It’s June 2019, when Alexa fell in love with Usha

Google Doodle on June 4, 2019


It’s 11.33 hrs. I just alighted from the Metro train at MG Road station, Bengaluru to commute to my workstation at Richmond Town by walk. Although walking to work has its own health and economic benefits, people often ridicule it as Nat(y)araj express. However, neither do I dance, either when alone nor I walk very fast like an express. I am well in my late 30’s but people around me say that I walk with a hunched back,  like an octogenarian. Thankfully, they didn’t tell me that I walk like a Parkinson’s patient, lest I would take days to reach my office.

In the simmering heat of the late summer, expectantly praying for the monsoon showers to bring the mercury down, I wipe the thick sweat blobs on my forehead with an already fully soaked handkerchief. It has no further absorptive capacity, but I use it to smear my sweat all over and make myself relatively presentable.

I join a batch of swarming people on the newly constructed footpath to march towards my office. As I walk past, I see a Porsche Cayenne fabricated in all possible colours of the rainbow. I instantly recalled seeing it through my workstation cubicle, making me wonder what made this dumbo insanely deface his premium car (its worth INR1.92 crores, ex-showroom) to insignificance.

Anyways, I had better things to think and do for the day and these thoughts deserved the shortest of one’s attention. I walked into a cafe coffee day to quickly grab a chilled drink. A glass decal mentioning fruitilicious fiesta prompted me to get into the store and grab one of those relatively expensive drinks to quench my thirst.

I received a phone call from my colleague to check an important mail. I thought to myself, what a timing! as I sip and relish the orange twingy flavoured drink.

As I open my laptop and connect it to a mobile hotspot, and launch Google Chrome, I am pleasantly surprised to see a colourful Google doodle with colours similar to the shades of the Porsche Cayenne that I just saw crossing the road. I usually don’t get into the details of the doodle, but not today. As I clicked the doodle, I saw an infographic walkthrough right from 1969 until 2019.

Further details revealed that Google is celebrating 50 years of pride and acceptance of including LGBTQI community. Although my sexual orientation is straight, I share similar thoughts with google and the community. The world belongs to you as much us. Period.

I quickly complete the work and keep the laptop in my branded leather bag. I come out of the store, walk for another mile and reach the office.

After the day job, I take the same route back home. I rarely use smartphone personal assistant, but use Alexa at home for a variety of reasons right from asking for the time, current temperature, playing songs and listening to the news. But, it is not connected to any of the other devices. By that definition, I still live in a dumb house.

But, like most of us, tax and non-tax payers included, I own a ceiling fan that hangs on the roof. And as an Indian and a stickler for reputed brands, the fan belongs to the Usha company.

Currently, the Indian Usha doesn’t talk to American Alexa. Usha is a conservative, regulated, shy and task worthy, she has all the traits of a typical Indian lady, except that she doesn’t talk! On the contrary, the western American Alexa is very talkative, multi-talented, plays games like rock, paper and scissors, makes mathematical calculations and is told to eavesdrop too.

While the former makes me comfortable with a night of restful sleep, the latter makes me seem lazy and dumb with loads of useless information. Worse, for answers that she doesn’t know she mentions “Sorry, I don’t know that” in an indifferent humanoid voice.

Looks like there is an unwritten rule between them of not trespassing each other. But we live in 2019, an age of connected devices through IoT and the year of celebrating the golden jubilee of an ignored community.

There are attempts to make this humble personal device as the master controller of the house through IoT technology. So, Alexa will now control Sam(sung) TV, Philips trimmer, and Bajaj air cooler, who are relatively the masculinists brands. I am sure, these brands will love Alexa and even impress her with dutifully. “Your wish is our command to work and impress you”

Wonder if feminine fights akin to Queen bee syndrome would be unleashed if attempts are made to connect Alexa with Usha Ceiling fan and Sony TV.

Or should the air of pride and dignity prompt them to fall in love, again and again, and settle as love birds?

I don’t have an answer.. what would you wish?

Let’s face it… Big brother is not just watching, but staring at us!

