Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Apple’s Billion$ Datacenter Gets a Boss

Apple is till date known as a cool gadget company, but that seems to be soon changing. Apple recently acquired $46m rebates from North Carolina to set-up a $1bn datacenter in the state. This price is more than the state-of-the art data centers owned by Google and that questions what Apple wants to do with such a powerful data center. May be OSX is going to be hosted on the cloud ??

Anyways, today eBay's Olivier Sanche will join Apple as its director of global data center operations and manage all the data centers that Apple is setting up. Olivier Sache was one of the guys who created the great E-bay and Paypal Infrastructure before web services were the “in-thing”. Apple had realized the strength of internet-services long back with iTunes and iPhone App Store, but it has also failed many times as shown with .mac and MobileMe downtimes and lack of new features. Apple has internally done many experiments, but failed in consolidating it position on the web...

With Olivier in its team, Apple surely hopes that its web services woes will end... May be Apple’s planning a Search Engine to compete with Google. Isn’t that a reason why Google’s Eric Schmidt was asked to leave the Apple board ??

Saturday, August 8, 2009

OpenOffice Moving to Microsoft’s “Ribbon” Interface

Although a host of online word processors have come up, OpenOffice has been the only real competitor to Microsoft’s Office Productivity Suite. It is widely regarded as “one day will beat Microsoft” dream for most open-source evangelists. It supports Microsoft Office formats and provides great compatibility to edit documents and presentations in Linux. Infact, its been one of the goals of OpenOffice to be like Microsoft Office so that people can easily switch to it and get the same features for “free”.

And moving in that direction, in the next release, they are planning to copy the Ribbon interface of Office 2007. The Ribbon Interface has been one of the most talked about UI changes, some people hate it while others love it. In Windows 7, Microsoft has moved some basic applications like Paint, Notepad to the Ribbon interface. May be OpenOffice is just trying to get ready for Windows 7.


Try the new interface demo for Impress (Powerpoint alternative) with the new ribbon-like interface.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Garima's Bday

B'day celebrations at office. The interesting thing was 'tester' written on her cake... and that is why this one figures on my "Tech" blog!!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

“Garage model” Leprosy MIS

While the world’s managers and venture capitalists have lost faith in the “garage model” of business, I am still a firm believer that the best innovations come from individual efforts and not concentrated directional movement in large organizations. Today, was yet another day in the field showing how homebrew software has innovations that many large software suites lack.

Just to give a background on what I’m talking about - a product that I’ve been working on lately is a patient-tracking system for the National Leprosy Eradication Programme. Since DHIS2 is the widely deployed HMIS application in India and aggregated reports for the Government of India are generated through DHIS2, we needed some kind of patient-tracking, yet required aggregate numbers of these patients through DHIS2. For this purpose, the most ideal way we found out was using OpenMRS for the patient-tracking and then generating reports through DHIS2. Thus, we are able to create rich and generic medical records of a leprosy patient, which can later be used not just for leprosy patient care, but future medical treatment of the person for any other disease or health service provisioning.

But today when I arrived to demonstrate this system in Maharashtra State Health Society, I was pleasantly surprised to see a homebrew application. We finished our presentation on the system, demonstrated the application, decided upon pilot process, future meetings and the whole process before we can go live with the system state-wide. Just after we finished our stuff, one of the leprosy health officers told us that he had privately worked on something that was suited for the NLEP program. Most people just ignored his comment, but I was eager to see what he had developed.

And when I saw his application, I was very much stunned. A really nice and intuitive user-interface using Adobe Flex, neat use of data using good-looking reporting and visualization tools, basic reports using excel sheets and a neat-little data model, similar to the ideas in OpenMRS. Maybe the data-model is not suited to a medical records system like OpenMRS, but it very well met the requirements. From what I learnt, it was developed in about a month’s time by one developer, who happens to be the son of this medical officer.

“Commendable effort and nice design decisions”, is what I complemented the medical officer. But what got etched in my mind is that, some best software are written in “that car garage” on a single computer.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Integrated e-Health Infrastructures


In a bid to bring together a network of international agencies working in the field health information systems - University of Oslo, NORAD, OpenMRS, WHO, HMN, Society for Health Information Systems Programs (HISP India), the National Health Systems Resource Center (NHSRC) has convened an “International HMIS Workshop on Integrated e-Health Architectures”. NHSRC, Delhi is an institution setup by the Ministry of Health to provide technical assistance to NRHM on various areas including HMIS.

