Thursday, November 17, 2011

Chase Credit Cards and Credit Reports

Good news for many Chase credit card holders!

Many Chase credit cards are popular because of the rewards programs and sign on bonuses associated with them. However, many of those cards feature a "No Preset Spending Limit" (NPSL) feature. Chase used to not report the credit limit on those cards to credit agencies, which could lead to a poor credit score because of a high credit utilization ratio (statement balance divided by available credit). I recently decided to contact them to see if they would consider reporting the limits and was pleased to find out that starting this month (November 2011), and because of customer requests, NPSL cards' credit limits will now be reported. I was able to verify that this is the case via's free credit monitoring service.

Monday, October 10, 2011

On the Interview Trail: Transportation in the Northeast

First, a little background for those unfamiliar with the medical school application process: students preparing to enter medical school the fall after they graduate from college, like me, take the MCAT anytime from the summer before junior year to the summer after junior year of college. Then, during the summer of their junior year, they submit their AMCAS application, a sort of common application for most medical schools in the United States. Once the AMCAS has been submitted, secondary applications which provide supplemental information specific to each school are submitted. After schools review both the content of the AMCAS and secondary application, they decide whether or not to offer a personal interview to the applicant. The interview always comes before an acceptance; no applicant is accepted without one. Interviews are usually held from fall through March.

I have been to a few interviews, but the most time consuming aspect of interviewing is traveling to and from the interview. I don't have a car, so I opted to take public transportation. Here, I'll just address the options as they apply to the Northeast (i.e. DC to Boston). My options have been plane, train (Amtrak), and bus (BoltBus, Megabus, Greyhound, etc.).

After having experienced both trains and buses so far, I have to admit that Amtrak is my preferred way to travel. At least up to New York, it is faster than a plane when you consider security and check-in times, as well as accessibility (Baltimore Penn Station is much closer to Hopkins than BWI Airport). Also, Amtrak ticketing is much more flexible; should plans change last minute, you can cancel any unprinted ticket and receive a full refund. Try that with a plane ticket, which is more expensive to start with.

While the BoltBus has WiFi and is cheaper than Amtrak, it is noticeably more cramped. Amtrak has wide seats and a lot of legroom, and very large overhead compartments (most suitcases that you would have to check on an airplane can even fit up there). Amtrak also has food for purchase onboard, and a tray table on which you can eat either the onboard food or food you bring on the train. Plus it is a handy place to put your laptop compared to your lap. Amtrak also has plans to put WiFi on all of its Northeast Regional trains in the future (currently it is only on Acela trains and in major stations in the Northeast Corridor).

The other main disadvantage of the BoltBus is that it takes longer than Amtrak and is subject to traffic conditions on I-95. All that said, the advantages of Amtrak seem to outweigh the higher cost of the ticket. Of course that may not be true for everyone, but I wager that for most people, $30 or so would be worth the upgrade from a bus to Amtrak.

The one case in which I could see using the plane would be for a trip up to Boston. Boston is far enough from DC/Baltimore that a train or bus affair ends up taking a good part of the day. However, if this country invests in high speed rail infrastructure, then that trip would also be competitive by train, though not any time in the near future because of how long that infrastructure would take to develop.

Anyways, that was a fairly long and rambling post. In short, don't forget about Amtrak the next time you travel in the Northeast.

Footnote: I strongly believe our country should invest in high-speed rail. If you look carefully, the opponents of such investment usually have a vested interest in the automobile, petroleum, or airline industries. As far as those that complain about the amount of money the federal government throws at Amtrak, consider that the interstate system is also largely funded by the federal government.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Patients or Cases?

I'm glad to see that medical schools are incorporating activities to reinforce the human side of medicine, which, in today's rushed pace, is sometimes forgotten.

Read Medical Students Learn to Tell Stories about Their Patients and Themselves, published in the AMA's Journal, Virtual Mentor.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

NextBus GPS Tracking for Johns Hopkins Transportation

The NextBus service is now used to track:
  • Blue Jay Shuttle

  • Homewood-Peabody-JHMI shuttle (aka "JHMI shuttle")

  • Keswick-Homewood-Eastern-JHMI shuttle

  • Homewood-Mt. Washington shuttle

The NextBus website includes a map that shows real-time locations of shuttles overlaid on a street map.

To obtain an estimated arrival time, you can:
  • Visit the NextBus website

  • Call (410) 834-2833 and enter your stop number.

  • Send a text to 41411 with "hopkins 123" where 123 is the stop number.

Stop numbers are posted at each stop and can also be looked up by Route/Direction/Stop on the NextBus website.

Johns Hopkins Blue Jay Shuttle

For the most current information on the Blue Jay Shuttle, including a map of the routes and list of the stops, visit the JHU Parking and Transportation webpage. At the time of this post, the only way to view individual route paths is through the NextBus interactive GPS map (click on "Select Routes...").

