How I helped researchers show that rectal exams aren't always necessary

This week I experienced perhaps the culmination of my life's nerdiness.

It started last year when I helped one of my company's clients, University of Colorado Hospital, collect some data for a clinical study. At the time, I wasn't fully aware of the scope or even the hypothesis of the study. I only knew it involved something to do with getting information pertaining to feces out of our system. Literally pulling, well, you know what, out of the system, if you will.

Drs. Cleveland and Yaron were great to work with throughout the process. (I did not work with the third co-author, Dr. Ginde.) They recently published their paper in the Annals of Emergency Medicine.

The reason this is duly notable is because of the conclusion of the results findings:
Removal of point-of-care fecal occult blood test from our ED was associated with a reduction in digital rectal examinations -Actual Research Finding

Or, translated into laymen terms:
Doctors don't have to stick their fingers up as many you-know-whats because they found something else that works good -Me

So yes, I was the nerd that wrote a Perl script and a bunch of SQL queries that provided them the data to demonstrate that. Thanks, technology!

Special characters be damned! Upside down text is ǝbɐɹ ǝɥʇ 11ɐ

Flipping your text upside down seems to be all the rage these days.

First, I saw this on pop up on Facebook:

ǝƃɐd ɹnoʎ oʇuo sIɥʇ ǝʇsɐd puɐ ʎdoɔ 'sʎɐs sɥʇ ʇɐɥʍ ʇno ǝɹnƃIɟ oʇ ɥƃnouǝ ʇɹɐɯs ǝɹɐ noʎ ɟI

Then today I was browsing my usual news sites and saw this on Engadget:

(Updated 2016: The screenshots has been lost to time.)

I mean, come on. Yeah, it's kind of cool, I'll give you that. It's a fun little trick to send around, kind of like when your family sends you e-mail chain letters with pictures of people whose bare asses look like pumpkins. Not that that's ever actually happened to me. Twice. But I digress...

Are the Kindle vs. Nook, iPhone vs. Droid debates even necessary?

It's desktop vs. mobile and history is repeating itself.

I've always been the type of person who sees advances in technology as inevitable, so I tend to embrace them as they emerge, much earlier than others I know. Given that, it's no surprise that I have and love my Kindle and iPhone. I've even gone as far as going on trips without my laptop, only bringing the Kindle+iPhone pair along. And I cannot begin to express how liberating that felt.

Apple to renovate subway station, add green space adjacent to new Chicago retail store

I am quite pleased that Apple is opening a new retail store in Chicago near the intersection of North Ave., Clybourn and Halstead. Not only is this location much closer to where I live, the neighborhood is known as being a "Michigan Ave. for locals," as it has many of the same stores located on the world famous destination sans all the congestion of tourism.

As it would happen, Apple's new neighbor will be the CTA red line subway station. It comes as no surprise that Apple doesn't want the unsightliness of the dilapidated station right next to their shiny new building. So, what will they do about this? They’re going to renovate the station inside and out and build a park between it and their new store. Mac Rumors has all the details.

 Personally, I love to see business enrich their communities like this. After all, socially responsible commerce is a sustaining force our country is built on and this is a perfect example of community improvement by an international corporation. Not only will they provide yet another destination store in the neighborhood, they'll provide much needed outdoor space in a neighborhood that otherwise resembles a concrete jungle. As a member of the community, kudos to Apple on this one.

Our Lady Peace at The Vic

I've seen Our Lady Peace live 3 times to date (98, 03, and now 09). Each time was a different moment in their career and a different time in my life. The first time was just as I was coming of age to go to concerts with just my friends and no parents. Their '98 show, where the opened for Creed, is one of the most memorable moments during a live show I've ever had and I think of it just almost every time I think of bands playing live. The show in '03 is also a fond memory because of the company I saw the concert with. Come to think of it, the shows in '98 and '03 I attended with basically the same friends. It's a testament that we're still all friends to this date, and I know that has a lot to do with music.

The Story of My Last Name's Origin: Welense / Velence

My whole life, I've always wondered where my last name came from. The whole "they made it up at Ellis Island because they couldn't pronounce it" story is probably true, I'd always thought. However, a little bit of research has turned a new leaf.

You see, in much of Europe (Germany, Austria, etc.) the pronunciation of the letters V and W are swapped; V is pronounced like a W, as "wuh" and W is pronounced like a V, as "vuh." A good friend of mine from undergrad is from Germany, and when she first came to the States she often swapped the letters herself.

