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.

Health hackathon brings to life agile solutions for unmet needs

Winners of the Blue Button Innovation Challenge

I think the main achievement of hackathons can be measured not by what apps are developed–reportedly, few are commercialized and maintained–but by people who find each other. The Blue Button Innovation Challenge brought together a lot of professionals who had never met before, and many formed teams that created really fun and useful apps that make you think, “Why hasn’t anyone done this yet?”

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Health technology brings care plans alive

Finalists at Merck|Heritage Provider Network Innovation Challenge

Challenges and hackathons are meant to surprise you. If the winner is a known leader in the field with lists of familiar credentials festooning the team’s resumes, there was no point to starting the challenge in the first place.

Pharmaceutical company Merck and the Heritage Provider Network, the largest physician-led health network in the US, were looking for something new when they launched their challenge on diabetes and heart disease. These conditions are virtual epidemics, world-wide.

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Court prods FCC in unexpected direction in this week’s Verizon ruling

Network neutrality was on the retreat shortly after the Telecom Act of 1996.

A court ruling this past Tuesday on FCC “network neutrality” regulation closes and opens a few paths in a three-way chess game that has been going on for years between the US District Court of Appeals, the FCC, and the major Internet server providers. (Four-way if you include Congress, and five-way if you include big Internet users such as Google — so, our chess game is coming closer to Chinese Checkers at this point.)

A lot of bloggers, and even news headlines, careened into histrionics (“Net neutrality is dead. Bow to Comcast and Verizon, your overlords“). The Free Press, although oversimplifying the impact, did correctly link the ruling to what they and many other network neutrality supporters consider the original sin of FCC rulings: eviscerating the common carrier regulation of broadband providers.

Even better, many commenters noted the ambiguities and double messages in the ruling. Unlike a famous earlier ruling on Comcast regulation, this week’s court ruling spends a good deal of time affirming the FCC’s right to regulate Internet providers. Notably, pp. 35-36 essentially confirm the value and validity of network neutrality (in the form of promoting innovation at the edges by placing no restraints on transmissions).
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How did we end up with a centralized Internet for the NSA to mine?

The Internet is naturally decentralized, but it's distorted by business considerations.

I’m sure it was a Wired editor, and not the author Steven Levy, who assigned the title “How the NSA Almost Killed the Internet” to yesterday’s fine article about the pressures on large social networking sites. Whoever chose the title, it’s justifiably grandiose because to many people, yes, companies such as Facebook and Google constitute what they know as the Internet. (The article also discusses threats to divide the Internet infrastructure into national segments, which I’ll touch on later.)

So my question today is: How did we get such industry concentration? Why is a network famously based on distributed processing, routing, and peer connections characterized now by a few choke points that the NSA can skim at its leisure?
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Security firms must retool as clients move to the cloud

The risk of disintermediation meets a promise of collaboration.

This should be flush times for firms selling security solutions, such as Symantec, McAfee, Trend Micro, and RSA. Front-page news about cyber attacks provides free advertising, and security capabilities swell with new techniques such as security analysis (permit me a plug here for our book Network Security Through Data Analysis). But according to Jane Wright, senior analyst covering security at Technology Business Research, security vendors are faced with an existential threat as clients run their applications in the cloud and rely on their cloud service providers for their security controls.
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Who will upgrade the telecom foundation of the Internet?

A conference report on the IP transition.

Although readers of this blog know quite well the role that the Internet can play in our lives, we may forget that its most promising contributions — telemedicine, the smart electrical grid, distance education, etc. — depend on a rock-solid and speedy telecommunications network, and therefore that relatively few people can actually take advantage of the shining future the Internet offers.

Worries over sputtering advances in bandwidth in the US, as well as an actual drop in reliability, spurred the FCC to create the Technology Transitions Policy Task Force, and to drive discussion of what they like to call the “IP transition”.

Last week, I attended a conference on the IP transition in Boston, one of a series being held around the country. While we tussled with the problems of reliability and competition, one urgent question loomed over the conference: who will actually make advances happen?
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23andMe flap at FDA indicates fundamental dilemma in health reform

We must go beyond hype for incentives to provide data to researchers

The FDA order stopping 23andM3 from offering its genetic test kit strikes right into the heart of the major issue in health care reform: the tension between individual care and collective benefit. Health is not an individual matter. As I will show, we need each other. And beyond narrow regulatory questions, the 23andMe issue opens up the whole goal of information sharing and the funding of health care reform.

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The new stage of system monitoring is better integrated

Current tools make collection and visualization easier but don't reduce work

New tools are raining down on system administrators these days, attacking the “monitoring sucks” theme that was pervasive just a year ago. The new tools–both open source and commercial–may be more flexible and lightweight than earlier ones, as well as more suited for the kaleidoscopic churn of servers in the cloud, making it easier to log events and visualize them. But I look for more: a new level of data integration. What if the monitoring tools for different components could send messages to each other and take over from the administrator the job of tracing causes for events?

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Geographic data is the glue for public health and treatment

Esri conference highlights uses of GIS data

We’ve all seen cool maps of health data, such as these representations of diabetes prevalence by US county. But few people think about how thoroughly geospacial data is transforming public health and changing the allocation of resources at individual hospitals. I got a peek into this world at the Esri Health GIS Conference this week in Cambridge, Mass.

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OpenStack release offers more flexibility and aids to performance

The Havana release features metering and orchestration

I talked this week to Jonathan Bryce and Mark Collier of OpenStack to look at the motivations behind the enhancements in the Havana release announced today. We focused on the main event–official support for the Ceilometer metering/monitoring project and the Heat orchestration project–but covered a few small bullet items as well.

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