[AstroPy] Deployment and packaging

Tom Aldcroft aldcroft at head.cfa.harvard.edu
Wed Jun 15 20:47:43 EDT 2011

On Wed, Jun 15, 2011 at 12:50 AM, Vicki Laidler <laidler at stsci.edu> wrote:
> I too think that the goal of this effort should neither start with yet another python distribution, nor produce a mixed general-purpose astronomy library containing IRAF, SExtractor, or whathaveyou. Both those items produce significant barriers at both ends (the developer/deployment end, and the user/installation end).

I definitely agree that we don't want to produce a distribution that
contains all that. I was talking about something on the order of EPD,
e.g. with ipython, HDF5 / pytables, py4mpi, etc.  Just python stuff
that is very handy and not necessarily easy to build.  My original
point, which seems to have gotten lost, is that there is a continuing
proliferation of distributions that large projects are producing in
the form of binary installs for their analysis packages.  I'd like to
see all those large projects coalesce on a single common Python
distribution.  That's more of a political than technical issue, but
the benefit to end users would be tremendous.

> Meanwhile, we can work on collecting some survey data from our potential users, segmented by the
> various user communities of interest -- I thought Andrew's point that it's the more expert users we want
> to attract to the project was a very good one; and if need be, revisit the question when we have actual
>measured data rather than anecdata on which to base the decision.

Here are some relevant statistics from CfA:

- Number of PhD scientists, grad students, and staff programmers: ~400
(yes, CfA is huge)
- People subscribed to the CfA python users mailing list: 143
- People subscribed to the IDL users mailing list: 42
- Last new subscription to IDL list: Jan 10, 2010.  The tide is turning!  :-)

In February we (myself, Thomas R, Gus Muench, Brian Refsdal) announced
the 7-part "Practical Python for Astronomers" workshop series to a
CfA-wide distribution.  Here are some numbers:

- People attending the initial introductory talk: ~75
- Percentage of those with "advanced" programming skills,
   i.e. use classes, write modules, etc (by show of hands): ~15%
- "Median" programming level: basic control structures and functions
   in single-use scripts
- Most common issue on the CfA python users list: installation problems
- Most exuberant positive feedback from the Workshop:
  "The instructions for installing Python were fantastic.  I've toyed
with Python for
   years but never gotten over the initial barrier because I could
never get everything
   installed in a way that worked.  What I found by googling was
always confusing.
   Now I'm really going to start using Python."

Personally I'm most interested in developing tools that the "median
research astronomer" can use.  A big part of that is making Python
easy to use.  The "expert" users will take care of themselves and
constitute only a small fraction of successful paper-writing,
grant-winning astronomers.  It always surprises me but I see no
correlation at all between programming ability and research success.

I would find it truly disappointing if all the AstroPy effort was
really aimed at the expert end of the spectrum.  There is a huge
interest in Python within the astronomy community, but from my
experience most of that comes from people that are far from expert or

- Tom

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