Sunday, May 30, 2010

Generously Sharing Other Peoples' Stuff

Jim C. Hines on SF Novelists has a post about why libraries, despite also giving people the chance to read books they didn't personally buy, are not the same as file-sharing sites.

There are also some interesting replies in the comments from library users and workers about library purchases, the future of e-book lending, and more.

This makes me feel like a horrible person and a disgrace to my entire profession, but I have to  shamefacedly confess that I hardly ever visit my public library. I mean, it's probably been a couple of years since I've checked anything out. Even though it's an excellent library (Boston Public Library, of course, and also my smaller local branch), and I know I could constantly get books there that I'd like to read.

It's just not on the way to anywhere I usually go. I'm sorry! Really, really sorry. I do love you, public library. We just don't hang out in the same circles anymore. I cherish our time together in the past, and I hope someday we'll be close again.

It's possible that e-books might be a way for me to resume contact with my public library, but I sort of wonder if the relationship would be the same. We wouldn't have the same kind of real-world connection, me browsing the stacks for stuff that catches my eye but that I'd never think to look for specifically, and checking out the "new arrivals" for exciting new topics.

Plus, I'd have to get an e-book reader to effectively take books on the train, and I don't see that happening anytime soon, because I'm super cheap. Aside from the train issue, I'm not bothered by screen glare the way some people are, so I can pretty much read all day on a computer, but it works better for short pieces, I think. It's hard to really get excited about sitting down to a fat novel on the laptop. Something about the type of concentration the lighting fosters, it seems easier to work on smaller chunks of material.

I know there are also all kinds of interesting questions about file sharing in general and video/music sharing in particular, like "is illegal copying destroying the music industry?" and "is it just as bad as taking money right out of the pockets of starving musicians and filmmakers?" and "even if you're just copying a CD you bought onto your own computer?" and "but if someone gives me a copy of a song, or a bad copy of a movie, and I like it I might buy more songs and/or a better, legal copy of the movie, so isn't it actually helpful advertising?" and "hey, don't you like to get paid for stuff you worked on?"

I'm feeling too bad about myself to get into that, though. As a pathetic excuse for a library-loving person,
all I can really do is hang my head in shame and go sit in the corner.

Anyway, the original point is, you should go check a book out from the library and feel good about it, because libraries are truly awesome, but authors prefer you not download an illegal copy.


Saturday, May 29, 2010

Keeping Records

John Moore on The Health Care Blog wonders if Google Health may be not long for this web.

Is it my fault for never updating my record there?

In theory I love the idea of having my health information in one convenient place, but as with so many things in life, what I like in theory, and what I get around to taking specific action to support or cause to be, are different things.

This is especially interesting to me since I just a few days ago attended a lecture by Dr. John Halamka, Chief Information Officer of both Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (so you know he thinks about health records!) that covered a lot of points about electronic health records. (My extensive notes are on the MLA '10 Blog.)

For a lot of reasons, it seems as if we really do want very much to have functional electronic health records that can keep up with a person's health history through life and over the course of multiple conditions, physicians, treatments and institutions--but we don't have it yet.

In my case, I think the problem is a laziness issue. I signed up for the account in Google, I know how to update the record in Google, I have a no worse than average understanding of my health and a probably higher than average interest in the subject, so I could keep the darn thing up to the minute.

I don't, because I just don't get around to signing in and making the updates every time I get a test result or whatever. I don't think I've updated it this year, even. It's not part of my personal health care process. Even though I love records! I want to know this stuff!

And if I, with my (I suspect) greater than average motivation to do this, don't get it done, it may be that updates will have to be automatic to get broad adoption of EHRs. To take one of Dr. Halamka's thoughts, about a 'health URL,' if I could give a link to someone at the front desk when I check in for an appointment, and have the details of my visit automatically sent to my EHR, then the updating would get done. You could give your health URL along with your insurance and/or billing information, and not worry about it, except probably to sign in once in a while to make sure everything looked right.

Easy! I'd happily do this tomorrow, if the system were in place and if I had a doctor's appointment on Sunday of Memorial Day Weekend.


