On June 26-30 the annual meeting of the Organization for Human Brain Mapping (HBM2011) took place in Quebec City, Canada. Encouraged by our positive experience at last year’s SfN in San Diego and enthusiasm of our scientific adviser, James V. Haxby, we hosted another NeuroDebian booth. The setup was pretty much the same as last year: Some chairs and tables, lots of people, our tri-fold flyers, a Debian mirror and some virtual machine images to show Debian in action. This time we also had an LCD display attracting visitors with the package swarm, some demos, and our recent paper. We had many curious people have their first exposure to Debian, long-time users expressing their gratitude to Debian, and our upstream developers getting together to discuss various topics. Having registered the booth as “NeuroDebian”, we had the additional pleasure of explaining visitors the concept of a project inside Debian, in contrast to a derived distribution. But that is nothing new really, so let’s talk about the differences from last year’s booth.
First of all, we had more people at the booth. Dominique Belhachemi volunteered to help us out – and that was very much appreciated. Although HBM has only about a tenth of the attendees that SfN has, we had significantly more traffic. While last year people were primarily interested in knowing about the project, this time many of them wanted to give it a try immediately. People came with their laptops, got the VM images and started playing with Debian. After a day or so, some came back and asked for recommendations on particular software – after having been exposed to the wealth of the Debian archive.
What also had increased was the number of developers, or rather research labs developing neuroimaging software that came to the booth to discuss how to get their software into Debian and how to arrange ongoing maintenance of these future Debian packages. As we have our plates already quite full, we have been spending some time on mentoring interested developers to learn the art of Debian packaging and making them familiar with Debian’s procedures and standards (e.g. working on #609820 with Yannick Schwartz, upstream, at the booth).
Two promising new developments need to be mentioned. First, we were approached by companies that develop hardware for brain-imaging and psychophysics research. They were curious to learn about Debian as an integrated platform that offers free software solutions that an increasing amount of their customers demands (e.g. PsychoPy). Apparently, the movement towards open research software has finally made it into the business plans of companies, as they seem to start perceiving compatibility with free software systems as a competitive advantage. We explained how software gets into Debian, and how its release cycle is managed. To foster their motivation we also pointed them to the existing open-source software that is already available or even present in Debian. Let’s see whether we see more “Debian-certified” research products in the future.
Lastly, we started talking with folks from the INCF to explore possibilities of collaborating on INCF projects using Debian as the integration and development platform. The INCF is an OECD-funded organization that develops collaborative neuroinformatics infrastructure and promotes the sharing of data and computing resources to the international research community. At least one INCF project is already relying on the efforts of the NeuroDebian project. We are going to continue this discussion during a workshop in September. A report will follow...