Mar 25, 2020

CoronaChronicles - Entry #1


Mar 11th 2020, 9:30 AM - It's exactly 2 weeks back but feels like such a long time ago. I left home to head to my office. As I was walking down the road, I noticed a few people wearing masks but the roads were lined up with busy morning traffic as usual. I came across news about a person visiting Bangalore from US who was tested Covid19 positive. It was news of concern but I didn't realize the huge changes that would happen in a span of 2 weeks. Anyway, coming back to that morning, I booked an Uber and was waiting for the cab to arrive at my pickup spot. After around 15 minutes of wait time, the cab arrived. Amidst the continuous honking, I heard the music playing from the cab driver's earphones and I recognized the tune instantly - "thooliyile aada vandha" from Chinna Thambi. "OMG, how long has it been since I heard this album! Must be at least a couple of decades", I wondered. The magic of Illayaraaja just took me to the memorable times of the 80s and I was tapping my legs happily. The songs from the album played one after another in Kannada. Language doesn't matter when there is nostalgia and soulful music. For a change, I actually enjoyed the whole trip without bothering about the traffic, honking, irresponsible driving etc.  I reached my office, attended a meeting and then returned home in the afternoon. 

From that afternoon, I haven't stepped out of my apartment, except for a couple of visits to the supermarket next door.  These 2 weeks seem like a month and March seems to be never-ending - 6 more days to go. Amidst the panic and chaos, I try to push myself to see the positive side of things and keep myself occupied with productive activities. 

My immediate family members are with me but I'm concerned about the well-being of my other family members living in different cities and countries.

I start off my day on a positive note, practice Yoga for 40-45 minutes, cook breakfast and lunch, sit down to focus on my work, have lunch, play with my daughter for some time, back to kitchen to make a quick evening snack and then dinner. There are enough and more work to focus on within my home, now that we have asked our house-help not to come. Doing dishes 3-4 times a day, folding clothes, putting the washed clothes out for drying, sweeping, mopping and the list goes on. By the end of the day, I'm extremely tired, both mentally and physically. I'm grateful that I have a roof to live under, enough supplies to cook and eat healthy meals. But there are also times when I'm worried about what's happening all over the world and quite concerned when things would return to normal. 

I also question myself, "What's normal? Were we leading normal lives before?" 

Maybe, Mother Earth wanted a break from us humans. Maybe, she is telling us, "Enna aattam aadineenga ellaarum? konjam adangunga".

To be continued.

Mar 14, 2020

How to increase weight in children?

The one frequent question I get as a blog comment and Instagram DM is "Which health drink should I buy for my kid? He/she is underweight"

Through this article, I want to share my perspectives as the mother of an 8-year old daughter. I'm neither a pediatrician nor a nutritionist. 

My daughter has been underweight all these years, but taller as compared to children of her age. She was born underweight as well.

First and foremost, weight is just ONE growth parameter of a child. We need to consider all other parameters such as height, activity level, immunity and overall well being. How active the child is throughout the day? Does he/she catch a cold/fever frequently? Is the weight increasing slowly or is it stagnant for a long time?

One of the important factors that determine a child's weight is genetics. So if you or your spouse were underweight during your childhood, your kid might follow a similar growth pattern.
The other thing to consider is that kids have certain growth spurts, during which they tend to put on some weight. This especially happens during pre-puberty years. So if your child is underweight around 7-8 years, do believe that they will catch up during these periods of growth spurts. If the kid is already overweight, then there is a higher chance that he/she might exceed their normal weight range. It then becomes inconvenient for the kid to carry around that extra weight. As they turn 12-13, they become extremely conscious of their weight and start skipping their meals or turn to stress eating.

Kids don't need any of the packaged health drinks from the market. Let's change our perspective first. Growing up in 80s and 90s, most of us who are now parents presume that we need to buy some brand or the other by default - Horlicks, Boost, Bournvita, Pediasure, Complan etc. Let me reiterate this again - Kids don't need any of these drinks to put on weight or increase height. These drinks are loaded with sugar and other unwanted synthetic ingredients. 

