Last week I attended the 9th edition of iEMSs in Fort Collins, Denver. IEMSs is a bi-annual conference that brings together between 300 and 400 researchers from software engineering, intelligent systems, environmental modeling and decision making domains (among others). There were very few people that knew about ontologies and Semantic Web, which makes it a unique experience to learn about the problems from other communities. Going to this kind of events (outside of your community of expertise) has been eye opening for me in the past, and I cannot recommend it enough. Get out of your community bubble once in a while J
What was I doing at iEMSs?
I attended the conference to present 3 papers about our Model Integration project (MINT). The papers describe an overview of the project, in which we aim to reduce the time required to integrate together models from climate, hydrology, agriculture, economics and social sciences. In addition, we introduce a new approach to describe model variables and processes using the Ontosoft software registry and our plan to integrate Pegasus and Emely for efficient model coupling. More information is available in the conference program (hopefully our papers will soon be available in the conference proceedings as well). Overall, the presentations were well received and I was glad to learn that there is huge interest in some of the problems we are tackling, such as the description of models to facilitate their reusability or enabling model coupling.
One of the best parts of the conference were the keynotes. Temple Grandin started on Monday with a cry for acceptance of visual thinkers (“I see risk, other people try to measure it!”) together with the need to get closer to the infrastructure we use every day. Get out of the office and get your hands dirty once in a while!
The last keynote speaker was Thomas Vilsack, former US Secretary of Agriculture under the Obama administration. This is the first keynote I have seen given by a politician, with no slides and a direct but compelling speech. The speaker tackled several problems related to modeling, from the role of science in different debates (GMOs and climate change) to the need for new sustainable solutions given the increase of population around the globe. How can we make models that convince farmers and policy makers about the long term consequences of their actions? How can models be used to increase the productivity per individual acre? Can we find solutions so we become better consumers of food? How can we reduce and reuse food waste?
Excellent wake up call from former US Secretary of Agriculture, Thomas Vilsack on conflicting short- and -long term challenges in Agriculture- e.g. ecosystem markets #iEMSs2018pic.twitter.com/fjEa6r4V7m
Given that many sessions happened in parallel, this is a personal vision with the highlights of the talks I attended to:
Ibrahim Demir’s FloodAI is a very cool approach that mixes science with visual explanations early detection observations. They have done an impressive amount of work to be able to communicate their results with chat bots. No wonder why he won a conference award!
Alexei Voinov described surveys, tools and methods for participatory modeling. Remaining challenges are a) people tend to use the tools and models they are more familiar with, rather than experiment new ones in different contexts; b) Failure in method execution is not reported.
Ruth Falconer (University of Abertay) and the use of videogames in environmental modeling.
Sarah Mubareka’s report on integration of models of biomass supply. Creating accurate indicators for estimating biomass in Europe is a real challenge, as everyone one uses different definitions and metrics in their country.
Last week I attended the annual EarthCube All Hands Meeting (ECAHM) in Alexandria, Washington. Since it’s been a while since I last wrote my last post, I think it would be interesting to share my notes and highlights here for anyone who missed the event.
ECAHM meetings are usually very enriching experiences, as they bring together a variety of researchers from different fields related to geosciences, ranging from computer scientists to volcanologists or marine biologists. The purpose of the meeting is to gather the community together and hear everyone report back from their EarthCube NSF funded projects, which are targeted towards improving cyber-infrastructure in the geosciences. As a computer scientist, I think this is a great meeting to attend for two main reasons: first, you always learn something new, even if it’s not in your domain. Second, people are extremely grateful to your contributions, as you are helping them become more effective when doing their science.
So, what was I doing at ECAHM 2018?
I attended the meeting to present our latest progress in OntoSoft, a distributed software metadata registry we created at ISI to facilitate scientists describe their software. You can see the poster abstract online (and soon the poster itself). I also participated on a “speed-dating session”, where I got to discuss for half an hour how to describe software with a domain scientist; and I substituted Yolanda Gil in a panel for external partnership opportunities, where I presented the Open Knowledge Network initiative. This effort, led by NITRD, is a great opportunity of creating a shared open knowledge graph that would be used for both research and industry to refine and curate its contents. The idea is that this knowledge graph becomes part of the US infrastructure the same way supercomputers currently are, so anyone could benefit from it and also contribute to it. It looks like the NSF is keen to pursue this objective too.
