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The Digital Babysitter

22 Dec

When I visit restaurants, a very common view is families looking at their smartphones, even with food on the table. Kids playing games on phones or handheld gaming devices while following their parents in grocery stores is not very uncommon. When we gather at a friend’s house, most of the kids play video games on phones, tablets, or a gaming console. Even in parties where people dance, these kids are busy with their phones. The adults are setting a bad example for their kids.

Digital babysitter: When kids are busy with their devices, they don’t trouble their parents, who are already tired from a hard day’s work. So they use these devices as digital babysitters. I’ve seen parents having fun at parties while their children are glued to their screens. I wonder if life is passing by these kids and they don’t even realize it. Eating, while watching TV, has been proved to lead to eating disorders. The diagnosis for ADHD has exploded in recent years, and less parent time is not helping the children.

kids-technology

Empathy: It is going to be the number one job skill by 2020. We develop empathy by interacting with other people, learning about them, getting social cues, empathizing with them. Unfortunately, technology is steering many children away from socially interacting with other children and adults.

My home, my rule: At my home, we have a simple rule: A maximum of one hour of screen time a day at home, and zero screen time outside home. This rule is applicable to kids and adults. My wife and I don’t check emails or go to facebook when we are in movie theaters or restaurants or parks. Our kids run around at social events and dance in parties. We eat without a screen in front of us. We talk, we laugh, and we generally have fun a lot.

Even people leading technology companies – the late Steve Jobs and Dick Costolo – did not approve of too much technology use for their kids.

What research says: Unregulated physical activity has tremendous benefits in terms of academic achievement and health. According to The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Canadian Society of Pediatrics, the exposure to technology should be limited for children and young adults. Smartphones and tablets are a recent phenomena, so there have not been any long-term research to study the effect of screens on children’s lives. However, some research shows that more time spent looking at devices has a negative impact on academics and social behavior. This, of course, is not a general rule. Some kids who use technology a lot will grow up to be leaders and inventors. Unfortunately, a majority of kids might suffer from its bad effects.

Additional readings
10 Reasons Why Handheld Devices Should Be Banned for Children Under the Age of 12
Steve Jobs Was a Low-Tech Parent
Is E-Reading to Your Toddler Story Time, or Simply Screen Time?

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Bill Gates: The Hero

25 Jul

Hero: A man admired for his achievements and noble qualities; one who shows great courage (source: Merriam-Webster dictionary)

I have a picture of Bill Gates in my office along with a few other people I admire. I’ve been asked why I have Bill Gates’ picture, but not Steve Jobs’. The reason is that Bill Gates is a hero. A silent hero.

A visionary

His vision during Microsoft’s earliest days was to “put a computer on every desk and in every home”. In 1970s, nobody had thought of having a computer at home. Computers were the sole preserve of big companies that had IBM’s mainframe computers for data processing tasks. He wanted the magic of software developed by Microsoft to work on hardware developed by other companies. Apple, at around the same time, had a similar vision but wanted to control the entire user experience from software to hardware. Microsoft, and Bill Gates, won big time.

Success is one’s own worst enemy. Having realized his vision by all means, including some alleged monopolistic practices, and becoming the richest man in the world, I think he lost his way. He focused more on making money for himself and Microsoft’s investors than creating value for the users. And when you try to harvest more value than you create, things start to fall apart. Gates didn’t focus on design and user experience. He didn’t focus on innovation. Perhaps he didn’t read The Innovator’s Dilemma. Though Microsoft is doing just fine, Apple now rules the world.

Rivalry with Steve Jobs

They were about the same age, started their companies at the same time (1975), and had the same vision. Gates was a software genius and Jobs was a design genius. They were competitors, borrowed ideas for GUI from Xerox PARC, and worked fanatically to establish their companies. In Jobs’s biography by Walter Isaacson, he quotes Jobs: “Bill is basically unimaginative and has never invented anything, which is why I think he’s more comfortable now in philanthropy than technology. He just shamelessly ripped off other people’s ideas.”
This statement is not true. Gates invented countless software for consumers and enterprise (much more than Apple) but also copied some. Same is true of Jobs. In fact, Gates is much more imaginative than Jobs. Gates imagined a world free of diseases such as malaria, polio, and AIDS, and a literate, innovative, and competitive America.

