Web Conferencing With Dimdim

For a while I’ve been wanting to write several articles on the power of open source and its potential covering multiple software applications that I have run into and this is definitely on of those cases.

In this economical downturn, the use of open source will be more attractive than ever as a strategy to keep costs under control when being asked to do more with less.

This industry was defined and dominated by a company called Webex in the mid nineties which was later acquired by Cisco Systems. Although a very powerful application, it remained accessible to only those who could afford its high price tag.

Over the years several companies tried unsuccessfully to dethrone Webex, which remained intact most probably due to its reliability and stability.

In 2004, Citrix Systems brought the capability of performing web conferencing to the desktop cornering an untapped consumer/smb market and reigning king.

At the time GoToMeeting emerged, WebEx, LiveNote and others catered mostly to large corporations and sales divisions, entering in six-figure contracts. Citrix Online released GoToMeeting on an “all you can meet” basis, with one monthly (or annual charge) based on the number of authorized hosts. This pricing model was unique at the time, but has since been copied by competitors.

Late 2006 I started looking at open source alternatives to the Webex’s of the world and stumbled upon Dimdim while browsing through the goldmines of Freshmeat and Sourceforge.

The software at that point was still in alpha version 1.6. Installation was pretty straight forward once tomcat was installed and a plus was the possibility of integration with Moodle, an open source Course Management System (CMS).

Unfortunately the stability of the package was not there. Another package I looked at was Yugma which is a web based web conferencing service. Again it just wasn’t there.

Two years later and Dimdim has gone from Alpha to Beta and now Dimdim has exited Beta with version 4.5.

Dimdim‘s installation is far more complicated than earlier versions requiring several Python packages, and building and compiling other applications that support Dimdim. My first attempt at performing the installation was unsuccessful but a VM Appliance which is also provided under GPL3 license came up without a hitch.

The web service Dimdim works right out of the box and appears to be reliable and stable. Scalability will be my next test on this VMware appliance with 1Gb of RAM, to determine if it can handle 2-3 conferences and upward of 50 users.

Promising features include integration with other open source industry leaders.

Dimdim’s commitment to open source software development is supported by integrations with industry-leaders:

  • Zimbra: Dimdim now offers a free zimlet for Zimbra’s open source email system;
  • Moodle: Dimdim is integrated with version 1.9 of Moodle’s Course Management System;
  • SugarCRM: Dimdim is integrated with the leading open source customer relationship management system,
  • Claroline: Dimdim is embedded within with the collaborative learning environment.

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Amazon’s Web Services Start-Up Challenge

This past November 20th, Amazon announced the winner of the AWS Start-Up Challenge for $100,000 in cash and AWS credits. Amazon Web Services or AWS is searching for the next hot start-up that uses AWS to build its business.

Yieldex was chosen as the winner of the 2008 AWS Start-Up Challenge! Yieldex delivers “advertising inventory and optimal campaign allocation for online publishers.”

The finalists in the running were:

Encoding.comn Encoding.com This link will launch a new browser window or tab.
Encoding.com has transformed video encoding from a traditional software model to a software as a service (SaaS) platform. Encoding.com combines elastic computing resources with cutting edge video encoding software.
Knewton Knewton This link will launch a new browser window or tab.
Knewton supercharges any education content by teaching the exact concepts students need, in the medium and pacing best for each. Knewton’s self-optimizing “Darwinian” engine grows increasingly effective as each new student joins the network – so the learning plan of the 50 millionth student is powered by the combined data of all the others.
MedCommons MedCommons This link will launch a new browser window or tab.
MedCommons provides cloud-based Health 2.0 application services for patients and doctors, and enables third parties to customize and extend the MedCommons Platform for their own needs.
Sonian Sonian This link will launch a new browser window or tab.
Sonian is a cloud compute email productivity service. Each day, 86 billion emails and IMs are created and most of this information needs to be saved and indexed for compliance and personal productivity. Sonian solves this problem with next generation software running on the Amazon Web Services cloud. Sonian archives electronic communications, files and unstructured content to unlock the actionable intelligence stored in this “dark data.”
Pixily Pixily This link will launch a new browser window or tab.
Pixily is an interactive document management service that organizes paper and electronic materials online so people can instantly find and share information whenever and wherever they need it. For consumers, Pixily serves as a digital organization assistant that reduces paper clutter and helps manage personal information more efficiently. Businesses rely on Pixily as an affordable on-demand document management service to streamline daily operations and be more productive.
Yieldex YieldexThis link will launch a new browser window or tab.
Yieldex delivers accurate forecasting of overlapping online advertising inventory and optimal campaign allocation for online publishers. Our tools help publishers get more revenue from their premium inventory through in-depth proposal analysis, scenario planning, and Yieldex’s proprietary yield index.
Zephyr Zephyr This link will launch a new browser window or tab.
Zephyr enables enterprises to manage their test departments more efficiently, boost productivity, reduce costs and provide IT leaders with real-time visibility into all aspects of their software quality cycle.

