When the Bengali met the Potato


There’s a joke, “Why do potatoes make good detectives? Because they keep their eyes peeled.” To add to that, Bengal has a cultural and literary history of producing fatafati (excellent) detectives. It is said that during the colonial era, the British governing Calcutta realized that Bengali sleuths were a prerequisite for effective policing due to their intellect and local knowledge. So Potatoes and Bengalis have this bit in common: they both make good detectives! Or do you think it is the overt love for eating potatoes that makes the Bengali one? (Hmm…potato for thought!)

Food is almost synonymous with potato in most Bengali households. Meat curry, egg curry, fish curry, vegetarian preparations–you name it– the potato participates in all of them. West Bengal has a popular dish called aloo-posto. It is a simple yet sumptuous dish made of  poppy-seed paste (no, not opium!) and freshly-diced potatoes. There are a hundred other dishes that incorporate the potato in them. People from other parts of India often find it rather over-used in Bengali cuisine. “Prawns with potatoes! I’ve never encountered that combination before”, said a friend of ours from Mumbai. I am not surprised…after all it was in Bengal that even the Lucknowi version of Biryani fell for the potato trap. Oh yes, it’s a sweet trap to fall into…Bengalis usually love eating potatoes and believe that it adds taste to most dishes.

Potatoes were introduced to India in the seventeenth century by Portuguese traders. However, it was the British who cultivated the love for potatoes in Bengal. While the rest of the country managed a healthy fixation with the root vegetable, Bengal fell hook, line and sinkers in love with potatoes. Food historian, Chitrita Banerji (1997:139), observes, “Bengalis are probably the greatest potato eaters in the world” next to “the Irish”. History has it that these root tubers were first cultivated by the Aymaras and Incas in the Andes and other parts of South America. The Native Americans would roast, boil and stew these vegetables and make potato starch. It is said to have fed the Incan army and later the European empire. Following the Spanish Conquest in the sixteenth century, potatoes were introduced to the rest of the world through Europe. In fact, potatoes helped sustain a Europe that was afflicted with hunger and famines, until it too became the staple diet there as it used to be amongst the Native Americans. Okay, enough of history now! The potato is again taking over the topic of the Bengali…

Potatoes and Bengalis have something in common, a possible explanation for the widespread love for this root vegetable: they seamlessly adapt. Potatoes to dishes and Bengalis to new cultures (especially foreign: from Communism to Russian folk tales to Cuban cigars to English or bileti ways). We assimilate like potatoes do in dishes. Others find this slightly distressing….but a potato for a Bengali is highly de-stressing! They can have it anywhere right from mutton curries to poppy-seed concoctions. Name it and you have it. Even the Nawab of Oudh, Wajid Shah, wasn’t spared (no, I don’t mean the British who dethroned him and forced him into exile in 1856). It was a two-way exchange: the nawab’s cooks introduced the Mughal Lucknow biryani to Calcutta and Calcutta completed the missing taste in it with potatoes, and thus was born the biryani with the rare combination of meat, eggs and potatoes.

In the context of the potato and the Bengali, I am strangely reminded of the Dutch painter Van Gogh’s painting entitled ‘The Potato Eaters’ (1885). Just imagine, if an artist in India came up with a title like that, it would bring to mind the image of a clan of pot-bellied Bengalis dancing around pots of potatoes. After all, that’s where the intellect comes from…who said it’s the fish?!




The Story of Bitcoin

Adam: “Bit-Coin,” you mean a little bit of a coin? What does that even do?”

Becky: “A LOT more than a coin can do! It made a British man rummage a huge garbage dump to look for his accidentally thrown-away wealth of bitcoins. It has also left the FBI and other government agencies scratching their heads.”

Adam: “I have been scratching my head too. What banal thing is this, Becky?”

Becky: “It’s a cryptocurrency. In other words, a “cryptic” or “hidden” currency–money that you cannot see or touch in real life. In this age of computers, social media accounts, virtual realities, and virtual banking, money is beginning to assume a virtual character too. The creator of Bitcoin, Satoshi Nakamato (an alias), created bitcoin in 2008 to enable “A peer-to-peer electronic cash system.”

Adam: “A peer-to-peer electronic cash system!” That sounds fancy…how does that work?”

