About the Lviv! Flipboard Magazine

1996-v-2010-LvivThis fall my wife and I will make our fifth trip to Lviv together.  As we prepare for that trip, I decided to collect ideas for things to do and happenings in Lviv: both to remind us of good times past, and as ideas for our upcoming trip.  To do this, I created a Flipboard magazine called “Lviv!” to share with her.

The current functioning of Flipboard Magazines is that they’re either private to only yourself – or public.  In sharing this with my wife, I really had no idea anyone else would read it.  But to share with her, I had to make it public.  So I was actually fairly surprised to see several other readers subscribing to the magazine.

If you are in Lviv and have a Flipboard magazine about their beautiful city: let me know!  I’ll subscribe and link to your magazine.  (A side note: even with my pitifully small understanding of the Ukrainian language, Google Translate makes it possible to discover and learn about more of the world than has been possible before!)

I have a tremendous personal affection and enthusiasm for the city and its people.  Since my first visit a few years after independence, there has been a deep and abiding joy seeing the city rediscover itself, reclaim its history, and face both seemingly unending challenges and, simultaneously, its untapped potential.

I was especially struck by this in 2010, when I noticed that I had taken a photo of a beautifully restored building in the center of town that I had also photographed back in 1996, when it was in considerable disrepair.  And while the changes we encounter each time we visit aren’t always as visually dramatic as this, they are equally surprising and often delightful.

The reality is that most Americans have never heard of Lviv, much less visited it.  Based on my experiences, I find that truly sad, as there is much to see and discover.

Thanks for your understanding of my purpose, and should you find anything of interest in the Magazine, that’s great.

Stephen McCallister

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“Waiting Out” EHR… Five Ways You’ll Suffer

A recent report from Deloitte covering EHR adoption by physicians put the number of physicians currently without an EHR at about 1/3, with about 1/2 of those with no current plans for implementing an EHR.

The smaller the practice, the less likely that EHR is in place: while the adoption rate is 82% of larger practices, it is only 61% of 2-9 physician practices, and 31% for solo practitioners.  The report also found variations among physicians by age, the older the physician the less likely to have an EHR.  While the absolute percentages are of interest, the overall trends aren’t surprising.

So, what’s ahead for those who won’t be adopting an EHR?  Certainly there are some older physicians who will “finish their career on paper” and continue for a couple of years as they have been.  But for those who haven’t adopted EHR so far, the future is more clouded.  This is due not only to evolution of EHR’s, but other changes ranging from new technologies to the health care system itself.

So, here’s a list of five ways you’ll suffer by trying to “wait out” EHR:

1) The Facebook effect: my daughter hates Facebook, but since  her friends make all their social plans through Facebook, she feels like she has to use it.  If you don’t have an EHR, all your referral partners who do will find it just that much harder to provide and receive referrals from you, making it more likely they’ll refer to others.

2) The “Digital Haystack”: mobile devices, especially smartphones, are quickly being equipped with sensors and apps that will enable sending large amounts or even continuous data on health status.  Receiving and using this data will be impractical without an EHR.  With hundreds of millions of smartphones sold that typically are replaced about every two years, the pace of this revolution will outstrip the introduction of previous new technologies.

3) Patient Dis-engagement: “Patient engagement” is the current buzzword for those promoting getting patients more involved in their healthcare.  As immediate, online access to health information and services rapidly becomes the norm, not having an EHR leaves you without the means to provide that.  Patients will not only prefer to use these services, they’ll ignore those who don’t provide them.

4) More Pain, Less Gain:  Sure, the federal EHR incentive programs are time-limited and will be going away.  But there are also payment penalties beginning in 2015 for Medicare for those not using EHR’s.

5) You Can’t Get There From Here: It may not initially be stated as such, but the reports, audits, and research enabled by having all patients’ clinical information in electronic form will quickly become the norm expected by payers and regulators alike.   It will be increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to participate in the healthcare system without an EHR within a few years.


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Flipboard Magazines: Update

UPDATED AGAIN (5/9/2013): This morning Flipboard released an upgrade to its Android  app, adding magazine creation and interesting new sharing options, including sharing photos from  your phone/tablet Gallery.  Flipboard also announced the availability of a web-based Editor (http://editor.flipboard.com) which allows editing and managing your Magazines from a desktop computer — it looks like the the portent of a possible Web version of Flipboard.  