The Illustrated Big Brother Courtesy: Pinterest

One startling piece of news made me quite curious this Sunday. It read “San Francisco bans facial recognition technology”. I tried to dig deeper into the news to get a better understanding of the scenario. In the process, I ended up getting some fascinating information.

Most of the people at San Francisco feared constant surveillance to be a major hindrance on their fundamental rights. This may sound like a loser narrative of tech obscurantists, but the rationale behind the fear is indeed genuine as there are privacy concerns expressed by citizens from across the world.

In fact, this nasty technology is being allegedly used for ulterior motives like cyberbullying by authoritarian governments and private/commercial entities for their selfish interests.

What more, this technology is the central piece of the latest smartphones. Few of them even brag cameras with astounding clarity. 48 megapixels to be precise.

In addition, the smartphones keep capturing our pics every time we unlock our phone, much to the comfort of the third party data miners who may have our pics in all possible scenarios and at different times of the day (and night as well).

We seamlessly upload our photos with jingoism and ease on social media. In fact, Facebook has around profiles of around 25% of humans on earth (2 billion). It has been using this technology for instantly prompting us to tag our friends. By the way, it makes me think harder if Instagram was developed with the intention of having a big data of our pictures, that goes in to feed its parent facebook for its auto-tagging feature!

Moreover, startups could also provide services for having featured advertorial content based on our facial expressions when we unlock the phone. Smartphone advertising could get hyper-personalized with most of them fighting to lure us in the best of our times when we are high to loosen our purse strings and make that mighty online purchase.

So, does the benefit of having the facial database swing in favour of smartphone makers over Facebook? I don’t have an answer. But for sure, it’s the right time that we outsmart this technology by responsible behaviour and minimal usage of smartphones and social media. So think twice before you post that next picture on social media.

Our neighbouring country China undisputedly stands as a leader in tapping facial recognition technology. When countenance surveillance turns into new mode governance, things get awry beyond a reasonable doubt.  

It is claimed that China has a monumental facial identity database of its 1.4 billion citizens. A gigantic network of millions of CCTV cameras keeps an eye on the swarming population, be it during their daily commute, shopping and worse even when the students are in their class.

The introduction of social credit scoring for systematic profiling its citizens into the good bad and ugly has attracted strong criticisms from domestic and international civil liberty advocates. Nevertheless, it seems to have taken the social credit scoring system very seriously, much to the discomfort of its citizens.

Alternatively, couldn’t we think of having a human to human interactions credit system? It should work in a way that promotes people to shun their smartphones and walk up to strangers and talk to them. It is triply beneficial for the government, persons in interaction and society.

Mixed with fingerprints, iris and auricular pattern, this appears to be the almost perfect mechanism of personal identification. But, it also makes me think of its technological relevance in democratic countries.

Here’s my take on how India could possibly give a democratic swing to this technology.

We may use it in endless possibilities in India. Maybe a ticketless system in public transport, toll gates fitted with facial recognition software, booking IRCTC train tickets whilst flashing a smile!

Other areas where it could be used include attendance system in school, colleges and offices, voting, public distribution of food grains/cereals, tagging during clinical trials, consumer satisfaction scoring at POS, patient satisfaction scoring at the end of therapy or discharge. As I said, this can go on and on.

We Indians are known across the world to be very emotional. Some smartass company may, in fact, develop a next-generation Facial Expression recognition system/FERS to identify a potential buyer from window shoppers or a criminal who may harm someone in a fit of rage or revenge from law abiding citizens.  

I don’t know what the future holds, but it appears both very comforting and scary. We may have a safe world to live in, but with relative or restricted freedom.

As I type these thoughts, I hear my wife scream in a shrill voice asking me to come over and capture a quick photograph of my lovely daughter. I rush to the spot, flip my iPhone out and take a portrait pic of both of them in the best of their moods. When I open the photo gallery, it gets me worried on how my big brother will use this facial data in years to come… to continue staring at US!


