Not all techies are ageists!

Silicon Valley may not appreciate anyone over 22, but in Nashville this weekend they’re holding the second annual LeadingAge Hackfest. At this two-day event, intergenerational teams will compete to create “a technology-driven tool aimed at improving the lives of older adults and their families.”

While there’s a slight whiff of condescension in the sense that seniors are seen as the target consumers rather than the creators, at least the organizers are asking–and they’re respecting seniors as valuable contributors to team efforts.

Next year, we’d love to see an entire team of seniors kicking tech butt!



Silicon Valley is Shamelessly Ageist

Last week, 52-year-old entrepreneur Jeff Pulver addressed the American Enterprise Institute and confirmed (see 43:00 on the video) what we’ve all suspected: Silicon Valley is blatantly, shamelessly ageist.

The money quote, according to the Washington Post:

I was in Silicon Valley two years ago meeting a partner of one of the most famous VCs in the world and when he told me to my face, told me: “Jeff, look, you’re not 25 years old having just left Facebook as a product manager, because if you were I have $5 million for you.” He looked at me and said I was worthless.



South African insights into seniors and online banking


Courtesy: Springbok

Courtesy: Springbok

South African researchers recently conducted a survey of residents of several local nursing homes to gauge seniors’ comfort level with online banking. Overall, they looked upon it favorably, with several important caveats.

As reported by South Africa’s IT-Online, “71% of the respondents said they found it easy to configure new technologies on their own and 70% said they kept up with new technologies in their areas of interest.”

By contrast, “Only 24% felt that it was safe to perform financial transactions via computers while the majority of respondents, 69%, indicated that computers were not safe…[only a small portion] 16%, was convinced about the safety of the technology used in banking applications.”

Our favorite finding: “The low levels of trust towards technology-based banking services and applications manifested in the belief that technology always seems to fail at the worst possible times.”

This was one study of 70 people in South Africa, but that last finding seems fairly universal.

Big Data equals Shorter Walks in NYC


Ben Wellington's determination of the farthest spot from a subway entrance.

Ben Wellington’s determination of the farthest spot from a subway entrance.

Ben Wellington, a Visiting Assistant Professor in the City & Regional Planning program at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York, has been running a fascinating blog called I Quant New York in which he slices and dices publicly available data about New York City.

Of interest to seniors who may wish to visit or move to Manhattan, he just produced a map showing the distance between Manhattan addresses and subway stops. It’s extremely useful information if you happen to have arthritis in your knees–or happen not to have an umbrella.

Along with the map, he’s also included a link to a spreadsheet where you can look up individual addresses; however, it takes a long time to fully load.

Clip ‘n’ Save: How to avoid scams that target seniors

“Wherever a new technology goes, scammers follow. There’ll be scammers on Mars just after the astronauts land.”

An FBI agent

Most techies know the term “social engineering;” it refers to a scammer’s ability to gain trust. The scammer may sound friendly, threatening or conspiratorial (“we can both get one over on them together!”), whatever the mode, they get you to believe they are who they say they are and that whatever they promise or threaten will come true. The simplest way to avoid getting scammed is this: Never agree immediately. No matter what sense of urgency a phone call, email, or letter may insist on: “Act Now to Save!” “Pay Now or Risk Jail!” always double-checkor have a friend or relative double-check for you. Never, ever provide private information such as credit card numbers, birth dates, or a social security number to someone who contacts you by phone or email.

By now, you may be thinking, “Thanks, but I’ve got good instincts; I can sense a rat.” Alas, a UCLA study from 2012 gave the dismal news that as we age our ability to detect untrustworthiness diminishes. The problem is compounded if you really did have good instincts–you may think that you still do, and not realize how badly out of tune your sense of trust has become.Continue Reading

Well, it’s practical…

After the Nobel Prize, er, a more mundane discovery. We just got this press release:

“The Pee Pocket  is a single use, waterproof disposable funnel allowing women to pee while standing. Its convenient tri-fold design easily fits in purse or pocket and includes a  hygienic tissue wipe and disposable bag. Use without getting hands or other body parts wet…[this]  female urinary device is perfect for athletes, travelers, the elderly, disabled, pregnancy, parents of young girls, post-surgery patients…”

This is a picture of what it looks like:

Screen Shot 2014-10-08 at 7.52.29 PM

There’s a how-to video on their website, which includes a rather unpleasant example of why you’d want to keep one handy. The Pee Pocket is available for $1.75 or three packs for $4.95. 

A Nobel Prize that’s actually comprehensible  

The total lunar eclipse and the announcement of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry both took place at the same time last night, so we decided to make it an insomnia two-fer. We were rewarded with a beautiful moon the color of Mars and Sonoma, and a fascinating discussion of super-resolution microscopy, which is likely to drive biomedical research for decades to come.

Imaging super-small biological features historically had a big problem: Because of the techniques required to prepare the specimens, if you wanted to see details below the diffraction limit of light (approximately 200 nanometers), what you were looking at had to be dead.

