Summary of TEDxMaastricht 2012

I was fortunate to be invited to attend TEDxMaastricht 2012 in person. I had watched its first edition last year on youtube and was keen to attend. Since this was my first TEDx event, I did not know what to expect. It turned out to be awesome. Here is a quick summary of what I saw. If you want to watch all the speakers, they are available at the TEDxMaastricht channel on Youtube.

TEDxMaastricht is the European Health focused TEDx event organized by Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Centre. In keeping with the guidelines from the TED organization, the speakers are all chosen for their original ideas and are given 8 minutes to present them to the audience. Unlike traditional conferences, there are no Q&As at the end of the talk. Also, unlike traditional conferences, the TED events tend to mix it up with inspirational talks, music, video from other TED talks etc.

The two main themes that caught my attention at TEDxMaastricht 2012 were: “Doctors are human” and “patients should be at the center of their care”.

On the first theme, Dr. Jeroen van Dillen showed the dilemma that doctors face today in caring for their patients. They are asked to do everything – care for the patients, be understanding of their emotions, be available for the patients, participate in research etc. His message was that doctors should talk about these dilemmas in an open and respectful way and not try to manage all by themselves. This was done in the form of a skit and the message was delivered very well. His talk is here.

We also saw this video from TEDXToronto by Dr. Brian Goldman where he talks about the mistakes he did during his career as a emergency physician. (A side note – when I watched it in the afternoon, I felt that this video was as long as the talks today – 8 minutes. Now I noticed that it is actually 19 minutes! It certainly did not feel like 19 minutes. It is that powerful). He talked about how nobody knows the batting average of a doctor that they are going to see. No one would like to go a doctor who is batting .400 (a superstar in baseball!) since he has made mistakes in 6 out of 10 cases! His point was that doctors are human, and they will make mistakes like any human being. There is a need for doctors to have an open environment to talk about their mistakes so that they can help others not to repeat those mistakes without fear of reprisals or punishments.

The same message was repeated by Paul Levy (ex- CEO of Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital). He talked about how daily a jumbo jet 747 worth of lives are lost due to preventable medical errors. The solution to this is NOT to punish the doctors but to foster an open environment for them to help in preventing these mistakes in the future. He used the learnings from his time coaching his daughter’s soccer team and written a book about it. Thanks to a delay from USPS, we did not get a copy of it! His talk is here.

The second theme had a variety of talks around patient stories and how patients should be at the centre of their care.

The first talk on this topic was by Clarissa Silva, who got the first standing ovation for her talk about how she overcame mental illness. She used to be a caregiver to patients with mental illness when she herself was diagnosed with mental illness. She was devastated to find that they had written in her dossier that “she is not capable to follow through even though she is quite capable”.  She was able to overcome these problems because she worked with her allies in the care team. It was awesome to hear that no one considered the word “recovery” in her context and she is now helping others to heal. Her message was that as long as the care givers and the clients are having an equal relationship, the patients/clients can have a full recovery. The most memorable comment was “courage is being scared but doing it anyway”. Her talk can be seen here.

The second patient story was from Maarten Lens-FitzGerald, who is proud to call himself Ex-Patient 2.0! He was diagnosed with cancer and he took to sharing information about himself and his condition on twitter and blogged about it. He was being subjected to more chemotherapy when someone he had found online informed him that it feels like the chemo has not worked on it but in reality it would have. The only way to know is to allow some time. Then when his doctor also agreed with that assessment, he did not have to get more chemo again. He has been cancer free since then. He then went onto create Layar, the augmented reality browser that is so famous on smartphones these days. I was able to meet him in the dinner the day before too. He is @dutchcowboy on twitter.  His talk can be seen here.

There were couple more talks about having patients in the centre of care. One was by Dr. Paul Grundy, the global director of IBM’s Healthcare Transformation Initiative. He talked about the concept of Patient Centered Medicine Home. It showed how it is changing the ancient practice still followed in medicine of the doctor considered the master builder and the expert. By having patients at the centre, the costs of healthcare can be reduced and quality of the care improved.

The second one was by DocMikeEvans, who creatively tries to address the question of how to how to share medical information with patients so that it is easy to learn. His video 23 and 1/2 hours (about the single most effective thing you can do for your health) has been watched more than 2 million times on youtube.

We also heard Roni Geiger (aka Dr. Google) talk about his work as Chief Health Strategist for Google. He talked about how there are expert patients around the world who become experts in their condition in a short amount of time. He is now collaborating with Gilles Frydman, the president of ACOR, to scale up the power of these experts.

