Saturday, October 17, 2009

Microsoft's 'MultiTouch' Mice

According to the source who uploaded this video, multipoint mice are all the rage. Maybe its too early in the morning for me but I have to agree with the visitor who commented - So these mice provide iPhone functionality to a desktop. Not exactly earthshaking technology. I'd much rather have a hand driven interface like the one shown in "Minority Report".

Monday, September 28, 2009

"Add This" makes sharing content on social networks a snap

I found this article in the New York Times particularly interesting. I noticed that after connecting my Flickr account to Twitter and Facebook, that each time I posted an image to Flickr tagged with my special "snaptweet" tag to flag it for Twitter and Facebook, I was getting a lot more views within just a couple of days than I would normally get if I relied strictly on Flickr users' sporadic browsing. I found the same to be true for blog posts that were trumpeted over Twitter and Facebook. I have used other websites "share" options like YouTube and NY Times but assumed adding that functionality to my own blog posts (so posts found on a Google or Yahoo search could be shared with the researchers friends and colleagues) would be more complicated than I wanted to tackle.

But the NYT article mentioned a service called "Add This" so I checked it out and it made the whole process pretty painless! They provide the code to add a share widget to either a website or a host of other content management environments including Blogger. I use Blogger so I copied the Blogger template code and opened my Blogger template and pasted it in right where it said to do so. At first I couldn't find the right line of code but the key is to be sure to click on the "Expand Widget Templates" checkbox just above the window displaying the HTML code, then you see all of the code not just abbreviated sections.

In the last century, traditional media organizations hustled to get their product in front of the chatty elites; news magazines, for example, hand-delivered copies over the weekend to politicians and to other media. In the age of Twitter and Facebook, anyone can become a chatty elite, the social director of his or her own private admiration society. The hand-delivered copy has morphed into a Web article’s “share to Facebook” button.

Underscoring the trend, social networks are now an important source of traffic to many sites, in some cases challenging search engines as the top source of new visitors. For example, the leading referrer to, a popular gossip site, is Facebook. Nearly 15 percent of the gossip site’s visitors come from the social network, according to, a tracking firm. Google ranks second, driving about 9 percent of visitors. - Share the Moment and Spread The Wealth by Brad Stone, NY Times

Monday, July 20, 2009

We Choose the Moon - What a Wonderful Way to Relive History

Reposted from my personal Home Page.

When Apollo 11 launched its lunar module to make the first landing on the moon back in 1969, I had just had a newlywed tiff with my husband and had stalked outside to cool off. We were visiting his grandparents and his grandmother called to me and urged me to come back inside to see Neil Armstrong walk on the moon. Being young and hot-headed I stubbornly refused. I have regretted it ever since.

Now, today, 40 years after that historic touchdown, I got to relive the moment thanks to a wonderful website called "We Choose the Moon" that virtually recreated the experience. A new friend I met on the web just a couple of weeks ago happened to send me the link and I checked it out earlier but was several days away from the actual landing. Today, I'd been in town all day running errands and had just sat down and picked up the paper and saw a short blurb on the front page about how 40 years ago today at 1:17 p.m. PDT, the lunar module had landed on the moon. I asked my husband (yes, the same one!) what time it was and it was 1:15 p.m. so I raced back into my office, navigated to the website and downloaded the graphics just in time to see the lunar module kick up the dust of the moon's surface and descend to Tranquility Base. How thrilling!! At last - I feel I really witnessed it live!

The website designers had live streaming audio of the simulated broadcast from mission control and it made it feel so real! I loved how the virtual landing was timed to coincide with the actual event at the same real time pace. Looking forward to the virtual event just as I had the real event truly heightened my anticipation. What a wonderful way to relive history!

This website is chuck full of videos, photos, and audio clips from the actual experience as well as offering widgets to track the mission on your computer, etc. As I have only marginal DSL service at 1.5 mbps, I had problems with the volume of data transfer that has to occur between the website and my workstation and kept losing my connection. But at least I saw the actual landing and listened to about 15 minutes of post-landing transmissions before I started experiencing data overload. I would love to have the opportunity to relive other historical events in this way. Can you imagine how exciting it would be to witness one of Julius Caesar's triumphs or the crowning of Thutmosis III recreated at a date corresponding to the same date in history and paced in real time?

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Big Brother Tactics Give Amazon A Black Eye

This morning, hundreds of Amazon Kindle owners awoke to discover that books by a certain famous author had mysteriously disappeared from their e-book readers. These were books that they had bought and paid for—thought they owned.