Philanthropy: Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
In 2000, Bill Gates quit his job at Microsoft and is now devoting his full time to the Gates Foundation traveling to poor countries, meeting with people, and understanding the health issues prevalent there. He has committed his wealth to the foundation and also convinced his rich friends like Warren Buffet to donate most of their wealth to charity. He is working with non-profit organizations to get rid of preventable diseases and improve the health of people in developing countries.

Steve Jobs wanted to put a ding in the universe, but it is, in fact, Bill Gates who did it and still doing it. While Jobs was busy inventing beautiful gadgets, Gates first changed the world with personal computers, and now changing it again with his fight against deadly diseases in the developing world and his mission to fix the broken education system in America.

Bill Gates’ courage to fight the biggest challenges and his commitment to noble causes make him a true hero.

Suggested readings
A Conversation With Bill Gates About the Future of Higher Education
Bill Gates on Charlie Rose
Malcolm Gladwell: In 50 years, Bill Gates will be revered and Steve Jobs will be forgotten
The Real Reason The World Will Remember Bill Gates

TEDx Women Talk By Dr. Piya Sorcar On World AIDS Day

9 Dec

This TEDx Women talk was given by my friend and founder of TeachAIDS.org, Dr. Piya Sorcar. We were in the same master’s program at Stanford University. She went on to earn a Ph.D. in Learning Sciences and Technology Design and is committed to improving the lives of millions of people around the world with the innovative use of technology.


From the TEDx Women page:

Named to MIT Technology Review’s TR35 list of the top 35 innovators in the world under 35 in 2011, Dr. Sorcar is the founder and CEO of TeachAIDS, a nonprofit social venture founded at Stanford, which creates breakthrough software used in over 50 countries. Funded by UNICEF, Barclay’s, Google, Yahoo, and other organizations, the TeachAIDS software addresses numerous persistent problems in HIV prevention, and provides the most effective HIV education tools to schools, governments, and NGOs worldwide – for free.

Dr. Sorcar began the research to develop TeachAIDS in 2005 as part of her graduate work. Today, she leads a team of world experts in medicine, public health, communications, and education, to develop versions of the software for new languages and cultures. She is the author of numerous articles and has been an invited speaker at many universities, including Caltech, Columbia, Tsinghua, Utrecht and Yale. She holds degrees in Economics, Business and Journalism from the University of Colorado at Boulder, and an M.A. in Education and Ph.D. in Learning Sciences & Technology Design from Stanford University.

The Half-Marathon Man

27 Sep

In 2004, I’d read an article in the Times of India newspaper on Anil Ambani titled Marathon Man. I was amazed to learn that such a rich and busy person spends two hours every day on the treadmill and participates in many marathons. The title of the article has always stuck with me. I’m not sure but I think this prompted me to think about running marathons.

I know how difficult running a marathon can be. It’s painful, an extreme endurance test. My knees start aching whenever I run, so I gave up the idea of running a marathon a long time ago. But earlier this year, I came across an article in Time Health that said that research studies show that running may not be bad for the knees unless the knees are not already in bad shape. “Good to know”, I said and ran a lot on the treadmill and improved my endurance. Now I can easily run more than five miles – on a treadmill. I’m now planning to run the Flying Pig Marathon in Cincinnati in May 2012, but only a half marathon. Plenty of time to prepare, but will it be easy? Would I be able to do it? I don’t know.

Why do people run marathons knowing well how painful it can be? My theory is that the challenge is exhilarating. It develops character – to keep persevering in the face of adversity. It develops personal strength. And yes, it helps get rid of that paunch too.

