Professor Sherri VandenAkker

From the vantage of an engaged 21st century On-line Educator with 20th century, New England  roots, Sherri VandenAkker considers innovation, learning and teaching in a hyper-connected world.

Advantage Love

Part 2 of a Series: Data's Reach, Resonance and Reality

The 1964 World’s Fair Pavilion is a futuristic feature of Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.  It is a view seasonally guaranteed; relative to my bedroom perch.  Winter’s stark and stubborn promise; known to every branch poised between the scope of my sky and the Pavilion’s prominence, has a shelf-life timed to spring’s sensibilities. 

A candid accounting of my bedroom vantage therefore, demands disclosing the Pavilion’s inevitable cloaking; imposed by the surety of spring’s standard canopy — a coefficient of broad leafy change.

The architectural duo responsible for the Pavilion’s provenance and prominence; Philip Johnson and Lev Zetlin has inspired a cornucopia of schemes, debate and what-if-ideations.  A crowd-sourced Kickstarter campaign promises a 3-D rendering of the Pavilion to permanently secure its preservation as a “national treasure.”  Numerous public / private proposals have been floated; most recently by Queens Borough President Melinda Katz and billionaire John Catsimatidis.   

For those geo-spatialists struggling to imagine my bedroom bounty; think Toronto or Seattle.  Similarly, those skylines afford a weighted, analogous presence made possible by the “observation” function of the Pavilion’s Towers. 

In the case of Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, the air space of nearby JFK International Airport funnels trillions of dollars; a distributed currency of the world’s cargo, people and couture to and from Queens.  

Not far from the Pavilion is the USTA where the US Open delights competitors and fans of professional tennis annually.
Little Maurice, a NYC Department of Parks and Recreation property is where I first began hitting tennis balls on a concrete court with a racquet I acquired on my tenth birthday. 

The footprint of players like Althea Gibson, Billy Jean King, Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert reverberated in my understanding of tennis culture, play, form and finesse.  My tennis aspirations were inspired by their individual and collective excellence.  
On the men’s side of the court, Arthur Ashe, John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg weighted my tennis performance profile. 

It was a much different time.  Especially, where boundaries were assessed, pushed and transcended.  The seventies were simpler.  Sport, some feel, quite acutely, was purer.

Today, we cultivate and live with unknown quantities of distraction; intentionally pushed by technologies embedded throughout our lives, no matter our truest passions and interests.  The indifference of data, coupled with quantifiers like market-share means there is often an algorithm close at hand, associated with those essential drivers of our core being; our tastes and preferences, our innermost predictors of choice. 

Apart from what our ‘privacy’ sensibilities may be, we have access to hyper-real-reality; where corporate brands and carefully timed consumer opportunities vie for our augmented attention. 
Professional tennis, with its personalities and court-inspired performances, invite lifestyle-rich -product-driven - strategies and brand explorations.  IBM has been pursuing this fertile fact for 25 years. 

IBM’s robust, data-driven SlamTracker  offers a momentum tracking feature that captures and visually maps player momentum in real-time, point by point. SlamTracker also tracks Twitter conversations about the players on the court, identifying how much positive sentiment each player is generating throughout the match.

At the 2014 US Open, Ralph Lauren, one of the most iconic and legendary luxury brands, introduced biometrics to fans through fashion.  By selectively dressing ball boys with a simple black, fabric-enhanced, form-fitting t-shirt made recognizable by the Polo logo, the movements, frequency and speed of the ball boys was tracked.  The pace of professional tennis relies very much on ball boys / girls, so the data [biometrics] is of immediate value. 

Ralph Lauren’s fabric-enhancement was derived with the assistance of OMsignal.  The Montreal-based company is a pioneer in the “wearables” market; a taxonomy which has the technology sector all abuzz.
Last year, Fashion Week overlapped with the US Open; and while Mercedes Benz took the wheel with branding rights to the former, tennis superstar Serena Williams sustained double-fisted success at the USTA with her 18th Grand Slam title followed by the Fashion Week debut of her HSN - Signature Statement clothing line; aided by the media momentum of Editor-in-Chief, Anna Wintour of VOGUE.

Our attention, our conscious use of built-environments ever-more frequently finds us tethered to a plethora of mobile promises and pricing.   At the ready; we grip our “smart” devices and volley volumes, returning what is served up by reaching for our reserves of preferred credit cards to pay for the privilege of follow-through.  At what cost?  

Rehab Reverb

Part 1 of a Series: Data's Reach, Resonance and Reality

My first dance with data occurred when I became an out-patient at The Institute for Rehabilitation Medicine in New York City.  As a patient, I was indexed, coded, abstracted and condensed; therapeutically synced along the spectrum of my third and fourth birthdays.  As a memory, it is my earliest; cognitively weighted to a rich network of specialists dedicated to addressing my unique needs as an upper extremity amputee.

