Category Archives: Books

The poor are failed by the loss of obsolete medical procedures

The following rant comes courtesy of a speaker to a group of volunteer developers working on OpenMRS, who recounted her experiences of volunteering as a doctor in India.

Naturally, when you go under the knife for a surgical procedure, you’d want the surgeon using the latest, most advanced techniques, as demonstrated by empirical evidence.  Health systems want the surgeons to use the most efficient technique, expressed in positive outcomes per money spent.  You’d expect that in today’s world, you’d get one of the two, or perhaps somewhere in between.

Say that the latest technique uses robo-surgeons. Let’s call that technique Z.  It was pioneered in a university teaching hospital at enormous cost, because they’d never built one before; there’s no commercial provider of the equipment yet, so technique Z hasn’t percolated to wider practice.  Most other hospitals use techniques X or Y, one requiring more, highly trained staff, and the other requiring fewer staff but a couple of expensive pieces of equipment. Techniques X and Y are variations on T, U, V and W, some of which date back to the early sixties, and stem off from technique S.  If you look at textbooks, S is mentioned by name, and T, U, V and W have one- or two-sentence descriptions because while major leaps forward at the time, they’re now obsolete in the era of X and Y.  The medical textbooks describe how to do X and Y in detail.

In developing countries, you don’t have either the many staff, the highly trained staff or the expensive pieces of equipment.  U, V and W are all unavailable because of this. T uses equipment that can’t even be procured any more and certainly isn’t lying around waiting to assist with surgery now.

The developing world needs medical and surgical texts that don’t demand powerful diagnostic tools, expensive equipment or highly specialized staff.  A competent surgeon can do their work without any of these; they’ll get worse expected outcomes, but those outcomes will be better than inaction.  There are no textbooks currently available to instruct a surgeon with limited resources.  Even battlefield surgeons expect to stabilize their patient and ship them off to much better hospitals.

The ongoing progress in medicine is leaving behind the poorest and most vulnerable on our planet; our indifference to the preservation of these old methods are affecting us now, in ways I would never have guessed at.

ePub html/xhtml (or chapter) upper file size limit is 300Kb

The size of individual html files — chapters — that make up an ePub should not exceed 300Kb, according to ePubPreFlight, and this thread. Presumably this is to deal with eReader limitations, which are unspecified.

(I’ve found tell that you shouldn’t make the html/xhtml files in your ePub eBook “too big”, but finding out what “too big” is seems to be hard. Now the Internet knows the maximum size, and you don’t have to know all the magic keywords.)

Another Hitchhiker's book on the way

AFP report: ARTHUR Dent will get to continue his adventures across the universe with another tale in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series announced.

Irish children's author and creator of Artemis Fowl, Eoin Colfer, has been commissioned to write a new instalment of the cult science-fiction comedy which became a worldwide hit,

publishers have revealed.

Full story

BBC News story

I dunno. This could be good, or it could be very bad. I'm not convinced that at this point, the series shouldn't be left alone.


Who invented microcomputing?

There seem to be a number of histories out there that try and paint Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Paul Allen or Apple’s Steves Jobs and Wozniak as the inventors of microcomputing.

6502 chipI reckon it couldn’t be farther from the truth. I reckon it was Chuck Peddle.

Chuck Peddle not only invented the 6502, which cut the cost of microprocessors markedly (making them affordable to people like the Steves to play around with them and put into the Apple) he was also behind the PET, from which the Vic-20 and Commodore 64 were descended.

These were the first computers to sell in their millions, introducing affordable microcomputing to the masses of the western world, and pathing the way for the PCs and Macs you see in homes today. (The Commodore 64 is still the biggest selling computer of all-time, though given the proliferation of PCs, I suppose the comparison is a little unfair.)

And the 6502 went not only into Commodore and Apple machines, but also into Ataris (including the VCS 2600), the BBC Micro, Nintendo NES and many others. It’s said it directly inspired today’s ARM processors (ARM came out of Acorn, the BBC Micro manufacturers) now found in so many consumer electronic devices. (So is the 6502, as it happens.)

Commodore BASIC was bought from Microsoft, making Commodore one of their earliest big customers (though it was a cut-throat deal). Microsoft’s BASIC went into a lot of other computers at the time, and lives-on in Visual Basic, now the most popular programming language on the planet.

As Peddle says in the book I’ve just finished reading (On The Edge — The Spectacular Rise and Fall of Commodore by Brian Bagnall), “We changed the world.” And he’s right.

