Saturday, December 31, 2011

relaxing finish

Did a few things at the CAO... Otherwise took it easy.
  • delivered the new Kendrick dew heaters (for Tele Vue 101 objective and the 2" eyepieces on both the TV101 and the Celestron 14")
  • delivered the foam for the new MallinCam case (but didn't cut it)
  • took more hot chocolate (for my personal stash!)
  • replaced the batteries in the Davis weather station console*
  • reset the min/max history in the Davis console (good timing, on the beginning of the new year)
  • verified the weather data was getting to the web site
  • remembered to retrieve the keys from Zbig
  • surveyed the property
  • updated our property diagrams
  • verified the generator exercise routine
  • discussed relocating the CAO computer server
  • sent Tony the link to the IT survey
  • sent updates to Dietmar
  • finally beat Trevor at backgammon
  • chilled the bubbly
* When Trevor and I swapped out the C batteries from the Davis console, we tried to reset the unit. After a few attempts, I finally figured out / remembered how to do it. RTFM! One needs to hold the DONE button when finished the setup... Duh.

Pretty lazy. For me anyway. Tony was a busy-bee.

foggy domes

It was a little weird seeing the pods emerge from the fog...

The legs of an elephant?

the social aspect

Received a nice note from Stu. He talked about how he had fun observing this year. And that we was surprised at how important the social aspect of astronomy is. I agree. Some times I want to observe alone; other times, it's hollow. I had a lot of fun observing with people this year. Phil at the OSC star party; broadcasting on NSN with Dietmar; viewing doubles with Millie; quasar hunting on the Observing Pad with Ian, Mickey, et al; at the parkette with Manuel; finding noctilucent clouds with Sharmin; Mew Lake fun with Bob, Adam, and Katrina; and nailing the ISS in front of the Moon with Steve, Kiron, Denis, Trevor, Tony, Scott, Jim, Bill, and Sharmin! A lot of fun.

the last survey?

Tony wanted to complete the IT and web survey. Down to the wire, man! Asked me if I had it. I forwarded him Jason's reminder email.

Friday, December 30, 2011

challenging drive

After the stressful drive to the CAO through freezing rain and horizontal snow, I thought a cool beverage would be refreshing. Mmm, snow beer.

Some of the last few St. Peter's Winter Ale in the province. For me and Grace.

headed to the CAO

A small group of us are headed to the Carr Astronomical Observatory for a few days. We were looking forward to celebrating New Year's there. Grace has a nice dinner planned. I'm making lasagna with all the fixin's one of the eve's. The weather wasn't looking promising but we didn't care...

Thursday, December 29, 2011

arranged parking

Now that the horse stables have been sold, we no longer have our usual parking spot, when visiting the CAO in the winter. I phoned our neighbours to the east to see if they might oblige us.

demo'ed db

Showed Phil the changes I had made in Access to the Toronto Centre membership database... He likes it! Skeena likes it too!


Borrowed Phil's snow shoes.

ordered heaters for GBO

I didn't know if they'd be opened during the holidays. Didn't know if they'd have what I wanted in stock.

Toes crossed, I rang Kendrick. Luda picked up! Awesome. Asked if they were open. Sorta. It was quiet, not a lot of staff were around, she was doing the books, but was prepared to help. Asked if they had dew heaters in stock for the Tele Vue and 2" eyepieces. She put me on hold. And she returned in short order with good news. w00t!

I booked my pick up time on Friday...

second leg begins

Terry sent details including tracking number, costs, photocopies of receipts and the order form. The NXW431 board is on its way to the Great White North. Where we too have solder!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

reworked database

I applied a bunch of changes to the Access database used to manage the Toronto Centre members. Worked on it for about 12 hours. Essentially, I took it from a flat-file to a relational database. The visible change was a modern, sophisticated, multi-tabbed form for input. Without the dumbass crazy headache-inducing astro-theme background. I think Phil's gonna like it.

in his hands

Terry reported receiving the circuit board for the CPC 1100. He said he'd put it in the post mail tomorrow. The first leg is ended. Half way home!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

couch installed

Thanks to Malcolm, Tony, and Steve for helping get a two-seater in Mom's studio observatory.

gifts 2011

Received some SF- and astronomy-related gifts under the tree this year...

Space Invaders scratch-n-scan instant-win OLG ticket. With scratcher. From Donna.

Weird card magnet. Eew-niverse.

Femo polymer clay pen and pen holder. Glow in the dark! Stars and moons. By Edi Jenkins.

Felt mobile thing with all the planets of the solar system. Custom made by Donna.

The book, The Life & Death of Stars by D.A. Cooke (with intro by Mr. Moore—'cuse me, Sir Moore). A discarded book from a library actually. From Donna and Steve.

A nice surprise was Looking Up by R.P. Broughton. One of the RASC's own publications. I immediately looked up pix of Dr. Chou. Fun. Again, from Donna and Steve.


