WordPress Stats plugin has gone cuckoo

For over a month now, I have been unable to rely on the official WordPress Stats plugin. (I say official because the folks that made WordPress also made this plugin.) It, all of a sudden, started assigning all site visits to the same article, so that all of my stats became completely skewed. Let me explain it with a screenshot:

WordPress Stats has gone cuckoo

Instead of seeing the proper distribution of site visits by titles, which is what happened in the past, almost all of the site visits get assigned to a random post. I have no idea any more which titles get the most traffic for a given day. I know this is wrong because I’m also using Google Analytics. Here’s a screenshot of the 20 most popular titles for the past 30 days.

Google Analytics Content by Title

I like WordPress Stats because they aggregate the data almost instantly, whereas there’s a 3-4 hour delay with Google Analytics. Sometimes they even correct the data a day afterward (this happened to me recently) so you can’t rely on their figures until 24-36 hours after the fact [reference].

I stopped using WordPress Stats for a while, hoping the problem would somehow work itself out, but when I re-activated the plugin, all that happened is that it started assigning all site visits to a different random post. Whoopee…

If someone at WordPress reads this, please let me know if it’s something I’m doing wrong, or if it’s something that you’ve got to work out on your end. I posted about this problem in the WordPress forums, but I have yet to receive a reply there.

New Gmail buttons and shortcuts

Gmail's new buttons

I woke up today to find new Gmail buttons. At first I thought it was just Firefox playing tricks on me, but no, the buttons look the same in Safari. The Gmail Team announced the change on their blog yesterday, on 2/3/09. As expected, the change took a while to propagate to all of the Gmail accounts.

Along with the new buttons, they introduced two new keyboard shortcuts, “l” and “v”, which will allow you to label and label/archive messages on the fly. The “l” key opens a drop-down menu which allows you to label emails. You can navigate the drop-down menu using the arrow keys and mark a label using the Enter key. The “v” key does the same thing, and it also archives the message at the same time, removing it from the inbox.

Don’t forget that while you’re in the Gmail inbox, you can select multiple message by using the Shift key. Left-click on the first one, then Shift-Click on the last one, and all in-between will be selected. You can then use “l” or “v” to apply labels to all of them at once.

Please check to see if you're subscribed to the correct feed

This is an important message for my feed subscribers.

It’s been over a year since I changed my feed URL and domain name, and I now see, inexplicably, that over 35% of my subscribers still show up under the old ComeAcross feed.

My feed traffic has been redirected (with a 301 status message, which indicates a permanent change) for that same year, which means that if your feed reader hasn’t already changed your subscription over to my new feed, you’ll need to do it manually.

The old feed will go down in the very near future, possibly within days. It was set to be deleted one year after the redirection. Please check your feed readers to make sure you are indeed subscribed to feeds.feedburner.com/Raoul, which is my main site feed, or you will not receive future updates from my site.

For historical reference, I talked about the feed changes on 1/16/08, and on 1/29/08, I explained how I did the transfer of the content.

I also want to give you advance notice of another possible change to my feed URL, which may happen when I transition my feeds from FeedBurner to Google within the next 1-2 months. You may recall that Google bought FeedBurner in 2007. Now they’re at the point where they’re moving FeedBurner publishers to the Google infrastructure, and I’m not sure how they’re going to manage the process.

I thought the migration from FeedBurner to Google was going to be fairly smooth, but I’ve already run into a roadblock. One of my feed URLs is somehow in use on Google’s servers, and my migration fails every time I initiate it. I’m not sure how that’s going to be resolved, and I would appreciate any help from Googlers out there.

So, just to be on the safe side, do a manual check in your feed reader and make sure you see feeds.feedburner.com/Raoul. When I hear what the new Google feed URL is, I’ll be sure to let you know.

Gmail, please stop messing with my contacts

When I sync my Gmail Contacts with my Mac’s Address Book, I always discover “uninvited guests” — occasional people with whom I converse but who don’t need to be in my Address Book. What happens is that Gmail will identify people to whom I reply and insert them in my Contacts automatically.

