Category Archives: Cool Toys Conversations

Make Health Fest Coming August 16!

Detroit Maker Faire 2013#UMSIMakerfest !!!Ann Arbor Mini Maker Faire 2013
Ann Arbor Mini Maker Faire 2013Ann Arbor Mini Maker Faire 2014Detroit Maker Faire 2013
Ann Arbor Mini Maker Faire 2014Ann Arbor Mini Maker Faire 2014Ann Arbor Mini Maker Faire 2013

We Make Health Fest
Saturday, Aug 16th, 2014
University of Michigan
Palmer Commons, Great Lakes Rooms

Short Description
“A collaborative event for a local and virtual community interested in health, technology, and participatory design. Join us for a full day of health themed design and maker activities!”

Longer Description
Many types of events are being triggered by the creativity of the Maker Movement — maker faires, mini-maker faires, maker camps, maker festivals, maker fests and makerfests, make-a-thons and createathons (also spelled makeathon or makethon), open make events, maker madness events, maker shows — and they come in all sizes, flavors, and themes. What does that mean? Think of it as a mash-up of science fair PLUS Hands On Museum or Exploratorium PLUS do it yourself! It’s all about learning and creating and problemsolving through a combination of Show+Tell+Do! Here at the University of Michigan, many people on campus are partnering on taking the “maker culture” energy and applying it through a lens focused on health to promote participatory and collaborative strategies in healthcare. Come, have fun, learn, make stuff, but more than that, meet other interesting and creative people who are interested in using what they have, know, and can do to Make Health!

Learn More!

Make Health:
Twitter: @MakeHealthUM
Google Plus: Make Health UM

A project of HealthDesignBy.Us
Twitter: @HealthByUs
Blog: Introducing @HealthByUs

We Make Health

First posted at THL Blog:

Maker Movement Meets Healthcare

When I try to talk to peers and colleagues about the Maker Movement, one of the questions that keeps coming up over and over is what the heck this has to do with healthcare, and why am I bothering to spend my valuable time with it. So, this post has three examples illustrating the intersection of the Maker Movement with healthcare. Basically, for one of these it’s health literacy education & outreach via hands on geek project, and for the other two, there were real world problems that have expensive, time-consuming or often inaccessible solutions, for which people came up with their own solutions and alternatives. And the solutions are cool, they work, and are usually MUCH cheaper than the official solution you try to get insurance to pay for. Since not everyone has insurance, and not everyone can afford the very best possible care, I see this as a good thing. Make sure you read all the way to the end. This just gets cooler and cooler. There are more, too, this is a very small sampling, just items I stumbled over in the past couple days without even looking for them.


Have you met Sylvia? Sylvia is twelve years old, is a Maker (I’m guessing her folks probably are also), and has her own series in Make Magazine, with a really cool blog and videos. In this example, she shows people how to build a wearable technology pendant that will sense your heart beat and display the rhythm of your pulse with flashing lights in a necklace.

The Sylvia Show: Lilypad Heartbeat Pendant:

The full post at Make Magazine (Super Awesome Sylvia Builds a Pulse Sensor Pendant)

Sylvia’s Super Awesome Mini Maker Show: Make a Heartbeat Pendant:

I confess, at first I thought this seemed kind of staged, but there are enough close ups of her hands actually doing things like soldering, that I decided she really does know how to do the work, even if there might be assistance or advice from others for some parts.

Here’s where you can buy your own PulseSensor (which Sylvia connects to an Arduino for control):


Here Denver Dias, an undergraduate student in Mumbai India, was working to try to create a walking aid for the blind. Yes, we have walking canes and seeing eye dogs, but this extremely early prototype uses tech to create 3d maps of the surrounding area while walking. The maps are communicated to the user by a combination of tones and vibrations. The tech includes LEDs, sonar, ultrasound, and more.