Two colleagues of mine also presented other initiatives I am involved in. Deborah Khider showcased our efforts towards structuring metadata and creating standards in the paleoclimate sciences, together with a set of tools that a team of paleo-climate scientists have developed to work with that structured data. She also managed to mix Star Wars and Star Trek themes in her poster and presentation, which was well received by the attendants (I think everyone stopped at her poster)
As expected, keynotes at ECAHM are nothing like venues such as AAAI or IUI. The first speaker was Dean Pesnell (NASA) and he presented the research carried out by his team on studying the sun and sun spots. Why is this related to geosciences? Because the sun could be considered “our ground truth for the universe”, and anything related to its activity has many implications in any of the fields of geosciences. Their main problem is how to analyze the amount of data that they have. Each of their datasets may contain several hundred million images, so proper metadata is crucial (you don’t want to find out you have downloaded 300 million images for nothing). Dean showed some impressive videos of their observations of the sun, as well as their pipelines to handle “very big data” analyses.
The second speaker was Sarah Stamps, and she talked about continental rift and the Tanzania Volcano observatory. Apparently, geologists are one of the few people in the word who would run towards an erupting volcano, instead of away from it. Sarah described the EARS system (East African Rift System) they are setting up, and how they teamed up with CHORDS to enable real time analysis of the observations they measure on the field. Thanks to her work, they are developing an early warning system for hazard detection! Sarah was departing soon to set a few more observing stations in the field, so best of luck!!
The third speaker was Caroline S. Wagner, who gave some metrics on the social side of interdisciplinary collaboration across disciplines. Science has become increasingly collaborative and team based, and the number of international collaborations have doubled in the past years. The number of countries producing 95% of research has gone from 7 to 15, which indicates we are moving in the right direction. However, more than 50% of the articles are currently never cited. A few takeaways from this talk are: 1) International collaborations start face to face, so go to different events and meet new people; 2) Diverse teams usually take longer to be productive, as people don’t usually speak the same language. Be patient!!; 3) Work towards a solution, not towards interdisciplinar teams. Interdisciplinarity should be the means to an end, not the end itself.
Below are some additional highlights I found interesting for the EarthCube community.
Eva Zanzerika reported on the NSF 10 Big Ideas, which nicely summarize the interests of the agency in terms of funding in the next years. The report has been out since more than 1 year ago, but it’s never too late to catch up!
Doug Fils presented their plan for turning P418 turning into something bigger. In case you don’t know, P418 currently tracks the metadata of datasets exposed as schema.org and aggregates it in a search engine (a search engine for scientific data). Future plans are to ingest other types of resources and make the code base stable.
Interesting working lunch idea: A napkin drawing exercise. Do you know how to present your idea with a simple sketch?
After a few days back in Madrid, I have finally found some time to write about the eScience 2014 conference, which took place last week in Guarujá, Brasil. The conference lasted for 5 days (the first two days with workshops), and it got attendants from all over the world. It was especially good to see many young people who could attend thanks to the scholarships awarded by the conference, even when they were not presenting a paper. I found a bit unorthodox that the presenters couldn’t apply for these scholarships (I wanted to!), but I am glad to see this kind of giveaway. Conferences are expensive and I was able to have interesting discussions about my work thanks to this initiative. I think this is also a reflection of Jim Gray’s will: pushing science into the next generation.
We were placed in touristic resort in Guarujá, at the beach. This is what you could see when you got out of the hotel:
And the jungle was not far away either. After a 20 minute walk you were able to arrive at something like this…
…which is pretty amazing. However, the conference schedule was packed with interesting talks from 8:30 to 20:30 most of the days, and in general we were unable to do some sightseeing. In my opinion they could have reduced one workshop day and relax the schedule a little bit. Or at least remove the parallel sessions in the main conference. It always sucks to have to choose between two different interesting sessions. That said, I would like to congratulate everyone involved in the organization of the conference. They did an amazing job!
