Saturday, 30 March 2013

Miscellaneous reads

Now here's a listing of a bunch of books that I found to be different from your general variety of books. Read on to find out more.

  1. The Godfather by Mario Puzo
  2. The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth
  3. Strong Medicine by Arthur Hailey
  4. The Bourne Series by Robert Ludlum

The Godfather

This book revolutionised thinking and culture in America and was Puzo's seminal piece of work which laid the foundations for future crime novels. As most would already know, Godfather here refers to the head of a Mafia family and is responsible for the welfare of that family as well as the successful running of the illegal activities carried out by the family.
The book's lead roles emphasise on respecting the family heritage, the Italian culture and a do-or-die attitude to protect one's family. What makes the book remarkable is the portrayal of the Godfather, his persona, his ability to solve the toughest situations through reasoning and dialogue and the unbelievably smart advice he gives his kids even in the face of adversity and danger. It also brings to light the nature of the world, how a democracy functions(not like we didn't know this earlier), what greed and the desire for power make people do, results of lack of anger-management, betrayal and its consequences, the love for family et al. I especially liked the devious strategies employed to thwart one's enemies and traitors. This novel is the complete works. Everything you can encounter in life is depicted somewhere in this book.

I haven't had the opportunity to read the sequel to this book though, 'The Sicilian', but it did not gather the same kind of fame that The Godfather did.

Another one of Puzo's books, The Last Don, focused less on the crime part and more on the love part. But since it also contained devious plans and strategies to get rid of enemies, it didn't fail me. Absolutely enjoyed this book too. In many ways though, this one seemed like a quick read compared to the Godfather, probably cause of the writing style and content. Some of the content in Godfather felt unnecessary at times(probably because Puzo left you on a cliffhanger in the previous chapter and took you to another character in the following chapter) but this book had a continuous link throughout. Of course, there were cliffhangers, but it seemed like it was more structured and there was continuous action in the book. All said and done, both the books are well worth reading.

Godfather description by Tom Hanks

Check out this video to see what Tom Hanks has to say about the Godfather in You've Got Mail.

The Day of the Jackal
This is the best crime/action book out there, believe me! It absolutely blew my mind off. The detailed description of every step taken by the hired assassin, right from creating fake identities to identifying the vantage point for the kill, every bit of it was remarkably done. Add to that the fact that the high profile target is already alerted about the assassination attempt! The book has two perspectives - the assassin's and the secret agency's which is trying to identify and capture the assassin before he makes the kill - and both are equally enthralling. Saving the first few chapters of the book which laid the groundwork, I can't recall any moment during the rest of the book which made me feel like I was getting bored or why the author had to put those details in the book. No regrets and no time wasted in this book.

Strong Medicine
Heads up, this book is very very different from the remaining books I have recommended so far. It is kind of
like a documentary spruced up with mystery and thrill. Let me explain. Arthur Hailey is the kind of author who provides absolutely all the information that exists on a particular topic. So when he explains about the process by which experimental drugs turn into marketable medicines, he takes you step by step through the entire process spanning the different teams, approvals and organisations involved. Needless to say, this makes up for a lot of information on drugs. Now for the mystery and thrill part. Since the drugs are made by a company, it entails making money. So, Hailey gets the opportunity to show you the manner in which conglomerates think and how the decisions are taken to make profits. This is certainly a good read, but I warn you, there will be times when you feel an information overload. Since I liked the manner in which he portrayed the wrong actions of the individuals in the company to enhance their interests, as well the information about drugs/medicines, I enjoyed the book in its entirety.

