Ways to spot fake news

Fake news is not a new phenomenon but social media platforms have made it much easier to spread rumours and lies.

During the demonetization move in November 2016, a WhatsApp forward convinced people, and even news channels, that the new Rs2,000 note came embedded with GPS trackers. The story turned out to be false.

According to a report in March by the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI), the number of internet users in India was expected to cross 450 million by June—241 million have Facebook accounts and over 200 million are on WhatsApp.

Be aware of fake news

Many of these users have been mobile-first users of the internet, so they are not aware of the fake email forwards and online frauds of the desktop era. They tend to think the messages they get are genuine.

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It’s important to know the difference between what’s real and what’s not.

It doesn’t help that most fake news operators do not write stories that sound obviously false. They work with half-truths, turning them into believable news. “They fudge the numbers, Photoshop images, take a photo from an old source or from another country and try and sell it as statistics or a photo of something that it is not,” says Sandeep K. Shukla, head of department, computer science and engineering, at the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, and project investigator at the institute’s Center for Cybersecurity and Cyber Defence of Critical Infrastructure, a centre for research on cybersecurity.

“On Facebook and WhatsApp, people share news that looks scary, spicy or confirms their bias without even reading it.” 

Professor Sandeep K Shukla

The tools for building fake stories are getting more sophisticated. A research paper by professors at Stanford University and the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, published in 2016, demonstrated how a new video-making tool can now recreate an old news clip of a politician by changing both the expression and content. Audio advancements mean you only need 20 minutes of a voice recording to replicate it.

To counter this menace, multiple fact-checking organizations have come up, all of them trying to get to the source through filtering tools, automation and collaboration. Internet giants like Facebook and Google have tied up with fact-checking organizations to check the news they show on their feeds. In September, Facebook ran advertisements in newspapers in India, Kenya and Britain, detailing tips on spotting fake news. “The future looks positive with auto-checking of suspect stories, data mining and probabilistic reasoning,” says Shukla.

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Editor’s Choice Award: The Daughter that Bleeds

Proud to announce that The Daughter That Bleeds, a short story I wrote, that has been published in The Best Asian Speculative Fiction 2018, has been awarded the Editor’s Choice Award. 

All of 2018, as I prepared The Rakta Queen for publishing and moved countries, I’ve been busy typing away hilarious, maddeningly weird feminist speculative fiction stories. The Daughter That Bleeds was one of them and it was a glad moment for me when it got selected for this prestigious anthology. 

About the anthology

The anthology has been published by Singapore-based Kitaab and comes with over 40 stories from 16 countries in Asia.  

The Best Asian Speculative Fiction

Editors: Rajat Chaudhuri & Zafar Anjum (Series Editor)
Format: Paperback (Ebook not available yet)
Imprint: Kitaab
Published: 2018
Subject: Fiction/Short Stories
ISBN: 978-981-11-8528-1
Buy at Kitaab Store (for Singapore & global deliveries)
Buy here for deliveries in India

Between singing asteroid stations with a secret, and chilling visions of dystopia, between mad sorcerers with an agenda and time-travelling phantoms perplexed by the rules of afterlife, this volume of stories offers a unique sampling of flavours from the infinite breadth of the Asian imagination. If science fiction, horror, and fantasy are the genres you swear by, but miss Asian voices and settings, then this anthology is your oyster. Call these stories speculative, sff, or by any other name, they are really tales well told, and they always take off at a tangent from the big, blustering ‘real’. Here the imaginative spirit is aflame, casting a rich lovely light. Tales from sixteen countries of Asia plus the diasporas. Freshly minted, told by seasoned writers and new talent—a smörgåsbord of Asia’s finest speculative imagination.

Excerpt: The Daughter That Bleeds

He had to sell his daughter today. If that didn’t happen, he would have to go back, take fresh blood samples, apply again to the State Auction Bank and wait.Or worse, sell his daughter in the black market, for the money.

“Never,”he whispered. “My blood’s real. My daughter is bleeding for real.” Unlike thatSardar Singh and those geriatric peddlers. Bystanders, jobless, coming to the marketplace day in and day out dragging their barren daughters, forcing them to try surgical methods or potions or medicines in a desperate need to make them fertile. Empty-pocketed, infertile idiots! They just couldn’t afford it. Oh yes, he was going to make a sale today, no matter how.

Buy at Kitaab Store (for Singapore & global deliveries)
Buy here for deliveries in India

When to eat a fruit is just as important as which fruit to eat

Fruit is an important nutrient in your diet, however, when to eat it is important too. Have you been waking up to a breakfast of chikoos and chai? Munching on an apple as a midnight snack? According to experts, you’re eating the right fruit but your timing is wrong. There’s a popular belief that healthy food can be eaten whenever you want. Experts say this is not true.

