Sunday, October 21, 2012

A Dynamic and Productive Soccer Sideline?

Converting Potential Energy into Electrical Energy!

I have spent many hours driving to and watching our daughter's soccer games.  These are something I look forward to as it gets me out of the house even on cold and rainy days.

But these trips come with a bit of a guilt trip.  I fret about the many miles we drive and the gas we burn as hundreds of families descend on these soccer fields.  Also folks bring a folding chair and promptly plop it down on the sidelines, and then sit and shout for the whole game while encouraging kids to run faster and play harder.

Potential Energy ready for harvesting!

Would it not be great if there was a row of stationary bikes on the sidelines that were plugged into a device that could generate electricity and possibly even push it into the grid?  Yes, yes I know the amount of energy generated by a stationary bike is minuscule but there are hundreds of people sitting on the sidelines.  Plus imagine the side benefits.  The folks would get some exercise, and possibly be too out of breath to curse at the referee.  The kids would be thrilled not to have their parents shouting at them.

Think this is impractical?  Seems there are several devices like this in the market that can be plugged into regular bikes with the rear wheel raised on a stand to make them into stationary bikes.

"Nah none would use it!" you say.  Well how about giving them some motivation.
We could pit parents of the two sides against each other and even have a power meter indicating which side is generating more power.  Thus while the kids play peacefully in the middle, parents can duke it out constructively on the sidelines.

What if the soccer facility provided the bikes and parents would swipe an ID to register themselves and their energy production could be tracked and they would get back some credit?  This system already has been imagined for bike rental systems here.

Any takers?

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Infographics: Can they make reading journals easier?

As we struggle with information overload and clinical overload, it is harder to keep up with updates in medical literature.  Several journals are trying to make it easier to scan articles and get the salient points quickly e.g. Annals of Internal Medicine provides a commentary summarizing the practical implications of a study.
My assumption is that most readers scan the abstracts of articles before deciding which ones to read in full.  Appropriate use of graphics can improve comprehension and possibly make this scanning process more efficient.  As the old saying goes "A picture is worth a thousand words".  Clearly graphics are very popular as can be seen by the popularity of Infographics and Pinterest.
So I decided to try out a free infographic creation tool Piktochart to create a visual representation of the salient points of a study.

I chose this study from JAMA - because it was the first study that caught my eye in my Google Reader stream after I thought of this idea.  So this is what the abstract looks like:

As you can imagine it took me a few minutes to get the main message of the study.  What if I had seen this infographic instead?  I took all the information from the study abstract.  The only thing I added was the Number Needed to Treat (NNT) that I calculated myself.  
Infographic Created by Neil Mehta
So what do you think?  Does an Infographic make it easier to scan journal articles?  If so, should journals have data visualization experts on their editorial team to help create these?  Should there be standards for creating these e.g. Blue circles for control groups and yellow for intervention groups, etc?

Friday, October 19, 2012

The Search Hub - search the Web, Email, Cloud storage and Bookmarks from one place!

We know how Google transformed how we find information.  It is the default search engine for majority of users.  But many users may not be aware of 2 features that help me tremendously.

  1. Google is now doing a field trial that lets you search your Gmail and Google Drive for the search terms
  2. When you search using Google it can simultaneously search your Diigo Bookmarks.  
So now you can from one hub search the web, your email, your cloud storage and your bookmarks!  

Google Search Field Trial - search Gmail and Google Drive from Google Search!

Search your Diigo Bookmarks from Google Search.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Bring your own device (BYOD) and the Ecosystem

Recently I was talking with a very bright colleague who is about to cave in and buy a tablet.  He does not even own a smartphone. He has managed to stay out of this technology maelstrom for so long that he was asking folks for advice about which was the ideal one to buy.  I was impressed that he did not just jump in to buy the iPad since that is what everyone had heard of.

I told him there were many factors to consider like the carrier, the size of the device, whether it has a microSD card etc but one of the factors was the ecosystem.  Seeing the look on his face, I knew I had some explaining to do.  So what is an ecosystem?

In biology, an ecosystem describes the complex interactions between the living organisms and their environment.  In technology, it describes the hardware and software on the device and the content and the applications that they interact with that often reside in the cloud.  [This is my made up definition and would be glad to know of a more formal generally accepted one].