The Bourne Series
A trilogy of action books, this is a wonderfully written series with detailed instructions on how to become an assassin as well. The first book I came across which had such detailed description on steps to take to live a life of an assassin. The series consists of:

  • The Bourne Identity
  • The Bourne Supremacy
  • The Bourne Ultimatum
In the first book, the lead role Jason Bourne suffers from amnesia and is trying to fend off attempts on his life from terrorist groups, paid assassin as well as the CIA. At the same time, he is trying to recover his memory while safeguarding a woman who is stuck with him. Wow, quite a handful on his plate, even for an assassin. Ludlum pulls this off with grace and unparalleled writing skills. While reading an action scene in the book, you literally picture that happening right in front of you, every single move too, even the complicated assassination moves used in one-to-one combat.
I can't describe much about the next two books since that is bound to reveal Spoilers but to make sure you are interested in them, I can tell you this - Jason Bourne becomes the hunter in the next two books vis-a-vis the target as in first book. A trained assassin out to kill, now that's definitely a book worth reading, especially when it is written by Ludlum.

There are several other books on Bourne out in the market, but they aren't written by Robert Ludlum.

Friday, 29 March 2013

The Best of Jeffrey Archer

Jeffrey Archer has written two undeniable masterpieces, listed below as items 1 and 4. I have read several books by Archer, his collection of short stories as well as the books he wrote when he was in prison. But among all his books, these two caught my attention. For the sake of completion of the trilogy which started off with Kane and Abel, I have listed two other books which may catch your interest.

  1. Kane and Abel
  2. The Prodigal Daughter
  3. Shall We Tell the President
  4. A Prisoner of Birth

Kane and Abel
First and foremost, Kane and Abel is a must read for every single person out there. In my opinion, it is the best and yet, most simplest work by Archer. It is the first of the trilogy, which ends with item 3 in the list above.
A marvellous book revolving around two men, who were different in every manner except their day of birth and the zeal to succeed in life, it tells their stories in a gripping manner. Born on the opposite sides of the world, they are brought together by fate and a quest of a dream. To keep the readers hooked, Archer ensures that the two protagonists of the book are locked in a spiteful struggle to defeat the other and expand one's empire, thus making you, willingly or not, choose your favourite. It's a tough battle, trust me, but that makes the book a whole lot special.
This book has it all - thrill, mystery, drama, contemporary, historical fiction et al. It will take you through struggles, jealousy, hatred, love, inaccurate assumptions and misunderstandings, success and wealth, coincidences and accidents, and Life.

The Prodigal Daughter
This is the sequel to Kane and Abel. Another good book, but does not compete with its predecessor by a long shot. It depicts the struggles of Florentyna, daughter of Abel, as she sets the highest target for herself and strives to achieve it. This book depicts the difficulties faced by a working mother, how she tries to balance life and work and cope with the problems faced by her family while juggling the her business.
I found the book to be very drawn out, almost as if Archer wanted to meet some total page count requirement. It includes quite a bit of information on the political system and a great deal of historical fiction as well, since Archer used a lot of history and tied in actual names and historical occurrences within the fictional story.

Shall We Tell the President
This is a weird one. It was actually released before the above two books, with Ted Kennedy as the main role. But due to the success of the above two books in the years, it was rewritten and the main role was changed to include a character from the previous book to play as the main role instead.
This one, I haven't read yet, but since it was made a part of the trilogy, I doubt anyone would let it pass after completing the first two books. I don't have high hopes from this one though since it was added to the trilogy only due to the success of the first two books.

Truth be told, I would strongly recommend Kane and Abel only, in this trilogy. Having read The Prodigal Daughter, I wouldn't rule it out as a good read, but going from Kane and Abel to The Prodigal Daughter is a big disappointment.

A Prisoner of Birth
This is one of my favourites as well. You must know that I am huge fan of courtroom drama-mystery-thriller books. This one had them all, in a perfect mix too. I can recollect the book lucidly as I write this, it's a great book.
It is like reading The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, but with the events happening in the 20th century context. The initial half of the book is spent in depicting the event concerning the plot of the book and the legal discourse associated with it, while the later half is spent on planning and exacting revenge on the culprits (not exactly halves, but you get the picture...if you don't, read the book).
Aside from some very lucky coincidences happening to the protagonist, this book has no flaws and is a page-turner.