It’s been a few weeks since Flipboard introduced its Magazine functionality and since I started my Health IT magazine “HIT it!”   Thus, it’s about time for me to update my original article and observations from the care and feeding of “HIT it!”  Spoiler: it’s working very well for Flipboard, and I have continued to keep “HIT it!” going.

What They’ve Learned…

Two weeks after the release of Magazines, the official flipboard blog Inside Flipboard, reported that more than a half million magazines had been created, and that the number of Flipboard users increased from 50 to 53 million.  Since Flipboard’s Magazine UI allows easy sharing to a variety of social networks, no doubt many Magazine creators attracted new Flipboard users promoting their Magazine on Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin.  So 3 million new users in the first couple of weeks seems reasonable.  Flipboard published an infographic about Magazines HERE.  All in all, a very successful launch, even though the Magazine creation functionality still is iOS only (Android users can read Magazines, but the app has not been updated with the full publishing features, and on the current Android version, when you click on a Magazine, you don’t see the Cover page as you do on iOS.)

Flipboard is very happy, obviously, with the high volume and variety of Magazines that have already been published.  These include not only Magazines from individuals, but special purpose Magazines from established publishers (e.g., a Beatles magazine from Rolling Stone.)  Popular topics for magazines include cities, stories in the news, photography and art, and professional information (e.g., HIT it!)  Interesting uses include   publicizing special events, such as conferences.   Obviously there’s an enormous, growing variety of Magazines out there, a trend which will no doubt continue with an updated Android app.

What I’ve Learned….zzHIT-it-cover

Creating a Magazine is easy, easy enough that a fair number will be created and abandoned as their authors lose interest.  But a key thing about maintaining a Flipboard Magazine is that once you get it set up — and set up browser bookmarklets — it’s very easy to maintain.  It’s well worth spending the two minutes or so it takes to install the bookmarking capabilities on your tablet, laptop, and desktop browsers.  In fact, without doing this, you probably won’t succeed in maintaining your Magazine.  Thіs will go a long way toward reducing the  number of orphaned Magazines.

One area where I would like to see improvement is around comments.  When you “flip” an article to the Magazine, you are allowed to enter comments, but the display of comments within the Magazine is fairly limited.  When the reader selects an article, a tweet-like frame appears at the bottom of the page as the article is displayed.   When I say “tweet-like,”  I mean that only a couple lines of text are displayed, and the user has to click or touch the footer to read the entire comment.  The greatest value of Magazines is likely to be that they curate content, so finding a way to display comments better would be a value-add for readers.

There is a way around this limitation, which I am using now.  If you have a blog or can post on another website, then your own comments can appear as articles within Magazines.   This works well enough for many of us, but a more straightforward means of enabling “editorial” content would be another step forward for Magazines.

Not knowing whether I would continue the HIT it! experiment, I didn’t initially promote it very much.  Despite essentially zero promotion, a readership has gradually accumulated and I will soon move to promote it so more.   Adding content to HIT it! has been surprisingly frictionless — and I really look forward to an updated Android app to make that even better.  If you’ve had any experience with Magazines, as either a reader or creator, I’d love to hear your comments.

And, of course, I’d love it if you’d take a look at HIT it! if you’re interested in Health IT.  You can find it here: http://flip.it/lwD2z


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Flipboard Magazines: Self-Publishing or Content Composting?

Are you a Flipboard user on your iPad or other tablet? Flipboard on this past Wednesday added the capability for individual users to make their own “magazines” which they can share with others.   In other words, you can compile the magazine and others can subscribe and see it featured in their Flipboard.  The magazine feature is first available on an updated iOS app, but promised for Android soon as well. (If you have created a magazine on iOS, it can be viewed on Android, but you can’t yet create a magazine or easily add content to an existing magazine.)

I figured the only way to take a look was to create my own magazine, so here is “HIT it!”: Check out HIT it! http://flip.it/lwD2z , a magazine compiling Health IT news and views. (This link will only work on a device with Flipboard installed.)


The product produced by these “magazines” looks just like other Flipboard pages, very clean and attractive. Since other users can subscribe to the magazines, this could serve the same sort of function as Twitter for the sharing and discovery of news, with the added bonus that there are no links to click through if you are interested in the story.



