How online learning is the way forward

Online learning is the new way millennials are educating themselves. When Lucky Gautam decided to take the Graduate Aptitude Test in Engineering (GATE) during his final year as a BTech student at Amity University in Noida, Uttar Pradesh, he was worried about the stiff competition he would face from students of India’s premier engineering institutions.

On a friend’s suggestion, he signed up with the National Programme on Technology Enhanced Learning (NPTEL), an online platform that offers free courses (but charges a minimal fee for an exam for certification), to brush up on topics like analogue circuits and the principles of signals and systems.

Online learning has become the norm

A government-funded initiative by seven Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), NPTEL helped Gautam earn an all-India rank of 58 in GATE and a job offer from Indian Oil Corporation. “Sometimes books and a library just aren’t enough. With this platform, I could learn from the country’s top faculty at my own pace,” says the 25-year-old.

One needs to be a lifelong learner to stay relevant.

Other than providing high-quality content in high-demand fields, online courses are affordable and flexible, and therefore easier to access.

Cognitive computing, automation and globalization are impacting the nature of jobs and the skills required. One needs to be a lifelong learner to stay relevant. “We can’t afford to stop learning and still expect to grow in our careers. Online platforms are the most accessible for this purpose,” says Raghav Gupta, director for the India and Asia-Pacific region, Coursera.

The formulaic framework of online courses or webinars can be a millennial’s best friend. “Millennials have an intrinsic trust and connect with technological tools and advances, adapting to new technology rapidly,” says Andrew Thangaraj, professor, electrical engineering department, IIT, Madras, and NPTEL coordinator .

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Smart speakers aren’t ready to take over your home, yet

Artificial assistants in smart speakers can do some tasks for you to make your life easier but they are a long way off from turning you into a couch potato. Vinay Ram, a 30-year-old product manager, bought his Echo Dot (Rs4,499, Amazon.in) as soon as it was launched in India in November. “I’d seen an Echo a year ago when Alexa could only understand the American English accent, but mine is very responsive to Indian accents, switching seamlessly from Odia, Malayalam and north Indian English accents,” he says.

How smart speakers work in India

Ram who works for a Bengaluru-based smart-home automation company, Silvan, has set up the TV set-top box with Alexa and now asks the device to change the channels for him. Alexa also controls the air conditioner and room temperature and is automated to switch off all lights if the device hears “Good Night”.

Ram’s wife, Sapna who works from home, plays interactive games like Hangman with the smart speaker, and streams music from Saavn. Together, they give Alexa up to 50 commands in a day. Though he loves it, Ram reluctantly admits, “It’s a luxury rather than a necessity.”

According to data released in January by Amazon, Alexa smart speakers now offer integration with more than 12,000 skills tailor-made for Indians using its digital voice assistants, including the ability to play devotional songs, interactive games, services like Housejoy, Zomato, music apps like Saavn and informational apps like ESPNcricinfo—all of them free, without any subscriptions.

Vinay and Sapna can’t do without their Echo Dot. 
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Kitchen gadgets that will make the food themselves

Kitchen gadgets that will practically make the food themselves

It’s time to try something new kitchen gadgets. Retire your drab old whistle-cooker and wok, and bring home smart appliances that use the best of technology to make cooking easy. We tell you of the best ones.

The Prepd Pack lunch box is a smart one with an app that helps you plan and prepare your lunch, and track your food’s nutritional value so you can control what you eat.
The Prepd Pack lunch box is a smart one with an app that helps you plan and prepare your lunch, and track your food’s nutritional value so you can control what you eat.

Kitchen Gadget: Prepd pack 

The Prepd Pack lunch box is a smart one with an app that helps you plan and prepare your lunch, and track your food’s nutritional value so you can control what you eat. The start-up began as a Kickstarter project to raise $25,000 and ended up raising more than a million dollars for reimagined lunches.

The main case is an elegant rectangular box that can house a versatile modular system of containers with smart magnetic cutlery. The highlight is, of course, the app (free for iOS, Android) which helps you prepare lunches in advance. Prepd has tied up with chefs and nutritionists to create a library of prep-friendly recipes tailored for a broad range of diets, appetites and health goals. The app also makes a shopping list based on your choice of lunches for the week, and tracks calories. It can connect to other health apps like HealthKit on iOS, to track your health and fitness.

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How to use a chair to workout

We love our chairs. However according to a study published in September in the Annals Of Internal Medicine, longer bouts of sitting are directly correlated to greater risk of death. “However, you can use the same chair as a tool,” says Paul, “if you can take out 20 minutes in your day during office hours and stretch those muscle groups.” Our experts list a few exercises that enable you to use your chair as a prop.

Soften those shoulders

Thoracic extension: Hold the back of your chair with your hands. Keeping the arms straight, push forward, expanding your chest by squeezing your shoulder blades. “Now try and look back on either side,” says Kamal Chhikara, owner and head coach, Reebok CrossFit Robust, a fitness studio in Delhi, “and you’ll open up your chest, reducing shoulder pain.”

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Do this while sitting on your chair
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Green vegetables boost your immunity

Green vegetables include not only the commonly known fenugreek, spinach and lettuce, but also a variety of herbs like parsley and cilantro, and also kale and Swiss chard.

