Where is ciao X ?

X={ primer, tutorial, cookbook, Introduction, guidebook, 101, for dummies, …}

I’ve heard many times about the lack of documentation of this extensive data analysis system, ciao. I saw people still using ciao 3.4 although the new version 4 has been available for many months. Although ciao is not the only tool for Chandra data analysis, it was specifically designed for it. Therefore, I expect it being used frequently with popularity. But the reality is against my expectation. Whatever (fierce) discussion I’ve heard, it has been irrelevant to me because ciao is not intended for statistical analysis. Then, out of sudden, after many months, a realization hit me. ciao is different from other data analysis systems and softwares. This difference has been a hampering factor of introducing ciao outside the Chandra scientist community and of gaining popularity. This difference was the reason I often got lost in finding suitable documentations.

http://cxc.harvard.edu/ciao/ is the website to refer when you start using ciao and manuals are listed here, manuals and memos. The aforementioned difference is that I’m used to see Introduction, Primer, Tutorial, Guide for Beginners at the front page or the manual websites but not from the ciao websites. From these introductory documentations, I can stretch out to other specific topics, modules, tool boxes, packages, libraries, plug-ins, add-ons, applications, etc. Tutorials are the inertia of learning and utilizing data analysis systems. However, the layout of ciao manual websites seems not intended for beginners. It was hard to find basics when some specific tasks with ciao and its tools got stuck. It might be useful only for Chandra scientists who have been using ciao for a long time as references but not beyond. It could be handy for experts instructing novices by working side by side so that they can give better hands-on instruction.

I’ll contrast with other popular data analysis systems and software.

  • When I began to use R, I started with R manual page containing this pdf file, Introduction to R. Based on this introductory documentations, I could learn specific task oriented packages easily and could build more my own data analysis tools.
  • When I began to use Matlab, I was told to get the Matlab primer. Although the current edition is commercial, there are free copies of old editions are available via search engines or course websites. There other tutorials are available as well. After crashing basics of Matlab, it was not difficult to getting right tool boxes for topic specific data analysis and scripting for particular needs.
  • When I began to use SAS (Statistical Analysis System), people in the business said get the little SAS book which gives the basis of this gigantic system, from which I was able to expend its usage for particular statistical projects.
  • Recently, I began to learn Python to use many astronomical and statistical data analysis modules developed by various scientists. Python has its tutorials where I can point for basic to fully utilize those task specific modules and my own scripting.
  • Commericial softwares often come with their own beginners’ guide and demos that a user can follow easily. By acquiring basics from these tutorials, expending applications can be well directed. On the other hands, non-commercial softwares may be lack of extensive but centralized tutorials unlike python and R. Nonetheless, acquiring tutorials for teaching is easy and these unlicensed materials are very handy whenever problems are confronted under various but task specific projects.
  • I used to have IDL tutorials on which I relied a lot to use some astronomy user libraries and CHIANTI (atomic database). I guess the resources of tutorials have changed dramatically since then.

Even if I’ve been navigating the ciao website and its threads high in volume so many times, I only come to realize now that there’s no beginner’s guide to be called as ciao cookbook, ciao tutorial, ciao primer, ciao primer, ciao for dummies, or introduction to ciao at the visible location.

This is a cultural difference. Personal thought is that this tradition prevents none Chandra scientists from using data in the Chandra archive. A good news is that there has been ciao workshops and materials from the workshops are still available. I believe compiling these materials in a fashion that other beginners’ guides introducing the data analysis system can be a good starting point for writing up a front-page worthy tutorial. The existence of this introductory material could embrace more people to use and to explore Chandra X-ray data. I hope these tutorials from other softwares and data analysis systems (primer, cookbook, introduction, tutorial, or ciao for dummies) can be good guide lines to fully compose a ciao primer.

One Comment
  1. vlk:

    This may be a cultural difference, but almost nobody I know learns analysis systems or programming languages by reading manuals and tutorials. The fastest and most efficient way to learn a new language is by doing. By finding hacking solutions to specific problems, or by modifying existing code. I take my hat off to those people who have the patience and the temerity capacity to ingest tutorials.

    I note that it is not the goal of the CXC to encourage more people to explore Chandra data. It is their goal to ensure good analysis, by people who can do so. Not the same thing.

    PS: asking Chandra people “where is ciao X” will get you the answer that you can get it when you source /proj/ciaox/bin/ciao.csh — that’s the local beta version, it is called ciaox.

    08-01-2009, 9:15 pm
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