The Hairy Truth and Conspiracy theories

Leonardo Da Vinci. Courtesy: The Conversation from Google Images

Leonardo da Vinci, the celebrated artist from the period of renaissance will be having a maniacal laugh from the heavens. Why not? He has all the rights to be pleasantly delighted at the insatiable inquisitiveness of the modern human beings of the 21st century.

Well, do you know the reason? If not, let me tell you. A tuft of his alleged hair from until recently undisclosed private collection will undergo DNA testing to check if they indeed belonged to him. And guess what, this test is being done after 500 years of his death on 2nd of May 1519 due to multiple brain strokes.

I wonder who might have stored his hair for such a long time… Five centuries to be precise.

I am sure that this will raise quite a lot many unanswered questions into the air. But I am sure that most of us will ask these two uncomfortable questions.

  1. In the first place, how and why did we get the hunk of hair so late?
  2. Was the timing of revelation to the world, yet another way of evoking curiosity amongst the devotional yet blinded followers of this legend?

Well, like most of you, even I don’t have answers to these fundamental questions. But through this article, I attempt to share a few of my observations.

Getting a biological sample of a legend from the past is sure enough to heighten astronomical levels of hype. But, the major dependency is always on the quality of the sample. In this case, it remains to be seen whether we get a good quality DNA for testing if at all. One can only hope for the best, to say the least.

But do we have a related biological sample for genealogical mapping? We all know that his tomb was desecrated during the French revolution and we don’t have any of his mortal remains or bones for comparison. Besides, tracing the genes of this legend is now next to impossible. Let me explain the reason.  

We do not know any of his living descendants, as it has been a long time to keep tabs on his lineage. His maternal and paternal genes might have crept into hundreds, if not thousands of families across the world. But, is the technology evolved enough to spot them? We are talking in an era of personal privacy both from data and biological point of view. The answer will be a hard-hitting No.

But yet another conspiracy is worth mentioning here. This was a long drawn debate on whether the original Mona Lisa portrait has eyelashes and eyebrows?

We too had this uncomfortable question facing us, but thankfully, a 240 Megapixel camera from an expert has temporarily settled this debate. The reason for the loss is stated that the art restorians inadvertently removed them. What a tragedy to destroy the cynosure of Leonardo Da Vinci’s eyes and its global fans. It took 10 years to stroke this masterpiece and maybe 10 mins to wipe it off.

Right from the curious loss of Mona Lisa’s eyebrows, to the surprising alleged possession of Leonardo’s hairs, the evolution of the much-celebrated artist’s works has truly turned into a full circle of unending debates and controversies!



The Unexpected Famine of Rooh Afza

Rooh Afza
Image Courtesy: Google and The Economic Times

It was a very hot day. It felt to Ahmed Khan as if he was baked in an oven as summers in Hyderabad are hellish.

Curious to know why he was so fatigued, he asked his home assistant Alexa on what is the current temperature. “Right now in Hyderabad Telangana, the temperature is 42 degree Celsius” Alexa replied with ease as if it didn’t make any difference whether it was 24 degree Celsius or 42 degree Celsius. It just has to mention the facts in the most unemotional way, as Alexa is designed to do so.

Ahmed dabbed his forehead with his handkerchief which was already soaked in sweat. He couldn’t help but keep clearing the thick sweat blobs on his forehead.

He turned on the ceiling fan but it had no effect even at its full speed. He lay on the sofa to have his favorite drink which he had counted on as a great soother in the sweltering heat. “Razia, please get me a glass of chilling Rooh Afza sharbat” he requested.

“Sure. But you have to settle with a lemonade today. Your favorite Rooh Afza is over and I am told that there is a stock shortage in the market too” she replied with deep concern.

The reply shocked Ahmed to his core. He had counted on this drink right from his childhood to beat the summer heat. His head almost spun on the thought on how could he spend the rest of the summer without his favorite drink.

The drink was like divine ambrosia for most of the people like him. Especially in the holy month of Ramadan. It was as if a famine had struck and left most of its fans into a tizzy.

He opened his laptop to check the veracity of his wife claims and prayed for this shocking news to be fake. As he Googled Roof Afza and went on to the news section. He was shocked to his core. It was indeed the worst news that he read that day which was titled “Rooh Afza disappears from the market as Ramzaan fast begins”.

