UCAR > Communications > Staff Notes > September 1995 Search

Masters of the New Medium:
SCD's Digital Information Group Is the Webber's Friend

So you've learned a bit of hypertext mark-up language (HTML). You know how to plunk a home page onto your division's World Wide Web server. You've put in a couple of links to graphical interchange format (GIF) images.

What next?

There's a new group in the Scientific Computing Division that is devoted to helping you and your colleagues put the best possible pages onto the Web. The nine members of the Digital Information Group (DIG) were recruited from various groups within SCD to form a new unit this summer as part of a divisional reorganization. They are now at work assembling tools, building templates, and answering questions for all of us in NCAR, UOP, and UCAR.

Understanding the significance of the World Wide Web's exponential growth, SCD/DIG is encouraging staff to explore the benefits of acquiring and producing information in digital form. "In addition to its numerous advantages and great potential, digital publishing is lots of fun," says Greg McArthur's head (shown accelerating upward at the left of the image). The original image was taken with a low-cost, low-resolution digital camera that eliminates the film development and printing process; it allows images to be downloaded directly from the camera to a computer accessible from a Web server. The image shown here was hastily modified by Jim Petruzzelli and Lynda Lester (DIG) and Carlye Calvin (Graphics Services) using Adobe Photoshop.

DIG is headed by Greg McArthur, NCAR's Webmaster and a tirelessly enthusiastic proponent of the Web. "I want to see if we can migrate the whole culture from wanting a printed document in the hand to discovering and using information from the Web," says Greg. "We want to make screen interfaces so intriguing and appealing that people will want to look at the Web-based information instead of a print version."

SCD has gotten a head start on this paradigm shift. This year the division has ceased print publication of virtually all its documentation, with everything now available through the Web and Gopher interfaces. Print documents that remain, such as SCD Computing News, can be found on the Web with color photos and some electronic-only touches. (The final printed issue of SCD Computing News appeared this summer.) Other NCAR divisions and UCAR programs are making their own splashes on the Web; see below for a sampling.

Last fall the NCAR Annual Scientific Report (ASR), produced primarily for the NSF, became the first major institutionwide document to be published in a Web-only format. Greg worked with the divisional contacts for each section, many of them novices to HTML coding. Each division retained its own formatting style. Users could print out a section or the whole document with a simple command. NCAR saved tens of thousands of dollars by not printing the hefty document. "My belief is that people usually want subsets of information," Greg maintains. "They might want pages four through nine, for example--they don't necessarily want to print out the whole book."

One-stop shopping

The members of DIG are roaming far and wide on the Net to see what approaches and tools are being used by other entities, public and private. "I've mandated that our staff go out for at least an hour every day and surf the Web," says Greg. "I don't care where they go, just so they get out there."

Ideas gleaned from the group's surfing will be put to use in creating templates that will be made available to anyone in UCAR. For instance, each NCAR division is receiving a template for use in building this year's ASR.

You'll be able to get more than templates from DIG. The group will soon release to all users Web pages with icons, color bars, and other graphic tools that can be copied and used a la carte in developing and designing your own Web pages. In the SCD tradition, you can also get one-on-one consulting and advice on Web page creation.

Greg notes that the philosophy of user-friendly Webbing is a hot new field. "In the first generation, a year or two ago, we were asking questions like, How do forms work? We're past that now. We're asking, How can we make forms easier to use? How can we make them more intuitive?" At some point, Greg hopes to remake the NCAR Web site in that spirit. "I'd like to move away from the organizational path and rework it completely based on what we do--research, facilities, support."

One of the more problematic aspects of Web production is verifying that one's pages will work for all clients (such as Mosaic and Netscape) and platforms (Macintosh, PC, Sun, and others). To address this problem, Greg and his group have assembled a suite of clients allowing the group to make sure that various techniques are functional and aesthetically acceptable on all platforms.

In these days of chargebacks, users will be pleased to find that DIG's services are gratis. "We've had to wrestle with the fiscal issues. Should we charge divisions for what we do? So far we've decided no--this is part of our fundamental purpose. I think it's something the whole institution needs."

