Aug 31, 2007

Vaccine warning as measles cases triple

Parents are being urged to give their children the measles, mumps and rubella jab before the start of the new school year after an unprecedented surge of measles cases was recorded over the summer holidays.

Experts fear that hundreds of thousands of children returning to school as early as next week may cause the highly infectious disease to spread. Despite this the Government has ordered no extra stocks of the MMR vaccine and doctors may run out if they face a sudden rise in demand, The Times has learnt.

The Health Protection Agency (HPA) said that the number of confirmed cases of measles in children had more than trebled over recent months and was far higher than would normally be expected for this time of year.

By June 10 only 136 cases of measles had been confirmed. But just over 11 weeks later this number has risen to 480, with new cases being detected every day, the HPA said. This compares with 756 cases recorded during the whole of 2006 – the highest year on record.
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Measles, which can be life threatening or cause severe disabilities, is most common among children aged 1 to 4 who have not been immunised, but can strike older children and adults, too.

It was difficult to explain the large increase this year, the HPA said, but parents not vaccinating their children and a lower uptake of a second MMR “booster” dose are thought to be key factors. The triple vaccine has proved highly controversial in recent years over unfounded concerns that it may be linked to autism. The study that first sparked fears about its safety is currently being scrutinised in a hearing by the General Medical Council, the medical watchdog. Andrew Wakefield and two co-authors of his research are currently appearing before the GMC on charges of serious professional misconduct.

MMR coverage began to drop in the late 1990s, though uptake is rising slowly again. The latest figures show that 88 per cent of British children begin school having had one dose of MMR.

But only three quarters of them have the full protection afforded by both doses. Until that figure is far higher, health officials say people should not assume that their children are safe from measles.

The latest data, for January to March 2007, showed particularly high numbers of measles cases in London and southeast England, East Anglia and Yorkshire and Humberside.

Mary Ramsay, a consultant epidemiologist at the HPA, said yesterday: “We’ve been very worried because the cases have stayed up over the summer holidays. This means it is crucial that children are fully immunised with two doses of MMR before they return to school.”

In previous decades, measles could cause an average of 20 deaths a year. Officials are nervous that the numbers could creep up again after gaps in vaccination coverage. “Although the numbers are still small, compared to the history of measles, we’re always worried about measles because very rarely it can kill,” Dr Ramsay added. “We hadn’t had any deaths from measles since the early 1990s, but unfortunately we had one death last year and we don’t want any more.

“Measles is a highly infectious and dangerous illness and, as there is increased close contact in schools, it can spread easily.”

Aug 28, 2007

Ellison unlocks Medicare databases

MEDICARE patient and provider databases will be the key sources of a healthcare identifier regime being introduced to support a shift to e-health programs.
Ellison unlocks Medicare database

The Government plans to use our personal data for its health e-records

Records belonging to 99 per cent of Australians are contained in Medicare's Consumer Directory Maintenance System, considered to be the most up-to-date and accurate government repository of personal information.

Although the law prevents the use of Medicare data for other purposes, Human Services Minister Chris Ellison has unlocked access via a legislative amendment tabled in Parliament on August 16.

Senator Ellison has authorised Medicare's chief executive to enter into a contract with the National E-Health Transition Authority and provide resources in support of the Unique Healthcare Identifier program.

Progress on the individual, healthcare provider and health organisation directories was flagged by NEHTA chief executive Ian Reinecke at MedInfo 2007 in Brisbane last week.

Dr Reinecke said NEHTA had established an operational governance model for contracting a universal identifier services operator, expected to be Medicare Australia.

"The operator will be responsible for building and running the service in line with its contract with NEHTA," Dr Reinecke said. "This contract has yet to be finalised, but it will include a service level agreement to address customer management and service delivery."

As a transitional organisation, it was not appropriate for NEHTA to take on a long-term governance role, he said.

"The overarching arrangements required before the service begins are a policy matter for governments to make," he said.

"Obviously we're concerned to ensure that transparent and accountable measures are put in place to manage critical issues such as privacy."

Calcium pills reduce bone breaks: study

Taking calcium tablets can cut an older person's chance of breaking a bone by up to a quarter, an Australian study has found.

The large-scale review is one of the biggest ever to definitively quantify the benefits of mineral supplements to prevent bone loss or fractures caused by osteoporosis.

The disease affects one in three women and 20 per cent of men, and while calcium and vitamin D are widely considered beneficial, the research has been conflicting.

NSW and Victorian researchers analysed the results of 29 studies involving almost 64,000 people aged over 50 worldwide who were treated for an average of 3.5 years.

The results, published in the international journal The Lancet, show that taking calcium supplements or calcium combined with vitamin D reduced the chance of fracture by 12 per cent.

And in studies where participants stuck very closely to their tablet regime, the risk dropped by 24 per cent.

Lead researcher Benjamin Tang, from the Centre for Complementary Medicine Research at the University of Western Sydney, found those most protected were people taking calcium doses of more than 1,200mg and with vitamin D doses of 800 international units or more.

The effect was greatest on elderly people, those living in nursing homes and people who were underweight.

Jonathah Leake: Staying young may be a mind game

SUSAN Greenfield, the pioneering British neuroscientist, is to launch an exercise program for the brain that she claims is proven to reverse the mental decline associated with ageing.

Baroness Greenfield, who is also director of the Royal Institution of Great Britain, maintains that Britain's baby boomers are discovering that concentrating on physical fitness is no longer sufficient preparation for old age.

"What concerns me is preserving the brain too," she said. "There is now scientific evidence to show that exercising the brain can slow, delay and protect against age-related decline."

Baroness Greenfield will launch MindFit, a PC-based software program, at the House of Lords next month for the "worried but well" -- people in their middle years who are healthy and want to stay that way.

Created by researchers in Israel and already on sale in the US, it offers users interactive puzzles and tasks claimed to stimulate the brain just as using a gym exercises the body's muscles. "There is evidence that such stimulation prompts brain cells to branch out and form new connections with other cells," she said.

Baroness Greenfield's decision to lend her name to MindFit and to take a significant stake in MindWeavers, the company promoting it, could raise eyebrows among fellow scientists. Her high profile in the media has rankled with some, and she was twice snubbed by the Royal Society.

The idea that the performance of the brain can be improved by exercises or potions has a long and controversial history.

There have also been scientific battles over the claims made for dietary supplements, especially fish oils, and so-called smart drugs. The latter have been shown to cause a short-term increase in IQ but the long-term secondary effects are unknown.

Baroness Greenfield's decision to promote MindFit, which will retail for about pound stg. 70 ($170), follows the release of new scientific research apparently showing clear benefits.

In the latest research, conducted at Tel Aviv University, 121 volunteers aged 50 and above were asked to spend 30 minutes on the computer, three times a week, for two years.

Half were assigned to use MindFit and the other half played sophisticated computer games. The results, released at a recent academic conference and due for formal publication shortly, showed that while all the volunteers benefited from using computer games, the MindFit users "experienced significantly greater improvement in short-term memory, visuo-spatial learning and focused attention".

Modern medical mysteries

We here at the Bureau of Medical Alarm hope you had a restful, carefree, fun-filled summer. But before you get back into ''the swing of things'' for fall, we'd like to take just a moment to remind you that practically everything can kill you.

At the moment, we are particularly concerned about: LATEX GLOVES OF DEATH. We have here a Health Advisory issued June 27 by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (motto: ``We Have Not Yet Determined That Our Motto Is Safe''). This advisory, which was sent in by several alert medical people, begins with the following statement: ``In the spring and summer of 1995, the spontaneous combustion of powder-free latex patient examination gloves caused four fires in different states.''

The advisory states that all four fires involved large quantities of gloves stored in hot warehouses. But we here at the Bureau of Medical Alarm are asking ourselves: What if a single glove (this is sometimes called the ''Lone Glove'' theory) was to burst into flames? What if this happened while the glove was on a doctor's hand? And what if the doctor's hand was, at that very moment, inside your personal body? One thing that would happen, of course, is the doctor would charge you a lot of money. The underlying philosophy of our entire health-care system is that the more scary, painful, dangerous and unnecessary a medical procedure is, the more it should cost. So you would definitely pay top dollar to have a flaming glove thrust into what is technically known as the Booty Region. Once word of this lucrative new procedure got around, doctors would be prescribing it for athlete's foot.

And here's a related item to be concerned about: An alert dental surgeon named Ian Hamilton sent me the June 1996 newsletter of the Canterbury Branch of the New Zealand Dental Association, which contains a letter to the editor, accompanied by a photograph, concerning a latex medical glove that was found to have a moth embedded in one of the fingers. Yes. This means you could wind up with a burning rubberized insect inside your body. Imagine the bill you'd get for that:

Flaming Booty Moth Treatment (FBMT)-$578,000

Recharge Fire Extinguisher-$23

Damage To Doctor's Golf Grip-$54,000,000,000

We know what you're wondering at this point. You're wondering: 'Wouldn't `The Flaming Booty Moths' be a great name for a rock band?'' Yes, it would. But right now you have other important medical things to worry about, such as:

DEADLY ITEMS UP YOUR NOSE. We have here a news item from the Denver Post, written by Jim Kirksey and sent in by many alert readers, concerning a man who arrived at a hospital ''with a device in his sinus cavity that potentially had the explosive force of five powerful M-80 firecrackers.'' The device was a trigger used to deploy automobile air bags; the man worked at a factory that manufactures the triggers, and an explosion had caused one of them to become -- in the words of a surgeon -- ``lodged into his nose.''