His blogpost:
Walking aid for the blind – undergrad project…

Found via Dangerous Prototypes:


Did you look at this and think it was some fancy looking glove a kid was wearing for a costume? Well, it isn’t. This is a design for kids who, for whatever reason, don’t have fingers. This open-source, freely shared pattern makes it possible for people to create their own prosthetic ‘hand’ with a 3d printer. You can resize it and tweak it. It’s called Robohand. Watch the video if you want to see some awfully happy kids. They are hoping it will also be useful for veterans.

Complete set of mechanical anatomically driven fingers

Updated Robohand design:

MakerBot and Robohand — 3D Printing Mechanical Hands

Via BoingBoing, NPR, and more.

3dPrinter: Donated Makerbot 3D printers accelerate distribution of Robohand mechanical hands

BoingBoing: Sponsor shout-out: Makerbot and the Robohand

MakerBot: Mechanical Hands From A MakerBot: The Magic Of Robohand

NPR: 3-D Printer Brings Dexterity To Children With No Fingers

Now, if anyone still thinks that the Maker Movement lacks relevance to healthcare, I’ll go find more, but first stop and think about Jack Andraka, whose recent discovery of innovative technology to diagnose many life-threatening cancers earlier and more cheaply, seem very much in keeping with the philosophy of the Maker Movement.

First posted at CoolToysU:

The Imagine Cup

Day 1 - Imagine Cup 2013 Worldwide Finals

In case you haven’t already heard about it, the Imagine Cup is taking place this week, with a livestream hosted by Microsoft for the final award ceremonies TOMORROW MORNING (i.e. 9:30AM Thursday morning July 11, 2013).

Imagine Cup:

I’m not just excited because Matt Smith, the current Doctor Who, is hosting the awards.

Matt Smith on Imagine Cup 2013: What’s Next?:
Imagine Cup Worldwide Finals with Matt Smith is just the beginning!

From their About page.
“The Microsoft Imagine Cup is the world’s premier student technology competition. Over the past ten years, more than 1.65 million students from more than 190 countries have participated in the Imagine Cup.”

Last year the awards went to projects like these.

“D Labs allows tutors to understand the behavioral patterns of children with dyslexia by using games to assist them in alphabet identification and movement recognition.”

“Enable Talk was created to give disabled individuals with limited communication abilities a better way to communicate. It transforms sign language into a form of verbal communication by creating a mobile device that continuously recognizes sign language phonemes.”

“WinSenga is a mobile application that aids health workers as they assist expectant mothers. The algorithm analyzes fetal heart sounds to determine the fetal heart rate (beats per minute) and the age and position of the fetus and then records these readings to the cloud”

“Health Buzz is a cost-effective mobile-based solution that helps healthcare service providers access patients’ electronic medical records through a secure cloud-based storage system.”

“StethoCloud is a cloud-powered, mobile-hybrid stethoscope for early detection of pneumonia. By connecting a custom stethoscope to a mobile phone, the user is able to transmit diagnostic information into a cloud service, reproducing the diagnostic capability of a trained medical doctor.”

“nunav is a navigation system with the potential to reduce vehicle carbon emissions by preventing traffic congestion. The system proactively routes city traffic by calculating the best route for each car and communicating that information to each driver.”

Imagine Cup 2012: Imagine Cup Grants Award Winners:

Now you see why I’m excited? Incredible tech developments coming from the best and brightest high school students from around the world. Open their doors, open your mind, open the world.

Flickr: Imagine Cup:


Team Triton, Malaysia Team Omni-Hearing Solution, Taiwan
Team PhAid, Malta Team Qspark, Qatar
Team Kernel, Côte d’Ivoire Team Sano, Canada


Team Quad Damage presentation
Team vSoft Studio presentation Team Beezinga Presentation
Team MYRA Presentation Team Firebird Presentation
Team Seven Worlds Presentation Team Merado Presentation


Day 1 - Imagine Cup 2013 - Worldwide Finals Day 1 - Imagine Cup 2013 Worldwide Finals
Day 1 - Imagine Cup 2013 - Worldwide Finals Team Combine presentation

Cheap and Easy Ways to Make Comics or Cartoons for Digital Storytelling

Another one of last week’s Enriching Scholarship Sessions, this one in partnership with John Beals.

