Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A Thanksgiving Photo Bonanza

In honor of Thanksgiving being the day that we found out about the crumpet last year, and because we've finally had a chance to download the photos off the camera, here's a look at what Brynna has been up to recently:

Mainly, lots of drooling:

Getting an early taste of the UConn women's basketball team, which can be watched via streaming video on the computer (yup, more drooly stains down the front of her shirt):

The Huskies and Barack Obama. Those are the things that Brynna is allowed to watch on TV. Though she keeps trying to sneak a peek at her father's geeky websites.

Her special Husky outfit from Grand (plus special knit sneakers that were made by someone who watched Grand try a case when she was six months pregnant with me...):

A close-up of our little Husky:

I love you, Mommy! But please get out of the way so I can show off my new trick!

Hello, doting public! Are you ready? I have found a way to spice up diaper-changing time!

Hello, feet!

Stay on target...

Almost there...

Victory! A new teething toy!

May all your Thanksgivings be as yummy.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

ATM User Interface

ATMs - a convenient fixture of the modern world. Fast cash. Reasonably safe and secure (even if they can't figure out voting machines worth a damn). Awfully nice if you can find one that has no fees (as I can at my workplace).


Here we see a glaring example of poor design. The ATM dispenses cash in incremements of $20. The daily maximum one can withdraw from an ATM is usually $200 or $300, depending on the bank and the ATM. So, the number of possible input values is pretty small - you could count them on your fingers: $20, $40, $60, ..., $200. And yet, when I want to enter in my desired withdrawal of $100, I need to enter 1-0-0-0-0 on the keypad. Not only the zero after the twenty-dollar increment, which is superfluous, but also the cents as well. Since the machine is utterly incapable of dispensing change of any sort, why bother displaying or entering the cents amount at all. It seems to me that, to ask for $100 dollars from an ATM machine, I should need only press '1'. It can't be one dollar, or ten, or one thousand - '1' should only mean $100 within the rules of ATM machines.

Or, since the machine directs you to enter the amount in incremenets of $20, perhaps it would be better to simply ask: how many $20s do you want?

There are also those eight keys: four on either side of the screen. Some other, more intelligent software designs utilize those to give the user a few typical choices: press this button for $20, this one for $40, etc., and not even bother with the numeric keypad. Sure, eight keys can't give you all the possibilities, but could probably cover 95% of requests.

Even though I am an engineer, I wouldn't claim to be a guru of user interface design; perhaps if I did more software programming. Even so, I like to think I can recognize good design when I see it, and bad design when it smacks me upside the head - most everyone can. After all, it's supposed to be intuitive, isn't it?

Saturday, November 22, 2008


All fourth year medical students are required to do a sub-internship. The idea of this month-long, in-hospital rotation is to practice acting like an intern (the special medical-world name for a first-year resident physician). The sub-I, with overnight call every fourth night, is usually the most intense rotation in the fourth year, which otherwise features residency interviews and elective rotations. It can be pressure-packed, because students often are relying on the experience to yield at least one letter of recommendation for residency applications, and it can even be an audition for a residency spot in that program. At my medical school, we can choose to do this month either in internal medicine (taking care of adults) or pediatrics. Most of my classmates choose medicine, because they will primarily take care of grown-ups in their residencies and later practices.

I originally scheduled two sub-Is for this year, one in medicine and one in pediatrics, thinking that this would be the best preparation for a family med residency where I will care for people of all ages. The medical school dean, when I sat down with her last year to 1. go over my proposed fourth year schedule and 2. tell her that I was pregnant, replied that the idea of two sub-Is was insane, especially with a new baby. She told me to pick the one that would be most enjoyable for me, and so I picked pediatrics. I knew from my third-year rotations that the approach and the hours in peds would be much more family-friendly, and that there was a good chance I would enjoy my colleagues a bit more as well.

