Notes from a hackathon

The spirit of invention is alive and well in exploration geophysics! Last weekend, Agile hosted the 3rd annual Geophysics Hackathon at Propeller, a large and very cool co-working space in New Orleans, Louisiana.

A community of creative scientists

Commensurate with the lower-than-usual turnout at the SEG Annual Meeting, which our event preceded, we had 15 hackers. The remaining hackers were not competing, but hanging out and self-teaching or hacking around with code.

As in Denver, we had an amazing showing from Colorado School of Mines, with 6 participants. I don't know what's in the water over there in the Rockies, or what the profs have been feeding these students, but it works. Such smart, creative talent. But it can't stay this one-sided... one day we'll provoke Stanford into competitive geophysics programming.

Other than the Mines crew, we had one other student (Agile's Ben Bougher, who's at UBC), the dynamic wiki duo from SEG, and the rest were professional geoscientists from large and small companies, so it was pretty well balanced between academia and industry.

Thank you

As always, we are indebted to the sponsors and supporters of the hackathon. The event would be impossible without their financial support, and much less fun without their eager participation. This year we teamed up with three companies:

  • OpenGeoSolutions, a fantastic group of geophysicists based in Calgary. You won't find better advice on signal processing problems. Jamie Alison and Greg Partyka also regularly do us the honour of judging our hackathon demos, which is wonderful.
  • EMC, a huge cloud computing company, generously supported us through David Holmes, their representative for our industry, and a fellow Landmark alum. David also kindly joined us for much of the hackathon, including the judging, which was great for the teams.
  • Palladium Consulting, a Houston-based bespoke software house run by Sebastian Good, were a new sponsor this year. Sebastian reached out to a New Orleans friend and business partner of his, Graham Ganssle, to act as a judge, and he was beyond generous with his time and insight all weekend. He also acted as a rich source of local knowledge.

Although he craves no spotlight, I have to recognize the personal generosity of Karl Schleicher of UT Austin, who is one of the most valuable assets our community has. His tireless promotion of open data and open source software is an inspiration.

And finally, Maitri Erwin again visited to judge the demos on Sunday. She brings the perfect blend of a deep and rigorous expertise in exploration geoscience and a broad and futuristic view of technology in the service of humankind. 

I will do a round up of the projects in the next couple of weeks. Look out for that because all of the projects this year were 'different'. In a good way.

If this all sounds like fun, mark your calendars for 2016! I think we're going to try running it after SEG next year, so set aside 22 and 23 October 2016, and we'll see you there. Bring a team!

PS You can already sign up for the hackathon in Europe at EAGE next year!

More highlights from SEG

On Monday I wrote that this year's Annual Meeting seemed subdued. And so it does... but as SEG continued this week, I started hearing some positive things. Vendors seemed pleasantly surprised that they had made some good contacts, perhaps as many as usual. The technical program was as packed as ever. And of course the many students here seemed to be enjoying themselves as much as ever. (New Orleans might be the coolest US city I've been to; it reminds me of Montreal. Sorry Austin.)

Quieter acquisition

Pramik et al. (of Geokinetics) reported on a new marine vibrator acquisition using their AquaVib source. This instrument has been around for a while, indeed it was first tested over 20 years ago by IVI and later Geco (e.g. see J Bird, TLE, June 2003). If perfected, it will allow for much quieter marine seismic acquisition, reducing harm to marine mammals, with no loss of quality (images below from their abstract and their copyright with SEG):

Ben told me one of his favourite talks was Schostak & Jenkerson with a report from a JIP (Shell, ExxonMobil, Total, and Texas A&M) trying to build a new marine vibrator.  Three designs are being tested by the current consortium, respectively manufactured by PGS with an electrical model, APS with a mechanical piston, and Teledyne with a bubble resonator.

In other news:

  • Talks at Dallas 2016 will only be 15 minutes long. Hopefully this is to allow room in the schedule for something else, not just more talks.
  • Dave Hale has retired from Colorado School of Mines, and apparently now 'writes software with Dean Witte'. So watch out for that!
  • A sure sign of industry austerity: "Would you like Bud Light, or Miller Light?"
  • Check out the awesome ribbons that some clever student thought of. I'm definitely pinching that idea.

