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Thursday, June 24, 2010

Used or pirated books

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Last month I visited Churchgate in Mumbai and bought over 15 second-hand books from famous vendors at Flora Fountain. Around same time, I saw vendors selling pirated copies of popular books at Andheri station. Last week I found myself with a question to which I could find no answer. While I am stumped at stupidity of not realizing this earlier, answer has profound implication for me.

What is the difference when one buys second-hand books or pirated books? Aren’t they same to all relevant parties?

In both cases, neither publisher nor author gets any fee. In both cases, both publisher and author get credit and fame (since pirated books are printed exactly like original). In both cases, buyer pays less than original price of the book — which, of course, is not single number because retailers have different discount schemes. In both cases, middleman benefits from the sale — either a vendor of used books or publisher and seller of pirated books.

Yes, technically, there is a difference. A new book buyer buys book under proper license and credit. Once book becomes his property, he can sell it to anyone he deem fits. This buyer can re-sell it and so on. A publisher of pirated books steals the copyrighted content and sells to buyer. Yet, practically, if I have to chose between buying a second-hand and a pirated book, there is no difference. In both cases, creative talent is not rewarded and only middle facilitator benefits. Why should I be partial to profits of used book vendors while desisting profits of pirated books vendor? True that one stole and another legally purchased but they are but mere nuances since material impact to all concerned parties is exactly the same. It might be said that one is making an honest living while another is stealing (but who is the victim? Original author but only if only alternative is to buy new book, not used book).

This gets further compounded by the fact that used book vendors themselves are lot which don’t get much sympathy from buyers because of obsessive margins maintained by them (my guess, don’t jump on me for this). While buying second-hand books is perfectly acceptable commercial transaction in all societies of world, buying pirated is considered immoral and unethical. But if there is no difference between both, does buyer of pirated books need to feel guilty (if he does at all)?

This, of course, assumes that choice is between buying pirated and used books. Buying fresh new books is always better move, without doubt. This also assumes that feeling of reading original (without typos and poor print that typically occur in stolen material, though, it appears that quality of pirated books is increasing rapidly) book is not an issue with the reader.

I end this post with one plausible weak reason where buying pirated books could be worse than buying used books: people buy new books only to be able to sell them later. If this is plausible, then buying pirated reduces market for used books thus reducing re-selling ability of vendors and plummeting the sell price of original buyer. This disincentives the original buyer from buying new books and thus original author and publisher also suffer material loss and financial damage. This argument is weak because most book lovers who buy new books don’t buy because they intend to sell them (they might as well sell them but that is not reason of buying in the first place). They buy new books because they like the feeling of fresh crisp pages and smell of printed paper. They buy new books because they want to own and re-read the books and maintain a library. How many of first time buyers sell their books (not talking of textbooks in this post) anyway?

Unless I receive satisfactory response to my conundrum, I will be become more immune to guilt of buying pirated book (unless, of course, I plan to buy original one).

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Hindi count approximation number pair

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This post is based on Hindi colloquial/conversational number pairs used in approximating a quantity. Knowledge of colloquial Hindi is requisite.

Hindi conversational numbering follows Hindu-Arabic Decimal Number System with Hindi pronunciations. One (1) becomes Ek, Two (2) becomes Do, Three (3) becomes Teen and so on. When asked to approximate a quantifiable noun viz. in response to “how many minutes before the dad comes home?”, Hindi speakers often speak in number pairs such as Ek-Do (1-2). Not all pairs are acceptable and feel “right” when you say them aloud. This post will try to discern if there is a mathematical pattern in acceptable set of pairings.

