Ruminations on tech, the digital media, and some golf thrown in for good measure.

Archive for the ‘untimely deaths’ Category

The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down…

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What a week.  I spent most of it either in meetings or on airplanes (save for that happy detour to Fenway Park, which still has a smile on my face).

Speaking of which, it’s April 20, 2012 — the official anniversary of the 100th year of Fenway’s existence.  Happy birthday to all my friends in Boston, and to people everywhere who adore Fenway Park — of which I now count myself a happy one.

FYI, for the hardcore Fenway fanatics, Sports Illustrated is offering up a very nice tome about the history of Fenway for $21.00 US.  You can find it here.

But boy, what a week otherwise.  The jokes about today being 4/20 aside (a point which many marketers are taking advantage of…for example, the Magnolia bio-documentary about Bob Marley, entitled simply “Marley,” is out today…And Austin is unveiling the new Willie Nelson statue today at 4:20 PM this afternoon.  Coincidence?)

You can read all about the marketing advantage being taken of on this date from none other than the Wall Street Journal.

No, I was more referring to the bummer news about Dick Clark and Levon Helm.  Helm, of course, was the drummer in Bob Dylan’s original backing band, “Levon and the Hawks,” before going on to co-found the band named, appropriately enough, “The Band.”

Helm died of throat cancer earlier this week, and in recent years had been most known for his “Midnight Rambles” at his studio in Woodstock, NY, which earned him three Grammys in recent years.  But of course, “The Band” fans remember classics like “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” and “Up On Cripple Creek.”

Bob Dylan had this to say about his old friend and former band-mate on his own website: “He was my bosom buddy friend to the end, one of the last true great spirits of my or any other generation. This is just so sad to talk about. I still can remember the first day I met him and the last day I saw him. We go back pretty far and had been through some trials together. I’m going to miss him, as I’m sure a whole lot of others will too.”

Surely we will.

But we’ll also miss Dick Clark, a radio and TV personality who’s “American Bandstand” helped grow generations of music fans, and helped launch or boost the careers of an endless stream of renowned musicians, ranging from first guest Elvis Presley (who used to sign my mom’s arm during his Louisiana Hayride performances!) to Smokey Robinson to the Talking Heads…the list of musical acts featured on “Bandstand” goes on and on and on.

And never mind us welcoming Dick Clark into our homes, and the subsequent New Year, every New Year’s Rockin’ Eve starting in 1972.

We’ll miss you both terribly, Dick and Levon.  May you both continue to find the musical beat in the Great Beyond.

How fitting, then, that the very same week, the friends who brought you some of the great hack attacks of the late 2000s, Anonymous, announce they’re putting together a social music platform, one that pulls up songs streaming from all around the Internet (including from the likes of YouTube), and lets anonymous users put them into playlists and share them — all while intending to shield the service from being shut down by lawsuits.

Ladies and germs, welcome to “Anontune.”  This short video (featured on Wired’s Web site) indicates it will focus on “information about the music.”

We’ll wait and see if Anontune makes it past the first “bridge,” but my read on the situation is that this move could revitalize Hilary Rosen’s career (CEO of the RIAA from 1998-2003, Rosen led the organization in its successful efforts to bring down Napster).

Personalizing Cancer Treatment

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I hate cancer.  I really hate it.

I mean really.  Really really really.

I’ve lost more friends and family to cancer than I care to count.  I’ve lost an uncle to cancer. My two aunts. My grandfather.  My grandmother.


IBM's Watson technology is being put to new use in personalizing cancer treatments in a partnership with world-renowned cancer treatment provider, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.

In the last year, I’ve lost two good friends, and another one before them, several years ago, all wayyy too early (early 30s to mid 40s).

I hate cancer.

So I was pretty stoked about our announcement yesterday where my virtual brother, as Scott and I recently joked with Watson GM Manoj Saxena, is getting another form of unemployment.

First, there was Watson’s gig at Wellpoint, helping doctors with diagnoses.  Then we learned Watson was heading to work at Citibank to help out on Wall Street.

