David PS

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Amazing workshop!

02 Apr 2015 categories: workshops   software   collaborations  

Which better way to start my new blog than telling you about an amazing conference? I was one of the lucky ones to participate in Collaborations workshop 2015, not just in the /unconference/ but in the hackday too! This is the fifth time the Software Sustainability Institute celebrates such an event! This is also my fifth /unconference/ (Science Online London 2010 and 2011, .Astronomy4 and Zooniverse project workshop 2014). So we could say that we are on equal footing -me as attendee and they as organisers. I must say that this one is my best ever conference (though I hope that better will come!). I give a summary below of what we did during the /un/conference, but let me first explain why I think this one has been the best so far.

/Unconferences/ are really attractive - at least to me - because you are not an attendee, you are a participant, and that’s not an easy task to manage when you have more than 50 people… even sometimes is not even easy in small groups. But, CW15’s team nailed it very well! How? Well, first they told us that we have to participate! we should at least talk with seven people that we didn’t know, and they collaborative ideas and the discussion sessions where we could not be in groups larger than 6. The /participate/ part seems easy… but you may feel intimidated a bit at the beginning.. mostly when you don’t know anyone… but here is where the second /rule/ come to play. Talk with seven people seems easy, in fact is pretty easy if you just say ‘hi, I’m x, from y’ and you get a similar answer and that’s all. This happened to me with a couple of people. But during the course of the conference you get better at it and engage better with others. I believe that was due to the last /rule/, separating us in small groups. That makes that you hear and are heard by five other people, which in 4 discussion gets up to 20! and since they’ve got similar experience they can bridge you and introduce to people that may have similar interests. And finally, the golden rule! Have amazing food! They knew this is important and they put an Italian in charge! Thanks Leandro’s ex-colleague! (why am I so bad remembering names?). The whole thing was good, really good, energising and with full of fun! When I was back to work I couldn’t stop to talk about it the whole time! Plus when you arrive to a place and see that they give stickers with a message that you’ve been saying to your colleagues once and again… it feels like you are back at home, with your beloved ones!

Welcome message, also in t-shirt format

What did I do in this workshop/hackday? Being enlighten! Yeah! being enlighten with people that want to change research in the same way I think it should! We had wonderful keynotes and a very lively round-table. We also had two different group sessions, the collaborative ideas and discussion sessions. For the collaborative ideas we were “randomly” separated into group of six and we have to work together to create an idea that solved some barrier in the actual collaborative science world. For the discussion sessions we choose which discussion (suggested by us!) we wanted to join… and in case there was too many people we had to split into two.

The first day, we come up with a system to assign a colour/number to each conference attendee based in their interests, helping therefore to form natural /teams/ between people that doesn’t know each other. Jim Hensman was a member of our team and he had already done something similar in other conferences, he told us some wonderful findings! On the second day our idea was also related to break communication barriers. In this case to say “I don’t understand” without looking silly, while bringing some gamification to discussion groups. In short what we come up with is something similar to the applause app for Google hang outs but with tomatoes. This could be used also as real time feedback to speakers and teachers.

During the discussion sessions I join a group that discussed about collaborative tools and another about data formats. That was very timely for me as I had compiled a list of collaborative tools for a proposal I was writing for collaborations in Heliophysics! And data formats… well in astro we have FITS files and it may change, but it will take long (well we also have sav files, but we will get rid of them soon!).

Finally the hackday arrived! and we had to join a team to do something cool that will change the world. There were really good teams, and the one I join was not worse. I joined Tom’s team (together with James, Mateusz and Josh), the idea we had come up with was a simon-says clone game but with distractions. What did we want to get with it? First, to show to our non-coders friends that we are not grumpy by nature. Second, measure which distractions are more effective. And third, can you get better at it? So, can you train yourself to a point when distractions no affect you any more? - maybe that’s the secret of multi-tasking people. We worked like crazy and we’ve got something semi-functional (it works perfectly in certain versions of chrome running in certain versions of Mac).

What else to say than a big THANK YOU to all the organisers and participants. CW15 was an awesome experience and I hope to repeat next year!

So, here’s my first blog post in yet another started blog… which I wanted to do in March and I’m already two days behind schedule. But better later than never.. right?