Friday, July 13, 2018

An eventful fortnight around the world

If one were to look across the world, the past fortnight has been unusually eventful. 

THAM LUANG CAVE RESCUE

Photo courtesy: BBC
Nothing of this sort has happened any time in the recent past. Amazing story of human endurance and resilience. On the 23rd of June, 12 members of a junior football team in Thailand and their coach enter a 10-km long complexly structured cave, which has, among other things, narrow passages and a permanent stream inside. As bad luck would have it, unrelenting rains ensue. Advancing waters drive the team inside in search of drier areas. Only on July 2, a team of British divers find them stuck deep inside the cave. On 8th, a rescue mission is launched. In four batches, all are brought out; the last one on 10th. There will surely be a film made on this.


JAPAN FLOODS, OVER 200 DEAD

Photo courtesy: BBC
I just couldn’t believe that as many as 200 people have lost their lives (over a few days) in torrential rains and consequent flooding in western Japan, the worst weather-related disaster in 36 years. The fact that it has happened in a developed nation which has good infrastructure and technological tools to predict such catastrophic weather changes, makes it all the more striking.


BREXIT TURMOIL HITS THERESA MAY

Photo courtesy: BBC
David Cameroon while electioneering in 2016 says if elected to power he will hold a referendum on Britain’s continuance in the European Union. And, see what has followed. Cameron wins; is reminded of the referendum; orders it; and to his surprise, Britain votes to leave the EU. The mess that followed hasn’t cleared still. A new low was reached when on July 8, Brexit Secretary David Davis quit and on the following day Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson quit, saying PM Theresa May is diluting the earlier Brexit promises. She has narrowly fended off a leadership challenge. 


US-CHINA TRADE WAR BEGINS

Photo courtesy: CNBC
US President Donald Trump, in his mission to make America Great Again, has been complaining to everyone in the world that America is being wronged in global trade, and that the US is losing while everyone else is gaining. (Let us not get into a discussion on that here.) One of his measures to right the past wrongs is to impose heavy duties on imports of many goods from China. Thus, on July 5, US tariffs on $34 billion worth of Chinese goods kicked off. The impact of that will be long-drawn out and felt across the world.



 FIFA WORLD CUP SEMIS SANS BIG TEAMS

Photo courtesy: The Hindu
Surprises are common in sports. But not the way it has happened during the ongoing World Cup football in Russia. Predictions of who will win and lose, have gone horribly wrong. For the first time ever, the semifinals were played without top teams like Brazil, Germany, Argentina, Spain, Uruguay etc. We will now have a final between France and Croatia on Sunday.

2018 FIFA World Cup (Wikipedia)

EXIT OF TOP SEEDS IN WIMBLEDON

Photo courtesy: BBC
Not just World Cup Football, Wimbledon too had surprises. For the first time ever, none of the top-10 seeded players reached the quarterfinals in the women’s section. Arguably the best player, Serena is there, but she is seeded 25. Today she is playing the final against Angelique Kerber.


ANYTHING MISSED?

So many other important / interesting events might have happened across the world. Have I left out anything?

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Should we take vitamin supplements?

Photo credit: Medical News Today
During conversations with family members and friends, whenever the topic of vitamins comes in, invariably the issue of supplements also crops up. There is always one group which says that there is no harm in having supplements, and there is the other group which argues that there is no need to.

WHAT ARE VITAMINS

Vitamins are needed for metabolism (the process in our body that involves breakdown of food and absorption of nutrients for our growth and energy).

Our body does not produce it (unlike dogs that can synthesize enough vitamin C). So we need to get it from food or from vitamin tablets.

If our body doesn't have enough amount of vitamins it can result in medical conditions.

TYPES OF VITAMINS

There are 13 vitamins, each needed in different amounts for different reasons.

Some vitamins dissolve in water, some in fat.

Water-soluble ones are: all B vitamins and vitamin C.

Fat-soluble ones are: A, D, E and K.

Fat-soluble vitamins can stay in the body: they get stored in the fatty tissues for use later.

Water-soluble vitamins don't stay in the body: they go out via urine.