Right now the process is a little clunky if you don’t already have all your information sources and social network accounts in Flipboard.

photo1-bookmarkletA bookmarking applet for Safari on iOS is available now, although that won’t help you on your non-iOS devices or on your laptop.  Installing the bookmarklet is the same process as followed by Instapaper: you create a bookmark and then manually edit it to insert the code to “flip” the page to your magazine.  I had a little trouble making this work initially, but after a second install it seems to be working fine.  (One tip: if you have Flipboard already opened, you won’t be prompted to login when you “flip” a page in Safari.)

photo3-article-selectionYou can also use Flipboard’s Search function to locate content, then select Flipboard from the results.  When you do that, the search results will be presented in Flipboard format, complete with the magic + icon that is a one-step add to your magazine.


photo2-flip-to-magazineYou are also allowed to add a comment to each of the stories you add to your magazine.  If you click on an item in your magazine, you can do things like deleting the story, or even promote it to the cover.



compostbinI was interested to see how it would handle articles re-shared from aggregation sites, and it does a good job with that, noting the original share source in addition to the story itself. The danger, of course, is that instead of a carefully curated selection of articles, these magazines will just consist of re-shares of already aggregated articles, pointers to pointers to pointers… info-compost.

With the ease of adding articles, any self-publisher should keep in mind that they should curate: choose the best article on a topic, not ALL the articles…  To avoid the totality of the magazines being recycled content, the most effective thing would be to provide the ability for some stand-alone articles to appear in the magazine.  But you can work around this if you’re sharing your Google + or other social networking feeds — just “flip” your own posts to your magazine.  And, of course, if you have a blog like this one,  you can add blog posts through the bookmarklet process.

You will be glad to know that if you have your social network accounts in Flipboard, it is respectful of the privacy settings associated with posts, and you will get an error message (and the item will not be shared) if the original post was not Public.

It’s early yet, but does Flipboard’s Magazine feature pass the YA#$%?TTKTO Test ( yet another #$%?ing thing to keep track of)?  If you’re a tablet user: there’s wonderful utility in having the “read it later” capability of Instapaper organized into a nicely formatted “magazine” others can subscribe to.  Ditto if you’re used to sharing content via Twitter, since it saves readers the trouble of having to click a link to access content.   The drawbacks primarily surround the lack of a solution for those who spend significant time on a laptop or desktop — you can’t read, bookmark, or create via Flipboard there.

Will I keep up with “publishing” my HIT it! magazine?  Well, two days is a bit too soon for that verdict, but I can see that using it as a personal archive could be enough to keep me going for a while…   Have you tried it yet?  I’d love to hear your thoughts…

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Beyond Boring

Sore feet, aggressive sales people, and bad PowerPoint presentations are familiar hazards to anyone who attends major conferences like the recent HIMSS meeting in New Orleans.  Comfortable shoes and focused and strategic navigation of the vendor exhibits are two keys to survival.

But what about those damn PowerPoints?  After only a few days of squinting at overstuffed bullet lists and charts with microscopic detail, many of them are more non-prescription sleep aids than vital components of dynamic presentations.  (Of course, I can’t claim to be blameless in this regard, having delivered many presentations on IT topics with high eye-glazing potency.)  If the purpose of presentation is communication and learning, clearly something needs to change.

This isn’t exactly a new insight, it’s something people have been complaining about for years (yes, like the weather and the government.)  And there have been some interesting attempts to map a different path for presentations.  The approach of Garr Reynolds in “Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery” (New Riders, 2008) offers an interesting minimalist path, which is insightful, if sometimes a bit full of itself.  It’s well worth a look.

But wouldn’t it be nicer if a simple, accessible tool came along that embodies these values of a visual simplicity, amplifing points rather than parroting the written page?

One step in that direction is Haiku Deck, an iPad only “freemium” app — the app is free with additional design / graphic packs available for in-app purchase.  The Seattle-based start-up just released version 2 of their software, and it’s well worth a test drive.  The software is available on the App store and the company has a nice website, including a blog and a variety of suggestions, FAQ’s, and ideas for presentations at http://www.haikudeck.com

Haiku Deck is very visually oriented and has its feet planted firmly on the Web.  In addition to traditional presentation modes there are easy options for sharing your designs through a variety of means including Twitter, Facebook,  email, or embedding on a blog.  The supply of graphics supplied with the apps draws from your own graphics, including from web services, and they provide their own library of professional quality images.  And — it should go without saying, but that isn’t always the case — there are clear controls to allow to decide whether your presentation is private to you, available to others through explicit sharing, or public.

