Talking to the media

catalyst-sportAs scientists its not uncommon to have a love /hate relationship with media. Often introverted by nature its daunting to be speaking to the masses, but sooner or later many of us end up doing it. Getting science out to the real world is a great outcome for years of effort in the lab and can turn up new research opportunities and enhance existing ones and makes good common room talk too. In the domain of sport and sports technology not only do we need to be current with the science we (and others) are doing  but often its helpful to be able to follow most sports on the planet too, as this is the engaging human interest the reporter often wants to throw to as well.
Its also useful to be able to communicate in shorter sound bites, or explain complex science in a nutshell. I was fortunate enough to do an ABC Science Media fellowship which helped a quite a bit in this regard,  as well as our lab doing a few stories with their science media department on shows like Catalyst (see the stories here – which we are still not brave enough to watch )

At the end of the day (even though after a full day of filming its only going to be 5min story at best), you never know whats going to be left out or in of the print article, left on the cutting room floor of a TV interview and so you just hope for the best. Add to that our culture of peer review which ensures we are very careful about claims we make (often understating what a reporter will what to over state), try to acknowledge colleagues and the shoulders of the giants we stand on. Probably the greatest fear is of making statements that our scientific peers might haunt us with,  either minor facts and qualifications on statement’s or for some good natured ribbing from the slip of the tongue (One of my colleagues headline statements was “I’m not a geek but….”, which he is still trying to live down), yet trying to communicate something meaningful. Now try to process all that under the pressure of spontaneous questions during a live 2min television interview and its not surprising we might come out a bit wooden, be reluctant to express opinion or are otherwise sidetracked.

Along the way we might fall into some common traps like:

  • Reverting to yes/no answers, as a proverbial ‘deer in the headlights’ (which the interviewer doesn’t want, because they want conversation)
  • Coming across as a flake who has no opinion, or worse some being cagey (something akin to a hostile witness with whom the reporter tries harder)
  • Trying to be a media personality rather than ourselves

The latter is a particularly poignant cautionary tale as I read the mornings news today and saw a particularly media savvy politician (Barnaby Joyce) try to play the comedian with comedians. It was over a customs issue with an A list celebrity…it was never going to end well, but was a funny read and A for effort Barnaby!
Barnaby Joyce left red-faced during Depp grilling

For the record, I only ever did one interview in which I was being goaded into humour, I apologised immediately “ sorry I don’t do funny”, which apparently was, go figure!

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Intrapreneur, entrepreneur, startup, accelerator, incubator…?

Intrapreneur, entrepreneur, startup, accelerator, incubator?There is a lot of focus in the Sports Technology world given to being a startup or making it as an entrepreneur. The Australian Sports Technologies network has been at the van guard of much of this in Australia where we have had training from notables such as Jerry Engel and Steve Blank. One of the reasons for this focus is that Sports Technology is a comparatively new industry and if you look at most of the existing industries in sports they can be pretty traditional. A lot of the break throughs have come from fresh ideas, fresh thinking and the application of new and emerging technologies. Every week it seems we are contacted by startups keen to leverage our particular area of research expertise (wearable sensors) to get a potential product to market or we are contacted from near or far by an SME (small to medium enterprise) or garage inventor with a great idea or prototype. We love the ideas and the passion!
Big established sports companies (and technology ones too) often look to acquisitions of such startup’s or develop in-house and thats often an exit plan too.
Recently though a new term has come into vogue, the ‘intrapreneur’ and certainly thats how we like to think about our own venture, SABEL Labs. As an  intrapreneurial enterprise that’s embedded in Griffith University and right next door to the Queensland Academy Sport (who produce well over 50% of Australia gold medals)
Here we have to operate much like a startup (and I’ve had more employment contracts than I can count on a hexadecimal hands to prove it), but we also get the benefits of the resources of a large organisation (and inherit its processes as well).  Many talk about needing to have an eco system to survive and we have that with access to mechanical, electrical workshops, world experts in a range of disciplines, a range of internal and external funding schemes, a steady stream(well a good sized trickle anyway) of commercial contracts and wide collaborative networks (like the Queensland Sports Technology Cluster). We also have finance, HR and legal team resources  and a business school where I can upskill one subject at at time too. On the down side its sometimes difficult to remain agile and pivot as we follow standardised processes for signoff, appointments,ordering, billing, then theres branding and the dilemma of the SOE (standard operating environments) for IT systems that we want to be innovative with too. Recently i’ve noticed quite a few companies from the big end of town have innovation (intrapreneurial?) departments as they seek to embrace change before some unseen disruptive technology makes their business as obsolete as Kodak, so there are more like teams out there too!
More reading
Steve Blank’s books and reading suggestions
Tips for intrapreneurs (and image credit)
The Australian Sports Technologies Network Accelerator
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A Rant on Research funding