But no, apparently the publisher changed its mind about offering an electronic edition, and apparently Amazon, whose business lives and dies by publisher happiness, caved. It electronically deleted all books by this author from people’s Kindles and credited their accounts for the price. - More: NY Times

I find the above incident hardly surprising. Recently I was notified by Roku that my new player now had the ability to obtain video-on-demand movies from Amazon. I went up to Amazon to activate my player for this service only to discover (by reading the service agreement's fine print) that Amazon, even though they were charging $14.99 to buy a downloadable movie - a price almost as high as a new release DVD - they advised that you download the movie and watch it as soon as possible because they did not guarantee that the film you purchase would be available for future viewing if the studio that released the film should decide to no longer offer it in downloadable format. The only thing surprising about the Kindle incident was that Amazon actually refunded the purchase price. I assumed that Amazon, by making such a disclaimer in their VOD agreement, was negating any liability for such an act and was not obligated to issue any refunds.

Anyway, needless to say, although I activated my Roku player for Amazon VOD services, I have never purchased a movie in that format. As for renting a movie from Amazon, I think Netflix is far more economical, even if you have to wait a bit for a disc and I can choose from hundreds of instantly available titles on my Roku device for free in the meantime.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

An elevator that takes you from hell to heaven

I subscribe to "Candelight Stories" and today I received an email including a post about a short film created by artist Marco Brambilla for installation in the elevators of the Standard Hotel in New York City. If you choose to go up in the elevator the film takes you from the depths of hell to the artist's vision of heaven. Likewise, if you descend, you travel from the euphoria of heaven to the artist's interpretation of hell. Quite an interesting application of multimedia. This film is in HD, however, so if your bandwidth is marginal like mine (1.5 Mbps DSL) the film will start and stop as it buffers the data download.

Civilization by Marco Brambilla from CRUSH on Vimeo.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

"Pernicious" Pricing and Increasing E-book Piracy

It looks like book publishers are now suffering the fate of media markets who have gone before them into the digital frontier. Best selling e-books are cropping up on self-publishing books sites offering free titles to the masses.

"For a while now, determined readers have been able to sniff out errant digital copies of titles as varied as the “Harry Potter” series and best sellers by Stephen King and John Grisham. But some publishers say the problem has ballooned in recent months as an expanding appetite for e-books has spawned a bumper crop of pirated editions on Web sites like Scribd and Wattpad, and on file-sharing services like RapidShare and MediaFire." More: NYTimes

Authors seem divided on their opposition to such activity. Harlan Ellison threatens pirates with medieval measures saying those that stick their hand in his pocket will draw back a bloody stump while other authors like Cory Doctrow offers free digital downloads of their books on the same day they are released to traditional bookstores.

“I really feel like my problem isn’t piracy,” Doctorow said. “It’s obscurity.”

Richard Sarnoff, CEO of the company that owns megapublisher Random House, seems to think the escalating problem of piracy is the result of publishers not offering services consumers want at a price they are willing to pay.

“If iTunes started three years earlier, I’m not sure how big Napster and the subsequent piratical environments would have been, because people would have been in the habit of legitimately purchasing at pricing that wasn’t considered pernicious,” said Richard Sarnoff, a chairman of Bertelsmann, which owns Random House, the world’s largest publisher of consumer titles. - More: NYTimes

I have a lot of respect for Random House since I have been a customer of their online audio books division,, almost since it's introduction. I think their monthly subscription program offers an excellent value for the money. But, I'm sorry, Mr. Sarnoff, but in my opinion the current pricing for Kindle editions of hard copy books offered on Amazon does border on the pernicious. So, it is not surprising the tide of online piracy for e-books is rising.

The publishing industry is saving huge amounts of money if they don't have to print, bind, warehouse and distribute hard copy books. According to some authors, publishers aren't even putting much effort into editing any more either. I see increasing evidence of this in the hard copy books I have been reading lately, finding them peppered with misspellings and poor sentence structure. So I find it incongruous that they demand almost as much for an e-book as a printed one.

Audio books require extensive investment in production, with the hiring of quality voice talent, rental or maintenance of a fully equipped recording studio, editing and mixing often including music and sound effects. E-books, though, in their current form, are little more than reformatted Word documents. If they don't include illustrations (which sadly, most fiction these days doesn't), most formatting can be totally automated using the digital file submitted by the author. Furthermore, consumers are asked to lay out higher and higher amounts for single-purpose viewing devices - much more than MP3 players that can play most audio books. The new large format Kindle costs more for a monochrome display device than a consumer pays for a well-endowed color-capable computer that can be used for a myriad of activities. No wonder e-reader manufacturers are nervous about Apple's announced plans for a color tablet.

I hope Random House will draw on its experience with Audible and develop a more reasonable pricing structure, hopefully accompanied by device subsidies if device manufacturers cannot (or will not) come down on retail prices.

Now if Amazon could talk some sense into the movie studios and get them to be more reasonable in their video-on-demand prices. I bought a Roku box to enable me to watch movies from my instant Netflix queue on my big screen TV and was excited when I got an e-mail announcing that the device would now support Amazon's video on demand service. But then I went up on Amazon and saw that they wanted almost as much to purchase a digital download - with no guarantee that the title would remain available indefinitely for download - than a hard copy DVD. Only a $2 difference? Give me a break! I am so anxious for video-on-demand to evolve into its full potential that I even went through the device authorization procedure but when it came down to it I just couldn't force myself to go through with the purchase, knowing if I waited a couple of months I could buy the regular DVD for just a little more than half the price.

