The Weird Joys of Home Automation

Alexa was delivered to our house on December 9, 2014. She’s small, thin, black, cylindrical, and sits on our china cabinet, and waits for someone to say her name.  She’s always listening.

“Alexa, play Nirvana.”

Shuffling for…Nirvana

“Alexa, what’s the weather tomorrow?”

            Tomorrow, in Birmingham, you’ll see…

“Alexa, set a timer for 25 minutes.”

            Setting a timer for…25 minutes.

As I do with most of the tech that my husband, Brian Moon, brings into the house, I met his description of Alexa with a slow blink and raised eyebrows. But after living with her for a week, I like her. When I cook, I ask her to set a timer for me so that I don’t have to stop whisking to grab my phone to wake up Siri, or mess with the unreliable timer on our 1970s-era oven.

If there’s a draw back to Alexa it’s the way you have to talk to her. I feel a bit rude and demanding, but she accommodates politely with her sophisticated accent. Every time I tell her to set a timer when I put food into the oven, I say thank you to make myself feel better.

We introduced Alexa to our friends on New Year’s Day. My friend, Janet, had the best reaction. She looked up in the direction of the voice and blue light, and with something like a Poltergeist warning uttered, “Oh my God, it’s happening.”

Xbox, Meet Us

I’ve had about 32 years of experience in turning the on the television, but now I have to ask the X Box—“X Box, On”—and still I have to press a button. It’s known Brian since he installed it, and now it knows me since I took to the time to properly introduce myself by registering my face.

The Xbox encourages you to build a relationship with your TV. It signals hello by chirping and popping up a message from Brian’s mii that says “Hi Brian!” I can tell you that he’s completely delighted every single time. Me? I think it’s an odd choice to have a cartoon version of myself saying hello to my human self, and so I feel like a mean girl…”Whatever, Xbox…Hey.”   But the whole thing is completely entertaining. I laugh at Brian over his delight, and he laughs at me about my judgment.

I asked Brian how he feels when the Xbox welcomes him to the living room. He says, “Well, I can say that I don’t feel any emotion related to it. It is more about convenience and seeing a glimmer of what could be possible with technology.”

Real Implications & Connections

I was helping a UAB School of Nursing class with an article appraisal assignment and the topic was Ageing In Place. We explored ways that technology could help the elderly stay in their homes longer and more independently. We discussed studies on the use of home monitoring devices, the use of video surveillance, and other seemingly intrusive gadgets. How we introduce technology to our everyday lives is becoming more and more culturally relevant to how we care for our loved ones and ourselves.

Whenever Brian introduces these things to our lives, I immediately think how unnecessary it all is. Then he goes out of town, and I send him a text that it’s cold in the house. Because I know that he can control the thermostat with his phone, I wait on the sofa, in the living room where the Xbox just said hello to me with a bit too much enthusiasm, for the sound of the heat to come through the vents. He texts back, “Better?”

Dare I ask? “Alexa, play a love song.”


Safe Pregnancy & Birth App for Remote Health Workers

Mobile health or “mHealth” applications featuring targeted text or video messages to frontline health workers and patients in resource-poor countries have had mixed success so far owing mostly to the limitations of the technology and economics in scaling up pilot projects. The mHIFA Working Group recently updated a review of existing projects, highlighting some of the more successful ones.

Foremost among them is the Safe Pregnancy and Birth app from Hesperian Health Guides. As judged by the Working Group’s criteria of “Significance of the Health Problem,” “Appropriateness of the Targeting,” “Value of the Information,” “Ease of Assimilation of the Information,” “Availability of the Application,” and “Technological Accessibility of the Application,” the Safe Pregnancy and Birth app provides short, easy to follow, step by step instructions (illustrated by simple drawings) of pregnancy and birth health issues.


For example a lay birth attendant in a remote location can get simple instructions on how to check the baby’s position in the womb or non-medical techniques for strengthening labor.