Table: List (partial) of acceptable pairs
Pair Type
1-2 Next
2-1 One
2-3 Next
2-4 Double, Next 2x
2-5 Plus 3
3-1 One
3-4 Next
4-1 One
4-5 Next
4-6 Next 2x
5-1 One
5-6 Next
5-10 Double, Next 5x
6-1 One
6-7 Next
7-1 One
7-8 Next
8-1 One
8-9 Next
8-10 Next 2x
9-1 One
9-10 Next
10-1 One
10-11 Next
10-12 Next 2x
10-15 Next 5x
10-20 Double, Next 10x
11-1 One
11-12 Next
12-1 One
12-13 Next
12-15 Plus 3
13-1 One
13-14 Next
14-1 One
14-15 Next
15-1 One
15-16 Next
15-20 Next 5x
16-1 One
16-17 Next
17-1 One
17-18 Next
18-1 One
18-19 Next
18-20 Next 2x
19-1 One
19-20 Next
20-1 One
20-21 Next
20-22 Next 2x
20-25 Next 5x
20-30 Next 10x
21-1 One
21-22 Next
22-1 One
22-23 Next
22-25 Plus 3
23-1 One
23-24 Next
24-1 One
24-25 Next
25-1 One
25-26 Next
25-30 Next 5x
25-50 Double
26-1 One
26-27 Next
27-1 One
27-28 Next
28-1 One
28-29 Next
28-30 Next 2x
29-1 One
29-30 Next
30-1 One
30-31 Next
30-32 Next 2x
30-35 Next 5x
30-40 Next 10x
31-1 One
31-32 Next
32-1 One
32-33 Next
32-35 Plus 3
33-1 One
33-34 Next
34-1 One
34-35 Next
35-1 One
35-36 Next
35-40 Next 5x
36-1 One
36-37 Next
37-1 One
37-38 Next
38-1 One
38-39 Next
39-1 One
39-40 Next
40-1 One
40-41 Next
40-42 Next 2x
40-45 Next 5x
40-50 Next 10x

After manual enumeration of all such pairs where first number is up to 40, we can observe following seven type of pairings:
  1. Next: This is the most common type of pair in which each number is paired with next whole number following it.
  2. One: This is the second most common type of pair in which each number is paired with number One, except, of course, number One itself.
  3. Next 2x: Numbers 2, 4, 8, 10, 18, 20, 28, 30 and 40 pair with next number which is multiple of 2 i.e. next even number. Primarily, numbers ending in 0 seem to follow this pairing. There is temporary pairing of this type for numbers ending in 8 but this doesn’t continue long since after 38 this doesn’t work. 2 and 4 are obvious exceptions.
  4. Plus 3: 2, 12, 22 and 32 seem to follow this type of pairing. Projecting further, it appears that all numbers ending in 2 would following this pairing.
  5. Next 5x: 5, 10, 15, 20, 35 and 40 predictably follow pattern of paring with next number which is multiple of 5. These numbers themselves are multiple of 5 clearly following a pattern.
  6. Next 10x: 10, 20, 30 and 40 again following pattern of pairing with next number which is multiple of 10 while themselves being multiple of 10.
  7. Double: Numbers 2, 5, 10 and 25 pair with numbers twice them though 2, 5 and 10 be also be categorized to other pairing types which makes more sense. Projecting beyond 40, we see that while 50 doesn’t follow this pairing, 100, 150, 200, 500 do so. There doesn’t seem to be any identifiable pattern here.

I also tried to find pattern in sum, product and ratio of numbers in these pairs and in ratio of consecutive sums and consecutive products without success. Possibly, enumerating pairs after 40 may identify more types of pairings. What are your thoughts and observations?

(Peculiarity of such pairings have been in mind for quite many years but this post on Futility Closet — which, by the way, is a recommended read blog — propelled me to write this post.)

Monday, June 7, 2010

Dork – Book review

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I am unsurprisingly lazy at writing review but given extra free time I have today, let me put down my thoughts on fictional novel “Dork” by Sidin Vadukut. Review contains minor spoilers.

Dork is a story of an MBA graduate from IIM Ahmedabad who lands a job at a mid-size consulting organization and his first year in the firm. Book is hilarious to the core and an easy read throughout. Book specially appeals to people who are familiar with culture of MBA institutes and consulting companies because author doesn’t bother to clarify things for those unfamiliar. That said, while some humour may be lost, others can still enjoy the book based on simply the character that the protagonist “Robin ‘Einstein’ Varghese” is.

Robin, or he likes to be called, Einstein, is an utter optimist but a mediocre — as mediocre as one can be given that he is in IIMA — student who is in too much awe of himself to notice anything else. His luck, adventurous nature and audacious confidence carries him through ups and downs of campus and work life in a rollercoaster ride which will make you laugh out loud quite a few times and chuckle many more. As all Indian stories must include romantic side interest, Einstein too has one-sided (what else?) crush on his batch-mate from college which he manages to advance to “next level”. Nuggets of Robin’s self-confidence even when he is the laughing stock of the whole world give book its regular dose of wit. For instance, when projected as expert of mechanical engineering to prospective client by his superiors in consulting firm, Robin assures them of his ability because, after all, he was twelfth ranker in his class in engineering and joint fourth when only counting top three courses in last two semesters including Basic French! His interview in the end is not to be missed.