research cuts australiaIts well known that research funding in Australia is at an all time low. The reduction in staff at places like CSIRO and reduced funding in competitive grants scheme are also in decline. Gone too are the larger scheme like the Cooperative research centres too. But a somewhat  hidden cut has crept into universities.  As a result of reductions in federal funding to universities (its all created a pressure to enrol and pass more students….but thats another story). The knock on effects around Australia’s universities seem to be  too
  1. Rather than employ permanent Academic staff, whose job it is to do both teaching and research there has been an increase in casualisation of academics. In some cases up to 50% of teaching staff are now casuals. Thus increasingly the appointments are solely to teach rather than do research.
  2. Where an academics job is traditionally divided between teaching and research and administration/service  teaching workloads seem to be on the rise. So much so that there is a decline in time available to do research.
  1. There are less available net funds for universities to engage and support research staff (who are largely on short contracts)
Where does this leave research in Australia? There is no doubt we are doing some world class research that have led to many a break through and innovation (See Dr Karls link below). For a little while perhaps we can ride the back of decades of investment in research and continue to have good output, but that may only last a short time. Opportunities for commercialisation of existing work, and contract research are such avenues, though its arguably something the traditional academic is poorly suited for. ‘Chase two rabbits catch none’, if chasing commercial income is pursued solely where is the time to do the next round of  ‘break through research’.  Tough one!
Some followup reading
Increasing pressure to more short term work contracts
The rise of mental health issues in universities
Reduced funding puts pressure on academic rigour…at what cost?
Is education a corporate commidity
The move to teaching only academics as a means to improve research?
Challenge of Change
Dr. Karls presentation highlights the value of research and the innovation that comes from Australia
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Mayday, mayday computer down

knowledge worker

Computer down: e-waste, legacy and  backup clutter free desk 😉

I spend the better part of the last month without a computer to call my own – its a knowledge workers worst nightmare..or at least it was a decade or so ago.

Turns out I managed to survive the slow demise into reboot hell of my old machine, the tracking of my new machine through the machinations of a large bureaucratic organisation (university) out to the supplier, the shipping information as the custom build landed on our fair shores, its arrival into one of many loading bays (this is were it spent its greatest period of time BTW), looking at the signature on the receiving docket to find out who to hassle, on to IT who reimage the machine as an SOE (not always a great fit for R&D) and then on to me (to tweak said image), migrate files, passwords and preferences and then I’m happy again. Nearly everything is online now and except for generic email accounts (including the donotreply@… addresses) you can usually find a human attached to as well to keep the whole process moving along.
Work wise I seemed to survive quite nicely thanks to the liberal sprinkling (in different physical locations) of incremental backups from the old machine (done hourly) that I could pull files from. My email (a significant chunk of work flow) I had sometime ago aggregated all my email accounts into a single account for rainy days such as these where I could read, query and send (as an alias from) thanks to the kind people at google. Day to day work was carried out, albeit a bit slower, on some legacy (read out of warranty) machines I have floating about and together with a smart phone and tablet that could handle a lot of the day to day communications (and blogging) too.
Anyways the new beasty should see me through till its warranty  runs out? Why is the warranty so important, it comes down to time, anything out of warranty is a time bomb that none will touch or look at without some $$$ and if something goes wrong these days its the better part of the purchase price of a new machine to fix it anyway. As an engineer sure its fun to fix stuff, but costing up my time, and down time while parts come in, its often not a good trade off and a level of risk to day to day activities.
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Wearables are here and big brother likes it!

wearablesIn case you were wondering about the potential for your fitness tracker and big brother…its already arrived!

