"Amusing and educational" - if you could sum up my life after I'm gone, I hope both of these words could be used, and it always delights me when others follow these precepts. I ran across a product recently that did so, and I thought highly enough about it to write about it here.
The product in question is Invisible Universe by Dr. Fiorella Terenzi, a CD-ROM describing elements of the universe beyond human sight. It's a Voyager disk and lives up to Voyager's quality standards; it also has a sense of humor and a high level of technical content and accuracy. Considering that Dr. Terenzi is an Italian astrophysicist, the technical accuracy isn't too surprising, but when you realize that she's also the beautiful narrator appearing in all the QuickTime movies, it becomes delightful. Her accent charms as she describes the cosmos, ranging from a tour of our solar system to the vast reaches of galaxies surrounding ours.
The often puckish presentation also amused me - Dr. Terenzi is frequently shown standing among the stars, gesturing toward items she is discussing. Other times she appears as a floating head describing the scene, and at one point she's lying on one of the galaxies, so the folks creating the CD-ROM were clearly having fun. The movie shoot must have been a blast for everyone involved.
All of the movies are set to music - it turns out that Dr. Terenzi's specialty is taking radio telescope data and setting it to music. Invisible Universe uses a full hour of her music throughout, and I truly enjoyed it in all the presentations, some of which are simply galaxies scrolling by while music plays.
The Invisible Universe CD-ROM also contains a star map that shows the locations of many interesting phenomena. It includes my favorite, Eta Carinae, a nova which exploded about 150 years ago (see the JPEG image below), as well as a multitude of others I haven't managed to explore entirely. Also included are pictures of the planets and their moons, complete with descriptions and close-ups.
Finally, Invisible Universe holds a plethora of famous poetry, read by famous people, including John Perry Barlow, Herbie Hancock, Thomas Dolby, and a poetry duet with Dr. Terenzi and Timothy Leary. Although not the most technical content, the poetry underscored the light-hearted attitude of the project.
The $40 Invisible Universe CD-ROM was produced using Macromedia Director, and it runs on Macintosh and Windows (check the Voyager page listed above for details). If you are interested in astronomy or cosmology, I think you'll find it worth a look. Even if you're not a major star buff like me, Invisible Universe might give you a sense of the cosmos around you.