|Software development at Arecibo|
A long standing criticism of the Arecibo Observatory is the difficulty involved in conducting an experiment and displaying the results. The problem can be divided essentially into two areas. These are the datataking and the data reduction. Datataking implies the actual running of the experiment during which the astronomical measurements are made. Data reduction is the processing of digitally stored data into human readable, and publishable graphs or maps.
In the few years leading up to 2004, an enormous improvement had been made in the ease of datataking at Arecibo. This was mainly due to the efforts of Jeff Hagen who developed the Graphical User Interface called the Control Interface Module for Arecibo (CIMA). Continued effort by Mikael Lerner on CIMA makes data taking at Arecibo accessible to all investigators. A half-hour tutorial with CIMA is all that is required to setup your experiment.
The data reduction remains a complicated affair, particularly in the case of spectral-line data. The command-line interface to data processing routines is complicated and inconsistent. Erik Muller, a post-doc at Arecibo, brought up this issue several times, and put effort into a remedy. In particular, he developed a wrapper to the reduction routines which hid the complicated syntax from the user. We wanted to make a formal commitment to a long-term development plan to improve the situation regarding data reduction at Arecibo.
This is a politically charged issue. The complexity of the system favours established, long-time, observers at Arecibo, who have a deep knowledge of the telescope’s complexities. At the same time, the complexity discourages new users from proposing projects. As a result, the small group of established observers continue to dominate the telescope.
In October 2004, I prepared a document outlining my thoughts on future software development. The intention was to work towards opening up Arecibo to a wider community.