Buying a packaged drink and mixing it with milk might be an easier, convenient option but definitely NOT the right choice for our kids' health. As parents, let's search for natural, homemade solutions. In order for this to happen, we need to put in that little extra effort (menakkedal in Tamil). 

If you are a parent with young kids (< 5 years old), the thing to focus on is NOT to pick the most expensive, health drink from the market BUT on inculcating healthy eating habits in your kids. Here are a few ideas:
  1. Set an example. Young kids love to emulate their parents. They may not listen to what you say, but they are observing you. Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables. Include more salads in your diet. Eat a wholesome, homemade, fresh meal.
  2. Don't get fixated on their height and weight. Stop comparing your child's weight with other kids in your neighborhood. Stop discussing these topics during birthday parties or get-togethers. Ignore if anyone passes snide remarks on your child's weight. I know it is difficult but it is very much required for your mental peace.
  3. Prepare your child's meal by yourself, if possible. Make sure to include a variety of vegetables and greens when you plan a meal for your family. 
  4. Stock up on fresh fruits once every 3-4 days. Make sure that they are visible on the kitchen counter. Serve freshly cut fruits for mid-morning and evening snack. Make fresh fruit juice, lemonade or smoothies, especially during summer. Fruits and vegetables will ensure they get their daily dose of vitamins and minerals, which will improve their immunity.
  5. Plan for three wholesome meals for your child. Jot down a list of foods that your kid loves. The daily menu doesn't have to include ONLY your kids' favorites but mix and match in such a way that your child's favorites feature now and then. If your child loves pasta, include it in the menu once a week, with homemade pasta sauce and a lot of veggies. The same goes for noodles. 
  6. If your child drinks plain milk without a fuss, continue the same. If he/she doesn't like milk, please don't force-feed it or mix unwanted health drink powders to it. Milk IS NOT THE MOST important food for your child. Let's change this commonly held opinion. The nutrition required for kids are available in a wide variety of cereals, pulses, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds. There are plenty of plant-based sources that are rich in calcium and protein.
  7. There are a variety of healthy drinks that one can make at home - multigrain health mix porridge, sprouted ragi porridge, boiled rice porridge, badam milk, mixed nuts kheer, moong dal kheer (made with jaggery and coconut milk). You can try out many such options (plenty of recipes available online) and figure out what your child prefers. As I said earlier, these require a little bit of effort which we need to invest for the sake of our child's health. Do we want to outsource this crucial responsibility to a profit-focused corporation?

Mar 11, 2020

Best sources of Soluble Fibre

I had earlier compiled a list of foods that are high in total dietary fibre, based on the Indian Food Composition Tables (IFCT 2017). Do take a look at the list if you haven't seen it earlier.

In this post, I wanted to write specifically about the importance of Soluble Fibre and its food sources.

Soluble Fibre, as the name suggests is soluble in water and turns into a gel-like substance. It binds with the cholesterol particles and helps to flush them out of the body, thereby reducing the risk of the onset of heart disease. Soluble fibre also helps to avoid sudden spikes in blood glucose levels. It prevents us from overeating, thereby aiding in weight management. It also helps in regular bowel movements and prevents constipation.

If you do a Google search for the best sources of soluble fibre, the top results will most likely indicate Oats/Oatmeal. Though oats are a good source of soluble fibre, it is NOT a local grain (in India). Most of the packaged quick-cooking oats brands that are easily available in supermarkets and online grocery stores are highly processed to the extent that the fibre is mostly stripped off.

According to the Indian Dietetic Association, 30 gm of total dietary fibre per day is recommended. I couldn't find any details on RDA specific to soluble fibre though. As per this source, soluble fibre contribution needs to be around 1/4th OR 7-8 gms per day.

