A Black Hole-Star Binary. Credit: nasa.gov

Google Summer of Code: My Introduction to OpenSource

While I can’t come close to doing justice in explaining OpenSource, I would like to point out just how widespread its use is, and what better example for it than the most successful OpenSource project ever, that is, Linux. As far as statistics are concerned,

  • 100% of the world’s top 500 supercomputers run on Linux.

So it suffices to say that most people have used OpenSource software one way or the other. But how does that concern me? A budding mind in the computing industry should have some familiarity with OpenSource, is an understatement. And that's where Google Summer of Code comes in.

Straight from its landing page,

Google Summer of Code is a global program focused on bringing more student developers into open source software development.

The Motivation

While talking about the intricacies of computing and its sophisticated relationship with science is a rabbit hole as deep as any, let’s talk motivation for a bit.

Curiosity, I believe, is an inherent property of consciousness. This curiosity is most exposed in children, who, if you look for it, are intrigued by almost everything around them and try and understand it better. While this curiosity and the silly questions that come with it are overwhelmed by the problems of the here and now as we grow up, I think it is rather pleasant to visit those silly questions every so often, as the answers to some of them could tick off a line of thought that leads to discovery.

One such revelating thought that I had and has stuck with me is when the idea of the vastness of the Universe started sinking in. I know, big words, but bear with me. As philosophical as it may sound, the thought that my existence is just an inconceivable dot on yet another pale blue dot from far away

A photograph of planet Earth taken on February 14, 1990, by the Voyager 1. Seen from about 6 billion kilometers (3.7 billion miles), Earth appears as a tiny dot within deep space: the blueish-white speck almost halfway up the brown band on the right. Source: Wikipedia

was a comforting one. Why? I don’t know. But one thing this did was reignite my curiosity to better understand the world around me, and my place in it. While the discussion of the latter becomes too philosophical too soon, it is the former for which I’m writing this.

The Resistance

Coming back to Earth, where sadly all my burdens still exist and I’m mostly consumed in “my little world”, I was quite intimidated by how little I knew, especially by the people on the Internet. While such a comparison is unjustified and foolish, this did become a roadblock that was amplified by this feeling that my work should amount to something meaningful.

And considering where my career was headed it was time I let go of this feeling and actually start doing stuff. This, I think, is where OpenSource helps in that it has a place for you to contribute to no matter your skill level, while also constantly encouraging you to get better. You just have to put yourself out there, a challenge for someone like me.

Here it is that Google Summer of Code does an excellent job of bridging the transition between learning stuff and actually doing something with that knowledge.

OpenAstronomy

While this idea of me working on discovering stuff in the Universe is still as dreamy as ever, I would jump at an opportunity that would take me a step closer to that, if I could.

I got in touch with one of OpenAstronomy’s sub-organizations, Stingray, in February this year and started working on an algorithm used for better spectral estimation of time-series data as I had gained some familiarity with time-series data in my coursework. It was during the time when I was implementing the algorithm that I was given a time-series dataset to play around with. It was observed by an X-ray telescope as individual light photons hit its detector from the gas falling from a star into a black hole as they orbited around each other in a binary system.

This just awakened the fascinated child inside of me and became the main motivation for working with OpenAstronomy.

Looking forward to an exciting and different summer!

Cool Concepts?

While a discussion about the Universe, life, and meaning is a thrill, constantly being in a state of mind where one does not lose such perspective is a different feat altogether. This perspective, which among other things, encourages one to ask those silly but fundamental questions, is something I long to have.

Trying to learn enough to ask the right questions