Grounds of future play

21 09 2010

Two weekends ago I went to an education resources expo at the Brisbane Convention Centre – mainly as a bid to get freebs. I arrived a little late but still managed to catch some of a seminar, a few free posters, petted a snake and a lizard, and entered in as many lucky draws as possible (and possibly signing my boss up for swades of spam – sorry…).

Two things caught my eye in particular. And I’ll share one now – The SmartUs Digital Playground (their Finnish website).

The whole set up is very futuristic. Kids are issued with RFID smart cards that can be recognised by readers scattered throughout the playground. They login at the main portal and are assigned a task (run from point A to B via C three times, or something more complex) and the computer records their time. This time is recorded on an international online network where kids from different schools, or even different countries, can compare each others times and records.

Additional tasks and learning can also be integrated by assigning different nodes answers to a multi-choice quiz. This also comes into play by the presence of a dancepad hooked up to the main video monitor of the playground as well. This can be used for quizzes, fitness, dancing or simon-type games.

In Finland, it even became the basis of a family/children’s gameshow which involved celebrities and national atheletes, called FunTzu. Again, these TV scores were uploaded online, so schoolkids could challenge their idols. Unfortunately I can’t find any videos of the TV show – but after some searching I have found a news item of Asia’s first SmartUs playground in Hong Kong which shows how it works.

Tapping into children’s natural competitive behaviour, and then combining it with social media and massively multiplayer gaming Lappset have really hit the mark (or market). The only real downsides to it I can see are the initial outlay costs (which you can guess would be quite high) and also the pitfall of having ‘standardised cookie cutter playgrounds’ that don’t have their own individual community flavour. There also might be other hudles here in Australia given EQ’s stance on students and social networks.

Some teachers are pricks, and then some

12 09 2010

A simple investigation experiment looking at the pH of blood at a Tasmanian high school has turned into a biohazard scare after teacher somehow thought sharing needles would be totally fine for adolescent boys. In some muddled form of defence the teacher did “attempt to sterilise the needle with methylated spirits between tests.” (Methylated spirits its not really suitable for sterilizing).

Pretty much any official is saying that this was a major balls up by the teacher, and I’m finding hard to believe that with all the red tape (in the for of occupational health and safety) present in Australian workplaces these days, that this investigation was ever approved. I have no problem with hands on experiments. In fact, I think these should be encouraged. On top of that, if we expect to have smart and scientifically literate graduates from high school, experiments involving potential biohazards should be allowed. However (or even because of that) it still very important to recognise that risks are involved and the appropriate precautions be taken.

Do read the comments on The Mercury article too.

There seems to be some sections of the world who are somehow thinking that the teacher has not done anything wrong, because there are no schoolboys in Tasmania with bloodborne infectious disease. Perhaps they could do well to investigate the Health and Ageing website which show that historically (prior to vaccinations) they have been one of the highest risk groups for Hepatitis (which is probably the largest worry in this instance, rather than HIV). Blood-borne transmission is probably the number one risk that health organisations try to minimize to prevent the spread of disease.

Suspected zombie outbreak in Melbourne

1 05 2010

Warning: We have a possible patient zero

(Image: xkcd)

I hope this new-fangled national health reform has some sort of measures that prevent the dead just up and walking out into the streets and cause the zombie apocalypse.

To be fair, Mr. Thornton is still speaking, however may be deluded as he still professes disbelief in his death despite documents clearly stating otherwise. He may not be a zombie, perhaps a vampire or post-mortem deity?

For just one dollar a day

29 06 2009

No, I am not about  to con you into some religious sponsorship program.* Absolutely no African children for sale here.

It’s about SunSmart awareness and skin cancer prevention. The idea is that for $1 per day per person the Australian government could encourage people to regularly use sunscreen and prevent over 100,000 cancers and 20 deaths each year. This is based on some trials done in Queensland.

Now some of you might be trying to do the math. It is a little over 8 billion dollars annually for Australia’s 22 million inhabitants. But the authors make a compelling case by comparing it to the cost of public cosmetics expenditure, as well as government spending on vaccines (which cost $100s per dose).

Sunscreen is important for all Australians.

An exemplary example of framing science?

