Friday, December 26, 2014

How "The Interview" hack helped Google show off its capabilities

As 2014 draws to a close, "The Interview" became the most talked about movie of the year.  While many people may have otherwise ignored the Seth Rogen low-brow comedy, the Sony hack made it a must-watch movie.

An unexpected fall out the event was the release of the movie on online platforms after several theater chains refused to show the movie due to safety concerns.

For Google agreeing to show the movie was probably a risk-reward proposition.  Clearly there was some risk of cyberattacks, and of not being able to provide a smooth experience for what was expected to be a massive demand.  The potential reward was to expose the audience to a somewhat less used path for accessing movies and for providing producers with one more option to release content.

While several of the online sites had some problems, it appears that Google came out unscathed providing a very smooth experience.  In our case, with a large number of people in the house over the holidays and everything closed for Christmas, we bowed to popular opinion and decided to watch the movie. It was a completely seamless experience.  The fact that this experience involved using several devices and apps made it even more remarkable.

Let me describe the steps I took to access the movie.  There are many options, and there may be much simpler ones depending on your devices and platforms.

  1. We have an LG SmartTV
  2. A Chromecast device
  3. iPhone 5
  4. Win 8.1 Surface device.
So this is how we connected
  1. On the Surface went to Google Play and used Google Wallet to rent the movie.  Once rented, you have to start viewing within 30 days and once started, complete watching within 48 hours
  2. On the iPhone, installed the Google Play for Movies and TV app
  3. As soon as I logged into it, the movie I had purchased in step 1 showed up in My Movies
  4. Start the movie and chromecasted it to the TV
The whole thing worked without a single hitch.  The quality of the stream was superb and there was no issue with loading, buffering etc for the HD version.  
At the end of the day I was impressed at how well it worked and once set up the technology was invisible, and everyone could focus on the movie uninterrupted.  

It is quite possible that more people will be open to using Google Play to watch movies and TV shows.  The great thing is that you can go to a friend's place and start chromecast movies from your library easily.  

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Still waiting for your Gmail Inbox invite? - Make your Outlook work like the Gmail Inbox!

The new "Inbox by Gmail" is a terrific way to help manage your email. For a long time, we have known how to do this but Inbox is designed to support that workflow.

What is the workflow?

  • Do not open a message unless you are ready to work on it
  • Do not close a message without doing something with it
  • Use the following 4D actions
    • Delete it
    • Defer it
    • Delegate it
    • Do it 
The problem with traditional emails is that we often cannot decide whether we need to keep an e-mail or delete it and this means we err on the side of caution and not delete the email.  This leads to a huge list of opened messages in the inbox causing a lot of stress.

How does the Inbox handle this?

It has tools for each of these actions.
Thus you can do what is needed and "done" the message
Or you can snooze the message and thus defer it
Or you can forward the message (like any email client) and thus delegate it
But the best part is that you can pin the message - which leaves it in the Inbox.
If you Done a message, it is not deleted but archived and thus you don't have to agonize over this delete/don't delete decision.  You can "Done" a message with confidence knowing you can find it again if needed using the Gmail search.

I love the inbox workflow and managed to clean up my entire gmail with this tool very quickly!
Completely Empty Gmail Inbox!

If you use Outlook as your enterprise e-mail client you can do all these things and set up the right workflow.

The key step is: Create a "Search Folder" that is for mail that is "Unread or Marked for Follow up"

This is your default view of the inbox.
You can do all the key actions as follows:

  • Delete it - delete the email if you wont need it again
  • Defer it - use a flag and by right clicking it set it for appropriate time in future
  • Delegate it - forward to someone (or change to task for that person)
  • Do it - as usual
  • Pin it - when you flag a message it will be pinned in this Search folder view
  • If you open a message and do nothing - it is equivalent to "done" as it will drop out of the "Search Folder" view and still be available by searching the inbox.
  • You can drag a message to the calendar if you want to convert to a calendar appointment (Which you can't do yet with the Gmail Inbox)
For me at least this method really works and keeps the most important messages in my default view and keeps me organized.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Share your availability for specific dates to meeting organizer (Applies to Microsoft Outlook)

Do you ever get an e-mail from someone who is trying to arrange a meeting/conference call with multiple people who are at different organizations or institutions?  It often goes something like this, "Can you give me your availability for these dates or date range?"

If they were within your organization, you would just tell them to schedule using your Enterprise Microsoft Outlook.  Often people are unaware that they can schedule meetings like this, or are hesitant to do so.  They may also be uncertain if your Outlook calendar is up to date.

But what if the person organizing the meeting or conference call does not have access to your Outlook calendar?  They may use a variety of tools like Doodle or Calendly etc but these require you a follow a link and fill out multiple check boxes while viewing your calendar in another window.  Quite painful and time-consuming.  You have a couple of easier options:
  • Publish your Outlook calendar to the Web or
  • Sync it with a Google Calendar that you can share with someone
But both these options may have security or privacy risks particularly if you put sensitive information into your calendar or work at a health care facility and have to abide by HIPAA Privacy rules.

e-mail your calendar

A simple option for this problem is to e-mail your availability for the specific date range using the Outlook e-mail calendar functionality.  This is super simple and something folks may not be aware of.  The steps are explained here by Microsoft.  