The idea of quantification of an athletes movement is something we have been using at the elite end of the spectrum for over a decade to help improve performance and reduce injury. With the popularisation of the technology in mass market, consumer devices like (shameless plug alert)  the excellent Jaybird REIGN the potential for the weekend warrior to improve their fitness and health is clear. Whats the next step, our work in big data and analytics tells us its the large scale aggregation of data from large populations. Here long term health and well being can be tracked and used by the err… forces for good!

But what’s around the corner? Well my MBA program director (yes I’ve been hitting the books as a student) produced a graphic novela on a distopian reality where everything is a metric and is up for sale ( you might like to read it )

In his subject last year I was invited to look at some future scenarios after doing some technology predictions in the wearable space. This is new stuff to crystal ball and the scenarios varied from personalised shopping and eating, where the shop keeper knew you were coming and what you would want to buy, as too the restauranteur knew your favourite meal, where you like to sit, and how many calories you needed that day etc.. I thought some of these were a bit far out, even though they were consistent with the emerging technology trends. However blow me down if in the coming weeks I found that some of Australia’s banks knew when high value customers walked in the door and offered a prestige service (and no bout sniffed a sales opportunity). See below for a link on emerging technologies in banking. So too high end restaurants had clubbed together to do customer profiling, gathering data such as who were good tippers! (See below for a link to a range of technologies)fitbit-medibank

Closer to home, well at home actually, it seems that Flybys ( a shopping card that earns rewards points, all the while collecting detailed information about your shopping habits) is now offering rewards points for using it,  if you partner with….wait for it,  your health fund. Bingo! here are your shopping habits and what you buy (I hope its healthy!) coupled to how much exercise you do being made available to your health fund. On the plus side there is perhaps an opportunity for a premium reduction, thats the carrot…wheres the stick!!

Of course if fitness trackers aren’t for you, fear not, your probably already being monitored by your smart phone (iOS and Android) and they capture about 70% of you daily activity

Yikes!! I’ve been sitting for 1/2 an hour, better rack up some steps


Is this OK? Prof Nick Barters Distopian reality of the future

Resturant customer tracking services 

Flybuys and Fitbit

Banking trends

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Sports Technology – Know more in 60 Seconds!

How much can you say about Sports Technology in under a minute?… Dan James grabbed a double shot and gave it a go!

See the University site it appears on here and check out what else you can learn in 60 seconds

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Ludite in the library!

I went to my universities library today for the first time in a very long time. The irony wasn’t lost on me, as an almost fulltime (I have one day at home with my boys) researcher, that I shouldn’t be so well acquainted with the library is a bit funny. Most of my library use these days is through google and I read the papers on line too. Anyways here I am in the library, its an amazing 5-star place,  looking for yesterdays paper. Sadly I need to pay for the full article, as I’m too cheap to pay and googleing the article doesn’t get me the article for free this time  :(.

Anyways eventually I find the paper, behind the current days issue, or where it should be, as it  was missing and theres no label on the shelf either. Its hiding behind a flip top shelf where all the past few weeks papers are. My thanks to the helpful counter staff for the secret passage directions, apparently I am supposed to take a number to be served, its all a bit …exciting, but as its friday at the end of semester things are quiet.

Next step is to photo copy the paper, sadly there are no photocopiers that take coins anymore and my photocopier card is… I don’t know where. Fortunately helpful counter staff point out all I need is my staff card, or my staff number. So finally I’m ready to go but there is a pin number assigned, which after trying my favourites doesn’t let me in. A quick visit to my librarian friends and thats all taken care of, it looks like I have $0.80 available from a department that was two or so productivity reorganisations ago


So what was I looking for…well here’s some irony, its a nice article on academics blogging and here am I blogging.