Now Watson is being put to use at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) in an effort to help oncologists obtain detailed diagnostic and treatment options based on updated research that will help them decide how best to care for an individual patient.

MSKCC’s world-renowned oncologists will assist in developing IBM Watson to use a patient’s medical information and synthesize a vast array of continuously updated and vetted treatment guidelines, published research and insights gleaned from the deep experience of MSKCC clinicians to provide those individualized recommendations to doctors. It will also help provide users with a detailed record of the data and evidence used to reach the recommendations?

You can learn more about this new evidence-based approach to cancer treatment in the video below.

Oncology treatment is a complex arena, and yet cancers are the second most common cause of death in the U.S., second only to heart disease.

In fact, the American Cancer Society projects that 1.6 million new cancer cases will be diagnosed in the U.S. this year with outcomes varying wildly across the country.

Cancer isn’t a single disease with one footprint of cause, but rather, with some having hundreds of sub-types, each with a different genetic fingerprint.

Significant discoveries in molecular biology and genetics in the past two decades have delivered new insights into cancer biology and strategies for targeting specific molecular alterations in tumors. But in the process, these advances have also ratcheted up the complexity of diagnosing and treating each case.

“This comprehensive, evidence-based approach will profoundly enhance cancer care by accelerating the dissemination of practice-changing research at an unprecedented pace,” said Dr. Mark G. Kris, Chief, Thoracic Oncology Service at MSKCC and one of the clinicians leading the development effort. He noted that 85 percent of patients with cancer are not treated at specialized medical centers and it can take years for the latest developments in oncology to reach all practice settings.

Using Mobile Phones and Social Networks to Fight Non-Communicable Diseases

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Here’s some shocking statistics: According to the World Health Organization, nearly two-thirds of all deaths occur due to non-communicable diseases (NCDs) which contribute to more than 60 percent of deaths worldwide.

Over the coming decade, some 388 million worldwide will die of one or more chronic illnesses and the cumulative losses in global economic output due to NCDs will total $47 trillion by 2030.

But before you go jump off a tall building, some new solutions developed by university teams could soon be harnessed to help manage the glowing global problem of such NCDs like asthma, diabetes, stroke, and cancer.

As part of the NCD Challenge, sponsored by IBM and pharmaceutical maker Novartis, a global competition was held to bring together industry and academia to create innovative, easy-to-use solutions that help fight the human and social burden of NCDs.

Like a social-media enabled support system for pregnant women with gestational diabetes and an advanced smart-phone service, both of which could have tremendous impact in managing diabetes and other diseases.

Developing World Solution: 2Vidas

Winners of the competition were the Hass School of Business, University of California, Berkeley, and ESADE Business School-Universidad Ramon Llull in Barcelona, Spain.

The developing world solution, from Berkeley, involved “2Vidas,” a pharmacy-based membership program for low- to middle-income pregnant women to address the growing problem of diabetes in Mexico.

The project’s aim is to make a lasting health impact on two lives during a finite period in which women have increased motivation to take better case of themselves for the health of their babies.

The program works by providing pregnant women access to monitoring tools at local pharmacies, support through peer-led sessions, and encouragement via positive SMS messaging that rewards self-management and offers health tips.

The potential economic impact is the ability to save women 58-98% of out-of-pocket monitoring costs, depending on frequency of use, and the health system an average of $110 per enrolled women per year through improved diabetes control — lowering the risk profile of the mother’s pregnancy and the baby’s propensity for NCDs.

2Vidas membership program will deliver an estimated $10.4 million in systemic cost savings and $475,00 in added value creation over five years.

Developed World Solution: Dr. Diabetes

Developed by the ESACE Business School-Universidad Ramon Llull, the Barcelona-based team’s effort, “Dr. Diabetes,” utilizes a handheld device with an application and two cloud servers.

It is a total solution designed to provide diabetes awareness, monitoring, and management to patients with chronic illness, initially for China.

