Thursday, 25 June 2009

Obesity and e-research (essConf09)

I attended a very interesting talk today on the Obesity e-Lab project which is based at the University of Manchester. It’s a long way to come to Cologne to hear about a project based at your own institution but quite often it’s the way we find out about these things!

As we all know from the media, obesity is becoming a major problem across the globe with over 1 billion people now classed as being overweight. The project was introduced as being non-technical and indeed it wasn’t much to the relief of some of the audience. The presentation was given by Sarah who is responsible for user engagement and usability. She goes out and talks to the users to ask if what the project is producing is what they actually want and need.

This project takes a more rounded view of obesity in so much that it’s not just your calorie intake that affects your weight. It can also be factors such as available food, proximity of shops, available transport, peer groups, income etc. The project involves a range of people from epidemiologists to social scientists and computer scientists and aims to take into account many of these factors in examining the causes of obesity. They aim to do this by examining over 5000 datasets from the UK Data Archive. The sheer volume of data is challenging as well as the problems of identifying which data set you need and how to access it.

The project is still in early days and has a list of goals which include –
  • Supporting interdisciplinary community of obesity researchers
  • Reducing barriers to database access
  • Developing a community
  • Contributing to e-Labs
Current work is identifying good practices, understanding problems, planning training and support in order to make sure that the community can use and get the benefits of the project. A working prototype is currently available in which users can search and download variables from a dataset. This allows users to download just the variables they require instead of the whole dataset.

The project is also contributing to e-Lab which is a distributed and collaborative space for e-science. There are other projects working on similar research areas so they are collaborating to build an e-Lab by sharing software components, requirements and use cases.

That’s all I have time to blog about today but I did attend another talk that grabbed my attention so hopefully I’ll have time to blog about that one tomorrow between attending talks and being on the NGS / EGEE exhibition stand!

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

The Grid and the social sciences

The sun is shining in Cologne and the 5th International Conference on e-Social Science has begun. Over 140 delegates have gathered in Cologne from all over Europe and much further afield – testified by sitting at a table with 5 Australians for lunch!

Today is workshop and tutorial day so there is plenty of activity going on. The tutorials and workshops range widely in scope so there is something for everyone.

David Fergusson from the NeSC training team is currently involved in running a tutorial with Alex Voss from NCeSS, Andy Turner and Nick Malleson from the University of Leeds. The demo is looking at the Repast toolkit to model social simulations such as public health and urban studies. This is a “hands on” session where delegates are actually submitting jobs to the grid – the first time for some of them!

Another “hands on” tutorial is looking at Biocep, a new platform for statistical computing and data analysis which is built on top of R. Biocep makes it easier for people to their statistical analysis routines.

The workshops were large in number and scope with 8 being available for delegates to choose from. Topics ranged from law, ethics and e-social science to looking at software to analyse blog content. I would encourage anyone who had any doubts about what the grid could do for social scientists to look at the wide range of papers being presented here today.

I'll be on the NGS / EGEE exhibition stand so if you want a chat about what grid can do for you then pop over!

Further information about the workshops can be found on the NCeSS conference page.

Monday, 22 June 2009

e-Social Science in Germany

Tomorrow I am off to Cologne for the 5th International Conference on e-Social Science which is organised by the National Centre for e-Social Science (NCeSS) based at the University of Manchester.

I've had the pleasure of attending 3 out of the previous 4 of these conferences and they have always been very interesting showing the breadth of research in the social sciences using grid technology.

Many of the UK researchers who will be presenting their work over the next few days are users of the NGS. The NGS will have an exhibition stand at the event in conjunction with EGEE so pop over and say hello!

Hopefully I will find time to blog about some of the presentations during the conference so watch this space!

Friday, 19 June 2009

Need a Grid Certificate?

The NGS will be running a training event for RA Operators on the 21st of July.

The course is designed for new RA managers and operators and gives comprehensive training on the procedures and tasks that RAs will encounter. Items on the agenda include:
  • CP/CP
  • Certificate securit
  • How to authenticate users requesting certificates
  • How to approve certificates
  • How to revoke certificate
  • Operation of the RA web interface at
The course usually runs from 11:00am to 2:00pm and is designed so that attendees can travel to and from RAL in a single day. Lunch and refreshments are provided.

If you would like to attend the meeting then please see the website for further information.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Another good OGF for NGS

OGF26 in Chapel Hill, NC, US, was fairly small by OGF standards, but it was yet another productive one.

It is interesting to have both industry and academic input, because we obviously have different priorities; this has turned out to be a positive outcome of the merger between the then GGF and EGA. Also interesting now is the interaction between the OGF and OGC who themselves have large and diverse communities - I see a potential for lots of fruitful collaborations.

