Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Best Use for Java

In theory, I like Java. Strongly object oriented and platform agnostic, I want to like it. Unfortunately, I don't. Almost* every application I have used written in Java is quirky, bloated and has an unpleasant interface. But, there is one use of Java that I have always applauded: web-based applications for scientific visualization.




Visualizing a ripple tank, animated and fully interactive fascination


Java turns out to be a great way to provide simulations on web pages, and there are quite a few very nice ones out there. Recently, a colleague asked me about antenna radiation visualization software and in the process of researching the question I stumbled into a veritable treasure trove of just the kind of Java applet I appreciate.

Paul Falstad in a fit of prolificacy has produced an impressive menu of math and physics visualization applets and put them on the web for all of us to mesmerize ourselves with. They are very well done, and offer interaction and both 2- and 3-dimensional views. Warning: You might want to be sure you don't have anything important to to do for a while before you visit that link.

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* Cyberduck, the very nice OS X FTP/SFTP client was written in Java but used the Cocoa API to make it indistinguishable from a native OS X application. Cyberduck lives on here but I don't think it uses Java any more. However it is really spiffy and worth checking out as it has grown many new abilities.

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