Two sides to every story?

We all have our biases.

Ovation, a data management company, set up a sexy shoeshine stand again this year at the SEG Annual Meeting, a science & technology meeting for subsurface professionals. This cynical and spurious subordination of women by a technology company in our community should be addressed by the immediate adoption of a code of conduct by SEG.     Ovation wants to liven up a boring tradeshow. They hired a small business, owned and run by women, to provide their customers and prospects with shiny shoes. The women are smart to capitalize on their looks to make a living. Anyone who thinks they're being exploited, or that this is an inappropriate way to attract customers at a scientific conference, needs to get over themselves.
Last year I picked on one of the marketing strategies employed by SeisWare, a Calgary software company. I implied that the women in fitted dresses handing out beer tickets were probably marketing consultants, not scientists, and I was not alone in my misgivings. My interpretation was that the sexy gimmick was a stand-in for more geophysics-based engagement, something many vendors are afraid of.     On Tuesday, one of SeisWare's geologists called me out on this. On Twitter, in the open, where these conversations belong. She was one of the women in tight dresses; the others were also geoscientists. She had chosen the dresses, felt great about them, and been excited about the chance to represent the company and look awesome doing it. She was saddened and frustrated by the negative remarks about those choices. I need to check my assumptions next time.
Evan and I went to the excellently named Euclid Hall on Monday evening. It was full; whilst waiting, the maître d' told us the place was full of exploration geophysicists, to which we replied that we were geophysicists too. She went on to say that she was studying the subject at CU, prompting a high-five from Evan. Then she said, "I shouldn't say this, but I worry that I won't be taken seriously, because I'm a girl."      

What's the other side to this story?



Big imaging, little imaging, and telescopes

I caught three lovely talks at the special session yesterday afternoon, Recent Advances and the Road Ahead. Here are my notes...

The neglected workhorse

If you were to count up all the presentations at this convention on seismic migration, only 6% of them are on time migration. Even though it is the workhorse of seismic data processing, it is the most neglected topic in migration. It's old technology, it's a commodity. Who needs to do research on time migration anymore? Sergey does.

Speaking as an academic, Fomel said, "we are used to the idea that most of our ideas are ignored by industry," even though many transformative ideas in the industry can be traced back to academics. He noted that it takes at least 5 years to get traction, and the 5 years are up for his time migration ideas, "and I'm starting to lose hope". Here's five things you probably didn't know about time migration:

  • Time migration does not need travel times.
  • Time migration does not need velocity analysis.
  • Single offsets can be used to determine velocities.
  • Time migration does need approximations, but the approximation can be made increasingly accurate.
  • Time migration distorts images, but the distortion can be removed with regularized inversion.

It was joy to listen to Sergey describe these observations through what he called beautiful equations: "the beautiful part about this equation is that it has no parameters", or "the beauty of this equation is that is does not contain velocity", an so on. Mad respect.

Seismic adaptive optics

Alongside seismic multiples, poor illumination, and bandwidth limitations, John Etgen (BP) submitted that, in complex overburden, velocity is the number one problem for seismic imaging. Correct velocity model equals acceptable image. His (perhaps controversial) point was that when velocities are complex, multiples, no matter how severe, are second order thorns in the side of the seismic imager. "It's the thing that's killing us, and that's the frontier." He also posited that full waveform inversion may not save us after all, and image gather analysis looks even less promising.

While FWI looks to catch the wavefield and look at it in the space of the data, migration looks to catch the wavefield and look at it at the image point itself. He elegantly explained these two paradigms, and suggested that both may be flawed.

John urged, "We need things other than what we are working on", and shared his insights from another field. In ground-based optical astronomy, for example, when the image of a star is be distorted by turbulence in our atmosphere, astromoners numerically warp the curvature of the lens to correct for rapid variations in phase of the incoming wavefront. The lenses we use for seismic focusing, velocities, can be tweaked just the same by looking at the wavefield part of the way through its propagation. He quoted Jon Claerbout:

If you want to understand how a horse runs, you gotta run along with it.

Big imaging, little imaging, and combination of the two

There's a number of ways one could summarize what petroleum seismologists do. But hearing (CGG researcher) Sam Gray's talk yesterday was a bit of an awakening. His talk was a remark on the notion of big imaging vs little imaging, and the need for convergence.

Big imaging is the structural stuff. Structural migration, stratigraphic imaging, wide-azimuth acquisition, and so on. It includes the hardware and compute innovations of broadband, blended sources, deblending processing, anisotropic imaging, and the beginnings of viscoacoustic reverse-time migration. 

Little imaging is inversion. It's reservoir characterization. It's AVO and beyond. Azimuthal velocities (fast and slow directions) hint at fracture orientations, azimuthal amplitudes hint even more subtly at fracture compliance.

Big imaging is hard because it's computationally expensive, and velocities are unknown. Little imaging is hard because features like fractures, faults and pores are at the centimetre scale, but on land we lay out inlines and crossline hundreds of metres apart, and use signals that carry only a few bits of information from an area the size of a football field.