Here is the list of top plant-based sources that are rich in Soluble Fibre.




Soluble Fiber
(gm per 100 gms)
Cereals
Barley5.66
Quinoa4.46
Bajra (Kambu)2.34
Samai (little millet)2.27
Bulgur wheat2.25
Varagu (Kodo millet)2.11


Legumes
Soyabean5.59
Field bean5.25
Black gram whole4.94
Black gram dal4.35
Red gram whole3.15
Cowpea2.8
Rajma2.6


Green leafy veg
Curry leaves3.02
Agathi leaves2.6
Drumstick leaves2.1
Methi leaves1.7
Bathua greens1.68
Beet greens1.43


Vegetables
Garlic2.6
Broad beans2.03
Lotus root1.84
Babycorn1.62
Onion, stalk1.45
Sweet potato1.4
Carrot, orange1.37
Raw mango1.34
Cluster beans1.28
Ladiesfinger1.28
Peas, fresh1.28
Drumstick1.23
Brinjal1.2
Colocasia (Arbi)1.2


Fruits
Bael fruit3
Fig2.05
Custard apple1.93
Raisins, golden1.53
Dates1.5
Guava, white1.45
Wood apple1.44
Jackfruit1.41


Condiments & Spices
Methi seeds19.92
Poppy seeds11.06
Coriander seeds9.54
Cloves6.46
Cumin seeds4.62
Long pepper4.57
Mustard seeds3.47
Ajwain (Omum)3.38


Nuts & Seeds
Linseeds (Flaxseed)4.33
Sesame seeds3.5
Almonds2.52
Pistachio2.41
Sunflower seeds2.29



  1. Barley and millet varieties are a good source of soluble fibre. They are also packed with various vitamins and minerals. Including at least one millet variety a day will help us get a good amount of soluble fibre in our daily diet.
  2. Most legumes and pulses contain good amount of soluble fibre, along with required protein. Mix and match various millets and legumes over a period of a month. 
  3. As you can see, most of the local Indian fruits and vegetables are rich in soluble fibre. We don't need imported veggies to whip up an exotic salad, in order to meet our fibre requirement.
  4. Having done similar analysis to find out foods rich in calcium, iron, folate etc, I just can't help but wonder at this nutrient dense greens - "curry leaves". Including this green on a daily basis offer tremendous health benefits. No wonder, most of our South Indian recipes are never complete without a sprig of curry leaves. If you have been picking the leaves and keeping them aside on your plate, please refrain from doing that anymore. Chew the leaves to get the complete benefit of this powerful greens.
  5. Flaxseeds and sesame seeds are also high in soluble fibre, apart from the fact that flaxseeds are rich in Omega 3 - alpha-linoleic acid (ALA) and sesame seeds are rich in calcium and iron
  6. Last but not the least, methi seeds (vendhayam) is super rich in soluble fibre - around 20gm per 100 gm. It is generally advised to soak a tsp of methi seeds overnight and eat the soaked seeds + water the next morning for the best results. But if you find it bitter, you could add methi seeds to your daily dishes as much as possible - a tsp in dal/kadhi/sambhar/vathakuzhambu/morkuzhambu. 
If you have checked out my earlier posts on foods rich in calcium, iron, folates etc, I'm sure you would notice that there are many ingredients that keep repeating in each list. This gives us a clear indication that we don't really need to focus on individual nutrients per se BUT focus on ensuring a balanced diet rich in whole grains, legumes, local vegetables, fruits, green leafy vegetables, nuts, and seeds, along with spices. 


Mar 10, 2020

Privacy - where to draw the line?


