Articles from Meetings

  • The 2021 Southern Spring Interop

    A Venn diagram of product types that just doesn't work.

    A contribution for the ”things that didn't work out” (“Arbeiten, die zu keiner Lösung geführt haben”) section in our reports to BMBF: an attempt to systematise product types at the last Interop. I've made a new proposal at this Interop, and there is reason to hope it will fare better.

    Last night, the second IVOA Interop conference of 2021 came to an end; I'm calling it ”southern spring” because notionally, it happened in Cape Town, back to back with this year's ADASS. In reality, it was again an online event, and so, in keeping up with the tradition established in the pandemic times, the closing event was around midnight CET. I cannot say I will miss these late-night events, although I would not go as far as some people at the conference who quipped they'd prefer the airport security checks to having to sit through another zoom marathon.

    My contributions at this interop again had a clear focus on semantics, for instance with my public confession that my attempt to systematise “product types” at the last interop was entirely misguided; trying to force concepts like “time series”, “spectrum“ or “image” into a tree does not lead to anything that actually works for what this is intended to do, that is, helping people find the sort of data they are after for a particular purpose, or helping clients route data products to other clients better suited to process them. I will now try a restart using SKOS, a plan that was met with a lot more agreement than that previous attempt. Some entertainment at the side was provided by the realisation that a “time-image cube“ is normally called a movie. Next time I'll take in moving pictures, I'll find out what people say when I claim to investigate a time cube.

    Another talk that took up a topic from the last Interop's Semantics session was about making an IVOA vocabulary of object types based on the work done within the CDS over the last 40 year or so. This certainly is just the beginning of a longer effort, not the least because the current concepts severely fall short in the area of the solar system. But it's a start, and there's plenty of time to elaborate this before it will go through a review, presumably with the next version of Obscore.

    Also semantics-related, but over in the session of the Operations interest group, Mark Taylor reported on his activities to evaluate the standards adherence of semantics information in published tables. This activity is what had triggered me to make DaCHS validate UCDs assigned to columns in summer, something that I expect will result in quite few diagnostics when DaCHS operators upgrade to DaCHS 2.5 (expected for November). But that's fine: making it more likely that computers will actually recognise a, say, error in proper motion for what it is is undoubtedly a good thing. I'm therefore glad that there is almost a million “good” UCDs out there and a lot fewer somehow “bad”. I had expected much worse after my realisation that my own annotations left a lot to be desired in summer. By now, the only bad UCDs I'm still pushing out are the ones mandated by SSAP and SLAP. The contradictions between those standards and UCD are going to be addressed with Errata in the coming months.

    My talk in the third Apps session on Thursday afternoon still had some relationship with Semantics; it was a quick show and tell on the enhancements to WIRR I had reported on here in July, and it in particular showcased obtaining UCD constraints by full-text searching the rr.table_column table in my RegTAP service and the selection through UAT concepts. Satisfyingly in some way, it were these topics that people took up in the discussion after the talk. Less satisfyingly, people playing with the thing afterwards turned up something that has the alarming taste of a bug in the new MOC operations in pgsphere. Ouch.

    This segues into the realm of Registry, where there was no actual session but a rather well-attended side meeting in the gathertown instance we could take over from ADASS (that, incidentally, was substantially better attended than during the previous meetings). There, I mainly presented (and explained) my proposed changes to pyVO's registry interface currently living in a private branch in my fork on github. I will write a bit more on that around the time I will turn that into a PR.

    Another outcome of this was that there was some interest to turn the note on documents in the Registry – which is what feeds VOTT – into either an endorsed note or perhaps a Recommendation of the Registry WG.

    My fourth “proper” (in the rather twisted sense of: in a zoom session) talk was an attempt to finally do something about the problems pointed out in my caproles note lamenting that our current service registration patterns are fundamentally flawed. It proposed some ways to to get VOSI availability fixed, and the outcome was that we probably will drop what we currently require in that field, not the least because these requirements are cheerily ignored by 98% of the resources in the Registry.

    Those were again three fairly long days, usually starting with sessions around 7:00 CET and ending with sessions around midnight. Which is clearly not healthy. But on the other hand, it somehow does convey a physical sense of the global nature of the Virtual Observatory, on which people in many, many time zones work. And that, I have to say, still is something I do appreciate.

  • GAVO at the Northern Spring Interop 2021

    As usual in May, the people making the Virtual Observatory happen meet for their Interoperability Conference, better known as the Interop – where “meet” still has to be taken with a generous helping of salt (more on this near the end of this post). As has become customary on this blog, let me briefly discuss contributions with a significant involvement of GAVO.