“Oh my God, this is insane” he whispered while he took a deep breath.

The news mentioned that few key ingredients in the refreshing rose-flavored syrup were in short supply. Ahmed thought “What do they do now? Is there a way that Hamdard gets hold of these vital ingredients soon enough to start mass production of Rooh Afza yet again?”

Turns out that this is the common story in most of the Muslim households in India. This news has indeed brought a surgical strike during the holy Ramadan season. I too recall the vivid childhood memories of savoring and relishing it at my friends’ homes as a welcome drink. It brought to us a message of the arrival of summer season or the Ramadan festival.

I rushed to the neighborhood store after reading this news and found a lonely bottle of Rooh Afza stacked up in the corner of a shelf. I grabbed it and felt relieved.

I have now placed the bottle in the showpiece of my dining room and display it to my guests much to their envy.

Until then, let the prayers be on for getting this favorite drink back into the stores!

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Alas, new tyres deck my car’s wheels

I am very particular in keeping my Swift car in an impeccable condition. Although it celebrated its sixth birthday, it feels as if I had acquired this prized possession just yesterday.

Owning the first car permanently bundles the deepest of your emotions with it for the rest of your  of your lifetime. The sheer sense of pride that comes along is unmatchable to any other materialistic possession of our lives. I recall the celebrations that followed in my home when the car was delivered. The temple priest devotionally performed the vahana pooja and pocketed great monetary fortunes from my relatives. It felt though he was paid, it was a ticket to secure a seat for a joyful ride in the brand new car.  

But six years ago, the journey had just began. I had to reach several milestones in the driving journey of my life.

Hope, memories, experiences and expectations were the four wheels to forge a life long driving relationship between me and my car.

However, its been 6 years since the car was bought and I had travelled 40K KMs. It was the right time to service the car, if not buy a new one!

The car was scheduled for the service at 40K KMs at the authorised service centre. I had pinned high hopes of receiving my car in a spick and span condition. It did, but only on the cosmetic front.

The engine roared to life with ease but when I started accelerating the car beyond 40KM/h, I started hearing a rattling noise as if I am in caged in a noisy helicopter.

I called up the service guy and explained him my ordeal. He politely agreed to fix the cars problem either at my home or workstation the next day by the mobile car service team

The car was finally checked by a Service by the Roadside team but to my utter dissatisfaction. They were unable to identify the source of this noise. This happened when I spent around INR 15K for the car service.  

With utter dismay, I decided to drive down to the neighborhood mechanic. He was indeed an expert who readily identified the front right tyre that had worn off. It turned me hysterical.

“Saar, yaha pe hain problem… Tyre badalwaana hoga” said the expert Ramu. It churned mixed reactions within me. One, I was happy that the problem was finally identified and two, I could see the expenses heaping up, yet again.

My office boss cum mentor had once mentioned that the tyres are one of the most important components of a car. When measured through a ruler, the actual contact surface between the tyre and the road is that of an A4 size paper.  

It was finally decided that the tyres had to be changed. Not one, but all the four. The car was my baby after all!

I zeroed down on the Continental tyres based on the suggestion of my friends and the local tyre expert. The benchmark set by them was high.

“Saar, these companies tyres are fitted in BMWs and AUDIs” told the mechanic as a seasoned expert. I could feel the sincerty in his voice.

Almost parallely, I was guided by my conscience “Amol, you can’t afford to buy a premium car, atleast uske tyre to lagwaalo!” echoed my inner self.

I readily accepted. “What a sales narrative these guys have parrotted I thought within myself” I thought to myself.

After the tyres were changed, it felt as if organ transplantations were done. The experience of driving my car with the brand new tyres was simply awesome. It was as if I was levitating like a bullet train as compared to the bumpy rides that almost broke my back while driving with the old tyres.

My car glided through the road like a chunk of butter on a hot pan. Simply loved it. So smooth… It was utterly butterly drivilicious.  

Now that I have upsized it, I now plan to upgrade it to Mag wheels in a couple of months. It is now with a sense of pride that I drive my Maruti Swift hatchback to the office.

