I posted some initial ideas for projects for our summer students awhile back. I’m pleased to say that the students have been making great progress in the last few weeks (despite, or perhaps because of, the fact that I haven’t been around much). Here’s what they’ve been up to:
Sarah Strong and Ainsley Lawson have been exploring how to take the ideas on visualizing the social network of a software development team (as embodied in tools such as Tesseract), and applying them as simple extensions to code browsers / version control tools. The aim is to see if we can add some value in the form of better awareness of who is working on related code, but without asking the scientists to adopt entirely new tools. Our initial target users are the climate scientists at the UK Met Office Hadley Centre, who currently use SVN/Trac as their code management environment.
Brent Mombourquette has been working on a Firefox extension that will capture the browsing history as a graph (pages and traversed links), which can then be visualized, saved, annotated, and shared with others. The main idea is to support the way in which scientists search/browse for resources (e.g. published papers on a particular topic), and to allow them to recall their exploration path to remember the context in which they obtained these resources. I should mention the key idea goes all the way back to the Vannevar Bush’s memex.
Maria Yancheva has been exploring the whole idea of electronic lab notebooks. She has been exploring the workflows used by the climate scientists when they configure and run their simulation models, and considering how a more structured form of wiki might help them. She has selected OpenWetWare as a good starting point, and is exploring how to add extensions to MediaWiki to make OWW more suitable for computational science, especially to keep track of model runs.
Samar Sabie has also been looking at MediaWiki extensions, specifically to find a way to add visualizations into wiki pages and blogs as simply as possible. The problem is that currently, adding something as simple as a table of data to a page requires extensive work with the markup language. The long term aim is to make the insertion of dynamic visualizations (such as those at ManyEyes), but the starting point is to try to make it as ridiculously simple as possible to insert a data table, link it to a graph, and select appropriate parameters to make the graph look good, with the idea that users can subsequently change the appearance in useful ways (which means cut and paste from Excel Spreadsheets won’t be good enough).
Oh, and they’ve all been regularly blogging their progress, so we’re practicing the whole open notebook science thingy.