I’m really starting to hate December. Of all the worst times of year to have a big expo, January has got to be the poorest choice you could make if you were trying to make people miserable on purpose. The basic problem is that everybody wants to have something new for MacWorld, including Apple (and us of course!). No new super powered MacPro’s for Christmas for you buster, you gotta wait until January! New laptops, new devices, the world is a buzz with new hardware and software products being released in only a little over a week. I was so ticked off by an advertisement e-mail I got from Apple a few weeks before Christmas; “Gear up now so you can write it off for the 2007 tax year!”. Please. Everyone on the planet knows that except for a bump in the number of cores, the MacPro hasn’t been updated in over a year. Intel has released the new processors, Stevie boy just wants something to yack about in January!
Well, if I sound a touch psychotic, that’s because there’s a good bit of that going around Bisque these days. We too have some shiney new toys to release on the world, only we haven’t been sitting on them, we have been working like mad the last couple of months to make sure we are ready on time, and that we don’t ship something “rushed”… talk about your basic conflict of interest scenario.
Seeker, the product for which I am responsible will have a nice (downloadable for free) 1.1 update out by MacWorld. Most of the programming work this last year has been geared towards getting the Dome version of Seeker ready. The update contains some very substantial performance improvements, as well as bug fixes to be sure. Most exciting is the new content for Seeker, there are several new satellites models and new moons. The Earth’s moon has had a complete face lift and is (if I dare risk saying it) the best and most realistic real-time 3D rendering of the moon I have ever seen. When flying to the moon, you can actually see the “man-in-the-mon”, or the famous rabbit (hey, I’m part native American, maybe that’s why I always see the rabbit before the face). Lochness has also contributed some more nice narrated tours, most of which show off the new eye-candy (and you might just learn something!).
I’m also responsible for two other very small “surprises” for MacWorld that I’m hoping won’t be “surprises” for Valentines day instead. If you see me at the booth feel free to pick on me if I’m only showing off Seeker (nothing like upping the pressure ante!).
Of course, I’ve saved the best for last. For the first time in over six years, a brand spanking new version of the Sky is shipping for the Mac. TheSkyX (Student Edition) is an OS X native (and universal) application that will run on both Tiger and Leopard. It’s the biggest update to TheSky ever as the entire application (well, the entire GUI) was re-written from scratch (which is why the serious and professional versions will be rolling out in a few more months). The user interface is also radically different from previous versions of TheSky (i.e. easier to use), and the graphics are stunning. One of our competitors is going to have to change all their ads in a little over a week ;-)
The old Mac version of TheSky5 was written by just one programmer, who left Bisque (and actually now works at Apple on the iMovie team). That pretty much orphaned Mac development for a time. This time, the situation is much different. A whole new set of cross platform tools and API’s has been standardized on, and just about all Bisque programmers are working on Macs at least some of the time (I won’t tell you who the one hold out is, but I’m working on him). Tom even bought one for home ;-) I’m not saying everyone is “switching” (but I’m not so sure Daniel isn’t getting close!), but the Mac platform is a first class platform at Bisque along side Windows. There is even a good bit of Linux work going on behind closed doors. Cross platform code tends to be more robust (has to be) and bug free because it provides an immediate test of code quality (different compilers, OS’s etc.).
TheSky has always been Steve’s baby, but I am proud to have made my little mark. I did some of the underlying OpenGL framework, and I have two small features that I will claim as my own that I’m quite proud of. The first is the OS X red screen mode. I just happened to have snagged the correct Apple developer at a WWDC lab, who showed me some undocumented API’s for doing this. The result is not even possible on Windows (no, it’s not some stupid red gamma ramp… which we had to settle for on Windows), and is unmatched by anything else on the market. Ok, yeah, I know it’s only red screen mode… sometimes I’m easily amused.
I also did the planets in TheSkyX when you zoom in on them. This was probably the hardest programming task I have ever done. The rendering was easy enough (didn’t even use the Seeker planet rendering code), but the math to get the poles correct as they would be seen from earth was quite a challenge (at least for me). I did what seemed obvious, but made a small error so it didn’t work. I then went on several wild goose chases, then finally when flipping though the USNO references, I saw a diagram that reminded me of my first approach. Turns out I was right to begin with, but had made a stupid sign error! (Oh, how I remember professors who would not give partial credit when you were only off by a single +/-… that day they were vindicated!). Saturn is my best showcase. The orientation of the rings, the extent of the shadows on the rings, they match almost to the pixel the images generated by JPL’s on-line simulator (which isn’t real-time). Oh yeah, my little magnum opus buried in TheSkyX ;-)
Come and see us, we’ll be in Booth #W-4341
01-06-2008 12:56 AM