Happy Independence Day, India! How Education Can Free India’s People


indian flagHappy Independence Day, India! It’s hard to believe that a country with such a rich history can only be celebrating independence as one nation for the 67th time, today. Just like on my birthday every year, it’s on India’s Independence day that I’m always very grateful: grateful for the rich culture from which I was born and raised and grateful for my life beyond India’s bleak reality.

Because I was born in India, it hits harder to home for me when I turn on the TV or hear the stories from back home. India’s poor seem to getting poorer, women’s rights seem to be getting fewer, and the entire country seems to be shrouded in a dark cloud of problems it can’t seem to improve. Somehow, I was one of the lucky ones got to experience everything wonderful that being Indian is about (here’s a little run-down of India’s history beyond Bollywood), but I was spared the hardships that so many millions of people suffer everyday.

Recently, I learned that India is the home to 287 million illiterate people — the most in any country. If that number is too vague to comprehend, think about this: India makes up 40% of the world’s population of illiterate people; almost as many people that LIVE IN THE UNITED STATES cannot READ OR WRITE in India.

When you can actually realize how many people this disables from having a job, having rights, having an opportunity to do something with their lives, you realize how many of this free country’s people are actually not free at all. They’re bound by the shackles of illiteracy, which will inevitably keep them and their children stuck in vicious cycle of poverty.

Education is what can free the world, and education singularly can free India’s people from their destitution. I’ve never felt more fiercely about the power — nay — the gift of education, and I’m pledging myself to educating people about this, so that maybe I won’t just be one of those “lucky ones.”

Pratham is non-profit organization that recently caught my eye because they are working at helping India’s impoverished children and youth by addressing the problem at the root cause: lack of education. The organization was established in 1995 and has helped to educate millions of children over the last 19 years.

What they’re doing is truly phenomenal. Pratham operates at less than a 10% overhead cost and develops innovating teaching solutions so that they can help educate children and youth with basic reading, writing and arithmetic schools to help them learn the foundational skills that are so important to build on.

Over the next month, a generous donor is pledging 25 cents for every new Facebook like Pratham USA’s page receives in order to spread awareness about their work solutions. It takes only about $25 to help educate a child in India for an ENTIRE YEAR. You’re already on Facebook all the time; a few seconds of your time to like their page can actually make a huge difference!

On that note, let’s hope that every child who has the opportunity to learn doesn’t waste it. An education is the greatest thing you can have for a better future — remember that!

Madison Police Chief: Officer charged with assault, also recommended for termination after incident that severely injured Indian man


WHNT.com

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MADISON, Ala. (WHNT) – Madison Police Chief Larry Muncey says he has recommended one of his officers be terminated after an incident last week that left a 57-year-old Indian man severely injured.  The officer has also been charged with third-degree assault.

Eric Parker, Madison police officer recommended for termination after the incident involving  Sureshbhai Patel on Feb. 6 (Photo: Limestone County Sheriff's Office) Eric Parker, Madison police officer recommended for termination after the incident involving
Sureshbhai Patel on Feb. 6 (Photo: Limestone County Sheriff’s Office)

Chief Muncey spoke at a news conference Thursday afternoon, discussing the department’s use of force investigation into the incident.  Police showed video and audio of the officers’ encounter with the man.  Afterward, Chief Muncey said the actions of Officer Eric Parker did not meet the standards of the Madison Police Department.

“I sincerely apologize to Mr. Patel, Mr. Patel’s family and our community.  We strive to exceed expectations,” said Chief Muncey.  He said he has proposed Officer Parker be terminated, and he has also…

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We asked scientists to explain these 7 impossibly dense climate charts


If only the world could wake up and realize that this a problem that needs to be addressed today, now, at this moment of time. The imminent is going to happen; we’re too late to stop that, but perhaps we can make amends for our carelessness and reckless ways in some meager attempt to make things right for the future generations.

ideas.ted.com

QWA-category-ClimateCrisis

Here come the acronyms: In March, the United Nations’ (UN) Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published a working draft of its Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) from Working Group II (WGII), on “Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability” in the world’s climate. The 2590-page report was studded with dense charts containing … a lot of information. And did we say dense? We mean impenetrable. Frankly, they boggled our minds. Yes, government reports and scientific papers aren’t designed for laypeople — but do they have to be incomprehensible? We asked some of the IPCC’s 310 scientist authors to help make their graphics meaningful for the people who are affected by climate change. You know — everyone.