Of course ultimately, what I would like to see is a slightly higher Netflix subscription that offers ALL of their titles digtitally available on demand. Surely it would be more profitable than having to maintain shipping centers and DVD inventories. Then if cable producers would offer their programming ala carte, we'd truly be in entertainment heaven!

Monday, May 04, 2009

Newspaper lifelines - large format e-readers and new subscription paradigms.

I was pleased to see that larger format e-readers may become available soon from Amazon as well as Apple and even the Hearst publishing empire. Although I appreciate the ability to pack a lot of reading material, music, and video content with me in the palm of my hand when I travel, I vastly prefer to read material in a larger format when I can relax at home. I'm also glad the device makers are painfully aware that widespread adoption of such devices will probably not begin until they break the color barrier. Users have become conditioned to high quality color graphics in most of the media they consume (me included) so have a tendency to balk at mere black and white offerings. We tend to think of the "Farmer Gray" days as the 1950s!

As for paying for subscriptions, I have no problem with that for high quality content, as long as the advertising to content ratio is not too high. I apply the same rule to my print subscriptions now. As a technology professional I am often offered free subscriptions to a plethora of technical magazines but so many amount to little more than an ad venue with content limited to canned PR releases. If that amounts to most of the content, I pass. In fact, at times I have had to almost argue with publishing sales people on the phone who insist that I "need" their publication to stay on top of technology developments when I refuse their offer for a free subscription.

I hope the publishing companies are thinking about what the shift in media can mean to their old traditional business model though. For example, if I see an article in an online subscription publication that is particularly interesting, I would like to share it with my friends without them having to have a full subscription. The frequency of article sharing could be managed by account settings.

Publishing companies should also hire someone to track news related to that month's feature articles and send out email updates to their subscriber base. This would be considered a value added service that would help justify payment for a subscription. This feature could include the ability for subscribers themselves to suggest other URLs for additional information about feature article topics, adding a social networking aspect to the subscription experience. In fact creating a social network environment for subscribers could prove attractive as well.

They say Amazon is working on a Kindle-like large format device. I hope device designers will keep in mind that many of us in rural areas can't get reliable cell phone signals at home, especially those in the "Empty Quarter" (that was what it was called at an Economic Development conference I went to years ago!) of the Great Basin (the high desert areas of Oregon, Idaho, Utah, Nevada and northeastern California) or the upper Rocky Mountain regions of Colorado, Wyoming and Montana. So, we need a device that has cell phone, USB, and WIFI download capability - similar to an iPhone with sort of an iNews version of iTunes.

Maybe this is what Apple is currently working on.

Then there is the looming presence of Apple, which seems likely to introduce a multipurpose tablet computer later this year, according to rumor and speculation by Apple observers. Such a device, with a screen that is said to be about three or four times as large as the iPhone’s, would have an LCD screen capable of showing rich color and video, and people could use it to browse the Web.

Even if such a device has limited battery life and strains readers’ eyes, for many buyers it could be a more appealing alternative to devices dedicated to reading books, newspapers and magazines.

Such a Web-connected tablet would also pose a problem for any print publications that hope to try charging for content that is tailored for mobile devices, since users could just visit their free sites on the Internet. One way to counter this might be to borrow from the cellphone model and offer specialized reading devices free or at a discount to people who commit to, say, a one-year subscription. - More: New York Times

I definitely like the idea of a "free" device with one or two year subscription like a cell phone. Paying full bore for my iPhone was painful - especially considering that I was required to pay an additional $30 per month for data access whether I use the web with my iPhone or not (which I hardly ever do - its like using excruciatingly slow dial up if you are not near a WIFI hotspot!). They say that is the reason Apple's iPhone sales have not been as strong as they expected.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Machine voice used for Zamzar text to MP3 conversion surprisingly good

Today's Computer Guy's Tech Tips mentioned an online text to MP3 conversion service named Zamzar and, since I'm a multimedia kind of gal, I had to try it out. I took three paragraphs of a blog post (203 words), saved it in Notepad as a .txt file and converted it. The result was a 311 kb .mp3 file that I opened in iTunes. As I listened to the .mp3 file I was pleasantly surprised to hear a voice that changed pitch and cadence with enough variation to be considered quite usable for things like closed captioning or even podcasting. It even did a good job of interpretation of proper names too.

Zamzar was obviously using a conversion tool with capabilities of the more advanced current text- to-speech software. Like many free services, free gets you the basics including conversion of a file up to 100 Mb. For $7/mo the file size maximum increases to 200 Mb. They also toss in 5 Gb of file storage. For $16/mo, the file size maximum increases to 400 Mb and storage to 20 Gb. For $49/mo you can convert a file up to 1 Gb in size and they give you 100 Gb of storage. Your file conversion priority in their processing queue also increases with each successive level of service.

