Dictation? Get over it already!

I’m used to typing my medical records notes myself. Probably because I’m a pretty good touch typist, but there are other reasons, too. For one, I’m not used to dictating into a machine. It simply feels unnatural to me. It’s like having a stenographer on your lap, but without the advantages.

Another reason is that I like to go back and forth and fill in the blanks as I interview the patient or do my clinical examination. So I prepare the record while the patient is present and I can’t imagine dictating while the patient listens in on what I say, so I’d be very constrained in what I could dictate. Like: “The pain story the patient presents seems unusual. Could this be an insurance neurosis?”, then turn to the patient and ask “exactly how often does that leg of yours hurt?”. Seems kinda weird to me. Dictation would force me to let the patient go before I organize my thoughts and dictate, and any extra information I discover a need for will remain lacking, since I can’t ask the patient for it. He just left, remember?
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Google in your head

I was reading an article in New Scientist, the May 13 2006 issue, p 32-38, “The Incredibles”, about the enhancement of humans by biological and technical means. It’s all about how we are able to not only combat disease and reduce premature death, but how we are increasingly able to improve healthy human beings to a superhuman state and prolong life beyond the “normal” borders. Among the abilities we can and want to add are increases in learning abilities and hookups to electronic memories.

The very nature of learning has to change to enable us to take full advantage of these techniques, however. So far, the largest part of learning a profession has been memorizing facts. For instance, learning medicine has largely consisted of learning a number of diseases and their symptoms, evolution and treatment. Continued professional education involves unlearning some of the stuff that has in the meanwhile been discovered to be false and learning some of the new stuff. An “experienced” doctor is in general the one that has seen the most medical problems first-hand and has an easier time of remembering and recognizing them the second time he sees them.
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iTunes and your inner human, if any

My wife just asked me if I was thinking of another woman.


Seems I was playing “She’s always a woman to me” by Billy Joel for the third or fourth time in a row on the stereo, and she was looking for a meaning to it. Actually, I was testing my new Airport Express that I’d connected to the living room stereo and using my iTunes to send the music stream to it. Each time I tested, I just clicked on one of the first tracks in my list, and that happened to be just that track.

How is that list sorted? Well, it turns out it’s sorted on “Last Played” date and time. There’s also a column with “Play Count”. I very rarely play tracks on my iTunes, preferring to use the iPod, but those counts are updated from the iPod to the iTunes every time I connect the two.

So, where am I going with all this? The music we play, especially if we have large and diverse collections, are often a reflection of the mood we’re in. Since everything we play is registered, that means our mood is registered in a fairly direct way.

From my play counts and dates, it would be very easy to see if I’ve been doing excercise, since I use particular tracks for that with a good rhythm (Country & Western, Nathalie Imbruglia, Michael Jackson, Eric Clapton’s rock numbers), or been programming (psychedelic & trance). If I’m down, the selection is different, etc. (If you would have an affair with another woman, I doubt you would have the iPod on, but that’s beside the point.) Now all this gets registered.

PS: my wife just asked “are you?”, so it’s time to stop now.

Say no to WiFi, yes to GPRS

Everybody’s on about the security problems caused by public WiFi hotspots, like in airports, Starbucks and so on. The problem is that it is too easy for other people in your immediate vicinity to eavesdrop on your communications or even to set up fake hotspots and make you connect to those instead of the bona fide hotspots at that location.

The solution is to be really careful about what you connect to. And to use a VPN tunnel into your own corporate network, and to protect your communications that way. In other words, expensive and hard to implement and use.

But, there’s another way, entirely: use GPRS. I just got myself a mobile phone subscription, that not only allows me dirt cheap phone calls, but also up to 1 GB data transfer without extra charge, per month, using speeds “up to” 384 kb/sec. No charge for connect time. All this for around $30 per month.

The practical setup, for me, is this: I’ve got an Apple iBook with a Bluetooth dongle. If you get a new laptop, you’ll probably have Bluetooth built in, making it even easier. On a belt-clip, I’ve got my Sony-Ericsson K750i phone that has been paired with the laptop. Anytime I tell the Mac that my “location” is “on the road” (a two-click effort), it will automatically find the phone, connect to the network and I’m on the Internet using GPRS. Anytime I set the location back to “home” it selects either WiFi or the connected Ethernet cable, according to availability. The time it takes the laptop to change medium can be measured in seconds. I never have to take the phone out of my pocket for all this, either.

On top of all this, I can use the phone itself as an email client and a browser, of course. As long as I don’t exceed that one GB per month of data, I’m cool. (Excess traffic is charged at about 25 US cents per MB, so is to be avoided).

Naturally, using GPRS is not a perfectly secure solution, but at least it’s on par with regular mobile phone systems, and way better than public WiFi.

It’s worth considering, isn’t it?

I have to add here that there are errors in the above. In particular, GPRS is only 56 kbit/sec, but when I was writing the blog entry, I didn’t know the difference, now I do, at least a little bit. UMTS allows 384 kbit/sec. My mobile phone only does GPRS so I’m limited to 56 kbit/sec. Actually, that’s ok. Later I hope to get a computer with a UMTS card in it, getting better speeds that way. In general, even phones with UMTS are said to be inferior to PC cards with UMTS, but I wouldn’t be the expert to take that advice from. Obviously.

Biological comparison nonsense

To me, this business with comparing malware and anti-measures in the IT security world with biological systems and in particular immune systems is nonsense on so many levels. People draw parallels with monoculture versus diversified cultures, and immunizing systems and so on. I say: Bah!

First, biological systems have no designer or design targets, no requirements specs, no whitepapers, no nothing. The only thing it has is a testing department. It also has gobs of time and material at its disposal. The entire evolutionary thing is based on “code monkeys” hacking out random code by the ton, then throwing it out on the “market” only expecting a random small fraction to succeed.
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The DRM Endlösung

Let me present a solution for the Digital Rights Management problem that both the music and movie industries could support and that gives consumers great advantages at the same time. All it needs is the implantation of a crypto chip on the auditory nerve very soon after birth; a minor inconvenience compared to the advantages it can bring to both parents and children.

The technology to produce a small biocompatible and implantable cryptochip is already available. There are problems in regard to supplying sufficient power, but it can probably be solved by using small storage capacitors, coupled with an inductive sling, possibly incorporated into stylish earplugs of the iPod type.
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