Feature Articles

Postmodern EHR: Solving the feral systems dilemma

Feral systems are software solutions developed by individuals or groups to help with day-to-day activities. They are called feral (or “wild”) because they are used in addition to core IT systems, working around key system architecture – more often than not without the blessing of management. I was first made aware of this expression a couple of years ago by Ewan Davis, who wrote a blog post about it stating: “The hundreds of “Feral Systems” in an average large hospital represent a goldmine of knowledge and innovation that could be harnessed in the design of digital systems that really work, but as they are today they also create a massive technical debt and create safety, governance and reputational risks for the organisation in which they are used.”

2017 Prediction: Some "Oops" Ahead

Predictions for 2017 are everywhere this time of year, and it is no wonder.  There are so many technological advances, in health care and elsewhere, and a seemingly endless appetite for them.  We all want the latest and greatest gadgets, we all want the most modern treatments, we all have come to increasingly rely on technology, and we all -- mostly -- see an even brighter technological future ahead. Here's my meta-prediction: some of the predicted advances won't pan out, some will delight us -- and all will end up surprising us, for better or for worse.  Like Father Time and entropy, the law of unintended consequences is ultimately undefeated...

7 Notable Legal Developments in Open Source in 2016

In 2012 the jury in the first Oracle v. Google trial found that Google's inclusion of Java core library APIs in Android infringed Oracle's copyright. The district court overturned the verdict, holding that the APIs as such were not copyrightable (either as individual method declarations or their "structure, sequence and organization" [SSO]). The Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, applying 9th Circuit law, reversed, holding that the "declaring code and the [SSO] of the 37 Java API packages are entitled to copyright protection." The U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the case, and in 2016 a closely watched second trial was held on Google's defense of fair use. In May 2016 the jury returned a unanimous verdict in favor of Google...

Hot Programming Trends from 2016

Technology is constantly moving forward—well, maybe not always forward, but always moving. Even for someone who keeps an eye on the trends and their effect on programmers, discerning exactly where things are headed can be a challenge. My clearest glimpse into open source programming trends always comes in the fall when I work with my fellow chairs, Kelsey Hightower and Scott Hanselman, and our fantastic programming committee to sculpt the coming year's OSCON (O'Reilly Open Source Convention). The proposals that we get and the number focused on specific topics turn out to be good indicators of hot trends in the open source world. What follows is an overview of the top programming trends we saw in 2016...

A Business Plan for Your Open Source Project

Open sourcing your code is only a small part of building a successful open source community. Like any new venture, you need a vision of what you want to achieve and a concrete plan that will take you there. You want to be able to answer questions about your project like: Who is this project geared towards? Why would someone want to use this code, let alone, contribute to it?What core problem am I trying to solve?

Top Open Source Projects to Watch in 2017

No one has a crystal ball to see the future of technology. Even for projects developed out in the open, code alone can't tell us whether or not a project is destined for success—but there are hints along the way. For example, perhaps it's not unreasonable to assume that the projects that will help shape our future are those projects that have first seen rapid growth and popularity among the developer community. So which new projects should an open source developer watch in 2017? Let's take a look at a few projects that emerged in 2016 to achieve rapid notoriety in the GitHub community...

Top 10 Linux News Stories of 2016

They grow up so quickly. It's hard to believe that 25 years ago Linus Torvalds announced to the comp.os.minix Usenet group that he was "doing a (free) operating system (just a hobby, won't be big and professional like gnu) for 386(486) AT clones." Since 1991, Linux has grown beyond even Torvalds' dreams. It's not a stretch to say that Linux is everywhere. Corporations large and small use Linux, and it powers computers, mobile devices, and connected hardware. Critical infrastructure relies on the stability and flexibility of Linux...

Kids on Computers Establishes Computer Labs in Five Countries

Linux and open source software are not just fueling charities, they are gifting the freedom of education and knowledge to the people the charities are helping because of the low cost, yes, but also the exceptional technology. This sentiment is proven when you look at the work the Linux Foundation does supporting a variety of community initiatives and organizations that are using Linux and open source software. While attending LinuxCon NA 2016 in Toronto I learned of Kids on Computers, one such organization...

