Skills Needed for Informatics

February 12, 2007

Very often I am asked what informatics is when I  tell people that I am studying informatics.  Really, it concerns itself with the non-technical side of computer science (if you will).  When I began this program, I wasn’t sure what skills and knowledge I would need to have, but as I’ve gone through this program, I believe there is an ideal skillset.  So what is that ideal skillset?  Well, as long as you have developed good critical and analytical thinking skills, you shouldn’t have a problem.  However, I do believe there is an ideal background.  This is what I belive that background is . . .
1.  Well-rounded academic background (I hope you paid attention during those general requirements courses during undergrad years).

2.  At least a couple of upper-division courses in all fields of study:  humanities, social sciences, hard sciences, arts/performing arts.  This will give you insight into the “culture” of each of these academic areas:  how information is created, how their practitioners think, how they use information, their values, work practices, etc.

3.  Competence in computer programming, networking/data communications, office productivity software, and arts/design software (DreamWeaver,  Photoshop, etc.)  Although informatics is about the non-technical, you will be required to interact with techies in your future informatics job.  It’s a good idea to know what they are talking about . . . also it’s a good idea to be well-informed of the abilities and constraints of technologies (after all you are designing these info. solutions).

4.  Any job/career experience.  As you take classes and are exposed to theory, career experience will get you thinking abot the information problems, technological impacts, user needs, information problems, etc. specific to your former profession.  As a former teacher, I am always thinking  about the impact of technologies on the teaching profession, its impact on student learning, information problems, possible IT solutions,  etc.  It’s nice to have a point-of-reference.

5.  A course or two in statistics.  Surprisingly, many academic subjects rely heavily on statistics to validate information.  Scientists will not say that they know anything for sure . . . it’s all a matter of statistics, and the statistics suggest that their hypothesis is correct.  You can’t seriously think you can properly evaluate information if you don’t have any competence in this area.


Health Outcomes Project

February 8, 2007

For my “Information Architecture” class, my group and I took on a project created by the School of Public Health here at UCLA. They are trying to crate an information system that provides Health Forecasting similar to the economic forecasting business schools like the Anderson School of Managment (UCLA) conduct. They envision that public health advocates (lobbyists, community activists, etc.) in California could use the forecasting models they create to advocate for funding of certain health programs for their community. For example, a public health advocate could use the demographic data the IS system has for thier community, zip code, etc. to calculate/model the effects of eliminating vending machines from elementary schools on Body Mass Index (BMI). Another example could be the effect of increasing the number of fruits and vegetables in local grocery stores on coronary heart disease 10 years from now. These projections will  be for their specific communities because the database will eventually have demographic data for small geographic areas (the forecasts could be for the entire state of CA, or for a specific county, or even a specific community within a city).   The advocates could then use these projections when applying for grants or when lobbying for legislation.

If this system is successful, public health advocates in California will have a tremendous advantage over others when applying for grants. In addition, they will have reliable evidence specific to their community to support their argument.

My teammates and I are very excited about this project. It is one of those projects that we feel will really make a difference, especially for low-income communities. I will write more about this project as we continue to work on it.

Information System in the Gym

February 6, 2007

The sources of information and the information problems at JWC are numerous. One of the biggest sources of information (and I believe the most useful) are the exercise machines. Some of the exercise machines have digital interfaces that record information such as calories burned, distance, speed, heart rate, difficulty of exercise, etc. Once a person finishes using the machines, the information is erased. I saw one individual who recorded his exercises, the number of repetitions and sets he completed, and the weight. Another person I spoke with said that she does not really pay much attention to the information displayed on the machines; instead, she just exercises until she feels that she had a good workout. The personal fitness trainer I talked with emphasized how important it is for exercisers to keep track of their progress if they have fitness goals. If exerciser’s do not record the data the machine displays or remember it, the data simply becomes lost.

The solution I envision is a system that automatically records all your exercise information and stores in on a database. If each of the machines were connected to a database, a person could swipe their BruinCard at a machine before they begin exercising. When they are finished exercising, they could push a button, and the machine sends all the data to that person’s record: calories burned, distance run, resistance level, repetitions, etc. At a later time, the exerciser could simply login to MyUCLA and retrieve all their information. Perhaps a computer program could be designed to “crunch” the data and output graphs, charts, etc. Such a system would be beneficial in helping exercisers keep track of their progress without having to worry about remembering, writing the information down, or “crunching” the numbers themselves.

One of the issues raised was security and privacy of this personal data. I believe this concern could be mitigated if a unique login and password were required for an exerciser to access his or her information. As long as that exerciser did not share his or her login ID and password with a third party, there should be no security threat. Also, the database administrators could adopt a policy by which the data would be deleted automatically after a given amount of time or under certain circumstances or conditions. Of course, this could be an “opt-in” system and there should be no requirement to swipe a BruinCard to operate and use the machines.

