A blog about Open Source, my work at the Gates Foundation and those I am fortunate enough to collaborate with

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Alex Szalay – Progressive Rocker to the Stars

August 4, 2011

Alex Szalay

Alex is the Alumni Centennial Professor at the Department of Physics and Astronomy, Johns Hopkins.

Thanks to Roy Pea, I had the happy opportunity to sit with Alex during a dinner I held after a workshop of Big EdData and the future research ecosystem we would require to support personalized learning.

A leader in cosmology, Alex has been behind the development of applications that have democratized science and opened it up to enthusiasts and spacehackers.  His projects include the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, his ground-breaking collaboration with Jim Gray and Curtis Wong on the World Wide Telescope, and the Galaxy Zoo which crowd-sources galaxy classification across some 250,000 contributors worldwide.  As an integral part of his work, Alex is also blazing a trail in the use and application of ultra-large databases which I will characterize here as 40TB+ with over 1 GByte/sec I/O speed, using various scalable designs.

That and Alex’s warm personality and quiet humour would be enough to make him a fabulous dinner companion.  However, Alex is also a product of Communist Hungary who sought an outlet for his feelings in Progressive Rock.  Alex was first turned onto guitar in 1962 when he was able to see the Beatles play live in Stockholm during their Hard Days Night tour.  Alex remembers hearing very little of the set for all the screaming going on around him.  Alex elaborated in a recent interview that later that summer, he won some prize money from a Hungary-wide high school math contest. “Much to my parents’ disappointment,” he said, “I spent it on an electric guitar.” Having developed a taste for the blues, Alex fingers the Hungarian composer Bartok as the reason he fell into ProgRock (Emerson Lake & Palmer, King Crimson).  Alex still plays today with his son.

I am very glad to have Alex involved in our thinking.  You can learn more about Alex and his passion for music here.  His official site can be found here


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