I’m aiming to be a Half-Marathon Man.

Want to Have a Great Body? Follow These Tips

21 Aug

I have been going to the gym regularly (well, almost) for the last one year. And I have lost about 19 lbs too. Considering the fact that I was not overweight and weighed 145 lbs, that’s no mean achievement, losing 13% of my body weight.

But it didn’t take me one year to lose 19 lbs. I didn’t lose any weight in the first six months. It could be because I was not going to the gym as often as I should have, or I was not working out properly, or it could be some other reason. Then in January this year, I asked the fitness director of the club why I still have fat around my tummy. After all, I joined the gym to get rid of this fat, not to lose weight. He gave me just one tip – run faster on the treadmill, rest, run, rest.

I used to run at 5 mph on the treadmill for about 30-40 minutes. I changed my routine and started running at 6 mph for 2 minutes, then walked at 4.2 mph for 2 minutes, and so on. Then I started to gradually increase the duration for which I ran at a faster pace. Eventually, I ran 30 minutes at 6 mph, walked for 5 minutes, and ran again for 10-12 minutes. With this routine, I spned more than 700 calories in an hour. And yes, I kept increasing the incline of the treadmill, finally stopping at 3.5.

Any exercise is incomplete without cardio, strength, and stretching. So I spend about 20-25 minutes on strength trainging, working with various machines and dumbbells, and exercising all parts of my body. I lost weight in about four months, and even now, I’m losing some weight – half to one lb a month or so.

I have found the way to a great looking body and a great health. Here’s my take on what to do:

Control your diet

  • Read the nutrition facts on everything you buy. Discard it if it contains any amount of saturated fat or trans fat. If the calorie count seems too high, don’t buy it.
  • Calculate the calories you eat in a day. Contrary to popular perception that an average person requires 2000 calories a day, most of us need 500 to 1500 calories a day unless someone has a physically demanding job.
  • Do the math. If your calorie intake is more than the calories you need, chances are you will gain weight and/or clog your arteries or both.
  • Keep food items out of sight. It is easier and tempting to keep eating whatever is close by. Keep high-calorie stuff in difficult-to-reach places.

Exercise

  • The best way to exercise is to make it a routine, and a routine can easily maintained by joining a gym, 3-4 days a week (3 is the minimum).
  • Do the right exercises – 10 minutes warm up, 20 minutes strength exercise (yes, even if you are a woman), 45 minutes cardio (running is the best cardio exercise), and 10-15 minutes stretching and cool down.
  • Don’t take your weight every day. Fat comes off very slowly and not seeing a drop in weight can be very demotivating.
  • Give it at least six months before expecting any result.
  • Keep the intensity of exercise high. The formula for an optimum heart beat rate – subtract your age from 220 – your heart beat rate should be 80% of this number (if you are a beginner to intermediate level) or 90% (if you have been exercising consistently for a few months).

Motivation

  • The most difficuly to achiive, maintaining consistency can be very boring and hence, demotivating. Pair up with someone, especially a health freak.
  • Vary your exercise regimen.
  • Don’t go to the gym if you feel like staying home or doing something else (but don’t make it a habit).

I have compiled the list of tips above from my experience and trust me … IT WORKS.

Exercise? If only there were 25 hours in a day

29 May

Most of us, at some point in time, have wanted to start exercising. Some of us do finally start it, albeit only for a few days or months. Some intend to start exercising but they are never able to make the transition from the planning to the execution phase. The most common reason – a lack of time.

How can I spend my valuable time exercising – at home or at the gym? My life is so busy, will a full time job, groceries, children, television, and numerous other engagements (and of course, sleeping). And there are only 24 hours in a day! And I’m busy all these 24 hours. If I had just an hour or two extra in a day, I’d exercise daily, because then I’d have extra time when I’m free. Have you had a similar thought lately? Well, guess what – there are only 24 hours in a day! And that 25th hour is never going to come.

