Meetup adds ‘Chip in’ donation feature today

Perhaps you know already about Meetup.com, the site that anyone can organize any group on any topic. I have not been an organizer but have attended numerous meetups in St. Louis, and used the site to research people that I wanted to connect with when I traveled to other cities around the world in the past. Today Meetup organizers are getting a new incentive: the ability to add a “chip in” button so that members can donate cash to the group.

“We want to make it easy for supportive members to chip in on costs and help make Meetup groups even better,” according to a post on their blog this morning As of today, any group or event organizer can quickly add this feature. It is a pretty bold experiment and perhaps the widest expansion of crowdsourcing to date. To give you an idea of the scope of this work, there are nearly 200,000 meetups around the world organizing half a million events every month.

contributions 2The way it works is simple: a Chip In button on the Meetup home page will bring up a dialog box asking for your contribution, as shown here. You enter your payment information and you are done. It works on both web browsers and phone apps.

Meetups are a pretty low-budget affair, for the most part. Many organizers pay for the costs of running the meeting (beer and pizza are the usual enticements) out of their own pockets, or else try to find a corporate sponsor (such as the company who is hosting the meeting at their facilities), but the Chip In feature formalizes this and makes it easier to raise funds. About 2,000 Meetups have already been using the feature and have found it very helpful, as you can imagine. While Meetup.com won’t reveal how much money has been collected, I hear it is quite impressive.

My long-time colleague and friend Tristan Louis has been heading up this effort and he told me, “We’re trying to carefully introduce ways to help the organizers without requiring them to ask the uncomfortable questions surrounding money. We know that organizers often get stuck being the ones paying for the pizza and we want to change that dynamic by having everyone chip in.” Contributions aren’t mandatory, but we’ll see if the psycho-dynamics of the meetup changes as a result of them.

Ricoh blog: How Apple Pay Will Change Mobile Payments

Apple Pay could revolutionize mobile payments… or fall flat like so many before it.

Announced with the introduction of the iPhone 6, Apple Pay threatens to do what others have not: replace credit cards as a user’s go-to payment method.

Mobile payments have yet to take off in the United States for a variety of reasons. First of all, credit cards simply dominate our notion of how to pay for things. They’re accepted at every online storefront, and mobile credit card readers have made it possible for even the smallest operation to let customers take a swipe (so to speak).

I talk about how Apple Pay will change this landscape in my latest post for Ricoh’s WorkIntelligent.ly blog here.

 

A new kind of microscope

I heard about a new kind of microscope that you might find fascinating. It is made out of a sheet of paper and some spare parts, and costs about a dollar to fabricate. While you can’t yet buy one of them (the company is still ramping up), it is an intriguing idea.

I was thinking about when my parents bought my brother and me a microscope and a telescope when we were younger. I think that is one of those childhood events that triggered a lifetime of science exploration. We spent hours combing the backyard for specimens, and of course looking into various neighbor’s windows. Since we lived in the suburbs and every home was two stories, we eventually turned to the heavens to see stars too. Years later, I had a chance to meet an actual astronomer and got to visit his observatory and see a real telescope in action: that was a thrill.

Anyway, the $1 microscope is a product of a research project at Stanford University called a Foldscope. It gets its name from the fact that you have to cut and then fold the paper pieces in various ways to assemble it properly (shown below). How does it work? The Foldscope uses what is called ball lenses, which look like costume jewelry but are precision lenses that are created when a special optical-quality glue is applied. The researchers have found that the origami action can be carried out to quite close tolerances, and of course make it easier to ship the microscope to places where they haven’t been seen. Think if your typical airline magazine would include one instead of that silly dollar bill origami that they have been printing for years.

And these aren’t just for kids, although that is certainly one important application. I didn’t quite understand all the details, but apparently you can create a pretty good quality scope out for a buck, which I guess is the point. You can read an academic paper describing the Foldscope in detail here.

There are lots of other ways to build microscopes, including out of Lego bricks or using your cellphone’s camera or even a drop of water for a lens, and you can find references to them here. And of course there are various biology courses online that will teach you more about microscopy if you want to learn from some of the best college professors in the world too.

