Andy Oram

Andy Oram is an editor at O'Reilly Media. An employee of the company since 1992, Andy currently specializes in open source technologies and software engineering. His work for O'Reilly includes the first books ever released by a U.S. publisher on Linux, the 2001 title Peer-to-Peer, and the 2007 best-seller Beautiful Code.

Commodity data analytics for health care

Predixion service could signal a trend for smaller health facilities.

Analytics are expensive and labor intensive; we need them to be routine and ubiquitous. I complained earlier this year that analytics are hard for health care providers to muster because there’s a shortage of analysts and because every data-driven decision takes huge expertise.

Currently, only major health care institutions such as Geisinger, the Mayo Clinic, and Kaiser Permanente incorporate analytics into day-to-day decisions. Research facilities employ analytics teams for clinical research, but perhaps not so much for day-to-day operations. Large health care providers can afford departments of analysts, but most facilities — including those forming accountable care organizations — cannot.

Imagine that you are running a large hospital and are awake nights worrying about the Medicare penalty for readmitting patients within 30 days of their discharge. Now imagine you have access to analytics that can identify about 40 measures that combine to predict a readmission, and a convenient interface is available to tell clinicians in a simple way which patients are most at risk of readmission. Better still, the interface suggests specific interventions to reduce readmissions risk: giving the patient a 30-day supply of medication, arranging transportation to rehab appointments, etc. Read more…

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Fast data fuels real-time streaming applications

A new report describes an imminent shift in real-time applications and the data architecture they require.

Fast_data_coverThe era is here: we’re starting to see computers making decisions that people used to make, through a combination of historical and real-time data. These streams of data come together in applications that answer questions like:

  • What news items or ads is this website visitor likely to be interested in?
  • Is current network traffic part of a Distributed Denial of Service attack?
  • Should our banking site offer a visitor a special deal on a mortgage, based on her credit history?
  • What promotion will entice this gamer to stay on our site longer?
  • Is a particular part of the assembly line overheating and need to be shut down?

Such decisions require the real-time collection of data from the particular user or device, along with others in the environment, and often need to be done on a per-person or per-event basis. For instance, leaderboarding (determining who is top candidate among a group of users, based on some criteria) requires a database that tracks all the relevant users. Such a database nowadays often resides in memory. Read more…

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New Swift language shows Apple history

Still reflects conventions going back to original adoption of Objective-C

A closer look at SwiftLike many Apple programmers (and new programmers who are curious about iOS), I treated Apple’s Swift language as a breath of fresh air. I welcomed when Vandad Nahavandipoor updated his persistently popular iOS Programming Cookbook to cover Swift exclusively. But I soon realized that the LLVM compiler and iOS runtime have persistent attributes of their own that have not gone away when programmers adopt Swift. This post tries to alert new iOS programmers to the idiosyncrasies of the runtime that they still need to learn.

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How Flash changes the design of database storage engines

High-performing memory throws many traditional decisions overboard

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Over the past decade, SSD drives (popularly known as Flash) have radically changed computing at both the consumer level — where USB sticks have effectively replaced CDs for transporting files — and the server level, where it offers a price/performance ratio radically different from both RAM and disk drives. But databases have just started to catch up during the past few years. Most still depend on internal data structures and storage management fine-tuned for spinning disks.

Citing price and performance, one author advised a wide range of database vendors to move to Flash. Certainly, a database administrator can speed up old databases just by swapping out disk drives and inserting Flash, but doing so captures just a sliver of the potential performance improvement promised by Flash. For this article, I asked several database experts — including representatives of Aerospike, Cassandra, FoundationDB, RethinkDB, and Tokutek — how Flash changes the design of storage engines for databases. The various ways these companies have responded to its promise in their database designs are instructive to readers designing applications and looking for the best storage solutions.

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Does net neutrality really matter?

Competition, access to bandwidth, and other issues muddy the net neutrality waters.

NetNeutralityPetitionSignatures

Screen shot of signatures from a “Common Carrier” petition to the White House.

It was the million comments filed at the FCC that dragged me out of the silence I’ve maintained for several years on the slippery controversy known as “network neutrality.” The issue even came up during President Obama’s address to the recent U.S.-Africa Business forum.