It has been an Anthropology of Self ever since rounds and rounds of white-coated specialists first began their task of assessing and evaluating me; clipboards cradled, devotedly capturing the clinical moment, carefully notating the patient: doctor dynamic.  In code, each of them would render their impressions; their clinical conclusions.

Data collection was a norm, as it is today, among Rehabilitation practitioners.  Data, both unique and commonplace to those who begin and sustain the work of Rehabilitation, or its cousin Physical Therapy, provides bare-bones facts and patient-specific-perspective where progress is the currency of recovery, healing and wellness.

The Institute is now part of New York University’s Langone Medical Center; and is referred by its branded shorthand as: Rusk.  Compared to its original structure, it is a behemoth mid-town presence with plans underway to expand further into select Manhattan neighborhoods.  As a footprint, in a city on task to provide multi-specialty 21st century healthcare, it has swallowed Rusk.  As a result, my initial synthesis of self and out-patient experience relies almost entirely upon memory not place.  

To the extent such urban change contributes to forgetting, my out-patient-narrative is emboldened by my highly impactful participation in a summer employment program administered at Rusk.   When funding for the program was threatened by Reagan-era, Washington politics, a self-selected group of us embarked upon a plan to seek private and corporate dollars to save it.

We first sought the support of Howard Rusk, M.D. not just because we knew him (as did the world), as the father of Rehabilitation Medicine but because as readers of his Autobiography A World to Care For we knew he was a man of great scope and intention. 

Persuaded, Dr. Rusk’s endorsement of our goals earned us access to audiences both prominent and powerful.  In turn, we lobbied with honesty and wit relying entirely on narratives extracted from the essential characteristics of our ‘unique’ disabilities and our varied work assignments throughout New York City. 

Our strategy was naively simple: Personalize, personalize, personalize.   As a technique, it was a borrowed truism from the oft-quoted:  “Write what you know.”   As a fund-raising tactic, it fell short.  We mistakenly believed anecdotes alone were sufficient to win influential allies and secure funding.  It was a lesson in the importance of pairing compelling first-person accounts with data.

Our present-day hyper-connected mobile lives have re-made data.  It has become a commodity stitched together by non-uniform notions of ‘privacy’ and algorithms sourced for profit.   The rush is on to build “Intelligent Systems” which promise consumer convenience, location-specific navigation and opportunities linked to our “likes” or comments on social networking services (applications) like Facebook.

There are other, seemingly benign efforts underway among cause-specific data-developers whose hopes are to defend or revive democratic ideals; or bring greater “transparency” to governments and to the decisions of elected officials.  Similarly, cities throughout the world aspire to make use of data to enable better spending decisions with budgets drawn from revenues collected to provide improvements and services to its citizenry.

One of the most sweeping approaches to data has originated in Armonk, NY world headquarters of IBM.  Recognized for its competitive advantage, decision-making potential and value, IBM’s data-defined goals embrace an array of sectors; made especially clear by its upcoming Big Data and Analytics conference Insight 2014.

Among Big Data's many marketplace opportunities is Healthcare.  Due to the broad social and commercial transformation enabled by mobile devices, there is intense pressure to reduce costs and improve health outcomes.  Advances in big data and analytics capabilities are driving innovation and smarter care strategies.  At Insight 2014, healthcare organizations are expected to share how they are "extracting rich insights from internal and external data sources of various types to capture the "voice" of the individual to engage more effectively and improve performance and outcomes."

Under the umbrella of IBM's Smarter Care Initiative, Vice President of Industry Solutions Karen Parrish and Otsuka America's Vice President of Government Affairs, John Bardi presented virtually as joint partners last month addressing: Smarter Care for Mental Health: Improving Outcomes for Individuals With Serious Mental Illness.

The IBM/Otsuka partnership aims to tackle Public Mental Health delivery systems by addressing its social, lifestyle and clinical components.  Noting the huge Mental Health "Federal and State spend," Bardi described the current situation as a spiral of crisis." "By 2020, Behavioral Health will be the biggest disability."

Assertions like Bardi's immediately bring to mind my 2012-2013 involvement with the Los Angeles Veterans Health Collaborative, part of USCs Center for Innovation and Research on Veterans and Military Families.  As a member of the Behavioral Health Working Group, many facts (data) came to the fore during our discussions.  The urgency of improving delivery systems is especially clear when presented by these sobering facts:

One in three veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars is diagnosed with post-traumatic stress symptoms, and veterans kill themselves at a rate of one every 80 minutes. Returning service members face everything from marital problems to traumatic brain injury to substance abuse. 

