Sunday, January 8, 2017

Hillbilly Elegy - Book Review

In the very liberal county that I live in the school board believes that dumping money at the achievement gap problem is the solution. They have been doing this for a couple of decades with the problem exacerbating rather than improving. One of the school board members protested and refused to run for reelection because she believed that without the support of the family from which the student comes from there is only so much a school and the teachers can do. The bleeding heart liberal view that some people need handouts to survive or the conservative view that people should simply lift themselves by their bootstraps are both negative and the solution to the problem lies perhaps somewhere in the middle.

The hand wringing that the half of the country went through after the elections and our collective disbelief at the victory of the foul mouthed reality TV star who is the perhaps the biggest moocher by the sheer amount of government handouts boggles our mind. Why? Most of us live in bubbles that only reinforce our own world view perhaps.

What does any of this have to do with this book?

J.D.Vance the author of this book was a sought after voice around the time of elections. He is from one the communities that seemed to overwhelmingly support Trump in the election - the Applachia hill country which has suffered enormously during the past couple of decades when the manufacturing moved overseas. Places which have overwhelmingly fallen into the opioid/heroin addiction.

The book is at once sad, moving and extremely uplifting all at he same time. How someone with great odds managed to succeed with the help and support of his grand parents when his mom got afflicted with the addiction that is common in those parts. For a young person surviving to deal with the day to day problems and come out on the other side and manage to get an ivy league education is nothing sort of miraculous.

A steady and supportive presence of an adult is required for success more than money. Who does not like a rags to riches success story? Almost all of us have a soft corner for people who overcome their adversities and come out on the other side successful don't we? Intact families and supportive adults will do more for the success of a youngster than money. Government policies most often ignore this important aspect when they come up with programs aimed to help.

The book is extremely well written in a matter of fact tone. We have all heard of the saying "Fact is stranger than fiction" When I finished this book I could understand a bit more why some people supported Trump so much. He projects this machismo image , does not worry too much about what comes out of his mouth and does not seem too to care too much about what elite people think of him. This is appealing to a group of people who are sick and tired of being condescended to and who most often settle scores with the fist and hitting and fighting is a part of life.

Obama might be the polar opposite of what Trump stands of but how many people really understand what he or Hillary Clinton had to say. Trump did not say anything new, he put it more in layman terms what Obama said 8 years ago. Obama put his fingers on the problem and pretty much forgot about it. Hillary seemed to not grasp it all. Sad!

If not for the political significance of the book, read the book for the gripping narrative and the true story. You won't be disappointed.

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Sunday, January 1, 2017

5 Ingredients Curry Masala Powder

Happy New Year! Wishing you a Happy and Healthy 2017!

While DD2 would like nothing better than to eat out everyday I am not a huge fan neither are the rest of the family members. I bet there are a lot of people who love and enjoy eating out. I like it too when at the end of the day food magically appeared on the table from different places on different days. The problem though eating out comes with its own set of problems. The cost to health and well being for one thing and having to tolerate bad food being another. So if you are stuck between a rock and a hard place you come up with solutions.

There are a few small things that can be done ahead of time to make the process of cooking a bit easier when one is pressed for time. Before my mom back to India after her stay here,she made a small batch of some quick masala powder which can be used for curries. Saute onions, maybe ginger & garlic and some tomatoes and throw in a table spoon of this powder and voila you have a decent meal on your table. This works well with vegetables like cauliflower, zucchini, potatoes, okra, eggs and chicken. Chicken recipe coming up soon.

This recipe is simple as they come with none of the garam masala spices which you can always add later if you want.

5 Ingredients Curry Masala Powder
Preparation Time: 10 minutes
Cooking Time: 20 minutes
  1. 1/2 cup Coriander Seeds
  2. 2 tbsp cumin seeds
  3. 1 tbsp pepper corn
  4. 1/4 cup Red Chilies (adjust to taste)
  5. 1 tsp fenugreek seeds (optional)

  1. Dry roast the coriander seeds first for about 4-5 minutes. Add in the cumin seeds, fenugreek seeds, pepper corn and the red chilies.
  2. Roast till the red chilies start to get black here and there. Turn off the heat and let it cool.
  3. Transfer the roasted ingredients to a blender and blend to a fairly smooth powder.

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Sunday, December 18, 2016

The Undoing Project - Book Review

I am not big on Psychology only because I had not heard or knew much about it or its application before I came to the US. Once in the US I was astonished more than surprised at the number of people who have a psychology degree. It was as if the study of psychology permeated every aspect of life. I wondered why would someone wanting to do software development for instance want to learn psychology? Since everyone was studying it I thought this was the subject that people landed on when they had interest in nothing else.

I did not quite understand the need for so many folks to learn psychology and I did not get it. But only if I had paid a bit more attention to what psychology really was! The mind and human behavior does affect the way everything around us functions doesn't?

DD went off to college this year and I hoped that she would not spend any more time than required on psychology courses. In my mind learning psychology was not all that useful.

The only reason I even picked the book "The Undoing Project" was because of the review I saw in Wall Street Journal and wanting to know more about cognitive bias and how it affects thinking and its application in Big Data.

What a fantastic book it turned out to be. I read it faster than I read my favorite court room dramas or a John Grisham - my favorite author of whose books I have never missed one. My understanding of psychology and its application has changed quite a bitI have lots more respect and appreciation for this branch of science.

Michael Lewis is a fantastic writer and has the gift of writing a fast paced book that is not fiction and making it a lot more interesting than fiction books can ever be. Interwoven with the lives of the Nobel Prize winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman and his partner and collaborator Amos Tversky spins a fascinating tale of their research and along the way teaches a thing or two about psychology. This is the one of the first books by Michael Lewis that I have read though I have seen a movie based off of his book - Moneyball but never quite got around to reading any of his books.

I landed on the book by chance and now DD is making rumblings about registering for a few more Psychology courses after taking one in her first semester in college. Glad that I have a new respect for the science I am better prepared to accept her wanting to study the subject without simply shutting it down. Who said events in life happen at random?

For those of who are not interested in Big Data or Cognitive Bias but are interested in simply reading a very good book about 2 brilliant scientists go ahead and pick this book and I assure you, you will not be disappointed. You might even come away with a greater understanding of the human mind and its limitations and its approach to every day events.

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