Russian female authors

When I suffer from writer’s block or simply want to escape from the 24/7 drumbeat of divisive rhetoric punctuated by violence, I often travel to one of the public libraries. Here, hidden in dusty book jackets are stories too long to encapsulate in tweets, but filled with tales of the human condition. No one is a comic book hero or villain and yes, one discovers that Russians are people as well.

Russian female authors pull back the veil of confusion to reveal complex women that do not easily fit the caricature of spy or femme fatale. The country singer, Iris De Ment, understood this point and serenaded the works of famed Russian poet, Anna Akhmatova in her album, “Trackless Woods.”

Here are other random excerpts from books  about Russian female authors that I read at the library:

  1. “One of Natalia Baranskaia’s books tells the story of how a society discards an older woman no longer considered useful in terms of labor.”
  2. “Maia Galina writes about an actress, her daughter, husband, and the effects of marital infidelity.”
  3. “Prose of Life” author, Benjamin Sutcliffe’s analysis of the Russian female authors of the 1960s are: “Baranskaia and Grekova echo Virginia Woolf in describing fragmentary lives that inevitably induce exhaustion.”
  4. Biases are also evident, as in Baranskaia’s interpretation of “the masculine behavior of career women destroying gender binarism in the (former) Soviet Union.”
  5. If another author is to be believed, Ludmilla Petrushevskaia’s manuscript detailing the minutiae constituting the life of a woman in the (former) Soviet woman languished on editorial shelves.
  6. Another author, writes movingly about a woman hurt after being shunned by her coworkers, but does not provide a reason for the censure.
  7. One author shows the full range of human complexity by having a character rail against capitalism as “the conversion of things into people and people into things” and then proceeding to show how these critics proceed to do exactly what they criticize other people of in their own lives.

The Heroine Next Door (2016 update)

Imagine a world where a Muslim girl could grow up to be anyone she wanted to be in the world. Imagine a world where her religion is a private expression of spirituality and her contributions measured by dedication to family and/or being able to express her talents. One might be taken to task for these flights of fancy, especially since the fifteen years since 9/11 has seared the apocalyptic vision of terrorists into global consciousness. The fog of death and war enveloping the real-time and digital worlds – alternatively labeled a “Mist over Peace” – has obscured the fact that more than a billion Muslim men and women live peaceful lives across the globe. One-fifth of Muslims (300 million people), according to the Pew Research Center, live in countries where Islam is not the majority religion.

One such country is South Africa – the land of Nelson Mandela and a “rainbow nation” that took to the streets in order to shed the yoke of apartheid. As in any other country, children dreamt of opportunities to better themselves, often in the absence of mentors and the necessary finances that could positively alter their lives. I have chosen to focus “The Heroine Next Door” on one fictitious character, Leila, who represents a character caught at several crossroads. She came of age as South Africa transitioned into a democracy. She is a Muslim woman who emigrated to another country and experienced the 9/11 aftermath of heightened security. She had very few shoulders of female giants to stand on in pursuing a career in the sciences. She is also a practical person seeking to tackle health issues such as HIV, tuberculosis and diabetes that plague many parts of the world, especially South Africa.

It is easy for this trailblazer to get lost in a cacophony of stereotypes about sexuality and spirituality. If fiction mirrors current international attitudes, she would be depicted as a jihadi bride drowning in black hijab or a virulent anti-Islamist. However, I have chosen to humanize her with anecdotes of daily life punctuated with historical context. The plot is described here.

Her story differs radically from that of a Syrian refugee struggling to survive or a Pakistani-born female doctor or an Indonesian female astronomer or an Iranian female math whiz or a Saudi female mountaineer who conquered Mount Everest or a functionally illiterate Afghan woman. And yet they all adhere to a faith based on five pillars: faith, prayer, alms (zakat), fasting, and pilgrimage. Imagine if their talents could be fully harnessed beyond the family to help tackle some of the most pressing global issues ie, food security, income inequality, unemployment, climate change, weaknesses in the global financial system, the impact of the Internet, the gender gap, global trade, long-term investment, and healthcare challenges. None of these topics will inflame passions on the scale of a war or the heady thrill that comes from vanquishing a foe. It is the boring work of governance. It represents the quiet resilience of life. Shaping the 21st century will require the collective input of all men and women. All the Leilas of this world want is to be part of the solution.

