Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Overview of my 2013

It seems like yesterday that I wrote the corresponding blog post for 2012... 2013 has also been a long and rather successful year, full of trips, meetings, tasks and tight deadlines. I took some time to go through the major events that I participated in during 2013 and here is a short list:
  1. Organic.Lingua 5th Project meeting (20-22/2/2013, Alcala de Henares, Spain): The meeting was hosted by UAH, the coordinator of the project and it was my 2nd time in Alcala de Henares (a town that I really love). This time I was a member of the UAH team (typically) but my responsibilities were more or less the same. I was travelling with my colleague Nikos Marianos and had the opportunity to see again my friend Pascal from the VOA3R project as well as meet Esther for the first time (both members of the INRA team; I would meet Esther at a later time in the RDA 2nd plenary meeting some months ago).
  2. VOA3R 7th project meeting (14-15/5/2013, Rome, Italy): A few days before its end (31/5/2013), the VOA3R project organized its 7th and final project meeting, which was hosted at the FAO Headquarters, in Rome. For me as an agronomist, FAO was always the top of the tops; just imagine how I felt walking in this huge building thniking about how many important decisions related to agriculture were made in the meeting rooms... it kept sending shivers down my spine! It was my first time in Rome and I really liked it; maybe it was due to the really warm room I had. The meeting provided the VOA3R consortium the opportunity to organize all pending tasks and ensure that all deliverables will be submitted on time. The meeting also  included a common session with related EU project SemaGrow, during which lunked data and semantics were discussed. Speaking of SemaGrow, I also had the opportunity to participate in the 1st day of its project meeting, which took place on 13/5/2013 at the Tor Vergata University, outside Rome and included a session on data sources (in which I was partially involved as well).
  3. Herbal.Mednet 2nd project meeting (30-31/5/2013, Athens, Greece): The meting was hosted at the premises of Institute of Agricultural Sciences, inside a big park/forest, just outside Athens. It was the 2nd time I participated to the meeting, this time along with my colleague +Andreas Drakos who had made almost all the preparations. It was nice to see old friends again, like Prof. Roman and Dr. Toader from USAMVB (Romania) and see new faces as well. The project meeting was well-organized and the next steps were defined; apart from that, APIVITA had prepared a special buffet with surprises, like honey directly from its own hives, along with traditional Greek delicacies (which were well-received by the participants)! 
  4. ISLE 7th project meeting (11-14/6/2013, Varna, Bulgaria): I was not supposed to participate in the final meeting of ISLE but thanks to the persistence of my good friend Corinne Stewart (the coordinator of this large Erasmus Network) I was invited and replaced my colleague +Andreas Drakos who was managing the project from the AK side. The meting was mainly hosted at a lovely hotel outside Varna and I had a great time; I loved the ISLE project as it was one of my first ones and I really liked the dissemination role that AK had in the project. It was an opportunity to see some good friends for the last (probably) time, as we found later that our ISLE 2 proposal was not accepted. The trip itself was adventurous, including delayed flights and a road trip through forests and thick fog; however, the amenities of the hotel helped us in relaxing a bit during the project meeting.
  5. VOA3R 2nd Review meeting (16-18/7/2013, Brussels, Belgium): We spent two days at the lovely premises of the Innovation and Incubation Center of Leuven University (almost inside a small forest) preparing our review meeting presentations. The mood was strange, as the place was not familiar and we had the anxiety about the upcoming review meeting. The meeting itself took place at the premises of EC in Brussels, and mainly thanks to the long experience of +Miguel Angel Sicilia (UAH, the coordinator of the project) and +Christian Stracke (UDE) everything went well; +David Martín Moncunill was also the man behind most of the preparations, coordinating everything until the last minute and ensuring that everything was delivered on time and as promised.
  6. RDA 2nd plenary meeting (16-19/9/2013, Washington D.C., USA): I never expected that this trip would happen; +Nikos Manouselis suggested that I should attend the meeting early enough on behalf of the agINFRA project, but since it was during summer holidays, organizing such trip was not easy; I only issued my passport some days before the meeting and all bookings (flights and hotel room) were made a few days before my flight. This trip had everything: Missed flight (for the first time after three years of intense travelling), non-working debit cards, broken luggage etc. but at the same time it was an amazing experience, meeting all these key persons involved in the Research Data Alliance. Funny fact: It was the first time I met +Johannes Keizer (and it had to be on US grounds!). +Esther Dzale was there, along with +Devika Madalli from ISI, an agINFRA partner. The trip included dissemination of the agINFRA project, as well as actual participation in the Agricultural Data Interoperability Interest Group (let alone the reporting on the actual event in the form of tweets, photos and texts). It also allowed building bonds between RDA and the agINFRA project. It was my longest trip ever (the 1st outside the EU boundaries). Funny fact #2: I spent my b-day away from home for the 2nd time in a row...
  7. Organic.Lingua 6th project meeting (8-10/10/2013, Graz, Austria): This meeting was hosted by Know Center, one of the Organic.Lingua partners. The K-C team did a great job in organizing the meeting, so we actually stayed at the same hotel where the meeting took place. Apart from the typical meeting stuff, we appreciated the traditional cuisine and vast selection of beers, as well as a social dinner which was on the house (rarely to see that in project meetings nowadays). For once more I was travelling with Nikos Marianos and we almost missed our connecting flight from Frankfurt to Athens (we made it, but our luggage didn't!). My suitcase was brought home damaged and I had to go through some process in order to get reimbursed.
  8. EdReNe 10th Conference (6-7/11/2013, Brussels, Belgium): It was the 2nd year in a row for me participating in an EdReNe Conference. This time I participated on behalf of the UAH team of Organic.Lingua and presented the multilinguality features of the Organic.Lingua outcomes. My AK colleagues +Nikos Manolis and +Madalina Ungur were also attending the meeting, and I had the opportunity to meet +Elena Shulman and +David Massart again after a long time, along with EdReNe members with whom we had a nice time during the previous meeting. The trip was really short and tiring; the hotel room was rather bad, there was no internet and I had an awful headache during the 2nd day of the meeting which got worse and worse...
  9. agINFRA 2nd Review meeting (13/12/2013, Athens, Greece): I participated in the first part of the preparations (the technical meting) which took place at the AK office and attended the actual review meeting. I was really glad to see how the project is progressing, as my role is limited to the data integration and I do not have the opportunity to get to know about the technical achievements of the project. It seems that all went well and only minor comments will be received.
I also participated in some really interesting events during 2013:
  1. agINFRA users' meeting (26-27/3/2013, Athens, Greece): It was hosted by AgroKnow in the office and provided the opportunity to agINFRA data providers to have a dedicated session together, discuss about metadata, share the data management workflows followed by their institutions and discuss the linked data approach to be followed by the project. It was the first time I saw most of the agINFRA partners and was delighted to meet +Valeria Pesce and +Ivana Spasojevic for the first time, meet +Imma Subirats again and also meet other partners like David Morse, Devika Mandalli and ARD Prasad among others.
  2. OliveClima Networking Meeting (28/5/2013, Athens, Greece): I was kindly invited to the specific meeting to talk about data silos, data sharing and interoperability of data sources, using the use cases of VOA3R and agINFRA projects as useful tools for the projects also invited in the meeting. Everyone realized that their projects produce high amounts of data, which are usually not organized and cannot be accessed by external stakeholders. The VOA3R platform for researchers and the agINFRA infrastructure for data sharing were presented by me as solutions to the networking of researchers and data sharing respectively.  
  3. Introduction to Data Science for Agriculture course (29/11/2013, Athens, Greece): The first part of a trilogy (the Athens Green Hackathon 2013), a series of agINFRA and SemaGrow-organized events, was an introductory course to Big Data and their application in the agricultural context. I was responsible for preparing a couple of presentations for the specific course, which was hosted at the premises of the Institute of Informatics & Telecommunications (IIT) of the National Center for Scientific Research (N.C.S.R.) Demokritos, in Athens, Greece. There were about 40 participants (which I considered I high number for such a subject) and it was my first touch of Big Data.
  4. 1st International e-Conference on Germplasm Data Interoperability (6-20/12/2013): Well, that was also something large... started as a joint idea between Bioversity International and AK, in the context of the agINFRA project and the Germplasm Working Group which was organized by the project.  It evolved into a series of four online sessions (one of them asynchronous), involving key persons from various organizations and initiatives working with germplasm data and biodiversity, such as Genesys, EURISCO, GBIF, CGIAR, EGFAR etc. I felt honoured to make the introduction in two of the sessions and make three presentations for the e-Conference, while at the same time actively participated in the organization and hosting of the event. Despite the issues that we had with the platform (Google Hangouts were used for presenting the slides live), a lot of interesting discussions evolved, which seem to lead towards the achievement of interoperability between the various germplasm data sources and the application of a linked data framework supporting this. What I really appreciated was the opportunity I had to collaborate with important people and to spend time organizing the event with the precious help from +Eliza Arnaud and +Luca Matteis (both from Bioversity International).