Yesterday, while passing through, Donna asked if I wanted a cookie tin. Shaped like a star. I didn't notice until later that it has the signs of the zodiac on it. That'll be kinda fun, transporting treats to the CAO...

Friday, December 23, 2011

Rocket Rudolph


That's just weird.

Happy holidays.

board shipped

Terry sent an update on the NXW431 circuit board:
Ho, ho, ho,

I just got an [email] that the board has shipped. It actually got into the UPS system last night. The UPS Ground tracking number is: 1ZR4472V0353122978

They say to allow 3 - 5 days.

SNO invite

Gord from the Orillia Astronomy Club contacted me to share that they have about 10 spots open for their SNO LAB tour. Cool! A rare opportunity.

I promised to relay the info to the RASC Toronto Centre members...

Thursday, December 22, 2011

doing what it's supposed to do

The new news of Kepler finding two Earth sized planets is very good. OK. Exciting. Indeed, it is very good on several levels. The euphoria of the discovery might eclipse a subtle point however. The Kepler telescope is working. Working as planned. Fulfilling the wishes of the designers. Exhibiting a high degree of precision. Extreme accuracy needed to pluck a 6 or 7,000 rock circling a star 1,000 light years away. It's doing what they asked it to do.

Can you imagine the joy the people on this project must be feeling?

helped John out

I had emailed John, winner of SkyTools 3, to congratulate him. My ulterior motive was different. When I didn't hear back I was starting to wonder if I had the wrong person. So I phoned.

We chatted live. He was very happy. He had started to dive into the software and was doing well. He did protest though about the red light mode. He explained his problem... none of the text was visible.

I directed him to the Preferences and the red light mode brightness slider. He said he had seen it actually but assumed it was not working. I encouraged him to try again.

He was pleased that I had called.

farmable calc

Helped Tony calculate the portion of our land at the CAO that could be farmed for crops. Used the Google maps image, the original site survey by CSP, and Visio. The hardest part was establishing the scale. The numbers I arrived at, after the first cut, seem reasonable.

they took his money

Terry relayed that his credit card was hit for the CPC 1100 board. A very good sign. The bad news was that they were only shipping it now. So, I guess Santa wont be bringing an NXW431 down the chimney...

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

mini calendar formatting improved

Early Dec I tweaked some of the code in the mini calendar. It looked fine for me in the browser I was using. But I forgot to check in others. A couple of days later, while visiting the RASC Toronto Centre web site, I saw a little problem. But, while inconsistent, it didn't seem terrible.

On 16 Dec, John M reported a big problem at his end. Oh oh.

I finally jumped back into the code tonight. Stripped all the evil FONT tags. And deployed CSS classes, using the CSS definitions already in place. Didn't seem to work at first. Double checked how I was doing it. And then it started working. Tested in FF and IE.


John gave a thumbs-up! Whew.

implemented analytics

I finally got 'round to embedding the Google analytics codes into our HTML templates on the main RASC Toronto Centre web site. I hope this will give Allard the results he's interested in...

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

paper surveys in

I manually entered the surveys mailed to me. This so that Jason would have a complete set of results in the Survey Monkey system. It was tedious however as the web site seemed to use cookies to know that I had already completed the RASC IT and web survey. So I had to clear history and reset the browser for each submission.

Then I submitted one more. Anonymously.

exoplanet push

Now that's an interesting notification... From NASA. To the freshly downloaded app on the iPod Touch. Kepler found a bunch of Earth-sized planets. Kinda nice being amongst the first to know.

ho ho, found it

Wow. Via the incredible internet, I found Cosmic Christmas! In a bunch of YouTube snips.

Fantastic old Canadian animation directed Clive A. Smith, produced by Nelvana no less. Spaceships, a Prime Directive, variable stars or supernovae, and aliens. Not the head-biting kind.

part 1 (8:22)
part 2 (8:42)
part 3 (8:46)

Eerily familiar, all the sounds... I wonder if I recorded the sound track on my old cassette deck. I know the words and sounds almost before they say them. I probably first saw this in December 1977.

Good to see it again.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

database ideas

While Ralph coached Phil on using the Toronto Centre membership database in Access, I observed, made an occasional inquiry, and made some notes. The finer details were a little overwhelming at times. But I got a bunch of ideas on how to improve the database proper (in terms of collecting valuable data) and improve workflow. Then we had tea and treats.


Damn! I forgot to receive the Stellarium course evaluations from Ralph...

Friday, December 16, 2011

grey foam order

Popped into FoamCo on Fairbank Ave, near Castlefield and Dufferin. Ordered up foam pieces for various projects: new eyepiece case; new MallinCam case; the loaner refractor case. While they didn't have a dark grey, they did have a selection of densities in a light grey. I requested 1" and 2" thick pieces. Seems like you can do very customised sizes with them.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

whole bean astronomy

Ordered my whole coffee beans. As the old Coffee Tree guy started to pour some Mexican out, he asked if I had been to Mount Forest. Threw me for a second. But then I remembered I had my baseball cap on, the one from Manuel, identifying my passion. I said, "Never been but I know about it." We chatted about telescopes and deep sky objects. He used to have an 8" Meade but he got rid of it out of frustration.