Here is a one page reference listing all the routes and stops with their NextBus numbers, as well as hints as to where each stop is found without a route map. (This is an unofficial document that I made, and there are no guarantees made as to the accuracy of the information.)

The JHU Gazette has also published an informative article on the new service, available online.

Blue Jay Shuttle stop sign

Hopkins has posted information on the new routes of the Blue Jay Shuttle (which replaces the old Security Escort Van service), effective August 24th. In summary:
  • 5:45pm-11:15pm: There are 5 fixed routes (Red, Blue, Green, Orange, Pink/Purple) that depart every 30 minutes from Mason Hall with the first departure at 5:45pm and last departure at 10:45pm. Although the Gazette reported that there would be 10 vans running the routes, it currently (8/23) appears that each route will be run by only one van, each of which takes about 20-25 minutes to drive the full loop. One van alternates departures along the Pink (:15) and Purple (:45) routes, so each of those routes only has hourly service. Shuttles operate daily, excluding holidays. All shuttle stops will be marked with a sign. No schedule for specific stops is available at the time of this post.

  • 11:15pm-2:00am: Call (410) 516-8700. All vans operate point-to-point service. An estimated pickup time will be provided.

  • 2:00am-4:00am: The same service as from 11:15pm-2:00am, but fewer vans will operate.

Pro tips:
  • To board anywhere other than Mason: flag van with a J-Card.

  • To drop-off anywhere other than Mason: tell the driver when approaching the stop.

  • Vans only stop at designated stops, except for emergencies or disabilities. According to the Gazette article, students can request a ride to Mason Hall or the nearest stop if they would need to walk more than a few blocks to their destination.

NextBus has also been deployed with the Blue Jay Shuttle. See my other post for details.

Updated 8/23/2011 9:48pm with information regarding Pink/Purple.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

A New Hopkins Shuttle: Keswick-Homewood-Eastern-JHMI

On July 7th, JHU Transportation announced the new Keswick-Homewood-Eastern-JHMI shuttle to start on July 11th. This shuttle is a result of the need to connect the new Hopkins Keswick facility to the other campuses, and the shuttle also replaces the previous Homewood-Eastern and Eastern-JHMI shuttles. Service runs every 30 minutes from each end, Monday through Friday 8:00am-6:00pm. Before 8:00am, the memo indicates: "four Eastern departures are scheduled to arrive at MSEL and Mason Hall" although no other information is provided about that schedule.

See the Homewood Parking and Transportation website for details on stops and schedules.

For Homewood students, which I assume would also be able to take the shuttle, this effectively runs from a location near the Rotunda mall to Mason Hall to JHMI. It could provide an alternate way of getting between JHMI and Homewood campuses, especially for students that have classes on the southwest part of campus (Clark, Hodson, CSEB/Hackerman). In addition, those interested in heading to the Rotunda directly from JHMI or Homewood after class or research might be able to use this shuttle. The shuttle also stops at Charles Commons but only by request. However, it is probably better to use the existing Homewood-Peabody-JHMI shuttle to go to and from Commons since that runs more frequently.

Monday, July 4, 2011

A Revamped Homewood-JHMI Shuttle for Hopkins

You can always go to for the most current information on the Homewood-JHMI shuttle.

On June 20th, JHU Transportation posted a memo announcing major changes to the Homewood-JHMI shuttle service (colloquially known as "the JHMI" to Hopkins undergrads) that would take effect on July 1st. Four major changes took effect on 7/1:
  • The shuttle switched operators from Veolia Transportation to Broadway Services. Broadway is already responsible for operating the Johns Hopkins Hospital shuttles and, a couple months ago, won a contract to take over operation of the Homewood Security Escort Van (now officially known as the "Blue Jay Shuttle") from JHU Security.

  • New buses, reportedly all with working A/C, came into service. As I'm not in Baltimore right now, I haven't seen these yet, but I have high expectations for them (if you have good quality pictures and wouldn't mind sending them to me, I can post them here). These replaced the old fleet of primarily 7 year-old buses that were supplemented by 2 buses inherited/purchased from Denver Transit (the ones with standing space) and school buses shared with Veolia-operated Baltimore Collegetown shuttle during peak service.

  • The terminal stop at the JHMI campus was temporarily moved a block northeast in front of the Washington Street Garage because of planned construction at the previous stop location.

  • A new bus schedule went into effect.

Highlights of the new bus schedule:
(Click here for a detailed, color-coded list of changes to weekday service.)
  • Increased off-peak service, especially from Homewood to JHMI. During most of the day, off-peak service is now usually every 15 minutes instead of every 30.

  • The first bus from JHMI to Homewood is now 30 minutes earlier, at 6:50am.

