15 February 2009

Astrology and Debian

I set up my astrology software for the new Debian installation today. The environment is pretty much the same I had on Mac OS X, based around Matt Skala's astrology LaTeX style, horoscop. But setting up a working TeX installation, complete with custom fonts, is rarely straightforward.

I went with a full TeX Live installation. It's a hefty download, and contains a lot of useless junk, but I didn't want any problems from missing packages. Installing the font for astrological symbols took some trial and error. Finding the right filetree for the files, the right configuration files to edit etc. took some work. But I succeeded in the end and now have LaTeX running without problems, complete with astrological symbols and the horoscop style for drawing good looking charts.

Last, I needed a backend to do the calculations. On OS X I used Astrolog, so I compiled and installed it, without problems. However, I discovered that when I enable ephemeris files provided for greater accuracy, I get some really weird planet positions, at least for Jupiter and Saturn. Without them it works perfectly, and also has the X interface that wouldn't work on OS X. The loss in accuracy should be insignificant for most ordinary needs.

However, on GNU/Linux I've got another option: Swiss Ephemeris from Astrodienst. I coudn't compile it on OS X, but had no trouble now (although I had to fiddle about with the sources a little to set the correct path for ephemeris files). This software has several pros and cons when compared to Astrolog.

On the plus side: It's much newer than Astrolog. It should be very accurate, though, as I said, in ordinary usage this is not a huge factor. It's able to calculate countless asteroids not supported by Astrolog. (Though as of now I'm still using only the seven classical planets.) It's GPL licensed. (Astrolog is basically free, but the terms forbid any kind of commercial use. Which naturally doesn't matter much to me right now, but I can't rule out the possibility of doing interpretation for money some day, even if only on a very small, semi-hobby basis).

The only real downside is that there is no feature rich interface like Astrolog has. It's really intended as a library for developing your own astrology software, but the included demonstration app is good enough to provide data for horoscop. Of course right now a basic, simple birth chart is what I'm mostly looking for, so I guess I'll go with Swiss Ephemeris for now, for accuracy and peace of mind over license questions.

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