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AIPS++, a Necessary Project

Submitter: Jan Noordam
Description: For a brutally concise summary of the saga of the AIPS++ Project, click here. The above picture was taken at the Grand Project Review at the NRAO HQ in Charlottesville (USA) in Dec 1994. By then we had begun to suspect that harnessing the talents of a distributed group of opiniated software mavericks would require a kind of disciplined freedom that was not available at the time. Not surprisingly, the outcome of the review did not solve that problem.

Still, the AIPS++ Project was a Good Thing, because it did change the small but planet-wide world of radio-astronomical data processing software in important ways. We became aware of each other, our language converged, and most important of all, we started using a common data format. And the meeting of restless minds produced unexpected by-products like the Measurement Equation, the first closed mathematical description of a generic radio telescope.

But the AIPS++ Project also suffered from the usual catalog of errors that marks the stumbling progress of humanity. The greatest blunder was to ignore user participation, which is a recipe for producing non-evolving White Elephants. We are still doing that today, of course, although there is a dawning interest in the disciplined freedom that is offered by the way in which Bazaar systems like Python, Linux, and smartphone apps are organized.

In the meantime, have fun with identifying the people in this annotated picture, many of whom were key players a quarter century ago. They have in common that they have all learned the lessons of the (necessary!) AIPS++ Project, even though few of them agree what these lessons might be. In the end, given our all too human limitations, that is probably our greatest strength.
Copyright: Darrell Schiebel
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