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Tom Comeau


picture of Tom Comeau
My Field Journals


I'm a Computer Scientist on the Archive Team. Most of my time is spent designing and implementing changes to the Hubble Data Archive. Most of our changes are to support external changes, or to add new capabilities for astronomers using Hubble data. For example, we recently made a change that allows astronomers to have data sent directly to their computers, rather than having to log into one of our computers. I'm currently working on changes to support the second Servicing Mission, which will install two new instruments in early 1997.

I decided on a career in Computer Science about halfway through college. I was studying to be an actor/director, and realized that I didn't have much of a voice, and can't dance very well. I had taken several computer courses, and found it interesting and enjoyable work, so I changed majors and concentrated on math and computer courses. After college, I worked on several different kinds of problems, including switching and control systems for networks (like the Internet), and hospital Pathology lab automation, before coming the Institute in the late 80s.

The best thing about my job is that the system I work on, the Archive, has all the pictures and other data from HST. Nobody gets their data unless my system works, which is pretty neat. So we keep looking for ways to make the system better. The worst thing about my job is that we have all the data, so if the system doesn't work, lots of people are yelling at us to fix it! So we spend quite a bit of time and effort improving the Archive's reliability.

As a kid I read a lot, especially science and science fiction. Though, as a kid, I didn't realize I would be working on such a neat science project -- I wanted to be on stage. If you want to do science, you have to be able to do math. Math is hard, but it also has many applications, from figuring out the stock market (not interesting, but can make you lots of money) to figuring out why sometimes stars explode (very interesting, but not much money).

Several people influenced me, both in learning in general and in learning about math and computers. My grandfather taught me to read at a pretty young age, and let me read lots of different things. Reading lots of different things has kept my brain flexible, and able to handle new ideas. Teaching me to read, and to love reading, is the second best thing anybody has ever done for me.

A professor in college taught me a lot about how computers worked, and tutored me in Calculus when I was afraid I'd never learn enough math. The main thing he taught me was that people who like math, especially math teachers, are suprisingly willing to work with students who want to learn, even if they are having trouble learning.

Another student, a woman getting her PhD in astronomy, worked with me on some models of red giant stars, the kind that make novae and supernovae. She taught me a lot about astronomy and physics, which has made working the Archive and looking at the HST pictures much more fun.

I mentioned above that reading was the second best thing that happened to me. The best is that my wife is pregnant, and is due to have a baby girl around the first of May. While that's wreaking havoc with my schedule, I'm looking forward to having a kid of my own!

And I've gone back to school again! I'm taking a screenwriting course, and working on two screenplays. Who knows, maybe I'll end up back in the movies after all.

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