Update on life

It’s been over a couple months now since I’ve written so I thought I’d update people on what has been going on in my life. I hope to resume posting regularly starting this week so check back soon.

As some of you may know, I graduated last December from The University of Maryland, Baltimore County with a B.S. in Bioinformatics and Computational Biology, and a B.S. in Psychology (yes,yes, laugh all you want… It was fun!) The next month or so I spent job hunting and interviewing at various places. I had originally expected that I would end up working somewhere like JCVI, however before I was ever able to get in touch with people there I was offered a really cool job working at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

I’m now working with Solar Physicists there as a web developer. Although in the days to come I will be working on several different projects including a Virtual Solar Observatory, the project I’m currently focused on is called “HelioViewer.” The goals of HelioViewer are to produce something similar to Google Maps, but using solar data. The project is still in it’s infancy, and has a long way to go, but there already a working prototype which includes some basically functionality like loading images, layering, and zooming.

This is what it looks like:

HelioViewer Screenshot

The application is written primarily in Javascript and PHP, and uses the Prototype and Script.aculo.us Javascript Frameworks.

I’ve been developing web applications for a pretty long time now, but up until recently I stuck mostly to server-side languages and have avoided Javascript like the plague. The whole idea of client-side scripting seemed like a dead-end: browser support was variable and the only really interesting applications of Javascript to come out at the time (aside from, of course, blinking text) were browser exploits. Recently, however, with the availability of the XMLHttpRequest object, which is the life-force behind the now-ubiquitous Ajax applications we have come to know and love (think gmail), things are changing for Javascript.

Javascript 2.0, based off ECMAScript version 4, will boast a number of improvements including better OOP support and is (I believe) slated for release at the end of 2008. That’s grand and all but already the web-development community has gotten together and made some extraordinary progress on the Javascript front in the form of Javascript “frameworks.” These frameworks, which include Prototype, Jquery, YUI and Ext JS, make writing full-scale Javascript applications a highly respectable task. I will talk more about these later, but for now, let’s just say I’m a Javascript convert.

Let me step aside for one moment and point out that, while Ajax has become hugely popular for web application/RIA development, it is not the only contender in the arena. Another technology I wrote about a while back, Flex, is also a very able contestant in my opinion. Just this past week it reached a new milestone with the release of the Flex 3. Flex and Ajax applications have their own advantages and weaknesses, and both are worth considering. I also plan to write more about this in the future, but if you are interested in learning more about Flex in the meantime, there are a number of excellent blogs worth checking out including Ted On Flex, Flex Examples, EverythingFlex, InsideRIA.

Finally, as I mentioned above, I graduated with a degree in Bioinformatics. I still love bioinformatics, and am doing my best to keep up with current research in the field. From time to time I will try to post interesting advances in the field, and maybe even write some posts which combine topics in bioinformatics some of the web development technologies I’m working with at the moment. It should be a lot of fun :) If you would like to see what I’m reading in the meantime, feel free to subscribe to my Google Reader Shared items feed. I should warn you though, I am presently subscribed to over 300 feeds on topics ranging from bioinformatics to cute annotated pictures of cats, so be prepared for an interesting mix of items.

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3 Responses to “Update on life”

  1. June 29, 2009 at 7:51 am

    Wow – I’ve never seen an image like that of the Sun! When I got the tour at NASA I saw the project for using 2 satellites to get 3D images of flares – does your software render these?

    • June 29, 2009 at 8:04 am

      Hi Jean-Claude,

      It’s good to hear from you! The project you are thinking of is STEREO (http://stereo.gsfc.nasa.gov/). That is one of the data sources we would like to add support for. The main challenge is the varying perspectives: so far all of the images are taking from a single perspective, so they can be overlaid on one-another, and it still makes sense. With STEREO, you can’t simply overlay it’s images because they are taken from completely different vantage points. One solution we may try out is simply having two viewports: one for each satellite. The STEREO website also has some 3d images and movies you can check out if you happen to have an old pair of red & blue 3d glasses lying around: http://stereo.gsfc.nasa.gov/gallery/3dimages.shtml

      It’s a shame. I was really looking forward to your talk at Godard earlier this year, but I ended up missing it because I was looking at the wrong list of talks! If you end up at Goddard again, please stop by and say hello! :)

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