The app is freely downloadable to iPhones (or iPads and other Apple products) as well as Android devices. For now, the information is available only in English or Spanish, but the producers welcome offers to translate the information into other languages. The Working Group noted the app’s focus on action-oriented instructions and ease of navigation.

Mobile health applications are still proving their worth, but apps such as this one definitely help to make the case for continuing the effort.

Inbox for Gmail: a better way to manage email

Almost everyone already loves Gmail but what if you could make it better?  InBox transforms your mail from the familiar home screen to a more organized, color-coded interface.

Create this magic on your desktop, tablet or phone by requesting an invite (see below) and downloading the app.  I love that I can try it out and still get back to the familiar if needed.  In other words, I can use both at the same time.

The big difference besides the cleaner home page is that mail now works more than ever as a to-do list.  If you use your inbox in that way, you will love InBox.
Options for handling messages in InBox include:

  • Pin–move to the top; stay in front of me; you are important
  • Snooze–need to deal with this but not today; go away until I am ready to do something with you
  • Done–finished with you, go away
  • Bundle–you all go together

Get InBox by sending an email to request an invite.  Mine came right away, they don’t seem hard to get.

It has taken some time to get comfortable with the new interface.  For me the hardest part is seeing that I have a new message, that just does not seem as apparent as I’m used to.

I have played with my bundles to make them more useful (moving messages in or out to “teach” Google which are appropriate) and that has helped.

The hardest part of it for me is the lack of a delete button.  I know that it isn’t actually doing anything different, that deleted messages are still THERE but with InBox they seem in the way more.

I don’t know yet if I will stick with InBox but it is worth trying out for sure.

Of course Lifehacker has a great post about using InBox, How InBox by Google works, and How to Use it for More Productive Email.

Try it out.  Let me know what you think.

How I Work: Tracy Powell

Locations:  Home base is Lister Hill Library at University Hospital (LHL@UH), in the West Pavilion

Current gig:
  Associate Professor and Clinical Services Librarian

Current mobile devices: Samsung S5 Android phone and IPad Air

Current computers:  One Dell and one HP at work, HP all-in-one touchscreen at home

One word that best describes how you work: Proactively




What apps/software/tools can’t you live without: 

  • Excel-much of my work life is in spreadsheets
  • Outlook-I have one calendar, and it’s electronic and synced everywhere
  • Yahoo Messenger-makes communicating with distant colleagues so easy!
  • remote desktop-because I am frequently away from my desk

What’s your workspace like?

Cozy and deceptively organized. Since the LHL@UH is a unit of both UAB Libraries and UAB Hospital, I use two different computers, one on the university network and one on the hospital network; I share a wireless keyboard and mouse between them.  I also have a large flatscreen television on the wall that can do TV or be a monitor, for working on the hospital’s on-demand patient desk compressededucation system.  Things that I am currently working on, or that are on the list to be worked on, are on my desk or cabinet in stacks.  Things don’t get filed until I am completely done with them.  I keep a lot of stuff because I refer back a lot, and seem to always need something shortly after I’ve deleted or disposed of it.

What is your best lifehack?

Do the worst, least-favorite stuff first.

What’s your favorite to-do list manager?

Paper lists.  Every so often, I mark things off and condense multiple lists into a new master one.

Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can’t you live without?

My husband and I have become very fond of our Google Chromecast for streaming to the TV.

What everyday thing are you better at than anyone else?

I am able to juggle multiple disparate priorities.  I am also good at seeing the larger picture and planning ahead.  I work in a rapidly changing environment, managing a campus unit in the hospital and a clinic unit, so keeping up with it is a challenge!

What are you currently reading?

Not much, but I do have a growing pile of books, list of online books on my nook, and magazines from my daughter’s college that I am going to get around to reading eventually.

What do you listen to while you work?

I’m in a small quiet space with the door open most of the time, so I don’t listen much, but when I do, it’s usually old rock on Spotify.

