Vaccines, MMR and the Withdrawn Lancet Study

A single study published in 1998 in the prestigious medical journal Lancet led to a large reduction in the rate of vaccinations in UK with MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccine and consequent increases in diseases and number of deaths preventable by this outstanding vaccine. The reduced rate of vaccination stimulated by this publication spilled over to many other developed countries and to vaccines besides MMR.

In the years following publication, this work could not be duplicated by any other research group. It also became apparent that there was a conflict of interest in that the senior author of the paper had accepted funding from a lawyer who files lawsuits for damages on behalf of families of vaccinated children, including the published study.
As a result, most of the co-authors of that paper withdrew their designation as co-authors.

Now, Lancet has finally withdrawn the paper (with a short and hard-to-understand statement that seems to avoid mentioning the real controversy). Better late than never. However, it might be that no other publication has been as damaging to the field of vaccines and to public health as this one – now officially discredited.

Please pass this note along to anyone you know who is afraid of vaccinating themselves or their children, with any vaccine and especially with MMR vaccine. As quoted in this article “”It’s very easy to scare people; it’s very hard to unscare them.”

(The above was sent to me by my father, who has worked in the Vaccine industry for the last thirty years. Not the normal fare for this blog, but I thought that it is worth sharing, especially considering how Mumps outbreaks are back in the news. And since billg did just pledge $10 billion to vaccines through his foundation, the topic is almost tech-related).

Viewing Emails by Conversation in Outlook

I have been yearning for some time to have a gmail-like Conversation view in Outlook. Currently you can group by Conversation. However, this view will only allow you to group the emails in one folder (and if you can’t combine emails you have received with emails that you have sent, a conversation view is not worth much). However, by setting up a Search folder, you can get around this restriction:

  1. Set up a Custom Search Folder, set to include all messages that are in any of your mail folders (including Sent). You can get to this with File > New > Search Folder or Ctrl + Shift + P. There are also good instructions for this at HowToGeek.
  2. Click on the new Search Folder, and then go to View > Arrange By > Conversation.

That’s it. It works pretty well, though it does rely a bit too much on using the subject as the thread/conversation identifier (which is fine when you have a unique subject, but not fine for generic subjects). Hopefully this will be improved in 2010 (though as of now, initial reports are not good). Still, in many ways it is far superior to the regular inbox view (and unlike Gmail, you can still maintain a different grouping method in your inbox, and apply technologies like Sorting which for some reason are still beyond Gmail’s capabilities).

MS Office Live Addin for 2007 Causing Word, Excel and Powerpoint to Crash on Vista

I ran Windows Update a few days ago, and it ended up installing an add in for MS Office, to allow connectivity with Office Live Workspace. Very soon afterwards, Word, Excel and Powerpoint started to crash immediately after they were started up. The Office Live add in is the culprit. I was able to open up Word in safe mode (hold down Ctrl) and deactivate the add in, after which Word started working again. After I uninstalled the add in from my computer, Excel and Powerpoint are working again.

I am not the first person to whom this happened. Hopefully my wasted time figuring this out can help save someone out there a few hours.

No Budget for Off the Shelf Software?

I was reading a question today on StackOverFlow that was asking for advice on how to build a load-testing program for a website. At the end of the question is the following parenthetical remark (preempting the obvious answers pointing the questioner at any number of applications available for purchase that do exactly what they need):

We have a budget for programmer time but no budget for buying software, so it wouldn’t matter how money we’d save to buy a COTS product.

This strikes me as a pretty stupid corporate policy that in the end will result in the company spending more than they need to in order to reinvent the wheel. What is they would save 1,000 programmer hours by spending $1,000 on one piece of software. It is not too far fetched. In today’s programming world, the most capable development teams are those that know how and when to leverage expertise from outside of their immediate circle (and outside of the company payroll, when necessary). I realize that from an accounting perspective, one could claim that payroll is a fixed, budgeted cost, and since the developers have to be paid anyway, why shouldn’t they do everything in house? But every hour spent on developing something in-house that could be bought elsewhere for less money than the cost of the salaries being spent is another hour that the company could have used to use its employees for increasing its own revenues and profitability. Oh well, their loss.

Where Does Google Chrome Store User History, Profile & Bookmarks?

I have been using and enjoying Google Chrome for the past couple of days. So as I am setting up my new computer, I am installing Chrome there as well. While doing this, I would like to bring over my saved browsing history and bookmarks so that I don’t have to build it from scratch on the new machine. The only problem is that while Chrome makes it very easy to import existing settings from Firefox, it does not display any visible option to export current settings.

After a bit of digging, I found the location where Chrome stored user data:

  • On XP – C:\Documents and Settings\<User Name>\Local Settings\Application Data\Google\Chrome\User Data
  • On Vista – C:\Users\<User Name>\AppData\Local\Google\Chrome\User Data

The User Data folder contains three files: Local State, Safe Browsing and Safe Browsing Filter, along with a folder called Default. Default in turn contains your browser cache, plugin data, and all of your cookies and history data. To move my profile over to my new computer, I copied all of the files and folders under User Data on my XP machine, and moved them into the User Data on my new Vista machine (all of the files were nearly 100mb after only four days of use, which will give you some kind of idea about the amount of indexing going on in the background). When I next started Chrome on my Vista machine, it was identical to the app on my XP machine, down to most popular sites, history and cookies. I even started writing this post on my XP machine, and then continued it on my Vista machine without having to log in again into my WordPress admin.

In the end this was pretty easy to do. Though the ease of profile transfer could in turn make it easy for someone to steal someone else’s identity – after all, the cookies file (presumably a sqllite db or something similar) was only 256KB, and merely dropping it in the new User Data allowed a complete transfer of identity (perhaps a good security feature would be to allow the \User Data\Default\Cookies file to work only on the originally installed instance).