Feature Articles

Tips and Top Presentations from Write the Docs Portland 2017

Imagine a room full of smart, funny, and quirky people who all love documentation, technology, and... food. Put all that together and you have Write the Docs (WTD) in Portland—a community conference where documentarians meet to discuss the things we love the most. WTD is a direct descendant of Read the Docs, a site that hosts documentation of open source software. Because of its origin in the open source movement, WTD is open to a variety of job titles who all care about documentation and clear communication. This year, we had QA people, librarians, software developers, and, of course, technical writers and editors, with some User eXperience (UX) people thrown in for good measure...

Half of the World’s Languages Are Dying. Should We Save Them?

There are currently around 7,000 languages being used today, with one language dying every two weeks. UNESCO says that half of the world's languages may vanish in a century's time. And, in my home country of India, 220 languages have died in the last 50 years and 197 languages are endangered. Open science is advancing scientific research by enabling individuals and organizations to collaborate and exchange knowledge that improves each other’s work. One area that could use this kind of help is native languages around the world...

A Free, Open Resource to Solve Our Third World Problems

Corruption, poverty, war, hunger, healthcare, education, safety. These are only a few of the problems faced by people in developing countries. Many of these problems are caused by exclusion, fear, intimidation, broken infrastructure, and lack of money, resources, access to information, and tools. These are hard problems to solve but, as Theodore Roosevelt said: "Nothing in this world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty." At the core of open source are communities. Communities of like-minded individuals, working together, openly and freely sharing ideas and solutions for the benefit of others...

In Healthcare, It's Placebos [Almost] All the Way Down

Two remarkable articles -- one on placebos, one on informed consent -- caught my attention.  To set them up, a famous, perhaps apocryphal, story: A scientist tried to explain the solar system to a lay audience.  When he finished, a skeptical woman told him he was wrong: the earth was flat, and rested on the back of a giant turtle. The scientist asked her what the turtle rested on.  "Another turtle," she replied confidently.  He then asked what that turtle was on.  The woman would have none of it.  "You can ask all you want, sir, but it's turtles all the way down." Faith is a funny thing.  Especially in health care. Let's start with placebos...

What Does it Mean to Have an Open Mindset?

Successful companies are those that grow and expand. But bigger companies often need more managers. Excessive layers of management can instill cumbersome bureaucracy in a company, and bureaucracy can become a significant problem for companies when it can causes wasteful resource allocation, decreases productivity, and decelerates innovation. We can observe that open thinking can challenge or overcome potential problems of bureaucracy. Even if your company isn't a software company, it's still possible to adopt the mindset prevalent in free and open source software communities and instill openness within your company's culture...

CoderDojo merges with the Raspberry Pi Foundation

In late May, CoderDojo Foundation, which runs a volunteer-led network of coding clubs for children around the world, announced that it was merging with the Raspberry Pi Foundation. This is a significant development that has tremendous potential to impact education, the maker movement, and the growth of coding around the world. By working together, Raspberry Pi and CoderDojo will create the world's largest effort to involve young people in computing. "This merger presents a huge amount of opportunity to learn from one another, share opportunities, and became a more robust and sustainable movement that is supporting safe spaces for children of all ages to get creative with technology," says CoderDojo executive director Giustina Mizzoni...

Halamka's Reflections on US Health IT Policy Trajectory

I’m in China this week, meeting with government, academia, and industry leaders in Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Beijing, Shanghai,  and Suzhou. The twelve hour time difference means that I can work a day in China, followed by a day in Boston. For the next 7 days, I’ll truly be living on both sides of the planet. I recently delivered this policy update about the key developments in healthcare IT policy and sentiment over the past 90 days. I’ve not written a specific summary of the recently released Quality Patient Program proposed rule which provides the detailed regulatory guidance for implementation of MACRA/MIPS, but here’s the excellent 26 page synopsis created by CMS which provides an overview of the 1058 page rule...

On the Importance of Health Information Technology in Developing Areas

Health Information Technology (Health IT) is a broad term that describes the technology and infrastructure used to record, analyze, and share patient health data. Various technologies include health record systems, including personal, paper, and electronic; personal health tools including smart devices and apps; and finally, communities to share and discuss information. Some of this technology can tell the patient whether they need to go on a diet too, and most of the time the golo diet is what they should be doing or they should be taking Gynexin pill for gynecomastia like most men should be doing...