Stargazers everywhere...

NXW431 ordered

When I revealed that it was Geoff's CPC 1100 mount I was fixing, Terry was completely on board. Ready to help us in any way possible. Awesome. Oh, and more good news: he reported the motor control circuit board was in stock!

I told him Geoff was very happy. He'd covered all the costs.

So, Terry ordered the PCB. He said the shipping was less than he expected ('cause it's so damned light weight). And he was surprised at the delivery time estimate: less than 10 days. He also suggested, once he had it, that he'd use USPS for the second leg. Good plan.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

ran Stellarium class

The weather was sketchy. And I knew that would make for horrendous driving conditions. Toronto drivers are so pathetic. So despite leaving rather early, we barely made it. Others were delayed. And somehow it combined to throw me off a little.

One person then started loudly exclaiming there were something wrong with her computer. Quite loudly. OK. Thanks. Let's move on. But she remarked again, something was wrong, an hint of panic. I tried to continue but she protested again. I was dumbstruck. Completely stunned for a moment. Particularly given their specialty. But, just as suddenly, things seemed to settle. But I had lost my footing.

It was a rough start for me. Took me a while to build up speed. But overall, I covered everything that I wanted. The longer time frame was good. Everyone seemed pleased. Ralph came up at the end. He seemed impressed. And that made me feel quite good.

Two other significant challenges I was pleased to resolve.

One participant showed (late I might add) without the software on his computer! Asked at the beginning of the class if I had it. Pardon? Hello, you're supposed to have it. I was very clear about that. Sheesh.

Another fired up his laptop and started Stellarium and asked why the screen was white, like during the day. And then asked why the sky was flashing. Ugh. Video problem. Tried getting it started (on Vista) using the "no OpenGL 2" option but it was not working correctly. Sorry. Can't help now. He snapped his laptop shut. Shoulda checked it.

At the break I started crawling through all my USB keys. And, just could not find a copy. Weird. Could have sworn. Then, in a moment of clarity, I remembered that I had downloaded and installed it recently to John Kim-Chi. I ran over to Cliff's side and asked if I could snoop. Ah ha! Found 0.11.1. I downloaded it to a key and made it available. Those guys were lucky.

Good turnout in the end; only one no-show.

So now, having run this course twice, I should have a good selection of people who are eligible for the level 2 course. I'll have to start hammering away at that.


Asked Ralph to collect the evaluations. I will be interested in reviewing them.

well well

Terry, a RASC Toronto Centre member, living in the U S of A, played along. He surfed into the Celestron web site, the accessories area, the parts section. Et voila! US citizens can order this part.

But Canadians aren't allowed. No. We won't let you fix your own telescopes. That's not permitted. No, no, no. We better have a look-see, y'all. You better send it on down here. Yes, it's the opposite side of da continent. But we're professionals. No guarantees, ya hear?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

a scathingly brilliant plan

It felt like there were road blocks at every turn. Celestron wouldn't help. Efston wouldn't help. Cangar wouldn't help. I was running out of options.

But then I formulated a scathingly brilliant plan.



Gary emailed back. Finally. But he did not help. He relayed the party line in fact. Gary said that I should "return [the CPC1100] to Celestron Technical Support for a full evaluation and repair. Lightning damage can be extensive and we have no idea of what the cost would be until our Repair Manager looks at the mount." Jackasses. I already looked at it. I already evaluated the damage. I know what's broken. It's obvious what's broken. And you're useless!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Chris had a revelation

Chris sent some words.
Also, great skytools presentation on wed. - It really opened my eyes to planning a worth while night's observing.
Indeed. We don't get a lot of clear nights in Canada... Thanks!

survey reminder working

We made another announcement at the RASC TC RAN meeting last week. I bumped the article on the web site. And I encouraged Jason to issue another reminder on the Yahoo!Group.

It is working. Two more people came forward, saying they had not received the IT survey.

So, hopefully, the word is getting out.

I don't like it

Funny how when I use other 'scopes, I often come to this conclusion. I don't like it. Of course, I'm comparing it to the only thing I know, really, the C8. My trusty Celestron 8" Schmidt Cassegrain atop a Vixen Super Polaris. It occurred to me today that in fact I made a pretty good decision (20 years ago). The C8 is a good 'scope. Tremendous light gathering power. A very good mount. Coveted mount.

Some have been saying I should get a refractor. Yes, for imaging DSOs, probably the better platform. But, for me, photography is not in the near future. And while the tack-sharp presentation of a high-quality refractor is very enjoyable, invariably I notice that everything is dim. And that's because it is a thin tube!