Fortunately, the device was safely removed, but the doctors were very nervous that it might go off during the surgery. Here at the Bureau of Medical Alarm we are wondering: Why doesn't the federal government require auto manufacturers to warn us that air bags contain devices that could be deadly if we get them up our noses? This is especially critical if we have very young children, who can get anything up their noses. Very young children can get things up their noses that are larger than their bodies. We think the government should require that the following statement be printed on automobile steering wheels:

WARNING: DO NOT ALLOW VERY YOUNG CHILDREN TO DISASSEMBLE THE AIR BAG AND INSERT THE EXPLOSIVE TRIGGER DEVICE WAY UP THEIR NOSE, AS THIS COULD RESULT IN YOUR HAVING TO SPEND THE REST OF YOUR MORTAL LIFE TRYING TO EXPLAIN THINGS TO YOUR INSURANCE COMPANY. ALSO YOU SHOULD NOT ATTEMPT TO READ THIS WARNING WHILE OPERATING THIS ... LOOK OUT! (CRASH) TOO LATE.

On a related medical note, we received a letter from Gail White, who works at a large hospital that shall remain nameless, and who relates the following incident:

``A man appeared at the emergency room with his hands over his face, demanding to see a male doctor, and to see him alone. A doctor (dreading to see some horrible disfigurement) complied with his wishes. When the man removed his hands, he was revealed to have a brassiere caught in his nose by the hooks.''

No, we do not know how the brassiere got caught there. Nor do we know how many men are, right now, suffering from Brassiere Nose, but are too embarrassed to seek medical treatment. Our best guess is thousands. If you are one of these unfortunate people, we urge you to seek medical help; your doctor can tell you about a revolutionary new procedure to correct this condition. Tell him you definitely want the moth.

Aug 27, 2007

Eating healthy fruit, vegetables won't stop cancer

FRUIT and vegetables provide no protection against cancer, according to latest Australian research that has shocked nutritionists.

In a discovery that turns conventional advice on its head, experts have admitted there is "zero evidence'' that eating fruit and vegetables can help people avoid a disease that kills nearly 40,000 Australians every year.


Research presented for the first time at last week's CSIRO Prospects for Cancer Prevention Symposium shows that what people eat is far less important in cancer prevention than previously believed.


Instead, the three prime risk factors driving up Australian cancer rates have been identified as obesity, drinking too much alcohol and smoking.


Staying within a healthy body weight range was found to be more important than following particular nutritional guidelines.

100-Pound Weight Loss Possible With Behavioral Changes

Dr. James Anderson, a weight loss researcher, led a nine-year study of patients who have lost 100 or more pounds. Such weight loss can be achieved by following an intensive behavioral program. This method is significantly safer than undergoing bariatric surgery to achieve similar weight loss results. Losing weight is hard to do. Anyone who has tried knows it is true. For most of us, the thought of dropping that extra 20 or 30 pounds of padding seems like an insurmountable goal. Imagine the need to drop 100 pounds or more.

That's just what 118 men and women did. Those 63 men and 55 women were part of a nine-year study led by Dr. James Anderson, head of the UK College of Medicine Metabolic Research Group. The average beginning weight of study participants was 353 pounds. The average weight loss was 134 pounds in 44 weeks.

"Many severely obese persons, needing to lose more than 100 pounds, become frustrated and turn to surgery," Anderson said. "This study shows that one in four persons who participate in an intensive weight loss program for 12 weeks can go on to lose over 100 pounds. This program has much lower risks than surgery and can lead to similar long-term weight loss."

Study participants were enrolled in the Health Management Resources (HMR) Weight Management Program, an intensive behavioral program, which is a partnership between HMR and UK. The program is based on limited calorie intake – 1,000 to 1,200 calories daily – through specialty entrees and meal replacements such as protein shakes. Participants also increased their physical activity, with walking being the exercise of choice.

Good Ole Genes

People who live to 100 or more are known to have just as many—and sometimes even more—harmful gene variants compared with younger people. Now, scientists at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University have discovered the secret behind this paradox: favorable “longevity” genes that protect very old people from the bad genes’ harmful effects. The novel method used by the researchers could lead to new drugs to protect against age-related diseases.

“We hypothesized that people living to 100 and beyond must be buffered by genes that interact with disease-causing genes to negate their effects,” says Dr. Aviv Bergman, a professor in the departments of pathology and neuroscience at Einstein and senior author of the study, which appears in the August 31 issue of PLoS Computational Biology.

To test this hypothesis, Dr. Bergman and his colleagues examined individuals enrolled in Einstein’s Longevity Genes Project, initiated in 1998 to investigate longevity genes in a selected population: Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jews. They are descended from a founder group of just 30,000 or so people. So they are relatively genetically homogenous, which simplifies the challenge of associating traits (in this case, age-related diseases and longevity) with the genes that determine them.

Participating in the study were 305 Ashkenazi Jews more than 95 years old and a control group of 408 unrelated Ashkenazi Jews. (Centenarians are so rare in human populations—only one in 10,000 people live to be 100—that “longevity” genes probably wouldn’t turn up in a typical control group. Longevity runs in families, so 430 children of centenarians were added to the control group to increase the number of favorable genes.)

All participants were grouped into cohorts representing each decade of lifespan from the 50’s on up. Using DNA samples, the researchers determined the prevalence in each cohort of 66 genetic markers present in 36 genes associated with aging.

As expected, some disease-related gene variants were as prevalent or even more prevalent in the oldest cohorts of Ashkenazi Jews than in the younger ones. And as Dr. Bergman had predicted, genes associated with longevity also became more common in each succeeding cohort. “These results indicate that the frequency of deleterious genotypes may increase among people who live to extremely old ages because their protective genes allow these disease-related genes to accumulate,” says Dr. Bergman.

The Einstein researchers were able to construct a network of gene interactions that contributes to the understanding of longevity. In particular, they found that the favorable variant of the gene CETP acts to buffer the harmful effects of the disease-causing gene Lp(a).

Aug 24, 2007

Storm worm botnet threatens national security?

In just eight months the Storm worm has infected more than 20 million computers and built a zombie army -- or botnet -- capable of launching DDoS attacks that could be used against any organisation or even damage critical infrastructure, according to security experts.

The Storm worm was first seen in January of this year. Initially the worm spread as an executable file attached to an e-mail disguised as an electronic greeting card. However, Storm has constantly changed its tactics and was recently caught fooling victims into clicking on links that lead them to an infected file.

According to antivirus firm Sophos, almost seven percent of all spam last week seemed to be related to Storm worm activity -- much of it greeting card related. The United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) last week warned Web users about the Storm worm which, it said, is "currently on the rise".

The Storm worm's build-up has concerned managed service security vendor SecureWorks, which recently speculated that the computers under Storm's control could be used to bring down virtually any online property.

The company has reported that in the four months leading to August 2007, Storm worm infections increased from 71,342 to over 20 million.

IBRS security analyst, James Turner said the Storm worm worked by changing its configuration through peer-to-peer networks rather than an IRC channel and that its distributed nature would make the resultant botnet particularly difficult to contain.

Joe Stewart, senior security researcher for SecureWorks said: "We don't know the motive of the Storm author; however ... it could be that the hacker is rapidly building up the botnet so it can be leased to other hackers so that they can launch massive attacks against whatever target they choose: an organisation, country, etc."

Is Storm the weapon of cyberwarfare?
Alexander Gostev, senior virus analyst at Kaspersky said that international disputes are spilling over to the Internet, which means world leaders, for the first time, are seriously discussing the possibility of a "cyberwar".

Cyberwars between countries, which involve only Internet-based attacks on critical infrastructure and government services, could be waged using malware such as the Storm worm, according to experts who analysed the recent DDoS attacks on Estonia.

Internet attacks are not recognised by NATO as a form of military action and therefore cannot be used as a justification for a military response. However, this April, Estonia experienced a series of massive distributed-denial of service (DDoS) attacks on its government Web sites.

Karl E. Wiegers: Five use case traps to avoid

Use cases have become a popular requirements development technique. Focusing on users and their goals, rather than on product features, improves the chances of developing a software package that truly meets customer needs. However, a mystique has grown up around use cases, and many organizations struggle to use them successfully. Here are several traps to avoid as your requirements analysts begin to apply the use case technique.

Trap #1: Use cases that users don't understand
Use cases are a way to represent user requirements, which describe what the user needs to be able to do with the product. Use cases should focus on tasks a user needs to accomplish with the help of the system, so they should relate to the user's business processes. Your users should be able to read and review use cases to find possible problems, such as missing alternative flows or incorrectly handled exceptions. If users cannot relate to use cases, there's a problem. Perhaps they're written too much from a technical, rather than business, perspective.

Trap #2: Too many use cases
When analysts are generating scores or hundreds of use cases, something's wrong. This normally means that the use cases are written at too low an abstraction level. Each use case should be general enough to cover several related scenarios on a common theme. Some of these will be success scenarios, and others represent conditions in which the use case might not succeed -- exceptions. If you are caught in a use case explosion, try moving up the abstraction level to group together similar use cases, treating them as alternative flows of a single, more abstract use case.

