I’d intended to get a lot more done this week. Unfortunately, I received a program that distracted me to such an extent that I’ve had difficulty remembering to do all the fun stuff like eating, drinking and walking the dog, let alone the boring stuff like, well – working.
The guilty program is MojoWorld 2. I make no excuse for gushing with incoherent enthusiasm over it. This software is criminally addictive. It is world creation software at its best. At first sight, it might seem to be similar to landscape design programs such as Bryce or Vue d’Esprit. But it isn’t. Whereas those programs let you create small chunks of a landscape with a mountain here and a lake there, MojoWorld lets you create entire planets of enormous detail. More on this in a moment.
With MojoWorld 2 you can create worlds of extraordinary complexity and beauty – and then go on a voyage of discovery to see what’s there
There is another reason why I have got so little work done – namely, Nicholas Parsons. Not to mention Kenneth Williams, Spike Milligan, Humphrey Lyttleton and, of course, the ever-lovely Samantha. If you aren’t an avid radio listener you will have no idea what I am rabbiting on about. If you are an avid listener, you will immediately realise that I am talking about the stars of the radio comedies and panel games, Just A Minute, Round The Horne, The Goons and I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue.
Blame the BBC’s new digital radio station, BBC7. The station broadcasts repeats of classic radio shows ranging from I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again (the radio predecessor of Monty Python), to the adventures of Dr. Who? But I haven’t got a digital radio. That means I’m stuck with the grim tedium of analogue radio shows such as The Moral Maze and You and Yours. Or anyway, so I feared. Until I discovered that BBC7 is also broadcast over the Internet (www.bbc.co.uk/bbc7). Isn’t modern technology wonderful! Though I must say that it seems ironic the cutting edge technology of digital radio is devoted to programmes that were recorded 30, 40 or 50 years ago.
The BBC’s online content isn’t restricted to ancient repeats, however. It also has some pretty good educational material (www.bbc.co.uk/learning) to complement its TV programmes for both schools and adults. Having followed a couple of BBC modern language courses – Deutsch Plus and Italianissimo - I have to say that the online support is pretty minimal.
These days I listen to more radio on the Internet than on the radio – everything from old Goons Shows to Welsh language lessons
For a really a wonderful example of the power of online teaching, on the other hand, look at the BBC’s ‘Catchphrase’ Welsh language courses (www.bbc.co.uk/wales/catchphrase). The Catchphrase site not only has online Real audio broadcasts of the current week’s courses but also has a comprehensive archive of past weeks’ broadcasts for download in Real audio or MP3 format. The MP3 files are much smaller, but also considerably less clear than the Real audio versions. Each lesson also comes with notes and dialogues in Word or PDF format. This is without doubt the best multimedia language course I’ve ever come across – and best of all, it’s free. If the BBC could produce material of this quality to support its other language and educational courses, I’d grumble a lot less about the cost of my TV licence!
But enough of all this serious stuff. Let me get back to MojoWorld. As I mentioned earlier, this the planet-creation software has become something of an obsession to me. Let me explain how it works. First you load up the MojoWorld Generator environment, which is where worlds are created. You can either start with a blank spherical planet or with a predesigned one, complete with mountains and lakes. Now you specify parameters such as the maximum heights of the mountains and the complexity of the landscapes. Instantly, MojoWorld starts to reshape the planet.
You can then go on to tinker with the density of the atmosphere, the clarity of the oceans, the composition of the rocks – even the orbit of the moon and the time of day. Once you’ve finished, you can travel around the planet surface in search of good locations. When you find somewhere that takes your fancy you can (just like a traditional tourist) stop and take some pictures. In other words, you point your virtual camera at a scene and then click an icon to render it either as a still image or as an animation.
MojoWorld uses fractal mathematics to define a planet. This has the extraordinary effect of creating vast worlds of a theoretical size of a real planet such as the Earth. And yet the definition of the planet is stored on disk in a tiny file, typically between 30 and 300K in size.
