Summary of the
Unidata Users Committee
1 - 2 October 1998 at the
Unidata Program Center (UPC)
Jennie Moody , Chair
Michael Morgan (MetApps Rep.)
Jim Moore, Policy Committee
Tom Whittaker, ATAC
- New committee members were welcomed.
- UPC's new program administrator, Joanne Graham, was introduced.
- Outgoing chairman, Mohan Ramamurthy, was warmly thanked for his long and
exemplary service. The bell was passed to Jennie Moody.
- The action items 4 and 5 from the last meeting have not been completed.
Action 4 will be continued to the next meeting; Action 5 is tabled pending
NWS developments. Action 3 has been superseded by UPC's MOU with Alden.
- The next meeting of the committee will be: 15-16 April 1999.
Fulker gave a preview of the report he is preparing for the upcoming Policy Committee:
- The 5-year NSF proposal "Unidata 2003" was reviewed very positively, but
the budgets had to be resubmitted at levels much lower than requested; this
was done by defining a minimal "baseline" effort, complemented by a number
of potential "advancement projects" that would be undertaken with additional
- A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Alden and the U WI, signed 30
September, greatly accelerates the replacement of FOS data with NOAAport data
for delivery on Unidata's Internet Data Distribution (IDD) system. Alden
will provide NOAAport receivers--built with components from SSEC at the U
WI--for use at 2 university sites (probably FL St and U AZ). These will be
complemented by NOAAport receivers at Alden, U WI, and some Alden customer
to create an IDD-linked network of 5 downlinks, offering high reliability
through redundancy. Data from this network will be available to Unidata
participants (via IDD) under the same terms and conditions as at present,
and the data will flow to Alden and SSEC customers as well. In addition
to gaining a downlink network at no cost, Unidata benefits from the immediate
cessation of the FOS contract (with Alden). Unidata's role is to adapt
and support the LDM software as needed for reliable operation of the downlink
network, including the creation of FOS-like products. Wisconsin provides
certain downlink hardware and software.
- Fulker will report to the Policy Committee on Unidata's general status
- Data sources: yellow; there
are risks inherent in dropping FOS so quickly; also, the future of NIDS
is uncertain due to pending (but as yet unknown) changes in the NWS relationship
to NIDS vendors.
- Data distribution: green;
IDD now delivers over 80 gbytes/day in the aggregate (calculated from site-reported
statistics); NWS funds have been promised to continue the joint case-study
effort with COMET; the Distributed Oceanographic Data System (DODS) project
is off to a good start (with NASA funding received via U RI).
- Current Software: yellow;
WXP is increasingly oriented toward commercial use; future NWS support for
GEMPAK is unclear; Wisconsin is discontinuing support for OS/2-McIDAS.
- Scheduling: green; a new schedule
was defined and submitted to NSF along with the revised budgets.
- Financial: red; the NSF for
now cannot commit even to the proposed baseline level of funding; indeed,
the discrepency exceeds the savings achieved via the Alden MOU; Unidata
will receive no KDI funds; compensating measures include depleting carryover
reserves, decreasing Web support, having no booth at the AMS meeting, and
working to implement the Alden MOU.
- Staff: yellow; Unidata now
has no Webmaster, and this puts pressure on the documentation staff; the
rapid shift to NOAAport puts pressure on the LDM and IDD support staff;
however, Unidata's recent reorganization seems to be positive.
- A common reason for lack of NIDS subscriptions (via IDD from WSI) is that
people can get current NIDS products via the Web.
- There is no specific contingency plan in case NWS ceases GEMPAK support.
If Unidata use is to continue under such a scenario, UPC staff would need
unlimited access to source code (which also would enable the borrowing of
ideas and approaches for Java development). However, UPC staff cannot
compensate for cessation of NWS-funded advancements in GEMPAK or GARP
- Support for AWIPS at universities is not defined as a "baseline" Unidata
activity. Exploration of options is planned, but any official support
posture would require additional funding, and there are significant practicality
questions because the inexpensive (Java-based) AWIPS workstations require
the services of a full-up AWIPS site in order to gain the data they display.
- The UPC proposes to cope with the OS/2 dilemma by officially undertaking
support for Red Hat Linux and Solaris x86.
