Gaël Varoquaux

Sat 29 August 2009


SciPy 2009 is over!

The week is over, and I am finally catching up with things, back here in France.

The SciPy conference was exciting and fun as usual. It was great to meet old friends and put faces on names on the mailing list.

The turn out was very good: we had 150 people total. This is more than last year (125), which shows that there is high interest, given that most institutions have travel restrictions due to this year’s low budget.

The year, the conference was very international. I was really happy that, partly thanks to the PSF contribution, we had the visit of young contributors coming from far away, such as David Cournapeau (Japan), Dag Sverre Seljebotn (Norway), Pauli Virtanen (Finland), and Stéfan van der Walt (South Africa). For me, living in France, it was also great to have people from major European institutions, such as the ESRF (European Synchrotron Radiation Facility), the Fraunhofer institute,  the Max Planck Institute. These people not only committed important projects to the scientific Python tools, but made the effort of coming all the way to California to talk about it, which is non negligible given the cost of the trip all the way from Europe. To me this is important because it means that we are getting more interaction wordwide, and thus the tools are more likely to converge to something of generaluse. Also, for the first time ever, one of my bosses came to the conference. It is fantastic to be working with great scientists who actually understand that technology is important to do good science, and that programming is actually hard, and a matter of interest per se.

On the other hand, I was disappointed that we had no presentations from the industry. There were a lot of industry people in the audience, and it is always fun to here what they use Python for.

I really enjoyed the keynote by Peter Norvig because Peter talked about the importance of having a clear language to expose and formulate scientific ideas. This is something that is very dear to me, and I must say that the code snippets he presented were crystal clear, and involving non-trivial maths explained in a way that made them look simple, similar to his famous blog post on spell checking. It was really inspiring for me, and driving me into trying to write even cleared and simpler code.

The technical keynote by Jon Guyer also hit a soft spot for me, not only because the physics presented was very beautiful, but also because my partner is doing research in similar fields (with Python, of course), and Jon made an excellent argument for using Python, which is not always easy when you are discussing heavily computational problems.

For my personal work, SciPy was very exciting, because I had so many discussions with different people on how we could share efforts, by tweaking a data structure in an existing package, or simply having a look at a package I wasn’t aware of. The machine learning BoF was extremely enthusiastic, and I am really looking forward to October, when we will be able to start working on that. If only half of the things was talked about ever get done, I will be thrilled.

I should point out that, thanks to hard work by Jeff Teeters and Kilian Koepsell from Berkeley, the videos of every talk are on the web for the first time.

Also, we have a nice photo gallery with a group picture.

We have so many people to thank. I think special thanks go to Leah Jones, at Enthought, and Julie Ponce, at CACR, Caltech. They made sure that the organization committee didn’t forget anything important and did a lot of the grunt work. Thanks also to Enthought and CACR, and many of their staff, for the support in the organization. PSF founded students, and that is a big deal. We should thank all the tutorial presenters, it takes a lot of work to put together the material. We were very grateful to the program committee for reviewing the papers. Also thanks to all the speakers, and to all the attendees. The SciPy conference is a bit special to me, because it is very laid back, and I can trust that it will be great almost by self-organization, as you put together nice and clever people, and they find ways of discussing of interested things with enthusiasm.

Update: That blog post feels way too ‘political’. I dislike sale pitches, and it does feel like one. But, how to sum up some important contributions and thanks the people who helped out? I made a point of always wearing a T-shirt of the conference, rather than a shirt, but I guess that there is a point at which trying to dodge etiquette with a T-shirt and a pony tail is just another cliché[*] and formalism.

[*] cliché is a French word for cliché.

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