*Food for thought on religious-based missions here, here, and here

Swine flu brain pop

22 06 2009

Rather good UK children’s animated production explains the current swine flu novel Mexican A/H1N1 influenza outbreak.

Some innacuracies, but its hard to tell exactly how dated this might be. Still, definitely good enough at explaining key concepts effectively for schoolchildren

Hattip: Malaysia SMS

Trends in internet influenza

20 06 2009

At the start of the month, Google announced it was expanding its search-engine-based epidemiology surveillance tool, Flu Trends, to process information originating from Australia and New Zealand (previously it was processing U.S. statistics and a beta Mexico version).

The tool is based on there being a correlation between the number of people typing in influenza-related keywords into Google and the actual number of cases of influenza in the country. Google claims it is supported by historical data. The concept does make sense: when you are your family are sick with flu-like symptoms, that would be the time you are more likely to search for information on possible causes – Thus people searching for “flu” could reflect the cases across the country.

But I was skeptical at how well it would work in a pandemic. Google’s data might hold up for its recorded history, but that does not extend back to 1968-9 – the last influenza pandemic. A pandemic not only involves the potential for an increased number of influenza cases and increased severity of those cases, it also means an increased amount of media coverage and public awareness. When I last looked at Google Trends and health searches, I saw a possible link between media coverage of Kylie Minogue and Australian searches for breast cancer. There is a good reason to suspect that the statistical relationship between search terms and disease cases will not hold up during pandemic conditions. This concern is not addressed appropriately in the Flu Trends FAQ.


Google Flu Trends Data, as of 20 June, 2009. Click for larger image. A - US 2008/09 search data c.f. historical B - Australia 2008/2009 data c.f. historical (2008/09 dark blue, historical light blue). C - Australia historical data (blue) compared with official epidemiological seasonal ILI (infleunza-like-illness) data (orange)

Google Flu Trends Data, as of 20 June, 2009. Click for larger image. A - US 2008/09 search data c.f. historical B - Australia 2008/2009 data c.f. historical (2008/09 dark blue, historical light blue). C - Australia historical search data (blue) compared with official historical epidemiological seasonal ILI (infleunza-like-illness) data (orange)

Looking at the U.S data, for this past season, it looks like it could be an accurate reflection. And if anything, rather than seeing a spike of search term activity this year, there was not much difference than previous years. In fact, the historic data contains several search spikes that do not exist in this years trends. All this information could either accurately reflect that the influenza pandemic thus far has been little more than out-of-season seasonal flu, or, just maybe, that the increased media activity and awareness have actually actively decreased usage of Google for health information.

Were people being directly channeled towards non-search websites, like Were they getting enough influenza information from other websites they frequent, like news websites? Was there enough offline influenza resources that people did not feel the need to Google to find out more? Or were people just overloaded and desensitized by the mass media hysteria?

I still prefer the Rhiza Labs case-mapping tool. It is much more informative and accurate.

First swine flu death in Australia

20 06 2009

My boss and some co-workers are flying to Melbourne on Monday to meet with clients. We were joking about how they should be extra careful while visiting the “swine flu capital of Australia“. Maybe she should put herself in a week-long quarantine when she gets back.

One of our Medical Writers pointed out how its all overblown. And I pointed out that no one had died in Australia yet.

Well, I guess I should stop opening my mouth to talk about swine flu from now on. A 26-year old Indignous man from central Australia died in Royal Adelaide Hospital ICU died from a number of complications, including pneumonia. He was infected with the Mexican Influenza A/H1N1 virus.

It is not known where or when the man contracted the virus, nor how much it may have contributed to his fate.

I’ve pointed elsewhere on the internets that WHO has expressed concern over the possibility that Indigenous Canadian groups may be more susceptible to the A/H1N1 virus. Let’s hope that situation is not true here (or there, even).

Do we take this as a sign to panic? That we aren’t doing enough? Or are the governmental precautions still too heavy handed? They won’t do anything to help, they did not help this man? Does this change anything? Is it just a continuation of SNAFU ‘flu?

Image Credit: ‘Chasing pig at Gatton College‘, Unknown circa 1940sState Library of Queensland on flickr