Category "News"

IDL 8.2 was released today, and while it might not have many headline grabbing features, there are some nice additions to IDL’s libraries as well as some fixes for old problems. The Workbench finally seems to work for me; a bug in the way curl library was linked was fixed, allowing me to use OPeNDAP on my Mac. Unlike releases like IDL 8.0 with its many new features and also many new bugs, IDL 8.2 feels much more stable to me.


There are many small changes to the function graphics and underlying object graphics systems in IDL 8.2.

Improved line joins in object graphics are a seemingly small feature, but I like the fact that it shows Exelis VIS is now paying attention to the details of creating higher quality graphics. For example, thick polylines from IDL 8.1 on the left and IDL 8.2 on the right:

Line joins in IDL 8.2 Line joins in IDL 8.1

Unfortunately, the lines are implemented as polygons and now are not anti-aliased. Exelis VIS has promised anti-aliasing for everything in the graphics window in a future release.

The function graphics objects now have an erase method which removes all the plots, axes, titles, etc. from a graphics window, but leaving the window to be reused. You can now control what you want to get rid of between the erase, close, and delete methods.

New symbols in IDL 8.2

There is a new TrueType symbol font, DejaVuSans, which includes many new symbols including the Sun and planetary symbols!

There are several other small additions which enhance the usability of function graphics: array inputs for ARROW and SYMBOL, custom ranges for AXIS, a CLIP property, a better COLORBAR, legends for vector plots, and more. I’m not sure if I will end up using function graphics for daily tasks yet, but it is getting closer.

Data formats

This one is a big one for me:

(CR 61782) The NetCDF library has been rebuilt with libcurl on Mac to fix an issue with OPeNDAP.

This allows one to specify an URL to a dataset served via DAP to be accessed via the NCDF_ routines:

IDL> url = ''
IDL> fileId = ncdf_open(url, /nowrite)

This already worked on Linux and still doesn’t on Windows.

See my netCDF routines for a nicer interface for accessing netCDF files (or DAP datasets from Linux and Mac clients).

There is also support to convert between IDL variables and JSON strings.


Help topics that had been exiled to PDFs (like the External Developer Guide) are now referenced in the main online help and available via a link, though that link did not bring up the PDF for me and “Search” does not search the contents of those PDFs either. This does save me from navigating to the IDL distribution directory to find the PDFs, but still does not really support this section of the documentation.


My experience with the Workbench was much improved over previous versions. While the older versions of the Workbench did not launch predictably for me, the 8.2 version has been quite stable. I find the Workbench is a nice tool for debugging and have been using the new Workbench for that, though I rely on the TTY command line IDL interface for most of my work.

The Workbench has a new way to install plugins:

The Eclipse provisioning system (p2) supports the notion of watched directories. A watched directory is a place where a user can drop Eclipse plugins and features and have them discovered by p2 and loaded into the workbench.

In order to add plugins, shutdown the workbench, copy the plugins into this folder, then restart.

If all the dependencies are met then the new features will be available in the workbench.

Also, the Workbench now checks the !path for duplicate routines and warnings are displayed in the “Problems” view. This might be a useful feature for some people, but I quickly turned this off as I got over 1600 warnings from routines that are linked into multiple Subversion repositories (as svn:externals). IDL itself has a fair number of duplicate routines in its own library!

If you write ENVI extensions, there is an ENVI extension wizard which helps build “tools that appear in the ENVI Toolbox”. I didn’t get a chance to try that and I’m not sure exactly what it means, but some support there could be very helpful.


The default installation location changed again, removing the extra “idl” directory added in IDL 8.0 and moving from “itt” to “exelis”. For example, on my Mac IDL 8.2 installs into


instead of the more complicated path in IDL 8.1


I suppose this is mostly unavoidable and for the better, but my CMake scripts to find IDL installations just added another level of complexity.


The widget system was updated a bit—you can use 32-bit RGBA images for bitmap buttons and there is an updated appearance of widgets on Microsoft Windows among other small changes.

In addition to VISualize coming up soon in June, Exelis VIS is holding a fall User Group meeting as well:

The IDL User Group Meeting 2012 will be held September 19-20 at the beautiful LASP facility on CU-Boulder’s East Campus. Please join us for presentations by members of the IDL community and by the IDL development team at Exelis VIS. We’ll also have a competition for the best IDL visualization. Pre-registration will be required since seating is limited.

The preliminary schedule is:

Day 1 (Wed Sep 19):

  • Short workshops on selected topics in IDL (bring a laptop, if you wish)
  • Presentations by the IDL development team
  • User discussion groups

Day 2 (Thu Sep 20):

  • User presentations
  • Visualization contest

I will definitely be there (especially since it’s less than two miles from here)!

The IDL Data Point has a post showing an example of using the new object-oriented interface for user functions in ENVI 5. Mark discussed batch programs in ENVI 5 last week.

I don’t look forward to rewriting old ENVI user functions, but the new interface does look much better than the clunky old ENVI programming interface. My biggest question is how well is it documented?[1]

  1. My next question would be is there a way to write an extension that works for both old and new versions of ENVI? I think so. ??

This year’s VISualize, the IDL/ENVI User Group meeting, will have the theme “Climate Change and Environmental Monitoring.” It will be held June 18 to 19 in the World Wildlife Fund Conference Center in Washington, DC.

