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.