What we've been doing with imaging is what he called a separated workflow. We use gathers to make big images. We use gathers to make rock properties, but seldom do they meet. How often have you tested to see if the rock properties the little are explain the wiggles in the big? Our work needs to be such a cycle, if we want our relevance and impact to improve.

The figures are copyright of the authors of SEG, and used in accordance with SEG's permission guidelines.


The most epic geophysics hackathon in the world, ever

Words can't express how awesome the 2014 Geophysics Hackthon was. The spirit embodied by the participants is shared by our generous sponsors... the deliberate practice of creativity and collaboration. 

We convened at Thrive, a fantastic coworking space in the hip Lower Downtown district of Denver. Their friendly staff went well beyond their duty in accommodating our group. The abundance of eateries and bars makes it perfect for an event like this, especially when the organization is a bit, er, spontaneous.

We opened the doors at 8 on Saturday morning and put the coffee and breakfast out, without any firm idea of how many people would show up. But by 9 a sizeable cohort of undergrads and grad students from the Colorado School of Mines had already convened around projects, while others trickled in. The way these students showed up, took ownership, and rolled up their sleeves was inspiring. A few folks even spent last week learning Android in order to put their ideas on a mobile device. While at times we encounter examples that have caused us to wonder if we are going to be alright, these folks, with their audacity and wholesomeness, revive faith that we will. 

The theme of the event was resolution, but really the brief was wide open. There was a lot of non-seismic geophysics, a lot of interactive widgets ('slide this to change the thickness; slide that to change the resistivity'), and a lot of novel approaches. In a week or two we'll be posting a thorough review of the projects the 6 teams built, so stay tuned for that.

The photos are all on Flickr, or you can visit our for the captions and other tweetage.

Another great outcome was that all of the projects are open source. Several of the projects highlighted the escape-velocity innovation that is possible when you have an open platform behind you. The potential impact of tools like Mines JTK, SimPEG, and Madagascar is huge. Our community must not underestimate the super-powers these frameworks give us.

The hackathon will be back next year in New Orleans (17 and 18 October: mark your calendars!). We will find a way to add a hacker bootcamp for those wanting to get into this gig. And we're looking for ways to make something happen in Europe. If you have a bright idea about that, please get in touch


SEG 2014: sampling from the smorgasbord

Next week, Matt and I will be attending the 2014 SEG Annual General Meeting at the Colorado Convention Centre in Denver. Join the geo-tweeting using the hashtag #SEG2014 and stay tuned on the blog for our daily highlights.

Fitness training

I spent a couple of hours yesterday reviewing the conference schedule in an attempt to form an opinion on what deserved my attention. The meeting boasts content from over 1600 abstract submissions which it has dispersed over three formats: oral presentations, poster presentations, and oral discussions/e-posters (looking forward to finding out how these work). Any given moment there will be 12 oral, 3 poster, and 6 e-poster presentations going on, not to mention all the happenings on the exhibition floor. A worthy test for my navigation skills, discipline, and endurance, as well as the new and improved SEG events mobile app.

The technical program

There are 101 sessions in the technical program, each with around 8 presentations. Six of these sessions are dubbed special sessions, hosting either invited speakers from other domains such as hydrogeophysics and completions engineering, or a heavyweight lineup of seismic celebs. Special session numero uno, entitled Recent Advances And The Road Ahead is  the session that I'm most looking forward to. It kicks off the technical program on Monday afternoon with talks from:

  • Christof Stork (ION Geophysical), The decline of conventional seismic acquisition and the rise of specialized acquisition: this is compressive sensing.
  • Sergy Fomel (UT Austin), Recent advances in time-domain seismic imaging. 
  • John Etgen (BP), Seismic adaptive optics. 
  • Kurt Marfurt (Univ. of Oklahoma), Seismic attributes and the road ahead. 
  • Reinarldo Michelena (iReservoir), Flow simulation models for unconventional reservoirs: The role of seismic data.

Other presentations throughout the week that have made it onto my must-see list:

  • Andreas Rüger (Halliburton), A practitioner's approach to full waveform inversion.
  • Lewis Li (Stanford), Uncertainty maps for seismic images through geostatistical model randomization.
  • Kevin Liner (Univ. of Arkansas), Study of basement rocks in Northeastern Oklahoma with 3D seismic and well logs.
  • Xinyuan Luan (China Univ. of Petroleum), Laboratory measurements of brittleness anisotropy in synthetic shale with different cementation.
  • Anya Reitz (Colorado School of Mines), Feasibility of surface and borehole time-lapse gravity for SAGD monitoring.
  • Cai Lu (Univ. of Electronic Science and Technology of China), Application of multi-attributes fused volume rendering techniques in 3D seismic interpretation.

To top it all off on Thursday afternoon, Matt and I will be at workshop number 9, Latest Developments in Time-Frequency Analysis. It is one of many post convention workshops worth sticking around for after the booths get torn down and the the exhibition doors close.