The recipient gets an e-mail that looks like this:

Try it the next time you get a message asking for your availability.  It will save you a lot of email and phone tag and your colleagues will appreciate it.

The main risk is that if they don't schedule something soon, the calendar you sent them might be out of date.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Google's New Bookmark Manager vs. Diigo Chrome Extension

Google just released the Bookmark Manager extension for Chrome.
It has the following features:

  1. One Click Save
  2. Better organization
  3. Better search of bookmarks
  4. Sharing of bookmarks
  5. Add notes to the bookmark
  6. Nice visual interface - organized as cards.
The best part of the new manager is that it would work across all device on the Chrome browser.

While these are some good features, it would not convince me to switch from my favorite social bookmarking tool - Diigo.

Search for Google Bookmarks Manager shows my Diigo Bookmark in right column.

Diigo has some truly amazing features that make it indispensable.

  1. Ability to organize by lists, tags
  2. Annotate a web page with highlights and notes
  3. Share a link to the annotate web page so anyone who sees that link will see the annotations even if they don't have Diigo installed.  Try this link to see the lifehacker page annotated with yellow highlights. (see pic below)
  4. Ability to auto-search through the Diigo library even when doing an organic Google Search.  If any of the keywords in the search are in one of your bookmark titles or annotations, that bookmark will be listed to the right of the organic search results.  (See pic above)
  5. Very powerful social bookmarking features 
The only (minor) drawback is that you need to select the appropriate tools for your mobile device.  Diigo does have specific tools for each OS (iOS and Android).  Also if you don't use Chrome as your default desktop browser, Diigo has toolbars for most popular browsers.  

Diigo lets you annotate a web page and share a link to it that preserves the annotations

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A Lesson Plan for a Mobile Learning Workshop

Suppose you wanted to do a short workshop for educators on using mobile devices in their teaching.

I did a short workshop on this topic recently and here is a lesson plan that I used.

Workshop participants scanning QR codes to read material for Socrative Quiz.

  1. Get everyone to download a QR code reader
    1. I like i-nigma which is one of the fastest readers, and keeps a history of codes scanned
  2. Discuss how to create content that automatically presents appropriately based on detected screen sizes - various options like
    1. Google Docs for text
    2. Google Forms to survey, quizzes etc.
    3. Blogger
    4. Google Sites
  3. Have the participants test their QR code reader with QR codes linked to this blog post.  They can favorite this on i-nigma so they can find this again (no need for handouts)
  4. QR code treasure hunt
    1. Create 5 Google docs with content on 5 topics
    2. Create QR Codes for each of these pages.  I like but there are many other options.
    3. Print out the QR codes each on a separate sheet of paper and paste these around the room on the walls
    4. Give participants enough time to go around and scan the codes and read the content
  5. Mobile quiz
    1. Create a Quiz using
    2. Divide the group into teams 
    3. Launch your quiz in Space Race mode with groups
    4. Have them scan a QR code to get to 
    5. Enter your room number
    6. Have them select their group color
    7. Student paced quiz on content presented in QR scavenger hunt
  6. Discuss uses of Socrative in the classroom
    1. Compare/contrast with PollEV
    2. Other options - NearPod, Kahoot
  7. Discuss other applications of mobile devices
    1. Flashcards - Quizlet, Anki
    2. Consuming /creating content
      1. Videos
      2. Podcasts
      3. Books/text
    3. Social Media 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Ebola - do we need economists and not medical scientists making decisions? Huge discrepancies between scientists and industry responses.

The 2 flights that the second health care worker made to and from Dallas to Cleveland have already caused ripple effects which are probably driven not by medical science but by fear  and possibly concern about financial impact.

The discrepancies between decisions made by medical scientist and individual businesses are striking

CDC - ok to fly with fever of 99.5 even though you treated patient with Ebola
Airline- take the plane off for decontamination

CDC - you can't get Ebola from someone who is not symptomatic.
Hospitals - nurses who flew on same flight as recent case before she got low grade fever are on paid leave.
Schools - closed for decontamination because a teacher was on same flight that CDC ok'ed her to fly on.

Till this panic settles down, we need protocols in place to divert suspects away from the public and "regular" healthcare intake channels.

The psychological impact of a potential patient walking through the hospital to seek out care - touching door knobs, counters, etc and "exposing" tens of people and healthcare workers will be huge and the potential financial impact quite terrible as the hospital in Dallas is finding out.  Yes, medical science tells us that person will likely not be infectious and it is OK for them to seek care using regular channels but once we have a single case like that, the mass fear will take over.  