My other books


Perspectives on Type 2 diabetes


Google the word, “diabetes,” and at least 268 million hits appear to describe various features and management of a chronic condition that alters the body’s ability to metabolize blood sugar. I have chosen to focus on Type 2 diabetes in four countries/regions, the United States of America (USA), China, MENA, and South Africa, as a matter of personal preference and for the sake of brevity. Tips about Type 2 diabetes are interspersed with information on patient education and personal stories.


HIV/TB/Diabetes resource kit

This educational aid aims to fill an unmet need in providing patient-friendly information that would aid frontline healthcare workers in resource-poor settings to devise personalized treatment plans for individuals who have multiple chronic conditions eg, HIV, TB, and diabetes. South Africa is used as a case study to illustrate challenges and opportunities.


A few good women

Isaac Newton once said: “If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.” This quote holds especially true for women seeking to advance in technical careers traditionally viewed as male endeavors eg, science and engineering. The female giants described in this book range from Emily Roebling’s tireless contribution to the building of the Brooklyn Bridge to the joint discovery of the brain’s GPS by May-Brit Moser and her husband.

Mist over peace

Capricious weather in Africa served as the perfect metaphor for the temporal nature of relationships, illnesses, and other societal issues that may obscure the eternal quest of human beings to find meaning (synonymous with happiness) in their lives. Mist would roll over sun-kissed, emerald-green vistas dotted with homes, only to clear within an hour and repeat Nature’s mysterious dance. I have synthesized relationships, headlines, mythology, history, science, religion, and sports through my mental prism into a collection of poems. Scientific discoveries and rational thought take center stage in poems such as Inflammatory bowel disease, On microbes and Man, and Yarumel’s curse. The latter poem refers to an ongoing study currently being conducted in Colombia to assess factors contributing to early-onset Alzheimer’s disease in a population predisposed to this condition. In addition, Aging describes memory loss accompanying advancing years. I have also used the often-overworked metaphor of a bridge in The Brooklyn Bridge and Question Bridge to recall heroic engineering feats and to riff on a chasm of misunderstanding that may exist within a community. In the latter case, I chose the same title as a transmedia project aimed at facilitating discussions among black men. Headlines detailing violent events in South Africa, notably the Marikana miners’ strike, and shootings in the USA formed the basis for poems such as A miner’s voice and Gun control.



In this collection of poetry, I have continued the approach of filtering news headlines reflecting ongoing issues such as crime, immigration, family disintegration, and diseases through the prism of normal experiences. I have divided the poems into four categories: family, immigration, society, and diseases. With Mother’s Day fast approaching and in remembrance of a woman who embodied the positive aspects of a Jungian archetype, I have paid homage to mothers in a series of poems in Chapter 2 (Family). Migrants escaping war-torn regions into Europe and South Africa appear prominently in Chapter 3 (Immigration). Their plight is juxtaposed with the positive memories of a Russian immigrant to America, Vladimir Nabokov (Butterflies, Chapter 3), and the success of an anonymous, first-generation Chinese immigrant family (A robin’s nest, Chapter 2). While most of these stereotypes are instantly recognizable, readers may have to refresh their memories to appreciate allusions to the German pilot, Andreas Lubitz, in Chapter 4 (Alienation) or to the exploits of famed journalist, Nellie Bly (Asylum; Chapter 5). The theme in Chapter 5, is largely focused on an underappreciated component of health i.e., mental illness



Sometimes we need lies

Nonsense rhymes are fun. Enjoy!

Once upon a time there was a town crier,

Who was an inveterate liar,

And landed the citizens of Dyre,

In a quagmire.

The people revolted,

And the scoundrel bolted,

Causing everyone to shout “hooray.”

“We are in for a brighter day.

Let’s celebrate with an ostentatious display.

And declare that we shall triumph, come what may.”

Unfortunately, the return of truth,

Failed to heal or sooth.

Instead, reality’s steadfast glare,

Turned each life into a nightmare,

Leaving the people longing,

For veiled untruths and less fear-mongering,

And causing them to petition,

To bring the town crier back if he expressed contrition.

Prime a beautiful mind

Watch the YouTube video of 40-year old UCLA professor, Terence Tao, and you will gain an understanding of how the math prodigy took the scientific world by storm. A photo from the Australian-American’s early years shows a diminutive seven-year old, appearing an article with the hometown headline: “TINY TERENCE, 7, IS HIGH-SCHOOL WHIZ.” At age two he had taught himself to read and by age, 10, he became the youngest person in history to win a medal in the International Mathematical Olympiad. In a 2015 New York Times article he is quoted as saying:” When I was growing up, I knew I wanted to be a mathematician, but I had no idea what that entailed.” Today he counts the equivalent of the Nobel Prize for mathematics ie, the Fields Medal, and the MacArthur “genius” grant among his accolades.