In the meantime, I managed to find some time for some publications, based on the outcomes of the things that I am actually working on:
  1. Protonotarios, V., Stoitsis, G., Kastrantas, K., and Sanchez-Alonso, S. (2013) Using Multilingual Analytics to Explore the Usage of a Learning Portal in Developing Countries. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks (JALN) Vol. 17, Issue 2 (July 2013). Available online here
  2. Protonotarios, V., Stoitsis, G., Sanchez-Alonso, S., Kastrantas, K. and Martin-Moncunill, D. (2013) Using Agricultural Learning Portals in Developing Countries: The Case of Organic.Edunet. EFITA 2013 Conference, Turin, Italy, June 24-26, 2013. Available online here.
  3. Palavitsinis, N., Papageorgiou, A., Gavrilut, L. and Protonotarios, V. (2013) Green Ideas: A Social Generator of Green Solutions, Deconstructed. EFITA, WCCA and CIGR VII 2013 Conference, Turin, Italy, June 24-26, 2013. Available online here.
  4. L’Abate., G., Costantini, E., Pesce, V., Protonotarios, V., Geser, G. and Caracciolo, C. (2013) Preliminary Work Towards Publishing Vocabularies for Soil Data as Linked Data. Submitted in Information Processing in Agriculture (Springer)
So, what I really worked on during 2013?
  • Organic.Lingua: Supported the multilingual content population of the project, actively contributed to the ontology evolution in MoKi, supported the administrative stuff.
  • agINFRAI have been actively involved in some big deliverables of the project related to the data integration, the (meta)data management workflows, the linked data framework etc.
  • VOA3R: Ensuring that all content population-related tasks were completed on time, worked towards the effort estimation of the metadata enrichment, contributed to a publication titled "Opening Up Access to Scientific Information", which was an additional outcome/deliverable of the project. In addition, I finalized a number of small ontologies for the needs of the project, using for once more the MoKi tool.
  • ISLE: I was not really active as my colleague Andreas took over the ISLE management. However, I was involved in the ISLE Association from the beginning and have participated in discussions related to the future of the Association and the next steps.
  • AK blog: After a discussion we had with +Nikos Manouselis, we considered that the idea of an Agro-Know blog would be nice to implement; in this direction, I put some time in setting up a Wordpress installation, customizing it and making sure that there is a critical mass of posts, which will hopefully encourage colleagues to share their ideas and news through it.
  • I had smaller contributions to other projects, like SemaGrow, GreeNET and supported other projects through sub-contracting as well, mostly by preparing deliverables related to metadata integration and content population processes. I took some time to check the available CRM solutions and how they can fit in a data source management system and of course I must have done other things as well, which I cannot recall right now...
Well, 2013 looks like a productive year; this was (at least partially) due to the change of my role in the AK team. I feel much better now and more comfortable with what I am actually working on. Keeping fingers crossed for an equally productive 2014!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