Most people who latch on to the term “network neutrality” (which was never favored by the experts I’ve worked with over the years to promote competitive Internet service) don’t know the history that brought the Internet to its current state. Without this background, proposed policy changes will be ineffective. So, I’ll try to fill in some pieces that help explain the complex cans of worms opened by the idea of network neutrality.
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Smarter buildings through data tracking

Buildings are ready to be smart — we just need to collect and monitor the data.

Buildings, like people, can benefit from lessons built up over time. Just as Amazon.com recommends books based on purchasing patterns or doctors recommend behavior change based on what they’ve learned by tracking thousands of people, a service such as Clockworks from KGS Buildings can figure out that a boiler is about to fail based on patterns built up through decades of data.

Screen from KGS Clockworks analytics tool

Screen shot from KGS Clockworks analytics tool

I had the chance to be enlightened about intelligent buildings through a conversation with Nicholas Gayeski, cofounder of KGS Buildings, and Mark Pacelle, an engineer with experience in building controls who has written for O’Reilly about the Internet of Things. Read more…

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Health games platforms mature in preparation for mainstream adoption

Business models and sustainability will drive success in the health games space.

SPARX_screenshot

SPARX, a behavioral therapy game for youths,
combines a fantasy setting with skills for life.

For the past several years, researchers have strived to create compelling games that improve behavior, reduce stress, or teach healthy responses to difficult life situations. Such healthy games tend to arise in research settings because of the need to demonstrate clinically that the games are effective. I have covered such efforts in my postings from the Games for Health conference in 2012 and 2013.

These efforts have born fruit, and clinical trials have shown the value of many such games. Ben Sawyer, who founded the Games for Health conference more than 10 years ago, is watching all the pieces fall into place for the widespread adoption of games. Business plans, platforms, and the general environment for the acceptance of games (and other health-related apps) are coming together.

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Graph tools forge path to new solutions

Find emergent properties and solutions to new computing problems with graphs

alchemyjsGraph databases haven’t made the news much because, I think, they don’t fit in convenient categories. They certainly aren’t the relational databases we’re all familiar with, nor are they the arbitrary keys and values provided by many NoSQL stores. But in a highly connected world–where it’s not what you know but whom you know–it makes intuitive sense to arrange our knowledge as nodes and edges.

Ted Nelson, inventor of the hyperlink, recognized the power of viewing life in graphs. After the implosion of his historic Xanadu project, he embarked on a graph database tool called ZigZag. The most modern instantiations of graphs–the Neo4j store and the Alchemy.js tool for interactively visualizing graphs–were well represented this year at O’Reilly’s Open Source convention.

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OpenStack creates a structure for managing change without a benevolent dictator

Can education and peer review keep a huge open source project on track?

When does a software project grow to the point where one must explicitly think about governance? The term “governance” is stiff and gawky, but doing it well can carry a project through many a storm. Over the past couple years, the crucial OpenStack project has struggled with governance at least as much as with the technical and organizational issues of coordinating inputs from thousands of individuals and many companies.

A major milestone was the creation of the OpenStack Foundation, which I reported on in 2011. This event successfully started the participants’ engagement with the governance question, but it by no means resolved it. This past Monday, I attended some of the Open Cloud Day at O’Reilly’s Open Source convention, and talked to a lot of people working for or alongside the OpenStack Foundation about getting contributors to work together successfully in an open community. Read more…

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Jeremy Rifkin unveils a return to the local in an interconnected future

Internet of Things, local energy sources, and online collaboration underlie the Zero Marginal Cost Society.

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Stratasys’ Education, R&D departments and MIT’s Self-Assembly Lab are researching 4D printing — manufacturing one-off objects that can change their shapes or other physical characteristics in response to their environment. (View the video.)

Jeremy Rifkin is always predicting an avalanche of change: substitutes for human labor in The End of Work, pervasive genetic engineering in Algeny, and so on. Several interlocking themes run through his latest book, The Zero Marginal Cost Society. Behind everything lies the renewed importance of local resources: local energy production, local manufacturing, local governance. And the Internet that ties us all together (evolving into the Internet of Things) will, ironically, bolster local power.
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