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Tuesday
Sep092014

The road to Modelr: my EuroSciPy poster

At EuroSciPy recently, I gave a poster-ized version of the talk I did at SciPy. Unlike most of the other presentations at EuroSciPy, my poster didn't cover a lot of the science (which is well understood), or the code (which is esoteric).

Instead it focused on the advantages of spreading software via web applications, rather than only via source code, and on the challenges that we overcame — well, that we're still overcoming — to get our Modelr tool out there. I wanted other programmer-scientists to think about running some of their code as a web app for others to enjoy, but to be aware of the effort involved in doing this.

I've written before about my dislike of posters, though I'm told they are an important component at, say, the AGU Fall Meeting. I admit I do quite like the process of making them, and — on advice from Colin Purrington's useful page — I left a space on the poster for people to write comments or leave sticky notes. As a result, I heard about Docker, a lead I'll certainly follow up,

What's new in modelr

This wasn't part of the poster, but I might as well take the chance to let you know what we've updated recently:

  • You can now add noise to models by specifying the signal:noise.
  • Instead of automatic scaling, you can choose your own gain.
  • The app now returns the elastic moduli of the rocks in the model.
  • You can choose a spatial cross-section view or a space–offset–frequency view.

All of these features are now available to subscribers for only $9/month. Amazing value :)

Figshare

I've stored my poster on Figshare, a data storage site and part of Macmillan's Digital Science effort. What I love about Figshare, apart from the convenience of cloud-based storage and easy access for others, is that every item gets a digital object identifier or DOI. You've probably seen these on journal articles. They're a bit like other persistent and unique IDs for publications, such as ISBNs for books, but the idea is to provide more interactivity by making it easily linkable: you can get to any object with a DOI by prepending it with "http://dx.doi.org/".

Reference

Hall, M (2014). The road to modelr: building a commercial web app on an open source foundation. EuroSciPy, Cambridge, UK, August 29–30, 2014. Poster presentation. DOI:10.6084/m9.figshare.1151653

Thursday
Apr242014

A culture of asking questions

When I worked at ConocoPhillips, I was quite involved in their knowledge sharing efforts (and I still am). The most important part of the online component is a set of 100 or so open discussion forums. These are much like the ones you find all over the Internet (indeed, they're a big part of what made the Internet what it is — many of us remember Usenet, now Google Groups). But they're better because they're highly relevant, well moderated, and free of trolls. They are an important part of an 'asking' culture, which is an essential prerequisite for a learning organization

Stack Exchange is awesome

Today, the Q&A site I use most is Stack Overflow. I read something on it almost every day. This is the place to get questions about programming answered fast. It is one of over 100 sites at Stack Exchange, all excellent — readers might especially like the GIS Stack Exchange. These are not your normal forums... Fields medallist Tim Gowers recognizes Math Overflow as an important research tool. The guy has a blog. He is awesome.

What's so great about the Stack Exchange family? A few things:

  • A simple system of up- and down-voting questions and answers that ensures good ones are easy to find.
  • A transparent system of user reputation that reflects engagement and expertise, and is not easy to game. 
  • A well defined path from proposal, to garnering support, to private testing, to public testing, to launch.
  • Like good waiters, the moderators keep a very low profile. I rarely notice them. 
  • There are lots of people there! This always helps.

The new site for earth science

The exciting news is that, two years after being proposed in Area 51, the Earth Science site has reached the minimum commitment, spent a week in beta, and is now open to all. What happens next is up to us — the community of geoscientists that want a well-run, well-populated place to ask and answer scientific questions.

You can sign in instantly with your Google or Facebook credentials. So go and take a look... Then take a deep breath and help someone. 

Tuesday
Apr222014

Private public data

Our recent trip to the AAPG Annual Convention in Houston was much enhanced by meeting some inspiring geoscientist–programmers. People like...

  • Our old friend Jacob Foshee hung out with us and built his customary awesomeness.
  • Wassim Benhallam, at the University of Utah, came to our Rock Hack and impressed everyone with his knowledge of clustering algorithms, and sedimentary geology.
  • Sebastian Good, of Palladium Consulting, is full of beans and big ideas — and is a much more accomplished programmer than most of us will ever be. If you're coding geoscience, you'll like his blog.
  • We had a laugh with Nick Thompson from Schlumberger, who we bumped into at a 100% geeky meet-up for Python programmers interested in web sockets. I cannot explain why we were there.

