Recap of the sixth workshop on Fact-Oriented Modelling: ORM’10

The sixth workshop on Fact-Oriented/Object-Role Modelling (ORM’10) in Hersonissou, Crete, Greece, and co-located with the OTM conference just came to a close after a long session on metamodelling to achieve a standard exchange format for the different ORM tools that are in use and under development (such as NORMA, DocTool, and CaseTalk). The other sessions during these three days were filled with paper presentations and several tool demos, reflecting not only the mixed audience of academia and industry, but also the versatility of fact-oriented modelling. I will illustrate some of that in the remainder of the post. (Note: ORM is a conceptual data modelling language that enjoys a formal foundation, and a graphical interface to draw the diagrams and a textual interface to verbalize the domain knowledge so as to facilitate communication with, and validation by, the domain experts.)

An overview of a novel mapping of ORM2 to DatalogLB was presented by Terry Halpin from LogicBlox and INTI International University [1]. The choice for such a mapping was motivated by the support for rules in Datalog so as to also have a formal foundation and implemented solution for the (derivation) rules one can define in an ORM conceptual data model in the NORMA tool.

Staying with formalisms (but of a different kind and scope), Fazat Nur Azizah from the Bandung Institute of Technology proposed a grammar to specify modelling patterns so that actual patterns can be reused for different conceptual data models—alike software design patterns, but then for the FCO-IM flavour of fact-oriented conceptual data modelling [2].

At the other end of the spectrum were two papers that proposed and assessed the use and benefits of ORM in the setting of understanding natural language text documents. Ron McFadyen from the University of Winnipeg introduced document literacy and ORM [3]. Peter Bollen from Maastricht University showed how ORM can improve the completeness and maintenance of specifications like the Business Process Model and Notation [4], which is in analogy with the WSML-documentation-in-ORM [5] and thereby thus strengthening the case that one indeed can be both more precise and communicative with one’s specification if accompanied by a representation in ORM.

There was a session on Master Data Management (MDM), presented by Baba Piprani from MetaGlobal Systems and Patricia Schiefelbein from Boston Scientific. However, I got a bit sidetracked when Baba Piprani had an interesting quote called the “Helsinki principle”, being

Any meaningful exchange of utterances depends upon the prior existence of an agreed set of semantic and syntactic rules. The recipients of the utterances must use only these rules to interpret the received utterances, if it is to mean the same as that which was meant by the utterer. (ISO TR9007)

whereas I was associating the term “Helsinki principle” with a wholly different story, being the right to self-determination described in the Helsinki accords on security and cooperation in Europe. Now, it happens to be the case that proper MDM contributes to solving semantic mismatches.

Last, there was a session on extensions. Tony Morgan from INTI International University [6] had a go at folding and zooming, presenting an alternative approach to abstraction for large ORM diagram (that is, alternative to [7,8] and the many other proposals outside ORM); it introduced new notations, the code-folding idea for but then for ORM diagrams, and a lightweight algorithm. Yan Tang from STARLab at the Free University of Brussels elaborated on the interaction between semantic decision tables and DOGMA [9] (DOGMA is an approach and tool that reuses ORM notation for ontology engineering). Last, but not least, I presented the paper by Alessandro Artale and myself about the basic constraints for relation migration [10], about which I wrote in an earlier blog post.

To wrap up, the workgroup on the common exchange format for fact-oriented modelling tools—chaired by Serge Valera from the European Space Agency—will continue their work toward standardization, the slides of the presentations will be made available on the ORM Foundation website in these days, and else it is on heading towards the 7th ORM workshop next year somewhere in the Mediterranean.


(Unfortunately, at the time of writing, most of the papers are still in the proceedings behind Springer’s paywall)

[1] Terry Halpin, Matthew Curland, Kurt Stirewalt, Navin Viswanath, Matthew McGill, and Steven Beck. Mapping ORM to Datalog: An Overview.
 International Workshop on Fact-Oriented Modeling (ORM’10), Hersonissou, Greece, October 27-29, 2010. Meersman, R., Herrero, P. (Eds.), OTM Workshops, Springer, LNCS 6428, 504-513.

[2] Fazat Nur Azizah, Guido P. Bakema, Benhard Sitohang, and Oerip S. Santoso. Information Grammar for Patterns (IGP) for Pattern Language of Data Model Patterns Based on Fully Communication Oriented Information Modeling (FCO-IM). International Workshop on Fact-Oriented Modeling (ORM’10), Hersonissou, Greece, October 27-29, 2010. Meersman, R., Herrero, P. (Eds.), OTM Workshops, Springer, LNCS 6428, 522-531.

[3] Ron McFadyen and Susan Birdwise. Literacy and Data Modeling. International Workshop on Fact-Oriented Modeling (ORM’10), Hersonissou, Greece, October 27-29, 2010. Meersman, R., Herrero, P. (Eds.), OTM Workshops, Springer,
LNCS 6428, p. 532-540.

