Lunar Eclipse Jan 2019

This morning, I woke up at 4am, dragged my geeky body out of bed, grabbed a coffee and braved the freezing Yorkshire air to observe the eclipse.

Our ancient ancestors had various explanations for the eclipse or blood moon. The Chinese thought that an eclipse was caused by a giant cosmic toad-like dragon; the ancient Mesopotamians though that it was an attack by demons; the ancient Mayan civilisation thought that the moon was eaten by a jaguar; while the Egyptians assumed it was a beastly cow that was to blame.

Although we now know that a lunar eclipse is caused by the full moon crossing the plane of the ecliptic, the explanations of demonic animal attack described above are still more accurate than the best explanations of the most gifted flat-earth astronomers, who, to date, have failed repeatedly to provide a model for their flat earth belief. Although it is lamentable, that 2% of the population claim to believe that the earth is flat, this is not a post about how wrong flat earth supporters are. If you want to read about flat earth, I suggest this post.

I wanted to create this post to show the two apps I use for predicting eclipses, one old, one new, or in other words, how did I know that I needed to wake up at 4am this morning (and not as my colleague put it, 'I was coming to work this morning and I noticed that the moon looked a bit funny')?

My trusty go-to eclipse app on the BBC Microcomputer
The first app is 'eclipse' for the BBC Microcomputer. It reliably predicts lunar eclipses, even showing start times and end times with a graphic. The image shows the path of the moon (small circle) through the Earth's shadow (big circle). I still run this on my trusty BBC Micro. I think that it came on a Beebug magazine once. I am always impressed with its accuracy (EDIT image shown is NOT from this morning).

The second is Eclipse Guide developed by Vito Technology, Inc. who also developed the wonderful Sky Walk 2 app. This app is ostensibly a new and improved version of the app above, with better graphics, maps and a bit more information, oh and you can carry it around in your pocket.

Eclipse guide, showing handy information, such as when you need to go outside to freeze and when you need to get excited and tell people who are currently inside to come outside, and when to tell people that it is too late, they have missed it.

Skipping ahead to the near future, this is the app with details about a future solar eclipse, unless you are reading this in the future and the eclipse has already happened.
Well, that's it for today, suffice to say that the eclipse was a beautiful sight to see and I am looking forward to the next one, albeit partial on the 16th July.

If you are sticking around and have nothing better to do, then you might like to look at some similar posts from the history of this blog.

Search for the most precious substance in the universe

Who thought it was unobtainium?

Riemannian is a text-based space adventure game written in BASIC. I am not certain of its origins but it was converted to BBC BASIC by Janny Looyenga (and I think it was released as either a Beebug, or an Acorn User magazine disk).

I have just spent my afternoon converting it to run on the Raspberry Pi under RISC OS and subsequently on the PC under BBC BASIC for Windows.

In Riemannian, you control a spacecraft, which teleports randomly around a text-based Teletext universe. You have three resources that need to be managed: oxygen, fuel and provisions. Your quest requires you to mine as much of the elusive riemannian ore before your resources run out and you are unceremoniously dumped back to the BASIC prompt.

On your journey, you will encounter aliens, both friend and foe. Some will wish to sell you commodities, whilst others try to blow you away with their laser guns and robot slaves. There are also some other special encounters, but I wouldn't want to spoil your fun of encountering these yourself.

This world is very notable for the Uslian tree ant and its inhabitants' exceptional loathing of sit coms

I have covered how to convert BBC microcomputer programs to RISC OS BASIC programs in another post.

The main problem I had to overcome is the fact that, in Riemannian, much of the gameplay is time-based. You have to press the right key at just the right time to zap an alien or mine the planetoids. Upon inspection of the code, two facts became obvious. Firstly, the code was a horrible mess of spaghetti (probably indicating that it originated on a less elegant 8-bit machine to the BBC micro) and second, much of the timing revolved around how many loops the computer could perform whilst waiting for your input. As my target machine, the Raspberry Pi, is a much faster machine, I had to alter these timing loops so the original gameplay was restored. I think I have managed whilst also making the game a little more forgiving than the original.

From a time when mining was much more about guesswork (just like modern Fracking).

+1 Geek Experience Point awarded to by Janny Looyenga for the original BBC BASIC conversion.

I am going to assume that due to its age, Riemannian is currently in the public domain. So you can download a copy from my OneDrive. If you are the owner of Riemannian, and it is your sole source of income, then I am really sorry and I will remove this link as soon as you get in touch.

I've provided four versions:

  • A RISC OS BASIC file
  • A plain text file containing all the code
  • A BBC BASIC for Windows file
  • A Windows executable file (it is totally NOT a virus, but if you are in doubt run it in a sandbox such as Virtual Box rather than trusting a strange blogger on the Internet).

