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August 04 2010

New languages get pragmatic

In my last post, I posited that emerging languages fell generally into two categories: the languages that solve problems of reliability, safety, and correctness, and the languages that enable beauty and expressiveness. I'll cover the practical side of things in this post. Beauty and expression will be addressed later this week.

As any programmer knows, all software has bugs. With design flaws, interface misunderstandings, inefficiencies, or typos, we put our software out in the world knowing that it will someday fail. Improving our engineering methodologies helps (for example, unit testing). However, often the core problem is not in how we architect or implement a system, but rather the quality of our tools. A language -- its syntax/grammar, compiler, and associated runtime -- that minimizes or avoids errors is seen as a significant benefit, and so research into safety and reliability is a major effort in emerging languages.

In emphasizing the "safety" of a language, common qualities are described: secure, strict, predictable, guaranteed, reliable, correct, performant. There is a sensibility of pragmatism and tradition, a working style midway between a mechanic and an academic. Jonathan Shapiro, in his Emerging Languages Camp talk on BitC, described the "human comprehension zone," beyond which languages and code become difficult to understand, and therefore more likely to contain errors.

Through occasional unification of earlier systems, gathered complexity is sloughed off, leading (in theory) to a simpler and therefore safer system. The Io, Ioke, and Trylon languages replace the usual built-in keywords, statements, and expressions with a very simple message-passing mechanism. Everything else is built above that. Interestingly, simplicity also comes up as a major value in expressive languages.

One area under great consideration in language circles is the general interaction of code and data. While encapsulation and similar concepts have helped structure the interaction of objects in a process, errors can still easily occur. The last wave of dynamic languages popularized open class systems, metaprogramming, and reflection. Ironically, these are now seen as potential problems by those concerned with safety and security.

The concepts of "type safety" (in Ioke among others) and "object capabilities" guarantee that one object cannot sabotage another. In order to limit an object to reach only what it's given access to, several languages have renounced global variables. Some even restrict access to a class hierarchy, preferring prototypes or factory methods on allowed objects.

Newspeak lacks both traditional references or pointers, instead using names to resolve related objects only when needed. Through "mirrors," Newspeak allows an object to specify what other objects can see from the outside. At the camp, Jonathan Edwards presented a fascinating glimpse at a possible future with his ideas on "declarative objects": objects not all piled together in a heap of memory, but carefully contained and accessible only within other related objects, or through model-view data flows. Ur/Web is a domain-specific language for web programming that isolates interacting modules, avoiding many common errors. Even within web scripting environments there is progress. The Caja language implements the object capability security architecture as a layer over JavaScript.

Another area of development is a reconsideration of concurrency. Rob Pike lauded Communicating Sequential Processes (CSP), a model of concurrency invented in 1978. CSP is somewhat like Unix pipes, but formalized into a language that avoids memory sharing, threads, and mutexes. Go implements the principles of CSP as co-routines that communicate by sending objects over channels. Stratified JavaScript implements a similar model by extending JavaScript, avoiding synchronization problems in web programming.

Functional languages have long been considered relatively "safe," and that field's concepts have been borrowed by several emerging languages. In Seph, everything is immutable. In D, an imperative OO-based language for systems programming, data can be declared as immutable, while functions declared as "pure" can only access immutable data, and have no side effects. One of the more interesting presentations was the persistent data structures of Clojure, in which values are not traditional variables but rather states over time of a versioned tree structure.

Safety means predictability and reliability. As one of the more extreme examples, the BitC language is for writing critical code in resource-constrained systems that are designed to work for decades: a pacemaker, for example. Traditional embedded languages like C are unsuitable for their lack of safety features, as are modern mechanisms like JIT (just-in-time) compiling that introduce unpredictability. In a different domain, AmbientTalk is designed for implementing applications on mobile ad hoc networks. Because mobile devices often lose connectivity, the language assumes failures are common, and avoids blocking or exceptions.

Even basic data structures are reconsidered. Both Ioke and Frink criticized the common floating-point types misused by many programmers, instead preferring either arbitrary-precision floating point provided by "big decimals," or rational numbers. Frink's designer, Alan Eliasen, additionally gave an overview of intervals, a number representing a range of values, and the arithmetic that can be done with them.