In order for analytics and cognitive computing to serve as a solution, there must be a focus on outcomes.   The affected “communities of care” must rally and pay close attention to the “consumer voice,” says Parrish.  “Among the Mental Health ecosystem, there is substantial overlap with no memory.”  We need to uncover “highly repeatable solutions” within clinical systems.

The importance placed on “consumer voice” humanizes Big Data and gives more legitimacy to the analytics associated with Smarter Care efforts.  Going forward, Electronic Health Records (EHR) is fundamental to any notion of “voice,”  ‘privacy’ or efficiency.  When fully functional and exchangeable, the benefits of EHRs offer far more than a paper record can.

Appraising the value of " voice" along the timeline of data, I recall the era of paper; when I (along with my dedicated peers) made an effort to rally Rusk’s communities of care.  None of us were ‘disabled’ by any objective uniform standard.  We agreed on outcomes but our identities were bound by subjective and sociological differences.   Employment among us however, was a highly repeatable solution; especially in contrast to prejudicial hiring practices of the period which unfortunately continue today.

Our pursuit of “voice” is more than an invitation to listen.  It is a rallying cry to hear.

Architectures Ancient and New

Borrowing from the 1986 song The Boy In The Bubble written by Paul Simon and Forere Mothoeloa, I declare:

These are the days of wearables and wonders.  This is my smart-phone call.  The way its camera follows me in slo-mo; staccato signals of constant information, a loose affiliation of millionaires and billionaires and baby, don’t cry, don’t cry.

These seeming fragments are quite real.  So real, for those who have a stake in them; the corporations, mobile App developers, thought leaders, entrepreneurs and least of all, those global consumers for whom the Economics of wearables depends, fragmentation is perceived to be the central hurdle, most especially in the realm of Data and Digital Health.
In Barcelona, from February 24-27, 2014 The Mobile World Congress will convene and its attendees will take on many of the perceived opportunities and issues presented by the worldwide adoption and use of mobile-based products.  The event’s organizers assert that Mobile is a catalyst of change and innovation. Mobile is creating the next connected device that transforms communication. Advancing the next payment system that alters commerce. Launching the next must-have app that changes how we interact.”

Among these catalysts, changes, innovations and transformations are concepts like connected living, data analytics, developing markets, intelligent networks, identity and privacy, network economics and optimization. Each of them will be a focus of discussion, debate and dissection in Barcelona.  But most compelling is an afternoon session scheduled on the last day of The Mobile World Congress: “Redefining Reality with Screens, Storage & Wearables.”

While compelling, the session is also provocative and presumptuous.  A sojourn to Barcelona is in fact, not a prerequisite for asking these fundamental questions:  Whose reality will be redefined?  What values will be present in such re-engineering? How will our relationship with our augmented bodies redefine our expectations of Self?

Not long after smart-phones were introduced, I sought to redefine my own reality by first recognizing the implicit design limits of smart-phones.  Their basic physicality; viewed as a function of my biology, was an instance of the classic [and much discussed] tension of form versus function.

Since my first prosthetic fitting at the pioneering Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine in New York City, I have spent most of my life maneuvering objects, tools and tangible space with a prosthetic arm.  Those daily negotiations are, to some degree, self-imposed.  It is my choice to augment my body with a device as ancient as the Egyptians.

Some decline prostheses for the very reasons some consumers decline to purchase smart-phones. Neither is essential to one’s life.  Cost is another factor.  There is lack of demand by some would-be consumers owing to perceptions of value, need and usefulness.   Also, the requisite learning unique to the mechanics and use of both, respectively, hinder their purchase and adoption.

Viewed categorically, prosthetics and smart-phones occupy a place among the disparate; cached among the fragmentation of data and among the Internet of things.   Their convergence, as I first became conscious of it, was an opportunity to imagine a re-purposing; to lay claim to an embodiment of  a 21st Century Self.   Critical however, was first acknowledging the limitations of prosthetics and smart-phones when viewed as separate entities.

To associate smart-phones with ‘limitations’ runs counter to their current and ever-growing predicted global demand, profit-schemas, cultural and societal prevalence and marketing.   
Such is the primary and unconscious native prejudice of a two-handed marketplace!

The most expedient explanation of smart-phone ‘limitations’ relies on the verbiage used during their initial consumer introduction: Handhelds.  As a matter of design, holding the device of one’s choosing in one’s hand and manipulating its interface is the universal starting place.  Having another hand to anchor or stabilize the hand-held / smart-phone; while optional, is the overwhelming default among users.

