30 November 2019

Came across an interesting chart…

This apparently is the population of the earth (in 2000) by latitude. I knew that most of the earth’s population lived in the northern hemisphere – but what I did not realize is that more than half the population live north of 27 deg North! That is even beyond the Tropic of Cancer!!! That would imply that more than half the population in the world do not experience the sun directly above their head ever!!

(Source: Radical Cartography)

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18 October 2019

From the quill of Purnam Allahabadi

(sung by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan)

“Agar’che kisi baat par woh khafa hain

To achha yehi hai tum apni si kar lo

Woh maaney ya na manaey yeh marzi hai unki

Magar un ko purnam manaa kar to dekho”

Roughly translated (improvements welcome)

She seems to be upset about something
Perhaps it is best to just move on
It is up to her whether to accept me or not
But please try to convince her with all your passion

There is a clever play on the word “purnam” in the end. The last line can mean – try with your “full” force to convince OR try to convince her about “Purnam” – which was the name of the poet. In the old days in that part of the subcontinent, poets often embedded their names in their poems – in a form of copyright protection!

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14 October 2019

The toll that systole and diastole takes

A few weeks back, I had gone for my annual physicals. For some reason, I look forward to this trip. A great chance to meet all the nurses and doctors there that I get to see once a year, go thru all the tests to look at the progress over the years (I have been going to the Emory Executive Physicals for 12 years now – so there are a lot of graphs for me 🙂 ) but the best part is sitting down with the doctor and understand in details how our body works.

This year it was about blood pressure. Before I go any further, I want to add that I am no doctor and a lot of my knowledge is from reading up on the internet (mostly documents from Mayo clinic). So, take this as a neophyte’s journey into understanding how our body works.

That said, one of the challenges I have been facing is sudden change of blood pressure. I have had pre-hypertension for a few years and take a daily dose of the minimum amount Losartan (25mg) allowed. I have kept meticulous records of my blood pressure throughout the day. And you can see clear patterns. The swings are predictable and pretty wide. Initially, I had difficulty convincing the doctor that I had no issue with my machine or taking readings. Till he took the pressure himself this time. Within a matter of three hours, my pressure came down by over 40 points.

That is what got us to figure out a strategy to understand what is happening with the body. Given that I had readings that came down to well within normal limits, he could not prescribe a higher dose. We are trying out some strategies to understand what might be causing this but that discussion led to my inevitable question…

“All this time you told me that controlling sodium is the best way to keep blood pressure under control. I get that. I remember in eighth grade learning that sodium chloride is hygroscopic and every molecule attracts and hangs on to many molecules or water. That would increase the blood volume and put pressure on the vessels.”

“That is accurate”

“But, how is that volume varying so much so quickly for me?”

That is when he knew that we are going to have one more of the “sessions”. He stepped out (my guess is he cleared out his schedule for some time) and then came back and sat down on the computer taking me thru pictures and some literature.

So, what I gathered about blood pressure is fascinating!!

My starting question was “Are there known long term effects of any blood pressure medicine?” (I wanted to focus on that aspect and see if I could take steps to counter that).

“Yes,” he said.

“What?” I asked somewhat concerned.

“You live longer,” he deadpanned! Yes, this is why I look forward to my annual visits.

After about thirty minutes, this is what I understood. If you are an engineer, it will be very easy to understand. Think about the blood vessels as pipes. They are built to carry liquid at certain pressure. Of course, if you suddenly send fluid at an astronomical pressure – it will burst. But if it is slightly higher pressure than what it is built for, it will not burst immediately. Over a longer period of time, the smallest part of the pipes will burst though. And they tend to be in our kidneys, eyes and brain.

But how does medical science control blood pressure?

The easiest – and the first medicine I was prescribed – are of the category ACE inhibitors. To understand this, you have to go back to evolution. When we were hunter gatherers, the brain often had to control blood supply to different parts of the body to focus on immediate preys or a lurking danger. To do this, it would send signals to constrict certain part of the blood vessels. To achieve that, the kidney would release a hormone (called angiotensin) in the blood. The hormones would be the signals for the muscle layer covering the vessel (called white muscle) to constrict itself.