It used to be that it couldn’t be helped, and it was called a “feature”… Now these contacts are grouped together in a separate section called “Suggested Contacts”. Unfortunately, when I run a sync operation, these suggested contacts appear in my Address Book. I don’t want them there. I believe one’s Address Book ought to involve positive effort — effort put toward adding in contacts as they’re needed — not negative effort — effort put toward removing unneeded contacts because software can’t leave things well enough alone.

Gmail's Suggested Contacts

I run the sync operation via my iPod Touch. The sync option is otherwise unavailable to Mac owners, which is unfortunate. There’s something I call the entry tax for being able to run this sync: either you buy an iPod Touch or an iPhone, or you pay for Mobile Me. I don’t like it, but there it is, that’s Apple for you.

There is a company called Soocial which will also let you do this, as well as letting you sync your phone’s contacts with the Address Book. They were in Beta when I looked at them. By now they’ve opened their website to the general public.

At any rate, the problem with Suggested Contacts lies with Gmail, which presents those contacts as part of the normal set of Contacts to the sync software. It should store them separately, aside from the normal contacts, so that the sync software never sees them.

Google launches video chat, ignores PowerPC Macs

A few days ago, Google launched something that a lot of people had wanted for some time: the ability to do a video chat, right from Gmail. Everyone got really excited, and for good reason. I was very happy too, until I discovered that PowerPC Macs were out of the picture. Why?

Here’s what I get when I access the Google Video Chat site from my Intel MBP:

And here’s what my wife gets when she accesses that very same site:

So while she gets to see this when I’m away from home:

I’ll still only get to see this, which makes me sad:

Why, Google, why?

Cannot change WP theme if Turbo mode is enabled

I’ve been wondering what sort of bug I’ve had in my WP installs for the last few weeks, and only now figured out what’s going on.The Turbo mode for WP is done through Google Gears. There’s a bug in the Turbo mode that will not allow you to change your blog’s theme. It works by not displaying the “x” (Close) or the “Activate …” options in the DHTML layer that opens up when you preview a theme.

Try it out if you want. Enable Turbo mode, then go to Design >> Themes and click on a theme that you’d like to preview and possibly activate. It’ll open as a full page instead of opening in a separate layer above the regular page, and the option to activate it will not display. In essence, you’re locked out of switching themes. You have to hit the Back button to get back to the Admin panel, else you’re stuck in a Live Preview mode.

This has nothing to do with file permissions, as I originally thought, or with corrupt theme files. No, it has everything to do with Turbo/Google Gears and the way WP implemented this. It’s a bug that needs to get fixed. The only way to enable theme-switching for now is to disable Turbo mode. After that, things work just fine.

This bug is present even in the latest WP version, 2.6.3. I hope it gets fixed soon.

Google finally merges YouTube accounts

I was tipped off by this FF thread started by Bwana McCall. Google is finally allowing YouTube users to link their Google accounts with their YouTube accounts. You can do this right now. Simply go to YouTube, sign out if you’re signed in, and once you go to the Sign In page, you’ll see an option to log in with your Google account. Choose it, then you’ll be given the choice of linking the two accounts. See the screenshot below — that’s what it looks like.

If the link is successful, you’ll get the following message with black text on a green background, at the top of the page, right below the search box: “YouTube & Google accounts have been linked successfully.”

This was long overdue, and I’m glad to finally see it happen.

Meet the replacement for .Mac: MobileMe

I mentioned in yesterday’s iPhone 3G announcement that Apple had secretly purchased the domain me.com for an undisclosed sum of money (in the neighborhood of 11 million). It came as no surprise to Apple fans when we found out that MobileMe was the replacement for .Mac. Users had griped for years about .Mac’s lackluster performance and puny space available (1GB for $99/year last I used it).

So, other than the new domain name (personally, I liked the .Mac domain), how’s the new service different?