Finally, some presenters positioned their languages as a possible base for higher-level expressive languages. By building expressiveness on top of safety, the best of both worlds might be attained. Although Go is a language in its own standing, its designer expressed interest in having the language used as a safe and powerful runtime. The Parrot VM (now being redesigned as Lorito) is specifically targeted toward dynamic languages like Perl, Python, and Ruby.

In the next post, I'll cover the expressive side of the language spectrum.


July 26 2010

Why fragmentation is a good sign for Android

Like every popular open source project, Android is dogged by the fragmentation threat. It's the nature of openness: the lack of a formal hierarchy means many different flavors of an operating system or package could appear on many different devices.

At OSCON, I asked "Learning Android" author Marko Gargenta if fragmentation is a looming problem for Android. He doesn't see it that way. Fragmentation, to him, is a side effect of accomplishing a goal:

Keep in mind, when Google started the Android project, their goal wasn't a specific device. Their goal was many, many different devices, with many, many different companies adopting this platform. So, fragmentation is sort of built into the nature of the project. There are going to be different flavors of Android out there. That's not necessarily a bad thing. What's been bad is for a consumer not knowing what application is going to be able to run on what device. And to address that, recently the Android project has released a definition of what compatibility means. [Emphasis added; question asked at the 3:24 mark in this video.]

The full interview is embedded below.

You can find additional OSCON interviews and keynotes in O'Reilly's YouTube channel.


July 22 2010

How open source can improve health care

The Health IT track at OSCON this week brought together three of the thought leaders working to create a Nationwide Health Information Network (NHIN). They are:

David Riley, head of the CONNECT initiative for the Federal Health Architecture (FHA) Program. Riley is responsible for creating the product direction and overseeing product development for CONNECT.

Brian Behlendorf is a collaboration advisor for the CONNECT project, and he co-founded the Apache Web Server Project.

Arien Malec is the coordinator for NHIN Direct, where he manages the activities of a public-private group that's developing specifications for data transport in support of the meaningful use rules.

With the health information technology industry ramping up to help physicians and hospitals meet meaningful use, there is opportunity to bring open source solutions to bear. At the intersection of health care, government and open source, these three have a unique perspective on how to address the pressing needs within health care. Watch below as they give an overview of their efforts and explain how open source solutions can help improve our health care system.


July 18 2010

The art of community leadership

I stopped by the Community Leadership Summit 2010 as I was preparing for OSCON this coming week. It is an open unconference-style event, now in its second year, that's held the weekend before OSCON. Everyone who attends is welcome to lead and contribute sessions on any topic that is relevant. In these discussion sessions the participants can interact directly, offer thoughts and experiences, and share ideas and questions. There will be another more detailed post about this event later on Radar, but if you are in Portland, Ore. this weekend you can still register for Sunday's sessions here.

I spoke with the event organizer Jono Bacon, who works at Canonical as the Ubuntu community manager, and is author of the book "The Art of Community: Building the New Age of Participation." Watch below as he describes how the basic principles of his book led to the creation of this event:

July 12 2010

Crowdsourcing the search for aliens

Research from the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) project is well known to most technologists because the SETI@Home initiative was one of the first widely distributed computing applications.

Although decades of listening and analyzing radio signals have yet to yield proof of alien intelligence, the pursuit has resulted in significant advances in signal processing technology, as well as serendipitous discoveries in radio astronomy. Now Jill Tarter, director of the Center for SETI Research at the SETI Institute, wants to take the distributed analysis of radio signals to the next level. Tarter, a speaker at the upcoming OSCON conference, discusses her new initiatives in the following Q&A.

How is your new project different from existing distributed computing projects, such as SETI@Home?

Save 20%Jill Tarter: SETI@Home came on the scene a decade ago, and it was brilliant and revolutionary. It put distributed computing on the map with such a sexy application. But in the end, it's been service computing. You could execute the SETI searches that were made available to you, but you couldn't make them any better or change them.

We'd like to take the next step and invite all of the smart people in the world who don't work for Berkeley or for the SETI Institute to use the new Allen Telescope. To look for signals that nobody's been able to look for before because we haven't had our own telescope; because we haven't had the computing power.

At the moment, we're swamped with data. We can't process it all in real-time. Ten years from now, Moore's law will allow us to catch up. Ten years after that, we'll probably be data-starved.

