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End of Time at U of M – Regrets? (Open Courseware)

July 19, 2017

In my previous post End of Time at U of M – Regrets?, I mentioned that I had planned to take a health analytics course and mentioned what a cool idea it was. You’re thinking this doesn’t sound so cool but, I assure you, it is. Please read on…

On-line Courseware
First of all, some of you don’t realize this, but there is a lot of on-line courseware available and at no cost. I’ve seen courses where you can also pay modest fees to get a class certificate to show that you took a course and passed its exercises, quizaes and tests, or you can actually pay full price and take it as an accredited class to go toward a degree.

The most famous is probably OCW (Open CourseWare) from MIT but many, many other schools have them, as well. They’re called MOOC (Massive Open On-line Course). University of Michigan has these, as well.

U of M Health Analytics
So, let me return to the story – my work group asked if we’d like to take a health analytics course together. We would get a conference room, probably scheduled over lunch since we would have to do it on our own time, and would take the on-line course, together. This way we could have topical discussions, work on homework together, that sort of thing. Here is the course:
Data Science and Predictive Analytics (UMich HS650)

In my previous post, I did mention that some of this was the basis for my early career. And I was quite excited for this opportunity to be part of the group because, after all, if you wait long enough, opportunity finally comes to you, doesn’t it?  😉

The Outcome
But you now also know the story that I won’t be around for this group’s venture into health analytics. However, it’s a free course and I’m actually quite excited to see what I can do with it. I plan to at least start it and see how things go. After all, it could be fun, right? (says the person with a math degree)

But the reason I’m writing this is encourage all of you who want to take a course, don’t have the time or money to take it on a college campus, and have colleagues that have a similar interest to do it as a group learning. It could be fun and, if you doubt you can do it on your own, this would be a great way to see if you can accomplish it and possibly have some help.

I mentioned this Health Analytics course but when you get out into the on-line courses, you’ll find just multitudes of things from which to select and in many, many categories.

Any Reader’s Done This?
If any of you have done this at your organization, please speak-up. I haven’t yet run across anyone else doing this, together, but if you have, it might be interesting to hear what course you did this with and any details around the experience.

Gloria Metrick
GeoMetrick Enterprises

End of Time at U of M – Regrets?

July 18, 2017

My time at the University of Michigan is over and I posted that change in LinkedIn as soon as I returned home from my final day at work. An unusually large number of people who were interested-enough to suddenly look at my profile (lots more than usually would look at my updates). Hopefully, that will lead to one type of great opportunity or another.

It’s Yet Another Change
In some sense, it makes my life easier. There are lots of restrictions when you work for massive companies like that. On the other hand, and this might surprise you, but most of the restrictions I actually didn’t mind. On the other hand, and going back to my last permanent job, it wasn’t like the old days where you had someone to have lunch with or colleagues to talk to. However, it wasn’t that far away from home (but lots of railroad tracks and bumps to damage the bottom of my car, which I seemed to forever have in the shop), I had few complaints about the corporate laptop, and we got LOTS of free food and SWAG*. I was surprised how easily I worked myself right back into the structure and routine of it all.

On the other hand, we’ve all heard the phrase that you’re never more alone than when you’re in a crowd and that’s sure true. One thing I will admit to is that, despite the fact that I’m one of those technical people who isn’t really that into having lots of “people time,” plus the fact that I spend most of my consulting time working alone at my desk, I found that being so disconnected from other people to work with yet having them all around me collaborating, talking and being friendly with each other – it was really a strain and not what I’d envisioned having a job would be like. Many of you will write to me to tell me that I was overly-optimistic, and I now know that, but it was still a hard lesson to learn.

In any case, whenever you move on and whatever the reasons, there are sometimes things you don’t get a chance to do that you regret. Most were on the small side. However, there is one major regret: I had finally signed-up for an on-line course with the University on health analytics and this is really a great story, which I will tell in the next blog post, because it’s such a cool idea that I have to share it with all of you who might be interested.

