Focus :: Eternacon 2017 vs. Fixing Major Platform Issues

To whom it may concern:

I have received some questions as to whether I will be going to or helping to plan Eternacon 2017, and so as not to repeat the same thing many times, I will provide an update to all of the community at the same time. Feel free to ignore or disregard my opinion on this matter in favor of your own better opinions - this is just for those who want to know.

Thank You
Firstly I thank each and every one of you for all the work you have done for the project. Please do be sure to put your health, school, family, and work first when managing your time here. Volunteering is an important part of social duty, and something I have done all my life. But I do see a worrying trend for companies to depend too much on volunteer labor when they should be paying for the proper community & platform maintenance.

Unlike some companies, Eterna I do believe suffers from a lack of labor simply due to being small, and not taking on investors who could exploit our work or cause other problems. So one price to pay for our independence is a lack of funds for things like development and operations. ( Please do immediately correct me if I am wrong, and some magical plan is in the works to address these issues with verified talent on an explicit timeline with budget in hand. ) 

Work Smart Not Hard
Nonetheless, in the event that your personal duties here ever exceed that of enjoying yourself while playing a game for a reasonable number of hours a week, in ethical conscience I must state clearly to all of you, especially those who may be vulnerable financially, medically, socially, etc.: please be aware of the amount of time you spend working for others for free, and set limits appropriate to balancing your own needs in life.

Then, it will better the project when we spend what time we do have to volunteer as efficiently as possible, ( efficient according not to my opinion but to your own, since while I state my opinion here I do not assume I am correct ). I only hope that you do take efficiency for the project and reasonable limits for yourself into consideration when choosing tasks to take on for projects like this.

I say all of this thinking of course a bit of myself, in both having given much more time than I really had available to this project ( without regret, but with awareness of the sacrifice ), and also at the same time still speaking in favor of volunteering for citizen science. I am in favor of citizen science, Eterna’s mission, and volunteering. But I also feel a duty when I see people here taking on a lot of responsibility outside the scope of being a player of the game, to let you know that it is important to always set good boundaries to protect your own time and bandwidth.

Maybe you are managing your time very well and don’t need this heads up, but just in case I want to be sure to tell you all what I wish I would myself better pay attention to: that you also have to take care of yourself. 

Eterna’s Mission Is a Noble Cause
That being said, Eterna’s mission in general is a noble cause, and any task you choose to do here will provide excellent experience and opportunity for helping others. So I will hope and assume that whatever task any of you choose to do with your time here, is also for your own benefit as much as Eterna’s.

Therefore, if any of you wish to plan and attend another Eternacon, that is very good in many ways, and I am happy for you. However with regard to time and money - both short for many in this economy, and short for this project in my current understanding - I also wish for you to look out for your own life duties, and for Eterna to be careful about prioritizing and spending time and resources wisely.

I say all of this *because* the mission is important, *because* I believe this research matters, this is precisely why I present some caution about how we spend our time and money.

Again, with the caveat that this is all just my own opinion, and if you disagree, I happily leave it to each of you to do as you wish.

What Is the Highest Priority?
Along these lines, and with full support of whatever your own wishes are, I feel that an Eternacon for 2017 is not the highest priority issue for myself.

Rather, the slow load times and overheating have prevented me from being able to play puzzles or do labs for going on 2 years now. So if this inaccessibility issue does not change, I do not see myself, and many other impatient potential players, able to participate.

Therefore, I would like to focus what time I have on resolving the major platform issues. And because resources are short, I can therefore only advocate for any Eterna resources to go towards shoring up the platform itself, and not towards a convention every year.

It’s a very lovely and nice tradition if we have the resources to manage it. If not… well. In my opinion, here we are. If there are others with the resources to make Eternacon happen anyway, or better yet in addition to resolving platform issues, then more power to you!

Platforms Must Also Evolve To Survive
Many of you have a great interest in technology and software, and may have observed various platforms evolve or stagnate over the years. In this timescape you can see how much maintenance a project requires to keep its community, research, and products viable and competitive. 

