas where we let confirmation bias cloud our judgement. Once you get the drift, you’ll find yourself leading a smarter life.

 

In your love life:

Initially, you were convinced that your girlfriend is amazing!

You used to see her being popular among her friends, and why wouldn’t she be? She is full of life, and knows how to have fun.

Girlfriend jealousy confirmation bias

But these days, you believe that your girlfriend is not in love with you anymore. You see her hanging out with other random guys, and having fun with them.

It’s essentially the same “evidence”: that your girlfriend has many friends she hangs out with. Just that your conclusion has changed, and you’re trying to match evidence that supports your conclusion. Some people call it “perception”, I call it “confirmation bias”.

 

In your academic life:

While preparing for exams, we often come across assumptions. “Topic XYZ came in the morning paper, so it won’t come in the afternoon paper.” “There was a question from this poem in last year’s ISC, so this year it won’t come.”

Poor folks like me who took our ISC in 2014 knew how badly these assumptions failed us. We had what we called “repeat questions” in our board exam. I remember seeing those dreaded questions when we got the paper, and exchanging pitiful glances with my classmates.

Indian student confirmation bias

What had happened was, every time a question did not get repeated, we focussed on that so much, we pretty much forgot all those times when a question did get repeated.

Best not to let confirmation bias screw up your boards.

 

In the vote you cast:

We all know that one Bhakt who just cannot find a fault with Modi. Or that one Libtard/Sickular who thinks that Modi is destroying the country with every step (read: flight) he takes.

But there again lies the problem.

I’ll admit, it is difficult to lead a country as diverse as India without pissing some group or the other with every move you take. But if you, as a citizen, see nothing wrong, or everything wrong, maybe you’re suffering from confirmation bias?

Indian politician - confirmation bias

The cool part is, politicians themselves know how confirmation bias works. So every time Modi fails to deliver on a promise, Congress will say, “Look, again he fails to keep his promise. Feku!” But when Modi actually meets a target, he himself will jump up to the stage, “Mitron, I have done the impossible yet again.” By saying “again”, both the parties try to remind the audience that a pattern exists, and this evidence fits into that pattern.

 

In your… err… Spiritual Life

Does your family have a “guru”? Do you check the horoscope? Do you believe in telepathy? Do you believe in having strong premonitions? Do you think some people can “see” the future?

I know there are people who are thoroughly convinced that these are legitimate. They will roll their eyes and say, “Science will reject what it cannot quantify”. Maybe they are right, who knows. But confirmation bias does explain these a bit.

For example, you may think you have a telepathic connection with your best friend. You are convinced, whenever you think of him, he texts you. Here’s what’s likely to be happening: He’s your best friend, so you’re likely to think of him often, and he’s also likely to text you a lot. So you have significant evidence to fit the pattern. But have you considered all the times when he texted you, but you weren’t thinking of him? Or of all the times you were thinking about him, and the fucker didn’t text?

Indian astrologer confirmation bias

Similarly, when your astrologer says your day will go bad, you will only look out for bad things that happens that day. You’ll probably forget about a compliment you received from that cute friend, and focus on that Uber driver who cancelled on you.

And if you try to justify your arrogance by saying “Oh but I am a Scorpio”, then you are probably not the brightest kid in the class.

 

Categories
Insight

Waste Your Food, and Dump Your Boyfriend

People who follow me on Instagram already know about this incident, but in case you happen to have a life, here is what happened. Last December, my friend Ritam and I had planned to go watch a movie together. Justice League had just released, so I asked Ritam to buy the tickets. But when I went over to his place to leave for the theatre together, he looked at me and started smiling nervously.

“Surya, I think I have bought the wrong tickets.”

“Did you book some other movie?”

“No…”

“Then??”

“Surya… we got tickets to the Hindi dubbed version.”

 

 

Before we begin, remember two words: Sunk cost. Repeat this a couple of times in your head before you start reading this.

Sunk cost.

Sunk cost.

Are you a little weirded out by the title? So was I.

 

But a month back, I came across the concept of sunk cost. The concept is simple:

 

Sunk cost refers to the cost that we have already incurred and cannot recover. Therefore, that should not affect our decisions.

 

For example, there was no way we could recover the price we paid for the Justice League (Hindi) tickets. But now we had two choices: either watch the movie (money spent + time wasted), or do something better with that time (just money spent + probably time enjoyed). Thus, as rational beings, we should have avoided going to the theater. But as sentimental human beings, we thought “Oh no, we have already spent Rs 350 on the tickets. Now we must go.”