We met in Goa from 26th to 30th July, 2009 and exchanged ideas on how we can build on integrated e-health infrastructure. Discussions ranged from what applications to integrate and different ways to inter-operate. Some were standard ways to interoperate while others were “not-so-standard” ways to interoperate. The most important thing was that everyone was part of the discussion and the next few weeks to months will be interesting to watch how the integration work goes forward.

The Gujarat state representatives: Mr. KK Panchal, Dr. Avashia and Sangeeta also presented their ideas on integration. I was pleasantly surprised that state representatives were for once clear about what they were expecting. Eventhough it was not very clear how, they knew what they wanted as the final product. They were also ready to bring the different parties (software-MNCs and government) together on the table for integration.

But for me what is more interesting was the way the participants shared their thoughts and philosophy of integration outside the domain of software and technology.

I have promised myself that I will be blogging atleast 3 times a week… and will be sharing a lot more of the thoughts that were shared in the workshop. A lot about what we have been working on and how we are planning to move forward in bringing a change in health informatics.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Netbeans 6.7 RC2 Released & Your Feedback Required

The new and shiny Netbeans 6.7 RC2 was released today and if you haven’t tried it out yet, please go and download it. It has host of new features which you cannetbeans 128 1 read here. My favorite feature in Netbeans 6.7 has been the out-of-the-box Maven integration and the ability to create Hudson continuous integration servers.

But more importantly, after you have downloaded Netbeans 6.7 RC2 and played with it enough, please give feedback to the Netbeans developer team about the release. There is a survey called the Community Acceptance survey which is integral to guarantee that the release is acceptable to the community. Isn’t that what open-source software is all about – the community. Please fill in the survey and give your very important feedback.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Google Vs Bing, Squared Vs WolframAlpha. Google’s Got Competition

All of a sudden, Google has got competition that it never has had to face before. Microsoft’s new search “Bing” was launched last month with some fanfare and why not?? It is probably Google biggest search competition till date. If that was not all, today Google released somewhat of a second thought to Wolfram Alpha called Google Squared.

If you have never heard of these new products, hold your horses. You can read about these below and then play with them.

Google Vs Bing

Microsoft has always been on the loosing end of the battle on the web. Be it search or online advertising, Google has ruled the roost. With no competition on the horizon and Google incrementally improving search and ads, I was thinking Google was unbeatable. But Microsoft has other plans. A revamp of the Live search and a new name “Bing”, Microsoft’s search engine does for the first time give some serious competition to Google. Its been over a week now and I have been ‘binging’ (as googling) on Bing as my default search engine and I seem to quite like it. Its easily better than what Live Search was and as accurate as Google, if not better. And Bing’s not just plain-old search. Microsoft has presented Bing as a nice little query engine. Like Flight Search, Shopping Decisions, Fitness, Traffic and much more as you can see from “The Demo Tour” of Bing. Even Apple’s co-Founder Steve Wozniak, who is generally skeptical of Microsoft feels great about Bing!!

Bing-Screenshot   Google-screenshot

Now Google’s homepage is really simple, whereas Bing shows a nice little “wallpaper” as the background with some random interesting knowledge hidden in the wallpaper. And that Bing Wallpaper changes everyday with some new knowledge and interesting facts. Go try and find out for yourself!!

Google Squared Vs Wolfram Alpha

While the world is in love with Wikipedia and clicking on all those links in Google search results for finding relevant information about a topic, WolframAlpha is released as a semantic search to gather all that information and show you most common information on a single page. Now as simply as WolframAlpha presents the information, its a real tough computational problem to solve. Google has released Google Squared as an attempt to do a semantic search and present relevant information in a similar fashion. The output of the results do wary greatly and for me WolframAlpha has nearly every time been more relevant. As an example, I searched “India” as the keyword and WolframAlpha presented a real encyclopedia style information with the maps and the stats. Google Squared on the other hand was too generic (like Google Search) and expected me to do more reading/searching on each of the squares (as you can see from the screenshots below):

Squared-screenshot  wolframalpha-screenshot

Then while a friend of mine and I were discussing about Nazi Germany and SS, I decided to do a search with “Schutzstaffel” as my keyword and below are the results:

wolfram-SS  Squared-SS

I would surely say Google’s got some serious competition. Google’s Web is going to change after all!!

Opera 10 Beta Released and a “Y2K” Discovery for the Web


Opera has released a beta version of Opera 10, which promises faster web rendering, more accurate standard compliance (e.g. 100/100 on ACID3), Opera Turbo Browsing, Auto-updates and a hell lot of new features. Opera has been well ahead of the curve in terms of features and implementing new standards and Opera 10 is surely on that path.

