Monday, June 24, 2019

Introducing Informatics.Health

About a year ago, the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) launched a new set of top-level Internet domains. One of these was .health. When to my surprise, the domain name was still available, I immediately grabbed it. I am now pleased to launch my first use of the domain name, which is a re-direct to my well-known site, What is Biomedical and Health Informatics?

In honor of this launch, I have completely updated the "What is...?" site, which I use to both provide an overview of the field to those interested and also demonstrate the online learning technologies that we use in our Biomedical Informatics Graduate Program at OHSU.

The main part of the site consists of the following lecture segments (time in parentheses):
  • What is Biomedical and Health Informatics (1)? (23:30)
  • What is Biomedical and Health Informatics (2)? (17:41)
  • A Short History of Biomedical and Health Informatics (21:33)
  • Resources for Field: Organizations, Information, Education (24:37)
  • Examples of the Electronic Health Record (EHR) (24:08)
  • Data Science and Machine Learning (1) (14:26)
  • Data Science and Machine Learning (2) (20:09)
  • Information Retrieval (Search) (24:05)
  • Information Retrieval Content (29:26)
The site also contains links to books, articles, organizations, and educational Web site.

Over time, I will probably move the site to a new server, and eventually I may develop different content for it. However, I will always want the site to be an overview of the biomedical and health informatics field. 

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Recovering from a Computer Demise, 21st Century Edition

My professional and personal lives have involved computer use for many decades. As time has gone on, the proportion of my life tied to computing devices has increased. Whereas in the early days I mainly saved programs and simple documents, my life is now intertwined with computers, smartphones, and tablets; covering virtually everything I do professionally and also a large amount of personal activities, from pictures to music to documents and more.

Although computers are more reliable than ever, the impact of a failure is more catastrophic in the present when so much of one's life is tied up in them. The recent sudden demise of my MacBook Pro reminded me of this.

Back in the early days, as well as now, the most critical problem where is a computer failure is loss of one's data. Because data loss was more common in those early days, I have always backed up my data frequently. In modern times, the easiest way to do this as a Mac user is through the use of Time Machine, which is built into the operating system. I keep two hard disks for this purpose, one to take with me whenever I travel and another to stay home in case everything is lost or stolen on a trip. Then and now, I have always backed up my data about once a day. This habit fortunately minimized the impact of my recent computer demise.

I have actually experienced only a handful of computer failures in my decades of using them. But a few weeks ago, while flying home from Singapore, fortunately on the last leg of the trip from San Francisco to Portland, my MacBook Pro just died. No amount of trying to reset the System Management Controller (SMC) or anything else helped. The battery was far from dead, so plugging in the computer did not help either. The death was verified by the OHSU IT department after I landed and brought it in to them.

Fortunately my department had a recently re-imaged MacBook Pro for me to use immediately. But most fortunately, I had backed up my now-dead machine about 24 hours earlier.

When I get a new Mac, I generally prefer not to restore the entire computer image in Time Machine. Even though it would be faster, I know of those who have had problems with this approach, and I prefer to re-build my machine by re-installing the data and then the individual apps. I also like the opportunity to do some "housecleaning" to get rid of applications I am not actively using and mostly clutter machine.

(I also have a systematic method for backing up all data I want to maintain in the long run. I have been doing this as well since the late 1980s and have an archive of essentially my entire career, even though some files from those early days no longer have applications that can open them. Microsoft Office, for example, will not open those Word/Excel/Powerpoint-format files from those times, but the files can be opened by a text editor.)

With the new MacBook Pro, I was quickly able to restore my data from my Time Machine disk, which gave me all of my data from about 24 hours prior. This meant I would be losing all work I had done in the last 24 hours since that backup, which was not insubstantial, since I had been working during my last hours in Singapore and then my long trans-Pacific flight. I was able to retrieve a few things I had done within those 24 hours, for example documents I composed and sent by email, which were in the outbox of my mail client. (Doesn’t hurt to have had wifi on my long flight!)

It generally takes me a couple weeks to get a new computer fully restored from a prior one, and this case was no different. The MacBook Pro was sent to Apple for repairs and they had to replace the entire innards, so there was no way to recover anything from the old computer. But due to careful backing up and other processes, my computer demise was fortunately not too painful, and I re-learned the lesson of regularly backing up one's work.

I know there are also in modern times some processes that eliminate the need for users to actively back up their work, such as to a cloud-based location. But even this would be imperfect for me, since my Internet access is not yet completely ubiquitous (such as when the airplane wifi does not work or a local connection is too expensive or otherwise not available). So I imagine that my habit of regularly backing up my data will be a good one to keep for some time to come.