Capricorn: Dec.22-Jan.29 The Sundial Primer
created by Carl Sabanski
Capricorn: Dec.22-Jan.29

The Sundial Primer Index


This page will direct you to or provide you with utilities that may be of use in one form or another.

Adobe Reader

Many of the files available on this site as well as many others provide information in the form of PDF files. This is a type of file that allows people to easily share information.  But you require a special piece of software to be able to read PDF files. Fortunately this reader is provided for free by Adobe. They also created the Adobe Writer used to convert files to PDF but this is not free. A PDF file can be created from any application that you can print.  The following link will take you to the Adobe web site where you will be guided to the best version of their Reader for your system.

Adobe Reader

ZIP Reader

This site as well others linked to this site offer ZIP files. A zip file is a convenient way to packaged any number of files into a single file. When the files are ZIPPED they are also compressed to varying degrees to make the size of the ZIP file smaller than the combined size of all the files it contains. It's like magic! Again, to be able to ZIP costs but you can UNZIP for free. The following link will take you to PKWARE and they offer a Reader for free. I have installed the Reader to try it out.

Once installed just double click on the file you want to UNZIP. A folder will be created in the directory where you placed the ZIP file and all the files will be automatically extracted

ZIP Reader

PDF Writer

There may be times when you want to share your design with others and need to put it into a format that is readily accessible. PDF files are an accepted format used by many to make documents and drawings available to any one.  Creating a PDF document is easy and can be done for free. FinePrint Software makes available a trial version of their PDF writer pdfFactory. The only extra the trial version gives you is a small banner at the bottom of each page. 

A PDF file can be created from any application that you can print from.  Once the software is installed, pdfFactory becomes a printer selection. You can select paper size and orientation as well as resolution. For reference, remember that a resolution of 300 dpi gives print outs that are photographic quality.

You can also create high resolution PDF files of CAD drawings of you sundial designs. This file can be taken to a print shop where a full scale print of the drawing can be made. This is your sundial template. Perhaps you might even take this file to a company that specializes in photo-etching and have your design etched in brass.

There is one important thing to remember when creating PDF files. If you use a font that does not exist on the computer used to view the file it will be replaced by a default font. This can ruin your design. This is not a problem. When you select "pdfFactory" as your printer first go to "Properties". Select "Setup", then "Advanced" and finally "Fonts". Here you can select the fonts used in your document or drawing and embed them in the PDF file you create. Now it doesn't matter if this font does not exist on the destination computer as it part of the file. Don't embed more fonts than necessary as this will increase the file size. Embedding can also be done during the printing process. At this time only the fonts used in the document are displayed.


ALWAYS check the PDF file to ensure that it matches the original. Instead of embedding the fonts you can also take a copy of the font file along with the PDF file. Go to the directory "windows" and then "Fonts".  All the system fonts are stored there. Copy the ones needed and paste them in the same directory in the destination computer.

Here is a second PDF writer that is available for free from Software995. It is free because it displays a sponsor page in your web browser each time you create a PDF file.  This site also has a number of other free programs that you may find useful.


ZIP Archive

If you are interested in opening and creating ZIP archive files you may want to check out this free utility that is provided by Software995.


Web Authoring System

Are you interested in having your own sundial web site? But you don't want to learn HTML. Then get Nvu and it's free! Nvu provides a web page editor which has a simple graphical interface...WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get). Start creating your own web pages.


While you're there visit the "Nvu's unofficial bug fix release" page. There you will find KompoZer, which is based on Nvu but with a number of fixes. Install both as each program has a good Help file to get you going.

Downloading PDF, ZIP, Picture, etc. Files to Your Computer

When you find a file on the internet that you would like to place on your computer there is a very simple method to use. Refer to the image below for a couple of examples. Move the pointer over the link to a file you want to download. "SUN" links to an Excel spreadsheet file called "Sun.exe". If you left click on the link, and you have Excel loaded, it will startup Excel and run the application. Not all files will open automatically. If you want to download the file to your computer to use at any time then right click on the link. The list shown will appear. Choose "Save Target As..." and the file will be copied to your computer and placed in a directory that you will be asked to specify. If you want to download a picture right click on it and a slightly different list will appear as shown below. This time select "Save Picture As..." and complete the download. It's just that easy!

