Feb 21

New(est) Media Will Ruin Society/Children/Intelligence

The most recent episode of On the Media (If you like, you can listen to the segment from On The Media here) alerted me to this piece by Dr. Vaughan Bell in Slate. (I can hear someone out there saying: “Hah! Rothman was alerted to a piece in an online-only magazine by an old media life FM radio!” And he/she is right.)

Bell writes:

Worries about information overload are as old as information itself, with each generation reimagining the dangerous impacts of technology on mind and brain. From a historical perspective, what strikes home is not the evolution of these social concerns, but their similarity from one century to the next, to the point where they arrive anew with little having changed except the label.

This is very entertaining stuff. Bell links to this article from the Journal of the History of Ideas by Ann Clair:

This article surveys some of the ways in which early modern scholars responded to what they perceived as an overabundance of books. In addition to owning more books and applying selective judgment as well as renewed diligence to their reading and note-taking, scholars devised shortcuts, sometimes based on medieval antecedents. These shortcuts included the use of the alphabetical index, whether printed or handmade, to read a book in parts, and the use of reference books, amanuenses, abbreviations, or the cutting and pasting from printed or manuscript sources to save time and effort in note-taking.

Other examples include Socrates warnings on the danger of writing and fantasy tales, Malesherbes complaining that newspapers “socially isolated readers,” and an 1883 article which argued that schools “exhaust the children’s brains and nervous systems with complex and multiple studies, and ruin their bodies by protracted imprisonment.”

Go read Bell’s whole article.

Loved this quote from Douglas Adams that Bell mentions:

“Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.”

Feb 21

How to: Add a Free Medical Dictionary to Word 2003/2007

Got an email from a friend the other day:

“I wonder if you have found a free add-on for Word 2003 that includes medical terms in the spell check feature and is secure enough for me to recommend to my users at the hospital?”

This is such a great question and something that has come up at my place of work previously. Out of the box, Microsoft Office Word doesn’t recognize a whole lot of the specialized medical vocabulary that people at our hospital use every day. The result of this is that Word frequently fails to recognize clinical terms and underlines them in red, essentially making them false positives for spelling errors.

Only one employee in my department has Stedman’s medical dictionary installed in her copy of Word 2003 because paying a license for each copy used in an entire hospital would add up to an unmanageable sum quite quickly.

Among the books made available to all employees through our hospital’s intranet is a medical dictionary- and that’s okay for the kinds of people who don’t mind stopping what they’re doing to look up a word, but it would be so much faster and easier for Word to be able to spell-check and correct spelling issues with medical terms.

So I promised the friend I’d think it over and come up with some recommendations.

In MS Word, a “dictionary” is just a list of words.

That’s all. Nothing on pronunciation, etymology, or definition.

A quick search reveals that these “dictionaries” (word lists) are stored as .dic files.

Microsoft even tells you how to MAKE a custom dictionary.

So, what we really need is a list of words to turn into a custom dictionary.

OpenMedSpel is pretty awesome.
Free, open source, and released under a GPL license, OpenMedSpel includes nearly 50,000 medical terms. This is all looks great, but while they have a plug-in for OpenOffice, there doesn’t seem to be one for MS Word.

No problem, though. I took apart a .dic file, and it is pretty much a .txt file with a word on each line, renamed with a “.dic” file extension. This means we can just download the .txt version (in the .zip fail available here) and rename it from OpenMedSpel 100.txt to OpenMedSpel 100.dic and save it to our computer.If you want to take a shortcut, you can download my .dic file here (right-click, Save As), but please note I don’t plan on keeping it updated as OpenSpelMed makes changes- so if you’re reading this more than a year after it was posted, I’d go get a fresh copy of the .txt file from OpenMedSpel. Firefox users: Firefox’s native spell-checking isn’t bad at all, but OpenMedSpel has a free Firefox plug-in you’ll probably want to check out.

To add this .dic file to Word (2003 or 2007), we just follow these instructions from Microsoft:

  1. Start Word.
  2. In Microsoft Office Word 2003 and in earlier versions of Word, click Options on the Tools menu.

    In Microsoft Office Word 2007, click the Microsoft Office Button, and then click Word Options.

  3. In Word 2003 and in earlier versions of Word, click Custom Dictionaries on the Spelling & Grammar tab.

    In Word 2007, click Proofing, and then click Custom Dictionaries under When correcting spelling in Microsoft Office programs.