* SWAG stands for Silver, Wine, Art and Gold. However, it’s come to mean free giveaways such as the mugs and t-shirts we get from conferences we attend.

Gloria Metrick
GeoMetrick Enterprises

25+ Years of SampleManager, 30 Years of You and Me

July 13, 2017

I ran across a tribute to SampleManager talking about “25 Years in SampleManager” giving a little history. Has it been that long, I wondered? Well, no, it’s actually been longer.

As I was reminiscing and looking at some of the old screens, I realized I’d personally been using SampleManager longer than 25 years, myself, and remembered it being around probably 30 years ago. Even in the release of SampleManager 10.0 in 2011, Thermo Fisher Scientific mentions that it brings more than 25 years of history with it.

Is this good or bad? Neither. Every product has its good and bad. SampleManager certainly looks nothing like it did “back in the day” and the actual executable has been rewritten. With that, the basic features have remained the same but there are a variety of changes around them. That is about par with the other big systems that remain. It has changed over the years but any of the products that have survived this long have done so – it’s part of the survival of any product.

In any case, I’ve now been working with LIMS and a wide variety of them for 30 years. I’m pretty sure SampleManager can beat that number.

Gloria Metrick
GeoMetrick Enterprises

Solving the Reporting Problem

July 11, 2017

Many projects have a problem getting reports produced. In one sense, it seems expensive to hire a LIMS, ELN or LES expert who knows the data but who comes with a rather high rate. On the other hand, getting a cheap resource who knows the reporting tool isn’t an easy solution because it’s so incredibly difficult to teach them these massive databases and how they work. Today, I will tell you the solution to this problem.

Use Two Different Resources
The solution to the problem is actually to use two entirely different resources. In fact, and don’t tell my marketing department that I told you this, but they don’t have to be consultants.  😉

Resource A
Resource A knows the database incredibly well and can do standard queries fairly easily. This person needs to be me (my apologies, but my marketing department wanted me to add that!) or some other person who is a system expert. Even if they don’t know the specific implementation or, sometimes, even the particular product brand, they will be able to figure out how to tie the data together.

And it will likely be horribly ugly.

Resource B
This is where the reporting expert comes in. This person doesn’t need to know the data but just needs to know the reporting tool and has the ability to “pretty things up.”

The Final Bit
The purpose here is that Resource A, whether a consultant or an employee, tends to be rather expensive. This person can throw together the right query to get the data but probably has little experience with the reporting tool and possibly can’t even match their own socks. But having them get the process started with the right data is the way to go.

Then, to let Resource B, the less expensive resource take over, and let that person fiddle with all the niceties like getting the corporate logo on the report, getting it aligned the right way, and such.

One More Thing
But if you think that Resource A is done, let me just say that they aren’t. Often, when Resource B starts fiddling with the report, there are more changes, sometimes because the report format requires the query to be stated differently than the way it was initially done. However, just put it in Resource A’s queue and let them hit that query for the fix when it pops to the top of their priority list and you’ll have it back in Resource B’s hands lickety-split, in many cases.

The other bit is that someone has to work with Resource B to understand what is needed in the format, even if you’ve produced a requirement document for it. It doesn’t have to be Resource A but that’s one possibility.

What’s the Point
The point is that most customers think that it’s just too expensive to use high-level consultants to get the formatting beautiful and even if you’re not using consultants, your LIMS System Administrator is too busy to mess around with all of that. The other bit is that it’s too hard to teach a reporting tool expert your database, in many cases. Many times, and especially if you just need one report, you don’t need to try. In the situation where you have many and ongoing reporting needs, you can work with the report writer to learn more as the process goes along. One day, they can probably, at the least, create the simple reports and some of the really good ones can learn to create the difficult ones with minimal assistance.

Gloria Metrick
GeoMetrick Enterprises

Watch Out Paul Drake!

