Microsoft's WorldWide Telescope

wwtelescope If you spend any time in the blogosphere, you probably heard about Robert Scoble’s sob session on Valentine’s Day. He said that he was shown a project at Microsoft Research that was so world-changing it brought tears to his eyes. Scoble said he couldn’t tell anyone what it was until February 27th, and he kept that promise. Today he explained:

Lots of people are asking me questions about what made me cry at Microsoft a few weeks ago.

If I told you “a telescope” you’d make fun of me, right? Tell me I’m lame and that I don’t deserve to be a geek and that I should run away and join the circus, right?

Well, that’s what I saw.

The project is called the WorldWide Telescope. Here’s how it is described on the official website:

The WorldWide Telescope (WWT) is a rich visualization environment that functions as a virtual telescope, bringing together imagery from the best ground- and space telescopes to enable seamless, guided explorations of the universe. WorldWide Telescope, created with Microsoft®’s high-performance Visual Experience Engine™, enables seamless panning and zooming across the night sky blending terabytes of images, data, and stories from multiple sources over the Internet into a media-rich, immersive experience.

It does sound like a pretty cool project for astronomy, and like Scoble says, it could have a really huge impact on education and the way we view and understand our place in the universe. Scoble will have a video up on Monday showing it off, and it should be officially available sometime this spring.

Read: Scobleizer

Pluto: A Planet Again in 2009?

Post ImageAs I have said before, I think the demotion of Pluto is a good thing. I see nothing wrong in recognizing that assumptions of decades past (there are no more objects like Pluto) have been rendered false (there are in fact lots of objects like Pluto). However, as an article in The Economist points out, a lot of people seem to think Pluto should remain a planet:

Members of the public are also wielding the web. Sites such as www.plutoisaplanet.com and www.pleasesavepluto.org have been launched. Sales of “Pluto is a Planet” T-shirts are high. And a band called Jimmy and the Keyz has written a song called “They demoted Pluto”.

Okay, people are entitled their opinions. And I realize that humans can be quite sentimental. I had to laugh at how The Economist ended the article though:

Whether listening to public opinion is really the best way to arrive at scientific definitions is questionable. But there is a suspicion that the IAU’s leaders may cave in to the pressure and find an excuse to reinstate Pluto at the next general meeting, in 2009.

I find it really hard to believe that anyone will still care in three years time. I suspect most will have accepted the new system and forgotten all about the controversy.

Read: The Economist

My final school year begins

Post ImageI started what had better be my final year of University yesterday. Three classes on Monday/Wednesday/Friday, and one on Tuesday/Thursday. In every single one, the first class was just a review of the course outline and nothing else. In a way that was good, because we got to leave early, but in a way it was bad too – I had lots of time to kill yesterday. Here are some notes about the “back to school” experience thus far:

  • This year is going to be great: I can walk from my house (remember, I just moved) to class in Tory (northernmost part of campus) in under 20 minutes.
  • I am always amused by the first years running around like crazy people, worried because they don’t know where their class is. I was probably like that too, I know. I think part of the problem is orientation – the University itself should offer a simple, no-frills orientation that is a tour of campus and getting your ID card and nothing else. The SU puts a lot of work into their orientation events, but I skipped mine because there was too much “lets all be friends and sing songs and dance and play games and wear stickers all day.” I wonder if lots of students skip orientation?
  • Wireless in CAB seems much faster than it used to be. Maybe it’s just that hardly anyone was using it on the first day?
  • Also on the topic of CAB (I had to stop there, for old times sake) I found out you can buy stuff from the cafeteria using your OneCard now! Apparently this isn’t a brand new development…but it’s not like I was really on campus last year to know that 🙂
  • I met Andrew, Megan and Renee for lunch at the PowerPlant. It was good to see them and we had a good time, but the service was absolutely horrible. The Plant has a “new look” and stuff this year, but they apparently chose to ignore how impossibly slow their service is. I remember now why I stopped going there. Next time we’re gonna try the new Hudson’s (where Scholars used to be).
  • Construction on the new Sciences building is moving along! Well sort of, the are still demolishing the old buildings, but still, it was a very busy and active place.

Now that the “course outline classes” are finished, the real lectures will begin tomorrow. I am taking two 300-level economics courses this term, a first year astronomy course, and a 200-level EAS course (as you can probably tell I am filling in the gaps for my program requirements). So far it’s a tossup between the astronomy course and the environmental economics course for which one looks most interesting. Astronomy is the clear winner in terms of scenery though 😉