    A major thing from my perspective actually happened in the run-up: The IVOA executive committee (“Exec“) approved Version 2.0 of Vocabularies in the VO, a standard saying how hierarchical word lists (“vocabularies“) can be managed, disseminated, and consumed within the VO. Developing the main ideas from sufficiently restricting RDF to coming up with desise (which makes complicated things possible with surprisingly little code), and trying things out on our growing number of vocabularies took up quite a bit of my standards time in the last 20 months or so – and I'm fairly happy with the outcome, which I celebrated with a brief talk on programming with IVOA semantics during Wednesday morning's semantics session.

    In that session I gave a second, more discussion-oriented, talk, probing how to formalise data product types – which is surprisingly involved, even with the relatively straightforward use case “figure out a programme to handle the data“: What's a spectrum? Well, something that maps a spectral coordinate to... hm. Is it still a spectrum if there's multiple sorts values (perhaps flux, magnitude, and polarisation)? If we allow, in effect, tuples, why not whole images, which would make spectral cubes spectra – but of course few client programmes that deal with spectra do anything useful with cubes, so clearly such a definition would kill our use case. And what about slit spectra, mapping a spatial coordinat to spectra?

    All this of course is reminiscent of the classical problems of semantics: An elephant is a big animal with a trunk. But when an elephant loses its trunk in an accident: does it stop being an elephant? So, much of the art here is finding the sweet spot of usability between strict and formal semantics (that will never fit the real world) and just tossing around loosely defined strings (that will simply not be machine-readable). After the session, I came up with the 2021-05-26 draft of product-type. If you read this a few years down the road, it might be interesting to compare with what product-type is today. I'm curious myself.

    Later on Wednesday CET, I did a shameless plug for my Datalink-transforming XSLT (apologies for a github link, but I'm fishing for PRs here; if you use DaCHS, you'll get the updated stuff with version 2.4, due soon). The core of this dates back to the dawn of datalink, but with a new graphical cutout code and in particular vocabulary-based tree-ification of the result rows, I figured it's time to remind the operators of datalink services it's still out there for them to take up. Perhaps more than from the slides, you can see what I am after here by just trying the Datalink examples I've collected for this talk and comparing document source, the appearance without Javascript (pure XSLT) and the appearance with Javascript (I'm a bit ashamed I'm relying so heavily on it, but much of this really can only be done client-side).

    Quite a bit after midnight my time (still Thursday UTC), Mark Taylor talked about Software Identification, something I've been working on with him recently. It's is one of the things that is short and trivial but that, when unregulated, just doesn't work; in this case it's servers and clients saying what they are when they speak HTTP. I stumbled into the problem while trying to locate severely outdated DaCHS installations – so, I a way I put effort into the Note Mark was talking about (and which I have just uploaded to the IVOA Document Repository) as a sort of penance.

    While I was already asleep when Mark gave his talk, I was back at the Interop Friday morning CEST, when Hendrik Heinl talked about the LOFAR TAP service (which, I'm proud to say, runs on top of DaCHS); this was mainly live operations in TOPCAT (which is why there's no exciting slides), but Hendrik used a pyVO script doing cutouts in an (optical) mosaic of the Fornax cluster built on top of – and that's the main point – Datalink and SODA. Working this out with Hendrik made me realise the documentation of Datalink in pyVO really needs… love. Or, better, work.

    Later on Friday, there was the Registry session, where I gave brief (and somewhat cramped) talks on advanced column metadata (which is intended to one day let you query the registry for things like “roughly complete to 18 mag” or “having objects out to redshift 4“) and how to put VODataService 1.2 coverage into RegTAP – I expect you'll read more on both topics on this blog as they mature to a level at which this can leave the Registry nerd circles.

    And now, about 10 pm on Friday, the meeting is slowly winding down; beyond all the talks (which were, regrettably for a free software spirit like me, on zoom), the real bonus was that there was a gather.town attached to the conference. Now, that's a closed, proprietary, non-self-hostable platform, too, and so I have all reason to grumble. But: for the first time since February 2020 it felt like a conference, with the most useful action happening outside of the lecture halls, from trying to reach consensus on VEP-006 to teaching DaCHS datalink service declaration to learning about working with visibilities coming from VLBI (where it's even more difficult than it is with the big antenna arrays). So… this one time I've made my peace with proprietary platforms.

    A propos of “say no to platforms“ (in this case, slack): Due to the recent troubles with freenode, in addition to the Interop last week saw the the GAVO IRC channel move to libera.chat (where it's still #gavo). So, for instant messaging us now that the Interop is (in effect) over: Come there.