Friday, May 28, 2010

Listen Up! Or Whatever

In case anyone was really anxious to know, I will report that yes, I was Twittering a bit as well as blogging during the conference, and it was a fun extra way to know what was going on.

I find Twitter to be more of an amusing trifle than a key information stream on most days. I update if I think about it, read updates for people I follow, and am sometimes alerted to truly wonderful things like this music video of librarians and library school students at the University of Washington doing a search-related song set to the tune of Lady GaGa's "Poker Face." (Watch it. It is magnificent. I want to be making a music video at my library right now.) But it's not something I worry about catching up with if I forget to sign in for a week, so it's not one of my primary means of getting information.

I find it a bit more interesting, though, as a means of keeping track of a specific event. By reading posts with a certain theme, you get an interesting angle on what's happening and what people think about it.

How many people are commenting on that lecture? Oh, this person noticed that turn of phrase as well! I'm glad someone is updating on that topic, because I missed the first half of the presentation. 

So yes, when it's about something I'm interested in, I agree with a fairly broad array of others in finding Twitter a nifty tech tool with some nice application to conferences and meetings.

This reminds, me, to switch topics somewhat, that I was reading recently something to the effect that it must be unnerving for speakers to look out over a crowd and see a bunch of heads bent over laptops and phones, typing away.

And I guess it might be, if the speaker is really accustomed to seeing a bunch of people looking up in rapt attention, but really?--I don't see how someone typing away at a laptop is any more disturbing than someone scribbling away on a pad of paper.

And it's much less disturbing than someone chiseling away at a stone tablet, because you know that makes so much noise, and the rock dust makes other people in the audience sneeze, which is just distracting.

There's this sense that people are being less attentive if they're taking notes while listening, and sure, that's true since if you're doing anything other than gazing raptly your attention is probably divided, but it sometimes seems as if people find it especially inattentive to be working on a laptop, as opposed to writing on a napkin or something.

This may be because we don't trust people not to be playing solitaire or shopping on eBay on their computers, instead of actually taking notes. But really, we can't assume people industriously writing in notebooks aren't actually just drawing pictures of dragons eating cars, or playing "hangman" with themselves.

And even if someone is gazing at a speaker with an utterly fixed and to-all-appearances-rapt stare, they could actually be daydreaming about dragons eating cars, or decorating their bathrooms in their heads.

My general opinion is, there's no way to completely ensure that people will be paying attention to you, so you just figure it's up to them to either do it or not. In most situations in which I either speak or hear someone else speak, you have to assume everyone there is a grown up and can work it out for themselves, and if they're not inclined to be attentive, even tying their hands and propping their eyelids up with toothpicks will only go so far. (Although to be fair, that specific tactic would probably go pretty far, just based on novelty and horror.)

Whereas if they are inclined to pay attention, they'll often manage to do so, and the fact that they're typing busily away or sending text messages on their phones doesn't necessarily mean they think the speaker is boring or aren't listening. Possibly they're just trying to share the excitement, and/or capture the ideas for later.

Or possibly they're trying desperately to fight off albino trolls in a fantasy game and aren't listening at all. But that's their lookout, right?


Thursday, May 27, 2010

Off the Road Again

We now return to our regularly scheduled programming.

I had a swell time at the Medical Library Association annual meeting in DC, and did my best to blog up a storm over on the MLA '10 Official Blog, where a whole pile (seriously, at one point they knocked us all down and put us in a pile in the corner for a group photo*) of intrepid bloggers were reporting on the programs, meetings and parties that went on pretty much nonstop.

It was great fun. I attended some excellent programs and met some lovely people and caught up with some awesome people I already knew. Great, but also tiring, so I'm pretty much OK with being back in my regular old life.

*OK, OK, this never happened, but it would have been funny. At least for the people who weren't on the bottom of the pile.


Saturday, May 22, 2010

On the Road Again

Wow. Airport security at Boston is even more of a hideous production than ever, now that they've got one of them newfangled 'body scanners'!