WGIIAR5-SPM_TranscriptionCLEAN-31Mar_v2

What you see: The temperature of the world is going to rise at an alarmingly red rate. Or maybe the temperature will still rise but at a slower rate, and the mercury in the world’s thermometer will…

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This Beautiful Photo Collage Blanket Made an Awesome Gift!


photo collage blanket

For a while now, I’ve really enjoyed taking advantage of my Nikon DSLR to take some great pictures of NYC. I used to be a broadcast journalism major in college and got to get my hands dirty a little bit with DSLR cameras for some of my projects, and I’ve loved it ever since. I also love to sit and edit, whether it’s film or photos, so it was natural for me to keep up this hobby post-college. I’ve been lucky enough to do some portraits and freelance on the side, but it’s my NYC photos that I take just for myself.

In one of my previous posts, I talked about my ongoing photography project. One day — maybe it’s when I’m long-gone from this beautiful, crazy city of lights — I’d like to put together a coffee table book of sorts with my photos of the city. I don’t take out my camera as much as I’d like to (just seems like I forget half the time), but I have been having fun with my snaps in the meantime. Every now and then, I’ll choose a print and get it blown up on canvas for my apartment (Groupon and LivingSocial always have great deals!).

Recently, I thought to try out the website Collage.com to try a new project. I had seen a deal (LivingSocial to the rescue again!) for a photo collage blanket and instantly thought of those beautiful blankets that Susan Sarandon’s character in Stepmom makes for her kids. I LOVED those and wondered if maybe my NYC pictures might look good on a blanket.

Oh.My.Gosh.

I can’t even EXPLAIN how impressed I was when I got my my blanket in the mail. Not only did the pictures print absolutely BEAUTIFULLY and so crisp, the quality of the blanket was also wonderful. It was a super light fleece blanket that is just the right amount of weight for a comforter alternative or a couch throw.

I gifted this blanket, but I’ve seriously considered taking it back because I love it so much.😉 Seriously, it’s one of the best projects I’ve worked on and definitely one of the best purchases I’ve made.

Also — when I was on the site putting together the blanket, they had another promotion going on to upgrade the blanket size with a coupon code, so I was able to use my LivingSocial voucher and the coupon code! (The blanket covers a full-sized bed.)

Here are some other pictures of the project:

photo collage blanket photo collage blanket

Tasting Out STRONG & KIND Bars by KIND Snacks: A Review and Thoughts


Strong and Kind bars

The fun thing about doing what I do is that sometimes I get the chance to try out new products on the market and offer my opinion on them. The super awesome folks over at Kind Snacks recently sent me over some of their brand new bars to taste, and if you’re at all familiar with Kind bars, you know they are de-li-cious—so I was all in for this taste test. Kind bars are well-known for their sweet and savory mix of ingredients that offer good amounts of fiber and protein without tons of sugar (at least 8 varieties of Kind bars boast only 3-5g per bar). So, what was so new about this “new” line?

Besides the fact that 2014 NBA MVP Kevin Durant is the face of Strong & Kind (check out what awesome role he has in this partnership), the new line of bars has two main new things to offer: bold flavor and 10g of protein per bar. (Sugar content is about the same.) When you consider that regular Kind bars average about 5g of protein (with the exception of the Almond Walnut Macadamia With Peanuts  + Protein variety, which also has 10g of protein), this new line has something very different to offer—particularly for the person looking to get an extra intake of protein with their diet. The Kind Snacks website attributes these ingredients like almonds, pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds and pea crisps to the extra boost of protein in these bars.

I had so much fun trying out the bars, and as usual, they were scrumptious! (They barely lasted past the taste test.) Below are the details on the taste test and thoughts on the new Strong & Kind bars. Thanks again to Kind Snacks for this fun opportunity!

“Being kind isn’t a sign of weakness—you gotta be strong to be kind.”

Kevin Durant

The Bars

strong and kind bars

The first thing I noticed about the new flavors was their interesting flavors! When they said bold, they meant BOLD. The Strong & Kind line wants to surprise your taste buds with a ton of flavor and something very different from what you’re used to: spices! Here are the five new flavors of the Strong & Kind bars.

  1. Hickory Smoked
  2. Roasted Jalapeno
  3. Honey Mustard
  4. Thai Sweet Chili
  5. Honey Smoked BBQ

The Testers

Because I wanted to get the opinion of someone else, I enlisted a male counterpart to help me test out the new bars, who we’ll call “T”. The profile on the male tester, I think, is definitely a person that Kind Snacks is will be targeting with this new line: someone who is health-conscious and active with an appreciation for great tasting snacks.

On my end, I have a similar profile with one key difference—which I think makes the high-protein count in the Strong & Kind bars particularly important: I’m vegetarian. It’s difficult for me to pack in enough protein into my diet, especially in my snacks, without taking in just as much sugar and other unhealthy ingredients. My interest was definitely piqued!

We offered our opinions on factors of smell, taste, aftertaste and overall enjoyment of each of the bars; we also gave a rating on a scale of 1-10 for each bar. Our thoughts are listed below!