  • Sofa instead of Granada

    Screenshot from an online talk

    Gesticulating wildly to a computer is what happens in an online conference. To me, at least. Let's hope nobody watched me through the window.

    It was already in the wee hours of Friday last week (CET) when the second "virtual Interop" had its rather unceremonious closing ceremony. Its predecessor in May had about it an air of a state of emergency. For instance, all sessions were monothematic. That was nice on the one hand, because a relatively large part of the time was available for discussion – which, really, is what the Interops are about. But then Interops are also about noticing what everyone else in the Virtual Observatory is cooking up, for which the short-ish talks we usually have at Interops work really well.

    In contrast to that first Corona Interop, this second one, replacing what would have taken place in Granada, Spain, had a much more conventional format, which again accomodated many talks. But of course, this made one feel the lack of possibilities to quickly hash out a problem during a coffee break or in a spontaneous splinter quite a bit more.

    Be that as it may, I would like to give you some insights on what I'm currently up to at the IVOA level; I am grateful for any feedback you can give on any of these topics.

    Given that I currently chair the Semantics Working group, there was a natural focus on topics around vocabularies, and I gave two talks in that department. The one in DAL (DAL is the working group that builds the actual access protocols such as TAP or SIAP) was mainly on Datalink-related aspects of my Vocabularies in the VO 2 draft (VocInVO2), which in particular was an opportunity to thank everyone involved in the Vocabulary Enhancement Proposals we have been running this last year (all of which were about Datalink and hence closely tied to DAL). One thing I was asking for was reviews on a github pull request that would make the bysemantics method of Datalink accesses semantics-aware; basically, as intended by the original Datalink authors, when asking for #calibration links, this will also return, say, #bias links. If you can spare a moment for this: Please do!

    Another thing I tried to raise some interest for is the proposed vocabulary of product types; this, I think, should eventually define what people may put into the dataproduct_type column of Obscore results, and there are related uses in Datalink and, believe it or not, the registration of SSAP (spectral) services. A question Alberto raised while I was discussing that made me realise I forgot to mention another vocabularies-related development relevant for DAL: I've put the gavo_vocmatch ADQL user-defined function into DaCHS. It lets you match something against a term or its narrower terms, referencing an IVOA vocabulary. For instance, if we had different sorts of time series (which, of course, would be odd for obscore that has the o_ucd column for this kind of thing), you could, using ADQL, still get all time series by querying:

    SELECT TOP 5 *
    FROM ivoa.obscore
    WHERE
      1=gavo_vocmatch(
        ’product-type’,
        ’timeseries’,
        dataproduct_type)
    

    Here, the first argument is the vocabulary name (whatever is after the http://www.ivoa.net/rdf in the vocabulary URL), the second the “root” term, and the third the column to match against. Since postgres, for now, isn't aware of IVOA vocabularies, the second argument must be a literal string rather than, say, an expression involving columns.

    I gave a second semantics-related talk in the Registry session. That had its focus on the Unified Astronomy Thesaurus (UAT), from which people should pick the subject keywords in the VO Registry (actually, they should pick from its representation at http://www.ivoa.net/rdf/uat). I'll probably blog about that a little more some other time. For now, let me recommend a little UAT-based game on my Semantics Based Registry Browser sembarebro: Choose two terms that are pretty far apart (like, perhaps, ionized-coma-gases and cosmic-background-radiation) and then try to join the two sub-graphs. Warning: This may waste your time. But it will acquaint you with the UAT, which may be a good thing.

    In that second talk, I also mentioned a second draft vocabulary I've put up in the past six months, http://www.ivoa.net/rdf/messenger. This builds upon the terms for VODataService's waveband element, which enumerated certain flavours of photons (like Radio, Optical, or X-ray). Now that we explore other messengers as well and have more and more solar system resources in the Registry, I'm arguing we ought to open up things by making “Photon” explicit in there and then adding Neutrinos and, later, other messengers. I've received a certain amount of pushback there on mixing the electromagnetic spectrum with particle types; on the other hand, the hierarchical nature of our vocabularies would, I think, let us smartly get away with that.

    Speaking about solar system resources, I'm also listed as an author on Stéphane Erard's talk on EPN-TAP and EPNCore v2.0, probably due to my involvement in finally bringing EPN-TAP into the IVOA document repository. I've already talked about that in a 2017 post on this blog – and again, if you're interested in solar system data, this would be a good time to review the EPN-TAP working draft.

