an exceptional evening of science, technology and your-kind-of-people (the blog)

Visualisation Videos

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The March sameAs was the most successful yet, with a blockbuster line up of speakers discussing visualisation.

Our awesome digital curator, Steve Allen, was on hand to capture the talks on video, and each one is now available to watch online.

Just follow the video links on the event page!


Written by Matt

April 12, 2011 at 7:02 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Research remix

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Heather Piwowar, a postdoc research associate from Canada working on data reuse and sharing, recently added her passion to our growing sameAs menagerie:

I’m passionate about measuring data sharing and reuse. Often can’t sleep due to excited planning. Strange+nerdy but true. #passion #sameAsless than a minute ago via web   Favorite | Retweet | Reply

Not at all strange, Heather – this is definitely something that myself and other sameAs folks hold dear. Thanks for sharing!

We’re still collecting your passions – just post a video, link or tweet tagged with #sameas and #passion, and we’ll feature the best here.

Written by Matt

April 6, 2011 at 8:42 am

Posted in Uncategorized

‘My passion is to help them have that chance’ – Mike Cariaso on education

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The following post comes to us from Mike Cariaso, man behind SNPedia (amongst many other day jobs and side projects). Here he tells us about his passion for education – our January and February topics – and his work with One Laptop Per Child.

It’s not too late to send in your passions. Check back for more. And with that, take it away, Mike …

“9 years ago I decided to take a 4 month vacation between a change of jobs. At the advice of a well traveled irish couple I picked Thailand to start the journey. I soon learned another coworker had similar plans to see SE Asia, but she was a bit nervous about visiting Burma (Myanmar) as a woman alone and invited me to join her. I accepted and planned to stay for a week. But the isolation of this place had left the citizens hungry for contact with outsiders and I enjoyed the opportunities that this presented to really meet locals. I ended up staying the whole month that my visa allowed.

2 years later I returned to Thailand, in hopes of exploring more of the region. During a month in Laos I found a Library/Education Center run by a western woman. She had a roomful of recently donated but broken computers. Many were suffering only from a tiny watch battery which had run dry. I cannibalized parts from the rest and tracked down suitable batteries for less than a $1 each leaving them with perhaps 10 usable machines.

Emboldened by this I decided to visit Mae Sot, a town on the Thai-Burma border which had several camps for refugees from Burma. It was said to offer opportunities for volunteering, and I figured I might be able to use my computer skills to help. I was invited to teach a class at a school, and at the end of class asked to return the next day to do it again. This grew into 2 classes a day, then more and more until I was invited to stay in a small room at the back of the student dorm, and to teach full time for as long as I could stay.

My classes were about how to use the 3 computers available. We began with how to turn it on, then used Windows Paint to learn mouse control, save, cut, copy paste, quit and other basics. We moved to Word, Powerpoint, and Excel. Most students could not speak english and I spoke none of their Karen language. But computers are very hands-on, and the students who understood would translate what they could for those who spoke even less.

In time one of the teachers, Kyaw Lwin, would serve as my assistant and translate among the 4 languages spoken in the classroom. During the evenings I would serve as a network administrator, preparing system images which they could use to restore the machines to a clean state, when the inevitable viruses crept in. By the end of my stay we had a simple network and used a modem to introduce them to the internet, search and chat. Before I left most had an email address and some idea of how to use it.

When I returned to the USA, these email addresses allowed me to maintain communication with my old students. I learned that many who were unable to speak english, were able to write well enough at the speed that email permitted. Not only was this useful to continue to teach remotely, but it allowed me to continue to provide needed tech support. Donors had seen our successes and dramatically upgraded the facilities. Where we once could handle 80 students and needed plastic tarps to protect the computers from the rain, we now had 700 students, concrete walls, and 12 identical machines in an upstairs classroom.

A student I’d largely overlooked from that first class still had almost no english, but had developed into the resident computer expert. Despite the language barrier, Chitlay could fix broken printers and diagnose the usual Windows headaches far better than most Americans. On this trip I had him shadow all of the hardware work I did. We’d cannibalize memory and hard drives from dead machines to resurrect the ones which were merely dying.

I’ve returned several times, and will surely continue to do so. Over the years I’ve been able to focus on higher level work, as the low level stuff has seeped into a wide base and can now be taught by the native speakers. On my last visit they were using google earth to see the world, reading wikipedia in 3 languages to help with their History assignments, doing video editing and creating blogs to tell their stories. The most pleasant insight was that they could use youtube to find tutorials about photoshop, how to play musical instruments, and whatever else they wanted to learn. This extends their reach beyond any single teacher and can be repeated as often as needed to suit the skill level of the student.