Y2K-Like Bug Discovered by Opera

While web browsers are one of the most widely used application for computers, not everyone has reached version 10 of the browser. Opera is currently beta testing v10 of its browser and in this process has discovered that a lot of browser detection scripts for websites have a bug of being able to detect only a single digit version number. Much like the Y2K-bug in applications, these browser detection scripts thus think of Opera 10 as Opera 1, and hence show one of these quirky little messages you can see in the image below:


While Opera 10 has hacked its way through by renaming its version as 9.80 and putting the browser version in the user-agent part, this problem begs a bigger question to be answered. Opera developers suggest browser-specific hacks and browser detection is not a good thing and such hacks should be avoided. Other people around the web seem to think these web developers need a spanking. While both these opinions are pointing towards the ideal web, none of these are realistic. Because of the way the browsers have understood the ambiguity of web standards differently, the normal web developer has no where to go. There are so many differences in the way IE/Firefox/Opera/Safari render HTML+CSS and execute JavaScript, there isn’t one holy grail that all of us can follow. To adapt to these changes, as web developers we need to hack our ways through some real painstaking quirks. And to avoid some pain, most of us pickup readily available browser detection scripts and feel happy that things work on all the browsers.

This will continue to happen for sometime in the foreseeable future, unless the browser companies sit together and decide how they want to render things... Or the experts from the standards committee write standards that are a little-less ambiguous.

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Mobile Phone Tool for Indian HMIS

As you have already found out, I haven’t been blogging lately because of the travel and development work I have been doing for HISP India. One of the new developments that I have been working over the last 3 months is a mobile phone application for routine health data collection, obscurely called “Mobile-SCDRT”. Its a Java ME MIDP that runs on all those commodity mobile phones and is used by a community health Sub-Center for Data Reporting and Transmission (SCDRT). Now you know where that obscure acronym came from and I am unsure who gave it that “wanna-be” name.

That apart, the mobile application is being deployed part of a pilot in the 5 states of Himachal Pradesh, Kerala, Rajasthan, Nagaland and Gujarat. As part of the pilot 200 health workers from the above states receive a Nokia 3110c mobile phone with the application installed and use the application to report the routine health-related data that is collected by the Government of India as part of Health Management Information System (HMIS).

The following is an architectural overview of how the application works for those of you interested in the technical details:


So, DHIS2 is where the data gets added after being sent from the mobile phone and in DHIS2 you can do all the analysis and “use of data” for health program decisions. There are other nitty-gritty details of the application and lots of new learnings for me, but I’ll leave that to another blog entry for another day.

We have started the pilot in 2 states: Himachal Pradesh and Kerala. Its been running for close to a month now in these 2 states and from the looks of it, people are happy and excited to use it. Recalling an incident from the launch in Kerala:- When just about 15 minutes of looking into the application, a JPHN (Junior Public Health Nurse - as health workers are called in Kerala) could explain the whole application, its use and reporting procedure to her colleagues better than most of us could. It was a wonderful and humbling experience for us to see that people were so much wanting to use the application and learnt it so quickly. It was satisfying to see that it was helping the health worker to make her reporting process more efficient. What was more rewarding for her, as I understand now, was the job perk that she thought she got in the mobile phone. The mobile phone was not just a tool for reporting, but also something that she would use for calls and show it to her kids and family. Few JPHNs were instantly taking photographs of our launch using the mobile phones we provided. I hope I can have many such satisfying moments through my work in health informatics.

But not everything was perfect in all this. I for one realized, that logistics required for a project of this magnitude is not an easy job. Having a team of people in the state and within us at Delhi is a challenge. Discussions of inefficiencies and incapability of the team is a burden in itself to manage. Not everyone may have the goal to change the world and some might even be in it for the money. As for the logistics, we learnt early in the pilot at Himachal Pradesh that a “Step-by-Step” reference manual on using the application was a necessity for the health worker which she can refer to, when she’s at her home and using the application to report. Then there was the purchase of state-specific SIM cards and allocating mobile phone numbers to each health-worker and her reporting office. All this requires lots of planning and managing the logistics and repeated changing of plans has been a tough one for me.

