That Start Up Show Christmas Party

A few days ago Anna Reeves (@AnnaKReeves), CEO of That StartUp Show, invited me to the Startup Show's Christmas drinks and lunch with Andrew Hyde (@unicorn), founder of Startup Weekend. Needless to say I was pretty excited. It also gave me the chance to catch up with the lovely Saran Moran (@SarahMoran), CEO of Girl Geek Academy, and Josh Samuels (@JoshSamuels2), comedy writer for That Startup Show. Andrew gave a really great talk about his journey to date and plans for the future,  while the rest of us indulged in really delicious food and a few drinks. The appallingly bad, yet brilliant cracker jokes, are courtesy of Josh Samuels and Anna Reeves. Here are some snaps from the party...

Creating colour palettes using scikit-learn, NumPy & matplotlib


Last week I spent a day creating image colour palettes and tutorials using python and matplotlib. I'd wanted to do this project for a while now and it turned out to be quite fun. It was also a good opportunity to brush up my python skills. The tutorials are based on Adrian Price–Whelan's Urban Goggles hack and existing python notebook. The code takes any image format (.jpg, .png etc. ) and creates corresponding colour palettes by performing a k-means clustering analysis in HSV or RGB pixel space.  I've fleshed out some of the steps in the original ipython notebooks, added links to relevant documentation, and links to similar tutorials. 

Jupyter Notebook rendered in nbviewer

Jupyter Notebook rendered in nbviewer

The main python packages used are scikit-learnNumPy  and matplotlib. As an IDL, Fortran and IRAF veteran, python is still somewhat new to me. I'm still trying to wrap my head around how  data array manipulation differs between programming language, and how python's clustering algorithms work. The tutorials are available on GitHub and nbviewer.

Tutorial 1

Creating Color Palettes from Project Apollo images – Jupyter Notebook

AS07-11-2027: Apollo 7 Hasselblad image from film magazine 11/P - Earth Orbit. Source: Project Apollo Archive. Top palette: HSV clustering. Bottom palette: RGB clustering.

AS11-40-5868: Apollo 11 Hasselblad image from film magazine 40/S - EVA. Source: Project Apollo Archive. Top palette: HSV clustering. Bottom palette: RGB clustering.

AS07-4-1584: Apollo 7 Hasselblad image from film magazine 4/N - Earth Orbit.  Source: Project Apollo Archive. Top palette: HSV clustering. Bottom palette: RGB clustering.              

AS07-7-1776: Apollo 7 Hasselblad image from film magazine 7/S - Earth Orbit. Source: Project Apollo Archive. Top palette: HSV clustering. Bottom palette: RGB clustering.

The Great Barrier Reef: stretches for 1,400 miles along the coast of Queensland, Australia in the Coral Sea. In this image you can see tidal channels cutting through unnamed reefs. Source: Planet Labs. Top palette: HSV clustering. Bottom palette: RGB clustering.        

Water from the Caucasus Mountains: feeds these large-scale farms in Stavrapol Krai, Russia. The region’s temperate climate supports grape and grain crops. Source: Planet Labs. Top palette: HSV clustering. Bottom palette: RGB clustering.                                                                                                                     

The city of Lethbridge, Alberta: is surrounded by agricultural fields. Near infrared data (in which healthy vegetation appears bright red) collected by RapidEye satellites helps farmers improve crop yields. Source: Planet Labs. Top palette: HSV clustering. Bottom palette: RGB clustering.

Venetian Lagoon‘s Lido Inlet: A breakwater, an artificial island, and a series of massive sluice gates as seen by a RapidEye satellite. These structures are part of the MOSE project—a massive engineering project designed to protect the city of Venice from rising seasonal floodwaters. Source: Planet Labs

more examples

I was curious know how well the algorithm would go with photos of my own ceramics. I'm not sure it worked as well as for the Apollo and Planet Lab images. Perhaps the pixel binning wasn't quite right? This will need further investigation.

Ceramic vases: Top palette: HSV clustering. Bottom palette: RGB clustering.