The ACE inhibitor simply inhibits the kidney from producing that hormone. This prevents blood vessel to be constricted and raise blood pressure.

When I started taking Lisinospril (the ACE inhibitor), I started coughing. It took some time to realize that they were connected. But moment that happened, we switched to the next category of medicine – ARBs. Which is short form of Angiotensin Receptor Blocker. Instead of telling the kidney anything, this medicine works by blocking the white muscles from acting on the hormones. As the name suggests, it blocks the receptor signals. That is what I have now (Losartan is the specific one I take).

“My friend Anusuya takes another medicine – which is a beta blocker. How does that work?”, I asked.

To understand that, we have to realize that the blood pressure is not just about the volume of blood or the width of the pipe. How fast the motor is sending the fluid thru is the third factor. If the motor is furiously pumping the fluid thru, it will obviously creating more pressure. And that is what the beta blockers do. They get the heart to slow down a trifle bit. Of course, if you overdo it, there will be other disastrous effects.

There was a fourth strategy medical science takes to deal with specific blood pressure case. I cannot remember that now.

But the fifth case he described was fascinating. This is used mostly by gynecologists. I did not understand the method very well, but the problem is easy to understand. Basically, you are dealing with two human bodies now – the baby and the mother. They have different systems but any medication you put in one is going to reach the other. So, there is a more intricate approach to dealing with high blood pressure expecting mothers. (e.g. you do not want to slow the heart down – it might have verynegative effects on the fetus, as an example).

Later I came back home and was thinking if the body had any natural ability to get rid of extra sodium. Of course, for a person like me who travels five days a week, I must be consuming a lot of sodium – just from the preservatives of food eaten outside. Turns out you can help your body. Caffeine is a diuretic. And that prompts the kidney to dump sodium and water from the body. Tea, ginger and other plants help too. For that matter so does coke. (Coke has other terrible effects).

Which is an irony. I gave up on coffee just six months back. Completely a tea-totaller now (not teetotaller though 🙂 ).

“You know doc, what I am going to do when I take the next year off?”

“Study medicine?”


“Let me know if you need a reco letter. I have had a student who started at the age of 50. She is practicing medicine now.” (My doc is also a prof in Emory).

“Well, I do not want to practice. I just want to learn.”

I came back home – somewhat excited and told Sharmila –

“I want to study medicine after I am done with this job. My doc thought it would be a great idea. I think I should have become a doctor.”

“Yeah! Right!! You would have gone around telling people how to build self driving cars then”.

I was this close to calling my doctor to increase my Losartan to 50 mg!

13 September 2019

Friday evening relaxation with Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Rahat Fateh Ali Khan songs

“Tu mileya te mil gayi khudayi ve
Hath jod akhaan payee na judaayi ve
Mar javangi je akh mein tho pheri
Dua na koi hor mangdi”

Somebody with a better grip on Punjabi needs to help me with the translation but I believe what the words mean are

I found my God when I found you
I now pray with folded hands that we be never separated
I will die if you ever take your eyes off me
I have no other prayer (than you)

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7 July 2019

My birthday runs in your genes

If you have been unfortunate enough – and apparently with absolutely no opportunity cost of time – you might have read my blog or Facebook posts. If you have followed them with some level of regularity, you would have undoubtedly noticed that I get a boat load of birthday wishes on multiple days in a year. In 2014 alone, there were six days that I received birthday wishes on. In fact, the three most common questions on my blog would be: who is the photographer taking my running pictures, where is the dog when I am playing the tabla and what is my real birthday?

Re-birth theories of Hinduism be danged, it actually started as an innocuous April Fool’s prank. I had simply posted “Thank you to everybody who has made it my day so far or will so by the end of the day”. Somehow, that translated to me thanking everybody for my birthday wishes. In fact, I was thanking them – proactively – for all the chuckles I would get for falling into the trap that it was precisely devised to be.

