[Fiction] The Cake Economy

I looked over the class. Some were bored, some where mentally absent and a few of the front row people were busy taking notes. This had been a boring class, covering financial systems and economies. I’d been droning on myself, without realizing the effect I had on the class. So, I decided to step out of it.

That’s exactly what I did, I stepped out from behind the lectern and came near the edge of the student desks. The unprecedented activity sent waves across the class and attention rose by 45%. I spoke to the students directly, perhaps the first time since I started teaching the class, “Well students, I’ve been telling you about financial systems all this time, but there’s no better way to explore them than to have a full-scale example in front of us. So, here’s what we’re going to do.” A couple of pens quickly arose to take notes. “We’re going to have a discussion,” the pens went down just as quickly, “and we’re going to talk about a fictional world where cake is the currency.” A few puzzled looks here and there amused me, this was going to be a fun lecture.

“Well, let’s begin, what do you think the world would be like if cake was the currency?”

The class geek spoke first, uncertain of questioning my idea, “but ma’am, how can cake be a currency? It’s perishable!”

“Excellent question, how can something perishable be a currency?”

The one-timer’s hand was raised, so I let him speak. “Ma’am, you’d have to make cake that can last a long time. Maybe even plastic cake.” A couple of students laughed. The one-timer was a student who used his wit once in a while, but when he did, it was always a very good idea. Too bad that he didn’t use it all the time. Unlike cake, brain power is not a perishable.

“Well, let’s remember one thing,” I responded to no one in general, “cake is supposed to be cake, it’s supposed to be edible and tasty. You can’t have plastic cake just like you can’t use monopoly money to buy candy. But yes, you all are on the right track. Pretty soon, people would figure out preservatives to keep the cake longer and yet remain tasty.”

“But I’d just eat it all instead of using it to pay my rent.” Someone from the back had decided to join the conversation. After a few laughs, I answered that idea, “true, you’d try at first. But how much cake can you eat? See unlike money, which you can’t directly consume, cake is an edible commodity, but a rather heavy food, right?”

“And what about transportation?” a girl spoke out of turn, “you can’t lug all that cake around, so I guess you’d need cake banks.”

“Yes, you cannot take cake with you on travels. You cannot ship large amounts of cake without peril and wastage, so your currency would be subject to the laws of nature a lot more than traditional currencies.”

The class geek raised his hand and started speaking, lest someone else beat him to the idea, “and really, how can you have cake as a currency? It’s going to go bad so quickly. You can’t transport large quantities and there’s the risk that someone will just eat all your money!”

“All things true, but then, what is the effect of cake going bad quickly? How does that affect the economy?” I asked. The geek stared back at me without an answer. He’s not thought that far. Lucky for him, someone else answered, a girl sitting in the second row, “it would mean that transactions would be really fast. You cannot have any savings if your currency is going to go bad in a few days tops. You’d just keep buying stuff.”

“Excellent point! You’d have an economy where consumption is more important than savings. Banks would have no money to lend out to people! Now, what about the baking process itself? What about the ingredients?”

A boy in the back raised his hand and I let him speak, “Ma’am, the ingredients would be controlled completely by the government. The baking itself would be done by them and whenever you’d need to buy something, you’d have to go to the bank-bakery and get a new cake baked.”

“Excellent point! Governments love to control the flow and creation of money. So cake would become nothing less than a scarce commodity, which could only be baked by the government’s bakeries. Now, what about piracy?”

The previous boy’s girlfriend had her hand raised before I had finished my question, so I let her speak first. She said, “Well, ma’am, you’re not considering other things about the cake itself. There’s a variety of cakes out there. So many designs, so many flavors, so many ways to decorate them. Each cake would have to be evaluated based on those features and then it’s market value would be set.”

“An excellent point! You can’t just have bland cake. The government would try to standardize the cake, but there are always inconsistencies. Also, people have certain preferences in cake. In general, the government could enforce a vanilla cake with the government’s logos on it, but that would not prevent people from liking chocolate or red velvet cake. People would barter based on their personal preferences. Now, coming back to the question of piracy, does anyone here think that cakes can be pirated or forged?”

Someone from the middle rows answered, “Of course, people will try. But the government controls so much of the economy that they’ll also control the ingredients of the cake. It’d be very difficult for someone to procure the same ingredients.”

“True,” I replied, “difficult, not impossible. Then you’d hear about cake crime, where criminals and the mafia would go about stealing flour so that they can fake cake.”

“But then,” someone chipped in, “the government would set a single design for the cakes and make that a standard. If a cake has that design, it’s a legal tender, otherwise not.”

