Rhett Miller Releases New Album

Michael Weilert MD Rhett Miller
Rhett Miller

Rhett Miller is one of those artists who has been sort of bubbling on the surface for the past 20 years, almost making it to the mainstream, but always coming just a bit short.  He’s most well-known as the frontman and head songwriter of the alt-country band Old 97’s.  Like most alt-country bands, the Old 97’s were never able to reach mainstream audiences, partially because they don’t quite fall under one specific genre.  Starting in the early 2000s, Rhett Miller began to work on a solo career in addition to his work on the Old 97’s, taking those songs of his that he liked but don’t fit with the band’s sound.  While Rhett Miller’s work has never really made it to the top of the pops, he’s found a loyal following, that’s included several big names, including Vince Vaughn and the writers of Scrubs, both of whom have put songs by Rhett Miller and the Old 97’s in their works.

Last year, the Old 97’s released their 10th full studio album, “Most Messed Up”.  The album, a raw and raunchy reflection on the band’s 20-year career, met favorable reviews from critics and fans alike.  After finishing with the Old 97’s tour, Miller got back to the recording studio with a stack of songs left over from “Most Messed Up”.  These songs, more soft and delicate than the loud, fast-driving work of “Most Messed Up”, needed a special touch to make them come out, Miller says.  Therefore, he recruited Black Prairie, a Portland-based bluegrass band, who shares several members with the Decemberists.  The album, named “The Traveler”, is now set to be released on May 12th.  Miller has already released one of the songs from this album, a jubilant love song about picnicking in the sun, called “Most in the Summertime”.  The track also features Peter Buck and Scott McCaughey of R.E.M.  You can listen here:

Clinical Informatics Best Practice Awards

Michael Weilert MD Clinical Informatics NewsLast week, the winners of Clinical Informatics News’ Best Practices Awards were announced at the 2015 Summit for Clinical Ops Executives, SCOPE, in Orlando.  Three grand prizes were awarded that recognized organizations’ exemplary use of IT to improve patient services, clinical operations and clinical trial management.  Six additional companies were named finalists.  The winners were announced during the final plenary panel at SCOPE in an awards presentation hosted by Allison Proffitt, the editor of Clinical Informatics News.

ePharma Solutions won an award for their project “SitePortal: Moving Clinical Research Study Sites and Medical Institutions to a Paperless Clinical Trials Environment” in the category of “Patient Data Management”.  SitePortal is a product meant to provide sites with a validated, cloud-based portal, which they can use to manage clinical trial resources, maintain and archive all of their documents online.

Clinical Supplies Management (CSM) won in the category of “Study Startup and Design” for their direct-to-patient shipping project that enabled a complex pediatric clinical trial.  36 young patients across the country were required to take doses at three specific times every day for 14 days in a row.  The medication had to be prepped in a lab, shipped fresh every day, used within 48 hours and maintained at specific temperatures at all times.  CSM was able to design a patient kit that could be reconstituted daily and shipped overnight.

For “Clinical Data Intelligence”, Dabo Health won for “Quality Metrics: Date Transparency and User-customized Design Drive Frontline Engagement”.  Dabo Health had launched a pilot study with the Mayo Clinic cardiovascular unit to use a social environment to help foster a culture of teamwork, accountability and ultimately higher-quality patient care.  This platform was able to prompt a culture of transparency, improved metrics and communication.  This collaborative sharing of information and responsibility reduced duplicated effort and other inefficiencies.

As well as these three winners, entries from such companies as DDI, MarkoCare, DrugDev, PHT Corporation, CFS Financial and Parallax Online were cited as finalists.  Judges reviewed countless other entries, looking for such factors as industry impact, innovative use of technology and an effort to tackle areas with a large and unmet need for new solutions.

6 Great Materials About North Korea

In response to threats from anonymous hackers, believed to be from North Korea, Sony has canceled their release of “The Interview”.  The film tells the story of two friends, a talk show host and his producer, who are sent on a mission to assassinate North Korea’s totalitarian leader, Kim Jong Un.  This bowing down to terror threats sets an extremely dangerous precedent, and it’s already kicked off a major debate about censorship and cyberterror across the Internet.  While previews for the film looked promising, this could have a silver lining: according to leaked emails, even Sony executives chided the film for being both a misfire and “desperately unfunny”.  Even if the film wasn’t terribly good, I’m sure that a whole lot of people are going to want to see the film, especially now that it has so much controversy surrounding it.  But if you’d like to get a glimpse into the bizarre world of North Korea, there are other ways you could do it.  I recently came across an article that highlighted some of the videos and books that offer a valuable insight into the totalitarian state.

Michael Weilert MD Nothing to Envy

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea (Barbara Demick): This haunting non-fiction book traces the lives of six North Koreans.  Demick pieced together her portrayal of the country through years of research and interviews with defectors.

North Korea’s Slave Labor Camps (Vice): Without a doubt, Vice is not without controversy, and in many cases they’re little better than blatant yellow journalism.  Nonetheless, Vice’s CEO Shane Smith’s journey through Siberia to search for “off-shored” North Korean labor camps is dark and fascinating indeed.

Michael Weilert MD The Orphan Master's Son

The Orphan Master’s Son (Adam Johnson): This novel won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2013.  The Washington Post praised the book for making North Korea a real and riveting place that’s hard to forget.

