ATUC Report to Director. November 2003

 

 Minutes of ATUC Business Session, 04/11/03 Held at ATNF headquarters, Marsfield  Chair: Steven Tingay Secretary: Jim Lovell  Meeting open: 9:37 am  1.  Apologies and attendance  Attendance: Brad Gibson, Aidan Hotan, Maria Hunt, Helmut Jerjen, Simon Johnston, Naomi McClure-Griffiths,  Steven Tingay, Mark Wardle, Brad Warren, Tony Wong  Apologies: Joss Bland-Hawthorn, Simon Ellingsen, Chris Wright  2.  Minutes from last meeting  Maria Hunt moved that the minutes from the last meeting be accepted.   Brad Gibson seconded the motion and the members passed it.  3.  ATUC Organisational matters  The Chair outlined his views on how ATUC can better communicate with users and the ATNF. The ATUC members endorsed actions in order to make some changes to how ATUC interact with the  wide user community and provide feedback to the ATNF.  	3.1 - The ATUC Secretary will ask for access to the email list that is used in the ATNF call               for proposals, in order to better access all users, especially overseas users who are               currently not well represented by ATUC.  ATUC will send 4 emails to this list every year,               one before each ATUC meeting asking for issues that users wish to raise to ATUC, and one               following each ATUC meeting, providing users with feedback on the meeting and perhaps               polling users on particular matters that arise from the meeting.  It was thought by ATUC               that 4 emails per year is an acceptable level to this list.  ATUC particularly wish to               avoid being considered a source of junk email. Also, ATUC will set up a web-based form               that will allow users to submit feedback to the ATUC at any time, on any issue.   	3.2 - ATUC will aim to provide more detailed feedback to the ATNF than in the past.  For complex               issues that come before ATUC for consideration, or issues for which not enough information               is available for ATUC to fully discuss during the Business Session, the Chair will delegate               the task of information gathering and detailed report drafting to ATUC members.  Reports               generated in this way will be made available following the meeting, for submission to the                ATNF Director.  Reports are expected to be between half a page and a page in length and                should give the ATNF better advice than the traditional two or three sentence statement                generated during the Business Session itself.  An excellent recent example of such a report               is the short description of the problems with the SPC software.  	3.3 - ATUC will now require members to submit short written reports ahead of the ATUC meetings,               describing the consultations they have made with users between meetings, highlighting               the demographics of the users consulted and any issues to be raised at ATUC meetings.  This               will allow members who cannot attend the meeting itself to have significant input into the               meeting agenda.  The written reports should be submitted to the ATUC Secretary for compilation.   	3.4 - The ATNF Director has proposed that the membership of ATUC should be reduced, in response to               the ATNF Steering Committee's concern that a committee of 14 members may be unwieldy.  ATUC                discussed this proposal and decided that the ATUC membership should remain between 10 and 13                voting members plus the Secretary.  ATUC also decided that student membership of ATUC should                remain at 2.  The reasons for an unchanged membership were: ATUC did not think that the size                of the committee was unwieldy since discussions were well managed and input from members was                balanced; at each meeting generally approximately 3 voting members were unable to attend,                reducing the size of each meeting somewhat anyway; the current size of the committee assured                a good geographical distribution of institutions in the ATUC membership and users of all                facilities; student representation               on the ATUC was felt to be essential at the current level since students are a heavy and                important component of the user community; it was also felt that it was good for students to be                involved in the organisational structure of the ATNF, for their own experience.  	3.5 - Prior to the meeting the ATNF Director provided draft ATUC Terms of Reference for                consideration by ATUC.  ATUC endorsed the draft Terms of Reference with a few minor               alterations and an additional item outlining the membership structure of the committee.               The revised suggested ATUC Terms of Reference follow:                * To provide advice to the Director on operational and developmental issues relating to the                 facilities provided by the ATNF.  These include the Australia Telescope Compact Array,                 the Parkes radio telescope, the Mopra radio telescope, the Long Baseline Array, the                 Tidbinbilla radio telescopes, and all aspects of National Facility support.                * To make recommendations to the Director that seek to maximise the scientific productivity                 and maintain the international competitiveness of the ATNF, taking into account the likely                 resource availability.                * To consult widely with the national and international community, liasing where necessary                 with the national time assignment groups, to make informed recommendations to the                  Director on priorities for both operations and future developments.                * To meet twice a year in both open and closed sessions, with appropriate input on                  developments/responses to issues from the ATNF.                * To provide an annual written report to the Director for communication to the AT Steering                 Committee in March/April of each year.                * To maintain a membership of  10 to 13 voting members, two of which will be students, plus a                 non-voting Secretary.  The membership will reflect the geogpaphical distribution of                 users and include users of the full range of facilities.  4.  Celebrating Success  First ATUC would like to express a warm welcome to the new ATNF Director, Brian Boyle, and express  thanks to the outgoing ATUC Chair, Carole Jackson, and the outgoing ATUC Secretary, Vince McIntyre. Second, an important function of ATUC is to recognise the outstanding technical and scientific acheivements that the ATNF staff and management make, for the benefit of users of its facilities.  These efforts are highly  appreciated by ATUC and we would like to offer congratulations to the following individuals and groups for  their successes.  	4.1  - Ray Norris, Michelle Storey, Peter Hall, and the LOFAR/SKA team for their success in                promoting Australia as a site for SKA/LOFAR and in particular for the success of the                 International SKA Workshop, held in August in Geraldton.  	4.2  - To the ATNF engineering group and the ATCA 12 mm upgrade team for completion of the                12 mm upgrade at the ATCA.  This is a very positive and welcome new facility for the                ATNF user community.  Also, congratulations on the development of the 12 mm 8 GHz system                 at the ATCA.  	4.3  - To the ATNF Director for ensuring a high level of documentation ahead of this ATUC                meeting.  A number of people have commented to ATUC that this meeting has been                one of the best presented and most balanced ATUC meetings.  Undoubtably this is due                to the significant preparation by both ATNF and ATUC ahead of the meeting.  	4.4  - To the Director and Dave McConnell for the moves to the new project management system.                ATUC look forward to updates on the progress of this system at future ATUC meetings.  	4.5  - To the ATNF engineering group and the Narrabri Observatory staff for the completion of                the new ACC system for the ATCA, also the completion of the LO/IF/comms system via                optical fibre.  	4.6  - To the organisers, particularly the Narrabri Observatory staff and Tony Wong, for the                 organisation of another successful synthesis imaging workshop in Narrabri.  This workshop                continues to be a important focal point for Australian PhD students in radio astronomy.  	4.7  - To the group who have recently undertaken a good deal of work to improve the performance                of the Mopra telescope, in particular mitigation of the coma lobe.  	4.8  - To the engineering group for the successful completion of the Mars tracking receiver                for the Parkes Observatory and to the Observatory staff for the success thus far in                 providing Mars tracking for NASA.  	4.9  - To Jim Lovell for efforts to support usage of the Tidbinbilla antennas as part of the                National Facility.  	4.10 - To Jessica Chapman and the National Facility support team on their outstanding efforts                in public outreach since the last ATUC meeting.  	4.11 - To Dave McConnell, the ICT team, and the Narrabri Observatory for progress on the ATCA                data archive and development of a user interface to the archive.  ATUC look forward to                the completion of this great resource for users.  	4.12 - To the many ATNF staff involved in the successful organisation of the recent IAU General                 Assembly in Sydney.  	4.13 - To the ATNF engineering group and the Parkes Observatory staff for the completion and                 installation of the 10/50 receiver at Parkes and the commissioning of the wide band pulsar                correlator at Parkes.    5.  Director's response to previous ATUC reports  In the ATNF Director's response to previous ATUC reports, ATUC were asked to endorse various components of the Director's response and additional information provided to ATUC.  	5.1 - ATUC were asked by the Director to endorse the ATNF 03-04 Operational Plan and provide                advice on the key goals for the 04-05 Operational Plan.                ATUC endorses the 03-04 Operational plan. ATUC will compile advice on the 04-05 Operational               Plan and make it available to the Director.   	5.2 - ATUC were asked to endorse the Director' response to the March 03 meeting, noting any                outstanding items                    ATUC endorse the Director's response to the ATUC March 03 meeting and are happy with the                responses to each point raised by ATUC.  No significant outstanding items were identified.  	5.3 - ATUC were asked to discuss and approve the proposed annual timing of ATUC meetings, with any                appropriate adjustment.                ATUC endorse the general timing of ATUC meetings.  ATUC prefer the December meeting to occur               slightly earlier, e.g. in the first week of December, so that there is time for ATUC to finalise               its report before the Christmas/New Year break.  	5.4 - ATUC were asked to discuss and endorse the ATNF's progress and plans for the implementation of                co-ordinated PM practices across development projects.                