October 24, 2012

The ultimate Google+ widget for microblogs - help needed!

Ok this is a medical blog, so what is this discussion doing here you will ask? Well - many visitors here are (medical) bloggers and this is a very practical scenario that needs to be solved. So I'm asking the blogger community for advice, stay tuned and you'll learn some!

So you have a blog and you are using social media also for microblogging - ultrashort comments for quick interactions with your community, "Twitter" style. You want these microblogs to appear on the side bar of your blog - we have all seen the Twitter widget streaming recent tweets. Great for the small stuff that you don't feel like making a lengthy blog about but still want to share with your followers.

Well Twitter is all great but being minimalistic I want everything under the same roof and for me that's Google. I prefer using Google+ for microblogs because of convenience - no extra login or external website to browse to as everything is easily done from the Gmail interface or via my Android. Besides, Twitter is limited to a frustrating few 140 characters and Google+ provides for an excellent platform for professional networking and communications. Twitter is lacking for me.

So a Google+ widget is needed to display these microblogs. That's where the issues start, let me explain.

Google+ is based on Circles which are primarily thought as a layer of privacy. You can post something privately to your colleagues through a "Doctors' only" Circle so that your other friends and family members don't read that. It's tempting to think of Circles as a "channel" or "group" feature - a little like #hashtags are used to categorize posts - but first and foremost it is for privacy. Thus, your Circled posts are not open to the Internet as Public posts are and there is and will never be any RSS stream from these, it would simply defy the function of Circles.

A hack might be to use email forwarding; add an email to the doctors only Circle so that the post is forwarded to some service which adds it to a stream. Sounds good but the details are fuzzy - I will have to work on this. IFTTT might be the platform providing this.

So why not just post Public all the time and stream that to a widget? Well that's no good either - my blog followers would never want to read my non-medical posts. And vice versa - posting Public all the time on Google+ would drown my other followers in topics they are not interested in. Public posts using #hashtags seems like a nice intermediary solution but again I would be overflowing my followers as a whole and there is no way to make a stream from hashtags in Google+.

So I started a Google+ Page as a social-backend for my blog. All posts there are public and thus easily streamed to a widget. There are two major drawbacks with  this way;
1) Notifications on Google+ Pages cannot be forwarded to my personal Google+ or email. I'm too lazy to login to Page just to check for notifications. I like to follow up posts through comments and it's too cumbersome from a seperate Page. Remember a Page is designed to be managed by one or more individuals.
2) How do I choose if I should post a microblog with my personal Google+ profile or the blogs' Page? My  'librarian oriented' brain cannot have my posts disseminated all over in an unsystematic way!

Best of all thus would be if I could post on my personal profile and these then were forwared to the Google+ Page as a public post from where it is then displayed on the gadget. Again I'm looking into the email forwarding possibility but it seems to me there are no options currently available.

So a call out to 'bloggers united' - do you have any suggestions?

October 23, 2012

Trying to grab that text? Use OCR!

Copy & paste - a docs best friend! Every now and then you will encounter situations where you can't use the copy & paste technique. Indispencible in the hospital to quickly write consultation texts, letters etc. - nothing is more frustrating as when the medical record system (in an hilarious attempt to stop data theft) cripples the copy/paste function.

Other scenarious where you might need to quickly get some text in electronic format is that when you get a medical letter from a foreign patient. It has happened to me a several times and once in the middle of the night where the patient had acute dyspnea.

Here is what you need to do to do online OCR, "Optical Character Recognition"

1. Convert the text to image

If the text is on your computer you can use any screen grab app to just capture a screen image while having the text open. A favorite of mine is Lightscreen, a portable app thus allowing you to install on USB drive or within your local folder without administration rights.

Text on paper needs to be scanned of course - easily done in modern offices. Make sure the new image is in high quality, PNG is a lossless (no pixels lost while compressing) format highly recommended.

2. Remove patient identifying information

As we are going to use an online application we need to delete any information that might identify the patient. Not that I distrust the website used, just a good habit "just in case".
Open www.pixlr.com - a free, online Photoshop mimic where you can easily manipulate your new image. Just remember to save it back to PNG format agin.

3. Convert to text

So here's the magic ingredient in the cake; www.onlineocr.net is an online tool which takes an image and converts all text it can find to electronic format. Why this one stands out from the other lots out there is that you can even select which language to use! Now that wasn't so difficult!

And now you can do what you want with your text. If you're translating a medical letter just take it to Google translate.