Book Review: The Martian, by Andy Weir

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In true words “The Martian” is an engineer’s delight. Love for mathematics is a pre-requisite for this book. The struggle of an astronaut, to survive at mars – is what everyone would assume this book to be about. However, I think that the book is more about how life can throw tantrums at the wrong times and there is no option you have but to deal with it. The author, in his personal life, is a programmer and it is very evident from the way he sorts down and tackles the problems he is facing at the martian land, one at a time. Humour, is a very strong element of Andy’s style of writing. It comes out at the times where it was least expected and that’s what makes it so much more funny. Here’s my favorite quote from the book:

“They say no plan survives first contact with implementation. I’d have to agree.”
Andy Weir, The Martian

I believe that one of the biggest challenges with a single character based novel is fighting monotony [from the reader’s perspective]. However, this book does a good job by adding adventure, thrill and lot’s of suspense, which keeps the boredom at bay. Strangely enough, the astronaut happens to be a botanist at heart and grows a potato farm at Mars. At this note, I leave it on you to figure out what happens next.

Advise:
1. This book deserves a binge reading. I read it in one go in 8 hours.
2. Andy Weir has written a summary and analysis of this book and it is much recommended.

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10 Adorable Facts About Moms

1. Every time my friends call me fat, all I have to do is reach out to my mom. Suddenly, I am thin again!

2. In panic mode, she calls me by my brother’s name and my brother by my name. Given the fact, that she kept our names, how difficult can it be to remember? But, it’s adorable!

3. On the day of Karvachauth, our family gets our meals right on time and full of variety. Complaining attitude is not the characteristic of a mother.

4. She keeps her kid’s dreams ahead of her own wishes and teaches her kids to keep their own dreams on the top.

5. A mere smile on mother’s day means more to her than what an X-box means to us on our birthday.

6. Whenever we ask her if she loves me or my brother more, she says she can’t compare but she loves us both more than her life. I think it’s an actual example of infinite love, and two infinite values can’t be compared. It’s adorable.

7. There is the district court, then high court, then supreme court and then a mother’s judgement. I cannot afford to be wrong in her eyes.

8. A mother is the only factory in the world which has more than 100% efficiency. With minimum raw materials she can produce abundant selfless love.

9. You get a hug, whether you top the class or you fail it. Conditions not applied.

10. To every son his mom is the prettiest and to every mom her daughter/son is the prettiest. There is mutual admiration. 😛 🙂

Make A Wise Donation To Nepal

042915-ap-nepal-quake-apartment-rubble-imgThe consequences of the unfortunate calamity at Nepal are beyond our control, well after a certain extent. The least we can do is come together as one strong unit and support each other. All the hard work we do and the riches we accrue, get wiped off in a second of one such calamity. This moment is all we have and if our hard-earned money can earn a moment for someone in need, let us donate. A lot of noble organizations are setting up donations for difference causes and most of us, who want to donate, are confused where to donate. Let us first understand how donations work.

Expense-breakup of Donations

For every dollar that you donate to a charity, how much do you think is actually spent for the cause? In the best-case scenario, 85-90 cents and in most cases 60 cents. While in the need of the hour, every penny counts, still it does hurt to confront the reality of financial manipulation even in catastrophic situations. Given the reality, here is a guide for you to choose where to make a donation.

Whenever you choose an NGO, organziation or charity to donate for a cause, do the research on the following measures:

  • Program Expenses: It reflects the percentage of the total budget that is being spent on the actual services that the program stands for. The more the program expenses the better it is. You would ideally like the number to be around 85-90%.
  • Administrative Expenses: It reflects the percentage of the total budget that is being spent on the organization’s administrative staff, group meetings, people management, overhead expenses, etc. You would want to minimize this number. If the number is more than 33%, think multiple times before donating.
  • Fundraising Expenses: It reflects the percentage of the total budget that is being spent on the efforts made by the organizaiton to raise money. It includes public relations, campaigns, events, marketing costs, memberships, etc. Again, this number should be minimized as a part of it will be recovered from every dollar that you spend. Ideally, you would like this number to be under 10%.
  • Crowdfunding Expense: Crowdfunding websites allow people to donate directly to the victim and thus, you can bypass the overhead administrative expenses. But, they charge transaction fees of 5-6% on an average.

