Remembering Seeker

Dear Dairy, this is kind of a throwback Thursday post. I have by many standards had a reasonably successful and enjoyable career. I have some outstanding accomplishments I am very proud of, the greatest of which is probably my OpenGL book (all 7 editions) some years back. Another top contender is “Eye of the Storm”, a weather related product that I designed and marketed myself, and it had a good ten year run before I got full-ish time into astronomy. I think though, the most fun, challenge, and sense of artistic accomplishment software wise was a product marketed by Software Bisque called “Seeker”.

Image of Earth from Seeker
I still consider Seeker to be my greatest professional accomplishment as a 3D graphics software engineer.

In early 2003 I fell victim to a downsizing by “Space Holdings” and was laid off (my only lay off ever!) a short 9 months after finally getting my “big break” into making astronomy software at Starry Night. A few days later, I stopped feeling sorry for myself and sent my resume to Software Bisque. A few more days later, I get a forwarded email that was titled ‘Starry Night OpenGL guy is looking for a job’… and Steve Bisque and I were on the phone the next day. I was initially hired as a part time contractor to do a 3D solar system model that would go into TheSky 6. A week or so later, Steve had a realistic 3D model of Saturn that he could fly around with a joystick as an introduction to what a 3D solar system could look like. “This is a whole product by itself”, he said, and it was so. Initially we called it the “Grand Tour”, and the name was only changed (marketing consultants in Denver were responsible for this atrocity-LOL) when the time came to actually ship boxes with CD’s in them. I spent quite a few years on Seeker, and I did 100% of the celestial mechanics and the OpenGL rendering engine. It turns out coordinate transforms in outer space work just like they do in computer games. I had complete creative freedom on the engine, but not the GUI and marketing, which is of course to be understood as I was hired as an engineer, not so much a product developer. The product did okay, and we even had a full dome immersive version for planetarium theaters that was beyond cool to play with under a full dome. Alas, it seems imaging was the real core and profitable business for Software Bisque, Seeker wound down, and I ended up working on the imaging and device control side of the business. I found out I loved imaging (I had played around with it for years with little success), and got pretty good at it, but that’s another story. I can’t authoritatively say why Seeker didn’t “take over the world”, lots of poor products do well, and fantastic products do poorly. I do know that I feel no shame in the results of my work, and it still looks pretty nice even by todays standards when I occasionally fire it up on my Windows PC (no longer works on macOS <sad face>) and watch a 3D asteroid spin by, or a shadow transit on Jupiter from above it’s moon Io.

I gained a lot of both management and engineering experience from working on this project. I found musicians for music, licensed sound effects, hired narrators and writers for automated tour scripts, and two 3D modelers who did asteroid and satellite/space craft models. I took great pride in the accuracy and visual fidelity of the views too, and had the enviable situation of having my kids think their dad was super cool for making “video space games”. My daughter once said, “You get PAID for this? I thought you were just playing around all this time!”. Another time in a theater, after an introductory animation of the Earth before a movie, my son elbowed me and said, “Dad, THEIR atmosphere sucks!”. Yeah, I got to be the cool dad. It was also just such a great growth and learning experience. It was my first 100% shader based OpenGL program, I did a shader based lunar eclipse simulation (calculated all the geometry myself), and appeared on stage at the Apple WWDC developer conference to demonstrate animating the entire minor planet center’s catalog of asteroids using OpenCL and OpenGL together (ah, Snow Leopard, what a great OS release that was – before the era of new OS’s simply having more ways to share photos and shop <says the grumpy old man>).

I still have a few good years left in me, and before long I’ll be as productive (I hope) with the new hotness that is Vulkan as I used to be with OpenGL. I still have an unhealthy appetite for astronomy and space, and as they say… the sky’s the limit!