A list of other books from Archer that I plan on reading are:
  • Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less
  • As the Crow Flies
  • The Clifton Chronicles books
Some of his other books are either very similar in plot to the books listed above or are of the political drama genre and those tend to get too boring at times.

Happy Reading!

Monday, 18 March 2013

Why you must read "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" by Douglas Adams

I have always enjoyed a book that can make me laugh, and Douglas Adams managed to come up with four of those. For some reason, British authors are exceptional at hypnotizing the reader through their books. Whether it be Adams with his satirical comedy or Wodehouse with his depiction of situation comedy in the most lucid manner or Rowling with instances of humour tied in with fantasy in an interesting mixture, they all managed to keep the reader happy and hooked.

Coming back to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, it is a 5-part book, based on a radio comedy show run in 1978 on BBC radio.
The books in this series, in chronological order are:

  1. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
  2. The Restaurant at the End of the Universe
  3. Life, the Universe and Everything
  4. So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish
  5. Mostly Harmless
  6. And Another Thing...(by Eoin Coffer)

Why you should read these books:

Douglas Adams had a very unique style of writing, in my opinion. I haven't encountered this in any other book yet. The humor in his books aptly falls in the category of Gallows Humor, which is basically witticism in the face of a hopeless situation, laughter in the face of death. It is generally written with respect to the victim, which makes it all the more interesting to read. Someone at the gallows is being mocked or is mocking himself, surely that can crack one up. Top that with Adams' writing skills and you have a winner here.

Unlike most other books, you cannot predict any event in Adams' trilogy with certainty. Adams managed to introduce a concept of Improbability in the book, by means of which, by far the most improbable events that can occur in the universe, occur at the most improbable moments, and this happens quite often too. This gives a whole new dimension to the book, making it highly unpredictable and hilarious too(some of those improbable events are bound to crack you up while some will make you wonder about the cause of occurrence of the event only to find that none exists).

These books would fall in the fantasy comedy genre in my opinion, so if you like either fantasy or comedy, you definitely shouldn't miss out on them.

There are a bunch of really crazy ideas/concepts pitched in these books, regarding towels, restaurants, cricket, flying, Earth, ultimate answer to life and so on. The list is truly endless. Oh and yes, you definitely do not want to miss out on meeting the robot, Marvin.

If you do go ahead and take my advice on reading these books, forgive me if you do not like the third book. For some reason, it simply did no click with the world or with me. It did not have the same kinda charm that the other books did. At the time of writing this blog, I was halfway through the fourth book and recovering from the sudden downturn that the third book had taken.
There was a sixth book that was released by Eoin Coffer, named And Another Thing..., based on what Adams was planning for the sixth book but couldn't write due to his untimely demise aged 49 due to a heart attack. He wanted to end the series on a high note of some kind, which was what Eoin Coffer tried to do. This book didn't really do so well and is not part of the Douglas Adams collection, hence left it out here. Although, it seems to have brought a fitting ending to the "trilogy". Considering that each of these books does not have more than 300 pages, you might as well give it a try, at least for the sake of completing the collection and experiencing the ending that Adams wanted for the series.

Spoilers ahead! This is the end of the post for those who haven't read the books yet

For those of you who might have already read these books, this section would probably shed some more light on this inaccurately named "trilogy", although I doubt you wouldn't have done the research already :)

In the first book, Adams mentions that 42 is the ultimate answer to life. When asked about 42, Adams said that the number just struck him when he was staring out into his garden and he thought 42 sounded good. Typical of him I suppose :). In fact, Douglas Adams gave a whole new meaning to the number 42, almost redefined it. The following two articles should suffice, there is far too much material out there to read on this!

Monday, 11 March 2013

Could corruption be good for the economy?

I ain't really the type to worry about corruption and how it's plaguing the country. In my opinion, this is something the country is stuck with once it has caught it. It's all about mentality I guess, and in my opinion, ours promotes corruption. Besides, I stand with Gordon Gekko on this issue - Greed is Good.

