Subject: 3.5-m Users Committee minutes 4/04/06

From: Bruce Gillespie

Submitted: Thu, 13 Apr 2006 10:43:13 -0600

Message number: 959 (previous: 958, next: 960 up: Index)

                         APO 3.5-m Users Committee Phonecon, 4/04/06

Attending:  Suzanne Hawley, Bruce Gillespie, Jon Holtzman, Remy  
Indebetouw, Michael Strauss, John Wilson, John Bally, Al Harper

Absent: Don York, Karl Glazebrook, Bruce Balick

Minutes taken by Bruce Gillespie


User feedback, comments from Institutional representatives:

Princeton (Michael Strauss):  Everything is fine, but one concern  
noted.  Princeton users seem to have lost the ability to transfer  
data via anonymous ftp.  Do we have to use TUI?  Some discussion led  
to the conclusion that this needs looking into.

ACTION:  BruceG to discuss this with Fritz Stauffer.

Colorado (John Bally):  No comments, things are running well.

NMSU (John Holtzman):  Nothing to report.

Johns Hopkins: No report.

Chicago: No report.

UWashington (Suzanne Hawley): Things are going smoothly.

Univ. of Virginia (Remy Indebetouw): Although UVa has relatively  
small number of users, they are impressed so far.


Discussion of telescope/instruments report:

BruceG summarized highlights from the report (see below).  There was  
no substantive discussion.


      3.5-m Telescope, Instruments, and CIF Projects Highlights,  
2/22/06 through 3/29/06

                                  Bruce Gillespie

0) Overview

Highlights include a welcome return of some precipitation at the  
site, a mostly well-behaved telescope, two problematic instruments,  
good progress on the new top-end project, and a spate of site  
infrastructure problems.

1) Telescope

The 3.5-m telescope was largely well behaved during the past month.   
The only notable problem was an occurrence of an overcurrent shutdown  
of the alt drive during observing.  Subsequent tests showed no  
problem with the system, and the thinking is that the drive was  
overcurrented by wind loading, which was near the closure limit at  
the time.

In addition, the TCC program was updated.

2) The performance of the instruments was generally good, and  
noteworthy are:

     o DIS:  The blue dewar developed a problem with its ion pump,  
and at the same time the scattered light in the spectrum was noticed  
to have returned.  The ion pump was replaced and the dewar was warmed  
during repumping.  The new ion pump seems to working fine, and the  
blue scattered light appears to be better.  We'll continue to monitor  

     o NIC-FPS:  The ion pump in NIC-FPS also failed (by some  
contagion from DIS?).  The CU team quickly came to the site and  
repaired the pump and reinstalled it.  The repair seemed to work for  
a while, but the problem returned so the CU team came back and  
replaced the pump with a spare unit loaned to us from SDSS.  The new  
pump is working well at this time, and the instrument has been back  
in service for a couple of weeks with no problems.

3) Engineering and CIF projects

Design and fabrication work continued on the new top end, and a  
quarterly management review was conducted that indicated that the  
project is fairly well on track.  Maintenance and enhancement of TUI  
and other software systems continued.  The DIS upgrade project  
(gratings, optics, new detector) is continuing; parts are being  
ordered and components are being machined.  The new red detector has  
still not been delivered from e2v.

4) Miscellaneous

We have arranged for Eric Sandberg to be at APO on loan from Yerkes  
to provide electronic engineering project support to the site for a  
few months.  We have also begun the recruitment of a telescope  
systems engineer to replace Jon Davis, who is leaving APO in July.

Due to the extended drought, the surrounding forest is in imminent  
danger of a forest fire.  In order to better protect our facilities  
from damage from a fire, we are implementing several fire-protection  
improvements to the site: the removal of 28 trees in sensitive areas  
around buildings, reacquisition of a loaned fire engine from the  
Sunspot Fire Dept., metal exterior shutters are being installed on  
building windows, and an exterior water sprinkler system was  
purchased to be installed along the ridgeline between the 3.5-m and  
2.5-m telescopes.  The fact that we're taking these preventive  
measures may explain the recent return of rain and snow at the site.

We were also busy repairing various broken parts of the site's  
infrastructure.  A serious underground water leak developed in the  
pipes between the operations building and the dorms, which was found  
and repaired.  The new hot-water boiler failed and had to be replaced  
under warranty.  The air-conditioning unit for the computer room  
failed, and was replaced.


Time-domain observing - Hawley:

The discussion was mainly in the context of preplanned and unplanned  
Target-of-Opportunity science programs.  Suzanne pointed out that for  
predictable ToOs, users can and should propose these through their  
institutional TACs.  If an unpredictable ToO occurs, unless time is  
extremely critical and the science compelling, the request to Suzanne  
for a ToO preempt or swap should be cleared first through the user's  
institutional scheduler.  If a preempt or swap can be accommodated  
involving astronomers within an institution or institutions that are  
partnering time, that can be managed internally.  Otherwise, the  
scheduler should forward a proposal using the normal APO cover page  
so that the program can be assigned an Institutional ID Number and  
entered into the night logs appropriately.  Such proposals should  
clearly state the start and end dates of the ToO observations and the  
cadence required (together with scientific justification).   
Additional required information includes the observational setup and,  
if the Observing Specialists are to be involved in the observations,  
a detailed account of the observing sequence (calibrations, etc.)

