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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;-)

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!

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.”


Riunione Addetti Scientifici MAECI

In settimana ho trascorso un paio di giorni a Roma presso il Ministero degli Esteri (più precisamente il Ministero degli Affari Esteri e Cooperazione Internazionale, o MAECI) alla riunione degli addetti scientifici in qualità di rappresentante del neonato Network of Italian Researchers at the Cape (NIRC). L’addetto scientifico e’ (quasi sempre) un ricercatore impiegato presso un’universita’ e ente di ricerca italiano ma selezionato e assunto dal Ministero per un periodo che va dai 4 agli 8 anni presso una della Ambasciate Italiane nel mondo per pubblicizzare/stimolare le potenzialità/collaborazioni dell’Italia nel campo della Scienza, Tecnologia e Innovazione (STI).

A parte i miei problemi di stomaco e la consueta ‘meeting fatigue’ e’ stato un incontro utile, da un lato per la partecipazione di tutti o quasi gli enti di ricerca italiani chiamati a dire la loro su condizioni e prospettive dell’internazionalizzazione della ricerca italiana e dall’altro per aver avuto la possibilità di conoscere i ~25 addetti scientifici italiani e i rappresentanti delle associazioni di ricercatori italiani nel mondo (delle quali ~7 su ~15 associazioni erano presenti).

Non ho qui modo di riassumere i tanti e utili spunti di riflessione sollevati durante l’incontro. Diro’ solo che, come spesso succede in queste occasioni, si e’ più volte ricordato il netto contrasto tra la flessibilità e la velocità inerenti alla Ricerca Scientifica e Tecnologica e l’Innovazione con la maggiore inerzia e i tempi inevitabilmente più lunghi delle procedure ministeriali. Se si vogliono fare progressi nel lavorare meglio insieme, questi due mondi devono parlarsi di più e meglio, e l’incontro di Roma ha cercato di gettare le basi perché questo possa succedere.

A quest’ultimo riguardo, l’incoraggiamento dell’Ambasciatore Svizzero (il miglior oratore dell’incontro a mio modesto parere) di “non chiedere permesso, ma perdono” quando piccole forzature procedurali si rendono necessarie per velocizzare delle iniziative evidentemente necessarie, ha sinceramente scaldato il cuore a tanti tra ricercatori e funzionari presenti.


Oh My God! – It’s Full of Bytes…

I spent the week in beautiful and (in spite of forecasts) mostly sunny Dubrovnik attending the AstroInformatics 2015 conference and the BigSkyEarth collaboration meeting catching up on the latest applications of Computer Science to Astronomy, Earth Observations as well as other disciplines. While everyone is seemingly into Big Data these days, a lot of the techniques & tools have long been available and (some) astronomers are only slowly catching up, but thanks to well-established Open Standards and the largely Open Data Policy within the astronomical community, however, progress looks more rapid than in most other disciplines. Which is very good news considering that today’s ‘big’ astronomical datasets will soon be dramatically superseded by eminently data-intensive projects such as LSST and SKA. A number of conference attendees will be visiting Cape Town next year for an IVOA Interoperability Meeting, which will hopefully allow the South African community to establish or strengthen collaborations in this fledgling field.

PS : while it appears that signature scenes from a TV series which I’m told is VERY popular in some circles have long been shot in Dubrovnik and more than a few pointers were available to remind the casual visitor about it, to my fellow astronomers’ defence (for a change) I’m glad to say that conversations were remarkably free of any related nonsense!;-)

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