Mohammad Al-Ubaydli’s blog

Annals of globalization and Google

Posted in People / organisations, Politics, Society by Dr Mohammad Al-Ubaydli on February 8, 2009

Here is the latest gem of an advert to reach me on GMail’s advertising:


The translation is “Read now what happened in Iraq between Bush and the reporter Muntathir Al-Zaidi”. I have no idea why they advertised this to me (or this, or this), but I was so fascinated by who “they” were today: Russia Today’s Arabic edition. It seems RT has an entire web page devoted to the shoe incident, with news stories from all over the Arab world.


This morning I was considering paying for Relenta (started by another Russian) as a serious producitivity improvement, but honestly the thought of losing out on the entertainment of GMail adverts saddens me.

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Saudi Arabia’s free speech violations #78: you cannot even discuss football

Posted in Arabs and Arabic, People / organisations, Society by Dr Mohammad Al-Ubaydli on February 6, 2009

Here is a wonderful video featuring Prince Sultan bin Fahad, سلطان بن فهد, the first person in a long time to get me interested in football:

A little background for those who cannot understand Arabic. Saudi Arabia’s football team lost against Oman’s in the Gulf Cup. Not every team is as great as Bahrain’s.

The video shows some post-match commentary on Saudi Arabian television. Now, personally, I think that watching a football match is a waste of my time, but watching commentary about a football match is a far worse use of my time. Most commentary is low quality, and when you consider the topic of football…

Still, in a country like Saudi Arabia, football is one of the few outlets of free debate. In this case, the commentartors began critiquing the strategy, or lack thereof, of the football team. Then they opened up the phone lines for viewers. One of the viewers was Prince Sultan bin Fahad, president of the kingdom’s Youth and Sports department, i.e. the sports minister.

You do not need to understand Arabic to understand the thoughts of the commentators by watching their facial expressions or hearing the Prince’s shouting. He ended by saying: “If you’re not well-mannered enough, then let me educate you myself”.

Why patients are worried by national electronic medical records

Posted in Medicine, Technology by Dr Mohammad Al-Ubaydli on February 4, 2009

I just spent a wonderful day at Leeds University’s Masterclass in Designing Future eHealth System. There were some very impressive participants, and everyone was generous with their knowledge and expertise.

As I arrived back at Leeds train station though I saw this poster below:

systemoneI took a photo with my phone as I just found the phrasing so striking. It falls into The annals of (what) were they thinking?

The poster, about TTP‘s systemone, says:

8.5 million patient records, twenty thousand users
the future of patient care

I am sure that TTP is proud that their tools store the records of 8.5 million patients, and that 20,000 clinicians use these tools. But there seems to be no worry about the possibility of reading that poster as: there are 20,000 users, each of whom can read the records of 8.5 million patients.

This lack of worry worries many patients as they consider national medical records databases.

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Professionalism when you have no privacy: advice for medical students

Posted in Society by Dr Mohammad Al-Ubaydli on February 4, 2009

This post is the result of a conversation I had with David Doherty (3G Doctor), Dawson Costello (Medical Student Blog) and Rob Navarro (Sapior) on my birthday. I know I should have been discussing more entertaining topics but when faced by three incredibly bright and interesting people I cannot help but try and learn from them. They certainly got me thinking and any errors below are due to my thinking.

The other day I saw a Facebook status update for a medical student saying that he was “Hating patients”. When someone tried to teach the student that this was a foolish sentence to write the student said he thought no one would find his writing interesting. This is a serious error of judgement.

I am not a fan of Facebook’s founder, and one of the things that trouble me the most about the site is that it encourages a mental model of privacy but has a business model of publicity. In other words, people are comfortable sharing information because they have the impression of private conversations with friends, but fundamentally Facebook benefits from spreading your messages as far and wide as possible. This is why they ban applications that reduce the number of “friends” you have.

The comfort you should feel in Facebook is the same you should feel about picking your nose while in your car: it feels private, but everyone can see you. And with video phones, if you are famous enough, someone will record you.