We like to think of ourselves as rational beings. However, often, we fall prey to our sentiments. This is simply because we like to avoid losses. “If we do not go to watch Justice League (Hindi),” we told ourselves, “We make a loss of Rs 350.” So we decided, let us also spend around Rs 50 extra on transport, to go waste 2 hours of our lives. What a win.

Ritam and Surya at the movie hall
“Kya tumhara khoon behta hai?” said Superman to Batman, Justice League (Hindi).

 

You can apply the concept of sunk cost to many things in life.

 

You are afraid of dropping out of college. Why? Because you have already studied for two years. So you decide to waste another 2 years to finish college.

If you do not want to study electronics, then the 2 years you spent in learning signal processing is a sunk cost. Drop out, now.

 

You are afraid of breaking up with your partner. Why? Because you have invested too much of yourself into the relationship. There are so many photos of that trip you guys took to Mandarmoni/Goa/Pondicherry.

If you do not see a future with your partner, all those moments you’ve shared is a sunk cost. Break up, now.

dates are a sunk cost, sketch by Kasturi Thakare

But these are difficult decisions, and have consequences. We aren’t often brave enough to face them. So, I’ll tell you about an easy life decision you should incorporate in your life.

 

How often has this happened: You are sitting at your dinner table. You are full, and just cannot eat anymore. Your dad notices there’s still some food left on your plate. “Shurjo, eat your food. There are so many kids who do not get to eat.” You are still not sure how your eating the food will help the hungry kids out, but you’re afraid to ask. Dad continues, “Do you know how expensive this food is?”

Father and son eating

This makes sense to you, and you start stuffing yourself.  You eat far more than you needed to. Always a bad idea. This means you either have to spend extra hours at the gym, or gain weight and be unhealthy in general. I’m not even mentioning the medicines you have to take because you feel nauseous.The food on your table is sunk cost. It cannot be recovered. If you’re full, here are some things you could do:

The stupid thing to do is to continue eating.

The rational thing to do is to waste food.

It does not matter if it is your mother, or your grandparent, or that annoying relative who’s convinced that putting a lot of food on your plate will make her a superstar. Think about sunk cost, and politely say you cannot eat anymore.

 


 

If you still feel bad about having to waste food, convert the sunk cost into something useful. Consider the NGO Feeding India. They re-distribute excess food from corporates, restaurants, weddings, and so on, to people in need. They are present in more than 20 cities in India. So the next time you throw a party and you see a lot of food that will go to waste, do the right thing. Call 9871178810 and let the underprivileged have a share of your treat. 

Please share this blogpost, and make your parents read this? Might just make someone’s day 🙂

Categories
Kinda funny

The Art and Science of the Arts

I am a quizzer. Which means, often I must research about things I do not like. Coming second on my ‘hate-list’ is Art.

 

But before we begin, sit back and relax. Let me take you back some 15 years. My mom, just like your mom, thought I had a lot of talent in me. So my mom, just like your mom, put me in drawing class (to harness my talent of course).

 

It did not turn out well. At the end of the first two years of training, I could only draw ghosts. Basically, I tried to draw human figures. But every time I finished a masterpiece, I could only justify them as anthropomorphic ghosts. There were folks in my drawing class regularly getting awards! And there was I, sitting in the corner, erasing my fourth attempt to draw a Sun that was as at least as round as an American football.

 

Middle school happened. Drawings became more… representative. One of my favorite things to draw as a middle schooler was the water cycle diagram. It was after all the first 3D looking thing I had drawn:

 

The highlight in high school was to draw the cell body of course. It wasn’t so easy. After you made all the internal ‘things’, you had to put lots of dots in the free space to show “ribosomes”.

Cell structure
Cell structure

It was a complicated affair. Put too many dots, and the diagram looked clumsy. Put too few, and there were just not enough ribosomes!

 

Higher secondary was colorless. There were no colours in my textbooks, my notebooks, or my life for that matter.

Somehow, the Science book publishers collectively decided that pink and blue are amazing colours to make the subjects even more interesting.

Everything became a block diagram. An artist was lost.

 

 

Art made its revival in college. Since I had started quizzing in college, it was often common that I’d find myself in a quiz, staring at a question on Art and having no clue whatsoever. Whatever art question came my way, I used to just flip a coin between Van Gogh and Pablo Picasso.

