Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Back from the West Texas Town of El Paso

I did not fall in love with a Mexican maid, but I've played a lot of cards, spent a lot of time making and laughing at awesome family jokes (really, really awesome in many cases), cracked and eaten a heroic amount of pecans (they grow on a tree in the back yard), and slept a little. 

The planes took off and landed near enough to on-schedule as not to be worth complaining about, and the trip was uneventful. My main complaint is having lost my water bottle because I forgot I'd filled it after going through Security in El Paso, and then we had to change terminals in LaGuardia and go through again. Note to LaGuardia: connect your terminals like a normal airport, will you? Thanks.

Regardless, it was a good vacation.

Happy new year to all my legions of followers, and I will attempt to get caught up on my blog reading next month.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

But Before I Go--

Many of us may have heard before that NORAD tracks Santa each year (now illustrated with images from Google Earth), but this year, they've set it up so you can also follow his progress via Twitter!

What a time to be alive.

This was another timely update from Jane's E-learning Pick of the Day.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Vacation Ho!

I am going to be away for a week visiting family, and am unlikely to either read or post to blogs. My legions of devoted followers and followees will, surely, await my return with bated breath.

In the meantime, safe travels to travelers, and happy holidays to all.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Solstice at Last

The days will start getting longer! More light! We're not condemned to freeze forever!

I was getting worried, what with the snow and the waking up in darkness every morning and walking home in darkness every night. 

I know, it will be a while before I actually notice a difference. But it'll happen. I have fair confidence in the ecliptic.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Ooh, Here's One for the Pages!

This is so going on my vital and health statistics subject page. When it's got some information on it, I mean.

The State of the USA will track 20 key indicators of national health, broken into three categories. Just look at the fine data we will one day have available for ready perusal:

Health Outcomes

  • Life Expectancy at Birth
  • Infant Mortality
  • Life Expectancy at Age 65
  • Injury–Related Mortality
  • Self-Reported Health Status
  • Unhealthy Days, Physical and Mental 
  • Chronic Disease Prevalence
  • Serious Psychological Distress

Health-Related Behaviors

  • Smoking
  • Physical Activity
  • Excessive Drinking
  • Nutrition
  • Obesity
  • Condom Use

Health Systems

  • Health Care Expenditures
  • Insurance Coverage
  • Unmet Medical, Dental, and Prescription Drug Needs
  • Preventive Services
  • Preventable Hospitalizations
  • Childhood Immunization

These 20 indicators were chosen based on the advice of the Institute of Medicine, another organization for which I feel great fondness.

This is gonna be sweet.

Health Populi alerted me to the coming sweetness, thus earning my eternal gratitude. 

Thursday, December 18, 2008


The NY Times' Well has a post on six medical myths of the holidays. 

Things we've probably all heard, but that turn out not to be supported by solid evidence.

So you can go ahead and:
  • feed your kids sugar straight out of the bag (it doesn't make 'em hyperactive);
  • taunt the depressed people among you (suicides do not increase over the holidays);
  • chow down on poinsettias (not poisonous);
  • forget your hat (only 10% of body heat escapes through the head);
  • eat at any hour of the day or night (eating late at night is not more associated with weight gain than eating at any other time);
  • and always drink in moderation (there is no proven cure for a hangover).

I know I plan to take all that to heart.

Well, except for taunting depressed people. That's just mean. 

But the big poinsettia salad, that's going on the menu. Also handfuls of sugar for all the children I meet. Here you go, kid! Parents love that.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Mmm, New MeSH Vocabulary

The NLM Technical Bulletin reports that PubMed's MeSH Browser has been updated with the 2009 MeSH vocabulary. 

This is the kind of thing that just makes my heart go pit-a-pat. 

Check out this Introduction to MeSH 2009 for details, including new, changed and deleted descriptors. They added Telenursing! And Wilderness Medicine! But not Medical Professionalism, which is what I'm writing a tutorial on. Oh well.

In other news, apparently it's a good time to be a librarian, as U.S. News and World Report has declared that it's a Best Career for 2009.

The Annoyed Librarian is annoyed about the story, feeling that it casts an overly optimistic light on a grim and dreary field, while Stephen's Lighthouse has a more upbeat take but notes that everytime he posts a positive story, people comment, "saying it's not true and their lives are awful and the world is ending." 

