I like to keep users informed about BLIPMAP operations and development, should they wish to be, so have written this update to report on the change to a subscription service and to indicate my future expectations for BLIPMAPs.
This summer about 100,000 forecast maps were requested each month. There were 550 subscribed users and another 1400 active and registered but not-subscribed users. Not-subscribed users are much less frequent users, averaging around 1/4 the number of site visits per month of the subscribed users. There are enough subscribed users to more than support the processing and admin costs, which includes the leased datacenter server and two individuals providing server and administrative support. This is what I had hoped for, since detailed forecasts can be provided for those those who desire them while allowing basic "Thermal Updraft Velocity" BLIPMAPs to be freely available to anyone who just needs a simple forecast (including the raptor trackers!). I intend to continue this system next year, with subscribers underwriting the needs of the less-weather-demanding non-subscribed users, since my intent is to promote soaring by having soaring weather forecasts be available to all. Most people are aware of Darwin's principle of ecological competition - but there is also a principle of ecological cooperation, and mutual aid within the soaring community is what I wish to encourage. Non-subscribers should thank subscribers for providing the means through which the basic forecasts can be made available to all! The most significant changes for next year are that (1) I will be ending active development for at least a year, since I have been spending much too much time on BLIPMAP development and need to create more time for myself, and (2) subscription charges will be halved, since they will only need to cover basic operational costs.
I want to assure users that it is my intention that BLIPMAPs continue to be produced operationally so long as they are needed. I am presently working on a plan to achieve this, the long-range goal being to produce an independently sustaining BLIPMAP operation requiring no input from me (though I may still choose to be involved). In the next year I expect to transfer more knowledge and responsibility to those individuals already providing support. For the longer-term I will be looking at the feasibility of setting up a small non-profit organization, with a board of three, to maintain the program and website. And some clubs have asked about having some sort of group membership for member-only access so I will be looking into that possibility. I expect to proceed cautiously down this future path, evaluating one step at a time. Leasing of a dedicated server, introduction of subscriptions, and creation of a robust processing program were the necessary first steps accomplished this year. The process may be a slow one, likely with some experimentation to find out what works and what doesn't, but I intend it to be a sure one.
Of course in this life nothing is certain, and I have been asked "but DrJack, what if you auger in tomorrow?". Some years ago I recognized that I might somehow die unexpectedly and therefore added to my will a clause transferring ownership of all BLIPMAPs programs in such an event, then making the SSA the beneficiary. The beneficiary is now the public domain (actually a GPL license for those who know that that is). And if a non-profit is later set up, then I will make them the beneficiary. I want to emphasize that at present other individuals, such as my server administrator, have enough knowledge that BLIPMAPs could be continued in their present status even if I were no longer alive. Further alterations and development would be difficult, however, since most of the knowledge is presently in my head and there are many associated ancillary programs I have personally developed and utilize which others know nothing about. With time, I expect to transfer more of my personal familiarity to others.
Some users who are also SSA members have in the past suggested that
the SSA might be a vehicle for BLIPMAP maintenance. In earlier
years I had considered this a possibility, but time and experience
have taught me better and I now believe that it is best that BLIPMAP
operations be independent and supported by their own users.
There are several reasons for this, but the most fundamental is that
the SSA is a political arena with often shifting issues and
personalities, and of the many areas of SSA interest those who
particularly value soaring weather information are a minority.
So BLIPMAPs would always be subject to pressures from
non-weather-valuing SSA insiders, for example wanting to divert
resources from BLIPMAPs to their own pet project or wanting to use
BLIPMAPs solely as a means of promoting the organization by limiting
dissemination. And the SSA cannot be expected to be concerned
with those BLIPMAP users who are not SSA members, such as hang-gliding
and paragliding pilots, yet in my view those pilots have as much right
to and need for the forecasts as an SSA soaring pilot. Therefore
I believe it best to put the fate of BLIPMAPs directly into the hands
of those most truly concerned and interested in them - the BLIPMAP
[For the record, I have made two written proposals to SSA over the years, both at their request, regarding possible creation of a partnership. Those interested in the fate of the most recent one can read the SSA ExCom meeting minutes of Nov 2003, though there is much more to it than that source would indicate - reading those minutes is also how I learned about their vote, for the Excomm chose not to inform me of that rejection even though the proposal was prepared at the request of the SSA board, from which you can draw your own conclusions.]