 

But one day, I said to myself “Enough is enough”. For the next few days, I researched on art and artists throughout the ages. I discovered:

Van Gogh sold just one painting in his lifetime
Van Gogh sold just one painting in his lifetime: “Red vineyards”

 

Edvard Munch, who painted this, is pronounced 'moonkh' and not what you first thought
Edvard Munch, who painted this, is pronounced ‘ moonkh ‘ and not what you first thought

 

This Matisse art work hung upside down for quite a while before someone noticed
This Matisse art work hung upside down for quite a while before someone noticed

 

The field of art is very fascinating. No two critics will ever agree on anything, and there is no parameter for a good painting. But this uncertainty is what makes art so strange, so unlike anything else. It is difficult to rate artwork using a computer algorithm.

Think about it: A real Mona Lisa, and a fake Mona Lisa will have the same aesthetic value to the computer’s eye.

Then you add variables, such as the fact that the real one was painted years ago. But if that’s what we are going by, will something I sketch today be worth millions years from now?

 

When Mamata Banerjee creates a painting, it sells for CRORES!
When Mamata Banerjee creates a painting, it sells for CRORES!
Father and kid
Meanwhile, my friend Baidehi refused to accept anything for sketching this for my last blogpost!

 

So what are we really paying for, when we buy a painting? Do we pay for its aesthetic value? Do we pay for the story behind it? Or, do we simply pay for the signature?*

 

All said and done, I do not see AI taking over art just yet. So if you’re worried about the damn robots stealing your jobs, your best bet is to try and become the Chief Minister of West Bengal. And then sell some paintings.

 


 

*PS: I researched quite a bit on how pieces of art are priced: why one ugly painting sells for a lot more than that beautiful sketch you saw on the roadside. I will write about it in my next newsletter, in January. To get it, click here. Sorry for doing this, but nobody is subscribing 🙁

Categories
Insight

Get out of Kolkata, now!

 

Ever since I set foot in my twelfth grade in school, Dad made one thing clear: “You are not staying in Kolkata. Go to college anywhere but not in this state.” I do not know why he said this.

Maybe being hostel-educated, he thought I should learn to be independent.

Maybe knowing how easily I get involved, he wanted me to stay away from student politics.

Or maybe seeing how little I used to study, he figured I’ll never crack Jadavpur University. In any case, he did not let me appear for West Bengal JEE. When I look back today, I think that’s one of the best decisions Dad took for me.

 

Now I’ll be honest with you.

I just completed my third year. I am neither old nor mature enough to tell your dad what to do. But I am writing this blogpost to tell you how beautiful life outside your comfort zone is (and this is coming from someone who does not like to travel).

I study in an engineering college. My classmates come from different parts of our country, ranging from places as irrelevant to India as Kashmir, to places as significant as Chhattisgarh. I’ve also come across people from foreign places like Germany, Oman, Ghana, even The North-Eastern States of India. I’ll tell you how much it has helped me out.

Most of my friends who study in Kolkata have classmates either from Bengal, or from Bihar. With just two communities in the fray, the result is obvious. There is a mutual sense of distrust, and violent clashes are common. I’ve had friends in reputed engineering colleges in Kolkata who got beaten up in college despite being distant from politics.

When you get out of the city however, you come across far too many communities. That is when the real learning starts. When you find people from different states brought up in different ways, you do not start to antagonize them just because they aren’t like you. You learn how to get along. The way I talk to Delhiites is very different from the way I talk to Tamils.

This ability to mould yourself is something you’ll never learn in a classroom in Kolkata. Not only will you become less racist, you’ll also find your professional life easier. Just ask my Bengal-educated brother, who got into a sticky spot when he spoke a little too frankly about boozing in a workshop in Chennai. Fortunately, it was just a workshop. What if it had been a business meeting!

I could go on talking about how professional opportunities are substantially better outside Kolkata, but you already know it. So does your father.

 

I understand that a lot of fathers do not want to let their daughters (and even sons) go out of town. They think that it might be unsafe for them out there. Which makes complete sense if they are raising their daughters to just get a degree and a husband, and be a child-making machine for ever after.

 

But in the off chance that they are not, here are some of my friends who have been lucky to have amazing fathers. Fathers who trusted their daughters, and loved them enough to not hold them back.

Here are Medha, Urvi, Sohini, and Roshni.

 

Medha Dey

Medha just graduated from Mount Carmel College, Bangalore, triple majoring in psychology-english-journalism. Having spent 3 years away from home, she says, “I finally feel like an adult, capable of taking my own decisions. Like people don’t think I am a little kid anymore, so automatically they start taking me more seriously.”