Meanwhile, I get an email from Gruhamantri/my wife “Dear Hubby, let’s plan for an outing into the wild and I will pay for the expenses, as I know you may have gone broke with these expenses” A footnote at the end of the mail had a link to the Jungle Resorts in a hill station of Tamil Nadu.

The trip is now freezed and I will soon hit the road to blaze new trails and screech the offroad with the new tyres.

Self Help Manual to address Digital Addiction Conundrums in Kids

A working day in my life is full of unending, mind-numbing work. As a Medical Affairs doctor working in a Healthcare and Biopharma Consulting firm, focussing on the dual role of Clinical Research and Marketing unintentionally catapults mundane tasks into a work of herculean proportions.

Like most of busy bees like us, ending a hectic day by spending quality time in the company and warmth of our family, is a perfect talisman to soothe our frayed nerves. But, not in my case, until recently.

A lot has been written about the perils of connected world brought about by the mushrooming of smartphones in pandemic proportions. But let me share with you the digital roller coaster ride that I have personally experienced with my family in the recent past.

On most of the days, when I am welcomed home in the late evening hours, my six-year-old son hugs me with a loud scream of ecstatic joy. In fact, he is the first one to impatiently wait to watch me enter my home. Unbeknownst, with a smile and glint in his eyes, he frantically searches for my pockets. It is not for Chocolates or for any surprises, but sadly, for my smartphone.

He continues to do so, even now, but, with a sense of belonging, discipline and purpose. However, a lot of persistent and conscious effort was required in bringing about this paradigm shift.

Let me take you to the genesis of this addiction. Almost 2 years ago, a teenager distant maternal cousin of my son stayed with us for a fortnight. It was he who introduced him into the digital world with some addictive games. But, that was enough for this smart quick learner. He knew about Google play store, steps to install a game and bingo… playing the installed games was like a cakewalk for him.

The curiosity then moved to watching videos and cartoons on YouTube. On an average, he spent around 4-5 hrs staring at the screen, and that was almost uninterrupted. As a doctor, I knew this was addiction, in the worst form. I seriously had to take some measures and nip the problem in its bud.

However, nothing convinced my son to stop his addiction. As a doting father, I finally decided to take up this addiction monster head on. Here are the details adopted by me, for making my son gently wean away from the problem. I call them 3 R’s to overcome the digital mental pollution:

  1. Reduce
  • Start talking to your child about the problem during times when they are very open to advice.
  • Tell them that you are keeping a count on the time spent with smartphones.
  • Gradually reduce the duration of time spent and reward them appropriately.
  1. Refuse
  • Inform your child on your unwillingness to give the smartphone during bedtime/late evening and first thing in the morning.
  • Anything in between these time slots is fine, if the total time spent is for a maximum of 1-hour duration.
  1. Rekindle relationship 
  • When the first two tips are applied successfully, please make way for satiating the curiosity quotients of your kids by making them busy enough on things that truly matter.

In the end, it’s just not about time well spent, but Quality time well invested.

Well, that was about my son. But, the digital monster is rearing its head on the other end of the family spectrum, i.e. on my elderly mother. Thankfully, she takes great pride in owning a basic feature phone for its battery life and sturdy qualities. We subtly massage her ego, as it is a hidden conspiracy by the rest of us, to not to provide a smartphone to my mother, lest, she too joins the bandwagon of smartphone addicts and avoid doing the daily chores at home.

However, I am sure that very soon the pressure from her community peers will entice her to purchase a smartphone and modify her into a social media fanatic much to our discomfort.

But, no worries. I have the perfect remedy now. Keeping my fingers crossed if the solution is age agnostic. If yes, then it’s time to file for a patent.

Appropriate Counselling in Phototherapy: The missing link in the management of Neonatal Jaundice

As per the latest published literature, neonatal jaundice affects one in two infants globally. The scenario may not be very different closer home in India. With 28 million children born in India annually, let us take this yardstick as an example for arriving at the number of children who may suffer from this condition, i.e. 14 million neonates. Agreed?

