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Monday, September 14, 2015

Working out of Bombay cafes

So here's my new project: I'm going to scout locations in Bombay (with Bandra as the epicenter of the search) where you can sit and work productively. I'll work out of cafes, restaurants and libraries, and evaluate them on the basis of five criteria:
Birdsong Cafe
  • General ambiance - how bright, airy and cheerful is it, does it have comfortable tables, chairs
  • WiFi quality
  • Staff philosophy of I'll-leave-you-in-peace-until-you-need-me
  • Quality of food and coffee
  • Productivity, or average % completion of my To-Do-List for the day
I'm very aware that all the metrics in this analysis are subjective and prone to inconsistency, but it's better than what is out there - Zomato doesn't have a filter for "suitable for working", and the small handful of existing blogs on this subject are even more subjective. 

Here is my first cut of the evaluation. Places reviewed so far:
  1. The Bagel Shop, Bandra W
  2. Taj Mahal Tea House, St. John Baptist Road, Bandra W
  3. Birdsong Cafe
  4. Bru World Cafe, Pali Hilll
Please send me your recommendations for places you'd like me to try. On my wishlist currently (some of these are places I love, but haven't experienced from a workplace perspective):
  1. Colaba Social and Parel Social
  2. Theobroma
  3. Saltwater cafe
  4. Serpis wildside cafe
  5. Candies
  6. Sassy Spoon
  7. Bru World Cafe, St  John Baptist Road

Sunday, June 21, 2015

A "healthy" lifestyle is a moving target

A couple of weeks ago I stumbled into the keto* jungle: read dozens of scientific papers for and against, wolfed through a hundred threads on Reddit, and decided I was ready. Ten days into the diet, still unsure about how good an idea it has been, I read that Audrey Hepburn lived a long and productive while indulging a pasta obsession - two big plates of spaghetti and ketchup every day. That is probably 200 grams of carbs daily (Keto-ers stay under 20)! Gah, what if carbs aren’t the enemy? I worry that my goal to be fit enough to run half marathons into my dotage is a chimera.It is dependent on many sub-goals, all of which keep shifting. I have nightmares about a wise, handsome physician shaking his head over 70-year old me, saying – lady, if only you had taken more care in your 30s, your bones might have been healthier! Sigh.

In general, this generation is believed to be the healthiest that humans have ever been. And yet, there is so much to worry about. We’re living longer, more active lives, but we also get chronic illnesses far earlier.We're more aware, understand diets/exercise regimens better and have the money to indulge in them.  But we’re also more obese, more prone to getting type II diabetes and less likely to be shocked at thirty year olds getting diagnosed with hypertension. The reasons for our doom are also entrenched in our good fortune (we all know what they are, but let me quickly run through them): easy access to processed food, fulfilling careers that leave no time for exercise, wonderful entertainment options which keep us glued to devices. It’s easy to conclude that people who worked with their hands and ate simpler food easily lived healthier lives, and we’re all going to get coronaries in the next decade.

It doesn’t need to be that simple (or that grim): we can use the advantages of this century to win this round too. And here’s when I finally come to the point of the post after all the rambling – how great is it to turn the technology that keeps us sedentary into the very thing that keeps us healthy? Long before my brother gifted me the Fitbit, long before I saw RemedySocial, I have been interested in measuring health indicators. I recently found a diary entry from the year 2000, which lists my weight, blood biochemistry parameters and says that I can run 5 km in 26 minutes. It is amusing, but I don’t need those notebooks anymore. It has become easier to keep track of your health in this decade.

I've recently learned about RemedySocial, a brainchild of Dr. Purav Gandhi and team, who have developed an algorithm to assess a person's risk of contracting 14 major diseases through an online assessment. The platform gives you a score, compares it to others with similar demographics, and gives you advice on the specific health indicators you should start tracking. He puts it well: “Our health is undeniably a downward curve, but we can change its slope! We can make the curve flatter by making early interventions. Good genes don’t last forever.” I took the assessment which took slightly longer the promised five minutes, but I was expecting that. The detailed report that came through was impressive. My short term wellness scores were good (yayy!) but my long term health risk scores were, well, interesting. I might have underestimated the health risks that I face given my life style choices and family history. The platform suggested targeted lab tests and health tips that I needed to follow – just the food that my data obsessed brain needs.

I’m suddenly noticing a spate of health-related apps; what this one does may not be unique. But I’m happy to recommend them because their approach is fresh and fun, and I was amazed at the sheer number of insights the algorithm was able to extract. It doesn’t matter what health tracker you use, as long as you use one.While I continue to think that perfect health will remain a moving target, it might not a bad idea for us to keep moving in its general direction, to be more aware of our own bodies, and to take control of how healthy our own future selves will be.

Disclaimer: Dr. Purav Gandhi, the founder of RemedySocial, is an ex-colleague and a friend, and this blogpost is partly motivated by my hope to make his venture better known. All the views above, however, are my own.

*Keto is a diet philosophy that says the human body functions more efficiently if it uses fats rather than carbs as primary fuel, but that’s all I’m saying. More on keto in another post

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Ladder of Years

I stumbled upon an amazing book this weekend: Anne Tyler’s Ladder of Years. It’s the story about a forty-something woman who abandons her seemingly well-ordered family life without a clear plan (or even a very clear reason) and finds some great adventures in the process of finding herself. It starts out as a typical - but still interesting - coming-of-age novel, from the point of view of a woman who has spent her life being a homemaker-receptionist for a successful doctor husband. The husband treats her with a mixture of vague disinterest and mild condescension, and you find yourself rooting for her when she walks out of a family vacation on the beach, even as you suspect that there is more to the story than meets the eye. I love this style of fiction - when the narrator is a part of the story, and is hiding critical character flaws, showing people through a less than objective lens, until you learn to see through the clever sleight of hand, and are able to say with glee - Aha! So things aren't really what they seem! Zoe Heller did it in Notes on a Scandal - another book that I read this month with an equal mixture of amazement and unease.

But Ladder of Years is more than just a clever book. It is a winner because of the empathy you feel for the people in the book. It has been a long time since I've had the reaction that I did two hours into this book: I looked down at the progress bar and noticed that I had already finished 30% of the book, and groaned aloud - "Oh no! I was so hoping it was going to be a longer book!" I knew I was going to miss Delia when she starts to walk to the town's small library at five pm every evening to take exactly one book to read in bed. She's very worried the day she realizes that the large font of that day's book would mean that it would not last her till her bedtime; and so she consciously slows down in her reading, and decides to notice the people in the restaurant that she has been eating at for the past several weeks.

I don't want to give anything away; let me just say that the book is full of moments and people that stay with you long after you've sighed over the last page. And I know I will read this book again, more than a few times. But first I'm going to read every Anne Tyler that I can lay my hand on. By a minor coincidence, I read her Noah's Compass last week, and loved that one too. 

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