July 6, 2017

Paul Drake was Perry Mason’s investigator. Last year, I had an opportunity to do what I suppose might be considered database investigatory work.

A legal office had me consult with them to determine how to access and use a LIMS database that was involved in a court case. I want to be clear that I was not looking at result data and giving opinions as to whether it truly was in or out of spec, but merely helping them determine how to actually get at the data and pull it out of the database.

Note: I should add that this was not for a customer with whom I had worked. If it had been, I suppose I might have been called as a witness, instead, although I have no idea how that would work as I’ve not been in the situation.

If you think that’s simple, keep in-mind that, in most LIMS (or even ELN or LES systems), the logic is in the program, not in the database. Without the program to help you understand the data’s workflow, a database is just a bunch of, well, data – I mean to say that it isn’t actually information, necessarily.

While I have known consultants who have been expert witnesses and other assorted legal-related activities, this was my first customer of this sort (I was about to say that this was “my first legal customer” but, think about it, that doesn’t come out quite the way it’s intended). It was an interesting change of pace.

Meanwhile, I doubt that Paul Drake is shaking in his boots with the fear that I’ll replace him.  😉  But, as often happens, the work that comes through consulting is varied and interesting.

Gloria Metrick
GeoMetrick Enterprises

Speech and Facial Recognition

June 28, 2017

Speech recognition and facial recognition have come a long way.

Years ago, I was using Dragon NaturallySpeaking. At the time, it was considered the best product around but it still had lots of opportunities for errors. In fact, they had an extra program or piece of hardware where you could dictate to it when you were in meetings then return to your desk to load it in. I never thought that would be especially useful because I found that, if you didn’t edit your speech, immediately, some of the errors would be so far away from what you’d said that you’d be unlikely to remember what you initially trying to get at. I made a personal habit of speaking and editing all in one session. But if you get a cold or have a tooth repaired with Novocaine impairing your speech, all bets were off on how well it would understand you.

The years have gone by. Now, my cable TV service has a remote control with voice recognition. I was skeptical. However, regardless how soft a family member speaks into it, no matter how garbled what they say sounds or whether they’re mumbling, this remote control device does a terrific job with all our voices. It’s amazing how much the technology has changed over so many years.

I had desperately wanted to write an article for Scientific Computing World about speech recognition for applications such as Forensics labs but never obtained quite the right contacts with which to do that. Meanwhile, just by chance, I had an opportunity to speak with law enforcement officials, yesterday (before you ask, no, I wasn’t arrested – I was at a presentation), and what is really the coolest thing ever is their facial recognition systems.

Let me digress a bit: ten years ago or so I worked in a building that had facial recognition technology for its security. Of course, as a backup, they still needed a security desk for visitors AND for all those of us that the system never recognized.

In any case, the building’s system refused to recognize me about one-third of the time. I spent more time at the security desk than I ever had, before. It just wouldn’t recognize my face. The bottom line is this: the building hated me.  😦

Okay, so that’s a bit far-fetched that the building “hated” me but, seriously, there was something going on, there. My theory was that not all faces can be read in quite the same manner and we actual did know that the position of the head affected the reading.

In fact, today, those factors probably have mainly been taken into account. We all watch CSI and laugh when the scientists put a sample in the GC and it just comes out with results. But with facial recognition, it seems to work about as well as it does on TV. It’s incredibly advanced.

Unfortunately, I do think I know which LIMS system this agency was running but did not have an opportunity to ask if or how this all fit with their system. That would be a great article for Scientific Computing World if I were still writing for them, but currently unlikely to happen.

Gloria Metrick
GeoMetrick Enterprises

Saying Hello?

June 26, 2017

In a January post, I wrote that it was Time to Say Goodbye. Recently, some of you have noticed I’ve started blogging, more, working on my web-site, and have been doing business development. As such, some of you have been asking if I’m coming back. That remains to be seen but let me go into more detail.