But, does your Pediatrician spend at least 14 minutes to explain the condition and its outcomes? As a doctor myself, I am aware of the answer. It’s really shocking!

Let me share a personal example. I was blessed with an angel last month. She was a premie at the time of her birth (35 weeks). Apart from a few respiratory issues at birth, the baby was absolutely normal.

The yellowish discoloration on her skin and eyes became quite discernible on the third day. The serum bilirubin was 16.5 mg%. No surprises, the Hospital Pediatrician suggested double surface phototherapy. 

The following advice is given:

  • Continue breastfeeding
  • Provide top feeds, if the mother cannot express breast milk
  • Watch out for hydration/dehydration

But what was critically missing was the counseling required during initiation and ongoing phototherapy session.

Challenges galore

I wonder how many healthcare centers appropriately counsel the anxious parents/caregivers before the initiation of Phototherapy.

The baby was stripped naked, and hushed on a transparent fiberglass cabin with intense blue light flashed from all directions.

The sister repeated the same instructions as given by the Pediatrician. We nodded our heads at their wisdom and waited with bated breaths for the magic to transcend when our baby would slip comfortably in the blue cabinet.

But, what we witnessed was pure discomfort and a shrill cry, reflecting a sense of utter discomfort.

Guys, come on. As a fetus, the baby was in a dark environment, blissfully bathing in the liquor amnii. But now? This feeling for the baby is absolute hell.

I called up all my Pediatrician friends to seek their opinion on how to make the baby comfortable during phototherapy. Almost everyone gave the same feudal reassurances like “You should do and you should try. It is very easy. Just place the baby in the cabinet. The sister will do her job”

But, all that I was expecting was “How should we try and how should we do”.

Finally, it was time to knock the doors of Google guru. However, my best web search utilizing the most advanced skills also couldn’t fetch me great and actionable insights.

A dawning of the Solution

Every problem is unique and so is every solution. I rolled up my sleeves and took up the mantle of starting the phototherapy session.

Let me explain to you the secret mantra:

1.Daytime, the Best time

Always start the phototherapy during the daytime. It is best to start it during the wee hours of the morning when most of the babies are calm and relaxed. Not to forget, the unnecessary disturbances like the background noise and when the hospital staff intervention is also nill to minimal

2.Full Feeds

Ensure that the baby has taken full feeds, as recommended by the Pediatrician. Only then transfer the baby to the phototherapy unit.

3. The three step Scientific sequence

Well, this is a very personal one. Makes me feel as if I have been able to decode the mystery. Relate it to the way we have our meals, which is starters, main course, and desserts. 

Start with latching the baby to the breast (Starters), then continue with expressed Breast milk or top feeds (Main Course) and finally provide few teaspoonfuls of sterilized lukewarm sugar water (Dessert).

Pat the baby’s back until it burps and slowly transfers the baby into the phototherapy unit.

Repeat this cycle every 2-3 hours

4. No eye bands.. please!!

We cannot be careless here. Tying an eye band will make situations worse. Note that the babies forehead and upper half of the face are very sensitive.

You must cup your hands and place it on the babies eyes until they sleep comfortably.

Keep a watch if the eyes are completely closed. Else, continue placing your cupped hands over their closed eyes. 

The UV range used here is absolutely harmless to you and the baby. There have been no documented shreds of evidence on retinal harm with the blue light used in phototherapy.

5. Babies are found of Interior designing too…

Roll a cloth or a baby wrapper and place it along both the sides of the baby. It helps to keep them comfortable and cheats their psyche into the feeling of staying at the bedside with the mommy.

No worries, it can still meet the purpose of exposing the maximum surface area of the body to the light.

It worked for me. Why don’t you try it too?

It is said that a doctor is a very bad patient. It is not because of their ignorance or for their ability to spot the lacunae in their/caregivers Clinical management. But, because of their greater expectations from their professional mates.

With this article, I am sharing my observations and recommendations for a happy and smooth phototherapy session for the needy parents.

Although I have exposed your eyes from the blue light of your cellphones, I must assure you that it is every photon worth of it !!