It is hard to imagine what the next generation of kids will think of all of this, but I find it pretty exciting!

Smile, your car is on candid camera

Last week I mentioned the Ford Trends conference that I attended in Dearborn. One of the sessions described an effort between Ford and Intel called Mobile Interior Imaging, or Project Mobii that I found fascinating.

As you might know, cars are coming with more cameras to keep track of their movements. There have been rear-facing cameras for years that are available to help backing into parking spaces or seeing heretofore hidden obstacles, and cameras are also on the side of vehicles and used for things like Ford’s parallel parking assist technology. I have been in several cars now that seemingly know exactly when and where to turn: all you have to do is shift from forward to reverse when the car tells you. And Ford has put a camera on the front of its pickup trucks, complete with a small washing device to keep the lens clean, to track tailgating and lane changes.

But the Intel Mobii project is all about cameras inside the vehicle. The idea is to recognize particular drivers and passengers and make the driving experience more personal, such as seat adjustment, contacts and music preferences displayed on the entertainment system. And, if an unrecognized driver sits behind the wheel, you will receive a photo of who is driving your car and could potentially disable the ignition system. Or perhaps a parent could prevent their car from being driven late at night or faster than a certain speed. Intel and Ford have developed apps for smartphones to track and monitor these functions. The mind boggles at the potential uses. Here is a short promo video that Intel developed.

Right now Mobii is just a research project, so don’t expect these interior camera systems anytime soon. But the spread of the parking assist technology has been very rapid. This time at the Trends conference I could use that technology to park in an empty spot between a row of cars in addition to the standard parallel parking situation. And the cameras on the outside of the vehicle also determine when you are drifting into another lane and warn you with either a vibrating steering wheel or gently moving your car back into the right lane position, which was amazing.

Mobii isn’t the only thing that Ford engineers are cooking up with advanced tech. At the conference, Don Butler, who runs the Connected Vehicles program, spoke about how the new Mustangs next model year will offer an advanced 911 response system. When you get into an accident, the car will call the nearest 911 PSAP and using a voice synthesizer tell the operator where you are and what is the condition of your car, whether air bags have deployed and how fast you decelerated. This is an enhancement to similar technology that is already in more than 7 million Fords on the road today, leveraging their Sync entertainment system. Speaking of Sync, they are also looking at the collection of massive system data from all of the cars in a certain geographic area. This could be useful during the next polar vortex to determine if Ford should change engine settings to better handle the colder weather, as an example.

As you might imagine, car owners have to opt-in to share all this data with Ford. Certainly, there are privacy issues to consider, but I like what they are doing and it was exciting to see some of the advances first-hand.

 

The many ways of car sharing

Many millennials are moving back into cities and forgoing car ownership, a combination of opportunities and cost savings. It has been interesting to watch this trend play out, given that I didn’t own a car myself until I was 30 and moved to the sprawling Los Angeles.

Back in the days when I was carless, the rental options were pretty simple: you got to the airport or a downtown hotel and rented one by the day or by the week. But unlike my own experience, today’s urban dwellers have lots of choices with car sharing, short-term rentals, expanded cars-for-hire and better mass transit options. Some cities have a bountiful collection that is almost dizzying, while others are still trying to figure out the right mix.

It is somewhat ironic that I am writing this column today, while I am visiting Ford in Detroit and participating in their annual trends conference. Certainly, they are very aware that car ownership and usage is changing.

Take car sharing. Now you have Car2Go, ZipCar, Carshare Occasionalcar.com and others. You sign up and pay a small membership fee to have your driver’s license and credit card registered with them. You download an app for your smartphone that tells you the real-time location of your car. You then reserve the car and have 20 minutes or so to get to the car, swipe your magnetic entry card, put the key in the ignition and off you go. You are charged by the minute you occupy the car, which varies depending on the service. When you are done, you park the car at any parking meter or legal parking spot in the area of service and walk away. You don’t pay for gas or parking or tolls. ZipCar has required parking spots that are typically near universities or downtown areas.

