Did You Wash Your Hands?

I often hear that science is hard, especially from my own students,.When questioned about what it is that makes science hard, I usually get answers that relate to having to remember a whole bunch of facts. You know, all that “stuff” and all those “things” with the funny sounding names.I used to think it was the kids. They made it hard because they didn’t care enough to understand. And while that may be true to a degree, I think what makes science “hard” in today’s science classroom, isn’t so much the kids, but the way the content is presented. We often present scientific discoveries, principles, and concepts without considering the historical context that these discoveries were made. In many cases, these discoveries were made by ordinary people who led ordinary lives. And on the way, they made their contributions to science.Here’s an example of what I’m talking about.Wash your hands. How many times have we heard this growing up? Today we seem to be obsessed with keeping our hands and all the surfaces in our homes and work places germ-free. We’re bombarded with advertisements for all sorts of products that promise us a relatively germ-free environment. If it’s not 99.9% germ free we’re in mortal danger? It’s amazing that humans have survived for so long without all these hand sanitizers and toilet bowl cleaners! I keep my perspective in all this by picturing those brave American pioneers crossing the Great Plains with little bottles of hand sanitizers hanging from their belts. After all, you don’t know where those pesky prairie dogs have really been, do you?In the not too distant past, before medicine understood the connection between disease and germs, before they understood that surgery required the doctor to actually wash their hands, the death rate to disease and infections was understandably high. This was especially true on the battlefield where most deaths came from not from getting shot, stabbed, or clonked on the head, but from the resulting infectious diseases that were spread by the doctors themselves.One of the primary causes of death during childbirth in the 19th century was not the absence of a doctor. Mid-wives, and the practice of midwifery, had been around for thousands of years. And humans have been giving birth for many millions of years without doctors or mid-wives. No, what caused the death of women in childbirth was a little understood condition called childbed fever.For many doctors in 19th-century, this was an accepted fact-of-life. Women died during childbirth. And given the attitudes towards women in general, why would this condition need to be researched or explained? It was an accepted part of life that some women died after childbirth.The study of diseases and the spread of diseases was of great interest to the medical community in Europe during the 1800′s. Epidemics like smallpox, typhus, and syphilis were still ravaging European populations, but until medicine understood what caused disease, treatments and cures would have to wait. Until that happened, people were going to die.One of the great medical research centers in Europe was Vienna, Austria. This was not the Austria that we think of today. This was the heart of the great Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Austro-Hungarian Empire was a major political, economic, and social force in Europe, and had been for centuries.So the place to learn medicine, especially if you’re from the Empire, was Vienna. In 1837 a young Hungarian student at the University of Vienna decides to switch his studies from law to medicine. He is from the Hungarian city of Pest, which is now Budapest, and is far from home. Ignaz Semmelweis is an outsider in aristocratic, German-speaking Vienna and is treated as such. He’s ridiculed for his dress, his speech and his humble origins. Despite these obstacles, he completes his studies and at age 28 gets a position as assistant to the director of the obstetrics clinic at Vienna’s General Hospital, the most prestigious teaching hospital in Europe.One of the shocking statistics young Semmelweis discovers was the very high death rate among women giving birth. At times it got as high as 30%, but it averaged around 13% a year. This was not uncommon across Europe, so Semmelweis’ hospital was not out of the ordinary. And in all cases the cause of death was childbed fever. Childbed fever, known as puerperal fever, is a raging infection that spreads rapidly in the body and kills in a few days. The disease was investigated, but causes of the fever were not found.What was more intriguing to Semmelweis, though, was where in this prestigious hospital the deaths were coming from.The hospital’s obstetrics clinic was separated into two divisions. The First Division was the teaching section for the medical students. For the most part these students were all males and among their other duties, they were responsible for conducting their own post-mortem examinations. The Second Division was used for the teaching of midwives. These women had no medical or surgical duties.What Semmelweis discovered was that the death rate in the Second Division, the section with the midwives, was only about 2%. Of course this was known in the Viennese community and pregnant women would beg to be admitted to the Second Division. Afterall it doesn’t take, pardon the pun, a brain surgeon to understand where the best chance of survival was.Semmelweis also noted that even though the hospital opened in 1794, the increase in deaths did not start until 1822, when medical students were required to do their own post-mortem examinations.In 1847 Semmelweis lost a close friend who was a professor of forensic science at the university. His friend died from an infection he received after he cut his finger during an autopsy. What was revealing to Semmelweis was that the physical conditions inside his friend’s body were the same as the conditions found in the bodies of the women who died from childbed fever.Semmelweis reasoned that it must be the lack of cleanliness in the clinics that caused the deaths. And he had a body of research to back up his suspicion.References to hand washing and cleanliness can be found not only in