Keen off base with declaration Web 2.0 is dead

I read an excerpt from a presentation delivered by so-called tech guru Andrew Keen who declared, "Web 2.0 is dead". - More:

Sensational statements like Web 2.0 is dead are just Tweet fodder in my opinion. Keen makes some good points about needing to introduce intimacy into web social environments but Keen would have you believe that we need to go (back) to platforms that moderate content for "professional" levels of contribution for money. Although this may play into the viewpoint of some institutions that disdain the quality of user-generated content, it fails to recognize the true value of unmoderated contributions. What makes Web 2.0 apps so liberating is that they remove the gatekeepers and let everyone have their say and share their experiences. Each individual is unique and brings a unique perspective to every discussion and brain storming session. If only self-styled "experts" are allowed to contribute, innovation and discovery will ultimately be stifled.

Just in my own relatively short life span (50+ years) I can point to revelations in cultural and scientific knowledge that were brought forward by contributors who were disdained by "experts" in the field.

Ray Kurzweil keeps prophesying that human and machine will eventually merge in the not too distant future. If we cannot retain our individuality we will become simply a subscript in a program written by somebody else.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Meshwerks vs. Toyota extends "lack of original creativity" concept to exclude copyright of wiremesh renderings

Yesterday I mentioned on the ning Museum3.0 discussion board that US courts have ruled that a digital reproduction of a 2-D work of art in the digital domain is essentially noncopyrightable. One of the members from Australia replied that she had never heard of this ruling before. I pointed out that I was referring to Bridgeman Art Library Vs. Corel Corp. and Googled this ruling to get a link for her to read more about it. I found that someone had posted information about the ruling on Wikipedia. I was surprised to read in the Wikipedia Article that another ruling, Meshwerks vs. Toyota, has extended the "lack of originality" concept to include wireframe renderings of existing three dimensional works as well.

The article also points out that UK museums continue to claim copyright but these copyrights would be essentially unenforceable for images used on a website hosted in the United States. The US courts essentially find the notion of "slavish copying" trumps the UK notion of "sweat of the brow".

I personally agree with the US ruling. If museums restrict access to public domain art by prohibiting visitor photography, the concept of public domain art is destroyed. Copyright would then have nothing to do with supporting creativity but bastardized into law enforcement for commercial activity based simply on possession of artistic work.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Adding multimedia and Web 2.0 elements to e-books the next step in media evolution

I found this article about Vook's effort to add multimedia elements to e-books quite interesting. The article points out that with the colorful covers and specially designed (?) fonts eliminated from e-books that they are in danger of becoming too bland to appeal to the younger generation of consumers raised on large helpings of internet multimedia.

"Bradley Inman wants to create great fiction, dramatic online video and compelling Twitter stream — and then roll them all into a multimedia hybrid that is tailored to the rapidly growing number of digital reading devices.

Mr. Inman, a successful Silicon Valley entrepreneur, calls this digital amalgam a “Vook,” ( and the fledgling company he has created with that name just might represent a possible future for the beleaguered book industry." - The New York Times

I've always thought the book industry's abandonment of in-text illustrations was a major mistake anyway. I love to pick up books from the 19th century (and earlier) and flip through them to view the illustrations that were often included within the text. In fact, I plan to take some of the books I inherited from my mother and scan the images within them and upload them to Wikimedia for possible use in illustrating online articles and Wikipedia entries since the artwork within them is now in the public domain. So, I think Mr. Inman has hit upon a very viable idea.

As a history enthusiast I think a line of history books that resemble a graphic novel rather than the dry textbooks we all grew up with would be far more fascinating. There is no reason video cannot be used as well as still images in e-book format, although to keep the cost down, some video may need to be produced with software like iClone or Crazy Talk, using virtual actors and sets instead of real ones. However, if a library of video clips of historical reenactors was available, they could be used as well.

I noticed that the BBC sells snippets of its video productions - most just a few seconds long - for £99 but this is still too expensive for classroom production. I told a friend of mine that, in addition to shooting still images licensed with Creative Commons for free non-commercial use and uploading them to Flickr, we should start shooting bits of video where appropriate, especially since Flickr now accepts video and animation. Many of the latest digital still cameras produce quite respectable video and with the dramatic drop in prices of SD cards and their increase in capacity, shooting video can be easily interspersed with still photography without packing around a lot of extra equipment.

Friday, February 27, 2009

PC to Mac Powerpoint Conversions - what a nightmare!

I completed that 50 slide Powerpoint presentation yesterday on my PC and took it over to the client's house to load it on their Mac laptop. I had saved all of the pieces in a folder that contained subfolders for Images, Music and Video that I had copied to a thumb drive (the presentation was over 2 Gb with all the related files). I copied to the Mac's desktop, then launched Powerpoint to see if everything kept its links and the fonts mapped properly.

The first problem was one of the fonts was not on the client's laptop. The client said just use the other font I used in the rest of the presentation - Lucida Calligraphy. At least that font mapped to the one on the Mac.

