Broadened Horizons

The past month has been a tiring one yet, as it would turn out, a satisfactory one. Exams are always a stressful period, for anyone taking them, and this is compounded when you have a Project Report due on an experiment that just refuses to work. However, exams are over and the report has been completed and submitted (and soon hopefully marked). It is fantastic to be able to sit down and not have to constantly think whether or not there is something earth-shatteringly important that I should be doing right now. Even better news was the fact that I have already passed two of my exams, and hopefully a third if mid-semester results are anything to go by. The best news was delivered via telephony less than 10 minutes after putting down my pen in my last exam.

Horizon: The Planetarium

I am pleased to announce that I have been selected as the newest addition to the team at Perth’s Horizon Planetarium as a Planetarium Presenter. While the selection process is not as gruelling as some other professions, I like to think that my unique set of skills and experiences will make a fantastic contribution to the Horizon team.

Thus we come to the final section of today’s post, where I like to make some unfounded claims, pre-broken promises, and generally set myself up to disappoint others. Now that my schedule is lighter, and I have figured out some sort of plan for the immediate future to save myself from drowning in commitments like I usually do, I plan on three posts a week for the next month. Small (relatively) easy goals are the way forward to a more productive me, I think. Let us see how things go, hey?

Today’s links of pure awesomeness:

  • Like zombies? This is a really interesting look at the way augmented reality might be used in the near future. Personally, I am foaming at the mouth with excitement for what this could do to a DnD campaign. Are you listening Wizards?!?
  • It turns out that Call of Duty 4 is actually making me a better driver. This kind of study usually makes me really sceptical, however I must say that the ABC science team have actually written something that does not sound too skewed and biased for a change, and that makes me very happy. Small victories are better than flat-out defeats, I guess.
  • I am a regular reader of Dan’s Data and rarely find myself glossing over what he writes. This obviously means that I find what he writes to be interesting; this article is no exception. I agree with almost everything he says here, and I think people should look at the way they use computers with this article in mind. Also, I think people should cut their whinging and whining, and simply make the effort to learn how to use these contraptions. I never tire of listening to people tell me that computers “should just work”, thus absolving the user of any and all blame. This is doubly true for people who complain about bad coding, but this is a rant for another day.
  • Speaking of computers – This is possibly the most amazing case-mod I have ever seen. Actually, I do not think it can be called a case mod; there were no real modifications, so much as being built out of raw awesomium and refined into awesomite. Called Edelweiss, it truly is a thing of beauty. Something I would be proud to have sitting on my desk, seriously, this thing would be in photos inside my wallet!
  • This just makes me angry, especially when I am looking at starting up a small business myself in the next 6-8 months. To slam small businesses with fees like this is outrageous to the point of being purely malicious. Seriously, how can the be surprised when we torrent all out music and television episodes? The answer to Piracy is not to increase tariffs and taxes, that is how you ENCOURAGE it!
  • Finally, I do not think I have ever seen someone make a heartbeat sound so epic!

Link-o-la-la-la-lia

After a week of pretty much constant all-nighters and terrible food, I have found what little solice I can in nostalgic 90’s songs. After coming across a torrent for the Top 250 Hits of the 90’s I have found myself in an inexplicable spiral of depravation. If you hear me singing any of these tracks, please give me a friendly tap on the face with your fist.

In the meantime, look at some of these fantastic things I have found while desperately trying to procrastinate!

  • The only magazine I would consider buying has done another fantastic article on the Terminator. The movie tie ins are obvious, but the content is interesting independently (see previous post).
  • I always feel compelled to let everyone know when important astrophysics comes out of Australia. Just click this link to find out why.
  • Keeping the astronomy theme going, these are the only pictures ever of a shuttle in solar transit. Read up for how he did it, which is the truly amazing part!
  • This is just freaking cool! From the same guy who brought us that fantastic Steampunk IBM keyboard and the amazing Steapunk Laptop, don’t be too shy to delve deeper into his site and look at all the other fantastic creations within. May hat is eternally tipped in respect.

Alrighty now, back to it. This project does not write itself… little bastard that it is.

Beauty and Unlikely Places

I am sure there is an obligatory joke about many-eyed cavern dwellers of questionable alignment, but this past week I have been seeing some truly amazing images in the most unlikely of places. While I have always been a strong supporter of the inherant beauty of bubble chambers, today I would like to share some more abstract pieces.

This chap has turned old cassette tapes into something truly amazing. My personal fav is definitely Mr Smith of Cure fame; the surly look is perfectly rendered in magnetic tape splendour!

Using X-Rays to see inside of things is something we take for granted, but someone has decided to use them to artistically show the innards of our favourite objects. The nostalgia aspect of seeing inside a SNES holds particlar sway over my heart.

What possessed this man to actually do this, I do not know, but the result is truly breathtaking. Is there a little artist inside every Roomba, trying to break out? Part of me kind of hopes so.

Of course, what better way to finish the day than with a perspex blue glowing COIL GUN!

These Troubled Times

Will code for food
Creative Commons License photo credit: pvera

Quitting ones job right at the beginning of a global recession may seem an unwise decision. Some have led me to believe that the act showed a lack of foresight or planning; or common sense. I like to think that walking out on my job just started a global trend. While the lack of income has stopped me from doing some of the things I really enjoy (eating, bathing, etc), I have been resourceful in funding the bare necessities (internet, electricity, etc). Getting a teaching position at my University was a fantastic move, though a stopgap measure in the long run. What I truly have found myself poor of is time. Between my classes, my Astrophysics Project, and instructing the public in key survival techniques; there is little interesting to talk about, and less time to say it in.