My initial snarky instinct was to remark that I'm certainly pleased that my decision to move to a lower-paying job right before the economy collapsed has been validated by the national media...but overall, I'm basically on the upbeat side. 

After all, I get to care about the 2009 MeSH vocabulary! Woooo! 

Clearly, I need to be in this job.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Moderately Amused Movie Review: "Yes Man"

If you've seen even a hint of a preview, you already know what this movie is about.

Stodgy guy who never does anything interesting commits to saying 'yes' to every opportunity that arises, and wacky hijinks ensue.

So the question you have is, were the wacky hijinks funny enough to be worth watching? 

There were funny moments. If you dislike Jim Carrey, you'll want to stay away: he does his standard crazy-face-making stuff, and it's occasionally amusing and occasionally feels kind of forced. Also, he looks a little old for it in this particular film. 

His two best pals in the movie really look like they're his kid brother's pals who happen to be hanging out with him for reasons unknown. I mean, I'm all for people of different ages being friends. Absolutely. It's good to hang out with people at different stages of life--you get the benefit of different viewpoints and experiences and takes on things.

But here the friendship was sort of presented as being one of those college-buddy things, and unless Jim Carrey's character (Carl Allen, if you want to know) took a long time to get through college, that doesn't really work.

Nevertheless, there are some funny scenes as Carl takes on all sorts of strange challenges and engages with quirky people, and some possibly-heartwarming scenes (I am too grouchy to have my heart warmed, but someone might) as he meets and falls for Zooey Deschanel's character (Allison something).

Allison is a bit of Manic Pixie Dream Girl, but, in a twist for the type, is not called upon to draw the hero from his shell and add whimsy to his life, since he's already doing that with the 'yes' thing. She actually kind of becomes the voice of reason.

Also, there's Terence Stamp. I will say no more. It's just, he's Terence Stamp

So yeah, not the most hilarious movie I've ever seen, but good for some laughs of a Monday evening. It felt basically good-natured, and most of the jokes did not make me cringe. It was all right, you know?

I did not percieve any very profound health or library tie-ins. But cell phones were prominently featured, so there's a technology hook. The characters could all have been Twittering a lot without mentioning it. 

Plus, Allison's band has a song that talks about a hacker friend who's deleted someone's MySpace and Facebook pages. Topical!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Twitter for Health

Science Roll has some interesting ideas for using Twitter in health management contexts, including automatic tweets to a doctor if a patient's blood pressure or blood sugar strays from optimal levels.

The post is inspired by a man who's designed a sensor that monitors a pregnant woman's belly (his wife, though presumably the idea would transfer) and automatically generates a tweet whenever the baby kicks. I guess this is cool, although personally I don't know if I'd want to wear a kick-monitor around all the time if I were a pregnant woman. 

But to each its own (call back to my own recent grammar whine, thank you!) 

Still, very interesting thoughts about how we might use these new media to keep physicians updated about their patients.

One can almost imagine, given enough monitoring sensors, a sort of automated background check of one's system functions, with regular updates: "Ten o'clock and all's well!"

Or, "Sound the alarm, blood pressure is rising!"

Which is interesting, and certainly in no way disturbing to contemplate from a privacy standpoint.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Focus! Focus!

This evening I was pleased to participate in an online focus group for a consumer product (platform provided by Invoke Solutions). 

It was kind of fun. Reminded me a little of being back in online school, but with less free chat and more "rank the following possible product names in order of how much they make you want to rush out and buy this." 

But the general idea is much the same, with slides on one part of the screen and another section dedicated to communication, in this case via text and between one moderator and everyone else.

I think the product managers probably either loved or hated me (depending on whether my comments were intelligent or merely annoying), since I seemed to say a lot more in answer to every question than anyone else. Not having anything to say has rarely been considered a problem of mine when 'saying'='typing.'

I am sworn to secrecy about the product we were focusing on, but let me just say that now would be a good time to send me lots of chocolate.*

In any case, the distance-participation technology continues to advance, so I see no reason why I will not shortly be able to do everything in life from inside my living room, including provide exemplary library service and receive chocolate.

*This is true of all times. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Rights of Humans

Feministing points out that today is the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Cool.