SEG Wikithon

If you read The Leading Edge frequently or if you visit the SEG website regularly, you may have noticed an increased presence of SEG Wiki. Matt and his allies Isaac Farley and Andrew Geary will be parked in Room 708 between 12–2pm and 5–6pm October 26–29. For more information about SEG Wiki and the Wikithon, check out Isaac's article from the September issue, and find out all the details on wiki page (naturally).

Whatever you want to call it

Lastly, I couldn't help but snag a selection of the coolest names from the technical session. I can only imagine what the organizing committee was thinking:

Well, they got my attention. And with so much content to choose from, maybe that's all that matters.

Image by user bonjourpeewee on flickr, licensed CC-BY-SA.


Why don't people use viz rooms? 

Matteo Niccoli asked me why I thought the use of immersive viz rooms had declined. Certainly, most big companies were building them in about 1998 to 2002, but it's rare to see them today. My stock answer was always "Linux workstations", but of course there's more to it than that.

What exactly is a viz room?

I am not talking about 'collaboration rooms', which are really just meeting rooms with a workstation and a video conference phone, a lot of wires, and wireless mice with low batteries. These were one of the collaboration technologies that replaced viz rooms, and they seem to be ubiquitous (and also under-used).

The Viz Lab at Wisconsin–Madison. Thanks to Harold Tobin for permission.A 'viz room', for our purposes here, is a dark room with a large screen, at least 3 m wide, probably projected from behind. There's a Crestron controller with greasy fingerprints on it. There's a week-old coffee cup because not even the cleaners go in there anymore. There's probably a weird-looking 3D mouse and some clunky stereo glasses. There might be some dusty haptic equipment that would work if you still had an SGI.

Why did people stop using them?

OK, let's be honest... why didn't most people use them in the first place?

  1. The rise of the inexpensive Linux workstation. The Sun UltraSPARC workstations of the late 1990s couldn't render 3D graphics quickly enough for spinning views or volume-rendered displays, so viz rooms were needed for volume interpretation and well-planning. But fast machines with up to 16GB of RAM and high-end nVidia or AMD graphics cards came along in about 2002. A full dual-headed set-up cost 'only' about $20k, compared to about 50 times that for an SGI with similar capabilities (for practical purposes). By about 2005, everyone had power and pixels on the desktop, so why bother with a viz room?
  2. People never liked the active stereo glasses. They were certainly clunky and ugly, and some people complained of headaches. It took some skill to drive the software, and to avoid nauseating spinning around, so the experience was generally poor. But the real problem was that nobody cared much for the immersive experience, preferring the illusion of 3D that comes from motion. You can interactively spin a view on a fast Linux PC, and this provides just enough immersion for most purposes. (As soon as the motion stops, the illusion is lost, and this is why 3D views are so poor for print reproduction.)
  3. They were expensive. Early adoption was throttled by expense  (as with most new technology). The room renovation might cost $250k, the SGI Onyx double that, and the projectors were $100k each. But  even if the capex was affordable, everyone forgot to include operating costs — all this gear was hard to maintain. The pre-DLP cathode-ray-tube projectors needed daily calibration, and even DLP bulbs cost thousands. All this came at a time when companies were letting techs go and curtailing IT functions, so lots of people had a bad experience with machines crashing, or equipment failing.
  4. Intimidation and inconvenience. The rooms, and the volume interpretation workflow generally, had an aura of 'advanced'. People tended to think their project wasn't 'worth' the viz room. It didn't help that lots of companies made the rooms almost completely inaccessible, with a locked door and onerous booking system, perhaps with a gatekeeper admin deciding who got to use it.
  5. Our culture of PowerPoint. Most of the 'collaboration' action these rooms saw was PowerPoint, because presenting with live data in interpretation tools is a scary prospect and takes practice.
  6. Volume interpretation is hard and mostly a solitary activity. When it comes down to it, most interpreters want to interpret on their own, so you might as well be at your desk. But you can interpret on your own in a viz room too. I remember Richard Beare, then at Landmark, sitting in the viz room at Statoil, music blaring, EarthCube buzzing. I carried on this tradition when I was at Landmark as I prepared demos for people, and spent many happy hours at ConocoPhillips interpreting 3D seismic on the largest display in Canada.  

What are viz rooms good for?

Don't get me wrong. Viz rooms are awesome. I think they are indispensable for some workflows: 

  • Well planning. If you haven't experienced planning wells with geoscientists, drillers, and reservoir engineers, all looking at an integrated subsurface dataset, you've been missing out. It's always worth the effort, and I'm convinced these sessions will always plan a better well than passing plans around by email. 
  • Team brainstorming. Cracking open a new 3D with your colleagues, reviewing a well program, or planning the next year's research projects, are great ways to spend a day in a viz room. The broader the audience, as long as it's no more than about a dozen people, the better. 
  • Presentations. Despite my dislike of PowerPoint, I admit that viz rooms are awesome for presentations. You will blow people away with a bit of live data. My top tip: make PowerPoint slides with an aspect ratio to fit the entire screen: even PowerPoint haters will enjoy 10-metre-wide slides.

What do you think? Are there still viz rooms where you work? Are there 'collaboration rooms'? Do people use them? Do you?