Le Tour De France Viewer’s Guide

We got to see the Tour De France this year since it passed by very close to where we live in France. When I came to know that we can watch the Tour De France in person, I did not know what to expect and how to plan. Internet searches did not yield much information and so here is my post which might help people who are looking for this information in future.

 

As you know, the Tour De France is the annual endurance bike race which takes place in France and surrounding countries (understatement much?). If you want to check it out in person, the first thing to do is to check the route on the official website. Next thing is to decide if you want to see only the riders or to see the caravan also.

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The caravan is a circus like atmosphere of publicity cars, trucks and bikes which come bearing interesting acts and goodies (junk?) to the waiting public. Check out the gallery above to see the pictures of what we saw. From what I noticed, they seem to give out key chains, hats, grocery bags and snacks. There was a mad rush for all the goodies being thrown at the crowd. So if you are interested in maximizing your loot intake, find a place close to the policemen who are controlling the traffic. They seem to attract the most goodies aimed directly at their faces.

The other thing to note is that the caravan passes very close to the people standing on the side walk. It can be dangerous if anyone steps in front of a passing car by mistake. The Wikipedia entry for Tour De France has a list of people who died in collisions with the caravan. We noticed that the people throwing the goodies were making sure that they landed near the crowd’s feet (unless it happened to be a policeman!). Still we noticed many things flying off and landing in the path of the fast driving cars.

These caravans arrive at least 2 to 2.5 hours before the arrival of the bikers. The timings for the caravan will be announced on the website and they kept to their time. The 2012 caravan lasted for about 45 minutes. Since we had a lot of kids in our group, these 45 minutes went by really quick since we all enjoyed watching the show.

After the caravans pass, there will be around 1-1.5 hours before the riders arrive. As estimate of  this time will also be announced on the tour website. This year, the riders arrived about 30-40 minutes later than the time announced on the website.

Watching the riders is obviously a big thrill. It is a lot of fun watching the different jersey winners go by. The only sad part is that if you are in the last stage, like we were, the peloton can pass by really quickly. For us, it went by in 20 seconds!

This is why one of my friends advised me to watch the last stage at the Champs-Elysee in Paris. Here the riders have to take 8 rounds in the same route. So you get to see them well. Also, if you are into goodies, this is where it all ends and the caravans will be unloading all on the crowd.

I hope this post helped. The next goal is to figure out how to guest ride with the Tour De France to hone our fitness to their elite level!

What The Acqui-Hire of Sparrow, Pulp, Wallet etc might tell us about Tech Entrepreneurship

Today, there were some buzz in the tech world about the acquisition of Sparrow by Google, Pulp and Wallet app makers Acrylic by Facebook. Getting their company acquired by a larger company to make their products bigger and stronger is a dream for most entrepreneurs. You can see from these posts (here and here) that these acquisitions (and many recent ones) were not really acquisitions but a hiring of the talented team behind these apps.

The customers are obviously unhappy about this since the products will get shelved and they might have no support or upgrades in the near future.

As an entrepreneur myself, I feel that entrepreneurs are in a tough spot. I understand how tight the money situation can be when you are building a product. If entrepreneurs who have built very successful products like Sparrow have to abandon their products to go work on other products at a larger companies, is the path for tech entrepreneurs very bleak?

My gut feel is that the tech economy where users expect most products to be free is partly responsible. Most web and mobile apps are expected to be free. If they even cost a dollar, they have to cross an extremely high bar in terms of customer expectations to be popular.If they have even the smallest of bugs, negative reviews on the stores can sink the product.

The app store model means that you pay once and get lifetime upgrades free of cost. New versions of the mobile operating systems come every year (for iOS) and every six months (for Android). The developers have to create updates to ensure that the app functions well under the new OS. But they won’t get any extra remuneration for the extra effort spent for the latest release.

So it makes sense that the founders having worked on their products for 2-3 years realize that they are better off being part of a larger company where they have better control on their financial life.