Is this the perfect presentation app?  Probably not, perfect is a strong word.  You can always find features you need — and it would be very nice for the app to be available on other platforms.  But, if you’ve got an iPad and want to challenge yourself to make better presentations, you’ve got nothing to lose in trying Haiku Deck.  And who knows — maybe your next audience will be engaged with you, rather than trying to decipher  16 lines of 12 point type per slide…  At the very least, I think you will find it fun to try it out.

Here’s a sample presentation about Haiku Deck 2.0:


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It IS What You Do AND The Way That You Do It!


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So, Why Not Encrypt?

My last blog post predicted that 2013 will be the year of the healthcare data breach.   I detailed that the majority of medical data breached was lost through portable media or laptop computers.  Usually this means the theft or  loss of a laptop, backup tape, or even a USB flash drive.  It’s ironic that as paper health records give way to electronic records, the greatest threat to health privacy is the loss of physical media and devices.

Had any of these devices been encrypted, they would not have been counted in the tally of healthcare data breaches.  That is because encrypted hard drives and devices are considered secure and their loss needn’t be reported.

So, why not encrypt?

Objectively speaking, encryption isn’t that hard.  Modern laptops, whether Windows, Macs, or Linux, all have free / low cost encryption software available either as part of the operating system, or  from any number of vendors.  Most commercially available backup programs offer encryption as a feature at no extra cost.  Even the Next Generation vectors of health data loss (aka tablets like the iPad and smartphones) have built in encryption features.  Still, the majority of us don’t use encryption.

There are at least four reasons why a no-brainer like encryption isn’t in broad use today, which also gives a sense of what needs to be addressed to end this needless risk.

  1. It’s Scary: If you’re a lay person, the idea of having all the data on your hard drive scrambled in a way that you can’t read it if  you forget a password is scary.  If you’re an IT person, you may be intimidated  by the idea that an operating system upgrade — or other random occurrence like a power drop — might render the encrypted drive or media unreadable.  
  2. It’s Complicated: Would that the choice to encrypt your laptop were nothing more than clicking an application, choosing a drive, and then clicking “OK.”  Unfortunately, instructions for encrypting your laptop offer a variety of cautions — back up first! — and choices such as encryption method.  Encryption documentation is heavy on jargon that is at best unfamiliar to many, and at worst is intimidating.  For the IT department, encryption meant managing encryption keys on an individual basis or buying software to provide enterprise management of encryption.
  3. It’s Hasn’t Been a Vendor Priority: A vendor that wants users to encrypt their information could make encryption the default.  Absent that, they could make the process relatively easy.  Finally, they might include the feature in the operating system, so that the user didn’t have to buy or download additional software.  The majority of laptops run some version of Windows.  In  versions of Windows up through Windows 7, Microsoft’s Bitlocker encryption was only available on the most expensive and less frequently used Ultimate and Enterprise editions.
  4. Management Didn’t Make It a Priority: The requirements for healthcare providers to protect data — and the exemption from data breach reporting for encrypted devices — have been out there for several years.  Free and reasonable cost encryption software has been readily available.  Not withstanding items 1 through 3 above, ultimately the reason encryption isn’t rolled out is that it hasn’t been enough of a priority for management to insist upon it.

The picture is, slowly, getting better.  With Windows 8, Microsoft is including Bitlocker encryption in the more common Professional version.  With the iPad, encryption automatically is applied when a PIN is enabled on the device.  Android, too, has enabled encryption for phones and tablets in the last year.  These are steps in the right direction, and we can hope that where there’s a Way, perhaps there’ll be a Will to encrypt.

For those who have an older version of Windows — which is probably 90%+ at this point — third party encryption options are readily available.  For the last three years I’ve had TrueCrypt — free, open source, full disk encryption — on my work laptop.  It  has been a trouble-free experience for me, through a variety of Microsoft updates and security patches.  Other options, including a home version of Sophos’ commercial SafeGuard encryption, are also available and work well.  If you travel with a laptop and would prefer not to have your financial records or other information stolen, it’s time to do something about encryption.