There were other interesting talks as well. The second standing ovation was for Dr. Bart Knols who is trying to find ways to eliminate malaria and dengue spread by mosquitoes. If one jumbo jet crashes due to medical errors in USA, there are 7 of them crashing everyday due to deaths from Malaria. This is why he took up the challenge to do something about it. He has found three ways to fight them – the first is the finding that mosquitoes are just as attracted to cheese as they are to sweaty feet. The second one is training dogs to sniff out the pools of water where mosquito larvae are living. The third one is a pill that a human can take which will kill the mosquitoes that might bite them!

There was also a medicine man from Surinam who talked about the need to conserve forests and the traditional medicine. He talked about how he wanted to be a part of the process when his wife went to the hospital to give birth. He also gave a blessing to everyone who participated in the event. It was very interesting to find that the TEDx organizers were brave enough to invite a practitioner of alternate medicine.

All in all, it was an awesome event. The people behind the event – Lucien Engelen and his team did a wonderful job. Now hoping to be there at TEDxMaastricht 2013!

Lifestyle and Health (aka what I saw at Quantified Self Europe Part 2!)

I know that my first post about QS2011 was back in November and I had promised a second one. Here is that post after mulling over it for more than three months.

At the QS2011 conference, there were so many devices to track activity – Fitbit, Basis band, pedometers etc. Many of the participants (including yours truly) had tried these tools or were planning to. I realized that I had started using Fitbit and stopped and here is why I stopped.

Fitbit is a versatile device which can work as a pedometer during the day and sleep monitor at night. You just keep wearing it and it will automatically upload the stats online so that you can compare and evaluate them on your computer.

I also tried the tool for 2-3 weeks. I stopped after I noticed that consistently I was walking 4-5 kms of distance everyday. This would never happen when I was living in the US. So this is what convinced me that tools like fitbit cannot really help in an active lifestyle.

I realized that I had bought Fitbit to make sure that I was getting the required amount of walking/running everyday. But in the USA where I used to jump into a car to go anywhere, I needed an external measure to tell me that I have not been very active that day.

Fast forward to life in France and things have changed. I hardly use the car. All the places that I go to daily (grocery stores, school etc) are all within 1-2 km distance. And more importantly, driving a car is a real nuisance due to bad traffic and hard to get parking. This means that everytime, I need to go anywhere in the vicinity of 1-2 km one way, I almost always choose to walk.

This got me thinking. The real key to getting a healthy lifestyle is NOT these gadgets but a lifestyle where you walk and are on your feet most of the time as our bodies were expected to. No point in slapping on a gadget to see how many steps we have walked after spending 3-4 hours driving in a car!

Now there is new research which suggests that if one spends a very active one hour in the gym and then sits in front of a desk all day, it is just as bad as having a sedentary lifestyle. Considering this, the only way to stay healthy is to be active all day. What better way to be active than to include physical activity to go with your daily activities like going to work, shopping etc? No gadget can do that for us! Only we can choose to.


Startup Depression?

You might have heard about it. Most start up founders get depressed. (Here are exhibits A, B and C). I read about it and in my naivete, I thought I was immune to it. This is a post to put my depression out into the world and hope that it also helps some other founder who might experience it during their startup life.

As with everyone, I have had my share of depression. The good thing is that I get out of it soon thanks to my awesome wife and son. So far most of these episodes have not affected me longer than a day. Like they recommend in the exhibits above, surrounding myself with awesome family and friends is a good way to get out of the d-spot when it hits you.

This time it was different. We encountered a problem with our Android app. You can read about it here. The issue was that we had done everything we could to test the app before it was released to the market and yet we encountered this problem. We even tested the app once again using the Android 2.3 emulator but we could not replicate the issue.

I have to give credit to our awesome users throughout this process. They were extremely nice and willing to provide screen shots, logs and any other information that we needed to identify this issue. One of them even sent us an email saying “Don’t be embarrassed about this problem. I am glad to help you guys since you are creating such an useful tool for people like us!”.

But even with these words of encouragement, I felt depressed. I realize now that my depression had to do with the fact that I am unable to do much about this problem (mainly because I am not developing the Android app). Looks like one of the ways I have been staying clear of depression is to meet my problems head on and take care of them. Since in this case, I cannot take a hands on approach to solve it (by writing code myself!), I felt depressed. Very.

Once I realized this, I knew that the only thing that I can do is to go to the other ways to tackle the d-situation. Go back to family and let the knowledgeable people solve the problem they know and understand very well. So I went for a walk with my son, talked about people, sky, earth and the moon and I am now back to being my normal self.