Based on my experience, you have to stand with your feet carefully placed on this footprinted mat, facing this blue screen (possibly they'll add in a creative background later!), with your hands raised above your head, while you're bombarded with mysterious invisible rays that I suspect will eventually be responsible for a new race of mutant humans who can see through people.

And then they pat you down, just in case the body scanner missed something, which it almost certainly would if I were plotting nefarious acts and had any clue what I was doing. You may ask: does this offer a significant advantage over the old x-rays?

Well, it does take longer and involve more physical contact with strangers, which is what I'm usually looking for when I travel*, so on the whole, yes, a net plus.

But whatever, right? I feel super secure, except for the nagging sense that I might have lost my wallet, belt, watch, ID, phone or boarding pass while undressing and unpacking for the big show, and that's the important thing.

*Wait...that sounded kind of weird.


Friday, May 21, 2010


So I got home from work today, still badly needing to pack for MLA, since I'm leaving tomorrow morning and all and I hadn't done more than make a neat list of all the stuff I should pack but hadn't.

Naturally I decided to wash the dishes and clean the bathroom instead. Because someone is coming from Verizon tomorrow to install FiOS, and I do not want this person to know that we are pigs.

Although if he or she reads this blog, I guess the secret is out.

Anyway, distractions notwithstanding, the packing is now more or less done. Here is the thing that I would prize above rubies: a pair of shoes that is nice enough to wear at conferences and in the office and such, that is also comfortable enough to walk around outside in.

This has to exist. I have known people who claim to possess it. But shoes and my feet have an uneasy relationship at the best of times, and I have not found that shoe for my foot. If I ever do, I will buy 10 pairs and never wear anything else.


Thursday, May 20, 2010

Maybe a Spoonful of Sugar Would Help?

Via Well, I find this NYT piece about how a lot of people don't take their medications, either fully as directed, or in some cases at all.

Apparently, significant numbers of people don't even fill the prescriptions written for them by their doctors, making "medication nonadherence" (didn't they use to call it "noncompliance"? Maybe that sounded too subservient?) a problem costing "More than $170 billion annually in the United States alone."

A lot of this is due to the fact that people who have chronic conditions and aren't taking their medication wind up with less well-controlled symptoms, and thus spend more time sicker than they otherwise might.

I must say that medication adherence is one of my superpowers. Based on personal medication history with which I will not bore you, I calculate that I have a lifetime adherence rate of 99.94%. I am clearly the person you want taking your pills for you--so hand 'em over!

Only if they do something fun, though. (Which, sadly, is almost never. One thing medicine usually is not: a rollicking good time.)

As for the aspects of this question that do not give me a chance to talk about myself...(yawn)...obviously money is often part of the problem, since medications can be very expensive.

Another problem suggested in the article is that it may be simply too big a hassle for people to fill prescriptions. It certainly can be kind of a pain, especially if there's no pharmacy nearby--you have to get to one, hand in the prescription, and then come back to pick it up, and often you have to come back the next day, meaning that if the pharmacy is inconvenient for you, you've had to make two separate inconvenient trips.

If you don't really feel that bad, I can see how you might just never get around to going.

I have high praise for refills that come by mail, making life a lot easier, but even then you have to get the initial prescription sent off to the mail-order pharmacy, and sometimes that can be a bit daunting. Forms to fill out, things to fax or mail here or there, or else you have to ask your doctor's office to call or mail something, and maybe you just don't feel like bothering.

I have sympathy for the just not wanting to deal with it. I hate paperwork and waiting on hold too.

If I can figure out how to bottle my 99% adherence, I'll make a fortune. I mean, if anyone fills the prescription for it and actually takes the stuff.


Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Fine Dining

Had a tasty dinner at Grotto in Boston this evening.

I like the classic bread and olive oil combo you often see, and they had a very nice olive oil here, with a fine, mild flavor. And actual olives for garnish!

They do a prix fixe three-course menu, but you can also order items individually, so I passed on the first course lest I be too full for dessert, which is obviously far more important.

After bread, I had a fabulous goat cheese and spinach ravioli, with so many adorable little mushrooms to add a nice heartiness and texture. Mushrooms!