The year was 2000. I created my first email ID, sitting at an Internet browsing center, having paid Rs.50 per hour. That weekend, we had a distant relative visiting our home. My dad tells this uncle, "She has a new email address". The uncle asks me, "Give me your email ID. I will make a note of it". As he pulls up a small notepad from his pocket, I announced my email ID to him. He was shocked that I had revealed my name in my email ID. He sternly advises me, "You should never expose your personal details in your email ID. Keep it generic and cryptic". I just nodded my head and didn't pay much attention to his advice.

The year is 2020. A few days back, I was watching a YouTube video where a vlogger was unboxing some stuff from an Amazon package. Her physical address was clearly visible on the bill stuck to the front of the package. Either she forgot to mask the information while editing the video or she didn't really mind if her address is now publicly visible to anyone. 

Coincidentally, on the very same day, I was casually browsing through Netflix and stumbled upon this movie - "The circle". What caught my attention was the fact that Emma Watson is the lead. I didn't know anything about this movie or the book it is based upon. The movie kept me hooked for the most part. I didn't quite like the ending though. There were many loose threads that weren't explained well. Anyway, the story concept is something that intrigued me. In the movie, Mae (played by Emma Watson) chooses to wear a video camera ALL THE TIME and share her day with everyone, under the term "going transparent". I don't want to reveal too much about the movie. Do give it a watch.

There are several vloggers on YouTube who share every little detail about their lives - their homes, jogging tracks, locality, places they visit frequently etc. Youtube has become an effective monetization medium for such vloggers but at what cost, is something I wonder. The family members, including their kids are being shown in such vlogs. Kids' school buses, timings, school locations, tuition locations etc are shared without any hesitation. Who is responsible for these young kids' privacy and security?

This question of where to draw the line when it comes to privacy is something each of us needs to ask ourselves. There is no right answer and it is up to each of us to decide how much of our personal lives we are willing to share AFTER clearly understanding the repercussions. Are we okay with involving our little kids in our journey to become an influencer? Are we fine with sharing so many personal details, just so that our subscriber count crosses 100K? 

YouTube is just ONE medium where we are divulging so much of our personal lives knowingly by carrying a video camera around ALL THE TIME. This phrase "Data is the new oil" isn't just a fad. It is mind-boggling how much personal data is being collected by many of the apps that we use daily. Our home address, where we are currently, what we eat daily, which restaurants we frequent, the trips we take, where we go for evening walks, at what speed we walk/jog, our heart rates, our sleep routines, how much exercise we do, what groceries we buy on a weekly/monthly basis, what veggies/fruits do we eat, what packaged foods we buy frequently, how much expenses we make on our credit card, where do we save, how much money/time do we spend on entertainment - the list goes on and on. Agreed, all this info is dispersed across many servers and owned by many apps. This data is being used to personalize our experiences and auto-recommend products/services that would be most relevant for us.  But there are also possibilities where the intentions may not be ethical and our data could be used for reasons solely tied to the brands' growth strategy.

The intent of this post is to share my thoughts on this topic and not to debate about the various benefits technology offers in exchange for our data. As a first step, let us at least be aware of the various gadgets/apps we use on a daily basis and the kind of information we voluntarily share.

Feb 20, 2020

5 lessons from Elevate app on creating an engaging product

One of the common work-related challenges that I face in my professional responsibilities (irrespective of B2B / B2C, startup/established organization, mobile app/web product etc) is how to make a product more engaging so that the adoption and retention rates are high. 

What motivates a user to try out a software product? What's required to sustain the same motivation for a longer time? As a product manager, what do I need to do to enable both? 

Over the past 6 months, I've been using this mobile app called Elevate and I'm loving it. Except for a few days, I have been maintaining a solid streak of using this app daily. What makes me come back to this app every single day? Why am I loving it? Let me try to jot down the answers to these questions from a "user" POV and capture the key lessons from a product management perspective.

