Software and research: the Institute's Blog

Introductions, peer-review of plans, a giant squid and speed blogging - Fellows 2016 inaugural meeting

13 of this year's Fellows 2016 met in the Neil Chalmers Lecture theatre at the rather grand Natural History Museum in London. The Inaugural meeting for the Fellows allow them to get an introduction to the Institute, to receive feedback on their plans and discuss something topical in research software.

(best of the tweets)

Community update: Fellows 2016, Collaborations Workshop 2016, snakes and support

By Shoaib Sufi, Community Lead.

For some November and December is a time to wind down and slow down to meet the holiday seasons at a gentle pace … but not at the Institute! The community team with the help of the wider Institute, fellows and friends was busy putting together and finalising the building blocks that would enable a most productive 2016 for research software advocacy!

Read on to find out more more about Fellows 2016 and Collaborations Workshop 2016 (CW16) to see who we are supporting research software related activities in … you guessed it!... 2016! (and beyond).

In addition there are two reports from our Fellows around the rise of Python in HPC and software training.

Training update: further development of instructor training, WiSE workshops, and supporting teaching

By Aleksandra Pawlik, Training Lead.

The end of the year 2015 was full of training events building up towards the coming months. The Institute is working towards scaling up the number of Data and Software Carpentry events in the UK by growing the instructor pool. Also by working with the Steering Committees of both organisations we are making sure that research community in the UK can benefit from this training.

Never has Software and Credit been such an important topic - CW16

Register for CW16 at 

The Collaborations Workshop 2016 (CW16) brings together researchers, developers, project leaders, funders, publishers and more to explore the space of software and credit, collect best practices, form collaborations and think about the future. CW16 will inform nascent research leaders and the wider community about what is necessary to sustain the future of  computationally powered research by supporting the people behind it for their indispensable contributions to research.

Feedback from AGU 2015

By Rosa Filgueira, Research Assistant, School of Informatics, Data Intensive Research Group, University of Edinburgh.

I attended for the first time the American Geophysical Union (AGU) fall meeting in December 2015 in San Francisco. The main purpose of AGU is to promote discovery in Earth and space science for the benefit of humanity.  In AGU, you can find a wide range of scientific communities (e.g. Geology, Meteorology, Oceanography, Computer Science, etc.) presenting their latest work in their fields.  And normally, the number of attendees is huge!  This year, there were 25,000 attendees, which means a lot of people to interact with, and a lot of work and presentations to learn about. My view is necessarily a small fragment of the total.

My background is in Computer Science, more specifically in High Performance Computing. However, during the last four years, I have been working in three data-intensive challenging projects, called EFFORT, VERCE and ENVRIplus, which all have Earth science research goals. These projects have given me the opportunity to address multi-disciplinary challenges with Rock Physics and Geosciences communities by enabling them access to HPC resources via advanced services and tools such as workflows and scientific gateways.  Therefore, attending AGU gave me the opportunity to present our latest work, “dispe4py: An Open Source Python Framework for Encoding, Mapping and Reusing Continuous Data Streams” [1], that we developed during the VERCE project [2].  This talk was presented at the “Enabling Scientific Analysis, Data Reuse, and Open Science through Free and Open Source Software” session, where I met new people interested in dispel4py [3], and learnt from different talks, which I have summarised in the following link [4]. In that link, you will find more summaries from other sessions, including “Data ought not to be in the darkness: They should be open, accessible, transparent and reproducible” and “Big Data in Earth Science: From Hype to Reality”.

First UK Software Carpentry workshop for Women in Science and Engineering

The end of 2015 saw the first Software Carpentry workshop for Women in Science and Engineering (WiSE) in the UK. The Institute co-organised the event together with Women in HPC, ARCHER, Edinburgh Parallel Computing Centre (EPCC) and ELIXIR UK. 34 participants attended the workshop and we also had a waiting list. The event was generously sponsored by Intel, Bank of America Merrill Lynch​ and ELIXIR UK.

This first workshop received a lot of interest from female researchers from different organisations in the UK. The attendees were from various disciplines ranging from life sciences, earth sciences and physics to social sciences. We covered the standard Software Carpentry curriculum. The instructors were Aleksandra Nenadic and Aleksandra Pawlik, both from the University of Manchester. The helpers were Toni Collis (Women in HPC, EPCC), Clair Barrass (EPCC), Simone Di Cola (University of Manchester) and Mireya Paredes (University of Manchester).

Python shakes up the world of high performance computing - a perspective from Supercomputing 2015

By Oliver Laslett, SSI Fellow and PhD Candidate at the University of Southampton.

Nearly 12,000 keen people visited the exhibition floor of Supercomputing 2015, among the flashing LEDs and towering racks of computers, it was easy to feel that you are experiencing computation at its physical limits; a world of highly optimised hardware and software built for maximum performance. Yet it was obvious that Python, the most popular language for teaching introductory programming, has become an integrated component of the HPC stack.

Why the information profession needs Library Carpentry

By Clare Playforth, Library assistant, The Library University of Sussex

I want to express how important I think software skills are for people who work in libraries and how I feel like more value should be placed on their development. We are in the business of information, creating it, archiving it, retrieving it, curating it and delivering it, so it is a constant source of mystery to me that we are often so bad at working with the systems, processes and software that enable this.

I accept that there are many different reasons that you might want to work in the information profession (you know like those weird folk who say “I’m a people person”) but whichever way you look at it, information is the uniting factor – information technology and information as in data. We all want to provide good customer service but in my experience people seem slow to accept that the more library workers know about how to use and exploit software and information technologies the better the customer is going to be served. A massive chunk of user interactions with any library will be through the catalogue, databases, web pages and self service and yet often these digital user experiences are not seen as being as important as the face to face ones and I think that the development of staff skills in these areas could benefit from greater investment.​

Research software receives £3.5m cross-council support

The Software Sustainability Institute, a team of experts from the universities of Edinburgh, Manchester, Oxford and Southampton, who are committed to cultivating world-class research through software, has received £3.5m funding to continue its valuable support for the UK's research software community.

Two new funders, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), have joined forces with the Institute's original funder, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) to continue to invest in research that is underpinned by software until at least 2019.

Neil Chue Hong, the Institute's Director and Principal Investigator, said: "The Institute is delighted with this development, which shows that the importance of software - and the goals of software sustainability - are reaching an ever-broader audience."

Software sustainability checklist from the Netherlands eScience Center

By Mateusz Kuzak, Netherlands eScience Center 

At the Netherlands eScience Center we aim to share as much code as possible between our diverse research projects. We also want to share our code with research communities. One of the reasons why we do this is to increase sustainability of our software, by extending its life beyond the life of our projects. 

How to practically approach this goal? What makes software easy or hard to take and reuse for your own project? What makes it easy to contribute to and to improve it?