Thursday, May 29, 2008

Learning email

Our CIO, John Halamka, who is also CIO of Harvard Medical School, does a very fine job on the big issues facing the hospital's and HMS' IT systems, but he is also on call for personal requests. Here is one that he received from one of our faculty members, on which I was copied. Yes, I am poking fun a bit at the person who wrote it, but I have often noticed a tendency of those of us a from a certain era to blame the systems people and/or their computers for our own errors. I plead guilty on that front, also, from time to time!

Hey, it's not our fault: The technical devices with which we grew up were pencil and paper, analog clocks, and telephones with rotary dials. For those of you reading who view these as quaint: The first had a delete button called an eraser; the second presented a real representation of time, which after all, is based on the continuous -- not discrete -- apparent movement of the sun around the earth -- not a pseudo-precise digitization of same; and the third will help you understand why people still talk about "dialing" a phone number.

Dear John,

Periodically I check my junk mail box as I learned that the messages from the Dean's Office and general mailings from HMS are there. I suspect that I am not alone in this and feel that it may be one reason why our faculty are not as aware of opportunities and other issues as they pertain to the medical school. Is there a way that these messages can be diverted into our inbox? Probably most people delete the junk box without reading the messages there. Thank you for your attention to this as well as everything else you do.

John's reply:

I asked the Email system administrator to log in to your personal account and provide a listing of the email addresses you've blocked as junk. That list includes several categories including Thus, you've blocked all email from Harvard (the allfaculty) listing. This block only applies to you, not to other faculty members, so others have received the Dean's emails.

To unblock email from Harvard, launch Outlook, select Tools, Options. The General Preferences tab has a button for Junk Email. Delete the entry for allfaculty. I hope this helps!


Anonymous said...

LOL! That's a good one, especially John's deadpan response.

However, this brings up one of my pet peeves - it seems to me that computers waste as much of our time trying to make them work as they contribute to improving productivity - whether due to our own incompetence (or the computer's user unfriendliness?) or, just as likely, a glitch in the computer. Just think if any other device, such as a telephone, ventilator, airplane, etc. had such a failure rate. It wouldn't be tolerated. Why is the computer industry immune?
I have never understood this.

ChicagoKid said...

Your entry really brings to light two interesting points:

1. Healthcare as a whole lags behind in technology. This extends to not only to the slow adaptation of many of our more senior physicians who still choose not to use e-mail, but also to the field of healthcare itself. The field of healthcare is constantly playing a game of catch up in terms of technology... think about how many decades robotic arms have been used in manufacturing before the idea was applied to the healthcare field with the Da Vinci. Granted a patient is not the same as building a car or equipment, however the applicability has been there for a long time.

2. Academia lags behind in technology. During my time in college and graduate school, at least 25% of the professors did not actively make use of their e-mail... a primary form of communication that college students of today grew up with from their youth.. and some from their birth! It's interesting to see how much of a technological difference there is between generations... and makes me wonder when I have kids, whether I'll have successfully adapted to the technologies of that time.

nasov said...

Could this faculty member be the victim of a practical joke? So many people leave their computers on and open that it seems kind of tempting to add a few blocks ... Not that I would do that ...

Dave said...


The computer industry is 'immune' because the rate of failure is tolerable to the majority of the users compared to alternatives and the cost of redundant/resilient software is more than the market is willing to pay.

Telephones, ventilators, airplanes, etc. also run on software and hardware that is incredibly scrutinized and tested. It is also very expensive. The general public is not willing to pay $10,000 for an operating system. But in situations where it absolutely must work there is a market such as national security agencies, airlines, and hospitals.

In the consumer world there are also more stable operating systems that you can run (Linux/Unix/Mac) but they are not widely adopted in comparison with the offerings from Microsoft. While generally more stable than Windows, these operating systems also incur a cost in lost functionality if equivalent productivity tools and software are unavailable as well as time and training to learn the new systems. Not being able to run Outlook is a deal breaker for many organizations interested in switching to an alternative system.

It just comes down to what consumers are willing to pay. The majority would rather have an inexpensive system that works the majority of the time compared to an expensive system that works all the time.

Anonymous said...

I hope that is not an actual address

Paul Levy said...

It is. Why?

Anonymous said...


Thanks for falling into my "trap", which is, expressing for me my opinion that the domination of personal computer software by Microsoft, allowed to go on for FAR too long by a government which didn't understand technology lo those many years ago (and has been repeatedly intimidated by Microsoft), is the underlying reason why this is tolerated, grudgingly. Just think if there had been robust competition for a reliable system way back when (or even middle when!). There would be more reliable computers at lower cost. In my opinion. I am not in the industry.

anon 8:16

e-Patient Dave said...

Anon 11:16: I hope that's not a real address

Paul: It is. Why?

I imagine it's that it's not a good idea to post a real email address anywhere, because evil screen-scraping software roams the web (just as search engines do) looking for such addresses, which they then add to spam databases.

Or so I've heard.

The workaround is to "textify" it, for instance allfaculty (at) listserv dot med dot harvard dot edu.

But maybe I'm wrong.

The Medical Quack said...

I could certainly relate, and Dr. Halamka has the utmost patience. There are just so many variables as to "why" something is not working and sometimes you do need your sense of humor when creating the solution and many are just user settings that one can edit and in many instances one small click does it, and who knows the user could have been distracted at the time and multi tasking, and stuff happens and a good address ends up in the spam department.

The good news is that it was an easy fix and the logs once analyzed gave the answer. Enjoyed the post as this stuff happens all the time!

Ari said...

In response to e-patient dave and others on the spammability of posting real email addresses online, I point you to you an encryption tool that allows you to plug in a real address to get its hex code.