Monday, November 23, 2009

MBA is a TLA

MBAs became masters of arbit jargon by years of constant practice, starting with their 2 years in b-school. These finely honed skills translate to pompous execubabble like 'leveraging technological synergies' later on in their career. The starting point, however, is a small set of terms that form the basis for a successful career in BS-ing.

These are terms that are used on a day-to-day basis and convey complex meanings. Take 'globe' for example. If somebody was making a presentation and it was full of obvious facts, truisms and globally acceptable generalizations, a normal human being would have found it difficult to convey this feeling to another . However a MBA backbencher would immediately whisper 'globe', loud enough for the last 2 rows to hear. This leads to much nodding of heads and smiling. Talk about efficient communication.

Another word which conveys complex meanings is 'god'. Somebody who is remarkably good at something is god, or said to be at god-level. This has led to offshoots like fin-god, mark-god, etc. However, not everybody who is called god is a god. If you find yourself being called god, then be careful. Either you really are a god (highly unlikely) or being made fun of. One false step and you have to live with the consequences for the rest of your life. God-level reputations are carefully protected, whether it's a fin god or a prof.

A peculiar aspect of b-schools which takes some getting used to is the phenomenon of class participation or CP. Most profs have a part of the final grades set aside for the student's participation in classes. This leads to class dynamics that are hard to describe. Even before a prof has completed a sentence, 10 hands go up to give examples/refute the prof/seek clarification. CP gods are extremely good at hogging the air time, masterfully leveraging globe when they have nothing much to say. (See how I used 3 of the jargon I described above in one sentence?)

CP too has offshoots, some of them being RCP, ACP, DCP. Suppose you fell asleep in class and woke up suddenly to realize that the class has almost ended and you have just a few minutes to achieve your daily CP quota. You pick up the last few words that the prof uttered and string together an elaborate speech (globe, of course). That is Random CP. What happens if you didn't wake up in time to do CP? Then your only option is After-class CP, which is when you run after the prof after the class and ask arbit questions about some topic. A related concept is the 'ACP tail' that each prof has after class. It starts out with half a dozen people behind the prof immediately after class. Only the most desperate survive by the time the prof reaches his room, as described by the Law of Diminishing ACP Tail. Of course, some people are not successful in both of these, they resort to Desperate CP (DCP). The difference between DCP and the other 2 types is subtle, but while ACP may be genuine, DCP is never genuine. RCP is marked by a degree of skill and subtlety which DCP never has.

Whatever the type of CP, most people in class view it as a form of RG-giri. To put it simply, it is the opposite of Gandhigiri (Gandhigiri would be showing your friend the other assignment when he copies one assignment from you). It is a phenomenon resulting from the relative grading (RG) system used in IIMs. Suppose you have an assignment to submit tomorrow. As per norms, everybody waits for someone to do it first and email it to them. So you get an email at 4 am with the assignment. You sit down to copy it (if it is a handwritten assignment) or 'customize' it (if it is a soft-copy or printed submission). You go to sleep at 5 am, satisfied with your work. When the graded assignments come back to you with a zero, you realize that the assignment emailed to you was 'Engel Curve for Bangalore' when in fact you had to submit 'Okun's Law for Australia'. Obviously, only one person in the class did the assignment properly and no points for guessing who. Thankfully, RG-giri of this proportion does not happen and has been mentioned only for the purpose of explanation of the concept.

If you wonder where your manager learnt to be a lazy-ass smart worker instead of a hard worker, the answer is b-school. By second term, all students become masters F-riders (also knows as FRs or Fracs). In the 5 or 6 projects that have to be done in a term, each person tries to attain F-rider position in at least 2. Some guys F-ride in all their projects - they are the perfect smart workers who know that somebody or the other in their group is desperate for grades and will end up doing the project before the deadline. Some guys are so poor at it that they end up contributing to every project. Obviously, the optimum level is somewhere in between if you want to survive b-school.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Back to School

The last week before end-term exams is the best time to sit back and reflect about the term gone by. After 2 straight sleepless nights, the body just refuses to go on any more. I need sleep. I need some diversion. The 2 quizzes and 2 project report presentations tomorrow can wait.

They call it b-school for a reason. It is practically like going back to the schools we went to as kids with a hundred times the work load. After the laissez-faire life of engineering college, you expect post-graduation to be even more so. Nothing could be farther from the truth:


Engineering College


You carry a 10 kg bag to class everyday

Bags? Notebooks? Textbooks?

