Sound in Our Lives

I was reading about the 30 best films about music, and I got thinking about sounds. Humans have explored sounds for millennia. We have used them for communication, entertainment, worship, defense mechanism, wellness and a whole bunch of other things.

Listening

Photo by Christian Bowen on Unsplash

I remember days spent at my gran’s with great happiness. We would lie down on our grandmother and listen to the sounds from her tummy. She built stories of all that was happening inside her – factories at work she said. She was the one who first introduced us kids to the fact that doctors too listen to the sounds inside our bodies to diagnose things. She made doctor’s appointments fun by coaxing her doctor friend to get us to listen to his body!

As I grew up, I learnt of the word auscultation. Although it sounded very sophisticated, the frenchman René Laennec designed the stethescope to just do what we did lying on our grandma or at the doctor’s clinic – listen to the factories inside us. They are used to listen to the sounds made by our blood circulation, intestines, and our breathing. The frenchman also went ahead and matched sounds to pathological changes in the chest. This listening along with palpitation are two of the best skills required to listen to a troubled body, before it can be diagnosed and healed.

External Sounds

Photo by Peter Idowu on Unsplash

Just like our internal sounds, we can also listen to external sounds which can communicate with us. Parents of young kids can vouch for how sharp their ears become after a child is born. Studies show that infants might be picked up in as quickly as 5 seconds when they cry!

Leaving aside empathy for kids, human beings can hear and identify a variety of sounds and quickly process it for response. Young kids can pick up underlying tensions in our voices and react with a bout of weeping. We can identify sounds subconsciously, and react to only those that need a reaction like when parents continue to work, with an ear tuned to sounds coming from the kids’ room. Interestingly there have been instances of blind people whose brains rewire to ‘see’ with their ears!

How sounds work

In these times of social distance, sounds which are are very comforting:

  • The voices of friends and family we do not see regularly
  • The ding of the microwave, popping of popcorn, sizzle of bacon; all which tells us that our meal is ready!
  • The chatter on Zoom or MS-Teams where our kids meet their friends and teachers
  • Shared watching of a movie between people in a long distance relationship

People can get real inventive and add to this list. The sound of an ambulance can be comforting if it’s coming to ferry a near and dear one to the hospital; it can also make people cooped up at home very anxious.

For parents who do not see or hear from their kids regularly, listening to their chatter within the house, might feel comforting. For others living in cramped spaces, some quiet might be a more welcome thing.

Sound activities you can try

Three fun activities to try:

  1. Get each one to close their eyes by turn. The others take turns to make a sound. The person with their eyes shut needs to guess who it was.Great Stem activity for younger kids where they can recognize animals, instruments and other sounds from nature(be warned that some of us can be terrible mimics!)
  2. Use freesound to download a bunch of sounds. Play it and see who can guess the sound first(kids love the grossest sounds best!)
  3. People can make various sounds and string them together to make music. Record and have fun.

In these times of anxiety and uncertainity, sounds can be both disturbing and calming. Try to use it for well-being. Build memories and songs you can lean on later in life.

 

 

5 Fun Things To Do In Times of Social Distancing

In these times of social distancing, quite a few people are hesitant about going out. Some are being cautious, while others are uncomfortable wearing a mask. It’s a matter of time before a vaccine or a cure is available, and we should all be back leading our normal lives.

Photo by Dawid Zawiła on Unsplash

As life loops along, and people spend more time at home, here are 5 activities to stay entertained. These give you a window out into the wide wide world in these uncertain times. All online and kid friendly. Try them:

  1. EarthCam: Watch the world go by in great cities, small towns, busy places, at night or during the day. You can even join this community. A string of live webcams from across the world. Can’t travel? No problem. You could become an armchair traveler!
  2. Virtual Reality Tours: This is one of the best things digitization has done to our lives. You can practically be anybody anywhere, and can have access to some fun and fine places in the world. No travel papers and no funds required. Enter some of the finest museums and parks at your convenience!
  3. African Safaris: Sit on your sofa by your window if you wish, and then be transported to the jungles to look at wild animals and landscapes you had only ever imagined. The drives are not planned and go where the animals are sighted, making it new trip every time. Want to interact? Go ahead and ask a question, and you will hear back an answer from thousands of miles away!
  4. Geo-FS: This is a flight simulator using photo realistic imagery, which adds to the fun of flying solo. A wide variety of aircrafts and destinations to choose from are on offer – pick your own. Spot landmarks, natural or man made. Go on, start the engine. Bon voyage!
  5. CirqueConnect: These shows from the Montreal based company, are a visual smorgasbord. They have entertained thousands and involve artists, musicians, painters, singers, trapeze artists, acrobats, jugglers, mechanical wizards, variety of technicians etc. Most of these shows are expensive; tickets can be hard to come by in some places, but just for these social distancing months, the shows are free.