In the long run, this will not be a problem for most people. First, as everyone gets caught doing something stupid in a social network website, legislation will arise to minimize the fallout, just as politicians step in when everyone makes financial mistakes by borrowing too much or saving too little. Second, and more significantly, people will be more forigiving as they see that everyone is falliable. In 2005 there was a witch hunt over a South Korean woman caught on video phone failing to clean up after her dog in a railway carriage appeared on the internet. In 2015 there will be no such recriminations, in South Korea at least, as such an incident will no longer be news.

But there will never be such clemency for doctors. For example, the public reaction to an NHS manager getting in touch with her friends on Friends Reunited has been severe:

Eastern and Coastal Kent PCT assistant director of strategic partnerships Caroline Davis wrote on Friends Reunited: “I now live in Dover, where I work for the NHS, bullshitting for a living, no change there then.”

I found out recently about discplinary action the trust was compelled to take. The reaction towards doctors will be even more severe. Partly this is because there are so few of us, but mainly because we have a duty to society. We receive heavily subsidized training, the public trust us with their lives, and accords us the respect of professionals.

My advice to medical students is simple: assume everything you write today will be read in 20 years’s time. John Steinbeck has a good line on this:

It seems to me that if you or I must choose between two courses of thought or action, we should remember our dying and try so to live that our death brings no pleasure on the world

What you write will definitely be availabe in that time because Google, and its more powerful successors, index and archive everything. And because storing old data costs less than the revenue from putting advertisments around those data, no matter how trivial the data seems to be. And people will definitely read what you wrote because in 20 years you will be a doctor with status in your community. Members of your community – including patients, journalists and lawyers – will regularly study your older writings to look for patterns of behaviour. Do not give them a reason to think badly of you.

If that means not using Facebook, then stop using Facebook. The privilege of being a doctor is far more significant than anything a free website can offer you.

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How can I change my life with no money?

Posted in Books, Entrepreneurship by Dr Mohammad Al-Ubaydli on February 2, 2009

On November 30th, 2008, someone typed “how can i change my life with no money” into Google. The third hit was to my blog post “There is no money in change management”. That person read the article and I doubt that it was useful to their predicament. Whoever that person is, I am sorry I could not help you. But you got me thinking… How could I change my life with no money?


The first thing to say is that no one has no money. At least, no one who has access to a computer with access t0 Google can make that claim. This point is particularly worth making if you are using a computer in a library. Even though you do not own the computer, you have access to someone that can spend money for your benefit, i.e. the library.

OutliersUsing other people’s money is a powerful secret. Henry Ford was a master at it, taking money from the orders of cars, building those cars from suppliers’ raw materials, and only then paying the suppliers. It is well worth reading his autobiography. There is lots of money out there with which to change your life. For example, instead of paying for an expensive course, ask your librarian to buy the books you need for the course and study by yourself. I do this all the time and the librarians are grateful because they have a budget to spend but need help with identifying which books would be the most useful to their community. Around the world, there are grants, scholarships and loans available to help people who are serious about changing their lives.

The next thing to say is that changing your life is hard. Really hard. You have to put in the hours and one book that has had me thinking about this is Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. I usually gush about his books but a recent review by The Register has me chastened. The main point of the book is worth making though. There is no overnight success, success takes work, and the most successful worked the most.

So if you want to change careers it will take some time. That time includes working for free, or for low wages, to build skills in a new career. This is another example of using other people’s money because the alternative is for you to pay to gain those skills at an expensive course. The education from a job is much more practical and likely to increase your earning power than a university course, providing you are focused on learning from your job.

Finally, the best time to start is now. One of the most interesting things I learned in the USA is what happens when people change jobs. If I sound naive, it is because I had led a sheltered life while working as a doctor. Everyone I had previously worked with or for had a clinical career path mapped out. Job security was high and career progression mostly a matter of time.

But in the USA I saw my worst nightmare on a regular basis: parents fired from their jobs. I also saw something I had not dreamed of: people leaving their current jobs without a plan for what to do next. I do not recommend either scenario, but I will say that a few months afterwards each person was happier than they were in their old job. Often, they had higher salaries, and always they were in situations that they wanted to be in rather than ones they felt compelled to stay in.

So, to answer the question of the anyonymous searcher on my site: use the money of others to train yourself for a new life, and start doing so right now.

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