Our study has typically been done by analyzing the data in near real-time with things we've invented and custom-built over the years. We're about to change that by going into a cluster environment for the first time, and not building any accelerator cards or any special purpose hardware. That means anybody can help us write software to make this better. We're trying to get our code cleaned up enough to publish as open source and then let anybody do what they want with it.

Once a week we capture about eight hours of data that we're putting in the cloud. People thus far have been downloading big datasets. That's a bummer, operating on them in their own environment, using their own analysis tools, looking for different things. What we want to do, and what I'm hoping to demonstrate at OSCON, is release a new API that we've co-developed with a startup called Cloudant that will allow people to compile and debug their code locally and then upload it and operate using EC2 resources that Amazon has provided.

How can people who aren't math wonks get involved?

JT: For people who don't have black belts in digital signal processing, we want to take regions of the spectrum that are overloaded with signals and get those out and have them visualized in different ways against different basis vectors. We'd like to see if people can use their pattern recognition capabilities to look or maybe listen; to tease out patterns in the noise that we don't know about.

That'll be a big challenge, and there will be a lot of matching of visual patterns that are real or imagined by the observer against known patterns of interference. That can involve a lot more of the world. Perhaps we can make it into a game.

How is the Allen Telescope different from traditional radio telescopes such as the Very Large Array?

JT: The Allen Telescope is the first of what we call Large Number of Small Dishes (LNSD), a new way of building telescopes. It's a radio interferometer. That isn't new. We've had interferometers since the '70s. But creating the equivalent of a large telescope by building it out of lots of small pieces, by using consumer technologies wherever possible and by putting the complexity into computing, we've changed the paradigm and brought the cost down. I hope that we'll use it to change the world by detecting evidence of another technology or by discovering some new astrophysical phenomenon that no one yet thought of.

The Drake equation is a well-known estimate of the number of possible intelligent alien races that might exist in our galaxy. Does the recent discovery of planets around other stars shift the equation?

JT: Yes, in the sense that we're reducing the error bars on the fraction of sun-like stars that have planets. Within a couple of years, thanks to the Kepler mission, I think we'll have found the first Earth analog. That's going to make a big difference in people's perceptions about life elsewhere. So far, the planetary systems that we're finding look a bit strange when compared to ours. But when we actually find analogs, people will begin to say, "Wow, maybe there are other technological civilizations out there."

We're also moving from the other direction. We're starting to give microbes the respect they deserve, and we're getting blown away by the capabilities of extremophiles. Millions of years of evolution have made these things perfect for living and growing in battery acid and in all kinds of extreme conditions. So what we're also doing is broadening the potentially habitable real estate in the universe. It might not actually have to be quite such a Goldilocks "just right" planet for life to originate and evolve into something that's technological, although not humanlike. I think there's a real estate boom going on out there.


OSCON will be held July 19-23 in Portland, Ore. Radar readers can save 20% on registration with the discount code OS10RAD.

July 09 2010

Hardware hacking heaven

OSCON this year will be a delight for anybody interested in working with hardware. A full open source hardware track offers a range of talks to get you started with hardware hacking, and gives a great insight into the current options for prototyping.

Many software developers are astonished to find that there's nothing that hard about hardware, and a few basic skills can go a long way. Some have bemoaned that you can't hack your iPhone the way you used to be able to learn with an Apple ][, but that doesn't mean there aren't options out there.

From microcontrollers such as Arduino, through to complete systems such as the SheevaPlug and BeagleBoard, there are now many accessible form factors to enable novices and experts alike to begin experimenting and prototyping hardware systems.

Where to start?

Save 20%The home is naturally a place where many of us get started with hardware hacking. At OSCON, father-and-son team Bruce and Matthew Momijan will discuss software control of home automation systems. Find out how to cron your washing machine and script your telephone.

Taking things a step further and hitting the metal, "Hardware Hacking 101" will demonstrate how to build small single-purpose devices, and give an overview of what to look out for when starting to wrangle chips and PCBs.

Hardware takes many forms, and it's not just about circuit boards. Hacking in Real Life: Crafting for the Modern Geek invites you to find out what happens when you mix fractals, 3D printers, robotics, open source, high-powered lasers, and non-orientable surfaces with wood, plastic, textiles, steel, cloth ... and lots of coffee.


