Friday, November 13, 2009

Saying goodbye to zembly

I was involved with the leading-edge web site, zembly, beginning in fall 2007, writing example widgets, applications, and data services for the companion book ‘Assemble the Social Web with zembly.’ zembly, the brain child of Todd Fast, began at Sun Microsystems as a web-based social development environment, enabling users to write widgets and other software. The site automatically keeps track of versions and publishes code, deploying the services and widgets for you. You can share the widgets, embedding them in web pages or posting them on sites such as Facebook. The site also lets you build and deploy Facebook applications. The book was published early this year and we presented a sold-out Hands-On Lab at JavaOne in June. Sadly, the site announced its closure this week. Besides thoroughly enjoying the time I spent coding applications on zembly, I really appreciated the interaction with the zembly folks, including Todd, Chris Webster, and especially Jirka Kopsa.

I have two favorite examples I built for the book. One is a Facebook application, Capital Punishment, which helps you learn the world’s capitals using a 20-question multiple choice quiz. Capital Punishment Facebook applicationYou see each answer mapped using Google maps. It includes all the usual social features of Facebook applications—challenging friends and letting you compare your scores with your friends.

Probably my favorite is a widget that shows you how to navigate the London Tube. It maps the station sequence (with Google maps), drawing a color-coded line (matching the tube station colors) to each station. London Tube WidgetThe data comes from, via Dapper. With Google maps, you can follow the route. Markers locate the stations and information windows tell you the station name, line, and where you need to change lines.London Tube Widget destinationIt's tough saying goodbye to zembly. It will be missed by many!!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Fighting for choices in alternative healthcare

I am one of the many people who regularly use and passionately embrace alternative healthcare. Yes, I still make annual visits to my OBGYN and see traditional doctors for acute injuries. But I visit my chiropractor for illnesses such as colds, the flu, any back or leg aches. I haven’t taken any antibiotics for 20 years until this year (ear infection from body boarding in the ocean). I take vitamins regularly, including fish oil.

In their Health section this week, the L.A. Times published an article (Alternative medicine becoming mainstream by Tammy Worth, November 9, 2009) describing how more and more people (not just the ‘out-there fringe’) are taking advantage of alternative healthcare. The article is a caution for those who choose to follow alternative healthcare, with these three broad points:
“Then there’s the issue of safety” meaning that vitamins and supplements don’t go through the rigorous approval process of the FDA.
Until the medical industry separates itself from the profit motives of the pharmaceutical industry I don’t think traditional medicine can criticize alternative healthcare. We are constantly bombarded with ads for pharmaceuticals on television and in magazines. The possible side effects always seem worse than the original problem. Somehow people think that if you list the side effects then it’s okay to take the drug (even when possible side effects include death!).
Only one-third of people who use alternative healthcare discuss their treatment with their physicians.
This does not surprise me. I tell my doctor about the vitamins I take and the treatment I follow from my chiropractor. Usually this admission is met with derision. I always feel like my doctor and my chiropractor should work together to provide the best of both worlds for me. But, it is up to me to judge the treatments of both alternative and traditional medicine and pick and choose myself. I’m not happy about that, but I see no other choice. I’m certainly not going to give up either form of healthcare.
“I think people using alternative medicine are wasting their money and are being fooled into thinking they are getting something that is beneficial for them.” (Dr. Jerome Kassirer, distinguished professor at Tufts University School of Medicine and former editor in chief of the New England Journal of Medicine.)
Uh, maybe this is why more people don’t discuss alternative healthcare with their doctors! Unfortunately, Dr. Kassirer’s broad dismissal is not uncommon among traditional healthcare providers.

I look forward to the day when the medical industry becomes more open-minded and chiropractic and other alternative treatments are given a well-earned place in mainstream healthcare.