Hopefully we don't get another traveler with Ebola coming into the USA but this will likely happen.  We hopefully will not make the same mistakes again that were made in the Dallas ER, but that assumes that every healthcare worker in the country is trained and follows the right steps which is highly improbable.

We need to keep our hospitals working smoothly!

We need to put up signs at every healthcare facility entrance that diverts suspected (high-risk) cases to dedicated triage hot lines.  This will reassure the public that it is safe to use the hospitals for their non-Ebola care.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Protect your health care worker - a sign at every hospital entrance

I posted earlier regarding the need for an airport program for patients traveling from West Africa.  It took a few days after the first case in Dallas for the authorities to put something like that in place.

That post also noted the lack of preparedness of the US health care institutions to combat Ebola at this time.  The sense of urgency has just not been there.  Till there is excellent awareness and training in place there is a need to divert any suspected Ebola case away from the regular intake process in hospitals.  Otherwise we will have many more mishaps like the ones in Dallas.

One solution is to have a sign at every hospital entrance that
1.  Tells person traveling from these countries
2.  Who has the classic symptoms
3.  To sanitize hands and
4.  Call a dedicated triage phone line.

Then the appropriate protocols can be invoked.
We need to prevent every preventable exposure that we can.
Every case brings broadening circles fear, monitoring, and disruption that will cause tremendous damage to the economy and the healthcare system at the least and might even save some lives.

Sign for every hospital entrance

Saturday, October 4, 2014

You can lead the horse to the water.... Role of curiosity in learning

I saw this report in Scientific American on the role of curiosity in learning.  In a small study, the researchers found how generating curiosity appears to prime the brain for learning.

This provides some evidence for how most educators develop their lesson plans.  One framework is Gagne's 9 events of instruction.  The first step is to "Gain Attention".

Linked to -

Maybe we should relabel this to "Generate Curiosity"?

After all one can lead a horse to the water but we can't make it drink; unless we make it thirsty first!

Friday, October 3, 2014

The US Ebola Approach - what we are missing?

This story on NPR highlights the mishandling of the first case of Ebola to be diagnosed in the USA in spite of "training" and information efforts.  Numerous officials have claimed that the course of Ebola in the USA will be very different as it will be easy to contain due to better health care facilities and literacy.  The problem is that the focus has been on containment after the fact rather than limiting the early exposure.

We have known for a long time that the current scenario of an asymptomatic person from West Africa entering the USA and then developing symptoms was quite likely to happen.  Let us look at our current approach to this scenario happening and what we could do differently.

Hospitals are training their staff to ask about travel history and symptoms and then invoke the appropriate protocols using checklists.  This approach does not address a potential much earlier point of intervention that would decrease exposure and limit the chaos.

The current approach requires a patient who has traveled to the US from West Africa who gets symptoms to actually get to hospital and navigate the intake process to make it to a provider who may still fail to do the right thing as happened in this first case.  Along the way the patient may use a cab or public transport, touch door knobs, counter tops and railings and be in physical contact with several people. While it is not easy to spread Ebola by contact (usually the patient would have to be quite sick) just the fear of possible transmission and the amount of effort it would entail to track down people at real risk vs those with just insignificant contact would be huge and cripple the system.

This person if he develops symptoms, since he came from West Africa, has only one fear dominating his mind, "Do I have Ebola?"  The  approach needs to be to have this person stay in his hotel room or home and call a dedicated hotline that is manned by a trained person who can invoke the appropriate protocol.

How can we make this happen?  The process needs to start at the international airport where a person first lands.

  • There should be signage at the airport informing travelers from West Africa about the hotline if they get symptoms.  They could pick up a sticky note with the phone number and paste it to their passport.
  • Each person from West Africa should be given a simple thermometer at entry to the US.
  • They should be entered into a database 
  • They should be required to check their temperature each day and report it via a phone line/text/website that enters it into this database.
  • The hotline phone number should be imprinted on the thermometer cover
  • If they fail to enter the temperature, it should trigger someone should contact them.
  • If their temperature is >threshold someone should contact them to ensure that they called the hotline.
This seems to be common sense but we are not doing this.  How do we know this?  A recent report by CNN highlights the abject failure of communication at the airport where 3 reporters returning from West Africa got three completely different experiences when they mentioned where they were coming from. The agents were not aware of or could not locate the information regarding how to handle these travelers.

If somehow this step does not work, and the person does end up at a healthcare facility with symptoms without calling the hotline, we need to intervene before they have to navigate the intake process like any other patient.
  • Every entrance needs to have signage regarding steps to follow for a traveler from these countries with symptoms
  • It should have a touchless skin sanitizer next to the signage
  • After using it, the person should be able to use a phone with a speed dial to a trained infection control staff who would direct the patient to appropriate location limiting exposure to others.