Another thing that surprised me is that I wasn’t expecting to see many Semantic Web people, since the ISWC Conference occurred at the same time in Italy, but I found quite a few. We are everywhere!
But let’s get back to the workshop, demos and conference. As I introduced above, the first 2 days included workshop talks, demos and tutorials. Here are my highlights:
Workshops and demos:
Microsoft is investing on scientific workflows!: I attended the Azure research training workshop, were Mateus Velloso introduced the Azure infrastructure for creating and setting up virtual machines, web services, webs and workflows. It is really impressive how easily you are able to create and run experiments with their infrastructure, although you are limited to their own library of software components (in this case, a machine learning library). If you want to add your own software, you have to expose it as a web service.
Impressive visualizations using Excel sheets at the Demofest! All the demos belonged to Microsoft (guess who was one of the main sponsors of the conference) although I have to admit that they looked pretty cool. I was impressed by two demos in particular, the Sanddance beta and the Worldwide Telescope. The former is used to load Excel files with large datasets to play with the data, select, filter and plot the resources by different facets. Easy to use and very fluid in the animations. The latter was similar to Google Maps, but you were able to load your excel dataset (more than 300K points at the same time) and show it on real time. For example, in the demo you could draw the itineraries of several whales in the sea at different points in time, and show their movement minute after minute.
New provenance use cases are always interesting. Dario Oliveira introduced their approach to extract biographic information from the Brazilian Historical Biographical Dictionary at the Digital Humanities Workshop. This included not only the life of the different persons collected as part of the dictionary, but also each reference that contributed to tell part of the story. Certainly a complex and interesting use case for provenance, which they are currently refining.
Paul Watson was awarded with the Jim Gray Award. In his keynote, he talked about the social exclusion and the effect of digital technologies. Having a lack of ability to log online may stop you from having access to many services, and ongoing work on helping people with accessibility problems (even through scientific workflows) was presented. Clouds play an important role too, as they have the potential for dealing with the fast growth of applications. However, the people who could benefit the most from the cloud often do not have the resources or skills to do so. He also described e-Science Central, a workflow system for easily creating workflows in your web browser, with provenance recording and exploring capabilities and the possibility to tune and improve the scalability of your workflows with the Azure infrastructure. The keynote ended by highlighting how important is to make things fun for the user (“gamification “ of evaluations, for example), and how important eScience is for computer science research: new challenges are continuously presented supported by real use cases in application domains with a lot of data behind.
I liked the three dreams for eScience of the “strategic importance of eScience” panel:
Find and support the misfits, by addressing those people with needs in escience.
Support cross domain overlap. Many communities base their work on the work made by other communities, although the collaboration rarely happens at the moment.
Cross domain collaboration.
Conference general highlights:
Great discussion in the “Going native Panel”, chaired by Tony Hey, with experts from chemistry, scientific workflows and ornithology (talk about domain diversity). They analyzed the key elements of a successful collaboration, explaining how in their different projects they have a wide range of collaborators. It is crucial to have passionate people, who don’t lose the inertia after the grant from the project has been obtained. For example, one of the best databases for accessing chemicals descriptions on the UK came out from a personal project initiated by a minority. In general, people like to consume curated data, but very few are willing to contribute. In the end what people want is to have impact. Showing relevance and impact (or reputation, altmetrics, etc.) will grant additional collaborators. Finally, the issue of data interoperability between different communities was brought up for discussion. Data without methods is in many cases not very useful, which encourages part of the work I’ve been doing during the last years.