You carry a 7 kg bag + 3 kg laptop to class everyday

You attend all classes. Bunking has not entered our vocabulary. Proxy is unheard of.

You can get through engineering without knowing where the classrooms are

You attend all classes. Bunking has disappeared from your vocabulary because of grade drops in case of attendance shortage. Proxies have been eliminated by fixed seating with name tags and attendance sheets with photographs.

You carry water bottles to class

You don't go to classes, remember?

You carry water bottles filled with Red Bull to keep awake

You fight tooth and nail over half a mark

Did I pass? Yes!

You fight tooth and nail over one quarter of a mark

You do homework every day. Teachers check your work

If you do homework or assignments, you are ostracized from student community for the rest of your life

You do homework every day. Teachers check your assignments.

You are desperate to gain the attention and approval of teachers

Oh! You mean that bald guy is our FluMech prof?

You are desperate to gain the attention and approval of teachers

In fact, the only way in which engineering college is similar to b-school is the ratio of males to females. As they say in Malayalam, paapi chellunidam paatalam (hell is wherever the sinner goes). Since most of the people getting into IIMs are engineers, it is only natural that ratios remain the same. If you are really lucky, you land up in a b-school which has more than 15% girls. Whatever the case, remember than girls in b-schools have the extra weapon of the knowledge of supply and demand and hence in a much better position to exploit the power that comes with such a position.

One good thing about MBA is that you get to learn a variety of subjects. My favourite subjects in this respect so far have been Microeconomics and Legal Aspects of Management. Having a god-level prof for Micro is a double edged sword, though - the classes are interesting (interspersed with Asterix, Sherlock Holmes and Maradona), but he asks questions that nobody can answer. But scarier and more interesting still is a god+1-level QAM prof with a penchant for surprise quizzes. Organizational Behavior turned out to be a more interesting subject than I thought. The subject is so different from what the HR types make it out to be when you are working (of course, my aversion to HR will return the moment I start working again). These subjects have opened my eyes to new ways of looking at life and business. These also happen to be the most scary subjects I have to negotiate in the coming few days.

Oh! I forgot about football under lights and insti parties. But it is 3 am now. Can't waste any more time. It's back to assignments and exams. Sigh.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Lucknow by Chance

There are two thoughts that catch the fancy of every adult Mallu male at least once in his life. The first is the idea of starting a bar - you even make plans for sourcing some good duty-free liquor through Gafoor ka dost in Dufai. That idea dies its natural death when the hangover wears off. The second is the thought of doing an MBA.

The latter thought is a more dangerous one, because once it catches hold of you it never goes away. Just when you think you've survived it, it comes back in the month of May like prickly heat. A normal Mallu will succumb to it, and 4 years ago, towards the end of 3rd year of engineering, I did too.

In May of 2005 in NIT Nagpur, aided by the searing white heat of Central India, certain changes started occuring in my brain. By the start of the final year in July, the transformation was complete and I started to understand what the others in my class were talking about - CAT, cutoffs, percentiles, etc. It was like the brotherhood of the insane. My vocabulary thus enhanced, it now made sense to me why Vikas was always reading Jeffrey Archer (to improve his English) or why Khoda started subscribing to Economic Times instead of One-Porn-Pic-a-Day Times (to understand bulls, bears and earnings per share).

And so, in November 2008, after many such itches had come and gone, I wrote CAT again. Properly convinced Convincing myself that I was doing the right thing (I now had work experience - 'workex' in b-school aspirant lingo), I had spent many many hours figuring out whether Chunnu or Munnu would reach point B faster and how much Jaikishen owed Ramkishen. Something seems to have clicked, because I got an obscene percentile and an admit in IIM Lucknow.

So for the next 2 years, the city of Nawabs and kebabs and Mayawati statues will be my home as I struggle to join the league of people who caught the itch and lived to see it through. Needless to say, blogging will be intermittent, if at all (ok, less frequent than my current infrequent posting). See you all somewhere along the way.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

My New Obsession

I finally did it. Bought the camera that I promised all of you I would buy. Well, not exactly the DSLR I had hoped to buy, but something halfway there. So I have followed my heart, but only after paying heed to Rags' words of good old fashioned wisdom. It's a happy compromise in my opinion. Doesn't pinch my pocket too much and the camera is good enough to take very decent shots.

