February 21, 2013

Coding Freedom: The Ethics and Aesthetics of Hacking

Category: Academic,Debian — Biella @ 6:54 am

Although the book has been out for a number of months, available for purchase and download, Coding Freedom finally has a dedicated home on the Interwebz. Based on my graduate research in anthropology and my dissertation, the book takes an up front and close look at various personal, affective, ethical and political dimensions of free software development. While the book is not on Debian per se, there is one chapter dedicated to the project and a whole lot of Debian developers were interviewed for the book. You can read some reviews and if you like what you see, take a dip.

June 26, 2012

Engendering Change

Category: Academic,Debian,F/OSS — Biella @ 11:53 pm

I have always thought the question of gender in FLOSS far from simple … And so when I came across a peer review publication on the topic that made it too simple, I along with Christina Dunbar Hester — the real heavy weight of our piece — penned a response. It goes well with Jon maddog Hall’s moving piece coming out for Alan Turing’s 100th birthday.

October 16, 2011

Going to São Paulo next week

Category: Academic,Anonymous,Debian — Biella @ 3:39 pm


First, is that image really the best LOLcat referencing Brazil that exists out on the Internets? I sure hope not as it is sort of lame but it was the only one I could find (in the 30 seconds I looked, which I admit, is not all that much time).

But all of this lolcat in Brazil stuff is really to say, I am heading to São Paulo tomorrow to give a talk on Anon on Thursday at this conference. If you are an Anon in the city and can make it, please do. If you are not Anon and are still interested, come along as well ;=)

If there are Debian developers as well in the city, it would be great to meet at some point. I am there from Tuesday morning to Friday night.

August 14, 2010

Debconf 10: the comfort of the familiar with the thrill of the new

Category: Debconf10,Debian,F/OSS — Biella @ 6:08 am


Debconf10 has come and gone and its effects are still with me. This is not so surprising as this year I was not only a participant but on the local team. When we first started to hold in person meetings, I was a totally overwhelmed knowing that with each passing month, the demands on my time would grow and then explode. Then I got news that I landed a year long fellowship that would relieve me of all teaching for the 2010-2011 year and was able to breathe a little and enjoy what I don’t get to do all that often in my academic job: work collectively.

As Debcamp started, I was not sure whether I would enjoy the conference given that I had to pay attention to the nuts and bolts of the conference. I got my answer the first day as folks started to pour in hack lab. Due to the pressure cooker nature of my job, I did not attend the last two Debconfs. Seeing friends that I only see during these fairly intense weeks stirred up a lot of inside of me. It felt really good to be back .

This was also my first Debcamp, and now I understand why people enjoy it so much. It gives you a chance to meet new folks instead of gravitating to those you already know and still get some work done. It also allows the orga team to hammer out some final details and test run some stuff before the swarm descends into the venue. One of the things I enjoyed the most during the week were the take out dinners. Logistically it was a bit of nightmare but it aligned very much with the culinary culture of NY and we had some nice outdoor picnics on the Columbia campus and one in Riverside Park.

The pace picked up a lot during Debconf, which we kicked off with Debian Day. We managed to get a lot of NYC folksit was one of the best attended Debian Days. One of the highlights was Gale Brewer’s talk. She is a public servant in the full sense of the word, dedicating thirty years of her life to this job and really understands what technology can and cannot due for New Yorkers. It was very inspirational talk.

Aside from a few moments, such as the day trip and the wine and cheese party (btw, party does not capture the quantity of cheese featured and consumed…), Debconf itself has already become a bit of a blur, it all happened so quickly and under sleep deprived conditions. Nearly every vessel of time was filled, overflowing, at times bursting. I enjoyed a number of the talksEben Moglen’s, Joey Hess’s CUT proposal, Marga’s talk on Making Debian Rule, Zack’s Bits from the DPL, the derivates BOF, and others. I also enjoyed preparing and moderating the welcome talk, which is not yet online (only the last bit is and the sound is distorted so I sound like a mouse). My sense is that the relationship between Ubuntu and Debian is improving, which is important. We need alliances and allies, not foes in the world of F/OSS (watch Eben’s talk to get a sense of why this is so).

I mostly ate on campus but managed two African based dinners with friends (Ethiopian and Senegalese) and only wished we had a little more time to talk. The late nights in the Carman lounge were pretty epic, if somewhat collegiate and during the end, hot and humid. Here are a few of the pictures I managed to take.

I love Debconf for it so perfectly conjoins the comfort of the familiar with the thrill of the new. For those who experience it in its full intensity, it can be an artistic moment, at least in the way described by the poet John Keats: The excellence of every Art is its intensity, capable of making all disagreeables evaporate, from their being in close relationship with Beauty . . .