Just the one case of the unfortunate Mr. Ducan has highlighted the tremendous effort that it will take to monitor and keep quarantined his approximately 100 contacts.  As more of these cases happen, we will be left with the scenario of a large number of healthcare workers exposed and quarantined.  This will cause a huge burden on our already fragile health care system.

We need to adopt an approach of earlier intervention.  The only risk of such an approach is causing anxiety but it has the potential of preventing exposure of large number of people.  We had many months to prepare for this.  We have a short window when such an approach might still work.  Now that the danger is clear and present, can we do this right?

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Do you need words to communicate? The Future of Medicine and the Brain-Computer Interface in 2064

This article is part of the 'Think Further' series, sponsored by Fred Alger Management, Inc.  For more 'Think Further' content and videos, visit

Dr. Daniel Kraft on Brain Computer Interface

Dr. Daniel Kraft on Medicine 2064

Computers: Inputs, Outputs and Form Factors

Ever since the invention of computers, humans have developed progressively easier and more intuitive methods to communicate with them.  We have come a long way, from the era of inputting instructions via punch cards and command line interfaces to the current generation of multi-touch screen devices that respond to stylus and voice input. Computer outputs have also evolved from dot matrix printers and cathode ray tubes to thin flat panel displays and hand-held screen capable of full multimedia experience.  Computers are also getting progressively smaller and more wearable in the form of smart eye wear and smart watches that are paired with mobile devices carried by the user in the pocket or handbag.

Where will we be in 50 years?

The next big advance in human computer interface is likely to be "Brain-Computer Interface" (BCI) or communicating with computers using thoughts. While this may seem to be stuff for science fiction, sending instructions to computers using thought control is getting closer to reality.  There have been several instances of early use of this technology with the most famous one being the opening ceremony of the recent FIFA World Cup in Brazil (1).  A young man who was paralyzed from the neck down was fitted with an exoskeleton that was controlled by a computer on his back.  Just by thinking about it, he was able to "tell" the computer to move the exoskeleton to allow him to kick a soccer ball.  Even more amazing was an experiment at the University of Washington where a researcher was able to control the finger movement of a colleague by transmitting his thoughts over the Internet (2).  Both researchers were wearing "thinking caps" connected via computers to the Internet.  There were no electrodes implanted in their brains i.e. non-invasive BCI.

These are proofs of concept that this technology can:
1.  Allow us to input instructions to computers using our thoughts.
2.  Allow computers to transmit signals to our brains to move specific body parts.

By 2064 non-invasive BCI technology may have several applications:

Patients with movement disorders:

There are several diseases where the person can think clearly but cannot control his or her body movements.  Patients with strokes are often left with weakness of parts of their body.  This is also seen in cases of patients with spinal cord injuries and certain presentations of conditions like ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease) and Parkinson's disease.  By wearing appropriate types of exoskeletons or bionic parts that are connected to a computer, their brains would be able to drive the exoskeletons to perform appropriate movements.

Patients with loss of limb or parts of a limb:

People can lose body parts from trauma or due to amputations for cancers or infections.  While prosthetic limbs can allow them to perform movements like walking, most current prosthetics do not allow fine motor control.  It is possible that by the year 2064, brain computer interfaces would allow these prosthetics to replicate almost natural movements of the hand and fingers.

So far we have talked mostly about controlling movement or motor control with BCI.  This is done by using thoughts to input instructions into computers.  The converse - having computers output information into the human brain is more difficult.  This is particularly true of non-invasive BCI - i.e. without implanting electrodes in the brain.  Still the University of Washington experiment described above, showed that this is possible.  Using electrodes implanted in mouse brains, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology were able to implant false memories into mice (3).  Attempts have been made to send signals directly from cameras into the brains of blind patients to allow them to see crude images.

By 2064, invasive BCI may have several applications:

Patients with sensory deficits particularly blindness:
Blindness is one of the afflictions that humans fear the most.  Researchers at Cornell University have had success in mapping signals from the retina going to the brains in mice via the optic nerve (4).  They have been successful in producing quite realistic images using this method.  Over the next few decades, it should be possible to use this technology to develop functioning prosthetic eyes.  While this will mean that electrodes are not directly stimulating the visual cortex, it is still an example of BCI as the retina and optic nerves are considered extensions of the brain.

Patients with memory deficits:
Caregivers often struggle to help patients with dementia complete some of the required activities of daily living.  These patients may not have motor problems like those described above but need help with activities like getting dressed.  It may be possible that like the University of Washington researchers, caregivers might be able to get their loved ones perform some simple activities by transmitting their thoughts using "thinking caps".

As outlined in these examples, the brain-computer interface has huge potential and with the amount of ongoing research in this area, we should expect to see some real applications in medicine by the year 2064.

