Coping with stress in Christchurch


Never before have we experienced a situation such as exists in Christchurch today. As was seen on Campbell Live last night people are at breaking point. Even the ambulance officers who were interviews, some of whom  had lost their own homes appeared to be close to losing it, fighting on because they are trained to, because “my uniform says I am there to help”. Men saying they “Cried last week for the first time in 20 years”.

The situation is looking incredibly serious. We have our 2nd largest city full of people suffering from Earthquake Syndrome. Interestingly it is very difficult to find information about the psychological impact from a New Zealand perspective, which I blogged about yesterday it seems as if the authorities are keeping it as quiet as possible, worried that it will get worse if people start talking about it.

In the absence of anything else, I think that is exactly what they should be doing, but more on that in my next blog. Maybe its naive of me, but today as a citizen of NZ with no mandate or authority I emailed Dr Martin Seligman of the Positive Psychology Centre at Penn University. In the US they experience repeated incidents of natural disasters in certain areas and of course with their military forces they also have extensive experience in PTSD. In NZ we really have no skills to understand or deal with repeat natural disasters and their human psychological consequences at a level like this, which in my opinion is why we are doing very little about it. We aren’t coping with the demands of repairing buildings, deciding which suburbs stay or go. We still aren’t dealing with the damage to buildings and the EQC is not paying trades people who are close to losing their businesses for trying to help people keep their homes habitable.

If you haven’t seen the Campbell Live tent recordings where they left people in a tent without any interviewers prompting them, to say how they feel, watch the following video and tell me you are not moved.

I feel sick and sad this morning


Footnote to my story in November called “Why don’t auckland hospitals work smarter rather than harder.” and the previous one The Hospital is the best place to be when you are sick, or is it?

My friend passed away this morning after an agonising battle with cancer. One has to wonder how much easier it would have been for her if she had received the treatment she was entitled to at the times she was turned away due to strikes and staff shortages. I’m sure she would still be with us today if she was able to receive the treatments and surgeries she was scheduled for.

Her husband is one of those nice old school Kiwi guys who listens to what he is told and didn’t want to rock the boat. He refused to fight through the management or the media to get the treatment his wife needed because he felt that was not the way you behave. Now he has lost his wife and soul mate too soon. We had to respect his right to be true to himself, but I’m not sure we have to accept the system that put him in that position.

My advice, if you are in a situation like that, where lives can be saved or prolonged and the bureaucratic penguins and the system is holding stolidly fast to this is where the line starts and if you’re not there anymore when you get to the end of the line, will the next patient shuffle forward, make a noise like someone’s life depends on it, especially if it does. People who go to the media miraculously get the treatment they need and sometimes before its too late.
We Kiwis need to stop being PC and accepting the bs that comes from our health industry. Note its not the wonderful hospital staff, they are put in an invidious position by the administrators, by the beurocrats and by the politicians who sleep sound at night and whose close ones are probably not getting turned away because “a registrar is off sick and the shift couldn’t run”. They are the ones who have to lie to the patients and their families when cost cutting measures, old fashioned systems full of lost paper files and ancient systems, and cost cutting means many people don’t get their surgeries, live or die in pain.

This person’s story is over. We won’t be going to the media or fighting because it is not what her husbands wanted. I respect that and much as it burns me, I will not add to his grief or risk creating feelings of guilt to him to make matters worse. He came from a generation who said yes sir, I know you are doing your best and genuinely trusted that. She may still have died, in fact probably would have, but she might have had a few more years and she certainly wouldn’t have suffered the degrees of agony of that she did over the last 4 months. We don’t do that to animals.

If you find yourself in a situation like this, make a noise, get your loved ones help, let the media know and as a country we have to get our government and administrators to invest in the new technologies that in the long run will cost less and save more lives.

Why don’t Auckland Hospitals Work Smarter Instead of Harder

 

 

3D Bioprinting


3D Printing is no longer news although I suspect most people haven’t heard of it yet. In fact there is a company within a couple of km of my office in Albany already successfully offering a variety of 3D printing services, incidentally called 3D Print. Another Aucklander, well known internationally in the  3D printing with RepRap is Vik Oliver, seen here with one of his machines.

When I heard that Richie McCaw was injured and after surgery was going to miss around 6 matches after having a titanium screw in his foot, my first reaction was, as most Kiwis, just what we need in Rugby World Cup year as he is such an amazing skipper and we want him there leading the All Blacks. Then I thought about so many other sports people who suffer injuries all the time given that they are putting their bodies on the line professionally.

