Archive for the 'Openness' Category

Jan 24 2013

Mr. Cook, Tear Down Those Walls! – an open letter to Apple

Dear Mr. Cook,

I’m sure that Apple is going through a lot of turmoil with the release of your recent results and 10% drop in share price.  I used to be a very enthusiastic Apple customer, feeling that I was getting value for my money, even with the higher prices I paid for your products.

However, this has changed in the past few years.  I’m not getting quality, I’m getting fleeced.  Where I used to feel that Apple was opening me to a new realm of creativity and innovation, now I feel that you are trying to lock me up inside the walls of your walled garden.

I used to trust you as a partner in my activities, thinking that the future would get better as your engineers improved you software and products.  Now, I cringe when I see new software announced, wondering what capabilities you are going to be taking away from me, and what intrusive software you will be shoving down my throat.

Companies are supposed to give value to their customers in exchange for their purchases.  Apple has somehow forgotten that basic business premise.  Instead you have been taking things away from us.  Here are just a sample of the things you have taken away: (I won’t even mention Google Maps):

  1. I used to be able to take time lapse photos, import them into Quicktime 7, and produce a movie.  I could do “quick and dirty” editing of the movie and pass it on quickly and easily.  You took away this capability in the current Quicktime,  so now I have to keep two versions around.
  2. I moved to Apple in 2006 after extreme frustration using Windows to do video editing.  I made a huge investment in Apple’s Final Cut Pro, buying the hardware and software to run it, as well as learning how to edit movies.  My local Apple store was a huge help with this, giving me hands-on training in Final Cut Pro with a really talented editor/Apple trainer.  However, when you moved to Final Cut Pro X, you made all of my prior work obsolete. I have spent hundreds of hours sorting my family movies into FCP bins and sequences that are simply not compatible with FCP X.
  3. I have been using a Mac Pro desktop machine for my editing, based on Snow Leopard.  I had been holding off installing Lion, waiting to see if I wanted to move to Mountain Lion.  The day you announced Mountain Lion, you dropped the availability of Lion.  I am now caught in a catch 22 situation of incompatible hardware, software, and hours of video editing.

I’ve decided to move away from Apple products because of this continuing stream of customer-hostile actions you have forcing on me.  I don’t want to buy a separate printer to print from IOS devices, nor do I want to be locked into iCloud or iTunes for information exchange.

I don’t want to be locked in to your walled garden, and your disappointing sales report proves that others feel like me.  The same social networking effect that drove IOS upwards can drive it downwards, as customers flee from your oppressive and arrogant tactics.

I would hope that Apple can recover by returning to basic competitive principles of delivering value for money.   Customers need to look forward to new products as introducing new value, not just part of a shrinking  platform of planned obsolescence.