Everyday bowls: Top palette: HSV clustering. Bottom palette: RGB clustering.

Everyday bowls: Top palette: HSV clustering. Bottom palette: RGB clustering.

Work in progress: Bisqued vases at Mercator Ceramics School. Top palette: HSV clustering. Bottom palette: RGB clustering.

Future Assembly

Last weekend I had the opportunity to speak at Future Assembly. This is such a fantastic technology festival, I'm so pleased I got to be a part of it. I met so many incredibly talented people, working on really fantastic projects.I spoke about data-driven discovery and the most ambitious telescopes ever built. I really wanted to kickstart a discussion about the next-generation astronomical facilities and telescopes, how they are driving new technologies, and how they are changing the way astronomers approach data–intensive research. I also wanted to highlight some of the fantastic projects being led by Australian researchers, starting with the Square Kilometre Array (SKA). Most importantly I wanted to find out what everyone else thought about all this. Often it's difficult to convince the everyday tax-payer of the value research and technology, especially for seemingly esoteric, yet incredibly pricey, science experiments.

Anticipating a diverse audience, I kept this talk quite general, and created this webpage for those who wanted more information. It's essentially a curated selection of videos from the SKA, LSST, GMT, JWST, and other NASA projects.

But more about my talk later....

The aim of Future Assembly is to bring together researchers, technologists, designers, software developers, thought–leaders and futurists from all backgrounds, to share ideas, experiences, and learn about emergent technologies. It's very much participant driven, which I love. From experience this type of conference always results in interesting, thought-provoking conversations, where everyone gets involved. The one golden rule for speakers was that you weren't allowed to use the event to promote yourself or your own product. While there was undoubtably a little bit of self-promotion, the passion for sharing stories and engaging the audience was infectious, and I came away from every talk with the feeling that the future is shaping up to be unbelievably awesome.

With so many fantastic speakers, panel discussions, demonstrations, parallel sessions, and workshops, it was difficult to see, hear and meet everyone I wanted to. Throw in an impromptu catch–up with a friend, and my well planned out schedule was soon tossed aside. Here are some of my highlights from the weekend.

1. Running into Gemma Telford at the Truly Deeply workshop

I briefly met Gemma, a few months back at May's Creative Mornings Talk. New York dynamite design duo Wade Jeffree (originally from Melbourne) and his partner Leta Sobierajski were talking about the reality of creative companionship. This was such an a fantastic talk, I highly recommend hunting it down on the Creative Morning's website. Anyway, we were sitting next to each other and had a quick chat over coffee and croissants. She has a fairly distinct Irish accent so when she started leading the Truly Deeply workshop I thought hang on a minute. Bumping into her again in a completely different context is one of the things I love about Melbourne. It's small enough that it does happen. There is so much overlap between the various tech, creative, design communities that you inevitably run into people you know. 

Gemma ran a 1 hour session called Workshop a powerfully different brand. I've never participated in this type of workshop before. Normally I steer clear of anything related to marketing and branding, but as much as I loathe the idea, understanding your motivations and creating your own personal brand can be really powerful. I also wanted to workshop which at this stage is still a bit of a hodge-podge of ideas. I'm still not sure what it should be, what it  stands for, how effective if is,  and if it's not, how to turn it into something useful.

We began by looking at examples of really powerful brand statements (the Why? and then the How?). Apple and Harley Davidson are fantastic examples and in my case, these were perfect. They both exude a rebellious nature, they speak to community, they challenge traditional ideas and the status quo. It's exactly what techsavvyastronomer (and to a large extent myself) is all about. Within the hour I had feedback on the existing site, a better sense of direction and suggestions for moving forward, and resources to help figure out exactly what I was trying to pitch. 