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It’s 2013, Do You Know Where Your Medical Records Are?

Here’s a prediction for you: 2013 will be the Year of the Healthcare Data Breach.  Just like 2012, 2011, and 2010.  Yeah, I’m not going out a limb on this one.

An impressive migration from paper to electronic health records (EHR) is well underway in the U.S., encouraged by billions in federal incentive payments for hospitals and private practices implementing EHR.  One of the major features of the federal push is to ensure the privacy and security of records, through compliance with HIPAA Privacy and Security rules and the 2010 HITECH rules on reporting health care data breaches involving over 500 patients.

Since 2010, over 21 million health records have been breached in 495 recorded breaches, according to a study released in December by the Health Information Trust Alliance (HITRUST).  The report and an accompanying infographic — and who doesn’t like infographics? — can be found here.  Interestingly, 24% of the breaches involved paper records — but those accounted for only 4% of the total records breached.    Electronic records may or may not be held more securely than paper, but it is a lot easier for large numbers of records to leak electronically than on paper.

The most likely ways that your medical information is likely to leak is via a laptop or mobile media (e.g., backup tape or portable hard drive or usb drive.)  While only 16% of breaches involved mobile media, they accounted for 51% of the total records breached.  About a quarter of the breaches involved laptop computers — usually stolen — accounting for 12% of the breached records.

The truly depressing thing about these statistics is that they reflect either carelessly or simply a lack of priority for keeping your medical information confidential.  Consider that under the rules if a laptop’s hard drive or mobile media were encrypted, none of these would be considered a data breach.  Laptop and mobile media encryption are readily available, and in many cases it just requires checking a box in a backup program or implementing free or low cost encryption one time on a laptop — this can be done before it’s even given to the computer user.

At the beginning of this month the Los Angeles Times published a story about a husband and wife who expanded their paper medical records labeling business to storing electronic records for Kaiser Permanente in California.  About 300,000 hospital records ended up being stored on a hard drive sitting in the Dean’s home.  In another incident involving the Deans, the Times reports:

The California Department of Public Health has already determined that Kaiser “failed to safeguard all patients’ medical records” at one Southern California hospital by giving files to Stephan and Liza Dean for about seven months without a contract. The couple’s document storage firm kept those patient records at a warehouse in Indio that they shared with another man’s party rental business and his Ford Mustang until 2010.

The story is worth noting not only because of its amazing details, but also because it shows that lax practices relating to health record security exist in the largest of health care institutions, too.

As far as 2013 is concerned, technology trends bode for things getting worse before they get better.  The dramatic increase in mobile devices, especially tablets like the iPad, is creating demand to access your health records from consumer-oriented devices designed with much less emphasis on security than traditional laptops.   The other big trend in mobile devices is BYOD — bring your own device — where individual clinicians and employees use their own devices rather than tablets or phones purchased and managed by the medical practice itself.

While many focus on the traditional idea of confidentiality with respect to health records, there are also other elements to be considered. In addition to confidential health information, health records include a variety of information — birth date, social security number, even credit card information — that make them a prime target for identity theft.  This, along with potential for financial insurance fraud, easily creates a profit motive for stealing health record information.

Never less, the HITRUST report reinforces that lax practices are more likely than nefarious criminals to breach your information.  Fully 50% of the reported breaches were accidental, only 13% were labeled intentional.  Only 6% of breaches were due to hacking.  Theft accounts for a lot of breaches, but my guess is that given the large numbers of laptops and mobile data storage devices involved, the majority of those likely were thieves after shiny new laptops and not health records per se (another reason why readily available encryption is so important.)

The federal government is aware of these trends and is beginning to ramp up its efforts a bit.  On January 2, 2013 they announced a $50,000 fine for a north Idaho hospice, the first ever  for a data breach involving fewer than the 500 record threshold included in HITECH.   The Office of Civil Rights (OCR), charged with enforcement of HIPAA, has said recently that there will be more fines and audits in the future.