Here’s hoping.  But in the meantime, I’m moving away from Apple products…


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May 04 2012

Some history of Confer and MailMan

When I came to the VA in 1978 at the Loma Linda VA hospital to work on what would come to be known as VistA, my first impression was that the VA was suffering from a “failure to communicate.”  The hierarchies and bureaucratic turf wars were inhibiting communication.   Based on my own experiences in learning German, and my studies in linguistics, I became an enthusiastic supporter of how language affects thought, and sought to create a speech community for people to talk about health.
I happened to have a telephone system that was capable of conferencing in 6 lines simultaneously, so every monday morning at 10AM, I would dial in the other members of the original “Hardhat” gang that was developing the software.  I’d call George Timson in San Francisco, Wally Fort and Cameron Schlehuber in Salt Lake City, Joe Tatarczuk in Albany, Bob Lushene in Bay Pines, Richard Davis in Lexington, and others who would often add others to the conference call.  This worked well, and coupled with face to face meetings, allowed us to communicate.
However, this had some drawbacks:
1.  It wasn’t scalable.  There were just so many folks who could be networked together.
2.  It was synchronous.  Everyone had to be at their phone at the same time.
3.  The conversation was single-threaded.  We could only talk about one thing at a time.
I began to look around to see what I could do to improve the situation, and discovered a digital conferencing system being worked on my Robert Parnes at Wayne State University called Confer II.  It allowed multiple users to communicate in threaded messages via dial up terminals.  We tried it for a bit, but at $10/hr, it was prohibitively expensive.
I had a chance to meet Bob when he came to San Diego in 1981 or 1982.  I was living in Riverside, near Loma Linda, which was in a hot desert climate.  So coming down to the ocean in San Diego was a great pleasure.  We drove up the coast, and ended up having lunch at the Beach House restaurant in Cardif by the Sea.
We had a delightful 3 hour lunch conversation which crystallized my thinking about the need for a community teleconferencing system.  Bob was generous with his time, knowing that he was helping me “fork” from his Confer software, but he was pleased to see the idea spreading.  (At least that is my recollection of the conversation.)   The difference was that I was embedding these ideas into the kernel of the VistA system, an integral part of the rest of the clinical applications.  I just wanted people to be able to communicate.  I wanted folks to be able to build a community around a topic, not just according to predefined structures, and I wanted that community to be able to see and control who else was on the thread.
This became the core user interface model I built into MailMan (Note that this is not the Python-based MailMan list manager)
About the same time, Larry Brilliant and Stewart Brand were adopting Confer for use in the WELL, an early online virtual community software.
Ed Vielmetti sent me some background material on the early days of Confer:
This page has my 1985-era experience of Confer described pretty well:
and this one goes back a little bit further, to 1982:
The ur-text is the conferences themselves, which are in the Karl Zinn papers at the U of Michigan Bentley library:
of which is noted:
The CONFER Sessions subseries is comprised of paper printouts from a subset of computer-based conferences that ran on the University of Michigan mainframe computing system (Michigan Terminal System) from 1975 to 1994. These were printed by Zinn, and are indicative of his involvement and interests. This subseries provides an informative view of the introduction, evolution and use of a new technology designed specifically to support computer-based communications. The subseries includes RP.CONFER the original conference that utilized the CONFER I application program; student administered conferences; conferences used to supplement class discussion; and a series of conferences designed for the International Science and Technology Assessment Congress held in Ann Arbor in 1976.

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Nov 21 2011

The Oroville VistA success story

Published by under Openness,VistA

I just came back from the VistA Expo meeting in Redmond, Wa, where I had the pleasure of meeting many of the folks who were involved in the amazing success story of the Oroville, Ca. hospital adoption of the VistA electronic health system.

In my many years of doing health IT architecture, I’ve sat through innumerable marketing presentations and pretty Powerpoint charts, all promising buzzword-compliant shiny new things by folks who have little or no understanding of the practical realities of medical informatics.  This has lead me to a “show me, don’t tell me” attitude: point me to a real, live success story, not just another bunch of diagrams and buzzwords.

Here is somethind definitely worth pointing to as a sucess story of what VistA and a smart team of open source collaborators can do: the Oroville, Ca. hospital deployment of Open source VistA system:

“Oroville successfully implemented VistA on their own in collaboration with the VistA community. In addition it funded the development of a whole series of enhancements to VistA to extend the capabilities of the open source EHR and to achieve Meaningful Use….

[Oroville CEO] Wentz gave a detailed report yesterday on the financial factors that led to his decision to go with their own implementation of VistA, factors that he says should lead every regional hospital in the United States to do the same thing. He said that before “drinking the Kool Aid” the Oroville staff met with virtually every single commercial EHR vendor in the country. The decision to go with VistA was taken only after reviewing all other options…

VistA has been implemented in the 154-bed hospital, as well as 17 out of the 20 clinics that the hospital owns. It is being used by almost 1,200 general users, more than 400 physicians, as well as more than 60 nurse practitioners and physician assistants.

One of the extraordinary things about the deployment is that VistA is serving not only as a full-blown EHR, but also as a Health Information Exchange (HIE). Any of the patient data gathered in the hospital, or any of the clinics or physicians’ offices, is immediately available everywhere else in the health system. Having this data readily available has already saved the lives of many patients who have ended up in the emergency room of the hospital.

The clinics that have implemented VistA include both general and internal medicine, cardiology, obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics, pulmonary, surgical, orthopedics, oncology/cancer care, geriatrics, and urgent care walk in clinics.

Congrats to all.


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Nov 15 2011

Google Location system: What ever happened to “Do No Evil?”

Published by under Openness

I just noticed last week that Google Maps knew the location of my laptop computer, even though I had never told it where I was.  After a bit of sleuthing, it turns out that Google probably got this information when a someone with an Android phone visited.  The phone sniffed my WiFi ports, read the GPS location, and reported this back to Google location services.