Imagine a technology that rebuilds or repairs body tissue, bones, ligaments, even organs in vivo, using micro surgery techniques that mean people recover far more quickly, naturally and potentially therefore stronger than before.

Using the same types of technologies as conventional 3D printing, it will soon be possible to pattern and assemble, layer by layer, functioning living tissue, as well as non living substitutes such as ceramic and titanium according to Vladimir Mironov, an associate professor and director of the Advanced Tissue Biofabrication Center at the Department of Regenerative Medicine and Cell Biology, Medical University of South Carolina. He is also currently making waves about growing in vitro meat, something I have previously blogged about.

So this is a relatively new technology and I don’t know that it has been tested on humans yet, but the technology is already commercially available from companies such as envisionTEC.

Imagine the good this technology could do for people with problems from injuries, burns, through to the huge numbers of people who die for lack of organs for transplant.

The following video shows how bioprinters will be used in the long term. The technology will also be used to create human tissues which can be used for drug testing instead of using animals.

Of course if tissues and organs are made using material from the host, we can eliminate problems such as donor organ rejection.

Robots to learn human emotions


At the University of Hertfordshire they have been working on a model of children’s early attachment behavior for robots. Their goal is to apply nature and nurture with artificial intelligence so that robots can become caregivers for children in hospital.

“What the Hal?” I thought when I read about this in The Futurist. If you follow my blog, you will have read previous posts such as the one I wrote about Singularity. AI is obviously going to come, but the concept of nurture applied to a robot is something I struggle with, especially with children and even more so sick children who are in pain or stressed.

In principle the idea of a robot that can play games with children, have unlimited patience and intelligence, makes total sense and is a great idea. But when it comes to EQ, I’m not sure how it would interpret immature and potentially irrational behavior.

There have been a number of studies suggesting that children and even teenagers are often unable to understand the consequences of their actions. Many people argue that risk taking is a natural growth path in the development from children to adults. This makes me wonder what would happen if robots learn from children and interpret their behavior as normal. Imagine for example if a robot goes from learning paper, rock scissors, as in this video and then learns to pillow fight or throw objects, from the children.

I’m not being a Luddite, I love new technology, but I do have some concerns about singularity and whilst I would love a robot to vacuum, mow the lawns, cook and do other chores for me, I would prefer them without the emotional senses.

I’ll leave the last word to HAL 9000

Would you like HAL looking after your sick child?

Why don’t Auckland Hospitals Work Smarter Instead of Harder


A friend of mine was prepped for 2 days with nil by mouth a month or 2 ago for urgent cancer surgery. The first day she got bumped and the 2nd day was the start of a radiographers strike. Last night she was prepped for an 8 hour operation and got bumped due to a critical case that suddenly appeared. We thought she was criticial, but obviously that’s not for us to judge.

I’ve asked the question before “Is hospital the best place to be when you are sick?” and pretty  much decided unless it was a private hospital, possibly not. But of course most of us don’t have any choice especially as we get older.

It is nice to see that some things are improving. For example Auckland Health Board has decided to send some patients to private clinics for radiation treatment to reduce waiting times.

I had blogged previously about waiting times at North Shore Hospital based on experiences waiting with family members in A & E and subsequently in corridors in some cases for days, without being assigned to wards. Each time we were told that it was an exceptional case and we were just unlucky. A registrar was sick and therefore his team couldn’t operate was a common excuse. Think about it, an entire team doesn’t operate because one person doesn’t turn up? Maybe they were stretching the truth, being they are short staffed and can’t afford another registrar, and they didn’t turn up because they didn’t exist.

According to the reports, North Shore Hospital is improving and it is now only the 3rd worst in New Zealand. North Shore Hospital supports North Shore and Waitakere with an excess of 400,000 population and rapidly growing. Of course things will change with the new Super City, but the problems won’t go away.

As you can see in previous blogs I’ve written such as ‘76 Deaths, Surgical Mistakes in New Zealand Hospitals‘ I have been pushing for more specialized technology to streamline processes for many years. The technology has been around for a long time, yet we still seem to rely heavily on paper. Tablet and handheld computing has been around for a long time. Most of us use WiFi in the home, in cafe’s, at the airport and understand the power of dealing with information once, accurately and allowing instant access to anyone who needs it in a timely fashion. That’s how we live.

I now see bar codes on patient wrist bands, but I don’t see them being read by a handheld computer to check for allergies, conditions etc at the bedside. This technology could have saved many NZ lives at a tiny fraction of the cost of their lost lives, productivity etc.

When I started promoting this technology, it was with Pocket PC, Palm and Symbol technologies (handheld computers, 3D Bar Code Readers, Portable Printers, Digital Cameras which were being used in many US and European hospitals and that was 20 years ago!

