Month: July 2012

Healing Development Mistakes and the Language of Global Affairs

Recently I’ve heard Chinese officials (and before that, Vietnamese, Indian, Mexican and others) complain about the US “preaching”, particularly about labor and environmental practices. A key piece of that, “why are you denying us the same benefit you had”. This one saddens me deeply. We saw the destructive nature of our actions and seek to purge that from our psyche. No, this isn’t an attempt to rob you of advantage, it’s an attempt to help you avoid our costly mistakes. The US is still healing from the environmental degradations of our history. Still coming to terms the destruction from the dishonest and ill-treatment of our indigenous people, or slavery. 

The goal, for me, at least, isn’t to maximize our grain. Really, it should be about avoiding the same costly mistakes we made in our development. The available mistakes to make are manifold, probably unknowable. Learn from us. If we’re wise, we’ll learn how to learn from the rest of the world. But that’s a blog post for a different day.

A Technologist Reflects on the Rory Staunton Case In New York

Re: “An Infection, Unnoticed, Turns Unstoppable

Brief summation: boy gets infection via a superficial seeming injury. Multiple medical professionals fail to catch it as it escalates, eventually killing the boy. 

Reading this piece in the NYTimes is painful. As a parent, these stories rattle your paranoia. Parenthood seems to be that thing which shakes us from a “it can’t happen to me” attitude. Yet my parental paranoia wasn’t the only issue raised. I left wondering what could’ve been done differently, or, more specifically, how could technology help to prevent such tragedy.

Some key data were missed in the process, in particular several key elevated levels (“His bands were 53% (normal high is 15%); absolute neutrophils were 13.5 (normal high is 8.5); absolute bands were 7.8 (normal high, 4.2). On the other hand, a blood value associated with viral infection was low. His lymphocytes were 3% (normal low, 28%).”) were, for whatever reason, not acted upon  by the hospital staff. There are several possible reasons, but all seem to stem from human error. What I envisioned is the doctor, while being distracted by the myriad distractions in an ER setting, simply missed this information.

One thing technology can do well is remove the “human” part on these sorts of errors. It’s easy to conceive of a medical data system that would compare the results with “acceptable limits”, or some sort of gradient. Then a simple script would flash/harangue, staff until acted upon.

Would such a thing have saved this boy? Hard to say. I don’t know if such a system existed and was operational at the time. But I like to think of solutions when faced with crisises. And like to think that there are technological solutions for a great many global ills. Perhaps that’s naiveté, or hubris. Yet, it’s there. If it’s a survival mechanism meant to mitigate the sadness or fear, it’s not very effective. It is something, no?

Overwhelmed -or- My Inbox Is A Blizzard Of Data

My inbox is out of control. I know others feel this, too. This blizzard of information, inboxes, tweets, Facebook, texts, calls, news-sites…on and in it goes. We’ve gone far past data saturation.

I’s wondered lately where we go from here. How do we cope with this? Tools are being developed, but most seem to focus on new ways to deliver. Perhaps different packaging, clever design; but the problem isn’t readability, it’s volume. How do we filter?

Our culture has never faced this before. Never has information been so commoditized. Never have we had all the world’s assembled knowledge sitting in our pockets.

Most of us filter by ignoring, where it’s views we don’t like, voices we find annoying, or just deleting this one email “this one time”. Yet, for me at least, that’s unsatisfying. I value discussion. Value getting new voices heard, new ideas expressed.

Yet, without finding away to increase our absorption rate, it seems we’re faced with blocking information flow. Unless (and here’s my hope) we build a tool to help. Some new and clever way to relate to information.

For this I wait.