Reference Desk

January 23, 2007

I work part-time at the Biomedical library reference desk.  I never imagined that this job could be so difficult.  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy my job, but it is often hard to connect people with the information that they want.  So once they ask the question, I have to figure out what resources we have that could contain the answer and how to retrieve it. 

Let me give you a few scenarios.  Some of them are easy and some are difficult.  Does the question state what they want clearly?  Ask yourself whether you would know where and how to look:

1.  Do you have the book “The Biographical Dictionary of Scientists”?

2.  I need biographical information on Pavlov.

3.  I need the latest research on the tourniquet test.

4.  I need to find out how and when to conduct a tourniquet test on a patient.

5.  My mom is in the hospital and she was recently diagnosed with *****(which turns out is a rare form of breast cancer).  I need some information.

6.  What were the major public health journals in the 1920s?

7.  What information do you have on IUD use (historical) among native populations (e.g. Indians) North and South America (not the 20th century)?

8.  Last week I heard a news report about Brazilian doctors using teeth to obtain stem cells.  Do you have it?

9.  I am trying to find out if a musician’s brain physiology differs from that of the general population.

10.  How many animals are used in testing/experimentation in the U.S.?  What percentage of them are rats?

 With the exception of questions 6-9, these are actual reference questions I was asked.  The questions 6-9 were real questions asked, but I (un) fortunately was not asked them–my colleagues were.

School of Information at Univ. of Michigan receives $2m

November 10, 2006

You know, I really like to keep up on what other information studies programs are doing. I frequently check what the UM’s program is accomplishing. The School of Information (SI) program at UM is very solid, and I almost went there instead of here at UCLA. But that discussion is for another day.

I read that the W.K. Kellog Foundation awarded SI $2 million to help establish an endowed professorship. If you think $2m is alot of money, you haven’t heard anything yet. Over the past ten years, this foundation has given more than $13.5 million to the SI program. Beleive me when I say that SI has money. I quickly felt that when I went to visit them last March.

They offered me a scholarship paying for my full tuition (including out-of-state) my first year and a waiver on in-state tuition my second.  If I had been awarded the Spectrum Scholarship from ALA, they offered to double match it (the award is $5,000; SI would have given me $10,000 for a total of $15,000). 

You know what I don’t understand?  Why is it that our program here at UCLA is so short on cash.  I mean, here we are in Los Angeles which has an economy worth almost $600 billion and yet the powers that be don’t go out and fundraise.  There is probably more money here in Los Angeles than there is in the entire Midwest, certainly more than in the state of Michigan. 

A paperless society?

November 8, 2006

You know I get so sick and tired of how all the popular media gets everybody so excited about the prospect of a paperless society. This paperless society they want to create is one in which all people will need is a hand-held computer. Why have print resources (journals, newspapers, books) at all when everything can be put it electronic format? Now, I have to admit that before I took any information science courses, I thought the same thing. But paper definetely has its advantages over computer technologies. Allow me to remind everyone about the merits of paper . . .

  1. It is lightweight (try carrying around a laptop or tablet PC)
  2. It is abundant and very cheap (about $0.01 per page)
  3. Paper requires no technology to use it or read it (remember floppy drive disks? Good luck finding a computer that takes one of those).
  4. It is “eye readable” (you can’t tell what information is on a CD or flashdrive by just looking at it).
  5. No vast, complex infrastructure required to sustain access to it (no Western Civilization infrastructure (i.e. electricity, computer networks, etc.) required)
  6. No one has kept a JPEG image (graphics, photos) for 100 years
  7. Paper is much easier to markup (it isn’t easy annotating an electronic article)
  8. Reading paper is much easier on the eyes
  9. No compatibility issues with paper (is this Microsoft Word doc. on PC compatible with the Mac version?).
  10.   Paper is just too convenient that it seems ridiculous to ask people not to use it
Source: Victoria McCargar. “Don’t Kiss Your Digital Assets Goodbye.” Presentation. 9/15/2006.

Digital Information Behaviors

November 1, 2006

I have started to work on my digital information behaviors. So what are digital information behaviors you may ask? Well, to be honest, I only have a vague idea of what it means. To put it in concrete terms, it means how a person uses digital technology (either hardware or software) which can range from how one searches for info. on Google . . . to how one tags their photos on Flickr . . . to how they participate in online communities like Wikipedia . . . to how well they use a digital camera and Adobe Photoshop. . . etc. What I am working on right now is becoming proficient in using Google (beyond the search stuff), experimenting with social software like Flickr, and contributing my “expertise” to wikipedia (I put some information about the IS program). Besides the fun I am having, I think it is also important for an aspiring information professional, like myself, to become familiar with the different ways people are behaving digitally.