Links to references cited in this post:

  1. GeoBeats News: Paraplegic man in Robotic Suit kicks off World Cup
  2. NeuralSystemsLab: Direct Brain-to-Brain Communication in Humans: A Pilot Study
  3. Ramirez et al; Creating a False Memory in the Hippocampus
  4. Sheila Nirenberg; A Prosthetic Eye to Treat Blindness; TEDMED 2011

Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Power of the Logo - Judging the Book by the Cover

I read with great interest and hope the story of how teens are moving away from overpriced clothing with large logos -

It seems that during the recent recession, teens began moving away from the high-priced logo clothing of the 3 A's - Abercrombie, American Eagle and AeroPostale'.  They moved to cheaper brands with small or no logos.  Now that the recession is receding, this trend is still persisting.  

This is a big change from a few years ago when I was at a The North Face store (not of my own volition) and overheard this conversation:
Mom: Look at this sweater, it is reasonably priced.
Daughter: I really like the color and design.
Mom: Why don't you try it on?
Daughter: Oh, it does not have a North Face logo! Lets look for something else.
The peer pressure and desire to conform is so strong among teens that it is hard to believe that this antilogo trend is anything but a transient or a superficial phenomenon.  Even reasonably savvy adults are driven by these forces when they purchase items like smartphones, laptops and cars. 

Very early on, we are told not to judge the book by the cover.  But we continue to believe that others will judge us by our covers, the logos we adorn ourselves with.  We create our "Pseudo" identities on social media. We assume we can buy respect or admiration of our peers by purchasing a status symbol not realizing that all we generate is jealousy or diminished respect for our decision-making skills or superficiality.  It clearly will not buy us happiness unless the product is something you really need and you would buy even if it did not have a logo.

Will we ever get to the point that people would stop and think about these words of  Thích Nhất Hạnh, "To be beautiful means to be yourself. You don’t need to be accepted by others. You need to accept yourself.” 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Robots are coming! The Robots are coming!

This is a video making waves on YouTube - it was published earlier today and already has >400,000 views.

The video caught my attention for multiple reasons

  • It is a beautifully created mashup - I did a workshop on creating video mashups (with +Ali Reza Jalali+Anne Marie Cunningham and +Natalie Lafferty)  using publicly available resources but this is awesome in its quality.  Our slideshare of the workshop is available here.
  • I have been working on the IBM Watson - Cleveland Clinic collaborative project, helping Watson learn medicine.  The goal is to improve the quality of care we provide to our patients.  I wonder if some day we will look back and wonder about the future we might have helped create.  This very funny video interview with Stephen Hawking does leave one with a vaguee sense of unease.

    • But most of all, even if this future is somewhat far away, are we preparing our students for this?  What will be the role of humans and how can we create learning environments that will help our students adapt to this?  Where will the integration of artificial intelligence, natural language processing, robotics, the Internet of Things leave the humans?

    Friday, August 8, 2014

    Google Glass Experience: Part 1 - Connectivity

    Technology is headed in the direction of integrating

    • Wearable devices
    • Augmented reality
    • Artificial intelligence
    • Natural language processing and
    • Connected devices - Internet
    Google Glass is an example of how some of these technologies can come together.
    I recently got Google Glass and will be chronicling my experiences with it.  This series (hopefully) of posts will cover my specific situations and again hopefully the solutions for the problems I face.

    Connecting Glass to the Web at Work

    While Glass can take pictures or record videos without Internet connectivity, it becomes more useful when connected.  

    My Situation:

    1. Phone: iPhone 5 running iOS 7.1.2 (this is a work phone - does not reflect my choice)
    2. WiFi at work 
      1. Public Wifi with ToS (Requires to go to a website to accept terms of service to get access)
      2. Enterprise WiFi - WPA2 - enterprise

    Glass can get connected in 2 ways

    1. Via Bluetooth tethering with a smartphone or tablet which has Internet connectivity via
      1. Cellular data plan OR
      2. WiFi
    2. Direct connection from Glass to WiFi.  Glass cannot connect to WiFi that is
      1. Public but requires Terms of service acceptance on a website
      2. WPA2- enterprise

    So in my case option # 2 (Direct connection to WiFi at work) is out.

    For option # 1, let us consider the 2 most popular OS's

    1. Android - works seamlessly - just pair the device to Glass via Bluetooth and all your troubles are over!  It will use either the phone/tablet's cellular data plan or use data from the WiFi that the phone/tablet is connected to.
    2. iOS - while it is easy to pair Glass with the iPhone, it WILL NOT connect even to the WiFi signal unless the "Personal Hotspot" feature is turned on.  The problem is that this requires an additional monthly charge even though you might just be using the phone to connect to WiFi. which is either free or you have paid for.
    Need to set up Personal Hotspot on iOS
    So in short there is not way to use Google Glass at work without paying an additional monthly fee it seems.
    Ideally Apple needs to enable the Hotspot feature automatically when the phone is connected to WiFi and need us to pay or take additional steps (e.g. use shared data plans) only if we use cellular data.  

    My Solution (s):

    1. Use an old Android device 
      • Pair this device to Glass; Connect the Andorid device the Public WiFi at work and thus connect Glass to the Public WiFi.  The problem is the need to carry an additional device and keep it charged
    2. Use a MiFi - again same problems (additional device, charging).
    3. There is another potential solution that I have not tried yet.