1st International e-Conference on Germplasm Data Interoperability: Overview


The 1st International e-Conference on Germplasm Data Interoperability is now over. It consisted of four (4) sessions which took place between 6 and 20 of December 2013 and was co-organized by Bioversity International, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United NationsAgro-Know Technologies and supported by the agINFRA EU project.  The aim of the e-Conference was to bring together stakeholders in the area of plant germplasm and traits. The participants were encouraged to discuss the current status of the interoperability between the different data sources and resources, such as the metadata schemas and classification systems used. In this direction, the e-Conference aimed to focus on the Linked Data approach to be followed in order to enable the linking of data from heterogeneous data sources and in various data formats.

Indeed, the e-Conference managed to bring together various stakeholders including:

The e-Conference had the following structure:
  1. Session 1 (6/12/2013, Synchronous): The vision of Linked Germplasm Data (VideoGoogle Event page)
  2. Session 2 (11/12/2013, Synchronous): Data providers' perspective on current status & use of data and metadata for germplasm (VideoGoogle event page)
  3. Session 3 (19/12/2013, Asynchronous): Set up an infrastructure for germplasm data (Google event page)
  4. Session 4 (20/12/2013, Synchronous): Standard and metatadata for bringing germplasm data to breeding/in situ/on farm data (VideoGoogle event page)

All presentations are available at the website of the e-Conference. The AK team was actively involved in the organization of the event (both Giannis and me were in the Organizing Committee, which had a lot of work to do: from creating the program for the four sessions to finding the most appropriate tool/platform for the deployment of the e-Conference, let alone numerous emails/invitations/testing etc.!) as well as the actual implementation (I made three presentations in the first three sessions/Giannis also made one, and the introductions in Sessions 1 & 2!). The participation of AK was focused on the aims, objectives and outcomes of the agINFRA Germplasm Working Group, which has been working towards the harmonization of the germplasm standards as well as the development of a linked germplasm data approach.

The e-Conference was implemented using Google Hangouts, which allowed the presenters to share screens/slides and discuss while the audience could show a live stream of the presentations and comment in the page of the video or the event. We had some technical issues during the sessions (e.g. screen sharing not always working, full-screen sharing of presentations not working etc.) but in the end it was the content that mattered.

The comments received led some really interesting discussions and in fact there have been some of them which are going to drive things in the next months and move some steps forward towards the linking of the existing germplasm data sources and the work towards the adoption of common standards in all cases (where possible).

Overall, it was a really interesting and fruitful experience, which I hope that will enable the collaboration between the various stakeholders who actually participated in the meeting and will provide a "vehicle" for repeating the e-Conference during 2014, probably in a less formal way, enabling the frequent meeting of the stakeholders (e.g. in the form of e-seminars or workshops). As I mentioned during the e-Conference, I felt really privileged to have the opportunity to sit (at least virtually) next to such important people, who have been actively involved in the biodiversity and germplasm context during the last years and I feel that I have a lot to learn from them.

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Agro-Know Christmas party – 2013 edition

Next an interactive session during which everyone was invited to say some nice words (not especially difficult) for a specific other colleague (it was kind of a lottery, person was defined by drawing a paper from a pool of similar papers). This was nice, it went out of saying typical things about each other and at some point things got rather emotional... we're a big family after all! This part also included some well-accepted corporate gifts - big thanks to AK for that!
The AK team - more like a big family!