Policy Committee Report
Moore noted that the last meeting was dominated by the NSF funding issues. Other
topics included access to Level II data, the formation of the MetApps Taskforce
(which was endorsed by the Policy Committee), the initiative to inject NCEP model
data into the IDD, the Russ DeSouza Award, and questions about maintaining staff
at UCAR in the face of high-tech growth along the Front Range.
Summaries of the MetApps meeting are in the notebook. Morgan distributed an example
use-case (C. Murphy's use-case for an interactive skew-T). He noted that the Users
Committee will be a source of ideas for software development and suggested that
the committee begin thinking about how effective communication among the broader
community, the Users Committee, and MetApps can be established.
- The motivation for building Java applications was discussed: Java reduces
Unidata's platform support problems and moves Unidata software toward current
technologies and languages.
- UPC staff were asked about the value of the use cases. While it's early
to evaluate this, Emmerson said he found the skew-T use cases very useful
in identifying unusual needs.
- Use cases will include research needs as well as educational ones.
- Use cases will become part of the applications documentation.
- Use cases are expected to be helpful in ensuring new applications are effective
in changing environments (hardware, software, research needs, teaching needs).
- The philosophy behind Unidata's shift to Java needs to be fully explained
to the community. Need to stress that the community can help shape the development
of these tools. And there need to be milestones established so that everyone
can evaluate progress in this effort.
- The proper balance between supporting current packages and undertaking
new development is an ongoing topic of discussion in the UPC and the Policy
Committee. Generally, support received priority.
Fulker will describe Unidata's Java transition in his presentation
to the AMS Head & Chairs October 8th; there will also be an article on this
in the next issue of the newsletter.
Fulker briefly summarized the design of NOAAport, including the NWS use of terrestrial
networks to add reliability. This is especially important, e.g., during
periods of solar occultation by the data-broadcasting satellite. The LDM can provide
reliable NOAAport reception by utilizing geographically distributed injection
sites that experience solar occultations at different times. Duplicate products
that may arise from such redundancy are eliminated in the LDM through the use
of unique product signatures. The data stream will not include DIFAX; we believe
it will include the "additional" international data (which currently is a hot
- We've yet to read fully the NWS request for comments on NIDS.
- The exclusion of DIFAX won't affect Unidata users, since Alden will continue
to offer DIFAX to its subscribers. In addition, the NWS makes DIFAX products
available on the Web.
- A single site could be the injection source on IDD for DIFAX-like products.
- The switch to NOAAport should be largely transparent. UPC will create a
separate feed-type for NOAAport, and will not strive to make NOAAport exactly
like FOS, so users may see a few changes.
- NOAAport will include some gridded data, but not RUC2, 1-degree global,
or ensemble data, for example. Our NCEP initiative will complement (not duplicate)
The UPC's proposal concerning platform support is in the notebook.
- The staff was questioned about the impact of adding Linux and Solaris x86
support. The staff felt the impace would be minimal. The UPC already supports
Solaris, so there is no additional support needed for x86; the Red Hat work
has already been done, and the staff won't be testing other variants of Linux
(though they expect the software to run on all/most variants without significant
- There were questions about the future of Solaris x86. The staff believes
Sun will be supporting it for the foreseeable future.
- There were questions about systems administration requirements of Linux
and Solaris x86, compared to OS/2. The staff believes that administering these
is harder, but on every campus it will be easier for individuals to find technical
support for these than for OS/2.
- There was considerable discussion about Windows NT. Wisconsin is investigating
Interix and many campuses are installing NTs. This is precisely why the UPC
wants to transition to Java--to avoid these operating system issues. Porting
the LDM to NT would require significant effort, since the LDM depends on UNIX
features such as shared memory-mapped files.
- Rockwood reported on his transition from OS/2 to x86: Murray helped with
the installation, and he trained Rockwood. Once everything was installed,
both Rockwood and his students were very happy with the results--a much faster
system. These success stories need to be shared with others in the community.
- There are some limitations to x86: it doesn't come with compilers or perl.
Users need to download and install perl to use LDM perl scripts, and would
need to download the free gcc compiler in order to compile source releases.
We can provide binary releases that need no compiler.
- There was considerable discussion on how to sunset OS/2 support.
Resolution 1 (passed unanimously):
The Unidata Users Committee endorses the following changes in Unidata's
A. Immediately sunset support for ULTRIX and SunOS 4.x.
B. Add support for Red Hat Linux and Solaris for Intel (x86).
C. Sunset support for OS/2 on July 31, 1999.
Rockwood will work with Bates to publish an article in the next newsletter
on his transition to x86.