    Another issue is setting up WiFi on Glass

    If you have an Android device, that you pair with Glass, the MyGlass App on the device will work seamlessly in setting up the WiFi on Glass.
    You can also use the MyGlass app on iPhone or visit to set up the WiFi.  This requires scanning a QR code using Glass.  When I tried to set up Glass to connect to a MiFi using this method it did not work (both with iPhone and browser) but it worked first time with an old Android tablet.

    MyGlass Dashboard 

    Example of QR code to set up WiFi

    Glass at least at this stage is difficult to connect to the Internet if you have the same WiFi situation as I do and do not have an Android device.  

    Monday, May 26, 2014

    Twitter for awareness, Google+ for discussion?

    This is a follow up post to the one I wrote in February, regarding the lack of in depth discussions on social media and the fact that people often share links to posts they have not even read.  The suggestion was that the academic world needs its own "Acamedia" rather than rely on social media alone.

    Since then both NPR and NY Times have echoed similar thoughts which leads me to suggesting a Twitter + Google+ model for academia.

    NPR played a terrific April Fool's joke:
    From ""
    NY Times had an opinion piece by Karl Taro Greenfeld which discusses how one can fake cultural literacy by picking up bits of information on social media streams instead of consuming the primary source.

    The author states,
    "It's never been so easy to pretend to know so much without actually knowing anything."
    An example from the piece,
    "What was Solange Knowles's elevator attack on Jay-Z about? I didn't watch the security-camera video on TMZ - it would have taken too long - but I scrolled through enough chatter to know that Solange had ...."
    Some may argue that spending any amount of time to learn more on that story is time wasted but if you have to know something so you don't feel left out at some cocktail conversation, IMHO this is a fair use of social media.

    One would just hope that people are upfront and state that they are expressing an opinion without having read or consumed the primary source.
    This gets back to the point about the role of social media for discussing academic literature.  Social media is great for sharing links to articles and thus increasing awareness about new evidence as it comes out.  Folks new to social media need to realize that sometimes folks that share may not have read the posts they are sharing.  They are essentially just sharing the fact that the headline is interesting.  In my February post I suggested that sites like Twitter should add a check box to indicate that the "sharer" had actually read the article.

    Another option is to put in a disclaimer that you have not e.g. TL;DR (Too long; Did not read).

    Maybe as the culture of popular social networks (e.g. Twitter) evolves, everyone will realize that this is the default.  Maybe once you identify the article or post to discuss with like-minded people, it is necessary to do it in a different setting which has a different cultural default - one where you don't post unless you have read the piece? Thus a physicist may use Twitter to keep up with trending health news stories like new lipid guidelines but use a different medium to discuss the latest article on Higgs Boson particle while the converse may be true for a physician.

    Google+ may be a perfect model for this.  It has several factors to support this model:
    • Ability to connect with other people with similar interests
    • No limits on length of posts
    • Communities
    • Authentic profiles 
    • Hangouts and Hangouts on Air 
    My previous post had an example of using Google Hangouts on Air for a CME panel discussion.  Once there is full integration between Gmail, Blogger, Google Drive and Google+  and Hangouts, it will create a perfect ecosystem for authentic synchronous and asynchronous discussions - an Acamedia?

    Thursday, April 10, 2014

    Google Hangouts on Air - a Game Changer for CME?

    I recently had an opportunity to put together a CME course on Social Media and Web 2.0 in Medicine for the Cleveland Clinic CME department.

    After the participants had learned about and had a chance to experiment with Twitter and Google+ hands on, we wanted to organize a panel discussion with several Social Media experts in the healthcare arena.  The budget for the CME course would not accommodate travel expenses to get panelists from out of town for a face-to-face discussion.  In addition it would be quite inconvenient to have people travel for a "one-hour" panel discussion.  These factors would limit who we could invite to the panel.

    So in stead of compromising on our panelist selection, we decided to explore options for doing an online panel discussion.  Since the course was on the use of social media the natural choice was to do a Google Hangout and broadcast it live on YouTube (Google Hangout on Air).  What could be better than using the tools that you are learning about in the course!

    The panelists were
    Vineet Arora (@FutureDocs)
    Katherine Chretien (@MotherinMed)
    Anne Marie Cunningham (@AMCunningham)
    Michelle Kraft (@Krafty)

    This is the YouTube video of our Hangout on Air.  For a first time effort, it worked pretty smoothly. If you think you may want to do one of these yourself, read on.