Their limits then, as viewed from a one-handed perspective, are quite obvious.  Layered upon this ‘scarcity’ of the body,  are our Mobile lives; often requiring us to hold our mobile devices in one hand and perform a whole range of tasks with the presumed ‘other’ hand.

Re-purposing technology is sometimes pursued collaboratively.  In my case, it was a requirement of breathing life into my vision of creating a hands-free smart-phone —a wearable computer relevant not just as a solution to the problem of scarcity but a design transferable to many different Mobile contexts and users.

A complete re-making of my prosthetic platform was prefaced by a design-based conversation with Dr. Stephan Manucharian, Clinical Director at Othopedic Arts in New York City.  Customization is never negotiated in the fabrication of prosthetics or orthotics.  It is the de facto standard. 

While a one-size-fits-all approach is never a part of the manufacturing process [as it is in many other manufacturing environments] there are certain mechanistic and design features which are viewed as ‘standard.’  The socket, for example [pictured] is usually rounded, not flattened.

All designs, as part of their chronology from idea to their practical application, their usability, require testing.   Some refer to this as “proof of concept.”  Nearly three years have elapsed since I began my wearable trajectory; since taking on a relationship with what is both ancient and new.

Taking my discoveries to scale will require additional collaborations; perhaps most importantly, where self-powered mobile devices are concerned.  Indeed, powering our mobile-enhanced lives is fundamental to our re-engineering.  I view it as an especially exciting aspect of my 21st Century embodiment.

“Wearable technology.  It’s an exploding product category in desperate need of a category-defining product,” began Jon Phillips in his PC World piece titled: Wearable Tech at CES 2014: Prepare your body parts for an onslaught of options.

Wearables require a category-defining product?   My re-defined reality is brimming with categorical evidence.  Its embodiment is already here.  And much of the data favors Digital Health.

I welcome these days of wearables and wonders.

This is my smart-phone call.

The Power of Place

At a recent Public Forum, Rachel Haot,
the Chief Digital Officer of the City of New York, unveiled .NYC a new top-level domain [TLD] which, as conceived, will “leverage the assets of New York City in a digital world.” 

“We want creative and meaningful uses of .NYC,” Haot urged.  “But the TLD must have geographic integrity. It must have ‘meaning.’ Those who apply for and own .NYC must have a physical address in New York City.”

That evening, I chose to engage in a break-out session titled:  “The Future of .NYC.”  Paradoxically, I was seated next to a bi-coastal Entertainment Promoter with roots in Los Angeles.  “I grew up in the LA area, business brings me to both Coasts but I am most comfortable here in New York,” she summarized, by way of an introduction.

“Welcome to New York,” I said, “I grew up here; lived in LA for about a year and have recently returned to New York.”  And so our geographic convergence and associated acquaintance began.

 Public Forums, like the one our respective geo-based integrities and interests convened, always guarantee a disparate audience of presumed stakeholders.   Normally, attendees absorb and extract what is most relevant to their interests; sometimes contributing to the at-large agenda and then depart, resuming their respective trajectories among many spheres of consequence, impact and importance.

But paradoxes invite reflection.  And when they derive so consequentially from individual topographic narratives and the abstract intentions of a city like New York, questions surface and assertions about space, place and meaning are born.

“What brought you to tonight’s meeting?” asked my LA / NYC acquaintance.  “As a New Yorker who has been in the tech space for 20 years, I am interested in the intersection of the digital world and the City’s tangible assets, its landmarks, neighborhoods or, as some say, its real-time experience.”  “You know,” she said, “without a targeted marketing plan, .NYC will be just another TLD, among the rest.”  “Yeah, especially since a physical address is required,” I said.

Unexpected lessons which deepen my awareness and understanding are my favorite kind, so I was very pleased to receive a link from my LA / NYC acquaintance about Los Angeles-famed  Dr. Pat Soon-Shiong 
whose company Nantworks, LLC aims to develop and deliver a diverse range of technologies that empowers the digital revolution of the 21st century.

NantWorks’ six entities include NantMobile.  Its core product, iD Browser, is a mobile recognition platform that allows people to browse the physical world around them, unlocking digital experiences, coupons, content and information from featured brands, media and retailers that they know, like and trust. The underlying platform of NantMobile is intended to be and is web-enabled.   The “assets” of the physical world are central to its adoption.

Rachel Haot will soon leave her current post to take a similar job in Governor Cuomo's administration. She will serve as deputy secretary for technology, a newly created position in the governor's office.  Haot will oversee the state's presence on the web, on mobile platforms and on social media.  With her new and expanded role, will physical addresses continue to matter?  Or, will her new sense of place awaken a new sense of space?