As of now, I have identified two types of corruption(will update this post again if I find any more):

  1. The corruption committed by politicians
  2. Corruption committed by some businessmen or the other citizens of the country.

Now, I know that you must be thinking that they are both the same, corruption is corruption, no matter who does it. But bear in mind that this is from the economic welfare point of view, forget about the moral point of view, there isn't one in this world(never was, except in fairy tales, mythology and religious scriptures).

Corruption committed by -

Politicians - The records so far show that the money looted by politicians is parked in Escrow accounts in banks, or used to purchase swank properties in other countries(there is even enough to purchase islands in fact) and other various unknown means by which money can be kept from the country of residence. In such a case, the money is no use to the country. It does not boost the economy, provides no boost to employment, education, people welfare etc. The rightful cause of that money is the development of the nation, be it the infrastructure, schools or colleges for education(God knows that this is required right now!), promoting entrepreneurship, investment in the economy(cause there never really is enough money) and the list is endless. Effectively, the nation's money is taken and used for development of some other country(the one where the money is parked).

Most businessmen - Most businessmen are involved in corruption primarily due to their interests in the growth of their companies. Of course, their dealings sometimes do include the politicians but the end result is often positive(often, not always) for the economy. Let me explain. Contrary to what happened with politicians, the businessmen tend to bend law to further their company and its dominance in the market/economy. For example, obtaining money illegally to fund certain projects of the company(leads to economic welfare), evading tax and routing the money through a series of dummy companies overseas to invest it back in the same company for projects(again economic development) thereby converting black money to white money(not what politicians do) and keeping it in the economy, and so on. Of course there are others who declare inflated employee lists to obtain more payment on outsourced projects and then stash that money in personal accounts and they do fall in the previous category. But, in general, businessmen promote our economy through corruption.

Middle class people - This was probably the easiest one to deduce and which got me thinking about corruption. My friend recently tagged me in a post regarding corruption and there were a dozen comments on the post regarding corruption and why we take part in it and how wrong we are to do it and so on, the usual bickering. Based on what you have read so far, you probably already decided that the middle man couldn't possibly generate more jobs or even affect the economy by his little acts of corruption. Read ahead!
Let me take a few scenarios and clarify, will be easier that way.
Evade tax - Some companies allow for medical reimbursement for a certain amount of medical bills during the course of the year. Not everyone falls sick often or becomes terribly sick to generate bills worth that reimbursement amount. Enter counterfeiters. A bunch of receipts totalling the reimbursement amount for a measly payment of 2% of that amount, whereas tax is 10%. Equation - more money in your pocket, less money in swindling politician pockets. What happens if you pay the 10% tax is the government gets your money and spends it on nothing, that's right, nothing. It just goes towards pointless schemes set up to draw the tax revenues into their accounts or gets lost in the flow from one department to another. Instead, what if the money is with you then? You would either spend it or put it in the bank accounts. So how does that benefit the economy? If you spend it, the money goes to someone else(his income increases) and this keeps happening. As incomes increase, expenditure increases, economy grows. If you save it, stash it in your bank account, it is given off as loan to some customer of the bank or invested by the bank in the schemes it finances(which is great really). What I am trying to say is, you cheating the government reaps greater rewards than the government cheating you(if the government does cheat you).
Bribe the traffic cop - This is simpler than the above one(I have to type lesser). Your fine amount again goes to an agency of the government. Instead, bribe the cop, make his day better and your ride easier. Solve the matter quicker too. The cherry on the cake is that you did the economy a favour too!

But, as we all know, sometimes things are too good to be true. And the prospect of something corrupt being good falls in this category too. Sigh. There is a major downside to whatever reasoning has been provided above.
When corruption prevails in the economy, the government tax revenues reduce and this increases the fiscal deficit. No economy would want a growing fiscal deficit and in order to contain this, the government proposes an increase in taxes. See where I am going with this? It becomes a cycle, we cheat, they charge more(unless of course they make stringent laws to prevent that cheating business to start with, but that won't benefit the politicians, now, would it).
Besides, if everyone in the country starts evading taxes and fines, then there would be absolutely no money in the country for development of infrastructure.