He still looked puzzled so I drew a few circles representing Google, Apple, Microsoft and Amazon on the back of a paper napkin.  Then I drew some boxes on the circumference representing the following:

An Example of an Ecosystem

  • App Store
    • Music
    • Games
    • Movies
    • eBooks
    • Apps
  • Devices
    • SmartPhones
    • Tablets
    • Desktops/laptops with OS
  • Cloud storage
  • Documents/Office apps e.g. documents, presentations and spreadsheets
  • Social Networking
  • Email
  • Calendaring
  • Contacts
  • VOIP and Video conferencing
  • Content Management Systems
  • Groups
  • Maps
  • Browsers with syncing across devices
  • RSS feedreaders
  • Search
At this point his eyes were getting a bit glazed over.  He appeared to be asking, "What has all this got to do with buying a tablet or smartphone?"  So I gave him an example of how these are all integrated and having a device that is part of the ecosystem makes a lot of tasks easier.  Thus if you like using Google Voice, you may want to lean towards getting an Android device as it is seamlessly integrated into the phone.  
While it is often possible to access parts of an ecosystem from another type of device, it may not always be smooth.  Thus one can access Google Drive from both an Android and an iOS tablet (iPad) but generally the Android tablet gets features before the iPad.  The recent Google Maps issue on iPhone 5 is another example.  

He got it.  He was actually pretty amazed at how much these devices could do.  I felt bad about leaving him without any direction.  I was trying not to bias him but then he asked me what I would do if I was him.  I told him I would probably get the Nexus 7 tablet.  It was recently named the top gadget and top tablet of 2012.  He asked me, "Does that preclude me from getting an iPhone later?  Isn't the iPhone the best phone out there? And what about a computer OS? Google does not have one does it?"

"Great questions!" I said, "You may want to take a look at the this video before you consider buying an iPhone 5"
"And as far as the OS goes, Google does have computers with the Chrome OS but you can get the entire Google Ecosystem from a Chrome browser which you can install on a computer with any OS."  At this point, he was almost convinced.  But then I had to break the bad news to him.  "Of course, you need to know that our workplace does not support Android; only the Blackberry is supported.  Also only devices bought through work will be able to access the enterprise e-mail.  This is for security reasons."

I really don't like to see grown men cry!  Wish the BYOD philosophy was easier to embrace for organizations.  

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Google+: "Connecting and Sharing among People with Common Interests

The last few months a lot has been written about Google+, comparing it to Facebook.  I have personally found myself using Google+ much more than Facebook and I was not sure exactly why.  It was only recently when I tried to explain Google+ to some people that I gained an insight about this.

I started using Google+ because I like to try out new things.  I enjoyed exploring its various features and how to apply them to my work.  As I used it, I realized I was not going back to FB as much as I used to.  Initially I wanted to try and get my "friends" from FB over to Google+ and it bothered me a bit that they did not.  Then one day I realized it did not bother me at all.  I realized something that I think I knew all along, that at a very fundamental level Google+ and FB are completely different. How so?

FB's tagline says "Connect and share with people in your life".
My interpretation of "people in your life" is people you know or have known.  Once you connect with them i.e. "friend" them on FB, by default everything you post is visible to ALL your "friends".  The Pew Research Center in its report in May 2012 found:
• On average, users make 7 new Facebook friends per month; they initiate 3 requests and accept 4.
• Women average 21 updates to their Facebook status per month while men average 6.
• In a month, about half of our sample made a comment on a friend's content, and about half received a comment.
• Fewer than 5% of users hid content from another user on their Facebook feed.
Another key difference is the reciprocal relationship with other FB users.  Thus only after both users have mutually agreed to be friends can one see the other person's posts.

What this means is that till you agree to be friends you see NOTHING of what the other person posts and after becoming friends you usually see EVERYTHING that the other person posts.

Google+ at its very foundation was built on the concept of Circles and also allows Public posting which is very similar to a blog.

Public posts can be seen by anyone who follows you and are searchable on Google. People can comment on them, share them or +1 them.  You can see who these people are and view their public posts and decide if there are enough common interests that you can follow them back.  This leads to finding people of similar interest across the whole world - most often people you DO NOT KNOW.
People posting publicly are aware that these are open to the world and thus will not post private information like photos of their kids or what they had for breakfast.

Circles allow you to target your posts to specific people, and these are not visible to anyone outside the group (Circle) you specify.  This may seem to be similar to FB but it is not.  The list of people in your circles is unique to you.  Thus you could have a circle called Close Friends and have 5 people in that circle.  One of those 5 people may also have a circle called Close Friends and it may have 15 people in it.  You may not be in that circle.  These asymmetric circles can be confusing but allow for great autonomy in targeting your posts and filtering your stream.  The ability to mention specific people in posts allows you to include them in the conversation in a granular manner.
Create Circles based on you interest or projects

Now you can target your posts to those circles or keep them Public

You can filter your information stream using your circles and notification settings

Google+ allows you to share a circle.  Thus if you have collected a group of people with interest in HDR photography from across the world you can share it with other users.

The consequence of these differences are:

  1. You are more likely to connect with people you DO NOT KNOW on Google+ compared to FB.  In this way it is a bit like Twitter.  
  2. You are more likely to connect with people with similar interests.  The shared circles feature is a bit like Twitter lists.  
  3. You are less likely to see uninteresting or irrelevant content on Google+ especially things that you feel people should have shared with a fewer folks. 
  4. Due to the ability to filter your feeds and adjust your notifications (in a very easy manner) you feel in control of your information stream.