And now, I am, of course, totally beat :-)

July 30, 2010

Holy Debconf10 is awesome

Category: Debconf10,Debian — Biella @ 11:40 am

nycsubway-heart, originally uploaded by the biella.

So an email went out to Debconf-announce with all this and MORE information but it is worth highlighting the talks/events as they are great. We look forward to having you in New York City!


exciting schedule highlights

Have a look at the DebConf10 schedule,
there are a lot of really interesting things planned, both during Debian Day and DebConf
itself. We have a great line-up of speakers, and other events that are
sure to make this DebConf one to remember! A couple notable events that we wanted to highlight:

Be sure to come to the DebConf Welcoming Plenary in the evening of Debian Day. This opening plenary will be the first thing that kicks
off DebConf and will be brief, important, and fun. General information
about DebConf, important logistical bits, and prizes(!) will be
had. Also, this gives you a chance to ask some questions before we get
started. Be there at 7:30pm in Davis Auditorium on August 1st!

The much anticipated Cheese and Wine party will be happening in the
evening on the 2nd. This will be your chance to see what mixture of
fermented, cultured and alcoholic things your stomach can handle!

Also exciting to mention is Eben Moglen who will be speaking on the
3rd during DebConf at 9:30am about Freedom and Privacy in the Cloud
and how we (yes us!) here at DebConf, can be the silver lining. If you
don’t already know Eben Moglen
he is Professor of Law at Columbia Law School and founding Director of the Software Freedom Law
Center. Since 1993 he has served pro bono publico as General
Counsel of the Free Software Foundation. Moglen was part of Philip
Zimmermann’s defense team when Zimmermann was being investigated over
the export of PGP. As counsel to the FSF, Moglen was charged with
enforcing the GNU General Public License (GPL) and later became
heavily involved with drafting version 3 of the GPL.

Also in the evening of the 3rd at 7:30pm we will be treated to not
only a screening of the brilliant and beautiful and (award winning!)
film “Sita Sings the Blues” in
Pupin 301, but also a Q&A afterwards with the acclaimed animator Nina
Paley! She will describe how the process of making this film caused
her to question the wisdom of copyright monopolies in the arts. The
film is under a Creative Commons ShareAlike license, and her
distribution mechanism is unique as Paley consciously adopted the
methods of the free software movement to distribute the film. The
discussion with the artist after the screening will explain in depth
how and why, and discuss what Paley and QuestionCopyright.org are
doing next to encourage more artists to try the Free route.

After the film, at 9:00PM the Columbia University Astronomy
Department will host a guided stargazing event, which includes use
of several different optical telescopes on their roof. There will be
astronomers on hand to answer any questions about the stars,
telescopes, or any other topics of scientific interest.

There are many talks that are going to be exciting at Debian Day, even
for Debian Developers! One track will be showcasing general Free
Software themes and issues, and many of these talks will be really
interesting to Debian Developers, so be sure to check out the schedule and come

On Debian Day we are excited to have the Honorable Gale Brewer speak at 4pm. She is part of the New York City Council and was the
former Chair of the Committee on Technology in Government, current
Chair on Committee on Governmental Operations and will discuss the
ways that government can foster freedom in technology. Its both
exciting and a privilege to have her speak at DebConf!

day trip

This year, the day trip is going to be a blast, a crazy adventure at
the bizarre and fun Coney Island! Explore the historic RussianBrighton Beach! Ride the Cyclone rollercoaster, 82-years old this
year! Swim in the ocean! See the circus sideshow! Eat delicious food
or if unlucky, not so good food. Or do none of the above and just hang
out with your friends outside and have a good time.

At the end of the day we are going to go to a unique cultural event:
the Brooklyn Cyclones baseball game where we will have the chance to
watch our beloved DPL humiliate himself as he throws out the first
pitch, in his Debian kilt!

Don’t like baseball, or sports? Don’t worry, neither do we, but the point really isn’t the baseball game,
the point is hanging out with all your closest Debian friends and
having a good laugh as Zack tries really hard not to trip, also a good
chance to experience some local culture and to relax after a hard day at the beach.

free things in the city

There are an amazing number of free events happening in New York City during the summer! If you are looking for something to do, we’ve
compiled a list of various events from a number of different locations
for you to easily view in one spot.

July 8, 2010

Debian in the World: Buidling an Institution vs Managing a Crowd

Category: Academic,Debian,Ethics,F/OSS,My Work — Biella @ 8:10 am

So there are times that I think “of course anyone remotely interested in Free Software, virtual projects, and similar endeavors” knows about Debian and its “strange” rituals. I am pretty mistaken, actually. Recently I have attended various events where it has been made clear to me that there are hordes of folks interested in the politics of openness, access, and free software who have heard about Debian but don’t really know what it takes, socially and politically, to manage such a project. Luckily I had the chance to spread some of the ‘esoteric knowledge’ during a talk at MIT for the Knight News Challenge winners and I have received many emails, excited and some surprised about the governance structures of Debian.

