Tuesday, February 07, 2006

High in the Skies

It's a slow day at the house. I'm home with Alvis. She has an ear infection and can't go back to school until tomorrow.

So, while surfing the web I found a couple of interesting software picks--freeware of course!

First pick: Stellarium.
Stellarium is like having your own planetarium, on your pc. I really like this one. Set up was pretty easy. Once running I had to set the screen size to match my monitor size so it wouldn't look funky. Then I selected my home location using a world map. This is very easy, as opposed to figuring out your longitude and latitude locations. You can pick from several ground-scapes--mountains, fields, trees, etc. You can add/remove a fog effect. Once you get all the settings tweaked you are presented with a view of the sky and the stars and constellations are clearly marked. Planets are as well. You can rotate your view among the compass points. You can also speed up time so you can view the sky at a future point in time. Capture screenshots. Really fun. I don't have the fastest graphics card, but it didn't have any problem with drawing the images. It was all very smooth. The only "gripe" I have is that you can't run it in a window. You can alt-tab to other applications, but in my case--running a dual monitor setup--switching apps causes Stellarium to minimize to the tray. So apparently no checking out the constallions while surfing the web for more info on them.

Second pick: Celestia
Celestia is a real-time 3-D astronomy modeling program. It lets you get off the ground and out into space. You can fly anywhere in the galaxy. Zoom around planets, moons, and stars. For additional fun, you can install additional modules into Celestia from The Celestia Motherlode site including: Solar System objects, Spacecraft, Deep Space objects, and even fictional items from 2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Wars, other spacecraft and stations--and let's not leave out Star Trek!. For something really off-beat, try looking at the "Journey Through Planetary Space" based on a Jules Verne story. The default application includes a really fun tour overview. I encourage you to run this after you have loaded it. It gives a really great show of what this program can do. Highly recommended!

I took a couple of astronomy classes in college and really loved them. Many year ago I got into a "space" kick again and picked up a Meade Polaris telescope. I was able to actually see the moons around Jupiter. Really cool. The only negative thing was that the tripod and adjustment arms were made pretty cheap. It was hard to get anything really stable. And since the earth's rotation causes distant objects to drift out of the view relatively fast, it was hard tracking objects for an extended period of time. More expensive telescopes can be had with motors that do the tracking automatically, but my interest wasn't so great to spring for those. It came with a star-charting application (on a floppy!) that was pretty good. I long since lost the floppy and these are way-cool better. On clear nights, though it is fun to get out and look at the sky.

Sea and Sky has some good links for Astronomy Software. And Astronomy magazine is a great reference site for astronomy news and information.

Pick three: GreatNews
have about 25 Internet sites I keep an eye on all day long. Having to check each one via bookmarks for updates would be pretty annoying. By using an RSS feed reader, I can with once click, see which sites have updated items and what those items are. I tried GreatNews out for aGreatNews is an RSS news feed reader. It is a standalone application--meaning you don't run it in your web-browser. I have become really dependent on RSS news feeds at home and work. I while this morning. It is a really clean and well put together application--but I don't think I will switch just yet from Sage, the RSS feed reader that is an extension for Firefox. First, I do all my web-browsing in Firefox. I often play "follow-the-link" and end up on some real treasures. Sage allows me to quickly add the RSS feed and go. With GreatNews, I would have to browse in it to find new sites, or copy the feeds over from Firefox into GreatNews--they just aren't integrated with the way I surf the web. Also, I don't have a ton of feeds--yet. So Sage fits my needs for now. Finally, I had to hand copy each of the feeds I subscribe to in Sage over into GreatNews since it uses XML format files for import and Firefox doesn't export except in an HTML format. I suppose there might be some scripts to allow conversion, but I didn't find any quick and easy ones. That's not the fault of GreatNews, but makes switching a little more time-consuming. However, it did have some features that will keep it on my system: First it is FAST! I updated all the feeds I moved over into it in about a second or two. Sage can take up to a minute. Second, I really like the way GreatNews allows you to create folders and group feeds. That make so much more sense. I can arrange my Sage items up and down in a list, but I haven't been able to make groups/folders yet. Finally, it allows you to filter the views so that (if you want) you can view only new news items. Definitely worth a look.

I don't watch the Super Bowl. I may watch some college football games, but I have long-since left professional football behind. Still, I had to keep the TV last Sunday afternoon so we could watch the commercials. Isn't that American? Now I find that GoogleVideo and iFilm both have almost all the commercials that aired during the Super Bowl on the web for viewing. Great. Now they tell me. Some are pretty funny. My favorites are a tossup between Mastercard's "Macgyver" and FederalExpress "Stick" ads.

Not Super Bowl related--just plain scary: Poodle Fitness Video.
Also crazy-wacky: Napoleon Numa Numa

Tech tip finds:
Another method to (maybe) make old Firefox extensions work in a new build.
Firefox 2.0 Alpha release this week?
Handbrake now out in a Windows version--great for porting your DVD/video content to your iPod Nano.

RocketBoom + CSI = Fun Cameo!
Last week Lavie and I were watching CSI and imagine our surprise when during the episode we caught Amanda doing a RocketBoom clip for the show! Neat! More info here. Naturally, she had to go and then run a RocketBoom spoof of the submission! Classic.

See you in starry skies!

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