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Jury Duty and Sky & Telescope
Richard S. Wright Jr.'s Blog

Today I have been called for jury duty, and as I write this, I wait in the jury selection room. I brought things to do, but it’s not like you can plumb the depths of... well just about anything with the uncertainty of having to jump up any minute and be whisked off to a courtroom. I’ve just finished my November issue of Sky & Telescope, and so now it seems like a good time to update my blog. It is amazing to me that so many people show up for jury duty and don’t even bring anything to read. They tend to interrupt and start conversations with nearby people who are reading, or trying to answer e-mail ;-)

First starting with Sky & Telescope, the November issue has a nice review of Seeker by Joe Heafner. I don’t know Joe personally, but I’m a big fan of his book “Fundamental Ephemeris Computations”, and it was an honor to have such nice comments about my work made by him. Aside from a few minor (but valid) nits, the article was a great testimony to our hard work on Seeker. I think Joe will like our next release even more. In addition to date related issues, there are more moons, more spacecraft, and more pre-made tours coming. Some of the existing moons have also been substantially improved – I’m in love with the new version of the Earth’s moon that will come with the next Seeker release, the old one looks down right embarrassing in comparison. There are also going to be a lot of things from Seeker-Dome (tentative name) that are spilling over into the desktop version too. There are substantial performance improvements, and I can’t emphasize the word substantial enough. Some changes to how tours are managed, and a few things that I’m surprised hasn’t given us more grief (every programmer can tell you they find the occasional bug that surprises them that it ever worked before the fix).

Also coming will be support for the Space Navigator SE ( I have received e-mail requesting support for this device, and Mark Petersen over at Lochness says he loves his (I had the pleasure of having dinner with him last week at a conference). I played with one of these at SigGraph and talked to them about Seeker and they said they would send me one after the show (and thus, don’t buy one from them there). I never did receive it, and thought about contacting them about it. Just before Triple Conjunction (see later), I just decided to buy one as they are so affordable, and I downloaded their SDK and sample code. It looks very easy to integrate, and at least for people trying to fly in a dark room (be that a planetarium, or a class room), it sure is easier than using the keyboard and mouse on a Mac.

Speaking of which, I might mention coming joystick support on the Mac. Seeker currently supports just about any kind of joystick or game pad you can plug into a Windows machine. On the Mac, this kind of programming is... well shall I say “barbaric”? There are many rumors and conspiracy theories about Apple’s lack-luster support of game (or game-like!) developers. On Leopard however, the API’s for this are much better (largely in response to game developer noise), and I will (eventually) add joystick support for Leopard. This still isn’t terribly high priority, but at least under Leopard it is something I’m certain can be done in less than a month!

My plan for the Space Navigator was to integrate it last week in the evenings. Steve and I went to the Triple Conjunction planetarium conference and I (foolishly) thought I’d have some down time to play with this thing. It’s a pretty cool looking device, and I’m mildly surprised airport security didn’t confiscate my suite case and have it destroyed in a remote area. Anyway, back to the conference, holy cow! Planetarians are a crazy bunch (I mean that in a nice way, and if you were there, you know what I mean). It’s non-stop from first thing in the morning to well after midnight every night. There was hardly time to stay on top of my e-mail, much less spend a few hours quietly plumbing the depths of some new SDK and hardware device. We were too late to get a vendor booth, but our friends at e-planetarium hosted us and were very kind to let us show our software in their dome, and put some literature on their table. Really, the e-planetarium folks (and in conjunction with the Houston Museum of Natural History) are development partners for Seeker-Dome (and some of them are rapidly becoming friends, and not just associates). Tony Butterfield is a super guy, and has tons of experience in dome technologies. I’ve learned a ton from him, and he has contributed a lot to my dome rendering technique. I had the great fortune to run Seeker and tweak code while using their mirror dome system (which by-the-way, is the most cost effective means I can imagine for achieving high quality full dome video). I’m excited too, because we are helping the Seminole Community College planetarium set up a mirror dome system. This is only a few miles from my home in Lake Mary, and it means moving forward, I have both a commercial fish eye system (thanks to Joanne Young at AVI) and now a 30’ full dome mirror system (thanks to Derek Demeter at SCC) available for testing and refinements. Overall it was a great and valuable week for us. We are almost certainly going to be at IPS in Chicago next year, and should have a dynamic duo ready to go that planetarians can use to supplement their full dome systems.

I’m still waiting to be called for a jury. Friends have counseled me on the various techniques to get out of jury duty, and I must admit to at least being tempted to spout something about cruel and unusual not really being unusual if you do it to enough people, but... alas that danged honest streak kicking in. One of the more interesting non-astronomical things Steve and I did was tour a cold war era submarine at the Pittsburg Science Center. It gave me a first hand look at the sacrifices the men and women in the armed forces make when they are called to service. Considering the zero risk of going home in a wheel chair or a body bag, much less the extreme hardship that a spacious air conditioned building presents... well, to shirk my one or two days of service would leave me feeling dirty and ashamed. I’d like to think I’m smart enough NOT to get out of jury duty.

Posted 10-15-2007 11:39 AM by Richard Wright


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