2. Appearing on That Startup Show

A few days before the festival I was contacted by Anna Reeves (@AnnaKReeves), the producer of That Startup Show. Admittedly I hadn't seen it before, so I had to do a bit of googling. Turns out this is a really fantastic show. Really funny, very clever. Normally it's filmed in the Savoy Tavern in Melbourne, but fittingly it was filmed live during Future Assembly. I gotta say it looked like they had a great, albeit stressful? time. A few of us were interviewed throughout Saturday and we were asked questions about the future colonisation of Mars, how we think the space program will evolve, what's the most exciting things to keep an eye on. That sort of thing... Of course this was completely alien to me (see what I did there?) and I was totally out of my comfort zone. I'm sure I radiated a level of awkwardness never seen before,  but it was fun nonetheless. I met some really cool people: funnyman/@tsushow writer/science geek Josh Samuels (@JoshSamuels2), producer/makin' it all work/she with the clipboard, Merrilee McCoy (@mezzamac), engineer/designer/UX-er Amelia Schmidt (@meelijane), AI evangelist/educator Raphael Nolden (@RaphaelNolden), Academy Xi Co-founder, Charbel Zeiater (@CharbelZeiater) and she who loves giving the kind of hugs Jo Clarke would approve of, CEO of Girl Geek Academy, Sarah Moran (@SarahMoran). I was pretty excited to finally meet Sarah. I've been a member of Girl Geek Academy for a few months now and I hadn't had the opportunity to meet her before.

3. Going from 0–77 kph in heartbeat. 

A handful of members from the Tesla car owners Association of Victoria brought their cars to Future Assembly. Very cool seeing these cars up close and talking with the owners. I'm also really glad that I waited until late afternoon for my very quick 0-77 kph test drive. Straight after lunch would not have been fun. I swore enough as it was.

4. Giving a great talk.

I was really that my talk was well received. I had a few people approach me afterwards and there was at least one very enthusiastic tweeter in the audience. With so much to talk about, it was a little bit of whirlwind. Thirty minutes including Q&A is tough when you know that most of the concepts you're trying to get across will be completely new to people. I could have just talked about the SKA and still not done it justice.

5. Good conversation and a workshop with Saber Astronautics

I had a couple of really great conversations with the folks from Saber Astronautics (@SaberAstro). Saber is a research and development company based in Boulder, CO and Sydney,  building cutting edge technology for both space and Earth-based applications. At the most of their clients are telecommunications companies although it sounded like they were keen to grow their research clientele. They've found their niche in developing real time tracking software – based on a gaming technology – and it's pretty fantastic. They've also developed what appears to be a sophisticated diagnostic system that uses machine-learning to quickly identify issues and affected components. Understand how machine-learning helps you do this is still a mystery to me. They didn't really explain that, but I'm assuming they model normal signals, temperatures, voltages etc., and then use ML to predict well behaved systems or weed out anomalies... perhaps? I do know some of the ML work involved predicting stock prices, and rocket behaviour (e.g. roll, pitch and yaw against atmospheric dynamics). I also attended their workshop on Designing  your own Space Business, which ended up being more of a demonstration and  Q&A session about their software, and an open discussion about where and how you would place, and track satellites for various observations.  

And that's a wrap. 

I'm already looking forward to Future Assembly 2017

Some snaps from the day;




The Hadoop Platform and Application Framework

Today I started one of the three Coursera courses – Hadoop Platform and Application Framework that I enrolled in earlier this week. A couple of years ago I started dabbling in these, but with full-time work (and life outside of work), it was often difficult to keep up. Around the same time, I also started the Swinburne Hacker Within Chapter at Swinburne, where adopted the strategy of learning tools buy building demos, rather than working through the more structured courses that Coursera provides. 

So it's been fun to go back and see what courses are on offer. Hadoop is something I'd known about for quite a while now, but I hadn't really had the chance to spend some time learning about it (that's not entirely true, it just wasn't high on the list of priorities...) 

In the spirit of open learning I'm putting all my notes, and any code, on GitHub. 

Screenshot of the Apache Hadoop website

Screenshot of the Apache Hadoop website




Here endeth Astro Hack Week

A few weeks ago I attended Astro Hack Week at the Berkeley Institute for Data Science (BIDS). It was a seriously fantastic week. It’s going to take a while to wrap my head around all the great discussions, ideas, projects, lectures, tips ’n’ tricks, and my rapidly growing to do list. This relatively free-format conference exceeded expectations in nearly every possible way, except for the fact that I didn't finish everything I wanted to and I didn't immediately retain the vast amount of information that flowed into my brain. An utterly exhausting and satisfying week. Honestly, I don’t even know where to start with this blog post, other than thanking the organisers profusely for such fantastic week, for getting GitHub involved, and for the financial support that enabled me to attend. 