By contrast to mathematicians portrayed on the silver screen such as John Nash, tormented by schizophrenia or Srinivasa Ramanujan, who had to overcome incredible hardship to make his mark in the field, Tao seems refreshingly normal for a genius raised in a typical family.   Tao, the eldest of three boys, was born in 1975 and recollects inventing board games in his youth with his siblings using a Scrabble board for a basic grid and then bringing in Scrabble tiles, chess pieces, Chinese checkers, mah-jongg tiles and Dungeons & Dragons dice. They turned to video games for storylines and to help invent their own sets of rules. Tao also had a vivid imagination, consuming fantasy books like Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series and doodling intricate maps of imaginary lands when becoming bored in his high school class.

Terence Tao (Credit: Babenson at English Wikipedia)
Terence Tao (Credit: Babenson at English Wikipedia)his school classes.

By age 17, Tao had completed a Master’s degree and he moved to Princeton University to enroll as a PhD student. While Tao’s research years were dotted with the familiar frustrations of mathematicians seeking elegant proofs for different theorems, this prolific mathematician stood head and shoulders above the crowd with his contributions to a number of categories ranging from nonlinear equations to number theory. His best-known work involves patterns of prime numbers (numbers divisible only by one and themselves). Lest mere mortals think that he sticks to theoretical studies, the rest of us can breathe a sigh of relief that he has also advanced compressed sensing research, thus enabling engineers to develop sharper, more efficient imaging technology for MRIs, astronomical instruments, and digital cameras. Here is another one of his quotes that appeared in a 2008 Discover magazine article: “If there is something that I should know how to do but don’t, it bugs me,” he says. “I feel like I have to sit down and work out exactly what the problem is.”

Helping to feed the hungry with Big Data

Alex ‘Sandy’ Pentland, American computer scientist and serial entrepreneur, Alex ‘Sandy’ Pentland, American computer scientist and serial entrepreneur, holds the view that human nature thrives through interaction and trading with trusted others – an idea that he wants to incorporate into sustaining our digital ecology. What does this mean in a world where every phone call, credit card transaction, idle thought posted on social media leave hackable imprints mirroring the best and worst in human nature. Our physical selves may become numb to the zettabytes of information streamed and stored for 24/7 consumption, to the point that wars and natural disasters become pixelated noise on a slowly-buffering YouTube video. For those of us suffering from post-Orwellian fatigue over the many ways in which Big Data cataloging our lives can be misused, it comes as heartening news that visionaries at the intersection of information science, humanitarian aid, and Big Data analytics are stepping up with concrete plans to provide humanitarian aid to poor countries.

One example is Chamutal Afek-Eitam, the thirtysomething founding CEO of the 3 Million Club, a non-profit startup cut from a different cloth. Her LinkedIn profile cites “15 years of work in the international aid sector with 10 years working in development and emergency practice for a variety of INGOs and UN bodies while living in Kosovo, Eritrea, Sri Lanka, Democratic Republic Congo and, six years in specialist consultancy services and academic research in disaster, dev and innovation management.” The academic research refers to her work at the cusp of information and the social sciences at the University of Groningen in The Netherlands eg, The Humanitarian Genome Project. Think of humanitarian aid as the building blocks of effective giving to others. By analogy, the segments of DNA that form genes encoding specific proteins, are the regions of the world where aid will be delivered to fulfill a specific need. What are the dominant patterns that may streamline effective delivery of aid from a charity’s headquarters to the field? Are there recessive traits that could be enhanced to improve the local economy at the individual and community levels? The project aims to develop open-source technology in which such behavioral evaluations will be made easily and widely accessible to the humanitarian community.

Drawing upon her academic and humanitarian aid background, Eitam, formed the 3 Million Club, possibly a reference to the fact that an estimated 3 million children across the globe die due to hunger each year. She has already started a campaign drive to raise money for food packages that would be used to feed starving children. In an interview with the Israeli press, Eitam, says that, for $60, donors can purchase ready-to-use therapeutic food (RTUF) that may feed malnourished children for three months – possibly enough time for many kids to recover from severe malnutrition.