“Absolutely! The government would definitely try to do that. They would also try to make the cake secure by adding a secret toxic ingredient, which would evaporate during the baking process if bakes in the right conditions. Of course, this would be met with some resistance, since the government is not perfect at baking cake and they’d screw up the process a couple of times.”

“So, essentially,” said one of the boys in the back, “there could be a scenario where the government finds a counterfeiter and makes them eat their own cake to see if the person gets diarrhea or not.”

The class laughed a bit before settling down and I asked my next question. “Has anyone else got anything to say about cake as a currency?”

The rich boy of the class answered, “frankly, I wouldn’t be caught lugging cake around, I’ll just get one of my servants to do it for me.”

“But what if your servant isn’t there with you? You’d not be able to buy anything anywhere,” I interjected.

“Not really,” he replied, “All the usual places I go to know me well. They know that I can easily afford what they have on sale. So they’d let me buy it and pay later.”

“That means they’d be giving you cake credit?”

Someone else answered, “Yes, that makes sense. Just like in real life, I get credit as a means of knowing if I can pay off a loan, in the cake world, I’d be able to prove that I can procure that much cake at a later date. Cake credit would work, specially if people don’t want their cake right now but at the end of the month.”

“Excellent! Now, two more things – what about the rich folk? Right now the people who own mines or oil fields, essentially natural resources, are the ones who quickly get rich. Whenever they need money, they simply sell off a bit of their property, or lease it, and they get money in return. What about the cake economy? Who’d get rich quick?”

“Well, the government has to procure goods from somewhere,” someone on the first bench chipped in, “they’ll just go to the farmers and ask for their crops. That way, those people will have more to barter for than, say, a software engineer, who has very little to do with the production of cake.”

“Wonderful! Now, one last thing – What do you all think about the type of cake? Would you want every type of cake everywhere or would countries decide on National flavors and stick with those?”

The class unanimously declared that they’d want every type of cake everywhere.

“Well, if you guys are allowed, cake would become an international currency and be valued the same everywhere. But that’s not how the real world works, right? There might be some countries that produce more cocoa than others, so they’d hold chocolate cakes to a lesser value than, say, banana pound cake.”

A few murmurs went through the class. I continued to wrap up, “it’ been an interesting discussion so far. I hope you all have enjoyed it as much as I have. There’s no better way to understand economics than to pick up a somewhat real model. Now, let’s quickly review the actual financial terms and ideas that we’ve studied here.” I spent the next ten minutes summarizing some of the terms the class had just talked about and I noticed that they were more attentive than before.

“Class, it’s been a wonderful lecture and I love the participation that you’ve given today. I will be adding today’s participation points to your final grade. If there are still people who haven’t contributed, you should do so now.”

Before I could even finish my sentence, a hand shot up from the absolute back of the class. The gamer girl, Trisha, had suddenly woken up to the prospect of her classmates getting a few more grade points than her.

“Well Trisha, get up and tell us what you have to say.”

Trisha got up slowly and kept staring at me for a few seconds. I had noticed that she’d been tapping away throughout the lecture and realized that she’d probably not heard any of it. Just to help her out, I reiterated the question, “Trisha, we’ve been talking about how the world would be if we used cakes as a currency and have cake credit. Do you have anything to say about the cake economy?”

Without even blinking, she replied, “The cake? The cake is a lie.”

The class roared with laughter as I finished the lecture, knowing full well that now, they knew everything there was to know about finance.

This post is inspired by @neilco on ADN. The thread that inspired this post sits here. Others have written about the cake economy too.

Sabji Acchi bani hai – Part 1

Setting: A typical IT company office in India. 3 cubicles (cutouts) can be seen, Stage center back. Three men are sitting with backs facing the audience. They appear to be working. They are – Sumit in the Stage Right cubicle, Shanky in the Stage center and Rahul/Ashutosh on Stage Left. Loud sighs can be heard coming from Shanky when the curtain opens.

