Monday, July 23, 2018

Am I Stingy?

A recent incident made me feel guilty and question my avoiding taking gifts when visiting people. My rationale has always been that the people have so many possessions already that our token gift is  not going to be of any value. Gifting cash seems vulgar, except for social obligations like weddings and birthdays.

A second point has been that I never remember the gifts except the ones we did not want and did not know what to do with them. However, I valued each visit of relations and friends for making the effort and time to meet us. I remember the cousins who visited us in Goa. I, especially, valued their visits to my parents in Chandigarh in their last days. (There is a lingering hurt of people who promised to visit but didn't. Showing up for the funeral was of 0 value to me.)

I suspect that possibly because  of the birthday party in my childhood when no invitee showed up, I have valued showing up so highly.

I have welcomed a cake or a bar of chocolate and am happy to share them when visiting. Anything else seems like a probable waste of money. Does that make me stingy?

There is one gift I will never forget - Information :)

Over 40 years ago, a friend suggested that I may enjoy The Outsider by Camus.  And later, he suggested Crime and Punishment. This has been a gift of unbelievable value. It has led to everlasting pleasure I have got from the European literature. Were it not for his suggestions, I may never have explored it.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Does a culture of mis-trust encourage and reinforce corrupt behaviour?

The current fraud at Punjab National Bank highlighted the fact that Public Sector bank employees are typically transferred after 3 years and that did not happen in this case. The message is clear that there must have been collusion even if no one will ever be able to prove it.

I have felt that the policy of transferring was counter-productive. It is nice to go to a branch and be recognised and there is a comfort in dealing with familiar faces.

It does not matter that much anymore as I hardly visit the branch and prefer an email response to any query I may have.

However, it seems to be a part of our (Indian) corporate culture as well that we mistrust employees. There is no issue in having checks. However, should the first impression be that it is assumed that an employee will misuse any privilege given and that must be prevented? Isn't the message we are giving to each young, new employee that misuse the privilege but in a way as not to be detected?

I used to feel that software folks will change our culture. The working environment in these companies was so much better and my hope had been that once the older folks were replaced by the younger ones, who had a lot more exposure to working with US/European clients, we will keep getting better.

From what I can gather, that has not happened. Processes have become more like in the rest of the companies, except with greater reliance on tech-tools.

It is unfortunate as a culture of trust would have helped create software companies that could have been the seeds of a new Indian work culture and a hope for a better future for our children.

I just can't get over the failure of our generation to create processes that we trust you unless proven otherwise. How hard should it have been?

I believe very hard in a society convinced of and obsessed by presumptive and notional losses. So, it is a delight to read the likely winding up of the board for
advising the government on enforcing “a code of conduct and ethics for managerial personnel” in these banks, will expire at the end of March. It is unlikely the government will look for a successor to Rai,

Monday, February 5, 2018

Voting Option: Not This One or Anyone But

I keep wondering if the outcome of elections in first-past-the-post would be any different if we had the option to vote against a candidate instead of just for someone.

There are times when one would find it hard to vote for a candidate though the idea of another candidate winning may be even more worrying.

Even in a binary election, the result may not change but the message to the winning party and the moral strength of victory can be very different.

I hope some psephologist would take that up and we can have a better understanding of people's voting intentions.

The goal, of course, would be that can it succeed in politicians avoiding polarising voters and creating a more just society for all.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

It's a wonderful life and suicidal thoughts

"It's a Wonderful Life" has always felt like a corny film and, yet, it's message of optimism has been unforgettable. I was reminded of the film by the impact a silly act had on me years ago and I wish I could thank the two involved.

It was the start of spring and I was walking home - depressed. Progress in research had been very slow and seemed hopeless. I used to walk through the city forest near Helsinki railway station on my way home. I was fantasising about jumping in front of the train going from Helsinki to Leningrad.

My thoughts were interrupted by a pre-teen. It took me a while to understand the broken English and Finnish words. She was asking if I had a pen. I shrugged my shoulders and said, "Sorry, no". Suddenly, she kissed my cheek and rain away.

It was a strange experience even though my looks aroused curiosity even in Helsinki in those days. Suddenly, I heard two girls giggling away.

It changed my mood. I felt I was taking me/life too seriously. I have never contemplated suicide since.

So, I hope those two anonymous girls have had a wonderful life.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Can inexpensive services and decent earnings co-exist?

A friend posted a link to Why Uber is a scam: maths explains. I had seen it before but I now have an additional perspective. I do not keep a car in Chandigarh and use Ola/Uber reasonably frequently. I would have liked to use the same option in Goa.

I can easily believe that in the long run, given the fares, the drivers cannot be making a comfortable living. I also realize that if the fares reflect my desire that drivers make what I believe to be a comfortable wages, I would wind up owning a car.

There is a conflict and no easy way around it. As a society, it is in our collective interest that there aren't too many cars - both to save on parking spaces and prevent congestion and pollution on roads.

Long term solution is obvious and inevitable. The Ola/Uber vehicles will be driver-less.

Meanwhile, what if we had a minimum income provided to all citizens. Then a driver's earnings are over and above the minimum needs. Hence, the needs of society, the consumer and the service provider can coincide.

This model would be useful for all services from helping patients/old people who are bedridden or need assistance to inexpensive coffee/tea shops not exploiting the workers.


Sunday, October 16, 2016

Bad memories of why I left research

This article, China Has Now Eclipsed The US in AI Research, would not have triggered bad memories had I not come across this article, Meddling with education needs to stop if India wants to compete in technology-driven world, just a few days back.

I recall the first interview I attended. There were over 50 candidates to be interviewed in one day for 2 positions! Most of the time of my interview(just over 5 minutes) was taken up by the Vice Chancellor worrying whether I met the minimum requirements - a second class Master's degree. I had a BA (Summa cum laude) and a PhD from well known university but I did not have a Master's degree! The fact that the Vice Chancellor was wasting this time in an interview just destroyed my mental equilibrium.

I was pleasantly surprised when I got hired at a small research institute after a fairly serious interview lasting about an hour. This was just my second interview. I had not expected the job because I had been advised by 'well connected' people that the jobs are fixed in advance! Anyway, my happiness lasted till a change in director.

As I was walking past his office, the new director called me in and there were two visitors in his office. I was supposed to be the faculty in charge of technical equipment. Out of the blue, he said that he felt that one of the senior faculty members was making excessive use of the photocopying machine and I should monitor it!

This was the final trigger and I was lucky to have switched to software industry otherwise I would have migrated back to the US.

On second thought, lucky?

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Why I look forward to robots as waiters

I am somewhat guilt ridden. Should I have tipped more? It has been quite some time since a person seemed to be so desperate and pleading for more tip. It wouldn't have mattered to me but may have made a difference to him. But it brings up the same dilemma of giving to a beggar. I may help a person and feel good about it; but I may actually be contributing to the preservation of a bad and unjust social setup.

It was the last leg of our trip to Kerala. We took the Trivandrum Rajdhani from Ernakulam to Margao. It was painful to watch 3 attendants sleeping in the corridor outside the compartment - one on the proper berth and the remaining two on the floor.

I wondered why was there a need for three attendants and whether they were actually employed by the contractors.
  • Was it just the easy option of hiring extra people at a very low cost in order to 'improve' service? 
  • Could it be that railways insist on the extra staff to make sure that one person is not overworked for the long journey? 
  • Wouldn't it be desirable and better to have the staff change midway?
  • Or does the actual employee outsource his job to desperate youngsters for no wage but tips?
Since I can do little about it, I would rather not have to think about whether to tip and how much to tip. That would be easy if the server were a robot.