Perhaps the most animated person we met was Ted Kernan (right). A recent graduate of Colorado School of Mines, Ted has taught himself PHP, one of the most prevalent programming languages on the web (WordPress, Joomla, and MediaWiki are written in PHP). He's also up on all the important bits of web tech, like hosting, and HTML frameworks.

But the really cool thing is what he's built: a search utility for public well data in the United States. You can go and check it out at publicwelldata.com — and if you like it, let Ted know!

Actually, that's not even the really cool thing. The really cool thing is how passionate he is about exposing this important public resource, and making it discoverable and accessible. He highlights the stark difference between Colorado's easy access to digital well data, complete with well logs, and the sorry state of affairs in North Dakota, where he can't even get his app in to read well names. 'Public data' can no longer mean "we'll sell you a paper printout for $40". It belongs on the web — machines can read too.

More than just wells

There's so much potential power here — not only for human geoscientists looking for well data, but also for geoscientist–programmers building tools that need well data. For example, I imagine being able to point modelr.io at any public well to grab its curves and make a quick synthetic. Ready access to open services like Ted's will free subsurface software from the deadweight of corporate databases filled with years of junk, and make us all a bit more nimble. 

We'll be discussing open data, and openness in general, at the Openness Unsession in Calgary on the afternoon of 12 May — part of GeoConvention 2014. Join us!

Tuesday
Mar182014

The most important thing nobody does

A couple of weeks ago, we told you we were up to something. Today, we're excited to announce modelr.io — a new seismic forward modeling tool for interpreters and the seismically inclined.

Modelr is a web app, so it runs in the browser, on any device. You don't need permission to try it, and there's never anything to install. No licenses, no dongles, no not being able to run it at home, or on the train.

Later this week, we'll look at some of the things Modelr can do. In the meantime, please have a play with it.
Just go to modelr.io and hit Demo, or click on the screenshot below. If you like what you see, then think about signing up — the more support we get, the faster we can make it into the awesome tool we believe it can be. And tell your friends!

If you're intrigued but unconvinced, sign up for occasional news about Modelr:

This will add you to the email list for the modeling tool. We never share user details with anyone. You can unsubscribe any time.

Wednesday
Feb262014

Transforming geology into seismic

Hart (2013). ©SEG/AAPGForward modeling of seismic data is the most important workflow that nobody does.

Why is it important?

  • Communicate with your team. You know your seismic has a peak frequency of 22 Hz and your target is 15–50 m thick. Modeling can help illustrate the likely resolution limits of your data, and how much better it would be with twice the bandwidth, or half the noise.
  • Calibrate your attributes. Sure, the wells are wet, but what if they had gas in that thick sand? You can predict the effects of changing the lithology, or thickness, or porosity, or anything else, on your seismic data.
  • Calibrate your intuition. Only by predicting the seismic reponse of the geology you think you're dealing with, and comparing this with the response you actually get, can you start to get a feel for what you're really interpreting. Viz Bruce Hart's great review paper we mentioned last year (right).

Why does nobody do it?

Well, not 'nobody'. Most interpreters make 1D forward models — synthetic seismograms — as part of the well tie workflow. Model gathers are common in AVO analysis. But it's very unusual to see other 2D models, and I'm not sure I've ever seen a 3D model outside of an academic environment. Why is this, when there's so much to be gained? I don't know, but I think it has something to do with software.

  • Subsurface software is niche. So vendors are looking at a small group of users for almost any workflow, let alone one that nobody does. So the market isn't very competitive.
  • Modeling workflows aren't rocket surgery, but they are a bit tricky. There's geology, there's signal processing, there's big equations, there's rock physics. Not to mention data wrangling. Who's up for that?
  • Big companies tend to buy one or two licenses of niche software, because it tends to be expensive and there are software committees and gatekeepers to negotiate with. So no-one who needs it has access to it. So you give up and go back to drawing wedges and wavelets in PowerPoint.

Okay, I get it, how is this helping?

We've been busy lately building something we hope will help. We're really, really excited about it. It's on the web, so it runs on any device. It doesn't cost thousands of dollars. And it makes forward models...

That's all I'm saying for now. To be the first to hear when it's out, sign up for news here:

This will add you to the email list for the modeling tool. We never share user details with anyone. You can unsubscribe any time.

Seismic models: Hart, BS (2013). Whither seismic stratigraphy? Interpretation, volume 1 (1). The image is copyright of SEG and AAPG.