another side to all this

Eric Mandel (
Tue, 17 Oct 1995 18:38:00 +0100

> from Brian Glendenning:
> To summarize:
> o I'm not sure if a good technological base exists yet; and
> o I'm not sure if there's enough desire (== perceived benefit)
> in the various software groups to define the common interfaces.

These 2 points summarize much of my own experience over the past
several years. I would also add that cooperation has many social and
political implications associated with it, and not just technical
ones. So it is not enough to come up with a good technical solution:
we really have to *learn how to cooperate* on a small scale before we
try to forge any large scale agreements.

As a result, I believe that we need to approach the issue of
cooperation from a gradual and evolutionary stand-point, one in which
different projects can take steps in the direction of cooperation
without anyone committing themselves more than is comfortable for
them. As a first step, I think that this means building bridges
between systems without trying to change the systems themselves: I
don't think that eludication of standards will be well received if it
means that projects will have to adopt these standards in place of
what they already have designed or implemented. We just are not ready
for such a commitment.

However, we can try to make it easier for self-contained systems to
interact with one another while maintaining their independence. This
is best done by offering new functionality to a system, the use of
which does not place much burden on that system. One example of this
sort of effort is the new SAOtng image display program. It opens
itself to external processes through the X Public Access mechanism, so
that external programs can control it without any change in the
external code. It supports FITS files directly (because FITS is
ubiquitous as our archiving standard), but allows new image file
formats to be displayed without relinking if developers write
mumble_to_fits converter programs (again, something we all do anyway
for archiving). The idea is that SAOtng can interact with different
analysis systems without forcing any changes on those systems. This
sort of effort has the potential to being developers together in ways
that are immediately interesting and beneficial, without anyone losing
their independence.

I believe we ought to concentrate on these sort of "next steps" at
ADASS -- otherwise, I suspect we will have a very interesting
theoretical discussion that will lead no where practical, as has
happened before.