When Pigs Flu

Anyone else on edge about this Swine Flu thing? I dare say that nowhere does such an event carry more gravitas than in the home of CDC epidemiologist in respiratory viruses. Lauren was telling me about these cases last week and when she noticed that I was only half paying attention she asked “is this sinking in?”. I guess it hadn’t until I put down what I was doing and imagined The Stand. Is anyone out there stockpiling food and water yet?

I did go back to Google Trends, the service that everyone was heralding back in November. Turns out we may still need public health surviellance. Google Trends barely showed a bleep on swine flu until this weekend. What’s more it shows nothing about the historic CDC swine flu ‘mishap’ in 1976 that pushed swine flu vaccine on the public with claims of a coming plague. The story needs to be retold today. Goolge trends did pop up with this story about the Chinese trying to get out a swine flu vaccine three and half years ago.

Regardless of investigating the history the event is a bit sureal. It’s interesting to think about the prospects of a global event that instantly puts everyone on edge, redefines stereotypes, and changes your routines (especially when you hear someone cough on the bus). I’ve provided links on the right-side banner and at the bottom of this post to info from the CDC.

CDC info on swine flu

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Flowing Data

Ben summed it up last week, “I love graphics” and trying to put numbers and data into images. Unfortunately this semester I have been plagued by a malaise for rushing through things and not taking ownership, leaving my work on display lacking. GOOD Magazine has a section each month with some of the coolest displays of information. The clip above is a new one from them that displays presidential actions in the first 100 days. A timely piece considering the momentous election that I’ve hardly taken time to comment on, and which I will still postpone here.

Some of the best and most formal advice with regard to presenting information comes from Edward Tufte, who (after looking around his website) seems proud of himself and in love with his dogs. Nonetheless he knows how to blend information and art. Some of the graphs sell for hundreds of dollars on his website. I have to admit that even though I don’t know what this is telling me, I really think this Japanese Weather map is cool.

Another site that is doing great things with data and maps is called Flowing Data. They do more in the way of putting up time-lapse animations that can show the spread of things (like Walmart), as well as add roll-over content for web-based maps. Many of the examples eventually release code which then allows more users to incorporate the design with their own data. Lauren and I recently did such a thing with some data from here job using an app called Timemap. Many online news sources are getting equally savvy in displaying their data (leaps and bounds from the infamous USA today infographics).

In addition to displaying data, innovations are also appearing for obtaining new sources of data. You may remember a post awhile ago on a Facebook add-in called Lexicon that allowed you to track the appearance of selected terms on people’s walls. Yesterday the inboxes of many were ablaze with stories of how Google is using a similar idea to track flu. Google FluTrends is a formalized project for Google.org, Google’s philanthropic unit that aims to save the world (I wouldn’t put anything past them).

Straight Diesel

In this string of updates about the projects I am working on I would like to present the latest; the Railyard Risk Assessment. This project focuses on a hazard, quantification of possible exposures, use of dose-response information to determine risk, and a summary that expands on uncertainties and tries to give an idea of what it all means. This, apparently, is risk assessment.

Thanks to Ben’s extracurricular work, we landed a nice project right here in Atlanta. We decided to look at residences being built right next to two large rail yards on Atlanta’s west side.
We modeled the emissions coming from the yard’s activities (using a Cali yard as a proxy) and then used a model from EPA to obtain the resultant concentrations of diesel particulate matter at the new homes. The actual risk is still being determined but the results could prove to be very interesting. Below is a movie shot from one of the lots.
http://video.google.com/googleplayer.swf?docId=-3071283609289201888&hl=en The most perfect irony of this is that these new homes are Earth Craft, a green building certification that puts the word “healthy” in the first sentence of its self-description. This is one example of how marketing and narrowly focused, under-developed certifications are capitalizing on ‘green‘ (also read healthy) trends without necessarily furthering the whole objective.

GA Clean Diesel
interested in buying one these homes?
More photos of the yard here

Blog Like a Pro

Last week I mentioned an episode of This American Life that discussed a phenomenon known as the flow, but the real theme of the episode was meeting the pros. It included stories about average people who get to talk with, observe and maybe learn from the pros. For example a casual poker player who gets to sit down with a pro from the World Series. My own story is not nearly as interesting but I saw this headline and it seemed like a good segway.

“Learn to Bike Like a Pro”

I should mention that I’m in the process of helping to plan a bike to school day for Emory, specifically the school of public health. So when this ad popped up in the campus paper it caught my attention and my criticism. The first thing it does is romanticize the bike messenger. I don’t wanna get started on hipsters (as I write in my BLOG! [so cool]) but while bike messengers may actually be pros it is not the goal that most of the class’ participants will hope to achieve. Notwithstanding the overdone wardrobe (cog patterned shirt) and ‘extreme’ styling (frosted tips) of this biker, messengers tend to ride in some of the most intimidating conditions, and tend to do so dangerously. The current trend is to ride a fixed gear bike; the same they use at the velodrome. This is a bike that does not have a flywheel like your old ten speed and so the pedals move with the wheel (forward and back). It only offers you a single gear but more importantly the only way to stop is to slow the pedals by resisting the momentum you created in the first place. In other words they have no brakes. A precarious situation for those who ride (fast) in the intersection laden traditional grid patterns of most urban centers. Most importantly, these guys lacks a helmet. The graphic artist tried to hide this blurring the photo at the top but it had the added effect of making it look like he’s going really fast. So bike fast, without brakes or helmets like the pros.

But it turns out that it’s not just the pros, they start em young too. Stunningly this example comes from a book entitled Urban Sprawl and Public Health. It co-authors include both the current and former head of CDC’s National Center for Environmental Health. Somehow the kids on the cover made it onto the book without helmets. It may be because they live on those icons of the suburbs, the cul de sac. The streets gained such popularity with American families because of their low and slow traffic volumes, which allowed children to play in the street without great risk of automobile collision. Now they’re being rethought since one of the reasons they have so little traffic is because they go nowhere. I should say here that all of my crashes have only involved me and the cement, never any other cars.

Vargo lives and bikes (fast, but with brakes) in Atlanta. He didn’t always but now he never rides without the helmet. He also listens to his iPod while biking.

Urban Sprawl & Public Health

Getting Old

If you’re not familiar with Frontline, it would be my pleasure to introduce you to the program. The PBS program allows you to view many of the episodes for free. I recently watched one report that really moved me.

It’s hard to live in the US and avoid hearing about the aging of the baby boomer generation. It’s also hard not to know someone who falls into that category. Some of my first exposure to the issue was through the work of the ARC and their aging resources division. It has always seemed like a problem with a need for attention but it was one of those things where I passed the buck and thought “someone else will work on that.” This episode really affected me and made me, for the first time, consider what I could be doing to work on this. The ARC definately presents this as a planning issue but is obviously also a health issue. Is this an area of focus for me?

Yesterday I had a phone call with La Universidad de Los Andes about some projects I could work on this summer in Bogota. They all deal with the drastic changes to Bogota’s built environment and the affect on physical activity and quality of life of the residents. One project focuses on older adults in particular. Is this my chance to enter into the arena of __________ (not sure what to call it)? It is a solid possibility.

Notably, the medium of television can tend to amplify extremes in order to engage the viewer. Nonetherless, the future of our aging population is an interesting and important problem (read opportunity for some) and I recommend you try and watch this episode. Maybe it’s one of these self-interested realizations that we reach in order to feel better about ourselves while at the same time looking out for ourselves. Maybe I feel guilty about not being near my parents and I worry about them. Maybe this show will change the way you think about this issue.