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You down with DDG?


Friday, August 2, 2013, by Shaylyn Adams
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"Ooh you're working at the Harvard Forest, that's cool, right?! You get to swing from trees, work on your tan, get some exercise and play with chipmunks, right?!" Well, actually, wrong (and I'm sure most field work is not that glorious). Instead of building tree forts and befriending Bambi, my job at the Harvard Forest takes place pretty much completely inside (and with the deer flies this season, that's the way I like it). Not that I don't sweat; it gets fairly hot inside the Shaler building dining hall where there is no central AC.

Nevertheless, rain or shine you can always find me and my research partner, Vasco, sitting at our trusted table in the back of the room coding away on our computers. You can tell we have claimed it as our work space by the multi-outlet surge protecter and ever-present coffee cups. These two things supply the power to our project as we toil behind the computer every day, usually accompanied by our two mentors, Emery Boose and Barbara Lerner.

This is the fifth summer they have been working on this project at the Harvard Forest. It focuses on capturing data provenance though Data Derivation Graphs.

I know I just threw some unfamiliar terms at you. Let me explain.

Provenance is essentially the complete history of something: a trace from where it is now back to its origin. Data provenance is the record of data and its transformations, which is crucial in the scientific world, because without a complete history of your data analysis processes, how can someone else understand, verify and reproduce what you did?

Recording your data's history by hand can be very tedious and there are no exact rules on how to do it, what to include, or where to store it. So that's where the Data Derivation Graph (or DDG as the cool kids call it) comes in handy. It is built using computer software and is basically a map of what happened to your data. It can get wild. My work this summer involved making the DDG more expressive and applicable to scientists' needs.

I worked with the statistical language, R, which is used by many ecologists and other students here. I added some more interactive features to the visual DDG and now you can click and see the actual data values at each step and their corresponding timestamps, plots, files, URL's, or associated R functions. This all gets stored into a database and you can view it later.

Despite the fact that my main work is inside, I do get to see the sun every once in a while on our weekly trips into the forest to manually collect data from sensors at the 6 watershed sites in the forest. Not to mention I can chill outside whenever I want after work hours (and I do)!

Just the other week we had the Harvard Forest Olympics where me and my roommate, Channing, competed against 10 other teams of students here in events such as a 3-legged race, Partner Trivia, Egg Toss and a costume contest. The main goal was to have fun and be silly so I don't feel that embarrassed to admit that Channing and I got approximately 0 points. Good times.

This is our last week here and it is definitely bittersweet as we wrap up our projects and get together our presentations for the symposium. Its been such a wonderful learning experience filled with lasting memories and friendships. No matter what you do at Harvard Forest, whether it be inside or outside, it is so rewarding and super cool.

Shaylyn Adams

Quirky Q&A with Shay

• If you were on death row, what would your last meal be? Probably a large bowl of Honey Graham O's because THEY ARE TO DIE FOR. P.S. Puns are such a big thing at HF.
• If you could marry a cartoon character who would it be? Why? Um, definitely Aladdin. Diamond in the rough, amirite? He's super cute, resourceful, owns a flying carpet, is best friends with a genie and he has a lil pet monkey who is devious but loyal and they have matching outfits! Also, fun fact: Aladdin is the only Disney movie with a Disney princess who wasn't the main character. Crazzyyy.
• If you could have 5 liquids always on tap from each of your fingers what would they be? Thumb: Chocolate milk cause its the best thing this world has to offer. Index:OceanSpray CranGrape juice cause its the second best thing. Middle: Gasoline because its so darn expensive and with an unlimited supply I could drive (FOR FREE) whenever and wherever I wanted and not have to worry about finding a gas station EVER. Ring: Water because duh, nothing hydrates you more and what can beat a tall glass of cool H2O on a hot day? Pinky: Iced Americano from Starbucks for when you need a little caffeine boost. 

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