Are you more of an introvert or an extrovert?

An introvert. I’m much more comfortable in small groups than large crowds, and greatly appreciate down time.

What’s your sleep routine like?

I’m up shortly before 5 am on weekdays, so I need to be asleep between 9 and 10.  On the weekends, I usually get to sleep till 7-a luxury.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

Maybe you ought to think about going to library school.

Meet Browzine™ Turn your tablet into your e-reader!

Keep up to date with your scholarly reading with Browzine™, a new way of browsing and reading your favorite journals from many major publishers on your iPad, iPhone, Kindle Fire, Android Tablet or Android phone. BrowZine is free. All licensed content is provided via UAB Libraries.



Get started in two EASY steps:

1.  Download the free Browzine app for your device.

2. When installed, choose University of Alabama at Birmingham as your university library. Use your Blazer ID/password when prompted.


Why use Browzine?

  • to scan the complete tables of contents of scholarly journals and read articles optimized for mobile devices
  •  to get one-click from journal tables of content to the PDFs of the articles you want to read
    • save specific articles for later reference and offline reading
    • create a bookshelf of your favorite journals for easy, fast access
  • to receive on screen notifications when new issues of your favorite journals are published

Other features:BrowZine_Article_Export_Options_iOS

  • Find journals by searching or browsing a title list, or by using a Browzine bookshelf chosen by subject.
  • Annotate or print articles by opening them in your favorite apps like Good Reader or iAnnotate.


Cutting the Cord-Sling TV (Coming soon)

I’m sure I am like most folks who love the convenience of satellite or cable television but absolutely despise the amount I pay for it. I’ve seen my bill creep up from the lower $60’s to the higher $90’s. It seems they nickle and dime you for almost every feature… Local $10 more, HD there’s another $10 and lets not even talk about the premium channels. All for only watching maybe two or three channels 90% of the time. The only reason we haven’t “cut the cord” so far is there were essentially no options for watching live sports.

Sling-TV-logo At this year’s consumer electronics show they introduced Sling TV, created by Dish Network ironically. No satellite or cable subscription needed and for only $20 and a broadband connection you can get ESPN, ESPN2, TNT, TBS, Food Network, HGTV, Travel Channel, Adult Swim, Cartoon Network, Disney Channel, ABC Family and CNN. For anther $5 you can add a kids package Disney Junior, Disney XD, Boomerang, Baby TV and Duck TV or a package with LN, Cooking Channel, DIY and Bloomberg TV. Expect more “mini” packages to come including sports channels. So far its available on tablets, laptops and streaming devices including Roku and Amazon fire with more options to come. Sling will also offer video on demand, pause-rewind-fast forward and a 3-Day Replay feature.

I’ve signed up for early access and I’m already making plans for the future. Installing an antennae for my local channels (free channels), even with paying for Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Sling TV I will already have cut my satellite bill in a third. I expect this market to keep changing and the cable and satellite providers will keep feeling the pressure from people like me who are tired of paying for tons of channels they don’t watch but are willing to pay for the few that we do. It’s going to be an interesting time.

Gadgets for Geezers?

The 2014 holidays have passed. However, even if not in time to resolve the perennial question of what to get Grandma for Christmas, this Technology Gear Guide from AARP is a useful resource for devices designed to ease daily tasks for older adults. And, since the elderly population in growing – it is estimated that by 2050, those over 65 will make up 20% of the population in the United States (see Lowsky, Olshansky, Bhattacharya & Goldman, 2014) – it is more likely than not that readers will have at least one or two older adults in their families (if they’re not actually approaching old age themselves, as this poster is).


What are some of the gadgets reviewed in the AARP guide? One is Vitality’s GlowCap for prescription bottles ($79.99), which sets off a reminder alarm when it’s time to take the medication. It even sends “buddy” reminders to family caregivers!

