2008 has been a bittersweet year. Turning 40 turned out to be far more fun than it had any right to be - an old friend got married a few days later, so it pretty much turned into a school reunion. Lots of fun.
What did catch me out this year was the death (often untimely) of a great many people who's work I admired. I don't want to get all morbid but they have all influenced me and I wanted to recognise them. If you encounter a name you don't recognise then please check them out. They'll probably make you think or make you smile, and the best one's will do both.
Arthur C. Clarke (science fiction writer), Gary Gygax (game designer), Humphrey Lyttelton (Jazz trumpetor and radio broadcaster), Lance Latham (programmer, horologist and author), John Wheeler (physicist), George Carlin (stand up), Stan Winston (visual effects designer), Erick Wujcik (game designer), Randy Pausch (computer scientist), Ken Campbell (Fortean theatre director), Geoffrey Perkins (radio producer), Levi Stubbs (vocalist), Mitch Mitchell (drummer), Oliver Postgate (animator), Bob Spiers (director)
The most import interface element of the Computus Engine will be the perpetual timeline. I want it to be infinitely zoomable from the smallest chronon out to the billions of year since the Big Bang. What's more I wanted to at least prove this was possible by the end of the first year. I admit posting it at the end of December is really cutting it fine but thanks to 2008 being one second longer than usual, I made it!
Infinite Timeline demo
The demo above is a little clunky, it's not interactive and it loses a few labels after it's been running for a while. It does however prove the infinite zooming concept works for time. All you need to do is supply a start and an end value (they can be Dates or raw millisecond offsets) to the timeline and it'll render the rest. Period rendering in the demo is limited from seconds up to millennia.
For the demo I'm applying a multiplier to the start and end values every frame. This is a really hacky way of getting animation but it's fine for this. There's very little in the way of optimisation yet other than a bit of object pooling on the labels and it's still running pretty well. I have a ton of ideas for future versions that will improve performance.
At times it felt like it's been slow going but I'm glad to have something to show for the end of the year. A lot of what you see makes use of the preparatory work I've written about over the course of the year. The UI components for example all extend the BaseComponent class, and the Date class is used extensively to manage period transitions.
Full Screen Preview
The last problem I needed to overcome before I could demo anything was how do I demo a timeline (which needs to be as wide as possible) inside a journal entry which is only 470 pixels wide. The new full screen preview app above is my proposed solution. This is a light little preloader movie that will load any demo on request and preview it in full screen. When you're finished hit ESCAPE and you will return to the journal. I'll write a bit more about this in a future post but I've tested it for a few weeks and it seems to work well.
A few months ago I covered the Antikythera mechanism, the 2000 year old clockwork calendar and astronomical device found in the Mediteranean. In the video below former Science Museum curator Michael Wright demonstrates the first fully complete reconstruction of the mechanism.
The video was shot by New Scientist and Nature journalist Jo Marchant who has just finished a book about the Antikythera mechanism called Decoding the Heavens.
One big advantage a web site has over commercial software is ease of update. You don't have to re-burn CDs, create patches or distribute vast amounts of software updates to your end users. You update your web site once and every user from then on is served the new content.
From the viewpoint of an archivist however this ephemerality is a major problem. It is very difficult to find out what a particular news site looked like at a specific point on a specific day. Projects like the Wayback Machine have made valiant efforts to archive the web there are many sites that just change too quickly to track it all.
Zoetrope is a research project currently being developed at Adobe which aims to offer temporal browsing of web pages. Although details on the archival process are sketchy the video below shows the power of temporal browsing. For example content changes can be scrubbed using a timeline. Sections of pages and even individual data sources can be linked, compared and visualised over time. This looks like a really exciting project and as I understand there will be a temporal markup language and API.
via MIT Technology Review
As we draw closer to the end of 2008 ( International Year of the Potato and the Assistance Dog ) I noticed that we can't yet bid farwell to the International Year of Planet Earth. Although it began in January 2007 and ran through that year and this, it's not scheduled to finish until the end of 2009. The calendar year represents one revolution of the earth around the sun. I think someone at Unesco needs a basic lesson in astronomy.
Luckily 2009 has been designated International Year of Astronomy (and International Year of Natural Fibres, which I'm less excited about). If you are interested in astronomy then be sure to check out the 365 Days of Astronomy podcast. There will be one short episode (6 to 8 minutes) every day next year, and contributions are open to amateurs and professionals alike. I'm really excited to be contributing a little piece about the Equation of Time. I'll post more details in the journal in the new year.keep looking »