That's all I have for now, and I'm flying home today so that's it for SEG 2015. I will be reporting on the hackathon soon I promise, and I'll try to get my paper on Pick This recorded next week (but here's a sneak peek). Stay tuned!


Bill Pramik, M. Lee Bell, Adam Grier, and Allen Lindsay (2015) Field testing the AquaVib: an alternate marine seismic source. SEG Technical Program Expanded Abstracts 2015: pp. 181-185. doi: 10.1190/segam2015-5925758.1

Brian Schostak* and Mike Jenkerson (2015) The Marine Vibrator Joint Industry Project. SEG Technical Program Expanded Abstracts 2015: pp. 4961-4962. doi: 10.1190/segam2015-6026289.1

Monday highlights from SEG

Ben and I are in New Orleans at the 2015 SEG Annual Meeting, a fittingly subdued affair, given the industry turmoil recently. Lots of people are looking for work, others are thankful to have it.

We ran our annual Geophysics Hackathon over the weekend; I'll write more about that later this week. In a nutshell: despite a low-ish turnout, we had 6 great projects, all of them quite different from anything we've seen before. Once again, Colorado School of Mines dominated.

Beautiful maps

One of the most effective ways to make a tight scientific argument is to imagine trying to convince the most skeptical person you know that your method works. When it comes to seismic attribute analysis, I am that skeptical person.

Some of the nicest images I saw today were in the 'Attributes for Stratigraphic Analysis' session, chaired by Rupert Cole and Yuefeng Sun. For example, Tao Zhao, one of Kurt Marfurt's students, showed some beautiful images from the Waka 3D offshore New Zealand (Zhao & Marfurt). He used 2D colourmaps to co-render two attributes together, along with semblance mapped to opacity on a black layer, and were very nice to look at. However I was left wondering, and not for the first time, how we can do a better job calibrating those maps to geology. We (the interpretation community) need to stop side-stepping that issue; it's central to our credibility. Even if you have no wells, as in this study, you can still use forward models, analogs, or at least interpretation by a sedimentologist, preferably two.

© SEG and Zhao & Marfurt. Left to right: Peak spectral frequency and peak spectral magnitude; GLCM homogeneity; shape index and curvedness. All of the attributes are also corendered with Sobel edge detection.

© SEG and Zhao & Marfurt. Left to right: Peak spectral frequency and peak spectral magnitude; GLCM homogeneity; shape index and curvedness. All of the attributes are also corendered with Sobel edge detection.

Pavel Jilinski at GeoTeric gave a nice talk (Calazans Muniz et al.) about applying some of these sort of fancy displays to a large 3D dataset in Brazil, in a collaboration with Petrobras. The RGB displays of spectral attributes were as expected, but I had not seen their cyan-magenta-yellow (CMY) discontinuity displays before. They map dip to the yellow channel, similarity to the magenta channel, and 'tensor discontinuity' to the cyan channel. No, I don't know what that means either, but the displays were pretty cool.

Publications news

This evening we enjoyed the Editor's Dinner (I coordinate a TLE column and review for Geophysics and Interpretation, so it's totally legit). Good things are coming to the publication world: adopted Canadian Mauricio Sacchi is now Editor-in-Chief, there are no more page charges for colour in Geophysics (up to 10 pages), and watch out for video abstracts next year. Also, Chris Liner mentioned that Interpretation gets 18% of its submissions from oil companies, compared to only 5% for Geophysics. And I heard, but haven't verified, that downturns result in more papers. So at least our journals are healthy. (You do read them, right?)

That's it for today (well, yesterday). More tomorrow!


Calazans Muniz, Moises, Thomas Proença, and Pavel Jilinski (2015). Use of Color Blend of seismic attributes in the Exploration and Production Development - Risk Reduction. SEG Technical Program Expanded Abstracts 2015: pp. 1638-1642. doi: 10.1190/segam2015-5916038.1

Zhao, Tao, and Kurt J. Marfurt (2015). Attribute assisted seismic facies classification on a turbidite system in Canterbury Basin, offshore New Zealand. SEG Technical Program Expanded Abstracts 2015: pp. 1623-1627. doi: 10.1190/segam2015-5925849.1