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Working NASA’s Enterprise Web

While reading Neil deGrasse Tyson’s book Space Chronicles, I came across a passage that helped remind me how great it is to get the chance to evolve NASA’s enterprise web environment.

From January 3 through January 5, 2004, the NASA website that tracked the doings of the Mars rovers sustained more than half a billion hits — 506,621,916 to be exact. That was a record for NASA, surpassing the world’s Web traffic in pornography over the same three days.

Working NASA’s enterprise web is exactly what I’ve been been deeply focused on for that past year. The entire stack, from infrastructure to software services, is being examined with the intent of providing a technological refresh. Details are beginning to emerge and I’ll share them here as I can.1

Without sharing the nitty gritty details, anyone working with Web technologies should be able to predict what NASA is hoping to adopt. Cloud infrastructures. Open source software.  A good overview of this effort can be found in NASA’s Open Government Plan.

  1. Meaning: as I’m allowed to

Why I do it

It’s been forever since I’ve posted here.  If there’s one thing I’ve learned about blogging over the years, it’s that (for me) blogging is like exercising and eating well.  You’ve got to do it regularly.  If you stop for a while, starting back up takes much longer than you believe it will.  I’ve done many a public online proclamation expressing my commitment to regular blogging.  I’m not going to do that this time.  It hasn’t worked in the past, so I’ll spare you.

So what got me back to writing a post this morning?  It was how pleased I was at the public’s reaction, especially in D.C., to the Space Shuttle Discovery getting piggybacked into Dulles for permanent display at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.

Shuttle flyover DC

I’ve always liked the notion that the Space Shuttles were “our space machines”.  Seeing the people of DC come out and see Discovery arrive was a reminder of why I enjoy working at NASA in the first place. In the picture of what NASA does, my contribution is pretty small, but I do believe that I’m doing my part to help America’s space program and that I’m helping contribute to NASA’s mission, in particular the missions of inspiring the next generation of explorers and sharing knowledge with the world.

Last week’s event was a reminder that people still are fascinated by NASA and the American space program.1  The media is rich in reports of NASA’s demise and there are no lacks of calls for shutting down the U.S. space program. In my opinion, NASA isn’t dying.  It’s evolving.

Enterprise, Meet Discovery

  1. And let’s be fair, that whole event was engineered in a manner to remind people that matter – like Congress – of just that.

Looking for Help on a Google Sites Project at NASA

Though it’s been a while since I posted anything on this blog, there have definitely been some interesting steps forward in advancing NASA’s enterprise Web environment. I’ll write more about that soon.  One thing those steps forward have resulted in is the green-lighting of some pilot projects to prototype new enterprise Web solutions for NASA.  One of those projects involves developing two prototypes using Google Sites software and other applications and features within the Google Apps Enterprise Suite.

I’m currently looking for 3 resources to help out with this pilot.  See below for details.

Project Description

The NASA Google Sites Projects will use Google Sites software (and other appropriate software applications within the Google Apps Enterprise Suite) to develop 2 prototype enterprise web solutions. The first prototype will explore Google Sites as a social intranet solution. The second prototype will explore Google Sites as a collaborative extranet that allows NASA scientists, researchers, and mission operations personnel to effectively and securely collaborate with trusted, non-NASA partners. Each prototype will be developed using content in existing legacy web content management solutions.

Project Timeline

Length of project is 2-3 months and will start on March 1.

Web Front End Design Engineer

Candidate will lead the visual interface design, information design, and information architecture of 2 prototype enterprise web sites to be built using Google Sites. Candidate will be responsible for developing the required Google Sites compatible themes, page templates, and Google gadgets required for the presentation of existing content within a Google Sites based solution. Candidate will also provide necessary documentation for use by resources tasked with content migration.

Required Skills

  • 3 years experience designing and implementing web sites/ web applications using front-end web technologies, including XHTML and CSS
  • Previous experience with Web content management systems and CMS templating features
  • Previous experience designing and implementing designs and information architectures for web content published with Google Sites

Content Manager (2)

The Content Managers will be tasked with the migration of content from existing web sites into prototype web sites built with Google Sites. This task will include the implementation and formatting and content into predefined templates and layouts.

Required Skills

  • Previous experience with online content management systems
  • Previous experience publishing content using web based content editors and publishing tools used for display of photos and images
  • Understanding of web templates and layouts
  • Understanding of web display technologies such as html

To be clear, candidates would be working for Dell Federal Government Services on a contract Dell has to provide I.T. resources at NASA Ames Research Center in California.  But I am willing to discuss the project and work with the right person located anywhere in the U.S.

If you are interested, send me an email at jj.toothman@nasa.gov.  Please include your resume; any web links that might help me get to know  you and your previous work; and your hourly rate if possible.

On the passing of Steve Jobs

And just like that, Steve Jobs was gone.

(Note: I rarely cross post the same piece to multiple blogs.  But in a tribute to Steve Jobs, I’m going to do so with this post.  Steve liked to say that he worked where technology met the liberal arts. His work crossed a lot of boundaries.  In that spirit, I’m going to share this on the many blogs I contribute to where the subject cross various boundaries.) 

I have always found it interesting to assess how I react to the passing of people whom I never got a chance to meet.  But despite that, they’re still people that have played a significant role in my life by inspiring me, adding joy, and impacting my life in so many positive ways.  It always takes me a while to collect my thoughts and find that proper clarity.  Clarity that helps me determine the proper perspective and context of the significance of the person the world has just lost.  As clarity emerged for me late last night, too late for me to start writing anything, I realized that the last time I felt this deep sense of loss (for someone who I had never met) was when Jerry Garcia died

Like Jerry Garcia, Steve Jobs infused a lot of joy into my life. Jerry did it with the sounds of his guitar, the songs he played, and the festive parties1 we both participated in.  Steve jobs impacted my life with technology.  Life changing technology.  As Steve would put it, it was (and is) technology infused with the  liberal arts.