Certainly having a random day as birthday in Facebook did not help maters. That one took me some time to comprehend. One fine September morning I woke up to a lot of birthday wishes. I had to re-check the date on my iPhone to make sure I had not gone thru a Rip Van Winkle episode. Much later, that day I connected it to the FB birthdate.

Of course, then there are well-wishers like Amitesh who gets on to the game once in a while and randomly posts a Happy Birthday message on my Facebook. That starts another deluge of birthday wishes. I guess in this day and age of social media, nobody wants to be left behind. As a matter of courtesy, I do not correct people and simply thank them for the thought behind the calendar-agnostic wishes.

The good news is that over the years, most of my readers and friends have gotten fairly accurate when it comes to the month. The date is a whole different thing. I get wishes from about four days before my real birthday and lasts for another couple of days after the birthday. It does not help that my younger daughter and I have consecutive birthdays leading to more confusion among even very close friends and family.

While reading a book on math – of all possible things – I found out that my birthday is somewhat unique. No, I am not going to bore you with historical events on this day or famous and infamous persons born on this day. Having to carry my name is enough of a burden for the day, I reckon.

What I found out is that there is a human gene that is named after my birthday! I will be even more precise – it is the tenth gene in the human chromosome.

I looked up Wikipedia which confirmed that but then threw a slew of minimum-thirty-letters-long biological words at me. I struggled through some of it but gave up when I had to deal with one “dash” too many in those freakishly long names. Went back to my math book.

So, there you go. You will never forget my birthday again, ever. It is in your genes.

I question your priorities though 🙂

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8 June 2019

Evening unwinding

“Chokher aloy dekhechilem
Chokher bahire
Ontore aaj dekhbo
Jokhon alok nahi re”

With the light of my eyes
I had seen the world outside
Today I am going to look within
Now that there is no light around

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26 April 2019

Friday evening relaxation…

“Aaye bunthun ke shehr-e-khamooshaan mein woh
Qabr dekhi jo meri to kehne lage
Aray aaj itni to iski taraqqi hui
Ek beghar ne accha sa ghar le liya”

Roughly translated…

“Now the town folk have arrived well dressed and in silence
Having seen my grave, they started saying
That finally, I have reached some success
The homeless person finally has found a good home”

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24 April 2019

Wishing happy birthday sometimes makes ME happy!!

I can’t even remember how many years it has been that I have been wishing people on their birthdays. It used to be mostly by emails – and that was pretty unique till Facebook came along and everybody started wishing on FB. That is when I had to up my game by moving away from email to making phone calls. Today, it is much easier for me to call and wish than email and wish.

It is a routine now – morning before going to office, I finish off the wishes to people in the eastern half of the world. After lunch or during lunch break, it is usually the folks in Europe. And after office or evening are the folks in US. Still averaging about 8 to 9 phone calls a day.

Today, I had two of the more interesting phone calls.

The first one was to a lady who I caught today in the middle of her lounging in the San Diego sun in her retirement years. She seemed genuinely thrilled to talk to me. She asked me how I had such a great memory. I admitted that I did not have a great memory – I just write birthdays down. We chatted for over fifteen minutes. She insisted that we meet two weeks from today when she would be visiting Chicago. I am going to test her and see if she remembers how we met the first time about ten years back. The truth is she was our customer and the only time I had ever seen or talked to her was when she had called me to her office to fire us!! I am sure we will get a great chuckle.

The second was a colleague that I had met once in Brazil. I had kept up with him thru my birthday calls and then one day, his numbers and emails stopped working. Later, I tracked him down to Utah – of all places!! Today, I called him. Took him two minutes to remember who I was. Then it hit him!!!

His follow up message says it all!!

Birthday wishes are about making the recipient happy. In a weird way, that happiness came back one full circle today!

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12 April 2019

Friday evening wind down

“Yeh bhi andaz-e-guftagu hai koi
Jab karo dil dukha ke baat karo
Hum tadapte rahenge yahan raat bhar
Tum to aaraam ki neend so jaaoge”

“What style of conversation is it that you have
That brings suffering to my heart whenever I hear you talk
I will toss restlessly thru the night here
And of course you will sleep restfully over there.”

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