Recently, I enjoyed the opportunity to solve and implement a simple web interface problem. The result would not be considered profound or unique by Internet professionals, but nonetheless, it certainly is a powerful application of basic web technologies that allow the seamless flow of information making each of our lives richer and more efficient. Most importantly, I started from scratch and figured out how to do it.
Now, I will emphasize, once again, that this project was not revolutionary or particularly complex. However, for my personal skills it was an exciting project to learn techniques and scripting technologies that I have not yet had the opportunity to experiment with before. So, for me, it was new. It was interesting.
The development process did not follow a simple trajectory from starting point A to ending point B. Rather, it was a swirling mess of discovery, error-checking, problem solving, more discovery, more problem solving, and even more problem solving. I fell deep into a pool of experimentation and testing without a clear map of what route to follow. I did not know for certain that I would be able to solve the problem within a reasonable time frame or without a more experienced coder handing me the solution. So, my personal morale sank a bit, yet, I tried to stay focused and dedicated to solving the problem on my own.
Then, in a near sudden moment of clarity or luck — or something — my head reached above the surface of the pool and I discovered the one particular bit of code that would solve the problem. It was a rather satisfying moment.
This rather sloppy process which I experienced is not uncommon in the community of research scientists, both professional and amateur, although not necessarily frequently admitted nor acknowledged. It is a process that can be quite debilitating to many, with constant discouragement and setbacks that might cause one to question their own worthiness to be employed in a scientific field. However, it might be this unnerving and irrational path toward discovery that is the very essence of what is required to stumble upon something new in Nature. Recently, Uri Alon of the Weizmann Institute of Science presented an inspiring talk for TED that links the realization of new ideas to the stumbling through a messy path of discovery that he terms “the cloud.”
While one is fumbling around inside this “cloud” of research, the key element is to remain positive and creative. Prof. Alon takes his own experiences from improvisational theatre and music and connects performance tools from these creative arts directly to the creative processes that occurs inside the research cloud. As Dynamic Patterns Research is a proponent of and an active participant in the mixing of science research, education and outreach with the creative arts, the Alon approach of creative cloud scientific research is quite inspiring to our own interests. Even with the simple coding project of creating the Airport Status interface, this experience was a creative opportunity. Here, the developing of the underlying code resulted in a presentation of interactive art: a creative process that other people can play with and respond.
Taking a random walk through any creative process, from science research, code development, performance art to the written word or the integration of all of these expressions — and having the confidence to do so — should not be a scary or disappointing approach to progress, but one that is embraced, encouraged, and even required for discovery.