Although Yieldex does not seem that attrative to me, I can see how media objects could be stored in the AWS cloud and even though online advertising providers have closely integrated management tools, smartly storing those media objects and using its metadata to provide forecasting and scenario planning could have a market.

My favorite is encoding.com and with the boom in IPTV, anyone wanting to deliver quality video in a variety of formats can do so very cheaply.

Knewton and Pixily, I see as having a hard time making it. Knewton is up against with widespread access to information; Knowledge is everywhere for the taking with the advent of the Internet and as Higher Education Institutions take their knowledge online by joining the Open Courseware Consortium, I wouldn’t know why anyone would pay for this.

As for Pixily (a document management system), providing the ability to go paperless has two shortfalls in my view. I am not sure I am ready to store sensitive, confidential information online just yet and then there’s other providers like Scribd which allows you to publish documents for free.

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Diabetes

My first exposure to diabetes was while living in the UK during my teenage years. I remember a girl who used to leave class at a specific time everyday in order to inject herself with insulin. Obviously at that time I was completely ignorant and so were my classmates who made cruel comments about the daily event.

A number of years later my mother developed type 2 diabetes, which was treated by using medication and a diet. Unfortunately dieting was something that turned out really difficult for her, so the use of insulin became necessary.

Medication turned to a device to check sugar levels in the blood and a shot of insulin once a day. Elevations of blood glucose levels lead to damage of the blood vessels, which over the years affected her eyesight, her ability to heal fast from leg and foot wounds and her kidneys. She past away at 69.

The Internet and most recently the move to view it as a platform, brought about the development and evolution of web-based communities such as social-networking sites like “Tu Diabetes” that was founded by my friend Manny Hernandez on March 2007 and today has 5,394 members and going strong.

Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes are at least partly inherited. Type 1 diabetes appears to be triggered by some (mainly viral) infections, or less commonly, by stress or environmental exposure (such as exposure to certain chemicals or drugs). There is a genetic element in individual susceptibility to some of these triggers which has been traced to particular HLA genotypes (i.e., the genetic “self” identifiers relied upon by the immune system). However, even in those who have inherited the susceptibility, type 1 diabetes mellitus seems to require an environmental trigger. A small proportion of people with type 1 diabetes carry a mutated gene that causes maturity onset diabetes of the young (MODY).

There is a stronger inheritance pattern for type 2 diabetes. Those with first-degree relatives with type 2 have a much higher risk of developing type 2, increasing with the number of those relatives. Concordance among monozygotic twins is close to 100%, and about 25% of those with the disease have a family history of diabetes. Candidate genes include KCNJ11 (potassium inwardly rectifying channel, subfamily J, member 11), which encodes the islet ATP-sensitive potassium channel Kir6.2, and TCF7L2 (transcription factor 7–like 2), which regulates proglucagon gene expression and thus the production of glucagon-like peptide-1.[3] Moreover, obesity (which is an independent risk factor for type 2 diabetes) is strongly inherited.[17]

Various hereditary conditions may feature diabetes, for example myotonic dystrophy and Friedreich’s ataxia. Wolfram’s syndrome is an autosomal recessive neurodegenerative disorder that first becomes evident in childhood. It consists of diabetes insipidus, diabetes mellitus, optic atrophy, and deafness, hence the acronym DIDMOAD.[18]

This is something that today I think I should probably look out for, and so my quest for information and prevention begins. 23andMe, a start-up company named after the numbered of paired chromosomes in humans, wants to help you understand what your genes mean by indexing them and highlighting significant findings and Type 2 Diabetes is one of the conditions that 23andMe analyzes.

For the price of $399 through their online store, they will mail you a kit with a test tube that you will send back with a sample of your saliva. After 4 to 6 weeks you will receive a report to better understand your ancestry, genealogy, and inherited traits.