Some have said I should get a Dob. Fast to set up. Easy to tear down. But a 6" is probably the lowest I'd go, in terms of light-gathering power vs. contrast. And that gets you into a fairly large (and long) tube. And I really don't like pushing a 'scope. It was an objective almost immediately after getting the SP-C8 in 1990 to have it track. Which I deferred. But it was obvious, while helping at star parties, that this really wasn't an option any more. And so, now, maybe, I'm spoiled. Maybe now, I'm in a position where I could never go back. For me, tracking is critical. I don't enjoy nudging any more.

Being in the RASC has afforded some interesting opportunities. Nay, fantastic opportunities. Chances to try and use a wide variety of equipment. I've used big and small telescopes, from 80mm Stellarvues and 3.5" Questars to 14" SCTs and 15" Obsessions and home-made 20" f/5.

There's this "attitude" I get from some. Something between the lines. Subtle. That the SCT is a compromise. It is not a great 'scope. Is it personal bias I'm sensing. Yes, I know of some technical issues, namely the large obstruction.

I think, if I remember correctly, that is in fact why I chose it. An SCT is good at a lot of things (not great necessarily) but it very compact, given its aperture. It is a pretty big gun (as Guy would say) and I'm not regretting it. I like a big aperture on an equatorial, driven mount. And that's tough to beat.

Using the Toronto Centre's 80mm refractor is something I wanted to do for a long time. To test it. See if I'd like a compact small telescope. But. I don't like it.

tested Orion SVD (Toronto)

Late afternoon, 11 Dec 2011. When I picked up the Stellarvue telescope from John on Friday, he gave me a small cardboard box with some electronics within. He explained that it was a set of motors and hand controller, from Denis. Which Denis said would work on the equatorial mount. I said I could try to hook 'em up. Which I did this afternoon. Learning a bunch along the way.

For example, I did not know, at the beginning of the process, even the make and model of the mount. I didn't know if in fact the motors were compatible. It was not clear if any of this would work. So, after installing the motors, it was time to test the Stellarvue AT-1010 on the Orion SkyView Deluxe (SVD) mount.

I did a proper polar alignment. So to eliminate some variables. I found it somewhat difficult to align when the polar scope reticule is not illuminated... I used a red flashlight. (A noob might struggle with this.)

Balanced the 'scope. Only needed the big weight, and choked all the way up the shaft, to get the RA axis settled. Oops! Broke the counterweight knob! Damn. The Dec axis balance remains an issue. It's a bit tail happy (even without a camera) but there's nothing can be done, with the current configuration. I had the OTA as far forward in the clamps as they would allow. This might require a weight up on the front of the 'scope. Or a new adapter plate. In short order I had the 'scope up and running. Star hopped to and aimed at Jupiter, drifting past leafless branches.

9:38 PM. I just wanted to review what I was seeing. While looking at Jupiter, I noted 3 moons. There was another bright object in-line but it seemed a little too far away. In fact, it was HIP 8887, a mag 8.0 star, according to Stellarium. Europa was behind the planet and wouldn't emerge for another 2 hours.

The tracking was not working. Even though the motor shaft was turning. I wasn't sure if the shaft was not in the "slot." Was there too much friction or load for the little motor (and the 9v transistor battery)? I didn't feel like fiddling with the worm gears. Also, earlier research had suggested that loosening the gear box to make the motors happy would create even more slop.

It was noteworthy that I accidentally removed the thumbscrew from the RA "clutch" all the while trying to be careful. It took 2 or 3 minutes to get it back in! I could easily imagine this getting lost in the field... (or the member's backyard). I think this 'scope will be too difficult to motorise. As a "clutch" mechanism, these little screws will be problematic.

The eye relief of the 45 is weird! It's quite far back... I think. Somehow unsettling.

10:08. Tried again. At low power. Put the controller back on. Made sure the motor was clamped down. Wrapped the controller in a towel. Verified that the polar alignment was good. The Dec alignment was OK. That the motor shaft is turning means things are good. Just need to make sure we're in the "shaft slot."

It occurred to me that it was nice that there were no leaves on the trees.

10:51. Mounted the RA motor on the other side... the other side of the shaft. Maybe it was turning it the wrong way! Reminded me that I did some searching again today. And, like yesterday, I was turning up nothing. No docs on the SVD dual axis AccuTrack motors and controller installation.

11:12. Seemed to be tracking. The target was still in the field, with the 45mm. Which was around 11x!? Put the 12.5mm with 3x Barlow in and saw it was still drifting. Tried the fast and slow controls. Didn't see to do anything... Even through I could hear the change in the motor note...
I don't get it.

11:43. It was definitely not tracking at high power... (unless my polar alignment was way off... but the Dec is fair).

Is it the lame, tiny 9v battery? This thing won't have any amps. This thing surely won't work well in Canada... in our chilly nights. There was no external plug for power... It could be hacked but I was not prepared to do anything about it...

12:21 AM, 12 Dec 2011. Put in the Meade super Plössl 26mm with the 3x for around 55x. Connected the Dec motor. I couldn't figure it out... Was it tracking?