Finally, a warm chocolate cake that was super-deliciously flavored with cocoa and nicely complemented by ice cream.

Even having wisely foregone the appetizer, I had to bring some of the cake home. I couldn't bear not to keep it, but also couldn't face trying to finish it.

I'm still half in a food coma even now, so I don't remember if I was going to post about anything else today. I would recommend this place if you happen to be in the neighborhood.


Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Hold On, Let Me Tell the World Something

T.Scott has an interesting take on the Facebook privacy issue in this post descriptively titled "It May As Well Be On the Front Page of the NYT."

The post suggests that the problem is not necessarily about privacy or lack of privacy, it's whether expectations of privacy match up with reality. If you go into something like Facebook with limited expectations, and a policy of assuming that everything you post online could be seen by everyone in the world, you'll have fewer unpleasant surprises. (Except possibly, depending on your level of extroversion, how little everyone in the world cares.)

This rings true for me to some extent, possibly because I also have pretty much tended to assume that anything I post could be seen by anyone, even though in reality almost no one cares. And in general things are in fact fairly private, in the sense that if you're one of several million people talking to themselves in public, you're relatively safe even if you're talking about your darkest secrets, because what are the odds that anyone who knows you is going to hear? Among multitudes lies anonymity.

That said, I don't talk about my darkest secrets (which I assure you are so blood-curdling and hair-raising that even to tap the keys required to describe them would send me into conniptions right here), because you never can tell.

Someone could always come along and overhear at any time, even if they never did before (especially given the archival nature of web communication), and I think it's wise to remember that. I also do think that some people may have unrealistic expectations of how close-to-the-vest their information actually is out there on the social web, on blogs, networking sites, ratings sites, etc.

On the other hand, to look at a slightly different angle on the question, I feel sympathy for people who may themselves post cautiously but wind up appearing online in the indiscreet posts of other people. You definitely hear things like "I don't even have a Facebook account, but my bitter ex-boyfriend is using his to post drunken photos of me!", and that really does seem like a problem.

You can control your own online behavior, but may have no control over what someone else does, and other people can make your secrets just as public as you can if they have the information.

Which gets into non-Facebook issues like "be careful who you trust with your secrets," and I guess would technically be a legal issue (who owns a person's image/info and has a right to post it?--can you make them stop?) rather than strictly one of privacy policies.

Because it might well be against a policy to post pictures of people who don't want you to, but it's not as if Facebook is going to be requiring signed consent forms for every photo posted. It would have such an inhibiting effect on people posting photos at all that Facebook would probably lose members to Flickr or someplace that didn't have such a requirement, and there you are. You can't be losing members! Those precious, precious eyeballs and tidbits of personal, advertise-to-able information are the blood of life.

It's just a lot easier for random stuff you say or do to be seen by everyone in the world these days, and I do understand the plaint that it sucks to basically be told you have to be careful about everything you do or say everywhere, because someone else might catch you on their cellphone camera, even if you've always been the soul of discretion online.

Its one thing to assume everything you post online might as well be on the cover of the New York Times, and another to live your life assuming that you could also be the subject of someone else's NYT piece at any moment. Are we all tiny celebrities potentially being stalked by part-time paparazzi?

It's an interesting world.

But overall, yes, I agree with the original post: assume everything you put online is public! Wildly, outrageously public! Everyone in the world is looking at it right now!

At the same time, lest that give you an inflated sense of self-importance, you should also assume that no human eye will ever see it.

This is a nice bit of mental gymnastics that I like to think will help keep the brain in shape.


Monday, May 17, 2010

Making Lists

Since I was just wondering what to pack for MLA, this post from helen-ann on the official blog is most timely with its helpful advice on that very subject.

I especially appreciate the reminder about air conditioning. I'm always freezing cold anywhere there's significant air conditioning, and I would be unwise to forget to bring some sweaters or shawls. I have many colorful wraps from which to choose.

It doesn't address the question of which kinds of monsters to plan for. I tried to find some information via Google, but there seem to be few online reports of monsters in DC (though there is this report of UFOs in 1952). There are some zombies, of course, the related ghouls, and Darth Vader.

