Monday, October 12, 2015

Astromech Beta2 - coming soon

With all projects, you reach that point where it's all downhill from here. In the Sisyphean sense that you rolled that bloody rock all the way up the bloody hill in the expectation that it would, eventually, get easier all of a sudden.'re always looking for that point where you can give it a good shove, and the momentum builds on it's own, enough to maybe get you half-way over that next hill so long as you run fast enough to keep up. That next hill which you only just now can actually see, but really, you always knew was going to be there.

Well, Astromech is reaching that stage. Several highly-experimental chunks of code are coming together nicely. The first release wasn't much more than a poorly implemented asset manager, allowing a few disconnected media files to be dumped into a 3D environment from common editors.

None of that connected particularly well with the inner workings of Astromech, which has modules that do everything from Delaunay triangulation to Keplerian orbital mechanics to real-time digital signal processing of data coming from telescope sensors.

These are all hidden away in javascript modules that aren't finished, let alone documented. There's a scripting interface I haven't had time to work on that's supposed to connect to the inter-client comms system that's only used for chat, right now.

But everything is working, in it's way. All the prototype problems are solved. The Google Realtime API was giving me some grief until I rewired my head and figured out how it's meant to be used. (quick version: DO NOT store tree-like structures using the API. Flatten them into unordered tabular lists, and keep lots of lists. Otherwise, the multi-user undo/redo system will give you a bad time.)

What's coming soon is the new Astromech "editor" app, which is a near-complete rework of the old list of lists system. The new set of available objects is too large to maintain this approach, and so new ideas are needed. (Or perhaps, some old ideas need revisiting. Duh duh daaa!)

Also, the GUI-based editors for the DSP chain and Panel systems are done at last. Getting these two vast wodges available in the pointy-clicky interface has been a long road, but they are absolutely core to the idea of what Astromech is... not just a pretty face, but a tool for accomplishing some nifty science.

The DSP editor has the job of allowing the user to connect together processing blocks like 2D Fourier transforms, convolutions, etc. similar to the "node editor" in Blender, which creates complicated material and animation effects by mixing together an "algebra" of core operators.

Blender struggles to implement this functionality in a simple way, and it's got full control over the user's screen, mouse, and keyboard. My editor is usable on an iPad.

So is the Panel Layout editor, which creates hierarchical box layouts for UI and text displays that are applied to surfaces in the scene. Panels are a kind of sprite-driven micro-language for information displays. They made some early appearances in this blog, but have been missing from the recent demos, until I could make them available for everyone. In essence, chunks of JSON text are rendered to 'compressed' textures, which make use of "superpixels" (or "sprites" in the old days) that come from a common font/symbol swatch used by every panel in the system.

That means the first display console takes a fair chunk of GPU texture memory for the font swatch, but after that each (high resolution) text panel uses as much extra memory as an old-school character-based Teletext display. There's a massive global saving in texture memory, while still getting crisp-edged text on every surface.

There's more than a few cutting edges still sticking out, though, so I have to make another smoothing pass or two, a process of simply grinding away until - well, not until it's perfect - but at least has a chance to solve more problems than it would cause,  To be worth the time cost of learning how to work it.

One day, I hope to completely erase the line between "editor" and "scene", and have all these tools available while inside the 3D environment. That's a few hills over, though.

No comments:

Post a Comment