A moon (Io) was getting very close to the planet.

Issues... refined. If it needs for more power, more "depth", more amps, then an owner of a similar mount would hook up a 12v lead acid with voltage regulator, perhaps. Or plug in an AC-DC adapter. Not practical for the loan program.

12:29 AM. It was still tracking fairly well...

The telescope report from SkyTools 3 said:
  • regular or 3x
  • 45mm: 11 or 32
  • 26mm: 18 or 55
  • 13mm: 38 or 115
12:51. Still on target. Played with Dec and RA controls. With "fast" RA I seemed to get back to centre... very slowly! Not touching the manual controls now...

1:00. Tracking OK?! Put in my personal 18mm. In the 3x. Which means, we're at 80x.

1:10. Just spotted Jupiter out my office window...

1:17. Still in the field with my 18mm, at 80x. I shut the controller off. To check in a couple of minutes...

In the end I still don't know if there is practical; the "clutch" process is strange...

1:46. Europa was back!

Definitely sorta works. I left the drive off for 5 min or so? Not surprisingly, it was off target. About a degree? Tried to catch up. Accelerated for a long time. Finally dropped to a lower power. There it was. So, not too far off. Kept trying to get back to centre. Seemed to take forever. Then resumed viewing with the 18mm at 3x. And Jupiter returned to the view. OK. That proved that the motors could, in fact, "catch up" . But still, it's painfully slow. If you're way off target, it will take a long time. Modern controllers let you set the slew rate, so with 9 speed settings. Probably this was designed for guiding. Get your astrophoto target then manually guide for a long exposure...

2:00. Done. I moved the OTA and mount back inside. Onto the couch.

So, again, I don't think this appropriate for the loaner program. Too finicky, too slow, too fragile. Too easy to make a mistake. I considered how to report this to John...

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Guy missed it

And, not an occultation this time. The man of words, driving three days in a row, said he could not find the copy of Earth Centred Universe in his RASC Observer's Handbook. I pointed out that in fact he would not find physical media. It was a download.

caught Kiron

I overheard Kiron asking which way the ISS was going to cross the Moon. Which then provoked a series of answers, not surprisingly, all varied. The view of course was different for everyone. We had SCTs, refractors, rigs with and without mirror diagonals. But I think he was using or looking through his tripod-mounted binos (and he hadn't stated that). I sent him a note saying he really needed to be more cognisant of this, in the future. Left and right, top and bottom, don't make sense, are not the best way to describe things. That he should include in his question, the context, the gear he was using. Or, better still, do a bit of research in advance. He should well know that the ISS always travels from west to east.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

my ISS-Moon video up

I made a movie of the ISS-Moon crossing. While others emphasised the station in front of the Moon, repeating the crossing, using slow-motion, I was very intrigued by the crowd reaction. I had run my voice recorder during the entire event. So, I synched up the audio from the Sony with the video from the SKYnyx. Made some cards with credits. And spent some quality time with MS Movie Maker. Uploaded the short movie to Vimeo.

Enjoy the "sounds" of the ISS-Moon flyover...

improved mosaic

Jim did some adjusts to his mosaic... Viewed the upsized image.

Nicely done.

other results in

Vincent shared a video on YouTube. He stayed home, in the Swansea area. He just got a piece of it.

Denis put his close-up video on YouTube.

Lots of still photos were shot by Bill, Scott, Sharmin (the newly appointed eSCOPE "staff" photographer), and Tony. Some of which showed up, in short order, on Facebook.

Jim shared a very nice mosaic photo in his dropbox.

Bill put a video from his Canon on Vimeo.

ISS crossing the Moon (Humber Bay)

Everyone had arrived, including Jim, Scott, Kiron, Sharmin, Bill, and Steve. A great turnout! It got quiet as everyone went about their business with about an hour to go. I began to follow my script.

Set up the small TV table. Started the voice recorder at 3:18 AM. Fired up the Global Position Sensor. Started to set up the tripod and mount.

The GPS got a fix on the location at 3:20. I finished putting the mount on the tripod.

3:21 AM. As I was trying to attach the control knobs, one of the grub screws came all the way out. I could not get it back in, by hand; I had to use the screwdriver.

3:25. Set up the tripod stool.

3:26. Found my illuminated pen frozen; switched to the Fischer Space Pen to make notes. Put the Oregon Scientific weather station out to acclimate. Already the GPS was protesting in the cold.

3:28. Sharmin asked if I had scissors, so to open her heat pack wraps; we used my switch blade knife.

3:30. Installed the finder and checked the alignment; it was fine. Started polar alignment. Tried restarting the GPS. It worked quickly this time, getting the latitude and longitude. 43° 37' 20" by 79° 28' 35". I put it into elevation mode.

Denis asked about the event time. I thought it was 3:51 and around 52 seconds. Steve said he had checked in Stellarium and it said 3:52:00. Kiron asked if the ISS was going to go through the Pleiades. Told him I hadn't looked.

