Software, stats, and tidal energy

Today was the last day of the conference part of SciPy 2015 in Austin. Almost all the talks at this conference have been inspiring and/or enlightening. This makes it all the more wonderful that the organizers get the talks online within a couple of hours (!), so you can see everything (compared to about 5% maximum coverage at SEG).

Jake Vanderplas, a young astronomer and data scientist at UW's eScience Institute, gave the keynote this morning. He eloquently reviewed the history and state-of-the-art of the so-called SciPy stack, the collection of tools that Pythonistic scientists use to get their research done. If you're just getting started in this world, it's about the best intro you could ask for:

Chris Fonnesbeck treated the room to what might as well have been a second keynote, so well did he express his convictions. Beautiful slides, and a big message: statistics matters.

Kristen Thyng, an energetic contributor to the conference, gave a fantastic talk about tidal energy, her main field, as well as one about perceptual colourmaps, which is more of a hobby. The work includes some very nice visualizations of tidal currents in my home province...

Finally, I highly recommend watching the lightning talks. Apart from being filled with some mind-blowing ideas, many of them eliciting spontaneous applause (imagine that!), I doubt you will ever witness a more effective exercise in building a community of passionate professionals. It's remarkable. (If you don't have an hour these three are awesome.)

Next we'll be enjoying the 'sprints', a weekend of coding on open source projects. We'll be back to geophysics blogging next week :)

Geophysics at SciPy 2015

Yesterday was the geoscience day at SciPy 2015 in Austin.

At lunchtime, Paige Bailey (Chevron) organized a Birds of a Feather on GIS. This was a much-needed meetup for anyone interested in spatial data. It was useful to hear about the tools the fifty-or-so participants  use every day, and a great chance to air some frustrations like Why is it so hard to install a geospatial stack? And questions like How do people make attractive maps with the toolset?

One way to make attractive maps is go beyond the screen and 3D print them. Almost any subsurface dataset could seem more tangible and believable as a 3D object, and Joe Kington (Chevron) showed us how to make data into objects. Just watch:

Matteus Ueckermann followed up with some virtual elevation models, showing how Python can process not just a few tiles of data, but can handle hydrology modeling for the entire world:

Nicola Creati (OGS, Trieste) showed us the PyGmod package, a new and fully parallel geodynamic simulation tool for HPC nuts. So now you can make more plate tectonic models before most people are out of bed!

We also heard from Lindsey Heagy and Gudnir Rosenkjaer from UBC, talking about various applications of Rowan Cockett's awesome SimPEG package to their work. As at the hackathon in Denver, it's very clear that this group's investment in and passion for a well-architected, integrated package is well worth the work, giving everyone who works with it superpowers. And, as we all know, superpowers are awesome. Especially geophysical ones.

Last up, I talked about striplog, a small package for handling interval and point data in logs, core, and other 1D datasets. It's still very immature, but almost ready for real-world users, so if you think you have a use case, I'd love to hear from you.

Today is the last day of the conference part, before we head into the coding sprints tomorrow. Stay tuned for more, or follow the #scipy2015 hashtag to keep up. See all the videos, which go up almost right after talks, on YouTube.

You'd better read this

The clean white front cover of this month's Bloomberg Businessweek carries a few lines of Python code, and two lines of English as a footnote... If you can't read that, then you'd better read this. The entire issue is a single essay written by Paul Ford. It was an impeccable coincidence: I picked up a copy before boarding the plane to Austin for SciPy 2015. This issue is a grand achievement; it could be the best thing I've ever read. Go out an buy as many copies as you can, and give them to your friends. Or read it online right now.

Not your grandfather's notebook

Jess Hamrick is a cognitive scientist at UC Berkeley who makes computational models of human behaviour. In her talk, she described how she built a multi-user server for Jupyter notebooks to administer course content, assign homework, even do auto-grading for a class with 220 undergrads. During her talk, she invited the audience to list their GitHub usernames on an Etherpad. Minutes after she stood down from her podium, she granted access, so we could all come inside and see how it was done.

Dangerous defaults

I wrote a while ago about the dangers of defaults, and as Matteo Niccoli highlighted in his 52 Things essay, How to choose a colourmap, default colourmaps can be especially harmful. Matplotlib has long been criticized for its nasty default colourmap, but today redeemed itself with a new default. Hear all about it from Stefan van der Walt:

Sound advice

Allen Downey of Olin College gave a wonderful talk this afternoon about teaching digital signal processing to students using fun and intuitive audio signals as the hook. Watch it yourself, it's well worth the 20 minutes or so:

If you're really into musical and audio applications, there was another talk on the subject, by Brian McFee (Librosa project). 

More tomorrow as we head into Day 2 of the conference.