The Users Committee will keep an eye on NT developments.
Russ's presentation is available on the Web at:
- Solaris x86 doesn't support Java 3-D yet, so users cannot render 3-D displays
with VisAD; 2-D displays are possible.
- VisAD models data, visualizations, manipulations, and user interfaces in
a general way. In order to exploit this, domain-specific frameworks (for atmospheric
science) need to be created.
- There is now a test of VisAD's 3-D capabilities--you can import a netCDF
file into the VisAD spreadsheet and display the data.
- There were questions about sources for additional help (development work,
money). The component approach may encourage community development. There
is also the potential of some involvement with NWS (FSL, for example, is looking
into developing Java tools), but the NWS is so intensely focused on AWIPS
implementation that no collaboration can be expected in the near term. NCAR
Graphics is a copyrighted package so cooperation there is impossible.
Dave Fulker explained that, while Unidata's main focus is real-time data, the
program is currently engaged in three efforts involving archival data: (1) SSEC
stores the McIDAS data stream on line for 20-30 days, then moves the data off-line;
(2) Unidata collaborates with COMET and JOSS to make COMET case studies available
on the Web; and (3) With funding from NASA, Unidata is now providing support for
the Distributed Ocean Data System (DODS), under development byt the U. Rhode Island.
DODS allows applications to access data from a URL as though they were local.
While most data on DODS is oceanographic, NCAR's HAO is moving its CEDAR database
- Some of the COMET case studies have class activities attached. More of
these are needed.
- Faculty need some help on how these data sets can be used in the classroom.
Some felt that Unidata should ask case-study users for lab materials; others
felt that this was not an appropriate Unidata task.
- COMET selects which case study is to be loaded next onto the system.
- There was considerable discussion about sharing data within the community.
Many sites are unable to respond to requests for data because of time constraints.
Committee members would like to have access to SCD data archives, but one
needs an NSF grant to be given a password, and then there is the problem of
dealing with data formats. Unidata doesn't have the resources to build translators
for SCD data sets. Users will also want similar access to NCDC data.
- There was some discussion about UPC creating an ADDE server for filenames
other than the McIDAS names, and then having SSEC put this server on the Unidata/Data
Recovery machine at SSEC.
Resolution 2 (passed unanimously):
In agreement with the recommendation by the NSF review panel, the
Users Committee recommends that the Unidata Policy Committee explore Unidata
collaboration with other agencies and organizations (e.g., NCAR SCD) to facilitate
access to archived meteorological data in forms compatible with Unidata-supported
Outstanding Participant Award
Bates reported that the procedures outlined by the Policy Committee for selecting
an award recipient were such that most of the outstanding participants would be
inelegible--they are always serving on some committee. She suggested that the
committee might request that the Policy Committee change the eligibility requirements.
- There was agreement on the existence of a problem and considerable discussion
about how to design a fair selection procedure.
Resolution 3 (passed unanimously):
The Users Committee requests the Policy Committee give the Users Committee
full authority for making the Russell DeSouza Award. Current Users Committee
members will be excluded from consideration. The Users Committee will seek nominations
from the community, discuss the nominations in an open meeting, and render its
decision in executive session.
Chiswell reported that the NWS developers are planning to distribute another
release to SOOs, so continued N-AWIPS development appears likely for at least
a year. Also, N-AWIPS is still used to create products that cannot be generated
in AWIPS (such as marine forecasts). We anticipate an unofficial release containing
new capabilities, such as N-MAP, that are not fully documented. Chiswell anticipates
having to create some documentation for Unidata users. He also noted that COMET
was focusing on AWIPS, so there may be little or no development of the GARP
Chiswell reported that the distribution of gridded model data from NCEP would
be announced to the community later this fall.
- There was considerable discussion about the impact of AWIPS on the university
community, particularly if NWS advancement of N-AWIPS (GEMPAK) ceases. Few
universities will be installing AWIPS, so a disconnect between the academic
and the NWS communities may develop. (AWIPS appears relatively impractical
for Unidata adoption, at least for now.) The disconnect will be minimized
if NWS support for the use of GEMPAK (N-AWIPS) by SOOs continues, since GEMPAK/GARP
is widely used on campuses and serves as an application common to forecasters
and academics. The best hope for campus use of AWIPS is manifest in the (Java-based)
FX-net system developed at FSL, but a workable strategy for Unidata implementation
has yet to be defined.
