Tuesday, 2 April 2013

What I'm working on

So I realise I haven't exactly been writing much on my blog so let me say a little bit about the projects I'm currently working on.

Obviously, I have been doing lots of visiting schools (as that is my job) but perhaps more interesting is the stuff I do around that, in the spare bits of time during the day or outside of work hours.

For the past little while I have mainly been helping out with the updating of telescope.org. Chris has done all the actual work in getting everything working, but a good portion of the design (new logo, pictures, layouts etc) has been my doing. Web design is not something that I've really done much of in the past and not something I thought I would enjoy but I've been finding it a lot of fun.

I'm just now resuming work on something that I was working on before we started to update telescope.org and that is a new FITS viewer.
You may have used my flash fits viewer to view your images from the telescope. It currently lives on the 'edit' tab of the page where you view your completed requests. It was the work of a summer a few years ago to create. It was built in flash because it really needed to be something that worked in all web browsers, whether that be the usually up-to-date systems most people have at home/work or the often hopelessly outdated systems we encounter in schools. Everyone here was rather sceptical that an image processing tool could be made efficient enough to run in flash, but I managed it (albeit with limited capabilities).

The work-in-progress
WebGL FITS viewer
As new web technologies have started to emerge, it is now becoming possible to build a much more powerful applet, that will still run in the web browser (as long as you are not foolish enough to still be using internet explorer). This is possible through the new capabilities of HTML5 (and specifically WebGL, which allows web applications to harness the power of your graphics card). I am working on this project entirely in my free time. My reasons for doing it are partly to help bring telescope.org to the forefront of technology and partly for my own personal reasons: I really like making pretty pictures of space (that's what I use my request slots for) and I've yet to find a decent fits editing tool that does what I want but doesn't cost hundreds of pounds/dollars/euros. So I might as well just make my own.

New features that I hope the completed viewer will have include:

  • All the things the current one does (adjusting min/max/gamma, colour adjustment, alignment of colour channels etc)
  • Massive performance improvements
  • Stack and combine multiple images (with weighted stacking)
  • Luminance channel as well as red/green/blue
  • Define whether each individual frame is luminance/red/green/blue (or some combination)
  • A large array of customisable filters (such as sharpenning, curves adjustment, hue/satturation etc)
  • Apply filters to only specific parts of the image (masking)
  • Save image to your computer from within the applet (or share on social media sites)
  • A full screen mode for working in full-resolution
  • A user interface intuitive even to people that don't understand what the above means
  • Lots of other little things.
It's still a way off being finished (and even further from being integrated into telescope.org in some way) but it's already at the point where it can create some pretty nice images. I'll probably put them in a separate post.