Which topic should launch the UCD Hacker Within?

I've been yearning for some kind of scientific computing meetup group at UC Davis and the spent last quarter searching for some like minded folks that would like to help me organize such a group. It finally came together after meeting Richard Feltstykket, Genome Center Sys Admin and Physics Student, and connecting with Duncan Temple Lang, UCD Data Science Initiative Lead and Stats Professor. Katy Huff then quickly helped us by setting up the Hacker Within satellite group infrastructure:

http://www.thehackerwithin.org/davis

We are trying to come up with an attractive first tutorial topic. I really want the group to be programming language and tool agnostic so I'd like to keep the first topic neutral on that front, but I'd be willing to give that up for a super attractive first topic. What do you think would be the best topic to launch this with?

Some other desires for the group:

  • The group shouldn't compete with, but compliment, other groups on campus, e.g. D-RUG, Titus Browns's workshops, etc.
  • It will be targeted at people that want to improve their scientific computing and data technology skills.
  • The group should foster community with the main goal of getting people together and talking about this stuff.
  • The tutorials should be pretty high quality so it is worth coming.
  • Programming language neutral, i.e. all tools/methods are welcome, but they will likely need to be open so that the tutorial is accessible to anyone with a computer.
  • Participants should have some basics in computing under their belt, e.g. went through a Software Carpentry workshop.
  • Should be welcoming to all folks. Does having the word "hacker" in the name help or hender?

Here are the potential first topics in no particular order:

  • Cross Platform Reproducible Scientific Computing Environments with Conda (command line tools supporting R, Python, C/C++, Perl, Fortran libs)
  • Web Scraping (R based)
  • Versioning Scientific Code with Git and Github
  • Lightweight Markup Languages for Scientific Writing (markdown, restructuredtext, html, pandoc, etc)
  • Visualization with Plotly (from R, Python, Matlab, Excel, etc)

Which one of these would be most generally attractive for the launch? Or are there other topics that would be good to start with?

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