It's so much fun to debate from both sides of a topic! Really enjoyed writing this post, looking at both sides of the coin. Gotta find another topic on which I can take up both sides of the issue(preferably in a more convincing manner than this one, corruption is good lost steam after corruption is bad spoke up).

Disclaimer: The author does not promote, partake in or support corruption, corruption against government, evading taxes or any activities deemed illegal by any Government in the universe(or multiverse) that may be reading this or has read it. This is solely meant for intellectual purposes and the contents of this document cannot be used against the author in any judicial court of the universe(or multiverse).

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Healthy = Wealthy = Wise

This post deals with getting yourself back in shape or maintaining your shape, whichever applies to you. So if you think you are in the wrong place, you are wrong and you might want to consider reading ahead before you judge the contents of this post.

Becoming fit requires two things:
1. Routine Exercise
2. Appropriate food

Now, I am a very skinny person, and I have been so for a very long time! I am like a constant of nature, regardless of how much(little) I eat, I don't gain(lose) weight at all. So, this exercise routine I followed was an attempt at changing that and trying to look a little bigger and better than I currently do. And it seems to be working so far, albeit slowly.

Now, there are two types of workouts:
1. To reduce weight
2. To gain weight

To reduce weight, you MUST do cardio exercises. Follow a strict plan here and it will pay off. Sure, it will take time but the results will be astonishing and long lasting. Once you meet your target, you have to do the bare minimum to maintain that, no more and no less.

The routine:
If you are just starting out, I would suggest going for a 10 minute treadmill on no incline, at jogging speeds. The speed would vary from person to person. The idea here is to condition your body for the long haul. Follow this up with 10 minutes on a cross-trainer followed by 10 minutes on a bicycle. Do keep a track of your performance on a weekly basis, if not on a daily basis. Note the time that you have exercised for and at what speeds on each machine. After 2 weeks of this, increase the time to 12 minutes on each machine and change the activity on each machine such that you exercise at breakneck speed for 90 seconds and then jog for 30 seconds and do this for the time allotted for that machine. This will seem hard on the first go but this has got a tremendous effect. A month after this, increase the time by another 2 minutes on each machine. Further improvements to this would be increasing the time or increasing the ratio of time spent on the machine at breakneck speed to time spent on machine at jogging speed. I understand that it is not possible to increase the time indefinitely since time taken for these exercises would be too much. Once you hit this roadblock, change the regimen to include two out of the three machines on each day such that each machine is used the same number of times during the week. Once you have reached this stage, do take a day off during the week :)
Once you meet your targets, 75% of your exercise routine as in the last stage that you followed.
Note that it would be a good idea to keep a track of your heart rate(most machines have it on the handles) at the end of the routine. Make sure it doesn't exceed the 180-190 range. That would be a cause for alarm and you should consult a doctor about this.

This also requires a strict diet control, hard as this may be for most of the readers here, it's a necessity. To tell you the truth though, it's quite simple. You just have to restrain yourself for a month, then you become habituated to the change. That first month is the toughest nut to crack and requires tremendous self control, but you wouldn't be reading this if you weren't ready for that already.
Alright, for the diet, cut down on the quantity. Bring it down to 75% of your current intake. I have to keep this as generic as I can since every person has a different consumption and different metabolism. All those health plans that tell you to eat such and such quantities in specific terms, well, I am stumped as to why they do not consider that everyone has a different metabolism. After a month of this, if you still need further reduction in weight, reduce it further by 75% and continue following this cycle till you achieve your targets. If after reducing it for the second time you find that you aren't feeling well, feeling dizzy too often, maybe you reduced your diet too soon and should wait a month more to make the transition. If this happens in your first change itself, then your water intake and sugar/salt intake are insufficient. When I say sugar, please increase on glucose intake and not the processed sugar from food items. For salt intake, use an ORS packet a day till you get better.
Water intake should double once you start exercising. You should sweat a lot during the exercise and this should be compensated for by the increased salt and water intake.