Examples

  1. Red Cross
  • Program expenses: 90.5%
  • Administrative Expenses: 3.5%
  • Fundraising Expenses: 6%
  1. Children’s Charity Fund
  • Program expenses: 6.2%
  • Administrative Expenses: 9.8%
  • Fundraising Expenses: 84%

Source of Information

Now the key question is where you get this information. It is the responsibility of the charities or donation websites to declare the expense breakup on their websites. If only they were all responsible. Thus, we have certain websites that dig this information for the donors and provide a pie chart distribution of these expenses. Some are free and some not. But here is a list of the best ones:

Word of advice: 

Social media is definitely a huge source of motivation for us, but do not get lured instantly with the campaign videos. Do your homework and yes, please do support the work being done to resurrect Nepal. This post is a mere effort to inform you about the cost break up of donations. I encourage you to make donations, but wisely.

National Instruments Volunteers- Habitat For Humanity

With the most noble intention, the awesome team at National Instruments went to the Habitat for Humanity Organization to build a home. I’m not using a metaphor, we actually went there to build a home.

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How does it work? The organization invites families that need a house but can’t afford one, comfortably. So they ask the family members to earn themselves a house by contributing 150 working hours towards building someone else’s house. We went as volunteers to contribute in various tasks like painting, carpentry, electrical work, mechanical work, fencing, plumbing, etc. When we reached there, we found many other volunteers like us, springing with energy to get started on building homes for others.

We introduced our group to the other volunteers as the Product Management group from National Instruments, when someone just asked to our surprise, “So do you play them or you make them?” We burst out laughing and clarified that we had very less to do with making or playing musical instruments.

Then was the distribution of tasks and our group got divided into Painting, Fencing and Gardening. Ralph and Nate were hab2our Managers and we were to simply follow the directions they give to us. Aziz, who had finished 100 working hours towards getting himself a similar house, accompanied us in the task. The image on the left is what the house looked like before we started working on it. The thought of seeing someone live in the house kept us all self motivated in the tasks that we were doing. This was a very different experience for me. In my country, the irony is that the labourers who build homes for others, have no shelter for themselves and their families. The spend their entire lives building homes for others, never being able to get a solid house for themselves.

This was also a great way to enrich the bonding within our team and all thanks to Nisha for coming up with this initiative. While Nisha was taking care of the painting department, myself, Mike , David, Jake, Todd and Joey helped with fencing. Here are some moments worth capturing:

A beautiful moment when I saw Azia, perhaps picturing his own house very soon:

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David, working to perfection. This also reminds me of that funny moment when David said to me with a smirk, while we were fencing, “Shivansh, you have spent your entire day nailing and screwing.” Just then I accidentally scared him by pushing the drilling machine close to his hands and he said in continuation to his previous comment, “Not people, please!”

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Nisha, deciding to paint herself in excitement:

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Mike and Todd on the heights. Unfortunately, I could not capture this one, so I had to photoshop. But they were actually on the top, working on the roof!

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This is me, I was overwhelmed all this while.

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We could bring a visibly drastic change is the look and feel of the house at the end of day’s work. And the smile on our faces, tell the story!

Habitat5Dirty as you can see, we all drove back in Nisha’s car, wrapped up and struggling with the polythene bags!

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One of the most productive and eventful days of my life was 11th December 2014! Hopefully, we will make a visit to this house in Feb 15, when a family would have started living here 🙂

They shall sleep hungry tonight, but, not by their choice..

I created this video after I was filled with guilt while talking to a friend of mine. She told me that everyday 20 crore Indians sleep without taking dinner. Because they don’t have any food in the house. You may already know this fact, but what have you done about it? Apart from adding to the problem.

Watch this video and if you think you can do something, then join hands and lets get going..

The first day is a glimpse and not a guarantee, of the maximum goodness that can be maintained at your workplace

Disclaimer: I love my job. This is just a word of advise that I want to give to my friends, who will be or have just taken this path.

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This is what can happen to you. 

Two months into your job , you start brooding about the monotony slowly seeping into your daily routine. Nothing in the workplace seems like the first day.  You discover with time that the pleasing faces that caught your attention before, are facades. The seat cushion doesn’t have the bounce anymore and the fresh pages on your diary don’t smell the same.  The refreshing and energizing talks over lunch now turn into bitter talks, sulking and accusations. Whatever your management does, now looks to be a strategic attack on you. This is no more the place you thought it was, this is no more the place you want to be.