After about 30 seconds of listening to the loud sighs.
Sumit (turning to Shanky): Abey yaar Shanky, itna udaas kyun hai?
Shanky (turns to Audience and rolls his chair to Stage Center): Ama yaar kya btaun, kimkartavyavimoodh ho rakha hun.
Rahul (turns and rolls his chair to Center Left): Kim Kardashian? Abey tu itna udaas hai ki khud ke words bnane lag gaya hai?
Shanky: Abey ghonchu, hindi ka shabdkosh khol liya kar kabhi, authentic word hai.
(Rahul is still scratching his head)
Sumit (rolling chair to Center Right): Shanky, itne bhaari words mat use kar, usse samajh nahi aate, (turning to Rahul) dude, vo keh raha hai ki vo confused hai ki kya kare! Shanky, tu ye to bta ki tujhe hua kya?
Shanky (showing disappointment with ‘shucks’): Kya btaun yaar, jab se shaadi hui hai, meri pyaari preeto ne Anarkali ko chodd ke Kali ka roop dharan kar liya hai. Life jhand ho gayi hai…
Rahul: Accha, teri bhi yehi halat hai?
Sumit: Yaar sabki yehi halat hoti hai, ismein naya kya hai?
Shanky: Naya hai yaar! Pehle to main preeto ko compliment karta tha, to has ke kehti thi, ki tum to bade romantic ho!
Sumit: Aur ab?
Shanky: Yaar ab agar usse kehta hun ki sabji acchi bani hai, to usse sunta hai ki sabji KACCHI bani hai! Bekar mein har subah jagdha ho jaata hai.
Rahul: Yaar, ye to mere saath bhi bda hota hai, tang ho gaya hun!
Sumit: Yaar same here. Life ne bda hi ajeeb mod liya hai, Socha tha shaadi kar ke life mein shaanti aegi.
Shanky: Dude shaanti to aayi, par sukuun waali nahi, DD ki Mandira Bedi waali Shanti, aur uske rehte kisi ke life mein shaanti nahi ho sakti! Continue reading


In a sea of faces
walks a child,
his mind swimming
in a sea of books.
He seems lost
in the reverie
that some call the Schoolyard.

He looks at the children,
smiling, playing, happy.
He is distant,
but not angry or sad,
just different.
There is a moment,
a flicker in his eyes
and out comes the pen,
to write words,
nay, observations,
into his notebook.

He sits in the sidelines,
toiling as hard as
the basketball players,
on rhyming his words.
Sometimes two lines
do not rhyme
and the world seems
like a dark, filthy place.
But then the light
of imagination shines
and the words come rushing.

He dares, he dreams,
he imagines, he infers,
he observes, he opines.
He holds his rhymes dear,
Till one day he will grow up
And grow out of the rhymes
With dulled imagination
and a weary soul
drifting in a sea of adulthood.

But not today!
Today he writes,
today he cherishes,
his energetic soul.
Today is not for worrying.
Today is for the now.
Today is for
Thinking, Dreaming, Hoping.

Tech Bloggers should sell their articles

tl;dr – Tech bloggers should sell articles to News companies, much like Reuters and AP have done in the past.

GigaOm Pro is an interesting service. While most of the tech blogging industry is ad-supported, it has a subscription based model. It’s not unheard of, but surprises me that it works. I don’t have any numbers, but the fact that the industry pays good money to read and listen to GigaOm Pro analysts seems to point to a healthy business model. Why does GigaOm Pro work? Because it is attached to a name, that of Om Malik. That name carries weight in tech reporting circles. People care about what he has to say.

Why is this relevant? Because good writing is always rewarded. Newspapers around the world have always depended on wire services like Reuters, AP and BBC, to name a few, to fill their columns and inform their readers of news from around the globe. This makes sense for two reasons – it is cost-effective and companies such as Reuters and AP can be trusted to do the right reporting in a timely and impartial manner. I have seen news reports being replicated in different newspapers without any change simply because the headline was followed by a reporter’s name and a small (Reuters) mention.

Today, the Internet, in its goal to be an open sharing platform, has skewed this reporting standard. Companies such as ABC News and NYT often quote a blog post or a tweet and wrap their own story or analysis around that. This works so long as the original writer isn’t a paid professional writer, like when I write on this blog. But when the quoted links are tech blogs and independent writers who lose out on page views; and thus ad revenue, this becomes a lousy proposition for the bloggers.

I believe that tech blogs should become similar to Reuters and AP in their reporting. Traditional news companies cannot afford to send reporters to every tech event, nor are they invited to do so. Tech blogs have reached the level where if you’re not writing well or covering the latest topics, you’ll get laughed off the Internet quicker than it takes to set up a Tumblr blog. So, instead of keeping in-house writers, news outlets can take articles from tech blogs for a fixed price, along with deeper analyses and more contextual content. They could do this without compromising the quality of the writing. Not every tech blogger would qualify for a payout, but those who have proven their worth will be able to earn more than just page views on such a program.

