The Undercover Economist – Tim Harford

I can’t say enough about this book. It simply amazes me how Tim takes everyday things in our lives (supermarkets, insurance, environment) and uncovers the hidden economics in all of them. It further amazes me how much of an impact an economist and his policies can have in affecting our day to day lives. Their deeper understanding of the workings of the world is indeed something to covet.

I wish I could remember all I have read in this book. But given history screams harsh judgements about my retention capacity, here’s my attempt at boosting it by writing in my own words what I read.

I liked his presentation of Economist Kenneth Arrow’s work: “All efficient outcomes can be achieved using a competitive market, by adjusting the starting position”. He calls it the head-start theorem.

Markets are like races. They force industries and people to perform: produce goods that are needed, produce them in the most efficient way, allow competition to drive prices such that they reflect their value as perceived by people. In some sense, they are like a running race where everyone is doing their best. While this is desirable, it can leave fairness off the table sometimes.. What if we have weak runners? Is it ok for them to always lose? Arrow’s work says we need not. His solution is to not interfere with the race, but rather rearrange the starting blocks.

Lets look at the example he gives. But first some background. Government have taxes at their disposal to raise money to provide the services they do. Now they could have a blanket rate for everything but they have to be clever than that. Taxes affect prices which in turn affect consumer choices. Thus, it would make sense to have higher taxes on goods to which consumers are less price sensitive. That way, the sales stay as they are and government gets the tax it wants. Consider domestic fuel. People find it hard to cut down on fuel consumption. Government can use this information to impose heavy tax on fuels hoping this would not affect people’s choice much. Another aspect to consider is environmental consequences. A way we can make people pay for their choice to affect the environment (by using more fuel) is to tax it more.

So far so good. But this also means, anyone who can’t afford heating will face a harsh winter. Tim points that many seniors die due to inadequate heating in Britain every year. If we were to apply Arrow’s work to this problem, we would leave the taxation on domestic fuel as is. Instead government could support the elderly with their heating bills. This is akin to giving a weak runner a head start in a race.

His discussion about health insurance is interesting. Insurance is a curious case for markets to solve given the lack of information. Insurance companies face a formidable task: they need to decide premiums based on imperfect information. Who/how many of insurees will fall sick? If they charge too less premium they will go bust because of claims. If they charge too much, they will drive away healthy insurees who will opt out; further driving premiums higher and getting into a vicious cycle leaving many uninsured.

He looks at both private (US) and state provided (Britain) health insurance and points out flaws in them. A private and voluntary policy like in US will make people opt out, if their resources need to be employed elsewhere (food/clothing). If only people who fall sick take insurance, this will drive up the premiums and force more people out of insurance coverage. State provided health insurance is good but as evident with Britain’s example the system is overcrowded where patient’s face long waits. Furthermore, it takes away the choice of treatment out of a patient’s hand: the doctor decides what the treatment is. You either take that or you get nothing.

Here the author gives an example system (employed in Singapore) which tends to work slightly better than the above options. This involves giving maximum responsibility and choice to patients. They chose their treatments and pay for most of their medical bills. Government /insurers step in only for catastrophic(expensive) bills and to aid the poor. This system mandates having a savings account dedicated to health (reduced taxes will put money in this account, government will help poor by contributing to this account). People pay for most of their medical bills using this account and only the largest bills (rare) is where the insurance steps in.

Finally, loved his line: “Want a bargain? Don’t try to find a cheap store. Try to shop cheaply.”

Bo’s lasting lessons: The Legendary Coach Teaches the Timeless Fundamentals of Leadership. – Bo Schembechler  and John Bacon.

I am not exactly a sports enthusiast but I happen to hang out with one and it seems sports enthusiasm can be infectious; especially if you are at Michigan. So surprisingly myself, I picked this book where legendary football coach Bo talks about what it takes to be a leader.

Hearing Bo talk about Michigan football tradition I must say puts things in perspective for me about the passion my fellow wolverines feel for Michigan football. Being a foreigner with just a passing interest in sports, I hope I can be forgiven for taking four long years to get to understand this!

In this book Bo talks about essential qualities for a leader by exemplifying them with his own career as the head coach of Michigan football team. His passion, his discipline, his integrity, his emphasis on execution before innovation and most importantly his keen interest in all -round development of his players speaks volumes about how great a mentor he was. Some of his lines that will stay with me:

“Early is on time and on time is late”

“Those who stay will be champions”

I still don’t claim to understand the ins and outs of football but I can’t wait for our first game now! Go blue!