Most of these activities can be visited several times without it getting boring. They are entertaining and educational. Most importantly, they keep your mind questing, not letting it slide into a morass of negativity.

Go on, take your pick and have fun!

 

CBS News: Koala Extinction in NSW by 2050

What’s Australia without the koalas? Perhaps the tourist angle can get Australians to do something to save these creatures?

Climate Denial Crock of the Week

Sydney Morning Herald:

A year-long NSW parliamentary inquiry has found koalas are on track to become extinct in the wild in NSW well before 2050 without urgent intervention to stop the destruction of their habitat.

The inquiry’s report, released on Tuesday, found previous estimates of 36,000 of the marsupials in the state were most likely outdated not least because they omitted the effects of the 2019-20 bushfires.

The fires destroyed almost a quarter of the koala habitat on public land, with some areas reporting “a devastating loss of up to 81 per cent”.

“The committee agrees with evidence that koalas were tracking to become extinct by 2050 before the bushfires,” the inquiry concluded. “The committee expresses its sadness and concern for the once-thriving Pilliga population, which has become extinct over the last decade.”

The committee, made up of MPs from the Greens, Animal Justice, Labor and Liberal parties, said…

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Visible and Invisible Clocks

With life looping along we have all been reading, listening to, and watching very random stuff in these Covid times. I have friends and colleagues who are losing track of time. Between worrying about getting my work done and keeping the house in ‘running condition’, I have looked at the clock on my laptop a zillion times. Maybe more. I always kept track of time.

Days later

Photo by Behnam Norouzi

Photo by Behnam Norouzi on Unsplash

As I read an article on excess mortality and z-score in statistics, I glanced at the clock. Just numbers. After weeks of sticking to a schedule during these quarantine weeks, I had slipped. It was easy with long hours indoors, the continuous flow of content, news in shorts and reduced socializing.

Would lundimanche become a part of my vocabulary? Everyday is a Sunday, said my father post retirement. Here I was SunMondaying long before retirement. Not writing enough. Not talking enough. Not working enough. Not eating enough. As I read on about internal clocks getting disrupted, concept of time, the unrelenting movement of astronomical bodies giving structure to otherwise endless time, my stomach growled.

Listen to the rhythm

The growl clicked something on. Hunger? When did I eat last? I had lost track of time.

I realized I had to stop the slip, and immediately. There was no noise or voice telling me what to do. Everything around was cluttered, but my mind was clear. I got up. Cooked eggs. Did the dishes. Cleaned up. Played music. Sang along. Showered. I did five very simple things that day to get back and stay on track :

  1. Ordered myself a wall calendar: Every night now, I cross out the day I have finished before going to bed.
  2. I set the radio to start playing at breakfast, lunch and dinner. I feel hungry (I have always found the Pavlov’s dog experiment to be interesting)
  3. I make it a point to be in bed before midnight. Yes, I tell myself my bed will disappear if I do not occupy it. I read in bed or listen to a podcast which has no cliffhangers.
  4. I call friends or relatives everyday. Call, not text.
  5. I walk for long in the park when its not crowded and the sun is out.

I have stayed on my own for years, and had never slipped. I wrote upbeat emails and texts to friends and family when they going down slippery paths. Now my family has gone visiting for a few weeks; I think I will enjoy the freedom from the clock, so to say, and lose my clock? Entirely? Mindlessness in the times of covid-19?

Thinking back

Why? Why didn’t I notice? Why was I lax? Did it do me good in some mysterious way? The questions were endless. I had learnt of lundimanche; could I be happy in a world where time held no meaning? I don’t know. Writing requires discipline. An enormous amount. People have written reams about it. Why didn’t that anchor me? I need a today and a tomorrow to close shop and revisit my writing the following day. Perhaps it was a phase and I guess it’s human to slip out of the rhythm.

What can I say – it’s good to be back in sync with the universe.

 

 

 

 

Silver Linings during the Covid Disruptions

It’s a strange time.

We are living during a pandemic where people say everything has come to a halt.

Things have come to a halt, but not everything. It looks like the world is standing still – education, transport, shopping, socializing etc. have all come to a halt. But essential services functioned right through. We got our supply of food; meat, fresh fruit and vegetables included. Interestingly more women worked than men. Will these people be remembered as those brave souls who went out and kept the fabric of everyday living in place? Time will tell.