I bought the Cybershot H10. I can already see the purists go 'yuck'. But when you consider that it costs only half as much as an entry level DSLR, has full manual mode (which admittedly is not very user friendly, but full manual nevertheless), 10x zoom and adapter for lenses, it's not too bad a bargain. In the 2 days since I laid hands on it, I've drained the battery twice doing all sorts of experimentation. It looks pretty good so far and I hope to get some nice outdoor shots soon. The way things are going, I might get an extended break in Kerala around the time monsoon hits - a mouthwatering prospect.
So I thought I'd use my recently learnt skills in photography to take a picture to accompany this post. It's almost full moon outside, so I went up to the terrace and fiddled around with aperture, shutter speed and sensitivity. After 15 minutes of trying, I got a decent shot of the moon, one which showed up the craters and all. I ran down, excited like a kid who was given a birthday gift in advance, and showed the photo to Mono. He looked at it and said, 'OK'. Then he went back to doing what he was doing before I disturbed him. It was just 'OK'. It was just the moon. And the 'craters' were more like dark patches on white marble. So I guess you'll have to wait a bit more to see some respectable shots from my new camera :)

[Picture courtesy cnet]

Monday, March 30, 2009

Sleaze and Wisdom

He was certain that those were pretty much the raunchiest lines he had read in his 9 years of existence. It was confusing, because he had not expected those lines in a book that had been thrust into his hands much to his dislike, to be read and followed in life; and that too by his mother, of all the people.

As Mac, his trusted advisor in matters of sleaze, turned the pages and introduced him to the eroticism of Song of Songs, the confusion gave way to wonder.
“Thy navel is like a round goblet, which wanteth not liquor: thy belly is like an heap of wheat set about with lilies. Thy two breasts are like two young roes that are twins.”
Wow, he thought. Sunday school might not be as boring as he thought it would be. He started doubting the wisdom of having resisted his parents’ attempts to send him to Sunday school for 2 years. Duck Tales on Doordarshan suddenly looked less appealing than ‘breasts like a cluster of grapes’.

‘When are they going to teach us all this stuff?’

Mac gave him a smile of derision, like a man who had seen it all. ‘Never,’ he said. ‘You should explore and find all the stuff yourself.’

‘You mean there is more?’

‘Yeah! Even dirtier stuff.’

He dared not ask Mac to show him the rest of the stuff. Good kids, which he definitely was one, did not go around reading dirty stuff. But his look said it all. Mac felt elated at this elevation of stature – he was one of the big boys now.

‘Ok. But I don’t have much time. Note down the chapters and verses and read it at home,’ said Mac, quickly flicking through the pages to find the sections of interest.

He suddenly felt a deep sense of appreciation for the genius who had introduced numbering of verses in the bible.

While he was furiously jotting down Mac’s lecture notes, the teacher had noticed that 2 kids in the last bench weren’t paying attention.

‘So what gift would you have asked from God if you were given a chance like King Solomon?’ the teacher asked him in an attempt to get their attention back.

All eyes in class were on him. He was thinking furiously to figure out what was being discussed in class before his attention had wandered to more interesting things.

Oh yes, the story of the wise king Solomon and God’s offer to give him anything he wanted. He knew the ‘right’ answer, of course – wisdom. But then the teacher had been specific – what would he have asked from God. Even his 9 year old brain could figure out that what worked for Solomon need not work for him, the requirements were completely different, especially with the demands of the modern world. Besides he figured that he had tonnes of wisdom already.

‘I would ask for a helicopter,’ he replied with a sincere expression on his face.


That evening he started an in-depth study of the Bible which would last several weeks, much to the surprise of his parents. The scholarship he had gained over the weeks made him confident about facing Sunday school exams. To his disappointment though, not a single question was asked from the sections he had meticulously researched. That year, he set a record of sorts in the exams, scoring an unprecedented 2 marks out of 100. He has not yet figured out how he got those 2 marks.


He still maintains that a helicopter is a damn fine choice. Try commuting in Chennai if you are not convinced.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

A Conversation With The Man With No Desires

A couple of weeks ago, it was that time of the year. Birthday. And I had this conversation my friend Rags, the Man with No Desires.

Me: So it's my birthday tomorrow, you know. I'm thinking of getting something I've really wanted for a long time.

Rags: What do you want?

M: A nice camera, something semi-DSLRish

R: And you want a camera because...

M: Always wanted one. I think there is a budding photographer in me. Some of the shots I took with Rahul's DSLR were awesome. Imagine what I could be doing with a little practice.

R: 3 things - First, there is something known as beginners luck. Secondly, any random shot with a DSLR looks good to a guy who has seen only point-and-shoot cameras in his life. Thirdly, those were awesome? Don't kid yourself.

M: Hey, that's mean!