Then it was time for the real party; everyone shut down their laptops and we headed to Kimolia Art Cafe. Nikos Pal. was already there expecting us. The well-know Red Room was booked for the AK team, along with additional tables in the next room (the AK team gets bigger and bigger). Everyone was relaxed so it was a nice opportunity for informal discussion (along with the usual boring discussions about projects etc!). Beers, home-made glühwein and cocktails were served, along with some really tasty snacks (you gotta try the club sandwich and chiabbata sandwiches). A lot of photos were taken but you have to live with these few ones for the time being until we process the rest - so please come back again! ;-)

The AK team wishes you merry Christmas!
Next week will be strange, as some people will be on vacations so the office will be half-empty; this made the specific timing the most appropriate available. Next family event? The new year's pie gathering, which is expected in early January 2013!

P.S. Stauros was already on holidays and was greatly missed (but frequently mentioned); on the other hand, we managed to have Mada participating in the first part of the event through Skype video call!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

On email (or inbox) management

No, I am not the most appropriate person to ask for advice on the way that an inbox is organized; you should better ask other colleagues of mine who are experts either on organizing their Mozilla Thunderbird inbox or on using the Gmail colorful tags. I just try to create some basic structure in Thunderbird (e.g. per project and sub-folders per Work Package in some cases), so that my inbox does not get cluttered. On top of that, I have started using some color codes for defining emails requiring attention, including interesting information and so on. This post mostly refers to the management of the physical archive of an inbox, as a set of precious files and the ways to keep it safe.

As you can imagine, for people like us who spend a high percentage of their daily routine communicating with colleagues and partners all over the world, keeping the e-mail inbox safe is really crucial. Not only a lot of unique information is included in such emails, but there are also files attached and ideas that may not exist anywhere else.

The story behind this post is that a colleague of mine had her laptop stolen at a metro station, during a recent business trip in Paris. The story itself is rather complicated but typical for those of us who tend to travel to places we are not familiar with, so we may get confused, stop in order to ask for information on how to get to our destination, leave our stuff here and there for getting some rest etc., usually carrying more than our luggage and our backpack with our laptops, hard disks and other tools of work. In this case, my colleague only realized that she didn't have her small laptop bag with her after a while and it was too late; the bag was not there when she got back. The bag contained not only her laptop (with all her work and emails) but also her external disk in which she kept a backup of her emails (among others). This left her with a brand new, but totally empty laptop which she has started populating with her documents (which were hopefully backed up in another disk, some days ago).

The issue is that her emails are not available anywhere anymore; the corporate server is emptied every now and then and all emails were downloaded to her local Thunderbird installation. Only a part of them were available in her Gmail account as she was using both the corporate and the private email addresses but with no forwarding between them. This means that a lot of emails (and we mean A LOT of them) are now not available anywhere; to me this sounds tragic (as I heavily depend on email communication).

What could have be done in another way?
Well, now it is too late, but still there are some things to consider:
  1. Never keep your luggage unattended! Travel light, and do not carry a lot of stuff in your hands, especially if you are not familiar with the place you visit and you keep going back and forth, asking for information. It will come natural to leave something behind if you have a lot of things in your hands (e.g. handbag, coat, plastic bags with gifts etc.).
  2. Never keep your back up with you. Any external hard disks you use for backup should always be in a different physical place, in order to minimize the risk of losing all your staff at the same time.
  3. Keep online backups: There are free services that offer a significant amount of free space to use however you want; make use of this space for storing at least the core of your work. On top of that, there are free services like DropBoxSugarSync and Skydrive which automatically sync your folders with the cloud; just imagine that these folders in this case was your inbox... you would have an online, secure backup of your emails.
  4. Frequently back up your inbox (and other files). I believe that a weekly backup of the inbox (if a more frequent one is not an option) would provide a safety net in case you happen to lose all your emails. I have a weekly plan (that I don't always follow) but so far it seems to be working well).
  5. Forward emails to another account. I have colleagues who forward all emails from the corporate account to another, web-based one for safety (and convenience) reasons. It may come handy to be able to use e.g. Gmail for retrieving information/emails when you do not have access to the corporate inbox (for any reason)

  6. I am using a rather simple approach myself, but the post is getting too big already even without it; let's just stay on the tips for the time being!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

1st International e-Conference on Germplasm Data Interoperability: Session 2

Session 2 of the 1st International e-Conference on Germplasm Data Interoperability themed "Status of data and metadata for germplasm" included presentations on the metadata standards used in the various germplasm data sources, presentations of germplasm data providers and aggregators of germplasm data as well as people who have been working with germplasm metadata. It was deployed using Google Hangouts, thanks again to +Luca Matteis who made all the necessary preparations and organized the Hangout. Despite the fact that it was the second time that we used this platform, we still had some issues like desktop sharing not working, participants disconnecting etc.

The session started with a very quick introduction to the Conference (again) by me; this time I was better prepared and had some more time to introduce participants to the scope of the Conference and the presentations of this 2nd session. The first presentation was made by +Matija Obreza from Global Crop Diversity Trust, who made a presentation of the GENESYS Germplasm Data aggregator. The next presentation (more in the form of discussion) came from +Theo van Hintum and +Milko Škofič who presented the case of the EURISCO germplasm data aggregator and the experience related to metadata adn data sharing between European genebanks. The next presentation was to be delivered by +Maria Antonietta Palombi, (from CRA) about the Italian National Germplasm Database; however, this was not possible due to constant connection issues. +Dag Endresen made a presentation of the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) followed by my presentation about the germplasm metadata analysis that we did in the context of the agINFRA project.

