Tuesday, January 27, 2015

How To Find Out Your Moon Sign? Part 2: Using the Moon Sign Calculator

I created this calculator several years ago, with the aim to make finding out one's Moon Sign as easy as possible. Since then, the Moon Sign Calculator became very popular: about 10,000 unique visitors use it daily.

The strengths of this calculator are:

  1. It uses the state-of-the-art astronomical algorithms to calculate the position of the Moon. Most professional astrological programs use the same algorithms. When a person who had a doubt whether the Moon Sign Calculator's result was precise enough gave me her birth details, I calculated her chart using Solar Fire and then compared the position of the Moon in that chart with the result of my calculator. The results were exactly the same. 
  2. It is very easy to use. You just need to enter the date and the time of birth, as well as specify the time zone where you were born. The calculator will make all the necessary adjustments and corrections and give you the position of the Moon at your birth with the minute-of-the-arc precision. 
  3. It offers a focused, compact interpretation of the found out Moon Sign, concentrating primarily on those attributes that are strongly associated with the Moon. If you prefer a more detailed description, with examples, I'd recommend you my Moon Sign Book
The calculator also has some issues associated with it. The main of them is the inability of some users to figure out how to use the calculator, even though it is so simple.

The date entry problem. There are two different date formats used in the world. One of them is common in the USA; it can be briefly described as mm/dd/yy, which means the month goes first, then the day of the month, then the year. The 26th of May 1990 in this format will become 5/26/90. The other format is used in the rest of the world; it can be described as dd/mm/yy, which means the day of the month goes first, then the month, then the year. The 26th of May 1990 in this format will become 26/05/90.

To steer around this problem, I decided to use a calendar widget. As soon as you put your cursor in the date field, the widget appears:

If you use this widget, — select patiently the month, the year and the day — the resulting date will be entered in the correct format, no matter where you are from, in the world. However, many people do not bother using the widget, they just type in the date of birth in the format they are used to. And that can create a problem.

Initially, the default format of the calculator was European, dd/mm/yy. That's because I live in the UK. However, most of the website's visitors are from the USA, and I kept getting emails saying that the calculator does its work for some totally different date, not the one that was entered. What was happening in reality looked like this: a user entered his or her birth date as 5/26/90; calculator understood that as the 5th day of the 26th month of the year 1990; it tried to be user friendly, so didn't complain and went ahead with the calculation for the 5th of May 1993 (which is equivalent to the 26th month of 1990); but that obviously, wasn't acceptable for the user.

Since most of my visitors are from the USA, at some point I simply changed the default date format of the calculator, and I didn't have any complaints since then. But the possibility of an error still exists. If someone will type in the date in the European format, ignoring the calendar widget (and ignoring the 'mm/dd/yy' hint clearly visible next to the Birth Date field), they will get a wrong result. 

The time zone versus the location problem. Another problem some users complain about is that they can't specify their precise birth location in the calculator. They could write, like, "I can select Europe/London, but there is no Liverpool where I was born". The thing is, you don't need to know the precise location to calculate the Moon Sign. All you need is the time zone of birth, and that's exactly what the calculator offers to select. But since time zones are named after major cities, some users get confused and try to find their exact town. Don't do that. Just use Europe/London for the whole of the UK, or America/New York for the whole of the Eastern Time area. 

Admittedly, I could simplify this time zone selector, leaving just "Eastern Time", "Mountain Time" and so on. I will think about that.  

The birth time uncertainty. There are relatively frequent questions about whether it is possible to find out your Moon Sign if you don't know the time of birth. It is possible, in the greatest majority of cases, and I am planning to devote one of the coming blog posts to answering this question. 

A rare time zone error. Let me tell you straightaway that this problem will hardly affect more than 1% of the users, possibly a lot less. To be among those whose Moon Sign will be defined wrongly because of the technical limitations of the calculator, you need to be born very close to the time when the Moon crossed the border between two signs AND to be born in one of those places on the Earth where the time zone history is not straightforward.

By "not straightforward" I mean that there are areas like Florida, where currently the Eastern Time is used in the same way it is used in New York, however in the 1950s Florida didn't observe Daylight Saving Time. The calculator doesn't know such nuances. It uses the definitions of the time zones provided by the computing platform. Those definitions are good enough in most cases, but not in all cases. To make the calculator more precise, I would need to use a special database containing all the known historical changes to the time zones around the world. Such a database does exist, but its licensing terms are prohibitive. However, the same database is used in many astrological software packages, and if you really need to know your Moon Sign with the highest precision and reliability, wait for one of my coming posts where I'll explain how to use some of the free packages available online.

