Will, common sense, elbow grease

When I starting writing this entry, my goal was to refer you to a segment of a podcast that I listened to on a hike last night, because it dovetails nicely with yesterday's screencast about medical expert systems. But I fell down a rabbit hole while trying to find links and identify audio segments. This kind of information always seems to be at our fingertips. But when we reach for it, we realize that it's not.

In this case, I decided to record and examine the normally tacit process of connecting the dots. Here is the sequence of obstacles I had to overcome.

Obstacle 1: iTunes

iTunes remains my podcatcher, even though I almost never use my iPod. (The Creative MUVO -- cheap, standard rechargeable AAAs, no attitude -- is my workhorse MP3 player.) But I curse iTunes when I need to recover the source of a podcast. It will show you where a feed comes from -- in this case, webcast.berkeley.edu/events -- but can't be bothered to provide a clickable, or even copyable, link. So, as I've grumbled about elsewhere, I had to type it in.

Obstacle 2: Search gymnastics

I knew the title of the event I wanted to cite: The (Real) State of the Union: Atlantic Monthly Panel. But it took a while to find it on the site. My search strategy went like so:
state unionfail
state of the unionfail
"state of the union"fail

Should've let Google do it, maybe, but in any case I found my way to the home page for the event. I was seeking two facts. First, the name of the woman whose 9-minute segment of the hour-and-a-half panel impressed me. Second, the timecodes for that segment. The event page provides neither.

Obstacle 3: More search gymnastics

It wasn't easy to find the speaker's name. Here was the search strategy:
listen to podcast intropartial success (sounds like Shannon Branley or Brantley or Bradlee, with the Numerica Foundation)
google query: shannon branleefail
google query: numerica foundationfail
google query: ted halstead (also mentioned in connection with the foundation)partial success (refine query to New America Foundation)
google query: new america foundationpartial success (found the organization)
new america foundation query: shannonsuccess (it's Shannon Brownlee)

Obstacle 4: Media formats and wrappers

Three formats are offered:

  1. Watch. ("Streaming" RealVideo, via RTSP, for RealPlayer)
  2. Listen. ("Streaming" MP3, via RTSP, for RealPlayer)
  3. Download ("Downloadable" MP3, via HTTP, for any player or device)
As the scare quotes around "streaming" and "downloadable" suggest, these words don't map very well to the concepts they appear to name. And those concepts are more political than technical. But that's a topic for another essay. For now, let's just say that I used one or another media player to figure out that Shannon's talk begins at 33:42 and ends at 42:55.

Now, how do I connect you that segment? If you are willing to use RealPlayer and be tethered to your computer for 9 minutes, I can offer you these links: audio, video. Not bad! Except:

  1. You probably don't want to be tethered to your computer.
  2. Or be forced to watch or listen in the Real player.
  3. And good luck figuring out how create and publish these kinds of links for yourself.

In theory, my MP3 clipping service can solve the first two problems, and ameliorate the third. In practice it doesn't work in this case for reasons I've yet to sort out.

Where was I?

Oh, yeah, now I remember. Shannon Brownlee spoke lucidly about the relationship between poor information management and poor health care. For example, she pointed out that 90,000 Americans die each year as a result of just the sorts of medical errors that the triage application we saw yesterday is designed to prevent.

Technology can help improve our ability to manage medical information and transmit medical knowledge. But, as Don Thomas says in yesterday's screencast, the active ingredients of the solution are will, common sense, and elbow grease.

The same holds true in general. So while I endorse Shannon Brownlee's analysis, I don't buy her concluding appeal for a new federal agency to collect and analyze information about health care delivery and outcomes. I wouldn't expect the government to do that any more than I'd hold Google and Microsoft and Yahoo! responsible for taming the cornucopia of general information and knowledge. We produce those goods. We'll be rewarded when we make them well-structured, well-connected, and therefore discoverable. And we'll be punished (by being ignored) when we don't.

How do we get it right? Will, common sense, elbow grease.

Former URL: http://weblog.infoworld.com/udell/2006/08/01.html#a1496