  • More space: 20GB for the same price ($99/year for individuals and $149/year for a family pack). Additional space is $49/year for another 20GB or $99/year for another 40GB.
  • Push… everything: Apple has upgraded their .Mac email service and calendar and contact syncing to “push” technology. I don’t really see what’s different here when I compare it to .Mac, except the syncing is seamless and faster. And oh, now it works with PCs/Exchange as well.
  • Great web interface: Apple outdid itself here. .Mac had a web interface as well, but it was slow and kludgy. The new web interface behaves like desktop applications and looks really, really nice. Not sure how fast it loads on regular broadband connections, but we’ll find out soon, won’t we?

That’s about it, really. The bulk of the effort went into the better, cross-platform syncing and the innovative, beautifully-designed web interface. The additional space was long overdue.

Existing .Mac members will be upgraded automatically to MobileMe, and their existing subscriptions will be transferred over to the new service when it becomes available on July 11.

What’s the draw to MobileMe? For me, it’s the Back to My Mac service, which was introduced alongside iChat Screen Sharing in Leopard. It wasn’t enough to get me back when .Mac was overpriced and underfeatured, but it may be enough now that MobileMe has more space and is better designed. For iPhone users, it’s the obvious integration and contact/calendar syncing between the phone and the computer(s).

In terms of web storage space, the 20GB isn’t really that big of a deal for me. There are PLENTY of companies out there that offer more space. ADrive, for example, offers 50GB for free, and they’ve worked reliably for the past several months that I’ve used them. Dropbox, although it offers less space for free, has incredibly nice integration between Macs and PCs, and lets me share files seamlessly from computer to computer, or with my friends.

What I have to wonder about is Gmail. Given the partnership between Apple and Google, I’d have hoped that Google products would be better integrated into MobileMe somehow. It seems they’ve still been left by the wayside. They work, but not quite. I still can’t sync my calendar appointments properly from Gmail to iCal, and still can’t sync my contacts properly from Addressbook to Gmail (unless I have an iPhone or iPod Touch). Even Gmail’s IMAP interface in Mail leaves a lot to be desired. After using it for a few months, I switched back to POP3.

That’s annoying. I suppose it may have had something to do with Apple’s desire to keep building on their existing products and to develop an Apple-designed web interface (which is quite different from the spartan design of Google’s products).

Images used courtesy of Apple, Inc. More information about MobileMe can be found in Apple’s original press release, or on the MobileMe website.

Google Health is a good thing

When it launched a few weeks ago, Google Health received fairly lackluster reviews. Privacy issues and lack of features were the main complaints. Well, I’m here to tell you those initial views are wrong.

Even if you’re a long-time reader of my site, you may not know what qualifies me to make that statement, so let me tell you a bit about myself.

My background

A few years ago, I was Director of Health Information Systems at a South Florida hospital, where I implemented an electronic medical records system. My job was fairly unique, because I not only wrote the policies and procedures for the system and oversaw its implementation, but I also rolled up my sleeves and built the various screens and forms that made it up. I, along with my staff, also built and maintained the servers and databases that housed it.

As far as my education is concerned, I hold a Master’s Degree in Health Services Administration (basically, hospital administration). I was also admitted to two medical schools. I ended up attending one for almost a year until I realized being a doctor wasn’t for me, and withdrew.

For plenty of years, I’ve been a patient of various doctors and hospitals, as have most, if not all of you, for one reason or another.

Furthermore, my father is a doctor: a psychiatrist. He has a private practice, and also holds a staff job at a hospital. My mother handles his records and files his claims with the insurance companies, using an electronic medical records system. I get to hear plenty of stories about insurance companies, billing ordeals, hospitals and the like.

So you see, I’ve seen what’s involved with medical records and access to said records from pretty much all sides of the equation. Again, I say to you, Google Health is a good thing, and I hope you now find me qualified to make that statement.

The benefit of aggregation

Just why is it such a good thing? Because I wish I could show you your medical records — or rather, their various pieces — but I can’t. That’s because they exist in fragments, on paper and inside computer hard drives, spread around in locked medical records facilities or in your doctors’ offices, all over the place. If you endeavored to assemble your complete medical history, from birth until the present time, I dare say you’d have a very difficult time getting together all of the pieces of paper that make it up — and it might not even be possible. That’s not to mention the cost involved in putting it together.