Today there is superior technology such as the Panasonic Mobile Clinical Assistant CF-H1 which runs on Windows 7. The video is pretty corny but it really does illustrate how efficient it is to use mobile technology. Of course this technology has a rugged drop spec, is chemical resistant, lasts 6 hours on a standard battery.

This technology means everyone is in sync and has access to critical data on demand. Paper gets misplaced in hospitals. I had one visit with a daughter that was delayed by 90 minutes simply because someone had misplaced her file. Data can be shared with specialists and medical staff in and out of hospital, including images such as scans, x-rays, photos, test results, charts and graphs. Allergies and condition interactions can be monitored to minimise risk of causing new problems, doses can be confirmed, approvals provided remotely. Pretty much the whole world’s medical knowledge is available online today.

Today’s world should be about harnessing technology to work smarter rather than harder. I suspect the focus is on cost of the technology because our hospitals are run by administrators tasked with saving money. Of course they are largely man aged by politicians. If health is a major election platform every election, why is it that the performance is still so poor?

Next time you are in hospital, have a look at how they use or don’t use technology. Think about how you operate in your business. Think about what’s at stake and ask them why they do things the way they do.

We have national elections next year. They will be talking about improving the health system. Will they be talking about improving the ICT structure and putting information in the hands of the clinicians? Or will they be talking about saving money, improving the monitoring of staff performance and measuring waiting times in A&E?

We have an ageing population and growing population. They are going to need more services and we could increase our throughput, reduce patient risk, significantly improve outcomes by harnessing technology, working smarter rather than harder, expecting great results from staff working double shifts several times a week.

Is Kiwi Ingenuity a Thing of the Past


OK, apologies for the blogfade. My father in law has gone to rest 3 months after being told he had 3 days to 2 weeks left after a second long battle with cancer. I’ve had lots of things I wanted to blog about, but haven’t had the time or state of mind. But I’m back with bells on.

Lots of things coming up, so please keep an eye out. What’s coming up?

I want to talk some more about health technology and ask why we aren’t using it in our hospitals to the degree that we should even though it can save time, money and most of all, lives.

I also want to explore in depth the Number 8 Fencing Wire way of life in New Zealand and whether it still exists. I want to explore why, when we have so many brilliant minds in New Zealand, it doesn’t result in increased GDP and why the little guy stays little.

I discussed this with a colleague a few days ago and he postulated that we are still celebrating Ernest Rutherford, the Hamilton Jet, Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings, AJ Hackett and Number 8 fencing wire and some guy who rode an Indian motorcycle faster than it was designed to go and that they are all in the past. He seemed to think we weren’t so smart any more.

So I asked him, what about the Rex, 3D Printing, the Martin Jet Pack or Mark Rocket’s Rocket? He hadn’t heard of any of those and I suspect very few Kiwi’s have.

I have long bemoaned that New Zealand doesn’t take advantage of a fairly unique mindset that makes up many Kiwis. There are so many opportunities, so many capable people, but we seem to be unable to capitalise on them. Yes there are grants, there are incubators, there are clusters, but most good ideas either go by the wayside or fly overseas where investors recognise an opportunity when they see one.

So I’m going to do some digging and some talking and maybe even have the opportunity to help a few people on the way. New Zealand has the potential to be an innovation and center of excellence capital of the world. Whether it is a gadget that stops the paint tin falling off a ladder or nanotechnology, we are great problem solvers.

More people, businesses and government need to recognize and harness our ability and we need to do it differently if we want to get a different result. Our smarts are everywhere but they are disorganized and rudderless. I say we wake up and smell the coffee.

Let’s go Kiwis! Come along for the ride. Don’t just listen, come and join the conversation. Have you got some good ideas? What’s holding you back?

And When I Die


No I’m not talking about my blog, but it is relevant to the podfade. There is so much I want to write about. How thrilled I was about The Hyperfactory achieving their harvest plan and that Derek and Geoffrey are planning on coming back to New Zealand to share their knowledge and help others follow in their successful path. As you know location based services and mobile marketing are amongst my passions.

I would also have liked to talk about the Rex which set foot in New Zealand, just as I was bemoaning the difficulty of Kiwi innovators to capitalise on their ability; again an area that has been of great interest to me. Then of course there is the tentative success of the oil cap on the BP oil well. I have pondered much on Oceanic Dead Zones, whilst the BP accident helps extend them.