Michael Weilert MD The Cleanest Race

The Cleanest Race (B.R. Myers): In this book, Myers examines the ideology of the North Korean state which, despite its communist roots, borrows significantly more from the fascist traditions of imperial Japan.  For instance, its all-devouring propaganda program not only builds up a massive myth behind the kim dynasty, but also plays upon some disturbing themes, such as racial supremacy and a hatred of foreigners.

Michael Weilert MD The Aquariums of Pyongyang

The Aquariums of Pyongyang (Chol-hwan Kang): When Kang was 9 years old, his grandfather was charged with treason, and his entire family was sentenced to a labor camp.  For the next 10 years, Kang performed manual labor alongside his family before defecting.

The Game of Our Lives: This BBC documentary takes a look at one of North Korea’s brighter moments when, in 1966, their relatively unknown soccer team took the World Cup by storm and earned the respect of soccer fans across the world.


Learning from Venice

History, as the saying goes, repeats itself.  I recently came across an article that discusses an idea put forward by Dr. Igor Linkov, that the way in which Venice handled the bubonic plague in the 14th century holds a lesson on how to even mitigate modern threats such as climate change and the fresh outbreak of ebola.  When the bubonic plague hit Europe in the late 1340s, Venice was a hub of many trade routes into both central Europe and Asia.  The Venetians initially tried to mitigate what they believed to be the threat with traditional risk management such as prayer and rituals, they ultimately started to utilize what people currently call resilience management.  Instead of trying to target a poorly understood risk, authorities focused on managing physical movement, social interactions and data collection for the city as a system.  This included inspection, quarantine stations on nearby islands, quarantine periods and wearing protective clothing.  Although such actions were too late to stop the disease’s initial devastation, thanks to the efforts, Venice continued to flourish, experiencing only sporadic episodes of plague afterwards.  In other parts of southern Europe, such as Greece, similar epidemics continued for centuries.

Michael Weilert MD Bubonic Plague
While the Bubonic Plague hit southern Europe hard, the Venetians were able to effectively combat it.

As the world tries to deal with the current Ebola outbreak in West Africa, Linkov and his colleagues are trying to learn from the Venetians in resilience management.  In the case of Ebola, economic and cultural factors make risk management difficult.  It might take time to transform deeply rooted traditions that contribute to the spread of Ebola, health experts and national leaders could respond to the re-emergence of the disease.  Resilience management addresses the ability of a complex system, such as a city or community, to prepare, absorb, recover and ultimately adapt to unexpected threats.  Resilience management could be an excellent guide to effectively dealing with the current Ebola outbreak in Africa, as well as other issues such as population growth and the impacts of global climate change, according to Linkov.  Much like Venetian officials did some centuries earlier, approaching resilience at the system level provides a way to deal with the unknown and unquantifiable threats we are facing more and more frequently.

The Dangers of Loud Music

As they say in rock n’ roll, “if it’s too loud, you’re too old”.  That could very well be true, but according to a recent study done by neuroscientists at the University of Texas at Dallas, loud noises alter how the brain processes speech, potentially increasing the difficulty in distinguishing speech sounds.  In a paper published this week in Ear and Hearing, researchers demonstrated how noise-induced hearing loss affects the brain’s recognition of speech sounds.  Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) reaches all corners of the population, and affects an estimated 15 percent of Americans between the ages of 20 and 69.

Rawk Out
While it might be fun to rock out sometimes, it can also be potentially harmful.

Exposure to intensely loud sounds leads to permanent damage of the hair cells, which in turn act as sound receivers in the ear.  Once they’re damaged, these hair cells don’t grow back, which leads to NIHL.  As people have made machines and electronic devices more powerful, there arises a whole lot more potential to cause permanent damage.  Even the smaller MP3 players are able to reach volume levels that are extremely damaging to the ear in just a matter of minutes.  Before the study, scientists didn’t have a clear understanding of the direct effects of NIHL on how the brain responds to speech.

To simulate two different types of noise trauma that clinical populations face, UT Dallas scientists exposed rats to moderate or intense levels of noise for an hour.  One group heard a high-frequency noise at 115 decibels that induced moderate hearing loss, and the second group heard a low-frequency noise at 124 decibels, causing severe hearing loss.  In comparison, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association lists the maximum output of an MP3 player or the sound of a chainsaw at about 110 decibels and the siren of an emergency vehicle at 120 decibels.  Regular exposure to sounds more than 100 decibels for more than a minute at a time could lead to permanent hearing loss.

Researchers observed how the two types of hearing loss affected speech sound processing in the rats by recording the neuronal response in the auditory cortex a month after the noise exposure.  The auditory cortex, one of the main areas that processes sounds in the brain, is organized on a scale, not unlike a piano.  Neurons at one end of the cortex respond to low-frequency sounds, while other neurons at the opposite end react to higher frequencies.

In the group with severe hearing loss, less than one third of the tested auditory cortex sites that normally respond to sound reacted to stimulation.  In the sites that did respond, there were noted unusual patterns of activity; neurons reacted more slowly, the sounds had to be louder and the neurons responded to frequency ranges more narrow than before.  In addition, the rats couldn’t tell the speech sounds apart in a behavioral task that they could successfully complete before the hearing loss.

In the group with moderate hearing loss, the area of the cortex responding to sounds didn’t change, although the reaction of the neurons did.  A much larger area of the auditory cortex responded to low-frequency sounds.  Neurons reacting to high frequencies needed more intense sound stimulation and responded much slower than those in normal hearing animals.  However, in spite of these changes, the rats still could discriminate the speech sounds in a behavioral task.