Feature Articles

Fidgeting May (or May Not) Be Good For You

I swore I wasn't going to write about fidget spinners.  Just a toy, just be the latest fad -- the Rubik's cube of this generation, or perhaps the Pokémon Go of this year -- with no broader implications, for health care or anything else.  Yet here I am, writing about them after all. If you know any children, you already know what a fidget spinner is.  You may even have one yourself.  They seem to be everywhere lately, even in the hands of President Trump's youngest son as he exited Marine One recently. What that says about us is not quite clear...

It's the Ecosystem, Stupid

I've been writing for a while on topics related to product and supply chain management in the context of open source communities, and I've noticed a few consistent themes in my articles and blog posts. Most notable is the call for companies to move from the "not invented here" syndrome to a more externally focused view. After all, if so much innovation is taking place in open source projects, why not take advantage of it to the fullest extent possible? You can see this theme manifested in the following ways:

Open Hardware Groups Spread Across the Globe

After our group of friends founded a small open hardware community in El Salvador a few years ago, we felt alone in the region. The open hardware movement had developed in a creative explosion of projects and (thanks to the popularization of 3D printing and digital technologies such as Arduino) under a common understanding of how to develop new physical products. The fact that all these people came together so quickly and in so many places at the same time made it harder for people to find each other than it was during the open source software community's development, which found its place within the Linux community and grew through events such as FLISOL in many different Latin American countries...

Why You Should Certify Your Open Hardware

The open source hardware movement has been gaining momentum since 2010 with new industries joining the community at a rapid pace. In fact, the maker and 3D printing markets are expected to become a US$ 8.5 billion market by 2020. Open source hardware has grown so big, it has gotten difficult to keep track of the large number of open source projects and ensure all projects labeled "open source" follow the community-created open source hardware principles and definition. In fact, not all maker items are open source nor 3D printers...

The Robots Are Coming...to Healthcare!

Ready or not, there are robots in your future.  And some of them will be for health care. There has been growing concern that the rise of robots, along with artificial intelligence (AI), will create huge impacts on jobs.  Within the last few months both McKinsey and PwC have issued white papers on the topic.  The former found that nearly half of jobs have the potential to be automated (although most not totally), while the latter expects 38% of U.S. jobs at at high risk of automation within 20 years. Health care is not high on most lists of sectors whose jobs are soonest to be heavily impacted by robots, but it is on the list -- and it will happen...

Documentation Based on User Stories

A typical manual page on a Unix-like system is a good example of feature-based documentation. Ideally, it contains an exhaustive list of all features (options, commands, parameters) of a program, it explains what the features are good for, and it provides examples of how to use them. The measure of quality in the case of this type of documentation is comprehensiveness and thoroughness. On the other hand, a recipe in a cookbook is a classic example of action-oriented documentation that guides the user towards the completion of a specific goal by explaining clear-cut steps...

Learn the Secrets of Building a Business with Open Source

Today, if you’re building a new product or service, open source software is likely playing a role. But many entrepreneurs and product managers still struggle with how to build a successful business purely on open source. The big secret of a successful open source business is that “it’s about way more than the code,” says John Mark Walker, a well-known voice in the open source world with extensive expertise in open source product, community, and ecosystem creation at Red Hat and Dell EMC.  “In order to build a certified, predictable, manageable product that ‘just works,’ it requires a lot more effort than just writing good code.”...

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A List of Open Source Tools for College

I've used Linux now for 3 1/2 years, which to me is a substantial period of time. In that time, I have gone from only using LibreOffice to expanding into a purely Linux and open source workflow. I have built my workflow around only using open source software if at all possible, although I am required to use a couple of proprietary tools sparingly. I'd like to share my own philosophy regarding open source. I was first introduced to Linux by my programming teacher; he is a passionate believer in FLOSS and he converted me. I have a passionate belief in the technical superiority of open source tools over proprietary ones because they allow me the freedom to use them however I wish...

Your Team's Differentiator Isn't Its Tech

In 2016, I launched Open Innovation Labs, a place where people seeking to leverage the principles of openness can work with a seasoned team to build innovative software that solves their most pressing business problems. It has been an exciting and daunting undertaking. Today, Open Innovation Labs imparts knowledge and best practices that emerge from the world's most successful open source projects, and we provide a residency-style experience that immerses teams in those practices. We generally partner with companies looking to do two things: Either they want to move quickly and be disruptive, or they see disruption as an existential threat and seek to adapt their behaviors to facilitate a more rapid pace of change...

How We Brought the Internet to Standing Rock

Last spring a group I follow on Facebook started sharing information about an oil pipeline, called the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), that was planned to go in the ground in North Dakota, and the Water Protectors, teenagers from the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation who were standing up to try to stop that from happening. As I watched the story unfold over the next few months, I knew that I wanted to go out there and see how the nonprofit organization I work for, Geeks Without Bounds, could help...

A Guide to Bootstrapping Your Open Source Project with GitHub

There's much more to managing a project with git beyond just committing code and working with branches. GitHub-Driven Development is a process that will help you organize and manage the progression of a project on GitHub, although much of this could be applied to other systems, such as GitLab, as well. This concept isn't only for developers; it can be used for project managers or anyone involved in the development of a project—it could even be applied to non-code projects...

Research Transparency: 5 Questions about Open Science Answered

Open science is a set of practices designed to make scientific processes and results more transparent and accessible to people outside the research team. It includes making complete research materials, data and lab procedures freely available online to anyone. Many scientists are also proponents of open access, a parallel movement involving making research articles available to read without a subscription or access fee...

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5 Myths Busted: Using Open Source in Higher Education

Have you ever heard someone say, "It's impossible to do X with Linux"? Me too. This is the story of how I busted the myths about open source in my own head and used Linux to finish my PhD in fine arts. Many people think non-technical students can't use Linux, and they make a lot of assumptions about people who use it in their advanced degree programs. They scoff and reply with something along the lines of, "Well, of course; those people do 'computer stuff,' but in my [lofty, important, unique area] it's just not possible." Well, it is possible, and I'm proof...

Scientists Are Accidentally Helping Poachers Drive Rare Species to Extinction

If you open Google and start typing “Chinese cave gecko”, the text will auto-populate to “Chinese cave gecko for sale” – just US$150, with delivery. This extremely rare species is just one of an increasingly large number of animals being pushed to extinction in the wild by animal trafficking. What’s shocking is that the illegal trade in Chinese cave geckoes began so soon after they were first scientifically described in the early 2000s. It’s not an isolated case; poachers are trawling scientific papers for information on the location and habits of new, rare species...

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An Introduction to Libral, a Systems Management Library for Linux

Linux, in keeping with Unix traditions, doesn't have a comprehensive systems management API. Instead, management is done through a variety of special-purpose tools and APIs, all with their own conventions and idiosyncrasies. That makes scripting even simple systems-management tasks difficult and brittle. For example, changing the login shell of the "app" user is done by running usermod -s /sbin/nologin app. This works great until it is attempted on a system that does not have an app user. To fix the ensuing failure, the enterprising script writer might now resort to...