So my opinion - and please take it with a grain of salt and follow your own conscience, as I am very fallible in my opinions - but in my opinion, since people are asking me, we may wish to not have an Eternacon this year, and instead focus all hands on deck and available resources on whatever fundraising or coding is needed to get the platform fixed.

It has been several years now that we have been preparing for a real overhaul since Jee left, and with the Crispr development, we really need our system to be more robust, and at a minimum not so slow that people like me cannot bear to use it, plus worries about frying machines. The people who have done work so far have done beautiful contributions with various initiatives that have improved aspects of the game, and we are grateful for that.

Have We Come to an Impasse?
However, it has not addressed the elephant in the room of flash being too clumsy for this project’s ideal implementation, or even day to day logins, much less navigation across massive amounts of data, much less actual design ability without endless and unpredictable intermittent loadtime waiting. 

This is a bit of an impasse for me, so I am trying to brainstorm what I can for potential solutions, in the forum post titled How to Solve Major Platform Issues with Limited Resources. I will therein introduce any additional ideas I get for resolution paths: 

My #1 Priority Is to Focus On Major Platform Issues This Year
I am grateful that members of the community would offer to include me in talks for planning Eternacon, and if I change my mind I will speak up, but for now I think it is better left to those who passionately want to plan it and attend.

In my own case, I will be focusing all my available time on fixing these money/platform issues. Especially because I know you all managed last year’s convention entirely without my help, so I know you can manage on your own if you wish to do it, and do not need my help. I imagine it is only a kind courtesy that you asked me, but if you do find you are stuck with something, you can always ask me one-off questions, and I will answer as best I can. But anyway, as I said, I don’t imagine you need my help with this one, especially while these other issues appear to be going on and needing attention. 

Don’t Be Discouraged - Ignore Me If You Disagree
Please don’t be discouraged from going ahead with the convention if it makes you all happy, that is great. I think for my part, it is only because I have to carefully manage my time, that I have to triage and decide what to do based on highest priority. So if everyone else has bandwidth to do Eternacon, I hope that you all please do so and have great fun.

It is only from my own perspective, seeing now what I did not understand at first joining, that Eterna is actually much smaller and less well funded than other major citizen science games, and if we are to reinvigorate the community and really take advantage of the miracle of Crispr, we must get the platform usable by modern standards. That is my own priority for now.

I Still Care, and You Will Do Fine Without Me
I do miss all of you, and wish I had the time to hang out more casually. I think if I were able to get back to what I originally fell in love with, which was designing molecules and solving puzzles, then I would be around more often simply due to the reward of it. I will still help as I can, but frankly, it’s become akin to work to me, and not the game I love and miss, which I feel I have been locked out of for quite some time now. 

If after everything I have said here, you still feel I would be a useful contributor to various conversations, you can always invite me, and I will come if I can ( much of the time I probably cannot, so again, please don’t be discouraged, it’s nothing personal ). But I think perhaps my presence in such conversations would be a hindrance if your goal is to get Eternacon 2017 set up, you don’t need or want me to show up trying to talk you all out of it because of my own concerns.

Therefore please don’t invite me to convention planning sessions if everyone is intent on having Eternacon 2017, as I don’t want to be a distraction, and I will not be changing my mind until such time as the major platform issues are fixed.

Be Prepared Because Crispr, Zomg, Crispr!
Crispr is a game changer. The fact that we are at a point to integrate that in any capacity, is a fire lit under our platform issues that IMHO we must not ignore.

Look at Phylo, a great gene game no longer maintained and sadly lost to the entropic sands of time unless revived. Unless I am mistaken the mobile app just sends your hardwon data analysis into a black hole most of the time, and it isn’t even clear to me whether they are even still active on the other end. And if I understood match/categorizing species to be more important to humanity’s health I would look into it and help them. But as I see it, Eterna’s mission is more important. And thus, I have more concern over the platform itself not stalling out, when there is so much further on the horizon to go.

Therefore the best thing I think I can do with my own time, is to try to help ensure that Eterna’s platform evolves enough to survive in time for this Crispr rollout, by the way Crispr being in my opinion as important a discovery/invention as the wheel or the internet itself, and the biggest medical revolution since penicillin and washing your hands before surgery.

