JavaONE day 2 begins with the general session
Tuesday's keynote was hosted by Scott McNealy. I was fortunate enough to be able to work at Sun for over 3 years in the Jini group prior to getting a call from my friends at Verocel and moving there. I always enjoyed Scott's town meetings in the Burlington (Massachusetts) campus. His easy and irreverent style works for me. A couple of things stood out at this general session. First as the success story Java has had in the Brazilian healthcare system. Determination, hard work, and a few million lines of Java code later, and all of the citizens in Brazil have full access to their healthcare system with their medical records consolidated and available with the simple gesture of a JavaCard.
Sure, there are issues (both social and technical) that need to be addressed before something like this could work in this country, but the cost savings alone make the idea appealing. There is also a direct benefit to patients in that their important medical data would not only follow them, but would follow their physician as well. This story dovetails nicely to a featured part of yesterday's general session about a pediatric cardiologist accessing the EKG data for a little girl over the net via a web browser. The story has it that the doctor could see that the event that triggered this alarm was not serious and the little girl could simply visit him in the morning--no emergency room visit would be necessary tonight.
There are issues of privacy, accuracy, access rules, and legal implications that need to be worked out before it could work here. In no way do I want to be dismissive about those concerns. But, it looks very much like countries US citizens might consider to be in the second-world or third-world will be leading the way on this. As a proud (and occasionally arrogant) American, I can't help but feel a little badly about this.
McNealy also offered another interesting idea: the primary and secondary school textbook industry is a mess. Each book costs on-the-order-of $100-$130 and are revised, sometimes needlessly, every 4 years to ensure school systems continue to feed the publishing machine. What if school textbooks were open source, community process developed? I look to projects like the Wikipedia and see how tremendously effective large scale public collaboration can be. I also know of a small, quiet controversy in the Wikipedia community where the egalitarian approach of having anybody being able to edit anything has the unfortunate effect of regression to the mean in that acknowledged experts within particular fields have their entries disturbed by morons with no specific area knowledge that have strong opinions nonetheless. Sadly, and this has always been the case, the ratio of geniuses to morons has never been in favor of the geniuses so, eventually, the geniuses stop bothering to fix their entries. How would this dynamic affect an open source primary school text book project?
The general session ran a bit late as it started late. It seems getting several thousand nerds seated by 8:30 after they'd been up all night is no easy task. While I waited for things to get started I struck up a conversation with a couple of fellows sitting next to me. The usual questions came up: "Where do you work? What do you do? Why are you here?" I started describing Verocel's business helping companies getting their safety critical software and systems certified, and the fellow to my right perked up his ears. When I said most of the project the company has done were for systems for flight, he smiled broadly. Serge Masse, President of Simplecode, Inc. of Montreal worked on the first Flight Management System which was deployed on the Boeing 747 in the mid 1970's. So, he had worked on some of the same kinds of stuff I'm working on now--only a generation ago. For the next 20 minutes I was able to hear some delightful stories about those early days.