If interested, here is a video of my talk, which is quite short, so I don’t go into as much detail as I would like. There is a great audio quote from a Debian developer, taken from this class visit for which there is a podcast and which I recommend as well. If you can’t play flash, you can download the a video of the talk here (look at the right hand side of the page for download link).

update: Interesting blog post on Why the open source way trumps the crowdsourcing way that explores some of the issues I raise in the panel talk. I don’t think it always trumps open source but it is certainly a niche form of production that is useful in some cases but all too often confused with expert peer production in quite unproductive and empirically wrong ways.

June 22, 2010

Wanna Volunteer during Debconf?

Category: Debconf10,Debian,New York City — Biella @ 4:59 am

Debconf is fast approaching I thought I would pass on some helpful news: some helpful to you all, some more to us. First, a number of volunteers have compiled this astonishingly detailed list of things to do in NYC, including many that are free. Clearly you can come to Debconf and not come to Debconf. We hope you still do, but if you want to sneak out a few times and venture into this city, this is the list to consult.

We are also now coordinating our on-site volunteers and perhaps you are interested in pitching in here and there. If you are, here is a list of things we need help with. If you do want to help, you can drop a line on our mailing list (please write [volunteer in the subject line). You can post even if you are not subscribed (although there are times it takes awhile for message approval. Alternatively, you can drop me a note (contact information here and I can pass on the information.

April 15, 2010

Cultural Cornucopia

Category: Debconf10,Debian,New York City — Biella @ 5:05 am

Today all across America, many are experiencing a soft form of hell, anxiety, and constant cursing for it is tax day. Thankfully last night I squared those away (more or less). Today is also the last day to register forDebconf sponsored registration. Even if there is a chance you can’t make it, it is worth filling out the form just in case.

For those spending a little extra time in NYC or planning on sneaking out to take a whirl in the city, here are some more fun options. NYC is known to be a cultural cornucopia of sorts and one reason are the many museums. I just found a twitter list listing those museums with a feed. Probably one of my favorite museums is located in the far north of Manhattan, the Cloisters. It is a haven, an oasis with small beautiful gardens, as well large stone rooms and buildings filled with medieval art, tapestry, and manuscripts. If you need to get away from people, chatter, and computers, this might be a good place to visit.

Museums are easy enough to find but there are other spots in NYC that may be a little harder to spot. If you want to hit Chinatown for dim sum, I would recommend Jing Fong, which is mind blowing largely because of its LARGE (like there are escalators that take you up) room, which gets pretty darn packed on the weekend.

If you want something that involves not just food but involves sweat, water, food, sun, hot rocks, body scrubs, funny looking pink, orange and blue uniforms and all in a cross-cultural context, then Spa Castle is the place to go to. Just check out the website and you will see what I am talking about. It’s family friendly, has a cornucopia of saunas (filled with jade, gold, ice, Tibetan bricks), some decent Korean food, among many other attractions. In general is one of the best deals in NY.

April 4, 2010

Advice Dawg: what to do in NYC #1

Category: Advice,Conferences,Debconf10,Debian,New York City — Biella @ 11:12 am

So since a lot of folks are coming to NYC for Debconf I thought I would post some material on fun stuff to do in the city. I recently found out about this blog Walking Off the Big Apple, which looks great. I posted a recent entry that shows the trees in bloom and I am lucky enough to have one of those trees smack in front of my window.

If you are into walking and radical politics, this book might be for you.

Finally (for today, more to come), a nice guide for keeping it cheap in NYC

March 28, 2010

The year of the conference

Category: Academic,Conferences,Debconf10,Debian — Biella @ 5:42 am

For me, this is the year of the conference, mostly because I am helping to organize Debconf10, which so far has been quite fun, though I know that as we approach August, the planning will become more all encompassing. It is also the case that my piece on the hacker conference has finally been published by Anthropological Quarterly (and thanks to those who help be hunt some of the mistakes and typos). If you have university access you can get it via the traditional (and closed) routes but you can find a copy via my department web page or here.

For those that did not catch my last post about this piece, it is a rare specimen for academia: a feel good piece or so I think and so I have been told. If you have been to Debconf before and liked it, it is a good piece for reminiscing. If you have not been and are thinking of going, I would also recommend it (and btw the deadline for the end of registration is fast approaching.

Now that I am organizing the event, I know the experience of the conference will feel, look, and be quite different from what I have portrayed in the article. So maybe at the end of August, when I am worn, torn, and deflated from months of hard work, I will write a piece poking fun at my feel-good description, a nice counter-weight to what is admittedly a bit of a romantic piece.