ATUC strongly endorses the implementation of co-ordinated project management practices and               believes that they will add to the efficiency and success of ATNF projects, with benefits for               the ATNF and users.  	5.5 - ATUC were asked to provide advice on, and support for ATNF's role in the facilitation of a                unified long-term strategy for Australian astronomy.                ATUC would like to see the ATNF play a major role in a unified long-term strategy for Australian               astronomy.  However, any unified long term strategy for Australian astronomy should address the                balance between new infrastructure and support for people. In particular, the erosion of the user                base for Australian astronomy facilities, not radio facilities in particular but also the large                optical facilities, within Australian universities should be of serious concern to the ATNF. We                suggest that this issue be considered at a level higher and wider than the ATNF.  In particular               ATUC feel that this is an issue that needs to be addressed by the NCA.   	      ATUC are happy to see a high degree of coordination between the LOFAR and SKA projects within the               ATNF, since this will allow an efficient use of limited resources.  However, ATUC will reserve                discussion or comment on the level of ATNF participation in LOFAR until the LOFAR Options Paper                becomes available.  ATUC do not feel that they have sufficient information available to discuss                this issue in an informed fashion at this time.  6.  Six month semesters (raised via Director's report, National Facility report, and user feedback) 	 	6.1 - ATUC does not support the ATNF decision to move to six month observing terms for ATNF                facilities. [statement by ATUC]                              As ATUC have made clear in the past, there is no significant user support to move to six               month observing terms.  The vast majority of users polled by ATUC prefer 4 month terms to six               month terms.  Some of the users reasons for this preference have been challenged.  However,               the conclusion that substantial administrative savings can be made by the ATNF in going to               six month terms is equally challengable, in the view of ATUC.  In particular, no convincing               evidence has been put forward to show that potential advantages to six month terms will                outweigh potential disadvantages.                Aside from the issues that impact on the scientific productivity of the ATNF facilities, ATUC               is concerned by the process that has brought about the change to six month terms.  In particular               ATUC is concerned that this decision was made via the TAC, the Steering Committee, and the               ATNF Senior Management, with consultation only with the users after the decision had been               made.  It is true that ATUC represents user's views in an advisory role only and that the TAC               and Steering Committee are significant stakeholders in the ATNF, and therefore deserve high               consideration by the ATNF Management.  However, many would argue that users are the prime               customers of the ATNF, a view confirmed by a number of CSIRO surveys that consistently rank               ATNF as one of the most customer-oriented divisions with the CSIRO.  ATUC, in its advisory               role should have been consulted on this issue before it was adopted as a decision.  As it               transpired, ATUC had a very short amount of time to a) assess the impact of six month terms               on users and b) attempt to make some considered and constructive suggestions on how six               month terms could be implemented so as to be more attractive to users.  ATUC feel that we               have produced a number of good suggestions in this vein and we hope that they will be               useful to the ATNF in the move to six month observing terms.  These suggestions are outlined               below in items 6.2, 6.3, and 6.4.                Users polled by the ATUC on the issue of six month terms have given reasons for their preference                for four month terms as follows.  These views came from ATNF users (both within the ATNF and from                outside ATNF).  Since users have given a substantial amount of feedback to ATUC on this issue,               we feel compelled to summarise it here.                              * Six month terms will slow down the evolution of a pilot evaluation project to a final strategy.               * Proposals on the average will be submitted with information that is less-up-to-date, with                 regard to both the science and the equipment, in particular for observations ultimately                 scheduled close to the end of the semester.               * The above point is particularly important in the case of the new 3mm system for the ATCA                 which is scheduled to come online in the winter of 2004.  If six month terms were implemented                 immediately, users would be faced with the prospect of proposing to use this system with a                 complete absence of information as to the capabilities of the system, or any assurance that                 the system will even exist in time to undertake observations.  Since this is the first winter                 that the 3mm system is likely to be used, this would be a most unfortunate situation.               * The longer planning and turnaround time will be to the disadvantage of all users with a                  tight timetable, such as students and short term visitors and postdocs.  