A few of the problems with healthcare data sharing

Do you know what my doctor’s office charges me per page? 65 cents, plus a 15 cent service fee. For a 32 year old male (that’s me) it would take a lot of pages (provided I could get a hold of all of them) and a lot of money to put my medical record together.

The sad part is that this is MY medical information we’re talking about. It’s information that health services workers obtained from MY body. It’s MY life and MY record, yet I can’t have access to it unless I fill in a special form at every doctor’s office I’ve ever visited, and pay for the privilege. Is that fair? NO. Can something be done about it? YES, and so far, Google Health is the only service I’ve seen that is trying to pull together all of the various pieces that make up my medical record, for my benefit and no one else’s. Sure, the system is in its infancy, and there’s a lot of work to be done to get it up to speed, but that’s not Google’s fault.

I’ve been inside the healthcare system, remember? I know how things work. I know how slowly they work, to put it mildly. I know how much resistance to change is inherent in the system. Just to get medical staff to use an electronic medical records system is still a huge deal. The idea of giving the patient access to the records, even if it involves no effort on the part of the medical staff (but it does, as you’ll see shortly) is yet another big leap.

Let’s also not forget to consider that medical records systems are monsters. Each is built in its own way. There are certain lax standards in place. Certain pieces of information need to be collected on specific forms. The documentation needs to meet certain coding standards as well, or the hospitals or doctors’ offices or pharmacies won’t get reimbursed. There are also certain standards for data sharing between systems, and the newer systems are designed a little better than older ones.

Yet the innards of most medical health systems are ugly, nasty places. If you took the time to look at the tables and field names and views and other such “glamorous” bits inside the databases that store the data, you’d not only find huge variations, but you’d also find that some systems still use archaic, legacy databases that need special software called middleware just so you can take a peek inside them, or form basic data links between them and newer systems. It’s a bewildering patchwork of data, and somehow it all needs to work together to achieve this goal of data sharing.

The government is sort of, kind of, pushing for data sharing. There’s NHIN and the RHIOs. There are people out there who want to see this happen and are working toward it. Unfortunately, they’re bumping up against financial and other barriers every day. Not only are they poorly funded, but most healthcare organizations either do not want or cannot assign more money to either getting good record systems or improving their existing ones to allow data sharing.

Add to this gloriously optimistic mix the lack of educated data management decisions made in various places — you know the kind of decisions that bring in crappy systems that cost lots of money, so now people have to use them just because they were bought — and you have a true mess.

Oh, let’s also not forget HIPAA, the acronym that no one can properly spell out: Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. The significant words here are Insurance and Accountability. That’s government-speak for “CYA, health organizations, or else!” There’s not much Portability involved with HIPAA. In most places, HIPAA compliance is reduced to signing a small sticker assigned to a medical records folder, then promptly forgetting that you did so. Your records will still be unavailable to you unless you pay to get them. Portability my foot…

Benefits trump privacy concerns

Alright, so if you haven’t fallen asleep by now, I think you’ve gotten a good overview of what’s out there, and of what’s involved when you want to put together a system like Google Health, whose aim is to pull together all the disparate bits of information that you want to pull together about yourself. Personally, I do not have privacy concerns when it comes to Google Health. There are more interesting things you could find about me by rummaging through my email archives than you could if you went through my health records. If I’m going to trust them with my email, then I have no problems trusting them with my health information, especially if they’re going to help me keep it all together.

Not sure if you’ve used Google Analytics (it’s a stats tool for websites). Not only is it incredibly detailed, but it’s also free, and it makes it incredibly easy to share that information with others — should you want to do it. You simply type in someone’s email address in there, and you grant them reader or admin privileges to your stats accounts. Instantly, they can examine your stats. Should you prefer not to do that, you can quickly export your stats data in PDF or spreadsheet format, so you can attach it to an email or print it out, and share the information that way.