The next problem I ran into was the Mac did not recognize the Windows file hierarchy. Each embedded multimedia element wouldn't play and if I double clicked on it in the editing mode it said it couldn't find the file E:\MLCIT\... The E: drive was my working drive on my computer at home - ???. So I had to remap all of the multimedia elements to the files on the client's Mac.

Then when I had everything remapped, we went into View Slideshow and even though the .wmv movies played properly in edit mode (The client's tech support had installed Flip4Mac), only the audio played in View Slideshow mode and only the black box of the embedded video element placeholder was displayed.

So I transferred .mov versions of all the videos to the client's MLCIT folder and reinserted all of the videos. Everything seemed to play fine and I spent time with the client teaching her how to navigate and activate the multimedia elements that were not set to auto play. She loved the presentation and paid me on the spot although she gulped a bit at the final bill (with all the scanning of photos, image enhancements, ripping of CD music files and file conversions of both audio and video files, font installs and assembly, onsite conversions and training, it was over $1,000). I drove home and went out to dinner.

When we got back there was a frantic call from her on the voice mail. I called her back and discovered that after she closed Powerpoint and relaunched it again, the audio files would not play again and the program was prompting for them to be remapped even though I had been careful about saving all file changes. I talked her through remapping one of the audio files, had her do a File save, and close Powerpoint. When she reopened the file, Powerpoint was again prompting for the audio file we had just remapped!! So I talked her through deleting and reinserting the audio file, saving the file again, closing the file and reopening the file and this time it remembered the file location. I told her I would come back into town today and reinsert the audio files at no charge but she said if I would talk her through it we could do it together over the phone. So I talked her through reinserting the rest of the audio files and saving the file. I then had her close Powerpoint completely, relaunch it like she will do in Tulsa, and reopen the presentation and View Show. FINALLY, it played flawlessly.

This morning I did a little research on the problems I encountered and discovered (a bit late unfortunately) that this website ( says to avoid link breaks when you transfer a presentation to another location (apparently any other media - even a CD), it says you should place all objects in the same folder as the presentation. Here I was trying to be methodical and organized the presentation folder like I would a web site with subfolders for the various component types! They recommend embedding objects but admit that mp3s and movie files cannot be embedded. Powerpoint only links to them (because of the size probably). They suggest using .wav files that are then compressed with some third party utility to make them smaller (can you imagine how big the bill would have been if I had taken the time to individually convert and manipulate all the music files in addition to ripping them off of the CDs?) It still doesn't explain why the file remappings would not stick when remapping a Windows version inserted object. As for Flip4Mac, it might play .wmv files directly and even when Powerpoint is in edit mode but as soon as you switch to Slideshow mode, it fails. The website suggests ( that you use .AVI or Mpeg but my Powerpoint 2003 (on my computer at home) would not allow me to select Mpegs. So I would have had to use .AVI and with the number of videos we used I probably wouldn't have been able to fit the whole presentation even on a DVD! I'm afraid I am less than impressed with the cross-platform capabilities of Powerpoint. Filemaker has Microsoft beat hands down! I have never had any issues with transferring a Filemaker file from PC to Mac except to be aware of graphic format selection issues and slight font size variances. Never anything like this.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Digital Modeling combined with Still image texture maps used to bring Lincoln to life

I received an update about the upcoming special "Stealing Lincoln's Body" that shows a little more detail of the process used to bring Lincoln to Life using a combination of digital modeling from a life mask of Lincoln with still images of Lincoln that provided texture maps for wrinkled skin, hair, etc. I wish I could sit down with the animators and watch each step of the process!

Monday, February 02, 2009

Music industry set to embrace free downloads

I see the music industry has decided if you can't beat the pirates, join them! This article says 2009 will be a year in which many cellphone companies and online services providers start offering "free" unlimited as part of their service contracts. This development may not bode well for iTunes.

"Online and mobile services offering listeners unlimited “free” access to millions of songs are set to proliferate in the coming months, according to music industry executives.Unlike illegal file-sharing services, which the music industry says are responsible for billions of dollars in lost sales, these new offerings are perfectly legal. The services are not really free, but payment is included in the cost of, say, a new cellphone or a broadband Internet access contract, so the cost to the consumer is disguised. And, unlike pirate sites, these services provide revenue to the music companies."

Monday, January 26, 2009

$20 billion boost to online medical records systems sorely needed

Glad to see President Obama has earmarked $20 billion for bringing more medical records online. Believe me, it is terrifying to take someone suffering cardiac symptoms to the ER of the hospital that performed their open heart surgery and you are told the ER physicians can't find their records.