So with that being said:

  • Thank you very kindly, but no thank you, I do not wish to help organize or attend Eternacon this year, unless some highly tangible benefit to the platform is involved, and even then, I don’t know, because hey, I’m shy.
  • I do want to prioritize my time, energy, and resources into fixing the major platform issues. Because I am short on all those things, this does not leave me bandwidth for extra fun stuff like Eternacon.
  • I do of course encourage you to pursue whatever aspect of this project resonates with you regardless of what I say, because a diversity of efforts is important to the health of any ecosystem/genepool/community/project.

And I hope that Rhiju or a dev can correct me if I am worrying unnecessarily about platform issues that will be fixed some time soon. I don’t know the current status of things myself.

If you do agree that we have limited resources, and that there is no actionable timeline for resolving these loadtimes and general platform upgrades, then please know that there are ways to address those issues, especially if we focus our time and resources on them as first priority.

And beyond addressing major platform issues, when and if I do find myself with more bandwidth, I may try to help with a blog post explaining the importance and magic of Crispr, someday go to Eternacon again, or ideally, when having the platform fixed, I will get back to puzzles and labs like I used to get to enjoy.

With all respect, gratitude, and care for each and every one of you, the mission, devs, scientists, and the community as a whole,
 ~ Machinelves


Just realized I never replied to this, so let me throw out a couple thoughts (primarily via my comment on the Eternacon blog post).

Completely understood, and certainly appreciated! I am sincerely hoping that Eternacon 2017 can be a launching point for things to come, both scientifically (with the launch of CRISPR) and the immanent platform overhauls. I think this is really important so that we can get back in touch with the crew at Stanford (in the lab as well as our development staff), as well as getting the community synchronized and reinvigorated for the future of Eterna.

As was somewhat eluded to in the news post, we are getting a fair amount of funding specifically for Eternacon and helping to cover travel expenses - part of this is in relation to our work with Open TB, as well as to allow this to be a “launch event” for CRISPR (at least that’s how I understood it). For me personally, this is not something which I am inclined to pass by. We went over some of this stuff in the chat last night:

That being said, I do agree that our resources should be focused on some of the increasingly critical issues with the platform - it’s a balancing act for sure. Your decision is a 100% valid one, and we’re definitely getting to a more critical point as you mentioned in regards to Flash getting an EOL in 2020.

Re: Current plans for platform upgrades, quick cross-reference to my post in the other topic:…

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Thanks LFP6, and I do understand why it would be fun and exciting to attend. I hope you follow your heart and do whatever you yourself think is best. I can only speak for myself. Here is my reply posted in the blog as well:

Thanks for the chat, the context is helpful. When I encouraged funding from Gates it was in hopes of platform dev not conventions. If the platform were shored up and ready for incoming new users, then a convention would be a good step for publicity and bonding. 

However, without a more robust platform that does not have so many slow loading pages, and issues with flash melting down hardware, not to mention needing to get labs cranking again, I would have a great concern that a convention at this time is preaching to the choir, so to speak. In other words, those of us who care, who are here, already care. Those of us who might be brought in to help thanks to a convention, or inspired to get more involved as existing users, will be hit by the slow loading pages and an inevitable platform overhaul in the works in near future. 

Therefore, with the prime reason for dev not moving forward being lack of budget, I feel it would be most prudent to allocate any funds at the very least for my own travel to a development fund, please. I personally will not consider attending any conventions until there is funding for dev for the platform. If we have received enough funding for both full platform overhaul and a convention, please do let me know, that would be fabulous. 

I cannot understate the importance of focusing on shoring up the platform, and addressing long-standing dev issues, and upcoming retirement of flash.  Time goes quickly, and so does money.  If we have a surplus, please do clarify things for me. I am operating under the previous assumption that we are on a thin budget for dev, and that we have no current roadmap for platform overhaul. I can only work with the info I have, so please do correct me where I am wrong. 

Until then, please do put any funds allocated for my travel to the convention into a dev fund instead. 

As for an ethics speaker, of course someone who does this for a living in the biotech industry would be more informed than I am. Thank you for the nomination to speak, and please do find someone better than me if at all possible, I doubt I have enough education or experience to speak at more than an amateur - albeit passionate - level. 