It also provides early awareness to the public and streamlines diabetes management for patients. The solution provides medical data via cloud computing to physicians for accurate diagnosis, and to pharmaceutical companies and hospitals for efficient research and development.

The solution is designed to be scalable to support other NCDs. It is designed to lower the risk of complications, decrease treatment costs to patients by up to 73%, and decrease their hospital visits by 65%.

Winning teams were recognized this week during the NCD Awards Ceremony at IBM headquarters in Armonk, NY, and Novartis headquarters in East Hanover, New Jersey.

People interested in learning more and in joining the conversation on the topic of fighting non-communicable diseases can do so in the People for a Smarter Planet on Facebook, and via Twitter at #NCD.

They can also join in the “Smarter Healthcare” group on LinkedIn.

Crashing While Driving While Texting

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So I watched the Chairman of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board, Deborah Hersman, last night as she made the rounds on the news channels about the NTSB Safety Board’s recommendation for a nationwide ban on driver use of personal electronic devices (PEDs) while operating a motor vehicle.

Though I know there will be lots of business interests, not to mention political ones, against such a ban, I thought the Chairman made a compelling argument, and as I delved into some of the details and case studies that informed the board’s recommendations, it became even more difficult to argue with.

Mostly.  But more on that later.

Mind you, this is my take on the situation, and I’m sure there are lots of other points of view that I hope this announcement instigates some discussion around, and of course, I only speak for myself here.

But first, let’s survey some of the facts and incidents the board cited in the press release it issued around its decision:

  • On August 5, 2010, on a section of Interstate 44 in Gray Summit, Missouri, a pickup truck ran into the back of a truck-tractor that had slowed due to an active construction zone. The pickup truck, in turn, was struck from behind by a school bus. That school bus was then hit by a second school bus that had been following. As a result, two people died and 38 others were injured.
  • The NTSB’s investigation revealed that the pickup driver sent and received 11 text messages in the 11 minutes preceding the accident. The last text was received moments before the pickup struck the truck-tractor.
  • The Missouri accident is the most recent distraction accident the NTSB has investigated. However, the first investigation involving distraction from a wireless electronic device occurred in 2002, when a novice driver, distracted by a conversation on her cell phone, veered off the roadway in Largo, Maryland, crossed the median, flipped the car over, and killed five people.

These were just a couple of the initially cited incidents.  The Board came loaded for bear with a variety of others:

  • In 2004, an experienced motorcoach driver, distracted on his hands-free cell phone, failed to move to the center lane and struck the underside of an arched stone bridge on the George Washington Parkway in Alexandria, Virginia. Eleven of the 27 high school students were injured
  • In the 2008 collision of a commuter train with a freight train in Chatsworth, California, the commuter train engineer, who had a history of using his cell phone for personal communications while on duty, ran a red signal while texting. That train collided head on with a freight train – killing 25 and injuring dozens.
  • In 2009, two airline pilots were out of radio communication with air traffic control for more than an hour because they were distracted by their personal laptops. They overflew their destination by more than 100 miles, only realizing their error when a flight attendant inquired about preparing for arrival.
  • In Philadelphia in 2010, a barge being towed by a tugboat ran over an amphibious “duck” boat in the Delaware River, killing two Hungarian tourists. The tugboat mate failed to maintain a proper lookout due to repeated use of a cell-phone and laptop computer;
  • In 2010, near Munfordville, Kentucky, a truck-tractor in combination with a 53-foot-long trailer, left its lane, crossed the median and collided with a 15-passenger van. The truck driver failed to maintain control of his vehicle because he was distracted by use of his cell-phone. The accident resulted in 11 fatalities

So what about the recommendation?  It specifically calls for the 50 states and the District of Columbia to ban the nonemergency use of portable electronic devices (other than those designed to support the driving task, like GPS devices) for all drivers.

The safety recommendation also urges use of the NHTSA model of high-visibility enforcement to support these bans and implementation of targeted communications campaigns to inform motorists of the new law and heightened enforcement.