I guess some nay sayers are claiming it will take a long time to bring technology people up to speed to handle the new infrastructure. I agree with Greg Beese, head of the technology support firm Logic Group, who says he estimates that it would take only about two months for technology support professionals to become familiar with the medical-specific aspects of health care records. Database professionals understand the basic structure of related record storage and health care records are not that much different than storing legal records or anything else for that matter. Medical records require more multimedia container fields to store images and graphic data like ECGs but the real trick is not in the basic structure, it is in the proper tagging and cross tagging of data so interrelated causalities can be identified. That information will need to be provided by medical specialists - not technology specialists. Besides if existing systems can be leveraged as templates for systems not yet created, the conversion could be expedited.

Of course there are also the ultra paranoid in the crowd that are wide-eyed in terror over privacy issues. As long as sufficent encryption systems are placed to protect data from hackers, I don't see any reason to be any more alarmed about online medical records than online banking records. The biggest danger in shared medical records, whether paper or online, is the financial gain that could be made by insurance companies or medical groups "leaking" information to those willing to pay for it to reduce risk exposure. The current flap over Steven Jobs health and the impact it has on Apple's shares is a prime example of how certain health records could be coveted by those interested in reaping profits from the stock market. Still, a leak can occur whether the information is in hard copy or online. Placing information online may actually make such a leak easier to track. Record access logs are far more tangible than relying on a clerk's memory or trying to force a hostile witness to admit they have broken confidentiality agreements.

"The computerized records, when used properly, are an indispensable tool for measuring, tracking and improving patient care — yet only about 17 percent of the nation’s doctors are using them. They are commonplace at large medical groups, but 75 percent of doctors practice in small offices of 10 physicians or fewer.

Doctors often benefit from inefficiency, because the dominant fee-for-service payment system means they are paid for doing more — more doctor visits, tests, surgical procedures, pills.

“Paying to put computer hardware and software in physicians’ offices isn’t going to do anything unless you change the incentives in the system,” said Dr. David J. Brailer, former national health information technology coordinator in the Bush administration.

There are some experiments with a pay-for-performance approach, in which Medicare gives medical groups bonus payments for meeting certain benchmarks of quality care. Monitoring that performance requires electronic health records. Yet to date, these have been isolated tests.

“You want to pay for achievement — better health quality and efficiency,” said Dr. David Blumenthal, director of the Institute for Health Policy at the Harvard Medical School, who advised the Obama campaign. “But in the transition period, before financial incentives are reformed, you need to provide incentives or grants to use electronic health records because this technology is sort of the opening wedge to reform.”

Those eligible for grants to buy technology, a member of the Obama transition team said, will include inner-city and rural hospitals and small doctor practices. But most money, he said, will go to incentive payments to improve quality and safety of care."

But, I feel the rewards that could be realized in the advancement of treatment and quality of care will far outweigh these "chicken little (the sky is falling)" concerns.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Blogs serve as fodder for free printed dailies

Despite the headline-grabbing bankruptcies of an increasing number of sizeable newspaper empires, this start-up guru thinks he can use bloggers for the content in a new string of free printed dailies. I guess he's offering bloggers a percent of ad revenue if their article appears in a particular edition. He appears to be primarily interested in local news and images though, so unless you're visiting San Francisco or Chicago, you'd better not start counting your coins yet.

The Printed Blog, a Chicago start-up, plans to reprint blog posts on regular paper, surrounded by local ads, and distribute the publications free in big cities.

The first issues of this Internet-era penny-saver will appear in Chicago and San Francisco on Tuesday. They will start as weeklies, but Joshua Karp, the founder and publisher, hopes eventually to publish free neighborhood editions of The Printed Blog twice a day in many cities around the country.

“We are trying to be the first daily newspaper comprised entirely of blogs and other user-generated content,” he said. “There were so many techniques that I’ve seen working online that maybe I could apply to the print industry.”

As pay newspapers lose readers to the Internet, where they can read the same articles without charge, many free papers have held their own.

“The free newspaper business model is still very workable,” said David Cohen, a founder of Silicon Valley Community Newspapers, a group of free weeklies south of San Francisco that was sold to Knight Ridder in 2005 and is now owned by MediaNews. “There’s a huge readership that wants the local news, and local businesses tend to increase their advertising in bad times because they have to capture people’s attention.”

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

History Channel special to bring Lincoln virtually to life

This year is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln. In commemoration, The History Channel will be broadcasting a special, "Stealing Lincoln's Body" beginning February 16 at 9 p.m. EST. Many of us are aware of the thwarted attempts to steal and ransom Lincoln's corpse after it was delivered to Springfield, Illinois for burial, but, what caught my attention about this program is it's use of new visual graphics technology to present reenactments using photographs of Lincoln himself, not costumed actors.

[image - Abraham Lincoln at Madame Tussaud's in London, England]

"...the program features moving images of Abraham Lincoln, digitally created from actual historical photographs. For the first time, Lincoln walks and moves according to the historical record. The moving images and some of the stills showcase the first “virtual photography” of Lincoln and the only “virtual motion” pictures of him ever created. Using computer-generated imagery, it illustrates key sections of the story and brings them to life, often with startling effect.

