CategoryFree and open source software (FOSS)

All articles related to free and open source software (FOSS) are here. Topics include my favorite software, thoughts on contributing to open source communities, some experiences in the Fedora and MetaBrainz communities, my thoughts on issues in the world of FOSS, and more.

HPC workloads in containers: Comparison of container run-times

Recently, I worked on an interesting project to evaluate different container run-times for high-performance computing (HPC) clusters. HPC clusters are what we once knew as supercomputers. Today, instead of giant mainframes, they are hundreds, thousands, or tens of thousands of massively parallel systems. Since performance is critical, virtualization with tools like virtual machines or Docker containers was not realistic. The overhead was too much compared to bare metal.

However, the times are a-changing! Containers are entering as real players in the HPC space. Previously, containers were brushed off as incompatible with most HPC workflows. Now, several open source projects are emerging with unique approaches to enabling containers for HPC workloads. This blog post evaluates four container run-times in an HPC context, as they stand in July 2019:

  • Charliecloud
  • Shifter
  • Singularity
  • Podman
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Write more accessible Markdown images with this one simple trick

Sometimes the people we exclude are the ones we did not realize were there. Screen readers are an essential tool for blind and visually-impaired people to use software and browse the Internet. In open source projects and communities, Markdown is a lightweight markup language used to format text. It is also used in many other places. Often you need to embed an image into whatever you are writing (a picture, a diagram, or some useful visual aid to get your point across). One of the lesser-known and used features of Markdown are alt tags for images.

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TeleIRC v1.3.1 released with quality-of-life improvements

On April 20th, 2019, the TeleIRC development team released TeleIRC v1.3.1, the latest version after the final development sprint for the university semester. This release introduces minor improvements in order to accommodate heavier work-balance loads on our volunteer contributors. However, it gave us an opportunity to reduce technical debt. This blog post explains what’s new in TeleIRC v1.3.1 and also offers a retrospective into how this last sprint went.

Special thanks and appreciation goes to Tim Zabel and Nic Hartley for their contributions this release cycle.

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Roadmap for TeleIRC v1.4

The RITlug TeleIRC developer team celebrated the v1.3 release on March 3rd, 2019. Looking ahead, the team is mapping out next steps for quality-of-life improvements in v1.4.

What’s coming in TeleIRC v1.4

TeleIRC v1.4 is the next feature release of TeleIRC. The targeted release date for v1.4 is by the end of April 2019 (i.e. the end of the academic semester for students involved with the project). Following v1.4, the project will likely enter brief hibernation until Fall 2019 when the RIT academic semester begins again.

At the developer meeting on March 23rd, we discussed the scope of this sprint and what we felt is realistic for project maintainers to work on:

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TeleIRC v1.3: Developers map out next release

On Saturday, February 2nd, 2019, the TeleIRC community in Rochester, NY held the first developers’ meeting. Starting this month, weekly meetings are held to discuss blocking issues and plan ahead for the future of the project. Current project lead Justin W. Flory met with Tim Zabel and Nic Hartley to finish planning the v1.3 milestone for TeleIRC. Notably, this marks the next feature-release of TeleIRC since v1.2 in October 2018.

Read on to learn more about what’s coming in TeleIRC v1.3.

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Sphinx docs authors: Meet an opinionated quickstart

Do you write documentation with the Sphinx tool chain? Do you want to encourage more people to write Sphinx documentation in a distributed organization, but worry about maintaining compatible workflows? Introducing sphinx-docs-opinionated-quickstart, a template repository with an opinionated configuration of ReStructuredText documentation with Travis CI testing and readthedocs.org publishing.

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Sustain OSS 2018: quick rewind

This year, I attended the second edition of the Sustain Open Source Summit (a.k.a. Sustain OSS) on October 25th, 2018 in London. Sustain OSS is a one-day discussion on various topics about sustainability in open source ecosystems. It’s also a collection of diverse roles across the world of open source. From small project maintainers to open source program managers at the largest tech companies in the world, designers to government employees, there is a mix of backgrounds in the room. Yet there is a shared context around the most systemic problems faced by open source projects, communities, and people around the world.

The shared context is the most valuable piece of the conference. As a first-time attendee, I was blown away by the depth and range of topics covered by attendees. This blog post covers a narrow perspective of Sustain OSS through the sessions I participated and co-facilitated in.

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How five Queen songs went mainstream in totally different ways

Originally published on the MusicBrainz blog.


Making graphs is easy. Making intuitive, easy-to-understand graphs? It’s harder than most people think. At the Rochester Institute of Technology, the ISTE-260 (Designing the User Experience) course teaches the language of design to IT students. For an introductory exercise in the class, students are tasked to visualize any set of data they desire. Students David Kim, Jathan Anandham, Justin W. Flory, and Scott Tinker used the MusicBrainz database to look at how five different Queen songs went mainstream in different ways.

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Keep your open source project organized with GitHub project boards

This article was originally published on Opensource.com.


Managing an open source project is challenging work. The challenge grows as a project grows. Eventually, a project may need to meet different requirements and span across multiple repositories. These problems aren’t technical, but are important to solve to scale a technical project. Business process management methodologies such as agile and kanban bring a method to the madness. Developers and managers can make realistic decisions for estimating deadlines and team bandwidth with organized development focus.

At the UNICEF Office of Innovation, we use GitHub projects boards to organize development on the MagicBox project. MagicBox is a full-stack application to serve and visualize data for decision-making in humanitarian crises and emergencies. The project spans multiple GitHub repositories and works with multiple developers. With GitHub project boards, we organized our work across multiple repositories to better understand development focus and team bandwidth.

Here’s three tips from the UNICEF Office of Innovation on how to organize your open source GitHub projects with the built-in project boards on GitHub.

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How I accidentally wrote a Wikipedia page on a layover in Dublin

One of the most unusual but wonderful experiences happened to me on a return trip from Europe to the United States.

A series of heavy noreasters hit the US east coast over the last couple weeks. This coincided with my travel dates back to Rochester, NY. While we didn’t have flooding, we had a lot of snow. A lot of snow means canceled flights.

As I made my way through border control in Dublin, Ireland on March 7, I discovered my connection to New York City would likely be canceled. A meander from baggage claim to the check-in desk confirmed this. Fortunately, Aer Lingus had no issue putting me up in a hotel overnight with dinner and breakfast to catch the next flight to New York the next day.

While waiting in airport queues, a friend happened to retweet a local event happening in Dublin the next day.

The event was a local Wikimedia meet-up to celebrate International Women’s Day. Participants would create and edit Wikipedia pages for influential women in the history of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. After digging deeper, I found out the event was 30 minutes away from my hotel from 09:30 to 12:30. My flight was at 16:10.

I put in my RSVP.

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