Sunday, May 25, 2014


This post is absolutely boring for women. If you are a woman, you may proceed to see cute cat videos.

If there is one FMCG category that seems ripe for disruption and some healthy competition, I frankly believe it is – shaving razors. Men’s shaving razors are essentially ruled by a monopoly – Gillette. I am aware that there are some local competitors here and there, but I have never come across a worthy competitor. At least not in this part of the world. There is a reason why it is the 23rd most valuable brand in the world. With a brand value estimated at $18.3 Billion.

Dollar Shave Club

And monopoly (according to Economics) stifles innovation and raises prices. That’s probably why we pay so high for the replacement shaving blades and the only innovation that we have seen in the last 25 odd years of men’s grooming is – addition of more blades.

Being the ultra-gullible consumer I have always been – I followed the trend. Advertising effectively made me numb (hail oh ye Marketers!). I started off with the single blade safety razors (and yeah was always miserable at it) 15 years ago! Progressed to the disposable twin-blade variety. Then got my first Sensor Excel and then graduated to the Mach 3, Mach 3 Turbo, Fusion, Fusion Proglide etc.

One early morning while I was shaving in a trance with my latest gizmo that vibrates on my skin; I had my own Archimedes Eureka moment when I realized, that having more blades on my razor were causing more harm than really giving me a close or clean shave as the handsome model in the advert claimed.

Here is my understanding : However good my razor is, to get a clean shave, I always shave a second or third time on the same area. So if I do it with 2 blades, I only effectively irritate my skin – 2*3 = 6 times. But when I do that with a 5 blade razor – I do it 15 times. I haven’t really come across a razor yet that can give me a close shave in the first pass.

Anyway, that day I decided, I would go back to my original twin-blade razor Sensor Excel. And that’s the day I realized that the old razors are not available any more in almost all shops in Singapore and India (that I know off!). I panicked and I purchased a bunch off Amazon and paid a bomb for the product and it’s shipping across the seas. I haven’t yet figured out if they are really out of production or is the Monopoly manipulating us into buying their new products by artificially not bringing their old razors into the market (mind you, the replacement blades are available easily). Sensor Excels are remarkable absent from their website.

Gillette Sensor Excel

Now I am back again to where I started off a long time ago. And I don’t find much of a difference in my shave. I am definitely happier with my skin though, cause it’s noticeably less irritated. And for the history buffs – The Gillette Sensor Excel was released in 1993. Yeah 21 years ago.

And last I heard, Gillette is launching another razor this year. And this time, it’s gonna be compatible with all the old blades that they have in the market.

Fusion ProGlide with FlexBall

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Statistical Con

Disclaimer: I am not a statistician, and this post is purely a myopic view of an extremely vast and difficult subject

So I came across an organization that is trying to impose a dress code for its employees. Now, I have a very neutral opinion about whether organizations should or should not impose dress codes. My belief is that it completely depends on the organization’s culture and the business that it is in. (For e.g – I like seeing customer service executives in a certain dress code  so that I know I ain’t asking my questions to a civilian or fellow-shopper) However, the thing that I am more interested in is – how did the organization actually conduct an internal study, and conclude that employees were voluntarily interested in having a dress code imposed on themselves. The study was concluded with a statistical analysis of the answers, and some of the answers went against my understanding of people’s mentality.

This got me interested in the subject – can we actually go and misuse statistics? Apparently we can, and interestingly we have been doing it all the time. There are even books available on “How to lie with statistics” and there is an entire Wikipedia article dedicated to misuse of statistics.

The applicability of a statistic really depends on the completeness of the people sampled.

I went to the Samsung service center to get my mobile phone fixed the other day. And there were 56 people before me on the same day. So we were made to sit in a big room where everyone instantaneously concluded that Samsung mobile phones are the worst because there were so many of us there at that time.

In the dress code survey statistic, it was never revealed how many people in the organization were actually surveyed and what was their demographic (organizational position). People in sales and in higher positions are more customer facing and naturally they have to adhere to a dress code. So if the survey respondent sample contained the above mentioned people, the survey results would be severely biased.

The answer that a survey gets, depends on the way the question is framed.

I have seen that if a righteous question is asked, we come up with noble thoughts and try to be righteous. If a question is framed like “Do you think a person should be penalized for breaking the organization’s dress code policy?”, the chances are, I would reply with a yes. However if it asked “Do you think you should be severely punished for breaking your organization’s dress code policy?”, my answer would expect some leniency towards me.

The way a sentence is framed or a graph is shown could change the severity of the statement.

If I say “25% of a population has a risk of heart disease, it seems a big number but it still seems distant. But if I say “1 in 4 people have a risk of heart disease, suddenly the number appears to be too close”. This is because we know a lot more than 4 people and it means we are gonna know many individuals who actually have that risk!

The way news media blatantly abuses statistics these days is truly appalling (Well summarized in this XKCD comic). Especially when they just interview a small sample of people in a city by calling a select few people (without regard for unbiased sampling!) and then overgeneralize the output to form an attention grabbing newspaper headline like “Indians are lazy”.

And finally – Correlation doesn't necessarily imply causality

Correlation doesn't imply causation, but it does waggle its eyebrows suggestively and gesture furtively while mouthing 'look over there'.

And I just came across these two amazing websites that have plotted correlations between totally unrelated dimensions to drive home this point!

The first one is from Business Insider

Correlation doesn't mean causation

And this one called spurious correlations by Tyler Vigen actually finds and plots correlations between absolutely random variables.

Spurious Correlations

So the next time when you come across statistical analysis in a news article. Be warned, be very warned. There is a high chance the journalist has no background in statistics.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Reduce Paper Towels

I know that most of you are environmentally conscious and take all the steps to reduce your carbon footprint and live in a sustainable way. I also know that you reduce reuse and recycle. But I am flabbergasted by the general population’s ignorance about this.

How to use one paper towel

Now, I can’t go advising random strangers that I meet in the toilet. But what I can definitely do is share a video with my friends (you guys) and in turn hope that you spread the advice. Till about last year (when I saw this video for the first time), I always used 2 paper towels to dry after washing my hands in a public restroom. 2 because 1 paper towel by itself, always tore quite easily and made a sticky mess of shredded paper on my hand. That was, till I saw this video. I implore you to see it. It’s little over 4 minutes and I am sure you can make time to see it right now.

The gist of this TEDx video by Joe Smith is -

  1. Shake your hands vigorously after washing to get rid of the excess water
  2. Take 1 paper towel and fold it
  3. Use the folded paper towel to wipe your fingers and your palm

And why is this technique effective? Well, simply because once you fold the paper it allows “interstitial suspension” (Joe’s words not mine). I researched what that means and apparently the water gets absorbed in between the paper folds and thus 1 paper is effective enough to dry water off your already shaken hands.

Saturday, May 10, 2014


I have spent most of my life on and around the equator. To be precise, currently I live 1°north of the equator and Mumbai was approx. 18° north. So my body is generally used to warm and  humid temperatures. Cold for me is anything below 24° C.

So imagine my plight when I was put in a place where summer was just having positive temperatures (Yeah 0°C or more!). Like a diligent traveller, before I went, I read the news and I saw people all wearing shorts n t-shirts celebrating the summer. So the daring me went with my own shorts n t-shirt and if I say that I almost froze to death then that can be considered as an euphemism.

I ended up wearing up to 5 layers of clothes on a normal day and covered my face with a towel so that I wasn’t exposed to the chilling summer. Enacted the “fatowarmoclothwearus” routine again. So bad, that it’s been almost 3 weeks since I came back and I am still thawing myself.

And well, that is officially my excuse for not writing here for more than a month.