Her business model is to cut out the middle man and international bureaucracy and keep everything local. The only fee her organization takes is a $3 bank transfer fee for every $60 donation. Food is purchased locally, thus helping to support the local economy, and donors or “humanitarian shareholders” receive word when ‘their’ child gets the food. The investment opportunity lies in providing field workers with devices to record information about the socioeconomic status of each child and community member in the RUTF distribution areas. The sale of data providing governments and companies with real-time snapshots about the needs of communities and effectiveness of humanitarian aid, will provide donors with short- and long-term returns on their investments. This no-frills and no-waste donation program differs from the well-meaning top-down approaches of the past and may impact a sector where many people may be sick of seeing how much money goes to waste.

Once word of this project spreads, one can only hope that it inspires others to similar actions. Beyond telling governments or corporations whether you are likely to repay your loans or get diabetes, Big Data may become part of the digital conversation lifting millions of people out of poverty.

A teacher’s retirement speech

My late brother’s retirement speech (worth revisiting after all these years):

May all the teachings of those you admire become a part of you so that you may call upon them. Remember those whose lives you have touched and who have touched yours. They are always a part of you, even if those encounters were less than you would have wished. It is the content of the encounter that is more important than its form. May you not become too concerned with status, but instead place immeasurable value on the goodness in your heart. Find time in each day to see beauty and love in the world around you. Realize that each person has limitless possibilities, that each of us is different in our own way. What you may feel you lack in one regard may be more than compensated for in each other. What you feel you lack in the present may become a strength in the future. May you see your future as filled with promise and possibility. May you find enough inner strength to determine your own worth by yourself and not be dependent upon another’s judgment of your accomplishments. May you always feel loved.

Maker nurses

Democratizing healthcare is one of the mantras of the Maker Nurse movement. In his 2014 book, “The Maker Manifesto: Rules for Innovation in the New World of Crafters, Hackers, and Tinkerers,” author and founder of TechShop, Mark Hatch, spells out the vision that turned manufacturing in every sphere upside down by placing advanced tools and spaces in the hands of do-it-yourselfers.  Making, sharing, giving, and learning form cornerstones of this vision. Co-founders of MakerNurse, Jose Gomez-Marquez and Anna Young, have applied the Maker vision to identifying tools that could help innovative nurses bring their ideas to fruition in order to facilitate improvements in patient care.

Necessity is the mother of invention. If a Chinese man unable to afford long-term dialysis can extend his own life with a home-built dialysis machine, why not make similar tools available to frontline healthcare workers such as nurses. That was the thinking fueling the desire to turn nurses into Makers, according to Gomez-Marques (watch YouTube video here). His other inspiration for an inventor that transformed healthcare was Dr. Gruentzig, who performed the first coronary angioplasty on an awake human in 1977. The D.I.Y. physician cobbled together the thin tube with a balloon on its end in his kitchen. When the opportunity presented itself in the form of a patient with heart disease in which the arteries were clogged with a sticky material called plaque, he sprang into action to perform a procedure now seen as routine in most hospitals.  Simply put, a tube with a balloon on the end is threaded through the arm or groin to the affected area and, when in place, the doctor inflates the balloon to push the plaque outward against the artery walls. This widens the artery to normalize blood flow.

Fast forward to September 2013 and the launch of MakerNurse where tools, platforms, and trainings are provided to the D.I.Y. community to make the next generation of healthcare technology. The founders tapped into their knowledge that nurses were innovating for years, submitting their information on how to make different medical gadgets to publications like the American Journal of Nursing. Where does on find these D.I.Y nurses. The answer is in non-ideal environments eg, after a catastrophe eg, Hurricane Sandy, or in rural areas.

Who are the D.I.Y nurses?

Garcia-Marquez relates the story of one oncology nurse who eased the fears of pediatric cancer patients by explaining the process of irradiation for their tumors using a small-scale replica he built of the machine used for this purpose, called a synchrotron. Children are patiently led through the process of proton therapy, where their bodies are placed in a donut-shaped hole in the machine and rotated so that protons can be directed at their tumors. At the other end of the spectrum, one finds entrepreneurial nurses who make color-coded IV’s and sell them to hospitals. Then there are the stealth or quiet Maker nurses who eg, hack and repair their own stethoscopes. These are just a few of the profiles of people who Garcia-Marquez and his co-founder, Anna Young, have managed to unite under the MakerNurse umbrella.