Of course, talking about space just makes me want to start paying Mass Effect again; something that is beyond my power until my computer is restored to a respectable standard. One thing that I have been doing to help me forget the woeful state my computer is in, however, is playing a lot of Xbox 360. Namely: GTA IV. I full well understand how far behind I am in the grand timeline, I just never expected myself to buy a 360 to be perfectly honest. The act of purchase itself was one of my last while working at that godforsaken place, somewhat akin to a last ditch attempt at trying to validate all those hours toiled away in futility. I do not regret it.

Next: A Segue!

Time To Wear Your Golden Nose!

Tycho Brahe and Bjorn
Creative Commons License photo credit: bjornman

It is the International Year of Astronomy and you are all invited. Since this is the first week of the new teaching year at my University, and this is my (theoretically) last year of my Astro degree, what better time than now to quickly talk about all my favourite celestial endeavours that are happening this year.

  • ->  The AEGIS project is a utilisation of the worlds three largest land-based telescopes plus the orbital Spitzer and the aging Hubble to analyse a ultra-high resolution strip of the sky smaller than your little finger nail. 56k users beware, these images are approximately 20mb each (and there are a lot of them) but I promise you, the result is fucking breathtaking and truly humbling.
  • ->  How do scientists use such a stupidly high res photo? Why, on the worlds highest resolution monitor bank, of course! Anyone up for a game of Crysis?
  • ->  If you like your astro pictures to be more “Desktop Worthy”, then The World At Night project is another fantastic undertaking. Go now and start your wallpaper crusade!
  • ->  Want to know how to take those photos yourself? You would be amazed just how simple it is (and how expensive it can become once the addiction gets its claws in)
  • ->  I am amazed that my favourite blogospheric misanthrope has not made mention of his inspired avatar.

 

Last but not least, I promise this is the last time I mention Windows 7; this guide is a glimpse of how to make the new OS really work.

7th Evolution

After what I believe is an intensive test of the Windows 7 beta (build 7000), I am pleased to announce the official verdict: Jolly Amazing! Microsoft’s Terms and Conditions prohibit the posting of benchmarks during the course of the beta, and I for one completely agree with their reasoning. It is all well and good to know how big your numbers are, but a huge majority of what you use your OS for simply cannot be represented by pointless numbers. Chances are, with the current program architectures, XP will probably still pump out higher numbers in some areas; XP will probably get a higher 3DMark score for example. However, these numbers do not reflect how you interface with your computer and never will. Hopefully, the following should give you a much better idea of just how much of a pleasure I find this new GUI is to interface with.

Windows 7 Beta Desktop

The first impression is very much a “Oh, it is Vista?” reaction, but this only lasts a brief moment. Quickly you notice the lines seem sharper, more defined and cleaner than vista. There are the usual Quick Launch icons next to a familiar Windows button bottom left, and a System Tray looking thing bottom right; only on second inspection do we realise neither of these are what they seem.

Windows 7 Start Area (Illuminated)

Starting with the Application Bar and Start Menu in the bottom left, I must say I like that new glowing Windows button. Here comes our first big revelation and an indication that maybe things are different. The Quick Launch and the Task Bar are now the SAME THING! This is a difficult concept to explain as it goes against everything the typical windows user knows, however I will try my best. The Quick Launch icons will sit happily where you expect them to be, until you open their respective applications. As you click the icon, the application loads; it’s Task Bar icon now Replaces the Quick Launch icon, preserving it’s location in the grand order. The amount this reduces clutter is unfathomable. Suddenly I feel compelled to have a Quick Launch, which is something I would always remove in favour of more desktop real estate. In addition, new instances of the same program automatically stack on the Application Bar.

Windows 7 Beta Application Bar

There is a graphical indication of how many deep the windows are stacked; in the screen shot I have one Windows Explorer instance, two Firefox 3 instances, two Pidgin instances and one Adobe Photoshop instance. Windows Media Player 12 (yes, a new WMP to review, but not today) is not running, yet it’s icon will remain there for rapid deployment to your desktop. As you can see, hovering over an application will show you a dynamic thumbnail of the instances open, allowing you to hot-switch without hesitating. Another feature not seen in the image is the glassframe map that appears on the desktop as you hover over each application/instance. Read on for a better explanation in the section on the Notification Area.

Windows 7 Start Menu

Let us click on that new pretty Windows button, shall we? The Start menu looks much like it’s Vista counterpart, and as far as I am concerned behaves almost identically. The only new feature brought to the table here is the inclusion of a hover-activated context menu on applications that have multiple files accessed regularly. Those little right-facing arrows will expand to a list of recently opened files on Photoshop and Notepad, where as Dreamweaver has not been opened yet (but will most likely use the same feature when I save/open some files with it). Now, an update requires Windows to restart, so I will meet you back here after the boot.

Windows 7 Notification Area

Always a good time to be productive! The Notification Area (often mistakenly called the Task Tray, System Tray, combinations thereof, etc. Microsoft maintains it’s correct name is the Notification Area) looks much the same as previous incarnations of the OS, and behaves accordingly. To expand the Notification Area we no longer slide sideways, but pop upwards. I guess that is new… not really a feature though, is it. Nothing new here except the empty nub of glass on the far right. Let us click it and see what happens.

Windows 7 Show Desktop feature

OH! As soon as our cursor approached the button, all our windows turned into pieces of glass! A clean and intuitive representation of where all the windows are located is displayed; clicking the button minimises them all to the desktop. Much the same as Windows+D function(s/ed), the command gives you quick access to the desktop, only now it does it with style and aplomb! Personally, the feature is somewhat gimmicky, especially for those who already use hotkey combos like they are a second language. I have to say though, I reallly like it, and now that it is there I find myself using it all the fucking time. Sometimes I will just hover, look at my gorgeous Desktop Wallpaper, and then go back to work. Crazy!

Next: Applications! Batteries! User Account Control put to the pasture!