The little board that could has captured the imagination of many developers. It's responsible for demystifying hardware for many of my friends, seasoned software developers who never knew they could do hardware. If you've never met Arduino before, get introduced with a hands-on three hour tutorial, or follow a quick introduction, then stay for the fun.

arduino.jpgParallel programming may seem too obscure for the everyday developer, but it makes a surprising appearance as a tool for artists and makers. In a session on the Plumbing toolkit, we'll hear how with six lines of code we can go from making simple blinkenlights to responding to environmental sensor inputs.

Reaching out further into the environment, OSCON regular Russ Nelson will be talking about how he used Arduino and sensors to monitor water quality. For me, that really represents the power of Arduino: hacking the real world.

The final piece of the sensor puzzle is of course to display your data. "Open Source Data Visualization on Open Source Hardware" is a soup-to-nuts tour, covering data acquisition to visualizations.

Small-form computing

If soldering isn't your scene, there's still plenty you can do with the progressive miniaturization of entire systems. The SheevaPlug computer is now the basis of several consumer devices. It runs Linux, is power-efficient, and very hackable. The Plug Computing Primer will give a tour of the strengths and weaknesses of using this device in practice.

Taking it one step smaller, the BeagleBoard is a three-inch-square board from Texas Instruments that provides netbook-like performance with very low power consumption. Its hardware design is itself open source, opening possibilities for derivative design. "How to Boot Linux on the BeagleBoard" will introduce the board and its developer ecosystem.

Hack the world around you

With the current slate of tools, it's never been easier to write code that runs on low-power, small-format devices. And many of these tools are familiar to conventional software developers. The goal of the hardware track is to combine toolsets and inspiration so you can hack the real-world problems around you.


OSCON will be held July 19-23 in Portland, Ore. Radar readers can save 20% on registration with the discount code OS10RAD.

July 07 2010

Mobile, desktop or cloud: Where does the future of open source lie?

Three different technologies are fighting for the public's loyalty. First, you have the traditional desktop environment, which is still going strong. Then you have the new world of cloud applications, which offer access to your stuff anywhere you have a browser. And finally, mobile applications are becoming real alternatives to large-screen apps.

In the following Q&A, OSCON speaker and GNOME foundation executive director Stormy Peters discusses the risks of cloud computing, the continued importance of desktop computing, and the interesting relationship between new mobile form factors and free software adoption.

What worries you most about the cloud?

Stormy PetersStormy Peters: My biggest concern is that people aren't worried about the cloud in the same way they worried about the free desktop. People really worried about personal freedom when it came to the desktop space. In response, they created a free software desktop and free software server. Then the cloud came along, and maybe because it was free of cost, maybe because you can get your data out easily -- I don't really know why -- they aren't thinking about it in the same way. We don't have free cloud alternatives. And when I say "free," I don't mean free of cost. We don't have free alternatives to a lot of the web services that most of us use everyday.

What's the trade-off between freedom and things that just work?

SP: Even many of us who are supporters of free software just want something that works. But there's always been a large group of people who are willing to sacrifice a little bit of usability to make something that gives us our freedom as well.

For example, five years ago, wireless on Linux laptops was terrible because it was all proprietary cards and drivers. But because of persistence and because people were willing to keep using Linux on their laptops, we now have Linux on systems that are sold by major companies like ASUS and Dell and HP. And it just works. I don't see the same kind of push happening in the cloud space.

What is the risk to end users of cloud applications?

SP: Ideally, cloud applications should make it more obvious that you can and should back up your data somewhere else. If someone who isn't tech savvy gets locked out of their Google account tomorrow, they wouldn't have access to their email. That person isn't backing up their data. Google makes it easy to download your data if you know what you're doing, but there could be improvements there.

With products such as Android, is the open source battle moving to the mobile space?

Save 20%SP: Netbooks made a big difference because they showed the general public that Linux and open source software offer a viable alternative with some advantages.

So netbooks came first, and then I think the battle moved to the mobile space. Whether it's netbooks or it's phones or tablets or handhelds, I think the shift will be big for free software in general.

New form factors mean that people are also willing to try something a little different. It's no longer a computer with a mouse and a keyboard. Suddenly, you're using your fingers and multitouch. Things are going to look different no matter what, so it's a chance for free software to come in and not have to look just like Windows.

Was Sun right? Is the network the computer?

SP: I usually end up arguing that people still do use the desktop a lot more than you think. You can run everything in your browser, and like most people, I do spend a lot of my life in my browser. But I also run Twitter and Facebook in an application on my desktop because it gives me more features and power and ways to interact. So while I think a lot of what we do will live in the cloud space, there will be a lot of desktop interaction with it.