I did not grow up an Apple user.  I do not have a story that involves my first Apple II. In fact, I learned computing on TRS-80s, Commodore 64s, and IBM PCs.  On those systems, I learned how to write programs in BASIC, how to operate MS-DOS, and how to launch computer games via the DOS prompt. 

Back in the 80s, my mother was involved with desktop publishing and, as you might expect, involved with evaluating Apple products and desktop publishing software.  My first exposure to Apple and the genius of Steve Jobs was the Macintosh she brought home to evaluate  The Macintosh – a personal computer with a graphical user interface that made a fun, somehow appealing deep tone announcing its presence whenever you turned it on.  Mom may have brought that home to evaluate for work, but I was the one really evaluating it.2 This only child found an instant playmate.  MacPaint.  Solitaire.  Just moving the mouse around and seeing the cursor move with you was a thrill.  It felt like…the future.

You would think that such an experience would create an Apple fanboy for life.  But it didn’t happen that way.  The main computer in the house remained an IBM PC.  That’s what got me through high school papers and college applications.  Attending the University of Vermont meant having a PC as well.  And so it went for me.  Developing early computing proficiencies that do this day have me primarily working primarily on a windows machine.  Nevertheless, the windows machines were life changing and would not be the same without Steve’s innovations with the graphical user interface.  I use computers every day.  Personally and professionally.  I can manipulate, absorb, and produce information in countless ways.  Ways I never would have imagined as a 13 year old boy.  If Steve doesn’t evolve personal computing with the GUI, I’m probably not writing this blog post right now. Or working in the job I have right now.  Or living in the house I am right now. Thank you, Steve

No, Steve Jobs didn’t start impacting my life with his own life altering inventions until the iPod came out. That was the first Apple product I ever owned. When I got one, my music collection was already spinning out control.  Having to select 10 CDs to take with me in the car or to work was not only hard to do due to having to think ahead about what I might want to listen to 4 hours from now, but also time consuming.  The iPod changed everything.  I could put the bulk of my music and have it at my fingertips for any moment. And it was the size of my wallet.  So small that it was easy to misplace. I once wrote that if my house was on fire, I would first make sure my family was safe then see if I could run back inside and grab the iPod. It was a device that infused my life with a constant soundtrack.  Thank you, Steve.

And Apple and I went from there.  The iPod was a gateway drug device. The iPhone. I can’t even tell you how much the iPhone has changed my life and so many others.  All this information from every corner of the globe.  In my pocket.  Thank you, Steve.

The evolutionary device of the iPhone, the iPad has once again shown me the future.  All I need to do is watch my kids with an iPad.  It’s just like when my Mom brought that Macintosh home.  I  have given my kids zero instruction with an iPad. They are three and five years old and they can both find a movie on Netflix, browse maps, play Angry Birds, and launch apps to help them learn spelling, math, and music.  It is the future.  My kids thank you, Steve.

They also thank you for Pixar. And the most impressive family friendly animated films the world has ever seen. 

The inventions of Steve Jobs continue to infuse the life of this family.  A family slowly morphing into an Apple household.  My wife now has a Macbook Air.  A machine so impressive that I myself have thought of ditching the windows laptop and purchasing one. 

It is perfectly natural, that I learned about Steve Jobs on his invention.  An iPhone.  I then used the same device to connect with friends on Twitter and Facebook.  And then used an iPad to read news stories and coverage of his death. His legacy and impact will be felt for generations to come.  It is hard to sound full of hyperbole with Steve Jobs.  He was the Einstein and Henry Ford of our times. He will be missed and there will never be another.

  1. aka Grateful Dead concerts
  2. Looking back, maybe that was Mom’s plan all along.  To see how a 13 year old boy can grasp the Mac with zero instruction and guidance.
open.nasa.gov Screenshot

open.nasa.gov launches to the public

Congratulations to NASA’s Open Government Team – Nick, Ali, Chris, and a few others I’m sure I’m forgetting – on getting their new website launched – http://open.nasa.gov.  The site uses the open source content management system WordPress1 to publish and share success stories as well as projects that promote government transparency and collaboration.

open.nasa.gov Screenshot

I have intimate knowledge of everything the team went through to get this site launched. And as it is with anything having to do with the inner workings of the federal government, this project met its fair share of bureaucracy, repetitive debate, and internal politics.  I’m pretty sure they had to jump through a ring of fire, solve the debt crisis, and return the ring to Mordor before getting this site released to the public.2

But as much as I could praise their perserverance in seeing the project through to the finish line3, I’d much rather highlight and applaud the site’s visual and information design. As a admirer and practitioner of minimalist web design, I believe that interface design should get out of the way and let content shine through.  Simply put, the best web design lets the content speak for itself.  NASA possesses visual imagery that makes up some of the most compelling content anyone has ever seen.  I’m happy to see that open.nasa.gov was designed and developed in a way that I notice the site titles, logos, and navigation only as the functional elements that they are; and not the design and branding elements that they are often deployed as.

I wish I could say the same of every NASA web site.4

  1. Hey, just like this site does.  Those guys chose wisely.
  2. No. Not really.  Except possibly the ring of fire part.
  3. A lot of that bureaucracy stuff is often utilized to make projects organically drop off the radar
  4. Especially, this one