VITAMINS IN FOOD

Vegetables and meat have different vitamins in different quantities. So, if we have a well-balanced, varied diet we will get all the required vitamins in the required quantites.

Usually we take it for granted that the food we eat has enough vitamins, and there is nothing to worry. Only when some medical condition surfaces, our physician would say that there are symptoms of deficiency.

Vitamins are sensitive to heat and water. Cooking reduces the amount of vitamins. Water-soluble ones get lost in water, and fat-soluble ones in oil.

VITAMIN SUPPLEMENTS

We can get our vitamins from syrups and tablets. We need to take them when we have a medical deficiency of vitamins or in cases like pregnancy when our body does need enhanced levels of vitamins. Doctors will recommend the dosage.

DO WE GET ENOUGH FROM FOOD?

Anything cooked in high temperature or for too long will have less vitamins.

It is lost in water and oil. One way to salvage a bit of it is to consume the water that has been used for cooking. That is why some people suggest to cook in less water and not to drain away the water after cooking.

Cooking in microwave might be better than boiling from the vitamin standpoint.

Raw vegetables are good, but run the risk of presence of pollutants and lack of hygiene.

SHOULD WE EAT SUPPLEMENTS?

Supplements are not substitutes for the vitamins that we get through food.

 They can just make up any shortfall if any. So, our primary source of vitamins has to be food. But since while cooking lot of vitamins get lost, there is a case for having supplements.

Without any lab tests or visible symptoms one can't conclude that there is a deficiency and therefore a need for supplements.

Excess of fat-soluble vitamins can turn toxic, and therefore harmful, since they get stored in the body.

We tend to fall short of water-soluble vitamins since they don't stay in the body. Also, vitamins like C easily get lost while cooking. So, if at all one is looking at supplements, then it's water solubles ones that need replenishing.

All said and done, vitamin supplements are not a guarantor of good health. They are not magic pills.

HOW MUCH VITAMINS WE NEED

We need vitamins in small quantities. But we need them always. This table in the WebMD website lists out the required and maximum dosage for vitamins and minerals.

It would advisable to consult a doctor on how much of supplement we should take and in what frequency.

MY TAKE

As advised by my physician, I do have vitamin and mineral supplements, of low dosage, at wide intervals, just to make up for any possible deficiency.

REFERENCES

Vitamins: What are they and what do they do?

Nutritional Effects of Food Processing

Cooking and Vitamin and Mineral Loss

Studies Show Little Benefit in Supplements

Which Supplements, if Any, May Be Worth Your Money

The Claim: Microwave Ovens Kill Nutrients in Food

Vitamins and Minerals: How Much Should You Take?

Friday, June 29, 2018

An afternoon ride in an autorickshaw

#WATWB - This post was linked to
We Are The World Blogfest
Yesterday afternoon, something quite unbelievable happened. Nothing eerie or scary, but very pleasant and feel-good.

I went to Lavelle Road on an official assignment. After my work there, I wondered if I should book a cab or hire an autorickshaw, to go to office which is on Infantry Road.

(For those who aren't familiar, an autorickshaw is a very common quick mode of transport in India. It's a three-wheeler which can seat three passengers. It costs about ₹30 for a ride of 2 km in Bengaluru.)

Since there were many autorickshaws lined up, I thought I would check them out first. Also, I thought, if I book an Uber or Ola, it might take a while for the cab to arrive.

Here is a little background to how autorickshaws operate generally in my city, Bengaluru.

Though all of them have meters, and drivers are supposed to accept only the fare the meter shows, not all of them conform to the rule. Instead, some of them, on being told where to go, would do a quick mental calculation, and come an approximate figure, which invariably will be more than what the normal fare would be. (By the way, some people interpret this as only a crude version of the sophisticated "surge pricing" that the mobile-app based cab services adopt.)

The autorickshaw drivers resort to this tactic because one, they think they can cash in on the high demand, and two, many passengers might not know what the ride to their destination might actually cost, and they might just agree to pay the asked-for fare, without knowing they are being charged more.

