Open source ecosystems – a mathematical model

Beware - mathematics ahead!
Beware - mathematics ahead! (courtesy

It is a little known fact that my original career choice was mathematics, making it half way through a PhD at the University of Adelaide before realising how much my thesis (provisionally titled “Applications of the Hastings-Metropolis algorithm for calculating normalization constants in sparse multidimensional queueing networks“) did NOT do it for me. After a few years of wandering in the wilderness I discovered online learning as a valid career option, but I still hark back to my roots every now and then with a misty eye – mainly when I remember the bamboo-under-the-fingernails joy of hand-coding LaTeX using Vi.

My single favourite subject at Uni was an Honours subject I took called Mathematical Biology, which aimed to model a stack of different biological systems, mainly around how a species breeds, gets sick, dies, migrates and ultimately either perishes or reaches equilibrium in its numbers depending on a range of external and internal factors.

After having been involved with Moodle and other open source projects for a few years now it continues to strike me how much of an ecosystem each of these projects are – just like the biological systems I used to model back at Uni. They have a genesis, some are subsumed by other projects, some die off, and some thrive – like Moodle. Based on this I thought I’d try and use my time on QF756 to do something more productive than eating snacky cakes and playing Worms on my iPod, and hence please find below my first, definitely incomplete, probably flawed, mathematical model of an open source project.

Be warned – this is not like most of my other blog posts, and those with an aversion to mathematics should probably stop reading now.

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Mahara, Eyjafjallajokull and the insurance claim

Eyjafjallajokull doing its best to teach us how small we are
Eyjafjallajokull doing its best to teach us how small we are

Eyjafjallajokull – a name I still can’t pronounce, even though it has changed the way I view air travel forever. I’m calling it ‘the day the world got big again’, since all of a sudden it made me realise ust how much we take air travel for granted, and how damned far it is from the UK to Australia. For those of you who don’t know, I’ve been stuck in the UK after what was a fairly disastrous attempt at attending the UK Moodlemoot last week thanks to the plumes of volcanic ash which shut down UK airspace for the best part of a week. As soon as the reality hit that my flights home had been cancelled I started the frantic task of working out how to get home – along with another 150 000 stranded tourists…

Regardless of whether I sat tight and hoped that the ash cleared or attempted to head down to Madrid by train and catch a flight from there one thing was clear to me – I’d need to submit an insurance claim at some stage to get back all the significant amount of additional money I was spending to get by as I tried to find a way home. When I first phoned up the travellers insurance folks at Travel Insurance Direct (who I must say have been awesome throughout this whole thing), they made two things very clear – that I needed to make ‘reasonable efforts’ to keep the costs down, and that I should keep as much evidence as possible to back up the claim when the time came. I started grabbing the receipts I’d already incurred and tried to work out how I should keep them all together, and I realized that I already had what in theory should have been the perfect answer right in front of me – Mahara.

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