My frustration is that all of this education may still yield very little. As refugees they are barred from higher education in Thai universities. Most are forbidden from traveling deeper into Thailand, and must live in a tiny border zone. There are few jobs, and my heart breaks for the former top student who’s english enables him to work as a hotel bellhop, since no better job can be found. Many more will end up sewing garments at the nearby sweatshop which pays slightly more than the ~$1/day for farm work done by their parents.

I’ve seen what the internet has already done. It has brought the world to them. They can now use Wikipedia and MIT Open Courseware to learn absolutely anything. They can listen to a lecture at Berkeley, and even repeat or fast forward it (luxuries I would have been grateful for just a few years ago). I’ve tried, but not yet succeeded in my next mission — I want to teach them to program. We’ve tried Python and Scratch, but it this seed has not yet taken root. With programming they will be able to bid on rent-a-coder jobs, and work in a global market. I’m particularly eager to see them create the software to help their own community. Many times I’ve seen them be as capable and clever as any student anywhere, and I know they can compete. My passion is to help them have that chance.”

Written by kaythaney

March 9, 2011 at 4:13 pm

Posted in passion, Uncategorized

Tagged with

Meeting interesting people and music – Tuesday passions

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Today’s passions come to us from two dear friends of sameAs: Eva Amsen of The Node and David de Roure of the Oxford e-Research Centre.

Eva’s passion? Meeting interesting people. Her contribution comes to us in the form of an image, and speaks to an event she’s working to organise – the first SciBarCamp Cambridge (UK).

She sends along the following explanation:

“Even though I can be quite happy sitting quietly in the background, I love crowds and groups. One of my passions is getting interesting people to talk to each other. After doing just that at the 2009 SciBarCamp in Toronto, we asked all participants to fill out a survey. One of the last questions was an optional open question, where we simply asked what they liked best. I collated all the answers, turned them into a wordcloud, and this was the result.

The image speaks for itself, and describes exactly the best possible outcome of the event and the aspect of it that I myself was most passionate about: meeting interesting people.

(On another level, this submission also reflects a love for information graphics and typography. )”

Thanks, Eva! If any of you in the Cambridge area are interested in helping her organise, drop her a note at @easternblot.

David also sent us his passion in the form of an image. His passion? Music (or rather a piece of music in the process of being understood). See the video of his November sameAs talk on the SALAMI project for the full story 😉

Thanks to you both! We still have a few more passions to feature, and do keep them coming. We’ll be rolling this deadline out through the next few months.

Also, check for more information about our next in-person event on February 21. The topic is “education”. Will we see you there?

Written by kaythaney

February 8, 2011 at 9:30 am

Posted in january, music, passion, Uncategorized

Tagged with

Si iniquitates observaveris

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Music continues to play a central theme in the passions of the world of science and technology (that, and doing strange and dangerous things with electricity).

Cameron Neylon sent us his passion via Twitter.

Email off. Headphones on. This a capella performance of Samuel Wesley’s ‘Si Iniquitates Observaveris’ is wonderful.

Written by Matt

February 5, 2011 at 12:25 am

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Platforms for data science

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Deepak Singh dropped us a line via a number of mediums (tweet and video below, also see his slidedeck here) about his love for data platforms:

Scientific data platforms with APIs to enable analysis and discovery for anyone who wants to #passion #sameasless than a minute ago via Twitter for Mac

I couldn’t agree more. As data volumes grow and data production rates increase exponentially across scientific domains we need more thinking like this.

Bravo, Deepak!

You can read more about open data, platforms and APIs in science on Deepak’s excellent blog, business|bytes|genes|molecules.

Written by Matt

February 1, 2011 at 10:30 pm

Posted in data, january, passion

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Thinking about thought

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Alexander Pico from UCSF described his passion via the medium of haiku:

Falling rock through space
Bleak if not so imagined
As a wondrous place

Via Twitter.

Alexander’s passion is to think about thought: you can follow along via his excellent blog.

Written by Matt

February 1, 2011 at 5:05 pm

Posted in january, passion

Tagged with

This one’s for Jameson

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This month we are highlighting contributions from our sameAs friends around the world, each answering the question “what are you passionate about”. Over the course of the last few weeks, we’ve been lucky enough to be on the receiving end and hear your stories about what inspires you, be it the slightly dangerous hobby, pop music, or brain research. Thank you to each and every one of you whom have lent your voice and submitted (and keep ’em coming!)

The idea stemmed out of a conversation I had with Matt soon after I moved to London over a few pints – in some ways the first informal sameAs – where we shared our stories: how we came to work in this world of science and technology, what our hopes were, how we got our starts.

My passion, to answer the question that Matt and I posed earlier this month, is to make research more efficient. That aim transcends any work affiliation, paycheck, or hat I happen to be wearing on a given day. Let me tell you why.