3:33. I noted my GPS reported 98 metres for the elevation. Denis said he was getting 79 and change from the Kiwi.

3:36. Tried hooking up the inverter to one of the batteries but it was wobbly. Connected to the other and it was fine.

3:38. I roused the computer out of hibernation.

3:39. Saw the Moon in the SKYnyx view but then I lost it.

3:41. I finally reached focus, after removing the mirror diagonal and racking the focuser out quite far.

3:43. Asked Tony to help me while I rotated the camera. We put Crisium near the top of the field. Next was to test recording. Someone said it was 10 minutes to go. Had trouble getting it to record, if I had the Preview window open in LuCam. But then the exposure was way off. AmCap seemed to be using different settings them than LuCam.

3:49. Finally had everything going, recording OK, exposure OK. With about 2 minutes ago.

3:50. 1 minute to predicted time.

That was a long minute...

And I briefly thought, What if nothing happens? There's gonna be a dozen people very mad at me for getting them out of bed...

3:51. There it was! The crowd went wild! I couldn't believe it. I almost missed it myself. I think I was just blinking or turning away and I saw something whisk by, out of the corner of my eye. It was more everyone yelling and hooting that I knew we had nailed it. It was like a sporting event and our team had won. The reaction by everyone was amazing.

3:53. People started reviewing video.

3:55. I found it on my video, at the 2:48 position. Steve liked it. "Oh, you got lots of frames." I was glad I had run the system at 60 fps.

3:57. We prepared for group photo.

4:01. Tony's first group photo was no good.

4:03. Tony's second group photo worked. So we could start the break down.

My GPS started failing.

4:04. Trevor offered to help tear down. Then Kiron. Then Tony.

4:08. I checked the conditions with the Oregon portable station: 59%, -5.1°C. Forgot to check the air pressure trend.

Location details captured at the end, via the GPS, before the batteries died: 43° 37' 20" by 79° 28' 35". Unchanged from the earlier reading.

4:09. Scott posited going for a "night cap." Mmm, breakfast!

Butane hand warmer worked great!

Used the found Energizer found bike light.

While other complained about the cold, I was very warm. Once again, the Baffin boots were awesome.

Discovered the recorder was still in DST mode... And a few minutes fast.

What a great experience.


A detailed report will follow but, briefly, we were successful. In fact, the spot we chose, the north-west end of the parking lot of Humber Bay Park East, combined with the ISS reboost at 2:50 PM yesterday, put us very near the center! A lot of us got good video.

I was particularly impressed in that I was using a different telescope and mount for the first time, the SKYnyx camera and software which I had only used once before, on a laptop computer with a dead battery, recording with AmCap which I have essentially no experience with, in rather cold conditions, with lots of distractions. Lucky I was.


See my detailed log notes.

Watch (and listen to) the movie.

they want me to navigate?!

Maybe I should not have given out my mobile number...

At 2:40 AM, my wireless rang. I was expecting it to be Tony; it was Denis. He was wondering if we were there/here, already at Humber Bay Park. Nope. He also wondered if he was in the right spot. When he explained how he had entered the park, I could that he was in Humber Bay Park West. Wrong section, dude. Back to Lakeshore. Go to the intersection of Lakeshore and Parklawn, go south on Parklawn, take the first right, and proceed to parking lot. See you soon.

As I was completing the final preparations before leaving, I received an email from Scott. He wanted to know where the parking lot was. Oh boy. At that precise moment, Trevor and Tony arrived. It was 2:45 AM sharp. Here we go!

Sent a very quick note with directions. Go to the intersection of Lakeshore and Parklawn, go south on Parklawn, take the first right, and proceed to parking lot. See you soon. And said I was heading out now...

We loaded up the mini van and then headed toward Parklawn, Trevor driving. Arrived at Humber Bay Park East in short order. Always amazes me how quiet a city is at 3:00 AM... Denis was unloading his gear from the AutoShare mini van as we arrived.

Then Sharmin phoned. She and Bill needed directions. Crikey. They were near Ellis. Ellis? And then Winderemere. Oh! Way too far east. They must have jumped off at Dunn! I told them to carry on Lakeshore. Go to the intersection of Lakeshore and Parklawn, go south on Parklawn, take the first right, and proceed to parking lot. See you soon.

Was this going to keep happening for the next while? I had already told myself that I need to avoid distractions to ensure I could properly set up. I considered muting the phone...

In short order, everyone else arrived, including Jim, Scott, Kiron, and Steve.


OK. People don't live around here. So they need some extra help. I should have provide lat and long to these peeps... My oversight.

Friday, December 09, 2011

switching to plan B

Tony said that he and Trevor were interested in attending the ISS-Moon event. He offered a ride. Cool.

I packed up the telescope and mount, transferred the cases from the garage, along with my small TV table, and put the car away.