This interview was condensed and edited.


Stormy Peters will be part of two sessions at the upcoming OSCON conference (July 19-23 in Portland, Ore.). Save 20% on registration with the discount code OS10RAD.

July 06 2010

The next wave of programming languages

This year's OSCON will showcase a host of new programming languages in the first Emerging Languages Camp. I got in touch with Alex Payne, Twitter's platform lead and the Camp's co-organizer, to find out why new languages emerge and which languages have captured his attention.

On the Emerging Languages Camp blog, you said new programing languages are often attempts at solving new problems. What are some of the biggest computing problems we currently face?

Alex PayneAlex Payne: The headliner that everyone's been talking about is concurrency. We have a handful of languages on the Camp roster that exist largely to address concurrency problems. Solutions could involve allowing people to spread computations over multiple physical machines in a pretty transparent way, or by providing different single-machine or single-virtual-machine concurrency paradigms. It's an interesting problem. There's a lot of conflicting takes on how relevant it is.

Some of the other problems involve expressability and maintainability of code. That's not a fundamentally new problem to the task of programming, but as there are more professional programmers entering the field at disparate levels of experience and education, having more languages that provide conventions toward readability of code has become a priority. There's no longer this monastic expert class writing Lisp in academic computer labs, nor people coming out of giant industrial organizations like IBM who go through a multi-week training process before they ever write code. A handful of the emerging languages are just explorations in maintainability.

Of the languages scheduled to be discussed at the Camp, which caught your eye?

AP: Gilad Bracha is presenting a language called Newspeak, which is a weird combination of ideas from Smalltalk and ideas from Bracha's experience with Java, and stuff from Lisp. In the programming language design community, small as it is, Newspeak is provocative. The discussions around it have been really interesting.

Rich Hickey is going to talk about Clojure. I've been to several conferences where he's spoken and he always has interesting metaphors from math, physics and literature. Clojure is a highly experimental language that's making inroads into industry, which is pretty rare. There's a lot of next-level ideas in Clojure, and people are actually picking it up.

OSCON - Save 20%Matt MacLaurin's Kodu is a visual programming language that was originally developed for the Xbox as part of a children's game. Visual programming languages have been around for a while, but this one is practical and applied. Kodu is also vastly different from anything else on the Camp's list.

Jonathan Edwards is at the MIT AI program, and he was working for a number of years on a language called Subtext that never saw the light of day. He's since reshaped that project into something called Coherence. I'm really interested to hear his talk, even though I think it's going to be very abstract. Most people get to the coding stage as soon as possible when they're working on a language because they're scratching an itch. Edwards is taking more of a hands-off, scholarly approach. He's been noodling on the ideas in this language for years.

Alan Eliasen works on a language called Frink. I hadn't heard of this language, but he found out about the event and wrote me a bold email that basically said: "My language is fantastic, and you should give me a slot because I'm going to be the hottest thing at your conference. I'll keep your people entertained." Frink itself is essentially a calculating language, but it has the concept of different units built in so you can easily convert calculations between units. It's all designed for scientific calculations, but it's got some neat syntactical stuff, more than you might imagine for a language that's built for calculations. On the Frink homepage, Eliasen has conversion examples for how much beer and how much jungle juice you would need for X individuals at a party. It's crazy.

Slava Pestov will talk about a language called Factor, which is a stack-based language like Forth. He and a couple of other people who work on Factor have done just an incredible amount of work in optimizing the compiler and the virtual machine for it. Once a month or so, they publish a blog post on what's going on in Factor, and essentially every one feels like a breakthrough in programming language implementation.

Where did the idea for an Emerging Languages Camp come from?

AP: I was at Foo Camp last year and did a session on what's coming in programming languages and what people would want out of an event that explored that. The Emerging Languages Camp is the result. I don't know how much of the feedback from the Foo Camp session ended up in the conference, but at the very least, there was a room full of people who thought that it would be an interesting way to spend a couple of days. So that was a big motivating factor.

What do you want the Camp to accomplish?

AP: I have a feeling that a number of the attendees who aren't language designers will be there because, like me, they're programmers who like working with new languages and are always looking for better tools. The real goal is to get the actual implementers connected so they can find commonalities. People have already started to find each other on the Camp's mailing list. I'm hoping those conversations continue afterward.


