Apple Science and Technology News for 8-30-02

8-30-02 Bryan William Jones

Since our last update, there are a number of Scientia market updates to be announced. But first I wanted to attest to the durability of the iBook and preach a little bit about bicycle safety. The other day riding my bike back from the lab, I was struck by an automobile and thrown from my bike to the side of the road. Thankfully I was not seriously hurt, but when I got up checking to see if I had any deficits, I was stunned to see the silver Ford Ranger that hit me speeding down the road. As I was unable to get the license plate number, I am hoping that they were simply unaware of hitting me, as the alternative is more serious and more than a little disturbing. However, after discovering that I was for the most part unhurt, if a little bloody and scraped up (the bike helmet works folks, wear them), my thoughts quickly turned to the iBook in my backpack with all the work completed that day and not yet backed up to either the workstation at the lab or at home. Wanting to get home to report this incident, I shakily got back on my bike, resuming the trek home thinking of the iBook and the data on it the entire way. Upon reaching the house, I unpacked my recently torn and dirtied backpack and pulled the iBook out of its carrying case. It appeared undamaged with not a scratch on it and booted right up with no evidence of any damage whatsoever. My Palm Pilot however now rattles a bit and is making a buzzing sound……At any rate, my purpose of writing this along with my Scientia updates is to get readers to watch out for bicyclists. Myself and others try to bike as often as possible year round to save money, keep in shape and ease up on the environment so please….

Now on to business:

Given Apple’s campaign to get folks to switch to the Mac and OS X in particular, Hiawatha Bray of the Boston Globe wrote an interesting piece on scientists switching to OS X.

As for the hardware and software announcements, MultiSatSim v1.2 has been released. This program models attitude, orbit and power system dynamics for spacecraft anywhere in the solar system. From the press release, “MultiStatSim now includes new features include an aerodynamics model employing surface accommodation coefficients, the Jacchia atmospheric density model with a built-in solar flux model, nuclear electric power generation models, enhanced control over the simulation, improved plot output and many other new features. Users can connect the simulation to control system software running on a separate computers or processor boards making MultiSatSim ideal for testing flight software. Princeton Satellite Systems is currently using MultiSatSim to test the formation flying software for the Air Force TechSat-21 program.
The spacecraft will fly within 30 meters of each other and use a precise relative navigation system. The coupling between the attitude motion of the spacecraft and the orbital disturbances needs to be modeled along with all orbital perturbations including solar pressure, earth albebo, earth radiation and sun and lunar gravitational accelerations.”

Another application for the space science crowd that will be making it to OS X is IRAF or Image Reduction and Analysis Facility.

Adobe has recently announced Photoshop Elements 2.0. While typical science users may not expect an imaging package for consumers to be of any use, my lab has found Adobe’s Elements 2.0 to be of tremendous value. Normally, we use the full version of Photoshop for image preparation duties and limited analysis. However, Photoshop Elements 2.0 includes a feature called Photomerge that automatically creates mosaics of images of any type. While there have been programs that automatically montage or merge photos before, the Photomerge feature created by Adobe’s talented programmers is the best I have yet seen and in Elements 2.0 it is even better. I use it extensively to create montages of images captures in the light microscope and images from electron microscopy.

For those science users who create, edit and use video Adobe has also announced Premiere 6.5.

One of the biggest announcements of the past couple of months has been that Matlab for OS X is now available. Ever since OS X became a reality, Mac users have been clamoring for this application. We should not underestimate the importance of this application to the engineering markets as I know of several folks who ended up switching from the Macintosh platform to Windows after Mathworks discontinued support for the Macintosh. Mathworks is one of those relatively small privately held companies with a strong sense of social responsibility toward their employees and the larger community as evidenced by their support of NPR among other worthy causes such as the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and others. As such I would love to see more money flow their way through OS X licenses of Matlab.

For the broader scientific community, the application I have been anxiously awaiting arrival on OS X is Endnote. Science users of all disciplines (indeed anyone in academia or industry who publishes) will find this application indispensable for publishing as it takes care of the complex and tiresome task of creating and managing bibliographies and even automatically formatting for different journals.

GIS (Geographic Information Systems) users on the Mac have had to deal with a dearth of GIs applications available on the platform. However, with the advent of OS X, we now have the ideal platform for GIs applications as many companies such as ArcInfo from ESRI and PCIGeomatics already have a code base built in various flavors of UNIX and bringing them to OS X could be a trivial task if used in an X-Windows paradigm. However, bringing them to the full Aqua interface would make for the best experience.

Given that GIs packages typically have steep costs, a sophisticated and extensive open source alternative called GRASS has been available for a number of platforms for some time. OPENOSX has now delivered GRASS in an OS X precompiled package with Mac style installers. Look for a review in the coming weeks.

Before we leave the GIs market, I would also like to note that HyperCube will also be released as a OS X native application on September 1st. HyperCube is designed to be used for the analysis and display of multidimensional and hyperspectral imagery.

For scientific visualization and simulation, Calerga has just released SysQuake 2.2. Version 2.2 adds 25 functions for linear algebra and support for multidimensional arrays.

And following up on our review of Mathematica 4.0, Wolfram recently released, Mathematica 4.2. 4.2 adds significantly to the package by integrating full XML support and seamless Java integration into the package. See all of the details here. We hope to have a review of 4.2 posted in the coming weeks.

Finally on the software front, we would be remiss in not mentioning the release of Mac OS X 10.2 or Jaguar. This update brings much needed improvements in speed, graphics performance and kernel optimizations. Additionally, Windows networking is now better supported allowing for GUI browsing of SMB networks. Non-Roman alphabets are also better supported in 10.2 with a stunning variety of fonts available for Arabic, Hebrew and a number of Asian fonts among others. And the developers tools disk also reflects many improvements that are worth the price of upgrading alone.

Unfortunately, after installing EndNote today I found out that the latest version of EndNote, recently released for OS X does not work with 10.2. They tell me they are working with Apple on a fix, which will be released for download in the near future. Unfortunately, we also have this problem with the OS X release of Matlab 6.5 and a fix is also in the works for this issue. Given the kernel optimizations in 10.2, I would not be surprised if other incompatibilities also show up.

As for hardware news: Normally, users might be surprised to think of FireWire as having application in science markets other than storage which we are all familiar with. However due to its plug and play nature and its very fast data throughput, it makes an ideal solution for getting and moving data around. Digital imagery without dedicated frame grabber cards is the obvious solution here, but audio data or any other need for transferring large amounts of data (Like Magnetic Resonance Imaging) could benefit. To make this easier, Apple has now released a free FireWire SDK for the Mac OS. There are a number of significant advantages that FireWire has over its competitors in addition to higher bandwidth not the least of which is that you do not have to use a computer to take advantage of FireWire connectivity. In other words, each FireWire device is capable of talking to another FireWire device if properly implemented. Also FireWire carries its own power as well as data as demonstrated by the consumer targeted iPod. For FireWire SDKs on other platforms, go to the 1394 Trade Association Developer Products page. The 1394 Trade Association is an international organization dedicated to the advancement and enhancement of FireWire or the IEEE 1394 standard. All this should make it easier for companies to adopt the FireWire standard and pave the way for more FireWire compliant devices in CCD cameras and other high throughput devices.

Finally, we should also note that Apple has recently announced new Power Mac configurations with the welcome news that all machines are now running with dual CPU’s starting at an affordable $1,699. The machines also come equipped with four RAM slots for DDR ram allowing for up to 2 GB of memory giving imagery analysis users and others requiring large memory spaces a bit more breathing room.

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