Two months ago I was faced with a family crisis. My father in law was told that he had somewhere between 3 days and 2 weeks to live. Life as I know it, pretty much stopped. Our close family was in shock, even though we knew it would come eventually. Before you offer condolences, he is still alive:)

Having developed a taste for tobacco while serving in the air force, 20 years ago he had a laryngectomy as a result of throat cancer. He didn’t take it lying down. He learned to talk again and picked his life up. He became involved with the Lost Chord Club and eventually became President, counselling others through their throat cancer journey. He also visited schools and let children look into his stoma, seeing that he had to breath through a hole in his neck, caused through smoking.

So for most of the last 20 years he was in remission, then the cancer returned and as often is the case 2nd time around, it was not going to be possible to treat it.

So my life and that of my family has changed dramatically for a while and  many of things I have been wanting to do, I haven’t had time for. We spend as much time as we can with him, because once it is over it is totally over.

It strikes me that whilst we all know that from the moment we are born, we can be certain of one thing (I have blogged about people (such as some from Singularity University) are doing everything they can to avoid it) it appears that death is a given for each of us.

So we have been assisting with respite care, trying to help him maintain his dignity as he becomes helpless, and his confusion as to both why he is still alive and what will become of him when he dies. Will there be a place for him in heaven? Is there a heaven? These things worry him. He has never been a religious person, although he was a church choir boy many years back. He worries about his wife and what will become of her after he passes on.

We all worry about each other, how each is going to cope with the end. I wonder how the women of the family cope now, they look after him around 18 hours a day, partly because they want to and partly because there are not many people who understand how to look after someone with a hole in their neck, who can’t talk. If he had a shower and water got into his stoma, he would drown. If his neck valve leaks (and this happens from time to time) when he eats a few spoonfuls of his porridge, the food can leak into his lungs.

Anyway, things aren’t normal right now and no one can tell him what is next tomorrow, let alone for eternity. Two months ago he was told maximum 2 weeks. Two weeks ago we were told “a few days”.  It took us a while to understand what he meant every time he woke up and asked “What’s going on?” We thought he meant Who’s here? or Is someone going to take me to the toilet? But eventually we figured out that he is asking, “Why am I still alive?”

So it seemed appropriate as I wait for my finger nails to toughen up again (for guitar) after washing the bathroom and shower, so I can do my latest Berklee Music assignment and then head back to the rest home after a work out at the gym (down to one a week because I go to the rest home straight from work) that today’s blog be about something more basic than singularity and the latest problems with iPhone 4. Once you break it down, we are just an essence in a body that peaks somewhere between late teens and mid twenties and then starts to die.

Sometimes all that matters is the people that are close to you and can give you comfort, and you them. When you break it down, we are beings in flesh and blood in a temporary home.

I’ve been reading


This week I had a short stay in hospital for a minor operation and have been resting up to make sure that I don’t pop any stitches. For a couple of days I was popping pain relief which had as much influence on my head as my body, then I decided I wanted clarity back and started reading.

I mean really reading. I finished a book I had started weeks ago and started another straight away. I really enjoyed myself. I also got into reading some more articles and read a quote by Nicholas Carr, from an article in The Atlantic, which really resonated with me, entitled Is Google Making Us Stupid?

The core of the article is that we have access to so many snippets of information and the ability to easily research any topic, that we don’t have to do any serious reading any more. In fact most of us don’t bother any more. I have been an avid reader most of my life, but these days I spend more and more time on the computer.

My business and personal life involves amongst other activities, reading, responding to and writing emails and spending a lot of time communicating via Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook, plus many sites such as MySpace and Music Forte, where I hope an A&R person or singer will pick up some of my songs. It seems to be a race from one micro-communication and application to the next.

In his article, Carr wrote: “My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.” That sounded so much like what I do, what I revelled in.

But here’s the thing for me. I have read thousands of books over the years, from literature to politics, science, philosophy and psychology and much more. I have enjoyed the American and English classics, with some Kafka and Solzhenitsyn, lots of Science Fiction, and many university texts. They have given me a background from which to interpret all the bytes of information I now sample, to understand them and make sense of them.

Because you can think faster than you read, I was able to analyse, interpret question and process everything I set my eyes on, storing it for future reference. But here’s the thing, many people today are not building those backgrounds of data and knowledge.

Many teenagers don’t read books any more. Many tell me they can count the total number of books they have read in their lives, on the fingers of one hand. When they communicate, they abbreviate words to send text messages on their mobiles or send emails. Spelling has become poor and many people who have come to me looking for jobs, could not write a quality CV to introduce themselves. When I complained about my children’s spelling in their school assignments, teachers told me that it was concept and intent that mattered, not delivery. I’m going on a tangent, but things are changing and they may not be for the better.

