Minutes:2012 Nov ConfCall


  1. Old business
  2. New business
    1. Election of new Board members. Nominated candidate is Chris Fields.
    2. Review and possibly revamping of the procedure for joining and maintaining the OBF membership
    3. Asset transfer to SPI


Venue: held by conference call Nov 13, 2012, 11.30am EST (16:30 UTC)


  • Directors: Jason Stajich, Nomi Harris, Peter Cock, Hilmar Lapp
  • Guests: Scott Markel, Chris Fields


Hilmar called meeting to order at 11:34am EST.

Old business:

New business:

i. Election of new Board members.

  • Richard Holland was interested in running for the Board, but had to withdraw his candidacy for now due to pending corporate changes in Eagle Genomics, his employer.
  • Chris Fields is running for Board member at-large. Chris has been an active programmer for about 13 years. He joined BioPerl’s core developers group in 2007. While he became involved early on with fixing bugs etc., he also soon thereafter took on further responsibilities, including pushing releases out. His professional affiliation is now with the Bioinformatics Core of the U. Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Center for Integrative Genomics. In this role, he is involved in completely revamping the Bioinformatics resources on the UIUC campus. Chris has meanwhile moved into other languages and toolkits, based on the realization that there is no perfect language or tool. Chris is Interested in finding tools and toolkits that could be used across the board at OBF.
  • Proceeded to vote after there were no further questions and comments. Voting was by electronic ballot.
    • Results: 4 votes for electing Chris Fields to the Board, 0 against, 0 abstain.
    • We congratulate Chris and welcome him to the O|B|F Board. His Board membership will become effective immediately after this meeting ends.

ii. Review and possible revamping of the procedure for joining and maintaining the OBF membership

  • Our current membership enrollment and maintenance procedures are onerous, poorly automated, and involve a lot of manual steps and intervention.
    • To enroll, interested people have to fill out a form on PDF or paper, scan it, and email the scan. (Once a year at BOSC, they can also return the paper form to a BOSC organizer.) If accepted, the Board officer who handles the membership (currently Hilmar) then transfers email and name by hand to a spreadsheet (that constitutes the “official” membership roll), and subscribes the new member to the members mailing list.
    • Maintenance is ad-hoc and completely manual. If membership email addresses are flagged as bouncing by mailman, the membership officer (currently Hilmar) tries to hunt down the new email address for the member, and if this and all other contact attempts fail, the member is considered to have resigned his or her membership. While bouncing email incidents have increased in frequency in the last two years, we have only a handful of members who we can no longer reach.
  • Originally, O|B|F’s incorporation status required (or was understood to require) us to have verifiable evidence in hand of someone’s identity, as well as agreement with our stated mission. As we are now SPI-associated project, this is no longer a requirement; in essence we can set ourselves what our requirements for a desirable process should be.
  • There is strong agreement among the Board that the current procedure is undesirable in multiiple ways, and creates unnecessary barrierrs, and that it should be replaced with a different one, now that we aren’t under legal requirements anymore.
  • Which procedure to replace the current one with is less clear.
    • One suggestion is to simply allow (user-initiated) subscription to the members mailing list to count as joining the membership. This would pose minmal burden on joining, which is desirable, but also bears the risk that eventually a sizable fraction of the membership does not represent active members actually endorsing and interested in contributing to the OBF’s objectives. This may then also inflate the quorum (10% of members) that has to be met for elections put before the membership.
    • An alternative model is an electronic web-based form that asks people interested in joining to provide a short statement of purpose that explains how they meet the membership criteria (currently, agreeing with and endorsing OBF’s objectives).
    • The SPI has two tiers of membership: non-contributing members, for which one has to agree with the SPI’s principles, and contributing members, for which one has to be an active participant in the free software community. For becoming a contributing member, one has to provide a statement explaining how one meets the criteria. Forms for signing up are all electronic. Only contributing members are eligible to vote in SPI matters.
    • SPI’s two-tier membership model is not so dissimilar from what we have, although our process is not as formalized. The participants (users, developers, lurkers) in the Bio* projects could be considered as the equivalent to SPI’s “non-contributing” members, whereas those on the O|B|F membership roll are equivalent to SPI’s “contributing” members. (As for SPI, these overlap quite a bit.)
    • Google Groups is another option, because unlike mailman a Google Group can be set up so that people interested in joining must request an invite by filling out a form, including a free text field that could be used to require a statement of purpose.
  • Of the candidates on the table, none seems like the obvious way to move forward right now. We want a mechanism that is online, automatically verifies email address for new signups, yet still allows requiring some statement of purpose and endorsement of O|B|F’s objectives for becoming a member.
  • Hilmar offers to look into the mechanism that SPI is using, and whether we can take advantage of that in some way.
    • Peter moves to proceed in this way, first investigating the SPI mechanism and what it would take for us to deploy that. Motion approved with unanimous consent.

iii. Asset transfer to SPI.

