Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Dare to Dream Big

This post will be quite off-topic, but I just had to share some recent stuff in the works that caught my eye.

First up is a spin-off from research at MIT, led by Sanjit Biswas who temporarily left his Ph.D. program (are you sure, Sanjit?) to lead a company called Meraki. The cheap, little router/repeaters permit the creation of "smart", distributed networks such that a single DSL connection can feed dozens of end-points. The firmware in each little gizmo permits a network admin to monetize these ad-hoc connections. Consequently, getting connected to the 'net could be as cheap as a $1 a month once a user buys the attractive Meraki mini. The company also recently announced a Meraki Solar kit. Now that's forward thinking. There are dozens of testaments on the Meraki web site including one from the town Salinas, Ecuador where a network of schools are now connected even though there are no phonelines!

Distributed, ad hoc connections like this reminded me of an email I recently received from Rod Page who alerted me to FUSE, which stands for "File System in Userspace". This is a Linux-based, Sourceforge project that allows a user to create & mount virtual drives that contain or represent a vast array of file types. For example: 1) Fuse::DBI file system mounts some data from relational databases as files, 2) BloggerFS "is a filesystem that allow Blogger users to manipulate posts on their blogs via a file interface.", and 3) Yacufs "is a virtual file system that is able to convert your files on-the-fly. It allows you to access various file types as a single file type. For instance you can access your music library containing .ogg, .flac and .mp3 files, but see them all as if being .mp3 files." This all sounds very geeky, but I draw your attention to MacFUSE (sadly, there is not yet a WindowsFUSE, though it appears this functionality has not gone unnoticed):

So what? Isn't this just like some sort of peer-2-peer system? Absolutely not. This is more like a distributed content management system and, coupled with a highly intelligent Yacufs-like extension, it means that file types (e.g. MS Word, OpenOffice, etc.) can be converted on-the-fly to whatever file format you want or need. To step this thinking up a bit in case you have no idea why this is relevant to ecology or systematics, have a look at the cool things Cynthia Parr and her colleagues are doing to visualize distributed data sets: doi:10.1016/j.ecoinf.2007.03.005. FUSE means the work Cynthia & others are doing (e.g. SEEK) don't need a GUI. Rather, we just need a way to organize the gazoodles of files that would/could be present in an ecologically- or taxonomically-relevant filesystem. Maybe I should coin these EcoFS and TaxonFS :)~

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