- Get people to donate old cell phones to a recycling company
- Get recycling company to assign each phone a value
- Use value to trade for refurbished phones
- Donate refurbished phones to clinics in developing countries to use for sending health-related text messages
- Good begets good
Phone Riff: Hope Phones, Healthy Texting, Conflict Minerals, Ecological Intelligence, Blue Sweaters and Doing the Right Thing
Hope Phones is one of those “Gosh, yes!” ideas:
Last week, the World Health Organization ratcheted up its pandemic rating for swine flu (aka H1N1) all the way to an unprecedented “pandemic imminent” level 5, with a top-of-the-chart 6 considered inevitable. Was it time to wear masks? Stock up on Tamiflu and canned goods? Update wills? Pull out old high school lit-class copies of The Decameron?
Well, no. At least not yet. Plenty of people got sick, but is was mostly run-of-the-mill seasonal flu-style misery. Fevers, aches, pains, head-aches, gastrointestinal woes. In the jargon of the public health set: “mild.” Yet swine flu remains an imminent pandemic and will likely be once all the cases are tallied up.
What’s wrong with this scale?
Quite a few things, it turns out. But the biggest complaint from doctors (including my neighbor, a hospital administrator at a major medical center in Chicago) has been its emphasis on viral spread rather than severity of illness.
If a picture is worth 1,000 words, then surely a GigaPan is worth a million. For a little over a year, a team at Carnegie Mellon University has been promoting a camera robot — originally developed by NASA to snoop around Mars — for home-planet use. The unit, which can be used with almost any digital camera, costs just under $300, but the “stitching” software that creates the signature zoom & pan panoramas, is free. Also, unlike Microsoft’s Photosynth, it is compatible with both Mac and Windows. (National Geographic partnered with Microsoft Live Labs to create Photosynth images of global landmarks, which, unfortunately, cannot be viewed from my MacBook.)
The images are stunningly addictive. Like Peter Parker-turned-Spiderman, you’ll find yourself able see farther, deeper and with more clarity than you’d ever imagined. Surprisingly, it doesn’t take long to get past the realization that privacy as we knew it is gone. With police cameras at every intersection, surveillance cameras everywhere else (including the new 5-eyed wonder from Scallop Imaging that takes up about as much space as a light switch) and Google Earth, perhaps we’ve known it’s been gone for while. Now, at least, we get to share the pictures.
Bio photonics. Until yesterday, when a story on Wired magazine’s website about a “MacGyveresque” cell phone lit up Twitter universe, I hadn’t a clue. This particular cell phone, developed by Aydogan Ozcan’s lab at UCLA, doubles as a cytometer that can analyze blood cells for disease based on the cells’ light diffraction signatures. In short, rapid diagnostics literally at the speed of light in a portable package that fits in the palm of one’s hand. And as a cherry on the good news sundae, all the physical parts — an LED, a webcam, the phone itself — are off the shelf and cheap.
The implications for public health, particularly in poor developing countries, are, of course, enormous. This also has the potential to be a game-changer across the board, putting a “lab” in every doctor — or community health worker’s — pocket, dramatically reducing the time and cost of tests. Imagine: health-care costs that go down. (Although, as my colleague Ed Jezierski at InSTEDD points out, if it turns out that proprietary component of the test is expensive, the bargain disappears.)
The Wired story was grouped on TrackerNews with a Technology Review article providing a more detailed explanation of the imaging system (which can also be used for testing water):
The search for good links for TrackerNews has been an adventure. Why should “bots” have all the fun crawling the web for tasty content? Those over-achiever algorythmic bits of code will catch on to what I’ve been doing soon enough. For now, there is room for all in the cyber-universe.
TrackerNews could be described as a sort of artisanal aggregator. Content isn’t driven by datelines, but contextual relevance (a nod to Alta Haggarty for that wonderful phrase). It is about creating an interesting mix and match, grouping stories (breaking news, research, blog posts, websites, book reviews, e-books, in print, audio, video) to deepen understanding and/or make it easier to see connections.
TrackerNews is also not limited by RSS feeds. No matter how many feeds one gathers, there is always much more to be mined from the web. Also, most feeds skew toward breaking news, or what’s popular. Tracker mixes it up a bit more, often featuring lesser-known stories (research abstracts, for example, or a flashback to an older article). This isn’t to say that I don’t scan RSS feeds early and often – they’re darn useful. But Tracker is trying to do something a little different.
Last night, I posted a record 12 links on a single topic on TrackerNews: a dozen stories from around the world about efforts to thwart a free press. I could easily have posted more. Here is what made the cut:
I knew I’d seen that face before. Those cheeks. Those whiskers. That long, long tail. The giant African pouched rat, a.k.a. the giant Gambian pouched rat (Cricetomysgambianus), was all over the headlines five years ago, fingered as the likely culprit in a first-ever outbreak in the U.S. of monkeypox (a smallpox relative).
Shift continents and the villain becomes a hero. In fact, a “HeroRAT,” with a genius for sniffing out landmines and diagnosing TB.
Like the TrackerNews aggregator, the Editor’s Blog focuses on health (human, animal, plant, and environmental), humanitarian work, and the technologies that support both. The website features links to news, research and resources, while the blog provides a little more depth and context.
Every humanitarian crisis has a health component. Every serious outbreak of disease has a humanitarian dimension. This now plays out against a backdrop of climate change. Altered weather patterns trigger floods and droughts that can affect food supplies, drive regional conflicts and expand the range of vector-borne diseases. In an ever-flattening world, regional disasters can quickly go global, while global events can have devastating local consequences. It is all of a piece.
The TrackerNews Project was a demo aggregator I developed for InSTEDD, an independent spin-off of Google.org's humanitarian practice. It covered health issues, humanitarian work and technology.