the Bible, but in Indian, Babylonian and Persian literature. In the 18th-century, the physician-general of the British army advocated the washing of hands for doctors. And in the United States, Oliver Wendall Holmes strongly suggested that there is a connection between cleanliness and childbed fever.All of this suggested that the hands of the medical students, who may have just been called from surgery or an autopsy, did not wash their hands before they delivered a baby. As they assisted in the birth of the child, they infected the women with disease causing pathogens. So in the Spring of 1847 Semmelweis required that not only did the medical students need to wash their hands with soap and water, but that they should also scrub under their fingernails with a brush and finally wash their hands again in a chlorine solution.Within a month the mortality rate at the hospital dropped to 2%. Semmelweis’ thesis was quickly accepted by the hospital and you would think that he was on the road to stardom. But that wasn’t the case.Instead of enjoying the fame that you might expect would come after such a momentous discovery, Semmelweis’ life began to slowly spiral downward.One mistake Semmelweis made was his refusal to publish his findings in medical journals. This would have lent his thesis credibility and solidify his position at the universiity. Speculation as to the reasons for not publishing seem to center around his lack of self-confidence. He was a Hungarian in Vienna; an outsider who did not know the customs nor speak and write the language well. He had been shunned and ridiculed for years. That can be understandable. It’s not uncommon in the history of science to see this kind of treatment to outsiders occur. But what Semmelweis did next was probably the most damaging.So taken by guilt over his discovery that he could have been responsible for the deaths of hundreds of women, Semmelweis began to write letters to his peers about how they must accept responsibility for the deaths of their patients from childbed fever. He wanted them to acknowledge their moral culpibility. Not only had Semmelweis gone against accepted medical practice with his new technique, and we know how “popular” that is even today, he takes a moral stand suggesting that the medical community must accept responsibility for their mistakes.The reaction to this, of course, was ostracism. Here was an outsider, a Hungarian from a very humble background no less, telling the aristocratic medical experts in Vienna, the epicenter of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, what they needed to do and feel. Not good.In 1848 a wave of revolt overtakes Europe. The people want a more liberal form of government. Hungary revolts and try to break away from the Austrian Empire, but fails. By 1849 order is restored and life goes back to normal, for most.There is no evidence that Semmelweis participated in these revolts, but the powerful medical leaders didn’t forget his insult.In March of 1849 his position at the hospital came up for renewal and was turned down. Big surprise there. He then applied for a position as an independent physician with hospital privileges and private students. After a year of his application being “reviewed” it was approved, but with a number of “conditions”. One condition was that he could not demonstrate any procedure on a cadaver, which was the normal practice at the time. He had to use a dummy.He got another chance to re-build his career in 1850 by being invited to give a lecture to the Vienna Medical Society, which he did. But again he refused to write a paper about his talk for publication.Concluding that his career in Vienna wasn’t going anywhere, a very bitter and disillusioned Semmelweis returns to his native Hungary where he obtains a position teaching obstetrics at a hospital in Pest. Teaching his technique, he saw the same results in Pest as he did in Vienna; a dramatic decrease in death rates after childbirth.His life improved somewhat afterwards. He married and began writing about his ideas in a more formal manner. But the establishment still had not forgiven him. So deep were the criticisms of his work that even the founder of cell pathology, Rudolph Virchow, came out against Semmelweis’ thesis. Virchow was a key figure in the establishment of the germ theory of disease and here he is discrediting a person who had already made a link between germs and the spread of disease.Finally in 1861 Semmelweis publishes his work, but it doesn’t have the effect that he intended. Rather the opposite happens. Instead of just leaving his scientific work to be scrutinized by his peers, Semmelweis attacks all his critics, some of whom are very powerful people of the European medical community. His book is met with great criticism and this pushes Semmelweis into a deep depression.His mental state deteriorates rapidly, his family life unravels and in July of 1865 he’s committed to a mental hospital where he dies, at 47, a month later. His funeral is attended by a few of his peers, but no one from his family is there, not even his wife. It was reported that she was “sick” that day.Such a tragic ending to a life that could have turned out so differently had the choices he made been different. He was so overcome by his guilt at being responsible for the deaths of women that he may have very well lost all his objectivity. Here’s a man who found the cause of a devastating fatal disease, made the connection between germs and the spread of disease, and developed an effective method of prevention. But, he went against the Establishment and lost because of politics, jealousy, and, as some believe, discrimination.Later in the 1800′s, Louis Pasteur, Robert Koch, and, yes, Rudolf Virchow proved Semmelweis correct; that diseases are caused by germs and can be transmitted without proper cleanliness. Unfortunately those pronouncements were made long after Semmelweis was dead and probably forgotten about.So the next time you reach for that hand sanitizer to prevent the spread of disease in your house, car, and workplace, thank the pioneers of science and medicine, like Ignaz Semmelweis, who made many sacrifices to understand the world around us.