Along the same line of annoying but necessary devices are the various alarms helping Dad find his ever-wandering set of keys. The Where’s My Keys? locator sells for $24.95 on Amazon and comes with multiple colored key fobs and a central unit. Then there’s the similar Click ‘N Dig for $19.95. According to the review, the “piercing” alarm will assist even those with hearing loss in finding the elusive keys.


Speaking of hearing, the search for better hearing aids may be advancing with such smartphone enabled aids as Re Sound LiNX. They’re pricey however, at $2400 per earl. Audicus digital hearing aids are more affordable at $599 per ear. One hopes at that price the tinnitus-like whine emitted by most conventional hearing aids will be avoided.

Older adults frequently experience difficulty sleeping. The fitness trackers that monitor sleep patterns can help identify exactly how much sleep they’re getting, so that they can adopt better sleep habits. AARP reviewed both the Polar Loop ($109.95) and Jawbone’s UP24 bands favorably for comfort and usefulness.

For older adults with Parkinson’s and other movement disorders, Liftware ($295) is a special type of utensil that helps them eat without spilling due to involuntary tremors.


Then there are the Big Brother devices for caregivers of older adults at risk of falls or wandering due to dementia. For the latter, the GPS Smartsole shoe insole $299) has a tracking chip that works with various smartphones, computers and tablets. Then there’s the Lively activity tracker ($34.95 per month) that comes with sensors which can be attached to key spots such as the bathroom or the door, sending signals to family members or caregivers about the individual’s movements. It can also track medications and send alerts via phone or text about any falls or other emergencies.

So, if technology has not yet enabled us to stay young indefinitely as the science fiction movies promised, it is working on making the difficulties of old age more manageable for older adults and their loved ones.


Pushbullet is a great, free app designed to allow you to easily move items between your computer and mobile devices.











As promised, it is very easy to get started:

pushbullet get started
















I downloaded the app to my iPhone and iPad and added the Chrome extension to my computer.  I logged in with my Gmail account and that was it.  I could then use the app on my mobile devices to push items such as photos, files, and links to my computer.  I sent a couple of things from home and when I got to work the next morning there was a pop-up on my computer with the information.  Computer does need to be on though, when I sent one over the holiday it didn’t go through and I couldn’t easily resend it.

I did the same thing from my computer, using the Pushbullet icon in Chrome and instantly pushed files or links from one to the other.

Now I do have other options for moving things between devices but this is so fast and easy I likely will never use the other options again.  As I don’t have an Android phone I don’t have all the options (yet) but still find this FREE app to be a great time saver.

There are also some great IFTTT recipes for Pushbullet.

Apparently this app has been around for a while, I just missed it somehow.  If you have been using it and have suggestions on how to make the most of it, let us know in the comments.

5 Tips for a Happier 2015

Happy 2015!

Besides watching “happy” videos, here are 5 tips for a happier new year:

Simplify decisions  Create routines to simplify the decisions that don’t matter to you. Follow in the footsteps of Steve Jobs and President Obama by simplifying your clothing decisions with a uniform (grey suit or jeans and a black turtleneck) or just a few clothing choices that suit your style. Or simplify your morning routine by eating the same breakfast every day or packing the same lunch. Try these simple steps to reduce your decision fatigue so that you’ll save your willpower and energy for the decisions that really matter to you.

Log out It’s difficult to stay focused on a task if constant distractions lure you away. Improve your chances of getting things done by batching your work and logging out of email, Facebook, and Twitter for set periods of time. Close your browser and set a timer to work on only one thing for 45 minutes and see how much more you can accomplish without interruptions. When you do log back into email, spend 30 minutes deleting, responding or filing mail and then close the program till you check it later in the day. Need convincing that interruptions have a detrimental effect on the quality of your work? Studies show that constant interruptions zap your productivity so get more done by batching similar tasks and reducing distractions.

