My name is Joe Lapp, and here is where I list the projects I'm working on. I live a dual life as an arachno-naturalist and a software architect. I'm studying spider taxonomy as part of a larger effort to help citizen scientists learn to identify spiders, and I'm creating software technologies that I hope will usher in a future in which everyone naturally contributes to our taxonomic understanding of the world. My focus so far has been on reducing the friction between people and data, particularly data input and representation.
I conduct spider programs for children, parks, and educators in and around Austin, Texas, where I'm known as Spider Joe. I also curate spiders for the University of Texas at Austin Biodiversity Collections, formerly under John Abbott and now under Alex Wild. My software development background is broad and includes embedded systems, network protocols, parser technologies, relational databases, and dynamic web sites. I'm best known for contributing to numerous XML standards and technologies.
I have an injury complex that makes it painful for me to sit or to stand in place for long. This makes it difficult for me to do much of my favorite activity—writing. I decided that there had to be a way to accurately enter characters into a tablet or mobile phone at touch-typing speeds, so that I could write productively as I moved around. In 2011 I came up with a way to do just this.
The approach I found is now patented (patent #US 10082950 B2), and I'm now employing it to develop a gesture system that replaces the virtual keyboard in Android and iOS products. The gesture system works on any sufficiently sensitive multi-touch touchscreen.
There are no virtual keys in this solution, and there is nothing about the interface that a person needs to see. The user moves the fingers forward and backward while keeping the hand stationary relative to the device in movements that look like tickling. As with touch-typing, the user can keep his or her eyes on the text being input—or on the surrounding scene, about which user might be taking notes or writing poetry. CLICK HERE to read an introduction.
I enjoy sharing my passion for spiders with people and intermittently conduct spider programs for the public and for private groups. I prefer to take people out walks to look for spiders and talk about the spiders we find, although I will do presentations to pack a lot of information in a short amount of time for educators. I focus on showing people how surprisingly amazing spiders are, and I focus on the everyday spiders we see and not the ones typically found in pet stores or on TV shows.
I have scaled back the number of programs that I do and will gradually be sharing the material and approaches I've developed over the years on my new blog ArachnoJoe.com. Be sure to follow me on Twitter too.
Spiders were once the only animal I feared, and now they are my favorite animal to study. Biodiversity fascinates me, and it turns out that spiders are more hugely varied than dragons in fiction.
I wanted to know the names of the spiders I encountered, so that I could look them up to learn more, but I found that most spiders could only be identified by killing them and examining them under a microscope. This put me off until I decided that I would photograph the spiders live before killing and identifying them, so that the spider's sacrifice would have been for the greater good of all spiders. I now regularly photograph spiders so I can post their identities alongside their photos on the web.
Most of my effort so far has been with the crab spiders found on flowers (thomisidae) and with ground spiders that mimic ants (corinnidae). I have discovered species not previously known to Texas and possibly one new to science. I'm trying to determine characteristics that make it possible for non-specialists to identify these spiders without killing them.
Being a programmer immersed in biological taxonomy, I'm seeing potential software solutions to problems that have gone unaddressed. I wrote a program that help me compare photos of different parts of spiders so I can organize the spiders into groups that might represent different species. As I attempt to organize photos on my hard drive and on web sites, I'm getting a sense of how to expand my comparison tool to serve a broader purpose. I'm now developing a server that will host people's photos so that they can be organized according to the rules of biological taxonomy.
This taxonomic photo server will allow people to work together to compare photos for the purpose of determining and documenting the characteristics that unite and distinguish groups. That is, the server will also allow for the collaborative development of interactive taxonomic keys. In addition, the server provides an opportunity to model an approach to representating data that I hope could make the internet more able to capture and repurpose the expertise that everyone contributes online every day.
I love to move, and fortunately with my injury complex, movement is still good for me. I practice an art that I call "improvisational Tai Chi." This art combines improvisational dance with Tai Chi technique. Done slowly with focus on breath, it serves as a centering meditative practice. Done more rigorously, it provides a creative form of aerobic exercise. Done as a group, with less focus on technique, it provides a way for adults to run around and laugh like children.
With the help of friends, I'm developing the techniques needed to teach the skills of improvisational Tai Chi. I plan to start a school for sharing all this with others and for leveraging other people to help me continue to grow.
I love to write. I love technical writing and creative writing. My career has given me plenty of opportunity for technical writing, but over the years I have managed to find some time for creative writing too. I write to make people smile, to explore deep cosmic questions, or to highlight wisdom in nature. Most of my works are under 300 words.I plan to share my writing on ArachnoJoe.com, both past works and new. I have also experimented with extremely short, illustrated pieces on SpiderBabble.com, but I plan to decomission that site soon.