What I found really interesting about this session (apart from the presentations themselves) was the elaborated discussion among (mostly) the presenters; this was expected, as interesting issues were raised during the presentations. In addition, thanks to the use of the Google Event page, there were a number of comments and links shared between the participants, which was also useful and drove the discussion.

The recording of the 2nd Session is available through YouTube as it was automatically recorded; another convenience provided by Hangouts, while the presentations are available through the event's website.

I believe that this 2nd session was more well-implemented than the 1st one, despite the issues that we faced. Session 3, which will take place on 19/12/2013, will be asynchronous, meaning that presentations will be recorded as videos and shared with the participants of the Conference - there will be no live streaming or coordination. We hope that there will be some comments related to each presentation. Until then, stay tuned!

Friday, December 6, 2013

1st International e-Conference on Germplasm Data Interoperability: Session 1

Session 1 of the 1st International e-Conference on Germplasm Data Interoperability themed "The vision of Linked Germplasm Data" is now over. It was deployed using Google Hangouts, thanks to +Luca Matteis who set everything up for us. It was the first time that we used this platform for deploying a Conference, so we came across with some issues but they were solved on the fly.

The session started with a very quick introduction to the Conference by me; I felt really lucky to be able to participate to the same meeting with people who have spent many years in the biodiversity and germplasm domain and I was really honored to be asked to make the introduction to the e-Conference (and obviously too nervous to do so!). Then +Eliza Arnaud from Bioversity International made a keynote speech on "Interoperability of Agricultural Diversity Data". The next presentation came from +Michael Marus (CGIAR) (ICT Manager of CGIAR) who presented the "Data Management Landscape", sharing the CGIAR experiences on the topic. It was really interesting to know that CGIAR has adopted Open Access policy for its data, and of course related to the linked open data approach proposed by the e-Conference. Next was +Donald Hobern, (GBIF Director), who made an interesting presentation of the Global Biodiversity Information Outlook and discussed several data sharing issues in the biodiversity area. Then it was my turn to present the agINFRA Germplasm Working Group, a group which aims to enhance the interoperability between different germplasm data sources by developing and deploying a linked data approach. The links of the group with the Research Data Alliance (RDA) related groups were highlighted and the next steps were presented. 

The last presentation of the 1st Session was made by +Luca Matteis from Bioversity International, who presented the TDWG group of interest on ‘Semantics for Biodiversity’.

Session 1 closed with a short discussion on topics related to the theme of the session, driven by questions posed by the participants/audience of the e-Conference. The recording of the 1st Session is available through YouTube as it was automatically recorded; another convenience provided by Hangouts, while the presentations are available through the event's website.

I admit that I was pretty pleased with the result, despite the fact that I was rather nervous for sever reasons (e.g. the use of a platform that we haven't used in the past, my participation in a Conference about biodiversity and germplasm for the first time etc.). I believe that all went well in the end and that we will all be more prepared and relaxed during the Session 2, which will take place on 11/12/2013. Until then, stay tuned!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

International e-Conference on Germplasm Data Interoperability


The “International e-Conference on Germplasm Data Interoperability” will take place between December 6th and December 20th, 2013. The aim of this e-Conference is to bring in contact stakeholders in the area of plant germplasm and traits and discuss the current status of the interoperability between the different data sources and resources, such as the metadata schemas and classification systems used. In this direction, it aims to focus on the linked data approach to be followed in order to enable the linking of data from heterogeneous data sources and in various data formats.
The e-Conference will consist of both synchronous and asynchronous sessions, facilitating the engagement of participants in both online and offline discussions and including real-time presentations using web-based tools. The event is jointly organized by Bioversity InternationalFood and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and Agro-Know Technologies and supported by the agINFRA EU project. Major players in the biodiversity area, including the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF), EURISCO and GENESYS will be invited and involved, along with the Agricultural Data Interoperability Interest Group of the Research Data Alliance (RDA). The participants will also sessions on germplasm data providers as well as the technical infrastructure need for linking the various germplasm data sources.
According to the tendative agenda, the e-Conference will consist of four (4) sessions, each one of which will be allocated in one week in the aforementioned period:
  1. The vision of Linked Germplasm Data (6/12/2013, synchronous)
  2. Status of data and metadata for germplasm (11/12/2013, synchronous)
  3. Setting up an infrastructure for the Germplasm Data (11-19/12/2013, asynchronous)
  4. Semantic standards and metadata needed for bridging the germplasm data to the breeding/in situ/on farm data (20/12/2013, synchronous)
The synchronous sessions will consist of real-time presentations and discussions between the participants while in the case of the asynchronous session, it will consist of a number of presentations available offline, which can be commented and discussed between the participants. The expected audience of this e-Conference is bioinformatics and biodiversity researchers, linked data experts and stakeholders working with linked data.
You can find additional information at the e-Conference website, including the registration form.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Intro Course to Big Data / "Introduction to Data Science for Agriculture"

The course "Introduction to Data Science for Agriculture", was held on Friday, November 29th, 2013 at the Institute of Informatics & Telecommunications (IIT) of the National Center for Scientific Research (N.C.S.R.) Demokritos, in Athens, Greece. It was the first part of a modular event which also consists of the following parts:
  • a Training Day which will be held on Thursday, December 12th, 2013 at the same venue, during which the participants will be trained on the tools and technologies to be used during the Athens Green Hackathon 2013 and
  • Athens Green Hackathon 2013, which will take place from Saturday, December 14th, 2013 to Sunday, December 15th, 2013 at the coLab Workspace in Athens, Greece.
You can find more information about the events at the Agro-Know wiki page.