Trap #3: Overly complex use cases
The general guideline is that the number of steps in the normal flow of a use case should not exceed approximately a dozen. I once read a use case with nearly 50 steps in the normal flow. The problem was that the "normal flow" included many branching possibilities and error conditions that could arise, along with how to handle them. That is, the normal flow actually included alternative flows and exceptions. A better strategy is to pick a simple, default, well-behaved path through the use case and call that the normal flow. Then write separate alternative flows to cover variations on this and exception flows to describe the error conditions. This gives you a use case with multiple small packages of information, which is much easier to understand and manage than a huge use case that tries to handle every possibility in a single flow description.

Trap #4: Describing specific user interface elements and actions
Write "essential" use cases that describe the interactions between the user and the system at an abstract level, without incorporating user interface specifics. The use case description should not include a screen design, although simple user interface prototypes can be valuable to facilitate the use case exploration. I don't even like to hear terminology in the use case that alludes to specific user interface controls. Saying "User clicks on OK" implies a GUI interface using a mouse and buttons. But what if it would make more sense to use a touch screen or speech recognition interface? Imposing premature design constraints in the use case can lead to a suboptimal design, unless you're adding a new capability to an existing application where the screens already exist.

Trap #5: Not using other requirement models
Analysts who begin employing use cases sometimes seem to forget everything else they know about requirements specification. Use cases are a great aid for exploring requirements for interactive systems, kiosks and Web sites. However, they do not work as well for event-driven real-time systems, data warehouses or batch processes.

Avoid the temptation to force fit all of your functional requirements into use cases. Supplement the use case descriptions with a detailed list of functional requirements, nonfunctional requirements, graphical analysis models, prototypes, a data dictionary and other representations of requirements information. Use cases are valuable in many situations, but add them to your analyst toolkit instead of replacing your current tools with them.

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How to document use cases

A use case represents a case of use of a system, ideally one that captures a functional requirement in terms of an identifiable and testable goal. So, what is the best way to document a use case? Approaches to content range from diagrammatic to textual, formal to free form, expansive and detailed to brief and abstract. The approaches to tool usage and authoring are just as varied. Here are some suggestions for a simple and streamlined, yet reasoned and thorough, approach to use case documentation.

First things first
In his classic paper, "Structuring Use Cases with Goals," Alistair Cockburn made the following observation:

Use cases are wonderful but confusing. People, when asked to write them, do not know what to include or how to structure them.

Perhaps the first thing to clarify is what we mean by the term use case. A simple and literal reading is that a use case is simply a case of use: someone or something uses a system in a particular way. Here is how use cases were introduced in the book that originally helped to popularize them (Object-Oriented Software Engineering by Ivar Jacobson, Magnus Christerson, Patrik Jonsson and Gunnar Övergaard, Addison-Wesley, 1992):

When a user uses a system, she or he will perform a behaviorally related sequence of transactions in a dialogue with the system. We call such a special sequence a use case.

This description neatly captures the essence of use cases. A set of use cases can be used to capture the functional requirements of a system by slicing it up into its externally driven uses. Instead of identifying requirements as a disconnected and potentially incoherent laundry list of features, utility and usage are the principal drivers. However, framing a system's functional requirements in terms of a sequence of actions raises a number of questions that affect how, when and by whom a use case is documented:

  • How should use cases be partitioned?
  • Who should be interested in and able to read use cases?
  • Who should write use cases?
  • Beyond requirements, what role can use cases play?

Without some answers to those questions concerning purpose and audience, we would be guilty of placing the cart before the horse if we tried to nail down how best to document a use case. Put another way, what are the requirements for this requirements approach?

The sometime fashion for plastering use case documentation with UML diagrams -- especially sequence diagrams -- is deeply misguided.

How should use cases be partitioned?
In spite of the strong narrative feel of a sequence of transactions and a dialog with a system, and the implication of related concepts such as scenarios and user stories, documentation that focuses on use cases as scripts is tedious for both the reader and the use case's author. There is more value in thinking about use cases with respect to goals rather than narratives: a use case is a usage of a system that is intended to achieve a particular outcome. The goal lends a clear focus to what is in (and not in) a given use case.

The emphasis on the goal begins with the name: A use case should have a definite name that clearly reflects its goal, and this should take the form of an imperative. For example, Open Account tells you clearly and actively what the goal is, whereas Account Opening is too passive and describes an ongoing state, Accounts describes a general heading rather than a single goal, Open/Close/Suspend/Modify Account describes four quite distinct goals, and Manage Accounts covers an indistinct number of goals, in spite of the apparent directness of its name.

Beyond a use case's name, the goal can be elaborated in more detail, but this is not an excuse to break into essay-writing mode. A short paragraph is all that is needed. Beyond this, we can identify other features that add detail and precision to a use case, ideally following an inverted-pyramid style of presentation. But to better understand what we should include and exclude, we really need to know our audience.

Who should be interested in and able to read use cases?
Who cares about what a system should do? Well, put like that, it might be easier to identify who should not be interested! A use case offers common ground for technical and non-technical people to meet and agree on what a system should do. This includes developers, project managers, customers, and so on — in other words, pretty much all of the roles that have some kind of stake or direct involvement in a system's development. What follows from this is that the documentation for a use case should be comprehensible to any of the parties involved; it should be no more technical than the domain it describes.

The sometime fashion for plastering use case documentation with UML diagrams -- especially sequence diagrams -- is deeply misguided. Such documentation has little bearing on the system's externally visible behavior, and it alienates a significant part of the potential readership. It is a waste of everyone's time. Use case descriptions should be concise, precise, readable and goal focused. They should not include parts that are optionally readable by different audiences -- these just add clutter.

Who should write use cases?
This is an interesting question and one that ties back to the audience. In principle, anyone who can read a use case should be able to write a use case. The stakeholders who want the system developed conceptually own the requirements, and it is in their interest to be involved in formulating. On the other hand, project managers, developers, business analysts and other domain experts each hold different perspectives on a system and are likely to raise different questions and make different connections. In other words, it is not simply that anyone who cares about reading a use case should be able to write it; the combined perspectives and the mixture of skills of all these parties has the potential to offer a clearer understanding of a system's requirements than the perspective of any one individual.

More information on use cases and requirements gathering
Use cases, scenarios and user goals

Meeting use case preconditions and postconditions

Five use case traps to avoid

There is, in fact, a hidden question lurking in here: How should use cases be written? If all these different roles can contribute, then what is the most appropriate vehicle for doing so? Let's first consider one of the least effective: The analyst writes all the use cases in a single document and emails this to the other parties for comments. This is typically an exercise in shared indifference that can stretch out over weeks and months with minimal involvement and correspondingly little feedback.

If you want to get people involved, then they need to be involved. If use cases offer common ground for technical and non-technical people to meet and agree on what a system should do, then they should meet and agree. A representative selection of individuals in a meeting room, armed with index cards, whiteboards and a shared goal will cover far more ground and to greater depth. How the use cases are recorded for posterity is a separate matter -- a traditional document, a wiki, the index cards they were first scribbled on -- but the simple act of collaborating is likely to make the single greatest difference to the quality of the resulting use cases.

Beyond requirements, what role can use cases play?
If you are thinking about use cases from the perspective of a sequential development life cycle, such as the waterfall model, you are likely to restrict their role to an early phase of development. They are likely to be treated as an output of requirements gathering and an input to a more comprehensive analysis, the output of which is fed into a design phase, and so on down the line. That approach misses one of the original goals and key strengths of a use-case-driven approach: incremental development.

In observing that a use case represents a slice of a system's behavior, this is not simply a metaphor; it is a guide to how the system can be developed: a use case at a time. Use cases help to define scope and they help to define tests, especially if use cases are documented with respect to the preconditions and post-conditions that define goal fulfillment.

Not all requirements are created equally, which means that different use cases have different priorities, technical challenges and levels of risk. In looking to grow a system incrementally, it is those different aspects that need to be balanced over time. Incremental development by use case ensures that a system is developed in functionally complete slices, offering stability, certainty and visible signs of progress -- or, to be realistic and evenhanded, early signs of trouble if there are problems.

Developing by use case also allows the development to respond to new needs and discoveries as the system unfolds. Importantly, trying to document all of the use cases up front is not only unnecessary, but it is likely to be harmful. Start with a kernel of key use cases and grow from there.

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About the author: Kevlin Henney is an independent consultant and trainer based in the UK. His work focuses on software architecture, patterns, development process and programming languages. He is a coauthor of A Pattern Language for Distributed Computing and On Patterns and Pattern Languages, two recent volumes in the Pattern-Oriented Software Architecture series. You may contact him at kevlin@curbralan.com.

Aug 22, 2007

Nanoassasin drugs

"I like to think of our small molecule drugs as a 'toolbox of nanoassassins', which we can use to target and shoot down bad gene products," he said. These innovative molecular agents prevent further damage by turning off dangerous genes that cause cardiac disease.

"Because these same problematic genes are commanders in many other diseases, there is real potential to apply these assassins to other diseases like cancer," added Kachigian.

Existing anti-inflammatory treatments for cardiovascular patients induce harmful side effects such as high blood pressure, obesity and immunosuppression. Khachigian's DNAzymes offer the promise of a side-effect free alternative.