The focus of Astro Hack Week

One one level, it isn't really about astronomy at all. With a focus on

  • effective computing & statistics,
  • machine learning, Bayesian statistics,
  • pair coding, and
  • code optimization & sampling,

the content presented would likely be useful to researchers from many other scientific disciplines.       

We also discussed; 

  • mixture models
  • hierarchical models,
  • probabilistic graphical models,
  • Gaussian processes, 
  • Jupyter notebooks,
  • parallel programming in Python,
  • natural language processing,
  • failing efficiently,
  • career transitions, and
  • imposter syndrome

These topics are nicely summarised in a retrospective* by astronomer turned public health scientist,  @piccolomud 

*at the end of this blog post.

Notable highlights

The hack projects were pretty fantastic and their was am impressively large number of them. At face value, many of them appeared intimidating, perhaps more so than the projects pithed at other unconferences, for example., .Astronomy (pronounced "dot astronomy"). But when you get past the research and statistics lingo and the specific science drivers they weren't so daunting – at least that's what I kept telling myself. In some ways they were just more prescriptive, and the people who pitched them had specific research goals they wanted to achieve. The only downside of this approach is that hack project may ultimately benefit only one or two people, and so this type of hack might not lend itself to collaborative coding (pair-coding maybe). The Hackpad contains pretty much everything that was proposed and “completed” during the week. Not all hacks made it to Friday and that's really important to note. The fail fast and fail effectively mantra proved to be successful and I'll talk more about that in a bit. At a later date I plan on going back and revisiting the lectures, the tutorials, the other hacks, and of course finishing my own projects. 

Fortunately best–hack–practise dictated (gently) that everyone create a Google doc, or an iPython or Jupyter Notebook to document everything that was done, a suggestion Phil Marshall (@drphilmarshall) made at the start of the week. Experience has shown that GitHub repos, Issues and Jupyter Notebooks prove very effective at preserving projects. Communication tools like Hackpad and Slack work really well for these types of conferences. Gitter too, although I must admit I rarely checked into the AHW Gitter account (I'm really not a fan of online chatter). As with the .Astronomy conferences, archiving and documenting discussions and projects is also important to the future success of these events. The facilitate community building and future collaboration, and they provide a way for organisers to demonstrate, outcomes, derive impact, and showcase projects and themes to potential sponsors. 

On the first day Daniel Huppenkothen (@Tiana_Athriel)  gave a really great talk about Imposter Syndrome. For participant driven conferences it's is really useful to address this at the start of the week. I’m constantly surprised by the number of astronomers who, despite all their years of research and university training, still feel like they don’t make the grade. Ironically I am one of them. I can say with certainty that my own imposter syndrome has led to self-sabotage and missed opportunities. It's something that I try not to dwell on, but it's always with me.  During morning coffee on the first day at least two people (highly accomplished and well respected researchers I might add) commented that they weren't entirely sure whether they should be at this conference – of course by day two their fears were mostly behind them. I'm sure they were not the only ones. I suspect that like .Astronomy, Astro Hack Week is a bit of an unknown. You're never quite sure what you've got yourself into.  I later learned that the conference organisers took on board feedback from previous years, and took into consideration discussions from .Astronomy8, specifically this excellent blog post; The Horror of Hack Days written by Aleks Sholz (@Dalcash_Dvinsky), from the University of St Andrews. 

Even better still, imposter syndrome was monitored throughout the conference, particularly when more mature hacks (which began well before AstroHackWeek) were discussed or presented. Phil Marshall did a really excellent job of pointing out his own imposter syndrome which I think put a lot of people at ease. Failing effectively and discussing failures was also encouraged (even AHW veterans failed!) and this really helped to set up a "safe" environment.

