Monthly Archive for December, 2008

Programming Languages for the New Year

As the New Year approaches a software developer’s idea of renewal is typically learning a new programming language.  I ran across the following post which provides some interesting alternatives to consider.

10 programming languages worth checking out:

Also, Dr. Dobb’s has an article on functional programming languages: It’s Time to Get Good at Functional Programming

Networked Medical Devices

If you work with networked medical devices, Tim’s post Medical Device Networks Trouble Industry is a must-read.

In order to better illustrate the bigger picture I thought this diagram might help:


This summarizes the relationship between the major players involved with integrating medical devices into an enterprise network and highlights some points I think are important.

  1. Only medical device manufacturers have to be concerned with the FDA regulatory aspects of placing computing and networking components into a medical environment. I’ve previously discussed some of the regulatory and verification/validation issues with Connecting Computers to FDA Regulated Medical Devices.
  2. All of the players — hospital IT, medical devices, and IT/EMR software vendors — deal with the same commercially available hardware and software components. This is simply due to the economy of scale.  The medical industry isn’t large enough create the quantities necessary to drive the cost out of most of these devices. We have to depend on the broader high-volume commercial marketplace  in order to reduce cost.
  3. The medical device industry is involved in standards development, but at the end of the day its the broader market adoption that drives down the cost for everyone (see point #2).  I think this is one of the main reasons why “the days of private medical device networks as we know them are over.”
  4. FDA guidance and regulatory efforts in this area will always be in catch-up mode. As the technology and trends change they will be forced to evaluate the impact on patient safety after the fact. This is already happening — as Tim points out (emphasis mine):

The bottom line here is that we can’t all look to the FDA to solve these issues that are the consequence of putting medical device systems on enterprise networks – when you do this, your enterprise network becomes part of a medical device.

Medical devices have been added to enterprise networks for years, yet IEC 80001 and the Medical Device Data Systems rule are still just drafts.

Some other thoughts:

  • Private Medical Device Networks: Wireless networks are more often private. For wired networks “logically separate private networks through the use of network switches and routers” is more the norm. Since Ethernet took over in the mid 90s (anyone remember token ring?) most hospitals have not allowed private in-wall wiring installations.
  • Enterprise Networks: One of the major challenges is just getting your private “logical” system installed on the hospital infrastructure. In addition to reliability, compatibility, routing, and bandwidth are just a few of the issues.  One of the troubling aspects of this from a regulatory point of view is that there is no way for a medical device manufacturer to test all of the possible configurations that may arise in the field. The sustaining engineering and network variability issues are related problems.
  • Hospital IT Culture: This is an issue that I have seen first-hand.  A previous medical device I worked on used an embedded POSIX compliant UNIX variant. We ran into several hospital IT departments that refused to approve the medical device purchase because their policy would only allow computers running certain versions of the Microsoft OS on their network. This happened quite a few years ago. I can only hope that the integration philosophies of hospital IT departments have become more enlightened since then.

UPDATE  (1/15/09): Here’s another good article on this subject:  Smoothing the Rocky Path of Interconnected Medical Devices.

The 2008 Year in Ideas

The annual Year in Ideas New York Times Magazine issue is one of my favorites. Of the 58 ideas, only two are biomedical related:

Automated Anesthesia (McSleepy)

The Biomechanical Energy Harvester

There are also a couple of other medical ideas, but all are worth looking through.

The only software/high-tech gadget idea is an iPhone application: Bubble Wrap That Never Ends (“Infinite Pop Pop”).

IMO the strangest of the lot is Carbon Penance which takes personal responsibility for climate change to a new level:

When it detects, via a special power monitor, that electric current levels have exceeded a certain threshold, the wireless device slowly drives six stainless-steel thorns into the flesh of your leg. “It’s therapy for environmental guilt,”…

No thanks!

What makes a good programmer? Acceptance of meaningless rules and conclusions!

Boing Boing has this great post: Comfort with meaninglessness the key to good programmers.

Research in the UK on teaching computer science found three groups of students:

  1. People who answered the questions using different mental models for different questions.
  2. People who answered using a consistent model.
  3. People who didn’t answer the questions at all.

Contrary to predictions that the more adaptive group (#1) would fair better, they found that the consistent group (#2) were more successful programmers.

Even better:

… single biggest predictor of likely aptitude for programming is a deep comfort with meaninglessness

Now I know why I enjoy programming so much.

Social science research is so much fun! As you might have expected,  xkcd has the perfect strip for this (hat tip: comment #6):



Via Ayende, here’s a cool text analysis site: Typealyzer. They should really work on their spelling and syntax though (I made corrections). Here are the results for this site:

INTJ – The Scientists


The long-range thinking and individualistic type. They are especially good at looking at almost anything and figuring out a way of improving it – often with a highly creative and imaginative touch. They are intellectually curious and daring, but might be physically hesitant to try new things.

The Scientists enjoy theoretical work that allows them to use their strong minds and bold creativity. Since they tend to be so abstract and theoretical in their communication they often have a problem communicating their visions to other people and need to learn patience and use concrete examples. Since they are extremely good at concentrating they often have no trouble working alone.

The second part of the analysis is this:

This shows what parts of the brain that were dominant during writing.

Who would have guessed? And no gelled electrodes, magnetic fields, or X-rays were involved! 🙂



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