‘According to NHTSA, more than 3,000 people lost their lives last year in distraction-related accidents”, said Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman. “It is time for all of us to stand up for safety by turning off electronic devices when driving.”

“No call, no text, no update, is worth a human life.”

Controversial?  No doubt.  Sensible?  Largely.

Once upon a time, I used to find myself on occasion texting and driving, particularly on the freeway, until a couple of times I nearly rear-ended someone.  Then, I very quickly came to my own empirical conclusion that driving while texting was not conducive to “smarter driving” and went back to enjoying my car stereo.

As far as the complete and entire ban on voice discussions in the car, particularly considering the introduction of technologies like OnStar and Lynx — which make voice communications much more seamless and integrated into the overall driving experience (volume control on the steering wheel, voice activation and dialing, etc.) — I’m curious if maybe there could be some more research to help fully understand the safety and economic impact of such a robust ban.

But in any case, I do think the NTSB Safety Board is heading in the right direction, so to speak, and to put the exclamation point on the report, the report cited a Virginia Tech Transportation Institute study of commercial drivers which found that a safety-critical event is 163 times more likely if a driver is texting, emailing, or accessing the Internet.

163 times!  You can go here to see more about the NTSB report and recommendation.

So, not to be scientific or anything, I’m looking to elicit input from the crowd in the following poll on what your thoughts are regarding the NTSB announcement.  Vote early and often!

Happy And Sad

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This past weekend was something of a mixed blessing.

Friday was my birthday…I’m not going to say which one…I joked that it was the 29th…my second 29th!

I spent all day Friday working, but it was a good, full and productive day, and Friday evening some great friends took me out for dinner to celebrate, where we all had a great time.

But social media news travels faster than greased lightning, and I had, of course, also heard about the tragedy in Norway earlier in the day via Twitter, and watched in horror as the reports and details rolled in — first about the bomb in Oslo, and later the shootings on the small island of Utoya.

My heart goes out to the people of Norway and in particular to the friends and families of those who were impacted. It was encouraging to hear that over 150,000 Norwegians came into the streets earlier today to express their solidarity.

More stunning with the horrible tragedy, of course, was discovering the originator of the attack was one of Norway’s own, Anders Behring Breivik, a 32 year-old right wing extremist who inspires thoughts more of the Ku Klux Klan than Al-Qaeda.

Breivik’s 1,500 page hate manifesto published online quoted extensively from that most technophobic of terrorists, the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski.  Ironic, considering that Breivik also spent hours playing World of Warcraft online, even using the game to help cover his tracks when he left town to work on his bomb.

If proven guilty, it sure sounds like another tragedy if Norway’s legal system can only put Breivik away for 22 years for such an imaginable atrocity.

We heard some other tragic news over the weekend — not nearly as horrific, as some in the social media compared the two, but tragic nonetheless: R&B singer Amy Winehouse’s untimely passing in London.

Though I wasn’t a rabid fan, I thoroughly enjoyed Winehouse’s music and first saw her perform on the Grammys in 2008.

Winehouse had a kind of  “—- you” sensibility that I found refreshing, much like her music, a sound that always suggested to me sounds of a kind of evolved Motown. Winehouse’s music was new and old all at the same time.

Yet I think many fans sensed from Winehouse’s persona and media presence an unwillingness or stubbornness to reach out and touch someone, when she probably could have used all the help she could get.

She even sang about her reticence to do so on one of her most famous songs, “Rehab”:

“They tried to make go to rehab, I said “No, no, no.”

I think I speak for a whole bunch of her fans when I suggest we all wish she’d have said “Yes, yes, yes!”

This was entirely too short a life cut short by an entirely too tragic, and yet common and uncharitably characteristic, fame-laden music career.

One that, with the proper help and focus, maybe could have kept Winehouse from joining the so-called “27 Club,” a moniker I personally detest (and which makes reference to other great rock n roll greats like Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix, and Janis Joplin, all of whom also perished from addiction- and/or depression-related deaths).