When I visited my daughter last week in Denver, I got to see first hand how easy it was. We got a Car2Go to take a short trip that cost all of $4. The car she reserved was just a few blocks away, and we could park it a block from our destination.

Short-term rentals include Enterprisecarshare.com and Hertz247.com, divisions of both major rental firms. They work similarly to the car sharing services, except that you have to return them to specific locations. Enterprise will bring you to your car, or vice-versa. Unlike the regular daily car rentals from these companies, younger drivers are allowed, which is good since both are going after the college market.

And there are the taxi-like services such as Uber and Lyft that hire drivers and either their own cars or ones provided by the company to pick you up. My daughter is a big fan of Lyft and actually prefers their drivers to the standard hacks, telling me that the drivers and their cars are both more pleasant.

My friend Bill Frezza, writing in Forbes, says that the rise of these alternative car services will give regular taxi companies fits. He cites some interesting statistics too.

Indeed both Uber and Lyft are involved in litigation as the established taxi services try mightily to hold on to their cartels. Here in St. Louis, Lyft was blocked from even opening for business with lawsuits. It reminds me of the days when DSL providers were first trying to enter the broadband market and they were blocked by the established telcos until they could deploy their own legal armies and get the public utility commissions to open things up. Of course, now DSL is mostly provided by the telcos.

Where will all this end up? I don’t really know. But my daughter is glad about the range of options available to her, and is happy to continue using these services and being free of owning a car for now.

The ultimate last mile technology: the Kwikset Kevo lock

IMG_1297
The cable and phone companies have all sorts of argot to talk about how they work with us, the great unwashed public that is their customers. I have written about this before, and found this from 1999:

Given the vocabulary, it isn’t any surprise why both cable and phone utilities have such disdain for you, its customer. I mean — last mile and truck rolls — shouldn’t these be called the first mile and service calls? Maybe by changing the terms we can improve attitudes and service levels.

But the ultimate last mile technology (or first mile, if you will) is becoming very personal indeed: it the distance from your pocket (or purse) to your front door. Let me explain.

A few weeks ago I got the Kwikset Kevo Bluetooth-enabled lockset. I wanted to see what all the fuss was about and put it through its paces. Now, I should state right up top that I am not one of those handy guys. My father believed that any tool besides a hammer and a screwdriver was superfluous, and I have adopted that philosophy in spades for my own lifestyle. Usually, I mess things up more than I can fix them. So I approached this Kevo project with some trepidation.

I unpacked the box and laid out all the different pieces, including several instruction manuals (see the photo above). The first thing I did was read all the manuals. Then read them again, just to make sure that I knew what I was getting myself into. One mentioned that I might need a chisel if my door wasn’t the right size. Uh oh. There were also various measurements that I needed to take to see if the lockset fit the openings in my door. This meant that I would have to take apart the existing lock to get the right measurements. Another uh oh. Did I mention that I don’t do measurements very well either?

I put everything back in the box and the box on a high-enough shelf. I wasn’t ready to tackle this project. Besides, I had other deadlines to meet, and what if I screwed things up so royally that I wouldn’t have a lock on my office door?

A week or so later, I realized that I was being ridiculous and a wimp. After all, the PR rep said it was pretty easy install, and we all know that PR reps always speak the truth. So now I was doubly challenged to get this done. I got everything out again and started the install process. I was surprised: it took less than a hour, and that was going slowly and measuring things three times just to make sure. My new lock was up and working just as it should be. I didn’t need a chisel, either. Whew.

The lock comes with three different access methods: a traditional metal key, a special key fob, and an iOS app that you can load on the more recent iPhones. Next problem: my iPhone was one generation old enough where the app wouldn’t work. Did I waste my time with the Kevo? Not really. Because now I have a lock that can open just by touching it, as long as I have the fob in my pocket.

I was surprised at how convenient this “last mile” technology is, because often I am carrying all sorts of packages and stuff into and out of my office. Not having to fumble for a key is a real nice thing. And having an app will be useful when I have guests that stay at my office (it doubles as a guest room), provided my guests have more recent iPhones than I. Not to mention the coolness factor of having such a lock.