Sue Cant: Sick systems plague the health funds

It is an industry worth $7.1 billion. But with its labyrinth of players and emotive issues, the health insurance industry is unlike any other. Debate rages about increasing premiums and governments have been forced to use regulation and tax rebates to stem the decline in the number (8.7 million) of people privately insured in the past three years. But it is not just a policy and regulatory nightmare; behind the doors of the health funds are IT business systems in crisis.

Matthew Moore, project manager for Grand United Health Fund, says governments have been trying to drive efficiencies to lower costs in health insurance for decades. Moore, who has more than 10 years' IT and management experience in the private and public health sector, says funds have also been able to get away with inefficiencies and neglected IT systems have held back change. "There has been very little IT spend in this sector and there's been no understanding and little work on re-engineering back-end business processes for a very long time," Moore says.

The National Office for the Information Economy agrees: "Health care is an information-intensive industry with substantial potential for productivity improvements," a NOIE report on the insurance sector found last year. And while funds had been innovative in some areas, a report by the Productivity Commission found claims processing, with its high degree of labour-intensive data entry, needed to be improved.

There are two main health insurance administration systems: WHICS - Wacher Health Insurance Computer Software - owned by the UK group Civica (formerly Sanderson); and Hospital and Medical Benefits System (HAMBS). Some of the bigger funds, such as Medibank Private, MBF and AXA, have designed their own systems. The Adelaide-based HAMBS group is the supplier of core business systems to 24 of the 44 health funds in the country.

It started as a cooperative formed by a number of health insurers which bought the intellectual property to the HAMBS software, which was written by Stowe Computing in Adelaide in the late 1970s.

Ben Woodhead: IBA charges back into iSoft fight

IBA Health has upped the ante in the fight for control of iSoft, increasing its offer to £166.3 million ($410.7 million) and moving to grab a 24.3 per cent stake in the British medical software maker. The revised bid, which gives iSoft shareholders a choice of accepting cash or IBA shares in return for their stock, is aimed at pulling the rug out from under rival suitor CompuGROUP. Germany-based CompuGROUP previously gazumped IBA with a recommended £160 million cash offer for iSoft.

IBA's new offer was enabled after Allco Equity Partners (AEP) agreed to stump up as much as $300 million to take a cornerstone investment in IBA and provide funding for the tilt at iSoft. "The strategic logic for this merger remains compelling and the merits of the transaction are further endorsed through AEP's cornerstone investment," IBA executive chairman Gary Cohen said.

"This merger of two leading healthcare IT companies will create one of the largest providers of health IT solutions in the regions from Europe through to Australasia. This is a continuation of our international strategy started three years ago. "Our revised offer will enable iSoft shareholders to choose whether to accept cash or to accept IBA shares and benefit from the expected growth of the combined group."

Under the terms of the revised offer, iSoft shareholders will have the choice of accepting either 69p or 1.65 IBA shares for each of their iSoft shares, with the cash consideration representing a 4.5 per cent premium on CompuGROUP's offer.

IBA also hopes to complicate any further offers for iSoft from CompuGROUP through its move to acquired 56.6 million shares, or 24.3 per cent of iSoft from some of the British firm's existing shareholders.

Mr Cohen, a former principal of Allco Finance Group, said that the AEP investment in IBA was conditional upon the completion of the revised offer.

"The proposed investment suits AEP's investment mandate, which includes taking strategic stakes in public companies," AEP managing director Marcus Derwin said in a statement to the Australian Securities Exchange.

"AEP is attracted to the growth potential of the global healthcare IT sector and a combination of IBA and iSoft is a compelling investment proposition."

Dodging Google sheriff


IT MAY now be the most coveted real estate on the web - the top ranking in Google for a competitive search phrase. But even the world's richest marketers cannot lease this inventory. Google's goal is to deliver the most relevant information for any search query, and if it happens to be some teenager's blog rather than a corporate website, that is how the cyber cookie crumbles. Relevance is not for sale.

But early on, a small group of webmasters and marketers discovered that search relevance could be altered by exerting control over the hundreds of variables that search engines use to rank webpages. During the past decade, this effort to improve a site's ranking has gained a name. They call it search engine optimisation (SEO) and, according to the Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization (SEMPO), it was an industry worth $US9.4 billion ($A11.7 billion) in 2006. Many of the practitioners of this cyber art adhere strictly to the guidelines provided by search engines, but there is a smaller group that engages in more deceptive practice, called black-hat SEBut they all vie for visibility; there are no ties or mediation methods where search rankings are concerned.

The top search listing gets the lion's share of traffic - about 31/2 times more than the No. 2 result, according to one analysis of America Online search data, and the stakes are high. A high ranking for a popular search phrase can be worth millions of dollars in business. For high-price transactions that are often researched online - cars, travel, real estate - the competition is ferocious.

Bernard Lane : Hi-tech research outpaces law


RESEARCHERS riding the wave of hi-tech collaboration may leave lawyers and policymakers in their wake, commentators have warned following what is believed to be the first survey of legal issues raised by e-research.
gibbs

"One of the fears is that researchers out of their frustration will avoid the law," Queensland University of Technology legal academic Brian Fitzgerald said. "Law is a part of cyber-research infrastructure. We need to explain to researchers why that's important." In the QUT survey, released today, researchers complain that formal agreements for collaboration can take longer than the project; they prefer to work around university lawyers whenever they can; and they see the need for a plain English legal guide to the use of databases.

Although these complaints are familiar and not unique to e-research, they have become more acute because of a growing momentum in high-level collaborative projects, a snowballing of vast data sets and a big-ticket investment program for cyber-infrastructure.

"The moment's now for e-research because data is coming up everywhere and the value of the data rises as the volume rises," Australian e-Research Infrastructure Council executive director Rhys Francis said.

"The problem is really the policy framework. We need to simplify the framework; that is a greenfield issue."

The council, which met for the first time last month, will oversee $75 million of public spending.

This includes the start of work on an Australian Access Federation, which would replace cumbersome bilateral agreements for sharing access to scholarly resources throughout the sector with an automated system ultimately to be hooked into an international network.

E-research ranges from simple web-based collaboration through to open-access publishing, high-speed computing, global sharing of massive data sets and control of scientific instruments. Some observers say the term e-research will become redundant as technology reaches into all fields of research and makes the solo researcher a rare species.

The QUT survey, Legal and Project Agreement Issues in Collaboration and e-Research, involved 176 mostly university researchers, research managers, lawyers and others working in commercialisation offices.

One-third were "extensively involved" in e-research.

A common complaint was the delay and complexity involved in formal research agreements, with one researcher saying they "undermine the feeling of freedom and trust that energise a research program".

Another, complaining about university lawyers, said: "I now actively dissociate myself from the legal process at the outset and only intervene in the event that my IP rights look like vanishing."

Professor Fitzgerald, project leader for the Legal Framework for e-Research Project, which stands behind the survey, said: "Technology has moved ahead with great speed. We need to provide to the researchers the (legal) tools that are responsive to their needs."

To show what was at stake, he drew a parallel with music downloads, where practice fast outstripped the law.

"We'd rather the whole e-research system works from the get-go on a legal foundation," he said.

Ann Monotti, a Monash University authority on intellectual property law, said ownership of vast databases, privacy and copyright, were among the issues raised by e-research. To what degree these were novel issues was unclear, but they were

important because of the scale and accessibility of data now available. "It's quite clear that somebody ... has to look at this very carefully and make sure that all the legal and regulatory infrastructure is there, so that as e-research gains momentum the law keeps up with it," Dr Monotti said.

Aug 20, 2007

Abul Taher: Scientists hail ‘frozen smoke’

A MIRACLE material for the 21st century could protect your home against bomb blasts, mop up oil spillages and even help man to fly to Mars.

Aerogel, one of the world’s lightest solids, can withstand a direct blast of 1kg of dynamite and protect against heat from a blowtorch at more than 1,300C.

Scientists are working to discover new applications for the substance, ranging from the next generation of tennis rackets to super-insulated space suits for a manned mission to Mars.

It is expected to rank alongside wonder products from previous generations such as Bakelite in the 1930s, carbon fibre in the 1980s and silicone in the 1990s. Mercouri Kanatzidis, a chemistry professor at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, said: “It is an amazing material. It has the lowest density of any product known to man, yet at the same time it can do so much. I can see aerogel being used for everything from filtering polluted water to insulating against extreme temperatures and even for jewellery.”

Aerogel is nicknamed “frozen smoke” and is made by extracting water from a silica gel, then replacing it with gas such as carbon dioxide. The result is a substance that is capable of insulating against extreme temperatures and of absorbing pollutants such as crude oil.

It was invented by an American chemist for a bet in 1931, but early versions were so brittle and costly that it was largely consigned to laboratories. It was not until a decade ago that Nasa started taking an interest in the substance and putting it to a more practical use.

In 1999 the space agency fitted its Stardust space probe with a mitt packed full of aerogel to catch the dust from a comet’s tail. It returned with a rich collection of samples last year.

In 2002 Aspen Aerogel, a company created by Nasa, produced a stronger and more flexible version of the gel. It is now being used to develop an insulated lining in space suits for the first manned mission to Mars, scheduled for 2018.

