Dot Astronomy Day 1

These are my reflections on .Astronomy 7.   They are not meant to be a complete as there was too much to cover but it is a few of m view about how my day was.   If you would like a full review of the day, please see Becky Smethurst fantastic live blog of the first day of .Astronomy 7.  My day zero live blog is available here.

This is my first time attending .Astronomy.   I heard about the concept years ago from Carolina Ödman and I have been meaning to attend ever since she told me about it.   So I’ll admit, my expectations were high, but I really had no idea what to expect.   I am arguable an experience python programmer, and I have dabbled in a number of different web platforms and have experience teaching, doing outreach, and working at a major observatory.   Saying all that, I am amazed by how much I have learned in the past two days.   I am not even going to be able to express how much useful information has been crammed into my head in the last 24 hours. More importantly, I can’t express how much I have been inspired by the people I have met.   Everyone I have come into contact so far has inspired me in some way and made me think about new things.

1. Amanda Bauer started off the day with a traditional greeting and remembrance of the elders of the Gadigal people.   She told a beautiful story of the Emu in the Sky, where the Coalsack nebular represents the head of the Emu and the body traces the Milky Way.    The seasons can be judged from the position of the Emu throughout the year.

Something that came up in later discussions was the importance of cultural sensitivity when engaging with different audiences (and this came up in many different forms).   I thought Amanda gave a great example of this.  As an astronomer, I feel like I have had greater success in collaborations and engagement when I do have a better appreciation of people’s culture.

2.   Alice Williamson gave a wonderful talk on the Open Source Malaria project.   Regardless of how much astronomers like to say we are studying a fundamental science, most lives we save are pretty far off in the future.   Whereas scientists designing new drugs are saving lives today.   Both works are important, but the tangible results from astronomy are sometimes harder to define.   So I am always impressed to listen to talks by people saving lives today.   The Open Source Malaria project is a great example of open science and they have adopted six rules:

  • All data are open and all ideas are shared for others to use, modify and share
  • Anyone can take part at any level
  • There will be no patents
  • Suggestions are the best form of criticism
  • Public discussion is much more valuable than private email
  • An open project is bigger than, and is not owned by, any given lab

3.  I’m not going to talk about astropy (I’ve done that enough), but I will mention Tom Robitaille’s (@astrofrog)  open development revolution.  This is what really has made things like astropy possible.  It’s the ease at which people can now collaborate and share.  It’s such a great concept.

4.   I love reading about  spaceprob.es.   Seriously though, it looks like a great outreach resource that is beautifully designed and built on a simple set of tools like jekyll, github, flask, and heroku.

5.  A big issue both at ADASS and at .Astronomy is how do we raise the profile of people doing important work that enables astronomy but that is so often overlooked or under appreciated.  There is no one magic bullet here, but there are some useful tools already available like ASCL and Zenodo to make it easy for your work to be citable.

6.  I saw an idea described, defined, criticized, fleshed out, argued over, and made potentially possible over the course of an afternoon.  I think a number of us are excited over the possibility.   Can we implement it in a one day hack?  I don’t know, but I’m willing to help.

7. I led an unconference on building diversity.    This was the first time I had tried to lead something like this, and though I might not have known what I was doing, I think it is incredible important to discuss these issues.  There are many reasons astronomy and open source projects are predominately European descent and male.   Nonetheless, we came up with some concrete suggestions for how to encourage a more diverse representation in open source projects.  These included reaching out to different groups and offering tutorials to bridge programs, mentorship to beginners, tutorials from a diverse collection of people, affinity groups, and promoting diversity throughout the package.   I really appreciated the advice, suggestions, and experiences shared by everyone in the group.