The Next Step

Sep 29 2014 Published by under General Health

So I have been working with my standing desk for some time now. I have gotten comfortable with upright posture for most of my office duties, so I thought I would up my game and add physical activity.

Turns out an under-the-desk treadmill is $600 minimum. I'm not that ready for commitment. One website showed a standard treadmill that you could detach the handrails from, but I am not up for that sort of project.

StepperInstead, I spent $50 for a stair-stepper. It requires no power source. You can buy them at a variety of price points with various bells and whistles, but I went low-tech here. I have it set on the lowest tension.

It does take some time to get used to the stepping while you do stuff. I usually take calls without stepping, but I am able to write this blog post while I'm working my butt.

Only disadvantage I can see is that I am climbing a staircase to heaven but my Fitbit registers it as steps, not stairs. Oh, well, I'm burning extra calories.

So far I'm pretty happy with this investment. For the first time since I moved to Oklahoma I can easily get inm 10,000 steps without setting foot in the gym.

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Give a Bit of Yourself

Feb 14 2014 Published by under Gadgets, gizmos


The best Valentines are personal, especially if you are a Special Snowflake whose descendants will honor you in perpetuity. To this end, you can leave offspring born and unborn your DNA, preserved at room temperature for all time in the DNA Time Capsule:

This is the patented, triple-sealed time capsule that securely stores your genetic fingerprint for use by future generations. Preserving one's DNA in the present enables future scientific advances to reveal any predispositions to disease—currently undetectable by today's methods—a family's genetic makeup may bear. Dispensing with the need for long-term refrigerated storage in a lab, a chemical matrix of dissolvable compounds stabilizes DNA within a blood sample at room temperature (blood provides a higher quality and quantity of DNA than samples taken from cheek swabs), preserving the sample for over 100 years. A blood sample can be taken at your preferred medical facility or using the included kit. Once a sample is secured within the capsule, it can be stored within a home or bank lock box for decades until one's progeny submits it for genetic analysis.

Yup, for just under $300 you can leave your genetic code behind for at least a century! Now I am unclear on why your descendants would want to test your DNA rather than just doing their own ("Look Grandpa could have developed dementia if he hadn't been hit by that train!"). Maybe researchers might want to pinpoint when a mutation occurred in a kindred, but that would be for research not any practical benefit (that I can see) to your future relatives.

Maybe I am missing something that the good folks at Hammacher Schlemmer thought about, but I seriously doubt it. They just have a gizmo to sell, and they hope someone with $300 to spare will buy it.

Personally, I would rather have a giftcard for shoes.

Happy Valentines Day anyway!


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Jun 27 2013 Published by under etc, Gadgets, gizmos

My name is Pascale, and I am a geek.

I love electronic gizmos and gadgets, so I am always on the look-out for that app that will transform my life in some way. A few weeks ago, I downloaded Tempo AI to try on my iPhone. I am officially in love.

The AI stands for artificial intelligence, and this app tries to be your omniscient personal assistant. When you make an appointment, it scans your email and attachments for appropriate documents related to the meeting. Running late? If you have entered your next appointment's attendees, you can send them messages via the app. If your flights are on your calendar, it will track them and update.

Today I used its conference call feature for the first time. I opened my call appointment, and my iPhone dialed the main number. It then listed my passcode in a button on my phone screen: no awkward skipping through the phone for the passcode, and no scribbling it on a sticky note.

Here's their overview video:

Tempo is free right now. It is a pretty amazing app from the same folks who brought us Siri, far more useful than Apple's native calendar app. I use mine with my Outlook Calendar and Email plus two other email accounts (3 is the current limit). It also connects with Facebook, so you can post birthday greetings directly from your calendar. LinkedIn connections provide rich information about contacts and meeting attendees.

I was hoping, given the relationship between Apple and these developers, that Tempo would be the default calendar app for iOS 7. Since it is not, download it and give it a try. I think you will love your new assistant, even without voice recognition.

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Advice for #Scio12 Noobs

Jan 09 2012 Published by under [Information&Communication]

Last year was my first to attend Science Online. Yes, I was a Noob! This year, as a seasoned veteran, I can provide some advice for those of you entering this wonderful group for the first time.