The first Emerging Languages Camp will be held at OSCON on Wednesday, July 21 and Thursday, July 22. Learn more about the Camp here, and receive a 20% discount on OSCON registration with the code OS10RAD.

June 29 2010

Open source and the VA's health transformation

Joseph Dal Molin, one of founders of the WorldVistA project and a speaker in the health care track at the upcoming OSCON convention, recently spoke with me about the Department of Veterans Affairs' historic VistA system and its expansion as an open source effort.

OSCON Health IT - Save 20%Specific topics covered in the 31-minute audio interview include:

  • How VistA evolved within a feedback loop.
  • How organizations outside the Department of Veterans Affairs use VistA.
  • How WorldVistA and other groups in the VistA community adapt the system to civilian needs and health care requirements.
  • A look at some of the tools for developing with VistA.

Dal Molin also provided links to projects and resources touched upon in the interview:

Joseph Dal Molin will be part of two health-related sessions at next month's OSCON convention (running July 19-23 in Portland, Ore.). Learn more about OSCON's new health track.

June 24 2010

Open source and health care already have a history

Fred Trotter, organizer of the annual OSHealthCon summit, has developed open source software for the health care field for many years. Most recently, he released a new national provider identifier search tool based on publicly available data.

Trotter will provide an overview of the open source health care IT space at next month's OSCON convention.

Health IT at OSCON 2010He previews his OSCON session and discusses the following in the associated podcast:

  • How mashing up data about doctors and treatment quality reveals trends and helps health care professionals make assessments.
  • How he curated and organized information on 3 million health care providers to create the NPIdentify project.
  • How open source data applies to the health care space, and where the real costs of software lie.

Fred Trotter will examine the history of the open source health care movement and its near-term future at the OSCON convention (running July 19-23 in Portland, Ore.). Learn more about OSCON's new health track.

June 22 2010

Does the world need another programming language?

Rob Pike has certainly been places and done things. In the early 1980s, he worked with Brian Kernighan and Ken Thompson at Bell Labs, where he co-wrote "The Unix Programming Environment" with Kernighan and co-developed the UTF-8 character encoding standard with Thompson. Pike is now a principal engineer at Google, where he's co-developed Go, a new programming language. Pike, who will discuss Go at next month's OSCON convention, talks about Go's development and the current state of programming languages in the following interview.

What were the motivations for creating Go?

Rob Pike

Rob Pike: A couple of years ago, several of us at Google became a little frustrated with the software development process, and particularly using C++ to write large server software. We found that the binaries tended to be much too big. They took too long to compile. And the language itself, which is pretty much the main system software language in the world right now, is a very old language. A lot of the ideas and changes in hardware that have come about in the last couple of decades haven't had a chance to influence C++. So we sat down with a clean sheet of paper and tried to design a language that would solve the problems that we have: we need to build software quickly, have it run well on modern multi-core hardware and in a network environment, and be a pleasure to use.

Although we targeted Go for a particular kind of problem, it turned out to be a much more general and adaptable programming language than we had thought. So we're using it for a lot of different things now. I think it might have an interesting future in any number of directions.

What's it like to program in Go?

RP: Go has the feel of a dynamic language like Python or Ruby or JavaScript, but it has the performance and safety of a language like Java or C or C++. So you get the lightweight feel of a modern scripting dynamic language but the robustness and performance of a more old-fashioned language.

Does Go have a robust development environment?

OSCON Conference 2010RP: We have an interesting set of tools now that play with the language. One of the standard libraries that comes with the distribution is a complete parser. So depending on how difficult the problem is, you can write your own tool and maybe a page of code with the existing libraries.

There's tools that let you link in existing libraries. With large packages like OpenGL or something like that, you're much better off just linking against existing ones. We can do that with our wrapper tool, and there's SWIG support so we can link against C++. But the fundamental libraries are all written in Go.

There's plug-ins for Eclipse and a couple of other environments. There needs to be more. We don't have an IDE yet, although we have some ideas about ways to do them.

Does the world need another programming language?

RP: It's an interesting time for languages because there are many new languages coming about. There was a burst of language development in the late '60s and early '70s and then things died down. That's not to say there weren't any new languages coming along, but language design didn't seem to be a very profitable enterprise. But then in the last five to ten years, there's been a renaissance. One of the reasons for that phenomenon, which is what I'm going to talk about at OSCON, is that the languages in common use today don't seem to be answering the questions that people want answered. There are niches for new languages in areas that are not well-served by Java, C, C++, JavaScript, or even Python.

