What's happening at TRANSFORM?

Last week, I laid out the case for naming and focusing on an open subsurface stack. To this end, we’re hosting TRANSFORM, an unconference, in May. At TRANSFORM, we’ll be mapping out the present state of things, imagining the future, and starting to build it together. You’re invited.

This week, I want to tell you a bit more about what’s happening at the unconference.

BYOS: Bring Your Own Session

We’ll be using an unconference model. If you come to the event, I ask you to prepare a 45 to 60 minute ‘slot’. You can do whatever you like in your slot, the only requirements are that it’s somewhat aligned with the theme (rocks, computers, and openness), and that it produces something tangible. For example:

  • Start with a short presentation, maybe two, then hold a discussion. Capture the debate.

  • Hold a brainstorming session, generating ideas for new technology. Record the ideas.

  • Host a short sprint around a piece of existing software, checking code into GitHub.

  • Research the available open tools for a particular workflow or file type. Report back.

Really, anything is possible. There’s no need to propose topics ahead of time (but please feel free to discuss them in the #transform channel on the Software Underground). We’ll be gathering all the topics and organizing the schedule for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday on Sunday evening and Monday morning. It’s just-in-time conferencing!

After the unconference, then the sprints

By the end of Wednesday, we should have a very good idea of what’s in the open subsurface stack, and what is missing. On Thursday and Friday, we’ll have the opportunity to build things. In small team, we can take on all sorts of things:

  • Improving the documentation of a project.

  • Writing tutorials or course material for existing tools.

  • Writing tests for an old or new project.

  • Adding functionality to an old project, or even starting a new project.

By the end of Friday, we should have a big pile of new stuff to play with, and lots of new threads to follow after the event.

Here’s a first-draft, high-level view of the schedule so far…




Yesterday I announced that we’re hatching a new plan. The next thing. Today I want to tell you about it.

The project has the codename TRANSFORM. I like the notion of transforms: functions that move you from one domain to another. Fourier transforms. Wavelet transforms. Digital subsurface transforms. Examples:

  • The transformative effect of open source software on subsurface science. Open source accelerates our work!

  • The transformative effect of collaborative, participatory events on the community. We can make new things!

  • The transformative effect of training on ourselves and our peers. Lots of us have new superpowers!

Together, we’ve built the foundation for a new, open software platform.

A domain shift

We think it’s time to refocus the hackathons as sprints — purposefully producing a sustainable, long-lasting, high quality, open source software stack that we can all use and combine into new tools, whether open or proprietary, free or commercial.

We think it’s time to bring a full-featured unconference into the mix. The half-day ‘unsessions’ open too many paths, and leave too few explored. We need more time — to share research, plan software projects, and write code.

Together, we can launch a new era in scientific computing for the subsurface.

At the core of this new era core is a new open-source software stack, created, maintained, and implemented by a community of scientists and organizations passionate about its potential.

Sign up!

Here’s the plan. We’re hosting an unconference from 5 to 11 May 2019, with full days from Monday to Friday. The event will take place at the Château de Rosay, near Rouen, France. It will be fully residential and fully catered. We have room for about 45 participants.

The goal is to lay down a road map for designing, funding, and building an open source software stack for subsurface. In the coming days and weeks, we will formulate the plan for the week, with input from the Software Underground. We want to hear from you. Propose a session! Host a sprint! Offer a bounty! There are lots of ways to get involved.

Map data: GeoBasis-DE / BKG / Google, photo: Chateauform. Click to enlarge.

If you want to be part of this effort, as a developer, an end-user, or a sponsor, then we invite you to join us.

The unconference fee will be EUR 1000, and accommodation and food will be EUR 1500. The student fees will be EUR 240 and EUR 360. There will be at least 5 bursaries of EUR 1000 available.

For the time being, we will be accepting early commitments, with a deposit of EUR 400 to secure a place (students wishing to register now should get in touch). Soon, you will be able to sign up online… we are working on a smooth process. In the meantime, click here to register your interest, share ideas for content, or sign up by paying a deposit.

Thanks for reading. We look forward to figuring this out together.

I’m delighted to be able to announce that we already have support from Dell EMC. Thanks as ever to David Holmes for his willingness to fund experiments!

In the US or Canada? Don’t despair! There will be a North American edition in Quebec in late September.

Burrowing by burning

Most kind of mining are low-yield games. For example, the world's annual gold production would fit in a 55 m2 room. But few mining operations I'm aware of are as low yield as the one that ran in Melle, France, from about 500 till 950 CE, producing silver for the Carolingian empire and Charlemagne's coins. I visited the site on Saturday.

The tour made it clear just how hard humans had to work to bring about commerce and industry in the Middle Ages. For a start, of course they had no machines, just picks and shovels. But the Middle Jurassic limestone is silicic and very hard, so to weaken the rock they set fires against the face and thermally shocked the rock to bits. The technique, called fire-setting, was common in the Middle Ages, and was described in detail by Georgius Agricola in his book De Re Metallica (right; aside: the best translation of this book is by Herbert Hoover!). Apart from being stupefyingly dangerous, the method is slow: each fire got the miners about 4 cm further into the earth. Incredibly, they excavated about 20 km of galleries this way, all within a few metres of the surface.

The fires were set against the walls and fuelled with wood, mostly beech. Recent experiments have found that one tonne of wood yielded about one tonne of rock. Since a tonne of rock yields 5 kg of galena, and this in turn yields 10 g of silver, we see that producing 1.1 tonnes of silver per year — enough for 640,000 deniers — was quite a feat!

There are several limits to such a resource intensive operation: wood, distance from face to works, maintenance, and willing human labour, not to mention the usual geological constraints. It is thought that, in the end, operations ended due to a shortage of wood.

Several archaeologists visit the site regularly (here's one geospatial paper I found mentioning the site: Arles et al. 2013), and the evidence of their attempts to reproduce the primitive metallurgical methods were on display. Here's my attempt to label everything, based on what I could glean from the tour guide's rapid French:

The image of the denier coin is licensed CC-BY-SA by Wikipedia user Lequenne Gwendoline