  • On Thursday and Friday evenings, service runs for two more hours, with the last departures at 1:30am from Homewood and 1:59am from JHMI.

  • Most of the express buses from JHMI to Homewood have been converted to all-stop "local" buses. There remain only 3 express buses: 6:30pm, 7:00pm, and 7:30pm.

The weekend schedule remains mostly the same, except for two minor changes to the Sunday schedule:
  • The 4:30pm departure from JHMI is now at 4:40pm.

  • A new 6:30pm departure from JHMI fills in the gap between the 5:30pm and 7:30pm departures. (For the time being, Sunday departures from Homewood still feature a two hour interval in the evening between the 5:00pm and the subsequent 7:00pm departures.)

Thursday, June 9, 2011

IBM's Watson goes to Medical School

Remember IBM's computer, Watson, which made a showing on Jeopardy a couple months ago? It's moving past game shows and looking to assist doctors. Watson would fit perfectly with the move towards electronic patient records, but it will be interesting to see how Watson affects the role that a doctor will play in medicine.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Interview with Scott McNealy

Well, okay, I never interviewed him myself, though he did visit my high school and gave a talk there about a year after I graduated, though. That was shortly before news broke that Sun was looking to be acquired.

Regardless, The Register seems to have a pretty fair article from an interview with the co-founder and former CEO of Sun Microsystems. It's worth a read if you ever got know what Sun was for anything other than "they made Java."

Articles on Medicine (May 2011): Beyond Diagnostics

Just two this time.

  • Are patients just interesting cases, or are they people capable of emotion?

  • People talk about treating the root cause of a problem and not just its symptoms. Social causes should not be forgotten, either.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Sun Ray Multimedia Enhancements for Native Sessions

...are coming! Because most Sun Ray customers are Windows users, most of the development effort has been directed at improving the experience for Windows users. To that end, not much work has been done in terms of improving video watchability on native sessions (UNIX or Linux sessions not through VDI). However, about a month ago, two YouTube videos were referenced on the SunRay-Users public mailing list, which Oracle employees then confirmed as demonstrating features to come in a future version of Sun Ray Software. What I see from the video appears to be fairly smooth HD video playback, even over an SSH-tunneled X session initiated from a Sun Ray server! Hopefully the improvements help with Flash as well, given the explosion in popularity of YouTube and other Flash video players on the web.

Here are the links to the videos, which were posted by Wim Coekaerts, the Senior VP of Linux and Virtualization at Oracle:

Monday, March 14, 2011

Comcast Customer Support and Internet Speeds

Comcast logo

Comcast is notorious for its poor customer support. My experience with them has not been totally inconsistent with most of the terrible things I've heard. Back when I initially tried to get internet service ordered, one customer service agent at the Baltimore service center even went as far as to say that another agent (via Comcast online chat, who asked me to visit the service center to verify my identity) lied to me about being able to pick up a self-install kit. Whether or not I should have been able to is besides the point; I think it's quite something if Comcast calls itself a liar just because an agent made a mistake in what they thought was possible. In general, I've found that things one customer service agent tells me may no longer apply with the next agent. The level of consistency, or rather lack thereof, can get to be extremely frustrating.

About a month or two after my Comcast service was initially connected, I noticed that the sustained download speed I was getting was inconsistent with the tier I signed up for. I signed into the Comcast online chat support service, explained that I believed the modem was not receiving the configuration file for my level of service, and had the issue resolved very quickly.

More recently, I signed up for a promotion for a higher tier of internet service. Between about 5-6 customer support agents including a supervisor, none were able to get the correct modem configuration file sent. Most of them claimed that the issue had been fixed and I had to wait 24 hours for the change to take effect. In one of these cases, waiting 24 hours resulted in my modem returning to the Comcast walled garden (unregistered modem). When I attempted to go through the first time registration process, I was told by the online system that no service tier was on my account number. Fortunately, phone support was able to restore my previous tier of service fairly quickly.

After about the 6th agent in trying to get the correct tier of service, and a callback to my voicemail saying that no internet billing codes were on my account, some neuron in my brain fired reminding me that Comcast had a Twitter account which was staffed by an effective support team. I did some quick research online to gauge others' experiences, and decided to give it a try. I e-mailed the address listed on the Twitter page since I don't use Twitter, and within 15 minutes of my request I received a reply saying that the issue was fixed. I checked and indeed it was fixed! So if you are a Comcast user, I highly encourage you to use Comcast's Twitter support team, whether by Twitter or e-mail.