    Talking about things regluar readers of this blog will have heard of: September's Crazy Shapes post I've referenced in a talk on MOCs in pgsphere, together with a fervent appeal to data centers to become involved in pgsphere maintenance.

    And then there was my colleague Margarida's talk on LineTAP, a proposal to obsolete the little-used SLA protocol (which lets people search for spectral lines) with something combining the much more successful VAMDC with our beloved TAP. Me, I'm in this because I'd like to bring TOSS data closer to VAMDC – but also because having competing infrastructures for the same thing sucks.

    And finally, I gave a talk I've called Data Model Posture Review in a session of the Data Models working group; I was somewhat worried that given its rather skeptical outlook it wouldn't be really well-received. But in fact quite a few people shared my main conclusions – and perhaps it was another step towards resolving my decade-old spot of pain: that the VO still doesn't offer tech to reliably bring two catalogues to the same epoch without human intervention.

    With this number of talks I've been involved in, I'm essentially back to the level of a normal Interop. Which means I've been fairly knocked-out on Friday. And I can't lie: I still regret I didn't get to spend a few more warm days in Granada. Corona begone!

  • ADASS and Interop

    ADASS group photo

    ADASS XXIX is a big conference with lots of attendants. I've taken the liberty of scaling the photo so you really won't recognise me (though I am on the photo). Note that, regrettably, the interop will be a lot smaller.

    The people that create the Virtual Observatory standards, organised in the IVOA, meet twice a year: Once in spring for a five-day meeting (this year it happened in Paris), and once in autumn for a three-day meeting back-to-back to ADASS, the venerable (this year it's the 29th installment) meeting of people dealing with astronomy and computers.

    We're now on day three of ADASS, and for me, so far this has been more or an endless hackathon, with discussing and hacking on things like mirrors for DFBS, ADQL 2.1, the evolution of IVOA vocabularies (more on this soon somewhere around here), a vocabulary of object types, getting LAMOST 5 published properly in the VO, the measurements data model, convincing more registries to push out space-time coverage for their resources (I'm showing a poster on that), and a lot more.

    So, getting to actually listen to talks during ADASS almost is something of a luxury, and a mind-widening at that – I've just listend to a talk about effectively doubling the precision of VLBI geodesy (in this case, measuring the location of radio telescopes to a few millimeters) by a piece of clever software, and before that I could learn a bit about how complex it is to figure out how much interference something emitting radio waves will cause in some other place on earth (like, well, a radio telescope). In case you're curious: A bit more than a year from now, short papers on the topics will appear in the proceedings of ADASS XXIX, which in turn you'll find in the ADASS proceedings collections (or on arXiv before that).

    Given the experience of the last few days, I doubt I'll do anything like the live blog from Paris linked above. I still can't resist mentioning that at ADASS, I'm having a poster that's little more than an ad blitz for STC in the registry.

    Update (2019-10-13): Well, one week later I'm sitting in the closing session of the Interop, and I've even already given my summary of Semantics activities during the interop. Other topics I've talked about at this interop include interoperable authentication (I'm really interested in this because I'd like to enable persistent TAP uploads, where your uploaded tables are still there for you when you come back), a minor update to SimpleDALRegExt (which is overall rather technical and you probably don't want to look at), on the takeup of new Registry tech (which might come over as somewhat sad, but considering that you have to pull along many people to have changes in “the” Registry, it's not so bad at all), and on, as Mark Taylor called it, operational identification of server software (which I consider entertaining in its somewhat erratic narrative).

    And now, after 7 days of essential nonstop discussion and brainstorming, I'm longing to slump into a chair on the train back to Heidelberg and just enjoy the landscape rolling by.

  • GAVO at AG-Tagung Stuttgart

    towel with astro photo

    Our puzzler prize this year: a Photo of the seahorse in the LMC, taken during Hubble's 100000th orbit around the earth, on a fluffy towel.

    It's time again for the meeting of the Astronomische Gesellschaft (as 2017 in Göttingen; last year we had the IAU general assembly instead). We're there with a booth (right next to the exhibition on 100 years of IAU) and a splinter meeting, at which I'll have a sales pitch for cross-server uploads.

    And, of course, there's a puzzler again: you could win a beautiful towel if you solve a little VO-related problem. This year's puzzler is about where in the sky you'll see “nebulae” (in the classic sense defined by NGC) batched together most closely. If you've been following this blog for a while, it shouldn't be too hard, but to participate you'd have to find someone in Stuttgart to hand in your solution.

    If you are in Stuttgart: As usual, we'll be giving hints during the coffee breaks on Tuesday and Wednesday. So, be sure to visit our booth.

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