Monday, 1 April 2013

Battling blindness with technology

It is called the “silent thief of sight”, and is a major cause of blindness in Singapore and the second in the world.

Glaucoma, which is not curable, often goes unnoticed until a significant loss of vision has occurred.

The good news is that treatments are available to prevent further damage.

Laser treatment or surgery may be recommended if the glaucoma isn’t controlled at the first stage of treatment, which is simple and must be followed faithfully.

In most cases, patients start with medicated eye drops to help control the disease.

To most of us, putting eye drops seems like a fairly simple task, but there is more to this treatment than meets the eye.

“So what happens is that a lot of our patients are on one, two, three, sometimes four [types of eye drops]. Some eye drops are only to one eye, some eye drops are to both eyes,” explains Dr Jocelyn Chua, a consultant to the Glaucoma Service at the Singapore National Eye Centre (SNEC).

It often becomes more complicated when the different eye drops have to be used more than once a day.

66-year-old Daisy Tan has been a glaucoma patient for seven years and for her it is not the task of putting the eye-drops, but remembering when to do so, which is the problem.

“I’m not very regular with the timing,” said Mdm Tan as a slight shadow of guilt crossed her face.

“Sometimes at 9am, sometimes at 10am, sometimes at 11am… sometimes I totally forget” she said, while adding that sometimes she’ll put the eye-drops twice, having lost track.

The routine can be confusing and is believed to be one of the main reason why many glaucoma patients tend to forget about their eyesight-saving medication.

Taking a look at the problem from a different perspective, the SNEC came up with solution that tapped on technology.

“With this, once it rings I know have to put it and that’s it,” said Mdm Tan, gesturing to her mobile phone where she has installed the app, MyEyeDrops.

With mobile phones now a must-have, the health centre developed the MyEyeDrops mobile application to help patients track and tackle what would otherwise be a bothersome task.

While MyEyeDrops functions mainly as a reminder that will prompt patients to use their eye drops, the app can do more than just beep, buzz or ring at the right time.

The app allows users to personalise the reminder by selecting specific details such as the type of eye drop and which eye to put the medication into.

To make it easier for patients to recognise and select the eye drop they’re using, the SNEC also included pictures along with the brand names of all the eye drops available in their pharmacy.

The app also helps patients deal better with their condition, knowing that they are not fighting the battle alone.

“This app, to me, is very useful,” said Mdm Tan’s husband and caregiver, Andrew Quek, who has the app installed on his phone as well.

“Wherever you are in the world, you can still get in touch. You just call up, and [say] ‘Hey have you taken your medicine?’ That’s all.”

Patients can also keep a medical diary through the app, another feature which Mdm Tan finds very useful as she likes keeping a record of her condition after every checkup.

But not everyone is like Mdm Tan.

Dr Chua admits that since glaucoma is most common amongst those aged 50 and older, some may need some help with learning how to use the app.

“When we created [the app] we sort of wanted it for the younger generation in the future who are already more tech savvy,” said the consultant.

“For that group of older generation who aren’t so tech savvy, they probably have to depend on their children to help them out,” she acknowledged.

Dr Chua also agreed that there are limitations to the usefulness of the app, given that some glaucoma patients may have difficulty using the app due to loss of vision.

“It’s true, about 30 per cent to 40 per cent of glaucoma patients are blind in at least one eye. That’s unfortunate. If they are unable to see very well, then obviously they would have to get some help from their family members,” concluded Dr Chua.

Still, there is no doubt in the eyes of glaucoma sufferers and their care-givers that the MyEyeDrops app is anything but very useful.

“When you’re blind at a very old age, can you imagine how difficult it is?” said Mr Quek, stressing that glaucoma patients face challenges in performing many daily tasks, even those taken for granted, such as a visit to the toilet.

Stressing the importance of family support and assistance, the care-giver to his glaucoma sufferer wife pointed out: “When the patients go blind, the mobility is not there.”

“So as a caregiver, my suggestion is please help your parents, your grandparents, and you can reach them wherever you are.”

Friday, 4 November 2011

Schools updating tech capabilities and policies

The school district has spent the last several years updating out-dated computer and telephone systems – and is saving money doing so – but don’t expect to see students using iPads any time soon.

Those were the highlights of an Oct. 25 School Committee work session with Doug Snow, technology director for the district.

Since he joined the district in 2004, the IT Department has been changing over analog phone systems to a voice over IP network system – a move that brought large cost savings.

“You never get a busy signal, and it took the phone bill down,” Snow said. “Broad Rock is still analog, and it doesn’t integrate – it is kind of a stepchild and it’s very expensive – $1,000 a month just for this building. But we are working on upgrades.”

The district was paying $12,000 to $13,000 a month for phone service, he said, but that has been reduced to $4,000.

The VoIP system also offers caller identification and the ability for teachers who are outside the building – walking a class to Old Mountain Field, for example – to call a dedicated line in case of an emergency.

Snow said an upcoming priority is replacing building keys with swipe cards. While it will replace the handful of keys many administrators must carry and will cut down on security breaches – there are students who have keys to the buildings – teachers have expressed concerns.

“Teachers are scared of it,” Snow said. “They worry it tracks them coming in and out of their classrooms.”

Snow said that is not the intent.

“Students have keys to the buildings, and do get in at night,” Snow said. “The [security] cameras are outdated, even though they were installed in 2000. Students would have to swipe in, and we’d know they are there.”

The swipe system would run on the buildings’ current technology, Snow said, and would allow administrators to view security footage from their home computers or smart phones.