Unless, another explanation is that the larger company made an offer that they could not refuse. If you know which one it was, please let me know! As of now, I am going with the former.

Power of the internet and e-patients.net

As you might know, I am a member of the Society for Participatory Medicine (S4PM). They publish a blog called e-patients.net where empowered patients share their stories and exchange ideas on how to take control of their own healthcare.

Last week, I came across this awesome story of how these parents had to learn about DNA, gene mutation and medicine to understand what was going in their son’s body. It is quite technical and extremely interesting. If you have not read it yet, please do read it.

I shared this link with the members only listserv of the S4PM. This listserv is available for everyone to read here. E-patient Dave saw this post and published a blogpost on e-patients.net under the section – found on the net. Today, he shared that a mother contacted him to share that they saw this post and are contacting the doctor mentioned in the post. I really hope this helps their child. This is the reason for sharing such information on blogs. Even if it helps one person, it is completely worth it! Special thank you to Dave for posting this into the e-patients.net blog.

If you are not a member of S4PM, you should become a member to participate in the awesome discussion with the members of S4PM. It takes only $30/year to become a member.

Greek Hospitality

As some of you might know, I was in Athens for a conference to present our DiaLog app to the Mobile Monday Athens conference. You can click here to find out how it went.

Since the event happened during our family vacation, we decided to extend our vacation to Athens also. So I ended up in Athens with my family. This post is all about how the Greek people received us with warm hospitality. We want to go back there again and so should you!

We experienced this unique hospitality right from the moment we landed in Athens. We took the metro to our hotel since we always to live like the locals and not travel like tourists. This meant that we were able to get to the metro stop near the hotel but we did not have directions to get to the hotel from the stop (special thanks to Aurelija Sukeviciute, one of the conference organizers, for giving extremely precise directions to the metro stop!). I ended up asking for directions from the guy at the security booth at the station. He looked up the hotel on the internet and then invited me into the office to show me the google maps and explain the directions to the hotel! Not many public officials will do this for tourists.

After the conference was over, Vicki Kolovou and her team of organizers were going to a Greek tavern for a late dinner. They not only invited me to join them but also my wife and son too! Paul Uza and Aurelija (Two of the organizers) actually came back to the hotel with me, then walked to the tavern with all of us explaining the history and background of all the places that we encountered along the way. We thoroughly enjoyed the tour of the Athens area given by someone who lives here and is aware of the history!

View of the Parthenon from our hotel room

A couple of days later, we went to visit the Panathenaic Stadium where the 1896 olympics was held. After our visit, we went to a near by park where my son wanted to play. We encountered Andreas Constantinou, one of the co-founders of the MoMoAth event, here with his family. We got to talk with him and his wife. When we were about to leave, they invited us to join them for dinner in the evening.  We Indians are very familiar with this kind of hospitality. When we meet new people and if we like them, we tend to invite them to our family dinners almost immediately. We have not seen this in any of the western societies that we have lived in. We were really touched by their gesture.

There was this other time when we got lost and asked for directions from a lady running a store. We asked for directions to the metro station which was our landmark to the hotel. She gave us directions but she also wanted to make sure that we took the shortest path and not be tired by going to the metro station first before going to the hotel. This was something that we noticed in almost everyone we encountered. They did not just want to help us, but they REALLY wanted to be helpful by giving us the most efficient, easy ways to get to our destination.

We had heard that the Greek coffee is very different and it should be tried while in Greece. I enquired at the front desk of the hotel if they served Greek coffee. One of the ladies who serves breakfast was also there and she immediately told me – “I will make Greek Coffee for you along with your breakfast”. She came to our table, asked for how we wanted the coffee and made it for us even though it was NOT on the menu. She also refused to charge for the coffee since she wanted our stay to be memorable and nice!

These are the positive memories that I remember after two weeks out. There were many more that I do not remember. It is amazing that the Greeks are such amazing hosts. Coupled with their awesome history, I feel Greece is an awesome country to visit!