There are lots of folks working on Internet-enabled watches as interfaces for their phones, and other Internet-of-Things devices for the home. Having not to get anything out of your pockets or purses to use them is going to be a Very Big Deal, indeed. As long as the batteries inside the lock continue to work.

Online medical diagnosis, from the doctor’s perspective

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When it comes to self-diagnosis and treatment, the Internet can either be your own Dr. Frankenstein or Marcus Welby M.D. Or somewhere in between. The problem is, without professional help, you may never know whose advice you’re getting. Without knowing it, you can either Google yourself scared, or lull yourself into a state of false security. In all likelihood, you can also waste a lot of time chasing down what is supposedly wrong with you.

Back in the olden times, say 20 or so years ago, we couldn’t do much with online medicine. The best data was locked away from the public. Medical research was only available at university libraries, or through expensive portals. That has changed somewhat, but I wanted to hear from some actual practitioners. So I asked two family doctor friends of mine, Patricia Boiko and Karl Weyrauch who are digitally savvy to put some of their suggestions down about doing online medical research. Here is their report.

We use a variety of digital tools in our daily practice, and even have iPads that we can look things up when a patient brings in their own links and references. Take one of our patients for example: She is an 89-year old grandma who was trying to sort out the results of a lab test known as “Hemoglobin A1c”. It’s a test to find out how high a person’s blood sugar has been over the past three months.

In this case her search took her to results for the word “hemoglobin” rather than “A1c”. Hemoglobin, a measure of one’s red blood cells, tells if a person is anemic or not. It is not the same as “A1c”. It is usually better for the A1c number to be low, but for the hemoglobin number to be high.

So, our patient found out that her number was extremely low for hemoglobin and thought it was bad, not realizing that it was a perfectly normal number for her “A-1c”. She thought she was in dire straits when in she was sailing along just fine. Only after scaring herself silly did she come to us to figure out what was going on. What relief she felt to learn that everything was hunky-dory!

Another one of our patients, a 50-year old woman, came in with an Internet search producing a diagnosis of a rare disease called “Lynch syndrome”. She had been to a breast surgeon for treatment of breast cancer, and a gynecologist for treatment of cancer of the uterus. When she learned that she had a third cancer in a colon polyp removed by her gastroenterologist during colonoscopy, she went on-line to learn more.

She searched for the polyp diagnosis and read that all three of her cancers might be related if she really had this rare disease. When she brought in the printout with her search results, all we had to do was read it and report that she was right on. There is nothing like a light-speed review of the medical literature to pinpoint a rare association of multiple cancers in the same person.

So what’s the moral of these two cases?

You should certainly go ahead and search online to find out more about your medical condition and treatment options. But don’t leave diagnosis to a brain-dead machine, or even a billion-dollar search engine that tries to “not be evil.” What really counts is medical judgment that only comes from human experience and learning from past mistakes. And there’s still a lot of work to be done before that computer code gets debugged.

Back to Strom. I asked my doctor friends what sites they actually use, they suggested UpToDate.com. It is a bit pricey for the lay public, and probably not going to be used by someone who is just searching for something ad hoc. I use a combination of WebMD and MayoClinic.com to start off my own searches. What else should patients do when they prepare for their next doctor visit? My friends suggest you should bring all of your medications in the original bottles and all the herbs and over-the-counter remedies that you take. Their practice has a mobile app where they can do everything from lookup treatment options to re-order meds to communicate with other doctors in their practice.

If your doctor doesn’t “do Internet” then you could bring in a printout of some of the things you found online. In the end, my doctor friends say: “I don’t think the issue is whether or not physicians are tech friendly or not. I think the issue is one of frustration with a patient self-diagnosing. If the physician is not willing to listen to ideas about self-diagnosis or the patients ideas for their care then perhaps they want to get another physician who will.” Well put. I remember one doctor that I no longer see, he was always in a rush. When he finished with his diagnosis, he really didn’t want to hear my point of view. He indicated this by having his hand on the doorknob and trying to make a quick exit from the exam room. I found another doctor quickly after that.