While book deals with eccentricities of consulting profession, it doesn’t take holier-than-thou attitude as I suspected when I started reading. Robin is sole focus of the book and occasional unethical nature of consulting world is mere stage for his fortune to dance upon. Most of the humour in the book is subtle (a parenthetical “not needed” when Robin is wished best of luck for a job interview, a microwave that works only for 20 seconds, and exhibition in Paris for dog) and not in-your-face “I cracked a joke now you should laugh” type which respects intelligence of its readers. While luck shines way too much on Robin, story remains largely realistic.

Book is peppered with mild profanities (‘fuck’ and ‘chutiya’) and few innuendoes (extra hard drive space) but it should offend none but Victorian prudish. For a mass-market fiction category that this books fall into, narrative and English are good (atleast as good as I can judge, which you can judge yourself). For 149 bucks, book is sure worth keeping in your library.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Thank-o-meter

Cultural differences between oriental and occidental societies are well known and expressing gratitude through explicit thanking is one such area of difference.

European and North American societies exhibit an all pervasive tendency to thank family, friends and strangers for the most trivial of the matters which grates Indians — or at least me — in two ways. One, it reduces act of thanking to mere perfunctory ritual rather than heartfelt recognition of gratitude received because it becomes difficult to recognize true thanking to courtesy thanking. Two, it embarrasses me to receive profuse thanking for task which I don’t consider worthy of gushing praise bestowed on me. One English colleague at my firm, for instance, once asked me for “a very very big favour” by asking me to explain her how many thousands were in a lakh. I am often at loss to even respond to such overwhelmed dose of expressed thanking.

Asian societies, on the contrary, are more cautious in thanking and when done, it is almost always to strangers. In fact, a good yardstick to measure how close one is in personal circle of thank-er is to notice for what and how often one is thanked. A close friend or family member never expects to be thanked and some even take offence at thanking. Even strangers are thanked for things more substantial than mere getting out of the way on footpath. This, naturally, comes out to West as rude and ungrateful behaviour.

Those of us educated and exposed to Western culture are pushing thanking in Indian social interaction to same extent. While thanking someone for efforts he put into helping you is desirable social mannerism, anything done in excess loses its meaning as happens on the other side of the Earth. What we need is moderate amount of thanking and thanking from heart for things for which thank-er is really thankful about. What we need is thank-o-meter™!

Thank-o-meter is each individual’s personal cumulative counter of thanks he received and thanks he gave throughout his life. Because thanking someone will decrement thank-o-meter reading, one would do so only when meant genuinely and when other’s effort are substantial enough and worthy of a thank. This will obviously increase value of thank to receiver as well. Because one will be able to thank only when he has positive balance of thanks, he will have to earn thanks through efforts before he can spend them.

Implementation of this scheme can only be undertaken by God for He only has such scalability and omniscience required for this project. Implementation details such as initial stock of thanks can be worked out. What may happen is that some miser may stop handing out thanks or some other start hoarding them. Thanking in return of cash gift would be equivalent to selling thank-o-meter readings. Humankind may end up deciding price of a efforts in units of thanks which will be function of demand (low during natural disaster) and supply (high during charity event) and may work much like today’s forex market (and can possibly be traded).

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

From Milan to Gulshan

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An envelope. That’s what begins and ends this story.

They say, coincidence is the biggest player making one’s life’s biggest decisions. Nothing could be truer.

It started with a regular white 4’’x10’’ office envelope. The envelop, like others, contained two printed A4 sized sheets — one with bio-data and other with horoscope, and her photograph.

It ended with an ornate hay coloured envelope proclaiming their marriage and inviting others to join the occasion.

Incidents in between, spanning over 18 months, are riddled with numerous twists of fate, intervention of luck, sweet nothings, months of courtship, love of life and memories of lifetime. Each encounter, each gesture, each dialogue could be made into an essay. Such shall not be attempted because my attempts to include even one in this post left me in trance and unable to phrase. This whole story though flashed before me in excruciating detail right at the moment my fingers smeared red vermillion in her hair partings. From first meeting at “Milan” restaurant to forever bonding at “Gulshan” marriage garden — an era has changed.
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