Kerala Floods 2018: You Ought To Know

Kerala is experiencing its worst floods in over a hundred years. The death toll, as on August 18, has been reported to be 324. The rains show no signs of abating, with strong rains expected all through the weekend. India Meteorological Department (IMD) data shows that Kerala has received 257% more rainfall than usual between August 9 and August 15. To put things in contrast, during the floods of 2015, Chennai received 102% more rainfall than usual.

The lack of media attention regarding the Kerala floods has been quite sickening, as pointed out by Trivandrum MP Shashi Tharoor in this tweet.

An analysis of Google Search Trends reveals the extent to which the lack of media coverage has led to a lack of public interest in the tragedy that is taking place in Kerala. The data shows that the Kerala floods have received only 4.2% of the search volumes that the 2015 floods in Chennai generated.

The Central government has also been subjecting Kerala to step-motherly treatment.

To get an idea of how destructive the floods have been, please check out this Facebook post.

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Please Stand in Queue!

I hate queues! The word in itself is hard to spell (for other people, not me), which is probably why they probably prefer to use the word ‘line’ in the US. If you are like me, queues probably weren’t your favourite topic from Computer Science classes back in school. Queuing theory from Mathematics isn’t particularly endearing either. And don’t even get me started about standing in queues. According to not-entirely-credible statistics available online, human beings spend approximately six months of their lives standing in queues, which works out to something like 3 days per year. They’re a glorious waste of time!

In an episode of the Freakonomics podcast titled, ‘What Are You Waiting For?‘ , Steve Landsburg (an economics professor at the University of Rochester and the author of the provocatively titled book, “More Sex is Safer Sex“) brings up the idea that ‘people are not fully accounting for the damage that they’re doing to other people when they make decisions. And likewise when you get into a line.’ You might think you’re doing other folks a favour every time you join a queue whereas you are actually imposing a cost on everyone who joins the queue after you – by forcing them to wait longer. Have you ever thought of this? No! You only think of yourself! I found this thought mind-blowing because of how counter-intuitive it seemed at first.

Indian moms, including my own, have perfected a strategy to game the system at supermarkets. The strategy is deceptively simple – my mom, my sister and I take our positions in different billing counter queues. In the end, the shopping cart is passed to whoever succeeds in reaching the counter first. Crude, but effective. I was under the impression that the underlying principle behind this strategy was, ‘Don’t put all your eggs in one basket’. After one year at a business school (during which time, I learned the importance of using jargon to look smart) I looked upon it as a form of hedging.

I reckon that people probably spend less time waiting in queues now than ever before due to advancements such as fast food restaurants, ATMs, services like Amazon Prime & BookMyShow as well as the ability to make medical appointments and restaurant reservations online. Waiting can be fun and even profitable sometimes. For instance, I don’t mind waiting for Domino’s, Faasos, Box8, etc. to deliver my food, as I keep reloading the delivery tracker, hoping against hope that they turn up a little late so that I can get a refund! Food always tastes better after a refund, I can vouch.

Back in November-December 2016, following demonetization, queues even helped significantly bring down India’s unemployment rate. People were being hired to stand in queues outside bank branches and ATMs, as reported in this article by the Indian Express. Take that, all you commie libtards! This is how demonetization helped increase our GDP!

You often hear that ‘good things in life are worth waiting for’, which is what Apple fanboys keep telling themselves as they queue outside Apple Stores days in advance. Royal Enfield enthusiasts can probably relate as well. Not to mention middle-class Indians who waited years to get a landline connection back in the eighties.

When I was younger, my father often told me that I ought to have more patience. Being an insufferable pain-in-the-ass even back then, I used to retort, “I don’t plan on becoming a doctor. I don’t need any patients!” (*cue canned laughter*)

I also learned from the Freakonomics podcast that, according to economics, queues are a very inefficient way of allocating scarce resources. A better way would be to let people pay their way out of waiting in line. The highest bidder at any point would be served first. However, this would seem inherently inappropriate for moral reasons. This is why there are waiting lists for organ transplants, instead of auctions. A queue seems fair, because everyone gets served based on the amount of time they are ready to invest in waiting.