It should come as no surprise that if the government in some country (like Russia) keeps changing time zones and rules for daylight saving times, the most recent changes will not be reflected in the online time zone definitions, so again, my Moon Sign Calculator can be an hour off in those cases. 

Friday, January 16, 2015

How To Find Out Your Moon Sign? Part 1: Using a Book

I received an email from a person who stated that different sources give her at least three different versions of her Moon Sign, so she was confused. I asked her what those sources were, and she answered that the first of them was a book. That book offered a very simple approach: "you look up your date of birth, and your Moon Sign is listed next to it".

If you have a book like that, please do not trust it. The situation with the moon signs is a bit more complex than that. The Moon can change sign at any moment during a particular day, and so to find out in which sign it was at the moment of birth you need to take into account both the time of birth and the time zone of the location where the person was born.

Let's consider an example. I have a book by David Wells titled "Your Astrological Moon Sign. Werewolf, Angel, Vampire, Saint? Discover Your Hidden Inner Self". This book offers Moon Tables that were designed to help the reader to find out his or her Moon Sign. Let's have a look into those tables. Let's say you were born in 1975, on the 5th of May. For May 1975, we'll find in the tables the following records:

04 17:33 Pis
07 06:02 Ari

What this means is that the Moon entered the sign of Pisces on the 4th of May 1975 at 5:33pm and remained there until the 7th of May, 6:02am. Therefore, everyone who was born on the 5th or the 6th of May that year had Pisces for their Moon Sign, and not even the time of birth will be needed to figure that out. So simple.

But what if you were born on the 4th of May instead? Before the Moon entered Pisces on that day, it was in the previous sign, Aquarius. So, you might guess that if you were born before 5:33pm, your Moon Sign is Aquarius, after that — it's Pisces. Is that really so? Unfortunately, not. Before using the Moon Tables, you were supposed to check the very first page of them, which states: "The times shown here are GMT. If you were born outside the UK, please readjust your time of birth to GMT". In fact, even if you were born in the UK, life won't be that easy for you: you'll need to take into account the daylight saving time, and whether it was in use at the moment of your birth. 5:33pm GMT on the 4th of May will be actually 6:33pm GMD.

And if you were born in New York, the time of the Moon's entry into Pisces was 12:33pm EST. Again, you'd need to figure out whether the daylight saving time was in use, and if it was, you should use 1:33pm EDT instead. For other locations, like Los Angeles, Tokyo, Sydney, all the times will be very different, of course.

Even that isn't complex enough to be precise. In some locations, the time zone rules changed over time. For example, if you were born in Florida relatively recently, you could use Eastern Time for your time zone in the same way you'd do that for New York. However, a little bit further into the past (probably in the 1940s, but that's from the top of my head) Florida didn't observe daylight saving time, and you should take that into account if it's relevant for your date and place of birth.

To summarise, it is possible to use a table like in David Wells' book to find out your Moon Sign. If you were born on one of those days when the Moon stayed within the same sign for the whole day, you'll get the answer quickly and easily (although if your time zone was different from GMT, you'd have to make an adjustment to figure out where the day begins and ends). However, if you were born on one of those days when the Moon changed its sign, you'd need to take into account the time zone of birth, the daylight saving time, and to do a bit of calculation before you'll be able to figure out your Moon Sign.

If your book tells you that you can find out your Moon Sign simply from the date of birth, don't trust that book.

By the way, did you know that I've written a Moon Sign book myself? It doesn't contain any tables as it relies on very different ways of finding out your Moon Sign. I will discuss one of those other ways in the next post.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

More on Cutting Hair with the Moon

In a very old post on using the information about the Moon's phase and sign to choose a time to cut hair, I followed the same approach that would be appropriate in gardening. Indeed, the way how hair grows is, in terms of biological evolution, similar to the way how plants grow.

Now, however, I found an additional information in a medieval astrological manuscript from the collection of Elias Ashmole. To be able to use this information, you need to know what the Mansions of the Moon are. You will also need to use the Universal Lunar Calendar, set up for your location.

Here is the list of the mansions from the Ashmole 396 manuscript that are related to cutting the hair, in one or another way:

Mansion 1: "Cut your hair and your nails".
Mansion 5: "Wash your head, shear your hair".
Mansion 7: "Shear your hair and wash your head, wear new clothes".
Mansion 9: "Shear not your hair".
Mansion 11: "Shear your hair if you will".
Mansion 13: "Wash your head and cut your hair".
Mansion 15: "Shear not your hair".
Mansion 17: "Shear not your hair".
Mansion 18: "Shear not your hair".