Cheap and Easy Ways to Make Comics or Cartoons for Digital Storytelling:

Digital storytelling, also referred to in educational circles as digital media assignments, often centers around making videos, but there are many other ways to tell stories. Comics and cartoons offer an attractive alternative approach to storytelling. In addition to uses for storytelling, they can also make engaging images for slides, presentations and illustrations. With the many online tools and software packages now available for creating these, there are many options to choose from for all levels of skill and expertise. This session will provide a survey of some tools, with illustrations of educational uses.

Even though the slides say “Part 2,” I actually started off, because I had to run across campus for another session right after, and John was gracious enough to be flexible. The slides were a rush job, because I was out sick so long with bronchitis, and I actually have a lot more content than is shown here. It worked out that this was just the right amount of content for the session. Lucky me!

Cheap and Easy Ways to Make Comics or Cartoons for Digital Storytelling:

This is an abbreviated set of the links and tools I’ve collected for doing this. What inspired me was a webcomic idea I have and want to do, but not being the kind of artist who can draw my own comic, I have been looking for … alternatives. I started out with some of the ways in which I use comics in my work already, with examples; then highlighted just a few of the many tools available. Last but not least, I also touched on using smartphones with photo filter apps or added word bubbles to generate images to tell your stories.

The session ended with John talking about real world educational uses of comics in the classroom, tips and tricks for how to design assignments, books for more info, and similar excellent content. John is FAR more expert than I in this area, which made for a great partnership. He used no slides this time, so these are from another session he did on a closely related topic earlier in the year.

Johnathon Beals: Comics in the Classroom:

You know you’ve done something right when you hear from people after the session who want to share what they’ve done with the tools you discussed! And what could be better than being one of the first to see new comics? This was such great fun to do, and had such a great response, I hope we do this again next year.

Guest Post: Enriching Scholarship 2013: Tech Talk

I’m trying to catch up with promised blogposts for the various Enriching Scholarship sessions I coordinated or in which I participated. Lucky for me, Shannon Murphy attended one of the sessions and blogged about it so beautifully that I am just reposting here, with her very kind permission and a very small number of copy-edits. You can see the original post at:

ES 2013 Tech and Trends:

ES13 Tech Talk (#UMTTC)

ETech guru Patricia Anderson presented. As usual, there are tons of resources.

The mind map for this is available at

Members of the UM community may want to sign up for the Cool Toys Conversations email group in MCommunity. You can also follow the Cool Toys blog or the ETechLib blog

The talk follows the mindmap, starting from the upper right and working around clockwise.

What is emerging tech?

It’s what’s new and hot and relavant and important.

New Media Consortium’s Horizon report is a good resource, and is what they usually focus on in the Cool Toys email group. Find out more about the project at Download the higher ed report in English from

The future is here (at UM)

Examples – last year’s ES poster winners

Would have liked to have this year’s winners too. Our instructors are doing amazing things with today’s technology, and we’re developing things that can be next year’s tech.


Many of these are issues we face year after year. For example, do students with the money for laptops or tablets to bring to class have an advantage over those who can’t afford portable tech? Should we be introducing students to high end computers and software if they won’t have access to those things in the jobs they get when they leave here? What competencies do the students actually need in the future?

How we answer those questions now will determine what higher ed looks like and whether or not we survive.

Resources and past years

The Resources bubble provides a lot of resources for exploring further.

The 2011 and 2012 Tech Trends are provided so you can compare where we were a year or two ago, and where we are now.

Tech Trends 2013

“My Take”

Wearable tech generated a lot of chatter on the cool toys email group However, what was is the Cool Toys chatter was not the same as what was in the horizon report. The Horizon report focused on things like the much hyped Google Glass, and smart watches like Pebble. But there are all sorts of things, like biometric tattoos that can warn diabetics if their blood sugar is too low, or buttons for your jacket that detect if you’ve had too much to drink. Also, some slightly disturbing options, like the tattoo that vibrates when you got a phone call. (This tattoo is not MRI safe. And what do you do when the technology changes??) Wearable tech can be big too, like the scarf with sensors so it you crash on your bike, it turns into an airbag bike helmet, or the power suit designed for soldiers but usable by paraplegics to allow them to walk again.

