EAGE 2013 in a nutshell

I left London last night for Cambridge. On the way, I had a chance to reflect on the conference. The positive, friendly vibe, and the extremely well-run venue. Wi-Fi everywhere, espresso machines and baristas keeping me happy and caffeinated.

Knowledge for sale

I saw no explicit mention of knowledge sharing per se, but many companies are talking about commoditizing or productizing knowledge in some way. Perhaps the most noteworthy was an update from Martyn Millwood Hargrave at Ikon's booth. In addition to the usual multi-client reports, PowerPoint files, or poorly architected database, I think service companies are still struggling to find a model where expertise and insight can be included as a service, or at least a value-add. It's definitely on the radar, but I don't think anyone has it figured out just yet.

Better than swag

Yesterday I pondered the unremarkability of carrot-and-ginger juice and Formula One pit crews. Paradigm at least brought technology to the party. Forget Google Glass, here's some augmented geoscience reality:

Trends good and bad

This notion of 3D seismic vizualization and interpretation is finally coming to gathers. The message: if you are not going pre-stack, you are missing out. Pre-stack panels are being boasted in software demos by the likes of DUG, Headwave, Transform, and more. Seems like this trend has been moving in slow motion for about a decade.

Another bandwagon is modeling while you interpret. I see this as an unfeasible and potentially dangerous claim, but some technologies companies are creating tools and workflows to fast-track the seismic interpretation to geologic model building workflows. Such efficiencies may have a market, but may push hasty solutions down the value chain. 

What do you think? What trends do you detect in the subsurface technology space? 

The evolution of open mobile geocomputing

A few weeks ago I attended the EAGE conference in Copenhagen (read my reports on Day 2 and Day 3). I presented a paper at the open source geoscience workshop on the last day, and wanted to share it here. I finally got around to recording it:

As at the PTTC Open Source workshop last year (Day 1Day 2, and my presentation), I focused on mobile geocomputing — geoscience computing on mobile devices like phones and tablets. The main update to the talk was a segment on our new open source web application, Modelr. We haven't written about this project before, and I'd be the first to admit it's rather half-baked, but I wanted to plant the kernel of awareness now. We'll write more on it in the near future, but briefly: Modelr is a small web app that takes rock properties and model parameters, and generates synthetic seismic data images. We hope to use it to add functionality to our mobile apps, much as we already use Google's chart images. Stay tuned!

If you're interested in seeing what's out there for geoscience, don't miss our list of mobile geoscience apps on SubSurfWiki! Do add any others you know of.

Two decades of geophysics freedom

This year is the 20th anniversary of the release of Seismic Un*x as free software. It is six years since the first open software workshop at EAGE. And it is one year since the PTTC open source geoscience workshop in Houston, where I first met Karl Schleicher, Joe Dellinger, and a host of other open source advocates and developers. The EAGE workshop on Friday looked back on all of this, surveyed the current landscape, and looked forward to an ever-increasing rate of invention and implementation of free and open geophysics software.

Rather than attempting any deep commentary, here's a rundown of the entire day. Please read on...

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AVO* is free!

The two-bit experiment is over! We tried charging $2 for one of our apps, AVO*, as a sort of techno-socio-geological experiment, and the results are in: our apps want to be free. Here are our download figures, as of this morning: 

You also need to know when these apps came out. I threw some of the key statistics into SubSurfWiki and here's how they stack up when you account for how long they've been available:

It is clear that AVO* has performed quite poorly compared to its peers! The retention rate (installs/downloads) is 100% — the price tag buys you loyalty and even a higher perceived value perhaps? But the hit in adoption is too much to take. 

There are other factors: quality, relevance, usefulness, ease-of-use. It's hard to be objective, but I think AVO* is our highest quality app. It certainly has the most functionality, hence this experiment. It is rather niche: many geological interpreters may have no use for it. But it is certainly no more niche than Elastic*, and has about four times the functionality. On the downside, it needs an internet connection for most of its juicy bits.