My Great Grandfather, Michael, emigrated from Hungary in the early 1900s. Granted, Michael was likely not his real Hungarian name, but it is the name he took. I visited New York City and Ellis Island in 2001 and saw for myself "Michael Welense" engraved on the stone blocks they have there. Hungary, which is near Germany, also happens to swap the W and V pronunciation. We've always thought that "Welense" was probably made-up, it's been family lore for years.

HIMSS on Usability

This paper by HIMSS sums up the obvious, but it’s great reading it as written by such an authoritative organization.

Some choice quotes from the first two pages:

  • A key reason, aside from initial costs and lost productivity during EMR implementation, is lack of efficiency and usability of EMRs currently available.
  • Achieving the healthcare reform goals of broad EMR adoption and “meaningful use” will require that efficiency and usability be effectively addressed at a fundamental level.
  • Usability is often mistakenly equated with user satisfaction, which is an oversimplification.
  • We submit that usability is one of the major factors—possibly the most important factor—hindering widespread adoption of EMRs.
  • Effective training and implementation methods affect user adoption rates as well, but training is both harder and more costly, and implementation is more complex and difficult when usability is lacking.

Originally downloaded from at:

(2016 Upate: Unfortunately that link no longer works, and I don't have a copy saved anywhere.)

How Amazon Could Improve Sharing Blog Posts on the Kindle

One of my favorite features of the my new Kindle e-book reader is how great it makes reading blogs. The combination of my Kindle and iPhone means I barely need to use my laptop to perform everday tasks like reading and email/IM/search/Twitter/Facebook, respectively.

What I miss about reading blogs on my laptop though is how easy it is to share links to an article with my friends. I could just copy the URL, maybe trim it with a URL shortening service, then post it to Twitter or Facebook, or email it. It was also easy to copy snippets of the article to include in posts/email.

In a perfect world, each Kindle blog post would have sharing links for the popular services. For example, the end of each post would have links for "Save to Delicious" and "Digg This." It would also ideally include a short URL like http://kind.le/a7dj873 so that I could easily post something like this to Twitter or Facebook using my phone: "Just read article from TechCrunch on the Hubble Space Telescope on my Kindle, check it out: http://kind.le/a7dj873"

I sent this idea along to Amazon via their address.

Oh, and I typed this on my iPhone, thanks in part to the Mail app's new landscape keyboard.

My First Experience With Twitter

I've always found it markedly unsurprising how huge Twitter has become. Personally, I'm a geek, was a geek before it was "cool" to be one, and have a tenancy to stumble upon (no pun intended) tech trends before others. My friends famously made fun of me for being an advocate (of Bluetooth*) circa 2001. Lately I've befuddled people by becoming enamored with my Kindle and insisting on mirroring my everyday computer screen on my living room TV.

For the last few months now, people who know this about have been asking me how long I've known about Twitter. Today I finally dug up an answer, along with my first blog post about Twitter. It's ironic reading this now, for a number of reasons, most significantly because instant messaging services are now mobile-enabled to a level with the iPhone's push notification service that makes possible what I had envisioned at least 4 to 5 years ago.

Now answer the question about my first experience with Twitter, I present my first Tweet along with the blog post I wrote shortly thereafter.

My First Tweet: March 22, 2007 @ 2:45am
williamw83: Sleeping 

New play list for the ride to Michigan tomorrow, and also why iLike is great but fails too

I just put together a first draft of a new playlist to listen to on my drive back to Michigan tomorrow night. I'll be leaving after work, so it will be nice to at least have some new music to get me through the normal length of road between work and home, if not out of the city altogether (that's being optimistic!). My playlists usually take some tweaking over time to get the songs in the right order so the list works well together. If I'm good, as I have been in the past, I'll come up with a mix I listen to years down the road that reminds me of the occassion for which I made it. If I'm not good, I'll have this lingering name in my library and on my iPhone constantly reminding me of how bad of a mix I made. Either way, the mix serves the purpose to take me back to the moment in time when I made it.

I also "discovered" a site this week that I've heard of for over a year now, called iLike. I've seen widgets from the site on the web before and no doubt have seen a few hundred thousand posts in Facebook from people who've installed their app. What I really like about iLike (that sounds corny to type, btw) is that it has a feature where I can import a playlist I made in iTunes into the site and it turns it into a postable widget (see below and the "Current Playlist" in my blog's sidebar).