Monday, July 23, 2012

My DotAstronomy4

Its been well over a week since I got back from dotastronomy 4, and the time has really flown by (both at the conference and since). This blog post is mostly a collection of links and reminders for myself about what I did at dotastronomy. If you also find it interesting that's great, but it is not a comprehensive review of dotastronomy so if you want that go somewhere else. 

Other people at the conference have written blog articles about their experiences (Sarah Kendrew, Astronomyblogger, OrbitingFrog, Astropixie).

In years to come I suspect what I will remember most about dotastronomy is the journey up to the Haus de Astronomie on the furnicular railway.

The second of the two trains. 

View down the track from near the top.

I enjoyed this blurry effect as we travelled through a tunnel.

We all had to remember (and exert willpower) to not "get off at the Schloss" (beautiful castle overlooking Heidelberg). 

The food was also interesting - I didn't realise there was so much meat in German food! ;) I enjoyed the visual presentation of this desert. 

 The theme of my dotastronomy this year seems to have been learning about visualisation techniques. I particularly enjoyed Noah and Julie's talk on the subject and I was annoyed to be in a different unconference session and missed their workshop. I'm planning to put more thought into the visualisations in future papers, and especially in the public talks I use. 

For my hack day I joined the project initiated by Sarah Kendrew with the idea of making visualisations of links between terms in astronomical papers. There is a website called Brainscanr which does this for medical research, and Sarah thought it could be interesting in astronomy too. Orbitingfrog also got involved, developing the tools to download the text from the arxiv, strip it of non-astronomical terms, and properly deal with plurals etc. What I did was work out ways to visualise this. I worked with Gephi to make network diagrams of the results. Using an input .cvs file with one paper per line, and each term in each (abstract of) each paper on that line, this tool can make a network diagram like this one which shows links between terms in abstracts which contain the words "dark energy". 

I also learned about using the Javascript tools at Rickshaw to make plots live in the browser. Finally I messed around with wordls which are always fun (if of dubious use). 

The results of our hack are online here

While I was doing this I also learned about Culturomics which lets you make plots of the frequency of any terms you like in arxiv papers. Useful. :) 

I also participated in Amanda Bauer (astropixie)'s project to make a "Science it's a Universal Thing" video (in reponse to the "Science it's a Girl Thing" debacle).

I love the video Amanda and Nicole made, and although I'm not sure it would be ideal to interest teenagers in science, it is well deserving of it's "Best Reminder of Why We Got into this in the First Place" hack day prize. 

I was an extra in "S**t Astronomers" say too - with some stupid questions in the "talk" that was a fun few minutes!

On the last day Phil Marshall and I ran an unconference session aimed at collating the collective wisdom at dotastronomy on the most effective ways for researchers to use Twitter (both to enhance their research/networking, and for science communication). This has been done before (e.g Pamela Gay et al. as part of Live Casting: Bringing Astronomy to the Masses in Real Time in 2008, and by Janet Vertesi in Tweeting Spacecraft in 2010) but we are still thinking about plan to write up our updated collective recommendations. 

Kelle Cruz's talk on changing the culture of professional astronomy has also really stuck in my mind. I'm not sure it's possible, but it's a lovely idea, and I often wish inparticular that junior scientists could be less stressed out. We all too often focus on job insecurity instead of our love of the work itself, and it was nice to have a reminder of the fruitlessness of that. I was also reminded of the tools and tips on the Astrobetter blog, which are an absolutely fantastic resource. 

Throughout the conference I pushed a wiki to collect recommendations and links from the dotastro community - which is filling up well. I also ran on there a survey of equipment and programming tools favoured by the group, which I presented to the conference using Prezi (one of the recommendations which I had not tried before). Following that I'd recommend running surveys with a Google Form (in Google Documents).

I have vague plans to collate the recommendations and links a bit better (and perhaps submit to the Astrobetter blog), and there are also other plans to document this years dotAstronomy (and the 3 that proceeded it) a bit better, so stay tuned on that.

Dotastronomy is a great conference, and a completely unique experience. As was the case last year in Oxford, I've returned home enthused and inspired and ready to get to work (a good thing given my last week!). For me dotastronomy is a chance to update my arsenal of skills, but more importantly to reconnect with the excitement of doing and communicating astronomy with a like minded group of people. 

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