TEDMED 2012: A Quick Summary

I was able to secure a scholarship to TEDMED 2012, thanks to TEDMED organizers and Johnson and Johnson. TEDMED is an annual feast of Health and Medicine innovators and has recently moved to Washington DC from San Diego.

You can see the great summaries of TEDMED on their blog page. Since there are so many sessions and such variation in topics (Medicine, Healthcare, Patients, Doctors, Artists etc), the experience for every participant will be different. This is my summary of the talks that I liked. I hope the TEDMED community will post the videos soon so that everyone will enjoy them.

Jonathan Eisen‘s talk was about useful microbes in our life and how our modern life is removing these microbes (over cleanliness!). He was diagnosed with Diabetes and this got him studying about how the lack of useful microbes might be causing the auto immune diseases like Diabetes, Allergies etc. One of the startling findings he mentioned related to how kids born by C-section are at a 3-4 times higher risk for auto immune disorders like allergies and type-1 diabetes. He is also an avid blogger and is on twitter too.

Ben Goldacre talked about how negative results are not published in medicine and how they affect the way physicians and public perceive the efficacy of new drugs. He gave the example of a anti-depressant drug for which there were 41 published studies of the drug with 38 positive and 3 negative results. This made everyone think that the drug was very useful. There were other 33 studies with negative results that did not get published! Imagine how differently you would look at a drug where 38 studies are positive and 36 negative as opposed to one where 38 are positive and only 3 are negative! He is trying to get these negative studies into the spotlight. To learn more, you should check out this video by E-Patient Dave and follow him on twitter.

In my previous post about TEDxMaastricht, I had talked about how the TED talks do not have a Q&A in the end. I felt that this format hurt the conversation since there were some talks which could have used some conversation. There was a talk from Jon Cohen, from Quest Diagnostics on if patients can be like consumers. In my opinion, it did a tremendous disservice to empowered patients by stating that patients will judge the quality of a doctor or hospital by things like availability of donuts in the waiting room. I feel like this might be the difference maker if all things are equal but in the example quoted by the speaker (Hernia surgery), I feel patients do make the right judgement. It is to judge quality of health delivery based on outcomes (did the patient get all the information they needed about the surgery, did it help them? etc). The speaker also said that medicine quality should be based on “judgement” and “experience” of the doctor. I felt that even though “judgement and experience” are important from a medicine’s point of view, it does not matter to a patient as long as the outcome does not match expectations. I saw that many people disagreed with the speaker on twitter. A conversation at TEDMED would have helped clarify the speaker’s thoughts.

Dr. Atul Butte of Stanford University had an interesting talk about how science is now democratized thanks to the web. Just like Elance.com and odesk.com brought outsourcing to technology and other tasks, there are websites like Assaydepot.com which is bringing outsourcing to science, pharmacology and toxocology tests on the web. I had never heard of this and I was very surprised to find that you can even outsource your mice tests!

We also heard from Dr. Diane Kelly who has done amazing original work on invertebrate penises (yes, penises!). She described her research in a very fun and very easy to understand way. Her research is related to answering the question of what is unique of the penis structure that helps in maintaining its shape during erection. I cannot wait to see the video of this talk. She blogs at Science Made Cool.

There were also artists who performed and showcased their works at TEDMED. I got to meet Regina Holliday, of the walking gallery fame, in person. She paints to give the patient voice in health information technology. Her story is very powerful and is a must read on her blog!

We heard the story of Ed Gavagan. He was stabbed on the street in some gang initiation ritual and he survived due to the timely actions of the emergency personnel and the doctors. His video will be very powerful to watch since no words can describe his experience narrated on stage.

There were many many more powerful talks. These are the ones that I remember. I will post more thoughts as and when my memory helps me in the coming days. If you saw some talks that should be included, please do let me know so that I can write up another post with the ones that I missed here!