When it comes to news, only a couple of people in my office read a newspaper, although most of them are graduates. If we didn’t have one in the office, most people would know nothing more than what they see on the TV news, when they bother to watch it.

I’ve counted myself lucky that I live in New Zealand where people have had a DIY attitude, based around the history of being a young country where people had to solve their own problems and find ways of doing things despite many obstacles, including being about as far away from the rest of the world as you can get.

Kiwis have been known as inventors and problem solvers and have been well accepted in business all over the world, where specialisation is becoming more common. Even here though, talent shortages are becoming obvious, especially as people find they can earn more overseas. Another reason imho, is that without an intellectual background, and moving away from the land and domestic skills that come with necessity, we are losing those skills.

Companies who made their older staff redundant and replaced them with young managers are finding that they may be lacking in maturity that comes from experience and learning intellectually, not just info bytes. This is costing them dearly. In many cases older workers are going back into the workforce for economic reasons and companies are reaping the benefit of their experience, but this comes hard as younger people often think they know everything and don’t need ‘wise counsel’.

The world economy may help us, bringing people home from their extended overseas experiences, looking for a better place to raise their kids and our isolation could be a good thing.

Specialisation is going nuts. A story in The Futurist earlier this year by Bruce Tow and David Gilliam gave an example of a surgeon who was only qualifed to repair knees injured during the playing of football. There is a new specialisation now starting to becom sought after, which is that of a ‘connector’. A connector is someone who can understand enough about a lot of disciplines and can act as an intermediary to help solve problems outside of the specialist spheres.

Without realising it, I have become one of those. Many people come to me for advice in how to solve business problems. They have people within their organisations with amazing specialist skills, but without  the ability to harness these people to and networks to get results. Often it seems really simple to me, with my background and of course an objectivity that comes from not being involved in the path that got them to their current position.

So I’ve been reading and I guess I’ve been waffling, but I’m allowed because this is my blog. Many people think that Twitter and all the other networking sites are a waste of time. For many people they are, because they don’t have the skills to access the wisdom and knowledge behind many of the shared messages. The people who really maximise the wealth of information on the net are those who have read and absorbed knowledge first. The ones who rise up as genuine consultants share real knowledge. They don’t need to fill their micro bytes with quotes and links from someone else, they can think for themselves, because they did their apprecticeships, they learned intellectually and by doing, failing and doing again.

Maybe it was just the painkillers and reading this will be a waste of time. But then I don’t think reading is ever a waste of time.

What the HAL?


I love the way Japan and Korea are developing robotics. I used to say that the Japanese were great engineers but not that great at innovating, I think that perhaps those thoughts should be banished to the dim past.

I’ve written a few blogs on robotics, such as about the plans in Korea to have a domestic robot in every household between 2015 and 2020, ironically I mentioned HAL9000 from 2001 A Space Oddysey in that blog.

The latest innovation greeting the media this week has been the new Japanese Robot suit from Cyberdine, also called HAL, but this one is a robotic prosthesis. HAL stands for Hybrid Assistive Limb and uses the faint nerve impulses when your brain tries to control weak or damaged limbs.

This technology has been under development for several years, but it looks like it is ready or the market, as demonstrated in this video taken recently in a Japanese hospital.

What seems remarkable to me is that this robot will soon be available for purchase in Japan for a little over US$4,000! This means that these devices will be accessible for less than the cost of an average surgery and could perhaps be of major assistance to people on waiting lists for hip replacement or other limb operations.

One of the great features is that the exosceleton, if I can call it that, supports its own weight, so isn’t an extra burden on the person wearing it. This offers people with disabilities an amazing opportunty to live and do ordinary, but also extraodinary things. For example during testing 2 years ago, Seiji Uchida, a quadraplegic was able was able to climb a mountain on the back of a climber using a HAL suit.

Of course this brings in the Six Million Dollar Man question. If this is what disabled people can do, what could able bodied people achieve with one of these?

Of course the military have been working on projects like these for a long time. DARPA have for several years been working on exoskeletons that can help people carry more weight, run faster and of course have much more strength when needed.

Other scenarios where these could be used would be in civil emergencies such as earthquake rescue, where immediate strength could speed the release of people trapped under rubble.

The immediate opportunity is to alleviate suffering of people with injuries or issues such as arthritis, but there are likely to be lots of people queuing up for the opportunity to become super people, or perhaps super heroes, or of course super criminals, but I don’t want to go there.

Day to day operations of emergency services could also benefit from this technology. In the hands of fire services, police, paramedics and others, this technology could be brilliant.