The Taste Tests

Hickory Smoked

T: This bar immediately has a smell of BBQ chips when you open the package. It also tastes like BBQ, with a very distinctly meaty taste. I didn’t find that this tasted like a snack—it was almost more like a meal, being more satiating than refreshing (compared to the sweeter “candy bar-like” Kind bars). I found that this had kind of an onion-y aftertaste—which I didn’t particularly love.

Overall rating: 6/10

F: I also had a distinct thought of BBQ chips when I smelled this bar —which I like, so it wasn’t a turnoff for me. I didn’t think the bar had as strong of a BBQ chip flavor though, which I also really appreciated since BBQ flavor makes me usually think of meat. The flavor of the almonds comes through nicely, and you get a great balance of taste. Overall, I really loved that you get a yummy BBQ chip taste without it tasting like a greasy snack!

Overall rating: 7/10

Roasted Jalepeno

T: This bar smelled good off the bat — has a smoky, slightly spicy smell. It tasted very much like a savory snack mix, but it isn’t as meaty as the Hickory Smoked bar. This bar was a hit with me, and I’d definitely buy this variety!

Overall rating: 8/10

F: I LOVED the way this bar smelled; it had a slightly spicy smell to it—and I’m a sucker for anything jalapeno-flavored snacks, so I was intrigued and definitely pleased before trying it out. The taste itself is very punchy, with just enough spicy flavor so it gets your taste buds dancing and wanting more. Based on the spice meter, I was expecting more jalapeno flavor and was only mildly disappointed. Overall, delicious!

Overall rating: 7/10

Honey Mustard

T: Not a lot to say about this one other than: I was a BIG FAN! This bar tastes almost exactly like honey mustard pretzel bites, but they have so much more nutritional value. Definitely an  awesome replacement for an unhealthy but delicious snack.

Overall rating: 9/10

F: The first thing I noticed about this bar is that it STRONGLY smells and tastes honey mustard (compared to the Jalepeno bar, which was a bit milder). So, if you like honey mustard-flavored snacks, this one is for you. Luckily, I do, so I did enjoy the bar but didn’t love the mustard aftertaste. This is the type of bar I’d pick up if I was specifically craving something tangy and punchy.

Overall rating: 6/10

Honey Smoked BBQ

T: I particularly didn’t think this bar tasted like BBQ chips—I got more of a Carolina-style, vinegar-based BBQ flavor from this Strong & Kind bar. But because it tasted like actual BBQ to me, I felt like I was eating meat—which I, personally, don’t love in a dry snack. On that note, I think if you like jerky, this bar is for you!

Overall rating: 5/10

F: I, on the other hand, thought these tasted very much like BBQ chips (I also don’t know what real BBQ tastes like). I’ll agree that there is definitely a very meaty quality from the nuts and the flavor, so I wasn’t the hugest fan as a vegetarian. For me, this variety lacked the savory sweetness of the Hickory Smoked bar, and the flavor had much more pow to it. If you want something like that in your snack, you will definitely love this bar.

Overall rating: 5/10

Thai Sweet Chili

T: Yum! The flavor of this bar is just as interesting as the name. It has a tantalizing smell and the taste has hints of coconut and ginger, while also incorporating that spicy kick. (Almost has a bit of Sriracha Sauce taste in the background!) I immediately thought of Panang Curry when I tasted this bar—loved it!

Overall rating: 9/10

F: If you like Thai food, you will go crazy for this bar—but that’s not to say it TASTES just like Thai food. The flavor is wonderfully surprising (I, too, was most intimidated by the name of this flavor!), managing to delivery a creamy, coconut-y taste without being too much and had a delicious aftertaste (but no funky breath!). It tastes like a snack I might find in an Asian grocery store, and it was definitely the most unusual and memorable flavor of the bunch.

Overall rating: 9/10

Summary of the Strong & Kind Taste Test

The unique and particularly notable quality about the new Strong & Kind bars are their savory quality and their likeness to your everyday snacks. They are an exceptional replacement for unhealthy snacks that we’re all so prone to succumbing in those impulse buys. For your health-conscious and active person, especially, the Strong & Kind bars offer unique flavors with a salty and savory quality and with a huge boost of protein.

The flavors are both unique and familiar, creating the perfect balance of surprise and comfort in your daily snacking. There really wasn’t any of these bars that we wouldn’t eat (seriously, they’re all gone now). If you’re a loyal Kind bar snacker, then you might have an initial hesitation to dissociating yourself from the conventional sweet/salty taste of a Kind bar. But you are in for a pleasant surprise because this is exactly what was missing from the line of snack bars that you don’t feel bad eating. Kudos to Kind for an awesome new line of snack bars!

 

 

 

 

The Experience of ‘Gravity’: My Spoiler-Free Review


gravity movie reviewJust. Wow.

