Alaska’s rural communities are seeing an increase in bed bug infestation. It’s a problem that can feel overwhelming, embarrassing, and difficult to control.Mattress covers, trash bags, caulk, and CimeXa dust are among the tools BBAHC is sending rural Alaskans as part of an EPA grant. (Photo courtesy of BBAHC)Now, the Bristol Bay Area Health Corporation and the Tanana Chiefs Conference are helping rural Alaskans fight bed bugs with a $100,000 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.Download AudioIt was the dead of winter, about six years ago, when Tina Tinker first started finding itchy bites on her body.“That’s how I found out, because I’m kinda allergic to bed bugs, because I swell up really bad, I mean I get a big welt,” Tinker said.She and her husband did the first thing she thought of: they threw out everything in the bedroom.“We moved the bed, the dressers, everything out of my room and we stuck them all outside. At the time it was like 30-40 below,” says Tinker.She’d find out later that freezing isn’t the best way to kill bed bugs. But this was just the beginning.Tinker lives in the village of Aleknagik – she’s the IGAP environmental coordinator there. And when the bed bugs struck, she didn’t own a washing machine. So her next step was a major trip to the laundromat, about a half hour away.“So I had to bring them down to the Dillingham laundromat, and that cost me about $700 just to dry and wash those clothes,” Tinker said.Over the next year and a half, Tinker waged an all-out war against her bed bugs. She said there wasn’t any program or resources to turn to locally. So she was going off of hearsay and her own research.“I basically went on Google, and did some reading, and from there I kinda took it in my own hands,” says Tinker.Bed Bug (Photo courtesy of UAF Cooperative Extension Service)It was an expensive effort. She had to order supplies to be shipped in from Anchorage, and she once took a week off work to steam-clean, scrub and vacuum her entire house.And Tinker said her infestation cost her her social life, too.“You know, you go through a change in your personality,” Tinker recalled. “I felt embarrassed, and I felt like people kinda shunned me once they found out that I had bed bugs. They just kinda kept away. But then I kinda told my friends too, you know, you shouldn’t be coming to my home because you could bring them back and infest your home.”Tinker said she lost a lot of sleep to stress over those months. But her diligence and hard work finally paid off. The bugs were gone, and stayed gone for four or five years.Then a few weeks ago she had another scare, when her son came home from a trip and found bites on his body.This time, though, Tinker wasn’t alone. She went to the Bristol Bay Area Health Corporation, to the office of environmental health specialist Jen Skarada.Skarada is heading up a two-year effort, in coordination with the Tanana Chiefs Conference, to fight bed bugs throughout rural Alaska.Bed bug infestations have been on the rise in the U.S. in recent years. But Skarada says the issue is even worse in Bush Alaska, where people depend on air travel to get anywhere.“The bed bug is actually known as the hitchhiker bug, it generally crawls onto a person or their luggage, so since we have to get on a plane pretty much to go anywhere,” Skarada said. “Also, in rural Alaska we just don’t have tools that we do on the road system or lower 48. It gets out of control because you don’t have the tools.”This is Skarada’s main focus right now. She’s already sent out nearly 30 tool kits, which include mattress covers, trash bags, gloves, caulk to seal up little crevices, “climb-up” to put on the legs of beds, and CimeXa dust, a fine powder that kills bugs by dehydrating them.Along with the toolkit, Skarada gives out information. She’s trying to squash misconceptions about bed bugs.“A lot of people ask, all the time, they’re like is this a bed bug bite? And they’ll hold out their arm or whatever,” Skarada said . “But you know, we have a lot of biting insects in Alaska. Some people don’t even react to the bites, because it’s an allergic reaction. Some might break out into hives, some might just have a small red dot.So that’s the first thing I try to let people know – don’t use the bite as a sign.”It’s better to look for the flat, reddish brown bug itself, or for the skin it sheds five times on the way to becoming an adult. Or, Skarada said, you might find bed bug poop.“A lot of times that’s the first sign people see, the fecal stains,” Skarada said. “They can look almost like a Reddish rust stain, and sometimes even like a mold color.”So, bed bugs are gross, they cause stress and loss of sleep… But maybe the worst thing about having bed bugs is the social stigma.Bed bugs go through five life stages before becoming adults “about the size of an apple seed.” (Photo courtesy of BBAHC)“Just because they have bed bugs doesn’t mean they’re dirty people. Don’t shun them because we all have feelings,” Tinker reminded. “My Auntie Paulie, she’s an elder in her 70s, she says like this: don’t be embarrassed that you got bed bugs, because they just bite, they so she said not to be embarrassed about it, because everyone will get them.”Anyone can get bed bugs, but BBAHC and TCC are trying to slow that trend. They plan to send out over 100 more toolkits around the state.Next year, phase two of the project will go even bigger, giving out tent-like hot-boxes so communities can work together to turn up the heat on their bed bugs.Dealing with bed bugs and need help? Contact BBAHC Environmental Health at (907) 842-3396.