If you enjoyed this post, then that is it, you have reached the very bottom of the Web, but you might like some other conversions of ancient BASIC programs, such as this one, or this one, but especially this one.

That's it for today. I will be back later for more geeky stuff - stay tuned!

Stuff you can do with RISC OS for Raspberry Pi

My avid reader will know that I am a big fan of running RISC OS on Raspberry Pi.

I have already written a post answering whether you can use RISCOS as your main computer. The answer was yes (sort of). If you were not convinced then this is a post about stuff you can get your RISC OS Raspberry Pi computer to do right away.

Never forget to go to work again!
Shown above is the alarms section of the clock application and it is a surprisingly good alarm system. You can set multiple alarms, including specific dates of the year on various recurring patterns. There are two things I like about this. First, by having it in the 'run at startup' folder you get an analogue clock with seconds hand in your icon bar - as close to a 'live tile' as you will get in RISC OS Pi. Secondly, you can have multiple alarms (I am not sure what the maximum is) and alarms can seemingly be set years (months, weeks or days) into the future. There are options for 'working week', 'repeating alarms'. There is a 'Task Alarm' which allows you to boot up another RISC OS Pi app at the particular time of the day - for example, to load the radio player just in time for the shipping forecast. Simply drag the appropriate app into the alarm dialogue box. This includes your own BASIC programs as well (rather exciting, no?) Repeating alarms can be programmed to run on particular intervals, or on the first Sunday of each Month.

As you might expect, RISC OS has a calculator app, and it is as good as any you will find on your 'other' desktop machine or phone. Shown here is the programmer's calculator should you need to perform a left shift on a nibble, or whatever.

Happy New Year! What? Not another one!
As desktop calendars go, it is not as good as Window's 10 calendars with Outlook integration, but if you need to know the date of the next Friday before payday, then this will do plenty. It is also highly customizable, and I think the result looks good. Some operating systems don't even have a desktop calendar - I'm looking at you, ChromeOS!

NetRadio - highly recommended. 
My longtime reader will know that one day I hope to have a second reader on this blog. They will also know that I like to listen to a wide range of music as I sit back and relax with some knitting. The NetRadio app turns your RaspberryPi into an internet radio (oh, and before you ask, I don't record the top forty onto compact cassettes anymore, honest).

It's notepad
One of the main roles for my Raspberry Pi is to simply keep notes, records, and calculations. Between the simple but powerful StrongEd text editor (shown above) and PipeDream, RISC OS has this basic computing job covered. Pop over to the task window (F12) and you can navigate your text file library using the *BUILD <filename> and *TYPE <filename> commands. This, obviously, makes you feel more like a hacker even though you are really just writing your thank you letter to Santa. StrongEd is a little more than Notepad for RISC OS, featuring spell checker, split screen and various other features for the power user to enjoy.

Sometimes you need to know the distance to the shops in astronomical units.

Convert is my go-to app for converting various units. There are loads of units available, I'm just showing a small selection of the 'less common' ones.

Weather UK is an app for showing simple weather data for various cities in the UK.The data comes from the BBC weather feeds and clicking on the text will bring up a forecast in your browser.

And that's not it! One really awesome feature (for me at least) is that RISC OS will run most of your favourite BBC BASIC applications. I have already written a post all about this and I am currently in the process of converting various files from my BBC master 128 onto the Raspberry Pi. No doubt I shall be back really soon to write about this.

If you enjoyed reading this post, then do please share it with your friend. It would be great to have two readers! If you don't have a friend, then no worries, you might like to read about data logging on Raspberry Pi, or something random but similar.

Until next time...

Lego city cargo train

Well, I know I haven't posted in a while. Life has thrown up some interesting challenges and upheavals over the last nine months, but my new year resolution is to get this blog back up and running and make it geekier than ever.

So, in the interest of sharing something geeky for the new year, here is my most recent project, the Lego city cargo train.

Lego city cargo train under construction:

A dozen or so bags of stuff! You will need about four hours to build this set or a few friends to help.

It begins!

It began

Customary shot of Lego pieces scattered around

The beginnings of a very garish looking base. This will become the engine carriage.

The engine carriage under construction.

Almost there

Adding the 9V power supply

The almost complete engine

One of three cargo carriage sections.

More space for cargo

I love the detail on this

Lego city cargo train comes with enough track for a reasonable oval circuit, however, I've added some extra track pieces so the whole route is a little longer.

Some videos of the train in action. First sped-up:

And another one here:

I hope you enjoyed this Lego post. If so, you might like to see these other Lego posts, or this Lego Millenium Falcon, or TARDIS. Maybe you just want something completely different.