Still, there is a long way to go.  The Washington Post, also published in December a year long investigative report with the headline, “Health-Care Sector Vulnerable to Hackers, Researchers Say.”  The article exposed problems with health records software, lax security practices, vulnerable devices, and regulators unable to keep up with it all.  There’s a lot of disturbing detail in the article, but it’s summed up pretty well here:

“I have never seen an industry with more gaping security holes,” said Avi Rubin, a computer scientist and technical director of the Information Security Institute at Johns Hopkins University. “If our financial industry regarded security the way the health-care sector does, I would stuff my cash in a mattress under my bed.”

Reading through all this — and I could bore you with lots more examples — it certainly shows that healthcare has a lot of work to do.  This is especially true when you realize that the next big “push” after electronic health records implementation will be implementation of secure Health Information Exchange (HIE).  HIE’s benefits future benefits could include reducing duplicate lab tests when you go to a new doctor, making available vital information if you end up in an emergency room, and providing information to improve the efficiency and quality of health for communities.  But as health information begins to routinely  move across healthcare providers, the challenges of ensuring the security and confidentiality of health records will only increase.

So, maybe if we do start now, perhaps 2014 won’t be the year of the healthcare data breach, too.  But it seems more likely that these incidents will take on the same routine ho-hum feeling that we’ve grown accustomed to in reading story after story, week after week, about millions of credit card records being leaked or hacked.  It’s up to us each as healthcare consumers — and for those of us who are IT professionals — to make our voice heard and ensure that doesn’t happen.

[UPDATE]: On Thursday January 17th HHS issued a major update to the HIPAA and HITECH rules.  You can read the announcement here and a pdf of the entire document is available here prior to its publication in the Federal Register next week.  

The new rules are said to increase protection of health information and update the original HIPAA Privacy and Security Rules, as well as incorporating the later Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) and the HITECH rules.

Changes included in the new rules include:

  • increased penalties for violations
  • increased protection of genetic information
  • specifying liability of business associates (contractors) for protecting information
  • modifying rules for use of patient information for fund raising and marketing purposes
  • patients paying cash can specify they do not want information shared with their health plan
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Missing the Point: The “Post-PC Era”

With the surge in tablet and smartphone sales, we have been told that we’re in the “Post-PC Era.” On its face that sounds reasonable, given the iPads, Kindles, and Nexus tablets that most assuredly are cutting into the sales of traditional desktop and notebook PC’s.  PC sales are flat to trending down at the end of 2012, while tablet sales are rising and projected to surpass laptops in 2013.   So, clearly the days of the traditional PC are numbered.

But the problem is that in describing the near-future in terms of what it  ISN’T about — traditional PC’s — doesn’t tell us what the future IS about. But things are getting clearer.

For example, consider today’s smartphone. This is a (mostly) pocketable device that you can make voice phone calls on over cellular networks — only it’s smart, right? These days the voice call function among the least used on the device. As we all know, the smartphone is about apps, and your smartphone can be forgiven for dropping voice calls — as long as it runs Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja.  Smartphone?  Maybe it would be better to call it a Post-Phone mobile device.

Of course, if you’re one of those still obsessed with voice calls, you can easily make a call using Skype or Google Voice (but why not add video why you’re at it?) — using your data connection rather than the traditional cellular voice network.

All of which actually matters very little, since the primary way of sending messages over your smartphone is via text messaging. If you’ve got a half-decent smartphone, you can even dictate your message via voice recognition. No apologies needed, but the reality is that most of us would rather dictate a text message to our phones than simply placing a call and having a conversation. I’m not judging, but more than anything else this does challenge the idea that this device should be called a “phone”, smart- or otherwise.

Sometime in the next year or two this evolution will be complete as even the voice calls are routed over the — LTE — data network rather than the existing cellular voice network. Of course, the telecomm companies for years have been using IP — the Internet Protocol — for routing your calls once they leave the local phone circuit. So it is less of a technology revolution than just common sense to kill a separate “voice network.” So, objectively, we are in the “Post-phone Era” today.

And what about TV? In 2009, the US switched from analog to digital TV standards, with High Definition TV and a surge in flat screen TV sales. Not only did the TV’s start to LOOK more like flat screen computer monitors, but computer monitors started to become more like TV’s. The analog VGA video connections for computers gave way to first Digital Video Interface (DVI) connectors. But with a year or two, computer monitors moved to widescreen formats and the digital HDMI connectors used for TV’s started popping up on computer monitors — and on laptop computers. Were these “Post-TV era” TV’s? And did the “Post-PC Era” actually start a bit earlier than the iPad?

