Joe Zuntz and I recently started running an informal discussion group on computational techniques in astrophysics here in Oxford (“Code Coffee”). Pretty much all of the astrophysicists I know spend the majority of their time fighting with computers, so we thought it would be a nice way to get people together to collectively solve problems and share experience. It’s also a good way of learning about interesting techniques – astros tend not to have too much in the way of a formal computing education, so talking about even basic techniques can be valuable.
The format of the sessions is as follows: We start off with a brief, informal presentation on a computing topic, by a member of the department who has some interest or expertise in it. This is supposed to last five or ten minutes but almost invariable runs over, as people ask questions and try to figure out how best to apply what they’re learning to their own problems. I think this is proving to be quite handy to many of the attendees – there are lots of easy ways of improving your code, if only you know about them. We then move on to discussion or “show and tell”, where we use the collective experience in the room to help solve problems, discuss good practises, and so on. We also shovel biscuits down everyone’s throats.
So, that’s the idea behind it. After each Code Coffee, I’m going to post a brief summary of the discussion on this blog, along with web links to useful resources, mostly for the benefit of people who attended the sessions. Feel free to contribute in the comments, too.