Putting Web heads together

Despite the anarchistic nature of the Internet, many people recognize that some sort of consensus is needed on how UCAR and its programs are presented to the rest of the world on the Web. UCAR vice president for corporate affairs Harriet Barker is organizing an institutionwide Web Council, with representatives from UCAR, NCAR, and UOP (see list below). This group will be the focus for considering policy on Web use and working to hammer out such items as a copyright and disclaimer statement for institutional home pages. For details, contact Harriet, ext. 1657, harriet@ucar.edu, or Susan Friberg, ext. 1658, friberg@ucar.edu. A separate group, which will work closely with the council, will allow Webmasters from each division and program to share ideas and resources. Contact Greg, ext. 1813, gregmc@ucar.edu, for more information.

Meanwhile, the Web will play a major role in a new NSF-sponsored project to enhance and unify the data services offered throughout UCAR. Principal investigators for this three-year effort are SCD director Bill Buzbee, Atmospheric Technology Division director Dave Carlson, and Unidata director Dave Fulker, in close coordination with the NSF's Cliff Jacobs. The idea is an outgrowth of an all-day forum on data services held in February at the Mesa Lab, followed by a March workshop. The proposal can be viewed on the Web at http://unidata.ucar.edu/staff/dave/completed/datawx_proposal.html< p> With the Web universe expanding at warp speed--was it only two years ago that Mosaic was a curiosity?--Greg sees his SCD group as a cadre of scouts exploring the far reaches of Webspace and coming back with information we can use. "When the Web first started, it was primarily flash and dazzle. People were sitting around wondering, Is this really going to take off? Now virtually every major city, company, and government unit has the Web. It's not a flash in the pan; it's the way information is going to be distributed.

"But there's an impossible amount of new stuff every day. Nobody has time to keep up with it all. That's where this group comes in." --BH

A New Abode for Our Web Servers

This month is moving time for the NCAR and UCAR Web servers. SCD's Jeff Boote is packing up the servers and putting them on a more spacious host computer. Along with added capacity, the move will permit a virtual firewall to separate external and internal versions of each server's contents. This will make it easier to post items for staff-only perusal and harder for outsiders to break into other SCD machines via the Web. Once the move is complete, around 1 October, the UCAR server will have a new name: http://home.ucar.edu/, replacing http://ucarwww.ucar.edu:8080/. Accesses at the old address will be automatically routed for the time being. NCAR's server will remain at http://www.ucar.edu/ and UOP's server (which isn't physically moving) at http://www.uop.ucar.edu

Members of the Web Council

Harriet Barker, chair
Sally Bates
Susan Friberg
Dale Kellogg
Karon Kelly
Greg McArthur
Kathy Strand
Joe Vanandel

Some Web Sites of Interest

Here are a few noteworthy pages offered through division or program servers on the Web. There is far more available than we can list here, of course. The only real way to surf the Web is to dive in.

Atmospheric Technology Division
Beneath a gorgeous logo is a varied collection of reports, newsletters, field facility pages, deadlines for facility users, and other links. You can view the current weather conditions at FL1 and see dramatic imagery from the Eldora Doppler radar's sojourn into tornado country this spring.

Scientific Computing Division
As befits the Internet nerve center of the institution, this site has plenty: complete and searchable documentation through the Information Resources Catalog, current job queues on SCD machines, easy subscribing to special-interest e-mail lists, and showy graphics from recent high- performance computing collaborations.

University NAVSTAR Consortium
This page serves the many institutions that are part of UNAVCO as well as the consortium's UCAR-based staff. An extensive data archive includes maps and details on more than 1,400 receivers around the world that monitor tectonic motion through Global Positioning System satellites.>

One of the earliest and most ardent users of the Web, Unidata offers a wide spectrum of software and support services on its page. Check the Internet Data Distribution section, where Unidata's newly decentralized mechanism for shipping data to more than 130 sites is tracked via up-to- the-minute histograms. The main page's "Links to Elsewhere" is comprehensive and far-reaching.

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Edited by Bob Henson, bhenson@ucar.edu
Last revised: Wed Mar 29 17:37:11 MST 2000