Saturday, January 12, 2008


Between the realities of working hours, young children, the need for exercise, etc, I just don't make the time to blog that I used to. But the main reason I rarely blog now is because of my job. It can be hard to know what you can talk about when you work in a closed source world. However, there have been a few changes here lately.

In the latter part of last year, I was asked to write a SPARQL implementation for Mulgara. Two and a half years ago I was told I'd get to do a reasonable amount of Mulgara work, but when it came down to it I could only write for Mulgara in my evenings and weekends. I know that most open source developers are limited like this, but it's still not easy when you have small children. It was also frustrating, given that I had different expectations.

So I was pleased to be given this new task. SPARQL is sorely needed, and I was more than happy to do it during working hours. Since I was back to open source work, I could have blogged more, but I was trying to use all my spare moments on the computer to get ahead with the project. That isn't always as productive as it appears, as the process of blogging can really help with programming, but it can work for a short term push.

Then just before Christmas, a number of people left the company I work for, including the guy who authorized me to work on Mulgara. So I was asked to stop, while everything was worked out. With all of the Semantic Web staff leaving except for me, the company can't really continue in this area. The word I was getting over the break was that the owner of the company didn't "know what to do" with me. I can speculate on what might happen as a result, but I won't do that here. It certainly wouldn't involve Mulgara work.

Fedora Commons

There is a lot I want to accomplish on Mulgara in the near term, as I think an open source framework with the capabilities we are aiming for will enable a number of significant developments. If I can participate in getting Mulgara there, then perhaps I can play a part in what happens later. To this end, I have accepted a position with Fedora Commons to work on Mulgara full time.

Fedora have been building their code on top of Mulgara (and Kowari before that) for some years. They work with the Topaz Project and together these groups have provided technical infrastructure for the Public Library of Science (PLoS) (see the PLoS-ONE open access journal for an example of a deployment that uses Topaz and Fedora, along with Mulgara). I'm just starting to get a feel for the various relationships, so I'll leave the description there.

The important thing from my perspective is that both Topaz and Fedora Commons have a charter that supports the use and deployment of open source software. Also, PLoS is about making research material available to the entire community, enabling research to reach everyone who should see it. Despite commercial interests to the contrary, there are many people who think this needs to happen (a good interview on this is here), as even the US government has made moves in this direction. So this work not only fits in with my own goals, it also helps enable something I really believe in.


In the course of negotiating this position with Fedora Commons, I realized that an exact statement of my roles and responsibilities had not been made. So I thought about exactly what I'd like to do, and proposed that. While I knew that our goals were aligned, I was still pleasantly surprised to have them come back and agree with me completely. I'm pretty happy about this... I've never been in a position to name exactly what I wanted to do before. :-)

So my work will basically come down to 3 things:
  • Mulgara development.
  • Consulting with Topaz and Fedora Commons on architecture and design.
  • Supporting and growing the Mulgara community.
Of course, all of these are to be done in alignment with Fedora Commons priorities, but this has already the case for some time with my after hours work (Fedora Commons and Topaz are the heaviest users of Mulgara at the moment). The second point I put in because I am always happy to do this whenever asked, and I think it is important to keep my hand in when it comes to the bigger picture. And the last point? Well, that's what makes this new position so cool. :-)


Of course, I need to get a new visa for the new position. Since visas are only issued expeditiously by a US consulate, then I need to travel to Canada in order to get it (it takes 6 months if I don't want to travel). It ought to be easy, but if for some reason the application gets denied, then I'm not even allowed back in the USA in order to "settle my affairs". Of course, that would be a nightmare for Anne, having to pack up our house while looking after two children under 4. I understand the risk is small, but with such dire consequences I'm feeling a little nervous. I don't think I'll feel really happy about the new job until I have the visa paperwork that guarantees it for me.


So I've handed in my two weeks notice. I made sure I had met all my commitments before resigning, and my current boss is traveling overseas for 3 weeks starting tomorrow, so I have no idea what I'll be doing for the next 14 days. If I can, I'll start on SPARQL again. After all, the company I'm leaving is still using Mulgara in some of it's projects, so they'll still benefit from the work. I guess I'll find out for sure on Friday.

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