This will be                  particularly true if proposal deadline dates for six month terms are chosen that fall                 near the traditional annual commencement of new PhD students at the start of the                  academic year.               * Some users with experience with Australian optical facilities thought that similar changes                 at optical facilities had been detrimental in that it affected the balance of work undertaken,                 favouring survey work at the expense of smaller focussed programs aimed at specific                 problems.               * With regard to PhD students, over the course of three years, a PhD program can alter                 significantly in its direction.  Six month terms give students less opportunity to respond                 to interesting new directions in their work, or attempt different strategies.  The students                 polled by ATUC were concerned that the move to six month terms would encourage PhD                 projects where the students simply work on the data obtained by supervisors and lead to                 reduced opportunities for students to take the initiative in project direction.  Such a                 trend may make PhDs in astronomy ultimately less attractive to students.               * A number of users identified the scheduling of ATNF facilities in coordination with outside                 facilities (such as X-ray satelites etc) as a problem that could be exacerbated by the                 move to six month terms.  Even the problems involved with scheduling VLBI blocks in                  Australia, with restricted-resource facilities such as the Tidbinbilla antennas, would be                 adversely affected.  To be fair, problems of this sort exist for four month terms but these                 problems are likely to be more severe with six month terms.                Some support for six month terms was received by ATUC, although these respondants               were in the minority.                * Higher quality proposals might be expected.               * There should be less pressure on the TAC members and reduced complexity in the scheduling                 process.  	6.2 - What does ATUC think of a Triage system? [question from ATNF]                ATUC sees little value in the triage process for the current level of over-subscription. ATUC                request that users be fully informed of changes that are made to the proposal evaluation process.  	6.3 - Does ATUC have any view as to when deadlines for six-month terms should fall? [question from ATNF]                ATUC recommend the following dates for the new six-month semesters:                Proposals  TAC     Scheds   Start    End               Due	 Meets   out      Term     Term               ---------  ------  -------  ------   ------               1 Dec      15 Jan  15 Feb   15 Mar   31 Aug               1 Jun      1 July  1 Aug    1 Sept   14 Mar                This schedule takes into account university semesters (proposal deadlines occur during term breaks                and don't coincide with ARC deadlines), transition issues such as allowing users time to adjust                and plan for six month terms, the ATNF meeting schedule and allowing TAC to meet and OICs to                produce schedules. The September 1 start gives mm users opportunities in both semesters and                provides flexibility in the important first mm season for the new system. Four month terms               should remain until the September 1 semester, 2004. The last proposal deadline for four month                terms will be 15 Feb 2004 and the first proposal deadline for six month terms will be June 1 2004.                This also takes into account the usual student commencement (March). If the ATNF require any               additional user input, ATUC would be happy to consult further on the details and we strongly                encourage ATNF to keep ATUC informed in the implementation of six month semesters.  	6.4 - Does ATUC have any view on how six-month semesters should be implemented and scheduled? [question               from ATNF]                 ATUC will compile suggestions on the implementation of six-month semesters and make them               available to the Director.   7.  Director's time (raised via Director's report and ATUC discussion)  	7.1 - ATUC would like to see a clarification on the purpose of discretionary time. Time is already                available on the ATCA and Parkes schedules for observers who lose time, for commissioning               instruments and for testing purposes. Processes are in place for scheduling unallocated time and                ATUC don't see any reason for discretionary time given the amount of unallocated time currently               available. ATUC are unclear as to whether the idea of discretionary time applies to all facilities                or just the ATCA.  What would be the rules for allocating discretionary time? If these rules are                substantially different and more restrictive than existing rules for unallocated time, ATUC are                concerned that this might act as a disincentive for Duty Astronomers. [statement by ATUC]  8.  ATCA/Mopra report  	8.1 - Can ATUC suggest ways in which Mopra can be more heavily used by Australian users? [question               from ATNF]                              ATUC suggest that ATNF facilitate some Key Science Projects. For example a multi-line targeted                survey with the new wide band spectrometer that could be run using the very successful               HIPASS project as a model.  