The non-essential folks who have been doing their thing

In a pandemic, research into the virus is crucial, as this decides the protocols required to be put in place. Researchers worked quietly and intensely to help understand the fundamental biology of coronavirus 2. As most researchers have had limited access to their labs and experimental set ups, it has been hard to move academic research forward. This has been considered as one of the biggest disruptions since WWII. Despite this researchers have published more than 13,700 papers revolving around the virus, across the world!

Credits: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

While this is happening on Earth, 140 million miles away in space near an asteroid named Bennu, a spacecraft is ready to fly real close. As social distancing keeps everyone from gathering at the specialized Lockheed Martin mission support in Littleton, Colorado, to monitor it, people working remotely or ‘dial in’ and complete their mission of flying real close, as a part of their long term mission of collecting a sample to bring back to earth. 90% of NASA’s civilian staff is telecommuting.

We all need to do our thing

Just like all these people, in these difficult times of working from home and keeping kids busy, we too need to stay focused on doing what needs to be done. Getting through these times, one day at a time might be the wisest decision ever.

 

 

Surprise Your Child with an Academic Gift

Image Credit: Sandpiper / CC0

Helping hands are always welcomed in times of difficulty. Especially during these Coronavirus closures, when many of us are working/studying from home. Although we are functioning out of our homes, the cycle of birthdays does not pause. As kids lose the opportunity of enjoying a semester of togetherness, it’s a good opportunity to gift them something they will appreciate in these times.

It’s next to impossible to find a young person without a gadget these days. From smartphones to smart cards to smart wearables, technology has changed lives and it has gone even deeper in the life of a college student. Along with open courseware and online testing, technology advances other important aspects such as connectivity, networking, safety, communication, etc. It’s interesting to witness how the dawn of technologies like mobile applications, MOOCS and AI enhanced education has changed the lives of the average college-goer. Class schedules, syllabi, textbooks, assignments, teaching assistants – everything now has a digital avatar. 

Academic Gifts

As many colleges are gearing up for the next semester to continue from home, perhaps it is time to get older kids some academic gifts. If your child is a tad lost at college with the academic requirements, help them. Frequently kids might hesitate to buy textbooks to keep their debt down which might result in lower grades. Perhaps you could give them an innovative gift which will help them with their academics, and not feel like you are questioning their decisions. With 95% of teens either having one or at least having access to a smartphone, technology in education is here to stay. Clothes, shoes, speakers, and trips as gifts are passé. It might sound pedestrian, but a discerning child will appreciate the academic advantage they get from gifts. Here are three useful gifts for your college going kids:

  1. Dragon Dictation: If you’re behind schedule on a project and the last thing you want to do is spend time on typing study notes, this is the app you need. Talk to this app and it’ll digitally convert voice to text, which you can paste into others apps. Easy-peasy! 
  1. Bartleby Subscription: Students need help with homework, writing essays, and answers for tough questions. What could be better than a subscription which helps out with all this? Easy to access and with millions of answers, this is the ideal academic help a parent can gift.  
  1. Memrise: Does your child love languages? Wants to spend a sem studying abroad immersed in a new language and culture? Get your kid a paid version and watch your child take wings. 

Technology in Education

Not only do students use technology, they also design and write code to solve everyday problems. Mapyst is an app designed by students of Carnegie Mellon University which shows the fastest route between two places on campus. In a 143 acres campus with 60 buildings, this could save a lot of time for innumerable students, not to mention the fact that it’s comforting for new students to know that they are not lost.

Different eras call for different measures, and keeping up with the times is perhaps one of the best measures that can benefit students. iOS, Android, or Windows, no matter which OS a student uses, there is a whole gamut of applications to suit varied needs. In fact the education market has become a jungle and newer pieces of edtech find it hard to be original. 

The Internet has captured people’s imaginations by bringing interactive technology to the fore. Combining such technology with educational resources has resulted in productive faculty members, students, and immersive learning in classrooms. Interestingly, it is all the data that is collected from these students that drives the building of newer conveniences, especially suitable for the cost-conscious parent in these years of high student debt. 

While on the subject of helpful digitization, there are sites and apps which help like the ones listed above, and then there are other apps which offer immersive learning. Take your time, ask around and then choose one, you think your child would find most useful. It’s time for the parents to give their kids a technological and academic advantage. Go on, surprise the kids. 

3 Great Lists of Kids Activities for Covid Times

The Coronavirus closures have been tough all around.

On kids.

On parents.

Kids have to study from home while parents have to work from home.

Kids cannot go away and burn energy and parents cannot go away to cool off.

Homes go from small to large.

Small homes = Easy cleaning but might feel a tad tight as all inhabitants are at home all the time!

Large homes = Hard to clean and find the kids, but everyone has the luxury of space.