Mark Krajewski, a senior scientist at the company, believes that an 18mm layer of aerogel will be sufficient to protect astronauts from temperatures as low as -130C. “It is the greatest insulator we’ve ever seen,” he said.

Aug 18, 2007

Rebecca Smith: Ever wondered why the medication doesn't work?

Doctors are diagnosing too many people with depression when all they are is unhappy, an expert has claimed. Writing in the British Medical Journal, Professor Gordon Parker, a psychiatrist from Australia, says that the current threshold for what is considered to be clinical depression is too low. Prescriptions for anti-depressants have soared to an all time high in Britain with more than 31million written last year alone, a six per cent rise on 2005. This spectre of a pill-popping nation has led to calls for more doctors to prescribe exercise as an alternative to medication.

Prof Parker, of the Black Dog Institute in New South Wales, carried out a study of 242 teachers and followed them up for 15 years. During that time more than three-quarters of the teachers met the current criteria for depression. These criteria are having a 'low mood' for more than two weeks combined with appetite change, sleep disturbance, drop in libido and fatigue. But minor depression also has less defined and severe symptoms such as crying a lot, decreased productivity and feeling sorry for yourself.

Prof Parker said: "A low threshold for diagnosing clinical depression risks treating normal emotional states as illness." He went on to add that prescribing medication may raise false hopes, whereas the treatment will not be effective because there is nothing biologically wrong with the patient.

Dina Rosendorff: Mind-boggling win


"AGE is an issue of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter," Mark Twain famously once said. And the 2007 recipient of the prestige Victoria Prize for scientific innovation used that quote aptly when accepting the award for his ground-breaking research into Alzheimer's disease yesterday. Prof Colin Masters, whose studies into amyloid protein may hold the key to the early detection and prevention of dementia, said there were nearly 10 drugs in development that could help.

"We are at the frontier of discovering how the mind does matter," he said. In Victoria, more than 50,000 people are affected by Alzheimer's. With about 37,000 new cases diagnosed annually Australia-wide, dementia will soon overtake depression as the most common mental health disorder. In 2002, Prof Masters co-founded a biotechnology company that is clinically testing his theory that the toxic amyloid protein impairs memory in the brain.

By 2020, the neuroscientist wants to delay the onset of Alzheimer's by five years. Six fellows were also awarded $18,000 study mission grants at Government House last night. They included Dr Bryony Coleman for her research into improving cochlear implants and Hussein Jama, whose work will help to create blast-resistant buildings.

Aug 16, 2007

Audit design with Oracle fine-grained auditing

The new HIPAA health care laws have placed a tremendous burden on enterprises using Oracle database systems. According to the law, organizations must provide complete audit trails for all DDL (i.e., schema changes), DML (e.g., updates, insert, deletes), and select audits of confidential patient information. HIPAA also requires that all health care companies (not just hospitals) archive audit trails of anyone who views patient data, and HIPAA provides severe penalties, including jail time, for companies that fail to implement select auditing. Hence, thousands of Oracle shops are rushing to implement Oracle auditing mechanisms.

Starting with Oracle 9i you'll see a more sophisticated auditing mechanism using the dbms_fga package. The dbms_fga package allows you to specify the auditing rules for a particular column of a table and report on anyone whose queries match the criteria.

Below, I create a policy called expensive_books that acts as a trigger for any queries against the book where anyone views a book row where book_retail_price is greater than $50.
connect pubs/pubs

exec dbms_fga.drop_policy( -
object_schema => 'PUBS', -
object_name => 'BOOK', -
policy_name => 'EXPENSIVE_BOOKS' -
);

begin
dbms_fga.add_policy(
object_schema => 'PUBS',
object_name => 'BOOK',
policy_name => 'EXPENSIVE_BOOKS',
audit_condition => 'BOOK_RETAIL_PRICE>=50',
audit_column => 'BOOK_TITLE',
handler_schema => null,
handler_module => null,
enable => true
);
end;
/


Note the parameters of the FGA policy function can give you many choices of auditing options. You can specify the table to be audited and the Boolean criteria for triggering a select audit.

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Melbourne professor wins science prize

A professor from Melbourne University has been awarded the prestigious Victoria Prize for Science for his work on finding a cure for Alzheimer's disease.

Neuroscientist Professor Colin Masters believes his research could save millions of lives around the world.

"This is a terrible way to die, it's particularly nasty, especially for the people who have to look after you if you develop this disorder," he said.

Professor Masters believes he's discovered the cause of the disease: a build up of amyloid protein in the brain, which leads to memory loss, and profound nerve degeneration.

"Towards the end of the illness the nerve cells begin to fall out and the brain atrophies so as the disease progresses we see a shrinkage of the brain," he said.

Although he believes a cure for Alzheimer's is still some years away, the latest breakthrough means sufferers can be diagnosed up to ten years earlier than they would have been before.

Every day one hundred Australians are diagnosed with Alzheimer's.

It costs six billion dollars a year to treat patients with the disease.

Professor Masters says clinical drug trials for Alzheimer's are now underway and he expects the results to be known within the next 12 months.

Aug 15, 2007

Data disclosure laws a sure thing: Gartner analyst

Organisations that expose private information about customers will be legally bound to disclose the breach to the public under new amendments to the Privacy Act being considered by the Australian Law Reform Commission.

Gartner security analyst Andrew Walls said that data disclosure laws have a "99.99 percent chance of getting up" when the commission delivers a report to the federal Attorney General early next year.

"I think it's inevitable," Walls said. "It's a logical next step from the Privacy Act of 1988. I see it as a very positive move."

There are no laws currently in Australia that obligate an organisation to inform customers, government agencies or the wider public about breaches in data security.

The challenge of securing IT systems has seen the likes of major Australian banks and even broadcasters inadvertently leak customer data to the public.

Data disclosure laws were introduced in California (The California Law on Notice of Security Breach) in 2002, and have since rolled through to 40 different states across the USA.

Walls said that Australia is well positioned to "set the ball rolling" on its own disclosure laws. "The only issue is in the details. What constitutes a privacy breach? What constitutes a disclosure? That’s what parliament is there to sort out."

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner has made its position issue clear in a submission to the Law Reform Commission in March 2007.

"The Office suggests that the Privacy Act be amended to add provisions requiring agencies and organisations to advise affected individuals of a breach to their personal information," said the submission.

"This would provide a strong market incentive to organisations to adequately secure databases to increase consumer trust and avoid potential brand damage and negative publicity."

Brett Winterford: Democrats to introduce data disclosure bill

Democrats Senator Natasha Stott Despoja will introduce to Federal Parliament this Thursday a proposed amendment to the Federal Privacy Act that introduces data disclosure laws to Australia.

This afternoon Stott Despoja gave notice of her intention to introduce The Privacy (Data Security Breach Notification) Amendment Bill 2007, which would obligate a corporation or government agency to inform individuals affected by any release of personal and financial data to unauthorised parties.

Stott Despoja said that the current privacy legislation (Privacy Act 1988) is deficient as there is no legal requirement forcing the public notification of data breaches by corporations and government agencies.

The Private Senator's Bill uses principles from the original Privacy Act to define what constitutes private information, and further defines a data breach to include "any authorised acquisition, transmission use or disclosure of personal information involving an unauthorised party".

Unauthorised parties includes those not employed by the organisation responsible for keeping the data private, and any employee of an organisation that either exceeds their authority to access the information or uses the information for purposes unrelated to their professional duties.

Notifications to affected individuals are to be made "promptly and without any unnecessary delay" and without any cost to the affected individual.

The notification will need to be in writing, and will need to include copies of the precise data that was disclosed, identification of any known recipients of the leaked data, information about what attempts were made to recover the leaked data and information about measures taken to ensure it doesn't happen again.

Aug 14, 2007

Ben Woodhead: Investment in health freezes over

INVESTMENT in health information systems has stalled at $2 billion a year despite an increase in spending on medical care and claims that new technology could save thousands of lives. Market researcher IDC reports that information technology spending in the health sector will remain flat until 2011, even as Australia's ageing population puts a heavier burden on scarce resources. The report, IDC Analysis, Australian Healthcare ICT Market 2007, says spending on information and communication technologies in the health sector will total $2.03 billion in 2011, down from $2.06 billion this year.

In contrast, total investment in healthcare is increasing at more than 3 per cent a year after inflation, and IDC estimates the Australian IT and communications market is growing at 2.3 per cent annually. IDC research manager Phillip Allen said budgetary constraints were among the main impediments to spending on potentially life-saving information systems. "Healthcare providers view ICT as critical to the future of healthcare and part of the solution to the impending ageing of the population and the soaring cost crisis," Mr Allen said.

"Still, cost constraints ensure that budgets remain largely fixed and devoted only to necessary expenses in problem areas such as security and compliance. Although innovation is a growing interest of healthcare providers, they struggle with the reallocation of ICT budgets to raise funds for new spending initiatives."

IDC's analysis shows that almost half of all health sector spending on IT this year - $948 million - is allocated to hardware, followed by telecommunications at $583 million, services at $438 million and software at $86million. However, healthcare providers planned to shift investment away from computer hardware and towards software, services and communications over the next five years, Mr Allen said.