Exelis VIS is now accepting abstracts—due May 18! Not sure what I should talk about this year (I’ve talked about GPULib for the past couple of years), but I will definitely submit something and attend in any case.

David Fanning says he is retiring from IDL:

I’m retiring. No, really, this time I’m really retiring. :-)

Hopefully this is a false alarm, but in any case, good luck David and thanks for years of valuable information!

I will be AGU next week (Tuesday through Thursday morning). I’ll be hanging out at the Tech-X booth (circled at right, just up from the NASA booth) most of the time, but will also be patrolling the posters and hitting a few talks as well.

Tech-X booth

Here’s our press release:

Tech-X Corporation invites you to visit our booth (Booth #1748) at the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting 2011, December 5 – 9, at the Moscone Center in San Francisco.

We will be featuring GPU Computing, including GPULib, our library of mathematical kernels for GPU computing.

We will also be demonstrating the Remote Data Toolkit, which allows seamless access to remote data with IDL.

Personnel from Tech-X and/or their collaborators will be participating in the following activities:

Session A53C: Multisensor and Model Aerosol Data Inter-comparison and Synergy III Posters Friday, December 09 1:40PM – 6:00PM, Halls A – C A53C-0382 Aerosol type estimations for the ERBE period (1985 – 1989) Jose R. Fernandez, SSAI, Hampton, VA; Seiji Kato, NASA Langley Research Center, Hampton, VA; Fred G. Rose, SSAI, Hampton, VA; David W. Fillmore, Tech-X Corporation, Boulder, CO

Exelis VIS will be at booth #1431; I haven’t heard about if there will be an IDL user group meeting.

UPDATE: Also, if you have an iPhone, I recommend the AGU app. It has been very useful already for me.

Full disclosure: I work for Tech-X Corporation.

Google’s cache of Usenet newsgroups seems to be down right now. I don’t see new posts since June 27 in the couple newsgroups that I regularly read, including the very informative IDL newsgroup comp.lang.idl-pvwave. But that doesn’t mean the newsgroup is not there; I actually hadn’t noticed anything was wrong until someone told me about Google’s problem because I access the newsgroup using a Usenet client reader with an actual Usenet news server.

This is not hard to do and is a much better experience: less spam, using native application interface instead of a web app, etc. Here are the basic steps to do this yourself:

  1. Get an account on a Usenet news server. I use Eternal September because it provides free access to text-only newsgroups like comp.lang.idl-pvwave.
  2. Get a Usenet client reader. I use Thunderbird from Mozilla; it is free and available on all the popular platforms.
  3. Configure your Usenet client reader to use your Usenet server account. This depends on the client you chose, but is fairly straight forward from the information that your Usenet news server provides you.
  4. When starting to use a new Usenet server, there is a process of downloading the list of available newsgroups and then subscribing to the one(s) you are interested in.

Here is a detailed description of using Thunderbird with Eternal September to access a newsgroup, just use comp.lang.idl-pvwave instead of rec.arts.disney.parks.

You’re set to go, welcome to 1980!

UPDATE: articles are appearing on Google Groups again, but I still recommend using an actual news server.

ITT VIS is hosting a webinar at 2 pm (EDT) about the new features in IDL 8.1. Topics for discussion:

  1. Data Visualization, including new Graphics routines and display features, new mapping features and an interface that exposes event handling in a Graphics window
  2. File Access, including reading and writing GRIB/2 files, writing to KML/KMZ files and new set of tools for creating high-quality video output to popular movie formats using the open-source FFmpeg library
  3. Mapping, including new GSHHS high-resolution coastlines, updated country boundaries and reprojection tools
  4. Image Processing, with new routines and updates to functionality in existing routines
  5. Development, with the Workbench including source control management plugins for CVS, Subversion, Git and Perforce

Make sure to register beforehand, you have just under two hours.

IDL 8.1 was released last week during VISualize. This caught me a bit by surprise, but I will do a few posts on 8.1 features in the coming weeks. Here are the basic features:

  1. IDLffVideoWrite class for high-quality video output in either mp4 or avi files. This uses the FFmpeg library.
  2. There are now keywords to set event handlers for specific types of events in a new graphic or WIDGET_WINDOW window.
  3. Added methods for new graphics programmatic API.
  4. Extended longitudes and high-resolution shorelines in MAP using GSHHS map database.
  5. New methods for List and Hash classes: ::isEmpty, ::count, and ::findValue (like WHERE).
  6. GRIB read and write programmatic API (containing 38 GRIB_* routines) for UNIX and Mac OS X only.
  7. KML/KMZ output options in new graphics MAP function.
  8. Workbench now comes with source control plugins for git, Subversion, CVS, and Perforce.

There are more features, so check the “What’s New” for more details.

ITT VIS has announced an expanded VISualize 2011 in Washington, DC on April 12 – 14. The new three day format will have Workshops on the first day (morning for IDL, afternoon for ENVI), a day for the IDL User Group Meeting, and a day for the ENVI User Group Meeting.

Abstracts for talks can be submitted until March 11:

Suggestions for topic areas include, but are certainly not limited to:

  1. Remote Sensing, GIS and Geospatial Applications
  2. Atmospheric & Climate Applications
  3. Data Analysis & Visualization
  4. Astronomy, Astrophysics & Planetary Physics
  5. Medical/Biological Applications

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