Friday, April 29, 2011

Friday Roundup

Here is a listing of articles of interest published within the last 7-10 days:

1. Proposed new guidelines for food ads and children., April 28, 2011:
A recent article in the New York Times discusses new proposed guidelines released by the Federal Trade Commission that targets the tactics used to market foods high in sugar, fat, and salt to children. The regulations were created at the request of Congress and written by the FTC, FDA, CDC, and the Agriculture Department. Regulators are asking food makers/restaurants to make their foods healthier or stop advertising them to youngsters. According to Michelle Rusk, a lawyer with the Federal Trade Commission, "The goal is to encourage children to eat more healthy foods because obesity is a huge health crisis.”

2. Patient ratings to affect Medicare payments to hospitals, Washington Post, April 29, 2011:
Under the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services proposal, Medicare will begin to withhold 1% of its payments to hopsitals beginning in October 2012. This will translate into $850 million in the first year that will be given as a bonus to hospitals that score above average on several measures. Under the proposal, patient scores will dictate 30% of the bonuses, while clinical measures for basic quality would determine the rest.

1. Early-childhood education funding drops, study finds, Washington Post, Washington Post, April 26, 2011:
According to a recently released study published by the National Institute for Early Education Research, total state funding by states for early-education programs fell by $30 million nationwide during 2009-2010. In contrast, state funding for K-12 education increased slightly.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Mortgages and minorities

According to an article published today by Reuter's, funds for refinancing home mortgages were much more available in predominantly white sections of major U.S. cities. The study entitled 'Paying More for the American Dream V,' found that in seven major metropolitan areas, conventional mortgage refinancing in minority communities decreased by an average of 17 percent in 2009 compared with the previous year. But, in predominantly white neighborhoods, mortgage refinancing loans jumped by 129 percent.

The study also found that that lenders were "more than twice as likely" to deny refinancing applications made by those from minority communities than those applying from white neighborhoods.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Choosing an audio player for the blog

In case you haven't noticed, I recently added an audio player to the blog. I did some research for free players and felt that my best options were:

1. Create a Windows Media Player jukebox. To make people aware of what they were listening to, I'd have to code in a list of the interviewees at the top to let listeners know what was playing. As the podcast list would grow though, I knew that providing a whole list would be troublesome as it would take up too much space.

2. Use an XSPF player that would scroll the names of the interviewees as the podcast played. I ended up choosing the slim version of the player as the expanded version didn't fit in the space provided on the right column of the blog. While I liked the design of the player, I knew that the text may be hard for some to view.

3. Use a tool called Streampad to play the site's audio content. The blog visitor would see a thin bar at the bottom of the blog that would play the site's podcasts. For some reason, the tool only played 1 of the 6 podcasts I had available. Also, when I asked a friend to rate the players, she said she ended up completely overlooking this one as it was positioned at the bottom of the page.

With that being said, I ended up selecting the XSPF player and created my first playlist in this xml format. The experience was different from the m3u file I had to create for Windows Media Player. One big difference was how easy this format makes it to associate images for each file in the playlist. But, to utilize the image feature, you have to make use of the expanded player - which wasn't an option in this case.

How about your organizations, readers? Are any of your technology teams making use of XSPF? If so, what prompted the decision to use this format? What has the experience been like so far?

Visualizing data at

I wanted to write a post about a data visualization website I recently became aware of, I became aware of the site as a competition my team was entering required entrants to post their visualizations on the site. allows you to share your own data visualizations for free, get data, and explore other submissions.

I recently posted a diabetes partner finding tool that my team created with Google Fusion Tables. The table was part of an entry for a health competition that wasn't chosen. Since I thought that others may be interested in using the tool, I decided to post the table up three days ago. Since then, the project page has already received almost 150 views. I would definitely recommend the site for those looking to increase awareness of visualization resources they've created.

With that being said, I did run across one problem while entering the project description- the spacing I had entered using the rich text editor had vanished and all of the paragraphs looked like one VERY long block of sentences. Thinking I could fix this by coding it myself, I found that even editing the coding did not help things! I tried several times to fix the problem and finally came up with another solution. I created a paragraph that gave a brief description of the project and published a longer description to the Web using Google Docs. I then included the doc link within the brief description for those who would be interested in learning more.