So, that is what I have been doing this month, with three weeks down and one more week to go. The every fourth night call schedule looks something like this:

Day 1: on call. Arrive by 7 AM. "Pre-round" on the patients that I am taking care of, which means check in with nurses and the overnight resident to see if there were any issues or changes since I left the day before, call up new lab values, vital signs, and medication records on the computer, stop in to see and examine the patient, and combine all of that into a daily progress note in the electronic medical record. I try to finish this by 8:00 so I have a half hour to head to the lactation room and pump milk for Brynna. At 8:30, the whole pediatrics team assembles for rounds. For the last three weeks, that team has consisted of the consultant (attending physician), senior (3rd-year) resident, four interns, and four medical students (three 3rd years and me). Sometimes we also have a pharmacist. In peds, we do family-centered rounds, which means that we talk about the patients in their rooms, in front of them and their families. We spend anywhere from 2 to 3 hours seeing all of the patients on our service, which is usually about 10 to 15 kids. In each room, the intern or student who knows the patient best presents the overnight information and the plan for the patient today, and then we take questions from the family. After rounds, we head back to the work room to make all the changes that we've just talked about, using the electronic ordering system to adjust medication doses, order lab tests or xrays, and place requests for specialist teams like neurology or cardiology to stop by and see the patient. I try to pump again before lunch. Lunch on pediatrics is great, there is really good food and usually an interesting teaching conference. After lunch, the new patients for the day start showing up. I alternate admissions with the intern who is on the same schedule I am—each arriving patient needs to have a complete history and physical, and then we need to come up with a plan for treating them and put it in to action. We are supervised by the senior resident, who answers our questions, teaches, and generally makes sure that we don't mess up! On a busy day, that takes all afternoon. If there is downtime, I try to study for my upcoming board exam. I pump in the middle of the afternoon, too. Alex usually shows up with Brynna and a wonderful home-cooked meal around 7:00. The wonderful thing about pediatrics is that this is totally normal behavior—the kiddos of the on-call residents often come for dinner to visit with their moms or dads. This would be totally bizarre on most other services in the hospital. I take some time then to eat and feed Brynna in person, and to hand off the bottles of milk that I have pumped earlier in the day and get empties back from Alex.

Overnight, the intern and I continue to alternate admissions. I get much more sleep than he does, though, because he has the pager, and the nurses call fairly frequently with questions and updates on patients. I haven't had much in the way of middle-of-the-night admissions yet, since the doctors in the peds ED downstairs do a great job of stablizing kids to send them back home. This is another nice thing about doing the sub-I in peds versus in medicine—more sleep on an average night in the hospital. I sleep in a call room, quite comfy, in a hallway with a bunch of other call rooms. There's a kitchen that is stocked with not particularly nutritious goodies, but also has boiling water for tea and oatmeal, and a freezer where I can recharge the ice pack that keeps my milk bottles cold. I head up to the call room around 10 or 11 and study or read up on patients' conditions for a little while before pumping one more time and going to sleep.

Day 2: "post-call." Up in time to be back in the residents workroom by 6:30 or 7. Check in on patients, repeat morning routine from day before. Run downstairs to pump while reviewing the information about each of my new patients, prioritizing what I need to tell the rest of the team. Rounds at 8:30, giving longer presentations introducing the team to each new patient and their issues. After the initial burst of post-rounds work, the team re-gathers for "sign-out," the daily transfer of responsibility from the post-call person to the new on-call resident. We "run the list," going through what needs to be done for each patient, which by that point is usually following up on tests and consults ordered earlier in the day. After sign out, I get to leave! Hurray! This is accomplished by noon, sometimes a bit earlier, ending about 30 hours in the hospital. I head home, shower, and settle in to nurse Brynna quite often all afternoon. We usually end up taking a nap together too.

Day 3 and Day 4: Normal, non-call days. Arrive by seven, do morning work and rounds, go to lunchtime conference. After conference, help the on-call resident with anything that needs to get done. Often, that means helping out with patients who are leaving the hospital—they need follow-up appointments arranged, prescriptions written, and a summary sheet of everything that we have done while they were with us. In pediatrics, the residents and medical students who are not on call often leave by 2 PM. This was also a big attraction of doing my sub-I in peds, as that is often 6 PM on the medicine wards. (Medical students, incidentally, are not subject to the 80-hour-workweek rule, and at other medical schools, they are sometimes left to complete work when their residents have to go home to avoid violating work hour regulations. That doesn't happen much here, though.)

