Last week I stumbled upon a really cool application called ascii.io. It provides a nice mechanism for capturing a terminal session and then subsequent video playback. It is implemented as a Python script which seems to be little more than a glorified keylogger. It records what you type (as well as the timing of each keystroke), as well as what is printed out to the terminal. When you finish recording your session, all of this logged information is pushed to the ASCII.IO server and a unique ID and URL is created for the session just recorded.
Here’s a cute little sample I just created.
So how does this relate to biology? It’s no secret that high-throughput sequencing and other “big data” technologies are changing the way biology is done. Many of the best tools for managing and analyzing biological data are available only through the command line. Familiarity with the command line and the ability to process and analyze data using command-line tools is a skill set that is increasing in demand every day, as evidenced by the number and frequency of introductory bioinformatics seminars/tutorials/workshops coming to a campus near you.
The command line is still a mysterious place for many a biologist. Static text or graphics on a web page can only go so far in explaining what the command line is and how it is used in biology and bioinformatics. A tool like ascii.io can make a boring tutorial come alive, making it much more clear what the user types versus what a command prints to the terminal, etc. The benefit of ascii.io over, say, a more traditional screen video capture program, is that storing the text associated with a terminal session is much less bulky than storing video data–especially at the resolution required to make a terminal session clear in a Flash player.
The ascii.io app is free, open source, light weight, and a balanced part of your next bioinformatics seminar/tutorial/workshop!