    The process of setting up the G+HOA the first time can be complex. So I am listing the steps here in case someone else wants to try this out.
    • Make sure all the panelists are on Google+ and you have circled each other
    • Make sure your YouTube account is linked to your Google account.
    • Click Hangout from the menu on the left and click on Start Hangout on Air
    • Give the Hangout a name and invite someone to it. This does not have to be the panelists or the audience.  I have a couple of different Google+ profiles and I just invite myself to it.
    • Now start the Hangout
    • Click on agree to any notifications that come up
    • Invite your panelists
    • This part is still not LIVE.  This is called the green room.
    • You can talk to panelists, adjust lighting, microphones, go over the logistics etc.
    • You can have everyone install the app Hangout tool box and enable the lower third (allows everyone to add their name and tagline or affiliation).  This will look mirrored but will appear correctly oriented for the audience.
    • From the bottom right grab the YouTube link (this is the URL where the broadcast will appear live on YouTube).
    • Share this URL with the audience - either on G+, in a private community or Twitter or FB.
    • When they click on the link they will see a YouTube video with the message - "Starting soon".
    • Now click on Start broadcast.  In about 10 seconds the broadcast will go live.  You can start your panel discussion as soon as it goes live.
    • The moderator (the person who initiates the Hangout) can control which speaker shows up in the main window by clicking on their profile in the bottom of the hangout window
    • The YouTube video shows up after a short delay (about 30 seconds) but then runs quite smoothly.
    • Once the discussion is over, stop the broadcast
    • You can debrief with the panelists and then end the broadcast.
    • Afterwards you can edit the video adjust the title, description etc and then set the privacy settings in your YouTube video manager.
    Several course participants were surprised learn about this functionality of Google+.  Several wanted to know how they could do this.  Our CME department wanted to discuss various uses for this technology - both for live courses and for creating enduring material.  

    Consider the advantages of this technology for CME
    1. Cost savings 
      1. Travel costs
      2. Free technology
    2. Convenience
    3. Ability to invite best panelists/speakers without above limitations
    4. Feasible to for live audiences both face to face and remote
    5. Since YouTube automatically archives the session, you can also embed the videos into online enduring materials.
    Google+ Hangouts on Air might just be a game changer for CME.  What do you think?

    Sunday, February 23, 2014

    The Social Media Fire Hose Waters Down Discussions - Does Education Need Its Own Acamedia?

    I love the ability of social media to let me build my personal learning network (PLN) and engage in discussions with people with similar interests.  But social media can be frustrating and as more people join and flood it with content, it is but natural that not everyone would be there for those reasons.  Thus social media is also used for marketing, building an identity, customer service, etc.  As someone who often touts the various potential uses of social media for learning and education, I wonder about the best way to prevent new adopters from getting disillusioned.

    A case in point: People very often share links to content that they have not read

    This tweet by Tony Haile (CEO of Chartbeat) sparked a series of posts in the blogosphere [The Verge][Small Business Trends]

    This "unread" sharing maybe for many reasons - e.g. The title was funny, or the content was shared to someone who might read it, etc.  In the real world a share would be similar to a recommendation; it should mean something like, "I read this, found it worth reading and so am sharing it".  When you print out an article and leave it in a colleagues inbox with a sticky note, the recipient would assume you had read it.  If you had not, you would state something to that effect on that note, e.g. "Not my cup of tea but I thought you would find this interesting".  

    It seems sharing on social media might be evolving into something different; we knew before Tony Haile's tweet that people may not have read something they shared.  In addition, there is less of an expectation of a rich discussion when sharing.  Some of this is specific to the platform.  

    Thus Facebook is becoming limited to social sharing among friends and family (e.g notable and not so notable life events) and anything intellectual or cognitively stimulating can get frowned upon.  For example a resident recently posted an abstract of her paper that was published in a prestigious journal on FB.  She had to preface this with an apology for a "nerdy post".  There were over 40 likes and "Congrats" but not one question about the abstract or the implications of the study.  Most of the folks who commented were in the medical field.  This is not to criticize the author of the post or her friends, but more a reflection on the culture of the platform.  
    The purpose of the interaction appears to be to acknowledge that you saw the post; it is more of a head nod or a high-five rather than an intellectual discussion, an opportunity to truly engage and learn in the process.  

    Twitter is a truly terrific platform but the 140 character limit poses a barrier to rich discussions.  The unfiltered timeline moves at a disconcerting pace and can be distracting for some.  Tweetchat sessions can be great for group discussions but take some getting used to.  For some there can be a need to increase follower numbers as can be judged by the many how-to articles describing strategies to do this.  This can lead to retweeting posts by "celetweeps", using multiple trending hashtags and similar methods to try and gain attention.  There are other reasons why it may be difficult to have discussions on Twitter. Many people use sharing tools integrated within the website that they are looking at or use a scheduling service like Buffer.  Thus they share to Twitter but are not actually using the Twitter interface.  They may not see your response till much later.

