Sunday, March 23, 2008


The objective of the video game is to direct any crudely drawn closed figure that you draw to a crudely drawn star on the screen. But forget the objective - just observe your entities perfectly obey the laws of physics on the screen roads you've carved. May not be useful. But an enjoyable way to waste time.

Here's a demo that you can try.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Elite Prostitution & the Art of Listening

In a very good article on prostitution in NYC and other global cities, Sudhir Venkatesh writes:
What high-end clients pay for may surprise you. For example, according to my ongoing interviews of several hundred sex workers, approximately 40 percent of trades in New York's sex economy fail to include a physical act beyond light petting or kissing. No intercourse, no oral stimulation, etc. That's one helluva conversation. But it's what many clients want. Flush with cash, these elite men routinely turn their prostitute into a second partner or spouse. Over the course of a year, they will sometimes persuade the woman to take on a new identity, replete with a fake name, a fake job, a fake life history, and so on. They may want to have sex or they may simply want to be treated like King for a Day.
The writer quotes figures north of $10K a month for these sex workers. And it's not for flesh but to listen to what the guy has to say. I guess the terribly busy workforce womenfolk in the cities don't have as much time or patience or willingness or tolerance or empathy or a combination of these to listen to what their husband has to say when they hit the bed. Now, isn't it usually an accusation on men that they never listen?

Thinking about it seriously, I think these men treat these women not as sex workers but as a tool to relieve their stress. I guess it makes a man in his 40s or 50s feel good (say a top executive in a Manhattan office) to have a young beautiful woman listen to what he has to say with fake compassion. He would very well know that the woman might be least interested in the topic he brings to the table; but the point is that he carries home an image of a good looking girl who has also been a good listener which makes him feel good. Now, for someone who makes top dollars, that's better than sex.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Political Activism

Why is there not an age for retirement from politics? Hunger for power is something I can understand when someone is in his/her 40s or 50s. When one steps into 60s, he/she can't just keep up with the pace at which events happen in the world. Brain being just another biological machine, cannot process information into knowledge & that knowledge into wisdom effectively when its been around for 60 years. And not being abreast with the developments - not just politically, but economically, technologically & socially, the best public service a leader can perform is to retire and let the relatively younger folks take over.

Experience is of no use after a threshold. In fact, too much experience in politics is detrimental as one loses the vision to steer the statre. Jyoti Basu (W Bengal), Karunanidhi (TN), Karunakaran (Kerala), Fidel Castro (Cuba), Suharto (Indonesia).... This is not to say that they did/doing a bad job in their old age; but a sad realization that things could have been better if only someone else had been at the helm. As mentioned earlier, when one needs an assistant to help him stand up (literally) it's quite difficult to understand their love for a chair.

That funny & sad cartoon was published in the Time magazine when Fidel handed over the reins to his brother Raul Castro, 76.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Potlatch Effect

Potlatch is a festival among the natives of the Pacific Northwest where a family or an individual establishes or exhibits his supreme status over his neighbors by throwing away his valuables. Though the wealth is shared in some rare cases, in most of the cases Potlatch was marked by burning material. Now, the basic idea should be something like this: I can continue to live (comfortably?) even without these items which are considered essential in the society. Sounds very stupid right?

But this effect continues to exist in other forms in almost all the cultures. Status symbols linked with waste of resources is quite common. Most of the Indian marriages can be labeled a distant cousin of Potlatch. All that needless extravaganza just for the visitors to go gaga! What's worse is that such events continue to raise the bar; money down the drain marriages are seen as benchmarks which the future event organizers will try to match or surpass. Consider tipping at restaurants - I don't have a problem with the waiters making some extra money. But the idea of showing off one's wealth by over-the-top tipping sets the snowball rolling and effectively raises the average because of peer pressure. In a manner of speaking, sometimes some people spending inline with their income can up the ante for those a rung or two below in the economic ladder who are bent on playing a cat & mouse game to catch up - only in the means of spending, but not in income generation. Modern day Potlatch is very vibrant. It almost makes someone frugal like me seem unfit to be a social animal.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


Starry night,
white clouds,
gentle and soothing,
cool & blue, just like you.

But why erupt,
fierce and red,
time & again,
very unlike you.

Image Couresy: Wired

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Oh... the choices

Barry Schwartz, a professor of Social Theory talks about the perils of too many choices in affluent western societies in this TED talk. His focal points are that when people are presented with too many choices, they either
  • get confused and procrastinate decision-making
  • make a hasty choice and repent for not making the perfect choice
  • feel dissatisfied with even the best of choices for not meeting their expectations
I disagree with him on all counts. Barry cites a statistic where the number of people opting for retirement benefits go down with the increasing number of fund options available. Well, if someone is such a dud as to be baffled by the options and decides not to make a decision or keep procrastinating, it speaks of the preparedness, foresightedness and responsibility towards life of the person. The point that these guys would have made a decision had there been only a few choices is not only a bad argument, but means that a self-contained market without progressions of any sort is how we get people to buy. This is not only illogical, but also insane.

Barry is of the opinion that when the buyers don't get their choice right, they repent and brood. This scenario doesn't occur when there are only a few, or even better just one choice (in which case, there's no choice at all). It's true that people are unhappy if their selection turns out to be less than what they had in mind. But isn't that how one sharpens their decision making abilities? If there were only one cellphone available in the market, you wouldn't bother to look into its configurations. Just because there are so many brands with varying degrees of features, the user takes the pain of educating himself about all the features, assesses if he needs them and then makes an informed decision. There's still a chance that he may brood, but at least he learns from the experience, owns up responsibility for his decision and in the process becomes a shrewd decision-maker.

The third point doesn't have much to do with the number of options available rather than the personality we're talking about. If one is not satisfied with, say the top of the line Bose stereo system, may be he should just wait for the field of acoustics to get better or sponsor a sound research institute. A negligible chunk of the demographics will always be unhappy because of their ridiculous expectations. They're only a minuscule and the market hadn't cared for them.

Update: Barry is correct when he says that multiple options lead to a little bit of confusion and/or hesitation. But he clearly blames the market and exaggerates the multitude of choices instead of researching how people can and should decide from the pool of options.