Friday, June 01, 2012

Eclipses, Tech, Shopping, and Surprises

[Sky Walk screen shot]

My nephew Steve Wilhelm and I drove to Lassen Volcanic National Park last weekend for the annular eclipse. Aside from all the other reportage about the drive (pleasant), the park (beautiful), the snow (lots of it), the people (fun and friendly), and the annular eclipse (delightful), there was a moment when Steve wowed me with an application on his iPad. It is called 'Star Walk'. 

Steve held his iPad up to the sky and Star Walk showed what stars were in the sky behind and around the iPad. It uses a combination of GPS and motion sensors to detect where it is and what position it is being held in. It uses those to show where on the celestial sphere it is pointed. It doesn't care about the earth being in the way and will show the stars in the sky on the other side of the planet just as easily if one holds it facing down. If you want to know what stars are in the sky over Australia and you have some sense of what direction Australia is, you can do that. In addition to the stars, it also shows the planets, the moon, comets, the constellations, and artificial satellites. It stores the data in its memory between updates, so it doesn't need access to broadband or wi-fi to work. Which is good because while it works fine in a city, it would be outstanding out of town where vastly more stars and constellations are visible for it to identify. 

My Tech-Toy Lust Meter instantly shot over to BUY NOW. Upon returning to the city I soon started shopping for iPads - models, memory, phone connectivity, prices, and so on. I had already figured that since Star Walk relies on motion and position sensors that it would not work on a laptop since it doesn't have those. But I saw a little ad about 'Alternatives to' and clicked on it. An iPhone is sort of a little iPad, maybe it would work on that, I wondered but started to wonder whether an iPhone would be any cheaper than an iPad. Probably not. 

Before I finished wondering these wonderings, the link took me to Android alternatives. Hey, I started to wonder, my Verizon phone runs Android right? Maybe I could get a cool new phone from Verizon and not have to change carriers and not have to (get to?) buy an iPad? The Android version of 'Star Walk' is called 'Sky Map'. I hunted it down online and found that it was compatible with the several-years-old cellphone I already have.  Great! I said.  

I just had to download it.  I spent a while locating and figuring out how to use the Android Store.  And then some time pawing through the ill-organized mass of app's available.  But I found it.  It was free, a good price.  I immediately attempted to download it.  But I couldn't.  Because it was already on my phone.  

The morals to be drawn here are three.  One is to check your smartphone or iPhone or iPad to see if you already have Star Walk or Sky Map.  If you don't, consider getting it.  Two is that this narishkeit foolish spinning one's wheels may well be how you too will someday spend your retirement.  I forget what the third was but it seemed clear when I started this paragraph.


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