Running away from easy

Matt and I are in Calgary at the 2017 GeoConvention. Instead of writing about highlights from Day 1, I wanted to pick on one awesome thing I saw. Throughout the convention, there is a air of sadness, of nostalgia, of struggle. But I detect a divide among us. There are people who are waiting for things to return to how they were, when life was easy. Others are exploring how to be a part of the change, instead of a victim of it. Things are no longer easy, but easy is boring. 

Want to start an oil and gas company? What resources are you going to need? Computers, pricey software applications, data. Purchase all of this stuff as a one-time capital expense, build a team, get an office lease, buy desks and a Keurig. Then if all goes well, 18 months later you'll have a slide deck outlining a play that you could pitch to investors. 

Imagine getting started without laying down a huge amount of capital for all those things. What if you could rent a desk at a co-working space, access the suite of software tools that you're used to, and use their Keurig. The computer infrastructure and software is managed and maintained by an IT service company so you don't have to worry about it. 

Yesterday at the Calgary Geoconvention I heard all about ReSourceYYC, a co-working space catering to oil and gas professionals, introduced ResourceNET, a subscription-based cloud workstation environment for freelancers, consultants, startups, and the newly and not-so-newly underemployed community of subsurface professionals.

In making this offering, ReSourceYYC has partnered up with a number of software companies: Entero, Seisware, Surfer, ValNav, geoLOGIC, and Divestco, to name a few. The limitations and restrictions around this environment, if any, weren't totally clear. I wondered: Could I append or swap my own tools with this stack? Can I access this environment from anywhere?

It could be awesome. I think it could serve just as many freelancers and consultants as "oil and gas startups". It seems a bit too early to say, but I reckon there are literally thousands of geoscientists and engineers in Calgary that'd be all over this.

I think it's interesting and important and I hope they get it right.

The perfect storm

Since starting Agile late in 2010, I have never not been busy. Like everyone else... there's always a lot going on. But March was unusual. Spinning plates started wobbling. One or three fell. One of those that fell was the blog. (Why is it always your favourite plate that smashes?)

But I'm back, feeling somewhat refreshed after my accidental quadrennial sabbatical and large amounts of Easter chocolate. And I thought a cathartic way to return might be to share with you what I've been up to.

Writing code for other people

We've always written code to support our consulting practice. We've written seismic facies algorithms, document transformation routines (for AAPG Wiki), seismic acquisition tools, and dozens of other things besides. But until January we'd never been contracted to build software as an end in itself.

Unfortunately for my sanity, the projects had to be finished by the end of March. The usual end-of-project crunch came along, as we tried to add features, fix bugs, remove cruft, and compile documentation without breaking anything. And we just about survived it, thanks to a lot of help from long-time Agile contributor, Ben Bougher. One of the products was striplog, a new Python library for manipulating well data, especially irregularly sampled, interval-based, qualitative data like cuttings descriptions. With some care and feeding, I think it might be really useful one day.

The HUB is moving

Alongside the fun with geoscience, we're in the midst of a fairly huge renovation. As you may know, I co-founded The HUB South Shore in my town in 2013. It's where I do my Agile work, day-to-day. It's been growing steadily and last year we ran out of space to accept new members. So we're moving down to the Main Street in Mahone Bay, right under the town's only pub. It's a great space, but it turns out that painting a 200 m² warehouse takes absolutely ages. Luckily, painting is easy for geologists, since it's basically just a lot of arm-waving. Anyway, that's where I'm spending my free time these days. [Pics.]

MAder's Wharf, by the frozen ocean.

MAder's Wharf, by the frozen ocean.

The ship's knees

The ship's knees

Co-founder Dave painting trim

Co-founder Dave painting trim

Shovelling snow

What my house has looked like for the last 8 weeks.

What my house has looked like for the last 8 weeks.

Seriously, it just will. Not. Stop. It's snowing now, for goodness sake. I'm pretty sure we have glaciers.

What does this have to do with work? Well, we're not talking about Calgary-style pixie dust here. We ain't nipping out with the shovel for a few minutes of peaceful exercise. We're talking about 90 minutes of the hardest workout you've ever endured, pointlessly pushing wet snow around because you ran out of places to put it three weeks ago. At the end, when you've finished and/or given up, Jack Frost tosses a silver coin to see if your reward will be a hot shower and a course of physiotherapy, or sudden cardiac arrest and a ride in the air ambulance.


There is lots of good techno-geophysics to look forward to. We're running the Geoscience Hackathon in Calgary at the beginning of May. You can sign up here... If you're not sure, sign up anyway: I guarantee you'll have fun. There's a bootcamp too, if you're just starting out or want some tips for hacking geophysics. Thank you to our awesome sponsors:

There's also the geophysics mini-symposium at SciPy in Austin in July (deadline approaching!). That should be fun. And I'm hoping the hackathon right before SEG in New Orleans will be even more epic than last year's event. The theme: Games.

Evan is out there somewhere

Normally when things at Agile World Headquarters get crazy, we can adapt and cope. But it wasn't so easy this time: Evan is on leave and in the middle of an epic world tour with his wife Tara. I don't actually know where he is right now. He was in Bali a couple of weeks ago... If you see him say Hi!

As I restart the engines on All The Things, I want to thank anyone who's been waiting for an email reply, or — in the case of the 52 Things... Rock Physics authors — a book, for their patience. Sometimes it all hits at once.

Onwards and upwards!

Places for ideas in Houston

Evan has told before of how productive he is at the HUB Halifax. And ever since I've been involved in The HUB South Shore, a co-working space in my small town, I've been keenly interested in communal and collaborative workspaces. I think they're a powerful model for independent scientists and entrepreneurs, perhaps even inside large companies too. 

Because of this, and because most hotels are such boring venues (there are always exceptions), we decided to host the hackathon this weekend at a co-working space, START Houston (right). A converted urban loft residence (well, a loft on the ground floor), it's got downtown character with an artistic edge. Evan and I gatecrashed a startup pitch coaching session while we were there — we heard 3-minute pitches from 4 Houston startups, including eOilBoom, an interesting crowdfunding platform for oil and gas concerns, and Philantro, a curated social layer for non-profits and philanthropists.

We need this level of ideation, business-model testing, and experimental entrepreneurship in subsurface science. How do we make this happen?

Co-working? Co-reseach!

Two weeks ago, I tweeted something about the hackathon, and Jacob at Brightwork Co-Research tweeted back at me:

Just another one of the wonderful serendipities of social media. That one connection is worth a lot to me, and is characteristic of the generous community of scientists on Twitter.

While in town, we thought we'd drop in and see what Brightwork is about... and I've rarely been more excited. Jacob Shiach (left) showed us the embryonic space neighbouring Rice University, complete with a rapid prototyping space (think of hardware hacking soldering, 3D printers, and so on), and a wet lab for full-on biotechnical research. In under a year, Jacob plans to fill the space with researchers in bio, physics, math, technology, and any other scientific discipline that needs a lab outside of academia or industry. What can independent researchers do when they have all the tools of big research? What would you do with your own lab?

These places exist

To complete our tour, we headed over to Platform — a more conventional co-working space around the corner from Brightwork. The familiar buzz and productive vibe of co-working hits you immediately: here a livestream of TEDxHouston City2.0, there a new startup hashing out customer segments for their product. Imagine an office full of smart, energetic, friendly people who don't actually have to work together, no meetings, and no sign above the sink saying "Your mother doesn't work here!". Yeah, those places exist.