Patricia also discussed the power of technologies like Personal genomics, Personalized medicine, Quantified self and Biohacking. These let the individual learn more about themselves and their health through things like developing a personal genetic profile, tracking exercise goals or finding correlations between symptoms and diet. Lots of data helps the user and their doctor diagnose problems more quickly and treat them more effectively.

3D printing was also a big item. These bring their own set of questions and issues. What will it mean if everyone had the ability to print whatever they want? WILL everyone be able to do this, or will this be another thing that separates groups (those who can afford it and those who can’t). Are there things you shouldn’t be allowed to print, and how would a ‘bad’ be enforced? Bioprinting is also an emerging technology, with things like replacement bones and ears already possible.

Related to the 3D printing is the Maker Culture. Here in A2 we have MakerWorks and All Hands maker space There’s also the Maker Faire Detroit each year at The Henry Ford Groups like make it easy for designers and makers to make their designs available to other makers, and to anyone with a 3D printer.

Gartner Hype Cycle

Handy for checking on what might be overhyped right now (like 3D printing, social analytics, and gamification), under-hyped, what’s likely to be a hot topic next year, and what we are seeing turn into practical, usable, and realistic tech (and as a slow typist, I’m rather glad to see speech recognition finally becoming useful!)

10 Breakthrough Technologies 2013

A list by the MIT Technology Review.

See the list at

Again, wearable tech like smart watches and 3D printing apear on the list.

Also on the list are memory implants. While intended for people with cognitive dysfunction, could these be used by “normal” people who want a better memory.

Deep (machine) learning – AI is closer to reality. This have some unintended consequences too. For example, programs were designed to make spam look more like normal human speech, so it could get around the spam filters. However, it was still mostly gibberish. Poets found some of it interesting and started using the “creative” content from the computers to generate Spam Poetry (is that plagiarism?)

Big data from cheap phones also has some potentially profound implications. In Kenya, a database that used text messages from users to track the location of prescription medications eventually lead to (democratic) political upheaval. The Boston Marathon bomber was caught largely due to cell phone video. These open up privacy questions. According to David Brin, that can be OK as long as there is data equality. However, we will face serious problems if one side is transparent and the other is not.

Science fiction no more

Cool Toys pics of the day: Autoscopia

Today the Cool Toys Conversations group (links at the end) is meeting to talk about the newest Horizon Report. We do this every year, looking at the forecasts of technologies that will be important in higher education. That is one source of important tech trends, but I’ve been collecting a boatload of other reports and resources that synthesize emerging tech developments of note, either those reviewing the past year, or forecasting for the coming year. ‘Tis the season and all. I’ve been pondering how to share some of this info. I had the idea of making a giant mindmap collecting all of them into one, but that turned out to be more complicated and time-consuming than I expected. I saw one today that I simply MUST share, so I am just going to point you at the cool list, and maybe collate pieces into something coherent after I’ve thought about them for a while.

Here are two posts from My Science Academy, both of which include lists of new emerging tech innovations. I need to add My Science Academy to the blogroll, because it is another one of those great places to track ETech/EmTech. They collect information from many of the same places I am already checking, so their collections typically confirm in my mind that I am looking in the right places for the right things. In these posts, while I’m just replicating the lists, they include brief descriptions, photos, and links to the original sources. Yes, there are overlaps between these two related lists. That tells you this really is a topic worth further attention. Go check it out!

10 Future Technologies that Already Exist:

1. Printing human organs
2. Dynamically stable quadruped robot
3. Thought-controlled prosthetics
4. Wireless power
5. Retinal implants
6. Hologram TV
7. Cloaking devices
8. Hover cards
9. Exoskeletons
10. Force fields

27 Science Fictions that Became Science Facts in 2012:

I knew 24 of the 27 before I read the article. How many are new to you?

