[Numpy-discussion] Re: Meta: too many numerical libraries doing the same thing?

Joe Harrington jh at oobleck.astro.cornell.edu
Fri Dec 7 13:02:02 CST 2001

Something that everyone should be aware of is that right now we *may*
have an opportunity to get significant support.  Kodak has acquired
RSI, makers of IDL.  Most of the planetary astronomy community uses
IDL, as do many geophysicists and medical imaging people.  Kodak is
dramatically raising prices, and has killed support for Mac OS X.  The
IDL site license just arranged for the group at NASA Ames is over
$200k, making site licenses more expensive than individual licenses
were just a few years ago, on a per-license basis.  At the Division
for Planetary Sciences meeting last week, I was frequently approached
by colleagues who said, "Joe, what do I do?", and from the more savvy,
"Is Python ready yet?"

I discussed the possibility of producing an OSS or PD analysis system
with a NASA program manager.  He sees the money going out of his own
programs to Kodak, and is concerned.  However, his programs cannot
fund such an effort as it is out of his scope.  The right program is
probably Applied Information Systems Research, but he is checking
around NASA HQ to see whether this is the case.  He was very positive
about the idea.

I suspect that a proposal will be more likely to fly this year than
next, as there is a sense of concern right now, whereas next year
people will already have adjusted.  Depending on how my '01 grant
proposals turn out, I may be proposing this to NASA in '02.  Paul
Barrett and I proposed it once before, in 1996 I think, but to the
wrong program.

Supporting parts of the effort from different sources would be wise.
Paul Dubois makes the excellent point that such efforts generally
peter out.  It would be important to set this up as an OSS project
with many contributors, some of whom are paid full-time to design and
build the core.  Good foundational documents and designs, and
community reviews solicited from savvy non-participants, would help
ensure that progress continued as sources of funding appeared and
disappeared...and that there is enough wider-community support to keep
it going until it produces something.

NASA's immediate objective will be a complete data-analysis system to
replace IDL, in short order, including an IDL-to-python converter
program.  That shouldn't be hard as IDL is a simple language, and PyDL
may have solved much of that problem.

So, at this point I'm still assessing what to do and whether/how to do
it.  Should we put together proposals to the various funding agencies
to support SciPy?  Should we create something new?  What efforts exist
in other communities, particularly the numerical analysis community?
How much can we rely on savvy users to contribute code, and will that
code be any good?  My feeling is that there is actually a lot of money
available for this, but it will require a few people to give up their
jobs and pursue it full-time.

And there, as they say, is the rub.


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