To get the maximum benefits, they say, fruit should be eaten between meals, not along with lunch or dinner. That is because fruits slow down digestion, says Luke Coutinho, doctor of alternative medicine and founder of the health start-up Pure Nutrition.

Eat fruits between meals, say experts

“If you want to eat healthy, what matters is how much of what you eat is absorbed by your body. Tea and coffee have substances like tannin and caffeine that hinder absorption of the nutrients you find in fruits like banana and chikoos. In fact, fruits are best absorbed on an empty stomach, early morning, as a snack between two meals, or before or after a workout to refuel your body,” says Coutinho.

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How to be an author: Five lessons I learnt at Europe’s biggest science fiction and fantasy convention

One day, among other emails, I received one from Galaxies, a French fanzine. I had been invited to Eurocon, Europe’s largest convention for science fiction and fantasy, to give a talk on my novel The Rakta Queen: An Anantya Tantrist Mystery and the Indian fantasy and science fiction scene in general. With glee, I prepared for the talk, packed my bag and jumped into the 500-km/hour train from my home in Zurich to Paris, taking another hour-long train to Amiens, a small town in France where the festival was being held. It was in Amiens that Jules Verne, the fantastic author of the 1900s, lived and wrote most of his marvellous works.

The festival was overwhelming and an eye-opener in many ways, including how welcoming the science fiction and fantasy community in Europe can be. Not only did I meet talented authors as well as passionate and curious readers who love the genre, but I also understood that no matter where you’re based, if you’re a science fiction author and not part of the top 0.1 percent, you are struggling. And humility goes a long way in endearing yourself to anyone.

Here then are a few lessons I learned.

Lesson 1: Learn to do everything on your own, including setting up equipment for your talk

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Phone, computer, tablet—are multi-screens at work a distraction?

There was a time when Sriram Rajamani’s 1-hour, 30-minute commute to work from north Bengaluru to the centre of the city felt like a complete waste of time. Today, multi-screen devices help him use the time advantageously. “While my driver braves the traffic, I work on my laptop with a tethered connection via my phone and use it to answer emails, schedule the day’s meetings and get work done,” says Rajamani, managing director, Microsoft Research India Lab.

With the emergence of new technologies, we are all becoming multi-screen creatures, moving from one device or screen to another for all sorts of activities in a typical day. Multi-screen behaviour has become the norm, according to a 2012 consumer insight study by Think With Google, Google’s research arm on data insights. The study suggests there are two main modes of multi-screening—sequential screening, with people moving between devices, and simultaneous screening, with them using multiple devices simultaneously.

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Multi-screen behaviour has become the norm
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Comic release: Obsolete Baby

So excited to announce release of “The Obsolete Baby”, a whimsical and darkly funny short comic short I scripted that deals with giving birth and our obsession with technology. Illustrated by artist Kavita Nambissan, it releases in Ground Zero fourth volume by MetaDesiComics

It’s an all women creator anthology and kind of answers a question on where are women artists when it comes to comics. Other than my story, the anthology includes Blond Bonanzas – a surreal and potato-filled journey into the unknown, written by Simona Terron and Aishwarya Tandon; Batperson and Kitten, a mini-comic full of fun, written and drawn by “Suki” and Manjula Padmanabhan, and a neurofuristic to-be-revealed-title by Ridhi Batra and Tanushree Majumdar. 

The whimsical 80s feel in the cover
As well as the story cover. Isn’t the suit so cool?

I’m pretty excited about this. Grab a copy at one of the ComicCon India booths, or online.

Give your brain a boost with these 9 smart foods

You need the right food to keep your brain healthy. A study published in The Lancet in July concluded that one in three cases of dementia could be prevented if more people looked after their brain health and strengthened the brain’s network by improving their diet, not smoking, doing exercise, keeping a healthy weight and treating high blood pressure and diabetes.

Brain health is easy

Without the right nutrition, the brain cannot produce neurotransmitters or neurochemicals like serotonin or dopamine that are responsible for mood, social behaviour, appetite, memory and even sexual desire, say Luke Coutinho, doctor of alternative medicine and founder of the health start-up Pure Nutrition. “The right foods can boost numerous aspects of mental health, including memory, concentration, intelligence, cognitive thinking, and help in the prevention of diseases like depression, Alzheimer’s, etc,” he says.