Becky: “It is basically buying or selling something through computer and mobile apps. So you can buy furniture, book hotels, and purchase a lot of things, by simply transferring bitcoins.”

Adam: “Who do they transfer it through? I mean, is there a third-party involved in overseeing the transaction?”

Becky: “No, unlike a bank, there is no third-party involved. You might ask how safe such transactions are with no specific overseer, considering the amount of spamware online. Well, though the online world is vulnerable to threats, Bitcoin adopts a way to prevent hacking and online thefts.”

Adam: “How can someone steal bitcoins? And who produces this currency in the first place?”

Becky: “That’s an interesting question but let me answer your second question first. Bitcoins have to be mined by programmers. Since Bitcoin is a virtual currency, the way to mine it lies in computers. A bunch of programmers, unknown to each other, spread out globally, decide to make extra money by investing in a sophisticated array of computer- hardware individually. Each of these programmers then sits in front of his/her screen and tries to keep track of all the legible transactions involving bitcoins in the virtual world. In other words, all they do is maintain a digital record of bitcoin transactions happening in the internet-world. The record forms a log-book or ledger. These miners get paid very well (in bitcoins) for their work. Who pays them? No one in particular…for all the “blocks” (of information) they create, bitcoins automatically get transferred to their virtual wallet.

Now to answer how someone steals bitcoins, let me give you a simple example: if you buy bread for $5 then all you need to pay is the $5 note or a $5 through your debit/credit card. But, if you try to pay this amount through bitcoins, there’s always a possibility of you making a copy of the digital token money and paying with the duplicate copy while retaining the original. It is a lot like a fake note. By keeping track of the transactions online, the miners ensure that no user in the virtual world commits fraud by replacing a bitcoin with its copy.”

Adam: “So several people, spread out across the world, manage the ledger simultaneously. This is fascinating! I never thought a financial system, of all things, could survive without a central governing system controlling it.”

Becky: “Yes, bitcoin is a revolutionary concept in the sense that there is no overseer/agency/government/singular body that controls it. It is not like a bank, that has a manager and employees handling your money, it is completely decentralized. The rules of the real world–like geographic borders, currency type, regulations– don’t work in this hidden world of currencies like bitcoin.

Strangely enough, it has worked remarkably well until now. The creator of bitcoin designed the concept such that it would rely on a group of people with absolutely no hierarchical authority-figure manning them. The only limiting factor he dictated was that no more than 21 million bitcoins can be mined. Why this specific number? Well, that’s an entirely different concept all together. So what happens in the bitcoin world is this: You have the miners who mine bitcoins; then you have the buyers and sellers; then along with these components you have the component of credibility.”

Adam: “What is this component of credibility and how is it established?”

Becky: “All these miners, buyers and sellers, in this world of cryptocurrencies, are anonymous. So how do they trust each other? Well, they are connected through their virtual wallet IDs. Think of it this way, when you enter a chat room on yahoo messenger (people from the 90s will be able to relate to this example) you can choose to shed your real-life identity. So Adam in the real world, can become Elizabeth in the virtual world. There is an element of anonymity and mystery that surrounds these people. In a similar manner, in the bitcoin world all you have for identity is an ID attached to your virtual wallet which in turn is associated with your bank account. These buyers and sellers are connected to each other through something called ‘encryption keys’. Now, to ‘encrypt’ means “to change (information) from one form to another especially to hide its meaning” (Merriam Webster). So all that is available is the ID and since it is associated with a wallet that connects to a real account, it is considered credible.”

Adam: “So if I have to invest in Bitcoin, how should I go about it?”

Becky: “Before you invest in Bitcoin you should know that the value of bitcoins fluctuate at a rapid rate. For example, Bitcoin value in Dec 2017 was $19498.63 and it slumped to $9215.53 in May 2018. So do realize that it is a “high risk asset”. Plus, a few countries like South Korea and China have plans to make cryptocurrencies illegal by closing down cryptocurrency exchanges. This will also impact the value of the currency. But having said that, the best way to invest in Bitcoin is to visit: bitcoin.org/en/getting-started. This website guides you through the entire process. This is a must read! The process involves: 1) downloading a Bitcoin wallet; 2) filling out an online form with your details; 3) after acquiring a wallet, using a payment method (credit card/debit card/bank transfer) to purchase bitcoins on a Bitcoin exchange portal like Coinbase/Gemini Exchange/Changelly/Cryptopia; 4) Once the bitcoins are transferred to your wallet, using “buy” or “sell” tabs to acquire or make further payments with bitcoins. Remember that when you buy/sell bitcoins, your public wallet key is visible to others. This is different from your private key, which is the equivalent of an ATM PIN, and supposed to be known only to you and kept in your Bitcoin wallet. It is therefore recommended that you choose a strong password.”