David and Goliath – Malcolm Gladwell

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Easy read (especially after a crazy day with work, it becomes difficult to motivate reading and ease of reading is much appreciated) but still so full of new perspectives for me. Its very impressive in my opinion to have the patience to rethink well-accepted dogmas and the author precisely does that.

He talks about how well-accepted advantages are not necessarily so and how well-accepted disadvantages are not necessarily bad. I particularly like how he weaves a single coherent message using such varied examples like lower class sizes, big armies, attending better ranked universities, dyslexia, civil rights movement in Birmingham and so on. His reminder on understanding the limits of power is I think a good read for world leaders.

I am guessing the one thing this book will make you do is, the next time you think you have a disadvantage, you will rethink!

It’s been a long time since I was here. Many things have kept me off blogging, but I guess most important of it was I forgot why I started blogging in first place. For if the motivation is strong enough for a task, we can find time to do it.

I recently happened to remember that one of the reasons of starting this blog was to keep in touch with writing. And so, in spite of the fact that a PhD pursuit can make demands on your life that make finding time for anything else criminal in some eyes, I am planning to read many books this year and planning to write a bit about them too. Here’s first of such entries.. By the way, the title (hopefully) translates to “Old and new ideas about living life”.

*Khalil Gubran – The Prophet

I did a presentation on Gubran recently and it would be sad if I didn’t read one of his books. This is a nice read; written so long ago but I can relate to it, parts of it at least! The book presents his thoughts on myriad of topics relevant in day to day life. Thanks to a friend who recommended that I read it.

I am not sure I want my mom to know I am reading about marriage but here is an excerpt on his thoughts on marriage:

Love one another, but make not a bond of love;
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup.
Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf.
Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone,
Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.
Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping.
For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.
And stand together yet not too near together:
For the pillars of temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.

*Lean In – Sheryl Sandberg

I cannot claim to know many books which talk about women in (or not so in) workforce and their challenges. So it would be difficult to rate this one. But being one of “these women” still in workforce, I am glad I read this book. More glad the author took time to write about this.

She succinctly points out what keeps women from gaining equal footing and I would be lying if I say I don’t see/face these challenges. So in all, its good we are talking about this. I hope anyone out there who sincerely cares about scanty women representation in workforce finds time to read this book. Finally, hoping to employ all that I learned from this book.

                Yes.. It has happened again. Whoever said it happens only once in a lifetime was definitely lying. For a reader who has never been in the hearing distance of a Spanish speaker the title translates to “My Second love”. It is my feeble attempt to keep in touch with whatever little Spanish I have learnt so far.

So after heaps I wasn’t completely closed to the possibility that I will come along some idea that would leave me enamoured. Something so fundamentally beautiful that would raise the bar of what I consider an ingenious thought. And so the day came when in my Computer Architecture class at University of Michigan I was taught –

    “Register Renaming”

Lets dive a little into what is this idea all about.  Modern day processors are out of order and pipelined. The first adjective essentially means that a processor, irrespective of what order the instructions are fed to it, will execute them in the order it likes to gain maximum performance and the programmer shall still see the results that he/she expects. The second adjective  simply means that the logic for each instruction is broken down into smaller pieces which can be termed as different stages in the execution.This allows us to start an  instruction before the preceding one completes as multiple instructions can be in different stages at the same time.  If the longest stage of our execution pipeline took x time units then the best possible throughput we could get is at least one instruction every x time units.

But there are reasons why we don’t quiet get this performance. One of these is data hazards.

Consider this code snippet :

        Instruction 1    : MULT R0,R0,R1        –> R1    = R0 * R0
        Instruction 2    : ADD R1,R2,R3        –> R3    = R1 + R2
        Instruction 3    : MULT R5,R6,R3        –> R3    = R5 * R6
        Instruction 4    : ADD R7,R8,R6        –> R6    = R7 + R8

Now instruction 2 cannot begin execution till instruction 1 completes because it needs the value of register R1 which instruction 1 will compute. This is RAW (Read after Write) dependency. Also, instruction 2 and 3 write to the same register R3 and even though the processor could merrily execute them out of order given they don’t effect each other we need to make sure that it is instruction 3 that writes last to register R3. This is WAW dependency (Write after Write). Finally we need to  make sure that instruction 3 reads the value of R6 before we let instruction 4 write to it. This is WAR(Write after Read) dependency. Given all this complications, our dear processor might as well execute them in order!!

