Monday, August 31, 2009

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.

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