- The development of GARP and N-TRANS has allowed some universities to cease
subscribing to DIFAX; they use GARP and N-TRANS to produce higher quality
Clark and Moore, working with Fulker, will consider how best to present
the GEMPAK/GARP concerns to the NWS.
A demonstration of the FX-net system will be on the agenda for the
Yoksas reported on the release of McIDAS 7.40, which included changes in ADDE
capabilities (ADDE will be fully supported by the end of November). McIDAS documentation
is now all on line, with SSEC and UPC commands fully integrated; the UPC will
no longer distribute paper copies. The training workshops were well attended,
and there was a request by some to hold a training workshop sometime during
the summer instead of the fall.
During a demonstration of ADDE at the workshop, Yoksas and Murray realized
that ADDE server software (which is part of the McIDAS distribution) could be
used to create a distributed data archive for McIDAS users. ADDE uses client/server
architecture; users can browse holdings on remote servers (it requires simply
knowing the IP address of the remote machine and having read permission on that
machine) and request a product by data-set name. By sharing address information,
and setting appropriate permissions, a community of users could serve data to
each other (or a small school with minimal equipment and low bandwidth, could
obtain data from somewhere else). The system could be further enhanced if users
agreed to common file-naming conventions.
- The ADDE data distribution model is similar to DODS, but DODS is not limited
to McIDAS users. The UPC's Java development is designed to take advantage
of remote access capabilities.
- There is always the problem of firewalls.
- There was discussion about the possibility of forming a "buddy system"
where a large school would set up a data server that small schools, without
LDM, could then access to acquire data. With some work, the ADDE serve could
be turned into a push system (either by running rsh commands on the clients
or by coding "remote file write servers" that would allow the server to write
files to the remote client machine (the smaller school). Only two such "file
write servers" now exists, and they are both for image data.
- The ADDE/DODS servers offer models for implementing the data access resolution
(Resolution 2, above).
- Yoksas intends to explore the possibility of establishing a satellite data
server, possibly at NASA/Marshall.
Davis reported that DODS and ADDE do have some commonalities. DODS, however,
is based on HTTP protocols and allows no writing to the server. The commercial
packages MatLab and IDL, if recompiled with the DODS library, can be used to
access files (no Unidata applications are supported). The applications access
remote data via URLs. The UPC, under a U RI contract funded by NASA, will provide
user support for DODS.
- There are no plans to date to develop DODS support for Unidata applications.
- DODS is compatible with several APIs, including netCDF and JGOFS.
- DODS servers now exist for some near-real-time data, but there is no automatic
synchronization when new data are added.
Davis reported that the placing of four case studies in the last two months
was done with help from PAGE staff and a student assistant.
Miller reiterated the status of the NCEP model-data distribution effort. She
is coordinating the project with representatives from USWRP, NWS/OM, and NASA/Goddard.
- The data sets involved are huge, so bandwidth and disk space are important
- The data sets will be available on the IDD; relaying these will probably
involve a relay structure different from FOS data.
- On an annual basis, a working group composed of representatives from WSRP,
OM, NASA, and Unidata will review which data sets are being distributed.
Domenico gave a brief history of PAGE and described the community resource tool
that the program is considering. His presentation is available at:
- The referenced materials are not (yet) evaluated in any way.
- There will be a PAGE workshop in early November to develop a plan for PAGE's
next steps; anyone with ideas on the roles PAGE should play should contact
Fulker, Domenico, or PAGE director (Mary Marlino).
Brainstorming on the Next Workshop
The meeting ended with a free-form discussion of what should be the focus of the
next Users workshop:
- Changing the format to allow faculty time to work collaboratively on sets
of interactive activities.
- Integrating numerical models into teaching.
- Implementing the Rockwood matrix.
Several ideas stood out:
- Faculty cannot create interactive activities in isolation--they need collaboration
with designers and programmers.
- Faculty need release time to do the above work.
- In the design of interactive modules, students need to be given a reason
for doing the activity--simple interactivity is not enough.
- Getting student feedback is essential.
- Assessment is a key--faculty want help with this.
- There was the clear expectation that PAGE will play a central role in assisting
faculty with module development.
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