All posts by Anna Tong

Athletes serve up tweets with feats

Elena Hight

Celebrities do it, candidates do it, you do it (or at least have heard of it). And athletes do it, with Vancouver 2010 set to become the first “Twitter Olympics,” an experiment in crossing the world’s greatest sporting event with a blizzard of information swept up by social media platforms.

Anybody with Internet access can enhance the Olympics watching – or better, following – experience. Tonight NBC (7:30 p.m. on Channel 3) unfurls the traditional opening ceremonies coverage for the XXI Olympic Winter Games, and accompanying those images and commentary are athletes and fans posting photos and tweeting.

Athletic excellence on snow and ice and more will be captured by many for all. Sure, you can watch Apolo Ohno speedskate in his third Olympics. But who doesn’t want to see the view from the “Dancing With the Stars” champion’s suite?

“There’s so much more than what people see on NBC or on the morning show,” said freestyle skier Shannon Bahrke, who grew up in Tahoe City. “I blog about getting up in the morning, having cereal … it’s my everyday life, but it helps other people understand what it takes to be an Olympic athlete.”

The tweets have already started to flow from the Olympic Village.

“Checked in and chilling at the Vancouver house, personal cheff [sic] is a nice touch,” tweeted snowboarder Nate Holland late Wednesday night. Holland (twitter ID: N8Holland), of Squaw Valley, has more than 500 followers.

And the Facebook posts:

“US team family time in the living room … twittering, facebooking, pool, spinning,” snowboarder Elena Hight, 20, of South Lake Tahoe, wrote on her Facebook fan page last week.

Hight, who will compete in the halfpipe competition, said she’ll tweet multiple times daily from her iPhone, and upload photos. Her 600-plus Facebook fans flood her page with support.

“I’ve gotten so many congratulations and good lucks, and it’s been awesome to have that connection with fans,” she said.

This year, public appetite, technology and looser rules came together to create “perfect storm” conditions for a Twitter Olympics, said Robert Scales, who runs the Web site

In Turin 2006, blogging was frowned upon and athletes were subject to media blackout periods, he said. In Beijing 2008, blogging was allowed but the government’s “great firewall of China” put a damper on social media users, Scales said.

Joining the Twitter party are spectators documenting their stories. Sacramento’s Karl Alexander and Jeremiah Mayhew are competing to be the best social-media “Olympians” through Samsung’s Mobile Explorer competition, found on Facebook.

The duo have been taking requests, for example promising a local Russian family they would find the Russian ice skating team. They are also interested in the Vancouver night life and music scene.

“We’re going to uncover the cultural side of the Olympics from the ground level,” said Mayhew, 26.

The more traditional journalists use Twitter to add to reporting. Channel 3’s Deidre Fitzpatrick and Brian Hickey, for example, will report live and contribute to the “Olympic Zone” show each night before the events start. In addition, they are blogging and tweeting (IDs: fitztweeter, 3bhickey).

NBC, which paid $820 million for Vancouver 2010’s TV rights, has stamped its brand on cable, Web and mobile delivery. NBC actively polices blogger videos, said U.S. Olympic Committee spokesman Bob Condron.

Rights and rules of the Twitter Olympics have caused confusion among athletes. American skier Lindsey Vonn posted, then retracted, on her Facebook that she would be under an Internet “blackout.”

Bahrke said athletes were told they can publish first-person accounts, but cannot take photos of the sporting action or ceremonies, post videos, or refer to any non-official Olympics sponsors.

“There are a bunch of rules we have to follow, but it’s kind of gray and I don’t think they’ve got everything quite figured out,” she said.

Olympic athletes also have their own sites. Ohno ( suggests keeping up with him on Youtube or Flickr. Or click on the “FollowApolo” link.

Social media updates will probably reach a small, younger percentage of the population. Nearly half of adults use some kind of social network, but only 19 percent use Twitter or another status updating service, the PEW Internet and American Life Project reported late last year. However, 37 percent of 18-to-24- year-olds used a Twitter-like service.

Who cares enough about such minutiae is also unclear. A good half of the local athletes’ Twitter followers are businesses using it for marketing. The rest seem to be diehard fans and other competitors.

Chris Martinez of Sacramento has a 15-year-old daughter who figure skates competitively. Martinez follows several figure skating Olympians and organizations on Twitter.

He logged onto his account Thursday (ID: Airman747), and discovered Alissa Czisny, the 2009 U.S. ladies figure skating champion, had parted ways with her coach.

“I care because my daughter skates, so I know how difficult of a sport it is, and I appreciate how minor, minor changes on hand positions can make a jump go from a success to a failure,” he said.

Also Thursday he found an interactive map of the Olympic village. Just so you know, he tweeted it was “Very cool.”

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Celebrity double take on Facebook takes off

Jackie Bernstein, left, and
“look-alike” Kelly Clarkson.

Jackie Bernstein of Natomas is Kelly Clarkson.

Kayla Moreland is Alicia Silverstone.