Comic actor and Winehouse friend Russell Brand blogged about Winehouse’s passing yesterday.

Excerpts from Brand’s post provide some thoughtful suggestions on how society moving from judgment to understanding could improve the opportunity for earlier intervention for addicts like Winehouse and which could also save both lives and money:

…Now Amy Winehouse is dead, like many others whose unnecessary deaths have been retrospectively romanticised, at 27 years old. Whether this tragedy was preventable or not is now irrelevant. It is not preventable today. We have lost a beautiful and talented woman to this disease.

Not all addicts have Amy’s incredible talent. Or Kurt’s or Jimi’s or Janis’s, some people just get the affliction. All we can do is adapt the way we view this condition, not as a crime or a romantic affectation but as a disease that will kill.

We need to review the way society treats addicts, not as criminals but as sick people in need of care. We need to look at the way our government funds rehabilitation. It is cheaper to rehabilitate an addict than to send them to prison, so criminalisation doesn’t even make economic sense.

Not all of us know someone with the incredible talent that Amy had but we all know drunks and junkies and they all need help and the help is out there. All they have to do is pick up the phone and make the call. Or not.

Either way, there will be a phone call.

The phone call to Winehouses’ parents this weekend is one that no family should ever have to receive…but which is way more common than any of us care to admit.

Written by turbotodd

July 25, 2011 at 8:26 pm

Pictures Of War

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I heard the news late yesterday that journalist and filmmaker Tim Hetherington, along with his associate Chris Hondros, were killed in Misrati, Libya, after receiving wounds inflicted from a mortar attack.

Hetherington received an Academy Award nomination for the film he co-directed about the American troops at the tip of the spear in Afghanistan, in the Korengal Valley, earlier this year, “Restrepo.”  The documentary grew out of the superb book that journalist Sebastian Junger also wrote about what he saw with American troops in the Korengal.

Hondros was a Pulitzer Prize-nominated photographer whose work has graced the front pages of many newspapers and magazines with pictures from war zones around the world.

I only knew these individuals through their work, but as a self-confirmed news junkie, I greatly appreciated the personal sacrifice they made to bring back the pictures and moving images that they did from the world’s most troubled spots.

It would be easy to dismiss such individuals as adrenalin-addicted war zone junkies, but the truth is these men and women are often the only people there to bear witness and document the atrocities, aftermath, and consequences of the world’s conflicts.

If you’ve not yet seen “Restrepo,” I would encourage you to do so — but be prepared, it’s a heart-wrenching look at the good and bad of life on the front lines. And when I say front lines, I mean way out front. In the Korengal, American servicemen could wait a good 30 minutes for any air support to reach them, so they were pretty much on their own.

Them and the Taliban.

No matter what you think of the situation in Libya or the Arab Spring more broadly, I think it takes a special kind of person to run into a war zone carrying only a Sony HD camera or a Nikon.

Both Hodros and Hetherington will be missed, though I suspect their pictures will live with us for a long time to come.

You can see some of Hetherington’s work here on his Web site, and Hodros’ work here.

Written by turbotodd

April 21, 2011 at 2:30 pm


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I found out over the weekend that a really good friend of mine had passed away recently from a sudden heart attack.  The irony was, he was on his way to the doctor for an already-prescribed stress test, so he was trying to take care of himself, but he was just a tad bit too late.

His name was Kennedy, and he was someone important in my life going way back.  I’ll explain why.

When I got the news from his daughter that I needed to call her to check on what was some “very sad news,” I knew instantly what it was, and it felt like a sucker punch.

If I’ve ever personally known a Renaissance man in this lifetime, Kennedy was he.  Kennedy knew something about everything, he know a lot about some things, but no matter what he knew, he was always very well worth knowing and he could tell a story beyond compare.

He also had a grand sense of humor, one that ranged from the twisted to the benign to the outrageous, but one always informed by a Cheshire Cat grin that could, and did, warm your heart.