Photo credit: Whitefield Rising
Not to my surprise, the first autorickshaw driver I spoke to quoted a figure of ₹100, which I knew was around double of what the normal fare would be. I told him so. I also suggested that I would rather go by the meter, and pay him a tip of ₹10. He didn't agree to that. I asked a couple of other drivers there too, but none agreed to go by the meter. So I walked a little ahead.

May be about 100 meters down the road, I flagged a vacant autorickshaw that was passing by. I told the driver, "Infantry Road", and he promptly gestured me to get in. He didn't switch on the meter, as I thought he would. But he told me, "Give me ₹30."

I thought I heard him wrong. Probably he was saying I should pay ₹30 more than what the meter would show. But he hadn't put the meter on. I was confused. So, I asked him, "₹30?" He said, "Yes."

Now I was curious. "Why? Normally, it should be ₹40 to ₹50, by the meter, considering the distance, is it not?"

He replied, "That's fine."

He didn't look like a very conversational person, and I didn't prod him further.

At the destination, as I exited the autorickshaw, I gave him a currency of ₹50, said thank you, and was about to walk, when he told me to hang on, and I saw him taking his wallet out. He handed me the change of ₹20.

Now, it was my turn to say, "It's fine. Consider the excess as my tip!"

But then he insisted that I accept the change of ₹20, which meant the ride cost only ₹30. He put the wallet back in his pocket, and rode away with a smile, saying, "I had a good day today!"

(For the Facebook link to We Are The World Blogfest posts, click here.)

Monday, June 25, 2018

'The video has gone viral'

(Sorry, if you were expecting to see such a video.)

I am so tired of hearing the word 'viral' for messages or audio or video clips that have been forwarded or circulated by a large number of people in a short span of time.

The word is such a cliché.

Isn't there a synonym for 'viral', or a single word to describe such messages or videos?

Thursday, June 21, 2018

June 21, a unique triumvirate - Giraffe Day, Yoga Day and Solstice

I don't know if all animals have days earmarked for them. But today is World Giraffe Day. It's an initiative by the Giraffe Conservation Foundation to not only celebrate the world's longest-necked animal, but also to create awareness about the need to protect it.

According to Live Science, a giraffe's neck alone is 6 feet (1.8 meters) long and the animal weighs about 600 lbs. (272 kilograms). The animal's legs are 6 feet long. Its tongue is 21 inches (53 centimeters) long, and feet 12 inches (30.5 cm) across. Lungs can hold 12 gallons (55 liters) of air. In comparison, the average total lung capacity for a human is 1.59 gallons (6 liters).

According to Encyclopedia Britannica, giraffes are a common sight in grasslands and open woodlands in East Africa, where they can be seen in reserves such as Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park and Kenya’s Amboseli National Park.

There are giraffes in the Mysore Zoo (one of the famous biological parks in India). The two photos alongside were taken during a trip to the zoo in 2013.

Their numbers are dwindling, and they have been add to the vulnerable list, with their population going down from 155,000 in 1985 to 97,000 in 2015, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, says BBC.

The Giraffe Conservation Foundation website gives you more details about World Giraffe Day and how you can contribute to the
protection of the animal.

INTERNATIONAL YOGA DAY

Japanese lawmakers practising yoga
Photo credit: The Hindu
Though yoga, a form of physical exercises that involve stretching of the body along with deep breathing, originated in ancient India, over the past few decades it has gained global recognition and is now practised world wide.

In 2014, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution to celebrate globally International Yoga Day on June 21.

Read more about yoga on Wikipedia.

Today, across India, various institutions are organising events to mark the day and highlight the benefits of yoga. Live Updates

Incidentally, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is 67 years old, is a great fitness enthusiast. On June 13, his office put out this video of his morning exercises and yoga, at his official residence on 7, Lok Kalyan Marg, New Delhi.

LONGEST DAY AND NIGHT

Thousands gather at Stonehenge for longest day
Photo credit: BBC
Today, the day is the longest in the northern hemisphere, and the shortest in the southern hemisphere. This happens because of the Earth's tilt of 23.5 degrees on its axis and the revolution around the sun.

Today is the day when the sun is the farthest to the north. It's directly over the Tropic of Cancer. That is the reason why people in the northern hemisphere experience the longest day, and in the southern hemisphere, the shortest day.

