a personal update

Tomorrow (Jan 31st) is my last day on the Research Faculty at Harvard Medical School and Children’s Hospital Boston. It’s been a fantastic ride thanks entirely to the folks with whom I had the pleasure of working, in particular Zak Kohane and Ken Mandl. Ultimately, I finally noticed what was staring me in the face: I love building software systems, and the right place for me to do that now is industry. I’m no stranger to it, and I’m excited to be back. I’m taking two weeks off. I won’t be blogging or tweeting (much). I’ll be digging into a … Continue reading a personal update

The Accidental Tinkerer, Unexpected Lock-in, and Fatherhood

Ben Fry recently explained his concerns about the iPad: I want to build software for this thing. I’m really excited about the idea of a touch-screen computing platform that’s available for general use from a known brand who has successfully marketed unfamiliar devices to a wide audience. [..] It represents an incredible opportunity, but I can’t get excited about it because of Apple’s attempt to control who creates for it, and what they can create for it. Their policy of being the sole distributor of applications, and even worse, requiring approval on all applications, is insulting to developers. [..] I … Continue reading The Accidental Tinkerer, Unexpected Lock-in, and Fatherhood

Owning Genes

At some point in the history of patents, something went a little nutty: it became possible to patent genes themselves. Not “a method for extracting” a gene. Not “a method for synthesizing” a gene. But the gene itself. As a result, a number of biotech companies own human genes. If you want to find out if you have a dangerous mutation that predisposes you to breast cancer, no matter which lab you choose, no matter which technology they use to test you, they have to pay a royalty fee to the gene patent holder. One can have a number of … Continue reading Owning Genes

Does CVS provide a CSV?

Over the last two years, I’ve spent most of my time on… not elections believe it or not, but rather the personal control of health data over at Children’s Hospital, Boston, with a fantastic crew. And so now it turns out that health data is super cool, what with the Obama recovery plan and the significant funding towards NIH / electronic medical records. I didn’t see it coming, but I can’t say I’m unhappy, of course. Over at CHIP (Children’s Hospital Informatics Program), we’re a bunch of folks who feverishly believe that Personally Controlled Health Records (PCHRs), records you get … Continue reading Does CVS provide a CSV?

Don’t Hash Secrets

Building secure systems is difficult. It would be nice if we had a bunch of well-designed crypto building blocks that we could assemble in all sorts of ways and be certain that they would, no matter what, yield a secure system overall. There are, in fact, folks working on such things at a theoretical level [Universal Composability]. But even if you had these building blocks, you would still have to use them in their intended way. A component can only be secure under certain well-defined circumstances, not for any use that happens to look similar. One area of secure protocol … Continue reading Don’t Hash Secrets

Translation from Rove-speak to Plain English

[inspired by John Gruber and Mark Pilgrim.] Karl Rove, ex-Senior Advisor to Bush, in today’s Newsweek giving Obama advice. Four months ago, you took the political world by storm in Iowa. The media were agog. They called your words “gorgeous,” your victory “a message to the world.” You “made history” and Americans could “look at ourselves with pride” in “a moment to marvel.” Four months ago, your candidacy made me realize how I’ve destroyed the Republican Party for a generation. Times change. The six weeks leading into Pennsylvania were difficult. You excelled at raising money and gaining endorsements, but got … Continue reading Translation from Rove-speak to Plain English


In anticipation of tonight’s results, I was going to try to write something that captures my incredibly hopeful and enthusiastic state of mind, but my good friend Oliver beat me to it: Doesn’t some part of you still believe that there are special moments in the world? Special people who catalyze and give a voice to a feeling that has been quietly building for years? When Kennedy pointed at the moon, when MLK stood on the steps of the Lincoln memorial, when Reagan talked about morning in America – didn’t these people shift the world around them just a little … Continue reading Hope

Health Records and Me

This summer, I joined the faculty at Children’s Hospital Informatics Program. My work is focused on security and privacy of health data. One of the projects I’m contributing to was just announced in the press: Dossia was established by major U.S. employers Applied Materials, BP America Inc., Cardinal Health, Intel Corporation, Pitney Bowes Inc. and Wal-Mart to create a Web-based system that will enable employees to gain access to their own personal health data, which is now largely inaccessible to them. Dossia will use a Web-based infrastructure to empower individuals to manage their own health care, improve communications with their … Continue reading Health Records and Me

New Things

So I defended successfully. I have a bit more writing to do, and I have a number of projects to wrap up cleanly here at MIT, but by end of August I’ll be done. It’s a bit crazy, really. My first day at MIT was 12 years ago. Since then, I have, in some way, always been associated with MIT. An undergrad, then a Master’s student, then on leave, then a PhD student. When I left MIT to go on leave, it was with the intent of eventually coming back. When I leave in August, though, it will be a … Continue reading New Things