 

 

 

 

Urvi Khaitan

Meet Urvi. She was a topper since she was born, and studying History in St Stephen’s College, Delhi, changed none of that. What changed however, was her outlook. She learnt to question everything, and challenge her own assumptions. Being at the heart of the country, she learnt first-hand what drives people in power, and that it’s never enough to sit at home and share Facebook posts, hoping for real change to happen.

You’ll know Urvi is from Shashi Tharoor’s college when she tells you, “Delhi drags you in, pummels you a bit, and forces you to learn to set yourself back on your two feet. For one, it’s a lesson in grounding. I had to confront my own privilege. The sense of entitlement I grew up with at home had no place here.”

 

 

 

 

Sohini Mallick

This is Sohini. An avid quizzer from LMG who terrorized half the quizzers in Kolkata, studying in Vellore Institute of Technology gave her newer grounds to conquer. Her hobby took her to quite a few cities, while supplementing her pocket money. “Had I stayed at home, I would have probably never realized how tough the competition really is out there,” she sighs.

She does not like Vellore much, since there’s very little to do in the city, but then, “If I can survive Vellore, I can pretty much survive anywhere else.”

 

 

 

 

Roshni Deepta Acharya

And this is Roshni, who studies law at Jindal Global Law School, Sonipat. She realized early on that in her field, Calcutta is not the best place to work at. In internships, you’ll have to go repeatedly and ask for work instead of just having work assigned to you. People take your age way too seriously and “go all paternalistic on you”. In Delhi, you could be a first-year student or an associate, people will still respect you the same!

 

 

 

 

Father and kid

Thank you for reading such a long post. I wrote this post because I know quite a few juniors who are really keen to go out of town for college, but do not have their parents’ permission.

I was a pretty mediocre student in school. My only decent marks used to come in English, and Computer Science. I used to just pass Physics and Chemistry (probably because of sympathy marks). Dad knew how much I wanted to study computer science at VIT. Even though I was getting into other places for a lot cheaper (I’m talking in lakhs here), Dad let me go to the college I wanted, in the stream I loved. Mom’s constant scolding had not worked. Constant tests at tuitions had not worked. But this gesture of faith from Dad was all the motivation I needed. I’m a considerably better student now, all because of that one time Dad literally put his money on me.

I understand that parents are inherently protective. But I also believe they won’t let that cloud their sense of judgment. I’m sure, deep down they know they’ll only improve their kids’ futures by letting them go. 🙂

 

Categories
Not funny

How the Law of Averages can save our daughters

It was the 18th of August, 1913.

An ordinary evening in Monte Carlo, Monaco. People were at the casinos, betting, earning, and losing. Slowly, a crowd started gathering near the roulette table. Something weird was happening!

The roulette ball kept falling on Black, turn after turn.

The crowd went into a frenzy, betting on Red. The ball, after all, was not Arsenal in 2004; its streak had to end. But the streak of Black went on for 26 turns! People had lost millions by then, betting on Red.

At this point, you’d think, people who bet on Red on the 27th turn were lucky. They were, but not for long. They now thought a long streak of Black would be followed by a long streak of Red. What happened next, probably won’t shock you.

Roulette law of averages

All of this happened because of a cognitive bias in our heads. Psychologists call this The Gambler’s Fallacy. People tend to believe in the Law of Averages, which assumes that if something is true for a large population, it’ll also be true for a small population.

Remember all those times as a kid when you were tossing coins and you told yourself, “Okay, so the last 3 times, I got a Heads. This time, Tails pucca!” This, again, is the Gambler’s Fallacy.

What we forget is that the coin has no memory. It does not remember what it showed last time. So, it is possible that you can get all Heads even if you toss the coin 20 times.

At this point, you’re probably thinking to yourself, “Haha this is fun.” Except, that it isn’t. Let’s find out what Hari Sadu is doing right now.

 

Hari Sadu is an ordinary farmer in a remote village of Haryana. He is a nice man and everything, but right now, he is screaming at his wife. She just delivered their third daughter.

This doesn’t bode well for her. She must again get pregnant and go through the whole ordeal, in the hope of a male child. Hari Sadu is a little excited though. He has already had three daughters, and this time there’s no way he’s not going to get a male child. Hari Sadu clearly believes in the Law of Averages.

In about a year, Hari Sadu’s wife will bear another kid. Will Hari scream at his wife again? Or will he forgive her last three sins? There’s no way of foretelling. And that is what Hari Sadu must remember. Neither the ovum nor the sperm cells will remember whether they created a boy or a girl the last time.