Time is most common excuses (and a perfectly valid reason, in some cases) for not exercising. There is an old saying that a piece of work stretches to occupy the time available. The amount of work we do in 24 hours would stretch and fill the 25th hour too, and there will still not be enough time to exercise. I have faced the same issue, and despite the occasional motivation to go to the gym, have never found enough time. Until last year.

I have been regularly (three days a week) going to the gym for the last one year or so, and arrived at the conclusion that it’s not the time but motivation that has always prevented me from exercising. And I have started believing that this is the case with most of us. We are not motivated enough. Even if the motivation hits us sometimes, it goes away as soon as it came.

Exercising at home, park, or a gym, takes a little time and lots of motivation. The motivation to make a beginning, motivation to keep it up for a long time. And motivation must have a reason behind it. Motivation is an intrinsic state of mind, and comes from a realization, a goal, or in some cases, like mine, a shock.

So where does the motivation for exercising come from? Here are some of the most common reasons.

An overweight person:

  • wants to slim down and look good
  • has to reverse a medical condition, such as high blood pressure
  • wants to avoid some ailments for which s/he has high risk of catching

An average weight person:

  • wants to lose fat and tone her/his body
  • has to reverse a medical condition, such as high cholesterol, or prevent it
  • wants to build more muscle mass
  • remain active in old age

People who are happy with their weight and shape and are physically fit find no reason to exercise, and hence, there is no motivation for them to go to the gym. However, there are many benefits to exercising, even for healthy people. So here’s my advice – if you are overweight, hit the gym. Even if you think you are healthy, get yourself checked by a doctor – you never know what’s happening inside your body. If you have a genetically high risk of high blood pressure, it’s very important to prevent it from happening.

There are many more benefits to exercising. And the elusive 25th hour will never come. So motivate yourself … and join a gym.

A Healthy Lifestyle: Now What’s That?

1 May

If you are 30+ and have a job that requires you to be in the office the whole day (and evenings), this post is for you.

Most of us lead a sedentary lifestyle with all kinds of amenities to take care of physical work. And most of us do not exercise, or rather, do not have time to exercise. Leading a busy life with a family and job can be very demanding with virtually not free time. All free time is spent doing “important” things like shopping, watching movies, and eating. Where in the world is free time, you ask? I wish there were 25 hours in a day, so I’d have one hour to swim, jog, and hit the gym. Well, guess what, there are only 24 hours in a day, so …. no time for exercise.

Is exercise necessary to lead a healthy lifestyle? Most of us think we already avoid junk food, we are not fat, so we are healthy, right? Wrong. A healthy lifestyle goes beyond junk food and being thin (or not being fat). I realized the truth the hard way.

Last summer, I got my lipid profile done. If you have never got yours done, here’s what it is. You don’t eat 12 hours prior to giving your blood sample. You can’t even drink anything except water. You go to the doctor, they draw some blood for testing, and within a day or two, they tell you the results. You get to know what your blood sugar level is, your LDL (Low Density Lipoprotein, also called the bad cholesterol), HDL (High Density Lipoprotein, also called the good cholesterol), the triglyceride levels, and some other things.

When I got the results, every reading was way above the acceptable limits. I’m thin, used to exercise, though never regularly and may be not the correct exercises, so I was under the impression that I was healthy as a horse. Not really, the doctor said. I was scared. I didn’t want to get a heart attack at this stage of life. So I did some reading on the Internet. The more results Google returns, the more confusing everything seems. But one thing common across most of the Web sites is the theme – healthy lifestyle. Some sites do talk about fat-melting tea or drink or something. I will write about why these drinks don’t (and can’t work).

By the way, eight months later, I got my lipid profile done again. And this time, everything was perfectly normal. I was relieved. I will write about how I did it and you can try and make it work for you too. In the meantime, go to Google and do a keyword search for healthy lifestyle.