But what scientists hope to understand are the many processes in living cells that can determine whether we lead healthy lives or fall victim to diseases and other debilitating conditions. Most of those cellular processes, however, take place at the single molecule level, below the diffraction limit. Using a light microscope, which does allow for living specimens, all a researcher could see would be a blurry spot, instead of clearly resolved individual molecules.

In 2000, Stefan Hell became the Chuck Yeager of light microscopy, when he demonstrated a way to break through the diffraction limit, which had stood as a barrier to discoveries since it was first described by Ernst Abbe in 1873. Later, William Moerner, Eric Betzig and other scientists, including Jennifer Lippincott-Schwartz and Xaiowei Zhuang, two women not cited by the Nobel committee, created limit-breaking techniques that were more easily accessible to most researchers.

Now, cutting-edge biomedical researchers can detect such biological processes as single proteins interacting with other proteins. Simply put, just like in a mechanical assembly line, if you know all the steps in the manufacturing process, you can know at what step something went wrong—and begin to understand how to fix it.

Here’s the video of the Nobel press conference. At 7:05, there’s a slide show explaining the work.


No more medical CDs? We hope.

Many seniors likely have experienced the frustration—and fear—having radiological tests results that needed to be read by multiple doctors. The tests, downloaded to CD, may be transferred through the mails or hand-carried by the patient, but at its best the process can add days, even a week, to diagnostic time. At its worst, when the CD finally arrives, it may be unreadable for various reasons.

Not the pretty kind of cloud. Image courtesy:

Not the pretty kind of cloud. Image courtesy:

Distracted by whatever medical condition required all those tests, you may forget to consider the obvious: Why in these days when people can share photos on their phones are patients still schlepping around CDs?

Fortunately, medical institutions are beginning to catch up. According to a story in Modern Healthcare, there’s now a push for more centralized digital storage of medical images, so that the CD problem could be eliminated. Images and other records are kept “in the cloud,” which essentially means—despite all the hype around the term—a huge bank of computers that’s accessible over the Internet from any digital device. The advantage to you is that the test you took near your home can be read by a specialist thousands of miles away.

While several radiological cloud storage systems are already in place, the kicker is that there isn’t yet one national system. If you stay within one HMO or other medical network, your records may be easily accessed, but if you have to see an outside specialist, you may still be stuck with CDs and the subsequent delays. If you’re considering a new medical group, it’s worth asking if records can be electronically transferred both within—and without—their network. We’re guessing you may see some rolled eyes if you ask, “Will my records be kept in the cloud?”


Windows on a Watch–ulp!

We often argue that seniors know far more about computers than the popular media gives credit for, so we know that many of you are familiar with Windows 95, which was considered so revolutionary only twenty years ago that Microsoft was able to get The Rolling Stones to shill for it.

Still, we experienced our own sense of future shock today, when we discovered that someone demonstrated that with the right emulator, you can get the entire Windows 95 operating system to run on a smartwatch. Granted, it can’t launch any applications without crashing, so maybe things haven’t changed that much after all.


Medicare tries to make its stars shine brighter

Screen Shot 2014-10-07 at 7.14.15 PMIn an earlier post, we had mentioned that the New York Times exposed that many nursing homes have figured out how to game Medicare’s Five Star Quality Ratings System. CMS (the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services) has just announced improvements to the ratings system, which will be implemented next year. They attempt to address many of the issues highlighted in the Times’s piece, including manipulation of staffing schedules so that homes appear to have better patient-to-staff ratios.

Here are the highlights of CMS’s goals:

  • Nationwide Focused Survey Inspections: Effective January 2015, CMS and states will implement focused survey inspections nationwide for a sample of nursing homes to enable better verification of both the staffing and quality measure information that is part of the Five-Star Quality Rating System.
  • Payroll-Based Staffing Reporting: CMS will implement a quarterly electronic reporting system that is auditable back to payrolls to verify staffing information. This new system will increase accuracy and timeliness of data, and allow for the calculation of quality measures for staff turnover, retention, types of staffing, and levels of different types of staffing.
  • Additional Quality Measures: CMS will increase both the number and type of quality measures used in the Five-Star Quality Rating System. The first additional measure, starting January 2015, will be the extent to which antipsychotic medications are in use. Future additional measures will include claims-based data on re-hospitalization and community discharge rates.
  • Timely and Complete Inspection Data: CMS will also strengthen requirements to ensure that States maintain a user-friendly website and complete inspections of nursing homes in a timely and accurate manner for inclusion in the rating system.
  • Improved Scoring Methodology: In 2015, CMS will revise the scoring methodology by which we calculate each facility’s quality measure rating, which is used to calculate the overall Five Star rating.  We also note that sources independent of self-reporting by nursing homes already are weighted higher than self-reported components in the scoring methodology.

You can find the full release on CMS’s website. While you’re there, you may want to check out their list of acronyms, always useful when dealing with the government!