Adam: “Are there any other virtual currencies other than Bitcoin?”

Becky: “Surely! Ethereum and Litecoin are other popular choices.”

Adam: “So, I think I can start buying some now.”

Becky: “Yes, certainly! Don’t forget to share your profits with me ;)”

Adam: “I will, but if and when I do make any!”






The 12 Zodiac Signs as Friends


Aries: You know when an Aries is in the room because they’ll make sure you know. Individualists with vibrant honesty (that can sometimes unknowingly hurt you), this is a sign that will suddenly appear into your life with either a reserved yet powerful hello or with a bold flashy smile, bright eyes, and a flood of questions. They have tons of impulsive energy, and a brash but hard-to-resist approach. Expect an occasional slap on the back, slapstick humor, creative endeavors, and a naïve faith in you. They can cheer and raise your spirits like few others can. However, ensure you give them a lot of attention and love. They need lessons on patience because they have little. The Aries is quick to react; initially cool but capable of raging temper; crazy and adventurous, but hard to keep. They bring a generous tornado of laughter, child-like appreciation, anger, and excitement into your life but friendship with them reminds one of Lao Tzu’s words, “The flame that burns twice as bright burns half as long” but having said that, it’s totally worth it as the ride never gets boring.

Most Compatible: Aquarius, Gemini, Leo, Libra, Sagittarius

Difficult:  Capricorn, Cancer, Scorpio

Taurus: They are often called ‘the rock of Gibralter’ not only for their rock-steady loyalty but also for their rock-solid stubbornness. Attractive, calm and secretly ambitious, this is a sign that believes in stability. They build things cautiously and slowly. Friendship is important but it is more important to make one that grants them that sense of security, steadiness and purpose. Being materialists they prefer friendships that add a certain sense of value to  their scheme of things in life. A Taurus friend will usually prefer luxurious meals (for they are downright foodies and fond of luxury); nice-smelling perfumes; warm compliments; and hikes that take them close to nature. Their patience is an asset to any friend though being a fixed sign they can also be very stubborn and opinionated. Otherwise understanding and stoic, when angered they can be very difficult to deal with and sometimes quite insensitive. But having said that, this is a sign you can depend on. Their friendship is rock-solid. In fact, they remind one of the lines from Eric Santos’ song, “Never fear I’ll be beside you…I will never leave you” as long as you “hold on tight” and repay them with your share of favors. 

Most Compatible: Capricorn, Pisces, Cancer, Virgo, Scorpio

Difficult: Aquarius, Sagittarius

Gemini: This is a crazy friend to have. They are usually ambidextrous with a hand in every pie. They have highly shifty eyes that twinkle with curiosity. Expect unexpected,  untimely, and untoward questions from them. This is a sign that pretends to forget a piece of information you provided it with but never quite forgets it. Highly intelligent, a Gemini waits for the right moment to catch a lie. The amusing part however is that this friend never shies away from telling white lies. They are delightful conversationalists, and usually have interesting and fun things to talk about. Often misunderstood as a sign that is not trustworthy, a Gemini is dependable but in an unconventional way. They change their mind very often but don’t be deluded by this because a Gemini tries to see every perspective and therefore is bad with taking sides. Despite their cheerful exterior they have a dark emotional core and let only a chosen few into it. Oh, and a word of caution:  a sign that has twins for its symbol, they can (if you rub them the wrong way), like the M. Ali quote, “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee”. Be genuine with them no matter how elusive they seem, they will value the trait and respond to it wonderfully well.

