Archive for February, 2011

An idea I’ve had kicking around in my head for a while is a desktop wallpaper of the earth, with a realtime display of night and day as the world revolves. For whatever reason, I started looking into it last week.

I found a couple of web sites that display about what I was looking for (1, 2, 3), but hacking Windows 7 to display web content on the desktop isn’t really my style (Active Desktop functionality disappeared with Vista’s Sidebar and 7’s Gadgets, I discovered).

Anyway, while reading about how one of the sites generates the images they display, I discovered a few programs that do what I was looking for, and after reading through the descriptions it seemed the perfect program was Xplanet. It’s used to create many of the maps on Wikipedia, enough to warrant an internal page with a tutorial on how to create maps for Wikipedia articles. It can display images from any point of view in our solar system you’d like, and of course anywhere on our planet, and update your wallpaper automatically. It’s fantastically versatile, but because it was built to run under Unix, it’s a bit quirky.

First off, you need a Unix command interpreter dll (fortunately included with the distribution) to even run the thing under Windows. Because it was initially designed to run under a command line-driven OS, it literally doesn’t have a GUI; the exhaustive documentation and help is all text-based- which was my first hook, a nostalgic intellectual exercise in command-line switches and parameters, replete with config and batch files.

I’m not sure if you’re like me, but when I get a new gadget I explore all the features to see what there is and what I can use. I even started thinking about tossing together a VB configurator that would write the config and batch files for you.

In learning all of Xplanet’s features, I found myself exploring forums dedicated to the program and discovered that there were multiple interfaces people had already written for it (1, 2, 3). I even found a program dedicated to periodically downloading current cloud maps. It might not surprise you then to learn that most of my free time over the last week has been consumed by learning and configuring Xplanet to my liking. I enjoy projects like this, where learning some new bit rewards you with a small change, slowly shaping the output toward your ideal.

You can see a screenshot up to the left of how it looks right now. I’m still not 100% done; I want to explore using a gamma adjustment to lighten up the clouds just a smidge so it’s easier to see the landmasses underneath. It’s close enough to share though, so if you wonder why I haven’t been online for the last week or so, here’s your reason. And if you have any questions about Xplanet, feel free to ask. 😉

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Yesterday was an interesting day. After a sleepless night of chills and sweats (which was repeated last night as well), I woke up with a fever of 37.9°C, and begged off work (and a party tonight I’d been looking forward to for months).

Yuko happened to already have a doctor’s appointment in the morning, so I went with, to see if they could fit me in. The doctor was delighted to have an opportunity to use his English, and even though he apologized multiple times for his poor skills, I had no trouble understanding him. (Doctors here all have to learn more English than the average person, I’m pretty sure it’s because medical record-keeping is all done in English.)

I noticed something other people have observed too; because Japanese doctors don’t speak English in their daily lives, they use technical terms for everything. For instance, when he wanted me to breathe in and out, he asked me to “inspire and expire,” and though the phrase isn’t as unusual in clinical settings, he also explained that he was going to “palpate [my] lymph nodes.”

He then gave me a really unpleasant flu test that involved swabbing my throat with a long flexible plastic swab designed to scrub your throat just below your tongue. After nearly throwing up on him a few times, he used the swab on what looked like a pregnancy test (the same test pictured above left with someone else’s results). Even though I didn’t test positive for influenza A or B, he suggested it was a false positive because it was still pretty early, and prescribed me a small battery of drugs, including Tamiflu.

When I went to pay for my visit and prescriptions (a total of about $35, thanks to my government-run insurance), I discovered that I didn’t have enough cash on me to pay the bill. Like most Japanese businesses, cash is all they accept. They very nicely pointed me toward the nearest Ehime Ginko ATM (there isn’t really any meaningful ATM interoperability, so you generally have to use ATMs owned by your bank), and even had me take the drugs though I hadn’t yet paid for anything.

On the upside though, it was a great day for exotic JDM Subaru spotting. On the way to the doctor’s office, I saw an early 2000s Legacy B4 Blitzen, the result of a collaboration between Porsche and Subaru. Then on the way to the ATM, I saw a (2004?) Impreza S203, basically a super souped-up factory STi.

I hope I can sleep well tonight and wake up sans-fever.

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