Coping with being cooped up

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Kids hate being cooped up and parents hate handling kids who are cranky. This can lead to a lot of irritability and unnecessary exchange of words. In these Covid times, some STEM activities might not work, because of the protocols that have to be followed. Here are 3 websites with terrific activities for cooped up kids:

  1. Commonsense Media
  2. Cincinnati Children’s
  3. NYT – Getting Kids to Move More

Look around in the world

As parents and caretakers, a lot of us have had to be inventive while keeping our kids entertained and busy. Occasionally it’s good to get them to wonder how people live in small spaces – in densely populated cities like Tokyo, on the International Space Station or intentionally because of various reasons(check this out).

Wrapping up

These are difficult and uncertain times, but it’s also a good time to pause and look around this world we live in.

Life Looping Along

In these times of keeping social distance, when families are spending a lot of time together, I have slowly realized that life chugs along no matter what. The Sun sets and it promptly rises whether I have had enough sleep or not. It was the same before the Corona closings, but now I dwell upon it. I lie in bed and give it some thought. Am I becoming a case for psychology textbooks? No. I just have the luxury of time, for I don’t have to rush off.

On a loop

As the days pass, I sometimes feel it’s the same day, but then the food I ate helps me tell the days apart! Yesterday was pasta and the day before that was gazpacho and the awful homemade bread!

On breaking down my days, I came up with these 4 things I do everyday without fail:

  • Eat
  • Perform ablutions(sounds nice and formal like I am lady of the manor, but then the elbow grease involved is a good reality check!)
  • Work
  • Lie on my Hammock

We have office meetings where, to entertain ourselves we sit in various parts of the house. Sometimes I just change the direction of my chair, and the viewer’s view (so to say) changes. Colleagues add plants and sun-catchers. We chit chat about the day and then share Corona stories before getting to work related talk. Why are we doing all this? To keep ourselves engaged I think. This keeps us involved in keeping alive the office vibe at home. For many this helps keep loneliness at bay. It is that human touch, without the actual physicality, which would otherwise disappear in our virtual work.

The hammock is definitely an unexpected treat. I had bought a hammock for a friend. Once I got marooned at home, instead of an office vibe, I decided on getting a holiday vibe. It’s all rigged up(with some difficulty I must say). I wanted it set so I could lie on it and watch TV, but now I have settled for the laptop on my stomach. Well my mother can’t tick me off for my lifestyle. She hasn’t see it yet and I am keeping it that way.

Stories to tell

Well, will I have wonderful tales to tell my grand-kids about when I was marooned at home? Would a tale about eating awful homemade bread count? I don’t know. Too early to tell. Over time, my memory might add some spices to the tale. Would I color the truth about my awful bread? I might, but would I make it taste fantastic? Nah.

Memories

Do we color our memories?

I think we do. My mother and I do not see eye to eye about certain incidents which involved the two of us – that’s proof I think! Funnily we watched a bunch of Ted talks on memory once. Understanding the brain and memories is still a work in progress for us human beings. I hope we can recall these strange isolating times with wonderful tales – tell me what you do everyday?

Helping Hands

Wait! Do the hands on my watch convey that Apr 6th is over and the prompt ‘Hands’ is from yesterday? Perhaps yes, but my hands seemed to have a mind of their own.

Okay, so hands it is.

“Oh…your little hand” by spongebabyalwaysfull is licensed under CC0 1.0

My hands tie up my hair and get to work.

Where do I start? My hands pick up my mug of chamomile tea for a sip.

Are my thoughts flowing? Nope. My hands give the back of my neck a good rub.

They help prop up my chin as I close my eyes and think.

Hands are companions. They go from soft to rough over time. Smooth to wrinkly. Dry to sweaty. Hot to cold. They help us in unimaginable ways.

Hands are companions when they come up to cover mouths in a complete expression of joy and wonder. Its just enchanting to hear little kids use their hands to stifle a giggle, and then hear it escape.

In these days of self isolation, the same hand could pick up things and fling. Occasionally.

I have seen the same small hand wipe my mother’s onion-cutting-tears with giggles.

My mother’s hands have reached out to braid my daughter’s hair. They have also changed my daughter’s diaper. Mine too for that matter. Her mother’s too. Sigh.

They also taught me and my daughter to plant seeds. Water them gently and watch as they sprouted. In these ‘at home’ days, little hands need such everyday science to keep busy.

We place faith in people we cannot see to maintain social distance in their everyday lives; so we can collectively overcome this difficulty. Like us, they keep their hands and minds busy within their homes.

As an invisible virus fills us with fear, put your hands together for those invisible folks who fill us with hope – the medical fraternity, lab technicians, transportation staff, sanitation staff, farmers, carers, govt. and private workers (and others I missed); their industrious hands keep our world chugging along in these coronavirused time.