Net gains of digital profile

  • BY:
    The Australian September 26, 2012 12:00AM

GONE are the days of academics slogging away at research that virtually no one reads. They now have to take on the cumbersome, and for some unnatural, activity of promoting themselves, almost as much as TV stars or celebrities.

Richard Dawkins, A. C. Grayling, Susan Greenfield and Niall Ferguson are not only excellent academics but also household names precisely because they could reach out as intellectuals, packaging their work for public consumption.


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10, 000 steps, with a little help from the lift

ImageAs a sports technology researcher I have a drawer full of gadgets for measuring sports performance, many are self made but there are quite a few commercial ones in the mix as well. These include cycle computers, watches and various sensors as well. Sometimes they are left overs from old projects, sometimes something to evaluate or something we have been building. Anyways the latest is a Fitbit (see I bought one after hearing Stefan Litzenberger talk about it at the most recent Sports Engineering conference in Lowell. Like all good technologies it looked deceptively simple and easy to use, so I forked out the ~$100 to find out more. Its a neat unit, came mail order in a day or so and without reading the manual (Yep I have the Y chromosomal curse) it was up and running in no time. It counts steps and makes some assumptions to come up with distance and calories like pretty much every other advanced pedometer type device on the market. It looks to perform better than some and worse than others. Interestingly it counts flights of stairs using an altitude(pressure sensor)…nice idea. One would of thought though that it might check to see if you were walking or not, rather than count my trip in the elevator as an activity.

So what’s the take home for me, well I have used it every day for a week (more than can be said for many other devices), I think this is in part because it clips on my pocket and stays there, it sync’s automatically, it brings out some of the competitive spirit in me and I’m also curious as to how may lifestyle matches up to the much vaunted 10, 000 steps programme. See

So how do I stack up, well apart from the slightly inane “you climbed the statue of liberty today’ email messages, the milestones (sic) of the first 50km etc.. are kind neat to see in my inbox. Turns out that my average day is close to the 10, 000 steps – probably due to parking the car at childcare and walking up the fitbit measured 20 flights of stairs and back to work each day. Weekends and on Thursdays (when I play house dad) Mr 2 and Mr 4 push me well over the 12, 000 steps without out doing too much. Practicing my Aikido (twice a week) seems to bring me an extra 3,000 steps or so, but I’m fairly sure that getting up after a body slam is worth more that just a few steps (I think the sensors rings a few times though…like my head on a big one). My wife took the fitbit to Zumba one night, being a hip mounted device she racked up 5, 000 steps in little over 1/2 an hour…..shake it baby!!

 Fitbit is also social media integrated to bring out the competitive spirit with your peers, my only trouble is the only person i know with one is Stefan, and every morning of the conference I met him coming in after what looked to be a fairly serious morning run….umm yuh like I’m gonna show him what I’m doing every day driving my desk and a few reams of paper around!

Addendum – topping the charts today with 15, 000…apparently all you have to do is build a tree house 😉
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Internet technology trends in 2012

Attached is a link to a genuinely fascinating report on the use of technology and uptake of the internet. If your grinding away on your desktop PC with a terrestrial phone line by your side – its shows why you might be (like me) the next dinosaur, it also shows that if your thinking laptop you might need to be thinking smart phone or tablet (though no mention of googles new augmented reality glasses). It also shows how computing resources are not just for work/web browsing but for just about all the other bibliophilic activities in your life.

The slide show is just over a hundred pages in length featuring a whole lot of stats, some very US centric economic relates and conclusions. But the end of the show is a nice then and now of how we do things. Some of these are definite reality and other are part way to fruition and may or may not be fully realised.

See the KPCB show here

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Time and attention

I forget where I i first came across this term, maybe it was on merlins 43 folders website. Anyways it was interesting, I spent some time (hah) looking at where my time was going (i.e. what i was really interested in doing), together with what seemed to produce the most results.

So after a bit of soul searching (well as much time as you have with a 2 and 4yr old about your knees) and the discovery of where my time and attention was actually going I started to direct a bit more of it towards my work life. It was quite successful it that there were tangible outcome, and helped me enjoy my working life even more. I’d encourage others to think about doing similar in their work lives.

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