Le grand hack!

It happened! The Subsurface Hackathon drew to a magnificent close on Sunday, in an intoxicating cloud of code, creativity, coffee, and collaboration. It will take some beating.

Nine months in gestation, the hackathon was on a scale we have not attempted before. Total E&P joined us as co-organizers and made this new reach possible. They also let us use their amazing Booster — a sort of intrapreneurship centre — which was perfect for the event. Their team (thanks especially to Marine and Caroline!) did an amazing job of hosting, as well as providing several professionals from their subsurface software (thanks Jonathan and Yannick!) and data science teams (thanks Victor and David!). Arnaud Rodde and Frédéric Broust, who had to do some organization hacking of their own to make something as weird as a hackathon happen, should be proud of their teams.

Instead of trying to describe the indescribable, here are some photos:


16 hours of code
13 teams
62 hackers
44 students
4 robots
568 croissants
0 lost-time incidents

I won't say much about the projects for now. The diversity was high — there were projects in thin section photography, 3D geological modeling, document processing, well log prediction, seismic modeling and inversion, and fault detection. All of the projects included some kind of machine learning, and again there was diversity there, including several deep learning applications. Neural networks are back!

Feel the buzz!

If you are curious, Gram and I recorded a quick podcast and interviewed a few of the teams:

It's going to take a few days to decompress and come down from the high. In a couple of weeks I'll tell you more about the projects themselves, and we'll edit the photos and post the best ones to Flickr (and in the meantime there are a few more pics there already). 

Thank you to the sponsors!

Last thing: we couldn't have done any of this without the support of Dell EMC. David Holmes has been a rock for the hackathon project over the last couple of years, and we appreciate his love of community and code! Thank you too to Duncan and Jane at Teradata, Francois at NVIDIA, Peter and Jon at Amazon AWS, and Gram at Sandstone for all your support. Dear reader: please support these organizations!

Make some geophysics!

Last month we announced the Geophysics Hackathon. It's one month away today, so I thought I'd post a quick update with the latest developments.

First: good news. The event will be completely free to attend.

Second, I wanted to clear something up. The hackathon is not about hacking, as in gaining illicit access to other people's computers. That would be bad. Today, 'hacking' has reverted to its original MIT meaning, and tends to mean rapid prototyping and tool creation — playing! — with software, with hardware, or with life in general

START Houston

We'll be camped out at START Houston, a progressive co-working and incubation space in the East Downtown area of Houston. This is exciting because START is plugged right in to the most innovative, fast-moving, energetic people in Houston. Some of them even work in the energy business! 

What you can hack

You can come to the hackathon and do anything you like — closed or open source, on your own or in a team, web or mobile or desktop or mainframe. But we are holding a contest, for those that are interested. The contest has some rules. But the first rule of the day is, you don't have to enter the contest. If you prefer, just come and learn something new — I will be there to get you started. Stuck for ideas? There are loads on the wiki page.


I'm rather excited about the prizes. I don't want to let the cat completely out of the bag, but we have some Nexus 7 tablets to give away, some Raspberry Pi kits, lots of must-read books, and several years' worth of access to MyBalsamiq — a cloud-based user-interface design tool.

Huge thanks to Enthought and Balsamiq for helping to make all this awesome happen.

Join us! Sign up...

As of right now, there are 16 people coming to the two days. Can you help us get to 25? Send this post to someone you know would be into it... and come along yourself. If you know geophysics or seismic interpretation, or you have a good head for business, or you like math and stats, or you know how to code — you'll fit right in. See you there!

Invitation to a geophysics hackathon

Do you like to build things? Join us for two days of scientific software creation. We'll be in Houston on 21 & 22 September, right before the SEG Annual Meeting, building web and mobile apps to attack one of the unsolved problem themes we exposed in Calgary in May — error and uncertainty

Let's build something together

What displays, or calculators, or simulators, could you dream up to help understand, or compute, or visualize, or communicate, or reduce error and uncertainty in your work? How about stochastic synthetics? Well logs with error bars? Fuzzy inversion?

You don't have to be a programmer — teams need ideas, they need science, they need design, and they need presentation skills. Please bring your creativity and your courage. Bring whatever you have, but mainly your brain

I'm in, what now? 

If want to take part, sign up at hackathon.io. If you have an idea already, start a project there. We are still filling in some blanks but can say that the event will be in downtown Houston, starting at 9 am on Saturday 21 Sept and running till 6 pm on Sunday 22 Sept. It will be free for students; there will probably be a small fee for professionals. We can only take 8 teams, so get in early and be sure not to miss out! 