Vague Details
I will try to state this is what I hope is both the most neutral and the most vague terms, because I have agreed not to write directly about work and, as such, must obfuscate. As such, here is my attempt:

My job with the university appears to have a high probability of ending rather soon. My presence would quite likely no longer be needed.

The Timing
I’ve known this was coming for a while and, knowing my possible end date would come during the summer, have known I’d need to start working quite early toward finding something else. Readers who work with the bigger systems know that Summer is a bit of a dead time. Many customers, especially on large projects, don’t necessarily want to take on new resources or projects over the Summer months. Getting any amount of work for the Summer takes: 1) More leads; 2) Longer lead times; 3) More overall work.

To anyone who would casually say to me, “Hey, why don’t you just relax and take the Summer off?,” I’ve responded with, “Because I would rather be working and saving toward retirement while I can.”

In any case, I’d been contacting people about potential projects and/or jobs plus getting more public with my marketing and business development so it does seem easier just to be open about it. In any case, it wasn’t a secret, to begin with.

If you have projects needs, contact me, right away. I try not to overbook AND I don’t dump people – what I mean is that, when I promise someone I’ll do some work for them, I don’t start rethinking it when the next project calls just because project #2 is longer/shorter/greater/funnier/whatever.

Skills and Interests
In recently speaking with people, I have been blown-away that some ask what I “want” to do not merely what I “can” do for them. But with that said, here are some skills I have and, especially for those of you with small groups that get ignored by your software vendor and other big services groups, please contact me if you have a need for any of these.

General:  I’ve worked with regulated and non-regulated groups in many industries. My greatest skill is to be able to step into a group in an industry I’ve never worked with and quickly understand the basics of what they’re trying to do.

Thermo Fisher Scientific SampleManager: Working with this product for over 25 years, I’ve worked with customers in many industries, from energy to pharma. I’ve worked as a PM(Project Manager)/BA(Business Analyst)/Programmer and also worked with upgrades, most recently from 2001R1 and 2004R2 to 10.1/10.2. In addition, I participated in the Beta testing for both version 11 and version 12.

LabWare LIMS/ELN: With twenty-one years of experience working with this product, I have worked with it longer than all but a handful of consultants in the entire world. I’ve worked programming/configuring all the major modules plus many of the add-on modules, such as stability manager, formulation manager, and many others, possibly most notably, the ELN.

LabVantage LIMS: Having only a few months under my belt with this product, I certainly don’t know all the details of it. With that said, I’ve worked both with V6 and V8, specifically on an upgrade for the biobanking solution. My knowledge of the biobanking area of the database is extensive, and I’ve already become strong in building SQL Queries to get data from various areas of the database (I mean to say that I’m amazingly good at this, but I suppose that understanding databases is a skill most of the LIMS consultants have had to develop, so probably not much of a surprise, after all), plus have a smattering of skills in LIMS System Administration issues, as well as V8-specific issues such as gizmos and changes to web pages.

Non-product: I work with customers to gather requirements so that they can do a product selection. Also, this helps them understand what TYPE of product to look at. This activity also works for companies who are trying to decide whether to keep their current system and upgrade or to buy an entirely new system. As such, I have worked with more strategic projects such as working with one of “big” Pharma to decide if they needed to buy anything at all and how the general roadmap of that would look.

Non-LIMS: For what it’s worth, I’ve also been fiddling around with MS Azure’s cloud services and am working with their mobile platform tools using VisualStudio, of course. After all, C# (SampleManager) to C# (mobile) is a bit of a jump but less of a jump that doing something 100% different. So, I’m gaining some new skills and understanding, daily. I’m not going to sit around and hope all of my legacy experience keeps me engaged. I know that to help you successfully, I need to stay on top of technology so that I can use my vast experience to help you navigate the new technology.

Gloria Metrick
GeoMetrick Enterprises