Also with MobileTogether 2.1, there are new controls to allow developers to add visual elements to their UIs, new actions, and new XPath functions, properties and operators.Amazon adds functionality to Alexa Skills Kit for developersToday Amazon introduced the Smart Home Skill API for the Alexa Skills Kit, which enables developers to add capabilities to Alexa. Developers can now teach Alexa how to control their cloud-controlled lighting and thermostat devices so customers can give Alexa commands like, “Alexa, turn on the kitchen lights.”With this API, there is no need to build a voice interaction model to handle customer requests. This work is done when the Smart Home API is used. Developers can create skills that connect the devices directly to the lighting and thermostat capabilities so that customers can control their lights, switches, smartplugs or thermostats.Amazon first introduced the Smart Home Skill API as a beta called the Alexa Lighting API in August 2015. As part of the beta program, the company worked with other companies such as Ecobee, Nest, Samsung SmartThings, Sensi and Wink to gather developer feedback while extending Alexa’s smarthome capabilities to work with its devices. Altova announced this morning new pricing and functionality for MobileTogether 2.1, a framework for building and deploying native mobile apps.Version 2.1 introduced more than 20 features based on developer feedback, from functionality for building tables, to error-handling actions, and also flexible options for UI design.With MobileTogether 2.1, the app development environment is free of charge, so it can be rolled out to an unlimited number of developers in a company. Besides the new pricing, the enhancements to tables in MobileTogether 21 include scrollable tables and the ability to align nested tables. These enhancements will help developers for building tables of any size, said the company.“Support for scrollable tables provides flexibility for table creation in MobileTogether,” wrote Erin Cavanaugh, marketing director for Altova, on the company’s blog. “Now, to ensure easy display on devices of all sizes, developers can set the maximum visible size of a table, or set it to fit the rest of the screen, with horizontal or vertical scrolling enabled to view the rest.”
“There is a megashift in how buying and selling works,” she said. “When we think about what a buyer might do, we think about context. [We] think about the future of the way companies are going to communicate with customers. It’s going to be all direct. We’re not going to go to stores and buy through a third-party. We’re going to go online to schedule our appointments, or we’re going to have mobile apps where we’re directly interfacing with our banks and uploading pictures of our checks. All of those company-customer interactions are going direct.”What it really means is that CRM is in transformation. “When you engage with a bank, and you’re online, or I’m in my app, or I call the call center to tell them I’m traveling … none of those things connect together,” she said. “My context doesn’t follow me around. When I call the call center, they don’t really know what I’ve been doing on the web, they don’t have any history of my interactions. Even something so simple like, I’m a high-travel customer. I fly a lot. And I continuously have to call my bank and say I’m traveling. They don’t have a way to say, ‘Michel is a high-travel customer, we should treat her differently.’ So I think the future of CRM is this notion of context and personalization.”As companies connect all their points of data collection, businesses start to get a picture of the user. “Over time, you can see patterns,” Feaster said. “You sent me 20 emails and I never opened one, but every SMS you sent was responded to. Ideally, they will tag me as a user who prefers SMS. They can learn about me and engage me how I want to be engaged. You can’t change how you engage without connected data.”Oh, and about that loss of privacy? Feaster said: “Someone will invent a business where you and I can opt out of our communication channels, or say ‘We prefer texts, we don’t like phone calls.’ ” In this world of capturing huge amounts of data from individuals – from the headphones we wear understanding our listening habits and moods, to geolocation, to how we drive – many fear the loss of personal privacy.Michel Feaster, CEO of a startup called Usermind, sees it differently. All of this data collection and analysis “is kind of inevitable in a world that’s gone digital. After all, the web is 20 years old. You can’t put that back into the Pandora’s box.” The Internet world is a world in which we all have a massive digital footprint. “Some call it breadcrumbs,” Feaster said. She used the “Peanuts” character Pig-Pen as an analogy. The character is so dirty that he walks around in a perpetual cloud of dirt. “In our world, it’s a cloud of data, and it’s only going to become more rich.”Feaster says there is so much benefit to the user if a company can tailor its interactions with that user. “The flip side of the privacy issue is that there are a lot of really good things that can come out of that. I’m a good example. I like Pandora, and part of why I like Pandora is that I don’t really have the time to discover new artists… I love the fact when I like a bunch of things on Pandora, they curate music for me. I listen to music when I run or exercise; I enjoy that, and I’ve discovered so many amazing artists through Pandora’s curation. So to me… there’s so much benefit to the user if the company can tailor the interactions and add value through the data. A lot of data will fall into the world of value add, and the companies that mine that, and use that, are going to win.”Which illustrates Feaster’s belief that context and personalization will become king. Today, however, context does not follow us around like Pig-Pen’s cloud, because of the myriad ways we connect with companies: call centers, mobile apps, website bots and more. And today, not all of these systems are connected, because each of the people on the backend is connecting with the user on a different platform. The technology landscape is too fragmented at this point to get the context companies need for the kinds of personalized interactions Feaster sees as the future of business.