Photo: iStockphoto
Cherries, dark chocolate, eggs and banana can help to improve your mind health. Photo: iStockphoto

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7 signs that you are addicted to social media

Feel you are addicted to social media? Selfies. Holiday pictures. Links of interesting articles. Posts. Thoughts of the day. Funny cat videos. Welcome to the virtual world of social media, where people spend hours consuming content posted by others.

You are addicted to social media when
Are you addicted to social media? Find out.

Mumbai-based Prashant Gautam Nanaware is a typical example. “I take pictures of everything, including food, and post things online instantly,” says the 30-year-old communication consultant who has Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook and WhatsApp on his phone, with all the notifications always on. Even his travelling is full of clicking, “instagramming”, and responding to incoming messages.

“What’s an off time? My phone’s on my bedside when I sleep; when I wake up, I see my notifications first. And I like it when my photos and posts get likes or comments.”

Prashant Gautam Nanaware

Recently, while watching Baahubali: The Conclusion, he did a live movie review on Twitter. When he participated in the Mumbai Marathon last year, he ran a Facebook Live session while running. He carries a full power bank and a charger for his OnePlusX and is online for almost 15 hours every day. “Social media has taken me over,” he says.

Like Nanaware, many of us are on the borderline of social media addiction. “Anything in excess is not good for health and can turn into severe addiction,” says Sameer Malhotra, director, department of mental health and behavioural sciences, Max Super Speciality Hospital, Delhi. “If you have a persistent desire to use it, neglect other priorities of life, become restless at the very thought of not being able to log in, neglect sleep, get your eyes strained, use it first thing in the morning, and have relationship issues because of being constantly on the platform, there’s a high chance you’re an addict.”

Think you could be a borderline case too? Here are the signs to look out for.

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The boot camp workout

Here’s everything you need to know about the boot camp workout, the  military-inspired exercise routine. 

Inspired by the training given to those who join the Armed Forces, boot-camps are high-intensity workouts that deliver specific results. “It’s primarily an outdoor group activity where a cluster of people who have the same goal join together,” says J. Keshav, owner and president of BootCamp Chennai, whose 12-week outdoors boot camp costs Rs12,300. The goals of a boot camp could vary, from weight loss, building stamina and endurance to general fitness, stretching, toning or strengthening muscles. 

“In one word, it’s roughing it out,” says Bengaluru-based Wannitaa Ashok, an expert in body transformation. “A full-body cardio and strength workout that’s very effective for weight loss,” she adds. It can help increase lean muscle mass, and build muscular and cardiovascular endurance and strength while improving overall coordination and balance, she explains. An important aspect of the workout is limiting the rest time between each move, so the heart rate goes up and you burn calories faster. “You do circuits of intense exercises for about 30-60 seconds each, pausing for only a few seconds between exercises,” says Vesna Pericevic Jacob, wellness expert and founder of Vesna’s Alta Celo, a wellness clinic based in Delhi. The idea is to schedule challenging workouts that push you to your limits, improve your fitness levels and burn calories faster. 

Boot-camp: The fitness level required

Photographs by Nathan G/Mint
Boot-camp training helps build strength, agility, speed and flexibility. Photographs by Nathan G/Mint

Most fitness trainers know that people who come to them are rookies, so they scale the activities around the group’s requirements, says Delhi-based Kamal Chhikara, owner and head coach at Reebok CrossFit Robust.

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Say goodnight with sleep apps

Sleep apps can at best help you discipline sleep habits, not tackle disorders.  There are many sleep apps that claim to use the accelerometer, microphone and camera in your phone to record the quality of your sleep, using sleep graphs to show how you slept, but all of them use average sleep patterns. This is based on the idea that interrupting the wrong sleep cycle—when you’re in slow-wave (deep sleep) or REM (dreaming)—can result in a sense of fatigue.

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But a study published in June in Preventive Medicine Reports, which screened 369 sleep apps available on Android and iPhones, analysed the most popular apps and found that while most help users set sleep-related goals, track and manage their sleep, and even offer white noise or guided meditation, few make use of other methods known to help the chronically sleep-deprived.

“There weren’t a lot of apps that had any information about the benefits of sleep, mentioned health risks associated with not getting enough sleep, and recommended the amount of sleep someone should get on a regular basis,” said Prof. Diana Grigsby-Toussaint from the University of Illinois, US, who led the research, in a press release.

Sleep apps can be useful in disciplining your sleep 

While you can use sleep apps to regulate and discipline your body clock and sleep cycles, you shouldn’t make the mistake of believing these can help you tackle sleep disorders.

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