Most Compatible: Aquarius, Aries, Leo, Libra, Sagittarius

Difficult: Pisces, Capricorn

Cancer: They might be the rulers of the realm of emotions but they’re tough cookies. Highly active and resourceful, this sign is always on the lookout for stability in the spheres of family, career, and relationships. While they can be great social-butterflies, they like forming friendships that add a certain value to their scheme of things in life. This sign prefers the indoors to the outdoors and usually has a genial sense of humor. The Cancer, a lot like Scorpio and Pisces, chooses comfort over adventure. Loyal and demanding oodles of loyalty, this is a sign that may to some other signs appear clingy. A lot like the Gemini, they have an emotional core that is difficult to penetrate. Like their symbol, the crab, they are cautious of getting hurt and very defensive. Do not be surprised if they refrain from telling you what it was that you did months back that upset them. They will remember it and guard it like a secret, even from you. They are often nostalgic and fond of recalling old memories. With them you must remember, in Richelle Goodrich’s words, “Nothing in this world compares to the comfort and security of having someone just hold your hand.”

Most Compatible: Scorpio, Virgo, Capricorn, Pisces, Taurus

Difficult: Aries, Sagittarius, Libra

Leo: ‘Charming’ is probably the best adjective to use for a Leo friend. Expect boundless warmth, quick hugs, generous spending, along with a verbal guidebook of guidelines that tell you how to live your life. Like the Aries, they can raise your spirits like few others can. Adventurous, bold and attention-seeking, Leos like to believe the world revolves around them. Well, can’t blame a sign that has the very own Sun for its ruler, can you? They crack you up with their amazing sense of humor and loud bursts of laughter. They are social-butterflies but have a tiny set of friends set aside for genuine warmth. Lions never forget even if they forgive. They share this quality of not forgetting anything that upset them in the past with the Cancer friend. Oh, a word of caution: do not ridicule or ignore a Leo friend! They dislike it and you often find yourself friendless with a Leo walking out on you. Leos love genuine compliments and they love them in huge supplies (wholesale quantities) though quality does matter! A Leo reminds you of C.S. Lewis’s lines, “I have come,” said a deep voice behind them. They turned and saw the Lion himself”.

Most Compatible: Aquarius, Aries, Gemini, Libra, Sagittarius

Difficult: Pisces, Scorpio, Capricorn

Virgo: A Virgo friend initially appears selfish and self-absorbed until their fondness for organizing their own things/thoughts/work/life flows into yours, and they start fixing your problems and organizing your thoughts. A Virgo secretly holds the idea that s/he knows best. This is a sign that believes in perfection, caution and dedication. Despite their occasional bursts of laughter and jokes, a Virgo friend, much like a Capricorn, rushes back to business. You can expect a Virgo to be extremely fond of gossips and at the same time of intelligent conversations. They are usually painfully shy and can be painfully sarcastic too. Virgos are cautious of getting hurt or being taken advantage of and therefore cautious of people in general. A Virgo friend will go an extra mile for you but if treated insensitively, they will be quick to distance their emotions. Don’t be surprised if you discover a stack of labelled files and old diaries in their cupboard. Their love for organizing things makes them hoard these along with hand-made paper cards gifted to them (the latter shows their emotional side which is often unexpressed). They are essentially difficult to read as people and even as friends you might find it challenging to understand their deepest thoughts or emotions. Most Virgos can relate to these lines by A.C. Doyle, “Give me problems, give me work, give me the most abstruse cryptogram or the most intricate analysis, and I am in my own proper atmosphere”.

Most Compatible: Taurus, Capricorn, Pisces, Cancer, Scorpio

Difficult: Aquarius, Sagittarius

Libra: There’s a certain something about how a Libra friend argues and yet gets away with it without sounding particularly offensive. Smooth communicators, a Libra also shares the Virgo’s trait of organizing thoughts and mental-mapping. A Libra friend can easily solve or iron out a chaotic atmosphere. Arguments charge them up and so do anything aesthetically pleasing. They love anything or anyone beautiful. It is fun to have a Libra for a friend if you are looking for someone who is always willing to try something new. A good Libra friend will find it difficult to say no and usually go along with the flow without wanting to upset you. Remember, this is a sign of balance and even though their temper can often get out-of-balance with people they are close to, they strive to correct the balance and hate discords of any manner. They are essentially pleasant people who want to please. A note of caution, a Libra is highly indecisive and extremely emotional. Don’t be offended if they find it difficult to take sides as it is genuinely difficult for them. They remind you of the lines from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, “To be or not to be: that is the question. Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer…Or to take arms against a sea of troubles”.