1. Quadriplegic controls robotic arm with thoughts
2. DARPA robot can traverse an obstacle course
3. Genetically modified silk is stronger than steel
4. DNA photographed
5. Invisibility cloak technology
6. Spray-on skin
7. Man reached the deepest point in the ocean
8. Stem cells could extend human life by 100 years
9. 3D printers to print full size houses
10. Self-driving cars now legal in 3 states
11. Voyager 1 leaves the solar system
12. 3D printed custom jaw implant
13. Rogue planet
14. Chimera monkeys
15. Artificial leaves generate electricity
16. Google goggles
17. Higgs-Boson particle
18. Flexible, inexpensive solar panels challenge fossil fuel
19. Diamond planet
20. Eye implants give sight to the blind
21. Wales barcodes DNA of every flowering plant in the country
22. 1st unmanned commercial space flight docks with ISS
23. Ultra-flexible glass allows curved electronic devices
24. NASA using robotic exoskeletons
25. Human brain is hacked
26. 1st planet with four suns discovered
27. Microsoft patents the holodeck

Interested in the Cool Toys group? You can join our email list (low volume) or track us via these online spaces.

Cool Toys U:

Cool Toys Conversations (Google Plus):

Cool Toys Conversations (Facebook):

“Online Dating” For Researchers, Clinicians, and Educators

Online Dating

Tomorrow starts Enriching Scholarship 2012, a whole festival week of classes about innovations and trends in higher education, with a special focus on technology in support of our core mission areas: education, research, outreach & service, and creating new intellectual content. The sessions I’m teaching or co-teaching include social media for scholarly publishing (Books Born as Blogs); emerging technologies (Tech Talk 2012); storytelling (Top 10 Tools to Tell Terrific Tales); social learning environments; digital curation tools ( and Pinterest and Pearltrees: Oh My!).

At the same time, in various communities across campus, I’ve been hearing conversations about how to make it easier to discover colleagues with similar interests; find people with skills you need for your own work; learn who else is doing related work to yours. Part of the focus is on how to create tools and visualizations to reveal existing professional relationships, collaborations, and opportunities for more of the same. Yet another focus is on how to make it easier for faculty to take advantage of social media, open educational resources, and online social learning environments in support of their educational, research, and clinical activities.

That’s the background, the context. Now, a different context. Recently I’d read all kinds of rave reviews about the clever interface for HowAboutWe, a new online dating site. What was supposed to make it interesting was the premise was not focused on finding a mate but a date, and that they didn’t have you fill in long personality questionnaires, but just a few simple questions. I have never joined an online dating site (despite having been single for a long time), but I’ve joined such a variety of new clever online social media sites that I thought why not? I did the same thing I usually do for testing a new site. See how far I can go without an account, make a free account and see what I can learn from that, and then usually ignore the site unless something exceptional happens. I just don’t have time for all of them. Usually, if they are interesting, I report out on them in the Cool Toys blog.

I joined HowAboutWe, agreed the interface was clever, intended to blog about it, but never got around to it. They kept sending me emails, which I mostly ignored, but to make a long story short, I ended up getting sucked into the site and actually gave them some of my money. I just don’t do that. Flickr I give money. A couple of sites I support via Paypal donations. But as a rule, I don’t become a paying subscriber. And for an online dating site? You have to be joking! But I did. So now I think the design was far more clever than I thought at first, and am really looking hard at what did the site do that inspired this. What can I learn from their design, management, interface, process?

I think there are some valuable lessons science social network sites could learn from online dating sites. What inspired me to join HowAboutWe was the brief glimpses of messages I was receiving from some of the other members of the site. I heard that they had read through my profile and found it exceptionally well developed and interesting. I hadn’t truly taken a good look around the site, so I did that now. They were right. My profile had gotten fleshed out because the site asked me what I thought were interesting questions, fill-in-the-blank types. I answered them, and I enjoyed answering them. Basically, they helped me tell my story, and my story was interesting to the other members.

