Laptop memory chips (2004).  Source: Imagen Desconocida.

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September-October 2006

 Understanding today's batteriesLithium-Ion batteries (2002). Lithium-ion liquid electrolyte batteries, developed for aerospace applications, as part of a cooperative Lithium-Ion Battery Development Program between the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory, the NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory/Glenn Research Center and the Department of Defense. Source: NASA Glenn Research Center.

Almost everyone has a portable device these days -- laptops, mobile phones, PDAs, music players.  They all depend on batteries to work.  Understanding a little about modern batteries can make life easier, particularly about batteries used in laptops.

Today's laptop batteries are primarily of the lithium ion (Li-Ion) type.  Such batteries have been in the news lately -- you may have seen pictures in the newspaper of a burning laptop at a business conference, or of a charred pickup truck whose interior succumbed to a flaming laptop.   Apple, Dell, Lenovo and several other laptop manufacturers recently announced recalls of several million Li-Ion batteries to deal with potential fire risks.

So what do you need to know?

  • If you have a battery that is subject to a recall, take it out and run your laptop on A/C power only until the new battery arrives.  The risk of fire is exceedingly small, but there's no sense taking any chances.
  • Batteries generate heat when producing power and so do the powerful microprocessors that make today's laptops so productive.  That's why laptops have vents and tiny cooling fans.  Don't block the vents with paper, clothing, or other materials.
  • Batteries don't generate heat when they're not producing power.  If you want to reduce your fire risk to zero, don't leave the device on when you're not using it.  In doing so, you will be participating in the University's goal of "going green" everywhere by saving electricity.
  • Li-Ion batteries don't suffer from the same magnitude of "memory" effects as the rechargeable nickel-cadmium (Ni-Cad) batteries of old.  But they do suffer a bit.  Your laptop's battery needs to run down at least a little every once in a while, otherwise it may be unable to hold a charge.  Don't keep it on A/C power all the time.  Conversely, repeated full discharges should generally be avoided, although a periodic full discharge every few months will help keep the "battery meter" readings accurate.
  • If you store your laptop for an extended period, we recommend you leave it with a partial battery charge (about 40-50%).  Batteries like to live in cool temperatures, especially when stored (around 60°F is ideal).  Temperature extremes, particularly high heat, are bad for both batteries and the devices they power.
  • Nothing lasts forever.  Li-Ion batteries are typically rated for several hundred charge-discharge cycles (300-500) and 2-3 years of productive life.  After that, even with perfect care, you'll probably need a new one unless you want to remain tethered to a plug.  The good news is that battery technology improves all the time.  So each new laptop battery you get will last longer than its predecessor.
  • While Li-Ion batteries are not as toxic to the environment as some other types, they still shouldn't just be dumped like any other trash.  It's better for the environment to keep them out of the solid waste stream and it'll save resources too.  You can find a battery drop-off location near you at this site.

For other battery tips, see the Information Technology "Learn about" series.

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 Do-it-yourself networking

It wasn't so long ago that computer networking devices were exotic and expensive.  Today almost every electronics store carries cables, routers, wireless access points and other networking paraphernalia at bargain prices.  As a consequence, many of us now have home data networks with wired and wireless components.

We salute that "do-it-yourself" spirit, as long as its confined to network experimentation on the home front.  However, "do-it-yourself" installation of wired or wireless networking components can create enterprise-wide problems for a workplace network, and thus is prohibited on the medical campus. 

What works for you or your group can present risks to everyone else.  It's not just a theoretical possibility.  We've suffered serious losses of network service in the past due to "independent" devices.  That's why we track them down and replace the equipment with an approved standard.  And why we are asking for your help in discouraging the practice.

Our job is to help you use technology to become more effective at what you do.   If you don't have all the wired or wireless network connectivity you require, contact the Network Engineering group.  We'll work to get you the needed services, as soon as possible, and often at no cost to you or your department.  Help us continue to make the University of Miami Medical Center's network one of the fastest, and most secure, academic networks in the country.

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 CITI Health Information Privacy and Security courses

The Web-based Health Information Privacy and Security (HIPS) course series was developed as a joint effort of UM's inter-campus Ethics Programs and the Medical School's Department of Information Technology.   We're proud to announce that the series is now part of the Collaborative Institutional Training Initiative (CITI).

CITI provides online educational content in several topic areas: human subjects protection (CITI-IRB), good clinical practice (CITI-GCP), health information privacy and security (CITI-HIPS), and responsible conduct of research (CITI-RCR).  CITI materials are in use at nearly 700 institutions in 25 countries.

UM is an institutional member of CITI -- indeed, it's one of the founding partners -- so all CITI content is free to UM affiliates.  (Note that CITI materials are not approved to meet UM HIPAA training requirements, except for medical students.  Visit the NetLearning system for UM HIPAA training materials.)