Feature Articles

The Pandora's Box of Gene Editing Is Now Open

The age of gene editing is upon us. Specifically, the use of CRISPR. Amazing things are happening, proving again how clever humans are. Whether we're smart remains to be seen. For those who are unfamiliar with it, CRISPR -- more accurately, CRISPR-Cas 9 -- is a new technique for gene editing.  It has allowed faster, more precise, and less expensive gene editing.  It can already do more than you may realize. CRISPR has been much in the news lately, due to a new study published in Nature. Researchers successfully corrected a DNA mutation that causes a common heart disease that is sometimes fatal, especially for young athletes. In what is believed to be a first, the researchers repaired viable embryos. Moreover, they repaired most (72%) of the embryos, which is much better than previous efforts...

Is Single-Payer the Right Payer?

As is customary for every administration in recent history, the Trump administration chose to impale itself on the national spear known as health care in America. The consequences so far are precisely as I expected, but one intriguing phenomenon is surprisingly beginning to emerge. People are starting to talk about single-payer. People who are not avowed socialists, people who benefit handsomely from the health care status quo seem to feel a need to address this four hundred pound gorilla, sitting patiently in a corner of our health care situation room. Why?

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How Time-series Databases Help Make Sense of Sensors

Infrastructure environments' needs and demands change every year and systems become more complex and involved. But all this growth is meaningless if we don't understand the infrastructure and what's happening in our environment. This is where monitoring tools and software come in; they give operators and administrators the ability to see problems in their environments and fix them in real time. But what if we want to predict problems before they happen? Collecting metrics and data about our environment gives us a window into how our infrastructure is performing and lets us make predictions based on data. When we know and understand what's happening, we can prevent problems, rather than just fixing them...

7 Mistakes Your Open Source Project is Probably Making

It can be tough to start a new open source project. You have an awesome idea in your head, but it takes work to turn it into a productive, healthy, engaging community. Sadly (as seems to be the case in practically anything), the same mistakes are made over and over again by new projects. Here are some of the most common mistakes open source projects make and my recommendations for avoiding them... Of the thousands of open source projects that kick off, too many get stuck at the outset because of a bunch of discussions on a Slack channel, mailing list, issue, or elsewhere. The discussions bounce around the house, and the scope often grows more and more lavish to incorporate the many, sundry ideas and considerations...

Kangaroos, Insurance Companies, and the Rising Cost of Healthcare

Complaining about health care prices is nothing new. The medical component of CPI has been higher than the overall CPI for decades. As far back as 1989 Gerry Anderson and colleagues showed "It's the Prices, Stupid" that explained why our national spending was so high compared to other countries. More recently, Elizabeth Rosenthal detailed those prices in an series of reports in The New York Times. She recently followed those up with her incisive book An American Sickness. Dr. Rosenthal also illustrated some of the clever techniques used to wring the most money out of our pockets, such as the upcoding industry and tacking facility fees onto visits. As the saying goes, if you're sitting at a poker table and you can't figure out who the sucker is, it's you.

Creating a High-Speed Internet Lane for Emergency Situations

During large disasters, like hurricanes, wildfires and terrorist attacks, people want emergency responders to arrive quickly and help people deal with the crisis. In order to do their best, police, medics, firefighters and those who manage them need lots of information: Who is located where, needing what help? And what equipment and which rescuers are available to intervene? With all of the technology we have, it might seem that gathering and sharing lots of information would be pretty simple. But communicating through a disaster is much more challenging than it appears...

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Bridges and Roads as Important to Public Health as Medicines - Lessons from Major Disasters

Two seemingly unrelated national policy debates are afoot, and we can’t adequately address one unless we address the other. Health care reform has been the hottest topic. What to do about America’s aging infrastructure has been less animated but may be more pressing. Yet even as cracks in America’s health system and infrastructure expand, political divides between parties and within parties have stalled efforts to develop policies and implement solutions. Problematically, debates over health care reform and infrastructure projects remain separate...