Unfortunately Commodore’s role in all this tends to get overlooked in many histories, such as Triumph of the Nerds and the like.

Other things I learnt reading the book:

    Jack Tramiel was a ruthless businessman, but he did make this all happen, until he was ousted from Commodore by Irving Gould.

  • Irving Gould couldn’t organise a piss-up in a brewery. He and many of his appointments were the epitome of bad management, and what directly drove Commodore to bankruptcy.
  • The Commodore marketing department produced some real clangers of promotions, which didn’t properly advertise the great machines at all well.
  • Some of the brilliant engineers involved should have been household names, but alas aren’t. That’s the way of the world I suppose.
  • The PET had a metal case because Commodore had a file cabinet-making business.
  • The C64 had the same case as the Vic-20 because they didn’t have time to build anything else.
  • I must have been out of my mind when I bought that Commodore Plus 4 all those years ago. Obviously I couldn’t see it at the time, but it had lemon written all over it.
  • The Amiga 1200 I bought in the early 90s was a much better buy. One day I hope I can play the Amiga AGA version of Aladdin again.
  • People who are useless are known as human NOPs.

All in all, the book is a great read. Bagnall and his editors apparently don’t know how to use apostrophes, but that doesn’t detract from what is a compelling story. Recommended, especially for anybody who dabbled with computers in the late 70s or 80s.

The rise and fall of Commodore

“On The Edge: The Spectacular Rise and Fall of Commodore” tells the oft-missed-by-the-geek-historians story of Commodore. The web site has some free chapters, including one describing the creation of the Commodore 64:

If you’ve ever wondered why the C64 has the same case as the VIC-20, it’s because we didn’t have any time to tool anything up. We just put it in a VIC-20 case and spray painted it. Everything about the Commodore 64 is the way it is because of just an unbelievably tight time constraint on the product.

A buncha quick stuff

EFF highlights an Australian House Standing Committee report on the US DMCA, and whether or not it should be adopted wholesale by Australia under the Free Trade Agreement.

Meanwhile there’s an open letter to the OFLC about the banning in Australia of the grafitti video game Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure. (Mind you, Metacritic only gives it a 73/100 on XBox; 70 on PS2).

OPML 2.0 is out. Let’s hope it doesn’t break OPML 1 like RSS 2 broke RSS 0.9?

The Age on the retro games boom.

Pah, this sucks. After 64 years in Swanston Street, the Technical Bookshop in Melbourne has moved out to the boondocks of LaTrobe Street near Queen Street.

Quick review: Accidental Empires

Cover of Accidental EmpiresAccidental Empires by Robert Cringely: Full of interesting and amusing anecdotes about the start of the modern PC era, with some of Cringely’s wild theories thrown in. The book is about ten years old now, and some of his predictions about the (then) future of computing show he’s probably a better storyteller than he is prophesiser. But it’s certainly got some gems in it. Given some of the stuff he writes about the industry’s major players (Jobs, Gates, Ballmer, etc), I’m almost surprised they agreed to talk to him subsequently for the TV version. A good read.Thumbs up!

Blatant plug

Piles of magazinesI’m clearing out a huge stack of Australian Personal Computer magazines and CDs. If you’re crazy enough to want such a thing, it’s listed on eBay.

(I hope someone wants them; I’m moving house soon, and could really do with not lugging them to the new place.)

It’s A Coffee Table Book…

It’s a coffee table book, but not about coffee tables.

This one is tells the story of 44 early personal computers, and even features my first ever computer, the mighty Acorn Electron. Check it out, I can hear my Mastercard groaning already. Via JD.

Amazon Not So Bargain

I was checking Amazon for a 2nd hand copy of Build Your Own Database Driven Website Using PHP & MySQL, Second Edition. I found one only to be a little perplexed. Maybe ‘low’ means something different in Amazon land.

Amazon Not So Bargain

Sitepoint Anomaly

I’ve been meaning to buy a couple of books from sitepoint for a while now. I’ve borrowed a copy of their HTML Utopia: Designing Without Tables Using CSS, a fantastic guide to CSS and their Build Your Own Database Driven Website Using PHP & MySQL looks great so when they emailed me an offer of 20% off this book I thought why not.

That is until I saw the site. Ifyou spend over USD$70 (effectively two books) you get free postage anywhere in the world. Hmmm. Take the offer and save $7 off one book or reject the offer (which takes me below $70), pay full price and save $15?

Regardless, they’re great books.