Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Creating a logo

After deciding the name (or at least the project name) of our product the next step was logo design. Since I'm studying publication graphics and web communications, it was natural that I'd be the one in charge of the visual expression. It's also part of my school curriculum to create a logo, in addition to a web site and a printable brochure.

Mikael had some plans for the logo already, and I started sketching some ideas based on them, first on paper, then with Adobe Illustrator.

A logo should be as simple as possible, easily recognizable and not with too many colors, since it's a lot easier (and cheaper!) to print it with less colors. In addition, we did not want it to be too colorful in a childish way but to show we are seriously and determinedly doing what we do.

At the beginning we decided the o in the word "Sensotrend" should be round and blue, referring to the universal symbol for diabetes. The natural color companion to that would be black, so we chose it to be the other color used in our logo. This combination works on white canvas as well as on other colors.

Now we had a round o as a starting point, and we wanted to find a font that would match perfectly with it. It should have circular rather than elliptical forms, and the lines should have an even stroke width. Also the line caps of the letters should be rounded rather than sharp, to create a nice and soft appearance.

I went through loads of fonts found on Adobe Illustrator but could not find the perfect one. So I started going through some fonts on the web, and finally found a good candidate. It's called Station and it's designed by French designer Anthony Bossard. It is rounded and even, and perfectly matches our purposes.

When the font was found, I wrote the text and started curving it. The idea is that the curvy path of the text symbolizes the blood glucose levels of a diabetic that tend to go up and down, creating curvy graphs. The curve was sharper at first, but it looked better being softer and rounder, and that's how it stayed. Finally, the d in the end of the word seemed to ascend too high, and I had to shorten it a little. After that the logo seemed ready enough to share here with you.

So, here it is, how do you like it?

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Back to School

I just finished Statistics in Medicine, a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) from the Stanford University.

I've been reading quite a bit about information visualization lately, and it seems a huge part of it is tightly connected with statistics. For my application especially, I need to know why the graphs presented in existing reports are visualized the way they are. I also wanted to know that I'll be using the correct terms in any documentation, and reports I'll be creating.

I did take a course in statistics already in my own college studies, but that was some time ago already, so this course was a good refresher. With this course, I also learned a lot about the medical context. I don't think I'll ever read an article popularizing scientific results without remembering some of the key messages from the course.

There was yet another thing I wanted to learn. Would I go back to school? My current financial income would actually be quite a bit better, had I chosen that route to take time off from work and enrolled into a university (yes, that's like it works in Finland). At least based on this course I think I made the right choice, though. General studies always include stuff that's good to know but not exactly what I need to know just now. I believe being a startup entrepreneur rather than a post grad student or a researcher better allows me to focus all my efforts into what I want to accomplish.

Nevertheless, I absolutely love that I can still get high quality education of my choosing when I think I need it.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

To compete, or to collaborate?

When you're doing something worth doing, you inevitably run into someone else doing something similar.

Back in late spring this year, when I had just decided I'd take some time off from work to work in eHealth instead and started to plan the product, I learned that Mendor Balance was being installed to the clinic I visit for my diabetes treatment. My first reaction was "Oh crap, the clinic won't get another system any time soon, now that they just invested in one." After the initial shock I came into the conclusion that the clinic adopting new software and new practices is actually a very good thing, and ended up helping Mendor to support my glucose meter as well.

Even if they operate in the same market and license a software product, they are not directly competitors. They concentrate on different things and have different goals. And they do contribute well to building better tools for diabetics. I'm really quite happy they exist.

Another shock came after I updated my LinkedIn profile, indicating what I'm planning to do. An old LinkedIn contact sent me a message telling he has a company and they have been implementing quite a similar solution for some time already. My initial reaction: "Oh crap, I've made my market analysis and couldn't find anything like this." Again, I needed to take a step back and look at it from a positive angle.

First of all, competition validates the business idea. Someone else also believes what I'm about to do is worth doing.

Second, my vision reaches much further than the features of the product I'm planning to build first, during a few months. That product will combine all data relevant to a diabetic's condition into a coherent package. It would actually be ideal if that product would already exist. Then I could enter directly to the next level, where I can analyze those data and develop algorithms that help interpreting them.

So I called the LinkedIn contact, and we had a meeting yesterday. They have been in stealth mode, developing their product, but are now coming out in the public with it. We found out we're after pretty much the same goals, but with some differences in our approaches. Their solution requires all the information to be entered via a mobile application, whereas I want the data to be available automatically from the devices that already have it. I would like to allow many different devices and applications to be able to contribute to the data set, whereas their solution is more closed and controlled. Finally, they don't have a diabetic on board in the company, rather only have a doctor specialized in diabetes as an advisor. They are also running a trial with diabetics, I hope they'll learn from it.