Specifically for Type 2 Diabetes, you will get:

  • An estimate, based on currently available information, on whether your genetic risk of Type 2 Diabetes is higher or lower than average.
  • Your results at 9 markers.
  • A look at how Type 2 Diabetes works, a history of the condition, and a list of counselors, links and support groups for Type 2 Diabetes in your area.

In the United States, almost 21 million children and adults have diabetes, but the rate of new diagnoses is increasing, so I will get going with a visit to the doctor and then order one of these kits.

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Cloud Computing – Made Simple and Affordable

Depending on how many people you ask to define the meaning of “Cloud Computing“, you are very likely to get the same numbers of answers.

Cloud Computing builds on decades of research in a number of computer science fields including grid computing, distributed computing, utility computing and more recently networking, web and application services.

It implies a seamless Service Oriented Architecture (SOA); basically the delivery of an integrated and orchestrated suite of on-demand services to an end-user through the grouping of functionality around business processes, making them accessible over a network and allowing these services to communicate with each other by passing data from one service to another in a loosely coupled manner.

This concept built upon and evolving from older concepts of distributed computing and modular programing, promises to reduce information technology overhead, virtualization of resources, greater flexibility, and lower total cost of ownership. (TCO)

A group from North Carolina State University and George Mason University, presented this year at Educause 2008 in Orlando, Florida, a full-day seminar on “Cloud Computing Made Simple and Affordable”.

Since the year 2004 they have been hard at work building the Virtual Computing Lab (VCL), a new, scalable and accessible computing system architecture.

High costs, support and security issues, software licensing, space requirements, and demands for enhanced local and remote 24 x 7 user access constantly challenge computing in education. The Virtual Computing Lab (VCL), a new, adaptable, and open source approach to computing, provides a cloud-like rich services computing environment to serve advanced research and student computing simultaneously and affordably, within a scalable and accessible system architecture. The VCL maintains the diversity and flexibility essential to an academic environment while providing computational resources with an unprecedented lack of restrictions and significant reduction in costs. The VCL is an Internet-based service that allows users to augment their own computers of varying types and capabilities—without their having to acquire new or uniform computers, install and run advanced software, provide their own software support, and so forth.

The speakers at the session included Samuel F. Averitt (NCSU), Aaron Peeler (NCSU), Sharon P. Pitt (GMU), John Savage (GMU), Henry E. Schaffer (NCSU), Sarah R. Stein (NCSU) and Mladen A. Vouk (NCSU).

The open-source project has been submitted and recently accepted here by the Apache Foundation as one of its Incubator Projects.

VCL relies on the LAMP architecture, which includes Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP and it was originally developed in a blade environment using IBM blades and xCAT, which is a scalable distributed computing management and provisioning tool that provides a unified interface for hardware control, discovery, and OS diskful/diskfree deployment.

VCL provides a web 2.0 reservation system, making accessible a multitude of hardware and virtualized systems running a variety of operating systems and applications to the end-users via Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP), for a pre-determined period of time. Images for these systems are maintained online or offline dependant on a last-used/commonly used algorithm, so an image offline could take up to 15 minutes to load.

Not only does this approach address the issue of providing users access to applications without the need for an installation, but also by making use of virtualization technologies such as VMware ESXi Hypervisor, provides the capability of multiplying by a substantial factor computing power while reducing the total cost of ownership.

Going even further, computers not being used could be aggregated to the cloud, making them all that valuable.

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Auto Records Keeping

I usually have kept a record of my car’s records (fillups, oil changes and maintenance) since my first car using a notebook, an excel spreadsheet, paper trail in folders and more recently scanning those papers.

As the trend to move data more and more into the cloud becomes mainstream, a number of Web 2.0 sites focused on this particular niche have started to appear.

RepairPal and Driverside have both taken upon the task of keeping your electronic records for your car. Additionally these sites serve to educate its users on how not to get ripped off when looking to get your car repaired. Members will also be able to rate those mechanics, see helpful tips and look at common problems related to that repair.

After looking at both of these and looking for the cars I own as well as the cars I’d like to buy, I must say that they both have their appeal.

Driverside has the most amount of users, which is important if you like to interact with other car owners and get their feedback on particular issues. It also has the most features like pre-populating your services for you to check off as they are due, as opposed to having to enter them like with RepairPal.

Now RepairPal is definitely much cleaner than Driverside which is rather busy, making it easier to navigate through as well as finding what a repair cost would be in your area or a specific part.

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