  1. When it comes to electonic gizmos, more is more. This conference generates more bandwidth than anything else I attend. Find yourself in a session that's not what you expected? Pull up the live-feed of the others and change rooms. Some adventurous souls will try to live-blog sessions, while many of us settle for twitter-notes. Virtually everyone will be juggling laptops, tablets, and smart phones. That's who we are, for the most part. Don't have a smart phone? This is the place to get an overview (AKA knock-down, drag-out debate) on the relative merits of Android vs. iPhone platforms, especially if you get the right two people together in the bar. You have been warned.
  2. You will feel welcomed. The group tends to be quite friendly, and your first task will be to hug Bora, the Godfather of Science Online (if you have had your flu shot, of course). I remember people running up to me, exclaiming how good it was to meet in real life! Since many bloggers use pseudonyms, I had NO IDEA who some of these folks were, at first. For some, I still don't know a real-life name, even though I feel like we have a great bond!
  3. Try not to stare open-mouthed at your heroes. Meeting some of these writers can produce feelings of awe (yes, some of us are science groupies), but they are just as friendly and welcoming as the rest of the crowd (see #2). Want your books autographed? Bring them along!
  4. Ocean bloggers are at least as welcoming as the rest of the crowd; however, they seem to have an alcohol tolerance well above the rest of us (and I have NEVER felt like a light-weight at any other meeting). Does this have something to do with time at sea? I don't know. Just be careful. You have been warned (and neuroscientists, don't get snitty; my experience is that the ocean crew can outdo you).
  5. Be prepared to bring extra stuff home. Even with the new swag policy, I suspect we may need to check a bag and tote home an extra bag of new acquisitions. I still have my Sigma Life Science Magic 8 Ball on my desk. Yup, it made the cut for the move. Sometimes it provides the clearest, most logical solution to a daily conundrum.
  6. Be prepared for an amazing experience. Science Online was like visiting the Mother Ship; nowhere else have I encountered this many people who, like me, love science, the written word, and online communication.

If you're a Science Online Veteran, feel free to leave your tips in the comments below. If you're a 2012 noob with a question, ask in the comments and you will get answers. I promise!

14 responses so far

Monday Musings on Work

Sep 26 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

Fast Company posted a piece dealing with workplace distractions today. Their sources estimate that workplace distractions, those that take us off-task, cost our economy over $10,000 per worker per year.

What's a loyal employee to do? The article includes 3 suggestions:

  • Turn off alerts. Email and instant message alerts are one of the biggest causes of interruptions. One study found that 71% of people answer IM alerts within 2 seconds, and 41% of people respond to email alerts within 15 seconds. Turning these off will do wonders for productivity.
  • Off-site, out of mind. If you have work that requires deep thought or creativity, like writing or coming up with new ideas, find a quiet place outside the office, like a library or study, where there are fewer distractions.
  • Be "alone in the crowd." Follow Petrarch’s 650-year-old advice and find a way to shut out the world in crowded spaces. For example, work in a café with a pair of headphones. Many people find it easy to shut out distractions when they are not targeted at them.

It's laminated; you can see my reflection!

Anyone who hasn't turned off email alerts should stop reading right now and do that on the computer and smart phone and iPad and anything else with updates. Really- what are you waiting for?  My phone still alerts me to texts because these can be more urgent than email. In my world, the urgency scale goes from snail mail (most official but least urgent) to email to text to phone call.

The piece missed one of my favorite techniques, the closed door. This one won't work if you live in a cubicle farm, but closing the door sends a message that you are, ins some  way, unavailable. I have signs for my door letting people know if I am out, on a conference call, or in with the door closed. The latter lets people with truly urgent stuff know that they can knock.

