I am currently sitting waiting for a sleeper back to London so it seemed a good time to reflect on this year’s All Hands Meeting that I attended in Edinburgh, the main annual e-Science conference in the UK. There were several changes for this year. The first was the venue so goodbye to the East Midlands Conference Centre and hello to a multi-location venue in Edinburgh. I think the overall reaction was positive with a variety of places to meet up with colleagues both on and off site and a series of venues from the National e-Science Centre (NeSC) to the Appleton Tower and the very shiny and slick Informatics Forum. Accommodation was a little far from the main venue locations but had wireless and a good breakfast (always essential to get me going in the morning!). Dinner was also very well received at Dynamic Earth, with plenty to look around before the dinner and plenty of opportunities to mix with colleagues old and new. I was rather less convinced about having coffee breaks that ran through the sessions but most people seemed to get used to it and there was a good deal of material to fit in so you could forgive the programme committees from running out of space to get it all in! So, down to the sessions, which proved notable this year for being very much focused on researchers carrying out good research enabled by e-Science. It seemed that this year we saw a good deal more adoption of the tools that we’ve heard about in previous years and that was good to see. Whilst tool development is still vital, it’s equally vital that the tools are used in a production environment.My first session was a BoF run by Alex Hardisty and Neil Chue Hong on e-Infrastructure. I think the level of attendance rather took the organisers by surprise and a couple of thought-provoking presentations helped kick off our consideration of the subject material. I’ll pop a link in here to the conclusions of the session when I get it but, in summary:
- e-Infrastructure is for everyone and is useful for a range of different challenges. What determines its success is how it is used;
- e-Infrastructure is increasingly being used by researchers as part of what they do on a day to day basis;
- There are increasingly varied ways in which e-infrastructure can be used and this is likely to get more diverse into the future;
- There is a mix of requirements from e-Infrastructure. Some are quite happy to glue together components and use it in a very ad hoc way. Others would like a more structured approach. All in all, it’s quite a complex landscape so it’s important to work with the researchers as to what best suits what they are doing;
- e-Infrastructure is already part of everyday research and that is likely to get to be more so as time goes on;
My first event followed after the BoF. We’d invited an Australian delegation led by Dr Ann Borda to a drinks reception so that they could meet up with the eResearch team and members of the JISC Support of Research Committee (JSR). There were some great conversations as all of the eResearch team got a chance to swap experiences of eResearch. From my side, I got up to date with Australian developments in eResearch tools with Jane Hunter, Paul Davies and Ann Borda. I also had a great conversation with Andrew Treloar, David Groenewegen and Paul Bonnington that ranged from approaches to data and the latest on ANDS to internet TV. Finally, I got the chance to catch up over dinner with Andy Richards and Neil Geddes from the National Grid Service. As always in these events, one of the main reasons for us to attend is to meet up with those who are out practising eResearch so I spent quite a lot of time on the stand on Tuesday. It proved to be a great opportunity to catch up with some of my more recent projects so thanks to Tom Jackson from iREAD, Pete Burnap from SPIDER and Stephen Booth from Grid-SAFE for popping in and catching up.
I also had an interesting conversation with Andrew Cormack on PII (Personally Identifiable Information). Andrew’s point was that most applications simply don’t need to ship PII and I would agree. I think it’s often used as a comfort blanket but it’s a comfort blanket that carries its own risks. If SPs (or RPs if you prefer that term) were to adhere to Kim Cameron’s second law (minimal disclosure for a constrained use) from his Laws of Identity then the world would be a better place. This brought us to an interesting case of what happens with grid computing. It’s one of the few cases where you cannot get around issuing PII because you need to have a way of contacting the user in case their job fails or if it’s not going as intended. However, it still adheres to Kim’s second law in that there is only the need to get a contact address for the user.
Finally, I talked with Richard Sinnott and David Medyckyj-Scott on geo data and access to more complex data sets. Richard has a long history of complex access to data sets, particularly around medical data and using roles to determine who can access what. I think we are reaching a stage where we can start moving towards a broader rollout of the technologies so that they become more ubiquitous and it is hopefully something we can build on top of Richard’s work and that of the data access projects we are currently running. On the geo side, we are already running quite a few geo projects and I can see that location is going to prove to be increasingly important for research data and collaboration. One of the initiatives that David is very much interested in is INSPIRE, a European directive to create a spatial data infrastructure in Europe. I think INSPIRE is going to prove important over the next few years as it will help make spatial data easier to access and also provide an incentive to talk about spatial data in a common way.
POSTSCRIPT – This has been a long time in gestation as I’ve tried to get my notes down to a reasonable size for a blog post, which reflects just how much material there is at All Hands, making it a very worthwhile event to attend if you are involved in research and want to find new and better ways of doing research.