The technical preparation of installing the application, creating the database and installing the server at the primary health centers, block hospitals and district health offices have also been somewhat of a mismanagement. Its been a complex process involving people with different work cultures and behaviors. But in the end the 2 pilots have been successful because its been an opportunity for health workers to report data more efficiently. Final results of the pilot await us, but the start has been great!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Realpolitik of Health Management Information System

HMIS or Health Management Information System has been quite a buzz-word around the Indian health machinery for sometime now. Its just that health-workers are now starting to understand. From the lay-man’s point-of-view, HMIS is a system of managing health related information. It is the process of collecting health-related data, making sense of that data to become information, understanding the relevance of information and making plans on how to use the information.

HMIS being an information system, surely has the scope of being managed through computers and it is done pan-India using an application called DHIS 2 (District Health Information Software v2). DHIS2 is an open-source Java web application and it is free for anyone to use. Free as in Freedom and free as in beer. And this has caused a stir of sorts because there aren’t a lot of things that you get free in life. I am sure some philosopher’s would be quick to tell me that nothing in life is free and so its true with DHIS as well!! But its for fact, cheaper than most other pieces of software competing in the HMIS space.

But we are not here to talk about DHIS, we are here to know the realpolitik of HMIS. Since NRHM (National Rural Health Mission) has poured in money into the health sector, lot of things have changed. It has improved health infrastructure, changed government’s outlook towards public health, generated employment and done a lot more. But it has also brought in realpolitik.

Realpolitik is a theory of politics that focuses on considerations of power, not ideals, morals, or principles. Its “real” instead of “idealistic” and that is sometimes not a bad thing. Politics, in-fact isn’t a bad thing at all!! Health forever has been idealistic, doctors forever revered as people who save lives and government health machinery thought as part of goodwill governance. With these ideals, the Constitution of India enlists “Health as a state matter”. But who has the money and who gives the money, when we are talking about health??

Software systems have enormously increased the reach and speed of information exchange and data collection for health. DHIS2 and pro-HMIS crowd has created a nation-wide awareness on the usefulness of software systems for health monitoring. This has led to a power struggle within different groups not just within the government, but NGOs working in the health sector and consulting groups that work with the states. The power game has just begun with software and technology proving as powerful weapons for whosoever wants to use it. In this hype for HMIS, simple portals that capture data for national level have fetched huge chunks of money and each day additional money is spent on building many more such systems. Then there is the power struggle to capture the market on who trains the cadre of health workers on these new technological advances that has somehow no relevance on health services.

I am just starting to see the “realpolitik”, which is definitely not bad as an ideology... Its just that health always seemed like a noble cause. I am now seeing it as a realist.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Free JavaOne Entry for Students

JavaOne at the Moscone Center is the biggest conference for the Java world. It's one heck of an experience to meet all the world's Java developers and interact with the Java programmers of the world.

This year Sun has put up a page where students and educators can get in free at the conference. The JavaOne 2009 from June 2-5, 2009, Moscone Center, San Francisco, California has a normal entry fee of $1750-$2000 depending on the sessions.

It is a great opportunity for students to meet some of great programmers. Great learning experience and exposure to the Java world.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Working for HISP India on Health Informatics

I haven't been blogging for quite a while now, but the reason is partly because I'm moving into a new job and also not getting enough motivation to blog. But I thought it's a good time that I start to blogging again and what better topic that introducing my new job.

I have joined HISP India (Health Information System Programme) as a Director of Research and Development. I will be working with the National Health Systems Resource Center (NHSRC), a part of the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare of India. Our primary job at the moment is Health Management Information System (HMIS) for the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM). I know it sounds like a lot of abbreviations, but thats the thing about government organizations I guess!!

My primary test starts with a pilot test of a mobile application for data entry for DHIS 2. I will in the next few weeks talk about DHIS 2, but also talk about other research areas that I will be working on and hopefully get ideas from you guys on how I could improve the health of people in rural India through technology. Lots more to talk about, but may be more in the next few weeks on all technology

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Windows Vista SP2 to be Delayed by a Month

As everyone including Ubuntu’s king Mark Shuttleworth are eagerly waiting for Windows 7, vista-logo  comes news that Microsoft has delayed the released of Service Pack 2 for Windows Vista by a month. Microsoft now states that Vista SP2 will be available only in the second-half of 2009.

Microsoft was supposed to deliver its first release candidate to beta testers in February, but now has plans to release it in March. This Release Candidate (RC) is now being referred to as “escrow build” (also means frozen and only bug fixes will be done). Showstopper bugs are supposed to be only fixed and regression is to be avoided. Microsoft has in the past indicated that SP2 is very much an optional install to the OEMs and it wants OEMs to instead move to Windows 7 directly, when its released.

