F&M professor emeritus delves into app design, programming

By Clarissa Grunwald, Staff Writer

Jay M. Anderson, Richard S. and Ann B. Barshinger professor of computer science, emeritus, has spent the past few years developing math-related apps for computers and mobile devices. Despite retiring from the College in 2009, Anderson maintains connections with members of the F&M community that he communicates with during his app

production.

Trained as a chemist, Anderson taught at Bryn Mawr University in the 1970s; after teaching himself programming, he eventually became a professor of computer science. Anderson accepted a professorship at F&M in 1988 to teach computer science while continuing his education in the field — when the iPhone came out, for example, he took classes at Big Nerd Ranch, an intensive retreat for programmers, on how to develop them.

Anderson believes his interest in lifelong learning is attributable to his experiences at small liberal arts colleges, both as a student and as a

professor.

“I often tell people that it’s a tribute to the kind of institution I attended [Swarthmore] and the kind of institutions at which I’ve taught [Bryn Mawr, F&M] that I ended my career with a named professorship in a subject which I didn’t study— and could not have studied— in college,” he said.

Although his interest in developing software, especially software for students, began while he was a professor, Anderson’s work in app development has blossomed since his retirement from the College in 2009. That year, the iPhone app store accepted his first app, Fractal Editor, created through a joint effort between Anderson, Annalisa Crannell, professor of mathematics, and students. The app was a success, receiving more than 10,000 free downloads. Recently, Anderson rewrote the program for Mac; it was accepted by the Apple Mac app store  Feb. 10.

Anderson has helped other students generate math-related apps, as well, including Convex Hull, Triangulation, Voronoi diagram, and Frustumator. As with Fractal Editor, these apps are intended to make difficult mathematical concepts accessible.

“I shared with [students] my materials from classes and workshops I’d taken in software development,” he said, describing how he teaches students app design and production. “At first, we had two iPod Touches which they used as the ‘real device’ to test on. I would continually caution them about Apple guidelines, which are sometimes very strict, and work with them to achieve a usability which would help our clientele and also meet Apple’s standards.”

Anderson has also programmed several apps on his own, including iTalk at Moog: The First 100 Words, which helps teach students with severe hearing loss; PricePer, which calculates price conversions; and Sally Sentence, an app for beginning readers. Many people Anderson is connected to through F&M suggested the ideas that eventually became these apps.

When designing or consulting on apps, Anderson tries to make them as self-explanatory and user-friendly as possible. He also believes that a good app should work on the iPad as well as the iPhone and, if possible, should be available in multiple

languages.

Currently, Anderson is working on creating an app that small museums can use to create audio tours for visitors. The app will take advantage of Apple iOS 7’s iBeacon technology and will benefit museums that want to give visitors a tour, but cannot afford to pay guides. To work out the challenges of an app on a smaller scale, he is programming a similar, but simpler, guide to the 14 Stations of the Cross as a test at St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church, which he attends.

Anderson hopes to continue making apps that will benefit students and community members, both at F&M and in the world at large.

 

First-year Clarissa Grunwald is a staff writer. Her email is crgunwal@fandm.edu.        

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