AAS 223, day 4; AAS hack day

The day started with me giving a plenary on engineering (principally software engineering related to data analysis and target selection). It was admirably live-blogged by the people, so check twitter if you want a summary. I have put my slides up here.

Immediately after my talk it was the start of the second annual AAS Hack Day. We ran it similarly to last year: Pitch, self-assemble, hack, hack, eat, hack, hack, report. The results were astounding. Here are just a few highlights; this is not the full list of completed hack projects:

Vanderplas (UW) has been working on making a javascript-d3 back-end for matplotlib, so that python matplotlib code can be made to create beautiful interactive plots in the browser to be embedded in web pages and other online content. At Hack Day, Vanderplas implemented "tool tips" for matplotlib plots and propagated them into the d3 backend. In a similar parallel hack, Meisner (Harvard) implemented "tool tips" functionality for pixels in the popular IDL image viewer called ATV.
Schwamb (Taiwan) and a team started up a twitter account (and associated live-updating web page and facebook page) that will follow, for each week of the year, one astronomer, somewhere in the world. Email Schwamb if you want to take it up for a week sometime this year!
Using statistics of n-grams in the AAS contribution titles, Price-Whelan made a web service that creates new, fake titles. The best was "The metallicity distribution of astronomy education". After Hack Day, Foreman-Mackey made a twitter account that does the same for arXiv papers.
d3po in presentations
Williams (Berkeley) mashed up d3po plotting with javascript-based presentation software to make useful code for putting interactive figures into seminar slides.
startorialist and social media
Rice (CUNY) and Corrales (Columbia) expanded the startorialist web site, making it play well with twitter, and (gasp) tumblr. Apparently twitter is so five minutes ago.
WWT input-image stretches
For the second year in a row, Hack Day led to a feature implementation in Microsoft World-Wide Telescope, by Jonathan Fay (Microsoft). Teuben (Maryland) asked for new kinds of control over brightness and contrast on images viewed in WWT; Fay made him sit down and they put it right in there. Apparently it will ship in the next version!
gender in question period
Before the AAS meeting even started, Davenport (UW) set up some systems by which meeting attendees could report back to him data about who is speaking and who is asking questions at AAS meeting sessions. He gathered together a data analysis team who did a great job from beginning to end. It looks like they found something: Although the AAS speakers are made up of the same 60-40-ish male-to-female ratio of the entire conference attendance, the question askers are substantially more likely to be male. Next: Why?
asteroids in LSST
Juric (LSST) gathered together a team to look at discovery of fast-moving sources in LSST. He explained that right now the asteroids put such a strong constraint on imaging survey cadence, any improvement in orbit determination methods could vastly improve the efficiency of the survey. The team made some progress on some brute-force methods for "linking up" disjoint observations of fast-moving sources, constrained by Solar-System dynamics
AAS routing
Foreman-Mackey, with help from several hackers including Gregerson (Utah) and Malyshev (Stanford), built an interface to the AAS meeting program that takes as input some text (like an abstract from one of your recent papers) and returns a list of the AAS meeting contributions to which you are most likely to want to go. We got tentative agreement from Kevin Marvel (AAS) that, under conditions, the AAS might add the functionality to the program next meeting!

What a day! Thanks very much to Microsoft and Northrop Grumman for sponsorship, and Kelle Cruz (CUNY) and Meg Schwamb for organizing!


  1. Hogg; sorry to be a dick, but I'm gonna call you out and mention that a lot of other folks, and not just Jo and yourself did TS work for SDSS III BOSS!!! And on a science note, it's still not clear to me that better algorithms beat better data!! ;-)

    1. I agree absolutely, and didn't mean to imply the opposite on either point.