Monday, August 31, 2009

Violin-Playing Robot

Okay, dammit. It's not just the banjo players that will be losing gigs. Looks like fiddlers had also better keep an eye on their rear-view mirrors.

I'm almost afraid to look at YouTube these days, lest I see an X-ray-reading robot looking back at me...

Lightning Fast Robot Hand

A friend's reaction to the following video:
I bet this thing could do wicked good banjo triplets.

No kidding. This thing could play a banjo faster than Bela Fleck, which is really saying something.

With a bit more development, it's not just musicians that this thing might put out of work -- surgeons could lose a few gigs too.

As Dr. Wes has pointed out, this thing could also have amazing benefits for the differently abled.

This robot hand would be an especially good match with the brain-computer interface described on the 8/9/09 episode of 60 minutes (the good stuff starts at the 15:00 mark).

This is great technology -- especially from the point of view of a precocious geezer who may need some of it one of these days.

Hat tip to Anita Anderson

The Samurai Journal of Radiology

Sipping from a firehose -- that's what it feels like to keep up with the medical literature these days.

Even an info nerd like myself can't keep up with all of it. However, I do have a few online tools that make my own personal information overload a lot easier to deal with.


I've used this awesome newsreader program for years. It currently grabs over 100 newsfeeds and converts them into what I like to call The Samurai Journal of Radiology™. This journal caters to my own peculiar tastes, and includes not just radiology articles, but also a fair amount of infogeek stuff and a comics section.

NetNewsWire is a Mac only program, but shares a lot of features and synchronizes with Google Reader, a non-denominational newsreader that I also use, especially on my iPhone.

These two programs do the following really, really well:
  1. they insure that I will at least scan the titles of all the latest radiology articles in my field
  2. they make it easy to read my literature at any level of granularity I desire: title only, title and abstract only, or full article
  3. they keep track of what I've read and what I've not read
The main downside of NetNewsWire or Google Reader is that they make it way too easy for Type A people like me to become a newsfeed slut. Even though I've trimmed my feed list way back, I still have over 100 feeds that I somehow can't bear to delete. Sigh....


Just about all of the radiology journals now provide RSS feeds on their websites. Radiology and the American Journal of Roentgenology also provide subspecialty feeds (such as just neuro or just musculoskeletal), keeping my reading list blissfully free of all barium articles.

However, there are some parts of my specialty that are more fascinating than others, and HubMed helps me keep up with them. Let's say that I have a special interest in one particular dysplasia: the bird-headed dwarf syndrome of Seckel. Not surprisingly, Radiology and AJR tend to have pretty spotty coverage of this rare syndrome.

However, if I type in the term "bird-headed dwarf" into HubMed's search window, it generates a special newsfeed for me on that very topic:

When I point my newsreader at this feed, it will always show me the latest 20 articles on this topic from PubMed, from all of the zillion medical journals in its database.

Very cool.


For the past week, I've been using a very cool new newsreader called Fever.

Fever, unlike conventional newsreaders, actually works better when you fill it up with a zillion newsfeeds. When you import your list of feeds into Fever, you first sort them into two piles:
  1. stuff that you like to read every day
  2. stuff that you read once in a while

Fever calls these 2 categories respectively "Kindling" and "Sparks". It then distills from them topics that are hot enough to be worth reading using the following principles:
  1. if only one person writes about a topic, it's cold
  2. if two people write about it, it's warm
  3. if three or people more write about it, it's hot
The greater the number of posts on a topic, the hotter it is.

The downside: You'll need access to a server running Unix Apache, PHP and MySQL in order to install Fever. You don't have to be an alpha geek to get it up and running, but it doesn't hurt.

The upside: Fever has so far done a pretty good job of spotting gems that I would have otherwise missed. Well worth the $30 it cost and the few hours of time I spent configuring myserver and installing it. This alpha geek gives it two thumbs up.

How Science Publishing Works

I've become a big fan of the online comic Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal by Zach Weiner.

I especially enjoyed his treatment today of the Least Publishable Unit.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

MR Fail

We who work around MR scanners well know that odd sensation when something you forgot to take out of your pocket starts tugging you firmly toward the giant magnet.

Most of us have also idly speculated about the following question...
So, what if you actually did push a really big ferromagnetic object (like a whole ICU bed) into the scan room?
This picture from Fail Blog pretty well answers that question.

Hat tip to Better Health.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Dead-On Anatomic Art

This smoking shelter is located on the campus of a local community college. I love the artwork...

Friday, August 14, 2009

Sunscreen Advice from a Radiologist

My views on sun protection are a bit more conservative than most -- after all, what do you expect from someone whose favorite sunscreen is a lead-lined room?

However, after reading A Guide to Summer Sun Protection in the latest issue of the New Yorker, I just may switch to some of that SPF 233...


A bit of history of the Upper North Left from XKCD.

This would explain that odd (really odd) surge in population we saw in Washington and California back in 1852...

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Write When Inspired

Interesting piece by Jeffrey Zeldman on writing quality. His main point:
Write when inspired; rest when tired.
Fine words in the abstract, but not always practical in a deadline-driven world, such as medical care. I'd love to only work when I'm well rested, but some things just have to be done now, regardless of how I feel. I would counter with another aphorism:
In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they're not.
Some of my orthopedic colleagues would put it more bluntly:
Sometimes best is the enemy of good enough.
The reader commentary ( and Mr. Zeldman's reply) make for a great point-counterpoint on this theme. I especially enjoyed Glenn Fleishman's comments.
Inspiration is uneven; work must be even.

(hat tip to Daring Fireball)

Mysterious iProd in the Works...

This just in from Ars Technica:
An updated USBConfiguration.plist in the most recent version of iPhone OS 3.1 beta offers compelling evidence that Apple has continued development on an unknown device, referred to as "iProd," that was first discovered in March.
The mind boggles.

Of course, my mental image of an "iProd" may be a bit skewed, having grown up in the ranch country of West Texas. Out there, a prod is a sort of cow taser, used by some to herd stubborn animals. We preferred positive incentives -- a shake of a feed bucket is all it took to make our cattle come running. The only cattle prod I've seen in several decades is the one hanging over the waiting line in Rudy's, my favorite Austin barbeque spot.


Of course, I would never actually use an iProd at work. As with cattle, so with radiology residents -- I prefer positive incentives, such as chocolate.

However, one would look swell hanging up in our reading room over the PACS stations. Until I find out the identity of Apple's latest mystery device, I'll keep an eye peeled for something similar on the iTunes Store. As the Apple ads say, "there's an app for everything..."

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Power of the Pentatonic Scale

An old friend (and discerning reader of this blog) pointed me to the following video, wherein Bobby McFerrin demonstrates the power of the pentatonic scale at the World Science Festival 2009.

As Mr. McFerrin shows, the pentatonic scale is a great scale for improvisation -- it's hard to sing a wrong note. On a guitar, just noodling around on the simple 1-4, 1-3, 1-3, 1-3, 1-4, 1-4 pentatonic pattern is a fine way to spend a happy hour or two. It's impressive how many classic rock and blues licks fall out of this simple scale.

Pentatonicity is also the basis for a number of great old-time fiddle tunes, of which Billy in the Low Ground is an examplar. This version of BITLG shows the Blue Ridge Mountain Boys flinging a tasty torrent of notes about a pentatonic C scale.

I'll have to ask our physicists to program a pentatonic pulse sequence for me to use on our MRI machine. Seems like that ought to be handy for imaging the elusive banjo center of the brain.

(Hat tip to Anita Anderson)