In this edition of Online Insights we get a stern talking to about our dietary habits, snoop through Social Media tools being used to fight crime, marvel at the joys of data, and relive some high resolution film memories of yesteryear. Remember, your suggestions are always welcome.

Go small and save the world yourself

Chips - the supermarket chains wash their hands and say "health food aisle"

Chips - the supermarket chains wash their hands and say "health food aisle"

A regular contributor to Online Insights, Kay Walker, left a stirring reply to last show’s links about Palm Oil and it focussed on a snack for children that we have talked about called Kidscare Potato Stix. As it turns out, Kay is a health blogger with a blog called Health for Humans. There is a full volume post there that I want to highlight in a moment but first, her comment is worth highlighting. She investigated these potato stix because she thought “the plain version (with rice)might be a good nibbly for me as I’m allergic to wheat, corn, and egg, plus react badly to lots of MSG (and lurvvvve potatoes)”. But as she investigated further, she was infuriated that such a concoction could be firstly marketed as food, secondly marketed to children and thirdly marketed as healthy. Here is why: “There’s  less fat- but the fat is BAD and it’s PALM OIL. Grrrr. There are also zillions of other ingredients, including wheat, which make this snack a very bad choice for parents of allergic kids.” So what does she recommend: “This product needs to be taken off the market as it is just a pile of fillers with a label that suggests health. I wish our food regulators would keep environmentally doubtful stuff out of the food chain and make sure food sold is actually full of stuff humans can metabolise safely.”

She then makes a suggestion that most adults would agree with, that food advertising needs to be kept out of sight of kids because they “haven’t learnt enough about life to be given the privilege of choosing.” Mind you, she doesn’t think that is enough and argues that “we should try to get rid of the things that are no good and bugger freedom of choice- we’re just dumb animals and always choose the soothing, greasy, carby, tasty warm stuff- and then we give it to our kids!”

Now that we are warmed up, her own blog post called Go small and save the world yourself, sees her ramp up her rhetoric to greater volumes. Here is an edited taste:

I’ve been thinking about preventing cardiovascular disease and associated problems like diabetes (which follows obesity) and kidney failure (which follows diabetes)…etc. SO much of the medical and scientific literature is about what they conveniently term “secondary and tertiary prevention”- but that is all AFTER THE FACT! The community seems to be abysmally slack in stopping it all from starting in the first place- even with adults who are already headed down the heart disease track we say “It’s your individual responsibility to exercise and eat properly” as though that absolves everyone from worrying about it any more. I’ve come to the conclusion that we have to stop all this Anglo-Saxon protestant crap about responsibility- [and start] TELLING us what we SHOULD DO…and BELIEVE humans are basically neglectful sods far more interested in “The Moment” and start SHOWING US WHAT TO DO!

Give us a bl**dy DEMONSTRATION every day and keep showing us. Encourage us to join in ALL THE TIME, come walking and playing in the park with us and tell us we’re doing OK. Where are the personal trainers for every neighbourhood? PLEASE MR RUDD! Why don’t we do it first in Australia and show the rest of the world we will not fall into the Western black hole of fat and sloth!

I know that lots of so-called “cost effectiveness” studies have shown that many heart disease and obesity prevention programs are not “worth it”- but I think they’ve left something vital out of their equations. What about all the wasted resources teenagers and adults have put into getting fat and clagging up their arteries?? As a small person, I have always been pissed off with the wear and tear caused by larger people- not only do you consume more than your fair share of the planet’s food, you also wear out the environment faster- paths, roads, lawns, carpets, furniture, cars- everything- you great galumphing sods!! Your clothes are bigger- taking more earthly resources (cotton and linen) and more petroleum (synthetic fibres), there are kilometres more sewing in your seams, tonnes more rubber in your shoes, less space and more load in your fridges! An article in the New York Times seems to agree with me a lot! GET SMALLER AND PREVENT CLIMATE CHANGE!!!!!

I would love to hear your response to this dose of tough love from a health researcher. You can read Kay’s article here and the New York times article is worth reading too with its classic quote that “the American way of eating has become the elephant in the room in the debate over health care.”

The “crime” wave

Google’s latest toy that is engaging the geek community at the moment is Google Wave. The wave is a new service where instead of people collaborating via email, sending copies of email back and forth, they now build an email (or photo album, or document, or ….) in a Google Wave account and invite other users to join that wave.

While I am running some tests from a business perspective, Brett Monten, king of the geeks in Adelaide, brought to my attention a wave created by the Seattle Times, put together as a wave experiment to see if the public could help police track down a police killer.

Here is the link to the public Google Wave – but note if you don’t have an invitation to Google Wave yet, you won’t be able to see it (as of Dec 2009).

The wave has links now to police scanners and other raw information sources, and the public has responded cautiously.

One of the things about Google Wave is that waves update in real time, so as someone is typing, other users can see the message being written. This real time aspect means clues can build and leads can be expanded upon without lag time.

People are posting everything they know, from information about the suspect (…right down to his old Flickr and Twitter accounts).

What do you think about this harnessing of public help this way?

Flowing data

In the world of Fox News 70 + 63 = 60 = 100

In the world of Fox News 70 + 63 = 60 = 100

This site is a mixed bag – not mixed as in hot and cold but mixed as in funny and intriguing. It is run by a statistics nut and showcases the many ways people work with data, to capture it, process it, and present it.

What caught my attention was this wonderful pie chart from Fox News. Not sure that these pieces actually do add up to 100 percent of the pie but maybe there is some new arithmetic in that strange, fox news reality where it does!

The site really captures a quote on the About page quite well, which reads: The greatest value of a picture is when it forces us to notice what we never expected to see. This is what makes this website so compelling, it shows us what people are trying to do to make data more meaningful and digestible. Some examples include:

  • News at a Glance with New York Times Article Skimmer – an experimental layout at NY Times to help readers scan stories more easily, or, in fact, more like reading a Sunday paper.
  • Flocking Up the National Nine News – highlights the “flock it” button on ninemsn which allows you to vote for news stories and then use the large flock of flock balls to see which stories are hot or popular by hovering over the balls.
  • Factbook Explorer – this highlights the explorer site created to make world data more usable from the OECD. For example, I quickly discovered our population in Australia was only 12.5 million back in 1970 – a figure we will shortly double – all easily accessed through a time slider that changes the data in the table.

You can explore flowing data yourself and see what you can learn.

Doctor Macro

This is a must visit site for movie buffs. It is simply a site containing beautiful, high quality scans of stills from some great actors and movies of yesteryear.

I stumbled upon it while making a card for Jimmy Stewart – a son born a great friend of mine.

Visit Doctor Macro and be amazed.

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