Welcome to the Web, Said the User to the Fly . . .

Welcome to the Web, Said the User to the Fly . . .

Establishing Cal State L.A. as the center for virtual applications
within the California State University system, the Chancellor's
Office last year awarded Robert Desharnais (Biology and Microbiology)
and Gary Novak (Geological Sciences) a $23,000 grant from its
Academic Opportunity Fund to develop a World Wide Web site featuring
software designed by the two professors and Roland Carpenter (Emeritus
- Physics and Astronomy). Already on the Web is Virtual FlyLab,
a version of a software program Desharnais developed in 1992 as
part of CSLA's "Electronic Desktop Project" under a
National Science Foundation grant. The campus provided matching

FlyLab, in which students can mate fruit flies with visible mutations
in their own on-screen experiments, is used as a genetics teaching
tool in CSLA biology courses and is also in great demand by educators
throughout the country, now that it's available on the Web.

The uniqueness of the new Virtual FlyLab, say its authors, is
that it allows users to do more than just retrieve information
from the Web. Science students conduct experiments, test and
reject hypotheses, and have the advantage of powerful technology
in their own school labs, on any Web-connected computer. (Until
recently, FlyLab, Earthquake, KaryotypeLab - which lets students
experiment with chromosomes - and other applications, including
some in English composition and computer art and animation, were
only available to people using computers running the NeXTSTEP
operating system.)

Of course, Novak and Desharnais remind us that the programs really
are spiffier on a computer running NeXTSTEP: "You can drag
the fly wherever you want, you can magnify details of the fly,
and the graphics are superb," Desharnais says of the original
FlyLab, pointing out how some text is visible through the fly's
translucent wings as he drags it across a computer screen in the
CSLA's NeXT lab.

When Virtual FlyLab went on line, it was an instant success. "Someone
immediately listed us as a 'Cool Site of the Day' for July 2,"
says Desharnais, who notes with awe that "we suddenly went
from several hundred 'hits' daily to 50,000!" Now, according
to Novak and Desharnais, the "hits" have stabilized
at 5,000-8,000 a day, with people already lining up for Novak's
Earthquake program, which soon will be Web-available as a virtual

If you're on the Web, you can access Virtual FlyLab from your
computer: type http://vflylab/ for on-campus Web users, and http://vflylab.calstatela.edu/
for the rest of the world.