The most interesting thing I've found so far is the Demon Cat, but it apparently hangs out in the Capitol, so we probably won't see it at the conference.

There are also the expected ghosts of all sorts, but one finds those everywhere and you usually don't hear about them trying to take over cities, so I'm not going to devote any special level of anxiety to them.

I'll be sure to report if I figure out what particular brand of horror we should be practicing for.


Sunday, May 16, 2010

Time's A-Wastin'!

Yikes. I kind of can't believe MLA is this coming weekend. I have to start thinking about packing! So many questions come to mind.

Whatever shall I wear?

However shall I best prepare to carry back the hundreds of pounds of pens and other fabulous loot I will surely accumulate?

What monsters am I likely to encounter?
As a sub-question to the above, what weapons will I need? Claymore? Pikestaff? Battle axe? Are we allowed to carry polearms on planes anymore? No? Than how, I ask you, am I supposed to fend off dire boars?

Will I be be able to meet my personal goal of gaining at least five pounds while spending no more than $5 per day on food?

Will I remember to pack my camera so that I can add magnificent photos to my official blog posts? I took it last time, but it malfunctioned weirdly, so I could only find a couple of blurry images at the end. I have some issues with that camera.

Anyway, there's clearly a lot to get excited about, and I'm revving right up.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Divided Attention

I've commented before that I rarely just watch a show or a movie on TV anymore--I'm always on the computer as well. (Watching TV shows on the computer is more engrossing than on actual TV, because you can't also be doing a lot of unrelated stuff on said computer.)

Often, this isn't really a problem, because you can follow your average action flick while also checking out the awesome stuff that's invariably out there on the internet, but tonight we watched The Story of Marie and Julien, and I think I would have gotten more out of it if I hadn't also been catching up on my blog reading. You can only be distracted to a certain degree while watching a movie with subtitles, but still...

Maybe movie theaters will survive as a place of enforced concentration on the experience of the film.

Of course, to do that they'll have to start enforcing the cell phone bans and such.

Another alternative is to just watch more movies on the computer.


Thursday, May 13, 2010

Something for the Handy Dandy Stuff Files

Offering inspiration to the crafty, Erich Vieth at Dangerous Intersection reports that he has decided to begin mixing his own shampoo and condition.

It's apparently cheap, easy, and way lighter on the chemicals than the products you buy in the store. He promises to report back about how his hair responds to the homemade concoctions. See the post for a video with instructions how how and why to try this yourself.

Me, I'm all for making stuff yourself or using stuff you have around rather than buying specialized products. I wash mirrors with vinegar (if I bother to use anything besides water), and scrub the bathtub with baking soda.

I made my own yogurt for years until I stopped eating it regularly. I like to buy giant tubs of plain oatmeal and add my own raisins to a serving, rather than buy the single-serve packets.

But I just bought a truly giant bottle of shampoo, so I think I'm going to have to keep using the commercial stuff for a while. However, I eagerly await the reports as to the effectiveness of homemade baking soda shampoo, and if it turns out to be good enough for Dangerous Intersection, maybe I'll make the switch.


Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Careful with the Numbers

Useful little post on The Health Care Blog about the importance of understanding statistics, and how few people actually do.

I have the classic How to Lie With Statistics in my office somewhere, although I haven't gotten around to reading it, and I've never taken a statistics class, but I know I should. It's infamously possible to make all kinds of arguments seem plausible using cleverly spun statistics, and I should know how to do it!

How else will I further my plans to achieve world domination via misdirection?


Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Again With the Movie Review: Letters to Juliet

The free movie of the evening: Letters to Juliet.

I will phrase my review as a tautology, thus: If you like movies like this, you will like this movie.

Because you know what this movie is. Essentially everything you think is going to happen, happens in the fashion which you would expect. 

There was lovely scenery, courtesy of Italy, of the type that always makes me think how very too bad it will be if global climate change turns Europe into a desert. Cause, damn, that Italy has some nice tracts of land, if you know what I mean. I mean, the countryside is very attractive.