Lets take a flashback over two months The day of your job interview, you tried your best convincing God that there is nothing you have ever wanted more than this Job (although you said the same thing when you made umpteen requests to God on those endless nights before end-sem exams, but there is some eternal belief in all of us that makes us so confident that God has bad memory ). Anyways, you get the job and you are on cloud 9. You want everybody to call you and congratulate you, else you call them. You act humble, but inside if you, you’re like, “Am I awesome or what!”  The first day, you are pampered by everyone, you smile at everyone and get one in return. Everything about your work is new and exciting. You are made to feel important in the company. The burden of responsibilities makes you a man from a boy, all of a sudden! You are now a corporate professional and your dressing, financial status, address, telephone number and in my case the waist size, everything changes.

What happens later?

Well, Two months are not good enough to bring a change in you or your company. Two months are enough though, to change you attitude towards your company. Everyday does not feel like the first day because you did not ensure new and exciting tasks for yourself each day. The cushion has lost the bounce because you have made your job a seat sticking sedentary pain in the butts. You stopped going for a stroll around the office and randomly exchanging smiles with people. So they stopped smiling at you. People can be confused, people can be indecisive, people can be introvert and people can be shy. It takes time for them to know you and for you to know them. So if you discover a flip side of them that was not exposed on the first day, it does not mean that  they wear a facade. It means knowing people takes time and accepting them as what they are, takes tons and ounces of maturity. The first day is a glimpse and not a guarantee of the maximum goodness that can be maintained at your workplace.
Whatever you do as an employee is your contribution to the growth and your stake in the company’s success. But people take ages to realize this.  This is the turmoil that they get into:
You start considering your company’s success different from your success. Thus, you no more feel that your work contributes to the growth of the company. This makes you feel redundant, unwanted and dispensable in your team. While on the other hand, the team starts observing a reluctance in your behaviour, they see how you are gradually losing interest in your job and start speculating the reasons for it. They are missing you in the team, while, you are thinking that they want you no more.

Is there a way out of this?

Yes, there is. But you need to figure that out for yourself! Work together in a team, not just to pin point the problems but to get a solution. Your attitude will define your job, your position and your growth. Give respect to the easiest and menial of the tasks you do each day, respect will come running back to you.
Heard the age old saying, “All jobs suck, that’s why you are paid to do it!” ??
That’s hardly true! Good jobs, like good men, are few but they’re there!
Good luck
Let me know how your first day was 🙂

Tribute to Robin Williams : O’ Captain My Capatin

Robin Williams:

“O Captain, My Captain”, is one of the jewels of poetry, composed by Walt Whitman. But, what it makes it all the more special, is the sequence above from the movie Dead Poets Society starring Robin Williams. This is also the first poem that I recited in the year 2002. It has been a memorable experience of my life, as I remember being in tears half way through the recitation. If heart felt, the poem can touch chords of emotion like nothing else can. So I stand again, and pay tribute to Robin Williams and chant for him, “O’ Captain, My Captain.” If you are a fan too, don’t refrain yourselves from following the act.

If you are from one of the schools that likes to take you out for movie excursions, then you have definitely seen Jumanji! That was the first English Movie I saw in a theater with my classmates. I remember coming back home, buying the board game and playing with my mother and friends. Then I also remember watching the movie over and over again on Star Movies and repeating umpteen times that this was my first English movie. He can bring tears to your eyes, leaving you confused if its his comedy or his drama, that touched you.

Indian youth is showing an increasingly high affinity towards Stand Up Comedy off late. I remember one fine night when I searched “stand up comedy” on youtube and landed on an hour long stand up act by Robin Williams. Physical comedy with a nasal voice, I believe was his forte. And the best thing is, you don’t have to be an American to understand the jokes that he makes on Americans. If you feel like entertaining yourselves, go ahead and watch Weapons of self destruction and An evening with Robin Williams.

Here is a famous quote that I can remember off the top of my head:

“A woman would never make a nuclear bomb. They would never make a weapon that kills, no, no. They’d make a weapon that makes you feel bad for a while.”

If there is after-life, the Gods must be having a great time with you, Robin Williams! You’ve left us all wondering about your mysterious death. Drugs and Alcohol have taken away from us, the humans, yet again another exceptional human being.