    Recently a physician tweeted a link to a nice study that calculated the number needed to treat for most common treatments for a common condition.  The article was behind a paywall and the abstract did not mention what outcome measure was used to calculate NNT.  This was not a condition that would lead to hospital admissions or death and thus did not have a well-known or guessable outcome measure. I replied to the tweet asking for this information but got no response.  There could be many good reasons for this in this particular case and it is interesting that it did not surprise me too much.   In RL if someone gave you a paper to read, one would expect that he or she would take the time to respond to a question you had.  Unfortunately on Twitter people are "giving out" tens of papers to hundreds and thousands of followers which removes the expectation of responding to all the questions.  

    The norm it seems is, "I just shared that with you and the whole world. Don't expect me to be to engage in a discussion on it or to have even read it deeply."  
    The Verge article cited above discusses that there are folks who do read the entire article before sharing.  The concern is that it is difficult to separate the two.  Those of use who have used social media for a while have a somewhat robust PLN and continue to grow it.  Twitter is actually a great place to find people with similar interest to build your PLN.  But for recent digital immigrants, the experience can be quite disappointing.

    As educators we have seen the potential of social media to create and build PLNs, for lifelong learning, for online journal clubs, for communities of practice and communities of inquiry.  This potential is still there but we may never fully realize it if the culture of the platforms is diametrically opposite to this philosophy.    

    So what is the answer?
    • Back to blogging? - unfortunately one would have to post on Twitter to get people back to Blogger to discuss the post.  The problem is folks will retweet without ever visiting the blog!
    • Use Google+ - the ability to create very granular circles for viewing and sharing and lack of character limits are huge plusses!  An additional benefit is the integration of Blogger with Google+ that prevents fragmentation of the conversation
    • Use filters e.g. Lists on Twitter to engage with people who are interested in discussion?
    How about Twitter adding a check box, "I have read this"?  It would be a box that would pop up anytime you add a hyperlink or retweet a post that has an embedded hyperlink.  Checking the box would indicate that you are also interested in a discussion on the topic and it is not just a FYI post.

    The interface could look something like this:

    What do you think?  Maybe social media is just mirroring or even magnifying real life?  Maybe social media was meant to be just that - social, and academia needs to get with it and build its own platform for professional media - maybe call it acamedia?  

    Maybe social media is teaching us a real-life lesson - it is not simple to build your PLNs - it is a process that one has to go through and Twitter is a great learning lab to learn this process?

    Saturday, January 4, 2014

    Recall Everything You Read Online - A Model For Information Management

    Google Reader was one of my favorite information management tools.  Since Google discontinued it, I have been searching for the best option and settled on Feedly for multiple reasons:

    • Seamlessly imported my feeds from Google Reader
    • Free
    • Nice interface
    • Works on all my devices and various operating systems
    • Adding content works well - finds most of the feeds I need without having to input the exact RSS feed URL
    • Nice features for saving to Pocket and sharing to various social networks.

    Feedly does have a  few minor limitations which one can live with:

    • On a desktop, you cannot find a tag by typing the first 1 or 2 letters.  You have to scroll down which can be a pain if you have a long tag list
    • Does not allow to export OPML (your feed bundle) for just a subset of your feeds.  It is all or none.

    But there are 2 things that bother me the most:

    • The free version shows only one search result - this is a huge problem as it is easier to find something in the same app where you first read it.
    • The solution to this would be to share to a searchable bookmarking site like Diigo but the free version does not allow custom sharing and Diigo is not one of the options in the free version.

    But then I found the solution that works quite well using and it goes like this:

    1. Make sure you have you use your Google log in to create accounts on 
    2. Go to Feedly and create a tag called "Diigo" 
      • Use a RSS feed suggested by Feedly
        • Add any content to feedly (even one RSS feed) 
        • Click on one feed item >> tag >> create tag >> Diigo
      • Or you can import my cardiology and medicine journal feeds 
        • From here (make sure you SAVE the file)
        • Go to Feedly>>organize>>Import OPML (
        • Import the file you just saved
        • Now you should have several excellent feeds
        • Select one feed item and tag >> create tag >> Diigo
    3. Go to If This Then That ( and register
    4. Find the recipes for feedly (there are several) to share to Diigo.  The one I use is available here (
    5. Now every time you save a feed item so you can find it again do the following
      • Tag the feed item with Diigo
      • This item will automatically be saved to your Diigo profile
      • Diigo is searchable and thus everything you deemed worth saving is now searchable!
    6. Power step - search from Google!
      • I love Diigo because when I search anything on Google, it also searches my Diigo items.
      • I use Chrome as my default browser
      • Get the Diigo Chrome extension
      • In options make sure you check "Search Diigo when searching Google"
      • TaDa!

    So my information workflow goes something like this:

    This is actually works quite well as most people tend to use Google to do their searches, this process will automatically show if there are any items related to that search term on Diigo and one can access these with one click.  In addition, since you can use Diigo to bookmark webpages that you come across when surfing, you can now recall items that you read outside of Feedly.

    Enable searching Diigo when searching Google in the Diigo Chrome extension options

    In this example searching for Cholesterol guidelines brings up 3 items stored in my Diigo Library