Hari Sadu's daughters- law of averages

The reason I wrote this blogpost is because I believe that there are more Hari Sadus in this world than we’d like to imagine. They are all around us too, the seemingly educated, who hope against hope that this time they’d get lucky, just because they did not get lucky the last ten times.

In the best-case scenario, you’ll see your friend saying, “Oh I am not preparing this section because a question has already come in the first slot.” In the worst-case, you’ll hear Hari Sadu’s wife crying copiously, because she knows her fourth daughter will never get to see the light of day.

 

Categories
Not funny

How my family attained cat’harsis

A lot of people ask me why I do not drink. One of my common answers is “People never do nice things when they are drunk.”

On the 5th of March 2014, Dad was at Landmark Hotel, drinking out with his colleagues. It was getting late, and Dad really needed a smoking break. There was no smoking room in the hotel! He grudgingly stepped outside for a smoke. A pair of brilliant green eyes looked up at him. Dad swears he does not recollect what happened next, but the next moment he found himself back home, a pretty kitty on his lap, and everyone in the family staring at him in shock.

Our family was a sight to behold at that moment. Maa, who was bringing food from the kitchen, froze. Grandma, who was sitting on a chair, was now standing on top of it, cowering in fear. Grandpa started protesting vehemently, “How can you bring a street animal into our home?” All these reactions broke Dad out of his stupor. Clearly aware he was in unfriendly territory, he scrambled to his room, the kitten held firmly in his arms.

The kitten started meowing in Dad’s room but now that she was no longer present in the scene, Grandma regained her voice, “You are not keeping that cat in this house!” Maa’s maternal instincts had kicked in. Despite her reservations, she ran to the kitchen and poured some milk into a bowl. I sat right next to the kitten, observing her keenly.

 

"My name is Dora Cata. But you can call me Dora."-

Posted by Surya Shekhar Chakraborty on Sunday, March 30, 2014

 

Growing up as a single child, I had always wanted a dog as a pet. Just like you, I too had begged my family to allow me to have a pet dog. Just like you, I too had been told off with the usual reasons: “Who will take care of him once you’ve gone to college?”, “They don’t live long; why live with the emotional burden?” and “Who will clean up all the mess?”. You can imagine my excitement at the prospect of finally having a pet! All my primary school, I’d written essays about “Our Pet” where I had faked having a pet dog, obviously named Rover, who was loved by our entire family. Admittedly, this kitten was neither a dog, nor loved by anyone in our family, but she was a living thing in Dad’s room meowing back at me every time I meowed at her!

While we watched her lap up the milk hungrily, we thought of naming her “Dorakata”- the Bengali word for “striped”. She was christened Dora Cata Chakraborty. And given a towel to sleep on for the night.

I went to sleep, dreading what would happen the next day.

I woke up to my Grandma giving Dad the ultimatum, “Either I’m going to be in this home, or she is. You better find someone to adopt her, and fast.” Dad assured her he’ll try his best, and asked me to see if I could find someone nice on the internet to adopt Dora. I lied and said that I would.

I thought the dust would settle down in a couple of days, but it got worse. Apparently, it is an inexcusable crime for a cat to sneak into the kitchen looking for fish. “You’ll need to give this cat up,” and this time, Grandma meant business. Dora had already tried once to get up on her bed, and she had been scared out of her wits ever since.

Dad knew there was no getting out of this situation. He made a few phone calls, and one kind gentleman agreed to keep Dora for a few days before someone could adopt her. I was depressed. She was going to be given away the next day itself.

I stayed up late that night studying, but all I could think about was Dora being given away the next day. I got out of my room at around 3am and went straight to the veranda. Dora was sleeping peacefully on the rocking chair. But when she heard my footsteps, she woke up and looked at me. All my resolve broke down, and I started weeping. Dora kept looking at me, eyes wide open.

As I made my way back to my room, Dora got up from the chair and followed me. She usually dislikes my room for its air conditioning, but this time, she followed me into the room. I sat down on the floor, looking at her and not knowing what to say. She went around me, brushing her body against mine, and then climbed into my lap and sat there curled. It was a moment of peace. I stayed up all night like that.

View post on imgur.com

 

The next day, I recounted this story to grandma. She probably understood how much Dora meant to me, and did what makes grandmothers the most lovable people ever. She made a sacrifice. Dora could stay.

