Relentlessly practical

This is one of my favourite knowledge sharing stories.

A farmer in my community had a problem with one of his cows — it was seriously unwell. He asked one of the old local farmers about the symptoms, and was told, “Oh yes, one of my herd had the same thing last summer. I gave her a cup of brandy and four aspirins every night for a week.” The young farmer went off and did this, but the poor cow got steadily worse and died. When he saw the old farmer next he told him, more than a little accusingly, “I did what you said, and the cow died anyway.” The old geezer looked into the distance and just said, “Yep, so did mine.”

Incomplete information can be less useful than no information. Yet incomplete information has somehow become our specialty in applied geoscience. How often do we share methods, results, or case studies without the critical details that would make it useful information? That is, not just marketing, or resumé padding. Inded, I heard this week that one large US operator will not approve a publication that does include these critical details! And we call ourselves scientists...

Completeness mandatory

Thankfully, Last month The Leading Edge — the magazine of the SEG — started a new tutorial column, edited by me. Well, I say 'edited', I'm just the person that pesters prospective authors until they give in and send me a manuscript. Tad Smith, Don Herron, and Jenny Kucera are the people that make it actually happen. But I get to take all the credit.

When I was asked about it, I suggested two things:

  1. Make each tutorial reproducible by publishing the code that makes the figures.
  2. Make the words, the data, and the code completely open and shareable. 

To my delight and, I admit, slight surprise, they said 'Sure!'. So the words are published under an open license (Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike, the same license for re-use that most of Wikipedia has), the tutorials use open data for everything, and the code is openly available and free to re-use. Complete transparency.

There's another interesting aspect to how the column is turning out. The first two episodes tell part of the story in IPython Notebook, a truly amazing executable writing environment that we've written about before. This enables you to seamlessly stich together text, code, and plots (left). If you know a bit of Python, or want to start learning it right now this second, go give a try. It's pretty great. (If you really like it, come and learn more with us!).

Read the first tutorial: Hall, M. (2014). Smoothing surfaces and attributes. The Leading Edge, 33(2), 128–129. doi: 10.1190/tle33020128.1. A version of it is also on SEG Wiki, and you can read the IPython Notebook at

Do you fancy authoring something for this column? Wonderful — please do! Here are the author instructions. If you have an idea for something, please drop me a line, let's talk about how to make it relentlessly practical.