But this is not what happens in real processors because of the amazing idea of register renaming! If we really think about it, the only true dependency is RAW.  By true what I mean is for the program to be correct, it is essential that the value computed by instruction 1 is what should actually be used by instruction 2. But  the other dependencies are just name dependencies.

Consider our processor had infinite registers to play around with. But to the programmers we expose only a certain set of registers. These two groups are  called : physical registers and architectural registers respectively. It is clear that ,
physical registers >= architectural registers

What register renaming does is :
–Every time we encounter an instruction we give it a new physical register to write to. Essentially rename an architectural location to new physical register.
–We maintain and update the mapping of architecture register -> physical register accordingly.

Now lets assume we have 14 physical registers(P0 to P13) and 10 architectural registers (R0 to R9). Consider that the intial mapping is
R0 – P0, R1 – P1 and so on.
In this sunlight of register renaming (sunlight: a phenomenon which was omnipresent in my life which is now kindof extinct) our code snippet will now be:

        Instruction 1    : MULT P0,P0,P10    –> mapping R1 -> P1 changes to R1 -> P10    
        Instruction 2    : ADD P10,P2,P11    –> mapping R3 -> P3 changes to R3 -> P11, notice that P10 is referred here instead of P1 for R1    
        Instruction 3    : MULT P5,P6,P12    –> mapping R3 -> P11 changes to R3 -> P12
        Instruction 4    : ADD P7,P8,P13        –> mapping R6 -> P6 changes to R6 -> P13

So what we achieved by this is, our processor can now execute instruction 2, 3 and 4 in any order as :
– WAW hazard is removed as both instruction 1 and instruction 2 have different destination registers.
– WAR hazard is removed as instruction 3 will read the right value whether instruction 4 executes before it or not.

      That is the amazing concept of register renaming!! If you want to dig deeper here’s a well written paper : Register Renaming Paper

          Reminiscing school days with a fellow Don Bosconian at work the other day, I couldn’t help but recollect this one particular song that had a deep impact on me.  We had performed this song as part of a skit on Don Bosco. On researching about it I found that it was composed by Mitch Leigh and was written for the 1965 musical “Man of La Mancha” inspired by Miguel de Cervantes’s seventeenth century masterpiece “El ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha” ; something which is on my reading wishlist (I wish after two levels of spanish, I can read this in spanish :-) Que agradable pensamiento!! ).  Here are the lyrics of this beautiful song :

To dream the impossible dream
To fight the unbeatable foe
To bear with unbearable sorrow
To run where the brave dare not go

To right the unrightable wrong
To love pure and chaste from afar
To try when your arms are too weary
To reach the unreachable star

This is my quest to follow that star
No matter how hopeless, no matter how far
To fight for the right
Without question or pause
To be willing to march
Into hell for a heavenly cause

And I know if I’ll only be true
To this glorious quest
That my heart will lie peaceful and calm
When I’m laid to my rest

And the world will be better for this
That one man, scorned and covered with scars
Still strove with his last ounce of courage
To reach the unreachable star..
The fight the unbeatable foe..
To dream the impossible dream..

Its been long that I have come here. I had somehow lost any appetite to blog.  But well here I am again :-). Needless to say much has changed in the interim. But this post is primarily about my recent trip with my friends.

Transition from college life to a work life had taken both me and my friends to different cities with technology as the only means to keep in touch. We always tried to plan a re-union but trust me getting 4 different outlook calendars to show ‘free’ in the same time slot is a herculean task and takes a lot of concerted effort  (add planning vacation with your boss to that and you know I am talking of exponential complexity here :-) ). But finally, more than a year after graduating from college we all hatched a plan to get out of our rat races and headed to my hometown ; the beautiful and scenic Konkan region.

It was my birthday and our plan was to have a small celebration with my family and spend the weekend in Goa and Malvan. So after Day 1 of birthday celebrations and munching on my Mother’s delicacies we started pretty early for Goa the next day. Goa is about 90Km from my place and well connected by the NH17 national highway. Along the way we were mesmerized by  beautiful Moti Talav (Lake) in Sawantwadi and overlooking it was the famous Rajwada. We decided to visit the famous Calangute beach in Goa first. It was quiet crowded by the time we reached there and water sports were in full swing. Looking at the fun and frolic around we dropped our initial plan to indulge in water sports at the Dona Paula beach and grabbed the first water scooter in sight :-) .