Who are the founders of MakerNurse?

Gómez-Márquez, a thirtysomething native of Honduras, has cemented the reputation that he gained as a tinkerer and inventor of practical medical devices for use in poor countries through his work at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He recalls: “My mother used to say my toys would last only a few days because I would take them apart, saying I had detected a defect.” In Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras, where his grandfather worked as a surgeon, Gómez-Márquez saw with his own eyes what differences money made in access to medical services.  His grandfather, a surgeon, worked at both private and public hospitals in Tegucigalpa, the capital of Hondura­s, where Gómez-Márquez saw with his own eyes the differences that money made in access to medical services. According to him:”Poor people, who went to the public hospital, were less likely to get chemotherapy or appropriate prostheses. People who could afford it would go to Texas or Boston for their health care.” The prolific inventor and his team has also developed a needle-free system for delivery of the measles vaccine for use in poor countries, where the disease still kills hundreds of people a day.

The other co-founder, Anna Young, is an economist-turned designer and lectures at the Little Devices Lab at MIT within the Institute for Medical Engineering and Science. She is a co-instructor for MIT’s health tech prototyping and design course, HST Maker Lab. Her expertise is in: digital fabrication and design, creating technology from found materials, building networks of health technology innovators and designing clinical studies to move health technology prototypes from the lab and into practice. This expertise was in ample evidence with the invention of a solar-operated autoclave, called the Solarclave. This device is especially useful in areas lacking a constant supply of electricity to generate a constant supply of electricity required to attain the 250°F minimum temperature for sterilization of instruments and other supplies in healthcare environments.

Footnote: They have recently spun off Pop Up Labs, a privately-held company to make tools to scale across clinical environments.


Amendment II to the United States Constitution:
A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

Twenty-seven words have the country locked in a stalemate. At least 82 mass shootings (more than three times the number of the amendment’s words appearing in the constitution; see Mother Jones) have taken place in the United States between 1982 and 2016. Fort Hood, San Bernadino and Orlando stand out in recent memory as terrorist-inspired attacks. Passions have been stoked on both sides of the aisle as the country grapples on how best to move forward. In the process, numbers are being strewn like confetti to buttress opposing points of view. In this climate, it is worthwhile to take a closer look at the data to see if teaching moments can be gleaned from innocent lives lost long before their time. A snapshot of the tragedies can be seen below (note the highest bars for the Orlando [more than 100 wounded or dead], Aurora Theater [total number of victims =70] and Virginia Tech [more than 50 wounded or dead] shootings), while a complete breakdown of the Mother Jones data can be viewed here:

Mother Jones data on Mass Shootings and Fatalities between 1982 and 2016.

Most of the killers were white males and the most frequently used weapons were semi-automatic handguns, used either alone or in combination with shotguns, revolvers, derringers or other weapons. In more than half of these tragedies, the killers showed prior signs of possible mental illness.

Scout around on Google and you will quickly find bar charts and numbers vigorously driving home the point that, when adjusted for population size, the US lags behind other countries in the European Union, in terms of mass public shootings ie, one event in which four or more people are injured. This type of tit-for-tat analysis misses the point that the killing of one innocent civilian regardless of geographic location, is one death too many. The fact is that Orlando and Fort Hood and the Virginia Tech Massacre and the DC Sniper (who does not even make the list, because the victims were killed one at a time) happened on US soil. That makes it a national issue to be discussed and debated and acted upon by this nation. Let us hope that some action will come sooner rather than later.

A teacher’s retirement speech

When someone I know retired from teaching, his colleagues and students gave him a great farewell party. As always, he was quick to respond with a speech that touched the audience. Here is an excerpt:

May all the teachings of those you admire become a part of you so that you may call upon them. Remember those whose lives you have touched and who have touched yours. They are always a part of you, even if those encounters were less than you would have wished. It is the content of the encounter that is more important than its form. May you not become too concerned with status, but instead place immeasurable value on the goodness in your heart. Find time in each day to see beauty and love in the world around you. Realize that each person has limitless possibilities, that each of us is different in our own way. What you may feel you lack in one regard may be more than compensated for in each other. What you feel you lack in the present may become a strength in the future. May you see your future as filled with promise and possibility. May you find enough inner strength to determine your own worth by yourself and not be dependent upon another’s judgment of your accomplishments. May you always feel loved.