Me, Myself, & I

6Feb - by Alan - 0 - In

I’ve lived in several countries: England, where I was born (Ely, Cambs); Belgium, Luxembourg, France, Germany, and the USA. Each one has a distinct culture and lifestyle. It surprised me when I went to the USA to find that I was more European than I had realised. Although Britain and the USA have much in common – e.g. similar languages – American culture is perhaps the most alien from my perspective. Indeed, I was a resident alien.

Most of my career has been as a scientific software engineer and sometimes team leader creating user interfaces, databases, and real-time control and data acquisition systems for Doel nuclear power station, Hubble Space Telescope, High Energy Astrophysics Science Archive, European Synchrotron Radiation Facility, European Southern Observatory, Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics, Joint European Torus. I have presented several papers on scientific software systems.

I’ve been a web developer since 1993. My first site was one of NASA’s earliest. I’ve been using the web since well before it became famous. I first used it to collaborate with the Space Telescope Science Institute when I worked for the Space Telescope European Coordinating Facility at the European Southern Observatory in Munich, Germany. It was on a visit to the ST ScI in Baltimore that I met Lucy, who was a programmer there. We were both working on the Data Management Facility, aka the archive.

The Internet and WWW have been and remain, a central part of my life. A couple of decades ago, it was the province of a few academics and scientists, and we used arcane UNIX commands to operate it. That began to change in the early 90’s with the creation of the WWW and a browser called Mosaic (from the NCSA), and the move towards commercialisation.

Having been one of the first web developers, I’ve been able to pioneer this revolutionary technology. I’ve had a few ‘firsts’. I founded the web’s first commercial site for web developers in 1994, and the web’s first XHTML site (EncycloZine) in 1998. I wrote the web’s first calculator – WebCalc – in about 1994. It was a Perl/CGI script that presented a pocket calculator.

In recent years I became known as a teacher of web technologies such as XHTML. I have presented advanced HTML & CGI tutorials at many conferences, including the International World Wide Web Conferences series (Boston & Darmstadt). and DCI’s WebWorlds. I was technical editor for HTML & CGI Unleashed by John December et al (Sams.Net), and for Web Database Primer Plus by Piroz Mohseni (Waite Group Press).

Web Developer’s Virtual Library was an encyclopedia of Java, HTML, JavaScript, CGI, DHTML, XML, Perl, web design and domain name tutorials and resources. The project started as a hotlist called WebStars on a NASA computer in late 1993. It became part of The WWW Virtual Library (originally at CERN) in September 1994. WDVL was acquired by Mecklermedia for its family of sites in March 1998. I resigned in March 1999, having spent 5 years developing it.