Sydney West Area Health Service chief executive Steven Boyages said most increases in health IT-related spending fell into intangible areas such as changing practices: "Part of the problem in health is really moving from analogue to digital. Historically, we have seen that most of the issues involve clinicians interfacing with new technologies."

James Randerson: Smart clothes to power your iPod

There was a time when all we expected from our clothes was to preserve our modesty, protect us from the elements and pull in a few curves. Not any more.

If the Siggraph 2007 exhibition of future fashions in San Diego is anything to go by, your wardrobe will soon charge your iPod, convey hidden messages, light your home and act as a video game console. Get ready for clothes infused with electronic gadgets and computers that can help you in your daily life - or just give you a laugh.

One piece of smart clothing you might decide not to wear in public is designer Jenny Chowdhury's "intimate controllers". These are a set of wired-up his-and-hers undies that she describes as "a collaborative video console for couples". The garments have three pairs of touch pads hidden in increasingly intimate places which the couple have to press in the correct order while being prompted by a set of symbols on a computer screen. As players get better the software encourages them to go for the more intimate pads. "You can't get any further unless both players are playing the game well," said Ms Chowdhury, who developed the idea as a solution to "video-game widowhood".

A device that could give a whole new meaning to the phrase wardrobe malfunction is Andrew Schneider's solar bikini. The skimpy swimwear is covered with 40 flexible photovoltaic cells which feed into a USB connection that can plug straight into your iPod.

Dave's field of nightmares

When I was a boy, playing Little League baseball, I dreamed -- as most boys did back then -- of someday getting a call from the Major Leagues.

''Son,'' I dreamed the Major Leagues would tell me, ''you stink. We're kicking you out of Little League.'' I would have been grateful. I was a terrible player. I was afraid of the ball and fell down a lot, sometimes during the singing of the national anthem. So in 1960, I hung up my Little League uniform for good (it immediately fell down), and I had no contact with organized baseball for the next 40 years.

Then, recently, I was asked to participate in the Joe DiMaggio Legends Game, which raises money for the Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital in Hollywood, Fla. I said yes, because a) it's a good cause, and b) because they were asking ME to play, I figured it would be a relaxed, low-key event, like those company-picnic softball games where beer is available in the outfield and as many as six people play shortstop simultaneously.

Imagine my horror when I found myself at a real stadium, with thousands of spectators in the grandstands. Imagine my further horror when I found myself in a locker room containing several dozen former major league baseball players. Some were older guys, such as Minnie Minoso of the White Sox, who I believe once caught a fly ball hit by Magellan. But there were also some guys who had played big-league ball recently and still looked capable of hitting a baseball all the way through a human body.

I expressed concern about this to one of my teammates, the great Orioles third baseman Brooks Robinson, who gave me some reassuring advice.

''Don't play in the infield,'' he said. ``You'll get killed.''

I was on the American League team, managed by former Yankee John Blanchard. He gave me a nice little pregame pep talk, which I will reproduce here verbatim:

BLANCHARD: You should see how these guys hit the ball.

ME: Hard?

BLANCHARD: Oh, Lord God. Are you wearing a cup?

ME: I don't OWN a cup.

BLANCHARD: Oh, Lord God.

I did pretty well for the first few innings. This is because I was not in the game. Then Blanchard sent me out to left field to replace Mickey Rivers, which is like replacing Dom Perignon with weasel spit.

I trotted out of the dugout wearing the stiff new glove I'd bought that afternoon. When I brought it home, I removed the price tag and spent a few minutes fielding grounders thrown to me by my wife, who was nine months pregnant and thus could not put a ton of mustard on the ball, which dribbled my way at the velocity of luggage on an airport conveyor belt. That was my preparation for this moment, for standing alone in deep left field, with vivid Little League memories swarming in my brain -- memories of praying for the ball not to come to me, and memories of falling down when it did.

So I'm standing out there, and for almost two innings, nothing comes my way. Then it happens: George Foster, five-time All-Star slugger for the Cincinnati Reds, rips a ground ball between second and short. I get a good break on the ball, going to my left, running hard. Foster is rounding first, trying for a double, and the crowd is roaring, and suddenly I realize, with a sense of elation, that I'M ACTUALLY GOING TO GET TO THE BALL. Yes! I can see it clearly, and I have the angle, and I'm closing fast, and I'm going to make it! I'm almost there! And now I'm there! And now OH, NO, I RAN PAST THE BALL. THE BALL IS BACK OVER THERE. OH, NOOOOOOO . . . .

And, of course, I fall down. I've seen a video replay. I look like a man whose lower and upper body halves are being operated by two unrelated nervous systems. I make a pathetic, longing gesture toward the ball as it zips past to the outfield wall, where centerfielder Dave Henderson retrieves it. After he throws it in, he puts his arm on my shoulders and says, ``You're supposed to catch the ball in your glove.''

I also got to display my batting prowess. The pitcher I faced was Al ''The Mad Hungarian'' Hrabosky, who still looks as though he has just been kicked out of the Institute for the Criminally Insane for being a little TOO insane, and who can still throw pretty hard (by which I mean ``faster than light''). He struck me out on three pitches. I was still swinging at the last one when Hrabosky was in the showers.

So it was a pretty humiliating experience. But mark my words: I'll be back next year, and that's going to be a different story. Because next time, I'll be ready to ''play with the big boys.'' That's right: I'm going to be wearing a cup. TWO cups, in fact, because I'm assuming you need one for each knee.

The iBikini: this year's new model


It's coming to a beach near you soon - a solar bikini that will charge up your iPod.

Designed by Andrew Schneider of New York University, the bikini was on display during a fashion exhibition at Siggraph 2007 - an exhibition for computer graphics specialists.

The bikini uses one and four inch photovolotaic film strips sewn together in a series with conductive thread. The cells terminate in a 5 volt regulator into a female USB connection.

Two hours of sunbathing is enough to charge up an iPod shuffle. Other mp3 players are available.

Aug 13, 2007

Knowledge is greatest threat to critical infrastructure

Australia's critical infrastructure is still under threat due to a shortage of educational resources, according to researchers and security experts.

The major concern is security of Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems -- the central nervous system for sensors, alarms and switches that provide automated control and monitoring functions for utilities such as water, gas and electricity, as well as large manufacturers.

David Shaw, product manager for Verizon Business's security division, said that critical infrastructure operators naturally approach SCADA systems from an engineering perspective, which means there is an emphasis on availability over security.

While security standards vary from organisation to organisation, Shaw's greatest concern is not for the technological security of SCADA systems -- encryption or authentication -- but the "soft" measures supporting them.

"I am concerned when there is a lack of policy, procedure and personnel training, to be mindful of the fact these old networks are around, to understand what limitations are there," he said.

At the inaugural International Federation for Information Processing (IFIP) Critical Infrastructure Protection conference held in New Hampshire in March this year, Jill Slay, a computer forensics specialist at the University of South Australia's Defence and Systems Institute, said Australia needed more stringent audits of SCADA network access, better training and stricter controls over contractors.

She welcomed Federal Government initiatives such as the Trusted Information Sharing Network but also warned that at present there were not enough resources to keep the SCADA operators' knowledge of threats and response strategies current.

Echoing Shaw's comments, Slay said that engineers who operate SCADA systems lack the "mindset for privacy".

"When we go to an electricity utility, the thing that's driving them is 99.99 percent availability so there is not the mind set for privacy. Because they're using simple systems and everything is in real time, if you add auditing or monitoring to the process, it's seen as a waste of resources," Slay said.

Slay was amongst the first of a group of Australians to attend a training seminar in Idaho on protecting critical infrastructure, which is part of a knowledge-sharing program between the US and Australian Governments.

Simon de Bruxelles: The chilli so hot you need gloves

THE world’s hottest chilli pepper does not come from a tropical hot spot where the locals are impervious to its fiery heat but a smallholding in deepest Dorset.

Some chillis are fierce enough to make your eyes water. Anyone foolhardy enough to eat a whole Dorset Naga would almost certainly require hospital treatment.

The pepper, almost twice as hot as the previous record- holder, was grown by Joy and Michael Michaud in a poly- tunnel at their market garden. The couple run a business called Peppers by Post and spent four years developing the Dorset Naga.

They knew the 2cm-long specimens were hot because they had to wear gloves and remove the seeds outdoors when preparing them for drying, but had no idea they had grown a record-breaker.

Some customers complained the peppers were so fiery that even half a small one would make a curry too hot to eat. Others loved them and the Michauds sold a quarter of a million Dorset Nagas last year. At the end of last season Mrs Michaud sent a sample to a laboratory in America out of curiosity. The owner had never tested anything like it.

According to Mrs Michaud, the hottest habañero peppers popular in chilli-eating competitions in the US generally measure about 100,000 units on the standard Scoville scale, named after its inventor, Wilbur Scoville, who developed it in 1912. At first the scale was a subjective taste test but it later developed into the measure of capsaicinoids present. The hottest chilli pepper in The Guinness Book of Records is a Red Savina habañero with a rating of 570,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU).

Mrs Michaud was stunned when the Dorset Naga gave a reading of nearly 900,000SHU. A fresh sample was sent to a lab in New York used by the American Spice Trade Association and recorded a mouth-numbing 923,000SHUs.

Mrs Michaud said: “The man in the first lab was so excited — he’d never had one even half as hot as that. The second lab took a long time because they were checking it carefully as it was so outrageously high.”

