Software and research: the Institute's Blog

Software Sustainability in Remote Sensing

Airplane by Tracy Hunter.By Robin Wilson, Geography and Environment & Institute for Complex Systems Simulation, University of Southampton.

This is the third in a series of articles by the Institute's Fellows, each covering an area of interest that relates directly both to their own work and the wider issue of software's role in research.

1. What is remote sensing?

Remote sensing broadly refers to the acquisition of information about an object remotely (that is, with no physical contact). The academic field of remote sensing, however, is generally focused on acquiring information about the Earth (or other planetary bodies) using measurements of electromagnetic radiation taken from airborne or satellite sensors. These measurements are usually acquired in the form of large images, often containing measurements in a number of different parts of the electromagnetic spectrum (for example, in the blue, green, red and near-infrared), known as wavebands. These images can be processed to generate a huge range of useful information including land cover, elevation, crop health, air quality, CO2 levels, rock type and more, which can be mapped easily over large areas. These measurements are now widely used operationally for everything from climate change assessments (IPCC, 2007) to monitoring the destruction of villages in Darfur (Marx and Loboda, 2013) and the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest (Kerr and Ostrovsky, 2003).

Times have changed. Should we always reuse code?

Snow Flake by Dave Dugdale.By Melody Sandells, Research Fellow, Environmental Systems Science Centre, University of Reading.

This is the second in a series of articles by the Institute's Fellows, each covering an area of interest that relates directly both to their own work and the wider issue of software's role in research.

My research is about the physics of snow, and how to retrieve snow information from satellite data. Things have moved on a lot since I was an undergraduate where the concept of email was new to the masses, the introduction of the web blew our minds and Windows 3.11 on a 486 was amazing. In the old days, you would read a paper and if it was of sufficient interest, you would go away and code it for your own purposes - in my case it was state-of-the-art Fortran90. Things aren't like that anymore - why recode stuff that has already been done previously for the paper? Yet, for me, the urge to recode just won't go away.

The Importance of Grace and Why We Need More Women in Scientific Computing

By Toni Collis, Director - Women in HPC.

"What is a good (or bad) percentage of female users of a scientific computing facility?"

In this article, originally published to accompany a talk given at the recent public opening of Grace, UCL's new computing facility, Toni Collis uses this question to look at the diversity of the community in general, focussing on the High Performance Computing (HPC) community that represents the large-scale use of scientific computing. By looking at other studies, including analysing data collected by the Institute about research software use and development in the UK, Toni calls out the things we still need to be aware of if we are to continue to honour the work of pioneering computer scientist Grace Hopper, inventor of the first compiler for a computer programming language.  

Toni Collis is Director of Women in HPC, and works with the Institute's Policy team as a collaborator on diversity and engagement campaigns.

Collaborations Workshop 2016 (CW16) Report

By Shoaib Sufi, Community Lead, Software Sustainability Institute.

The Institute’s Collaborations Workshop 2016 (CW16) took place from 21-23 March 2016 at the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh. The opening slide set the scene displaying a weighted representation of which software the people attending used in their daily work. Shoaib Sufi’s welcome to attendees was followed by an introduction from the Institute Director, Neil Chue Hong. Neil spoke about the work of the Institute and how to get the most out of a Collaborations Workshop (CW). The clue was very much in the name, the main idea was to meet people, people you may not have met before, thus widening your network of potential collaborators. With over 80 attending it made for a real opportunity to learn and share. We cover how the workshop unfolded below.

Supporting Research Software in South Africa and Africa

By Aleksandra Pawlik, Training Leader

Last week the Institute in collaboration with the North West UniversityCape Town University and Talarify helped run the first face-to-face Software and Data Carpentry Instructor Training. 23 new instructors from South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Kenya attended the event. After the workshop the Institute's work was also presented at the Association of South African University Directors of Information Technology (ASAUDIT) Autumn General Institutional Meeting. 

How to do data science, big data, and IoT easily - with cloud computing

By Kenji Takeda, Microsoft Research

When people talk about big data, data science and streaming data from devices, it can seem pretty scary. It conjures up images of complex IT infrastructure, many different systems to be stitched together, and requiring expertise beyond most researchers’ comfort zone. You certainly need to think about what you’re trying to do, but with cloud computing you can create what you need easily through a web portal, script or program. For example, researchers at the University of Oxford have taken their machine learning prototype from the lab, processing data from smart water pumps, and are deploying it across thousands of pumps in Kenya using the cloud. The best way to find out if this will work for you is to try it out…

You can get your hands dirty by joining us at one of our free, cloud computing training courses in the UK and across Europe, custom-designed for you by Microsoft Research. Whether it's big data, machine learning, big compute (HPC), or analysing data streaming from devices for an IoT project, you’ll discover how easy it is using the open Microsoft Azure cloud platform to speed up your research.

Open source tomography training: Swansea & Leicester 2016

Tomography machine. Image by Martin Abegglen. Russell Garwood, Lecturer at the University of Manchester.

2015 Software Sustainability Institute fellow Russell Garwood has completed his fellowship by giving two institute-sponsored training courses in using open source software, showing how to analyse and visualise tomographic datasets. By learning the basics of Drishti, SPIERS and Blender, attendees have many of the tools needed to conduct research using tomography data, avoiding expensive proprietary software.

From zero to a responsible software developer in a week

University of Oslo by Alexander Ottesen (under CC-BY).By Iza Romanowska, Institute Fellow and PhD Student at University of Southampton.

Learning a new computational technique, be it simulation, specific type of data analysis or even lab-based methods, can be a daunting task. You could start by reading up on all the previous applications and methodological papers but it can leave you frustrated with the technical nitty-gritty which is virtually impenetrable without a good knowledge of the tools that were used. So perhaps, it is better to start from the other end and learn how to use the software first? Sounds like a reasonable plan until we are reminded of the legions of early career researchers trawling through literature looking for a nail they could hit with their shiny new hammer.

Steps To Start Liberating Your Science

Handcuff. Image by Naiane Mello. Robert Davey, The Genome Analysis Centre (TGAC), Ross Mounce, University of Cambridge, Larisa Blazic, University of Westminster, Anelda van der Walt, Talarify, and Raniere Silva, Software Sustainability Institute.

A speed blog from the Collaborations Workshop 2016 (CW16).

The Open Science movement is facing a challenge - how do we convince our peers to liberate their science? During the Collaborations Workshop 2016, we developed these 9 steps to help anyone that is unsure what Open Science is, or who are looking to make their science more open.

Evolutions in the Discussion of RSE Career Paths

Path. Image by Miguel Carvalho. Mark Stillwell, Cisco Meraki, Caroline Jay, University of Manchester,  Robert Haines, University of Manchester, Louise Brown, University of Nottingham, Jeremy Cohen, Imperial College London, Alys Brett, Culham Centre for Fusion Energy, Shih-Chen Chao, University of Manchester, Raquel Alegre, UCL, James Davenport, University of Bath, and James Hetherington,UCL.

speed blog from the Collaborations Workshop 2016 (CW16).

Huge progress has been made in recognising research software engineering as a profession since initial discussions about this role began at the Collaborations Workshop in 2012. The topic still gets a lot of coverage at Software Sustainability Institute and UK Research Software Engineer (RSE) events, and with good reason. Many of the basic problems that led to the initial discussions continue to exist: in particular, a lack of academic credit for software contributions, and lower pay in relation to similar industry roles. While these problems remain unsolved and important, the fact of the matter is that people are now carving out career paths as RSEs or managers of RSEs, and new issues and concerns are starting to arise.