Boy.. I don’t remember the last time I must have been so thrilled!!! Being never fond of sports, I was a bit apprehensive initially but my friends were adamant that they were going to make me start a new year of my life with as much as craziness as possible; with the ‘scary’ Banana ride or ‘you are the king of world’ Para sailing ride or ‘get spanked’ Bumping ride !! After completely exhausting ourselves we headed to Panjim for lunch. Walking on the June 18 Road and interacting with a host of locals we were advised to go to the ‘Ritz Hotel’ for authentic Goan food. My fishetarian friend enjoyed the ‘fish plate’ there,  (5 delicious varieties of fish in one plate.. all she could say was ‘I am loving it’) while I was left mulling over the fact that my sweet lime juice cost as much as the some varieties of booze there!! We headed to Old Goa after that; for a trip to Goa is never complete for me till I visit the famous Basilica Of Bom Jesus. After spending a calm evening on the Miramar beach we headed for home to take some rest before another excited day began.

Day 3 of our trip was dedicated to exploring beaches in Malvan, again an hour’s ride from my place.  We reached there early in morning and after hiring a boat we headed to the ‘Dolphin point’  about 9 Km in the sea through the back waters.  It was there,  for the first time in our lives that we saw the amazing symmetry with which dolphins swim !! We were left spellbound by the beauty of their movement which was over-powering the vastness of the ocean. It was only when the cruel and unstoppable ‘Time’ shone on our heads in the form of Sun that we  headed back to the shore. After a short visit to the famous and serene Tarkarli beach we headed to the Malvan Jetty to do something we all were mightily excited about – Snorkeling!!  Snorkeling is a recently started activity near the Sindhudurg fort. Our guides were two patient individuals who calmly explained us how to use our gear. Well, after that it was but Discovery live for you!!! We saw different varieties of corals and many beautiful fishes.  We ended our Day-3 trip by a visit to the famous Sindhudurg fort.

All in all it was a near perfect start of a new year for me; all cause of my lovely and energetic buddies. Love you all big time girls :-)


First of all many thanks to a friend who took the pains to mail me that she happened to read my blog and that I should keep writing. They say ‘a friend is someone who knows the song in your heart and can sing it back to you when you have forgotten the words’. Thanks to her that I finally felt like posting this one. So many things have happened in the past 2 months that I guess it took some time for me to come to terms with myself. Here’s a quick list:

  1. I finished my engineering studies with static colors :). So now I can claim that I am an Engineer. Shaizeen Aga, BTech IT (COEP) happens to be my new designation :).
  2. We, which means (Akki, Swati and me) won Imagine Cup Parallel Computing Award. I really want to thank some people without whom this achievement would not have been possible.-Niks: For suggesting to me that I participate ( I had better mention Shira’s name here for inviting us to her birthday party and coming late herself :) which gave Niks and me, the time to start chatting). He not only suggested that I participate but also wholeheartedly believed that I would win :). Niks, do let me know how you developed this foresight:).

    -Sudhir: For answering all my silly doubts with his immense patience and helping out.

    -Jinson and Kumbhar Sir: For helping us arrange a quad core machine for getting our test results.

    -And last but not the least Swati, for having a dual core machine, almost killing it for getting the results we got and for converting herself into a anthropomorphic debugger for almost over a month to make our code run with atmost precision and Akki for being at a ‘missed call’ distance from me for last four years and  bearing up with PRETCT who almost used to throw up (or faint) when fed with our code and large datasets.

  3. I had my first press conference for winning the Imagine Cup which was arranged by our college. Here’s a short list of various  newspapers covering this:
    Pune MirrorIndian Express

    Times of India

  4. I moved out of Pune and I am back at home now. I definitely miss the city a lot… esp Smokin Joes, Corn Club, Horn Ok Please, Krishna Juice Center, ABC, J-Block and most of all C-O-E-P… The last four years have been some of the best years of my life and they wouldn’t have been so had it not been for all my beloved friends who made it so for me. I miss you all a lot… :(

Life at home is good.. Rain gods are pouring their hearts out and it rains cats and dogs out here… I have never been a devout  Sun Fan  nor a Rain Fan , but I surely am  missing  Sun a lot :( . If any you guys happen to see him please let him know I am heart-broken and that he should try striking some sort of pact with Rain and show up atleast for a few hours everyday. I am waiting for the hegemony of Rain god to end and for my mornings to be welcomed by the dulcet sounds of birds instead of the constant clamor of incessant rains.


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