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Simulation and Engineering Software
Imagine you built a simulator so that when you added weight to the climber, the ribbon dimensions got bigger. If a spreadsheet created calculations that boiled down to simple algebraic formulas, those could be put into a video game. If someone improves the spreadsheet, they can swap in different algebraic constants.
For sharing documents and spreadsheets, we will use OpenOffice.org It is free, uses a good XML file format, runs on all platforms, has spreadsheets you can embed in a document, support for math, diagrams, PDF, etc., etc Having everything in one tool helps to keep things organized, make it easy to collaborate. Keith worked on text engines for 5 years, and just wrote a book using the OpenOffice writer and is sure it is good enough.
OpenOffice has the ability to merge documents, and to do change-tracking, and there other solutions, because underlying the OpenOffice document is a bunch of textual XML which can easily be merged and diffed. As more people start working on documents at the same time, we can find what works best.
In general it should not be a problem: People can read an (old version) of a binary document all they want, and if they want to edit it, they should make sure they have the latest copy, make changes, and then upload them right away. The idea that our spreadsheets will be so busy that there will be merge conflicts is very optimistic!
We could try various things like GoogleDocs for spreadsheet collaboration, but we throw away like 90% of our features! I think that is a bad idea.
A Spreadsheet is a monster tool, but the various pieces need to be linked or otherwise integrated. Just think how many places a spreadsheet cost calculator must go to come up with a "final" number! Spreadsheets get very cool when you start to combine the data from various pieces together. Every separate spreadsheet is a locked up silo of information, unless it is linking to other ones. We have 16 spreadsheets in our archives, and that number already is too big. If you were to build a finite element analysis engine inside a spreadsheet, I would suggest that be a separate one! It is possible to have our models and simulations be huge and easy to approach. You just organize the data into Sheets, Create headings, make important boxes be highlighted, etc.
Some available spreadsheets:
- File:Energy worksht.ods
- File:Cable worksheet.ods
- File:Off-Equator Cable.ods
- File:Length Vs Climbers.ods
Additional spreadsheets available in the archive require cleaning
- File:Climber mass.ods
- File:E&S Orbit.ods
- File:Deployment Mass Calcs New.ods
- File:Climber Number.ods
- File:Climber Mass.ods
- File:Angular Momentum New.ods
We will use the Collada format which is open, XML, has 3-D and physics capabilities. Collada introduction: http://keithcu.com/cgi-bin/hg.cgi?raw-file/6bcb243bfc7d/docs/COLLADA.odp
Blender is the Ferrari of 3-D graphics packages. Like a Ferrari, it is missing creature comforts like cupholders, but it is extremely powerful, has a huge community, has physics simulation capabilities built in and supports Collada.
Monster feature list: http://www.blender.org/features-gallery/features/
Gallery of pretty pictures: http://www.blender.org/features-gallery/gallery/art-gallery/
Online Manual TOC: http://wiki.blender.org/index.php/Manual
Complete Tutorial: 
UI Intro: 
Various tutorials: 
Finite Element Analysis
A full set of Python-based scientific libraries: http://scipy.org/
Tons of other Python software for science and engineering: http://www.scipy.org/Topical_Software
It is recommended to use SciPy for all serious scientific research.
NASA's free code: http://opensource.arc.nasa.gov/