It did not take long for Dora to become the apple of the eye for my family. Other than my little cousin Rommel of course, who was now somewhat jealous of Dora’s elevated position in our family.

 

When dad first brought Dora into our house, my horrified grandmother (Ammi) jumped ten feet. "I'm not going to allow…

Posted by Surya Shekhar Chakraborty on Friday, November 11, 2016

 

If you visit our house today, maybe you’ll find Dora knocking down furniture, chasing crumpled paper balls. Or maybe you’ll find her sitting regally at the window sill, amusing herself by watching the neighbourhood dogs quarrel among themselves. Maybe you’ll find her nibbling at Maa’s heels, reminding her that it’s lunch time.

Or, if it is a lazy Sunday afternoon, maybe you’ll find her sprawled on the bed right next to the matriarch who just would not have her in the family.

Categories
Kinda funny

What it’s like to intern at a Data Analytics start-up

I came back home on the 5th of December- the first day of my internship. Exhausted, I sank into the sofa and sighed, “How on earth am I going to learn 3 new languages in a month?”

Within a span of 3 days, I was working at breakneck speed, working with all 3 of them.

Learning curve at SIBIA

On Anirban-da’s recommendation, I had applied to intern at SIBIA Analytics last semester. A telephonic interview was scheduled, and I was scared. Partly because I had never had a telephonic interview earlier, but mostly because I had no idea how to prepare. Finally, the day before my Networks exam, I got a phone call.

Two gentlemen, Pulak-da and Biswarup-da, quizzed me on my knowledge of data structures and databases. Data structures has been one of my favorite subjects at college (I was taught by none other than Dr Chandra Mouli), and I had just taken my Database exam the previous day. The interview went well. Samrat-da called me up a few hours later to welcome me into the team.

Quite relieved, I finished off my semester and flew back to Kolkata safely (quite unlike the last time). Eager to impress from Day 0, I started going through tutorials after tutorials, learning how MongoDB works.

I still have no clue of what happened on the first day. They assigned me to a project. And I spent the rest of the day bouncing between Ronnie-da and Biswarup-da. They tried to teach me everything, from how tunnels are set up, to why they break, to how they can be set up again.

Tunnels, just like the one JFK used to meet Marilyn Monroe, are basically secure lines of transmitting insecure things.

My profile was that of a MEAN-stack developer, which meant I had to work with data preparation and integration. Simply put, I had to convert lots of raw data into information, and then represent them in beautiful live infographics.

To satisfy mean clients.

Believe me when I say this: the thrill of creating a program is exhilarating. Before this, the only codes I had ever written were to score marks in exams. Finally I was writing codes that were being implemented in real life! I was actually making a difference to the world in my own small way! This made me feel so good, that I never minded staying back late hours, just to optimize the code a little further.

The office of SIBIA Analytics
What you get to see if you stay back till 9pm.

 

Other than the coding stuff, here are some other things I learnt:

  1. Milliseconds matter. Because if you add it one million times, then it becomes sixteen minutes. Remember that website that took two minutes to load? You don’t? Thought so.
  2. Use your brains everywhere. While casually glancing at the data of a reputed newspaper, I noticed a huge spike in popularity on the 8th of November. It was suspicious because I remembered that the US elections and demonetization were trending on the 9th of November. We looked into the code, found the error, and fixed it.
  3. Don’t take anything for granted. JS is so fluid that I began taking everything for granted. Made an error as basic as using = instead of == for condition-checking.

 

I know lots of people who do not have that strong a coding background. I too was in your shoes a month back. But if you are lucky enough to intern at a data analytics start-up like SIBIA Analytics, learning these would barely take a week.  And if you have colleagues who are willing to discuss everything, from puzzles on number theory, to conspiracy theories about movies, you’ll have a great time while you’re at it too.

My teammates at SIBIA Analytics

Thank you for reading!

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Categories
Kinda funny

How to use Game Theory to Lose Weight

Just the other day, I was showing my blog to Dr Lakshmanan. He is a senior faculty at our college, and had introduced me to Theory of Computation (one of my favourite subjects). Anyway, he skipped the post on Good Math Bad Math (which I take pride in), and started reading the blogpost on Fruit Bread (which I obviously don’t). He went through it, and asked me, “So Surya, how are you still not that fat?”

“Sir, my roommate and I have a strategy.” And then I explained it to him. After listening carefully to our strategy, he smiled and said, “So you are basically using Game Theory to lose weight.”

 

Before I start telling you what exactly we do, I’ll explain what a Two-Person-Zero-Sum game is. It’s basically a part of game theory.