To conclude, I’d like to introduce the concept of a last-come, first-served queuing system. It is a queuing system in which, in the words of Landsburg, “Each newcomer comes to the front of the line and pushes everyone else backward. What that means is that if you are more than three or four places back, you have no hope of ever getting a drink because newcomers are going to arrive at some rate. There is going to be some point in the line where it’s hopeless to wait for your drink. And therefore those people will give up, and that’s a good thing.”

“It means the line will never be more than a few people long. The fountain still gets used because the stream of newcomers assures that. And the few people who are willing to wait in line assure that the fountain will be used even at the moments when no newcomer has just arrived. But not many people would be willing to wait in a line like that. And we want people giving up, because we don’t want them wasting their time in lines.”

“Well, you say it’s not fair but the number of people who get served is the same number that would have gotten served under any other system. And you know, you might think, “Well, this way some people never get served at all.” That’s true. But under the current system some people never get served at all, namely the ones who are not willing to wait an hour. The same number of people are being denied service either way. “

“And the biggest one is that if we were to implement this system you would have to have a way of preventing people from leaving the line and then re-entering at the front. It’s got to be only the genuine newcomer who gets the drink, not the person who was waiting in line and got out and ran up to the front. Enforcing that, I think, would be a nightmare.”

I hope this post has piqued your curiosity a little. For more interesting ideas from the world of economics, you can listen to the Freakonomics podcast. It is available online for free and a new episode is uploaded every Thursday. I’d also recommend the various Freakonomics books, authored by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner.



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Uber Rides

*Unlock phone. Open Uber app. Set pick-up location. Set destination. Set payment mode. Pick UberPool, Go, XL, etc.*

After this, I usually spend the next few minutes wondering whether or not to call up the Uber driver. Some drivers here in Delhi have this horrible tendency of not moving an inch, until and unless you ring them up. In the end, I decide to muster up the required broken Hindi in my Mallu accent and  I call up the driver.

“Bhaiyya, maine abhi Uber book kiya tha. Aap aa rahe ho naa?”

“Haan ji, sir. Aap kaha par ho?”

* heartbreak *

* searching up the necessary words in Hindi to describe my place in the universe to him *

“Main yahaan Sitaram Bhartiya Hospital ke pass hai hoon!”

* Fuck this! *

“Haan ji, sir. Aa raha hoon…”

I scan the horizon for my cab, fervently hoping that he’ll be able to find his way to my location using (this-marvellous-new-technology-that-Uber-drivers-seem-to-have-trouble-using) GPS without my having to call him up again.

As the cab finally approaches, I put on my best poker face so as to discourage the driver from making conversation. In the event that he does, I try to explain… “Main Kerala se hoon. Mera Hindi utna achcha nahin hain.” 

As he pulls over at the drop-off point, he says, “Five star rating de do, sir.” I oblige, secretly hoping that I don’t get a low rating due to my abysmal conversational skills.

 

***

 
My Hindi is improving fast though. Here’s proof…

What does a homosexual farmer selling wheat by the roadside call out?

“Gay hoon, le lo!”

The Facebook Book Exchange Scam

As is my wont during the exam season, I was scrolling through my Facebook news feed when I noticed numerous posts which said: ‘There’s a book exchange chain going on. I need six people of any age to participate in it. All you have to do is send one book and you will receive 36 in return. Let me know if you’re interested and I will PM you the information.’

As someone who loves reading, the entire scheme piqued my interest. But at the same time, it seemed way too good to be true. So I did what any sane person in such a situation would do, I carried out a Google search. Always remember, when in doubt, Google!

After a little googling, I found out that schemes of this sort are called pyramid schemes. I’ll try to illustrate how a pyramid scheme works. Let’s assume that you convince 6 of your friends to participate in the book exchange. For this to work, each of them will have to refer 6 friends. So 6 friends*6 referrals make 36 people. It is these 36 people who send you books. So far, so good. But now if all six of your friends are to receive their 36 books, 216 people would have to be involved in the next level of the pyramid. The number of people involved in each level of the pyramid keeps increasing since we’re dealing with a geometric progression.