Could we help professionals (scientists, researchers, clinicians, educators) tell their stories in more interesting ways if we used a similar interface and offered them interesting prompts? Perhaps that might be easier than blogging. Or perhaps a social network with these types of “dating” social prompts might make a wonderful little database of great quotes from the actual experts.

What sort of questions might do this, might inspire them to tell their stories in candid interesting ways? I’ve been brainstorming just a few, to get things started. What are questions that you think would make a great starter set for a scientist, clinician or educator new to blogging?


The (health or research) challenge that I’d love most to fix is:

If I won the lottery, what I’d really love to do as a research project would be:

The event or person in my life that inspired me to love science (research, healthcare, teaching, etc) is:

Tips and warnings I’d like to share with new professionals in my field:

A person I really respect is:

Skills I wish I had to help my research along:

Someone I wish I knew (better):

My dream project:

The book or article I wish someone would write:

The most important trend I see coming is:

My first important project was:

Something I wish people had told me before I started this line of work:

The work I’ve done that I’m most proud of is:

Something I’ve helped with (or am working on) that really made (can make) a difference is:

Why Bother With Second Life? Tools Jam, One Example of a Second Life Learning Network

I don’t spend as much time as I once did in Second Life. The reason isn’t because of the people or events or whether or not it is useful or getting bored or any of the reasons people tend to suspect. It is for tech issues. With the second generation viewer (SL2) it has become so computer and bandwidth intensive that my computer usually won’t launch it, or takes half an hour of repeated login attempts to finally succeed. I spent six months trying to force it to work, then finally switched to Imprudence, but struggle even with that. It is so difficult these days for my computer to run SL that I spend less and less time there.

The next obvious question is, “So, why bother?” The answer is because of the quality of the people and learning experiences I have there. I spend time with (or used to) with a wide ranging variety of communities from health care to disabilities to genetics to economics to astronomy to life sciences to educators to geeks. Oh, and don’t forget art and music. One of these communities (just one, mind you) is Tools Jam.

Immersion: Tools Jam:

SL: Tools Jam

Tools Jam (a.k.a. ITJ or #toolsjam) is a group organized around a similar philosophy to my own Cool Toys Conversations except that they meet more often and blog less. I try to attend when I don’t have a conflict because it feeds my own CoolToys activities. Today was the first day back to Tools Jam after the summer school break. Just as an example, here is a sampling of the range of tools and interesting URLs presented during today’s conversation, in roughly chronological order. It is just a sampling, because I crashed on login again, and so missed the beginning. Just imagine what I might have missed!

Stanford’s Introduction to Artificial Intelligence (AI-Class)

Change: Education, Learning & Technology (Change11) taught by George Siemens, Stephen Downes, & Dave Cormier
– The Change MOOC Schedule NOTE: The list of 35 leading educators blogs is in itself invaluable.

First ‘chatbot’ conversation ends in argument

OpenSimBot Email List

Diaspora Alpha (open source privacy-sensitive alternative to Facebook & Google Plus)

GPlus.To (URL shortener & personalizer for Google Plus)

Google Dashboard (to see a synthesis of what information Google has/shares about you)

Google Alerts

What Do You Love? (visual overview of Google services based on topics your search)

SLanguages 11 / SLang11 (a free 3-day conference on language learning in Second Life)



Pondering Prezi
– Get Satisfaction: Prezi: Topics tagged: “accessibility
Prezi needs to address Disability Access – It’s the law

Gestuno (International Sign Language)
LifePrint: Gestuno
World Federation of the Deaf. Unification of Signs Commission. Gestuno: international sign language of the deaf.
Handspeak: Gestuno
– More Info: Gallaudet University: Library: LibGuide: Sign Language

Empire Avenue



HootCourse (tool for using Twitter in education, still in development)

Twitter in the classroom? (Genetics professor at UBC)

Alright, so all this happened in less than an hour while I ate my lunch. There was, of course, more that I didn’t capture. How much of this was new to you? Half of it was new to me. That’s actually quite a bit! Definitely worth my time, and I wish I had better tech and more time so that I could learn even more.