New features in this latest release of MojoWorld include a Planet Wizard that helps you set the essential parameters of a planet in a single dialog, improved raytraced rendering and a plugin for creating more realistic rivers. There are also numerous improvements and additions to the user interface including a choice of a Simple or Normal operating modes. In fact, even the Simple mode is pretty complicated. The Normal mode is strictly for experts. MojoWorld is not a program that you will master in an afternoon.
The interface itself is divided into two parts. You can design a planet from scratch using the MojoWorld Generator. If you want to travel around an existing world, on the other hand, you can do this in the MojoWorld Transporter. Here you can walk or fly over landscapes or zoom way out into outer space. As you do so, the MojoWorld ‘real time renderer’ (RTR) continually displays a low resolution view of the scenery unfolding before you. In common with the Generator, the Transporter can render a high resolution image of any location that takes your fancy. The Transporter is free and there is a collection of freely downloadable worlds on the Pandromeda web site (www.pandromeda.com).
While MojoWorld 2 is a mightily impressive program, you need to be aware of the fact that it gobbles up computer processing power. When I keep the Windows Task Manager open, I see that even when MojoWorld appears to be at rest, it can actually be taking up in excess of 95 per cent of CPU time. This brings about a noticeable degradation in the performance of other active applications. As a result I have taken to using the RTR only when I am not using any other programs (or listening to broadcasts of I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue on my PC). You can easily free up the CPU, however, by specifically pausing the RTR. MojoWorld 2 requires a minimum of 400MHz Pentium or Athlon processor, 90Mb of RAM, 100Mb hard disk and 16Mb graphics card. The full MojoWorld 2 package costs $249 ($124 academic). As mentioned earlier, the Transporter is free.
Incidentally, just in case you still aren’t convinced that MojoWorld is as good as I say it is, it has one more secret weapon in its armoury. Its manual glows in the dark! This took my be surprise when I first saw it. I turned off the lights in my room and was just about to shut the door when I saw the manual glowing a pale blue-green on my desk. Simple things please simple minds. Suffice to say, I’m well pleased!
GETTING INTO PRINT
I wrote some time ago about the problems of printing booklets in which the pages are arranged in sequence when the paper is folded down the middle. This may sound simple but, in fact, most Windows applications – even many Desktop Publishing programs – cannot do it. The ability to produce booklets on an ordinary printer is useful for anyone who wants to print leaflets, newsletters, catalogues or price lists. It is also a handy for anyone who wants to save paper. For example, if you find that you regularly have to print out word processed documents or program listings, you may be wasting paper on a vast scale. In booklet format, you could print four pages, two to each side, on a single sheet of paper!
Up to now, I’ve been using a program called Fineprint (www.fineprint.com, $39.95) to print booklets. Fineprint sits between your applications and your regular printer driver. It not only allows you to print booklets. It can also reduce the physical size of each printed page so that two, four or eight pages are printed on a single sheet of paper. It’s easy to use and effective.
ClickBook is a printing utility that lets you format documents as booklets, menus, folded leaflets much more
I received Fineprint at the same time as a competing product called ClickBook (www.bluesquirrel.com). Initially, I had great problems with ClickBook as it refused to work with the driver of my Hewlett-Packard laser printer. When ClickBook was recently updated to version 6.0 ($49.95), I decided to give it another go. This time, I managed to get it to work with a non-Postscript driver for my printer. And I’m glad I did. It’s actually a very impressive program. It has far more printing formats than Fineprint. Not only can it print 16, 25 or 36 pages to a sheet but it can also format pages to print on sheets folded into quarters, as tri-fold brochures or a triangularly folded table-top menus. Indeed, the range of printing options is so vast that I don’t even know what many of the formats could possibly be used for. The chances are that, if you need to print onto paper that’s been folded in some way, ClickBook will do it. I still like Fineprint. It’s cheaper than ClickBook, has fewer options so is slightly simpler to use, and it doesn’t object to Postscript printers. But in terms of paper-folding flexibility, ClickBook can’t be beaten.