Windows 7 is running pretty much on schedule and we expect it release by early next-year. The RTM for Windows 7 may be out from the Microsoft stable even by the end of this year.

By the way for those wondering what changes SP2 will be bringing to Windows Vista, following are some of the known changes in SP2:

  • Windows Search 4.0 for faster and improved search
  • Bluetooth 2.1 Feature Pack, the latest Bluetooth spec
  • Blu-Ray support to write discs directly for explorer
  • Windows Connect Now (WCN) for simpler WiFi configuration
  • Content Protection in Windows Media Center

Also on the blocks with Vista SP2 is Windows Server 2008 SP2 which was released with the label SP1. Hoping to see another Windows 7 beta before the Vista SP2 then!!??

Apple Registers Highest Ever Revenue & Profit

While the economic downturn and recession has hit nearly everyone, Apple seems to be AppleAqua surging on with its sales. Yesterday Apple announced its first fiscal quarterly earnings report and the figures are just amazing. It announced revenue of $10.17 billion and net quarterly profit of $1.61 billion.

Apple’s CEO Steve Jobs said, “Even in these economically challenging times, we are incredibly pleased to report our best quarterly revenue and earnings in Apple history--surpassing $10 billion in quarterly revenue for the first time ever”. Apple sold 22,727,000 iPods (3% growth YoY), 2,524,000 Macs (9% growth YoY) and 4,363,000 iPhones (88% growth YoY).

Its amazing on how those iPods still sell like hotcakes and the demand still seems to go up. iPod Touch was added the line-up, but then the other iPods still have majority of the share. Apple sold a record number of MacBooks and they account for 71% of all Mac sales.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Microsoft Songsmith is Apple Garageband Competition

Everyone and anyone who has used a Mac off late is sure to have seen Garageband – Apple powerful yet simple audio mixing, editing, recording, instrument tutoring application that’s part of the iLife suite. Its simplicity is simply superb! At CES 2009, Microsoft showed Songsmith as a competitor to Garageband.

While Microsoft has done all kinds of software applications, audio is one place where in my knowledge Microsoft has never stepped in. Songsmith is one application that is going to change that all. Here’s a youtube video showing some of its features in an advertisement for Songsmith (store link).

While Songsmith is relatively new, you will find a few loopholes and it’s audio detection isn’t perfect… But from what I’ve tested, it is quite good for the Garageband!!

Microsoft will be on a publicity drive for Songsmith over the next few months. Watch out for the new Windows musician in your neighborhood… It might just be better than the Apple-pwn’d band!!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Microsoft to bring IE8 through automatic updates

Microsoft will be bringing some respite to web developers, but some anger and controversy from Google, Apple and Mozilla Foundation by releasing Internet ie7  Explorer 8 through automatic updates.  IE8 has been under development for quite sometime now and Microsoft have released some betas which have shown promising behavior towards web standards.

The reason why I say some respite to web developers because IE8 has been showing healthy improvement in web standards compliance compared to earlier version of IE. Automatic updates allows Microsoft to put important and critical updates to PCs, if users have opted to turn them on. This would mean that lots of Windows computers will be updated to IE8 and web developers will be able to avoid some of the quirks that were until now required for Internet Explorer.

But just like Google, Apple and Mozilla were angry during the previous automatic update of Internet Explorer 7, this time also there will be some noise from these companies. Google now has Chrome in the market and will be more fiercely revolting to this update from Microsoft. But with all the other browsers claiming to be so much better than Internet explorer, they still hold less than 30% of the browser market. Thus, if we look at the reality of the internet, developers still have to majorly develop web applications for Internet Explorer and any improvement in Internet Explorer is surely great news for everyone.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Computers have life? Hard-disk reacts badly to screaming

When J.C Bose first proved that plants have life, he used a crescograph and showed that pleasant music or a friendly chat with plants helped them grow faster. On the other hand, plants didn't like someone shouting on them... Now, as weird as it sounds, computers (hard-disks) also don't like it when someone shouts at them.

This was experimentally verified by Brendan Gregg from Sun Microsystems Fishworks lab where they create loud noises around a JBOD disk array. Due to the vocal vibrations, there is a spike in the I/O operations and a clear increase in the disk latency. The finding is interesting because it can be useful to make datacenters quieter to improve performance. The finding was put on Youtube on 31st Dec, 2008 and you can look at the video below:

So with that video you realize that computers don't like someone screaming at them. Next-time when Windows hangs on you, don't shout, your PC will slow-down further!! May be it has some form of life ;-)