Cool Toys Conversations: Personal Learning Networks

I find it amazing each month, how the Cool Toys Conversations group generates such interesting and coherent overviews of our topics. As usual, yesterday’s chat included tools and resources, examples from our personal experience, background, and ideas for the future. If you click through to the mindmap with our notes (the link), it has many direct resource links embedded in it. If you click on the image, you can see a larger version of the image.

Cool Toys Conversations: Personal Learning Networks:

Cool Toys Conversations: Personal Learning Networks

Risk Science & Google Earth Meet Locally & at High Speed

Last week I attended a presentation by Andrew Maynard about trends & challenges in risk science. The short short version of (my understanding of) the main issues in his talk would be roughly:

(a) Evolving Risks:
Technology has historically pushed new innovations through without solidly addressing their potential risks to human health & welfare. With the current escalating speed of development, this is vastly more true and concerning than ever before, with potential for new risks to pile one on the other, compounding problems and interacting in intricate complex ways that have the potential for GREAT harm, insoluble harm.

(b) Risk Identification:
Because of that speed of development, it is almost impossible to identify emerging health risks until the technology or cultural shift that created them has evolved, been adopted, crested, and declined. This makes the function of traditional risk science more of a belated mopping up the mess than a proactive prevention of harm. There is a concomitant need to develop new approaches to risk science that move as fast as the evolving technologies and which can address the complex intertwining problems evolving right alongside of those problems which already have been identified and for which solutions are being sought or are in progress.

(c) Risk Communication & Management:
Existing risks & emerging risks, existing solutions & emerging solutions ALL share common aspects of the problem space related to information and community. Risk identification and solution implementation are challenges that cannot be addressed at all, much less at speed, without community dialog, engagement, support from all stakeholders.

Oddly enough, the day of Andrew’s talk, I had just begun reading GK Chesterton’s 1908 novel, The Man Who Was Thursday, A Nightmare. This particular excerpt early in the book seemed particularly relevant.

“I found that there was a special opening in the service for those whose concerns for humanity were concerned rather with the aberrations of the scientific intellect than with the normal and excusable, though excessive, outbreaks of the human will” GK Chesterton. The Man Who Was Thursday, p. 42.

Now let’s shift ahead in time, only a few days.

Today was the monthly Cool Toys Conversations meeting, with a topic for conversation of maps and mapping in education. I will blog soon with the mindmap from the discussion and a list of the examples & resources discussed. One of the attendees was Roger Rayle, a local Google Earth guru who teaches classes on this at Washtenaw Community College. Roger is far more of an expert with Google Earth and maps/mapping technologies than I am, so I was happy to have him there and for him to occasionally correct minor errors in my understanding. I was even more delighted when at the end of the session he showed us a few examples of some of what he’s been doing with this. Here is an older piece of Roger’s that gives an article of his from 2008.

Rayle, Roger. Google Earth Applications in a Community Information System:
Scio Residents for Safe Water
. Solstice, Summer 2008.

Roger Rayle: Google Earth: Dioxane Levels in ppb

Roger Rayle: Google Earth: Dioxane Levels in ppb

The map shown highlights an area in West Ann Arbor, in the area of Jackson Road, West Stadium Boulevard, where Stadium and I-94 intersect. The map shows dioxane measurements over much of this area of a thousand to 3 thousand parts per billion, while current EPA guidelines recommend 0.35 micrograms per liter (ie. parts per billion, ie. ppb).

Key lines for special attention:
“Water quality issues often are not uppermost in the minds of homeowners or decision-makers. The water is there and we tend to take for granted that it is clean, safe, and plentiful.”
“Roger Rayle really likes Google Earth. Before Google Earth came along, he spent tens of hours every few months creating two-dimensional depictions of new well sampling data for a local groundwater cleanup which he has been monitoring as a citizen volunteer for over fourteen years. Now with the basic version of Google Earth, in a couple of hours, he can generate a quarterly updated, four-dimensional plot showing the location of over 16,000 pollution samples taken since 1986. A bar whose height represents the concentration of the contaminant is shown at the exact X-Y longitude/latitude for each sample location with the fourth dimension being date sampled. The result viewed on Google Earth gives a clear indication of which ways the contamination plumes are moving, how fast, and at what concentrations.”