1… 6… 36… 216… 1296… 7776… 46,656… 279,936… 1,679,616… 10,077,696… 60,466,176… 362,797,056… 2,176,782,336… 13,060,694,016

Try going fourteen levels deep and you’ll have already surpassed the entire human population on earth. But usually such pyramid schemes fizzle out long before they hit such numbers. One reason is that at some point, your circle of friends is going to overlap and get saturated. The second reason being that your scheme will quite simply run out of people who are interested in participating. At this point you might be thinking, ‘What’s the big deal? Even if I get just one book in return for the book that I send out, I’ll be happy.’ Let us take the best case scenario where you receive 36 books since you’re lucky enough to be on one of the first few levels of the pyramid. However at the end of the day, the people you refer could be the ones losing out. Stop and think for a moment. In reality, aren’t you cheating the people below you on the pyramid? The people who might end up receiving absolutely nothing at all? I don’t see how you people can raise the argument that this is harmless fun when you’re basically misleading people into participating in this chain by saying ‘buy one book, get 36 books in return.’

Let’s take the math a little further and assume that our chain propagates quite successfully and our pyramid becomes 8 layers deep, which is reasonable considering how the post has spread on Facebook, and let us assume that all the people in the first 6 layers of the pyramid receive their books while those in the seventh and eighth layers do not receive any. This assumption is valid since people who receive books receive them from those two layers below them on the pyramid.
Number of people in the first 6 levels=1+6+36+216+1296+7776=9295
Number of people in levels 7 and 8=326,592
Percentage of people in the first 8 levels who get books=2.86%
Percentage of people in the first 8 levels who do not get any books=97.14%

Do you still feel comfortable sharing a post that basically cheats 97.14% of the people participating in it? Do you still think that this is harmless fun? And don’t forget that we assumed that everyone in the first 6 layers gets at least one book. The actual figures are definitely going to be worse. The percentage of people left empty-handed remains pretty much the same even if you assume that the chain is even more succesful and extends to more levels. Don’t believe me? Do the math!

The fact that books are involved seems to lower everybody’s guard.  Would you feel as inclined to participate in an exchange program like this if someone said, ‘Send Rs. 500 today to the bank account mentioned and you’ll soon get Rs. 18000 via bank transfer very soon.’ Now it sounds like a proper scam, doesn’t it? So if you’re into reading and all you want to do is spread the joy of reading, why don’t you just surprise one of your friends with a book? At least you can be sure that they are pretty likely to return the favour somewhere down the line.

A similar model, that takes advantage of a geometric progression, called Ghost to Ghost hookup is used in the Three Investigators series of novels. Whenever the Three Investigators (Jupiter, Peter and Bob) need any sort of  information, each of them calls up five friends and ask for what they need. If their friends can’t pitch in with info, they’re each asked to call up five of their friends and pass on the message. Pretty soon, all the kids in Rocky Beach are on the lookout and it’s inevitable that the Three Investigators will get their hands on the info that they need sooner or later.

At the end of the day, if anything seems too good to be true, it probably is. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a pyramid scheme that promises you insane returns for a small investment or a Nigerian princess stuck in the UK who needs money to get back home, you should watch out for the Internet is dark and full of terrors. And if anybody actually does get 36 books through this chain, I’ll eat my hat. Not that I even have one…

You might want to share this post with friends and family who might fall victim to this scam. And you might also be interested in knowing that pyramid schemes and related Ponzi schemes are illegal in India as well as numerous other countries. (Read this)

In case you’re planning on buying books online, click here to view the best deals offered by Amazon.

Wordly Matters

Having done my schooling in Trivandrum, I grew up speaking Manglish, a mixture of Malayalam and English. At school, my classmates and I invariably ended up giving all our English teachers a really hard time.  I remember how exasperated my high school English teacher, Mrs. Sheila Thomas,  would get if she came across a sentence like ‘The car is black in colour‘ while correcting our answer papers. I can still picture her screaming, “Isn’t it obvious that black is a colour, then why do you keep writing like this?”

Our physics teacher in eleventh grade, Narayanankutty sir, used to announce in class, “The last date for submitting your physics records is tomorrow.” And somebody in class would hopefully ask, “Tomorrow itself, sir?” At this point, Nakku sir (as he was fondly called) would chuckle to himself and say, “When I say tomorrow, I mean tomorrow. I don’t need to add the itself.” He had countless other Nakkuisms such as “You think entrance exams are tough? Wait till you get to college, then you’ll understand that the exit is harder than the entrance.” Another was, “As your Physics teacher, I cannot teach you what to do in the lab. Rather, I can only teach you what NOT to do. The rest is up to you.” Damn. I miss his classes and his weirdness.