WHO warns of burden created by chronic diseases

The World Health Organization has released a global report that has indicated that non-communicable diseases (NCD'S)had reached epidemic proportions and now posed a greater risk than diseases like HIV or tuberculosis. NCD's had accounted for 63% or 36 million of the 57 million deaths occurring in 2008.

You can read more here or view a WHO NCD graph here.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Can a mother's diet during pregnancy affect her child's future weight?

A recent post on a Time blog describes new research that has indicated that mothers who had low carbohydrate diets during pregnancy bore children that showed changes in their DNA. The researchers then tied those genetic changes to body fat at age 6 and 9.

The research was published in the journal Diabetes and did not prove a cause and effect relationship. If you'd like to learn more, click here to view the abstract.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Creating an information resource

I recently created a Google Fusion Table with the data collected from the 2008 Michigan Department of Agriculture migrant licensed housing list. With 2008 being the most recent data made available, I decided to use an online tool that takes a pdf and turns it into xls. After doing some data cleanup, I then uploaded the data as a csv file into Google Fusion Tables. You can take a look at the table here and view the screencast tutorial here.

The reason why I undertook this project was because I thought that while the list was useful, there was no way to manipulate the information to get a very quick look at the statistics one might truly need. How about if someone wanted to see what camp sites in the state had the earliest occupancy begin dates or latest occupancy end dates? How about if you wanted to find out which owners or townships had the most sites? With the data only provided as a pdf, you couldn't find this information except by skimming 26 pages of information.

Based on my experience with this project, I would encourage state agencies to provide data not only in pdf but also in xls and even csv so that new solutions can be built to help others gain greater value from the information provided.

A few changes to the blog...

I wanted to write a quick post to let you know about some of the changes I have made to this blog:
- Search box: I've included a Google Search Box so that you can search the 200+ posts I have written so far. You can also always click on the tags created for each of the posts to find similar posts that may be of interest.
- Rating system: I've included star ratings for each of the posts to collaboratively rank the posts. This new rating tool might be best viewed using Internet Explorer. If you don't see it using Firefox, make sure to refresh your page and it should appear.
- Created a feed for the CFL blog podcasts. All podcasts on the feed are in MP3 format. If you would like to add the feed, here is the address:
- Podcast player. Don't want to subscribe to a feed but want to gain access to all of the blog's podcasts? You can play all of the podcasts using the player found on the right.

Pesticide exposure may affect children's intelligence

According to a recent article in the New York Times, three new studies indicate that pesticide exposure in the womb may affect a child's IQ. These findings were based on three separate studies funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the Environmental Protection Agency. All three studies have been published online in the Environmental Health Perspectives journal.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Technology Week - Slideshare's Zipcast

I've been using Slideshare for awhile to post and share my presentations and technology tutorials. It is a free tool and is an excellent way to share knowledge that might be otherwise hard to access once a presentation at a conference or meeting is over. I also find the site helpful to learn from if I need to learn a topic quickly, as there are many presentations on almost every topic available on the site.

Recently, I learned that Slideshare has introduced something called Zipcast, which is a free meeting tool. It provides the user with personalized meeting rooms, group chat, streaming live video, and Facebook/Twitter integration. You can login to a meeting with either a Slideshare or Facebook account. If you upgrade to their paid option, Zipcast Pro, you are able to use Zipcast without ads, use password protection and access a conference number. But I think most will find the free option to work just fine as long as you have your own conference number to use.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Technology Week: YouTube and Interactive Games

I participated in a contest with a focus on increasing interest in local children's data by creating an innovative and compelling message that could go viral. I wanted to create something that was innovative and had no cost associated with it except time. I finally came up with my solution: create an interactive YouTube game using my Second Life avatar as the actor and to shoot the in-world scenes.

The introductory video's description provides the focus of the game and notifies players that in order to be successful, they need to visit to look up the answers. The game provides highlighted boxes from which one answer must be selected to continue. Pause annotations were included to give players time to look up the answers. The countdown of this time is made visible by a small gray circle located at the upper left of the video. If this time should run out, the player can press the pause button on the video itself to get as much additional time as they need.