So here's the briefly: young woman wanting to be a writer but toiling away in obscurity as a fact-checker is engaged to young man passionate about opening restaurant. Neither seems very passionate about the other. 

We can tell, because they're going to Italy on a "pre-honeymoon" so that the groom can be around to open his restaurant right after the wedding. Also, she doesn't have an engagement ring, because, well, it costs money to open a restaurant and that's more important.

Now, these choices seem perfectly reasonable to me, but since this is a romance movie, it's a sign that the relationship is doomed. Because if you're capable of rational thought, or of deviating from the established romantic plot line even slightly in order to better fit your personal situation, you're not really in love.

Love, real love, grabs you by the scruff of the neck and frogmarches you through that script, damn it!

Love is what we roleplaying geeks like to call a plot hammer.*

Also, true love is not really for money-conscious peasants like you and I (no offense to those among my legions of followers who have piles of money). If you're concerned about the cost of an engagement ring, you're not really in love! Just go into debt for it, or, if you're a woman, have the good sense to fall in love with someone who has piles of money in the first place!

Sorry, that was a bit of a side rant.

Anyway, there's a story here about how people (exclusively women, from what we see) leave the titular letters to Juliet at what's supposedly her house in Verona, and then there are some other women who work for the city as the Secretaries of Juliet and write back to them, and our heroine finds a 50-year-old letter that had been lost and writes back. This inspires the writer, who was so lovesick back then, to--

Well, I suppose I shouldn't completely give away the movie, but let's just say that there's a road trip to find a long-lost love, and another guy who's much blonder than the (blonde) young woman's fiance, and therefore obviously a much better match for her, and lots of scenery and glancing and moments of sharing and talk of destiny.

If you have seen movies before, you are unlikely to be surprised by anything that develops, but you may enjoy it if you enjoy that kind of thing.

I thought it was a bit heavy-handed, and I think my spouse was in physical pain (not to pin him as the stereotypical man who can't sit through a romance movie), so I can't exactly recommend it. But as I say, if you like romances (say, if you liked Nights in Rodanthe), you may get more out of it than we did. ("Think how free it was!" I said afterwards, trying to console him.)

I didn't see any particular health or library connections, although there was plentiful wine. In gorgeous vineyards, even!

*When the games master has a storyline and something painfully obvious comes along to make sure you follow it no matter where you try to go or what you try to do. Say, every single person in town refuses to speak to you except one, or every single door in the whole house is sealed with an unpickable lock except one, or a giant troll with a big hammer says "go that way, dummies."


Monday, May 10, 2010

Disaster Planning

Although I really, really, am not even concerned about vampires anymore given the growing killer robot threat, I must pass along this excellent advice from A Librarian's Guide to Etiquette:

If your library is invaded by zombies, a librarian should invite them all into the classroom and bore them to death with a lecture about scholarly versus popular periodicals.

I'm on it!

Ow! My Neck!

Is this because I was bitten by a vampire?

My neck is really stiff. It makes me wince if I move just a little wrong. Also, it started in the back of the neck, and now it's creeping down my spine. Ouch!

I probably slept on it wrong. Hovering over the computer at my desk adding e-books to the library website all day, and then sitting on the floor staring up at the TV for a couple of hours, and then slouching in this chair staring at this laptop, probably don't help.

I should probably be sitting regally straight and staring ahead or something. I dunno, what's good for a stiff neck? I've tried punching it, I've tried yelling at it...

I think freezing up is the wrong idea, although that's always the first inclination. I think you have to move through the pain to some extent, or else it just gets stiffer and more painful.

But seriously, ow.


Sunday, May 9, 2010

Great. I'm a Vampire.

I'm playing this game called Oblivion, in which you can get turned into a vampire. It assumes the usual disease model of vampirism (hence its health-related relevance!), so you catch it from getting bitten--I guess.

I never noticed having been bitten, but I was fighting some vampires, and then next thing you know I'm having fearsome dreams and getting hurt by sunlight. A little thing like getting bitten in the middle of a fight to the death with a vampire pickpocket could happen to anyone, so it's not surprising it slipped by me.