Most Compatible: Aquarius, Aries, Gemini, Leo, Sagittarius

Difficult: Capricorn, Pisces, Virgo, Cancer

Scorpio: Do not get deluded by their calm and composed aura, a Scorpio mind is like murky water– still on the surface but capable of tumultuous things beneath. All it needs to understand them is a lot of time, love and courage. I say courage because this is not an easy friend to deal with.  In fact, a lot of signs trying to form a deep friendship with them  often feel their Scorpion sting. However beneath these layers of suspicion, secrets, stings, and sarcasm, you can have a friend who will fiercely guard and protect you. You just have to work patiently towards finding that core. They can be blind in their loyalty and would fail to acknowledge any reasonable opinion that is against the ones they care for.  While they have a protective side to them, they have an equally destructive side too. Ambitious, focused and patient, they usually do well with achieving long-term goals. True friendship with a Scorpio is not easy for they don’t trust you easily and tend to be highly secretive and manipulative. But secretly they are also altruistic and caring. Scorpio, like Cancer, finds it difficult to forget or forgive. However deep down this sign has an enormous capacity to love tenderly and remain loyal. They remind one of the lines from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, “We’ve all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on.”

Most Compatible: Pisces, Taurus, Cancer, Virgo, Capricorn

Difficult: Aquarius, Aries, Gemini, Leo, Libra

Sagittarius: This sign’s bluntness can only be matched by that of a Capricorn’s (though they are blunt in very different ways). A Sagittarius friend is usually an idealist. They have strong opinions and hold on to them with a conviction that is hard to counter. They enjoy variety and discussions that border on deep philosophies of life. Extremely caring as friends, they expect the same from you in return. Adventurous and bold, they usually have an affinity towards anything dynamic like travelling or sports or some hobby that may not necessarily yield a predictable result. Don’t be surprised by their occasional aloofness. Sagittarius needs some personal space to retreat to and recharge. They are freedom-loving and dislike being probed too much. Despite the playful and funny exterior this sign has a wild temper. Though it takes them a significant while to cool down and forget, a Sagittarius friend is quick to forgive. An Explorer and a truth-seeker, this friend would be highly inquisitive and enjoy intellectual conversations. They are usually open-minded and willing to try out new things. Dauntless and freedom-seeking, this friend will remind you of Merida from the Disney movie Brave, as she assertively claims, “I want my freedom!”

Most Compatible: Aquarius, Aries, Gemini, Leo, Libra

Difficult: Pisces, Cancer, Taurus, Virgo

Capricorn: A Capricorn friend is extremely direct when it comes to expressing their opinion. They can be as blunt as a knife and not realise that what they just said might have hurt you. So they need to be gently reminded that you didn’t like their bluntness. Other than that, they are very warm and caring as friends. Almost like their astrological symbol, the mother-goat, Capricorn has a tendency to smother you with motherly concern and love. They can scold you like an old soul would and then remind you how to lead your life responsibly. Capricorns are astoundingly ambitious. Do not be surprised if  you find your fellow Capricorn suddenly turn cold and rush off to his/her room in the midst of a nice get-together. They take their work more seriously than anything else in the world. No fun gatherings or friends can hold their sway over him/her as much as work/a deadline would. They need to achieve…need to excel and no interruptions are allowed in the process. A Capricorn secretly respects traditions, even if it appears that he/she doesn’t. They need and value social acceptance despite their reserved, I-don’t-care external attitude. Highly sensitive to criticism, a Capricorn friend dislikes blunt criticism despite being guilty of it themselves. They remind one of the lines, “You are like a chestnut burr, prickly outside, but silky-soft within”, from Little Women.