In Comcast's defense, however, if you are using wireless and feel that your internet is very slow, and you are living in an apartment complex, try a wired connection first. It is very likely that your speed is low due to interference from neighbors' WiFi. Most people only have wireless routers and laptop wireless cards that operate in the 2.4 GHz frequency range, in which there are only 3 non-overlapping WiFi channels. In my building, I can see more than 30 access points of varying signal strength from where my laptop sits. That means all of these 30 cause interference to some degree in the 2.4 GHz range, and that doesn't include interference from microwaves, portable phones, and Bluetooth devices which also operate in the 2.4 GHz radio band. My solution was to get a dual band wireless router, which includes the ability to operate in the 5 GHz frequency band in addition to 2.4 GHz. Although 5 GHz does not penetrate walls and bend around obstacles as well as 2.4 GHz does, it has many more non-overlapping channels (20). Not being able to penetrate obstacles as well can also become advantageous if everyone had a 5 GHz-capable router since the degree of interference from neighbors would also be reduced. Dual band wireless routers are more expensive, which is probably why most people don't have them, and will also require that your laptop have a wireless card that can talk 5 GHz. Generally, if the wireless card says it can connect to 802.11a networks, it can do 5 GHz. 802.11n can be either 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz, so if you have a card that says it can connect to b/g/n, that's likely to mean only 2.4 GHz, and a 5 GHz wireless router will not help you. Over a 5 GHz connection, my laptop can get the same speeds to the internet as a wired connection can (30 Mbps downstream, 6 Mbps upstream), but over 2.4 GHz, speeds are much slower (about 4 Mbps downstream, 5 Mbps upstream).

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Censored! China's censorship policies.

Although I am an ABC (American-born Chinese), I am taking Chinese classes. At home, I learned to speak the Shanghai dialect of Chinese, and passively picked up some ability to listen to basic conversations in Mandarin Chinese, but I never learned to speak it, or to read or write it. I started taking classes in high school when they were introduced during my sophomore year. In any event, for the current Chinese class I am taking, one of the recurring assignments is to write a blog entry on a weekly basis. Our professor chose as the blog host. Part of that assignment is to also read and comment on three of the other blog entries posted by classmates.

One of the entries my classmate posted asked for advice in finding off-campus housing. My first attempt to comment said something similar to:
[Translated: This year, the student government launched an off-campus housing comparison website, which should be helpful for you. Here is the link:]

When I noticed that this comment had disappeared, I posted a new one:
[Translated: It seems that my earlier comment got censored (using a term that means harmonize, but is popularly used by bloggers to mean "censored by the government in the name of harmony"), in any case, you should check out]

That also disappeared. I e-mailed my professor and we both thought the first was removed because of the word "government", but I tested a bit more and it turns out it was because of the link! If I paste only the link, the comment gets deleted. If I change the comment to say "Google for JHU OCHD" instead of providing the direct link, the comment stays.

Apparently any link that goes to a "foreign" website is considered worthy of censorship, at least on Sina's blog platform.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Doctors and IT

Well, first of all, this blog is not dead. It has just...undergone a period of deep hibernation. Unfortunately I don't think I'll ever be able to keep up with it as much as I used to, but I'll still try to post here more often than I have in the past few months.

Today, I read an interesting article intersecting technology and medicine: U.S. patients trust docs, but not e-health records, survey shows

As someone who is on the road to a medical career, it's certainly encouraging to hear that most people trust their physicians. But as a technologist, it's also worrisome to hear that patients don't always trust electronic health records, and that the lack of trust can be justified. On the one hand, a doctor's job is to be a doctor, not to worry about computer and network security, which is the job of an IT specialist. On the other hand, digital security is a real problem that every computer user has to worry about to some degree. I don't know if most doctors are aware of IT security best practices, but it is more likely that most doctors can't afford to hire an IT team to run systems and security, nor do they have the time to learn and deal with it themselves. As much as EHRs have their benefits, I can see how they become a burden as it takes considerably more technical know-how to maintain than a filing cabinet; correspondingly, hiring someone to maintain an EHR system is more costly than hiring someone to maintain a filing cabinet.

It seems that computer security is becoming increasingly important in the healthcare industry with the push for switching to EHRs. The simplest solution would probably just be to isolate EHR computers from the internet, but that runs counter to the collaborative ability to share EHRs between health organizations. As a result, doctors will probably need to have a higher level of security awareness than the average home user, simply because the stakes (i.e. protected health information as defined by HIPAA) are much higher. While I by no means claim to understand how EHR systems are being deployed, my guess is that, like other enterprise software, the software is developed and deployed by a software company that maintains an active support and maintenance contract with the medical practice. If that's the case, then perhaps those companies should include services to maintain a network where there is otherwise no dedicated IT infrastructure or staff, and at least provide minimal training materials to doctors and their staff so that the digital security issues that have plagued other industries ("Big Company loses SSNs and credit card numbers of 1 million customers due to network breach") do not now begin to affect medical practices. One way or another though, it would seem that, in general, doctors need to gain a better understanding of computer security than they have now, for the good of their patients.