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Why US Infrastructure Compares Poorly Against Other Countries and How to Fix It

How does infrastructure in the U.S. compare to that of the rest of the world? It depends on who you ask. On the last two report cards from the American Society of Civil Engineers, U.S. infrastructure scored a D+. This year’s report urged the government and private sector to increase spending by US$2 trillion within the next 10 years, in order to improve not only the physical infrastructure, but the country’s economy overall. Meanwhile, the country’s international rank in overall infrastructure quality jumped from 25th to 12th place out of 138 countries, according to the World Economic Forum...

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When the Hacker Ethic Meets Old Ideas About Brand

Open organizations apply principles from open source software development more broadly. Existing organizations find the open approach appealing because it promises gains in productivity and efficiency—but openness may have farther-reaching consequences than we anticipate or intend. One influential set of open principles comes from Steven Levy's book about the early history of the computing revolution, Hackers. Levy lays out what he calls "the Hacker Ethic," and it begins with "the Hands-On Imperative"...

A Left-Handed Software User's Plea

Left-handed people face many challenges in a right-hand dominated world. For the 10% of us who live under their oppression, it can be maddening. In the early 20th century, my left-handed grandfather was forced to write with his right hand in school, making his handwriting completely illegible. What would great lefties like George H.W. Bush, Bart Simpson, Lt. Cmdr. Data, Barack Obama, or Bill Gates think? At least we have advanced a little... but not enough...

Health Care's Kodak Moment

For those of us of a certain age, a "Kodak moment" connotes a special event that should be captured by a photo, presumably on Kodak film.  For younger generations,  the term probably doesn't mean anything, because they don't know what Kodak is and have never seen film.  That's why, for some, "Kodak moment" has come to suggest a turning point when big companies and even entire industries can become obsolete. Health care could soon be at such a point. Anthony Jenkins, a former CEO of Barclay's, recently warned that banks could face a Kodak moment soon...

How to Use Libraries.io Data from Millions of Open Source Projects

What if we applied the techniques Google applied to index the internet back in 1998 to the world of open source software? That's exactly the thought Andrew Nesbitt had in 2014 which lead to the creation of Libraries.io, an open source project for indexing other open source projects. This month Libraries.io released metadata on over 25 million open source projects. You can download it right now from Zenodo, but what can you do with it? To understand what is contained within this dataset, I'll take a quick look at how it's collected. Everything in Libraries.io begins with package managers. We index project metadata from 33 package managers, filling in gaps from their source repositories where we can. We parse project manifests—a gemfile, package.json, or similar—that includes code from other projects and stores the links between them...

Healthcare: We Get What We Pay For

Politico (Dan Diamond) had two great pieces last week -- one on how tax-exempt hospitals benefited from the Affordable Care Act (ACA) while cutting charity care, and the second on how the Cleveland Clinic has built an island of prosperity amidst an impoverished community.  I'd like to say I'm surprised, but I'm not.  I wrote about the supposed community benefits of "non-profit" hospitals two years ago, and Politico's analysis suggests things are getting worse. They looked at the top seven hospitals, as ranked by U.S. News & World Report, and found...

Hard to Communicate with Other Teams? Check Out These Tips

When teams in the same organization—or even across organizational boundaries—start to collaborate, they will most likely realize that not all of their goals align. The IT team, for instance, might not have the same criteria for success as the sales team. Different teams have different benchmarks, even if the teams are part of a larger organization (as in the case of relationships between a developer team and an operations team). But the teams all strive towards the same goal, which is to make the organization successful. And they rely on each other to accomplish that goal. For this reason, learning more about why a team is working on a specific project, not just focusing on how they're involved and what the project is about, can help you foster better relationships across your organization...

Design and Produce 3D Printed, Custom Breast Prosthetics

As the market for 3D printers has moved from sophisticated, experienced designers into the mass consumer market, individuals are saving substantial money with pre-designed, DIY products made on 3D printers. These opportunities are poised to increase due to the Free Open Source 3D Customizer, a libre, 3D model customizer that anyone can use to create their own 3D printed designs. To demonstrate how the software works and the possibilities that it creates, I'll show how breast cancer survivors and others can use the Free Open Source 3D Customizer to design and produce 3D-printable external breast prosthetics.