In all, I think that we might have expected 200 installs for the app by now, from about 400–500 downloads. I conclude that charging $2 has slowed down its adoption by a factor of ten, and hereby declare it free for everyone. It deserves to be free! If you were one of the awesome early adopters that paid a toonie for it, I have only this to say to you: we love you.

So, if you have an Android device, scan the code or otherwise hurry to the Android Market!

Building Tune*

Last Friday, I wrote a post on tuning effects in seismic, which serves as the motivation behind our latest app for Android™ devices, Tune*. I have done technical and scientific computing in the past, but I am a newcomer to 'consumer' software programming, so like Matt in a previous post about the back of the digital envelope, I thought I would share some of my experiences trying to put geo-computing on a mobile, tactile, always-handy platform like a phone.

Google's App Inventor tool has two parts: the interface designer and the blocks editor. Programming with the blocks involves defining and assembling a series of procedures and variables that respond to the user interface. I made very little progress doing the introductory demos online, and only made real progress when I programmed the tuning equation itself—the science. The equation only accounts for about 10% of the blocks. But the logic, control elements, and defaults that (I hope) result in a pleasant design and user experience, take up the remainder of the work. This supporting architecture, enabling someone else to pick it up and use it, is where most of the sweat and tears go. I must admit, I found it an intimidating mindset to design for somebody else, but perhaps being a novice means I can think more like a user? 

This screenshot shows the blocks that build the tuning equation I showed in last week's post. It makes a text block out of an equation with variables, and the result is passed to a graph to be plotted. We are making text because the plot is actually built by Google's Charts API, which is called by passing this equation for the tuning curve in a long URL. 

Agile Tune app screenshotUpcoming versions of this app will include handling the 3-layer case, whereby the acoustic properties above and below the wedge can be different. In the future, I would like to incorporate a third dimension into the wedge space, so that the acoustic properties or wavelet can vary in the third dimension, so that seismic response and sensitivity can be tested dynamically.

Even though the Ricker wavelet is the most commonly used, I am working on extending this to include other wavelets like Klauder, Ormsby, and Butterworth filters. I would like build a wavelet toolbox where any type of wavelet can be defined based on frequency and phase spectra. 

Please let me know if you have had a chance to play with this app and if there are other features you would like to see. You can read more about the science in this app on the wiki, or get it from the Android Market. At the risk (and fun) of nakedly exposing my lack of programming prowess to the world, I have put a copy of the package on the DOWNLOAD page, so you can grab Tune.zip, load it into App Inventor and check it out for yourself. It's a little messy; I am learning more elegant and parsimonious ways to build these blocks. But hey, it works!

What is commercial?

Just another beautiful geomorphological locality in Google's virtual globe software, a powerful teaching aid and just downright fun to play withAt one of my past jobs, we were not allowed to use Google Earth: 'unlicensed business use is not permitted'. So to use it we had to get permission from a manager, then buy the $400 Professional license. This came about because an early End-User License Agreement (EULA) had stipulated 'not for business use'. However, by the time the company had figured out how to enforce this stipulation with an auto-delete from PCs every Tuesday, the EULA had changed. The free version was allowed to be used in a business context (my interpretation: for casual use, learning, or illustration), but not for direct commercial gain (like selling a service). Too late: it was verboten. A game-changing geoscience tool was neutered, all because of greyness around what commercial means. 

Last week I was chastised for posting a note on a LinkedIn discussion about our AVO* mobile app. I posted it to an existing discussion in a highly relevant technical group, Rock Physics. Now, this app costs $2, in recognition of the fact that it is useful and worth something. It will not be profitable, simply because the total market is probably well under 500 people. The discussion was moved to Promotions, where it will likely never be seen. I can see that people don't want blatant commeriality in technical discussion groups. But maybe we need to apply some common sense occasionally: a $2 mobile app is different from a $20k software package being sold for real profit. Maybe that's too complicated and 'commercial means commercial'. What do you think?