Sunday, January 11, 2015

iLuna: the Next Steps

Right now, I am working on iLuna for Android. It so happened, historically, that the Android version was a bit simpler than the iPhone one (well, at the time I created it, Android was still in version 1, and there was one and only Android phone in the whole world). It offers all the same information, but, perhaps most significantly, it's missing the Month view that allows to see at a glance the whole month, and to navigate by a month at a time.

So the first thing I am going to do is to bring iLuna for Android to the same level of user interface sophistication where iLuna for iPhone is right now.

The next task is internationalisation (i18n). That's something I should have done years ago, simply because Russian is my first language, and I could easily do a Russian translation myself. So I did it, for the current Android app, but I haven't applied it to the iPhone one yet. I've also got a Korean translation, but I still need to implement it in both apps. Why exactly Korean? Well, it looked like the best choice on the website of the translation company I used. Whether I was a right decision or not, the future will show.

So the current target for me is to have both apps with a similar user interface, and translated into Russian and Korean. I will then be gradually adding other translations, beginning from Spanish.

In terms of content, the next step will be adding the Lunar Mansions. Then retrograde Mercury will be added too. It isn't exactly a lunar thing, but creating a separate app for retrograde Mercury doesn't look like a good idea, and this information was requested by the existing users of iLuna. It is quite important too.

In terms of functionality, the next step is adding the possibility of exporting the information to a calendar. The other steps will be creating notifications for the selected bits of information, and the possibility of sharing the information in various ways.

This is the roadmap, but I can't tell you how much time it will take to implement it, because I can only work on iLuna in the evenings and on the weekends, after my regular job (which is about creating mobile apps for various businesses).

One decision I've made however is that I should send out a Lunarium Newsletter at least weekly, so if you want to keep in touch, you are very welcome to subscribe to it.

Friday, January 09, 2015

iLuna and New Versions of iOS and Android

iLuna was the first smartphone app I ever created. The iPhone version of it was released to the App Store in February 2009, while the Android version was released in the end of the same year. Since then, thousands of people became the users of iLuna, many of them use the app on a daily basis. In fact, it is the most popular of my apps. All my attempts to create something that would be at least as popular as iLuna weren't successful.

With all the previous updates to the mobile platform, from iPhone SDK 2.0 to iOS 7, from Android 1.0 to Android KitKat 4.4.4, iLuna just kept working. It was good, because all those thousands of users could rely on the app. But it also gave me an opportunity to delay the updates. Some of those updates were requested by users long time ago, like, for example, the possibility of exporting information from iLuna into a calendar. The app wasn't even updated for the bigger iPhone 5 screen, so it wasn't using the whole screen on the newer devices.

The year 2014 changed all that. It created a lot of disruption, but it also shifted my attention back to iLuna and its further development.

It all began with iOS users. Those who updated to the new iOS 8 started reporting that iLuna doesn't work for them anymore. Well, it did work, mostly, but tapping on the i button, which would usually display a description for a phase or a sign, produced no result on iOS 8. People were writing that they were using iLuna all the time, and that this problem made them unhappy. I felt ashamed that I didn't test iLuna with the new version of iOS. I had a few months to do that, but those were very busy months: I travelled a lot, and I worked a lot. Besides, iLuna just kept working with all those previous iOS updates!

I decided that this is the time for me to update iLuna properly, and to add to it new functionality. However, the creation of an entirely new version of the app would require a substantial amount of time and effort, because the original user interface was very rigid. It didn't leave any space for new content and new functionality, so I had to come up with something different. At the same time, the complaints from the users kept coming, so I decided that I would quickly fix the old app, so that it worked on iOS 8, and then would concentrate on the new version.

So I took the old code of iLuna and tried to simply run it with the latest version of development tools. Unfortunately, too many things have changed on the iOS platform since the time I was running that code last time. There were mysterious error messages here and there, the mended version of the app looked a bit ugly, but I did manage to make it working – or I thought so. The process of submission to Apple of such an old code was long and painful, I was forced to do a few changes, to be able to jump through all the hoops, hoping that everything will still be working... But when the fixed version of the app was released, it was a disaster. Only the Now view was available. Tapping on either Day or Month tabs produced no result, and those are the important sections of the app. Worst of all, I wasn't careful enough, so my "fix" became available not only to the users who updated to iOS 8, but to all the other users as well, including those who were happily running the old version of iLuna. That was bad.