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do: Moving Off Of Legacy IT Systems

As the person with the CIO job, we like to spend our time looking forward and thinking about the importance of information technology. Trying to detect IT trends and then positioning our IT department to be where it needs to be in order to take advantage of changes when they occur. What we generally don’t do enough of is look at our IT shop and discover what is old and needs to be removed. Moving off of legacy IT systems is hard work, but it is part of the job of the person who is in the CIO position.Problems Moving Off Of Legacy SystemsI’m hoping that we all realize that every IT system that our department installs has a “shelf life”. What this means is that it’s not going to last forever. IT systems are created using tools that are easily available today, but may go away tomorrow. They run on systems with operating systems that will continue to be updated until they are discontinued. It may not be possible to move an existing old system to a new operating system because of the way that it has been designed. Finally, the people who created the old system may no longer be with your company and support for any changes would be very expensive.What this means is that when we decide to move off of an old system, there are a lot of decisions that we have to make as CIO. One of the more trendy decisions is if we want to host the replacement application in “the cloud”. If we decide that this is the way that we want to go, then we’re may to have to deal with the challenge of integrating multiple systems from different vendors in order to replace the single old system.Simply put, replacing a legacy system is not an easy task. It’s going to be up to your project management team to take a long hard look at the legacy system, the people in the company who are using it, and what they use it for. One area that can be especially sticky is more often than not, these legacy systems will have woven their way into how the company does it management reporting. What this means for the replacement project is that you’re going to end up recreating a great deal of custom reporting. Surprises like this can easily result in significant project delays.Why The Effort To Move Off Of Legacy Systems Is Worth ItGiven all of the challenges that are associated with trying to move off of a legacy system, it makes sense that a CIO just might say that it’s not worth it. This kind of project can be put off until the next CIO comes along. However, that never works – something will happen, such as support for an old operating system being discontinued, and suddenly the CIO will be forced to take action. It’s always better to have a plan and be executing it instead of being forced to take action.One of the most important things that the CIO must be aware of is that your company is not asking you to replace a legacy system. In fact, they may actively not want you to do this. They have grown accustomed to the system (or systems) that they are currently using and what you are proposing represents change and nobody likes change. As you swap out the legacy system for the new replacement, there is a good chance that at time processes and functions that people use every day may break. This is not going to make anyone happier about your IT project.However, as CIO you know that moving off of legacy systems is something that the company needs to continuously be doing. One thing that you’ll need to keep in mind is that this replacement program has a return on investment associated with it. In order to maximize that return, you are going to have to get rid of the legacy system as quickly as possible. The one thing that I’ve heard from CIOs who have been involved in projects like this is that their biggest regret is moving too slow.What All Of This Means For YouForward looking CIOs need to take the time to look backwards. They are in charge of a large number of legacy systems and these systems need to be replaced in order to keep up with the times. How that replacement is done will have a big impact on the company.Moving off of legacy systems can be a big challenge. CIOs have to decide if the replacement system will live in the cloud and if so, how they are going to interface to the multiple systems from multiple vendors that they will probably use to replace the single legacy system. Additionally, a great deal of custom reporting may have been created and this will all have to be replaced. When a legacy system is being replaced, the rest of the company may not support the IT department – they like their legacy system. However, you need to do it quickly so that you can maximize your return on investment.Replacement of legacy systems is a key part of the CIO job. You need to be tracking the age of all of your systems and taking action when it is needed. Becoming good at replacing legacy systems will ensure that your company never gets caught with old or outdated IT systems. However, keep in mind that this task is never done!