Add a huge exhale of bated breath, and that’s pretty much the feeling I walked out with after watching Alfonso Cuarón’s sci-fi and hugely action-packed ‘Gravity’ starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. If you’re looking for a movie to scare your pants off, leave you in dumbfounded awe and maybe even make you shed a tear, this one will do it. Reviews of of this blockbuster can be found abound, so I’ll spare you the intelligent breakdown of why and why not everyone succeeded to deliver a great movie and just tell you my thoughts walking in, watching and walking out. No spoilers, promise.

My Expectations of ‘Gravity’

When I first saw the trailer for ‘Gravity’ a couple of months ago, I was skeptical of how good the movie was going to be. The entire trailer was action-packed, and there didn’t seem to be any build-up to the plot. It was made pretty clear early on that the main characters suffer some catastrophic event in space that leaves their lives in peril — but that was pretty much it. No back story, no ambiguous reference to the outcome, just — boom — the thick of the plot. The grave state of things actually seemed a bit melodramatic and cheesy at first. But what did pique my interest were the names behind the movie. With only two main actors, and they being Sandra Bullock and George Clooney — two people who are synonymous with acclaimed performances in serious roles — I was definitely interested. They wouldn’t just sign on for any old cheesy sci-fi flick. And then another name grabbed my attention: Alfonso Cuarón.

Now, I’m not going to lie — the first thing I thought when I saw his name was ‘Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban’, but let’s not forget that this was a pretty big hit. My interest rose even more. This was indeed a really unexpected mix of people behind a movie that could totally be super sensational movie about getting lost in space. But you had me at wondering, ‘Gravity’, you had me wondering!

The Experience of Watching ‘Gravity’

After hearing pretty good reviews about the movie and reading the reports of its opening success at the box office, I thought I’d finally go see what the fuss was all about. And if I was going to see an sci-fi movie taking place in space, I was going to do it right and watch it in IMAX 3D.

Best. Decision. Ever.

It made all the difference to watch something so heavily packed with special effects, beautiful cinematography and action sequences on a huge screen and in 3D. Watching ‘Gravity’ like this was truly an experience right off the bat. Being in space with Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Matt Kalowsky (George Clooney) was more like actually being in space with them — or as close as you could be, anyway. For a space nerd like me, it was hauntingly beautiful and a little frightening at the same time. The action sequences are just so larger than life with the surround sound and floor-to-ceiling IMAX screen that I don’t think watching the movie any other way is even doing it justice.

What you should know is that if you’re faint of heart, this really might not be the movie for you (especially not in IMAX 3D). The reason the trailer jumps straight into the plot is that the movie does too. There’s not a lot of guesswork here as to what the movie is about — pretty much from the get-go you know that shit just hit the fan in space. I was on the edge of my seat for almost the entirety of the 90 minutes with bated breath just waiting for the next succession of catastrophic events — and they are all pretty intense.

Also, Cuarón seemed to have really wanted you to “experience” this movie whether you watched it in IMAX 3D or at home on DVD because when I say you’re in space, I mean you are in space. Don’t expect the camera angles to adjust for your viewing pleasure when the characters are spinning around in weightlessness and doing things upside down and all topsy-turvy due to the lack of gravity. Your tolerance for motion sickness might also be something you should definitely take into consideration before buying a ticket.

Walking Out of ‘Gravity’

When I left the movie, I honestly felt like I had spent 90 minutes in another world. The entire movie takes place in space, no flashbacks to their lives before the mission, nothing. It was honestly the most overwhelming and unexpected feeling to be a little disoriented standing up and walking out with — well — gravity. It sounds bizarre, but try being completely lost in space with no one else for hours (like Bullock and Clooney pretty much are), and having the lights turn on to a theater full of people will feel a little strange to you too.

If you’re hoping for a more well-developed story plot, you may be disappointed. This movie is what it looks like: an action-packed, sci-fi thriller. Not to say that there isn’t a secondary story, but it’s pretty much about surviving in weightless space. You will walk out with an immense appreciation for the special effects teams and Cuarón’s imaginative storytelling though, not to mention a mix of awe and deathly fear of space beyond Earth’s pretty blue skies. If there’s ever been a time when I felt completely at a loss for words for the mystery and magic that is the universe beyond our atmosphere, it was after watching ‘Gravity’. If you’ve ever even gandered a speculation as to what it would be like to really be “lost in space,” this movie will give you a pretty hair-raising scenario.

All in all, I really liked ‘Gravity’. I can’t say enough that it was definitely something you have to experience to really enjoy, and I highly recommend watching it in IMAX 3D if you have the option to really do the movie justice. Sandra Bullock’s performance is one for the books, and George Clooney does what he does the best — plays a good role and makes you fall in love with him. Definitely a movie worth spending a few extra bucks on to watch it right!