Unfortunately, I doubt anyone would say that universal human rights have been achieved in the 60 years since it was declared, but it was a good thought, and certainly remains something to work towards.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Protecting You from Socialization

Stephen's Lighthouse reports the weird fact that the Calgary airport, while it offers free wireless internet (which is certainly good) blocks access to Twitter and Facebook.

Hmm. I don't know, this just seems bizarre to me. I suppose it's based on that panicky idea of social networking sites as seething swamps filled with sex predators trying to befriend naive children, and the airport doesn't want to risk an outcry? (After all, where better than an airport to lure a child into a restroom...OK, I'm just going to stop.)

Because otherwise, what are the airport tech people trying to do? Protect people from possibly missing their flight announcements because they're so enthralled with posting status updates? 

The post does not report on the accessibility or otherwise of MySpace, Orkut, Friendster or any others; presumably they're blocked as well. 

Seems a strange thing to be concerned about. But hey, free wireless, I guess, and you know what they say about beggers and their ability to be choosers.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Where There's Smoke, There's Research

Alan Blum was at Boston University Medical School today to talk about universities' relationships with tobacco companies. 

He argues that universities should not accept tobacco money for research, or permit them to recruit on campus, period. We know tobacco is harmful, so from a public health standpoint it's flat wrong to enter into relationships with them: taking their money puts us inevitably into a position of support for their existence, and this is not something an educational institution should be doing.

He says that the idea of scientific research being carried out at prestigious institutions has been used by the tobacco industry for decades to promote their image of corporate responsibility, healthfulness or at least less-unhealthfulness, etc. Universities that accept their money (even if these universities don't all give the companies veto power over the results they publish) are culpable

It's a pretty fierce call-out.

The whole "consenting adults should be allowed to risk their lives using whatever products they want" argument was set aside here, which made sense to me since it's not the relevant part of the discussion in public health terms; regardless of the choices consenting adults should be allowed, the question of the moment was whether or not educational institutions should be supporting the industry that's promoting their arguably bad choices.

And I have to concur, it's one thing to say people should be allowed to smoke if they want, and another to say that we (in a general sense, not me personally) should encourage them to do it, whether directly or indirectly.

On the other hand, as someone from the audience mentioned and Mr. Blum concurred, we (once again, in a general sense, not me personally) need money to do research. These big studies, which undeniably provide some good information, don't fund themselves, and there's not always a government grant. 

Where is a good place to get money? Is any source of money 'clean'? Is it better not to do research at all than to participate in the process of a industry that, as a Philip Morris representative in a video clip stated bluntly, makes "a product that harms people"?

It's an interesting question, and it was an interesting talk. It's awfully hard to have clean hands in life, isn't it?

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Go Work in Health Care

The Health Care Blog has an interesting post on the economy, noting that the health care sector is one of the only places jobs are not being lost at the moment.

Especially libraries, right? Everyone needs libraries! Well, they're not specifically mentioned, but it does say that "hiring remained robust at the nation’s hospitals, physician offices, diagnostic labs, nursing homes, and home health care agencies." 

I'm going to assume that this will spill over to libraries, just to comfort myself.

Anyway, the post observes that while it's good to have robust hiring somewhere, this could also mean less impetus for controlling those out-of-control healthcare costs we hear so much about. After all, if people are making a living with the system the way it is and jobs are being lost all around in other industries, do we want to mess with something that's sort of working?

There's more information in the Health Care Blog post, which details some of the complexities of the situation.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Comment! Comment!

The final set of MLA goals is posted for review. Comments are requested by December 15th.

I do my best. I'm pretty sure I'm singlehandedly reshaping the future of the association. 

Mainly for good.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Netflix! Apples! It's So Perfect

Long has my wretched life been made sadder and grimmer by the knowledge that Netflix's "play instantly" feature (using which one can stream certain movies and television shows to watch on the computer) did not work on Macs.

I want to stream video content on my computer at no extra charge! Why, oh why, is life so cruel?! Why is the Mac so despised?! Or ornery---I heard it was actually an issue with Apple not bothering to play well with others.

Either way, it was a sad state of affairs that deeply inconvenienced me personally. 

But now, today, I received word that instant play is available for the Mac! This is a joyous day. I have downloaded the software, and it all appears to be in working order, and I can watch movies instantly without needing to have the discs mailed. More fabulous value from my Netflix account!