Michael Stockinger is Jesus – because when he was at Sacramento State he had long hair, a beard and always wore flip-flops.

Since late last week, Facebook users have been swapping their profile pictures for their celebrity look-alikes.

They’ve been participating in “Doppelgänger Week,” the current Facebook trend, which follows last month’s “What Color is Your Bra?” meme. And flows into “Urban Dictionary Week,” prompting Facebook users to look up their names and post the definition.

As the social network grows – in December, according to several Web site trackers, Facebook logged 100 million-plus unique visitors – its trends, while not new, recently have taken on an expansive organized quality.

“People are endlessly fascinating, and Facebook is a platform for people,” said BJ Fogg, director of Stanford’s Persuasive Technology lab, who teaches courses about Facebook. “People naturally watch what other people are doing and copy it.”

For Doppelgänger Week, users become someone else in cyberspace, from Angelina Jolie to Cookie Monster.

“One of my friends put up Glenn Beck’s photo and I immediately burst out laughing because it’s so true,” said Moreland, 22, of Carmichael, who is Silverstone this week.

Last week, status updates on the site read: “It’s Doppelgänger Week on Facebook; change your profile picture to someone famous (actor, musician, athlete, etc.) you have been told you look like.”

Facebook participants are using the term “week” loosely. The consensus from users seems to be it ends on Sunday.

Like many viral Internet trends, Doppelgänger Week started simply with an idea that is flattering (what celebrity do you look like?), conversation-provoking (you do/ don’t look like him/her) and easy (post a picture). An average Joe named Bob Patel said he was the brainchild.

Patel told the Huffington Post his co-workers teased him about being the Indian version of Tom Selleck.

“They’re like, ‘Hey, Tom Selleck, what are you doing?’ Or, ‘Yo, Tom Selleck, we’re talking to you. …’ In any case, that’s when I decided to turn the joke around on them and came up with Doppelgänger Week,” he said.

Users started changing profile pictures, prompting friends to change theirs, too.

At his friends’ urging, Kevin Eastman, 28, of Sacramento posted a photo of Steve McQueen.

“Considering McQueen died in ’80 and Eastman was born in ’81, I would even go so far as to argue that Kevin is – in fact – the reincarnation of McQueen,” said his friend, Colin Sueyres.

Eastman, a state Assembly staffer, is less sure.

“I’ve been hearing it for years, but I don’t know if I entirely agree,” he said.

Richard Crawford, 42, is a Web developer for UC Davis, and he chose Emperor Norton, a 19th-century eccentric San Franciscan. Crawford felt the connection, beyond his habit of occasionally dressing in Victorian-era clothing.

“We not only look alike because we’re not very tall, have dark hair and a beard, but I think I share his idealism and optimism,” said Crawford. “He was also kind of crazy.”

Other sites have benefited from traffic. Ancestry Web site has declared itself the “unofficial supplier.” The Israel-based company has a free “Celebrity Toolbar” program that enables users to match their uploaded photos with celebrities.

The Celebrity Toolbar relies on facial recognition technology originally developed to help discover ancestors based on facial similarity.

The company’s servers broke down because so many people tried to access the Celebrity Toolbar, a company spokeswoman said.

Facebook also benefits indirectly, said Fogg, the Stanford professor. “It makes Facebook more fun, and any time that happens the company becomes richer,” he said.

While posting celebrity photos is technically a violation of the Facebook terms of service, the company said it won’t ask users to remove any Doppelgänger Week photos unless it receives complaints.

Fogg said he suspects Doppelgänger Week took off because the idea was fresh yet did not require users to learn a new task.

“It’s not asking you to record an audio snippet or anything,” he said. “It’s just finding a photo and uploading it, and it fits into the culture and activities that already exist on Facebook.”

Richard Crawford, left, and
“look-alike” Emperor Norton.

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A texted health reminder worked

Texting could be 🙂 for ur health.

A UC Davis study has found sending texts reminding people to put on sunscreen actually works.

The success of the simple method shows the potential behind texting as a health tool, something few health care providers have tapped into.

Published this month in the Archives of Dermatology, the study found that people who received daily reminder text messages on their mobile phones were nearly twice as likely to use sunscreen as those who did not.

“People carry their cell phones with them at all times,” said Dr. April Armstrong, the study’s lead author and an assistant professor of dermatology. “So texting is an effective way for delivering messages, be it applying sunscreen or taking medications on time.”

Pointing out that texting is cheap and ubiquitous, BJ Fogg, director of Stanford’s persuasive technology lab, added, “It’s a mystery why people aren’t using texting to provide health support.”

He said texting has proved effective on a variety of health fronts: from appointment reminders to general texts extolling the virtues of exercise.

At least one local provider is catching on: Kaiser Permanente Northern California will roll out an appointment reminder texting service early next year, a spokesman said.

