Subject: 3.5-m Users Committee minutes 11/27/06

From: Bruce Gillespie

Submitted: Sat, 2 Dec 2006 16:50:47 -0700

Message number: 1000 (previous: 999, next: 1001 up: Index)

                         APO 3.5-m Users Committee Phonecon, 11/27/06

Attending:  Suzanne Hawley, Bruce Gillespie, Michael Strauss, Scott  
Anderson, Jon Fulbright, John Bally, Al Harper, Remy Indebetouw, Rene  

Absent: Jon Holtzman, Russet McMillan, Don York

Minutes taken by Bruce Gillespie


User feedback, comments from institutional representatives:

Princeton (Strauss) - Michael said the PU users are concerned about  
DIS--the red camera on DIS is currently out of service.  This was  
discussed at some length later in the meeting.

JHU (Fulbright) - Jon mentioned that one of the JHU users wondered  
why we don't use Skype between the observatory and the remote users.   
After some group discussion, we concluded that what we have now (text  
windows, regular phones) is adequate communication for routine  
operations, but that a video conferencing system could be useful for  
troubleshooting problems.

Chicago (Harper) - Al said there was nothing new, but he was  
interested in hearing about the NIC-FPS Fabry-Perot situation.

Washington (Anderson) - Scott thanked Suzanne for getting the DIS and  
NIC-FPS status reports to the affected users so promptly.

NMSU (Walterbos) - Rene mentioned that he recently used DIS in blue- 
only mode, and that the blue spectrum looks wonderful--no stray  
light, good signal strength.

Virginia (Indebetouw) - Remy had no comments.

Colorado (Bally) - John reported that tests of the recently observed  
gradient in NIC-FPS show that it can be removed during data  
reduction, and that the instrument's performance is fairly nominal.   
The Fabry-Perot etalon is still in England, where the controller is  
being modified to give it a longer time constant. The present hope is  
that the Fabry-Perot might be re-installed during next summer's  


Discussion of telescope/instruments report:

The report is given below; there was considerable discussion about  
the DIS upgrades and the situation with the red CCD.  Since the  
report was written, a plan has been finalized to bring Jim Gunn, Dale  
Sandford, and Connie Rockosi to APO December 8 - 11 to retry getting  
the new chip working, or else to reinstall the old red chip.  In the  
meantime, the DIS red camera is unavailable but the DIS blue camera  
is working well.


      3.5-m Telescope, Instruments, and CIF Projects Highlights,  
10/14/06 through 11/22/06

                                  Bruce Gillespie

0) Overview

After an earlier-than-usual snowstorm in mid-October, we've enjoyed  
unseasonably warm and clear weather throughout the period.  The  
telescope performance was very good, and we are seeing additional  
indications of pointing and imaging improvements, probably  
attributable to the new top end.  A change in the performance of NIC- 
FPS was noticed and characterized, and "DIS-fest" occurred with mixed  

1) Telescope

Aside from enjoying the largely excellent on-sky telescope  
performance, we did some engineering work on the new 2ndary  
transverse actuators, and additional characterization tests of the  
NA2 rotator.  With input from John Wilson (UVa), Mike Carr  
(Princeton), and Larry Carey (UW), a recommendation for a rotator  
upgrade path was made to Mark Klaene (APO), one that we decided to  
implement in 2007 as a relatively small CIF project.  Also, a test  
version of an upgraded TUI (V. 1.3a9) was released for site testing;  
this version has improvements in the focus scripts for DIS and the  

2) Instruments

After the end of the summer shutdown, it was noticed the NIC-FPS raw  
images had a new and unexpected density gradient near one edge of the  
chip.  After discussions with Fred Hearty and Stephane Beland (CU)  
who were largely responsible for building and commissioning the  
instrument, we learned that this is a reprise of a much more serious  
problem that was discovered and corrected during commissioning.  CU  
personnel obtained some observations and verified that the gradient  
should be removable during data reduction.  Stephane is planning to  
re-tweak the electronics in January, and in the meantime we have  
alerted the NIC-FPS users to be aware of the situation and to be  
extra careful about their data reductions.

As planned, we took DIS out of service for a week in early November  
to complete elements of the DIS upgrade project.  Jim Gunn and Mike  
Carr (Princeton), Dale Sandford (Yerkes), and Jeff Morgan (UHawaii)  
were assisted by site staff in what was planned to be the  
installation of the new blue prism assembly, replacement of the field  
lens in the red dewar, and replacement of the red CCD with a deep- 
depletion device.  Everything was accomplished, not without  
considerable troubles, with the exception of replacing the red CCD.   
Among the unexpected troubles were CryoTiger-caused contamination in  
both the blue and red dewars (which were then cleaned), trouble with  
the slit wheel mechanism during reinstallation of the blue prism, and  
the inability of getting the new CCD to act like a CCD, largely due  
to confusion and misinformation from the chip's vendor on how it  
operates (we had been led to believe it would be "plug and play").   
Our "dream team" of experts ran out of time trying to get the chip to  
work correctly, and left the site flummoxed and exhausted.  Before  
taking additional steps, we decided to regroup. We now plan to  
reinstall the old chip at the earliest opportunity (tentatively  
during the second week in December).  In the meantime, users have  
been told to use DIS blue-only, or to find substitute observing  
programs.  Reinstallation of the new red chip will be contingent on  
obtaining a complete understanding of its operating properties.