Since Astro Hack Week tends to focus on more advanced programming, high-level statistics and and computational algorithms, the related projects are  somewhat more intimidating, particularly so for us old-timer observational astronomers who deal with small sample sizes and global parameters, and have never really thought Bayesian. The organisers where clearly aware of this, and at some point many hack projects morphed into useful tutorials for the community. I couldn’t help but feel collective relaxation around half way through the weeks when more general, tutorials, social hacks, and dare I say it more whimsical hack projects were pitched.

One of my favourites was Adrian Price–Whelan (@adrianpw), Dan Foreman–Mackey (@exoplaneteer), and Ben Nelson's custom queried colormaps. The example they presented was for cities at night. I couldn't help but think of the Apollo Project image gallery. I'd love to create custom palettes based on those (now added to ...).

Machine Learning was probably the most anticipated topic of the  week. Joshua Bloom gave an excellent lecture and guided tutorial on machine learning in science, which included not only algorithm theory, but how to determine when it should be used, and how to tell when it’s not giving useful information. There is such a buzz about machine learning in the technology, business, and research sectors, that it’s assumed to be the most appropriate and the most informative methodology to use. In many cases it isn’t, and figuring out when it should be used is a bit of dark art. Fortunately, as astronomers, we spend most the majority of our time evaluating instrumentation, raw data, processed data, software pipelines and translating the underlying physics into useful code. We are very much used to reserving judgement about the usefulness of techniques until they are fully explored. Incidentally this is probably why researchers are highly sought after as data scientists. Many hack projects were inspired by this session.  A flurry of machine learning hacks resulted from this session. I'm still yet to create my own. Working through Josh's tutorial is a good way to start. 

Working at GitHub HQ in San Francisco

The #1 highlight of the week was definitely spending Wednesday at GitHub HQ in San Francisco.  Honestly, the place is amazing. It's such an attractive work environment and we got the impression that it really values and takes care of its employees. I know I wasn’t the only one asking "what the hell are we still doing in academia?".

Again, in his role as unofficial Master of Ceremonies, Phil gave an excellent talk to our GitHub hosts that showed how researchers, and specifically large collaborations like the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST), use their software. His talk has definitely influenced the way I now use GitHub.

Jonathan Whitmore (@jbwhitmore), research astronomer turned data scientist now based at Silicon Valley Data Science, also gave an excellent tutorial on getting the most out of Jupyter Notebooks. He cooly wowed us with his notebook prowess while we all scrambled to jot down keystroke commands. Jonathan is an excellent speaker and great person to talk to if you're considering applying for an Insight Data Science Fellowship or moving into data science.

Half-day hacking spread over a week worked incredibly well, amounting to roughly two and a half days hacking. Unlike 24 hour hacks, spreading the load takes the pressure off and enables one to ditch projects that aren’t worth pursuing (or pursuing at a later date). It also gives you space to mull over ideas and work more effectively on multiple of hacks. Of course it's far more relaxed ––made more so by the open bar and cocktails at gitHub –– and it does lose some of the frenzied crazy competitiveness that I love about .Astronomy. The only real downside is the need to constantly switch brain gears: coffee, lecture, discussion, hack project #1, more discussion, dinner, a pint, cocktail anyone? coffee, hack project #2. You get the picture. For the scatterbrained and attention deficit like me, you can spend too much time figuring out where you got to the first time and where you think you were heading.  For multi-day, multi-project GitHub is a godsend. Even if your hack doesn't involve a lot of coding, a repo enables you to organise your team (and yourself), archive documentation e.g. using Jupyter Notebooks, and keep on top of your hacking todo list e.g. the GitHub Issues feature is perfect for this, even if it's up being used in a way that wasn't intended.

My hack projects: I had one two hack projects in mind before I set off to San Francisco. The first was a Twitter Bot. Why? Because they are fun and we often take ourselves far too seriously. Twitter bots remind us that useful skills can be learned with whimsy – and I'm all for whimsy.  I also wanted to do a hack that required some level of web-scraping and using APIs to make calls. Both are really useful skills to have.  I also thought they would make a good hack to document as a tutorial. The second hack was going to be something to do with interactive plotting of published research figures, either using; mpld3, dimple.js, D3js, or GlueViz. Something similar to the project Ruth Angus started at .Astronomy8. 