[4] Peter Bollen. A Fact-Based Meta Model for Standardization Documents. International Workshop on Fact-Oriented Modeling (ORM’10), Hersonissou, Greece, October 27-29, 2010. Meersman, R., Herrero, P. (Eds.), OTM Workshops, Springer,
LNCS 6428, p. 464-473.

[5] Tziviskou, C. and Keet, C.M. A Meta-Model for Ontologies with ORM2. Third International Workshop on Object-Role Modelling (ORM’07), Algarve, Portugal, Nov 28-30, 2007. Meersman, R., Tari, Z., Herrero., P. et al. (Eds.), Springer, LNCS 4805, 624-633.

[6] Tony Morgan. A Proposal for Folding in ORM Diagrams. International Workshop on Fact-Oriented Modeling (ORM’10), Hersonissou, Greece, October 27-29, 2010. Meersman, R., Herrero, P. (Eds.), OTM Workshops, Springer, LNCS 6428, 474-483.

[7] Keet, C.M. Using abstractions to facilitate management of large ORM models and ontologies. International Workshop on Object-Role Modeling (ORM’05). Cyprus, 3-4 November 2005. In: OTM Workshops 2005. Halpin, T., Meersman, R. (eds.), Lecture Notes in Computer Science LNCS 3762. Berlin: Springer-Verlag, 2005. pp603-612.

[8] Campbell, L.J., Halpin, T.A. and Proper, H.A.: Conceptual Schemas with Abstractions: Making flat conceptual schemas more comprehensible. Data & Knowledge Engineering (1996) 20(1): 39-85

[9] Yan Tang. Towards Using Semantic Decision Tables for Organizing Data Semantics. International Workshop on Fact-Oriented Modeling (ORM’10), Hersonissou, Greece, October 27-29, 2010. Meersman, R., Herrero, P. (Eds.), OTM Workshops, Springer, LNCS 6428, 494-503.

[10] Keet, C.M. and Artale, A. A basic characterization of relation migration. International Workshop on Fact-Oriented Modeling (ORM’10), Hersonissou, Greece, October 27-29, 2010. Meersman, R., Herrero, P. (Eds.), OTM Workshops, Springer, LNCS. 6428, 484-493.

Scientist vs. Engineer: still, again, even more so now, or not

The “World view” article in this week’s Nature amplifies an attack on scientists, focusing on a recurring debate about—by some perceived as a fracture between—science and engineering. Colin Macilwain tries to cast the debate in terms of the financial hardship and the hard choices that have to be made to allocate the diminishing amount of funding of universities’ research [1]. Regarding the funding, the argument goes that the bang-for-your-buck is higher when you bet on engineering, not on the sciences, as, it is claimed, there is much science that does not materialize into increased wealth anyway (‘wealth’ in this context, I presume, is measured in more money, profits, etc.) whereas engineering does, so therefore (myopic) government policy should favour the funding of engineering over the sciences. The UK’s Royal Academy of Engineering made an official statement in that direction (more polite than the previous phrase), and Macilwain, after some deliberations, closes with:

By casting a stone at their rivals, UK engineers have, at least, demanded better. They’ve also started a scrap between disciplines that will grow uglier as the spending cuts begin.

This is a disservice to the overall debate both on spending cuts and on the scientist “vs.” engineer. It is like bringing the recurring, lamentable, poor-on-poor violence into the realm of academia.

Luigi Foschini, scientist at the INAF Osservatorio Astronomico di Brera, already has written a useful blog post on the “two cultures” issue [2] in response to Macilwain’s article: the dichotomy is wrong and it is beneficial when a researcher knows about both science and engineering. He closes with the proposal that

[w]e have to make a Second Renaissance, with men and women able to develop an integrated culture, not rejecting any part because not in their backyard. Someone replies that today this is too complex, because the culture is too vast to be handled by individuals. This is not true. […]. The main obstacles are of social origin

Taking into account the ‘detours’ I made during my education and comments I remember over the years in research: I tend to concur that the obstacles are of social origin. Fair enough, not many people have done as many and diverse degrees as I did, principally because they think they do not have the time or money (which is, essentially, a resource allocation decision—e.g., I paid for some of the studies myself instead of, say, buying a fancy car). But it is not impossible to do both, as Foschini, I, and multiple other researchers can attest. Moreover, having been indoctrinated in more than one paradigm really does have its advantages over mono-discipline training (more about that in a separate post some time later).

The other issue I have with Macilwain’s article is that it pits one group of researchers against another, en passant swallowing and propagating divide and conquer tactics and thereby feeding infighting within academia. But in the end, casting stones will leave everyone mutilated—even if think you are in the position to pride yourself on casting the first stone. And, as the saying goes, be hoist with one’s own petard.

