Sunday, 14 August 2016

Made my monthly visit to the NMC: which is not a technological euphemism for being on my period

I went to London last Wednesday. I met with other colleagues to continue the work aimed at understanding what the graduate nurse practice in 2025 would look like and how we might set the educational standards for universities to design curricula around. It was great to have a discussion that was evidence based rather than a discussion shaped by the high expressed emotion of colleagues framing their opinions in defence of their various fields of practice (who came up with that term?). For all those interested, watch this space. We are getting closer to sending out the results of our work for wider consultation. I travelled to London by Virgin Trains, and was surprised to find that both the Eggs Florentine and the wi-fi were perfect. 

Actually I wasn't surprised about the Eggs Florentine. Experience has shown me that Virgin Train chefs consistently manage to deliver perfect poached eggs. No it was the fact that the wi-fi was working, which on past journeys I have often found to be frustratingly unreliable. It wasn't just nurse education I read up on last week. Technology featured in much of my reading, for example I was fascinated to read of the experiences of Flavio Garcia, a computer scientist from the University of Birmingham. Back in 2013 he and his team wanted to share with the world his work that showed he had a piece of technology that would allow them to remotely start the ignition of millions of VW cars. 

Due to VW taking out a lawsuit, the research wasn't published for a further 2 years. The research not only showed the vulnerability of the ignition system but also the keyless entry systems was insecure. Garcia used reverse engineering to extract a single cryptographic key (a signal sent each time a key fob button was pressed), and Hey Presto, he could open the car door and drive the car away. It appears that it’s not just VW cars that he could do this with. Some 100 million other cars are at risk from such technological attacks – Ford, Citroen, Fiat, Nissan, Audi, Alfa Romeo, Maserati, in fact most cars other than Jaguars – Phew.

Whilst the motivation of Garcia's work was driven in part by the inherent digital and technological challenges of responding to VW claims of safety and security, other technology based stories last week had more sinister implications. 'Jennifer' (not her real name) - a Mother living in Texas, US, was horrified to see a live feed of one of her young daughter's bedrooms being streamed on the internet. Hackers had used an app that allows viewers to gain live feeds from events and places from around the world, anywhere there is an on-line camera. Jennifer's house was fitted out with security cameras to 'protect' her family. It appears that one of the daughters had clicked on a malicious link while trying to play a game, allowing the hackers to gain access to her computer, phone and the security cameras. Like Emma in the film Ratter, I guess it would have been in a terrifying situation for the family to find themselves in.     

Just as chilling is that it's estimated that just this one malicious link could give hackers access to some 900 million phones. Considering what and how we use our phones in our everyday lives, the potential for direct harm is enormous. However, I was also interested to read another story about phone use that was equally concerning, but where the harm was slightly more hidden. It involved the apparent booming market in apps which offer women the opportunity to monitor their monthly period cycles. Apparently there have been some 200 million downloads of period tracking apps worldwide, and in the health and fitness category, period trackers come second only to those apps which monitor running.

Positive use of such apps have helped some women identify connections with changes in their emotions, eating habits, and other physical challenges. Some have used the apps to monitor their fertility, although the current advice is not to rely on the trackers for contraception.  And women in Mexico and Brazil have been downloading the app for fear of getting pregnant during the Zika virus outbreak. My concern was that every time someone used this app they would send all kinds of data to parties unknown, for uses that are also unknown. So be aware!

I also read about a different type of technology, which in slightly different way, was concerned with periods. It was the news that The Flex Company had, through a US$1 million loan, acquired the rights to Softcup, makers of menstrual disc products. Using a new type of technology means the discs are not linked to toxic shock syndrome, are hypoallergenic, latex free and disposable. Unlike tampons and menstrual cups, the discs can be left in during sex for those who would rather not interact too closely with blood. Interestingly 20% of customers are men.

And not surprisingly, there was no blood spilt at our village dog show yesterday. The show attracted many dogs of every breed, colour, and age. There were no fights and no trouble, and the dogs were also very well behaved. It was technology free and the weather was glorious. Cello was in fine form and picked up a 1st prize – for the dog with the happiest tail. The judge also thought Cello would have won 1st prize for the dog that most closely resembled their owner – unfortunately there was no such a category. 

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