We have seen an upswing in the number of ToO requests, and at the  
level of a few observations per quarter these can be accommodated  
without too much strain on the scheduling process.  If there is a  
further increase in demand for ToO programs, we may need to devise a  
multi-path process to get these on the telescope in a manner that is  
accountable and orderly.  There are questions about levels of  
protection to users against being preempted, and the direct  
involvement in the observing by the Observing Specialists.  Although  
everyone agrees that rapid-response rescheduling is a strong suit of  
our telescope, increasing the amount of ToO observing could be a  
slippery slope leading to a queue/service mode observing model for  
the telescope, instead of the largely hands-on remote observing  
template that we've developed over the years.  This would have large  
operational impact (i.e., labor and management costs).

John Bally mentioned that Guy Stringfellow appreciates the recent  
support he has received in getting RS Oph ToO observations in  
twilight.  Suzanne said that she has yet not reached a conclusion in  
general--she sees the potential value of ToO science, which could be  
promoted for our telescope, but there would be complicated costs and  
other impacts if we were to significantly enlarge the fraction of  
observing time dedicated to ToOs.

ACTION:  UC members should poll their constituents about ToO  
observations on the telescope.  Do they envision doing this type of  
science? Would expanding ToO opportunities be useful to them?  How do  
they feel about being asked to voluntarily give up time, and to  
having their time pre-empted (perhaps with later payback)?

Jon Holtzman said that he thought users generally wouldn't complain  
of being preempted if it were voluntary, unless ToOs were occurring  
frequently.  John Bally said that the case of a twilight ToO should  
be treated differently than one that happens during the night.

In conclusion, it was decided that once the community feedback is  
obtained by the users committee members, we will develop a policy  
which will be discussed with the users committee and then  
disseminated to the community.


Student training, remote-observing orientation policies - Hawley,  

As as introduction to new committee members and users, and a reminder  
to the old-timers, BruceG and Suzanne reiterated the long-standing  
(and before now, unwritten) policies regarding a) student training  
and b) remote-observing orientation (aka "training", mistakenly).   
These are two separate and independent guidelines:


Student Training - APO staff will generally not train student users  
how to use the 3.5-m telescope and instruments.  Teaching a student  
how to observe and conduct research is the purview of that student's  
university.  Arrangements for this instruction is the responsibility  
of the student's department, e.g., by, or arranged for by, his/her  
faculty advisor.  As part of this instruction, a 3-day visit to the  
Observatory, accompanied by the faculty advisor or other designated  
experienced observer, will count as the remote-observing orientation  
(see next item).


Remote-observing orientation - Before a new Ph.D.-level user can use  
the 3.5-m telescope remotely, he or she must spend three nights in  
person at the telescope.  There are no other conditions, because the  
principal goal of the three-night orientation is for the new user to  
develop a first-hand mental picture of the physical hardware and  
operational procedures at the site.  The orientation period does not  
have to be during telescope time scheduled for the new user, nor does  
it matter if the telescope is closed for weather.  Once the three  
nights have been spent at APO, the new user can use the telescope  
remotely.  This orientation does not need to be periodically  
refreshed, but APO will gladly host refresher sessions for out-of- 
practice users on request.

The APO staff will assist the new user during orientation to learn  
the operating procedures.  There is a checklist of items that we feel  
are important for new users to be familiar with, which is given to  
the new user on arrival.  But the only hard requirement is that the  
new user be physically present at the site for three nights.  The  
rationale for this guideline is the belief that remote observing can  
only be safe and effective if the remote user has an in-person  
appreciation of the facilities and procedures at the other end of  
their remote connection while observing.


As with policies and guidelines in general, exceptions will be  
considered for good reasons, if brought to the attention of Suzanne  
in advance.

ACTION:  BruceG will ensure that the orientation checklist is up to  
date and available on-line, so that prospective new users can review  
it prior to their orientation site visit.


Triplespec white paper closure - Hawley:

There were a few comments to the document that are being addressed,  
and no substantive objections.  Therefore, Suzanne will forward the  
document to Mike Evans and Ed Turner with the recommendation to the  
ARC Board of Governors that the document be accepted.


Data and s/w backup on RAID drive - Gillespie:

In the spirit of protecting the site from forest fires or other  
disasters, Fritz Stauffer has suggested that we buy a RAID (Redundant  
Array of Independent Disks) system that mirrors the telescope  
software and engineering data, and have the RAID housed away from APO  
as a backup.  Jon Holtzman said that this would be straightforward to  
do at the NMSU campus, and we'll talk about the details separately.

ACTION:  Jon Holtzman to talk to Fritz and BruceG about installing a  
RAID backup at NMSU.


Actions from previous meetings:

ACTION:  BruceG will write a paragraph about the importance of having  
back-up programs, to be added to the e-mail automated message we send  
observers prior to their runs.  STATUS: Completed.

ACTION:  The Users Committee members will need to help disseminate  
the [Futures Committee] draft report to their users.  STATUS:  Report  
not yet available.

ACTION:  BruceG will ask Russell what the pros and cons are of  
keeping TUI compatible with older versions of operating systems and  
libraries.  STATUS:  Discussed with RO, no final decision yet.

ACTION:  Users Committee members should poll their users to ask if  
there are compelling reasons to keep TUI operable without using the  
latest version of operating systems.  STATUS:  Open, no feedback so far.

[new actions from last month]:

ACTION:  [re Triplespec white paper] The committee members are to  
forward any feedback to Suzanne within a week, from which she will  
report our assessment to the ARC Board of Governors.  STATUS:   


Next Users Committee phonecon will be on Monday, 1 May, at 8:30 AM  
Pacific Time.  Agenda and other materials will be sent to the  
committee members during the preceding week.

APO APO APO APO APO  Apache Point Observatory 3.5m  APO APO APO
APO  This is message 959 in the apo35-general archive. You can find
APO  the archive on
APO  To join/leave the list, send mail to
APO  To post a message, mail it to