Tuesday, 13 January 2009

The last post

Now at a new website, marymulvihill.net Click here if you are not automatically redirected.

See you there,

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Why we need designer safety gear

As a nation, we Irish seem to be wedded to our cars.

No, this golfer isn't lost in the rough -- just commuting naturally between his home in Salthill and the local golf course. A lovely image by Galway-based photographer John Smyth that kind of says it all really.

Yes, we are a very driven nation. That's despite the fact that, for journeys of about 5 miles (and over 50% of car journeys are less than that), a bicycle is cheaper, quicker and more efficient, plus you get fresh air and exercise.

(And no, it doesn't rain that often, even in Galway.)

So, how to persuade people to get out of the car and occasionally push a bicycle was one of the topics we discussed in Galway at the recent very successful science cafe, co-hosted by the Environmental Change Institute at NUIG, and Galway's One World Centre.

The wide ranging discussion was fascinating, in part because so many of the people there had worked in or were from so many different countries, and could offer insights from other cultures, as far afield as Scandinavia, Canada and Eritrea.

It seemed generally agreed that we weren't just too posh to push, it was more than just snobbery: we were also too lazy and too affluent (at least until recently) to bother getting out of the car.

Coincidentally, earlier that day, some Manchester City multimillionaire footballer hit the news... when he was seen getting on a public transport bus.

One major issue is image. The problem (new to me!) of 'helmet hair', especially for young women, and untrendy, unattractive safety gear. Young people, it seems, don't want to be seen wearing bicycle helmets and ugly high-visibility jackets.

And it's not just young people: a Canadian lawyer explained that the dress code for legal professionals can rule out arriving in bicycle gear.

So here's a suggestion: commission a trendy fashion designer to design attractive safety gear for cyclists.

When we cyclists are knocked down and mugged for our hi-visibility jackets, we'll know we have arrived! And it'll be nice when a multimillionaire can get on the bus, and not make the headlines.

We also discussed recycling, and I was intrigued to hear about some innovative recycling-reuse schemes in Gort (Co Galway), Mayo and Dundalk, that produce raw materials for local industries, about which I plan to learn more.

My thanks to Sarah Knight and Trisha Buddin for organising the event and inviting me down.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Google predicts the ‘flu

The enterprise seminars threw up several unusual and counterintuitive uses for technology, as well as 11890’s fascinating decision not to use technology — instead of automating the directory service, they use people to help you find your number (more about that later).

Then I got back to the office to a Nature press release, that reminded me of another new and unusual use for a technology: using Google search queries to monitor ‘flu infections.

Google Flu Trends’ application, launched last week (and funded by Google’s philanthropic arm), tracks people’s searches of topics such as flu symptoms, to provide real-time surveillance of infections. Significantly, it can provide up-to-date information within a day — compared with one or even two weeks for current surveillance systems — useful for early warnings, and presumably could be expanded to other contagious diseases. Currently monitoring peoples health only in the US of A.

An interesting way of exploiting the fact that so many people now turn to the Web for health information.

Nature has put the relevant scientific article on public access, and you can read it here.

Meanwhile, even the latest rocket science couldn’t help a NASA astronaut with a greasey glove . . . and she lost her tool bag in space. Image, above, courtesy of NASA TV.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Britney Spears and the LHC

Remember when physicists included references to Britney Spears as a way of drawing readers to their websites? Well, how times have changed!

These days, general websites trap readers by including references to the world's biggest scientific experiment, CERN's LHC.

John Ellis, whose many businesses include suppliers.ie, told me at today's Enterprise Week seminar, that they added the LHC to their site's "News you can use" last month, figuring it would bring some readers.

Media pundits who analysed coverage of the LHC launch recently, reckoned CERN benefited considerably from the potentially negative story about concerns that the new experiment could create a black hole and swallow the planet. Who says there's no such thing as bad publicity? And we hear that the number of applicants for vacancies at CERN has gone through the roof.

There's a chance to learn more about the LHC when the incoming director gives a public talk in the RDS next Monday, November 24 at 7pm. All welcome, admission free, but booking advised.

Enterprise and sustainability

Got to a really useful session on technology and business this morning as part of Dublin city enterprise week. Useful both for the thought-provoking presentations, and the chance to meet with a wonderfully varied audience, all of whom were keen to do business, and share experiences and business cards.

Damien Mulley’s talk about blogging and social networks convinced me to give Facebook and LinkedIn a try, though I had previously decided they weren’t from me. Mind you, what helped clinch it was when the older businessman and serial entrepreneur next to me admitted that he was a Facebook fan.

Nicola Byrne told the fascinating story behind her ‘11890 — numbers direct business’ that will have convinced everyone in the audience to use her directory enquiries service, and not just because its cheapest.

Alasdar Browne gave and invaluable one-hour seminar on time management, efficiency and efficacy, which I am now putting into practice.

So, full marks to Dublin City Council. One suggestion for future events, and one comment: replace all that bottled water you were handing out with jugs of your own excellent Dublin Corporation sustainable tapwater. And I don’t know when I last saw so many free pens given away — to people who probably have loads of pens already.