These new photographs and moving images of Lincoln highlight a level of historical detail and information never seen before. Ray Downing of Studio Macbeth, who created these digital effects for STEALING LINCOLN’S BODY, explains the technique began as a kind of experiment using contemporary film technology. It gives the modern audience an opportunity to “gaze upon the noble face of our most beloved president, to see him walk down the street, to see him alive again…. Today’s technology allows us to achieve a level of photographic realism previously unattainable, with the added bonus of motion graphics."

Author and Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer , who is interviewed in STEALING LINCOLN’S BODY, says: The result—an uncanny, believable, realistic, living Lincoln—moving before our eyes as he must have in life, wholly imagined yet based on actual photos—took my breath away. Here is the man who lived, laughed, spoke, walked, for precious seconds practically born again.”

Here's a YouTube preview. Pay particular attention to the first few seconds - the animation is seamless!!

I have worked with a product called CrazyTalk by Reallusion to animate the faces of still images of sculptures of people from long ago and this Christmas I even used it to create an animation of my late father calling one last square dance for my other family members as a OOAK Christmas gift. I'm presently working on a project to combine such animation with artificial intelligence to enable website visitors to virtually "talk" to historical personalities using the historical sculptures of George Stuart.

So I am anxious to see how similar software can be used to create full length animation and virtual photographic reenactment.

The program's focus:

"After lying in state at the White House and at the Capitol (the nation’s first presidential state funeral), Lincoln’s body was carried by train in a grand funeral procession through several states and nearly two thousand miles, arriving in his hometown of Springfield, Illinois on May 4. However, his final burial would not take place until 1901, thirty six years later.

Before Lincoln finally came to rest in a steel-and-concrete-reinforced underground vault in Springfield , the President’s body was repeatedly exhumed and moved, his coffin frequently opened.

In 1876, 11 years after Lincoln 's assassination, a band of Chicago counterfeiters devised a fantastic plot to steal Lincoln ’s body and hold it for ransom. They wanted $200,000 and the release of the gang's master engraver who was in prison in Illinois . The Secret Service – recently formed to deal with the country's ballooning counterfeiting problem – infiltrated the gang with an informer. Yet it also set in motion a cringe-inducing chain of events in which a group of well-intentioned, self-appointed guardians took it upon themselves to protect Lincoln ’s remains by any means necessary.

Some efforts to protect the remains of the 16th President of the United States would prove to be equally misguided and macabre. Finally, in 1901, thirty six years after Lincoln ’s assassination, Robert Todd Lincoln had the body of his father interred in a massive concrete vault. The contrast between the nation’s reverence for Abraham Lincoln and the shocking manner in which his body had been treated is striking. This strange story of Lincoln at un-rest reveals how important this man was to so many, and perhaps our reluctance to let such a beloved and visionary leader go."

Teacher and student contests, original short form video about Lincoln ’s life and Presidency, related lesson plans, as well as instructions for how to donate to this campaign will be available online at .

STEALING LINCOLN’S BODY was produced for The HISTORY Channel by Left/Right. Productions.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Boxee may break the grip of tier-based broadcast services

Boxee may be just what we've all been waiting for to eliminate the gatekeeping of broadcast content by traditional cable and satellite providers. For years I have been frustrated by the "tier" system of purchasing broadcast content from first cable then later satellite television providers. Right now I have to pay for the maximum tier from Dish Network just to get History Channel International and the National Geographic Channel. They tout the tier as 250 America's best channels but we only watch about 15. I have no interest in using my television to play music. I have no interest in sports channels (and my husband doesn't either). I have no interest in religious channels or shopping channels or channels that blare the latest stock market reports (I can check the trading on particular stocks faster on the web). I don't have kids at home anymore so I don't need the cartoon channels, Nickelodian or the Disney channels. I'm not into racy programming so I don't need the adult channels. Netflix is far more cost effective than any of the Pay-per-view channels.

At least I have the ability to set up "Mary's favorites" so I don't have to scroll past all of the noise to select the few channels I want to watch. Even then, if I could watch programs on demand, I don't really need to constantly subscribe to even my preferred channels. The History Channel and the Military Channel rely far too heavily on old WWII newsreel footage to fill hours of programming time. Although the History Channel has been doing a little better lately, at one point in time people were calling it the "Hitler Channel". The Military Channel has also aired a few ancient warfare programs that were interesting too like "Warriors" and "The Battle for Rome" but spend most of their time acting as a running advertisement for US arms dealers and the Defense Department. Anyway, services like Boxee, in combination with websites offering on demand video, could finally put an end to this ridiculous business model that makes consumers spend so much money on product they don't even want. Of course I would have to wait for a PC version of the program and finally get around to giving up my Mitsubishi big screen TV and invest in some HD model.

"Boxee bills its software as a simple way to access multiple Internet video and music sites, and to bring them to a large monitor or television that one might be watching from a sofa across the room.

Some of Boxee’s fans also think it is much more: a way to euthanize that costly $100-a-month cable or satellite connection.

