Takeshi Tisdall-Yamada: FOSS Talk

As with Revolution OS, many of the subjects in Ms. Hawthorn's talk were similar to concepts already discussed in class. However, Leslie did expose the audience to her unique view and experience as a Google insider. I did wish she spent a little more time specifically talking about what type of FOSS projects Google works on and/or supports instead of a more broad overview of some FOSS concepts, projects and the Google Summer of Code. In general, the talk seemed to be more of a call for people to apply to and participate in the Summer of Code and to be more aware of FOSS as it relates to their everyday use of technology. I was a little disappointed that she didn't seem to give any particularly compelling reasons to support FOSS other than the fact that it is trendy, lends credit to one's reputation in the tech world, and of course has the potential for humanitarian benefit. As I stated before, I thought the talk was a bit heavy on FOSS evangelism without really explaining in depth why or how FOSS can be of benefit to people.
One section of the talk which I did find interesting was the story of the OpenMRS project. There were several aspects of the project which caught my attention. First, Leslie mentioned that OpenMRS was actually started by a group of physicians. I don't know if these founders actually learned to write code and actually contributed to the project in that manner. If so, it would be an interesting example of non-CS people taking the initiative to learn enough of the field/concepts to work on FOSS with applications outside of their area. If not, it is at least a case of non-tech professionals realizing the potential for technology/software to aid in humanitarian efforts beyond the usual medical/food supplies or personnel. Leslie also mentioned that there was a program in place to train local individuals to monitor, use, and even augment the existing software or programs independently. I found this anecdote to be of particular interest and again wish she had gone into a little bit more detail as to the extent of the participation of these local individuals. For instance, did they learn actual programming, general computer use skills, specific OpenMRS usage, or some combination of these? I think that the case of digitizing medical records (and maintaining the security and privacy of those records) is of vital importance to the future of the efficiency of health care reform both in the developing world and in the U.S. I would be interested to see how a system like OpenMRS is implemented and supported in both cases.

RAM Comments: The OpenMRS project is indeed an impressive project, not only for the software it is building (electronic medial record system) but also for the philosophy of training and education and development in Rwanda and other African nations. It was started by Dr. Paul Farmer (the subject of a well known book by Tracy Kidder), who started Partners in Health (http://pih.org), a humanitarian health organization aimed at providing services to poor nations such as Haiti and Rwanda. He teamed up with MDs and MD/PhDs at the Regenstrief Institute, where the have a strong medical informatics program. A former Trinity student introduce us to OpenMRS about 4 years ago and we have been supporting it through our summer program ever since. Rachel is one of the students who has contributed code to OpenMRS. If you're interested in this, you should consider applying to our summer institute: http://www.hfoss.org/index.php?page=hfoss-summer-institute. We'll start accepting applications in January. (It's a Java-base program.)