“They are stark green in colour due to the abundance of chlorophyll, which is structurally similar to haemoglobin, making them a natural blood-building food,” says Luke Coutinho, doctor of alternative medicine and founder of the health start-up Pure Nutrition. The multi-vitamin dose in these vegetables keeps the weight under control, maintains blood pH, improves vision and nervous control, supports heart and liver health, dental and bone health, fights cancer, purifies blood, and increases haemoglobin, thus boosting immunity.

Parsley is definitely recommended for healthy bones and nerves.
Parsley is definitely recommended for healthy bones and nerves.

For an adult, the suggested dose of greens is one to two servings a day, says Ritika Samaddar, chief dietitian, Max Healthcare, Delhi. However, people with chronic kidney failure, calcium oxalate kidney stones, high uric acid or gout should avoid taking greens due to their potassium restrictions, she says, adding that if you are taking anti-coagulants like warfarin or acitrom, you should avoid greens for they are a rich source of vitamin K, which causes blood to clot. Here are some of our favourite greens.

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Run your business with these apps

With clients across the world and in different time zones, Delhi-based chartered accountant Shitij Bahl, who runs his own taxing and accounting firm, needs to keep a lot of information handy on his phone when he’s travelling.

“You never know when I will get an urgent request from a client to see all their documents. The whole 30 MB of it,” says the 33-year-old. He relies on mobile apps to respond quickly and efficiently—Google Suite to organize team schedules and track projects; Zoho Invoice to send GST-integrated invoices quickly; and Dropbox, where he keeps all client data so it can be shared efficiently with just a link. If, like Bahl, you tend to travel on work, here are a few essential apps to keep handy.

Photo: iStockphoto
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Seven strategies to survive a toxic workplace

A toxic workplace is defined as a place which encourages bullying, snitching, excessive competition, backbiting and arm-twisting, according to Ernesto Noronha, professor, organizational behaviour, Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Ahmedabad. “Companies which deprive people of minimum wages, don’t pay overtime, offer no work-life balance, have long working hours, don’t adhere to labour laws, have autocratic bosses, encourage favouritism and lack of communication are a bad environment to work in,” says Prof. Noronha, who has extensively researched corporate bullying cultures in India.

Any of this sounds familiar? Watch out for these seven tell-tale signs of a toxic workplace. And if you’re trapped in such an environment at work, but don’t want to quit because the work profile and money are good, or for lack of better options, here’s what you can do about it.

Toxic Workplace Sign 1: You are being bullied

It could be a manager, a colleague or even your whole team emotionally abusing you, being aggressive, or intimidating you through direct or virtual communication. “This behaviour can cause you grave harm as it makes you feel powerless,” says Premilla D’Cruz, professor of organizational behaviour at IIM, Ahmedabad.

Fix it: Prof. D’Cruz recommends confronting your oppressor, telling him/her that this needs to stop now. If the bully is your manager, take your colleagues into confidence and confront the manager together. Sometimes, giving an ultimatum is enough.

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8 apps to boost your productivity and finish work early

What’s the simplest way to boost your productivity? With December, the party month, right around the corner, are you looking for ways to finish work earlier than usual? Do you find yourself struggling to meet deadlines? Are you having trouble keeping track of the day’s tasks? Or are you working longer hours to clear that pile of work so that you can head out on that year-end vacation? Here are a few apps to help you get organized and finish your work faster.

Asana

Are you constantly on the phone, giving instructions to your team? Manage them with Asana, a business app that lets you assign tasks to team members and track if these have been done. You can set up tasks, to-do lists and reminders, and comment on items or send images to the team. In addition, you can integrate the app with Dropbox, Slack, Okta.Github, Google Drive and Chrome.

Freemium plans from $9.99 (around Rs643) per person per month. Web, iOS, Android. Asana.com

Boost your work productivity to get more free time
Boost your work productivity to get more free time 
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Want to shed flab? Try BodyPump, a workout that burns fat and builds muscles

Set to a pulsing rhythm of 10 tracks, BodyPump is a workout routine that uses High-Intensity Interval Training (Hiit). In 2012, Sanjay Reddy was 23 years old and weighed 168kg. “Even for my 6ft, 3 inches height, that was obese,” he says. Bored of a gym routine, he joined Cult Tribe, a fitness centre in Bengaluru. That’s when he was introduced to BodyPump, an exercise routine put together by New Zealand-based fitness company Les Mills International.

“It was a group workout of 15-20 people with weights, set to the latest DJ songs, with constant motivation by the instructor. The music, the healthy competition within the class and the energetic movement with weights completely pumped me up, leaving me with an exciting, happy feeling,” he says.

BodyPump makes you shed weight fast

Three years later, he had shed the flab and was happy about the way the workout had changed him physically and mentally. In 2015, he participated in a Les Mills workshop in Hyderabad and became a freelance instructor for BodyPump.

Set to a pulsing rhythm of 10 tracks, BodyPump is a workout routine that uses High-Intensity Interval Training (Hiit). It is specifically designed to help build lean muscle and strength, and improve your fat-burning ability, Reddy says. It’s also the ideal workout for anyone who wants to strengthen their muscles without gaining that bulky bodybuilder look.

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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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