I’ve never donned a lab coat, or run experiments – I don’t come from the sciences at all. My passion stems from two very important people in my life and a frustration, paired with a desire to help.

As a girl, I watched my grandfather waste away, suffering from a disease I didn’t understand, watching him in less than two years go from a very active man to one that could only blink to say hello. For a long time I was convinced it was ALS. It turned out to be something different – a progressive parasupranuclear palsy – a rare degenerative disease often mistakenly diagnosed as Parkinsons, that completely wore him down unexpectedly before our eyes. Even to this day, we don’t know how that came about, or why an accident spurred such rapid degradation of his body. You can read more about him in this post, written a few years ago.

The other person, Jameson, you’ll hear from below.

This post is for him, one of my oldest friends from my time in Boston, and the reason I decided to leave a career in print journalism to help fix what to me was a frustrating, slow, and unacceptable system. Jameson was diagnosed with Marfan Disease early in his days at Berklee College of Music, not long after we met waiting tables at a local restaurant. The doctors stumbled on the condition by accident, after he suffered a fall while rollerblading in the Back Bay, where they realised the connective tissue had begun to deteriorate around his knees. They then started to put the pieces together bit by bit – realising that his aches and pains weren’t just growing pains, that the 2-inch indentation the size of a fist over his heart was not a freak coincidence, that his chest pains were real.

Jameson let me in during some of the most difficult times in his time trying to understand this newfound burden, through the series of mini-heart attacks he would have throughout the night due to weakening of his heart, to days he could barely play piano – his passion – due to the pain in his hands. He was told by the doctors that he’d be in a wheelchair by his early thirties. Even more devastating, for the first time, his dream of being a professional musician was found hanging in the balance – with a threat of that time being cut short due to a failing body from a disease most didn’t understand, and one that was underfunded.

I remember trying to allay Jameson’s fears over the years, as any good friend would, by saying there had to be an answer (I can be a stubborn thing at times), that we’d find some way to get through this, that I’d play the piano for him should his hands fail – anything that I could do or say to offer him some peace of mind. He lives and breathes music – and taking that away from him would completely shake his core. I was determined to make sure that didn’t happen. He didn’t deserve it. No one does. I poured myself into research, as so many others do when a loved one is in trouble.

I told him I’d find a way to fix him.

I still tell him that to this day, over eight years later. And in some way or another, be it through working directly with rare and neglected disease research groups or advocating better knowledge sharing practices, working in open science or even now through tool development, I’m working towards that each and every day. Jameson is the reason I believe in what I do. Not all of us are fortunate enough to work in a field that we’re truly passionate about – but I am. And I’ve been fortunate enough to come to know others such as Sharon Terry of Genetic Alliance and Josh Sommer of the Chordoma Foundation – two astonishing individuals that share similar passions (each stemming from their own stories). It’s reassuring to know people like those two are out there, pushing the envelope and asking the hard questions.

Jameson currently has the Marfans at bay and is currently a professional musician – a brilliant pianist and rockstar in Florida. I’m thrilled to be able to say that he’s living his dream and still doing what he’s passionate about: writing and playing music.

And I’m still here working to make sure he can do that as long as possible, in some way or another. That’s my passion. Every little step forward helps.

Jameson was kind enough to submit his own video (with his own music, as well 🙂 ) for this month’s sameAs. He’s a remarkable musician, but even more so a remarkable human being and inspiration, and I’m thrilled to be able to tell my story, his story, and have him be a part of this month’s sameAs. Jamie, this one’s for you.

Written by kaythaney

February 1, 2011 at 2:11 pm

Posted in january, music, passion

Tagged with

From the “kids, don’t try this at home” category …

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Another brilliant video sent along by a friend in California reinventing the modern picnic by … well … blowing things up.

Sometimes, you just have to.

Many thanks to Mike Kennan, (close friend and fellow-adventure-seeker of Josh Bailey … remember Josh?) who sent this short video along with the following note:

“I love food, but I’m a terrible cook.”

We can see why. 😉

Keep the entries coming. We have more to feature all this week, so don’t fret if you missed yesterday’s deadline.

Written by kaythaney

February 1, 2011 at 11:41 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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Four feet

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Mixing photography and documentary, Mark James sent us his passion: walking and film making!

Walking from my house to the Sea from FourFeetFilms on Vimeo.

It’s incredible to see how technology and the web have evolved to democratise the passions we’ve been profiling here: producing and distributing projects such as this would have been inconceivable even 5 years ago. Bravo for taking the opportunity and running with it (or rather, walking with it), Mark.

These others shorts are worth a watch, too, and you can follow along on Twitter.

Written by Matt

January 31, 2011 at 12:17 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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