Dan is a Renaissance man, equally at home tweaking a database or handling a rare manuscript. Over the last few years, Dan has led a range of fabulous projects sharing the riches of the University with the wider world – from the Shahnama Project, which brings together ancient manuscripts from the galleries of Medieval Persia, to the planning for future scholars involved in DSpace. “I like nothing better than a problem,” says Dan: for him, recognising a problem is the first stage on a journey which will lead to the problem being solved. Of course, he’s often found that, especially on major research and development projects, the problem transforms itself during the process. One of his major project, the Darwin Correspondence Project, has a timescale of over 25 years, and with Dan’s help, has moved from a print-based project of niche appeal to an incredibly popular web-based resource.
However, Dan is modest about his role, part of his programming philosophy being that computer programming should be the easy part of a project. He regrets the change in educational software that he’s seen over his lifetime: “The really good education software was written in the day when it was written by teachers. It was closer to the teacher’s educational aims, although perhaps the graphics weren’t pretty!” Dan hopes to reverse this trend in software projects and return the programming power to the subject expert. “After all”, Dan says “it’s often easier to teach programming and design to the specialist than to teach the specialism to the software developer.” As such, he’s working on a number of projects which aim to allow the specialist to take charge, using the tool exactly as they like.
After work, Dan relaxes by writing, and at the cinema and theatre. “I dont have any ambition to publish, which gives me an incredible freedom to try out different things,” he says. ‘Different things’ means everything from short stories to one-act plays, and experimenting with the styles of everyone from Dylan Thomas to Charles Dickens.