“Wakefield has had issues with vandalism and we couldn’t figure out why the cameras weren’t working,” Snow said. “They had spray-painted all of them.”

Snow was not enthusiastic about some of the latest trends in school computing, such as iPads for every student.

“One-on-one iPads are a huge cost – millions of dollars,” Snow said. “I don’t see us going in that direction. We would need to be 100 percent wireless, and it would cost approximately $550,000 to have 100 percent coverage for our district.”

Snow said the jury was also still out on Smart Boards – interactive whiteboards.

“They are a big buzzword, but they are very expensive and very labor intensive,” Snow said. “A lot [of teachers] are using them as high-priced overhead projectors – we could get those for $800 each.”

Snow tested a Smart Board for more than a month and found it kept freezing up.

“It was frustrating,” he said. “It has to work all the time, when [it is used] in classrooms.”

But Snow was supportive of Ncomputing – desktop virtualization – something the district has been beta testing and is now out to bid on.

“It gets a lot of machinery into the classroom – high-end Windows machines,” he said.

Ncomputing uses one CPU that serves up to 10 monitors on a single cable, without slowdown. The district must link each computer to the server, at a cost of $150 each.

“It is perfect for an elementary school to get machines in the classroom,” Snow said. “It was really impressive to us. There is one network per classroom. It reduces use on the server and reduces the [energy use] footprint.”

Snow said the district is working with APC by Schneider Electric, which has been performing a municipal and town energy audit, and will go out to bid on the computers with hopes of installing them over Christmas vacation.

Snow said his department also is drafting updated rules on mobile phone use, since rules vary widely by school. Students with smart phones can connect to the Internet via the phone’s 3G network, he said.

He said the policy could include registration, so the district can track who has the devices. But with technology changing rapidly, he warned against getting locked in.

“I am glad you are looking at the mobile device policy,” said Vice Chairman Anthony Mega. “It is easy to take the pessimistic view – that it is a distraction, and how to take secure exams, but they are critical devices. As we round at the hospital, we access information and education medical students – all on mobile devices. If we are not using them, we are not working on 21st-century learning.”

But Committee Chairwoman Maureen Cotter expressed concerns about equity.

“Not all students have smart phones or Kindles,” Cotter said. “And even among the schools themselves there are different policies.”

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Delhi audience takes pleasure in China's Kingdom of Heaven

When Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao visited India last December, he told Indian high school students that he likes the long poem by Rabindranath Tapore, the Gitanjali.

Among the beautiful verses of the poem are two lines: "I know you take pleasure in my singing. I know that only as a singer I come before your presence."

Tuesday evening, artists from the "Kingdom of Heaven" of China' s Sichuan province, carried this mood expressed by Tagore in presenting an unforgettable set of art performances par excellence, leaving in the memories of the audience an ever-lasting "Night of Delhi".

These artists are truly the "I" in Gitanjali.

The "Experience China -- Sichuan Week" activities, being organized by the Chinese government here in the Indian capital, were formally launched Tuesday evening at the Siri Fort theater.

The Governor of Sichuan Province of China, Jiang Jufeng, said in his inauguration speech that his 200-strong delegation came to the beautiful city of New Delhi with a strong feeling of friendship, in order to implement the communique signed by Premier Wen and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh last December here for promoting the ties between China and India.

By presenting Chinese culture to Indian audience, the Sichuan Singing and Dancing Troupe achieved a great success Tuesday evening.

M.S. Gill, Indian Minister of Statistics and Program Implementation who watched the performance, was apparently touched and shook hands warmly with the performers. The audience, when leaving the theater, were full of joy after seeing such a spectacular performance.

Dr. Arun Kumar, a retired professor, said he experienced strongly the "Chinese soul" , which he said is full of mystery, dynamics and grandeur. He particularly liked Wushu -- Rhyme of Martial Arts -- being performed by a woman warrior, whose flower sword he said was "beauty beyond description".

High school student Ram, 16, is a worshiper of Jacky Chang, and it was his first time to watch a Chinese performance with the arrangement of his school. He said he was overwhelmed by the male warrior of Mask changing and giant puppetry: Charm of Bashu Arts, who he said represented the hero of all Chinese Kongfu movies and can beat the Bollywood starts.

His classmate Supriya, 15, said her hometown in Rajasthan in western India also has the tradition of puppetry arts and Chinese puppets look like Indian puppets. "They are close relatives. Chinese puppets will go visit their Indian in-laws in the night," she said.

As a Chinese official who organizes the Sichuan Week said, this time the Indian people have got the opportunity to contact and touch China in person. Many of them have also made a lot of discoveries about China through the one-and-a-half-hour long performance.

Indians regard little girls as holy as they are as pure as the lotus of high mountains. The Acrobatics: Ballet on Hand Palm just reflected this belief. A little girl was lifted up lightly by a young man and began dancing on the latter's palm like a butterfly. A symbol of purity, she is also surrounded by a team of forest goddesses, who can also find their Indian peers in local folk tales and myths.

Saparupa, 13, came to see the performance with her 6-year-old sister Bhumika. She said she entered a wonderland with the dances, songs, Wushu, acrobatics and magic. She said she for the first time saw the fairy tales come true.

According Indian Vedic culture, the World is made of Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Space.

A student studying for his PhD in Delhi University declared that he had discovered the five elements in the performances. He said that the fire is shown in Mask Changing and Giant Puppetry, water in Ballet on Hand Palm, air in Wushu: Rhyme of Martial Arts, space in Dance of Yi ethnic group: The Green Sky and earth in Jubilation dance.