Science Fiction - Fantasy - History - Space  -  Other Speculations  -  Simulations

Last update: September 23, 2012



Hubble Telescope (large image)


Analysis, Commentary ... and Sheer Speculation

"May You Live In Interesting Times"




Welcome to The Observatory!  This is a 'best of' of my old static website, hosted at Compuserve's 'Ourworld' before it finally gave up the ghost. Software changes made it too much hassle to transfer the whole site to my new domain. Most of it won't be missed, but here are some items I thought worth saving from the wreckage.

There are three sections: articles; software I wrote; and some useful links on the left navbar.

And, yes, I do have an ulterior motive.

-- Rick Robinson

Email: lyonesse[at]





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My blog: Rocketpunk Manifesto

(This website is essentially a pre-archive of online stuff I wrote before starting a blog.)


Articles -

The Tough Guide to the Known Galaxy February 14, 2001)

These pages are, of course, a shameless ripoff of Diana Wynne Jones's The Tough Guide to Fantasyland.

Oh, that sounds so crass.   It is much nicer to say that they are a sincere tribute [OMT] to the original.  Not only nicer, but every bit as accurate ...


The Tough Guide to Archetypes (February 14, 2001)

Having worked the Spirited Princess racket myself in my novel-under-submission, Catherine of Lyonesse, I was more than ordinarily amused / horrified by Ms. Wynne Jones's brilliant, brutal survey of fantasy conventions ...


Interstellar Trade: A Primer (February 20, 2001)

I confess to being a sucker for a type of science fiction that is not always the most literary: space SF. At bottom this is surely the tourist impulse ...


No Cheap Orbiters? (February 20, 2000)

An ever-popular theme among space enthusiasts is that space should be privatized. Not, that is, that the Solar System should be parceled out into subdivisions and sold off (well, maybe that too), but that access to space should be privatized ... 


Tarrantry (July 19, 2000)

In a world only slightly different from our own, geological forces uplifted the Continental Shelf to form an island, west of Brittany and south of Ireland.  This island came to be known as Tarrantry.  From a duchy of medieval France it became in time an independent nation, small in population but prosperous from trade and redoubtable at sea ...

(Several people at the former Warships1 discussion board wrote stories set in the Tarrantry-verse. Alas, all of it now seems to have vanished from the Web, so this is pretty much all that remains of Tarrantry.)


Those Naughty Crusaders (February 19, 2000)

Cultural stereotypes have an amazingly long life span.  And in the eyes of their Muslim contemporaries, the medieval "Franks" were entirely too frank ...


Software Toyz -

The first of these is an external link to an excellent toy inspired by my 'SpringStyle' battleship design sim; the second is an Excel spreadsheet. The rest were written in QuickC for DOS. (!) They run on my WinXP machine; I have no idea how/whether they can be run on a Vista or Win7 machine, or Linux or Mac.



Some years ago I wrote a sim program, SpringStyle, to model the major characteristics of big-gun era warships. (The name, originally a fashion term, came to be used for the initial sketch designs of proposed naval ships.)

It was much my most popular piece of geekware, enjoying some vogue on imaginary-warship boards. In due course a couple of more skilled programmers, Ian and James Ross-Gowan, asked if they could develop a Windows version. I happily agreed, on condition that it remain freeware. Their version, Springsharp is now in v3 beta, with my spaghetti code totally rewritten and cool new features like a hull outline. Recommended for all battleship fans.


Aircraft Specification Simulator

This is, more or less, "SpringStyle for Airplanes."  This Excel workbook allows you to specify the dimensions, power plant, and maximum takeoff weight of an aircraft; the workbook then computes its weights and allows you to explore its flight performance envelope.  (It's not a flight simulator, but tests what speed and altitude the aircraft could attain.  Provisions include simming orbital spaceplanes and airships, as well as conventional airplanes. 

ZIPped file contains Excel workbook with explanation/instruction notes and sample aircraft.  This is a beta!  Requires Excel.



As the name suggests, a heavy-gun modeling sim. Like all my software it is user hostile, but here it is if you want to try it out.

Galley: Rowing Performance Simulator

ZIP package with a program (in Anglo-American and metric versions) to compute the number of rowers needed for a galley to reach a desired speed, or how fast it can go for a given number of rowers.   Ramming Speeeed!


Planetary Climate Sim

I designed this to approximate the effects on earthlike planets of differing axial inclination (tilt) and more eccentric orbits. I added a sheer-guesswork attempt to model atmospheric (and oceanic) latitudinal heat transfer. Offered without warranty!

C for DOS Source code

Update (9/8/2012)

A Rocketpunk Manifesto reader, Jonathan Brase, wrote a Linux port of the Climate Sim for his own entertainment and edification, and graciously agreed to let me provide it here.

He has added a feature allow users to set the albedo of a planet's land surface.

He also notes that the source file should compile to a working executable on OS X (or any Unix-like environment) so long as the ncurses library is available. See the enclosed readme file.

Since I have zero working knowledge of either Linux or OS X, I cannot test the functionality of this version, nor provide any user instruction. For a discussion of the sim itself, and its limitations, also download my original version linked above.


Update to the update - Jon Brase has also sent me a version for Win32, which will run on Win64 systems. (My original version won't.) Again, I haven't tested this, but it ought to work.

Planetary Climate Sim for Linux

Planetary Climate Sim for Win32









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