Apart from our very own David Wallom being made VP of e-Research, I was made Area Director for security. This is an interesting challenge which I look forward to. For one thing, there are numerous security related projects building things for the NGS, and being able to chase them about using standards - or creating them when they don't exist - will be useful. Also interestingly, I had been given a grid security shopping list by some industry contacts.
  • The Storage Resource Manager (GSM-WG) made progress with standardisation of SRM 2.2.
  • More talk about digital repositories (more about this later), and a new research group is formed (DR-RG). The iRODS folks are also involved in this (iRODS being the next generation "data grid," SRB being the previous one.)
  • "Cloud" interfaces are now being standardised, slightly unfortunately as "OCCI" (Open Cloud Computing Interface or something to that effect) which is also Oracle's C++ API. As if there were not enough XTLAs (eXtended Three Letter Acronyms).
  • Again a fair number of interoperation activities - since the NGS is not homogeneous, interoperation is relevant to us.
  • More Certification Authority stuff - a whole day of it! - of more later.
It is hard to summarise a whole conference in a few bullet points; it is maybe worth picking out a few items and looking at them in detail in some appropriate forum. As a whole I believe it is good that the NGS is engaged in standardisation and interoperation between the grids.

The Grid in Action

The team from the JISC-funded eIUS project have recently released a new video showing the grid in action.

This video features a group of researchers in Bioinformatics at the University of Manchester who, in collaboration with the myGrid Consortium, use the Taverna Workbench and the myExperiment virtual research environment to assist with the analysis and sharing of data relating to sleeping sickness (Trypanosomiasis) in African cattle.

This is the second video released by eIUS with the first video focusing on the use of grid in field archaeology.

Friday, 12 June 2009

Second instalment of e-science research

The second volume of the Proceedings from AHM 2008 have now been released. This is the second of the back to back issues, details of the first one are available here.

The issue of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences is entitled 'Crossing boundaries: computational science, e-Science and global e-Infrastructure II. Selected papers from the UK e-Science All Hands Meeting 2008’ compiled by P. V. Coveney and M. P. Atkinson :13 July 2009; Vol. 367, No. 1898

Papers in this issue cover research areas such as earth system modelling, simulation in engineering, cardiovascular data and simulation and e-humanities.

Volume II is now available online here.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

NGS Technical Director Appointed to OGF Board

We are pleased to announce that Dr David Wallom, NGS Technical Director and Technical Manager of the Oxford e-Research Centre (OeRC) at the University of Oxford, has recently taken over from Geoffrey Fox as VP of e-Research at the Open Grid Forum. Davids responsibilities include co-ordinating and steering the interactions of the research communities and their participation in OGF with the other functions, including Enterprise and Standards.

David will still be continuing in his current roles with the NGS and OeRC and we hope this will lead to greater collaboration between the NGS and OGF.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

New edition of NGS News out now!

A new edition of the quarterly NGS News newsletter is out now.

Available from the NGS website, the latest edition contains news on the next phase of the NGS, new sites recently joining the NGS, reports on the Protein Molecule Simulation workshop and the NGS involvement with the DataMINX project, NGS roadshows, cloud computing and the NGS and much more!

If you would like to see your research, your institute or event featured in the next edition of the newsletter then please contact the NGS Liaison Officer (gillian.sinclair(at)

Friday, 5 June 2009

Upgrade to the NGS P-Grade portal to make life easier for you!

The NGS partner site, University of Westminster, is releasing a new workflow interoperability solution available through the NGS P-GRADE portal to support NGS users to run their applications.

P-GRADE portal has been extended with the capability of nesting heterogeneous sub-workflows and execute them on NGS resources. The solution, that currently supports the embedding of Taverna, Triana and Kepler workflows in PGRADE workflows, is based on the GEMLCA Grid application repository and submitter.

Description of the workflow interoperability solution, manual and case study presenting this solution can be found here on the wiki page of the NGS P-GRADE portal.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Budapest Summer School

Joint EDGeS and EGEE Summer School on Grid Application Support
Budapest, Hungary, 29 June - 4 July 2009

The NGS partner site, University of Westminster, is helping to organise the Joint EDGeS and EGEE Summer School on Grid Application Support in Budapest this summer. They will also be using NGS resources during the tutorial sessions and will therefore be introducing the NGS to a much wider audience.

So what is the summer school about? Well EGEE is the largest service grid in Europe using the gLite grid middleware, BOINC is the most used volunteer desktop grid technology in the world and EDGeS integrates gLite based service grids with BOINC and XtremWeb based desktop grids.

In this way the EDGeS infrastructure is the largest potential grid infrastructure in the world. The subject of the summer school is to give insights to these technologies (gLite, BOINC, XtremWeb and EDGeS) as well as to tools and programming environments by which user can develop and run applications on this enhanced grid infrastructure.

More information on the summer school can be found on the website.