You may have noticed this yourself. Ever seen ATMs of different banks built side by side?

Did you wonder, “Why have two at the same place? Why not just space it out?”

This is because they are essentially competitors and one bank’s gain is the other bank’s loss. That is the essence of a two-person-zero-sum game. Consider a situation in which each of two banks want to set up an ATM on the same street. Assume that people on the street will always go to the closest ATM.

 

 

 

Year 1

In year 1, HDFC, marked in green, and SBI, marked in yellow, decide to be friends, “Okay, we are competitors. We should divide this street between ourselves.” It was just like communism: the idea sounded pretty nice in theory.

 

 

 

Year 2

It’s now Year 2, and HDFC bosses are furious that they aren’t getting enough customers. So they shift their ATM inside SBI’s territory, and there’s nothing SBI can do about it. SBI naturally gets upset and starts a fight (except during lunch time).

 

 

 

Year 3

So Year 3, they decide that alright, enough is enough. Let’s set up shop at the centre of the street so that nobody can eat away at the other’s profit. They are now at Nash Equilibrium where neither can make a profit unless the other one budges. This is the same reason why you may see MacDonald’s and KFCs, Bharat Petroleums and Indian Oils next to each other.

 

That, ladies and gentlemen, is also how Varun and I unwittingly modelled our strategy to lose weight.

Story time.

It’s the night before an exam on Computer Networks, so of course we have a lot of time to waste on other things. I look at my roommate Varun, and ask, “Bro, why are we gaining so much of weight?”

“Because we can’t help ourselves when we see junk food?”

That got me thinking. What is the only thing more lucrative than food?

The answer was obvious: money!

I turned to the last page of the notebook open in front of me. I wrote down all the common junk food we eat.

And then, I assigned each of them a fine amount. After a deliberation of over half an hour, Varun and I agreed to abide by the condition that whenever one of us eats something from the list, the corresponding fine must be paid to the other guy. One person’s loss to become the other person’s gain.

Routine

 

It was awfully difficult at first. Imagine walking past Amul and seeing Rs20 fines in the place of the frozen yogurts. But slowly we got used to it. It was game theory being applied in real life! There were moments when we knew that if both of us bought the same junk food, we’d not have to pay a fine. But if just one of us backed out, the other would’ve had to pay a fine. And there’s absolutely no greater shame than having to pay a fine to a friend.

Till date, neither of us has paid a fine. We are at the Nash Equilibrium where neither makes a profit unless the other one incurs a loss. It is in our mutual interest to do so, and in the process, we have drastically cut down on our in-take of junk food.

In a situation where lectures from parents, and scary news reports failed, a simple application of Game Theory worked!

 

If you want to check out the blogpost on Fruit Bread, click here. For the blogpost on Good Math Bad Math, click here.

And if you liked this blogpost, consider subscribing to my blog? I send just one little email every month. 🙂

Categories
Kinda funny

Good Math Bad Math

Eleventh grade is usually the time when all of us (except that darned front-bench maggu) realize that we aren’t really that great with math. If mathematics is a science we are born with, why do we suck at it so much?

 

Did you know about Zeno’s Dichotomy Paradox?

That which is in locomotion must arrive at the half-way stage before it arrives at the goal.- Aristotle

So according to the reeeally obvious thing that Aristotle said, to cover 1m, you first need to cover 0.5m. To cover 0.5m, you need to cover 0.25m. This goes on infinite number of times, and Zeno says that performing an infinite number of tasks is impossible.

Zeno's Paradox explained

 

In comes Newton (and ancient Indian monks, if you believe Subramanian Swamy) with calculus and says, “Impossible is nothing©.” And thus, calculus was formalized as the weapon to take on the bad math.

Zeno’s Paradox talks about doing an infinite number of things. That in itself is difficult to picture in your head unless you have advanced knowledge of math. In response to Zeno, Aristotle said, “No bro. The infinitesimal (really small) distance is covered in infinitesimal time, just so we’re clear here.” There have been lots of other proposed solutions but none that everyone accepts.

 

As you must have guessed by now, there are two kinds of mathematics: discrete (the good math in the cover graphic) and continuous (the bad math). Suppose someone asked you your age, and you said, “I’m 21 years old”, you gave a discrete value. Had you said “I am 21 years, 3 days, 1 hour, 33 seconds, 34, 35…”, that is the continuous value.