In the UC Davis texting and sunscreen study, 70 participants received a bottle of sunscreen equipped with an electronic sensor so researchers could track when it was opened. They were told to use it every day for six weeks, and half received daily text messages. The messages changed every day, with the first line a weather forecast and the second a reminder to put on sunscreen. Those receiving the texts put on sunscreen on average 56 percent of the time, compared with 30 percent in the group that did not receive texts.

“A lot of people say they forget to put on sunscreen. So we really targeted the forgetfulness part and used texting to develop healthy habits,” Armstrong said. She said only about 20 percent of American adults regularly use sunscreen.

Similarly, an October study in the Pediatrics journal showed text reminders effective in helping young liver transplant patients to remember to take their anti-rejection medication. Patients had to text back within an hour confirming they had taken their pills. Twelve of the 41 patients had rejection episodes before the study; during the yearlong study, only two did.

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Patients often turn first to ‘Dr. Google’

Daughters Charlene Steving, left, and JoAnn Young help Helen Gallagher last month. Young e-mails concerns to Gallagher’s doctor.

The Internet’s power to make something “go viral” has surpassed the phrase’s original meaning.

Sneeze once, you might pass a virus to the person next to you. Post something online, the entire world might get infected.

Take the H1N1 vaccine: Last Thursday morning, the search term “H1N1 vaccine dangers” hit Google’s top 10 searches.

A video of a cheerleader supposedly crippled after getting the flu vaccine received almost a million hits.

It’s driving doctors crazy, as they insist the vaccine is safe and anti-vaccine preachers are plain wrong.

But the H1N1 story is evidence of a broader trend: The public’s appetite for Internet health information has fundamentally altered the doctor-patient relationship.

Doctors are no longer perceived as the only authority on health information.

“People don’t have that kind of patriarchal relationship with their physicians anymore,” said Dr. Maxine Barish-Wreden, who heads Sutter’s integrative medicine team. “They come in, and they’re armed with some data already.”

Almost all U.S. physicians said in a survey that at least some patients bring to appointments health information they found online, according to the Manhattan Research Group, a company that researches health care trends.

Sometimes it means those precious few minutes with the doctor can be spent setting the patient on the right track.

“There’s such a fine line between somebody who’s well-informed and somebody who’s misinformed,” said Diane Chan, a pediatrician at Kaiser’s Roseville Medical Center. “Because then I have two jobs: One, to convince you you don’t have a disease that you think you do, and then to diagnose you with the right thing.”

Sixty-one percent of Americans look online for health information, the majority of whom say their last search had an impact on medical decisions, according to a 2009 survey from Washington, D.C.-based Pew Research Center. The research group dubbed them “e-patients.”

Evelyn Meletlidis of Roseville said she looks up health information online every day because she has an autistic 4-year-old. She belongs to Internet groups for parents of kids with autism. Members trade tips on everything from diets to vaccinations.

Her choice not to continue vaccinating her son was a decision made after extensive research online and offline, she said, and one not welcomed by doctors.

“I’ve been literally kicked out of offices because I won’t vaccinate my child,” she said.

Despite all the online information, Pew researchers also found the Internet hasn’t replaced doctors.

“People turn first to their doctor, then to Dr. Mom, and third to Dr. Google,” said Suzanne Fox, one of the Pew study authors.

Roughly two-thirds of doctors think online health research is a good thing, according to the Manhattan Research Group.

When harnessed in the correct way, doctors say, the Internet makes the patient a partner, not a passive bystander. If a patient already has researched a specific condition, it means a physician can bypass the basics and get right down to real questions.

“I’ve heard anecdotally that specialists who care for people with chronic diseases are more welcoming of e-patients,” Fox said. “This patient is hitting the ground running and therefore the doctor can jump to the next level.”

Some providers have tapped into this thirst for knowledge with their own online information channels. Patients at Kaiser Permanente can log onto an interactive Web site and find information and videos on topics such as how to prepare for a major surgery.

Other doctors said the Internet is a good tool for engaging patients.

Dr. Kristopher Kordana said e-mail has made his internal medicine practice more patient-centered, as counter-intuitive as that sounds.

Kordana, who works at Kaiser South Sacramento Medical Center, said many patients are elderly or have persistent conditions. In the past, when they wanted professional advice, they would have to call the advice nurse. The message would have to be delivered to Kordana, and he would call back. Inevitably, there was a lot of phone tag.

Now the patient can just e-mail him directly, Kordana said. If he’s at his computer, he can respond in under a minute.

If the matter is not urgent, he’ll ask a patient to come in. But many health issues don’t need an appointment, such as sending out a quick medical reminder.

“It’s really freed up my time so I actually have more face-to-face with patients,” Kordana said. “And when I do see patients, our visit is much more efficient.”

One of his patients is Helen Gallagher, whose daughter JoAnn Young trades e-mails with Kordana. Gallagher is 94 years old and doesn’t e-mail, but she knows how to contact Kordana, Young said.

“My mother always says to us, ‘Did you e-mail the doctor and tell him?’ ” Young said.

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