At the Crossroads of Media, Culture and Technology

A Cell Phone Microscope That’s More Than a Gadget

UW grad Thomas Larson invented a cellphone microscope. Image credit: Micro Phone Lens Kickstarter campaign

UW grad Thomas Larson invented a cellphone microscope. (Image: Micro Phone Lens Kickstarter campaign)

Our smartphones already serve as cameras, flashlights, shopping assistants and construction tools. Thanks to University of Washington graduate Thomas Larson, you can now use your smartphone as a microscope.

Larson, who earned a Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering last year, created a tiny lens that sticks to your phone camera and turns it into a microscope. You attach the lens, turn on your phone camera, take a microscope slide with the sample you want to examine, bring it close to the lens, and voilà, you can admire the sample on the screen in all its microscopic glory.

The adhesive, scratch-proof lens is made from a soft polymer material called PDMS. You can easily take it on and off, and wash it with soap and water if it gets dirty.

A group of UW students and faculty got to see the cell phone microscope in action during Larson’s CHANGE talk a few days ago. The talk was part of a bi-weekly series focused on using technology to help low-income communities around the world.

Larson spent more than two years developing the lens, working with a UW lab that wanted a mobile platform for studying blood clotting under a microscope.

“I started tinkering. Being in mechanical engineering was very useful because I had access to the machine shop,” he said. “With some of the earlier version, there was a problem with the lens falling off, but I think I’ve got the recipe now.”

The Micro Phone Lens is more than just a gadget. It could be used to help educate people in the developing world about sanitation.

“Just having a microscope to show people ‘look, there are little things swimming in your water, and that’s why you should wash your hands’ could have a profound impact,” Larson said.

Image credit: http://www.microphonelens.com

Image: http://www.microphonelens.com

Larson ran a Kickstarter campaign last summer to raise $5,000 for the project. He was a little surprised when 5092 backers pledged $91,524. Many people wanted to buy the lens as a gift for their kids and grandkids, Larson said. He also saw a lot of interest from teachers and the home-schooling community.

The lens Larson was selling to his Kickstarter supporters had a 15-times magnification. He has since made one that magnifies 150 times.

The idea of cell phone microscopes has been around for a few years but no inexpensive product is available on the market. You can buy Larson’s Micro Phone Lens for $15 on his website.


The New Narrative Frontier: Data-Based Storytelling

Story in numbers

Graphic: Cynthia Alice Andrews

What comes to mind when  you hear the word “story”? Maybe a book, a movie, a television show or just a uniquely human way to interact. Whatever it “means” to you, the principles of storytelling are increasingly used to make sense of the fastest-growing resource of our time: data. Data can enrich a story or form the base around which a narrative is built. Whether it is using the former or the latter, all data now plays an important role in engaging people, communicating with them and helping them make decisions.

To better understand this new intersection of data and story, Flip the Media talked to Josh Coulson (@joshc0), a data storyteller. Josh began his career as a business analyst in the insurance world where he discovered that many companies were still struggling to use data in their decision-making process.  He now works for Linkedin where he does just that–assisting decision-making with marketing stories built on data. Josh sees data storytelling as “the marrying of the two sides of influencing, it hits on both the emotional and logical sides of human decision-making and can be incredibly effective.”

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What the (Cr)App: Coffee Meets Bagel

Image Courtesy of coffeemettsbagel.com

Image: coffeemeetsbagel.com

Before you get serious with this New York-born app, it really wants you to know one thing: this is NOT an online dating site but an “online social gaming platform where people meet, build their network, and hopefully find love on the way”. Hence, it will reduce the stress that comes with making (romantic) digital connections.

How you ask? Coffee Meets Bagel (CMB) makes it easy for it’s users to find potential matches without an onslaught of autobiographies and unwanted messages. Here’s how it works:

1. Using your profile, preferences and Facebook (they pull matches from your 2nd and 3rd connections), CMB provides you with one match or “Bagel” per day every day at 12:00pm EST.

2. Once you receive your match, you can browse photos, take a look at their micro profile and then choose to “Pass” on them or “Like” them. Oh, and you only have 24 hours to make your decision.

3. If you and your match both “Like” each other you are put in contact through the CMB private messaging feature. From there, the two of you can take it to the next level and set up a date.

4. If you pass on your match, you’ll never see ‘em again. Continue reading


Why Content Strategy Helps you Deliver Content on Time, on Strategy and on Budget

Variety of Icons Showing Different Aspects of Content Strategy

(Graphic: Hanns-Peter Nagel)

We live in the age of content. Every minute, users upload 30 hours of video to YouTube, send 204 million emails and view 20 million photos (according to this Intel study from May 2013). We are all content producers now and the ease of publishing and consuming content has changed our lives. It also presents organizations of all sizes with a challenge: for the first time, every piece of content is assembled in one place–on their website. To manage, maintain and monetize all this content, companies increasingly turn to a relatively new discipline: content strategy.

Over the next three months, Flip the Media will take a closer look at the growing field of content strategy. We will interview industry practitioners, give some tips and ideas how to analyse and improve web content, and try to highlight future trends.

In the first installment of our content strategy series, we talk to Jeff Greer, Content Strategist and Digital Experience Manager at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. Jeff has 15 years of experience, working for a range of companies, from Disney to e-commerce start-ups. At Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, he and his team took on the challenge of implementing content strategy principles in a healthcare organization faced with a new regulatory environment and a sprawling website that had to be re-oriented towards consumers.

For many people “content strategy” is still a relatively new and undefined term with a pretty broad scope. What does “content strategy” mean to you?

For me, content strategy is a practice that helps you deliver content on time, on strategy and on budget. It helps digital teams manage content in a way that’s similar to how they manage design and development. It helps content creators manage their work more effectively, because when done correctly, it provides a disciplined process. And hopefully, with that solid process in place, it leads to engaging content that customers love.

