Michael Bosch

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Clemson Research Experiences for Undergraduates

Collaborative Data Visualization Applications Summer 2014

Home Institution

University of South Dakota
Vermillion, SD

Clemson Research Mentor

Dr. Stephen Moysey, Dr. Catherine Mobley, Dr. Matthew Boyer
Geophysics, Sociology, School of Education

Clemson Visualization Mentor

Dr. Vetria Byrd,
Computing Information Technology

About Me

Who am I?

I am definitely not a bowl of petunias, but my interests are in Life, the Universe, and Everything. Of everything though, my main interest is in nature (which kind of is everything). My hobbies mainly include spending afternoons going on nice long hikes through the woods or staying at home and practicing the alto saxophone. One interesting fact about me is that I've lived in the Midwest for most of my life, though I've moved numerous times. As a mathematics major, I've taken many math courses, my favorite being Differential Equations (especially predator/prey models). I've also taken basic courses in Geology and Sociology (When I was a Geological Engineering major). I've been recognized a few times by the dean of my school as being a pretty good student, but I'm not quite sure if anyone else is aware of that.

Project Description

Expressing Sustainability within the Web-Based Multiplayer Game Naranpur Online

Since the concept of sustainability is fairly abstract, it is often difficult to depict to others whether a region is undergoing sustainable development. One solution is to develop and visualize a system of metrics and indicators that measure the sustainability of a region. This can pose a challenge, as regions have differing aspects that indicate sustainable development, thus making it hard to develop universal indicators that can be applied across regions. Naranpur Online, an online multiplayer watershed management game, simulates an agricultural environment where players interact to impact the potential of a region to evolve as a “sustainable system.” For this project, I have developed seven metrics, each containing several indicators, which will be able to determine the relative sustainable development of both the entire world of Naranpur and the individual player’s farming property. These metrics are used within a “hierarchical metrics system,” such that there are three tertiary metrics (economy, society, and environment), three secondary metrics (eco-economic, socio-environmental, and socio-economic), and one primary metric (eco-socio-economic), where the primary metric has priority over the other two metric types in assessing sustainable development. Using this metric system alongside Raphael.js, a “Sustainability Screen” has been created showing a player’s overall impact on each of the seven metrics. With this display and a player’s own investigative capabilities, conclusions can be formed regarding sustainable development within the Naranpur Online world.

Research Questions

Are there visualization methods that aid in the comprehension of the concept of sustainability?

Week 1

As the first week of the VisREU program, I've looked into many articles about the concept of sustainability. Some of these articles dealt with the factors that affect the overall sustainability of an area (e.g. economic, environmental, and social factors). Other articles from visualization journals gave me some ideas as to possible visualizations that could be used for my project. I was able to look more deeply into the Naranpur game and record my reactions to its existing visualizations as well as how the game expresses its overall purpose. I also looked into another online game/simulator known as Catchment Detox in order to better understand how other games represented the concept of sustainability.

I have also answered the question as to what I am contributing to the overall Naranpur project. My goal is to create a representation of data that will help players better understand the many functions of Naranpur as well as discover underlying relationships between these functions and how these relationships affect the sustainability of the Naranpur world.

Week 2

For the second week of the VisREU program, I focused mainly on investigating possible visualization software to use for modifying currently existing visualizations within the Naranpur game as well as creating new visualizations. This led to a proposal being written that investigated the pros and cons of visualization software such as "Raphael", "D3", "Tableau", "Gephi", and "R". There was also a proposal as to the path that should be followed when both modifying and creating visualizations for Naranpur. This path to be followed will be one of balance, in that there will be both familiarity as well as novelty in the visualizations.

I also looked into a very important article named "Tragedy of the Commons", which allowed me to further assess the concept of sustainability and how the community is affected by the individual's decisions.

Week 3

For the third week, my focus was on investigating more into the concept of sustainability metrics and brainstorming potential visualizations that could be used within Naranpur. These visualizations would be aimed at informing the player their (as well as the Naranpur world's) progress in sustainable development.

After reading more journal articles on the subject of sustainability metrics, I developed a criteria for evaluating existing environmental games in their use of sustainability metrics. The two games that I evaluated were Catchment Detox and Aqua Republica. These two games gave me further ideas on developing visualizations aimed at sustainable development.

