Every other month, Staff Notes Monthly spotlights a
stochastically chosen staff member. This month we profile John Clyne, a
software engineer in the Visualization and Enabling Technologies Section
John Clyne. (Photo by Carlye Calvin.)
An ambition to race:
John's dream when he graduated from CU in 1988 was to become a
professional bike racer. Computer programming ranked a distant
second in his interests. In fact, the main reason he took a
programming job at NCAR was because it was a half-time
jobleaving plenty of time for building up endurance. "My
first priority was bike racing when I graduated from school," he
says. "I raced all over the western states." He still remembers a
pre-Olympics trial in 1992 in which his strongest competitor was
an intense young man from Texas. "Lance Armstrong," he recalls,
"pretty much decimated the field."
What bought him to NCAR?
Bike racing aside, John's route to NCAR took a few unpredictable
turns. He was ten when his family moved from New Jersey to Denver.
Even though they moved to North Carolina three years later, he
always wanted to return to Colorado, which is why he decided to
attend school in Boulder. At CU, John planned to concentrate on
aerospace engineering, but computer science caught his interest.
"I like problem solving, and I like math," he explains. He first
came to NCAR for a project in his senior year that involved
translating computer graphics metafiles. He helped develop ctrans,
an interactive translator that is still in use. "It was purely
circumstantial," he says of the events that brought him to NCAR.
"It was really no vision on my part."
Racing vs. programming:
John became a full-time programmer in SCD in 1990, and he got a
master's in computer science the following year. Although still a
dedicated racer, he gradually began to reassess his racing goals.
"I was beginning to see that the other racers were advancing much
faster than I was. I just looked at the odds of what it took to
become professional. There are very few riders who can make it to
the top, and I thought the odds were pretty slim." By the time his
second daughter was born in 1997, "it was more of a hobby than
anything else." Instead, he became increasingly immersed in
creating visual representations of climate models.
"The most gratifying thing":
One of John's primary responsibilities is turning large data sets
into graphic representations. By showing scientists full-color
images or animations of their data, he can help them gain insight
into their models. "The most gratifying thing is when scientists
tell you that without this [visualization] tool, they never would
have understood their data as well." John also takes pride in
helping scientists investigate pressing environmental issues, and
some of his favorite visualizations show the earth warming
dramatically because of global climate change. "They don't have
the gee-whiz pictures, but because of the content they're
inherently interesting." The viz lab also produces three-
dimensional movies that highlight NCAR's modeling work. "We
provide scientists and the public alike with a window into NCAR
As computers have become more sophisticated, John has seen major
changes in the visualization field. "What you used to do on a
half-million dollar supercomputer, you can now do on a $2,000 PC.
We have the ability to analyze results for data sets that are much
larger than the [ones] we analyzed ten years ago. I do a lot of
visualizations now on my desktop." As a result, John is optimistic
that more and more scientists will begin to use visualization as a
tool to analyze their models. "I think it will become more widely
used because of the cost issue. It really opens a lot of doors for
the scientific community." He notes, however, that technological
companies no longer focus on the needs of scientists and engineers
when developing new tools. "All the innovation we see in computer
graphics hardware targets the gaming community. If we, the
scientific and engineering community, need functionality that
isn't of interest to gamers, we simply don't have the numbers to
influence the market."
Looking forward to the commute:
While Front Range residents grumble about the worsening rush-hour
traffic, John's eyes light up when he talks about his commute. The
former racer lives at the base of the Mesa and rides his bike to
work. "Biking up the hill every day is one of the things I enjoy
most about working at NCAR. I don't have traffic. I just get up
and start riding up into the Flatirons."
John's office is filled with pictures of his wife, Andrea, a
psychologist with the Boulder Valley School District, and their
two daughtersMargot, 6, and Michaela, 4. He enjoys going
mountain biking with his family, especially in Winter Park. "I
spend a lot of time with my kids. They're a lot of fun."
In this issue...
Other issues of Staff Notes Monthly
Edited by David Hosansky,
Prepared for the Web by Jacque Marshall
Last revised: Wed Aug 8 15:59:34 MDT 2001