A small star party was starting to form!

learning the refractor

After picking up the RASC Toronto Centre's loaner StellarVue, I thought I'd spend some time doing a practice run, a practice setup, so to be a little familiar with how to set it up. It would give me a chance to ensure everything was working. And stumble, in the daylight, into any gotchas.
Instrument: StellarVue AT-1010 80mm refractor
Mount: equatorial
Method: star hopping
I hadn't planned to do so but it also proved an opportunity to evaluate the condition of the 'scope and mount, as I've done with some of our other loaner equipment.

When I returned home, I left the car in the driveway. This let me set the 'scope up in the garage.

I pulled the wood tripod from the duffel bag. I did not fully extend the legs--not necessary for this test. Set the equatorial mount atop the tripod. Found the screw and large washer to hold the mount in place. Unlike my Vixen, the screw is not held in the tripod head. Attached the long counter weight shaft, added the small counter weight, and found the small donut fastener, used to help stop the counter weight from sliding off the shaft. The mount was ready. I opened the two rings to receive the optical tube assembly.

I removed the small refractor from its case. Kept one hand on it as I secured a ring snug. Attached the other ring. Noted the big, 2" output from the OTA. Attached the 2" mirror diagonal. Then dropped in the 45mm eyepiece. Didn't remember it being noted in the eyepiece list on the web site. Balanced the tube. It was a bit tail-heavy but I couldn't move the OTA any further forward. It wasn't too bad.

Attached the flex-shaft RA and Dec control knobs with the included screwdriver. Released the clutches, eyeballed a tree across the street, and focused. It was working fine. All was well with the OTA.

Grabbed the unity finder. Looked like a Vixen Red Dot Finder. Checked the power switch... On. Turned it off. Surely the battery would be dead. I pocketed it to take inside. Hopefully, I might have a fresh battery.

Reviewed the other bits and bobs in the bag and case. Made notes of what was broken, missing, etc.

Overall, I was pleased. The practice setup went smoothly. Partly because the configuration is not completely unlike the SP-C8. Still, it was good to run through everything. I was confident that it would work fine for the lunar target.

John liked the No stickers

Dropped by John's to pick up the loaner refractor telescope for the ISS-Moon event.

Took the opportunity to show him the warning stickers I had made up.

He quickly reviewed one and said it looked good. He was happy with the size and content.

crossing prelim

I've been noodling on trying to video record the International Space Station and Moon crossing, due to happen early Saturday morning. I already have the RASC Toronto Centre's SKYnyx camera! But I know it won't work with my f/10 telescope without a focal reducer. A small refractor should do the trick. Funny that Manuel is out of town right now. Wait a sec'. The Centre has a little refractor...

I emailed John for the status of the StellarVue 80mm. He said he had it; it wasn't booked out. Well, well.

So this made me want to preview the appearance of the Moon with the SKYnyx camera through the short OTA. But that would require SkyTools 3 Professional Edition. And that was on John Littlejohn. Which was running low on battery power. And currently without a power supply (as I forgot it at the Ontario Science Centre Wednesday night)! What to do... Just have to hack it, I guess.

I had noticed some time ago that the output of the little ASUS power brick was 12 volts. And at the time I thought that it would be good to make a little custom cable for when riding around in a car. No need to step the voltage up to 120 VAC with an invertor just to bring in back down again. So, I grabbed a spare universal adapter power plug that fit the Eee PC. Stripped the leads on the cable. Found a CLA adapter I had picked up some time ago and forgotten about: it would be perfect. It had push button clamps. I inserted the wire leads, plugged in the CLA to the gel cell battery ("D") already in the office and checked the polarity. Phil had responded to my early email request and passed on the power supply specs: centre pin positive, 12 volts DC, 3 amps. Flipped the plug and secured it with electrical tape. I confirmed the configuration, booted the netbook, and watched it switch to AC powered mode. Yes!

In SkyTools 3 I added the StellarVue AT-1010 telescope and associated the Lumenera camera with it. Created an observing list for this evening with the Moon. Activated Photography mode. Displayed the Interactive Atlas and opened the Context Viewer. Decided to set to the C8 just to check the field of view and it looked appropriate, with the Moon close-up filling the entire field. Switched to the StellarVue. Ha! The Moon was smaller. But still cut off! A little. If I rotate the camera the right way, perpendicular to the direction of travel, then I'll surely get it (assuming it will cross in front of the Moon)! I put the ASUS back into hibernation.

The next check or test now was to see if I would be able to power John Kim-Chi—the laptop with the LuCam software already loaded—in the field. It's old and its internal battery has failed. It can only run from its big power brick. Grabbed my old invertor and nearby yellow lead acid battery. Didn't work: the Dell wanting too much and the old power pack too old or too low or both. No surprise really. Tried one of the other gel cell batteries ("C") and it worked fine. All right! We have a working recording platform!

I put these two batteries on charge to freshen them up. Should to do that with the "D" (i.e. unit 4 of 4) battery as well.