I loved some parts of their product, though, and would like to cooperate with them. I think it would certainly help me get to my goals faster. We did not decide anything yet, as they need some time to think things through. But we'll keep in touch. Interesting times ahead. And I should still meet with Mendor as well, to discuss possible cooperation with them.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Would I share my personal health data?

My previous post included some of my personal health data. The Word document produced by the Dexcom software even includes the word Confidential in the footer. As I'm creating a new health related product, I must pay special attention to data privacy. I also need to think about different feelings people may have towards sharing their data.

Some time back I learned that Mendor, a Finnish startup company focusing on diabetes treatment, were installing their software product, the Mendor Balance, to the diabetes clinic I visit. Unfortunately that software did not support my glucose meter. However, when I contacted Mendor about the matter they said they'd be happy to build the support if they just got some example data from an actual device. So I sent them the logs from my meter, including real measurement data over several months. I had no concern over what they might think of me as a diabetic or as a person, based on that data. They just wanted to get some sample data to implement a piece of software.

Whether I feel comfortable sharing my personal health information depends on how I believe that information is being used.

Of course, in direct contact with a person, sharing information is much easier. I've had almost no concern explaining everything about my life to the doctors and nurses who have helped me with my diabetes. The more information they have, and the more accurate that information is, the better they can guide me.

I think I've shared even more with the people in my peer support group. There it's all about finding the fun in living with diabetes, we all exaggerate our foolish behaviors and the mistakes we've made. Absolutely no fear of judgement or patronizing. I've shared more than just data, I've shared stories, big and small.

That's one thing in itself, isn't it? I feel much easier disclosing sensitive information when I can annotate it and share some additional background to it. I'd be reluctant to share just some cold piece of data, just describing a tiny tiny piece of myself, as I wouldn't like people (or computer algorithms for that matter) forming their opinion of me just based on that data.

I must admit, for the previous post, out of seven days of monitoring data I selected the day with the nicest graph. The graph for the whole week is much less stable. It's just that I don't know all of you and you don't know me well enough, for me to feel comfortable sharing the bad days. I'll probably get more comfortable with that as well, once I get enough background context out in this blog.

Whether I feel comfortable sharing my personal health information depends on

  1. how I believe that information is being used
  2. whether I believe that piece of information is both adequate and meaningful for that purpose.

Of course, there is also the whole issue of trust in general. I'll probably contemplate that in another post.

Friday, August 9, 2013

It Needs to Print Well

Yesterday I had the annual review with my doctor. Besides the standard protocol I got a chance to discuss my views and plans for possible enhancements to the technology we use. I got really valuable feedback, encouraging enthusiasm, and plenty of new ideas as well.

There is one thing I really need to pay attention to. While it is really useful to be able to explore the data interactively on a computer screen, the IT systems and also the practices are still based on handling stacks of paper. However nice and fancy a visualization is on the screen, it also needs to print well.

This time, we spent quite a bit of time with my doctor, writing down values from my pump and meter, with a pen, on paper. The Accu-Chek Spirit Combo system has a software system to download log data from the devices to a computer, not all information is accessible.

For instance, the basal rates are only presented as graphical presentations. The adjustments to treatment often involve fine tuning the rates, and it is important to know whether the basal rate is 0.70 or 0.75 units per hour. It's really hard to tell that distinction from the graphics currently available. Only the total amount of insulin per day is printed as a number, not the values for the individual steps.

A capture of the report produced by the Accu-Chek SmartPix software.
It's hard to tell the exact levels of basal insulin from the graphic.

Another subject to modifications are the parameters used by the bolus calculator, an assistant program in the glucose meter that helps setting the correct bolus for a meal. These include target range for glucose level, carb ratio (amount of insulin required for a gram of carbohydrates) and sensitivity to insulin, and have different values depending on the time of day. These values are not included in any of the reports produced by the software. Instead, I must manually access them via the meter and tell each value to my doctor who then writes them down. This process alone easily ends up taking a few minutes. I'd much rather spend that time actually discussing the values and possible changes to them. Fortunately my doctor was not in a hurry.

I have had similar problems with a continuous glucose monitor in the past. There are two different models available, the Medtronic Guardian REAL-Time and the Dexcom Seven Plus. I've had the feeling that the nurses are a bit reluctant to give out the Dexcom one. I've used it once, and think I now know the reason.

