Coding Summer School 2024

The two-week annual Coding Summer School, jointly organised by the Centre for High Performance Computing (CHPC) and the National Institute for Theoretical and Computational Sciences (NITheCS), started today. The school takes place in-person at 30 “nodes” across South Africa while streaming live, and 800 students will be attending this year.

The hybrid format of the summer school is an example of how blended learning can scale up access to critical skills training opportunities offered by national institutions such as the CHPC and NITheCS. While students may be exposed to coding during their studies and via online courses, these initiatives are crucial for them to develop their skills and create a network of peers and mentors in the research environment.

UCT eResearch is hosting the University of Cape Town‘s node of the school in Chancellor Oppenheimer Library‘s beautiful Hlanganani Junction Meeting Room, with delicious catering provided by Jean’s Kitchen. It doesn’t get any better than that;-)

Closing Time

The calendar year, which for those of us working out of the Southern Hemisphere coincides with the academic / work year, is coming to a close, and while I am not planning on taking a particularly long break and I actually have got a big stack of TODOS to tackle come Jan 3rd, one can’t help but take stock of the past 12 months. It has been a busy, long, often painful and complicated year, my first year at my new job and the first year without my dearest and difficult dad. I often felt an overarching feeling that there is way too much “bureaucracy” and “paperwork” in our lives, that the world is not on the right track in general and that we often make it difficult to get through the day for ourselves and for our fellow human beings alike for no particular reason. But looking back a little more closely, I realise I was actually blessed by many colleagues and “students” who made it possible and worthwhile, and occasionally exhilarating. Some have completed their studies, some have grown in their jobs and now have big plans, many have left us for (sigh;/) greener pastures, and some have moved on to a less frantic phase of their lives. Last but not least, some have “just” got on with their often thankless jobs and come to my rescue even when it was not part of their job description, some have gifted me a smile or a hug when I most needed it, and in this fragile balancing act that is our life, that has made all the difference. So here’s to those who still find it in them to be kind, compassionate and humane, may I always find the clarity and the time to recognise them, keep them close and make them feel seen, because they are often the ones standing between myself and a consistently crazy world out there, and they deserve this and so much more!

Converis Africa User Group

Several excellent comics (Dilbert perhaps being the most popular one) focus on the managemnt and/or reporting overload of the modern workplace. Universities are not immune to this plague, and some might say they’re worse off because a) academics and students are notoriously reluctant to be bound by rules and prone to complaining b) universities often do not have the resources to implement and/or support user-friendly IT systems to assist with the more menial tasks. Converis is a tool (marketed by Clarivate) is a tool that (supposedly, some might say;-) enables universities to gather, report and showcase data about their research activities. It can e.g. be used by researchers to publicly display their CV, including their publications and research outputs, to submit research project proposals and financials to the University. More in general, when well-deployed, supported and used, Converis displays a research dashboard which can be used to provide snapshots and detailed information about the University’s research. The devil, as they say, is in the detail, and the numerous (often conflicting) requirements of different units within a University’s administration can rapidly make such a system fiendishly complicated and subtly counter-intuitive. For a while now, Kimi Keith and others at the University of Cape Town have tried to gather Converis users across Africa to share their experience in deploying and supporting Converis instances in resource-constrained environments and help each other make the most of it. If you’re currently using Converis or are considering adopting it, we would like to hear from more of you!

Join the Converis Africa User Group on LinkedIn!

Soapbox Science Cape Town – 25 Nov 2023


V&A Waterfront Cape Town – 25th November 2023

STAY TUNED! @SoapboxScienceCT

3rd Research Forum Southern Africa – Spain

Today I spent a few hours at the 3rd Southern Africa – Spain Research Forum, whose theme was Science for the Global Good: A North‐South Dialogue and where I participated in the round table “NAVIGATING RESEARCH IN SOUTHERN AFRICA WITH A FOREIGN/EU BACKPACK ‐ TO COLLABORATE OR NOT TO COLLABORATE?” and met some old and new friends. Thanks to Alvaro and Fabiola and their colleagues for organising and for inviting me and to the Spanish Ambassador for hosting us!

Dutch Delegation Visit to UCT Astronomy

In an exciting display of international cooperation and astronomical exploration, the University of Cape Town (UCT) hosted a delegation from the Netherlands government at the RW James Building on 14 October (Saturday Night Fever). The event, organised by the UCT Department of Astronomy, included some speakers who shared their insights on the future possibilities of astronomy research. Here you can find UCT’s news item while below you can see me invoking the power of big data with my hands;-)

BRICS Astronomy Data Science Hackathon

The BRICS Astronomy Working Group Meeting 2023 was hosted by South Africa at SAAO‘s headquarters in Cape Town. The meeting ended on a high note with a Data Science Hackathon organized by Hack4dev and by the indefatigable Eslam Hussein in particular. Well done to the 30 participants and to the tutors who showed them the ways of data science applications in astronomy in a friendly and collaborative context. Per Astra ad Aspera;-)

Courtesy of ChatGPT: “Draw a team of students working together on a hackathon to classify astronomical sources. Make it look like they are having fun.”

HELP-ing Extragalactic Surveys in the Netherlands

I spent the (mostly rainy, apart from a sun-kissed conference dinner on a “party boat” cruise on the canals:-) week at Leiden’s Lorentz Center with 50-odd jolly astro folks discussing extragalactic surveys within a workshop I helped organise as part of the HELP project.


The sometime confusing dynamic agenda allowed for plenty of opportunities to get together in small groups in our cosy shared offices to discuss recent progress of and future prospects for our “grand plan” to bring together multi-wavelength surveys across the Herschel extragalactic sky and thus help clarify the history of cosmic star formation and black hole accretion density. A preliminary set of tools and data products was shared with the participants, so as to get their early feedback and encourage them to use them in their work in a timely manner. Needless to say, we received plenty of useful suggestions, some of which we may even get around to implement over the course of the project. Bookmark our web siteour data archive and our software repository and watch our for future data and code releases. Glad to be of help (poor pur intended;-)help-leiden-workshop-poster

Working on an IDIA

The first meeting organized by the recently established UCT/UWC/NWU/UP Inter-University Institute for Data-Intensive Astronomy successfully came to a close last night with a braai at the South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO). The Data Science Workshop held at UWC on 12/13 April 2016 brought together researchers from IDIA partners, affiliated research organisations and industry partners from IBM, SAP and SAS, to brainstorm research priorities and possible projects to be pursued within IDIA. If the enthusiasm (admittedly also fuelled by the abundant Shiraz) seen last night as SAAO was any guide, the South African Astronomical and Data Science community have embraced the goals of IDIA with gusto.




The Many Facets of Extragalactic Radio Surveys

I’m off to beautiful & lively Bologna later today for “The Many Facets of Extragalactic Radio Surveys” conference. It’s been an eventful few months for Italian Radio-Astronomy, with their much-praised but eventually unsuccessful bid to host SKA‘s permanent headquarters, a re-organization of most radio-astronomy research & development under a new institute, and now a radio-astronomer called upon to be INAF‘s new president.

“The purpose of this meeting is to explore new scientific perspectives offered by modern radio surveys, focusing on synergies allowed by multi-frequency, multi-resolution observations. We will bring together researchers working on wide aspects of the physics and evolution of extra-galactic radio sources, from star-forming galaxies to AGNs and clusters of galaxies, including their role as cosmological probes. The organization of this conference has been inspired by the recent celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Northern Cross Radio Telescope in Medicina, whose pioneering B2 and B3 surveys provided a significant contribution to radio astronomical studies for many decades afterwards.”


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