The article has advice for organizations as well:

  • Create email policies. Limit the number of email recipients for a given message. Limit the length of an email thread, and encourage people to pick up the phone instead of sending endless emails. Discourage the use of email’s "cc" capability.
  • Create meeting policies. Not all meetings need to be an hour or a half hour. Shorten meetings and make sure computers are closed (unless needed for note taking), phones are off, and insist that texting is strictly verboten.
  • Reduce context switching. Workers change windows 37 times an hour, on average, according to the New York Times. We use too many applications to get work done. We spend the day cutting information from one window into another; all this toggling is sapping us of our ability to work. New collaboration tools are actually making things worse. Forrester Research found that 61% of organizations have invested in 5 or more collaboration tools, but that most of them are not being used effectively. At one of my recent seminars, one participant went as far as to say, "If I have to use one more productivity tool, I won’t get ANY work done." The key is to make what you have already work better by integrating them so typical workflows like document and knowledge sharing are contained in a work context

I can't argue with most of these suggestions, although encouraging phone use can have the opposite effect. I hate to sit through a ringing phone, and using it more could increase interruptions. The phone should be used for stuff that requires an answer soon (like many patient care questions) or those where lack of a paper trail is a good thing. If it can wait 24 hours, use email.

Any other ideas out there for staying on task?

6 responses so far

What I Am Reading: No, Really Edition

May 20 2011 Published by under What I'm Reading

First, this is post #200 since the inception of WhizBANG! on August 8, 2010. Please leave congratulatory comments below for this artificial milestone that I only noticed when I logged on to post.

Yesterday evening, the following headline caught my attention:

Kindle Books Now Outselling Real Books on Amazon

Unreal books? Ghost books? Undead books?

I received a Kindle for Christmas in 2009. I was reading eBooks via an iPod app for about 6 months at that point. I got my iPad in October 2010. Frankly, I try not to buy dead tree books any longer.

So what am I reading if not "real books?"

I'm waiting for my answer, Mashable.

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Cool, Cheap and Handy

May 03 2011 Published by under [Etc]

I picked up some supplies at Staples this morning, and a big vat of color called me over:

Flexible Calculator $3.99 at Staples

The device also comes in an almost-clear gray color. The only portion that does not flex is the display/battery compartment.

Pulling up the calculator app on the computer, BlackBerry, or iPad takes too long when you want to do something simple, like add a couple of  numbers. My old freebie from EB10 died last week, probably the result of one too many trips to my floor. I would have linked to it at Staples Online, but I cannot find this little number on their web page.

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What I Am Reading: Gadget Edition

Mar 29 2011 Published by under [Science in Society], What I'm Reading

Faithful readers may recall this post highlighting my gear for Science Online: BlackBerry, iPad, Netbook, LiveScribe pen, and digital camera, all packed for North Carolina. You may have guessed that I love gadgets. And you would be correct.

Available April 1

Last week I received When Gadgets Betray Us: The Dark Side of Our Infatuation with New Technologies by Robert Vamosi. I was delighted to have a book to distract me from the demise of my NCAA tournament brackets, although the story does not leave you with a secure feeling. No, Vamosi points out how vulnerable all of our technologies make us.

For example, cars require more computing power than my first Mac Plus. Various modules have been added over time, and many of them communicate with each other or with a central computer wirelessly. Now, most manufacturers did not worry about security issues; why would anyone want to hack your tire pressure monitoring system?

Answer: To toss in nonsensical code that disables monitors.

Researchers from University of California, San Diego, and the University of Washington created software that can attack these systems:

More ominously, they could falsify readings from the fuel guage and speedometer, disable the antilock brakes, selectively brake individual wheels on demand, and even stop the engine. The researchers found that they could do this even while the car was speeding down a highway.

All of these electronic control units have firmware that can be renewed, but no way to authenticate the source of an upgrade: ought not be possible to rewrite the firmware on a brake component - that's a safety issue - yet they found they could. Nor should it be possible to rewrite the firmware while the care is in motion; yet, the researchers found they could do this as well.

Car manufacturers are beginning to respond to these issues. Can you imagine some subversive near a major freeway, disabling braking systems at rush hour? Even if they can only access one brand of automobile, chaos and carnage would result.

Sections on ever-present radio frequency identification (RFID) tags, found in items we buy, work ID cards, and many passports, also prove frightening, especially in the realm of identity theft and workplace security.

I think my favorite story involved a team learning to hack San Francisco's electronic parking meters. The researchers wandered about with a portable oscilloscope and a special card that fit into the smart card slot on the meter, allowing them to monitor and capture all electronic communication between the card and the meter:

It looked odd, [Jacob] Appelbaum said, standing there on the curbside with a circuit board jammed into a parking meter, wires trailing out; yet, he joked, "In San Francisco, if anyone ever asks, you explain, 'It's for an art project,' and no one will think twice about it."

