Hello there! Happy New Year!

You must be wondering about the reason for our long silence. Well, it’s largely to do with our latest project – Avaz Everyday. All of us have been burning the midnight oil to bring this revolutionary product out. So do watch out for it.

But it’s not been all work and no play at Invention Labs. This Christmas, we decided to partake in the holiday cheer with a week-long “Secret Santa”.

For those of you who are new to the concept, Secret Santa is a traditional Christmas game where a bunch of people draw lots and buy a small gift each day for the person whose name is on their draw. The fun part is that the gift is handed over secretly without revealing the giver’s identity, thus making him the Secret Santa. On the last day, during the elaborate gift exchange session, the Secret Santas reveal themselves.

The fun began right at the beginning while drawing the lots when people kept drawing their own name. Finally, after three rounds of lots and many bursts of laughter, the game began. On the very first day, amnesia struck. Half of us had forgotten to buy gifts. So while one half of office was smiling ear to ear at the small gifts hidden under their bags and in their lockers, another half was pouting and complaining about their forgetful Santas.

By Day 3, all the pouts and complaints had turned into smiles and praises. With every passing day, we would try to second guess who our Secret Santa was. The Santas were smart – their gifts came accompanied by red herrings – changed handwriting, deceptive wrappers and the works. No one had a clue as to who their Santa was.

Day 6. The excitement was running high. At tea-time, people were discussing the best gift shops in town.

Day 7. Christmas Eve. It was barely 10 am but the office was full and everyone wore a happy smile on their face. The desk in the centre of the office was heaped with gifts wrapped in gold, silver, red and green. Every few minutes, a head would turn and look longingly at the clock – willing for it to strike four.

4pm. People turned off their monitor and headed to the centre table, smiling awkwardly at each other. The names on the gifts were called out and the gifts were passed around. Within a few minutes, the pretty gift wrappers lay on the floor and each of us stood grinning at each other, with a gift in hand. There were adorable pink teddy bears, beautiful white vases, tea cups and books, fancy pens and even a shirt. But strangely, when it came to guessing who each one’s Secret Santa was – none of them guessed right. Looks like the red herrings worked after all!

January 6th, 2015

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The Avaz office is not exactly what one would call a noisy place. There isn’t really much scope for noise when the entire team is just a dozen-odd developers and researchers sitting hunched in front of computers. But on October 1, the office was quieter than usual.

A synthetic voice broke the silence. “Happy AAC Awareness Month.”

This was followed by a series of synthetic voices – “Thank you”, “Wish you the same”, “To you too” and so on.

On September 30, the entire team received an email from our marketing executive,

October, as we all know, is celebrated as the International AAC Awareness Month.

In the true spirit of the month, let us use only AAC devices to communicate tomorrow (Oct 1).
Let’s use Avaz for all communications within office. Even if you have to ask any of us for a ‘pen’, you will have to use Avaz.

The loser had to pay 10 bucks to a common pool which would later be used to buy samosas for the team. We were excited.

On October 1, the air in the office was different right from the beginning. We said our Hi’s and Hello’s using Avaz. And we waited patiently for the first person to slip.

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Our admin in-charge, sauntered in as usual, slapped a colleague on his back and said “How are you doing, sir?”

We all jumped up, devices in hand, searching frantically for the “Pay up” icon.

And thus began our day of nothing spoken, much communicated.

We fooled around with the device. We changed settings. We tried out new things. We fumbled and faltered a bit but we stuck to using AAC for the entire day.

While we always work on the product keeping the user’s best interest in mind, we often forget what it’s like to be an AAC user. On October 1, we spent the entire day as the user. Mostly, it was fun. We enjoyed the novelty of it all. But at times, we grew impatient with the time it took to communicate using a device. That’s when we realised, yet again, what it was like to be in the shoes of an AAC user.

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Later in the evening, after breaking our vow of silence, we had a quick meeting on our learnings from the day. Some of us suggested changes to existing features that would help the users. Others suggested new features. In the end, we all agreed to make this a monthly practice. Not just because it was fun. But also because it was a learning experience.

Our pursuit for smarter AAC apps continues…

October 6th, 2014

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There was something different about this trip right from the beginning.

For starters, we weren’t even aware there was going to be a team outing until the tickets were booked.

Second, this was going to be our first overnighter. All other annual outings had been day trips to resorts and amusements parks nearby.

Finally, and most importantly, we were heading to the hills.

The trip started eventfully enough with a dramatic scene in the railway station where the entire team caught a glimpse of Ajit running to catch the train, quite literally. Soon, the food and games came out and before we realized the passage of time, we had already reached Jolarpettai.

After a scenic ride uphill, we finally located our hotel. And boy, was it pretty! It was as if all of us were little children in a candy store – exploring the nooks, drooling at the pretty sights, wanting a taste of it all.

Soon, we had all found something to do. Four hours and many matches of cricket, volleyball and badminton later, we sat in a circle in front of the bonfire for a quiet evening. It turned out to be anything but that.2014-09-16 16.59.49

We started with a game of “Truth or Fiction” where each of us had to reveal three things about ourselves – two truths and one fiction. Over the course of the game, we realized how little we knew of each other. While someone had skated pulling a bullock cart along, another had gone underground caving. Yet another had jumped off a plane with a parachute on. As the night wore on, the circle became smaller and we sat huddled around the bonfire exchanging stories of our past. It felt like family.2014-09-16 19.57.35

The next morning, we went on a trek. There’s something about the hills that can make people feel connected to each other even without having to talk. We walked in a happy silence and were amply rewarded with the view from the top.2014-09-17 07.34.49

The trek downhill was a lot easier and noisier. At noon we sat down for a few team building activities. We played a game called ‘Zoom’. Each of us was given a sheet of paper with a picture printed on it. We were to keep our pictures secret from the others. By only talking about the image on our sheets, we had to determine the sequence of the images, which, if arranged correctly, formed a story. While at first we were noisy, we soon figured out that the aim of the game is to talk one at a time and work as a team, not individually. We finished the session with a meeting planning the company’s growth. 2014-09-17 12.49.17

Finally, it was time to bid farewell to the hills. During the journey downhill, most of us were fast asleep. The exhaustion had caught up with us. The train ride back was muted.

The next morning, we woke up in Chennai with our limbs sore but our hearts happy.2014-09-17 09.11.59-1

September 23rd, 2014

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September 11th, 2014

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