R: Ok son, how much are we talking about for this 'little practice' sessions?

M: Around 25k. But it's totally worth it. I mean, you buy a camera like this only once, right? If I don't buy it now, imagine the number of photo ops I will be missing out on. And I'll be missing many years that I could have used to hone my photography skills.

R: So let me break this down - you want to take pictures, hence you want a camera. Good. But why do you want to buy a camera. You know I heard this kind of arguments from Raj before he bought his ultra expensive camera. He disregarded my advice and now it's gathering dust in his cupboard. Why don't you borrow it from him for a week or so? He will be more that willing to lend it to you. Keeps the moving parts in the camera working.

M: Hey, why do you have to be such a damp squib? I didn't ask you for objective analysis of the options available to me. I should have just talked to Badri. He wouldn't have spoiled my enthu with eminently well-reasoned arguments against buying a camera.

R: Son, haven't you heard of the recession sweeping across the globe? Trust me, you need the cash now. Buy whatever you want a year from now. Not now.

M: Hmm. You're right. I won't buy the camera. I think I'll buy an iPod. eBay has some great offers, plus they have given me some good vouchers.

R: Don't you see what's happening here? You've fallen into the consumerist trap prepared for people with disposable income like you. You really don't need anything. You just need to splurge on some gadget to feel good on your birthday. Go watch a good movie, go for a trek, have a good dinner, take a stroll on the beach. There are tonnes of stuff you can treat yourself with on your birthday.

M: Shit! I should have not talked to you at all.

So I ended up not buying anything for myself. Just like all the 24 birthdays before this one. I was seriously beginning to become one of them - people who think spending money on expensive and useless not very useful gadgets is justified just because it's your birthday. So next time you feel the itch to use your credit card at eBay, read this post.

PS: I just realized that if I applied this logic to all my purchases, I'd be living the life of an hermit. And Rags is going to B-school this fall. I wonder how he will encourage consumer spending as a future business leader.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Smell the Movie

One of the things that I keep thinking on and off is how technology that is very familiar to us will be in the future. Consider movies for instance. Conventional thinking suggests that movies of today have all the ingredients in terms of technology that one would want in a cinema experience. But there are certain critical elements that are missing. This is similar to asking cinema viewers in mid 20th century what more they wanted in a movie and they’d have looked askance and wondered what more they’d want. Then came along cinemascope and Technicolor. For a long time, that was the final frontier. There were moving (colour) pictures on screen, there was sound and music. Everything seemed to be great. Until somebody noticed that normal human vision is not 2-D, it’s 3-D.

Most often, technologies in films aim at imitating life as much as possible. The closer one gets to life, the better. Therefore, computer graphics and animation is judged by how close to everyday experiences or ‘realistic’ it is. We’ve had 3-D films for a while now, although it has never really taken off. Everything’s perfect, right? I was thinking so until I realized that one critical element of what a person experiences in life is missing in films – the sense of smell. Imagine smelling gunpowder when the guns go off in period films; imagine smelling roses and lilac while watching mushy romantic scenes; imagine smelling blood and rotting flesh in horror movies and thrillers. The sense of smell will add a new dimension to movies the way sound and later visual effects did. It will give a filmmaker new tools to convey his ideas to the viewer. Very soon, we will have an ‘olfactory effects team’ in addition to the sound and visual effects team in films.

I know that some research has been going into recreating a smell, but I don’t know how successful researchers have been in their efforts to record and play back smells the same way that they are able to do with sight and sound. Essentially there should be
a) a device which produces a chemical or physical change when exposed to the smell,
b) a way of preserving that change in a form that is portable or which can be encoded into specific formats (digital/magnetic, etc.)
c) a way in which these encoded information can be read later on.

Although it sounds uncomplicated enough, I’m sure it’s not that easy – otherwise we’d already have that technology. A quick and lazy search on Google threw up only a couple of useful/working links. Here and here.

Part of the difficulty is that while light and sound have been quantified in terms of frequencies, wavelengths and amplitudes in such a way that it can be reproduced exactly at another location without any loss of information, smell has not yet been completely quantified in terms of two or three variables with which we can completely define it. Once we identify say, the 10 different variables that define what smell is, all one needs to do is to combine x parts of variable 1 with y parts of variable 3 and z parts of variable 8 to generate the smell of the exquisite fish curry that the chef is making on his cookery show.

What made me think about this now? It’s seeing Jamal Malik run towards Amitabh Bachchan covered in shit. How much more effect would it have had if the stench reached the nostrils of people watching in room freshenered Inox?