The results of the continuous glucose monitoring need to be printed as well, as there is no suitable place for them in the electronic health records. And it is also easier to annotate the printed versions.

The problem is that the software used to visualize the data from the Dexcom device does not print the essential information of amounts of carbohydrates, insulin doses, or exercise. On screen you can access the information of each event by bringing the mouse cursor on top of a respective icon. But when you print the information, it's just a Word document containing the screen captures as such, and you just get the icons. So, having printed all the data we then spent many many minutes with the nurse going through each meal, insulin dose, and exercise for the whole week. I'd read the values from the program and she'd write them down on the prints, with a pen. We certainly did not feel productive at all.

On screen you can interactively explore each value independently.

So I'm just marking it down here as a design principle. Perhaps not the most important one, but clearly one that must not be forgotten. However fancy a visualization is on the screen, it also needs to print well.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

What's in a name?

This blog is published under the name Sensotrend. This post explains how that name came to be, and also asks for your opinion.

First of all, I wasn't really selecting a name for a blog. The idea of writing a blog was not my original idea. The original idea was a software product for managing all the data relevant for the treatment of my diabetes. So I'm more searching the name for a product or a service.

First, I started to think of relevant words. Diabetes, data, graphical, visualization, ... Having written some of them down, I started playing with abbreviations, misspellings, connotations, and double meanings. Including 'viz' to the product name could, with the help of a suitable slogan, associate the name with visualization - and also wizardry.

I also thought a lot about whether the name should be Finnish, English, both, or neither. I played around with words ending with 'sto', for instance. In Finnish, many words for places where you store things end with sto (for instance, storage room is varasto, library is kirjasto, where kirja means book, and atlas is kartasto, where kartta means map). The syllable sto would also refer to storage for people preferring English. I like the idea. However, this product is not about storing the data. In fact, it is quite likely other solutions will be used for actual storage of the data, and this solution is used for presenting it and exploring it. Still, in case I need to build a solution for hosting the diabetes data online, the name for that solution is likely to end with sto.

One name I quite liked was diagraph. It would present my diabetes data in graphics. However, it being an actual word in several languages, it might not be identifiable enough. Even more importantly, the internet domain name was already selected for corporate use. Another major thing to consider when selecting a name. There are many more, I know. The name of the product should be easy to remember, easy to spell, short enough, and it should not get mixed up with any bad word in any language.

Anyway, one morning on my way to work, I thought of Sensotrend. It felt good enough, at least for now.

The trend part, for me, tells that the solution presents and helps to find trends from the data. The first part refers to the blood glucose sensor, but also to sense - the product helps making sense out of trends. This might not be obvious to other people, though. The name also teased me right away with ideas for a logo. The O in the middle allows me to indicate the product is about diabetes - at least for the diabetics, who recognize the diabetes symbol (I know I still need to negotiate about the use of the diabetes logo as part of a commercial logo). And the domain was available, and a quick google search found nothing relevant. Finally, it should be easy enough to pronounce and remember. (Update:  I just ran the Google search again, and this time found traces of a Sensotrend trademark, which seems to have been expired. This may require further investigation. I wonder why I did not notice those when considering the name for the first time...)

I still consider this a work name for the product. It might well change for the final version. However, I'm happy enough with it to get this blog published under that name.

How about improvements? Personally, I think it still feels quite technical. I believe the name for the product should perhaps have more emotion to it. How about a name that said "Hey, you're in full control of your diabetes, you have all the power to change it for the better, now let's do it together!" I don't think you can read all that from Sensotrend.

Any suggestions? Would you care to share how you feel about the selected name, and what connotations it invokes?

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Making Sense of Trends (Part 2/2)

In part 1 of this post I told about my life when I got diagnosed with diabetes and how I reacted to it. And how I eventually stopped paying enough attention to it.

That was until the mid-life crisis hit me. This happened a few years back. I started to notice my life lacked meaning, and started asking myself what I really want out of life.

So I tried to get a grip. I cut down on traveling for work, and took more time for myself. I also got a doctor's appointment, and indicated I would now have more resources and interest to invest in managing my diabetes better. As my own meter readings failed to provide any useful information, my doctor proposed continuous glucose monitoring as the first step. That means wearing a blood glucose sensor attached to the body continuously for a week or so, with a monitoring device recording the value from that sensor every 5 minutes. For the first time, I was able to see how my blood glucose really behaved. No more shotgun charts. The resulting chart was rather a roller coaster, showing the glucose go up and down, sometimes fast, some times slower. Very far from the ideal curve, but providing so much more insight than the isolated dots of the meter.