Roger had popped open the Google Earth application on his computer, and showed us layers and layers and layers of scientific datasets, statistics, and much more that he pulled together into a jaw-dropping, easy-to-understand, 4-dimensional visualization of the dangers to the water supply in OUR TOWN. You know, like, um, where we live? Like, under our feet and homes? Extremely high levels of dioxane in the aquifer that is under our feet. Then he mentioned that the extent of the cleanup of this horrible chemical mess is being presented and possibly determined in local courts. TOMORROW. How long have folks known about this? Well, they’ve known about the problem for years, but that this was going to court was only announced LAST WEEK. Who knew? Not me. Not anyone I’ve talked with this afternoon. Just Roger and a few of his friends, and the good folks in SRSW.

Let’s go back for a second and take a look at this as a risk science case study. Is this new or emerging risk? Not really, it’s been around for a long time. But it is new and emerging in that the court case only had a week’s warning that it was happening. What is the potential impact? Current projections show that the dioxane plume is expected to reach the Huron River within 12 years. It is moving towards the river at a speed of approximately 1.7 ft per day, almost 2 feet each DAY. How long will it take to do a cleanup? Well, I don’t know, but the problem was identified and waiting for a solution for over 20 years, and I feel pretty darn concerned that if it continues to be put off or minimized, it just might be too late. Meanwhile, the plume is stopping and waiting while we make up our minds. Even though this is a well-known and long established problem, I see issues of “emergence” (as in this stunningly short timeline for action), “identification” (as in what action is needed and who should be doing what), and “communication” (duh).

Roger was showing off Google Earth, and the word around the room was, “WOW.” Me, my jaw was the one hitting the floor, partly because of the facility and ease with which he managed all the layers of data, and partly because of what we were seeing. My brain was buzzing. After work, we took my son to his bowling team practice on the west side of town. That was when I finally had a chance to dig around in some of Roger’s info, and noticed, “OH! This dioxane problem is WHERE I AM STANDING. Oh!” I wondered who else didn’t know about it, so I popped on Twitter and Facebook (communication), and started sharing info I found.

Even though this is really more of a post about the curious connections between these two very different events in my life, it wouldn’t be fair to the readers of this blog if I didn’t share some of the other links. You’ll find them at the bottom of this post. In closing, another quote from the very provocative GK Chesterton book.

“Why does each thing on the earth war against each other thing? Why does each small thing in the world have to fight against the world itself?” GK Chesterton. The Man Who Was Thursday, p. 205-206


Info about tomorrow’s court meeting:
CARD 1,4-Dioxane Wiki Home (Working to expand the knowledge base and create interaction in the affected Washtenaw County and Ann Arbor, Michigan, communities):

On November 15, in response to a scheduling order from the Washtenaw County Circuit Court (Court), a “Notice of Tentative Agreement on Proposed Modifications to Remedial Objectives for Gelman Site” (Tentative Agreement) was filed with the Court. A hearing is currently scheduled for 3PM on November 24; however, that date is subject to change (the Court’s calendar currently indicates the hearing will be at 1:30 PM; please check the web site to confirm the time:

Background from the State of Michigan:
Gelman Sciences, Inc. Site of Contamination Information Page:,1607,7-135-3311_4109_9846-71595–,00.html

City of Ann Arbor: Environment: A Brief History of the Ann Arbor Groundwater Contamination Problem:

City of Ann Arbor: Environment: Frequently Asked Questions:
‎”PLS has projected that the 85 ppb contour of the leading edge will reach the Huron River in 12 years.”

Wastenaw County Government: Coalition for Action on Remediation of Dioxane (CARD) (1,4-Dioxane)
(Last year’s concerns about the court negotiations):

Most current & complete source of info
Scio Residents for Safe Water:
Best info is in the SRSW Google Group:
More of Roger’s awesome screenshots
You can download the relevant Google Earth file to play with yourself, if you like.