I then developed the metrics to be used for Naranpur's sustainability visualizations, which were developed from the work in Subhas K. Sikdar's article "Sustainable Development and Sustainable Metrics".

Week 4

During the fourth week, I have looked further into how to use Raphael.js as a visualization tool and have developed an abstract to submit for next week's midterm presentations and the XSEDE14 conference in Atlanta, Georgia. I've also written a "statement of work" that will be used for next week's mid-term presentation. I have further developed the concept of a "hierarchical metric system" and how it can be applied to the Naranpur game. This metric system will be the concept used to create the finished visualization on sustainable development.

Concerning the "hierarchical metric system", I've been running into a few problems in classifying existing indicators within Naranpur as being in a tertiary metric, secondary metric, or the one primary metric. I may have to slightly change my original concept of a "hierarchical metric system" if the original concept becomes too time-consuming to fully develop.

Week 5

For the fifth week of this REU, my focus was on creating slides for the mid-term project presentation on July 3rd. With this came a re-focusing on what I needed to still accomplish for before week 8 is finished.

Also, I have slightly modified the original concept of a hierarchical metric system so that the secondary metrics contain indicators that measure the rate of change of certain tertiary indicators and the primary metric contains indicators that measure the rate of change of certain secondary indicators (more of an acceleration metric). Hopefully this modification will more accurately depict sustainable development by expressing the stability of the Naranpur system. I'm considering referring to this modification as a "sustainability through sustained stability" system.

I've also started the process of making a spider diagram template for the seven metrics. I have found pre-existing Raphael code that is capable of making radar diagrams, which has cut-down the amount of time needed to make the visualizations. There are still some issues though concerning getting the pre-existing code to show the spider-diagrams in a way I find most suitable for the Naranpur game as well as for the overall goal of the project.

Week 6

For the sixth week of this REU, I hav focused mainly on preparing a poster for next week's XSEDE[14] conference.

I have also taken a step back and have developed my original Hierarchical Metric System a little further. I'm at a stage now where I can bring my focus on actually programming the visualization for this project. This step will be extremely difficult as I will have to design the javascript code so the HTML file will display what I want it to display as well as structure the code so that it can be implemented into the Naranpur server.

Week 7

XSEDE[14] Conference Summary:

Sessions Attended:

Introduction to Modeling in Sage:

This session discussed the basic syntax and functions of the modeling/mathematical software Sage. I found this discussion very useful from a mathematics perspective as well as fascinating from the perspective of someone new to the software. This discussion was made even better by being able to follow along from our own personal computers.

Efficient Data Analysis with the IPython Notebook:

This session discussed some of the different plugins within the Python Notebook. There was also an overarching discussion of the potential created in using the Python Notebook. Though most of the discussion I didn’t understand, I was still able to get the basic idea of each plugin’s purpose and the value of the Python Notebook.

Can a $25+ Billion Investment Help California Balance Water Supply Reliability and Ecosystem Sustainability? Does Science Play an Important Part?:

This plenary talk discussed the water crisis in California and how the development of a program for water conservation could help ecosystems surrounding rivers used to supply cities with water. I found this talk extremely exciting, especially from my interest in mathematical ecology. Of all the sessions, I felt that this talk was strongly connected to my academic interests.

Learning Communities in the Mathematical and Computational Sciences: Success Stories and the Mathematical and Theoretical Biology Institute (MTBI):

This plenary talk discussed stories about past mathematical/computational science students from non-elite universities starting major academic careers at elite universities. I found this talk very encouraging as I myself am from a non-elite university and was unclear if I would be able to possibly start an academic career at an elite university.

Career Panel:

In this session, there was a discussion on the importance of having computational/mathematics scientists in industry. There was also a discussion on the different aspects of students future employers were looking for. I found this discussion interesting, but being someone looking to start a career in academia, I didn’t find this session all that applicable to my situation.

Student Elevator Talks –I:

For this session, several students gave short, five minute, presentations on the projects they have been working on. I was a little surprised at the beginning of the session that students were giving five minute presentation, as I didn’t see that as being an “elevator talk”.

