April 29, 2009

Tracking the flu on the Internet with Google Flu

Google Flu (what it is and how it works here: http://www.google.org/about/flutrends/how.html) can actually track flu outbreaks. Using the Internet. Wuh?

That's not the only surprising thing. It doesn't show any flu outbreak in the southern half of the Cabo peninsula right now, for example. I assume they weight their data by the geographic density of internet users, but I don't know for sure that they do (i.e. they're looking at % of searches not total number of searches). In any case, according to these data points, we're safer in Cabo than in California right now.

Flu in Mexico: http://www.google.org/flutrends/intl/en_mx/
Flu in the US: http://www.google.org/flutrends/

How the heck does Google, or by extension the Internet, know where there is a flu outbreak?

From the Google site: "Each week, millions of users around the world search for online health information. As you might expect, there are more flu-related searches during flu season, more allergy-related searches during allergy season, and more sunburn-related searches during the summer.


In the United States we have found a close relationship between how many people search for flu-related topics and how many people actually have flu symptoms. Of course, not every person who searches for "flu" is actually sick, but a pattern emerges when selected flu-related search queries from each state and region are added together. For the United States, we compared our query counts with data from a surveillance system managed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and found that some search queries tend to be popular exactly when flu season is happening. By counting how often we see these search queries, we can estimate how much flu is circulating in various regions of the United States."

This is probably one of the most surprisingly useful features of the Internet I've seen. How long before Skynet becomes sentient? Wowzers.

Posted by rick at 08:20 PM

April 14, 2009

Fly Clear

You know that express line at the airport to get past the security line? It's run by Fly Clear and, uhm, yeah, maybe it's a little bit elitist but it is SOOOOOOOOOO worth it.

It's saved my butt a couple of times while travelling with the little monkey-man (my 1.5 year old son). Last time, with a 30min+ security line, it was:

"I thought you had his bottle."

"I thought you had it."

"Crap, it's in the car!"

We either would have had an insanely pissed off baby the whole flight or I would have missed the flight going back to get the bottle. Instead, I jogged back to the car (5min) and spent 1min on the security line since I came back with no carry on bags. It makes planning your departure time for any flight as easy as it can be (30min to the airport, 10min to park, 10min to check in, 5min for security line ... I need to leave 1hr before my flight, don't need to pad my travel time to account for a long security line, it's always easy-peasy).

Here's my shameless self promotion: if you sign up, use this discount code: SCB62439.

It'll get you A FREE EXTRA MONTH's SERVICE (and it'll get me one too). It even works when you renew an existing membership

I recommend you use the service whether you use my code or not. It's better for everyone from an macro economic standpoint. Security knows that I am me when I show up and use my fingerprint to get on board, they know that I'm not some guy who stole my driver's license. They know my background has been checked out and that I'm a low security risk. It makes sense to spend more time on other people than it does on me, so why not let me through faster and make the line shorter for everyone else?

My only word of caution would be is that if you got away with some crimes in the past, and someone might have your fingerprints on file but never matched them to you, your fingerprints etc. will now be in the ultimate big brother database. So, if you're going to rob a bank or something in the future be sure to wear gloves...

Posted by rick at 12:09 PM