Adam Becker (@freelanceastro) was also keen to create a twitter bot and I think this is something we'll do together at a later date. We spent the first day putting some ideas together; we wanted it to useful, engaging and involve images of some sort. We also wanted it to be responsive (or "active"), triggered by some action,  rather than a passive Bot that would just tweet to the world. A the days progressed we both ended up working on other hack projects so this ended up moving down the list of priorities. One day... 

I spent most of my time creating a set of database tutorialsSimple Databases for Pythonic Astronomers, with Usman Khan (National University of Sciences & Technology – NUST, Pakistan) Phil Marshall (SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory), Jen Sobeck (University of Virginia) . This is an ongoing project. 

I also did a 5-minute hack. I created a Made at AstroHackWeek badge for GitHub repos.

Blog Posts & Retrospectives

Although no live blogging took place during the week I know that a few people have plans to write up their experiences. For posterity, I’ll add them as I find them.





Reflecting on the past 6 months

I like to think of it as fun-employment...

At the end of January 2016, I came to the end of my contract with Swinburne Research. While some people fear uncertainty and job insecurity, I relish time off between contracts. It forces you to re-evaluate your passions and priorities and it's the perfect opportunity to pursue ideas and to kickstart new projects. Recently my professional life has focussed on the intersection between astronomy, data-intensive research, and tech, with a little bit of social development and enterprise thrown in for good measure. I don't believe in boxes, and lean towards projects which support and nurture grass roots initiatives or bringing together communities and teams of people that wouldn't normally that work together. I'm a big believer in shaking things up for the better.

Over the past few months I've been working on a number of small data-science and data visualisation projects, and revisiting astronomy research projects from previous research positions. I recently launched a new website – – to encourage researchers to become "tech savvy". This was a project I wanted to do since attending my first .Astronomy conference in 2014, and from running Swinburne Hacker Within.  Sustaining a long-term career in academia, particularly in astronomy, is difficult. Really difficult. Fortunately astronomy researchers (and those in STEM) are inherently well equipped for alternative careers in fields as diverse as finance, climate science, bioinformatics, tech, science policy and strategy. It just takes a few extra skills and the desire to learn new things, to make the switch to a new career. Building a community of tech-savvy astronomers that have the confidence to collaborate with people from other disciplines; the confidence to participate in both astronomy– and social–hackathons; the ability to develop tools for research and outreach; and skills that enable them to more easily transition into alternative careers, is something I've been championing for a while now. 

I've also been working closely with Astronomy Australia Limited's (AAL) Computing Planning and Infrastructure Working Group (CIPWG) to ensure long-term sustainability of AAL funded projects and people. I spent a few weeks in April 2016 as a visiting researcher at the Centre for Astrophysics & Supercomputing (Swinburne University of Technology) and most recently did some consulting work in preparation for the proposed OzGrav Gravitational Wave Centre of Excellence – providing feedback on interviews, designing slides for the pitch, and researching gender equity strategies. In June I flew over to Denmark and then onto the UK for the .Astronomy8 conference in Oxford.  At the start of June I also be working with a small number of change makers to "hack for humanity" as part of the Random Hacks of Kindness (RHoK) Winter Hackathon. I worked with Sam Rye as a RHoK Tech Lead on his new Volunteer Impact project. I also co-hosted the event with my fellow RHoK organisers. Most recently I attended and chaired a session on Diversity in Industry and the Workplace, at the 2016 Diversity in Astronomy Workshop. I also gave a talk at the 2016 Astronomical Society of Australia's (ASA) Annual Scientific Meeting, on the benefits (and challenges!) of Building a community of Tech-savvy Astronomers.