Clear out clutter It’s a great feeling to get rid of clutter. It’s frees up your physical space and gives you more room mentally. And it’s rewarding to know that the stuff you don’t need can benefit others. Clean out your closet and donate clothing and accessories to the Suits 4 Success drive or other worthy organizations. Help with the School of Public Health’s Pathways project by bringing in your unopened toiletry samples from hotels. Use freecycle to share things you no longer need as part of a 40 day de-cluttering challenge. Clear out clutter at work as well. Consider unsubscribing from email lists, sending fewer emails, and printing fewer documents to clear out clutter in your office. And enjoy the new space you have when you have fewer things.

There is always, always, always something to be thankful for

(Photo Credit: Pretty Organized)

Develop recharging routines We all need recharging. Develop habits that “sharpen the saw” and renew your well-being. Stop eating at your desk and use your lunch break to take a walk, listen to music, or socialize.  Sign up for a class or program (at the Campus Rec Center, Organizational Learning or Development or UAB Employee Assistance and Counseling Center) that expands your knowledge or develops new interests. Spend time noticing and acknowledging all that you have to be thankful for and take time to recognize and thank the people that are part of your life. Need inspiration? Visit Three Beautiful Things or join the #365grateful project. And while you’re recharging, make a routine to recharge your phone, tablet or computer.

Recognize that perfection is not attainable Do you suffer from perfectionism? You’ve heard the expression that “perfection is the enemy of good” but what can you do to combat this tendency? You can try stepping back and looking at the big picture to develop a proper perspective. You can divide projects into smaller goals to maintain momentum and set time limits for tasks to avoid obsessing over minor details. You can make peace with the fact that making mistakes is part of the process and that perfection is not attainable. And you can be happy that you’ve achieve some good things in the process.

Altmetrics: What is the Buzz about Your Article?

Last week, I saw that Altmetric, a company that measures article level metrics, published their list of the 2014 Top 100 articles.  Here are two examples:

Example 2 Example 3

These are the papers that received the most attention online during 2014 from mainstream news, blogs, social media including Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, YouTube, and Mendeley, and review sites like F1000. They cover a wide range of topics from serious science to those with imaginative titles.

What do you think of the top 100?

Are you curious about the buzz generated by your recent article?

Altimetric offers a free bookmarklet for your browser toolbar that will provide a detailed analysis of article level metrics for any article. Just grab it to install and go to a journal article page and click on the “Altmetric it” icon.

bookmarklet image 1

Here is the Altmetric report for a recent study (published in Sept. 2014.) Notice the details available to show you who is talking about your work. (Click on an image to enlarge it.)


SA 2







Intrigued?  Learn more about Altmetrics

“Altmetrics” is an emerging category of impact measurement premised upon the value of “alternative metrics,” or metrics based distinctly on the opportunities offered by the 21st century digital environment according to the ACRL. Frequently presented as a supplemental measure to traditional citation counts and impact factors, it measures the immediate attention generated by a publication and combined with traditional citation counts, journal impact factors, and H-indexes, offers a richer view of the impact of scholarly research.  There are several studies that measure the correlation between early attention to an article and later citation counts.

You may have seen article level metrics on journal article pages from a growing number of publishers, including some PLOS, Nature, Wiley, and Springer journals. Many of these journals include article downloads and page views as well.  Scopus offers Altmetric data in the right sidebar on the article record, allowing you to see both citing articles and article mentions.

Of course there are limitations to the use of these metrics and legitimate concerns about their validity and importance.  To address these issues, NISO (the National Information Standards Organization) has undertaken an initiative to explore, identify, and advance standards and/or best practices related to alt metrics, and has published a draft white paper for public comment.

To learn more about alternative metrics and their use, start here:

Altmetrics: A Manifesto – Jason Priem, Dario Taraborelli, Paul Groth, Cameron Neylon

Altmetrics: A 21st-Century Solution to Determining Research Quality - Stacey Konkiel

 Keeping Up With… Altmetrics – Chin Roemer and Rachel Borchardt.