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CN Report: Pre-Vista Astro Gadgets?

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PreVista Gadgets
Pre-Vista Astro Gadgets?
Tom Trusock 11/07

How to create your own astronomy "Gadget" for
XP, ME and other non-Vista MS operating systems.

I blame Brian Gibson for wasting my time. ;-)

If Brian hadn't come up with that Uber-cool Windows Vista Clear Sky Clock Gadget (see the article Clear Sky Clock Gadget for Windows Vista) I wouldn't have lost about 6 hours trying to get Vista's sidebar to run on XP.  Ya see, although I have a copy of Vista Home Premium right here sitting next to me, I have no intention of installing it at any time in the near future.   However, I knew that MS had initially planned Sidebar support for XP, but abandoned it.  Searching the web, I can up with about four procedures, and while a couple of them actually worked (sorta) none of them let me install Brian's Gadget.

Then it hit me.  Since Windows 98, MS operating systems have let you have dynamic web pages displayed on the desktop.  Why not create one with the information I needed and let it serve as a  sort of XP Gadget?

So I did.  And it works pretty well too.  So well in fact that I thought I'd share the process with other folks in the astronomy community, and let y'all take the ball.  Since we're writing a webpage, there's a lot of flexibility here, but if you've never written one before and have no idea of what HTML is never fear - I'll make this as simple as possible.  You advanced folks can take the idea and run with it.

First off, you'll obviously want a PC with Internet access as that's the only time this "Gadget" will be updated.  (Broadband is really nice :) ).  Then you'll need to find the objects you want to embed.  As a minimum, I wanted a CSC for two different locations, and a moon phase icon.  First task was searching the web for objects designed to be embedded in webpages.

The two I decided to use were the Clear Sky Clock:

and the Daily Moon Phase Module:

(The Moon Phase Module requires registration.)  Both of these applications provide the HTML code needed to include the applet on the page.  You'll want to find the code so you can copy it over in just a minute.

Next we'll need a text editor, Windows Notepad will do nicely.  To launch Notepad, click on Start, Run, then type "notepad" and hit enter.  Now we'll need to do a little HTML coding, but not a lot.  The following codes will be useful: HTML, BODY, BR (Broken Rule), CENTER, BGCOLOR, and TEXT.  The other thing you might want to realize is that most HTML codes are inserted as pairs.

This is an example

One to turn the code on, the other to turn it off.

The next little bit I'm inserting as preformatted text so the codes won't take effect.  It'll look a little different, but that's no biggie.  So let's get started.  Enter the following into notepad.

(Those are zero's BTW, not O's.)

This sets up the HTML document, and sets the default background color to black the text color to white, and turns centering on. Next we'll insert our objects of interest.  Type the name of the CSC you want to display (we'll put BIG codes around it to make it just a tad bigger), insert a BR and then paste the code for the clock.

Out Back Observatory


Now insert a second and third CSC as needed.  When you're finished, we'll copy and paste the code for the MoonPhase object.

solid #000000" align="center">

ze:11px;letter-spacing:.3em;">CURRENT MOON

Then close out the codes and the document.

Next save the file in your documents folder.  Be sure to change the "Save as Type" dropdown to all files, and call the file "DESKTOP.HTML".  (And yes, I'm one of the six people who own a Zune...)

Now all we've got to do is load it onto the desktop.

Right click anywhere on the desktop and pull up the display properties sheet.  Click on the second tab, Desktop. 

Then click on the Customize Desktop button.  This brings up the Desktop Items sheet.  Now click on the web tab at the top.  Click on the New button, and browse out to your page and load it up.

A window loads up on the desktop that may or may not be optimized for your objects (probably not).  Simply grab it and resize it like you would any window.  To reposition it, just move the mouse towards the top of the window and grab the title bar that comes up.  Then you can reposition it anyway you like.

This should update every time you turn your computer on, but it's easy to force a refresh.  Just right click on the "Gadget" and select refresh. 

The nice thing about this is the level of customization that is available here.  Here's an example where I've added the GEOS East thumbnails for IR, Visible and Water Vapor.  These are dynamic thumbs, and clicking on them will load up a larger photo.

You can have any object you'd place on a website, and can customize it any way you like.  You can even create separate gadgets for the CSC's and the Moonphase to position them however you'd like on the desktop. You can change fonts, colors and backgrounds.  The web's the limit.

Well, that's about it for this How-To.  I promised I'd keep it simple.  But even quick and dirty, this simple trick is very useful for me.  I hope someone else out there finds it useful as well.

Appendix A:

When it's all done, the code will look something like this:

Out Back Observatory

Oak Beach Observing

solid #000000" align="center">

ze:11px;letter-spacing:.3em;">CURRENT MOON

With your own data/objects inserted of course.



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