“Boxee has allowed me to replace cable with no remorse,” said Jef Holbrook, a 27-year-old actor in Columbus, Ga., who recently downloaded the Boxee software to the $600 Mac Mini he has connected to his television. “Most people my age would like to just pay for the channels they want, but cable refuses to give us that option. Services like Boxee, that allow users choice, are the future of television.”

The software, which is free and available for download at, works on Mac and Linux computers, and on Apple’s set-top box, Apple TV. A version of Boxee for Windows PCs is being tested among a limited group of users.

Boxee gives users a single interface to access all the photos, video and music on their hard drives, along with a wide range of television shows, movies and songs from sites like Hulu, Netflix, YouTube, and

Unlike the increasingly long and convoluted channel directories on most cable and satellite systems, Boxee offers a well-organized directory, which can be navigated using the remote controls that now ship with most computers."

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

House calls via webcam a step in the right direction

At last someone is taking virtual medical services seriously on a statewide scale. The article says insured patients pay $10 - they must mean $10 per virtual session.

I have read that some doctors now offer email contact to some patients too. I've been trying to get my doctor to do that for years but she doesn't want to communicate that much. Perhaps if doctors would subscribe to a secure Twitter-like service that would enable patients to post health updates like a running dialogue it would give doctors more insight into how their patients are actually doing on a regular basis instead of just seeing patients when they have a health crisis. Doctors or their assistants could scan the dialogues periodically and if they see a troubling pattern starting to emerge they could then proactively contact the patient before a crisis arises.

American Well, a Web service that puts patients face-to-face with doctors online, will be introduced in Hawaii on Jan 15.

Its first customer, Hawaii Medical Service Association, the state’s Blue Cross-Blue Shield licensee, will make the Internet version of the house call available to everyone in the state, the company said.

The service is for people who seek easier access to physicians because they are uninsured or do not want to wait for an appointment or spend time driving to a clinic, said Roy Schoenberg, co-founder and chief executive of American Well Systems, which is based in Boston.

Dr. Schoenberg, a physician, said that American Well had piqued the interest of policy makers in Washington who want to expand access to health care. Insurers in other states will soon offer the service, he said.

Patients use the service by logging on to participating health plans’ Web sites. Doctors hold 10-minute appointments, which can be extended for a fee, and can file prescriptions and view patients’ medical histories through the system. American Well is working with HealthVault, Microsoft’s electronic medical records service, and ActiveHealth Management, a subsidiary of Aetna, which scans patients’ medical history for gaps in their previous care and alerts doctors during their American Well appointment.

The Hawaiian health plan’s 700,000 members pay $10 to use the service. The insurer also offers the service to uninsured patients for $45. Health plans pay American Well a license fee per member and a transaction fee of about $2 each time a patient sees a doctor.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Available Apps Driving Consumer Phone Choice

A couple of weeks ago I posted an article about the popularity of music games that are now available for cell phones. Today, I read a new article that pointed out how the availability of thousands of new apps is becoming the determining factor on which phones consumers ultimately purchase:
"...With the advent of touch-screen technology and faster wireless networks, the new competition and cool factor [for cell phones] revolves around thousands of fun, quirky (and even useful) programs that run on the phones.

The popularity of such applications for Apple’s iPhone, the leader of the transformation, is driving a fierce competition among the makers of the BlackBerry and Palm devices, and even Google and Microsoft.

It heralds a new era in the allure of a mobile device — the phone is no longer a fashion statement but a digital bag of tricks...

...Since July, Apple has posted more than 10,000 programs to its App Store; 9 out of every 10 iPhone users have downloaded applications — more than 300 million over all, though those include software updates and repeat downloads. Some applications are free (like Stanza, which lets you download and read books) while others typically cost $1 to $10.

Other applications help users navigate roads, find friends and local restaurants, and play odd games, including one called Sapus Tongue, in which the user swings the phone to see how far he can fling an animated monkey on the screen.

Recognizing the business opportunities, the other major cellphone and software companies are getting into the app act.

Google recently introduced the Android Market, selling applications based on Android, its operating system for cellphones. In the spring, Research in Motion plans to introduce an application store for its BlackBerry devices. Palm is thinking of retooling its software strategy, while Microsoft is in the early stages of creating its own store for phones running Windows Mobile." - More: New York Times

I liked the application called Shazam that "lets users hold the phone up to a radio to identify within seconds what song is playing and by whom — and then give users a way to buy it on Apple’s iTunes Store, of course." Google also offers one that sounds really helpful called ShopSavvy, "in which users scan the bar code of any product using the camera built into the G1 smartphone from T-Mobile. The application, which is free, then searches for the best price online and delivers the information to the phone."

As usual, though, especially with a predominately young audience, the most popular application is a wacky simulation of the sound of flatulence available for 99 cents. Hey, at least they keep us from taking ourselves too seriously!!

I see that cell phone application development is also starting to attract some serious venture capital money. Apparently, Kleiner Perkins operates a $100 million fund for iPhone application developers.