 

When it comes to writing in English,  less is often more. To illustrate this, my father used to tell me a story when I was younger. A newspaper editor walks up to a fishmonger who has put up a sign that says ‘FRESH FISH SOLD HERE’ and says that the sign is extremely redundant. He goes on to explain,  ‘Isn’t it obvious that you’re selling fish here? So you can remove the HERE. And since it’s obvious that you’re not going to give away the fish for free, you might as well remove the SOLD.  Nobody would buy fish that’s rotten, so you can remove the FRESH as well. As for the FISH, you can take that down as well. It can be smelt from half a mile away.’ Wonderful story, ain’t it? It’s a perfect example of how we should not be obsessed with ‘wordly’ matters. Let’s be a little stingy from now on.

Trivandrum is too rude, dude!!

When I joined CET a couple of years ago, I was surprised to hear most of my batch mates from outside the city complain about the rudeness of people in Trivandrum. Having grown up in the city myself, I never thought there was much truth in what they said. I used to think to myself that maybe it was because they were new in town and weren’t accustomed to the ways and manners of people here. I thought it was only a matter of time before they too would learn to love this quiet little city, that I call home.

However, over the past one year, I’ve come to agree with those batch mates of mine to a certain extent. It all started off when I went to Kozhikode to attend Tathva (NIT-C’s intercollegiate tech fest). I boarded a bus from the city’s main bus stand. I was suspicious at first because the conductor of the private bus that I boarded didn’t give me a ticket. He simply pocketed my money and moved on. Seeing that I was bewildered and an outsider to boot, a random passsenger on the bus reassured me saying that you didn’t get tickets on private buses there. Later, as the bus got more and more crowded, I was in for a pleasant shock. The conductor sidled up to me and said, ‘Lesham mumbilottu neengavo?’, which translates to ‘Could you please move forward a bit?’ I tried to dismiss his politness as a one-off incident, but I’ve come to conclude that bus conductors in Calicut tend to be insanely nice. I’ve had similar experiences in Thrissur too. Back home in Trivandrum, bus conductors just tend to holler at you, ‘Mumbilottu neengada!‘ (‘You! Move to the front!’) If you’re lucky enough to catch them in a good mood, you’d hear, ‘Neengikke! Neengikke! Mumbilottu neengu!‘ (‘Move! Move! Move to the front!’)

And no, bus conductors in Trivandrum aren’t just rude when it comes to crowd control on a bus. If you’re naive enough to not have the exact change for your ticket, you could face reactions ranging from, ‘Chilarayilaatheyaanu ivanokke busil kerunathu!‘ to a cold stare conveying utter disbelief, akin to how you might react if a complete stranger nudges you on a bus and asks if you’d be willing to donate your right kidney to them.

Auto drivers in Trivandrum are usually no better. They seem unwilling to go short distances, long distances, into the city, to the suburbs, to the outskirts and pretty much anywhere at all during the night or if it’s raining. If you’re lucky enough to convince an auto driver to go somewhere in the general vicinity of your destination, the fare is magically rounded off to the nearest multiple of ten. At least it saves you the bother of carrying around coins. When I went to Bombay to attend Mood Indigo last year, I was awed by how auto drivers there only charge you the exact fare as shown on the meter. No more, no less! (as Henry the penguin from Oswald would say)

What irks me the most in Trivandrum however is the way in which migrant construction workers from states like Bihar, West Bengal, Assam and Orissa are treated. Considering their numbers, it’s amazing how they’re almost invisible. They quietly go about their jobs, sincerely and diligently. As a result, the term ‘Bengali’ is used to refer to people who work their assess off, in CET parlance. Being unable to read the bus sign boards, which are mostly in Malayalam and because people at the bus simply refuse to help them out, these labourers unwittingly end up on the wrong bus quite often. And once they’re on the wrong bus, they’re at the mercy of the irate conductor, who more often than not, belittles and ridicules them to entertain the other passengers. They are repeatedly subjected to insults of this sort at shops and eateries too.

