Monday, 27 September 2010

Mind the gap!

With this year's All Hands over, it is worth going through the notes, and summarise at least the plenaries for the benefit of those who didn't have a chance to go. I am sure 2010 will be remembered for the amazing quality of the plenaries, and quite a lot of excellent content in the parallel sessions as well.

Overall there was a theme of "bridging the gap" - or is it a chasm? - to take software from its initial deployment with limited uptake to a broader user base, the place where prototypes either fail or become successful. Prof Dan Atkins from UMich spoke about this chasm, and how to bridge it, and about UK's e-science and its impact. Prof Alex Szalay from Johns Hopkins spoke about coping with data volumes in the context of Amdahl's law, ie the advantages - or (eventually) lack of advantages - of parallelisation, and the importance of simulation - we can today simulate things made of 1,000,000,000 interacting pieces, which was seen as impossible just a short time ago, and we expect to soon be able to process 1000 times that - so simulations and the data they generate will have an increasingly larger impact on research and society as a whole. Our very own prof, Carole Goble, spoke about the long tail scientist, all the many who do research but are not part of big groups, and how this tail is getting "fatter" (or how to make it fatter), and even getting "normal" people involved like Galaxy Zoo did - but to do this, you (ie us, infrastructure and software people, e-scientists) need to "walk in their shoes"; and also by rewarding people for engaging and sharing - no prizes for second place or for developing standards, so people feel possessive about their work, and they may not realise the benefits of sharing and collaborating until they've tried.

I can only encourage you to browse the programme for presentations. Dan Atkin's plenary even contains a transcription! Make yourself a cuppa and go read them now.

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