Download PDF, ZIP Picture, etc. Files

Creating Desktop Shortcuts

A Desktop shortcut can be created for any file. Not all programs will appear in "Start" and "Programs". If it doesn't then you need to find the EXE file every time you want to use the application and run it. It is very easy to place an icon on your Desktop with a shortcut to the application file. Right click on "My Computer" and the left click on "Explore".  You can now browse your computer and find the file of interest as shown in the image below. Right click on the file, select "Send To" and then "Desktop (create shortcut)". The icon shown to the right will be placed on your Desktop. You will not see the icon until it is placed on the Desktop. The icon shown here is specific to this application.  It's just that easy!

Creating a Desktop Shortcut Icon


This is an application that you may find useful when designing sundials or for anything else. It is "Freeware" and can be distributed in accordance with included instructions. If you are not comfortable with either Imperial or Metric units of distance measurement "Convert" will help you out. It comes in a ZIP file and needs a Desktop shortcut icon.




There are occasions during the design of a sundial that a trigonometric calculation is required to get to the next step. Not complex repetitive trigonometric equations that hurt your head just from looking at them. But simple ones that you need to get as sundial design completed. To perform these calculations a scientific calculator is needed but you don't own one and you don't want to buy one. If you are reading this then you own a scientific calculator.

Select "Start", then "Programs" and then "Accessories". Find the selection "Calculator". "Calculator" can be opened in this manner or right click on it select "Send To" and the "Desktop (create shortcut)". A shortcut icon will appear on the Desktop from which you can start "Calculator". If this is the first time "Calculator" is started the "Standard" version may appear. Select "View" on the "Calculator" window and then choose "Scientific". The "Calculator" shown below will appear.


This is very important to help you learn about "Calculator". Right click on any button and a small box with "What's This?" will appear. Select this box and you will get a definition that applies to that particular key as well as the keyboard equivalent, which can be very useful. There is also an extensive "Help" file.

At the very top check that "Dec" (Decimal) and "Degrees" are selected.  Let's look at a few things.

Many times the latitude and longitude are given in degrees, minutes and seconds. The trig functions don't really like this and insist on decimal degrees. "Calculator" can convert to decimal degrees and back if required. However the format takes a little getting used to.  The functions used are "Inv dms" to convert from degrees, minutes and seconds to decimal degrees and "dms" to convert from decimal degrees to degrees, minutes and seconds.

The format used to enter or read degrees, minutes and seconds is as follows:

xx.yyzzzz where xx = degrees, yy = minutes, and zz = seconds to as many decimal places as desired. DON'T forget the decimal place.

Example 1: Convert 95 53' 26.68" to decimal degrees.

1. Enter the value 95.532668 in the display box.
2. Select the "Inv" box.
3. Select "dms".
4. 95.8907444 will appear in the display box.  This is the decimal degree value.

Example 2: Convert 95.8907444 to degrees, minutes and seconds.

1. Enter the value 95.8907444  in the display box.
2. Select "dms".
3. 95.532668 will appear in the display box.  This is the degrees, minutes and seconds, 95 53' 26.68".

It's just that easy! Note that if a conversion to degrees, minutes and seconds is done and a value such as "30.303" is returned there is an implied "0" at the end. The value is 30 30' 30". There are always 6 digits to the degrees, minutes and seconds value.

Let's look at a couple of trigonometric calculations now.

Example 3:  h = 3 / tan (23.44) where 23.44 is a decimal degree value.

The WRONG way.

1. Enter the value 3 in the display box.
2. Select "/".  This is the divide key.
3. Select "tan". This is the tangent function.
4. 0.052407779... will appear in the display box. This is wrong! This value is equal to "tan 3".

The magenta function buttons operate on the value that appears in the display box and not the value entered after the function is selected. There are calculators that operate in this other fashion but not "Calculator". Knowing this the equation can be rewritten as follows:

h = 3 / tan (23.44) = (1 / tan (23.44)) x 3

The RIGHT way.

1. Enter the value 23.44 in the display box.
2. Select "tan".
3. 0.433567758... will appear in the display box. This is the equal to "tan 23.44".
4. Select "1/x". The value in step 3 is inverted.
5. 2.306444564... will appear in the display box.
6. Select "*". The display does not change as the "Calculator" is waiting for the next value.
7. Enter the 3 in the display box.
8. Select "=". This is the equals key and performs the multiplication on the previous 2 entered numbers.
9. 6.919333692... will appear in the display box. This is the correct answer.

There may be other ways to perform this calculation so try to find one. This particular calculation is one you will come across on this site. Practice! And if a result appears to be unreasonable it just may be so try it again.

If you would like another example displayed here send the equation and I'll give it a try. Be sure that it relates to dialling.