  4. Click New to create a new custom dictionary.
  5. In the File name box, type a name for the
    new custom dictionary, and then click Save.

    The custom dictionary is added to the Dictionary list.

  6. In the Custom Dictionaries dialog box, click OK, and then click OK in the Options dialog box.

That’s it. You have medical term spell-checking in Word 2003 or Word 2007.

PLEASE NOTE: I would not hesitate to recommend this solution to my hospital’s CIO and could demonstrate to him why there is absolutely no security risk in adding this .dic file- but I wouldn’t go around setting it up on other employees’ computers without his go-ahead.

Want to go with a bigger word list?

The MTHerald blog has built on the OpenMedSpel list to one that contains almost 100,000 terms. I downloaded and checked it out and will recommend it as a harmless, malware-free .dic file- but as with any file I don’t host myself, I can’t promise that’ll be true tomorrow.

There are a number of other sources for lists of medical terms or abbreviations you can find online and add to your .dic file as suits you.

Know of any other especially good sources? Please advise in the comments.

Feb 13

Big Pharma in your iPhone and Nintendo

From The Independant: Medicines not working? There’s an app for that

(Is anyone else completely done with the “There’s an app for that” meme?)

Novartis, for example, signed a $24 million (£15.3 million) deal last month with US-based Proteus Biomedical to create “smart pills” that can transmit data from inside the body to monitor patients’ vital signs and check they have taken medicines as prescribed.

Bayer is connecting its glucometer for diabetic children to Nintendo’s video-gaming consoles to promote consistent blood sugar testing.

And Johnson & Johnson’s Lifescan unit has an iPhone application that lets users upload readings from their connected blood glucose monitors to their Apple phone.

Feb 10

Yet Another Reason to Love the NLM: Emergency Access Initiative

I just caught up and noticed this…and think it is brilliant.


The Emergency Access Initiative (EAI) is a partnership of the National Library of Medicine, the National Network of Libraries of Medicine, and the Professional/Scholarly Publishing Division of the Association of American Publishers. EAI provides free access to full text articles from major biomedicine titles to healthcare professionals, librarians, and the public in the United States affected by disasters.

Of course, I won’t be using this because I’m not doing anything related to the disaster in Haiti- but the NLM deserves all kinds of attention and praise for doing this, as do contributing publishers:

American Academy of Pediatrics, American Association for the Advancement of Science, American College of Physicians, American Society of Health-Systems Pharmacists, ASM Press, B.C. Decker, BMJ, Elsevier, FA Davis, Mary Ann Liebert, Massachusetts Medical Society, McGraw-Hill, Merck Publishing, Oxford University Press, People’s Medical Publishing House, Springer, University of Chicago Press, Wiley, and Wolters Kluwer.

Feb 09

USDA and Social Media

In my previous post about social media endeavors at the CDC and HHS, I should also have mentioned the United States Department of Agriculture.Full disclosure: My friend Craig Stoltz is working on USDA social media projects, and they’re very lucky to have him. There are a lot of social media “experts” who are not actually all that expert- but Craig really knows his stuff.

Are there other government agencies (related to health and/or healthcare) with social media projects I haven’t noticed yet? Please let me know in the comments?

Feb 08

CDC and HHS Guidelines/Policies on Social Media

Does it say something that these .gov agencies have formal social media operations and policies?

Centers for Disease Control
CDC Social Media Tools Guidelines & Best Practices

Front page for social media at the CDC:

Health and Human Services
The HHS Center for New Media, Standards and Policies

Front page for HHS Center for New Media:

Brief “interview” from AdAge with Andrew P. Wilson, web manager for HHS:


Pblackshaw: So Andrew, does the Health and Human Services Department really have a social-media team?

AndrewPWilson: Yes. See http://tinyurl.com/accz97. The social-media outreach effort is being directed by the department’s new Social Media Center.

Pblackshaw: What does that mean — Social Media Center? Just you? A full team? A body of activity?

AndrewPWilson: People in the department have been working with social media for some time, e.g., http://tinyurl.com/bsrtt8 (and others). Now we’re starting broader initiatives.

Pblackshaw: But just you? What’s your role?

AndrewPWilson: It’s still evolving but much more than just me. To start, developing resources and expertise in the dept to help HHS understand and use new tools.

