Tuesday, October 26, 2010

How to cook the perfect microwave Maggi (instant ramen)

If you love Maggi (or any other kind of instant ramen noodles) but hate cooking and cleaning, here is a simple method to cook instant ramen using a microwave oven with just one plate and no mess.

  1. You’ll need a large ceramic dinner plate, a fork, a microwave oven, 2 cups of water and of course Maggi (or any other brand of instant noodles). Note: Using a plate instead of a bowl keeps the liquid from boiling over.
  2. Break the Maggi cake along the fold, then break each piece into two.
  3. Position the four pieces in the plate in a checkered pattern, an empty square region in the center flanked by one of the four pieces on each side. It is very important that you position the Maggi in this manner. It has to do with microwave physics. The penetration depth of microwaves into food is usually less than an inch.
  4. Pour the taste maker into the empty square region in the middle of your plate.
  5. Gently pour one cup of water over the taste-maker.
  6. Microwave on full power for 3 minutes (I use a basic 800W model).
  7. Remove the plate from the microwave. Turn the noodles over and spread it as thin as you can while maintaining the empty space in the middle.
  8. Pour the second cup of water along the edge of the plate. The idea is the push the taste-maker away from the edge.
  9. Now microwave for another 3 minutes. (Adjust the amount of water and the cooking time to suite your taste and microwave model.)
  10. Remove from the microwave. Be careful, the plate will be hot. Use your fork to toss the noodles. Let cool for a minute.
That’s all there is to it. You now have perfect hassle free microwave Maggi.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Book Summary: Autonomy, Mastery, Purpose & Johnny Bunko

Daniel Pink has pretty much won me over as a card carrying fan with all his talk about how we right-brained folks are going to rule the world. I’ve just finished reading his latest book called Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us and thought of writing a summary of the Autonomy-Mastery-Purpose model for future reference. But then, Pink’s talks on TED and RCA pretty much take care of that. So I’ll focus here on some of the little details that struck a chord with me.

In the section on Mastery, Pink talks about what he calls ‘the oxygen of the soul’- flow, that deep sense of engagement in a certain activity. In the early 70s, psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi conducted a study where he asked participants to list down all the activities they do, not because they have to for some particular reason but, simply because they enjoy them. The things that lead to flow. And then he asked them to stop doing those things. Participants soon reported “an increased sluggishness about their behaviour” followed by headaches and difficulty concentrating. Some felt sleepy while others could not sleep at all. The study was stopped after just two days because it would have been dangerous to continue.

Csikszentmihalyi also found that people are much more likely to reach a state of flow in work than in leisure. The implication being that if a person’s work does not offer opportunities to do the things he enjoys, if he is deprived of flow, the consequences can be devastating. On the positive side, work that is enjoyable for its own sake can enrich a person’s life and lead to a sense of wellbeing. Such flow giving work is characterized by clear goals, immediate feedback and most importantly, the right level of challenge – not boringly easy, not frustratingly difficult. This kind of work is intrinsically motivating because flow leads to mastery.

This resonates with Pink’s career advice, to choose a job for fundamental reasons rather than for instrumental reasons. Fundamental reasons are those that are related to intrinsic motivation, to the desire for Autonomy, Mastery & Purpose. Does it give you the right level of autonomy that you feel comfortable with? Does it provide the right level of challenge - not boringly easy, not frustratingly difficult? Does it give you a sense of purpose – something larger than yourself or the organization? Instrumental reasons are those that are relate to extrinsic motivators. Does the job, for example, position you for a better opportunity at some later point? To be successful at work, it is necessary to choose a job or role for fundamental reasons and not for instrumental reasons.

And that brings us to Pink’s graphic novel called The Adventures of Johnny Bunko: The Last Career Guide You'll Ever Need, which I haven’t read yet. But from what I could gather from reviews, the key themes are:
1. There is no plan – It doesn’t help to plan your career based on instrumental reasons because that is bound to lead to mediocrity and discontent. Instead, when you do what you enjoy and feel passionate about, the resulting flow leads to mastery and achievement.
2. Think strengths, not weaknesses – Play to your strengths.
3. It's not about you – Don’t take things too personally.
4. Persistence trumps talent – It’s all about practice and hard work. Talent alone is never enough.
5. Make excellent mistakes – Something along the lines of fail early, fail often.
6. Leave an imprint – Impact!

The common thread throughout all this and what resonates most with me is how absolutely important it is to career sucess to seek out a role that lets you do what you enjoy and feel passionate about.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

The Zen of Debugging

There was this senior engineer who once used to sit in the cubicle next to mine. He had an anecdote pasted on the wall of his cubicle. His purpose in putting it there was to educate newbies like me. Thought I’d share the wisdom. Story goes like this.

General Motors once received a complaint from a customer who claimed that his new Pontiac was allergic to vanilla ice-cream. The customer wrote, “This is the second time I have written you, and I don't blame you for not answering me, because I kind of sounded crazy, but it is a fact that we have a tradition in our family of ice cream for dessert after dinner each night. But the kind of ice cream varies so, every night, after we've eaten the whole family votes on which kind of ice cream we should have and I drive down to the store to get it. It's also a fact that I recently purchased a new Pontiac and since then my trips to the store have created a problem. You see, every time I buy vanilla ice cream, when I start back from the store my car won't start. If I get any other kind of ice cream, the car starts just fine.” So GM sent an engineer from the product team to check it out.

The engineer was surprised to be greeted by a successful, obviously well-educated man in a fine neighbourhood. He had arranged to meet the man just after dinner time, so the two hopped into the car and drove to the ice cream store. It was vanilla ice cream that night and, sure enough, after they came back to the car, it wouldn't start. The engineer returned for three more nights. The first night, the man got chocolate. The car started. The second night, he got strawberry. The car started. The third night he ordered vanilla. The car again failed to start.

All the while the engineer was taking down all sorts of data - time of day, type of gas used, time spent at the store before restarting etc. He noticed a correlation - on the days when the customer bought vanilla ice-cream and the car failed to start, the time spent at the store was much less. So the engineer rephrased the problem – why is it that the car will not restarted within a short period of time after the engine is turned off?

Once the problem was defined in terms of restart interval, and not ice cream flavour, the experienced engineer immediately realized vapour lock was causing the issue. (The engineer later learned that Vanilla, being the most popular flavour, was in a separate case at the front of the store for quick pick up. All the other flavours were kept in the back of the store at a different counter where it took considerably longer to find the flavour and get checked out.)

So how did this engineer analyse the root cause of a seemingly impossible bug? To start with, he did not dismiss the issue as being impossible or the customer as being a jerk. He diligently took data without jumping to conclusions or offering a quick fix work around. He knew what parameters to look for. He saw a pattern in the data. Finally he defined the problem – restart interval. The rest was trivial.

Defining the problem, asking the right question, that is the key to problem solving, the Zen of Debugging.

PS: In my first year at work, I remember being in the office at about 3am trying to debug a particularly tricky issue that had been around for a week and was threatening to kill my maiden feature. That’s when I first noticed this anecdote pasted in my neighbours cubicle. It helped me to step back, relax, see the facts and rephrase the problem. The issue was fixed before sunrise. Hope others find this useful too.