The Dorset Naga was grown from a plant that originated in Bangladesh. The Michauds bought their original plant in an oriental store in Bournemouth. Mrs Michaud said: “We weren’t even selecting the peppers for hotness but for shape and flavour. There is an element of machismo in peppers that we aren’t really interested in. When the results of the heat tests came back I was gobsmacked.”

Scovile Units

Scoville's original method for testing hotness was called the Scoville Organoleptic Test, which he developed in 1912.[1] As originally devised, a solution of the pepper extract is diluted in sugar water until the "heat" is no longer detectable to a panel of (usually five) tasters; the degree of dilution gives its measure on the Scoville scale. Thus a sweet pepper or a bell pepper, containing no capsaicin at all, has a Scoville rating of zero, meaning no heat detectable even undiluted. Conversely, the hottest chiles, such as habaneros, have a rating of 200,000 or more, indicating that their extract has to be diluted 200,000-fold before the capsaicin present is undetectable. The greatest weakness of the Scoville Organoleptic Test is its imprecision, because it relies on human subjectivity.

Aug 12, 2007

The Essence of REBT

Like stoicism, a school of philosophy that existed some two thousand years ago, rational emotive behavior therapy holds that there are virtually no good reasons why human beings have to make themselves very neurotic, no matter what kind of negative stimuli impinge on them. It gives them full leeway to feel strong negative emotions, such as sorrow, regret, displeasure, annoyance, rebellion, and determination to change social conditions. It believes, however, that when they experience certain self-defeating and unhealthy emotions (such as panic, depression, worthlessness, or rage), they are usually adding an unrealistic and illogical hypothesis to their empirically-based view that their own acts or those of others are reprehensible or inefficient and that something would better be done about changing them.

Rational emotive behavior therapists — often within the first session or two of seeing a client — can almost always put their finger on a few central irrational philosophies of life which this client vehemently believes. They can show clients how these ideas inevitably lead to emotional problems and hence to presenting clinical symptoms, can demonstrate exactly how they forthrightly question and challenge these ideas, and can often induce them to work to uproot them and to replace them with scientifically testable hypotheses about themselves and the world which are not likely to get them into future neurotic difficulties.

Teenage girls plauged by anorexia, plastic surgery

A QUARTER of teenage girls in Australia say they would get plastic surgery if they could, and two per cent have already gone under the knife, a survey has revealed. A new study of drug, sex and surgery trends among 4000 girls aged 11 to 18 has found most are unhappy with their bodies in general - and their weight in particular. lmost 60 per cent wanted to be lighter on the scales, and 45 per cent said they knew someone with an eating disorder, according to the report published today in the teenage magazine Dolly.

One in four of those questioned - 27 per cent - would get plastic surgery if they could, and two per cent already had. Dr Jenny O'Dea, associate professor of child and adolescent health at the University of Sydney, said while this figure may appear small, it was actually very significant. “That's 80 girls in the 4000 questioned who had had some kind of procedure, and that's concerning,” said Dr O'Dea, who speculated that these would most likely be “boob jobs”.

“I think the whole trend towards plastic surgery is very worrying because there's a big myth that it can actually build true self-esteem. “In the long term, what makes teenage girls really happy are their friends, their relationships and what they do with their lives - nothing to do with how they look.” She said many of these girls would carry their worrying self-image issues into adulthood and would instil these same messages in their own children. “That is why more needs to be done to try to break this cycle,” Dr O'Dea said.

Aug 10, 2007

Albert Ellis

Albert Ellis, who died on July 24 aged 93, was an American psychotherapist credited with providing the basis for cognitive behavioural therapy, an approach that urges people to think rationally and take control of their own lives. In place of Freudian psychiatry which seeks the roots of neuroses in childhood experience and sexual repression, Ellis propounded a bracing "stop moaning and get off your backside" approach. "Neurosis," he said, was "just a high-class word for whining", while the secret of happiness lay in "forgetting your God-awful past".

Ellis's basic message was that everyone has the capacity for "crooked thinking" - distorted perceptions which lead to anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder and the like. The psychotherapist's job, Ellis said, should be to help patients to accept themselves as they are and to persuade them that, with determination, they can change things.

He propounded this wisdom in more than 70 books with titles such as How to Control Your Anxiety Before it Controls You, Overcoming Procrastination and How to Stubbornly Refuse to Make Yourself Miserable About Anything - Yes Anything, as well as more specific self-help manuals such as The Art of Erotic Seduction.

Rather than one-to-one sessions on the psychiatrist's couch, Ellis preferred addressing the afflicted (along with students and fellow psychiatrists) at well-attended Friday evening $10- a-ticket seminars (themes included "Accepting Life's Kicks and Moving Ahead!"), which were as much comedy turns as group therapy.

When a participant at one recent session explained that she had been traumatised by the murder of her sister by a drug dealer, Ellis replied: "Why can't you understand that some people are crazy and do terrible things? Until you accept it, you're going to be angry, angry, angry."

"Your mother never told you she loved you?" he asked another unfortunate. "That's her right as a fallible f***ed-up human being".

As well as profanities, Ellis punctuated his seminars with audience sing-alongs. To the tune of Beautiful Dreamer, participants would be invited to sing "Beautiful hangup, don't go away!/ Who will befriend me if you do not stay?/ Though you still make me look like a jerk/ Living without you would take so much work!"

Although his ideas broke all the conventions, Ellis's "rational emotive behaviour therapy" approach has become one of the most popular systems of psychotherapy used today. A 1982 survey of clinical psychologists ranked him second most influential in the field, ahead of Freud and Jung but behind Carl Rogers, the founder of humanistic psychology.

The son of a travelling salesman and an amateur actress, Albert Isaac Ellis was born on September 27 1913 at Pittsburgh and moved to the New York Bronx when he was four. A sickly boy who spent much of his childhood in hospital, Ellis developed into a painfully shy and awkward teenager.

But he was also resourceful and devised a plan to change his behaviour. Aged 19, he spent the summer sitting by a bench in New York's Botanical Gardens. Every time a woman sat down on the bench, he forced himself to talk to her. "Nobody vomited and ran away; nobody called the cops," he recalled. "I completely got over my shyness by thinking differently and acting differently."

Search engine privacy report slammed as bias

The findings of a report that commended the privacy policies of search engine providers such as Google, Microsoft and Yahoo, has been slammed as bias because of potentially conflicting financial arrangements with the report’s publisher.

According to a Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) report it is good news for consumers that Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Ask.com and AOL pledged in recent months to amend how they handle user search data. That includes a person's queries, cookie identification number and IP address. However, a comprehensive US federal privacy law is still needed, according to the group.

"We see a stepped-up commitment to privacy from the companies, and we believe they are starting to see privacy as a market differentiator, and that, in fact, is starting to spark some competition about privacy," CDT chief executive Leslie Harris told reporters.

Yet, the Center for Digital Democracy (CDD), which has made a name for itself in assailing Google and Microsoft on privacy issues, was quick to blast the CDT's findings as failing "to address the wide-ranging privacy threat coming from the major search engines and their advertising clients".

In a statement e-mailed to reporters, CDD executive director Jeff Chester charged that CDT "has long been an ally of the various data-collection companies it purports to oversee on behalf of consumers".

CDT, which bills itself as an Internet civil-liberties advocacy group, acknowledged on Wednesday that it has received funding from all the companies except Ask.com. Schwartz said: "Ask has not supported us -- they're the only one on here that has not supported us."

Aug 9, 2007

Ronald G. Ross: What's Wrong with If-Then Syntax For Expressing Business Rules

A central idea of the business rule approach is that business rules should be expressed with business people in natural language. That seems self-evident. The Business Rules Manifesto[1] says it this way: Rules should be expressed declaratively in natural-language sentences for the business audience. This is the guiding idea behind RuleSpeak[2], which I use for the business examples in this discussion.

Is the difference between business-speak and system-speak for expressing (and managing) business rules really that big? Yes! And the gaps are much wider and more fundamental than you might think. It's no surprise then that business people and IT people often feel the other side is speaking Greek.

Jan Vanthienen: What Business Rules and Tables Can Do for Regulations

Business rules and tables can be used to model and apply regulations, procedures, and various kinds of complex business decisions and calculations. But they can do so much more: checking the quality, designing and restructuring, simplifying, impact analysis, translation, etc.
The regulations lifecycle

We are surrounded by rules and regulations. The purpose of the business rules approach need not be restricted to managing and implementing existing regulations. Business rules and tables are well applicable throughout the lifecycle of the regulations, from the initial design of new regulations to the maintenance and enforcement of existing ones.