Also, during this time, in the north pole, there is sun light through out the day, and in the South Pole, it's dark through the day.

There is a good explainer on what summer solstice is all about in this NBC News website.

In some countries, solstices are associated with traditional beliefs concerning matrimony and fertility, as this CNN report says. According to a Swedish ethnologist Jan-Öjvind Swahn, a lot of children are born nine months after Midsummer in Sweden.

A UNIQUE DAY

Though one might be aware of many anniversaries, it might not be on top of our mind always. Though I have been hearing about Yoga Day preparations for some days, only yesterday I remembered that the day also coincides with World Giraffe Day and Summer Solstice. While I read a few articles about these "days", I got to know a lot of interesting details about giraffes, yoga and summer solstice.

Do you practise yoga? I incorporate a few yoga postures during my morning workout. But I can't claim that I practise the entire set of exercises.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Early morning habits and routine

Cubbon Park in Bengaluru.
Photo courtesy: K. Murali Kumar/The Hindu
A good start to a day always makes a difference. It sets the tone and tempo for the rest of day. (Here we are referring to, roughly, the first one hour of each day after we wake up.)

Different people begin their day in different ways. There are also people who begin every day in a different way.

Some of the common activities generally practised by people are: having coffee or tea, reading newspapers, going for a walk or a run, playing games, visiting a nearby place of worship, meditation, listening to music, cooking, household chores, etc.

Of late, I don't keep my mobile phone on the bed. But still one of the first things I pick up is the mobile phone -- not to check or read messages, or surf social media; but to listen to some songs, especially old ones, or instrumental music, which make me feel good, right at the beginning of the day.

While the music plays, I also check for any news breaks; if something important happened while I was asleep.

I used to have coffee or tea. Now I have given that up, and I drink two glasses of plain water. Some people say, it's good to have lukewarm water mixed with lime and honey.  I am yet to begin that. Then, a few minutes of quick glance of different newspapers.

I step out for a combination of walk, jog and light stretching, aerobic exercises. Sometimes a few minutes of meditation too. The whole thing lasts not more than an hour. By the way, I don't take my mobile along.

After I am back, while I shower, I listen to music or some podcasts I am subscribed to. The podcasts or music continue while I make breakfast and have it.

Simultaneously, I glance at the news scroll that runs on different channels of the TV. I don't listen to the broadcasts (TV will be in mute), unless there is something live and important happening somewhere in the world.

It's generally suggested that we keep off technology and gadgets, in the morning hours. But I guess, what matters is for what, and how we use the gadgets. I don't think we can keep off gadgets completely always. (For me, the mobile is mostly a substitute for radio, newspapers, magazines and books. Calls, messaging and social media, comprise a lesser proportion of usage.)

This is more or less my usual early morning routine. How does it play out for you?

Monday, June 18, 2018

Surprises galore at FIFA World Cup 2018

Iceland goalkeeper Hannes Halldorsson saving
a penalty kick from Argentina's Lionel Messi
Photo credit: Marca
With the FIFA World Cup on in Russia, there is at least one good match to look forward to everyday till July 15, when the final will be played.

I come from a state in India, Kerala, where people are so crazy about football. All are united as one, when it comes to interest in the game, and no conversation is complete without some reference to the ongoing World Cup matches.

Eleven matches were complete till yesterday; and if there is one theme running across all of them, it is how it has been hard time for the favourites.

On June 15, Portugal, in spite of having Cristiano Ronaldo, were held to a 3-3 tie by Spain.

On June 16, Argentina, in spite of having Messi, were held to a 1-1 draw by, of all teams, Iceland.

On June 17, Germany suffered a shock defeat by Mexico 0-1, and Brazil were held 1-1 by Switzerland.

Of course, in every tournament, there are surprises. It's good they are there, so that we don't have predictable, and therefore boring, matches.

Today evening, England will face Tunisia. And, I am wondering how that will go. The tournament is wide open.

YOUR PREDICTIONS?

Which four team you think have the highest chances of winning the cup?

I am placing my bet on Brazil. The other three in the order of probability are: Germany, Argentina and France.

If I can add two more, I won't be surprised if Spain and even England make it to the top four.