OpenLabyrinth web sites offline Dec 27-29

We have a number of OLab servers hosted by the University of Calgary. UofC are making some major network changes over the holidays so these servers may be down briefly during these two days.

We hope that this does not throw off any major projects for anyone. The servers involved are


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Built-in Help files for OpenLabyrinth cases

We have improved our integration of our linked wiki system, based on TiddlyWiki. Now it is even easier to create your own integrated help system for your case.

Check out this example case here:

Authors can now easily create their own help system for a case, or they can grab a copy of the help file from this case and integrate it into their own cases.

Users can now annotate these help files, making their own notes about the case and download these to their own machines. (And these personal annotations remain private – the original file on the server remains intact.)

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OpenLabyrinth – an education research platform

Some of the sharp eyed amongst you may have noticed that we have changed the slugline for this web site. OpenLabyrinth has grown significantly more powerful over the past year and can now do much more than just virtual patients.

It has morphed into a research platform with quite broad scope. Over the next few weeks, we will be highlighting some of these new features and incorporating better guidance on how to use them into our support materials and User Guide.

Development will continue apace over the next 4-5 months so if there are features that you would like improved, clarified or strengthened, now is the time to tell us. In particular, we will be exploring how to improve the reporting and analytics structures. If there are any groups out there who are keen to investigate this with us, please get in touch.

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BaSH security vulnerability

Alarming news going out on the web over the past 24 hrs about a web server vulnerability via the bash shell. (This will make sense to Linux geeks – to the rest of us, it just sounds worrying).

Good news for the OpenLabyrinth servers that we run (our demo, production servers) is that we have patched the operating system to close this security hole. We encourage other server admins who look after OpenLabyrinth servers to do the same – the patch is quite easy to install.

Just as a heads-up, some of our OpenLabyrinth servers will go down briefly over the next 24 hrs, when they are rebooted for optimum security. Let us know if you run into problems via info AT openlabyrinth DOT ca

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Updated OLab User Guide

Aaah, it’s always the last thing to get done. At last, we have managed to make a significant update to the OpenLabyrinth User Guide, for the version 3.2 release.

You will find it at the same place on this site as before:

For a while, we tried to use Atlassian Confluence as a means to provide a collaborative editing and linkable platform but this did not work out too well. So we have gone back to using Microsoft Word and then converting to a linked, indexed, searchable PDF file.

Also along these lines, OpenLabyrinth v3.2 now does a better job of incorporating the master User Guide off the Help menu, and it is now much easier for sysadmins to keep the guide version current.

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OpenLabyrinth v3.2 released

We just kicked out a new minor version release. For those of you who are running your own OpenLabyrinth servers, you can download this new version from

For most of us who don’t have to deal with that level of geekiness, you can simply check out the new features at - you may need a login to see many of the features that are oriented towards case authors.

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OpenLabyrinth bookmarks return

In OpenLabyrinth v2, there was a useful little feature where you could place a bookmark anywhere in a lengthy case and then return to that same point earlier. This feature had lain dormant in OpenLabyrinth v3 for some time but now, good news…

Bookmarks are back. If you click the [bookmark] button on the right side of a case node, you can leave a bookmark in the case, to which you can return later. And, as an enhancement over the old version, now any scores that you had accumulated to that point are now restored. If you take a look at the Session Report at the end of the case, your data and pathways from the two parts of the case are merged into a single session.

This will be particularly useful for our longer cases. Try it out and let us know what you think.

A few small things to note when using Bookmarks:

1. This only works for registered Users (the system has to know who you are to maintain continuity between such sessions).
2. When you click on the [bookmark] button, don’t expect any fancy bells & whistles to go off. OLab just quietly notes your current place.
3. To resume a bookmarked case, click on the menu Labyrinths | My Labyrinths and then scroll or search through that list. Any case where you left a Bookmark will have an orange [Resume] button, as well as the usual green [Play] button.
4. A User can only leave one bookmark per case but can leave bookmarks in as many cases as they like.
5. When you Resume a case from a bookmark, the bookmark is immediately cleared.

As a case author, if you want to prevent use of Bookmarks, simply remove the [bookmark] button from the Skin for that case.




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Upcoming server changes

We have a few changes coming over the next 2-3 weeks in our server setups and apologize for any inconvenience caused.

The development box at is running on a Dell server that is now getting a bit elderly. We will be moving it to a virtual server farm for better reliability and capacity. And speaking of capacity, the disk is rather full as well so we will be adjusting this as well.

[Update on disk space: I found a whole pile of old unneeded files and deleted them. Much more disk space now. I hope we also see a small improvement in OLab3 performance.]

So those who are doing dev work at demo.olab3 might find that server down intermittently during this changeover.

For our production servers, we will take a more formal and smooth migration approach with proper announcements.

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Federated search for OpenLabyrinth cases

So, we have recently described some new ways to find good virtual patient cases on a single OpenLabyrinth server. But wouldn’t it be nice to be able to search across multiple servers at once, just as Google does?

In techie terms, searching multiple servers at the same time is called ‘federated search’. There have been some discussions about ways in which we could do this. Indeed, a group at AUTh in Greece have developed a promising federated search tool for virtual patients, within their Melina+ content management software: - this is a work in progress and shows how difficult this is to do.

We have posted some of our exemplar cases in a Google Docs spreadsheet, as we told you recently.

Google Docs allows us to collaboratively annotate and post such examples, but this is not federated search. Do you have any suggestions on how we could improve the discoverability of our cases? Please contact us.

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Semantic search for OpenLabyrinth cases

Ok, so we just looked at some simple ways to find case materials, in the previous post. But consider the following situation: how will you find a case on, say, non-ischemic chest pain? If you use the simple search tools already, you probably won’t find anything, unless the author happened to use that same phrase in the case description.

Furthermore, what search terms will you use for this? Chest pain covers a variety of different diagnoses and ICD9 codes – you might be looking for chest wall pain, pleurisy, pericarditis, Bornholm’s costochondritis, pneumonia, fractured ribs, or just a case that covers some of these in its differential. The number of synonyms makes things tough… and if the author has used a different term, such as ‘pleurodynia’, to describe their case, you will be out of luck.

We have been working on semantic search tools for OpenLabyrinth. (We are nearly there and hope to have a test release soon). With semantic search, it is more able to understand the concept you are searching for, rather than the exact phrase. A semantic search engine, along with semantic indexing of the case materials, allows you to search for the concept of chest pain, and has access to predefined vocabularies so that it can group these various symptoms along with chest pain. This should pull up a much bigger list of relevant cases.

Because the semantic indexing is applied to all the nodes within the case, you are also not dependent on the case author having inserted all the right metadata about the case in the description or title or keywords.

We will post more about this when our semantic indexing tools are online. In the meantime, if you have comments or suggestions about this, please contact us.

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