The good news on DIS is that there are preliminary indications that  
the blue sensitivity of DIS is wonderful and as it was meant to be;  
the increase in throughput at 3700 Angstroms was measured as ~3x  
better than with the old prism, and is yet even higher at shorter  

The Goddard Fabry-Perot is temporarily out of service while the F-P  
instrument team effects some repairs and upgrades.  SPIcam is having  
trouble keeping its cryo-temperature stable, and will be taken out of  
service at a convenient time to replace its failing ion pump.

3) Engineering and CIF projects

In the past month, we have continued planning of the CIF work list  
for next year; we worked on cleanup, characterization, and  
documentation for the new top end; ran DIS-fest (see above); planned  
for the NA2 rotator upgrade for TripleSpec; started thinking about  
auto-focus; and continued design work for the telescope motor  
controllers upgrade.

4) Miscellaneous

Nick McDonald has accepted our offer to become Telescope Systems  
Engineer and will start in January, filling the post recently vacated  
by Jon Davis.  We have also posted a recruitment notice for an  
Electronics Engineer, a position that will be shared with the SDSS-II  


Future of old top end - Hawley:

Since no one has offered a plan to reuse the old top end, we have  
decided to scrap it.  Rene asked Bruce if the future of the old top  
end had been discussed with Kurt Anderson and Bruce said he'd bring  
it up with Kurt on his next site visit.


New computer and security procedures - Hawley/Gillespie

Suzanne said that we have a new and powerful data reduction computer  
at APO, named Newton (replacing Tycho).  Fritz Stauffer has  
implemented security protocols for this machine (see below), which  
will require quarterly password changes.  These passwords, specific  
to each institution, will be sent to the Users Committee members at  
each institution by snail mail, with an e-mail reminder, for both the  
current quarter and Q1/07.  John Bally asked if sftp is an allowable  
transfer protocol.  Bruce checked on this later with Fritz, and found  
that sftp is allowed. Note that scp is also available for file  
transfer to/from Newton.


BoG presentations, decisions, annual reports - Hawley:

Suzanne reported that the ARC annual Board of Governors meeting was  
held in Chicago on 13 November.  The presentation materials are  
posted at a blind URL that the Users Committee members have been  
sent.  The board members seemed quite pleased with the breadth and  
quantity of science and engineering accomplishments in the past year,  
and approved our budget request for 2007.  New in next year's budget  
is a staff position (to be shared with SDSS) for an electronics  
engineer.  Rene asked if we had sent the '05/06 publications list to  
the Users Committee.  Bruce said no, but we can load it on the APO  

ACTION:  Rene to collect history of 3.5-m publication, and Bruce will  
make a space for them on the APO website.

There followed a discussion of the post-2008 plans for the 2.5-m, and  
the potential impact to the 3.5-m operations.  Bruce agreed to send a  
copy of the post-2008 recommendations to the users committee members  
who may discuss with interested people at their institutions (done  


Systems workshop - Hawley:

Suzanne reported that she had recently attended the 3rd Observatory  
Telescope Systems Workshop, held in Scottsdale, AZ in mid-November.   
This is an AURA-led activity that promotes the concept of the public  
and private observatories working together in a coordinated manner.   
The TSIP program grew out of this, but is generally only effective  
for the larger telescopes--too expensive for the small and mid-sized  
telescopes to use.  The PREST program was devised to help small  
telescopes, in the 1- to 2-meter class.  During this 3rd meeting, it  
was discussed how to get more money for these programs, and there was  
some push to find programs that would support the mid-sized  
telescopes, especially since the Senior Review has advocated  
continuing support of mid-sized telescopes.

Suzanne said her talk on the 3.5-m telescope was well received, and  
was striking to the audience in that we are ~90% remote operation,  
can do quick instrument changes, respond to ToO opportunities,  
support synoptic and time-domain programs, and may soon have NIR  
Fabry-Perot capabilities.  There followed a discussion about whether  
we should write an SPIE paper that describes the 3.5-m telescope  
system.  Bruce mentioned that he wrote such a paper in 2002 (see 
spie2002.pdf), and it is probably time to update it (although he  
didn't volunteer to do it anytime soon).


Actions from earlier meetings - group

[open from previous months]:

ACTION:  Bruce to discuss issues of computer and network security  
with Fritz Stauffer.  STATUS:  Closed, discussed at today's meeting  
(see below).

ACTION:  Users Committee members should send Michael  
( the names and e-mail addresses of 3.5-m  
users who are not yet signed up for the apo35general mailer.
STAUS: No recent activity reported, closed.

[new actions from last month]:

ACTION:  Users Committee representative to gather one or two science  
highlights and send them to Bruce and Suzanne not later than mid- 
STATUS: Closed.


Next meeting:

The next Users Committee phonecon will be on Monday, 22 January, at  
8:30 AM Pacific Time.  Agenda and other materials will be sent to the  
committee members during the preceding week.


[announcement from Fritz Stauffer on the new data reduction computer  
at APO, and new security protocols]:

APO has a new computer,, to replace tycho.  It  
has been set up with accounts for each of the ARC members and a  
generic account,
visitor1, for all other users.  The computer has been set up with  
most of the popular astronomy packages.

The accounts have:
         10 GB of permanent disk space set by quotas
         750 GB of scratch space with files > 1 week automatically  
         passwords changed quarterly and mailed to the Users  
Committee members
             of each institution and kept locally
         ssh access
         ftp is not allowed due to security risks

ftp to images is still available with the usual (previously known)  

tycho will be online for a while to help transition to newton, but  
users are encouraged to start using newton.

[note added by SlH: ** See your users committee member to get the  
password, and remember
there is a new one at the start of each quarter. **]

Here is a description of the 3.5m users computing facitilites: 

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