Bless you, Netflix and Apple. 

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Modern Academia

Tiny Cat Pants pointed out an intriguing (though as yet somewhat sparsely populated) social networking site:

To be fair, both Jane's E-Learning Pick of the Day and Science Roll saw it earlier, but I must have been ignoring them. I was probably distracted by zombies or something. 

Aside from having a great URL, aims to list academics from all over the world, displayed in a tree format, with links to other people working in the same research area, other people from the same university, etc. It also offers said academics a handy way to have a professional webpage, and although it's not totally clear to me how this works (the FAQ is a little spare), it appears you can upload your papers, presumably to share.

You can browse departments or research areas, search for universities and people, and invite others to join, just as you'd expect from a social network. I imagine you can also send internal emails and such.

Signing up looks pretty easy, although I didn't try it since I figured I'm not an academic. There's no written guideline that I could find on who's allowed to sign up and who isn't (although the process involves placing yourself at a university), so it's kind of a self-defined community, but I'm not a researcher or anything, so I'm self-excluding.

Anyway, it really is pretty cool to look at. Try typing a university name and watch how neatly it scrolls!

I do kind of wince at the automatic news updates' use of the plural pronoun, as in "Muttonchops Wilkins (University of Whiskers) added themselves to the department Mathematics." 

I know, I know, 'they' and 'them' for an individual is commonplace now because it avoids the whole 'he or she' question. I recognize the issue and I can deal with the solution, which is at least easier than getting everyone to adopt some entirely new pronoun that we just made up.*

But 'themselves'? As if there are literally multiples of this person? Can't we at least say 'themself,' which, though a grammatical monstrosity, at least sounds singular---and, in a way, by its very weirdness calls attention to the fact that it's being intentionally used in order to address an accuracy issue with the language, and is not just sloppiness?

So that's my language whine of the day. Come on,, take a stand for decisive singular-plural pronouns! The people (by which I mean the various 'themselves' of me) demand it! We can make this good English, by gum!


*Although honestly, I'd cast a vote for calling everyone 'it.' I like the utilitarian functionality. "Muttonchops Wilkins added itself to the department Mathematics:" what's so wrong with that? 
Of course, I have always secretly admired robots. But I digress.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

M-E-H. Meh. Movie Review: "Nobel Son"

We have a not-such-a-loser! This was easily the best free movie I've seen recently.

That doesn't mean I liked it, exactly, but I didn't want to beat myself about the head and shoulders for watching it.

See, there's this guy who's a real jerk, and he wins the Nobel Prize in chemistry, and then his son is kidnapped and held for ransom (the prize money, of course), and all manner of wacky hijinks ensue. It's a sort of light-hearted black comedy that opens grisly and then backs off on the adult content. There wasn't even that much swearing!

I really like many of the actors here (it's got quite a cast: Alan Rickman, Mary Steenburgen, Eliza Dushku, Danny DeVito, Bill Pullman, Ted Danson...), and there are some quite enjoyable performances and fun character moments. 

The story really falls apart as it gets toward the end, though, as a situation that was sort of moderately believable becomes completely ridiculous, without being enough fun to make you overlook the rapidly compounding implausibility. 

It's as if there was this character-development movie all about Alan Rickman's obnoxious genius character and how everyone hates him, and then there was this other brutal-action type movie with an improbably complex plot, and they go together a little unevenly.

But nice work by the actors, and I did find it mostly entertaining and not horrible. 

I did not observe much in the way of library tie-ins, although one character does spend a lot of time working on his thesis in a bookstore/coffee shop, which is...not the same thing. OK, never mind.

The main health take-away for me was that cutting off someone's thumb is really gross. I'll be putting that tip to good use the next time I'm trying to decide whether or not to cut off someone's thumb.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Oh Yeah, Second Life!

I haven't written anything, or, to be honest, thought anything, about Second Life in a while.

But as long as it's World AIDS Day, it seems a good time to note that it's still around and kicking, with a new island dedicated to HIV/AIDS education. Cool.

I sometimes think I should check out that site again, but the single-button Mac mouse isn't really SL friendly, so I tend not to get around to it. Even though I do think it has some interesting potential.

And I was thinking of making a Facebook page for the library where I work, but I can't make a Second Life island, and if I can't rule the place, what's the point, right?