Awesome keynotes!! The one I liked the most was given by Noshir Contractor, who talked about “Grand Societal Challenges”. The keynote was basically about how to assemble a “dream team” of people for delivering a product/proposal, and all the analyses that had been done to determine which factors are the most influential. He started by talking about the Watson team, who built a machine capable of beating a human on TV, and continued by presenting the tendencies people have when selecting people for their own teams. He also presented a very interesting study of videogames as “leadership online labs”. In videogames very heterogeneous people meet, and they have to collaborate in groups in order to be successful. The takeaway conclusion was that diversity in a group can be very successful, but it is also very risky and often it ends in a failure. That is why people tend to collaborate with people they have already collaborated with when writing a proposal.
The keynote by Kathleen R. McKeown was also amazing. She presented a high level overview of the work in NLP developed in their group concerning summarization of news, journal articles, blog posts, and even novels! (which IMO has a lot of merit without going into the detail). She presented co-reference detection of events, temporal summarization, sub-event identification and analysis of conversations in literature, depending on the type of text being addressed. Semantics can make a difference!
New workflow systems: I think I haven’t seen an eScience conference without new workflow systems being presented 😀 In this case the focus was more on the efficient execution and distribution of the resources. Dispel4py and Tigres workflow systems were introduced for scientists working in Python.
Cross domain workflows and scientific gateways:
Antonella Galizia presented the DRIHM infrastructure to set up Hydro-Meteorological experiments in minutes. Impressive, as they had to integrate models for meteorology, hydrology, pluviology and hydraulic systems, while reusing existent OGC standards and developing a gateway for citizen scientists. A powerful approach, as they were able to do flooding predictions on in certain parts of Italy. According to Antonella, one of the biggest challenges on achieving their results was to create a common vocabulary which could be understood by all the scientists involved. Once again we come back to semantics…
Rosa Filgueira presented another gateway, but for vulcanologists and rock physicists. Scientists often have problems to share data among different disciplines, even if they belong to the same domain (geology in this case). This is because every lab often records their data in a different way.
Finally, Silvia Olabarriaga gave an interesting talk about workflow management in astrophysics, heliophysics and biomedicine, distinguishing the conceptual level (user in the science gateway), abstract level (scientific workflow) and concrete level (how the workflow is finally executed on an infrastructure), and how to capture provenance at these different granularities.
Other more specific work that I liked:
A tool for understanding the copyright in science, presented by Richard Hoskings. A plethora of different licenses coexist in the Linked Open Data, and it is often difficult to understand how one can use the different resources exposed in the Web. This tool helps on guiding the user about the possible consequences of using a given resource or another in their applications. Very useful to detect any incompatibility on your application!
An interesting workflow similarity approach by Johannes Starlinger, which improves the current state of the art by making efficient matching on workflows. Johannes said they would release a new search engine soon, so I look forward to analyzing their results. They have published a corpus of similar workflows here.
Context of scientific experiments: Rudolf Mayer presented the work made on the Timbus project to capture the context of scientific workflows. This includes their dependencies, methods and data under a very fine granularity. Definitely related to Research Objects!
An agile annotation of scientific texts to identify and link biomedical entities by Marcus Silva, with the particularity of being capable of loading very large ontologies to do the matching.
Workflow ecosystems in Pegasus: Ewa Deelman presented a set of combinable tools for Pegasus able to archive, distribute simulate and re-compute efficiently workflows. All tested with a huge workflow in astronomy.
Provenance is still playing an important role in the conference, with a whole session for related papers. PROV is being reused and extended in different domains, but I still have to see an interoperable use across different domains to show its full potential.
In summary, I think the conference has been a very positive experience and definitely worth the trip. It is very encouraging to see that collaborations among different communities are really happening thanks to the infrastructure being developed on eScience, although there are still many challenges to address. I think we will see more and more cross domain workflows and workflow ecosystems in the next years, and I hope to be able to contribute with my research.
I also got plenty of new references to add to the state of the art of my thesis, so I think that I also did a good job by talking to people and letting others know of my work. Unfortunately my return flight was delayed and I missed my connection back to Spain, converting my 14 hour flight home to almost 48 hours. Certainly the longest journey from any conference I have assisted to.