And this behaviour isn’t directed only at migrant labourers, all outsiders seem to be at the receiving end of our intolerance. And all this, in the capital city of a state that takes pride in being the most literate in India. The way things are going here, it won’t be long before we have our very own equivalent of the MNS or Shiv Sena. Considering that we’re a city dependent on outsiders, ranging from the migrant labourers who are building Technopark to the software engineers working at Technopark, the least we could do is to show everyone a little respect and be slightly less rude. What do you say?

fReaKerZ oF kEraLa!!

If you live in Kerala, chances are that you cringe every time you hear the Malayalam word ‘freaker’. In case you’re wondering, freaker is the common name given to a new subspecies of human beings (scientifically classified as Homo sapiens freakus malabaricus) found predominantly in urban settlements across Kerala. Although genetically similar to normal human beings, they have an irrational affinity towards gaudy clothes in fluorescent colours. They are known to take photographs in these clothes and upload them onto Facebook. It is also said that they attack unsuspecting Facebook users with messages like: ‘Heyyy broowiie, plz liek my pro pik!’ Etymologically, the Malayalam word ‘freaker’ is a corruption of the English ‘freaker’. In either language, the meaning is more or less the same. Freakerz are also commonly referred to as chullanz, mwonjanz and hip-hop boyz.

Now, whether you like it or not, chances are that you’ve come across some of these freakerz on Facebook atleast, if not in real life. If you’re in Trivandrum, just head to Kovalam or Kanakakunnu Palace on a Sunday evening and you’ll be able to see them first-hand.

Tamy, an engineering student from Calicut, had this to say about how freakerz originated, ‘I don’t even know how it all started. There’s the influence of Malayalam movies, in which the actors look ridiculous sometimes. Wonder who works on their make-up and costumes!’ Like most fads, it’s hard to pinpoint when or where the whole freaker culture exactly started. Freakerz however did gain mainstream attention through Malayalam movies like Honeybee, ABCD, Da Thadiya and Ustad Hotel. Sreenath Bhasi, through his movie roles, has come to be seen as the quintessential Malayali freaker: someone who speaks an amalgam of Malayalam and English, unnecessarily peppered with terms of endearment like bro, machaan and dude.

If taking selfies and posting them on Instagram is a symptom of narcissism, freakerz take it to the next level. At the same time, they’ve perfected the art of amassing Facebook likes and comments for their photos. There are a few who see it as an attempt at amateur modelling but most people seem to dismiss it as attention seeking behavior.  Sarath, an engineering student from Kochi, is of the opinion that they do it to gain attention and to be different from what a normal Malayali would be like. There are a few similarities between freakerz in Kerala, and goths & emos in the West. They’re all manifestations of the same urge for personal expression but push the limits of what is acceptable in society. And of course, there’s the superficial similarity of excessive eye-liner use.

As a state, Kerala has always welcomed non-conformists and rebels. More people know about Bob Marley and Jimi Hendrix here than probably any other state in India. Unfortunately, the interest isn’t strictly musical. Che Guevara is also very popular. Adopted as the poster boy (literally) of the SFI, his face adorns the walls of almost every college here. So it’s not altogether surprising that the freaker culture has taken root so quickly in Kerala. Being a conservative state, this is also probably one of the only ways by which young adults here can push the rigid limits imposed by society.

Anurag, an engineering student from Kannur, had this to say, ‘I find it repulsive but it’s not wrong. It’s just another way of life and you can’t question it. They have their freedom of expression while we have freedom of thought. They think it looks cool and we all choose to make fun of them. Kerala is a state where the actual progress into the so called ‘western culture’ is much slower than the teenagers here would like it to be. So they express these emotions in multiple ways, portraying themselves as better, cooler and hipper.’

There are also others like Anova, an architecture student, who are more open to freakerz, ‘I’ve come to realise they are, in many ways, much nicer than people like you and me. We all have phases in our lives where we do peculiar things, imitate people or styles. It’s something that we all do, to varying degrees.’

At the end of the day, freakerz are not doing anyone any harm so I think we should just let them be. At the same time, there’s nothing wrong in all of us wishing them a speedy mental recovery.

With inputs from Alaka, Keerthi, Ashok and Anju.