Web Frameworking

It seems to be the wrong time to be reading such things, but over on InfoQ there’s a nice article introducing web development of RESTful services using Erlang and the Yaws high performance web server.

I say “the wrong time” as this week has kicked off the “Advancing with Rails” course by David A. Black of Ruby Power and Light fame. The course is fairly advanced in terms of required rails knowledge so it’s a bit of a baptism by fire for me and a few others having never written any Ruby before.

Rails is proving moderately easy to pick up but as I’ve remarked to a couple of people, it doesn’t seem any easier coding with Rails than with Perl. Perhaps it’s because I’ve never done it before but I reckon it’s a lot harder spending my time figuring out what the heck DHH meant something to do than it is doing it myself.

Even though it’s nowhere near as mature, I do reckon my ClearPress framework has a lot going for it – it’s pretty feature-complete in terms of ORM, views and templating ( TT2 ). It has similar convention over configuration features meaning it’s not designed for plugging in other alternative layers but it is absolutely possible to do (and I suspect without as much effort as is required in Rails). I still need to iron out some wrinkles in the autogenerated code from the application builder and provide some default authorisation and authentication mechanisms, some of which may come in the next release. But in the meantime it’s easy to add these features, which is exactly what we’ve done for the new sequencing run tracking app, NPG to tie it to the WTSI website single sign on (MySQL and LDAP under the hood).

Interactivity Experiments

For a few months now I’ve been watching utterly compelling and inspirational HCI things like these:

I know most of them are a bit dated now, in fact from as far back as 2006, but they’re still jaw-droppingly awesome.

So in a fit of inspiration and weekend project madness and frustration at the clumsiness of a regular touch-screen LCD I’ve been picking up things from Ebay and fishing around in my boxes of knackered electronics to find components suitable for assembling one or two of these sorts of devices.

There are two types of these interactive interfaces – the JCL-style wiimote-based ones which use bright sources of infrared, either transmitted or reflected and the bluetooth Nintendo controller; and the second is the Jeff Han / Perceptive Pixel -style of frustrated total internal reflection or FTIR where infrared is reflected out of a planar surface and is picked up by a camera similar to the one in the wiimote.

Anyway, costs so far:

Wiimote: ~£28; old infrared remote control for filters & LEDs: free;

Philips bSure XG2 projector: ~£180; Philips SPC900NC: ~£30; 4.3mm CCTV lens (no IR filter): ~$12

I’ve been having trouble making the bluetooth pairing for the wiimote work correctly under OSX 10.3.9 – I think it’s about time I had the laptop upgraded – it’s work’s after all. I think that should fix it for OSX, but I have had some success – this evening under Ubuntu with the Bluez stack and libwiimote I’ve been able to capture events from the wiimote including spots using the IR camera. I’ve also been successful using camstream with the SPC900NC and CCTV lens to capture spots from working TV remotes, both directly and reflected from a wall – it’s surprisingly effective!

More to come – next with the wiimote interface I need to build my whiteboard-marker battery-driven IR LED pen. Next with the FTIR display I need to experiment with a few different types of perspex and rear-reflection material. I *really* want to be able to perform pattern recognition similar to the reactable and I don’t think tracing paper will work for rear-projection. Knowing next to nothing about plastics technology I think I’d like to try frosted acrylic first, or maybe just finely-sanded regular acrylic. Ebay here I come again!

Development Communications

For a while now, more or less since I switched teams (from Core Web to Sequencing Informatics) I’ve wanted to write more about the work we do at Sanger. There’s so much of it which is absolute cutting edge research and a very large proportion of that is poorly communicated both inside and outside the institute. Most of it’s biology of course, which I know little about, and couldn’t discuss in detail, GCSE being the furthest I took things in that direction.

However some of the great advances have been in big IT. We’re in the same ballpark as CERN’s high-energy physics and NASA’s astronomical data. Technology is something I understand and can talk about here.

So… I run the new sequencing technology pipeline development team. This means I and my team are responsible for ensuring efficient use of the Sanger’s heavy investment in massively parallel sequencing instruments, primarily 28 Illumina Genome Analyzers. To do this we have a farm of 608 cores, a mix of 4- and 8-core Opteron blades with 8Gb RAM and a 320Tb shared Lustre filesystem. It seems to be becoming easy for users and administrators at Sanger to toss these figures around but the truth of the matter is that whilst this kit fits in only a handful of racks, it’s still a pretty big deal.

The blades run linux, Debian Etch to be precise. The Illumina-distributed analysis pipeline (itself a mix of Perl, Python and C++) is held together with Perl applications (web and batch) which also cooperate RESTfully with a series of Rails LIMS applications developed by the Production Software team.

Roughly a terabyte of image data is spun off each of the 28 instruments every 2-3 days. The images are stacked and aligned and sequences are basecalled from spot intensities. These short reads are then packaged up with quality values for each base and dropped into approximately 100Mb compressed result files ready for further secondary analysis (e.g. SNP-calling).

More to come later but for now the take-home message is that the setup we’re using is in my opinion a fair triumph, and definitely one to be proud of. It’s been a (fairly) harmonious marriage of tremendous hardware savvy from the systems group and the rapid turnaround of agile software development from Sequencing Informatics, of which I’m pleased to be a part.