As far as reducing weight is concerned, cardio is the only method to achieve this. Even if you want to reduce the fat around specific parts of the body, cardio is the way to go. Anything else would just help build muscles, not reduce fat with the same efficiency that cardio does.

To increase weight, you will have to do weights and join a gym for this, unless you can afford all the equipment to set up one at your place(which would be really cool by the way). This is what I have followed and it seems to be having an effect, gradual and minimal, but it's there(glad about some change). Try to keep this as regular as possible and it will pay off. This is a time taking process too(at least for someone like me, for others whose body responds quickly to changes this might be highly effective). Once you achieve your target, then just do the bare minimum to maintain it(though I believe by this time you would be addicted to the workout and would want to continue with the usual routine).

The routine:
Stage 1
Exercise 4 days a week, 2 days for upper body(Monday and Thursday for me) and 2 days for lower body(Tuesday and Friday), rest on the other days. For the upper body, I did 1 exercise each for chest, shoulders, upper back, triceps, biceps and forearms. Each exercise of 3 sets and 8 reps. The weights are to be decided such that you can complete that exercise with 8 reps in not more than 3 sets. If you can do a 4th set, then you need to increase the weights. For the lower body, I did 1 exercise each for the calves(standing calf raise), front thighs and back thighs, followed by 8 minutes of running at 12kmph. 3 sets and 8 reps again and weight decision as above.
I try and do abs on a daily basis, since they are the hardest to exercise.
I am not mentioning exercises in particular because there is an abundance of websites out there explaining what exercises to do. You just have to pick up something you are comfortable with. Avoid anything that may injure your back or neck while doing weights. Consult a gym trainer if you are doubtful. I was having difficulty doing barbell curls initially so I moved to dumbbells for biceps. It's as per your convenience really, at this stage.
Stage 2
After about 3 months of this, your body is conditioned enough to move to muscle specific routine. Now, go for a 3 or 4 day workout. For 3 days, do chest, biceps and forearms on Monday, shoulders, back and triceps on Wednesday and legs on Friday. For 4 days, do the legs on Tuesday and Friday and move the Wednesday workout to Thursday.
For each of the muscle groups here, perform 4 sets of 8 reps each, and two exercises for each muscle, i.e. 2 for biceps(I do 3 here), 2 for chest etc. Again, minor tweaks must be done by you to make it more suitable to your needs. Multiple exercises per muscle is to exercise all the muscles of that group, all round growth of the muscle.

Note that there are two types of weight programs: power and stamina. Power program involves more weight and less reps and vice versa for stamina program. To counter the advantages and disadvantages of each, I went for the middle ground with 8 reps. Power goes for 4 to 6 reps while stamina goes for 10-12 reps. Power program is meant for a bulky frame with short burst of energy or strength. Stamina program is for lean muscle with extended disbursal of energy possible.

Stage 3 is something I haven't ventured into and hence will not be covering it here. It would be a routine for advanced users, not something I would ever cover. It would result in radical changes in the size and shape of the body too.

Now for the diet. Needless to say, protein intake would have to be increased, which would involve increasing water and fibre intake to counter the harmful effects of protein. If you can do this naturally, great! Nothing better than that. But if not possible, get some protein supplement for Whey protein from the market and consume 1 large scoop during stage 1 and 2 large scoops during stage 2. I mix this with glucose to keep energy level high. I have been using EAS whey protein for a while now and I can notice some differences. Keep fatty foods to a minimum, carbohydrates should be as usual. Maintain required levels of sugar and salt to prevent feeling dizzy or faint. Consume protein post workout and the next day, they will be repairing and rebuilding your muscles.

I think that about sums it up. I don't suppose I have missed anything here. Wish you all the best in getting fit and enjoy your workouts!