When did you and your organization realize that you needed something like a content strategy and for what reason?

I arrived at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan in 2011. The company was in the early stages of a major redesign. There were thousands of pages of content that needed to be reworked to get the public site ready for health care reform. At the time, no one in the company was accountable for the quality and consistency of the web content. It’s been an interesting, challenging, fun ride. Continue reading


Viral Video: Derrick Coleman, Batteries, and the Power of Storytelling

Flip the Media Viral Video

Batteries are usually not the kind of product that moves us to tears. Unless, that is, if they are part of a powerful story of success against all odds. Seahawks running back Derrick Coleman–deaf since age three and relying on hearing aids and lip-reading for communication–has such a story to tell. Narrated by Coleman himself, this one minute spot for battery maker Duracell’s “Trust Your Power” campaign has all the elements of heart-stirring Superbowl-winning ad. Surprisingly, the ad is not slated to run during the big game. But that’s fine, as long as Derrick Coleman is on the winning side.

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Charettes: Jump on This Cart With Your Transmedia Story

This article is cross-posted from the Washington Filmworks blog.

Science Trak's Norma Straw (left) consults with Comm Lead students Katya Yefimova (center), Sarah McCaffrey (right) and John Hellriegel (back to camera)

Science Trak’s Norma Straw (left) consults with Comm Lead students Katya Yefimova (center), Sarah McCaffrey (right) and John Hellriegel (back to camera)
- Photo by Scott Macklin

When Scott Macklin visited our Advanced Multimedia Storytelling class in the University of Washington’s Communications Leadership (Comm Lead) graduate program to introduce the idea of participating in a charette, I have to admit I was on squishy ground for a second. A minute. I imagined the NPR “Says You” panel having a field day with that one. A type of chewing gum? A small, charred object?

Of course architects and land-use professionals would suffer no confusion on hearing the term: they’ve been conducting the multi-stakeholder design sessions known as charettes for years. Originally derived from the Ecole des Beaux Artes in Paris is the 18th century, the charette was a horse-drawn cart that, depending on who you believe, carried the still-glistening-with-wet-ink projects of architecture students to their waiting professors for final grading. The competing version has the students themselves splayed on the bed of the cart, hastily adding the final touches to their projects as the driver hastened toward the waiting professor’s office.

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Coming to a Newsfeed Near You: the Interactive Infographic

Vector image of smartphone with scroll arrowStunning examples of immersive storytelling are appearing faster than you can say “Parallax”. But not only the vaunted journalistic longform is changing, the humble infographic is also getting a makeover. According to Web Designer Magazine’s just released top web design trends, 2014 is the year interactive infographics will become mainstream.

Interactive infographics are not exactly new, so why are they suddenly all the rage? Here are some of the key factors.

Browser Support. Until recently, interactive infographic were synonymous with expensive programming and design. Today, all major browsers support  CSS3 and HTML5 and some form of transition and animation property. There are still differences in browser support for CSS animations but there is enough of an audience to make the effort worthwile. Since the infographic is “coded into” the browser, it is easier to include links and even little web apps like calculators or games. Plus, once the infographic is set up it can easily be used and modified to fit all screens and devices.

They’re Becoming Easier to Make. If you know some CSS and HTML, you can create an animated infographic. If you get a bit more into it and learn how to use one of the many Javascript visualization libraries you can come up with some unique pieces of content. Even if coding is not your thing, new tools can help you do the job.

Static Infographics are So 2013. Need a piece of content to drive some traffic to your site? Make an infographic! Have a boring, text-heavy website? Make an infographic! What is everybody else doing now? An infographic! If you ever worked in the website or marketing world, you might be familiar with these situations. They occur because infographics are popular. Our brain tends to process visual information better. We don’t like to read text. Infographics are great for sharing and to make a quick point. Need proof? Check this infographic on infographics. To stand out in this sea of infographics, you need to offer something new. For now, interactivity is the way to go. Continue reading


What I Learned Teaching the Future of Marketing

This post was originally published in Mediaplant

By Rob Salkowitz (@robsalk)

Four scenarios developed to predict future of marketingWhen I started teaching a class on the future of marketing at the University of Washington Graduate School of Communications (CommLead program), I got a lot of questions, most of them taking the form of “how do you teach about something that hasn’t happened yet?”

Fair point. It’s hard enough to talk about the present of marketing, seeing as how much of the industry is rethinking its approach to everything from media channel strategy to metrics to the kind of talent that marketing organizations need. Charting the future under these conditions is like mapping the trail up a mountain in the midst of an avalanche.

And yet, that’s what I, and the students, had signed up for. As the instructor, I came to each class with the terrifying knowledge that I might have some information, but I didn’t know the answers. The best I could hope for was to help us ask the right questions.

Sorry, crystal ball not included. When people talk about the future of digital technology, the conversations often revolve around specific predictions: how many zetabytes of data will be created over the next few years, how much infrastructure will move to the cloud, how wearable devices like Google Glass will change our relationship between the digital and physical world?

Those are interesting questions with profound implications for businesses of all kinds, including marketers. They are the kind of thing you could reasonably expect to see addressed in a class called “The Future of Marketing” – and address them we did. However the goal of the class was not only to study the tech trends, but give the students – many of whom are mid-career professionals looking to add skills to help them get ahead in marketing and media – a framework for figuring out how they might play out in different kinds of organizations under different sets of business conditions.

Four visions of the future. To do that, we employed a method called scenario planning, used by many companies and institutions to develop strategies for an uncertain world. After a crash course in the basic technique, the class broke up into four teams, each owning a different version of 2020. Continue reading