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. ๐Ÿ˜‰

One Response to “Down the Rabbit Hole”
  1. I have a question ๐Ÿ™‚
    just wondering how you configured xplanet to automatically update. did you use a -post_command setting, a registry hack or something else? I can’t figure out how to make xplanet update dynamically in Windows 7, though I had it working in XP.

    cheers
    mcalex

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