I envision Google Health working the same way. Once you’ve got your information together, you can quickly grant a new doctor access to your record, so they can look at all your medical history or lab results. You’ll be able to easily print out immunization records for your children, or just email them to their school so they can enroll in classes. A system like this is priceless in my opinion, because it’ll make it easy to keep track of one’s health information. Remember, it’s YOUR information, and it should NOT stay locked away in some hospital’s records room somewhere. You should have ready access to it at any time.

Notice I said “whose aim is to pull together all the disparate bits of information you WANT to pull together” a couple of paragraphs above. That’s because you can readily delete any conditions, medications or procedures you’d rather keep completely private from Google Health. Should you import certain things into it that you don’t feel safe storing online, just delete that specific thing, and keep only the information you’d be comfortable sharing with others. It’s easy; try it and see.

Lots of work has already been done

Another concern voiced by others is that there isn’t much to do with Google Health at the moment — there isn’t much functionality, they say. I disagree with this as well. Knowing how hard it is to get health systems talking to each others, and knowing how hard it is to forge the partnerships that allow data sharing to occur, I appreciate the significant efforts that went on behind the scenes at Google Health to bring about the ability to import medical data from the current 8 systems (Beth Israel Deaconess, Cleveland Clinic, Longs, Medco, CVS MinuteClinic, Quest, RxAmerica and Walgreens).

What’s important to consider is that Google needed to have the infrastructure in place (servers, databases) ready to receive all of the data from these systems. That means Google Health is ready to grow as more partnerships are forged with more health systems.

In order to illustrate how hard it is to get other companies to share data with Google Health, and why it’s important to get their staff on board with this new development in medical records maintenance, I want to tell you about my experience linking Quest Diagnostics with Google Health.

Quest is one of the companies listed at Google Health as having the ability to export/share their data with my Google Health account. What’s needed is a PIN, a last name and a date of birth. The latter two are easy. The PIN is the hard part. While the Quest Diagnostics websites has a page dedicated to Google Health, where they describe the various benefits and how to get started, they ask people to contact their doctors in order to obtain a PIN. I tried doing that. My doctor knew nothing about it. Apparently it’s not the same PIN given to me when I had my blood drawn — by the way, that one didn’t work on Quest’s own phone system when I wanted to check my lab results that way…

Quest Diagnostics lists various phone numbers on their site, including a number for the local office where I went to get my bloodwork done, but all of the phone numbers lead to automated phone systems that have no human contact whatsoever. So Quest makes it nearly impossible to get in touch with a human employee and get the PIN. Several days later, in spite of the fact that I’ve written to them using a web form they provided, I still don’t have my PIN and can’t import my Quest Diagnostics lab results into my Google Health account.

Updated 5/27/08: Make sure to read Jack’s comment below, where he explains why things have to work this way with Quest — for now at least.

That is just one example of how maddening it is to try and interact with healthcare organizations, so let me tell you, it’s a real feat that Google managed to get eight of them to sign up for data sharing with Google Health. It’s also a real computer engineering feat to write the code needed to interact with all those various systems. I’m sure Google is working on more data sharing alliances as I write this, so Google Health will soon prove itself even more useful.

More work lies ahead

I do hope that Google is in it for the long run though, because they’ll need to lead data sharing advocacy efforts for the next decade or so in order to truly get the word out to patients, healthcare organizations and providers about the benefits of data sharing and Google Health.

For now, Google Health is a great starting point, with the infrastructure already in place and ready to receive more data. I’m sure that as the system grows, Google will build more reporting and data export capabilities from Google Health to various formats like PDF, as mentioned several paragraphs above, and then the system will really begin to shine. I can’t stress enough what a good thing this is, because just like with web search, it puts our own medical information at our fingertips, and that’s an invaluable benefit for all.

Join me for a short screencast where I show you Google Health. You can download it below.

Download Google Health Screencast

(6 min 28 sec, 720p HD, MOV, 39.8MB)

Condensed knowledge for 2008-03-25

Condensed knowledge for 2008-03-24

Condensed knowledge for 2008-03-14