Hello again, world

So, after a couple of years off, I’m back to writing a blog again :). After leaving the OpenSimulator project and the area of virtual worlds in general, I badly needed a break. In that period, we had some tremendous successes, not least running multiple conferences with 400+ attendees and coming up with the Hypergrid architecture for building a working Internet-scale distributed virtual world. But it was also tremendously draining, sometimes I felt I spent most of those many years in an endless grind of bug-fixing, and despite Gartner predicting that 80% of active Internet users would have an avatar in a virtual world by 2011, things didn’t quite pan out that way.

Of course, my idea of a break was to throw myself into another area :). I’ve always been interested in genomics and related topics; being a thorough-going materialist, biology was, in a sense, just another information system to me, albeit one which was vastly more complicated and less tweakable than software. So when a job came up on Stack Overflow working on open-source data integration in synthetic biology at the University of Cambridge in the UK with the InterMine project, I leapt at it and made the move.

Since then it’s been a fascinating ride. I’ve crammed my head with just enough biology to understand the broad outlines of the datasets, and my interests (and funding!) have evolved from synthetic biology to a very strong interest in knowledge graphs and life sciences data. I’ve read what feels like a thousand papers on everything from genomics, through to databases and data integration, and down into ontologies, knowledge graphs and linked open data. And I think that I’ve finally reached the point again where I can write again without looking completely clueless :).

Hence the blog. I’m going to write about some general topics in open science, such as FAIR, which concerns making scientific data Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable (look out for a blog post on this soon!), but in the main I’ll probably stick to the technical. I’m particularly interested in knowledge graphs, as used by Google, IBM Watson et. al to buttress their voice assistant and search systems. These have been around for a while in various guises, not least from the semantic web community, but I think are beginning to see a wave of renewed interest in science.

I’m going to approach these topics from a hacker software engineering perspective, rather than from a particularly academic viewpoint. So expect a strong emphasis on simplicity and the practical messiness of getting things working, rather than the completely rigorous and correct. But that said, any corrections or other discussion in the comments (once I have them working) are very welcome.

And if you’re interested in finding out more about me, please see my about page.

Written on January 11, 2018