Webmaster, Deep Impact
What's the coolest thing about Deep Impact?
For me, the coolest thing about the mission is the fact that punching a tiny hole in a massive comet could potentially reveal some fascinating facts about comets in general. What we've seen about comets so far seems to be a surface impression, and short of actually landing on one and doing some drilling (which would be quite a feat!), I can't really think of another viable way to get inside one. Deep Impact is unique among the space missions that I've worked with over the years.
Why do you like working at JPL?
I love the culture. The people I've interacted with there have jobs that are based on an interest in exploring our universe, and I feel like I'm constantly learning something new, both in terms of the science of space exploration and in terms of the web technology that we can utilize to interest the public in what NASA is doing. To me it's a bit like a college campus, in terms of it being a learning environment and a comfortable fit socially for a self-proclaimed math/computer nerd. But we get paid for our jobs and I don't have to graduate and move on in four years!
How did you end up in space exploration?
I honestly had no clue that I would be designing websites to teach people about space exploration, even on the day I graduated from college. Web design was a hobby that I learned from a friend in college, and I didn't realize that people could actually do it for a living! After a brief but aimless search for other types of programming jobs, I realized that both my web design hobby and my analytical skills learned from majoring in mathematics could be uniquely applied to a webmaster job. It was actually through one of my computer science professors from Occidental College that I caught wind of a job opportunity at Raytheon in Pasadena, California (whom JPL has contracted to do a lot of their web design work). This is my first job out of college; I've been doing it for over five years now and I love it even more now than I did when I started, due to all that I've learned.
Who in your life inspired you and how?
Creative and innovative people are constantly inspiring me. It would be hard to name a single person who had the most influence on me in this area, because there have been so many in the fields of science, mathematics, music, film, et cetera, who have shown ingenuity in ways that inspire me to get on the ball and create something of my own. With my job it's kind of a dichotomy between the left and right brains - the creative side versus the analytical, methodical side. But web design brings these two sides together as I watch different people creatively approach the same problems of how to organize and present massive amounts of information in an informative and appealing way. I'm always being inspired by my co-workers, but I'm also inspired in my free time by a lot of the musicians I listen to and some of the movies I watch. I enjoy looking for different and sometimes unconventional ways to think about the puzzles that I'm faced with in life, and I believe that there is a lot of value in approaching life with a creative mindset.
What do you do in your spare time?
I pretty much live and breathe music. I listen to it, I evaluate it and write reviews of new CD's, and I attempt to create music of my own on my beat-up acoustic guitar. I also have a constant urge to explore, which has led me on many interesting hikes all over Southern California. When I can get away from the office for a longer period of time, I love to travel, and Hawaii is one of my favorite places to explore. I have ambitions to travel to so many places throughout the world that I don't think I'll ever be able to check them all off of my list.
What is one yet-to-be achieved life goal?
Other than all of the places I want to travel to? It's hard to say. Getting married has been my big one for as long as I can remember, but that's going to happen this summer, so I guess I need a new goal! If pie-in-the-sky whims count, then I guess I'd like to write and record an entire album's worth of original songs so that I could share them with people. Maybe even be part of a band, but just for fun. Speaking more realistically, I'd like to be a father someday. That should be an interesting challenge.
How technically/scientifically oriented were you as a young person?
I've been in love with mathematics and computers ever since I can remember. I can still recall Christmas morning from when I was four years old - that was when my family got a Commodore 64, and that ate up a lot of my free time between then and college! I always enjoyed the problem solving aspects of algebra, and to a lesser extent, calculus, and being advanced in math made things rather challenging for me socially because the other kids in my math classes were always older than me. I liked physics as well, but decided against it as a major in college because I liked problems I could solve in my head and on paper, or using a computer, better than problems I could solve using physical equipment (i.e. lab assignments). Things always got a little dicey for me when the concept of "percentage error" got introduced. I was a more abstract, "in theory" kind of guy, so switching to a math major was a good thing for me.
Oh, and I also became a big Star Trek fan in high school. I've always loved science fiction, especially when it involves time travel and other plot devices that twist back upon themselves in ways that make my brain hurt.
What was your favorite book as a young person and why?
Picking an individual book is difficult. I was a big fan of the Choose Your Own Adventure series in my childhood. In my teenage years, I think I spent more time writing stories than reading them!
As a child, what did you want to become when you grew up?
I wanted to design video games! I played them all the time and I even drew my own complex mazes on paper for my friends to solve. I guess I didn't end up too far from my original goal, though hopefully the websites I'm designing don't have such labyrinthine qualities.
What is your position on the Deep Impact project and what do you do?
I work as the webmaster for the Deep Impact website, which is hosted at JPL and at the University of Maryland. I write the HTML code that sets up the layout which you are currently viewing, and I work with a talented team of artists ad other programmers to ensure that the site looks appealing and makes it easy for you to find the information you are looking for. I also manage signups for Deep News and answer technical questions about our website that are sent to us as feedback. I also designed the database and user interface for the Send Your Name to a Comet! campaign, which ran from May 2003 through January 2004.
If you weren't working in space exploration now, what might you be doing?
I would probably be working in a similar, but more stressful, webmaster position for a dot com somewhere. Or maybe I'd pursue a job as a music critic, but I'd kind of prefer to keep that as a hobby. I think I like what I'm doing now much more than those alternatives.