There will be a Millimetre Workshop in December and a session will                be devoted to new large projects with Mopra.  Also, it seems likely that the implementation of                reliable remote observing for Mopra would increase usage.  ATUC suggest that implementation of                remote Mopra observing could be brought forward to the 2004 winter, so that Mopra can be utilised                in conjunction with the first observations of the full 3 mm system at the ATCA.                The ATNF could possibly find incentives for users to publish their existing Mopra data.  ATUC                felt that having more Mopra results in the published literature would stimulate interest in the                facility.  	8.2 - ATUC noted a comment from one user that the ATCA Users guide on the ATCA web page is dated                March 2002. [issue raised by users]                ATUC ask, what is the status of the updated Users Guide that was recently being edited by                Jess O'Brien?  9.  Parkes report  	9.1 - Does ATUC have any suggestions on how documentation and user feedback at Parkes can be                improved? [question from ATNF]                ATUC find the current Parkes documentation to be satisfactory. The current feedback form is also                satisfactory.  	9.2 - Can ATUC suggest how to organise extra space in the Opera House? [question from ATNF]                ATUC would like to see the new areas converted to office space for observers and visitors, with                computer facilities for data reduction, network connections for laptops etc.  	9.3 - ATUC noted queries from users on the timescales for planned upgrades to Parkes receivers.                [issue raised by users]                ATUC are encouraged by the potential 4dB improvement to the 12 mm system at Parkes and still               consider this to be the first priority receiver for serious upgrade at Parkes.  Will this upgrade                be possible before the start of the 2004 winter season?                ATUC would also like see the H-OH receiver upgraded with the Arecibo LNA's in the near term.               Apparently this is not considered to be a large job.  Could ATNF comment on the possibility               of performing this upgrade before the start of the January term?  10. Tidbinbilla report  	10.1 - Does ATUC see the need for a mapping mode at Tidbinbilla? If so, when would they like to see it                 implemented? [question from ATNF]                 ATUC sees great value in a mapping mode at such a powerful telescope and a significant potential                 demand. ATUC recommend that a spectral-line mapping mode be implemented as soon as possible, since                on the advice of Jim Lovell this seems to be not such an onerous task.  ATUC also request that                Jim Lovell look into options for total power mapping and beam switching and report back to                ATUC with a realistic timescale for implementation of this additional mapping mode.  11.  LBA report  	11.1 - ATUC feel that access to New Norcia would improve the operation of the LBA and request that                Tasso Tzioumis provide a more detailed plan for access to this antenna at the next meeting.  For                 example, is the aim with New Norcia to negotiate an agreement with ESA for access? What work is                required to get the antenna ready for astronomical observations, apart from the provision of                a data recording system as outlined in item 17.4 below? [statement by ATUC]  12. National Facility report  	12.1 - ATUC noted comments from users that express concern with a perceived lack of technical expertise                 on the TAC, as evidenced by the textual feedback on proposals from the TAC.  Users were                 concerned that this was due to radio astronomers on the TAC being in the minority.                [issue raised by users]                 ATUC realise that technical reviews of proposals are provided by some non-voting members of the                TAC.  ATUC will undertake to poll the user community on their satisfaction of the proposal                 review process, to determine if this is a widely held concern or isolated to a few cases,                and report to the next ATUC meeting.  	12.2 - ATUC request that the ATNF provide ATUC the same proposal statistics that the Steering Committee                receive, as outlined under agenda item 3.4, action 8, of the Actions and Recommendations of                the ATNF Steering Committee, July 2003. [request by ATUC]                 These statistics should ideally include a breakdown of proposals for overseas, ATNF, and other                 Australian proposers (by country for overseas proposals and by institute for other Australian),                into the following categories, for each facility: 	           - proposals submitted; 		   - proposals allocated; 		   - time allocated; 	           - breakdown of mm usage for the ATCA; 	           - proposals involving students; 		   - breakdown on instrument (for Parkes)  13. Software report  	13.1 - ATUC encourage the ATNF to pursue the MOU for aips++, potentially with a view to long-term                 maintainance of the project. [statement by ATUC]  	13.2 - ATUC would like to reinforce their previous statements that they consider the planned SPC                 replacement a very high priority.  ATUC are encouraged by the outlined plan for the SPC                replacement and look forward to a report on the expected progress toward this goal at the                next ATUC meeting. [statement by ATUC]  	13.3 - ATUC notes comments from users that to be really useful, the ATCA data archive will need                 to record information from the observing system. [issue raised by users]                 ATUC recognise that the ATNF is well aware of this issue.  