  • Hilmar recaps the need for us to transfer all of our assets to SPI, now that there is no OBF incorporation anymore that could hold those assets in ownership. Instead, SPI will be holding them in trust for us.
  • With Chris D. absent, we can’t discuss enumerating all assets that we have, or how to transfer each of them. Assets that we are aware of right now include our financial reserves in the bank account, and our member projects’ domain names.
  • For this year (2012), it will still be us who is invoicing Google for the mentoring organizartion payment and the mentor summit expenses, because at the time our SPI association became effective, Chris D had already requested, and received, a PO from Google. Chris D has submitted the invoice last week.
  • We are holding off on the asset transfer until we receive payment from Google so we don’t have to do this piecemeal.
  • With Chris D absent, it’s unclear who is paying right now for the AWS machines we fired up recently. Assuming that for now this is coming out of Chris D’s credit card, O|B|F will need to reimburse him, either before (from O|B|F) or after asset transfer to SPI (from SPI).

iv. BOSC 2013

  • Nomi has sent SIG application for BOSC to the ISMB’s SIG Committee. Approval is pending, but since we have a stroing track record of turn-out and correspondingly generating surplus, we don’t expect any negative surprises.
  • Got a few new people on the committee, including Jeremy Goecks (Galaxy), and have one keynote speaker already confirmed.
  • In 2012, BOSC barely broke even, due at least in part by lower attendance and registration, and we also disbursed a small fraction of the registration revenue as travel awards.
    • Nomi will not be able to continue serving as BOSC chair in 2014, and we thus will need to recruit a new person who is willing to serve in this role.

v. Improve and sustain system administration help

  • System administration for O|B|F’s systems rests, and for years has rested, on a very small group of people (essentially Chris D, Jason, Mauricio) who are also very busy.
    • This is a real bottleneck, and has made it very challenging to keep our systems and software properly upgraded.
    • Because this small group of volunteers has remained essentially the same for many years, our institutional knowledge related to installing, configuring, and deploying our systems is concentrated among this group, and mostly undocumented, making it difficult for others willing to pitch in to quickly identify what needs to be done and how.
    • Attempts to recruit additional help have largely failed over the years, so there has been little incentive to more thoroughly document our SysAdmin procedures and conventions.
  • We are hosting services for which it is questionable whether us doing so provides real benefits over having them hosted externally by 3rd party providers.
    • Examples include our WordPress blog, which could be hosted at WordPress.com for a nominal annual fee; our wikis, which could be migrated to github.com wikis; and our mailing lists, which could be migrated to Google Groups.
  • The need for better documentation and for broadening the pool of volunteers is acknowledged by everyone. A recent recruitment drive in the wake of the system corruption and the following move of services to AWS has actually turned up some volunteers who we had not previously been aware of.
    • The Basecamp site started by Chris D lists the tasks that need doing along with commentary and progress. This could also be used for creating and centralizing sysadmin-related documentation.
    • New volunteers could create and expand documentation based on the questions they find themselves needing to ask in order to do necessary tasks, and the answers they receive.
    • However, the Basecamp site also has a key that allows logging in as root with all permissions, which is not a good starting point for newly recruited volunteer helpers.
  • The hold-up at this point seems to be to set up individual user accounts on the AWS machine so that new sysadmin volunteers can start with a custom and small set of privileges.
    • Peter agrees to spearhead this effort, and to keep our recent prospective volunteers in the loop as to what is happening, and when they can expect to take on a task.
  • It is also not out of the question that O|B|F pays hourly university students who work with or for one of our Board or other members. Chris F and Peter will look into the opportunities for that at their respective home institutions.

Action items from above:

  1. Hilmar to look into the mechanism that SPI is using for maintaining membership roll, and whether we can take advantage of that in some way.
  2. Peter to spearhead effort to set up individual user accounts on the AWS machine so that new sysadmin volunteers can start with a custom and small set of privileges.
  3. Peter to keep our recent prospective volunteers in the loop as to what is happening, and when they can expect to take on a task.
  4. Chris F and Peter to look into the opportunities at their respective home institutions to pay hourly university students who work with or for one of our Board or other members.

Hilmar moves to adjourn the meeting. Meeting adjourned by unanimous consent at 12.46pm EST.