Investing and Educating Yourself

Some people say they have no money or too little income and, thus, can’t afford to invest any of it. Let’s get something very clear right from the start of this article: you can’t afford not to invest. If you don’t start putting aside a good portion (at least 10%) of your earnings into investments – if you don’t start building a portfolio for yourself – you’ll find yourself in a very precarious financial position as you approach your declining years. When you’re facing the day you can no longer work as much or you’d just like to retire, and you realize you can’t afford to retire comfortably, you’ll wish you’d thought ahead a bit better and planned for such a day by investing when you were younger.Educate Yourself – That said, it helps to know something about investing, even if you have an automatic retirement account, a financial planner, or savvy assistance from friends. To inform yourself, talk to some successful investors, read books and articles, and watch some videos. Try starting with Eric Tyson’s Investing. Of course, there’s an enormous amount of help online. Try Charles Schwab, Merrill-Lynch, CNN Money, Ameritrade, or Etrade. They all have terrific websites with a wealth of information. You could also take a class at the local college or go to a live financial planning seminar. There’s also a good non-profit organization called the American Association of Individual Investors which offers educational materials and holds seminars on various topics.Formulate an Investment Strategy – Just as with anything else, a plan will increase your chances of success. Take stock of your assets, income, short-term goals, and long-term financial destination. As I said earlier, you should invest a minimum of 10% of your income – a lot more if you’re able. So think about it: how much money do you have and how much can you put aside? What do you want your investment portfolio to do for you? Help you retire at 55, 60, 65? Or provide you with additional income as soon as possible? Exactly what do you want to accomplish with your money? After you come up with answer to those questions, you’ll be better able to select the right investments and the right combination of assets to meet your financial goals.Questions to Ask Yourself:
How much money can you invest right now?
Do you have any outstanding debts?
Are you planning on purchasing any large ticket items?
What’s the total amount of your monthly bills?
Do you have a retirement or registered pension plan?
Will you be inheriting any money?
How much instant cash do you want to have at your disposal for emergencies?
Whether you have a financial adviser or not, you need to be clear about those issues before formalizing your investment plan.Investment Basics: All investments have three basic ingredients: Expected Return, Risk and Marketability.Expected Return is the amount of interest, dividends or capital gains that you expect to earn from your investment. The higher the expected return, the greater the risk.Risk is the chance you take that you could lose some or all of your investment, or that you could earn less return than you expected. Lower risk investments include government treasury bills and savings bonds. Higher risk investments are stocks and futures. Mutual funds vary widely in risk. Your tolerance for risk depends on your overall financial position, how much time you have to endure periodic fluctuations in your investments’ value, and how well you deal with the likely anxiety and stress you’ll feel if your portfolio takes a turn for the worse.Marketability or liquidity refers to how quickly your investment can be converted to cash. Term deposits are not liquid, since you usually can’t withdraw your money before the end of the term. Mutual funds, however, are very liquid because you can quickly sell them on short notice for little cost.Stocks – Buying shares or stocks in companies traded on the NYSE or NASDAQ have historically outperformed all other investments over the long term. You can make a killing and become wealthy by trading on the stock market. However, stocks can also bankrupt you if you don’t know what you’re doing, or even if you do. Playing the stock market is not for the feint of heart. The risk is great, but so is the return if you play it smart. The greatest factor in determining stock prices is the company’s earnings. Be prepared to watch your stock go up and down, fluctuating over hurricanes, gas prices, wars, and even presidential elections. It’s the long-term growth of the company that matters. Here’s an encouraging fact: since World War II, an estimated 90% of the stock market’s gain has come from profit growth. As profits accumulate, prices rise, regardless of what’s happened on any given day, month, or year.U.S. Treasury Bonds – Do you want a sure thing? These are as close as you’re going to get because almost everyone agrees that the U.S. government is unlikely ever to default on its bonds. The government can always print more money to pay them off if necessary. As a result, the Treasury’s interest rate is considered a risk-free rate.Mutual Funds – A fund is basically a corporation that collects and invests money. You join a pool by buying shares in the fund. Pooling your money together with other investors gives you more power to invest. Also, your money enjoys the advantage of being invested by a team of professional money managers who research bonds, stocks, and assets, placing the pool of money as smartly as possible. Investing your funds in several different places reduces your risk of being hurt by any single bad investment. The fund managers charge an annual fee from.5- 2.5% of assets, plus expenses. For that fee, you buy into the collective wisdom of a team of professional money people, along with attaining instant diversification.Diversify Whatever you decide – to do it yourself, hire a professional, or go with mutual funds – you need to diversify – to place your money in several different investments. That will lessen your risk of being wiped out if things go badly for you.It All Adds Up – Don’t postpone investing because you feel you haven’t enough money to make it worth your while. Here’s what investing only $100 a month adds up to in time at 8% interest:- $12,000 invested over 10 years equals $18,294.- $24,000 invested over 20 years equals $58,902.- $36,000 invested over 30 years equals $149,035.Wow. Now think what kind of money you can make if you double or triple your investment and if the interest rate is greater, such as with the return on savvy stock buys or mutual fund allocations. Do your homework, take the risk, and get in the game!