Whether I win or not, I am thankful for this experience as it has really helped me stretch my thinking. I've learned that a $0 budget for a project can encourage you to combine technology in a way that you may never have thought of before to produce an innovative solution. If you would like to look at my contest entry, click here.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Technology Week - User Agent Switcher

For those of you who use Firefox as a browser and are curious as to how websites may appear in another browser or on a mobile device, you may be interested in an add-on called User Agent Switcher. Developed by Chris Pedrick, the extension allows users to switch the user agent of a browser, choosing to view websites using Firefox/ Internet Explorer, or viewing the site as it would appear on an IPhone 3. You may also select from a variety of search bots (Yahoo Slurp, MSNBot or GoogleBot). (The add-on is free but the developer encourages a small donation amount of $1.99).

This proved to very handy as I and another team member had submitted a project for a health technology competition and were curious to see how the site would look like on a mobile device.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Technology Week - Podcasting

Once every month, I post a podcast to this blog with an expert who can discuss a topic that will provide other professionals with the opportunity to learn something valuable. The podcasts have been very successful and I believe it is an effective learning tool. For those who are interested in the technology I use to put this together, here are the tools I use:

- FreeConferencePro: This has been an excellent find for me as it not only provides free teleconference service, it allows me to record the discussions I have with my interviewees. The recordings are created in both WAV and MP3 format. It takes a few minutes for the site to produce the file but once I have it, I download it and start editing it in a free sound editor called Audacity.

-Audacity: This is a free, open-source audio editor and recorder. I can edit the main track, add additional segments into the track as needed, and have the ability to provide a description in the audio file so that those playing the WAV file can see the track information come up in Windows Media Player. If you just download the software as is, you can produce WAV files. If you are interested in producing an MP3, you will also have to download the LAME MP3 encoder.

Once I am finished editing the audio file, I then post it to my Amazon S3 storage account.

-Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3): This is a very, very cheap way to store media files. I am currently storing one website* and 6 podcasts. With that being said, my monthly bills for the service have never been more than 7 cents! With my most recent podcast surpassing 130 plays within the past 2 weeks, I expect my next Amazon S3 bill to rise a bit but be no more than 10 cents.

*How can you store a website instead of hosting it? Check out this excellent post by Joe Moreno.

-Blogger: While there are several blogging solutions available, I prefer this tool as it is free and very easy to use.

So that pretty much sums up the technology I use for podcasting. Do you currently use any of these products for yourself or your organization? Have you done anything innovative you would like to share - go ahead and leave a comment.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Technology Week -Screenr

This week for the blog, I've decided to focus on technology. I will be highlighting some excellent tools that will not only be useful for those at foundations but also for grantees who are looking for cost-effective technology solutions.

I would like to highlight a recent screencasting tool that I came across. Screenr is a free tool that allows you to create up to a five-minute video that captures your actions on screen. You can also use your computer headphones to add voice as well. You can sign in with your Twitter, Facebook, Google or Yahoo sign-in information and start recording. The best thing about it is that there is no software to download like other screencasting solutions such as Jing. Once you choose to publish your screencast, it will be made public on your account (I don't believe there is a private publishing option). You may also publish to YouTube or download the MP4 file itself.

So what can you do with it? Well for those involved in training their patrons to use information products like databases and websites, you can use this tool to create a short screencast, publish it, and download the MP4 file so that it can be uploaded to your organization's intranet. Once you have the MP4 file, just delete the copy on your Screenr account to disallow viewing by those not within your intended audience.

For grantees who are looking for another way to get their message across, you can use Screenr to create a short video that provides your site's visitors with an overview of your organization's mission, history and highlight any opportunities that the public can become involved in. You could also upload a similar video on YouTube to help raise awareness of the issues your organization is involved in.

As for my own experience, I recently used the tool to create a video for the National Library of Medicine's Video Contest. Contestants had to make a short video (1 minute or less) to help promote the NLM's information resources. I chose to create a video that used my Second Life avatar to share why I preferred NLM's PubMed information tool. I also closed captioned the video to ensure access to those who may have problems with their hearing. You can view that video here.

Give Screenr a try and tell me what you think. How do you think you can make use of this tool at your own organization?

Friday, April 15, 2011

Making use of interactive YouTube videos to make your organization's message viral

Instead of doing the usual news roundup I do each Friday, I wanted to share an interesting way of how one nonprofit organization is making use of interactive YouTube videos to educate the public about weapons. The choose-your-own story type videos have received over 705,000 views on YouTube. (You can view more stories by clicking on

Making use of YouTube's annotation options, the viewer is asked to choose from a variety of decisions that can either keep the young man in the video out of prison or engage in activities that can result in a sentence from four years to life in a prison.

