Go to content Go to menu

This past June I went to Open Repositories 2017 in Brisbane, Australia. I presented a workshop on how to get started with using Ansible and Serverspec. The workshop slides and materials are available. That was a great experience, and I’m happy to report that I was able to survive the virtual machine I brought to lead the workshop not working on my own notebook… thanks to the help of my pal, Kim Shepherd, who loaned me his own notebook, to run the machine. It did work for everyone else. When I returned from Australia, I rewrote the Vagrant configuration to make a sturdier VM for future workshops, calling it Workshop-o-matic. It is useful for anyone who might want to follow along with the workshop slides, so, if you’re interested, please do.

This blog post is very tardy, I’m sorry about that. Immediately after the conference, I took my wife on a vacation around northern Australia. We spent a wonderful week driving around in a rented campervan. It was a great time, and it has been a non-stop whirlwind to catch up with work and life, and everything else that piles up after a vacation, and at the start of a new school year. So, anyway, enough excuses, on with this recap.

The Keynote was given by Sir Timothy Gowers, entitled, “Perverse incentives: how the reward structures of academia are getting in the way of scholarly communication and good science.” There is a video recording. Incidentally, all the filmed conference sessions are also available (note only the general session tracks in the main ballroom were recorded).

Two things Sir Timothy said really struck a chord with me, have held my attention through the conference, and since, as well:

The current culture doesn’t really favor sharing [incomplete ideas].

An obvious thought is that if we did all start sharing our little scribblings, we could end up with a complete mess.

After hearing this, my mind started racing, becuase, us open source developers do exactly this: we already share our work in progress. And it hit me, I’d been thinking about this problem a while. I even had a phrase for my half-baked idea of how to approach the problem:

Are you going to eat that, mate?

And I filled a page with scribbly notes, and found a team to pitch this idea as part of the idea’s challenge. Alas, it didn’t win, but we had great fun making the slides.

So, my main takeaway from this conference is that I need to figure out how network data analysis works, and I need to tackle this challenge on my own, because I’m convinced there are a lot of really great ideas—almost finished code—just out there on GitHub, waiting for us to find, and ask that question: Hey, if you’re not using this code, can we use it?

Pardon this digression, however, after the conference, my pal Kim sent me a note on Slack, and says he was fiddling with a citation database and ended up finding this article:

MODELING DISTRIBUTED COLLABORATION ON GITHUB Journal Article published Dec 2014 in Advances in Complex Systems volume 17 issue 07n08 on page 1450024 Authors: NORA McDONALD, KELLY BLINCOE, EVA PETAKOVIC, SEAN GOGGINS

And an author name leaps out at me: Sean Goggins, hey, I think I know that guy. We have shared friends, we go to the same neighborhood pool. So, we become facebook friends. I still haven’t taken Sean out to lunch, but he’s working on this really interesting project:


From the governance page, the mission of the project is to:

  1. produce integrated, open source software for analyzing software development, and definition of standards and models used in that software in specific use cases;
  2. establish implementation-agnostic metrics for measuring community activity, contributions, and health; and
  3. optionally produce standardized metric exchange formats, detailed use cases, models, or recommendations to analyze specific issues in the industry/OSS world.

Which is not quite what I want to do, but it is working with the same data set, to help foster the health of open source development communities. And goal 3 would at least help me in my own goal, which is essentially to build a recommendation engine for work in progress on GitHub.

Now, back to my OR17 recap. Here are some of the cool tools I found out about at the conference, the things I want to check out later:

In Dev Track 2, Conal Tuohy presented on mining linked data from text, and mentioned a tool I want to check out: XProc
which is an W3C recommendation for an XML transformation language, using XML pipelines. There’s a book and a tutorial I found, I’ll check them out later.

Also, Peter Sefton presented a static repository builder tool, Calcyte which makes extremely high-performance and inexpensive data repositories with static HTML.

The real draw for me for this session was the presentation Visualizing Research Graph using Neo4j and Gephi by Dr. Amir Aryani and Hao Zhang. I knew after the keynote that I really needed to find out more about graph data, and I knew Neo4j and Gephi would be tools I’d need to be familiar with, so I ended up in Dev Track 2 to see this presentation and be inspired, and it did not disappoint. I came out of this presentation convinced that I could use the network graph data in GitHub to build the recommendation engine I wanted to build. And, even if I didn’t build a full-fledged tool, at a minimum I should be able to explore this data on my own, using Neo4J and Gephi.

I’m not ashamed to admit that I sought out Dr. Aryani’s next presentation on the following day, in General Track 10, “Research Graph: Building a Distributed
Graph of Scholarly Works using Research Data Switchboard”. It was really interesting to find out how a distributed graph works, and why one would use it—It’s a way to produce a larger data set from more than one shared dataset, by connecting the graph data across disparate repositories. Doing so allows each parter institution to retain “ownership” of their own data, while still maintaining access to the shared whole of the larger dataset. Distributed graph databases also share a bit of the computational load of running large-scale queries, which helps the entire data set scale, and remain usable.

My other takeaway from OR17 is that I really need to keep better tabs on a particular colleague of mine, Andrea Schweer, as she often puts interesting code up on GitHub, and every time I look at her code I’m blown away by its quality, and how I can immediately make use of much of it. Don’t believe me? Look at this collection of cool stuff.

That’s the kind of thing I hope to be able to find with my future fiddling with the GitHub network graph. How many other developers have huge collections of interesting bits of code, maybe just half-finished, but still amazingly useful, waiting for us to discover, and use, and build communities around?

I’m really excited about this, and hope to be able to help make it happen.

UPDATE (12/15/2017):
Just to give you a tiny taste of what’s possible, GitHub has added a couple of recommendation-engine features. If you have a GitHub account, head on over to GitHub Discover and GitHub Explore which are both giant rabbit holes of fun, happy hunting! NOTE: neither of these features are what I had in mind, they’re just basic “you like these projects and follow these people, have you seen this projects?” or “hey, everyone else is excited about this, you should be, too” kinds of things. I’d like to focus in on branches in forks of a project, find the ones that have been pulled a lot, and mix that in with other social data (friends of friends, etc.).

UPDATE (01/16/2018):
Kim Shepherd wrote a fun song inspired by events at OR17 Two warnings: there’s a bit of NSFW language in the middle, and this probably makes more sense if you were there. But, it’s a good song and in good fun, so give it a listen.

UPDATE (02/07/2018):
Ooooh, this looks fun

Moving On

Aug 1, 01:13 PM

I am pleased to announce that I have accepted an offer of employment with UCLA Library, Digital Initiative and Information Technology (DIIT) Department, as a Digital Library Software Developer, Programmer/Analyst III. No, we’re not moving to California, I will be working from home, as a remote developer. I will be joining a team of other remote developers, including my pal Kevin Clarke, in Boone, NC. I am positively thrilled about this opportunity. Kevin has long been my go-to person for advice on esoteric questions about Maven and more recently about working “in the cloud” and other DevOps topics, as well as the occasional question about Fedora4 What kinds of things will I be working on? The usual mash-up of Digital Library stuff (including Fedora Commons, Islandora Drupal, probably Angular 2), but I am very pleased that I’ll also still be working with DSpace.

I’ll update as I know more, but my last day working for Mizzou will be Friday August 12, 2016, and my first day with UCLA will be Monday August 15, 2016.

This is gonna be a blast!