The next decision was to create a new version of the app from scratch, so that it worked and looked right on different devices with various screen sizes, and in addition was flexible enough for adding new content and functionality in the future. However, to reduce time to market, I decided to delay adding those new features until later. Right now, it was essential to simply restore the normal work of the app, offering the old content and functionality. So I mobilised myself and worked very hard for several weeks, doing my daily job for the whole day, then spending most of my time re-creating iLuna in the evenings and on the weekends. To make sure the app adjusted to different screen sizes, I used auto layout - the feature of iOS that became available in version 7. My mistake this time was that I made that auto layout very, very complex when working on the Month view, and that I only tested the new version of the app on devices with iOS 8.

When the new 2.0 version of iLuna was finally released, I was delighted to get a few emails from iOS 8 users who were very happy about the app. However, after that I got a number of emails from those people who had old devices, like iPhone 4 or iPhone 4s, and who were still running iOS 7 (because iPhone 4 simply cannot be updated to iOS 8, and iPhone 4s's performance with iOS 8 is very bad, so people prefer not to update). Those users complained that the new version of the app freezes and doesn't work for them at all. When I investigated the problem, I realised that the culprit was that very, very complex auto layout in the Month view. Auto layout is much slower on iOS 7, and especially on older devices. In the case of iLuna 2.0, it was so horribly slow that could take several minutes for the Month view to get laid out. The app was frozen for all those minutes, so the users said it didn't work. Well, technically speaking, it did work, but it was atrociously, unusably slow in the Month view. So more work was needed.

I returned to the Month view and deleted from it all the complex auto layout. I then had to figure out how to manually configure the calendar for different screen sizes. It required quite a bit of code, and a substantial amount of time, but I did it. Finally, iLuna 2 worked on all the devices, with both iOS 7 and iOS 8, and I could relax a little bit. The app still offered no new information and no new features, but some of those were planned for the very next update.

At that point, however, Android 5 Lollipop reached some of the users of iLuna for Android. Again, the preview version of Lollipop was available for several months, and I could have tested the app with it, but, first, iLuna just kept working through all the previous Android releases, so I didn't expect any problems, and second, I was quite busy with iLuna for iPhone, as you can see.

So one day, when I thought when iLuna troubles are over and I can have evenings and weekends for myself, I started receiving emails from Android users saying that iLuna doesn't work on Android 5 at all. It just crashes on startup. More work was ahead. As a result, there is a new version of iLuna for Android that works on the new platforms, (Android 4.0 and newer) while those running the older versions of Android can still get the old version of the app.

I will tell you about my on-going work and my plans for both versions of iLuna in the next post. For now, here are the links to the updated apps:

iLuna for iPhone

iLuna for Android

Monday, September 02, 2013

A Great Example of the Moon in Libra

In my Moon Sign book, I've written the following:

The ruler of Libra Venus gives the Moon-in-Libra people a great natural appreciation of the beauty of the surrounding world, and since Libra is an Air sign, they feel an urge to somehow tell other people about that beauty, to share their adoration of the world. That's why you will find many famous artists who were born with the Moon in Libra.

In a different section of the book, I am using an example of Sylvester Stallone as of a typical Moon-in-Libra individual. But it is only now that I've discovered that he is not just a world-famous actor, he is also an artist! His art exhibition in Switzerland a few years ago was entitled "Sylvester Stallone: 35 Years of Painting".

I've made quite a number of little discoveries while working on the book, and now, when the book is already finished, I keep making more of them!

Sunday, September 01, 2013

The Moon Sign Book

This project was the main focus of my efforts over the last half a year. There was a lot of research and gathering data, many ideas waiting to be described properly, and this was also my very first astrological book in English (I do have already two other books published in English but those were about some obscure areas of computer programming). So it was a massive effort.

Finally, the book is available and is waiting for its readers.

I made sure that the paperback version is available, and it is printed on a cream paper, which I think is very appropriate for the topic of the book - it resembles the colour of the moonlight. I tried to keep the book as affordable as possible, but on-demand printing isn't cheap. Anyway, if you, like myself, still like paper books, you can get a paper version of my Moon Sign book here:

The book will also be available, or is already available, for all the major eReader platforms. You can get it right now for:

It should appear soon at the Apple iBookstore as well, pending their review.

But if all you need is a PDF version (although you can get from there an ePub and a MOBI version as well) then the most convenient option might be Leanpub: