Life in optical

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Posts Tagged ‘Science & Technology’

Upcoming global hack events that need one or more teams in South Africa (and elsewhere)

Cross-posted from here.

Can we have a South African leg of the International Space Apps Challenge?

International Space Apps Challenge

The idea is to use open data and open technology to try to tackle global challenges. The event happens on April 21st and is a partnership with Open NASA and the Open Government Partnership (of which South Africa is a member).
I would love to organise the event myself, but by April 21st, the bump the hackers met at the Hack Day will have been born and I’ll be a bit busy… :) So if anyone is interested in taking the lead on organising a Space Apps Hack Event in the country, email us at or contact them directly through the website!

Click here for more info on the International Space Apps Challenge.

Hacking for Humanity

Random Hacks of Kindness

In the same thinking, the global RHoK community gets together twice a year (June and December) to create hacks ‘to make the world a better place’. Again, I’ll probably be out of action in June this year but I’m definitely up for organising a Cape Town leg in December. If you wish to take the lead on a June event, go ahead! Also, feel free to spread the word.

More info on RHoK here:

Two Open Knowledge events in Cape Town

On the Open Knowledge Foundation blog, Rufus Pollock and François Gray write:

There are two exciting open data and open knowledge events in Cape Town South Africa taking place in the next week (in which we’ll both be participating).

First up, this Saturday and Sunday, 19-20 November 2011, we’ll be holding an Open Data and Science hackfest at the African Institute of Mathematical Sciences.

Then next Tuesday, from 6:30pm-8:30pm an Open Knowledge Meetup (#OpenMeetupCT) is being organized for those interested in Open Data, Open Content and Open Source.

We are going to attend both – inspiration and follow-up for Science Hack Day Cape Town? The community is building up!…

More info on these events can be found here:
1. Africa@Home Hackfest at AIMS
2. #OpenMeetupCT

.Astronomy 3 – day 1

Jill Tarter sets the tone at .Astronomy 3

This morning opened with a fascinating talk by Jill Tarter, director of the Centre for SETI Research. Her message was full of perspective, some physics, an overview of Kepler (see the Kepler Orrery here) and some really interesting technical aspects of the data and challenge of data processing in real time with citizen scientists. The challenge is that of setiQuest and it will be tackled at the Google Summer of Code this year. As the numerous favourite quotes from this talk populating the #dotastro twitter stream demonstrate, it was quite a start to the day.

Next came a string of inspiring presentations.

Ed Gomez from LCOGT showed off the great Virtual Sky, presented the upcoming Star in a Box (stay tuned) and invited everyone to take part in agent exoplanet!.

LCOGT uses Linked Data

Mike Peel‘s presentation initiated a debate about the use of Wikipedia in Astronomy. His talk can be found here – and is well worth a read!

Matt Wood, our favourite Amazon Technology evangelist enthused us with his Amazon web services and, as sponsor of the conference, gave us a bunch of vouchers to use the hack day tomorrow and for the rest of the meeting.

Before lunch, Chris Lintott attempted to give a talk without mentioning the Zooniverse and almost succeeded. His talk, about why the internet is terrible, touched upon how the internet is influencing the way we think. While some agreed that social networking around interests reduced serendipity, others argued that social networks led to more serendipitous discoveries of interests. The debate goes on…

Full room for the first morning


Everyone was enthusiastically tweeting on at least two devices simultaneously and we were trying to ustream the meeting to the point of breaking the network… Sorry #dotastro followers. 90 connections were not enough for 40 odd people this morning. The issue was subsequently fixed.

After a copious lunch with a memorable series of deserts, the afternoon took off with three parallel unconference sessions.

Live coding with Processing


Twitter is another way to follow #dotastro when the afternoon sessions are not broadcast.


The ‘Citizen operated spacecraft’ session was led by Michael Johnson and covered topics such as low-cost space exploration devices, the consequences of making space exploration affordable for citizens, the ethics of bringing space within citizens’ reach, what benefits there are to citizen space exploration (outreach and education, engineering skills, contributions to science) – and a controversial debate of exploration vs science. Each of these topics being worth a blog post on its own, we are looking for volunteers from the session to share their notes with us…

In the Processing 101 session, participants learnt to start playing around with Processing, an open source visualisation language and development environment based on Java that allows to create animated interactive powerful visualisations. After going through a live coding Hello World example in the form of a growing white circle on a bright red background, everyone was let loose. An image annotation app and an image-to-audio app were developed in the session, among other cool bits of code. Hopefully the game will continue at the Hack day tomorrow afternoon.

Another session led by Norman Gray focused on Linked Open Data. The two areas of focus were – the semantic web in practice and – the machine-readable web. At the session, the question ‘What is it for?’ was addressed. The suumary is that making the web machine-readable should be easy to use but it is tedious to implement. Norman predicted that the machine-readable web will come about when people with lots of data will want to make their data available to others.

Kinect in motion

Jonathan Fay demonstrated the World Wide Telescope (WWT). He imported data from various origins and visualised them in the WWT. The WWT is now interfaced with and etc. and allows users to do much more with their own images and their own data. Tomorrow at the Hack day, we will have a demonstration of how the WWT can be used using Microsoft’s Kinect technology. Let’s go surf in outer space!

Megan Schwamb led a discussion about the future of large data-driven astronomy. Parsing, searching, doing science with big data require new methods. The debate led to a discussion on how to get more support and recognition for astroinfomatics and astrostatistics and what career paths are there for the astrosoftware engineers of today and tomorrow. There was also a discussion about the limitaions of models to compare data with and how human intervention is still crucial to discover what we don’t know is there to discover.

The last unconference session was about Gloria, a Spanish networked telescope project organised by the Montegancedo Observatory. Gloria involves the establishment of telecommunication standards for networkable telescopes such that astronomers (amateur and professional) can make their telescopes available for remote observations and how those without access to telescopes can carry out observations remotely.

All the participants are invited to share their photos and other digital memorabilia to the .Astronomy flickr group