They did this without my knowledge, and without my permission.

Now, it turns out that if I want to “opt-out” of this procedure, I would have change my security system rename my WiFi access points and devices.

In technobabble doublespeak, Google is telling us that it gives us “greater choice”

“As we explored different approaches for opting-out access points from the Google Location Server, we found that a method based on wireless network names provides the right balance of simplicity as well as protection against abuse. Specifically, this approach helps protect against others opting out your access point without your permission.”

This is an absurdity.  Google should not be invading my home with visitor’s smart phones to capture my private information, period.

It seems that Google has turned to the dark side.  What ever happened to “Do No Evil?”


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Oct 26 2011

Conversation with Ralph Johnson, Ward Cunningham, and Tom Munnecke about refactoring VistA

Ward Cunningham, best known as the inventor of the wiki, invited me to his home for dinner last Friday night. Ralph Johnson, a world-class leader in object oriented programming technology, pattern languages, and refactoring, happened to be his house guest. The after dinner conversation turned to a spirited discussion about how to refactor the VA VistA Electronic Health Record system, so I turned on my iPhone to record the discussion.

Ward Cunningham is also well known for his contributions to the developing practice of object-oriented programming, in particular the use of pattern languages and (with Kent Beck) CRC (Class-Responsibility Collaboration) cards. He is also a significant contributor to the Extreme Programming (Agile) software development methodology.

Ralph E. Johnson is a Research Associate Professor in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is a co-author of the influential computer science textbook Design Patterns: Elements of Reusable Object-Oriented Software.

Tom Munnecke was one of the original software architects of what is now known as VistA, the VA’s electronic health record, as well as CHCS, a similar system for US Department of Defense hospitals world-wide.

The discussion revolves around the future software architecture of electronic medical records in the federal government, now being coordinated as an open source project as the Open Source Health Record Agent


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Aug 24 2011

NIH’s New Rules on Conflict of Interest Hit New Low in Ethics and Reform

Published by under Openness

I think this hits a new low in our attempts to manage our health:  NIH finalizes financial conflict of interest rules

“Researchers who receive more than $5,000 in income from drug or device companies must disclose the payments. Universities or other institutions employing the researchers must collect the data and provide for public access to it.But in an about-face from proposed rules announced last year, institutions will not be forced to disclose conflict-of-interest information online. Instead, they may maintain the data offline and provide it only when requested.

“Universities also will be required to develop plans to manage the financial conflicts of individual researchers, but the plans do not have to be made public.”

How about a little openness and transparency, folks?

(tip of the hat to Rick Lippin, who pointed this out to me)


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Aug 06 2011

My Interview at the 2010 Open Science Summit

Published by under Openness,Uplift

Here is a bit of a rant about me talking about opening up the scientific literature at the Open Science Summit in August, 2010 at Berkeley


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Jun 03 2011

Red Letter day: National Academies Press goes to open publishing!

Published by under Openness


Now, if we could only get the rest of academia to openly publish, and the professional societies to start acting as trustworthy, open publishers and disseminators of knowledge, rather than suspect, self-serving tool-booth operators for their disciplines, we might just keep civilization from slipping back into another dark ages. 

And while we’re at it, we need to get textbook prices down to something that students can afford… 

Date: Thu, 2 Jun 2011 16:01:07 +0100
From: National Academies Press<>
Subject: All PDF Books Free to Download

As of June 2, 2011, all PDF versions of books published by the
National Academies Press (NAP) will be downloadable free of charge to
anyone. This includes our current catalog of more than 4,000 books
plus future reports published by NAP (*

Free access to our online content supports the mission of
NAP–publisher for the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy
of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research
Council–to improve government decision making and public policy,
increase public education and understanding, and promote the
acquisition and dissemination of knowledge in matters involving
science, engineering, technology, and health. In 1994, we began
offering free content online. Before today’s announcement, all PDFs
were free to download in developing countries, and 65 percent of them
were available for free to any user.

Like no other organization, the National Academies can enlist the
nation’s foremost scientists, engineers, health professionals, and
other experts to address the scientific and technical aspects of
society’s most pressing problems through the authoritative and
independent reports published by NAP….


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