Confessions of an Apple Fan Boy

Update: Apple’s Tim Cook Visits Foxconn IPhone Plant in China

Update 2: Apple Supplier in China Pledges Big Labor Changes

I have the new iPad. I confess. I have the original iPad. I have an iPhone, a MacBook Pro and we have several other  Mac desktops and laptops of various vintage and utility in our family. Ever since the New York Times series on Apple and its relationship with manufacturers in China came out I have been conflicted about my slavish adoration of all things Apple. Of course, I knew most of the devices I use were built in China and I knew the conditions were often harsh and sometimes deadly. Then I heard Mike Daisy’s dramatic story as presented on This American Life as I waited for the new iPad to be released and my guilt began to mount.

I also knew that the factories in China are not having a hard time finding workers because as bad as some of the conditions and pay are, they are much better than the abject poverty most of them face in rural China. I am aware that Apple is not alone among tech companiesMy iPad taking advantage of China’s low cost labor and efficient supply chains. Indeed, if I look around my house or probably your house, there are hundreds of items in common use that are “Made in China”.

So what am I supposed to do with this information? Should I refrain from using Apple products? What about all the other items built by “exploited” workers? What should my moral stance be? What should any of us do in the face of exported manufacturing jobs that will never come back to the U.S.?

I listened to This American Life’s retraction show on a drive up from Santa Rosa where, among other things, I visited an Apple store and had a very good experience. But the retraction show was more about the journalistic integrity of the Mike Daisy story and NPR than it was about the core issue. At the end, the question still hung in the air. How are we to feel about the conditions of Chinese factory workers? What are we to do to make it better? BTW, the retraction show is an incredible listen. In some ways, more moving, powerful and thought provoking than the original broadcast.

To add to the mess Apple, the richest company in the world, decided to spend some of it’s amassed wealth by giving dividends to investors and buying back stock, further driving up it’s share value. At first, I thought this was outrageous in the face of all the bad publicity around the China story.

But then I thought, maybe Apple is laying the groundwork for doing something much more radical than creating a new product that changes an entire market. Maybe Apple is paying off its investors while it plans a bigger gamble. Maybe Apple is going to lead the way in transforming the global manufacturing market by forcing its contractors to improve conditions and pay for all their workers. Not in just a small way, but in a big way.

What might happen if Apple did this? It would force other manufacturing contractors to raise their conditions and pay in order to compete. It would help create a bigger market for the very tech toys we in the U.S. gobble up as more people would be able to afford them. It would create a higher base for manufacturing jobs around the world that would then make our own worker pool seem more competitive (though there are other more complicated issues than labor cost involved in helping bring those kinds of jobs back to our shores) and it would further burnish Apple’s image as a company that “Thinks Different”.

So, this is what I can do. I can keep buying the gadgets I love. And I can write this blog as a tiny effort to encourage Apple to become an even more visionary company that helps transform global economics. After all, what else does it need to prove? Maybe this will be Steve Jobs’ true legacy.

I’m sure my logic is flawed and my reasoning is really rationalization. If you think so, let me know in the comments.

Healthcare and Mobile Convergence

This is a slightly edited and enhanced version of an article that appeared November, 2011 as part of the Times-Standard/Redwood Technology Consortium Tech Beat series.

The health industry in slowly adopting technology on a large scale, moving to electronic documents, computer generated prescriptions and information sharing. It’s been a rough road as standards and privacy issues have to be grappled with beyond the sheer technical problems. But the trade-offs in efficiency, accuracy and data gathering will be well worth the struggle. Mobile technology will play an increasing role in both institutional and personal health care advances.

An example of the convergence of data and mobile applications is the recent release of an IPad app for health practitioners by Practice Fusion a leader in electronic health records. The app allows doctors instant access to patient records in a secure environment from wherever they are as long as they are connected to the Internet.

While institutional adoption of mobile technology is starting to happen, another revolution in personal health monitoring is also taking place. An explosion of apps and add-on devices for mobile devices are putting a wealth of data gathering, sharing and eventually diagnosis in to the hands of ordinary people and health care workers in the field.

IPhoneThere are quite a few tools already, though in many cases they are still rather basic. Most of the consumer apps and devices focus on diet and exercise monitoring. However, the future is bright as developers begin to understand the mobile platform and stretch its capabilities At the same time mobile systems continue to become more powerful and flexible. Additionally part of the delay of the release of more serious apps and devices has been the long approval process required by the Food and Drug Administration. However, according to a recent article in Business Week that process should soon be streamlined allowing for a flood of new advances for both health care workers and individuals.

A Few Current Applications and Devices

An example of the type of advanced app that can improve health care is described in an article on GigaOm. The app was developed by Dr. John Moore at the MIT Media Group:

One such app enables HIV patients at Boston Medical Center to visualize how HIV develops into AIDs, how the virus attacks their T cells and what happens if they do or do not take their cells.  Using that app, he saw the percentage of patients sticking to their drug regime soar from 25 percent to 95 percent, Moss said.

Another application recently released is an ultrasound device that plugs in to a smartphone and allows a health worker to perform an on site scan.

My Medications, provided by the American Medical Association provides a convenient way for individuals to enter medical information such as allergies, prescriptions, and immunizations and to share that with primary care physicians.

AT&T recently released WellDoc Diabetes Manager that allows patients to monitor glucose levels and receive advice base on the input.

IBGStar is a blood glucose meter plug-in for the iPhone iPhone BGM plug-in will interact with a not yet Apple-approved iBGStar Diabetes Manager App that will help users track blood glucose, carbs intake and insulin dose.