How does Google compare to Bell Labs?

RP: A lot has changed in both worlds. When I worked at Bell Labs, we were doing much more research-driven, publication-oriented stuff. To a large extent, the company did not understand open source. When I came to Google, it was a very different orientation. We were definitely a company trying to make things happen. And at least a little later, open source became a fundamental part of the corporate culture. So they're very different in that regard.

As far as day-to-day work goes, I think they have a lot in common. They're both exciting places to work and they have a lot of smart people. But culturally, there's a difference between a telecommunications company and an Internet company. They're fundamentally different things.

This interview was edited and condensed.

Rob Pike will discuss Go's development at the OSCON conference (July 19-23 in Portland, Ore.) OSCON will also be the site of the first Emerging Languages Camp.

June 21 2010

Giving patient data meaningful use

Arien Malec is coordinator of NHIN Direct, a new open-source effort sponsored by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to improve health care through the secure exchange of patient data. Malec, a speaker in the health track at next month's OSCON conference, has led a uniquely open, community-based project to define standards for NHIN Direct.

Health IT at OSCON 2010In this 27-minute audio interview, Malec talks about:

  • Why privacy concerns make communication standards in health care more difficult than e-commerce.
  • The difficulties doctors face when trying to send data needed to treat patients.
  • The learning process HHS went through in deciding NHIN Direct was needed, as well as the steps it took to develop standards in the Internet's "rough consensus and running code" fashion.
  • The kinds of applications and services that should be facilitated by NHIN Direct.

Arien Malec will discuss the collaboration and framework that made NHIH Direct possible at the OSCON convention (running July 19-23 in Portland, Ore.). Learn more about OSCON's new health track.

June 17 2010

From Apache to Health and Human Services

Brian Behlendorf, one of the founders of the Apache web server project and the CollabNet cooperative software development company, is contracting now with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on the CONNECT software project. CONNECT helps hospitals and agencies exchange medical data, which gives doctors critical information to improve patient care.

Behlendorf, along with project leader David Riley, will speak at OSCON about the importance of CONNECT and the way they and their colleagues built a robust community of government staff, volunteers, and healthcare IT vendors around it.

Health IT at OSCON 2010Behlendorf discusses the following in this 18-minute podcast:

  • The role of health data in promoting quality care, in improving our knowledge of what works, and in reducing healthcare costs.
  • How HHS is trying to improve the exchange of patient data for hospitals and doctors, agencies monitoring quality of care, and eventually patients themselves.
  • How, with Behlendorf's help, HHS opened up the CONNECT project, attracted both volunteers and vendors to improve it, and created a community with a sense of ownership.

June 16 2010

NASA technology leads to better medical decisions

Can a data-sharing technology developed at NASA'S Jet Propulsion Laboratory create better outcomes for medicine?

In fact, it already is.

In this podcast, Chris Mattmann, a senior computer scientist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, talks with me about objected-oriented data technology (OODT) and health IT.

Mattman dives in to the following questions:

  • What is object-oriented data technology (OODT) and how does it relate to health IT?
  • How did NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory get involved with applying OODT to health IT?
  • What's it been like for a NASA project to work within the Apache Incubator and the open source community?
  • What is the Virtual Pediatric Intensive Care Unit?
  • How will data-driven tools help doctors, researchers and patients make better medical decisions?

Health IT at OSCON 2010Chris Mattmann will speak about grid software and healthcare IT in the health track at next month's OSCON conference.

April 16 2010

Nominations Open For O'Reilly Open Source Awards 2010

The O'Reilly Open Source Awards will be hosted this July at OSCON 2010 in Portland, OR. The awards recognize individual contributors who have demonstrated exceptional leadership, creativity, and collaboration in the development of Open Source Software. Past recipients for 2005-2009 include Brian Aker, Angela Byron, Karl Fogel, Pamela Jones, Bruce Momjian, Chris Messina, David Recordon, and Andrew Tridgell.

The nomination process is open to the entire open source community, closing May 15, 2010. Send your nominations to

Nominations should include the name of the recipient, any associated project or organization, and a description of why you are nominating the individual. O'Reilly employees cannot be nominated.

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