Dr. Vangelis Karkaletsis (NCSR Demokritos)
The course started with an introduction by Dr. Vangelis Karkaletsis, Research Director of IIT of NCSR Demokritos, who provided an overview of the event and the background of IIT, followed by Angeliki Papageorgiou (Agro-Know Technologies, the organizer and contact person for the event) who explained the structure of the modular event and explained all necessary practicalities. The participants (about 35 people) had the opportunity to introduce themselves and explained why they chose to apply for the specific course. I was amazed by the fact that people with so different educational backgrounds were interested in the specific course; starting with agronomists, there were also mathematicians,statisticians, chemists and biologists, as well as web and software developers, ICT specialists and managers. This is exactly the audience that was needed for providing a trans-disciplinary dimension to the issue that we need to address during the hackathon; combining people with expertise in so different domains will surely provide really interesting ideas and outcomes for the hacking!

Angeliki Papageorgiou (Agro-Know Technologies)
Antonis Koukourikos (NCSR Demokritos)
The first presentation came from Antonis Koukourikos (Research Associate of NCSR Demokritos), who provided an interesting introduction to big data and their connection to linked data / semantic web. The case of the POWDER (Protocol for Web Description Resources), a protocol for publishing descriptions of (e.g. metadata about) Web resources using RDF, OWL, and HTTP developed by the IIT team and currently used in the SemaGrow project was also discussed.

Me, presenting the Drivetrain approach

The next presentation was delivered by me and discussed about data products and how they can be designed using a specific approach called "Drivetrain approach", also including a number of application case studies (outside the agricultural sector). My presentation was heavily based on an excellent report titled "Big Data Now" (2012) by O' Reilly, which as an amateur in the field of Big Data found excellent for providing an introduction. Related information can also be found in the O'Reilly web site, in the form of an easy-to-read article.

Dr. Charalampos Thanopoulos (AK)
The last presentation of the first day was delivered by my colleague in Agro-Know, Dr. Charalampos Thanopoulos, who discussed the issue of big and open data in agriculture. In addition, he provided a number of cases where data problems in agriculture were addressed with the use of the Drivetrain aproach. His presentation included really interesting data coming from various sources, as well as some nice case-studies of Greek companies activated in the agricultural sector.

After a short lunch break, it was time for the Creativity Workshop (an interactive session) on the development of (big) data products: Using the cases of Apivita and Stevia Hellas (two Greek companies) as a basis, participants were divided in two groups led by Angeliki and Babis respectively and were asked to provide ideas on the development of added value data services for the two companies, focusing on their websites. The session consisted of three parts:
  1. Identification of data types and formats which might be useful for each case;
  2. Discussion of current issues or ideas for improvement, in the form additional services for the customers of the two companies;
  3. Development of one idea per team (each group was divided in teams of 2-3 people), based on the ones already discussed. Design was depicted in A4 papers (initially) and flipchart sheets (at a later stage);
  4. Presentation of each team's idea to the participants of the event.
Participants of the Intro Course
During the Creativity Workshop 

Overall, I found it to be a really interesting experience, especially taking into consideration that this was my first presentation on big data. I really enjoyed discussions with participants, who brought fresh ideas and different approaches to the event. It was also really nice to see my colleagues Andreas Drakos (facilitating the interactive session) and Elena Kokoliou (documenting the process and supporting the organization) during the course, as their help and contributions were really valuable. I would also like to highlight the participation of Anne Bruinsma from the Netherlands who made this long trip in order to participate and explore opportunities for affiliation and future collaboration.

Friday, November 29, 2013

ODS Webinar 1: "Green Learning Network (GLN)"

The Open Discovery Space project (ODS) deployed a number of Webinars in order to allow stakeholders external to the project to get familiarized with the project itself and its outcomes. One of these webinars was titled "Green Learning Network (GLN)" and was of special interest to the Agro-Know team, as we are the ones actually working on this network, taking care of its various aspects like quality and expansion.