BTW, the Android problem is still unsolved. I know that having the confidence that it will be solved is almost 90% of the way there. I will hopefully post an update on that front soon.

The Connection was reset?!

You might have encountered this error at one time or another when you try to access a website. The browser suddenly gives you an error which says “The connection was reset”. See the attached image of how it looked like on my browser.

The problem in my case was that I was getting this error every time. And this would happen every time I accessed a domain that I OWNED!


So I called, who hosts my domain and is the registrar for my domain. The agent initially denied that there was a problem (after checking it and discussing it with someone). Then I explained that of all the domains that I visit, I get errors only on this one domain. Then he told me that he will do another check with another “server admin”.


Then sure enough, he came back with this explanation “your website has been experiencing some strange activity lately and in order to protect your website, godaddy has instituted a security layer. Your website is still up and running but this security layer helps in preventing the strange activities and will only prevent those with malicious intent from accessing your site”.


I don’t know if Godaddy wanted me to feel great about this but I did not feel that way at all. I know myself really well and I DO NOT have any malicious intent about my own website! So armed with this confidence, I requested him to remove the security layer which was targeting me from accessing the site. He asked me for a bunch of technical details like my IPAddress, trace route output etc which I duly provided.


After all this, the agent tells me that “Godaddy does not guarantee that they will consider my request favorably. They also will not inform me in any way (phone, email etc) on how they have addressed this problem”. This was the last straw! After making my access to my own website difficult, how can Godaddy claim that they will not guarantee that I can access my site? After mentioning this to him, the agent understood the absurdity of the situation and he told me that “Godaddy will probably address this issue in 72 hours but they cannot give me an update about this”.


Now I am seriously considering moving out of Godaddy. Any options on where to go?

My review of Saravanaa Bhavan in Paris

Saravanaa Bhavan is the chain of vegetarian restaurants that originated in Chennai, India and now in many countries around the world like USA, UK, France etc. This is one of the only handful 100% vegetarian restaurants in Paris.

Being a vegetarian and also one who loves South Indian food, I frequent this restaurant a lot. After going there so many times, I felt that I should write a quick post which can help others.

The restaurant is located near the Gare Du Nord area of Paris, which is also known as little India, little Sri Lanka etc. Here is a tip – if you are going to this restaurant on a cold winter day, the best exit from the railway station is the exit going towards “Rue Du Faubourgh Saint Denis” from the Magenta RER station. Even though Gare Du Nord is the main station, you are better off making the indoor walk to Magenta and exiting out from the Faubourg Saint Denis exit.

The restaurant specializes in South Indian cooking. If you know about Indian cuisine, there are many varieties and among the different varieties of South Indian cuisine, the restaurant keeps true to its Tamil Nadu (state in south India) roots. So the best bet to try at this restaurant are items like Idly, Dosa, Upma that are local to South India. The good news is that there is an overwhelming variety of Idlies and Dosas that can keep one occupied for a long time! They also make North Indian items like Chapathi, various North Indian curries etc. As any good Indian restaurant should, they also serve Chinese items like Gobi-65, Vegetable Spring roll, Chilli Paneer etc. I am sure my friends from China will recognize these items (not!). These items are better avoided even though they take up half the menu.

The many varieties of Idly and Dosa has its downsides too. They come with the same sauces, chutneys and sambars. So even though you might be expecting three different things by ordering three different idlies, they all turn out to be almost the same since you will get the same sauces and chutneys to go with them. My suggestion would be to try one idly, one vada and one dosa. If you feel adventurous, you should add something from the North Indian and Chinese menu.

Regarding the beverages to have, the standard mango lassi is too sweet and is best avoided. The fresh juices are really good. If you want to have it the way it is made in Indian roadside juice stands, ask them to add some sugar to it.

The best dessert here is the Falooda. If you can get the sweet pongal, it will be awesome but it is made only on special days. The other desserts like Rava Kesari, Gulab Jamun are available at all Indian restaurants in Paris and should be similarly avoided.

A note about the timing of the restaurant. They are open until 11 pm everyday. The best days to visit are Friday nights and Saturdays. They make special items on these days (rava idlies!). Even though the restaurant tends to be crowded on these days (see the line in the attached picture), the service is really fast. Avoid going there on Sundays (and Sunday evenings especially) since the food seems to be almost spoilt!

If you are interested in the interesting story of the founder of Saravanaa Bhavan, who is now in a jail in India, check out this news.