Then repeat for one month. The day-off arrangement in peds is that if you are not on call or post-call on a weekend day, you don't come in, and the on-call and post-call people divide up your patients and see them. My first weekend on the service was a "black weekend": I was on call Saturday into Sunday and thus did not have a day off for two weeks. This weekend, however, is my "golden weekend": I was on call Thursday into Friday and have both today and tomorrow off! We are treating Thanksgiving as a weekend, too, so I will have the day off for the holiday as well, since my call days this coming week are Monday into Tuesday and Friday into Saturday. (My rotation was scheduled to end Friday...I just happen to have the much dreaded "terminal call" on Friday night. But I'm doing much better than my intern, who is scheduled to start a new rotation ON SATURDAY MORNING, post-call from pediatrics, in which he will be on call every fourth night for another month. The family med residents here have every-fourth-night-call for 10 out of their first 12 months of residency. Yikes.)

I am having a great rotation. The team is really treating me like an intern, and I have felt very much as if I am the primary doctor for my patients. I love establishing a good relationship with families and helping to explain the overall plan of care. I am usually able to answer whatever questions they have, which is very satisfying. The other students, residents, and consultants have been great. And I am learning a lot! This was definitely the right choice for my sub-I, as I get all of these educational benefits AND a chance to spend good time with Brynna. I miss her like crazy on those overnights, but having her come visit in the evening is fantastic, and I try to take advantage of downtime at the hospital to study, so that I don't have to do as much studying when I am at home with her.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Yum Yum Kaloo

Brynna now grabs everything that she can get her hands on and tries to stuff it in her mouth. She is convinced that someday, if she works at it diligently, both fists will fit in there at once. She often tries to cram a few extra fingers in there while breastfeeding (this doesn't work very well). Her already drooly bibs get even wetter after being chomped on. Here she is playing with Kaloo, her little stuffed teddy bear puff:

She's wearing one of the fleece sleepers that I found for her at the consignment store last weekend—this one has arctic animals all over it. Very fuzzy and warm. But the best part, by far, is that there are little pawprints on it that glow in the dark!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

AA-to-USB revisited

[Apologies to our faithful readers who haven't seen this blog updated in a week, only to have it updated with my old and smoldering nerd project. I know you hang out here to catch a glimpse of Brynna. Fear not! With the weekend coming, we'll have some more to say soon.]

Previous posts on this project are here

Nope, I haven't given up yet on this one. When last we left it, some four months ago, I had a sort-of-working circuit board. It worked well enough to create a nice 5 V supply for a USB device from a pair of AA batteries - the green LED said so. But, it couldn't power my iPhone, because it just supplied power - there no brains behind it like in a computer. As a result, being a nice standards-compliant device, the iPhone wouldn't take the power presented to it. So, I had a working device of marginal value to me.

Since then things have been a bit busier - can't imagine why - and I haven't had much time or inclination to follow up.

But, about a month ago, I managed to sneak off to the lab for a bit for every engineer's favorite past time: taking things apart. There are tons of USB chargers out there, and a bunch of them work with the iPhone. How is it that they are able to convince the iPhone to draw power? To find out, I took a car charger I have and cracked it open.

The key thing in these pictures is the cluster of resistors (R9-R12) clustered next to the USB connector. These form what's called a voltage divider that puts about 2 V on each of the two data lines of the USB port. This jives with information I was able to glean from others who have tried to hack their own iPhone chargers - including the maker of the popular MintyBoost. Some say to add a pull-up resistor to each of the data lines, others say a resistor divider. I'm following the resistor divider I found in this car charger.

(What I really would have liked to do was take apart one of the Apple AC-power adapters for the iPod/iPhone. That obviously would be the most authoritative design (once you get past the AC-DC conversion). However, it turns out they are devilishly difficult to get into without breaking them, and I'd rather not risk doing that. I wasn't able to find anyone who'd taken one apart and posted the pics for all to see, alas, something that has been done to just about every other Apple product out there.)

So, I just needed to cram four more resistors onto the circuit board in the neighborhood of the USB connector. I was able to do this by placing them on the underside of the board, beneath the connector, and being a little clever with the circuit routing.

The addition made the board a touch wider then before. I needed to squeeze and shift things a bit to make sure the thing was less than one square inch, since BatchPCB rounds up and charges by the square inch. I just made it. I sent off the order and received by boards earlier this week. I had ordered 10, but somehow received 17. I'm going to chalk this up to them probably having a little extra space in a panel of circuit boards, and squeezing in a few extra copies of mine for the heck of it. I'll need to send them a nice thank you email.

Anyway, in the last day or two I've been able to populate the board and try it out. I had one false start when I soldered the main chip incorrectly. Being square, with leads all around, and very external markings, I didn't notice until too late that I'd had it rotated 90 degrees from the beginning. The next time, though, I managed to get it right. Viola!