If you'd like to help make this event happen, we'd love to have you as a sponsor for the event. The two main opportunities for sponsorship are the catering, and the prizes, but we're open to ideasDrop us a line.

Last thing: Please share this post with someone you know who loves to make things. Or help spread us on social media with the hashtag #geophysicshack. Cheers!

The deliberate search for innovation & excellence

Collaboration, knowledge sharing, and creativity — the soft skills — aren't important as ends in themselves. They're really about getting better at two things: excellence (your craft today) and innovation (your craft tomorrow). Soft skills matter not because they are means to those important ends, but because they are the only means to those ends. So it's worth getting better at them. Much better.

One small experiment

The Unsession three weeks ago was one small but deliberate experiment in our technical community's search for excellence and innovation. The idea was to get people out of one comfort zone — sitting in the dark sipping coffee and listening to a talk — and into another — animated discussion with a roomful of other subsurface enthusiasts. It worked: there was palpable energy in the room. People were talking and scribbling and arguing about geoscience. It was awesome. You should have been there. If you weren't, you can get a 3-minute hint of what you missed from the feature film...

Go on, share the movie — we want people to see what a great time we had! 

Big thank you to the award-winning Craig Hall Video & Photography (no relation :) of Canmore, Alberta, for putting this video together so professionally. Time lapse, smooth pans, talking heads, it has everything. We really loved working with them. Follow them on Twitter. 

Proceedings of an unsession

Two weeks ago today Evan and I hosted a different kind of session at the Canada GeoConvention. It was an experiment in collaboration and integration, and I'm happy to say it exceeded our expectations. We will definitely be doing it again, so if you were there, or even if you weren't, any and all feedback will help ensure the dial goes to 11.

One of the things we wanted from the session was evidence. Evidence of conversation, innovation, and creative thinking. We took home a great roll of paper and sticky notes, and have now captured it all in SubSurfWiki, along with notes from the event. You are invited to read and edit. Be bold! And please share the link...


The video from the morning is in the editing suite right now: watch for that too.

Post-It NoteWe have started a write-up of the morning. If you came to the session, please consider yourself a co-author: your input and comments are welcome. You might be unaccustomed to editing a community document, but don't be shy — that's what it's there for. 

We want to share two aspects of the event on the blog. First, the planning and logistics of the session — a cheatsheet for when we (or you!) would like to repeat the experience. Second, the outcomes and insights from it — the actual content. Next time: planning an unsession.

What is an unsession?

Yesterday I invited you (yes, you) to our Unsolved Problems Unsession on 7 May in Calgary. What exactly will be involved? We think we can accomplish two things:

  1. Brainstorm the top 10, or 20, or 50 most pressing problems in exploration geoscience today. Not limited to but focusing on those problems that affect how well we interface — with each other, with engineers, with financial people, with the public even. Integration problems.
  2. Select one or two of those problems and solve them! Well, not solve them, but explore ways to approach solving them. What might a solution be worth? How many disciplines does it touch? How long might it take? Where could we start? Who can help?Word cloud

There are bright, energetic young people out there looking for relevant problems to work on towards a Master's or PhD. There are entrepreneurs looking for high-value problems to create a new business from. And software companies looking for ways to be more useful and relevant to their users. And there is more than one interpreter wishing that innovation would speed up a bit in our industry and make their work a little — or a lot — easier. 

We don't know where it will lead, but we think this unsession is one way to get some conversations going. This is not a session to dip in and out of — we need 4 hours of your time. Bring your experience, your uniqueness, and your curiosity.

Let's reboot our imaginations about what we can do in our science.

An invitation to a brainstorm

Who of us would not be glad to lift the veil behind which the future lies hidden; to cast a glance at the next advances of our science and at the secrets of its development during future centuries? What particular goals will there be toward which the leading [geoscientific] spirits of coming generations will strive? What new methods and new facts in the wide and rich field of [geoscientific] thought will the new centuries disclose?

— Adapted from David Hilbert (1902). Mathematical Problems, Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society 8 (10), p 437–479. Originally appeared in in Göttinger Nachrichten, 1900, pp. 253–297.

Back at the end of October, just before the SEG Annual Meeting, I did some whining about conferences: so many amazing, creative, energetic geoscientists, doing too much listening and not enough doing. The next day, I proposed some ways to make conferences for productive — for us as scientists, and for our science itself. 