It is also an option to have an all-virtual eternacon, to save money and spend wisely whatever we have been kindly given on platform development. It is not necessary to be in person to get back in touch with the dev team. In fact, reinstating the monthly Das Lab presentation, or occasional dev chats would accomplish that, and save a lot of money and time.

I would like to mention that I have already seen a few users fill out the form saying that they’d attend who I have never seen active in the community before - I’m curious to see how many such users we wind up seeing (either previously not in the community, new to Eterna as a whole, or both). 

I had originally considered an all-virtual con specifically because it’s so late. When I contacted Rhiju, he notified me that there had been funding provided that (from my understanding) was specifically allocated for Eternacon. Frankly I don’t know the specific dollar amount, so I can’t say much to that, but I’m not sure how far it would really go put towards development - if we’re talking about say hiring someone full time, a few thousand may wind up being better spent on an event to organize volunteer efforts until we can get a larger funding pool. 

I’m not sure how much can be publicized about this yet, but I have heard down the grapevine that we might have a little funding for some temporary development help (ie, student), and IIRC this is a small part of the potential funding pool we have access to via CRISPR. I’ll wait for Rhiju to go more in-depth though, especially since I don’t have any details. In addition, I did outline a basic idea for platform improvements, though that is contingent on having developer cycles (mainly coming from me at least initially, with how I had mentally planned this out) to do it.

Again, I completely agree with your statements on priorities. I personally think that with the current situation with funding and such it makes more sense to do a full event (albeit maybe a little more basic to to time constraints), but if I hear anything different from Rhiju or so, I’d be open to adjustment. In fact, I’m going to go send him an email now to see if he can read over the thread and give any input.

I wish for whatever is best for the project. 

I don’t know for certain myself what that is or all the details involved. I can only speak up about what I see, and trust the diverse opinions of the community and team to come together to make the best possible decisions for securing the future of our research & platform. 

Many thanks to all of you who work towards this goal, however you see fit.

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hi machineleves & lfp6 – there will indeed be some funding assistance to help folks come out to eternacon this year – we are waiting to set levels based on how many folks are interested in asking for travel aid and also as we figuring out experimental expenses for the upcoming CRISPR challenge. Please keep me posted, either here or by private message, about estimates of attendance. Thanks!


Hey Rhiju,

What I was wondering if you could comment on is the questions about “is this a good allocation of our resources?” Are these funds specifically set aside for Eternacon, or do you think that they could potentially be used better by being put directly towards development, and leaving Eternacon as virtual-only?

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Hi LFP6, I’d prefer for us to have folks – including anyone interested in becoming a developer – come out in person to Eternacon. Some things are just best done in face-to-face discussions.

I understand your gripe and the call to focus on priorities, but without an explanation of how spending resources on Eternacon would take away from resources available for more important things such as fixing major platform issues, I don’t see how holding Eternacon is actually a problem

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If my warning that we should spend our limited resources on development instead of parties is perceived as a “gripe” then you all should do whatever you want. As for an explanation, it’s a simple math equation in a finite system. Let’s say we have Funds of $100. If Funds = Dev + Party, then any part of that $100 we allocate to Party is subtracted from Dev. You all can organize your priorities however you want. I am just trying to point out that for myself, I am fine spending all that money on Dev if there is a finite amount of it, and it is limited. And as I have said, if a convention will provide some material benefit, then I am happy for that. For example if it is important to your morale and happiness, I can’t argue with that. I’ll say no more, nor keep trying to help point out the obvious. 

From what I understand, the funding planning on being used for Eternacon that has already been provided by sponsors can only be allocated to Eternacon. Rhiju can correct me if I’m wrong here, but I’m assuming that this is the case (especially since some of the funding was provided, again from my understanding, to “kick off” CRISPR at Eternacon).

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Of course whatever individuals may spend on travel could also theoretically be applied to development - though the current maximum number of players able to attend on a particular day (per the form that was posted on the news article) is only 5 (interested to see if that goes up much in the coming days), and 3 are asking for funding from the pool anyhow.