Most of the algebra you do, and other stuff right up to class ten is discrete math. You understand this really well, because it is easy to picture it in the head. The stuff that you don’t understand, starts in your eleventh grade when you get introduced to the concept of integral and differential calculus.

It is easier to imagine 60 full watermelons than 1 watermelon split into infinite parts
It is easier to imagine 60 full watermelons than 1 watermelon split into infinite parts

 

When most of us complain that we don’t understand math, we are usually talking about continuous math. Differential equations, integral calculus, and the like. It is perfectly alright if you do not understand continuous maths yet. I will tell you why.

First, it is used mainly by rocket scientists. And mechanical and electrical engineers. And students who want go to IIT. So if you are none of these, take a chill pill.

Second, for the more career-oriented of my readers, most competitive exams you sit for will require a knowledge of only discrete math. (My next blogpost will be about how simple probability theory actually is.) Take another chill pill.

Third, most of the math we need in our daily lives, from calculating the discount after sale, to figuring out the cheapest way to travel, all deal with discrete mathematics. You don’t need to integrate anything to calculate how many more classes you need to attend this semester to strike 75%.

Finally, to summarise why discrete math beats calculus, let’s just remind ourselves why we developed them. We invented calculus to prove axioms and better understand the nature of space, time, and motion. We developed discrete math to design computer algorithms, and break Nazi codes.

 

So the next time someone (read: Dad) reminds you that you suck at math, just smile and ask him which math is he speaking about.

Because you sure-as-hell will be good at calculating how much pocket money you’ll get, after you exhibit this cockiness.

___

Would be lovely if you shared this with those friends who find math scary.

Do leave a comment below 🙂

 

Categories
Funny

Fruit Bread, and other Dietary Struggles

 

I distinctly remember once, as a kid, I was very upset with Maa when she came back from the market place with a packet of fruit bread. Fruit bread! “Maa, how do you expect me to eat this? It’s like a pseudo-pseudo-cake!”

Today, I am writing this blogpost munching on the same brand of fruit bread, now 18Rs a packet.

When I was first coming to hostel in 2014, everybody warned me about hostel food. South Indian college, hence dosa-idli-sambar, hence no Bengali food, hence life will suck, they all said. However, I did not really get into that many colleges to be able to choose among them based on food. So, VIT it was for me.

You’d be surprised to know how good the food here in Vellore is. There are lots of dhabas all around college, from the Punjabi Saleem Dhaba to the Bihari Bihari Dhaba, the Bengali Tara Maa to the Keralite Kottaram, the American Tom’s Diner to (what I’m sure is Bangladeshi) Limra. All of them serving amazing and really cheap food. But that’s not the point of this blogpost.

This story starts midway through every semester when I think, “Nah man, I’m getting too fat and spending too much money on bahaar-ka-khana.” And thus start stories of innovation and compromise.

What happens every time you realize you’re getting too fat? You decide you’ll go running, and exercise, and gym and everything. Correct? I think so too. Once every semester. Day 1, I go running. I come back, take a bath, eat healthy and feel good. Day 2, the same.

It’s Day 3 which breaks the spirit.

So,” I reason to myself, “If I go out running, I will have to wear sports shoes. Then, I will also have to wear socks. Running is okay, but later I’ll have to take a bath. If I take a bath, I’ll also have to wash my clothes. Nah, man. Exams are fast approaching. I should sit down and study. I can gym later.” I sit down, but end up watching a movie or something while munching on Lays.

Which is when the second idea comes. “Hey if I cannot go out to exercise, maybe I should start healthy eating?” My brain agrees to this compromise. And thus begins the eternal struggle of finding something tasty and healthy to eat.

After reading and half-heartedly discarding Scoopwhoop articles titled “7 reasons why cheese is good for you”, I decide I need to cut down on my bimonthly Pepperoni Pizza (courtesy: the Buy-1-Get-1 offer from Dominos, because #aukaat).

In comes fruit bread. The cheap and somewhat tasty food that also promises few calories. Bananas. Eggs. Water. More water! I started finishing packets of fruit bread.

The humble fruit bread
The humble fruit bread

Last week, I realized with no chocolates and no icecreams, there’s nothing sweet in my poor Bengali life. The engineering student that I am, I thought a bit to find a way around it. “Honey is healthy,” I remembered! Patanjali honey, albeit thinner than Dabur’s, is cheaper. I buy two bottles of it.

My friends and I finish both of them in less than a week.

Yesterday I checked my weight.

At the end of two weeks of ‘dieting’, I had gained two kilograms.