Feb 08

Atul Gawande on The Daily Show

Among the things I like: Patient safety, Jon Stewart, and Atul Gawande.

Gawande talks with Stewart about The Checklist Manifesto (video embedded below).

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Atul Gawande
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political Humor Health Care Crisis

Steven Levitt calls this “…the best book I’ve read in ages.”

Dagnabbit. Now I need to read it.

Feb 07

“Information Overload” vs. “Filter Failure”

on 1/10/2008, I wrote:

I’m sincerely flabbergasted to hear a librarian (or any information professional) complain that there is “too much data” or “too many RSS feeds.”

“Web 2.0” doesn’t cause an information glut. What causes an information glut is being an information glutton, taking on more than anyone can reasonably manage. There aren’t too many RSS feeds. Rather, there are users who subscribe to too many RSS feeds. The solution isn’t for less data to exist, the solution is smarter, more selective use of the data. The tools that help us filter and manage the information that we care most about are continuing to improve in power and sophistication.

Nice to see Clay Shirky agree:

Feb 03

Making “David Pogue Direct”

So a reader writes to NYT technology columnist David Pogue, saying he wishes there was one button he could push to receive all Pogue’s writings and videos. The reader even suggests a name for this: “David Pogue Direct.” It’s a great idea.

But David Pogue says there’s no “one-click Pogue subscription” and that to catch all his content online, one has to subscribe to multiple sources in multiple formats.

I think that stinks. I think there should be a one-click way to keep up with Pogue. After all, he’s one of my favorite writers on technology.

So…let’s see if we CAN make a one-click Pogue Subscription.

We already have an RSS feed for Pogue’s Posts (his NYT blog):

To get his columns, Pogue suggests an email subscription (bleah!).

Here’s the feed for his NYT columns:

Pogue only has one solution to get his videos syndicated, and one to get them sans syndication:

* VIDEOS: Subscribe through iTunes . This is better than finding them on the Web, because (a) you’ll never miss one, (b) no ads, (c) higher quality, (d) iPhone/iPod compatibility, and (e) they’re downloaded files, so you can play them at will.

[UPDATE: If you’re not into iTunes, you can also get the videos on nytimes.com, from my video channel here. Unfortunately, I don’t see a way to subscribe to it automatically.]

We can do better than that.

Want to subscribe to Pogue videos without having to use iTunes?

Subscribe to one of these feeds in your favorite aggregator:
http://nytsynvideo.com/itunes/5 (.mp4, no advertisements)
http://video.nytimes.com/video/playlist/technology/david-pogue/1194811622273/index.html?rss=1 (Links to each new Flash video on the NYT Web site, has advertisements)

Pogue gives his Twitter user ID, but that isn’t suitable for a one-click “Pogue Direct” solution, so we’ll grab the RSS feed for his Twitter stream:

So, let’s use Yahoo! Pipes to slap ’em all together. While in Pipes, we’ll even add a word to the front of each title so you know which feed the item is coming from.

Want a single RSS feed? Here you go:

Prefer to get that via email? (I don’t recommend it. Who wants an email every time David Pogue Tweets?)

Enter your email address:

Preview of David Pogue Direct:

I did this for fun and to see if I could. If Mr. Pogue objects, I will of course disable all of this. I’m a fan, after all.

Still, wouldn’t it be smart of the NYT to offer a convenient, one-click channel for David Pogue’s content? Slapping this together took me 20 minutes. Imagine how cool it could be if the NYT did it.

Feb 01

Notes on the Motorola DROID and #androidapps (#mlamobile)

I finally broke down and bought a Motorola DROID from Verizon several weeks ago- that’s the new phone that runs Google’s Android 2.0.1 Operating System.

Thus far, I don’t regret the decision.

AT&T’s coverage where I live stinks, so as much as I like the iPhone, it just wasn’t an option for me. Fortunately, the DROID does most things as well as the iPhone, and does some things much better than the iPhone.

I agree with most of the accolades and criticisms you’ve probably already read about the DROID.

Things I Like:

The touchscreen is large, responsive, and looks terrific.

Syncing of my Gmail contacts, my work contacts, and my Facebook contacts is pretty darn great. I always have ALL my contact information on me- and it is updated whenever Facebook, my Gmail contacts, or the Address Books at my place of work are updated.