As you can see, there's little different from the earlier version except for the four resistors under the connector. The other difference is that I can show off the sliding top enclosure I made with the rapid prototyper at work.

Even better than having an LED glow to tell me the thing works is for my iPhone to do it.

One thing that I have learned after letting my phone charge from this thing for a while - rechargeable NiMH batteries are probably a better fit for this circuit than alkaline AAs. The reasons are technical, and tough to explain without graphs. The short answer is that NiMH batteries' cell voltage drops more slowly than alkaline AAs. Even though the alkalines have more energy inside them, their cell voltage drops too low for the circuit to work before the batteries are fully drained. It would be like having a gas tank where the gas line exited from the middle of the tank instead of the bottom. This suits me just fine - I prefer using rechargeables when I can in any case. As it happens, I've got some neat rechargeables to use from USB Cell, which you can recharge using a USB port. Hmmm...use the USB port to charge the batteries to power the USB port. Eureka!

So, what was the final breakdown for this project? I shelled out about $35 for parts - enough to populate 7 or 8 boards, along with some free sample chips from TI. Each run of circuit boards was about $38. Goodness knows how many hours went into designing, assembling, and debugging it. I figured that, for parts, I could make them for $13 in lots of ten. I have so far only made one finished, working device.

All this effort just to be able to charge my iPhone on the go? Well, in my defense, I could say that I haven't just made a charger for the iPhone. I've made one for just about any USB device out there, including H's iPod and our Flip camcorder. Plus, this circuit, now that I've got the boards for it, will make a handy AA, 5-V power supply for future projects I might come up with. [Updated 2008-11-21 20:11] There's one that I have my eye on tackling -and LED nightlight for Brynna, roughly modeled along these lines. But, as usually happens, I'm thinking of expanding it a bit, so that the lights don't just shine, but twinkle in and out. That'd require some sort of microcontroller, and some coding, and...

[Updated 2008-11-21 20:11] In the end, as I stated at the start of the project, that it was not really ever about the having of an iPhone charger. It was, first and foremost, about the making of one.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Gymini Cricket

Sorry, no giggles in this video. She has clammed up a fair bit in the last few days, so we haven't gotten anything publishable yet. We're working on it, but I think Brynna is weirded out by the freakish fake laughter her parents use to elicit a giggle, and so refuses to play along.

Instead, we've got some footage of her playing in her Gymini - a play gym that engages her lying face up or down. I apologize that this footage is now about two weeks old - it can take a while to edit and splice things together. She has now moved on to actually rolling over (though, again, inconsistently).

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Bumbo Baby!

Our apologies for the lack of updates recently. I am doing my sub-internship in pediatrics (more about this in a future post), so I am on-call at the hospital every fourth night, and nursing Brynna pretty much nonstop when at home. Alex has started back at work after paternity leave, and M (my dad) is back to take care of Brynna during the day!

Brynna's new goodie from M is a Bumbo seat. Here she is in the kitchen, watching me cook this evening:

She loves to be active, and is less and less willing to lie quietly next to one of us while we are trying to accomplish something. She doesn't yet have the reflexes to sit up on her own, though she loves to practice. So this seat puts her upright AND supported. (No, we aren't supposed to use it on a raised surface. There's a big red warning label on it to that effect. But if it makes you feel better, we are always within arm's length. And how else is she going to learn to be a sous-chef?)

More pictures and updates soon. I hope.

Monday, November 10, 2008


We had a brief period of nice warm weather about two weeks ago. Behold!

But that's all done now. Been done, actually. Now we are firmly on the long downward spiral to -20 and snowy. At least it prompted me to put this picture up.

Very exciting times! I have gone back to work as of this week, so Brynna is in the care of her M, her grandfather. Yes, we import our childcare - he works for snuggles! After a few false starts, our Brynna is definitely, definitely starting to giggle. I promise video to you, her adoring public. She is a cagey performer, however, so it might take a while.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

'Tis Done

Obama is victorious

On the street outside my door, all is quiet

In Grant Park, Chicago, there is pandemonium, one million strong

In Arizona, a lifelong public servant has just made a difficult phone call

In Hawaii, a proud grandmother awaits burial

In America, the end of more than one era has arrived

Upstairs, our daughter sleeps quietly, oblivious to how happy her parents are for her

Hope hath sprung

Yes We Can