August 22, 2010


Category: Academic,Research,Travel — Biella @ 11:38 am


I am leaving for Ireland tonight, first to attend this Anthropology conference in Maynooth–a seemingly sleepy college town– and then on the 28th I head to Dublin to hang with a very good friend of mine. I plan on doing some travel and sightseeing in and around Dublin, so if anyone has any suggestions about what they love, love, love about Dublin (and anywhere within a few hours of Dublin), they are welcome. Dato is going to help me gather some Debian folks for an evening out as well, so I look forward to seeing anyone in town!

August 16, 2010


Category: Politics,Quotes — Biella @ 5:56 am

This is one of the best descriptions for utopia I have come across. You may not be able to reach it–and it is good to know this–but it can certainly inspire movement, action, and lead at times to a better, even if not perfect, world.

She’s on the horizon… I go two steps, she moves two steps away. I walk ten steps and the horizon runs ten steps ahead. No matter how much I walk, I’ll never reach her. What good is utopia? That’s what: it’s good for walking. — Eduardo Galeano

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 folks—it 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 talks—Eben 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 :-)

August 13, 2010

Rare Sharing of Data Leads to Progress on Alzheimer’s

Category: Academic,Alzheimers,Open Access,Research — Biella @ 3:45 pm

Finally. Let’s hope other scientists follow in their footsteps and make “rare” a marker of the past:

No one would own the data. No one could submit patent applications, though private companies would ultimately profit from any drugs or imaging tests developed as a result of the effort.

“It was unbelievable,” said Dr. John Q. Trojanowski, an Alzheimer’s researcher at the University of Pennsylvania. “It’s not science the way most of us have practiced it in our careers. But we all realized that we would never get biomarkers unless all of us parked our egos and intellectual-property noses outside the door and agreed that all of our data would be public immediately.”