Most Compatible: Pisces, Taurus, Cancer, Virgo, Scorpio

Difficult: Gemini, Leo, Libra

Aquarius: This friend will often be an enigma to most people. They appear aloof, usually dare to sport an unusual fashion, are blunt and extremely quirky. An Aquarian is eccentric but in a revolutionary way. It is said that their vision and revolutionary beliefs have the power to change the world either in a very good way or a terrible way. This is a person who doesn’t like to pretend or lose his/her freedom of thought, lifestyle, speech. They can be extremely blunt and honest but it is not usually meant to be negative. Often misunderstood, this sign finds solace in remaining cautious and aloof. These friends have a funny manner of studying you or the surroundings….they have powerfully probing glances that can make a person uncomfortable. You can tell they are studying you but you can’t point it out and get inside their minds the way they do with yours. It’s quite strange…this mysterious, amused expression that they hold. Unusually calm and detached, an Aquarian friend does stand by you when the need for it arises. They are highly empathetic but they hide it well. This is a friend who’d love witty conversations, friendly debates about various issues, and a lot of fun and laughter. “But I’m Crazy. I swear to God I am” (Catcher in the Rye), that’s an Aquarian for you, and they truly are!

Most Compatible: Aries, Gemini, Leo, Libra, Sagittarius

Difficult: Pisces, Scorpio, Cancer, Virgo, Taurus

Pisces: In several mythologies, the fish were symbolic of wisdom and emotional depth. A Pisces friend is a lot like a fish (No, don’t eat the poor guy up!) for he/she has a pool of wise emotional depth. They read human beings like books though not by plain logic but through their strong intuitive capabilities. This is a friend who never shies away from speaking his/her mind and can be very blunt if he/she chooses to. Creative, emotional and prone to heavy thinking, don’t be surprised if they come across as depressed and lonely. This friend has an enormous tendency to overthink, over-evaluate, over-feel, and escape from problems instead of facing them. A Pisces friend is either an idealist or the exact opposite– a cynic. Usually drawn to music/arts, they are very good with creative projects because of their refined intuitive and emotional abilities. A Pisces needs constant encouragement and enormous patience to be and feel understood. This friend is hard to understand; they are like two different people sometimes: one who is calm, happy and talkative and the other who is depressed, over-analytical and quiet. This is a compassionate friend to have as long as you are willing to constantly dispel their doubts. “When we make little sacrifices we like to have them appreciated, at least…” (Little Women), that’s the line they remind you of.

Most Compatible: Cancer, Scorpio, Capricorn, Virgo, Taurus

Difficult: Aquarius, Gemini, Libra, Leo, Sagittarius

The New-Age PAs: Amazon’s Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana


Imagine walking into your dimly lit apartment after work and finding your partner whispering to another woman in a corner!

She sounds curt, has a wikipedia-ish intelligence, is loud and clear but never for once does she smile aloud or laugh. That’s Microsoft’s digital assistant Invoke (Cortana) for you. We have another of these women in our bathroom, she is Amazon’s Alexa. Going back to the issue of laughter…it would probably be slightly horrific to have machines laughing back at us, wouldn’t it? Well, probably not in a few years when laughter becomes a luxury. In fact, Alexa and Cortana do tell you jokes to make you laugh! These devices can be placed anywhere in the house—right from the living room to the bathroom. All you need are electricity, internet, and the device and voila you choose where you’d like to hear a joke, a song of your choice, or the news (it can be done anywhere from the couch to the commode ;P). Cortana and Alexa can also sing you lullabies and act as personal weather forecasters. In other words, these digital assistants can sing you or your child lullabies, tell you stories and jokes, maintain your grocery list, remind you of your calendar events, play your favorite music, help you place orders, book cabs, and tell you where a city is located. However, unlike the ambition behind their names Alexa (from the lost library of Alexandria) and Cortana (a 26 th-century futuristic AI) they do not know the answers to all your questions. C’mon neither do we know all answers!

These digital assistants are eager learners however and if taught they can turn on or off your home lights too (a gentle reminder though: they can at most turn on lights and not humans :P) The New York Times recently reported that Amazon’s Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana will soon be able to communicate with each other and share their skills. That’s like two rivals getting along, especially when their other rivals, Google and Apple, are averse to the idea of talking to each other (at least as of now!) It is for certain that these devices upon sustained interaction will know you better and grow smarter. We already have Alexa locking/unlocking the main door; Cortana, like her sister Alexa, making telephone calls locally…hold on! “telephone calls”? That sounds archaic. But with these digital assistants perhaps smart phones will become archaic in the near future. They speak to you, they listen to you, they place online orders for you, they switch on lights and lock doors for you—that’s like Aladdin’s genie sans the power to grant you your dreams! Those dreams you would have to work towards yourself alongside the simple joys of laughter and human connection in this new age of digital personal assistants.