Here are the major steps in dealing with regulations:

* Designing & constructing regulations
* Modeling regulations
* Identifying applicable regulations
* Capturing, acquiring, & representing regulations
* V&V (Validating & verifying regulations ~ harmonisation & quality)
* Communicating and translating regulations
* Implementing regulations
* Testing regulations
* Maintaining regulations
* Improving regulations
* Enforcing regulations

The added value of business rules and tables throughout the lifecycle

Business rules and tables can be used throughout the entire lifecycle of regulations. Some example application areas are:
Designing regulations

An important asset of business rules is that they are based on clear terms and facts. Text is much more ambiguous and leaves room for interpretation. Although such ambiguity and flexibility of interpretation might be a desired outcome, it creates a lot of problems, e.g., when regulations have to be automated. When designing new regulations, the decision table technique can be used to indicate what combinations of criteria should lead to which outcomes, thereby guaranteeing combinatorial completeness and consistency.
Checking and improving the quality of the regulations

Quality of regulations is an important asset, especially when regulations have to be applied in an automated environment. Typical quality issues include:

- incompleteness: missing conditions, cases or conclusions;

- inconsistencies: equal situations leading to opposite values of one conclusion;

- redundancies: unnecessary rules, with the risk of future inconsistencies;

- contradictions: equal situations leading to incompatible conclusions;

- incorrectness: unintended results or specifications.

When a written regulation exists, decision tables might be constructed in order to visualize the specifics of the regulation. Transforming the text into the decision table representation for validation and verification purposes has traditionally been a major application area of decision tables. The specific condition-oriented representation of the table avoids or detects these undesirable features.
Communication

Communicating text to different audiences is not easy if the terms and facts are not well-defined. Text is difficult to read and often contains complex references, exceptions, etc. The ability to focus on well-defined situations (rules or columns) has proven to be a valuable communication advantage of business rules and tables.
Translation

Translation is another issue, because not only the terms have to be translated, but also the complex language formulations, such as: if, and, except, unless, only, (etc.). Translating the nuances of natural language from one language to another is a cumbersome and error-prone process. In the European Union (for example), legislation and documents of major public importance or interest are produced in all twenty-three official languages (not including fifty regional and minority languages). When the regulations are well-structured in rules or tables, translating the terms is sufficient, because the underlying logic is not language dependent.
Impact analysis

Decision tables easily allow examination of the impact of changes in one part of a regulation on the total result. The net effect of changing conclusions for some combinations of condition values, or including/excluding combinations for a specific conclusion is immediately visualized.
Generating test cases

Because all possible situations are represented, the decision table is an ideal source for the generation of test cases. Instead of random testing, attention can be paid to the full coverage of a range of criteria, frequency of the cases, boundary value analysis, etc.
Restructuring the regulation

The business rules cannot only be used to verify or implement the regulation; they can also be used to redesign or reorder the text, refine and simplify the description, or change the fundamental structure. Regulations are often described in the order in which they are conceived, but that is not necessarily the best order for understanding or implementation.

Specifically, after changes in the regulation, the decision table can automatically indicate and combine similar cases that lead to identical conclusions, thereby eliminating superfluous criteria for specific situations. Therefore, if a new description of the regulation is desired, it can be derived from the decision table in a more orderly fashion by examining the application field of each of the actions and describing it in its most compact logical form.
Enforcing the regulations
Once completed, the business rules or the decision tables can be used as an execution mechanism directly, or they can be used to generate code, depending on the purpose of the system. If the implementation is straightforward, maintenance of the regulation can be performed directly on the rules or tables.

Sex Sells

Move over Bill Gates the geek look is out. Microsoft has instead turned to the curves of former former Miss Australia Erin McNaught, an effort to change their staid IT image.

Desperate to attract people to the Company Microsoft is now using the catwalk model to turn heads following a 38 percent drop in university enrollments in IT courses in the past two years.


Click to enlarge
Former Miss Australia Erin McNaught pictured centre is the new face of Microsoft.

They believe that by investing in the curves of McNaught that they will attract the right sort of talent to the Company. According to Microsoft Human Director Rose Clements a view among young people is that the IT industry is "not one of the sexier professions",

The 25-year-old bombshell, who hosts gaming and gadget shows admits that she is no computer whiz. Just a great body and mind.


Microsoft kicked off the campaign yesterday on the Gold Coast during a student day at Microsoft and the Australian Information Industry Association's annual technical education conference.

The model, who dropped out of the Queensland University of Technology to pursue her fashion career, said she most enjoyed the gaming and gadget side of the computer industry.

Aug 8, 2007

Microsoft spices up the IT image

SHE doesn't have any IT qualifications – in fact she's a university drop-out – but that hasn't stopped software giant Microsoft hiring former Miss Australia Erin McNaught to sex up the computer industry's geeky image.

McNaught, who deferred a science degree at the Queensland Institute of Technology to pursue a modelling career, has been chosen as poster girl for a campaign to encourage young people into the computer industry.

Concerned at a 38 per cent slump in university enrolments in IT courses in the past two years, Microsoft and the Australian Information Industry Association held a student day yesterday at the start of its annual technical education conference on the Gold Coast.

The aim was to show teenagers that IT careers had "gone from geek to chic".

McNaught was a keynote speaker on the strength of her role as host of Cyber Shack, Channel 10's gaming and gadget show.

Rose Clements, Microsoft's human resources director for Australia and New Zealand, said the sharp drop in IT course enrolments reflected a view among young people that it was "not one of the sexier professions".

Reduce Project Risk with IBM? Think again

Winning government contracts may lend an air of prestige for IT vendors, but they should be mindful of the intricacies involved in such deals to avoid unnecessary disputes, say industry and legal experts.

The government is an important market in Asia that vendors cannot ignore, noted Eugene Wee, senior analyst for IT services at IDC Asia-Pacific. "Government spending in IT Services is one of the most appealing in the Asia-Pacific, excluding Japan, market…totaling more than US$4.5 billion in 2005. This represents some 15.3 percent of the total IT services market [in the region]," Wee said.

"The appeal of winning government contracts often lies in [such deals] being great case studies for vendors to bring to the market; after all, if the government is using [the services of a] company, then [that vendor] must be the best," he added.

However, this also means that IT vendors typically have to "compromise on high margins in order to win these 'model' contracts", said Wee.

Mark Lim, director and head of intellectual property at law firm Tan Peng Chin LLC, also noted that the bargaining terms of government agencies are generally higher. What this means is that the vendor may not be able to impose standard terms in the contract, especially those relating to liabilities. For example, a standard contract usually has provisions limiting compensation for consequential damages to the amount awarded for the IT project.

Just last week, a local news daily reported that the Central Provident Fund (CPF) Board filed a civil suit against IT giant IBM, over the deployment of a software system contracted to the vendor in 2001. CPF is a nationwide social security savings program for working Singapore citizens and Permanent Residents.

NCS: Suit no bearing on mega govt project
The CPF suit comes about a week after IBM and Singapore-based systems integrator NCS affirmed their partnership in the Singapore government's Standard ICT Operating Environment (SOE) project. IBM is a key player in the One Team led by NCS.
NCS's Chong noted that "IBM is a credible partner" and has "succeeded in many other projects".
"We do not see this as impacting One Team," she added. "NCS is leading the consortium and priming the project. We have extensive domain knowledge in public sector projects and certainly, we will be leveraging on it to manage the SOE project."

The Board claims that IBM was unable to deliver according to contractual agreements despite extensions to the project deadline. The contract was eventually terminated in 2004. IBM, in its defense and counterclaim against CPF Board, says the government agency repeatedly changed the system specifications, over and above the original requirements for an upgrade.

In response to e-mail queries from ZDNet Asia last week, an IBM spokesperson noted that the company was unable to comment "as legal action is in progress". CPF, and Singapore's ICT industry regulator the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA), also declined comment.

Lawyers ZDNet Asia contacted noted that while such disputes are typical, it is rare for public sector agencies to take legal action against their suppliers, or vice versa.

"IT litigation is a very technical and expensive process often requiring a lot of time and resources, and should be undertaken only if you're sure you have a good case against the other party," said Rajesh Sreenivasan, a partner at local law firm Rajah & Tann. To resolve differences or disputes, the parties would more commonly use "internal dispute resolution" or arbitration, he noted.

Avoiding legal pitfalls
"In an IT project, there're many ways that [disputes] can arise, such as the vendor not meeting timelines or critical milestones, or when they fail to deliver products or services to the agreed technical specifications," Sreenivasan explained. "On the part of the customer, [disputes are typically the result of] not properly spelling out the actual specifications when contracting with the vendor--the lack of internal benchmarking to ascertain the true IT needs of the organization--as well as non-payment."

According to industry and legal experts, how easily a dispute is resolved depends on how thorough the parties establish the scoping process, where the roles and requirements of both parties are spelt out clearly.

Chong Yoke Sin, CEO of NCS Group, said: "A vendor and customer will have developed a scope of work and service level agreements so that both parties understand what is to be delivered, [and] within the given time frame." NCS is a Singapore-based systems integrator.

While a framework helps avoid project delays and failure to deliver, vendors must make an assessment of their own capabilities in accordance to what the project requires before committing themselves, Chong said.

Rajah & Tann's Sreenivasan noted that consideration should also be set aside for changes in the contract, and whether the terms are fair for both parties. This means putting in place a change control process, which "allows parties to vary the scope of work and payment requirements based on future needs".

Ken Chia, a partner at law firm Baker and McKenzie.Wong & Leow, said:"If there is some win-win element…where the supplier has some upside for doing the extra work but at the same time cannot charge a ransom price because the customer is locked into [the vendor's service] already, then usually the parties will generally be able to work something out [even in the event of a dispute]."

In addition, Sreenivasan pointed out, even when legal proceedings have kicked in, as in the case between CPF and IBM, there is still the possibility of settling the issue out of court.