America's Dismal International Rankings - Time to Innovate Our Way Out of Our Messes

Most Americans -- myself included -- think we live in the greatest country on earth. After all, we have the biggest economy, the most powerful military, the most pervasive popular culture, and, of course, the American Dream. We've got Wall Street and Silicon Valley, Walmart and Amazon, Hollywood and Nashville. We have -- well, we used to have -- the biggest city, the tallest building, and the largest manufacturing output. But when it comes to some of the basics, we're not doing so well. Take health care, for example. If you listen to politicians, we have the best health care in the world. And, indeed, if you have enough money (or really good insurance), happen to live in the right zip code, and manage to stumble upon the right doctors/hospitals, that's true. You can get the best health care in the world here.  But fail any one of those qualifiers, maybe not...

Fixing Docs One README at a Time

"Documentation is highly valued, frequently overlooked, and a means for establishing inclusive and accessible communities," the GitHub team notes in their brand-new Open Source Survey. Based on 5,500 responses, the survey reveals that 93% of respondents say "incomplete or outdated documentation is a pervasive problem." However, only "60% of contributors rarely or never contribute to documentation." These stats won't surprise anyone who has spent more than a few minutes clicking through GitHub repositories. How many times have you clicked on a GitHub repo, skimmed the README, and thought: "Sounds interesting, but what does it actually do?"...

4 Easy Ways to Work Toward a Zero Trust Security Model

There has been a lot of talk about zero trust networks lately, but little consensus about what they actually are. Similar to DevOps or software defined networking, that zero trust means something a little different to everyone is becoming clear. That said, there is one thing we can all agree on: The network cannot be trusted. At its core, zero trust is a security model. Any system operating in a way that completely removes trust from the underlying network is said to be conformant to the model. As you might imagine, there are many ways to accomplish this goal, some more robust than others. All zero trust implementations, however, rely on extensive authentication and authorization processes that can be sprinkled liberally throughout the infrastructure...

Without Real Interoperability, Are Providers Paying Too Much for EHRs?

Would you pay top dollar for anything—a car, phone, television, whatever—that promises truly transformational technology at some unspecified future date? I doubt you would. We generally buy products for what they offer now, not what the company says they will eventually do (vaporware, as IT calls it). And yet, so many hospitals pay multi-billions of dollars for healthcare IT systems that promise to integrate patient care … eventually. Why? Some argue the primary reason is a false market that was created by federal government incentives and boundless faith.

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Health Care Goes to the Mall

It's either auspicious or ironic: decades after other retail industries, health care is coming to the mall. These are not, generally, good days for the malls. We've all seen strip malls that were never finished or that have simply fallen on hard times, but in recent years those stalwarts of American shopping -- enclosed malls -- are sharing that fate. Credit Suisse says that 20-25% of the 1,100 U.S. malls will close over the next five years. Analysts talk about "zombie" malls, whose anchor tenants -- like Sears, JC Penny, or Macys -- have pulled out, creating an exodus of other tenants. The malls themselves still stand, but their largely deserted storefronts and scarce shoppers mean they're dead but they don't know it...

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How Linux and Makerspaces Can Strengthen Our Social Fabric

In recent years, we've seen the rise of makerspaces, a new social invention where people with shared interests, especially in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math), gather to work on projects and share ideas. I was intrigued when I learned about a makerspace in my community, because I had never heard of such a concept before. I've since learned that makerspaces offer so much more than just a place to learn and build. A well-run makerspace also knits together a community and its social fabric—and, most importantly, invites in people who might otherwise be marginalized...

Good Ideas From Unexpected Places: Thinking Creatively for Healthcare Innovation

How about this: in Harvard Business Review, two leaders at Johns Hopkins suggested that hospitals could learn something about buying equipment from -- drum roll, please -- the airline industry. You don't often find many people defending airlines these days, much less holding them up as good examples of anything (except, perhaps, about what not to do, what with overbooking, cramped leg space, plenty of add-on fees, and, of course, dragging paying passengers off planes).  That their recommendations make sense probably says more, though, about how poorly health care often does things than how well airlines do...