I came across this app through an Instagram Sponsored Post. I don't remember the exact phrase used in the ad, but something on the lines of being a "trainer for your brain". This was the external trigger but there was already an internal trigger running in my mind. I was grappling with these questions - Why am I becoming so dependent on the calculator on my phone/laptop for silly calculations? What happened to my mental arithmetic capabilities that helped me a great deal during school and college? I shouldn't be taking my mobile phone out for simple calculations like 18*12 ! This was the first and foremost factor that motivated me to install this app in the first place. 

Though the product is extremely engaging, there is also one more solid reason why I use this app every day. My 8-year old daughter loves the app and she sits beside me while I'm playing. She encourages me to do better and whenever I get a High score, she gives me a high-five. And she reprimands me as well when I lose all my lives 🙂 Even on days when I forget to play, she reminds me and we sit together to play.

Lesson 1: External triggers will ONLY resonate IF there is already an internal trigger/push.



Every day, the free version displays 3 different games pertaining to Reading, Writing, Speaking and Math skills. And you don't get to see the 3 games upfront. When you open the app and start your training, the three games reveal themselves one after another. No two days are the same. The app provides a wide variety of games and there is an element of surprise to find out which games are part of a day's training. The app doesn't reveal all the games available to a free user in one go. As the user crosses certain milestones, new games are unlocked slowly and steadily. Each game has different music, varied sets of elements and pictorial representations, so you don't feel a sense of monotony.

Lesson 2: Provide scope for variety and surprise the user with new content. For gaming or social media apps, this is easier to accomplish, but we can still think of ways to make the experience more engaging for mundane apps as well. Why does business software need to be static and boring?

As you play the three games in a given day's training session, the app rewards you with Good Job, Great Job and Excellent Job, depending on your performance. And the visual representation of this scoring is done with the help of a hexagon. The fact that the hexagon gets completed ONLY if you get an Excellent Job is such a fascinating trigger. The need for completion/closure pushes you to play the same game until you hit the Excellent Job, thereby completing the hexagon. The visual elements typically used in similar gamified applications are a CIRCLE or a PROGRESS BAR, but for some reason, I find the use of a hexagon to be unique in this case. I don't remember the number of points I score in a given game, but if I hit the full hexagon mark, it gives me a sense of achievement.

Lesson 3: Human need for accomplishment/achievement can be such a powerful motivating factor. When deciding on the gamification strategy, it is not about the number of badges or scoring structure. The main objective should be to think through how we can get a user to experience a sense of achievement at the end of a session/workflow.
 

The app provides interesting insights into your growth across varied skills. As a person who loves interpreting charts and graphs, I do spend some time going through my Performance charts every single day. It gives me interesting comparisons of my levels relative to other Elevate users. It doesn't bombard me with too many metrics but only the most relevant ones. Though I use the app every single day, I spend a max of 15 minutes per day, which includes my training session as well as the time I look through the Performance charts. I don't like playing addictive games as they consume so much time and attention. After the Farmville experience back in 2010, I consciously stay away from gaming both on my phone and my laptop 🙂

Lesson 4: Products that require high engagement needn't necessarily take up all of a user's time. Social media apps can also be better designed so that a user can spend 10-15 min per day and yet feel motivated to come back to the app every single day. Of course, that may never be prioritized by the current social media behemoths who monetize users' data and attention.

Elevate delivers on the promise of being a trainer for my brain. I do feel a sense of improvement in my writing, reading and Math skills ever since I started using the app. I'm more conscious of the choice of words I use while writing my blog posts. I'm more accurate while doing simple mental Math calculations. I'm able to grasp the meaning and context better while reading. These are in fact the desired outcomes of any user who signs up for Elevate. It is not about the badges, scores or streak days BUT more about whether the app delivers value.

Lesson 5: As Product Managers, we tend to focus more on the metrics (DAUs, MAUs, event tracking, workflows etc) but it is more important to measure whether the user feels a sense of progress. As Kathy Sierra says, "Upgrade your user, not your product. Don't build better cameras, build better photographers"

Any Elevate fans reading this? 🙂 What do you love about this app?

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