Brownian Dynamics Simulations with Hydrodynamic Interactions on GPUs:

In this session, there was a discussion on the process of modeling the movement of particles that made up a liquid. I found this session to be extremely technical in the discussion of the project’s methodology, and as a result I didn’t fully understand anything about the project besides the main idea, or question.

Efficient 3D Movement-based Kernel Density Estimator and Application to Wildlife Ecology:

This session discussed the process of using 3D modeling software to tract the movements of certain populations of animal species. Again, coming from an area lacking in computer science, the methodology of the project seemed foreign to me. That being said, I found the conclusions obtained from the models to be extremely fascinating.

Overall, I would say that the time spent at the XSEDE[14] conference was worth it. I was able to gain valuable information on how the academic world functioned and how my peers were doing in regards to becoming a part of that world. I also gained a good amount of motivation to continue my goal toward graduate school and a future career in Academia.

Week 8

For the eighth and final week of this REU, my main focus was on wrapping up any milestones I was currently working on. After I finished these milestones I began working on my final poster for the project. This poster will be used in my presentation on July 25th in which I will present my project and my results.

There was an attempt earlier this week to integrate the sustainability visualization, or sustainability screen, into the Naranpur server so that the visualization could retrieve data accurately from the Naranpur database. This was done by first attempting to integrate a sample visualization within a Naranpur sandbox server to see if the visualization's code was structured properly. From this attempt, it was discovered that the code for the sustainability screen isn't structured in such a way as to retrieve the correct data from the Naranpur database. It was then concluded that this task could not be finished by the end of this week, and so I decided to not undertake this task, and instead focused on the final poster for the project.

Project Summary

At the beginning of this REU, I formed a research question that helped guide me through this project: "Are there visualization methods that can aid in the comprehension of the concept of sustainable development in Naranpur Online?" This question guided my investigation into past literature discussing sustainable development and how it had been measured. From this investigation I came across the concepts of "relative sustainability" and the "hierarchical metric system." Then, combining these two concepts, I began to develop a way in which to organize sustainability-related indicators(measurable quantities) within Naranpur Online as well as indicators not currently in the game that were seen as useful in assessing sustainable development. This organization led to the development of Naranpur's own "hierarchical metric system", which contains three tertiary metrics, three secondary metrics, and one primary metric, with each metric containing several indicators.

With help and suggestions from my research mentors, I then began to develop ideas for the visualization that would be used for Naranpur's hierarchical metric system on sustainable development. My mentors and I came to the decision that spider diagrams would be best in displaying sustainable development to players, and being able to see spider diagrams for past weeks as well as the current week in the game would be extremely useful and would utilize the idea of "relative sustainability" that was discussed earlier. With that, I began developing spider diagrams for each metric within the hierarchical metric system, with each metric's respective indicators being a different "wedge" on the spider diagram. These spider diagrams were developed using the JavaScript-based visualization tool, Raphael.

As I was finishing up the spider diagrams for each metric, I began to think of ways in which I would be able to display all of these spider diagrams to players in such a way as to show them all the information they needed without being overwhelmed by all the data being shown. From the suggestions of my research mentors, I began to develop what is now Naranpur's "Sustainability Screen." On this screen, players are able to toggle between the Tertiary Metrics' spider diagrams as well as between the Secondary Metrics' spider diagrams. These spider diagrams are displayed on the screen in three "zones," with diagrams for the Tertiary Metrics being shown in the first zone, Secondary Metrics in the second zone, and the Primary Metric in the third zone. Players can even toggle on and off the diagrams for the Tertiary, Secondary, and Primary Metrics in order to bring their focus to fewer diagrams. Incorporating the concept of "relative sustainability" into the screen, players are able to change spider diagrams (via buttons in the upper-left corner of the screen) so that a metric's spider diagram from the game's previous week can be shown in place of the diagram for the game's current week.

This screen is able to show to players how their decisions are affecting an entire metric as well as show the different relationships that exist between indicators within a metric and across metrics. The Naranpur Sustainability Screen also has the capability of educating players on the concept of sustainable development and how they themselves play a part in it not only in Naranpur Online, but also in the real world. It can be stated then that this screen has the potential to educate the public, in a fun, interactive way, on having a mindset toward sustainable development, which could mean positive outcomes in the future regarding global sustainability.

Project Poster:

Last updated: 07/24/2014