This is definitely a must-see as it is an excellent example of how an organization can develop a message that is both educational and interesting enough that it becomes viral.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Partnership for Patients

According to a recent article in the WCF Courier, the new national Partnership for Patients will help hospitals adopt proven safety strategies to improve hospital safety and save money at the same time. The hope is that this program will help save 60,000 lives and reduce hospital re-admissions by 20% over the next three years.

You can read more about this program by visiting

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Chicago school bans some lunches brought from home

An article in the LA Times mentions how one school in Chicago has taken a unique approach to "protect students from their own unhealthful food choices". Unless students have a medical excuse, they are required to eat the food provided in the school's cafeteria. Principal Elsa Cormona of the Little Village Academy on Chicago's West side, said that she created the policy six years ago when she witnessed children bringing unhealthy drinks and snacks for their lunch on a field trip.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Obstacles for farmer's markets in poor NY areas?

According to an article in the New York Times, farm markets face obstacles in New York city's poor areas. A report released by the borough president, Scott Stringer, takes notes of "roadblocks" put in the way of community groups looking to implement farmer's markets in low-income neighborhoods. In order to address some of the issues, the report recommends several changes including creating a central entity to manage the farmer's markets and a uniform application process.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Education and the achivement gap (video)

An interesting video on CNN takes a look at how schools are looking to close the achievement gap while increasing academic expectations.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Podcast Interview with Cindy Johanson from the George Lucas Educational Foundation (Innovation in Education/Impact and Inciting Action in the Field)

For this month's podcast, I interviewed Cindy Johanson, executive director of the George Lucas Educational Foundation. The podcast provided a good overview of the resources that the organization provides for those interested in improving education through innovative methods. In addition, Cindy provided excellent insight into how her organization has successfully created a learning community that effectively encourages learning and incites action that translates into innovation in education.

You can listen to the podcast (WAV) here:
or as an MP3 here:

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Proposed new rules would require menu-labeling

According to an article in the Washington Post, the FDA proposed new rules on Friday that would require chain restaurants to provide calorie information for the meals they serve. The proposed rules are subject to a public commenting period before they are in enacted in 2012. One exception to the rules leaves out movie theaters from the requirement as movie theaters have argued that people go to the movies to watch movies, not eat meals.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Cuts in Medicaid payments leave few treatment options for patients

A recent article in the New York Times, describes how some Medicaid patients are finding it difficult to seek treatment for themselves or their children as fewer medical professionals are taking patients covered by the insurance. With the new health law, there will be a temporary two-year increase in Medicaid payments for some primary care services, but not for specialists.

This leaves mothers like Ana Smith in a difficult space as she has found it difficult finding a mental health professional who will take Medicaid to provide care for her young son, Draven. It also has made it difficult for another woman, Nicole Dardeau, who needs surgery to repair three herniated disks in her neck. Unfortunately, Dardeau has not been successful in finding a surgeon who will take her on as a Medicaid patient.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Setting fines for health risks in Arizona

A recent article in the New York Times describes a proposal created by Arizona's Health Care Cost Containment System that is looking to charge smokers $50 per year and charge a similar fee to diabetics who don't follow their doctor's orders to lose weight. Monica Coury, the spokeswoman for the state Medicaid agency says that they are not out to make smokers stop smoking or weighing those with weight issues. Rather, this plan is meant to help cover the increased healthcare costs associated with these patients who may not be active in the management of their own conditions.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Friday Roundup

Here is a listing of articles of interest that have been published within the last 7-10 days:

1. Federal plan would streamline Medicare, USA Today,
March 31, 2011LinkBrief intro:"Health and Human Services proposed new regulations Thursday it hopes will reduce Medicare costs and improve care by focusing funds on prevention and quality, rather than the number of times a patient sees a doctor."

2. FDA advisors recommend more study of food dyes, Los Angeles Times, April 1, 2011
Brief intro:"Health and Human Services proposed new regulations Thursday it hopes will reduce Medicare costs and improve care by focusing funds on prevention and quality, rather than the number of times a patient sees a doctor."