While being a PhD student, many people have asked me about the subject of my thesis and the main ideas behind my research. As a student you always think you have very clear what you are doing, at least until you have to actually explain it to someone who is not related to your domain. In fact, it is about using the right terminology. If you say something like “Oh yeah, I am trying to detect abstractions on scientific workflows semi-automatically in order to understand how they can better be reused and related to each other”, people will look at you as if you didn’t belong to this planet. Instead, something like “detecting commonalities in scientific experiments in order to study how we can understand them better” might be more appropriate.
But last week the challenge was slightly different. I was invited to give an overview talk about the work I have been doing as a PhD student. And that is not only what I am doing, but why am I doing it and how is it all related without going into the details of every step. It may appear as an easy task, but it kept me thinking more than I expected.
In a couple of moths from now, the Beyond the PDF 2 meeting will take place in Amsterdam. This meeting is organized by the Force 11 group in order to promote research communications and “e-scholarship”. Basically, it aims to group scientists from different disciplines in order to create discussion and (among other things) promote enhancing, preserving and reusing the work published as scientific publications.
In the previous Beyond the PDF meeting (2011), Philip E. Bourne introduced the TB-Drugome, an experiment that had taken him and his team a couple of years to finish. The experiment took the ligand binding sites of all approved drugs in Europe and USA and compared them against the ligand binding sites of of the M.tb (Tuberculosis) proteins in order to produce a set of candidate drugs that could (as a side effect from their original purpose) cure the disease.
Philip explained that all the results of the experiment were available online, and asked the computer scientists for the means to expose the method and the results appropriately in order to be reused. His purpose was that other people could use this experiment for dealing with other diseases without spending much effort in changing the method they had followed for the TB Drugome.
And that was precisely my objective during my first internship in the ISI. I was not a domain expert in biology, but thanks to the help of the TB-Drugome authors, we finally reproduced the experiment as a workflow in the Wings platflorm. We also exported it as Linked Data, and abstracted the workflow so as to be able to implement any of its steps with different implementations. An example of a run can be seen here.
As it happens in other domains, workflows decay: the input databases change, the tools are updated/changed, etc. I had to add small components to the workflow in order to make it work and preserve it. The results obtained were different, but consistent with the findings of the original experiment. Another interesting fact is that we quantified all the time we took for reproducing all the steps. This quantification effort gives an idea of how much effort must a newcomer put in reproducing a workflow when the authors are helping, just to give an insight of how big this task can be. If I get a travel grant, I’ll share these results in the Beyond the PDF 2 meeting in Amsterdam :).
This week there was an announcement about the deadline extension for BIGPROV13. Apparently, some authors are preparing new submissions for next week. In previous posts I highlighted how the community has been demanding a provenance benchmark to test different analyses on provenance data, so today I’m going to describe how I have been contributing to the publication of public accessible provenance traces from scientific experiments.
It all started last year, when I did an internship in the Information Sciences Institute (ISI) to reproduce the results of the TB-Drugome experiment, led by Phil Bourne’s team in San Diego. They wanted to make accessible the method followed in their experiment in order to be reused by other scientists, for which it is necessary to publish sample traces of the experiment, the templates and every intermediate output and source. As a result, we reproduced the experiment with a workflow using the Wings workflow system, we extended the Open Provenance Model (OPM) to represent the traces as the OPMW profile, and we described here the process necessary in order to publish the templates and traces of any workflow as Linked Data. Lately we have aligned the previous work with the emerging PROV-O standard, providing serializations of both OPM and PROV for each workflow that is published. You can find the public endpoint here, and an exemplar application that loads into a wiki the data of a workflow(dynamically) can be seen here.
I have also been working with the Taverna people in the wf4Ever project to create a curated repository of runs from both Taverna and Wings, compatible with PROV (since both systems are similar and extend the standard to describe their workflows). The repository, available here for anyone that wants to use it, has been submitted to the BIGPROV13 call and hopefully will get accepted.