At the middle of the last decade there was a lot of talk about “digital convergence,” a perfectly unintelligible buzzword at the time that annoyed more than enlightened. But more than the “Post-Anything” Era, “digital convergence” was the more accurate description of the devices we’ve come to depend on since then.

We’re now seeing the ultimate realization of this phenomenon. The current best quality of consumer video on TV or BluRay disks is 1920×1080 pixel resolution — what’s known as 1080p. In the past year the iPad and other 10″ tablets have exceeded that 1080p resolution: there are more pixels (dots) forming the images on your 9.7″ iPad than on your 55″ HDTV in the living room. Newer “smartphones” have grown from the iPhone’s original 3.5″ screen to 5″ or even 5.5″ inches — and many 2013 models feature the same 1080p resolution as your living room TV. Today, my laptop and my two year old my Motorola Atrix smartphone feature HDMI-out connectors that allowsme to plug my laptop or phone directly into my HDTV.

The reality isn’t “Post-PC” or “Post-Phone” — it’s the logic and convenience of the use of the same technology standards by many different devices. At the same time, the devices themselves have changed. Look only as far as Microsoft’s touch-friendly Windows 8 and Surface tablet-with-a-keyboard cover to see the convergence trend transforming the devices themselves.

Phrases like “Post-PC Era” are intended to emphasize the transitions underway. But the most frequent mistake in predicting the future is trying to understand it through the past.

The natural assumption when hearing “post PC” is that PC somehow is “lost” the battle for tech supremacy, but think again. Your analog TV became digital, just like the PC. Your cellphone got IP networking, a data connection, a high resolution screen — and the computing power and memory of a PC.  And that tablet that’s the Apple of everyone’s eye, there’s a reason for those keyboard covers that snap on it — and feels a lot like a laptop.

But the PC! Did it really lose the battle only to win the tech war?  Not so much.  In reality more people spend more time consuming information and entertaining themselves than creating or working with a computer. In the end, if want to watch a video or play a casual game on a plane, bus, or even in the living room, a tablet is more compact and quicker to start than a laptop computer.

But it would be just as big of a mistake to say that in five to ten years PC’s will have disappeared and everything we’ll be watching or playing will be on a tablet. High bandwidth wireless, data in the cloud and compatible screens everywhere, mean tomorrow’s devices may not be anything like what you use today.  Perhaps today’s PC’s and tablets will disappear into tomorrow’s “smartphones” — or even a tiny USB flash drive-like device will be all we need to securely access our data and programs stored in the cloud on virtually any screen we encounter.  The device will mostly stored your identity and credentials to access your files and programs whether at home, on an airplane seatback, or at the coffee shop.

The reality is that as our ownership of multiple devices increases, the movement of data to the cloud has already become an compelling convenience.  This is obvious to those who already use cloud music services, services such as iCloud, Google Drive, Dropbox or Evernote across multiple devices.  And once this adoption is universal, the next step is for the programs (applications) to be there, too.  Google Docs, or Microsoft’s Office 365 are only the most visible examples of applications that live in the Cloud and not on your local hard drive.

With both data and applications in the Cloud, there’s a lot less for the post-PC, post-smartphone, and post-tablet devices to do.  Mainly these devices will be about establishing identity for access, data input, routing, and display.  For these tasks, the current models of computing devices will be overkill.

With most everything happening in the Cloud, you won’t need to upgrade full desktops, laptops, and phones on 2-3 year basis.  But you can bet that the ACCESS to this Brave New Cloud won’t come cheaply.  And that will be the true revolution in the “Post-PC Era.”

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The Snowman

The Winter of 2001 was the most difficult period of my family’s life. A lot of what follows is pretty grim, but trust me and hang in there – I do get to the snowman.

In May 2000, on my parent’s 50th anniversary, we visited and found out that Dad had a “bump” on the side of his neck. It was actually a disturbingly large lump, but visits to the doctor had been inconclusive. A couple weeks later he was referred to the University Hospital in Seattle, where it was diagnosed as a salivary gland cancer. He had disfiguring surgery to remove the tumor, but some of it was wrapped around an artery and could not be removed. Thus began a month of radiation treatment, followed by disappointment as it became clear the tumor was again growing.