Evan and I are chairing a new kind of session at the Calgary GeoConvention this year. What does ‘new kind of session’ mean? Here’s the lowdown:

The Unsolved Problems Unsession at the 2013 GeoConvention will transform conference attendees, normally little more than spectators, into active participants and collaborators. We are gathering 60 of the brightest, sparkiest minds in exploration geoscience to debate the open questions in our field, and create new approaches to solving them. The nearly 4-hour session will look, feel, and function unlike any other session at the conference. The outcome will be a list of real problems that affect our daily work as subsurface professionals — especially those in the hard-to-reach spots between our disciplines. Come and help shed some light, room 101, Tuesday 7 May, 8:00 till 11:45.

What you can do

  • Where does your workflow stumble? Think up the most pressing unsolved problems in your workflows — especially ones that slow down collaboration between the disciplines. They might be organizational, they might be technological, they might be scientific.
  • Put 7 May in your calendar and come to our session! Better yet, bring a friend. We can accommodate about 60 people. Be one of the first to experience a new kind of session!
  • If you would like to help host the event, we're looking for 5 enthusiastic volunteers to play a slightly enlarged role, helping guide the brainstorming and capture the goodness. You know who you are. Email hello@agilegeoscience.com

Where are you headed?

Read this book!I am sitting in the Halifax airport waiting to board my plane to New York. I'm going to a different kind of conference, er... course, er... workshop. In fact I don't really know what to call it. Maybe it is a class. A three-day class for getting stuff done, for getting moving.

Myself and 60 other participants will be spending a three-day session with Seth Godin. Seth is an entrepreneur, a best-selling author of 14 books, and a self-proclaimed agent of change. Matt and I are both avid daily readers of his blog, which, judging by its immense popularity, you might be too (to find it you need only type 'seth' into Google). I am surprised by how often his writing and his teaching feels relevant to what Matt and I are trying to do at Agile*. Relevant to professionalism, to spreading ideas, to doing necessary work.

I cannot contain my excitement... and I am a little scared. It's strange meeting someone who I know a bit about, whose words I read every day, but who knows nothing about me. I was told that about 500 people applied to attend this event, but fewer than 70 got the chance to buy a ticket. As sort of a personal manifesto, I decided to share my application here. If nothing else, it is a proclamation of how I have come to see myself, and where I wish to head. Admittedly, Seth probably doesn't care too much about the details of my technical expertise, but I thought he certainly would care about our approach to business, communication, and connecting. This is what I shared with him to get in, so might as well share it here. In his characteristically cut-to-the-chase vein, he asked only two questions:

What do you do? (in 100 words or less)

I am a consultant who does geology, geophysics, and 3D computer modeling for energy companies. I am partnered with another guy and we have formed a renegade start-up, bootstrapping a business venture together. We both work remotely from small towns in Nova Scotia and are experimenting with new media approaches for connecting our industry.

My work is a blend of billable contract work and open knowledge sharing.

We blog about things that interest us in science, geology, and the energy industry. We make science apps for mobile devices for knowledge sharing and spreading ideas. We also curate an all-access wiki for underground science. We are also compiling a book that will be crowd sourced from industry experts.

Where are you headed? (Most important question, what can I help you do?)

Mine is an industry where innovation happens slowly, yet it is one of the most technologically and computationally advanced fields. Change is discouraged by corporate hierarchies getting in the way of progress.

I want to better understand my role in this revolution. I have the freedom and flexibility to implement ideas, and I am building the courage and insight to be positively disruptive.

I am an advocate of openness and sharing, especially when it comes to applied science. I want to explore how deep our market is, because knowledge sharing should be done by scientists, not by IT departments.

We've been hacking away for about 10 months with many projects on the go. Some of them will be revenue generating, some of them will be attention generating, some of them will fail. You can help by giving perspectives, spotting points of resistance with my projects, how to know when I am stretching too thin, and how my work can be even more creative.

Being a technology geek and consultant it is humbling to read the bios of some of the other people starting a movement, actualizing inspiration. I am certainly going to be the only petroleum geophysicist there. Other attendees include a physicist studying organization behaviour at Google, an economist at the US national defence fund, a women's rights social entrepreneur, and one of the founders of Tom's shoes. People, strangers from different businesses and different niche’s coming together to create something. Breathe the same air, share the same joys and fears of a precious opportunity that lay ahead. What a crazy idea. I love it. Exposing what we are good at to the world.

I have no idea what to expect, it is already surreal, and I can hardly wait.