Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Announcement: Shameless Self-Promotion

Yes, I feel terrible...not really. But I'd like to point my wonderful and loyal 6 readers...well, I'll admit, I wasn't expecting much, but only 6? Well, back to the point, I'd like to direct you to my new blog at 6point5.wordpress.com which is more...well, unspecific. More specifically (yeah, I noticed I just said "unspecific"...just bear with me here), this newer blog will be much more geared towards my literary pursuits. In fact, please read and comment on my first post, titled, "On the Benefits of Walking", in which I approach walking from a philosophical point of view and speculate on the origins of utter mindlessness when running, here's an excerpt of the 771 word essay:

Whether it is some primal instinct, or maybe it’s just because I’m slightly mentally retarded: I can’t think when I run. When I run, my mind simply disappears. It’s not like day dreaming, or even dreaming. I simply cannot think while I run. I would venture to say that it is quite possible that the reason I can’t think while I run may be due to some antediluvian impulse passed down through generations of homo sapiens that perhaps originated from an omnipresent desire to capture food. What I mean to say is...

Yes, I am cruel aren't I? You'll have to visit the blog to see exactly what I meant to say. But anyways, do not feel that your subscription to this blog has been in vain! I will continue to update this blog. I plan to update both blogs whenever I can. So again, thank you, 6 readers, for your subscriptions. I hope you decide to stick with this blog. I plan to cover a lot more websites and programs. It's taking a while because I am looking for unique websites and programs, not previousley covered by MakeUseOf, Lifehacker, or Mashable. Well, so long for now! Thanks again!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Stellarium: A Stellar Addition to your Desktop!

Well, it's summer now and if you're like me, the first few weeks of summer are the best. And what better hobby to take up than astronomy!? For those of you out there who can't find the moon with a telescope...well, same here. But no fear! Stellarium is here!

Stellarium is an open-source desktop planetarium that allows you to look at planets and stars in "real-time". Although the images are virtual renderings, the time will automatically synchronize with your system clock and show you exactly what you can see in the night-sky at whatever time your using the program! Which means, for those of you I mentioned earlier (who can't find the moon with a telescope), just bring out your laptop and problem solved!

The program itself is not complicated, there are many options that allow beginner users to customize the program to fit their needs. First off, you will want to set your location. Stellarium is automatically set to Paris, France (no idea why), so you'll have to change it to where ever you are. After that, you can play around with the background image and atmosphere. The background image is basically the surroundings. You can head over to the Stellarium website to download more background images which range from Stonehenge to Mars. There is also an option to turn off the background image so you appear to be floating in mid-air. In addition, you can toggle the atmosphere on and off. Personally, I like to keep it off. The atmosphere somewhat obscures your vision around the horizon, especially if your time is set to around sunset (this is a more relevant problem now, during summer, when the days are longer and sunset comes later); therefore, if you toggle the atmosphere off, you can get an unobstructed view of the stars. Stellarium can also be switched between equatorial and azimuthal mode. I'm not going to get into the details of this but basically, a telescope is in either one of those modes. When you select a star, galaxy, planet, or any other celestial object, the coordinates are shown as well as any other information about the distance, diameter, etc., meaning, if you can find an object with Stellarium, you can find an object on your telescope. And if you don't have a telescope, you can always use a pair of binoculars, or even the naked-eye! In fact, astronomy originates from naked-eye viewings of the sky.

For you amateur sky-watchers and professionals, Stellarium has more complex features. In addition to downloading "star-packs" which contain more stars and far-flung galaxies, Stellarium allows you to toggle "night mode" on and off. Basically, you won't want to be glancing at your computer screen often when you're outside sky-watching. The reason being, exposure to white light hinders your night vision, making it harder to notice faint objects in your telescope. You could wait 2 minutes after looking at your computer screen, but I doubt anyone has the patience for that. However, with "night mode" on, all the lighted areas, save for the stars, are turned red. The significance of this is that your night vision is not impaired by red light. Besides, it makes you look kind of sinister and cool when your bathed in red light and tapping away at your keyboard. Well, I could go on forever about all the features Stellarium contains, but why don't you check it out yourself?

As always, you can click on the screen-capture above for a link to the site. If you have any questions, feel free to ask me, or head over to the Stellarium wiki, which is linked to on the main page. Happy sky-walking...get it? Like Luke...Skywalker...sky-walking...kinda rhymes with sky-watching, but not really...?! Never mind. Upon further reflection, "sky-walking" makes no sense whatsoever.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Prison...uh, I mean, Prism

Yes, Prism. Prism is the latest project by Mozilla Labs to grace my desktop. I'm usually skeptical about new software and I'm not too fond of undeveloped projects, but, I just couldn't resist Prism. Prism is downloadable on a separate platform, or as a Firefox extension. What is does, is it turns any web page into a web application. Meaning, you can turn you Google Calendar page into a separate Calendar application; all with its own desktop icon, quick launch icon, and more! In fact, that's exactly what I've done; I've uninstalled Mozilla Sunbird and changed my gCal page into a desktop app! Prism allows you to save you login information so that I can quickly log in to my calendar page and email.

So...Prism is like a prison how??
Well, I guess that conceivably you could "imprison" yourself with Prism. You see, I have a detrimental habit of going off tangent when I'm online (Ah yes, FDR's New Deal of the 1930s...hmmm, "new deal on used textbooks"!). Thus, I have created a desktop application for almost every site I use extensively, i.e. Yahoo Mail, Google Calendar, Encyclopedia Britannica, etc. Because Prism operates like a program, there is no address bar which eliminates the possibility of getting off topic! Yes...it's a cruel practice...but necessary.

Yeah, that's how I reacted when I found out about it...well...sort of...okay, maybe that was an overstatement. Anyways, Prism is available for download on Windows, Mac, and Linux. Here are some links:

Download Prism for Windows
Download Prism for Mac OS X
Download Prism for Linux

Download Prism for Firefox 3.0b3pre or greater [extension]