I've spent time with family and reconnecting with old friends. Travel used to be a big part of my life and that slowed down these past few years. It great to be back in Europe and out of my comfort zone. Most importantly, I was able to help out a close friend of mine who had, how should I say it? a really shit time this past year dealing with secondary cancer. Most of the time I feel pretty helpless, but being able to drop everything to run errands, hang out in hospitals and generally spend more time with her is something that I can do, and love doing.  

so what's next?

I'm currently looking for new opportunities in,

  • astronomy research that focus on blue-skies research tools development, data visualisation, and finding innovative ways to engage with the tech industry,
  • opportunities with Australia's growing space-oriented start-up and satellite industry, and
  • data science (or similar) roles within global development-oriented technology companies.

With so many options it's difficult to settle for something that just pays the bills...

ASA2016 talk: building a community of tech savvy astronomers

Last week I attended the Astronomical Society of Australia's (ASA) 2016 Annual Scientific Meeting in Sydney. I hadn't been to an ASA conference since my PhD days so I was pretty excited about reconnecting with the whole community and participating in the Society's 50th Anniversary celebrations. Australian astronomy has a long history of ground breaking radio and optical astronomy, especially with respect to to it's unique facilities and world-leading instrumentation, and it was great to be able to reflect on this, alongside some of those who made it all possible.

I'm somewhat disconnected from the community, having only really worked as an astronomer overseas. I do have a lot of great memories of observing at AAO – the UKST, the  40-inch, the AAT, and of Fornax and HIPASS observing at Parkes. While I'm excited about the SKA and its precursor arrays – MWA and ASKAP – as an optical astronomer at heart I'm much more excited about the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) and the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT). I also have a soft sport for Subaru which I think is an amazing telescope (Suprime–Cam is one helluva camera) and one that Australia really ought to be partnering with, or designing instruments for.

Overall the conference was great and I really got a lot our of it (despite being jet-lagged) The two sessions on Astronomical Facilities were excellent, as were the ANITA and the Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity in Astronomy Chapter meetings. The Governance in Astronomy meeting was equal parts insightful and frustrating (still so many unknowns), although it was great to hear from Anne Green, the Chair of Astronomy Australia Limited's Board, about where they are at. Some of this I already knew, but I was pleased to hear future plans conveyed to the wider community. In terms on science, I only attended a few scientific sessions: IFU studies of galaxies (excellent talks by Andy Green, Nic Scott, Sarah Brough and Enrico Di Teodoro), The High Redshift Universe, Galaxies, and Gravitational Waves (obviously , there is still a lot of excitement around the recent discovery). As this was my third conference in a month it was nice to be able to take it easy, and use the opportunity to catch up with friends from Sydney and Perth that I rarely see outside of Facebook. I also spent sometime in the HPC Room which I think was really useful to have, despite not being well attended.

In the absence of any sort of  "big-data, tools development, data-intensive research" session, my talk on Building a tech savvy community of astronomers was in the Education session (Session 22). Presenting a talk to astronomy educators and communicators was surprisingly refreshing. Having never officially taught astronomy or spent a significant amount of time working on schools-outreach programs, it was a great opportunity to address a different audience. I received a lot of positive feedback, especially from Ron Ekers. I was really pleased about that. He's had such a long, successful career in radio astronomy and is one of AAL's Board of Directors.

So what did I talk about?



Project Apollo – Data Driven Stories

Project Apollo Stories is a demonstration citizen science–driven experiment that recreates the incredible stories from the Apollo missions, through beautiful, interactive timelines. NASA's Project Apollo image archive contains over ~14,000 high resolution images. Help us to pick the most beautiful, inspirational and striking images. The best of the best will go into making interactive timelines and Zooniverse designed image galleries. 

Screenshot of the Project Apollo Stories website (click through to explore)

Screenshot of the Project Apollo Stories website (click through to explore)


The project was conceived at .Astronomy8, with Sam Vaughan (Oxford).  We used the Flickr API to download images from the Project Apollo Archive and then used the Zooniverse Project Builder to build a demonstration. As a proof-of-concept this was a success, with over 800 classifications by citizen scientists in a 10 hour period. This project is still a work in progress.