+Madalina Ungur was the facilitator of the specific Webinar, to which more than 70 people were registered and it was actually attended by a high percentage of them (exact number to be confirmed soon). Questions were made using Twitter and the "#ODSwebinar" hashtag, while the presentation itself can be found in Slideshare:

The recording (video) of the presentation can be found in YouTube:

Despite the fact that I am involved in GLN, I did not have the opportunity to attend the Webinar, as I was attending (and presenting at) the Big Data in Agriculture training course which also took place on Friday. However, I will try to keep myself up to date with everything that happened during the Webinar.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Introduction to Data Science for Agriculture

Παρασκευή 29 Νοεμβρίου 2013, 10.00 – 17.00 @
Ινστιτούτο Πληροφορικής και Τηλεπικοινωνιών του Ε.Κ.Ε.Φ.Ε. Δημόκριτος
(Πατριάρχου Γρηγορίου & Νεαπόλεως, 153 10 Αγία Παρασκευή)

Είσαι ερευνητής θετικών επιστημών στον τομέα της φυσικής, της χημείας, της γεωπονίας, της βιολογίας, των μαθηματικών, ή της στατιστικής; Ασχολείσαι με την ανάλυση πειραματικών δεδομένων και το σχηματισμό υποθέσεων ή εμπλέκεσαι σε εφαρμογές τεχνητής νοημοσύνης;
Κάνε το πρώτο βήμα για να διεκδικήσεις ένα από τα χρηματικά έπαθλα του Athens Green Hackathon 2013 λαμβάνοντας μέρος την Παρασκευή 29 Νοεμβρίου 2013 στο Course: “Introduction to Data Science for Agriculture”, εμπλούτισε τις γνώσεις σου στην επιστήμη των δεδομένων (Data Science) σχετικά με την ανάλυση και την αξιοποίηση των ανοιχτών δεδομένων (Open Data) και σκέψου μια ιδέα που θα αναπτύξεις σε τεχνολογική εφαρμογή κατά τη διάρκεια του Athens Green Hackathon (14 & 15 Δεκεμβρίου @ CoLab Workspace)!
Το course διοργανώνεται από την εταιρεία καινοτόμων τεχνολογικών εφαρμογών Agro-Know Technologies σε συνεργασία με το Ινστιτούτο Πληροφορικής και Τηλεπικοινωνιών του Ε.Κ.Ε.Φ.Ε. ΔΗΜΟΚΡΙΤΟΣ στις 29 Νοεμβρίου 2013 από τις 10.00 έως τις 17.00 το απόγευμα και θα φιλοξενηθεί στην Αίθουσα Διαλέξεων του Ινστιτούτου Πληροφορικής και Τηλεπικοινωνιών στην Αγία Παρασκευή!
Η εκδήλωση χρηματοδοτείται από τα ερευνητικά έργα agINFRA (“A data infrastructure for agriculture”) και SemaGrow (“Data Intensive Techniques to Boost the Real-Time Performance of Global Agriculture Data Infrastructures”) υπό το 7ο Πρόγραμμα Πλαίσιο της Ευρωπαϊκής Ένωσης.
Η συμμετοχή στο course είναι δωρεάν! Υπάρχει όμως περιορισμός στις διαθέσιμες θέσεις, συνεπώς είναι απαραίτητη η δήλωση συμμετοχής έως και την Τετάρτη 27 Νοεμβρίου 2013 στο link: http://goo.gl/o8a5jw
Για περισσότερες πληροφορίες, ακολούθησε το link: http://goo.gl/57RUco

Session 1: “Intro to Big Data”
Session 2: “A beginners'/ Non-experts' & Intro to Big Data”
Session 3: “Designing Data Products”
Session 4: “Data Problems & Products in Agriculture”
Session 5: “Hands-on Design of a Data Product”

Sunday, November 10, 2013

About time management

Time management is really crucial when working with EU projects; there are deliverables to be delivered on time, communication to take place at certain points, coordination of tasks and people/teams, and any other task to be completed on a specific time. This means that every minute counts and so you need to be sure where to allocate your every minute, every day.

One example is the time spent during the business trips. We tend to travel quite often and sometimes the trips take a lot of time; let alone the time in between flights. You cannot be online during the flights and sometimes there's no internet available at the airport (at least not free wifi). This means that only offline tasks can take place during this time.

- Preparing slides for the presentation you are going to make or going through the presentation for any last-minute revisions
- Reading deliverables, papers and notes taken during the previous days
- Replying to emails and have them ready to be delivered as soon as internet is available
- jot down notes about the ongoing tasks, organizing work and planning future activities/tasks

I find the use of a paper notebook very convenient during flights,where space is limited (sometimes even for my small netbook). It helps me put down my ideas, create To-Do lists, organize my tasks etc. I can even go through the notes taken during internal meetings and propose ideas. I have spent time during flights to revise deliverables by noting comments in the printed version or read interesting publications printed before I left office. In other cases I used my netbook to go through the slides of a presentation and make revisions. I have to admit that I still prefer reading from hardcopies over the digital form of a document using a tablet or the netbook.

Working during a Conference: Keeping notes, taking photos and keeping hydrated.
When online, you can download emails and send the outgoing ones, check for information online, download documents and material you need when offline. This is really useful when you have ongoing communication and you need to respond ASAP. In this case, an online break at an airport between connecting flights allows for being updated on the latest responses to a communication through email.

Another thing to take into consideration is the reliability of digital devices. Sometimes it's useful to have a hardcopy of digital documents (like deliverables or maps), as battery-based devices tend to fail when you most need them. I have found myself in situations where the table ran out of battery while I was trying to check the map for going to the meeting place while in another case the netbook shut down while I was revising my presentation. On top of that, it's always easier to take notes on a printed document compared to its digital format.

I find it really important to take advantage of travel time in order to go forward with my tasks; otherwise, they will require additional time at the office (which sometimes is not an option) and I will probably find myself lagging behind the tasks and deadlines. The better a trip is organized in advance, the less time you need for getting to your final destination (e.g. hotel room, meeting place etc.) so there's more time for working on other stuff. This will also save you from frustration.