Why would this work for news companies? Right now it’s a free-for-all. They can quote anyone, attach a link and bet that no average reader will click on it, all for free. The benefit of paying up? Syndication. Right now, tech news trickles down from everyone who was on the scene and this means that everything links back to the tech blogs. By offering to pay for their writing, media companies will be able to get their hands on exclusive content without having to link to any blogs and without having to worry about legal issues related to trackbacks.

The negatives for tech bloggers are not negligible. The first is that many companies will require bloggers to officially become journalists to protect them in case of First Amendment issues. This will require that the following question be addressed – is a blog post talking about a recent event a news report or an opinion? I myself believe that it is an opinion, since the writer does not necessarily have the required training to be impartial to the subject. This debate has often played out against bloggers. The other issue is that upon paying money, the company will require the blogger to not publish the article on their own blog, as this would duplicate the syndicated article. This hits the blogger exactly where it hurts. Tech bloggers write on their own platform for the single purpose of gaining popularity; which can then be converted into money using the traditional means of sponsored posts or advertisements. The work around would be for tech bloggers to either accept less money in exchange for permission to post the article on their blog after a fixed period of time or write a short article on their own blog while syndicating a longer, much more detailed version for the news media. The final problem is that this move would take us away from the open nature of the Internet where RSS feeds and pingbacks allow a level of sharing that doesn’t exist on any other media platform. I do not know how negatively this will affect the Internet, but it would not be a small change.

In conclusion, I believe that tech bloggers should strike deals with traditional news media to provide them with syndicated news feeds. This can mean that tech bloggers do not need to depend solely on advertisements on their own platform to earn a living. This will benefit news media outlets because they will get accurate, real-time news and analysis from people who are in the field and understand the context very well. There are still a lot of issues that need to be resolved before such a step can be taken, but the idea is worth looking into.

Interesting sub note – The Wikipedia page for Syndication lists print syndication as “where individual newspapers or magazines license news articles, columns, or comic strips” but web syndication as “where web feeds make a portion of a web site available to other sites or individual subscribers”. In web syndication, there is no mention of licensing, money or purchase of rights. This is what Riptide has concluded to be the problem with news reporting on the web.

Editor: Anna Tarkov [ADN|Twitter]
Note: I’d love to thank Anna for her help in editing this article. She provided me with invaluable help in getting the message across and pointing out some of my idiosyncrasies. Anna is a journalist from the Chicago area and she’s steeped in the digital life. She runs a personal blog here.

The Path of the Creative person

I was talking to my friend Rahul[ADN|Twitter|Facebook] about an idea I had about ‘ideas’ and how I would represent visually the need to protect our precious idea from all the negative people around us who would rather see that idea die than to help or even support us. He captured it quite brilliantly in this sketch he made –

The Path of the Creative

Rahul does some pretty creative work on his Tumblr – LicenseToDraw

The Zen of Zen

I have tried, many, many times, to read books on self-help, management, zen and “How to Keep on Writing” topics. But except for the wisdom I found in the stories in books like Shiv Khera’s ‘You Can Win’ or in ‘The One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey’ and the one immensely powerful book – ‘The War of Art’ by Steven Pressfield – which was more of a conversation with a fellow writer than the inept preachings of a management ‘guru’, I have never been able to finish one of these so-called ‘life altering’ guides. Continue reading

Short Story: The Author

On a quiet night, in a quiet neighborhood, twenty quiet police officers quietly broke into a quiet man’s quiet house, arrested him and quietly took him away.

When he woke up, he was alone in a large, dark room with a bright light shining on him. He called out, for someone must be listening, but no one replied. He called out again, then shouted, but no one came. He got angry and shouted, cursed and rocked his chair. His hands were tied to the back and his feet were tied to the legs of the metal chair and did not budge. He tried hard and long, but he could not move an inch. At long last, he noticed a small red light switch on, right next to the bright light glaring in his face. A voice spoke from somewhere behind that light, booming into the room, “Please state your name, age and occupation. Also state your reason for betraying your country.” Continue reading

The Death of the Author

there is, however, someone who understands each word in its duplicity and who, in addition, hears the very deafness of the characters speaking in front of him-this someone being precisely the reader.

via The Death of the Author by Roland Barthes Full Text, Downloads, Cliff Notes, and Essays.


This text, pointed to me by Dan on ADN (which was in response to this article posted there by Matthew) reflects what I believe about writing today – that in as much as we want to give meaning to the text in terms of the context of the author, the real meaning can only be derived by the reader himself. The same is true, in my book, about any art – paintings, sculptures etc, where it is not the artist’s life, times, societal pressures or addictions, that define the true meaning of the work, but the impressions it makes upon the viewer that truly reflect the value of the art. Continue reading