The “open” model is appealing. Even without having a rooted phone, I have *much* more control over the device than with an iPhone. If there’s any file I want on my Droid, I can put it there without jumping through any hoops. I have complete control over the file structure. iPhone/iTouch users has undoubtedly been annoyed by how strictly Apple controls what can (and cannot) be moved over the device’s USB cable and have to use third party applications to move data from an iPod/iTouch to a new computer- even if that data has no DCM.

Customization-I can tweak so much about the DROID’s interface that it took me several days to explore a lot of options and make some decisions about how I wanted it laid out. As my continued use of it reveals new/different/unexpected needs, I can quickly and easily make changes.

Navigation design is good- getting around the DROID takesa bit of getting used to, but it makes sense and I can customize shortcuts to almost any application, document, directory, etc- so common tasks are accomplished quickly.

The Notification Panel is GREAT. I’m never interrupted, just notified.

MPOW supported my access to my (Exchange) work email and work calendar immediately- cleverly, it interfaces through Outlook Web Access, which makes supporting the device’s access to Exchange a very easy decision for the Information Systems department. I win, they win. Everyone is happy with no additional work. (Our IS department has some security concerns about iPhone access to our Exchange server and Blackberries require an enterprise server to make Blackberries play nice with Exchange.)

It is a good TELEPHONE. The sound quality is about as good as can be expected from a mobile phone.

There’s a nifty little app called Call Filter that blocks calls from unknown numbers (i.e. telemarketers) or any number you tell it to block. This is especially useful if you keep getting “wrong number” calls from one particular source.

Other useful telephony apps include Phonalyzr, which analyzes your phone usage:

Dial Zero is useful little utility that lists companies alphabetically. Choose the company and it’ll give you a number to click (which the Droid will dial), then tell you how to game the voicemail system to get to a human being as fast as possible.

Awesome Apps for Android
All of these are available from the Android Market.

SugarSync may remind some of Dropbox (mentioned during the #mlamobile Webcast for the iPhone/iTouch), but actually does a good deal MORE than just synch files between my DROID and folders on other computers. I can stream media files from my home computer to my DROID, if I want. More here: https://www.sugarsync.com/downloads/android.html

Locale is incredibly cool.

I have it set up to send status messages to Twitter when I get to work or when I go to my Mother-in-law’s house. I’d eventually like to set up a simple status board for Liz and I so each would always be able to quickly check where the other is. Imagine that I could tap my phone and see quickly if Liz is on campus, at her mom’s, or somewhere else. I also have Locale (with a WOL plugin) set up to wake up my home computer as I approach our house after work.

I also have it set up to prevent my phone from ringing when my calendar says I’m in a meeting. (Can your iPhone do that?) It also stops notifying me of new work email between 5:00 PM and 8:00 AM.

I also have it set up so if my battery falls below 30% of capacity it alerts me to plug in and shuts down all non-essential functions (don’t want to miss a call from my wife because I was using it for something power-intensive, right?)

abcOrganizer is a great way to be able to manage and access a great number of applications, shortcuts, contacts, or any other objects in Android in a compressed, organized fashion. Click on the category icon and a window of the apps in that category pops up. Yes, you could do this just by using Android’s native folders, too- but I like AbcOrganizer better. I get to choose my own icons. 🙂

For those who like reading comics in .cbr or .cbz format, check out ACV:

For books, I’ve use mostly FBreader and have read a few novels in it now. No eye strain for me, and the night display (black background, white text of adjustable brightness) keeps it from annoying my wife.

AndFTP is an awesome file explorer and FTP client for your Android device. Soooooo convenient to access my FTP server this way. Also supports SFTP and FTPS. The Estrongs File Explorer is another good client for managing media files via LAN or FTP.

ES File Explorer is also great.

Barcode Scanner is really neat. It’ll scan the barcode on an item and try to find prices for you elsewhere. Even cooler for those of us who like books: If the book is scanned by Google Books, you can scan the barcode and search within that book. We live in the future.

Medical/Health Info:

PubMed Mobile is okay:

It is at least better than AgileMedsearch:

So, thus far there aren’t a ton of health info apps for Android that I find exciting.

In the meanwhile, my favorite health info destinations on my DROID are the new MedlinePlus Mobile and Unbound MEDLINE, both of which run in the browser.