By the end of 2000, my father was on enough Oxycontin to kill 5 addicts, sleeping much of the day and not feeling great when he wasn’t sleeping. Because of the heavy painkillers, when he was awake Dad was sometimes hallucinating and paranoid.

The rest of the family wasn’t doing much better. My Mother, in particular, bore much of the caretaking and one evening suffered heart failure. 911 was called, but when the ambulance arrived, my Dad was convinced they were bad people coming to get him, so he locked the doors and wouldn’t let them in. A wonderful, trusted neighbor across the street saw the commotion and managed to convince him it was OK, and my Mom got to the hospital.  At 3 AM that morning, I got a phone call from the neighbor explaining the situation. Living 150 miles away, I was in my car within minutes and by early morning had relieved the neighbor of sitting up with my Dad and visited my Mom in the hospital.

My sister lived near my parents, and she was of course great support to them, visiting daily. I came over the mountains every weekend for six months, visiting and offering what aid I could. But the weight of this was overwhelming for her, as for the rest of us.

I spent New Year’s Eve 2001 with my Mom in the hospital and me at home alone with my Dad. At the start of the New Millennium. I sat reflecting on the last decade, remembering at the start of the 1990’s my wife’s father survived a heart attack and it seemed then that the 90’s would be marked by sorrow and loss. My Dad woke up and came out of his bedroom to watch television at about 8 PM, and we watched for a while together, maybe the least excited pair on the planet for the prospects of the New Millennium.

A few weeks later, my wife, daughter and I spent the weekend with Dad and Mom. While we were visiting it snowed, a bit of a novelty for us since “real snow” in the Seattle area is rare. Someone mentioned that it would be a good idea to make a snowman – we hadn’t done that for years, and perhaps it could lighten the mood. We assembled charcoal, twigs for hair, a small green dog Frisbee disk for a mouth. My Mom – who was always one for making crafts – suggested that she could fill a spray bottle with water with food coloring in it, so we could “paint” the snowman and make clothes for him.

Thus, my wife, daughter, my sister, and I went out into the yard in front of the living room window to make a snowman. Not just any snowman like a kid could make, but the kind of kick-ass snowman that a group of clever adults with the right materials and creative ideas could make.

It was near-zero, so we thought that if we constructed arms and sprayed them with the ice cold water, they would freeze and stay in place. A snowman with arms! The twigs would make dramatic hair for our creation, and once the eyes, nose, and mouth were in place, we would spray clothing on to our creation.

Alas, though we thought we were armed to the teeth with materials and artistic inspiration, we were actually a bunch of stressed out people, barely hanging on. The snowman was our attempt at normalcy, but our lives were anything but normal.

The result of our work was not the triumph of technique and artistic vision we hoped for. In fact, it what we created looked more like the project of a voodoo cult transported to a frigid climate –and none too happy about it. Instead of clothing, the red spray looked more like blood splatter from a very special CSI episode with guest star Frosty the Snowman. Its twig hair standing on end, broken stubs of arms, and the round green Frisbee mouth all screamed: bad shit went down here.

The four of us making the snowman eventually realized the monster we had created. We didn’t so much as finish the snowman as abandon it, all of us laughing in disbelief at our folly. I did manage to take a photo, an attachment to an email dated January 27, 2001 which to this day I keep in my email inbox.

Back inside the house, the critics were not kind to our art. My Dad was direct: “You get to go home, but I have to look out the window at that thing.” Mom was naturally concerned what the neighbors would think. But in the end they didn’t fuss too much and the snowman stood, soon to expire of natural causes.

In March my father died. Three months later, my Mother died of heart failure while visiting us, the night before my daughter’s high school graduation. That year was a blur for us. We made it through, wounded and grieving, slowly better but never healed.
Our holiday rituals reversed, with my sister now coming to Seattle to share holidays with us. It was different, but we were together. It was too painful to think a lot about that year, and too hard not to.

My sister Cindy, I should mention, did inherit my Mom’s artistic genes. She is a crafting genius, who has over the years made many beautiful holiday gifts for us. In fact, three years later at Christmas we got a special gift. It was a Christmas ornament: a small, exquisitely detailed, recreation of that snowman. It hangs on our Christmas tree every year, to this day.

Life goes on.

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