Is "Modern Medicine" Indistinguishable From Magic?

Evidently, most of health care's technologies are not yet sufficiently advanced. For example, just think about chemotherapy.  We've spent lots of money developing ever more powerful, always more expensive, hopefully more precise drugs to combat cancers.  In many cases they've helped improve cancer patients' lifespans -- adding months or even years of life.  But few who take them would say the drugs are without noticeable side effects -- e.g., patients often suffer nausea, vomiting, hair loss, fatigue, appetite loss, sexual issues, or a mental fog that is literally called "chemo brain."...

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2016 Hacktoberfest Ignites Open Source Participation

DigitalOcean launched Hacktoberfest in 2014 to encourage contribution to open source projects. The event was a clear success, and in terms of attendance and participation goals reached, it's also clear that Hacktoberfest has become a powerful force in driving contributions to open source. The lure of a t-shirt and specific, time-limited goals help new contributors get started and encourage existing contributors to rededicate themselves and their efforts. The third year continued the momentum. In fact, early in the month, community management manager Daniel Zaltsman told Opensource.com that 2016 already surpassed last year's results...

Halamka on the Most Important Interoperability Story of 2016

You may have missed or not understood the implications of this press release.  Here's a guest post from Micky Tripathi, the CEO of the Massachusetts eHealth Collaborative that explains everything you need to know: "This summary provides some additional information on the recently announced interoperability agreement between CommonWell and The Sequoia Project (Carequality).  For full disclosure, I am on the Board of Directors of The Sequoia Project, a contractor to CommonWell, and participated in the discussions leading to the agreement.  The description below does not necessarily reflect the views of either of these organizations or any of the named vendors...

Open Education Is About Improving Lives, Not Taking Tests

While recently reading The Innovator's Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent and Lead, by George Couros, I was struck by the parallels between the author's thinking and that of Jim Whitehurst in The Open Organization: Igniting Passion and Performance. "Sometimes it scares me to think that we have taken the most human profession, teaching, and have reduced it to simply letters and numbers," Couros says early in the book. "We place such an emphasis on these scores, because of political mandates and the way teachers and schools are evaluated today, that it seems we've forgotten why our profession exists: to change—improve—lives." In other words education has lost it's "Why?"—and that is central to its mission...

Health Care Should Be Five By Five

People love to talk about "moonshots" in health (e.g., Joe Biden, GE).  I'm not exactly sure why that is a good goal.  The actual moonshot took thousands of people many years and tens of billions, all to send a few people far away for a short period and never again.  It may or may not have produced otherwise useful technological advances (Tang, anyone?).  Sounds a lot like health care now, actually. I suggest a different goal: let's make health care "Five by Five." Five by five is a communications term to quantify the signal-to-noise ratio.  It means the best possible readability with the best possible signal strength.  I.e., the signal is loud and clear.  By contrast, "one by one" would essentially mean "I can't figure out what you're telling me but that's OK, because I can't really hear you"...

How Praekelt.org and Open Source Provide Critical Services to Enable Social Change

In Eastern and Southern Africa, women are still dying unnecessarily during the basic, natural act of giving life. According to Unicef, “In 2010, close to 58,000 women lost their lives during pregnancy and childbirth, accounting for more than one fifth of all such deaths in the world.” Gustav Praekelt, founder of the South African design and development firm Praekelt.com, was deeply affected by the high maternal mortality rate in his country and realized in 2007 that open source software and mobile phones could help provide critical information and services to combat poverty and maternal mortality rates -- among other social issues -- across the continent and potentially around the world.

5 Initiatives That Pushed the Free Software Envelope in Europe in 2016

The public sector tends to lag—some would say drag—behind the private sector when it comes to adopting new technologies. This is also true when it comes to adopting free software: Although companies widely see free technologies as a boon, government organizations often are still locked into proprietary software and work with closed standards. That said, some countries are making progress moving toward open source technologies...