ATUC suggest that on-line logging                 of ancillary data be implemented at the ATNF telescopes as part of any data archives.  A simple                filtering of existing electronic logs might be a useful first step and should be incorporated                 into future observing software upgrades, especially as Linux becomes more pervassive throughout                observing systems.  	13.4 - ATUC notes comments from users that support for the MIRIAD software appears to have declined                recently, in particular that the listed 0.2 FTE effort on MIRIAD support is difficult to                 identify. [issue raised by users]                 ATUC would like clarification on who is providing the 0.2 FTE support for MIRIAD. It appears                 that support for MIRIAD has decreased.  Given that MIRIAD is a mission critical package for the                ATNF, we encourage that it be continually supported at a reasonable level i.e. timely responses                 to bug reports, supported compatibility with new computers and new versions of Linux operating                 systems.  	13.5 - ATUC notes comments from users that the lack of the ssh2 software on ATNF computers is making                it difficult to connect to outside institutions. [issue raised by users]                 ATUC requests that ssh2 be installed on the ATNF Unix computers.  14. SKA/LOFAR report  	14.1 - Does ATUC have any view on how $6M of unspent MNRF-II Gemini money should be spent? [question                 from ATNF]                 ATUC recommend that the money be spent on an optical/IR facility that benefits the largest                 number of Australian users.  15. Technology development report  	15.1 - Are delayed projects still useful scientifically? [question from ATNF]                 At this stage ATUC would like to see more detail in the project plans before commenting on                 overall priorities.  ATUC propose to undertake a review of all projects before the next ATUC                 meeting. At this meeting ATUC will be willing to advise the ATNF on projects that have such a low                 priority, in the users view, that they can be dropped from this list. Would the ATNF consider this                to be useful input from the ATUC?  16. New project proposals  	16.1 - Wide-band correlator for Tidbinbilla                   ATUC suggest that ATNF explore the option of sharing the yet-to-be-constructed wide-band Mopra                correlator between Mopra and Tidbinbilla, as an alternative to building two correlators, which                 will occupy a significant amount of precious time for key engineering personnel.  It seems to ATUC                that, if possible, sharing a wide-band correlator over the winter season between Mopra and                 Tidbinbilla may satisfy the demand for such an instrument on both antennas.  ATUC would like                to see an analysis of the shared correlator idea at its next meeting.  	16.2 - EoR experiment                 ATUC can see the value in such an instrument but feel that the scale of the project is more                 suited to a collaboration between the ATNF and a university department, funded possibly via the ARC.                  Regardless of the funding, this project could require a significant amount of ATNF                engineering effort, which currently is the limiting factor in prioritising new projects.  ATUC                suggests that engineering support for this project could also be found outside the ATNF, through                collaboration with a university department.  This project should therefore be a low priority                 for the ATNF.  	16.3 - SUSI delay line                 ATUC also think that this is a very interesting and novel idea.  However it appears that this                 project will be soon rivaled by the planned upgraded wide-band ATCA correlator and any resources                 would be better spent on this larger and higher priority project.  	16.4 - Portable VLBI terminal                 This project should be considered as part of a broader upgrade to LBA facilities. New hardware                 for New Norcia should only be considered after negotiation with ESA for access to the antenna.  	16.5 - Pulsar digital filter bank                 This project should have priority over the upgrade of the existing pulsar correlator to high time                 resolution.  ATUC will review the overall priority of this project along with other existing                projects, before the next ATUC meeting.  	16.6 - FARADAY/PHAROS  	       ATNF should provide a project scientist to develop an initial science case, in the event that no                especially interested person from the user community steps forward to provide a justification for                these instruments.  More information on the frequency range that these instruments might operate                 over would be useful.  ATUC will review the overall priority of this project along with other                 existing projects, before the next ATUC meeting.  	16.7 - HIFAR                                This is a very large project.  The scientific and technical case for HIFAR should be developed                 further, in particular how it aligns with LOFAR and the SKA.  ATUC will review the overall priority                 of this project along with other existing projects, before the next ATUC meeting.  Meeting closed: 6:50 pm  
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