Working during the flight; a case of combining digital devices and hard copies in a limited workspace

Of course, when travelling to new places sightseeing is also an option that I cannot resist, especially when I have a nice guide to help me see what I would like to see and save me from wasted time wandering around. I like to blend with local people (e.g. always use public transportation and avoid taxis), visit the traditional (and not always the touristic) part of the places I visit and be a part of it instead of being an external observer. This is a luxury that I still allow myself to try!

Friday, November 8, 2013

EdReNe 10th Conference

The 10th EdReNe Conference took place at the premises of the European SchoolNet (EUN), Brussels, Belgium between 6 and 7 November 2013. I attended the Conference as a member of the UAH team which coordinates the Organic.Lingua project. I was travelling with Nikos Manolis from Athens on the morning of the 6th so unfortunately we almost completely missed an extremely interesting session on the "Opening Up Education" initative of the EC. We still managed to attend a part of it including an interesting panel discussion between EdReNe members and Mr. Ricardo Ferreira from the European Commission, who provided a lot of interesting information on the new initiative as well as responses to the questions of the participants. This initiative aims to provide EU citizens with a centralized portal for accessing national repository which might be hard to identify by searching on the web and is going to feature open access educational resources only.

After a short lunch break we had the opportunity to attend an interactive session titled "Future Classroom Lab", which was a participatory session including interactive boards, the use of smartphones or tablets (provided by the hosts for the session) as well as smart remotes for providing the responses to predefined questions. The activity was based on the Socrative web-based service, which is free to use for up to 50 participants.

The next session was dedicated to linked data and their application in the educational context, followed by a session dedicated to Europeana. In this session, Breandan Knowlton, Chief Product Officer of Europeana  made a really interesting presentation on the status of the Europeana and related projects, while Jiri Frank demonstrated an adventure game based on Europeana content. The case of Historiana was also presented by Steven Stegers (EUROCLIO, The Netherlands). The first day ended with the session dedicated on the news from the EdReNe members; it consisted of presentations from Karin Whooley (PDST, Ireland), Fernando Rui Campos (DGE, Portugal) and Pascal Craeye (KlasCement, Belgium). This was the session where Mada from AK presented the Educational Discovery Spaces and the Pathway Authoring tools and I presented the multilinguality-related outcomes of the Organic.Lingua project, focusing on AgLR and the MoKi tool and how they offer automatic multilingual services. My presentation was also the last of the first day of the Conference, which ended with a nice dinner at L' Horloge du Sud, a cozy African restaurant.

The 2nd day of the Conference started with a presentation about ICT4IAL by Marcella Turner-Cmuchal (EU Agency for Development in Special Needs Education), followed by a wonderful joint presentation on the Special Educational Needs Network by Leo Hosjsholt-Poulsen (UNI-C, the president of EdReNe), Roger Blamire (EUN) and Elena Shulman (EUN). The next session was the most technical one, including presentations from Manon Haartsen-Geven (Kennisnet, Netherlands) about JSON, Frans Van Assche, the President of the ARIADNE foundation (Belgium) about aggregation of social and usage data and one from my colleague Nikos Manolis on the enhancement of learning content through the aggregation of social data. An additional presentation on the Swedish standardization on theme learning platforms and digital learning resources was given by Peter Karlberg (Skolverket, Sweden), including an amazing YouTube video promoting the WCAG standard!

The last session was the 2nd part of the News from the members. Some of the many interesting tools were the following:

  • the iTEC presented by Will Ellis (EUN), which is a highly customizable online platform featuring a number of widgets which can be selected and added based on the needs of the user. 
  • Edumoodle, an enhanced version of Moodle, including plugins and components, developed by BMUKK. The LTI approach (Learning Tools Interoperability) developed by MSI Global Talso looks promising for enhancing the interoperability between different educational/learning platforms. Presented by Astrid Leeb (Education Group, Austria).
  • Eduvista: A toolkit which enables school leaders, education policy makers, teachers and ICT suppliers to create and implement Future Classroom Scenarios that provide an clear vision of innovative teaching and learning practices. It can be used to introduce or scale up innovative use of ICT in a school or across schools in an education system. Presented by Will Ellis (EUN).
  • Edukata: An adaptation of a a research-based design approach for educators to design learning activities for their own educational context. It sounds really promising and is currently under development. Presented by Will Ellis (EUN).
  • EMU: A web platform providing access to learning materials (in Danish). The recommendations provided to the users are based on the tagging made by the users.
The 2nd day of the Conference closed with the conclusions and next steps. Agro-Know will probably host the next EdReNe meeting in Greece in 2014 so preparations will need to take place in the meantime.

Overall, it was a really well-organized conference, including sessions closely related to what I am actually working on and it was nice to see again the people from the previous EdReNe Conference in the Hague, the Netherlands about one year ago and what they have been working on during these months. You can find some photos from the event here.

If I had to provide a tagline for this Conference, it would be borrowed from the Danish folkeskole motto (found in Leo's last presentation of this Conference):

Gør en god skole bedre (Make a Good School Even Better)