When Gadgets Betray Us will make you think twice about many daily activities and the free wi-fi at your favorite coffee shop. Am I ready to give up my BlackBerry or iPad? Hell, no! But I won't do any wireless banking at Panera. You never know what that dude with the muffie is doing on his laptop.

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Continuing Medical Education: Where Have We Been?

Modern medical education in the US began a century ago with the publication of the Flexner report which condemned the "system" of the time for excessive commercialization, unstandardized curricula, and lack of efficacy for actual patient care. This document led to radical reforms and regulation of medical education, the end result of which is today's system.

Around the same time, practitioners began to make note of efforts to provide ongoing education. The first documented continuing medical education (CME) program was the "Blackburn Plan." Weekly one-hour sessions taught basic science and treatment techniques to general practitioners with the opportunity for questions and answers. Sounds a bit like current grand rounds to me - except without PowerPoint.  The first medical school to open a dedicated CME unit was the University of Michigan, and they were one of the original "regional centers" for coordinating CME programs in the 1930's. Others included Albany and Tufts. Regional medical schools and their teaching hospitals provided ongoing programs for the smaller hospitals and practitioners in their locale. The first recorded "center" for CME arose in 1936 at the University of Minnesota.

After World War II, new technologies made advances in CME delivery possible, including color television (1948), telephone conferences (1951), and two-way radio (1956). As technology provides new toys, CME takes advantage of them. How many webinars and other online "learning opportunities" happen everyday? Difficult to answer, but my google search produced 7,850,000 results for "CME online courses."

The American Medical Association (AMA) has long advocated CME via its Physician Recognition Award (PRA); the AMA/PRA Category 1 Credit(TM) is the coin of the realm for CME in the US, a currency established by the AMA in 1968. Even before this level of involvement, the AMA tracked CME in the US. In 1946, 47 medical schools offered 491 courses. By 1966, CME no longer belonged to medical schools but to sponsors, of which there were 252 offering more than 1600 courses. Over the next 10 years these numbers doubled again (with 554 sponsors offering 5,000 approved courses), and more than 9,000 offerings from more than 1,000 sponsors by the mid-1980s. Tracking down current numbers can be challenging, given the explosion of offerings available through various venues now.

The funding of CME also changed over time as providers have moved from schools to sponsors. Today direct commercial support provides 38% of the $2,184,353,716 in CME income taken in by nationally certified providers. Advertising and exhibits at activities provides another 13% of the total, according to the 2009 report of the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education. This commercial support of CME raises concerns about conflict of interest and the nature of CME as a marketing activity. Even though efforts have been made to resolve these issues, the monetary support from drug and product manufacturers remains a concern.

Even with all the money and gizmos that go into today's CME, most programs remain similar to the "Blackburn" courses at the turn of the last century. Most states require some level of CME attendance for maintaining a medical license; however, the rationale behind CME choices and the efficacy of many programs remains unknown. In other words, we have no evidence that current CME improves physician knowledge, let alone patient outcomes! I suspect many physicians choose CME as much for convenience of the offering or the location of the course as for their educational interest and needs.

CME research can only be aided by the recent call for change from the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies. Redesigning Continuing Education in the Health Professions (released December 4, 2009) calls for more research into effective ongoing professional development examining practice improvement and patient outcomes as end-points. Its authors and others in the CME community feel the time may be right to form a national continuing education institute to coordinate such efforts and to shift funding from commercial sources.

More reading:

Image adapted from PhotoXpress.

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An App For That!

Aug 29 2010 Published by under [Etc], Fashion (or not)

Fantasy shoe shopping leagues?

This week I downloaded a sweet little app to my iPod Touch. Today's Shoe features a new selection from the Bergdorf Goodman shoe boutique 7 days a week. Yes, even on weekends (cannot attest to holidays yet)!

So far, the selections I have seen run about $2,000 per pair. You can purchase via the app, or even browse other available shoes. These beauties (meaning the shoes in general; I do not dream of gladiator sandals such as seen in the app screen shot) are out of my league, but they will remain in my dreams. This app will inspire me as I stroll the aisles at DSW and other venues in my price range.

The app is free; the shoes are not. Still great fun for those of us addicted to the well-shod foot.

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