I made other changes in my life as well. I got married, adopted a more static life style, started to eat regular meals at regular intervals again, traveled a lot less than before. I got an insulin pump, and with it a lot more information and education about diabetes. I'm making progress again! One of the important things I learned was that physical exercise only helps in managing diabetes when it is performed at least two times a week. Exercise taking place less often just causes the body to get confused, and stressed in a bad way. Still, what I have learned the most from, are the data from my continuous glucose monitoring sessions, of which there are now several, and all the information they have provided me with.

So that's where I'm coming from. Future updates to this blog will concentrate on my notions of what helps in getting most information out of that data, and, perhaps even more so, what prevents diabetics from getting the most benefits out of continuous glucose monitoring, insulin pump, or diabetes management in general. Specifically, I'll be planning a new software product for managing all the information relevant to treatment of diabetes, and keeping the internet posted on my progress on that.

Anything you'd like to comment on?

Making Sense of Trends (Part 1/2)

This blog entry provides some background information about myself as a diabetic, in two parts. This first part describes my life when I was first diagnosed as a diabetic.

So, I'm a type 1 diabetic, and have been for over 14 years now.

When I was first diagnosed, I welcomed the condition as a friend. I had been working too much, sleeping too little, and my eating habits had been really poor. I considered, and still consider, diabetes to be a distress call from my body, asking me to take better care of myself. That call forced me to put things in perspective. Diabetes gave me the reason to pause my work for a meal every once a while, and to think about what I eat and how I exercise, and to value myself more over the things I was working on.

My first years with diabetes were good. I actually felt my quality of life had increased. I now ate regularly, which, as I only recently have learned, is also a major factor in general happiness. I also played a lot of different sports. That I had always done, but all physical exercise now gave me even more satisfaction, when I knew it was good for my diabetes as well. I faced no problems injecting the insulin or calculating the carbohydrates in my meals. I have later learned that such a "honeymoon" period is common with type 1 diabetics in the initial phase of the condition, when the pancreas still produces some insulin. A major factor was also the fact that I kept learning new things about myself and about diabetes, and I found that interesting and satisfying.

However, eventually the novelty wore off. And gradually, without me even noticing it, things started to get worse.

The treatment of diabetes in general kept getting better and better, allowing for more flexibility in a diabetic's life. My original treatment plan forced me to eat fixed size meals at regular intervals, but the new fast insulin allowed me to eat whenever and how much ever, without even the obligatory post-meal snack two hours after the meal. So I ate less regularly, and enjoyed the new freedom (I did not yet know what effect regular eating times have on happiness). I still did some sports, but also that less regularly. I traveled a lot for work, and kept myself quite busy with it. At the same time, I started to pay less attention to my treatment, and visit the health care professionals less often.

When I occasionally did pay a visit to a health care professional, the lab results always said I was healthy apart from diabetes, my HbA1c values (a long term metric for diabetics) was not perfect but still good. What was discouraging, however, was the spread of the results of my own blood glucose meter. Blood glucose results, metered several times per day, together with notes of estimated carbohydrates per meals and of physical exercise, are the most essential tool in the adjustment of the treatment of any diabetic. They should show distinguishable trends, such as if you're injecting too much insulin for the night time, for instance, which causes the blood glucose levels to be too low in the morning. My results did not show such trends. In fact, they revealed no clear patterns. Rather, they were a shot gun chart, plenty of measurement points scattered almost evenly across the canvas. There was nothing to learn from them, except for the fact that they definitely should be more aligned to reveal any information that could be used to adjust my treatment. However, I never really reacted on this. I wasn't desperate to improve on that, as the lab results said I was OK anyway. I felt content with my life as it was.

Enough text for one post already, right? Read on to part 2 when you feel like it.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Hello, World!

Hello, World! is a concept from the programming world. For a programmer learning a new programming language, the first thing to do is to create a program that outputs this magical sentence. During the past 15 years, I've written my fair share of programs like that.

Today, I'll be starting a life in a new world. I agreed with my employer I'll be taking some time off after summer holidays, and will be putting my efforts into something really important for myself, personally. So hello, the world of entrepreneurship!

With this Hello World post I'm also greeting the blogosphere. I haven't really been around much so far. So please feel free to guide me, let me know the best practices, and show me around.