If you really want to see ancient Athens, use Linux

Teetering on the brink of ditching Windows in favour of Linux, I was interested in a report (via Explorator – thanks David Meadows) about a new virtual reality tour of the Agora. I give the technical stuff in case you, gentle reader, can make head or tail of it, and then ease into the practicalities of what you may be able to take your school party to see in Athens.

Foundation of the Hellenic World Uses Silicon Graphics Prism Systems to Design Immersive, Interactive Presentation for New Domed Theater

DUBLIN, Ireland and MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif., Eurographics Stand 12, Aug. 29 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ — Late next year, Foundation of the Hellenic World's (FHW) innovative cultural center/museum, Hellenic Cosmos, will feature an immersive virtual tour of Agora, the heart of ancient Athens. For the development of this stunning virtual reality (VR) presentation in advance of the 2006 opening of a state-of-the-art immersive 128-seat domed theater, the Foundation of the Hellenic World (FHW), a not-for-profit cultural institution in Athens, Greece, selected visualization technology from Silicon Graphics (NYSE: SGI – News). FHW will use the SGI® system to add more animations and much more realistic graphics to the Agora presentation than its previous VR datasets. …

“Our Ancient Olympia tour had 33 virtual buildings and, at about half a gigabyte, was double the size of our previous dataset; it was straining our 7-year-old system. We knew we had to move to a faster machine with bigger texture memory and bigger shared memory for the Ancient Agora, which has 43 buildings, plus we're planning much more interaction,” said Athanasios Gaitatzes, head of the Virtual Reality Department, Foundation of the Hellenic World. “We also wanted to move all our existing productions onto the Linux environment of the Silicon Graphics Prism and see how the new graphics cards that SGI is using will work with our old data, and get some exposure to the new machine's new architecture. We looked at clusters and they are very painstaking to use. The Silicon Graphics Prism system was the only machine that could offer speed, shared memory, and graphics power, along with the compositor, where you can assign quadrants for projection.”

So that's the technical stuff. Now, what's it all about?

Essentially, you are going to be able to take the rabble – I'm sorry, the highly motivated and select group of Classical enthusiasts – to a new kind of super-visitor-centre in Pireos Street, Athens, where there is already an exhibition on the Olympic Games (including Virtual Reality tours of the Temple of Zeus and a walk round the buildings of ancient Olympia) and an exhibition on Greek mathematics, and let them loose in a Virtual Reality tour of the Agora. I must say that this sounds like a really good idea. I myself, after years of teaching Classical Civ A level and after about 8 visits to the Agora, am just beginning to get the hang of the ruins. This exhibition would have given me a flying start.

Mind you, it's not finished yet. Meanwhile, here's a bit about Hellenic Cosmos:

Hellenic Cosmos, the Cultural Centre of FHW, is being built in a 65000 square metre lot, at 254 Pireos Street, where the VIOSOL factory functioned until June 1997. This complex was originally designed before the Second World War by architect Solon Kydoniates, and consists of various self-sufficient industrial buildings. The remodelling of the complex began with a 2000 square metre building.

See their site here.

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