Because Kennedy had had the good fortune to leverage the G.I. bill (and did, over and over and over again…he had more college degrees than I could count), and because of his intellectual voraciousness, he could expound on topics ranging from literature to art history to the latest and greatest sci-fi novel.

But he wasn’t just book smart.  Yes, he spent a number of years in college and in the orbit of the publishing industry, running across authors like Stephen King and beyond, but he would also regale me with tales from the times he was traipsing across Europe as a young hippie hipster.

I first met Kennedy some 21 years ago when I first moved back to my hometown of Denton, Texas, to continue my university education at the University of North Texas.

I met him at the university student union, where he was working part-time doing desktop publishing-related things (I can’t remember exactly what!), and doing it on a Macintosh! (Remember, this was 1988.)

Over the next several years, Kennedy and I were in one another’s orbits in a variety of ways…we continued working on and honing our editing and desktop publishing skills together…we reappropriated resources from the university to develop an underground newspaper (that was around the time of the Gulf War I) entitled “The North Texas Lite.”

Kennedy also helped me do some very interesting in-field research on Harry Hines Boulevard in Dallas for an urban anthropology class, and when I graduated with my BA degree in English in 1991, Kennedy served as the co-sponsor and venture capitalist for my very popular and festive graduation party.

That alone was the most kind and unselfish thing anybody had ever done for me up to that point in my life, and he did it with that Cheshire Cat grin as if it was absolutely his pleasure…and I suspect it must have been, but it meant the world to me (I took a few extra years to get my undergrad degree so I had a lot to celebrate.)

Later, Kennedy opened his own very popular near-campus bookstore, where students would congregate regularly just to chat with him and once in a while buy something, and in 1993, Kennedy and a couple of other friends took our first trip to San Miguel de Allende, a wonderful artists enclave northwest of Mexico City.

It was San Miguel where Kennedy last week met his untimely demise.

I think the reason his passing has so haunted me is because it exemplifies for me — and, I’m sure, his wonderful children Astra and Bryan — the fragility of life.

But also because it means the passing of someone who I know helped shape the fragile clay of my own youth through his own good humor, tutelage, and encouragement in a way that had been completely unselfish, and in a manner that helped pave the way and shape and inform the professional I later became.

But, I take great comfort that the circumstances by which Kennedy has passed are an arbiter of the great connectedness and symmetry in our universe.

You see, I last visited San Miguel in 2006 with some other friends, and as fate would have it, found my way to the bar that would only later become Kennedy’s (or “Kenny,” as JJ and friends would come to refer to him) virtual living room.

It’s a small world after all.

JJ’s was a comfy, cozy Harley bar that drew a great diversity in its clientele, and where, if you were brave enough, JJ would do his famous knife trick (I went along for that particular ride, and still have all my fingers).

I take great comfort, and laughter, in knowing that Kennedy spent some of his last couple of years’ evenings a few nights a week in this very warm and welcoming place, and I don’t find it ironic at all that Kennedy found it after I had made my own return trip to San Miguel some 13 years after our great adventure together there.

So, I’ll leave you where Kennedy left us, in San Miguel de Allende, in a bar straight out of a scene from a Quentin Tarantino movie.

It’s a ceremony that may seem strange on its face, but if you knew Kennedy, it was an entirely apt means by which for him to make his escape from this life and possibly of starting the adventure to find out what may come next.

I’m going to miss you terribly, my good friend…more than I can relate here.

Just knowing you’re no longer on this planet causes me a very great sadness.

But in my sadness, I will try to always remember that 13 hour long train ride in the dead of the Mexican night, your Cheshire grin smiling away in the moonlight as you waited for the nice seniorita to bring you another cerveza, the dark and barren Mexican moonscape passing by in the background barely hiding the promise of what great adventure lay south for us in San Miguel, not knowing, in fact, that we were making our way to what would become your final resting place.

Written by turbotodd

December 7, 2009 at 8:30 pm

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