Josh Work Professional Organizations Trip Reports Conference Report: 2001 LISA: Announcements and Keynote


The first session started with the traditional announcements from the Program Chair, Mark Burgess. Mark began with the following:

Mark then thanked everyone involved and announced the best paper awards. Since only one student paper was accepted the awards were:

David Parter, SAGE President, then spoke about recent events. He noted that the SAGE Secretary, Trey Harris, had recently posted emails to the sage-members list about filling the vacancies on the SAGE Executive and responding to the USENIX Board of Directors' actions of mid-November. SAGE-specific events at the conference include thommunity meeting (Wednesday 7-8pm), the Certification BOF (Wednesday 8-9pm), the USENIX Board of Directors meeting (Wednesday 9-10pm), the SAGE Locals BOF (Wednesday 9-10pm), and the restarting of chigrp (the Chicago SAGE local group, Thursday 9-10pm).

David then announced the 2001 SAGE Award for outstanding achievement: Hal Pomerancz, for his past efforts (including co-chairing LISA, serving on the USENIX Board, simultaneously serving on BayLISA (in San Francisco) and BackBayLISA (in Boston), his Perl Practicum series for ;login:, and his 15 years of leadership in systems, network, and security administration. Hal, accepting the award, thanked all his mentors and teachers and reminded everyone that "You never learn something so well as when you have to teach it."

Mark Burgess returned to note the SAGE Certification web site (available at was up, the IETF was seeking feedback on SNMP MIBs in a BOF session, next year's LISA chair would be Alva Couch, and there was a program change:

Finally, Mark introduced our keynote speaker, science-fiction author Greg Bear.


Greg Bear, author of over 30 books from Blood Music to his newest book, Vitals, spoke on the subject of "Slime versus Silicon." He applied a biological model of competition and cooperation to computing. Biological machines average being right half the time. "Randomness" is meaningless in biological systems.

Both science fiction fans and technologists are curious about things in a childlike way. They don't necessarily care about what's cool or fashion and fall below most of society's radar.

Bacteria can cooperate to form big neural networks. Lone bacteria have to cooperate to survive. An individual cell is as complex as an aircraft factory. So what administers the cell? Historically biologists thought deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) was a top-down master, but they've since come to realize that DNA changes a lot.

A virus is a method of communicating signals between nodes in a network. We need these to function. Biology is the administration — both administering and being administered by — of cells. The complexity in biological systems is a necessary kluge. Even at a genetic level, there's some technology, or direction, or decision; the genome is like an ecosystem in that it's all social. A gene, in order to get something done, has to cooperate with hundreds or thousands of other genes. The genome is a jungle of cooperation and competition — somewhat like systems administration.

Systems administration experience, including engineering methodologies, can inform biology. We now have the language to explain complex biosystems. Mathematics is a language but it doesn't describe biology. Computers move numbers around. Thinkers move resources around. Both are used to solve problems. This informs both biology and sociology. So why can't systems administrators use our skills to help biologists solve these "weird" non-numeric problems?

Greg Bear's advice is to go forth and study biology to better learn how to administer systems, because slime and bacteria have been doing it for millions of years. Biosystems are networks of users with different priorities.

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Last update Jul16/05 by Josh Simon (<>).