AAVSOnet Benefits and Management
This is in response to a message posted July 27, 2012 at 11:48am by Jim Roe under another topic. I have moved the discussion here by copying the original text and will add my comments in italics.
KTC wrote: "AAVSONet is a free benefit to members."
I'm still trying to figure out which members benefit from AAVSONet. I understand that a small number of members have had observing projects served by AAVSONet but it is far from clear to me that the vast majority of members will ever benefit from it . I've heard fuzzy claims that "science" benefits every time a variable star measurement is made - something like angels getting their wings when a bell rings? - and the AAVSO members benefit when science is served, but that sounds weak.
AAVSOnet is like every other tool or benefit of membership. It is made available to all the members, but whether or not they "all " use it is up to them. No one has ever claimed that it will benefit all the members. The light curve generator doesn't benefit everyone, but I don't think it is a waste of time supporting it or offering it as a tool in the AAVSO toolbox. The newsletter and annual report are benefits, but whether or not they benefit you is up to you. If you don't read them, you won't benefit from them.
There are actually two main parts to AAVSOnet. There are the survey telescopes, which are not generally available to members to reserve time on, and there are the user telescopes. The survey telescopes are and will benefit all AAVSO observers as well as the scientific community at large by producing the first all sky photometric survey covering the AAVSO observers "Goldilocks Zone" from 10th to 17th magnitude. All this photometry is being used to update and enhance all the AAVSO comparison star charts for all the observers. It is also a boon to the entire astronomical community who now have reliable secondary standards across the entire sky with which to do photometry of everything from comets and asteroids, to galaxies and gamma-ray bursts.
The user telescopes are a fantastic opportunity for AAVSO members. If you have a well reasoned and scientifically justified program of stars to observe, you can submit a proposal and get time on science grade telescopes and CCD systems for $60.00 annually. That is the best telescope time rental agreement on the planet, bar none. You can also have your images dark and flat subtracted and sent to your VPHOT account for processing at no additional cost. If you can't afford a C14 on a Paramount located at a superior site at 9000 feet in New Mexico and $5000 worth of software to acquire targets and manage your telescope observing queue robotically and process your images, don't worry, your AAVSO membership gains you access to that and many more telescopes!
Granted, you will have to think about what you want to observe and why before you will be granted time on the network, but you should be doing that anyway.
It has been hard (at least for me) to find out information about AAVSONet. There is a link on the main page of the AAVSO web site that leads to a rather dry description of telescopes and locations and further links that don't go very far and appear to be dated (the link to previous observing runs indicates the latest run to be initiated was in May of 2009 ). There is mention of a "Time Allocation Committee." Who are these people? Do they have a separate page/blog wherein they report their activities, assess the projects they approved, etc?
The dry (yet thorough) descriptions are necessary for anyone trying to construct an observing proposal, so they know the specifications and capabilities of each telescope system.
The program list is woefully out of date, and points to a distinct failure on our part in administering the network. I have begun revising this page and can say it looks like there are currently 25-30 different users running approximately 100-125 programs on AAVSOnet scopes, including photometric calibrations of clusters, exoplanet transits, LPV, CV, EB, RCB, NR, novae, SNe and RR Lyrae monitoring.
The Telescope Allocation Committee has up to this point been Arne. He looked over the proposals and allocated time on specific telescopes. I can say he was very thorough in his assessment of any proposals I submitted for myself and in helping others, and usually had questions and suggestions for making the programs better. But this is not a great use of the Director's time, so a committee was formed to create the policies and procedures for a new "AAVSOnet Telescope Management Committee".
The committee was Jim Bedient, Tom Krajci, Donn Starkey and me. We have completed the first phase of commissioning this new TMC and submitted our report and a P&P document to Arne for review. According to our plan, the President will appoint a chair to the TMC who will then draft volunteers to serve on the committee, just like other committees are formed according to AAVSO Bylaws. Whether or not the names of the people serving on the committee will be or need to be made public is up to the Council. There are just as many good reasons for anonymity in this case as for transparency.
Looking at the (dated?) list of projects I see several "one-off" projects such as nova field calibration that kinda make sense to me as an AAVSO activity. I came across a reference somewhere that a high school science fair project had been served and I applaud that. But I have to wonder if most of those continuing monitoring projects couldn't be better handled by another approach? Maybe there are scientifically urgent projects that can't (or aren't) being served by the Alert system and observations by regular members with their own resources? That would seem to indicate the Alert system should be refined.
There are no longer "calibration programs" running on AAVSOnet since APASS has taken over that task permanently. Educational programs will always be welcomed, but they will be subject to review by the TMC. I'm not sure what alert system you refer to. Tom has experimented with interrupting ongoing schedules to point to VOEvents, but this is not fully implemented, nor are we sure it should be. There are a lot of false detections to weed through.
I guess my bottom line is, I can't find a "management plan" for AAVSONet. We kinda know what it is, but we don't know why nor where it it going or how it can be utilized. I can think of things I would like to see, but will wait to hear what (if anything) is already in place and/or comments from others.
The management plan for AAVSOnet has up to now been in Arne's head. He has managed to spin gold out of air in creating AAVSOnet, including APASS which is probably the single most important step in legitimizing the AAVSO to the professional community AAVSO has ever taken, in spite of a lack of direct financial support from the Council to build or manage it. There is still not a line item in the budget for AAVSOnet, but there is now a written policy and procedures document to form a telescope management committee, and the technical staff are now working on implementing several facets of that plan to automate some of the tracking and assessment of the programs running on the network.
There is a lot going on behind the curtain that doesn't get talked or written about simply because there isn't time to do it. There are only a few of us working on each specific aspect of AAVSO that you see on the surface. It is a classic Catch-22 situation. If I were to take the time to explain every thing I do to the membership I would not have any time left over to DO anything! I'm all for transparency, but it comes with a cost in time and effort.
I hope you get elected to Council this fall, Jim. Then you will know better what is going on and YOU can write about some of it to better inform the membership.