Saturday, September 22, 2007

BarCamp Alpha

:: Charlamagne Tower room,
Olympic Club Hotel and Theater,
Centralia, Washington ::
"Alpha" has a couple of established meanings in geekdom. "Alpha geek" borrows from "alpha dog" or "alpha chimp" i.e. is a zoological term referring to some species of king or queen of the hill, a bossy mammal (can snakes be alpha?).

But the "alpha" in BarCamp Alpha traces to the other meaning, of "first draft" or "prototype" with lots of built in permission to get it wrong, to make mistakes.

After alpha, comes beta, still expected to contain bugs, not yet a production release ready for prime time.

In this case, our mistake might be the venue, which is somewhat spartan, what with bathrooms down the hall and train sounds at night.

On the other hand, for young professionals it's reminiscent of college, plus some BarCamps are actual camps, more like at Burning Man (an art event) or in the field, like in a tent city for refugees, ala One Laptop per Child, so by those standards these digs are relatively posh.

Portland's CubeSpace is closer to ideal, as an actual meeting space, but Centralia is closer to half way if attracting campers from both the Portland and Seattle areas (hence the name).

There's wifi, there's alcohol.

Personally, I think it's a fine venue, but then I'm already a McMenamins fan.

The theme of this particular BarCamp is: open source in the health care sector, especially when it comes to facilitating outcomes research.

The idea may at first seem oxymoronic, given the inherent confidentiality of patient records, but one of our goals is developing open source pools of accurate case histories, scrubbed clean of real patient identities, yet useful for research purposes.

Besides actual data, research and teaching hospitals might also share, and collaboratively develop, clinical table schemas (registries) plus interfaces for populating them (front ends) plus share techniques for reliably gathering data at the point of care, and in ways that don't interfere with a hospital's primary care giving responsibilities.

The funds raised for these projects should pay for design and implementation skills, not so much for basic development tools, as the latter (Linux, MySQL, Python... Mozilla) have already been paid for and contributed to the global ecosystem as shared assets, under the various open source license agreements.

Relevant presentation: What is Open Source? (PDF)