Sadly, in this game you don't get to be a cool sparkly vampire with lots of angst and brooding, you're just a shriveled-looking, red-eyed thing who arouses pity and alarm in others.

Now as I was saying, there are totally some health aspects to this game, since there are all kinds of diseases you can catch in addition to vampirism. It's a dangerous world out there!

And just as in the actual dangerous world, you can often be completely cured of these diseases by drinking a potion. So I'm learning a lot.

On that note, happy Mother's Day, mothers! I promise I won't bite you. Today.


Friday, May 7, 2010

Latest Sad News

medlineplus4you Twitters the news that a study suggests drinking during pregnancy may increase the chance of a rare form of leukemia in children.


You know, the only reason I was planning to get pregnant was so I could drink wine like a rare wine-dwelling fish, following the popular advice that I'd be "drinking for two now!"

Thanks for ruining everything again, science.

The study shows a 56% increase in the risk for acute myeloid leukemia in children whose mothers drank while pregnant.

The story also notes that while 12% of women in the U.S. report "consuming alcohol" while pregnant, 52% of French women and 60% of Russian women do so. It doesn't say how much alcohol was required to be counted as a 'drinker' in the study, nor whether more alcohol means more risk, nor whether countries with higher rates of maternal alcohol consumption report correspondingly greater numbers of the disease relative to the general population (there are about 700 cases a year in the United States, but it doesn't say how many there are in France and Russia).

As a result, it's hard to really get a firm grip on the absolute danger based on this short report (and I'm too lazy at the moment to track down the actual study), but the general takeaway is, don't drink for two.

Even if you know that kid is totally going to grow up to be a lush...make him or her wait for it!


Thursday, May 6, 2010

Unnoticed Errors

Interesting article in the latest Journal of the Medical Library Association: "The effectiveness of the practice of correction and republication in the biomedical literature" (PDF here).

As you might suspect from the title, it's about a study done to see how effectively corrected versions of papers "take over" from the flawed original version, looking at how often each tends to be cited by later papers.

Discouragingly, it appears that corrections don't have any sort of universal power--the originals (which, by definition, contained some error of fact) tend to continue to be cited after the correction is published, with original and corrected versions seeing roughly similar citation rates.

So basically, a lot of researchers aren't aware of the fact that a correction has been made. Presumably anytime a researcher does know about a correction, she or he will use the corrected version (unless making a point specifically about the error, I suppose), but it's not as if we can retrospectively tag every article that has a correction with a scarlet C to call peoples' attention to the fact (although Amazon's brush with automatically updating the books on your Kindle makes one think).

And how many people, while busily searching for useful articles, will also busily double-check to make sure all of the articles they find are the very latest version? Especially since usually there won't be any correction to find; most of the time, if you do that double-checking, you've spent precious time and found nothing.

I imagine that even if the flawed version is cited later, it's probably not always a disaster--there could be an error in the transcription of some figures, say, that would not necessarily have any bearing on the conclusions of the paper (which would have been based on the correct figures). If some later researcher is only citing the conclusions, not the actual figures, they're basically fine.

Obviously, if that later researcher (or a researcher citing that later researcher!) tried to replicate the work in the original paper, or to in any way rely on the actual figures, then the error would be a problem, so I'm all for correcting things just in case, but it may not always come up right away.

The article suggests that a database of corrected papers would be helpful--a sort of TurnItIn for citations, so you could go to one place and check all the papers you wanted to use.

I could indeed see this being handy, especially if it worked with your bibliographic citation management software. You could just send it your bibliography (or even your entire collection of citations!) and it would check them against its list of officially published corrections, and tell you if there were any matches.

It would be especially handy if it could also pinpoint for you the precise correction that was made, so you could see whether or not your own conclusions would be affected. As I said, I assume you'd always want to cite the corrected version, but this sort of program could alert you as to whether you just needed to swap out a citation in your bibliography, or would need to actually rewrite part of your paper.

So we're going to need cooperation from publishers, a powerful database program that recognizes citation management software, development geniuses, time and money for building the thing, a massive publicity push to let everyone know that this new tool exists, and we'll be good to go!


Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Blog Platforms

I'm just looking at the MLA '10 meeting blog...checkin' out the decor, scoping the exits, etc. If I show up to the conference blog in the same outfit as someone else, you know I'm going to want to make a quick getaway.

Why hello, WordPress! I remember you.

My memory has gotten a bit hazy on some of your little ways, after having been hooked up with Blogger for the past while or so, but I'm sure we'll get along fine. You user-friendliness is legendary, after all.

There's already lots of good information available on the meeting, and I'm sure the awesome Official Bloggers will provide plenty of lively commentary once things get underway (and of course I may be wearing other peoples' outfits, which would be amusing), so put it on your feed readers!

I mean, if you have any interest in medical library meetings. I think some of my legions of followers are just here for the wine and killer robots (but don't fret, there may be wine at the meeting!), but if you're into medical library stuff, like health-related databases and MeSH and patient info and scads of fascinating journals about horrible illnesses, this will totally be the blog for you.


Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Water May Have it in For Us

We have drinkable tap water again!

And given Tennessee's current issues with having way too much water, and the issues with water being half oil as it sweeps toward the gulf coast, well, I'm just going to say that Boston's recent water adventure was a pleasant stroll in the park that I am totally not even concerned about anymore.

Hang in there, Tennessee and coast.


Monday, May 3, 2010

Bloggy Goodness Awaits

My legions of devoted followers, I bring exciting news: I have been selected to be an official blogger for Medical Library Association annual meeting in DC next month. Woohoo!

I did this last time I was at MLA, in Chicago in 2008, and I, at least, thought it was a lot of fun.

I vow to bring to this important task the same somber mien with which I approach all important things I do: ever alert for killer robots and free food, taking notes at near-obsessive levels, and with a highly critical eye for health and technology tie-ins in any movies that may be shown. (I don't see any on the event calendar, but one never knows.)

In the meantime, I will continue to boil water for at least one minute, since the metro Boston area still lacks drinkable tap water. People were very unhappy about the lack of coffee today. It seems that the coffee makers in places like Dunkin' Donuts are automated and hooked up to the pipes, so they don't have the option to boil the water before making coffee. As a coffee.

I don't usually drink coffee, but I did miss my morning tea. It's just more trouble than it's worth to try to heat tea water in the microwave.

Seeing people carrying their stores of bottled water around reminds me of how I lived in the country in Arizona for a while when I was little, and people used to carry water around there, although in big sturdy containers instead of little bottles.

The advantage of the current situation is, at least the water is OK to wash in. Life would be less pretty if we couldn't take showers.

Oh my yes.


Sunday, May 2, 2010

Just Stock up on Wine Instead

Perhaps you've heard that Boston and surrounding towns are having some drinking water issues. I'm just waiting for some delicious boiled water to cool right now, in fact.

I heard people talking about just stocking up on bottled water, but I also read that some stores are running out of it, plus, come on, I'm going to buy water using my perfectly good hard-earned money when I can just stick some in a pot and turn on the gas? (The use of gas does require some perfectly good hard-earned money as well, but even without doing the math I'm going to state with a high degree of confidence that the cost per potable ounce of water will be significantly less.)

Boiled water has at least two advantages over bottled water in my book:

  1. I don't have to spend the aforementioned perfectly good hard-earned money
  2. I don't have to leave the house, which holds my beloved laptop/internet combo and my video games
  3. I don't have to deal with getting rid of all those stupid little plastic bottles when the water is gone

OK, so there's the reason I didn't want to do the math on the cost of gas vs. bottled water: I can't count.


Saturday, May 1, 2010


I always enjoy Got Medieval's updates on the calendar of saintly feast days. Today, for instance, we could be celebrating Saint Philip and Saint James the Less. If I may quote:

[D]epending on who you ask, James the Less might have been Jesus's brother, or alternately one of the six or so other Jameses who appear elsewhere in the New Testament.

Philip, too, is often confused with another Biblical figure, Philip the Evangelist, so May 1 is probably a good day to celebrate mistaken identities, confused recollections, and designer knockoffs.

I am so all over that.