A more constructive step to resolve the debate on the spending cuts was made last week with the open letter to cut military R&D, not science funding, and, more generally, to cut the obscene budgets for war and destruction. The world does not need more nukes, ‘smart’ bombs, chemical weapons and the like, and significantly reducing the size of offence-armies so as to, at least, end the perpetuation of inflicting ‘collateral damage’ and occupation of foreign countries will make one’s home safer for longer. Another place where there is, on average, a lot of money that can, in theory at least, be redistributed more fairly, is the growing pile of assets of the rich, being, by and large, the baby boomers. A different way of phrasing it, is that the trend of resource concentration with a certain dominant age cohort (and their generational egoism) should be reversed so that the resources will be distributed in the benefit of society at large, the latter obviously including science and engineering research. That redistributive taxation is not in vogue anymore in the USA and most of Europe does not mean it is impossible to do.

Indeed, on the one hand, investment in research in the sciences and engineering neither will bring instant gratification nor lift the West out of the recession by tomorrow morning. On the other hand, the bank bailouts did not do the trick to bring the economy back into the zone of profit- and increased employment, the initial élan for green technologies as the magic bullet to pull us all out of the economic crisis did not quite materialize either, and the military-industrial complex destroys more than that it provides toward a healthy sustainable economy anyway. So one might as well give science and engineering a chance—after all, in tandem, they have a proven track record to be to the benefit of society.

The scientist ‘vs.’ engineer should not be a versus but a both-and. (Ab)using the economic hardship as an excuse to pit one against the other is to the detriment of both in the long run, and I am tempted to state that any academic worth his or her education should (have) come to the insight not to fall into this trap. If you do not, then you might want to learn a bit more so as to peek over that disciplinary wall, punch a hole in that wall, or take a step or two to walk through a door that a fellow colleague might just be holding open for you.


[1] Colin Macilwain (2010) Scientists vs engineers: this time it’s financial. Nature, 467, 885.

[2] Luigi Foschini. Scientists vs Engineers or another version of “The Two Cultures”. The Event Horizon blog, October 21, 2010.

Finally, I’m on Facebook too

After years of resisting, I finally succumbed to it: I created an account on facebook. Here’s my (slightly modified) badge:

I readily admit Facebook is fun, but it also confirmed my suspicion it’s a ‘distraction’. So, instead of spending time on preparatory work to write an informative blog post, I browsed around there, checked out other people’s links, chatted, and posted links myself. Links that otherwise might have been ‘upgraded’ (?) to an entire post, such as about the Newsweek’s article that women will rule the world and the open letter to cut military R&D, not science funding (in case of ‘necessary’ cuts in science, that is).

The next post will have more information content than this one (I suspect I am saying this to myself as well).

Automating approximations in DL-Lite ontologies

As the avid keet blog reader or attendee to one of my ontology engineering courses may remember, I politely aired my frustration when one has an OWL 2 DL ontology that needs to be ‘slimmed’ to a DL-Lite (roughly: OWL 2 QL) one to make it useable for Ontology-Based Data Access (OBDA)—already since the experiment with the ontology/OBDA for disabilities [1]. This is a difficult and time-consuming exercise to do manually, especially when one has to go back and forward between the slimmed and expressive version of the ontology. Back in 2008, the difficulties were due both to a flaky Protégé 4.0-alpha and a mere syntactic approximation. Finally, things have improved and a preliminary semantic approximation is available [2] (and recently presented at AIMSA’10), which was developed by my colleagues at the KRDB Research centre.

Well, ok, only some aspects of the sound and complete approximations are addressed (more precisely: chains of existential role restrictions) and for DL-LiteA only, but they have been implemented already. The implementations are available in three forms: a Java API, a command line application suitable for batch approximations, and as a plug-in for Protégé 4.0. Note though, that the approximation algorithm is exponential, so with a large ontology it might take some time to simplify the expressive ontology. I did not test this myself yet, however, so if you have any comments or suggestions, please contact the authors of [2] directly. More is in the pipeline, and I am looking forward to more of such results—sure, this is with some self-interest: it will ease not only transparent, coordinated ontology management and development of ontology-driven information systems, but also facilitate implementation scenarios for rough ontologies [3].


[1] Keet, C.M., Alberts, R., Gerber, A., Chimamiwa, G. Enhancing web portals with Ontology-Based Data Access: the case study of South Africa’s Accessibility Portal for people with disabilities. Fifth International Workshop OWL: Experiences and Directions (OWLED’08). 26-27 Oct. 2008, Karlsruhe, Germany.

[2] Elena Botoeva, Diego Calvanese, and Mariano Rodriguez-Muro. Expressive Approximations in DL-Lite Ontologies. Proc. of the 14th Int. Conf. on Artificial Intelligence: Methodology, Systems, Applications (AIMSA’10). Sept 8-10, 2010, Varna, Bulgaria.

[3] Keet, C.M. Ontology engineering with rough concepts and instances17th International Conference on Knowledge Engineering and Knowledge Management (EKAW’10). 11-15 October 2010, Lisbon, Portugal. Springer LNAI 6317, 507-517.