TACC develops visualization software for humanities researchers

December 11, 2012

The Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) at The University of Texas at Austin has released MostPixelsEver: Cluster Edition, an open source software tool that allows researchers, especially those in the humanities, to create interactive, multimedia visualizations on high resolution, tiled displays like TACC's Stallion, one of the highest resolution tiled displays in the world at 328 million pixels.

"The goal is to make visualization tools easier for humanities researchers to use," said Rob Turknett, digital media, arts and humanities coordinator at TACC. "The proliferation of digitized textual, visual and aural resources is a great boon for the humanities, offering opportunities for new kinds of scholarship, but it also brings a new complexity."

Supported by a startup grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities titled "A Thousand Words: Advanced Visualization for the Humanities," the software is based on a language called Processing, a programming toolkit that makes it easier for people to create visualizations.

"As the amount of cultural data that scholars work with increases, it becomes crucial to visualize that data on a sufficiently high resolution display," Turknett continued.

"Conventional display resolutions simply aren't keeping pace with this explosion of online cultural data to be explored."

The work borrows ideas from a library called Most Pixels Ever by Daniel Shiffman at the Interactive Telecommunications Program at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts. However, Shiffman's version was not well-suited for tiled cluster displays, according to Brandt Westing, technical lead on the project and manager of the TACC/ACES Visualization Lab (Vislab).

"We re-wrote the software from scratch to work on any type of composite display from laptops to the highest-end visualization clusters and tiled displays."

Visualization clusters and tiled displays allow small groups of people to collaboratively explore large amounts of data and many types of visualizations, including: high resolution imagery (satellite, aerial photography, scientific instruments); high resolution movies (hi-res animations, time-series simulation results); 2D information display (maps, charts, graphs, data, text); and 3D visualization (complex geometries, interactive exploration of 3D datasets).

"Most of the tools that exist for these displays are developed by and for scientists, yet there are many researchers from the humanities and arts who want to do visualization," Turknett said.

"The software that we've developed is part of an effort to make advanced visualization systems more accessible to people who may not have a deep technical background."

Jason Baldridge, an associate professor in the Linguistics Department at The University of Texas at Austin, researches a wide range of problems involving the connection among language, computation, geography and time. His research has the potential to improve a variety of applications based on natural language processing and text analytics that are widely used to analyze unstructured data.

"We're awash in very large collections of text and we simply cannot read through all of them," Baldridge said. "We need improved tools for exploring text collections so people can find interesting patterns, and this new software developed by TACC can help us accomplish this goal."

Baldridge's current project involves analyzing a collection of several hundred texts from the Civil War.

"Using the new software on TACC's Stallion, we're parallelizing the computations to do visualizations and view an enormous amount of data at once, both of which are incredibly useful in exploring the output from our models and applications." For example, Baldridge uses the software to identify text passages from memoirs that are connected to a particular city and time.

"And, because they connect language to the real world, they lend themselves to novel visualizations that illustrate the geographical and historical context of text collections and language use," Baldridge said.

Tanya Clement, an assistant professor at the School of Information, builds tools for scholars who analyze literary texts. "Humanities researchers have not had access to large data sets until recent decades. It's essential for humanities scholars to be involved in the creation of new software and tools so the concerns of the community are reflected," Clement said.
-end-
Both Baldridge and Clement collaborated with TACC on the project.

MostPixelsEver: Cluster Edition is already in use at two other institutions: The University of Texas at El Paso and The University of Texas at San Antonio's Center for Simulation Visualization and Real-time Prediction.

MostPixelsEver: Cluster edition is open source and available for download: http://www.tacc.utexas.edu/tacc-software/most-pixels-ever-cluster-edition

University of Texas at Austin, Texas Advanced Computing Center

Related Language Articles from Brightsurf:

Learning the language of sugars
We're told not to eat too much sugar, but in reality, all of our cells are covered in sugar molecules called glycans.

How effective are language learning apps?
Researchers from Michigan State University recently conducted a study focusing on Babbel, a popular subscription-based language learning app and e-learning platform, to see if it really worked at teaching a new language.

Chinese to rise as a global language
With the continuing rise of China as a global economic and trading power, there is no barrier to prevent Chinese from becoming a global language like English, according to Flinders University academic Dr Jeffrey Gil.

'She' goes missing from presidential language
MIT researchers have found that although a significant percentage of the American public believed the winner of the November 2016 presidential election would be a woman, people rarely used the pronoun 'she' when referring to the next president before the election.

How does language emerge?
How did the almost 6000 languages of the world come into being?

New research quantifies how much speakers' first language affects learning a new language
Linguistic research suggests that accents are strongly shaped by the speaker's first language they learned growing up.

Why the language-ready brain is so complex
In a review article published in Science, Peter Hagoort, professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at Radboud University and director of the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, argues for a new model of language, involving the interaction of multiple brain networks.

Do as i say: Translating language into movement
Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have developed a computer model that can translate text describing physical movements directly into simple computer-generated animations, a first step toward someday generating movies directly from scripts.

Learning language
When it comes to learning a language, the left side of the brain has traditionally been considered the hub of language processing.

Learning a second alphabet for a first language
A part of the brain that maps letters to sounds can acquire a second, visually distinct alphabet for the same language, according to a study of English speakers published in eNeuro.

Read More: Language News and Language Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.