So… now that we have a standard for representing provenance the big questions are: What do I do with all the provenance I generate? How do I interoperate with other approaches? At what granularity do I record the activities of my website? How do I present provenance information to the users? How do I validate provenance? How do I complete it? Many challenges remain to be solved until we can hit Tim Berners Lee’s OH Yeah? button of every web resource.
After a 2 week holiday, I’m finally back to work. Before letting more time pass by, I would like to share here a small summary of the e-Science conference I attended about a month and a half ago in Chicago.
I’ll start with the keynotes. There were four in the 3 days that the conference lasted. Gerhard Klimeck (slides) introduced Nanohub, a platform to publish and use separate components and tools via user-friendly interfaces, showing how they could be used for different purposes like education or research in a scalable way. It has a lot of potential (specially since they try to make things easier through simple interfaces), but I found curious how the notion of workflows doesn’t exist (or they are barely used).
Gregory Wilson (slides) raised a nice issue in e-Science: sometimes the main issue about the products developed by the scientific community is not that they have the wrong functionality, but that users don’t understand what are these products or how to use them. In order to address it, we should first prepare the users and then give them the tools.
The third speaker was Carole Goble (slides), who talked about reproducibility in e-Science and the multiple projects in which she is participating. She mentioned specially the wf4Ever project (where she collaborates with the OEG) and the Research Objects, the data artifacts that myExperiment is starting to adopt in order to preserve workflows and their provenance.
The last keynote was given by Leonard Smith (slides), and unlike the others (which were more computer science oriented), he presented from the point of view of a scientist that is looking for the appropriate tools to keep doing his research successfully. He talked about doing “science in the dark” (predictions over past observations) versus “science in the light” (analysis with empirical evaluations), and showed the example of meteorological predictions. Apparently the Royal Society wanted to drop the weather predictions in the past, but they were forced by users to have them back. Leonard highlighted the importance of never giving a 100% or 0% chance in the forecasts and ended his talk asking how could the e-Science community help this kind of research. I really recommend taking a look at the slides.
As for the panels, I attended the one about operating cities and Big Data. The work presented was very interesting, but I was a bit disappointed. I haven’t been to many panels before, and I thought a panel discussion was more a discussion between the speakers and the audience rather than presentations about the speakers’ work and a longer round of questions. This does not imply that the work was bad at all, just that I missed some debate among the invited speakers.
Regarding the sessions, most of them happened in parallel. The whole program can be seen here, so I will just post those which I enjoyed the most:
Workflow 1: Where Khalid Belhajjame presented the work on decay analyzed by the wf4Ever people in Taverna workflows (slides). Definitely a good first step for those seeking to preserve the workflow functionality and their reprpoducibility. In this session I also talked about our empirical analysis on scientific workflows in order to find common patterns in their functionality (see slides).
Data provenance: Beth Plale’s students (Pend Chen and You-Wei Cheah) introduced their work on temporal representation and quality of the workflow traces; and Sarah Cohen-Boulakia presented her work about workflow rewriting in order to make scalable analyses on the workflow graphs. I liked all the aforementioned presentations, as they where interesting and easy to follow. However they all shared the need on real workflow traces (they had created artifical ones for testing their approaches).
Workflow 2: From this session I found relevant the work presented by Sonja Holl (slides), who talked about the approach they use to find automatically the appropriate parameters for running a workflow. Once again, she was interested for traces o real workflows, specifically from Taverna (since it is the system she had been dealing with).
In conclusion, I was very happy to attend to the conference (my first one if I don’t count workshops!), even if I missed the 3 day workshops from Microsoft that happened earlier in the week. I had the chance to meet new people that I had only seen through e-mail, and I talked to all the thinking heads working close to what I do.
From the sessions also became clear to me that the community is asking for a scientific workflow provenance curated benchmark for testing their different algorithms and methods. Fortunately I have seen a call for paper with this theme: https://sites.google.com/site/bigprov13/. It covers provenance in general, but in the Wf4ever project we are already planning a joint submission with more than 100 executions of different workflows from Taverna and Wings systems. Specifically, the ones from Wings are already online published as Linked Data (see some examples here). Lets see how the call works out!