In a more general consumer market, bluetooth phone device maker, Jawbone just came out with the UP, a wristband that monitors walking exercise, provides alerts for prolonged sedentary behavior (like sitting at your computer), monitors sleep habits and diet. The wristband is plugged in to the iPhone sound jack and the data is off-loaded to a free web app and can be shared on a social website.

ITriage is an iPhone/Android app that helps you answer the questions, “What medical condition could I have?” and “Where should I go for treatment?”

The Future is Near

It’s clear that we’re just at the beginning of this mobile revolution. In the next few years expect to see devices and apps become much

Spock with Tricorder

Live Long and Prosper

more sophisticated. Researchers are testing an MRI scanner attached to a smartphone that can detect cancer. And there is a 10 million dollar prize being offered for the development of a device that can scan a body and diagnose a variety of ailments. It’s called the Tricorder Prize, named after the device that Spock used in Star Trek. The future is coming fast. (FastCompany also has a good article on mobile health in the February print issue which I’ll link to if they put it online)

More Links

Can’t Tell the Bits from the Trees

On our trip to the Olympic Peninsula in Washington I helped guide our way using my IPhone and the Google maps app. I was having fun watching our pin move along Highway 101, going around curves as we drove around the same curves. My wife said “Look out the window!” Oh, yeah – there’s Sequim Bay and lots of trees. “But look, this app is tracking our every move!” I said.

I have to admit I keep my nose stuck in too many screens. I guess Nick Bilton of the New York Times Bits Blog feels the same way. His New Year resolution is not to be quite so reflexive in grabbing a gadget to record and mediate his experiences.

I can relate, Nick. I may have to add this to my non-existence list of resolutions. So, now I have a list:

  1. Get more done
  2. Don’t be such a geek and look around

Who’s with me? Of course, then I wouldn’t be able to share this cool photo of the bay and Olympic Mountains:

Click to Enlarge Photo



Update: After several tries I got both my IPhone and IPad working with the new iOS. It appears I was a victim of Apple’s popularity and lack of planning. Their servers were overloaded with people trying to download the new system.

Just because I’m sitting in front of my computer I think it’s good idea to get iOS 5 THE MOMENT it’s released. Dumb. As. A. Brick. Which is what my iPhone is now.

I cannot restore from backup. I cannot upgrade. Apparently the servers are overloaded. So, I am not alone. I am with Stupid.

Here’s hoping they get this sorted out soon. I need to make a phone call.

Some Favorite Things on My IPad

I’ve been working on a review list of favorite IPad apps for a while now, but never finishing it. Maybe I will one day, but I thought I’d take a slightly different approach with this post. I use my IPad a lot for work and recreation and the stuff in between like listening to or watching tech podcasts. I use my IPhone in a similar way, but for most of those things except listening to podcasts while on the go the IPad is a much more pleasurable experience. So, in general I love to use my IPad for as many things as I can.

But my three favorite things are for reading books and magazines, cooking, and consuming and sharing news feeds.

I find I am reading more, and more diverse material now than I did before the IPad. I love downloading samples of books and  when I find one I like I can buy it and keep reading no matter what time of day or night. As a result I am paying more attention to book reviews and recommendations, searching out great reading material. Unfortunately, some books I hear about are not available in E-book format. When I find one that I would like but it’s not available I always click the button to tell the publisher my desires on the Kindle store.

IPad ScreenNow that Wired and the New Yorker have IPad versions that are available free to subscribers, I find myself reading more of those magazines as well. And since I can download back issues I feel fine recycling those  stacks of old magazines.  I do keep the current issue around until the next one comes out just for those special moments when paper works better than pixels. I’ll let you imagine what those moments might be.

I use both the IBooks and Kindle apps. I like the IBook store interface better, but the IBook store doesn’t have as many titles as the Kindle store. I use a few of the other book apps from time to time as well. But those two I use daily. I haven’t bought a paper book or magazine in many months. There is nothing on my bedside table now until I put my IPad there. I don’t need the bedside lamp when I wake up in the middle of the night and need to read myself back to sleep. Sweet!

I love to cook. And I’m pretty good within a narrow range. I have lots of cookbooks, but I don’t often use them to learn new dishes. I’m not sure why. But I have a whole section of cooking apps and magazines on my IPad which I use a lot. They look beautiful, they are easy to navigate and search and the recipes are often quite delicious.

My favorite one so far is the Epicurious app which is glorious to look at and has good solid content. The reviews and comments by people who have tried the recipes are often very helpful. I also really like Food & Wine magazine and have started to explore All Recipes pro which has some really nice tools on top of the recipes.

News Feeds
While this activity is related to “reading” it’s often more like skipping lightly over the raging river of news and only occasionally taking a dip in a quiet pool. I use Feedler on the IPad to interface with Google Reader to skim hundreds of articles, blog posts and news items on a wide variety of topics from art and literature to programming and gadgets. There is just too much stuff and most if it is easily rejected. But some is worth saving for later and those articles I send to Instapaper for archiving. I heard Leo Laporte say on TWIT that he does the same thing but he never goes to Instapaper to read the articles. I actually do, in the cracks of time.

But I also like to discover things shared by others on Facebook, Twitter and elsewhere. I use a few apps for this but my favorite are Flipboard and Zite. Both of these apps create attractive magazine like interfaces for new feeds, Twitter feeds, Facebook status updates and so on. Zite can be personalized even further by ‘liking’ certain articles. It will then try to present more of similar type articles.  I also like the ability in Zite to create Sections to group feeds by topic. All of the readers offer great tools for reading, saving and sharing new information on Twitter and Facebook. I always find great stuff to share when I sit down a skim over the river of news.

Of course, I have a lot of other favorite apps and things I do with the IPad. But these are things I find myself doing most often with the greatest pleasure.  I’d love to hear what others’ favorite things and apps for the IPad are. Please share in the comments!