But then again, really? Is everyone in applied science not ultimately acting for commercial gain? Is that not the whole point of applied science? Applied to real problems... more often than not for commercial gain, at some point and by somebody. It's hopelessly idealistic, or naïve, to think otherwise. Come to think of it, who of us can really say that what we do is pure academy? Even universities make substantial profits—from their students, licensing patents, or spinning off businesses. Certainly most research in our field (hydrocarbons and energy) is paid for by commercial interests in some way.

I'm not saying that the reason we do our work is for commercial gain. Most of us are lucky enough to love what we do. But more often than not, it's the reason we are gainfully employed to do them. It's when we try to draw that line dividing commercial from non-commercial that I, for one, only see greyness.

Volumetrics on the back of a digital envelope

A few weeks ago we launched our first mobile app, Volume*, now available in the Android Market (you can jump right to it with the barcode on the right). If you have an Android phone or tablet, please check it out! Today, I thought I'd write a bit more about I built the app, show you some of the gory details, and tell you about the latest update.

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Geophysics apps FTW

Google Nexus SI have used an Apple iPhone for several years. It's probably the loveliest technology I've ever owned. But now it's gone, it's over between us, and it will never come back. Because now I've found Android

Last Wednesday I got a Google Nexus S, chosen for its relative purity: built by Samsung, it's a Google-branded phone, so it has less of the carrier's fingerprints on it, and it gets OS updates faster. But it's not the phone I love—it doesn't have the industrial beauty of the iPhone®. It's not even Google's Android™ operating system that I'm besotted with—though it is pretty fantastic. The thing I love is App Inventor. 

If you've never tried programming a computer, you really should give it a try. For me, learning to program transforms a computer from a mere tool into a workshop. Or if you prefer, from an instrument into an orchestra—sounds a bit less utilitarian that way. And I tentatively assert that you will never look at a problem, at least a technical one, in the same way again.

Google App Inventor™ is a programming environment for your phone. You do the programming in a web browser, but the thing you build runs on your phone, or anyone else's phone (as long as it's running Android, natch). Everything is free. And it's easy. Not 'quite easy'. Really easy. If this doesn't sound pretty amazing, you should probably stop reading now. 

Agile Volume app screenshotSince last Friday, I have built four applications, three of which are geoscientiferous:

  • Fold* computes fold and trace density, given a seismic acquisition geometry
  • Elastic* finds all of the elastic parameters, given VP, VS, and density
  • Volume* calculates oil in place, given some reservoir properties (shown)

I had each app working, in a basic way, inside an hour. The only slightly tricky thing is setting up the logic to handle blank fields, weird oilfield units, and that sort of thing. Aesthetics can also be fiddly, especially if you are making custom graphics. But if you skip looks and error handling, perhaps because you don't intend to give the app to anyone else, then you can be done in under an hour. 

Evan and I have barely started to explore the tools available. The language inside App Inventor is based on MIT Scratch, the building-block visual interface with a long history at MIT. The vocabulary is very rich: there are math processes, logical constructs, text handlers. You can access the phone, email, the GPS, and even the accelerometer (for instance, in our apps you can shake the phone to clear the parameters and start over). You can draw interactive graphics, scan barcodes, or build a persistent database.

The only problem we've run into so far is the final hurdle: you cannot (yet—App Inventor is still in beta) easily publish your finished app to the Android Market, so that others can download it. There are non-easy ways, and we hope to have our apps up soon. They will be free, though we may experiment with freemium

Next week I'll write a bit about Volume* and show you how the inside of it looks. In the meantime, give it a try... or if you prefer, let us know if there's a killer geoscience app you'd love to have on your phone. I'm on a roll!

Find out more

The Wikipedia articles on Android and App Inventor are very nice summaries. 

iPhone is a registered trademark of Apple, Inc. Android and App Inventor are trademarks of Google Inc. Agile is not connected in any way with any of these marks or companies.