Phoned John to book the telescope and mount. He suggested I pick it up immediately before he headed to work. OK. Hit the showers, changed, grabbed the solar "warning" stickers I had made for him Wednesday, Magic Bag, and headed over to High Park Ave.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

previewed path

In Stellarium, I previewed the path of the International Space Station for December 10th.


shared ISS-Moon crossing details

I remembered to forward the details of the crossing of the International Space Station in front of the Moon on the RASC Toronto Centre Yahoo!Group.

accolades on ST3 presentation

Tony complimented me on the SkyTools 3 demonstration last night. Peter had very kind words, as he purchased a raffle ticket.

Stu noted in his email today, "Nice pres’n on ST3 last night. You reminded me of features I don’t often use, one of which I made use of this morning."

And Phil typed, while we were instant messaging, "You did a great job last nite with skytools."

Thanks, all!

survey reminders

When Stu emailed me saying that he had not received the survey, it really stuck a cord. Ralph had made a similar remark last night.

I find it very curious that these people, both on RASC Toronto Centre's Yahoo!Group, missed the IT survey message sent my Jason on Nov 23. One's a moderator, for crying out loud! ;-)

This inspired me to issued a reminder on the listserv. And I took the opportunity to explain that we had done the notification in three ways: to people on the Yahoo!Group, those with email but not on the Yahoo!Group (via MailMan), and those without email.

All this reminded me to appeal to all members to pass it along! Which I noted in a separate email message to the group. Hopefully we'll get a few more hits...

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

moved ST3 demo materials

Moved my SkyTools 3 demo presentation items, in the companion site, to the new software resource page for SkyTools.

Star Chart mini review

Ralph's son told him about the Star Chart app for his Android smartphone. At 10¢ (at some online store), what's the harm! After Ralph transferred it to the SD card in his Samsung GT-I5510M, I gave it a quick shake down.

The product is by Escapist Games. It appears to be available for iPhone, Android, and Windows.

We discovered immediately that it used the GPS, compass, and accelerometers. Nice. Aim it in a particular direction, even down through the floor, and it shows what is in the sky in that direction. Some smoothing would be nice though. When I set the smartphone on the table, the image jumped and jittered. That was distracting.

Somewhat realistic sky appearance, with the Milky Way rendered.

The typical gestures worked as expected, including pinching and stretching.

When we zoomed in on Jupiter, it showed a realistic display. But, sadly, no moons!

Tapping on an object displayed a pop-up with some details. The little icons on the left side of the pop-up were a little unclear however. Is this an issue with this version or implementation? Screen snaps that I see on the web look different...

Red light mode worked well.

The Search function was strange. I was able to enter some text but I could not seem to complete the search, I could not submit it.

So, overall, pretty basic and a little buggy.

busy night

Lots of other matters tended to, this evening, during and after the RASC meeting.
  • Gave the MODL 4 leases to Tony, to give to Tony...
  • Shared the ISS-Moon crossing event (on Dec 10) with the crowd after Brenda's The Sky This Month presentation. To which there seemed to be some interest...
  • Facilitated a quick stand-up meeting (the best kind) with Ralph and Phil, so to hand over the membership database management.
  • Submitted a current systems and passwords document to Ralph.
  • Asked Gilles to prepare a systems and passwords document for backup emergency purposes.
  • Retrieved my CLA 3-way splitter from Tony's vehicle (from the last CAO trip).
  • Helped Mickey get on the Yahoo!Group with Paul's iPad.
  • Review the StarMap app on Ralph's smart phone. Not bad for 10 cents.
  • Connected with Bruce from Boston via Facebook.
  • Reviewed the new loaner telescope warning stickers with Ralph.
  • Asked Scott if he required any changes to be made to the ECR.


rousing raffle

I guess my SkyTools 3 demonstration presentation worked... I successfully sold, in one evening, in one hour essentially, all the prepared raffle tickets for the SkyTools draw! Tons of interest. And that meant, happily, I was able to make the draw in the same evening. Perfect. John took home a copy of SkyTools 3 Standard Edition.

So, despite preparing late, we were able to make the draw happen before Christmas!

The other awesome aspect was that we generated a wee bit of proceeds money to the RASC Toronto Centre. A nice win-win.

delivered SkyTools 3 demo

During the RASC Toronto Centre's Recreational Astronomy Night Meeting presentation, I delivered a quick, high-level demonstration of the SkyTools 3 software. I tried to go as fast as I could but still went over my time allotment. Fortunately, Paul didn't give me the hook. I felt pretty good at how it went.

Photo by Bill Longo. Originally posted on Facebook.

I've put the presentation file and handout document (both converted to PDF) online for people to check out. Look for them over in the companion site home page.



LEDs from Tony

Tony went by Sayal a couple of days ago to get some electronic bits for the CAO. While there, he phoned me, asked if I wanted anything. RGB LEDs!

Tonight, he gave me a little plastic bag. Ooooh!

Two 5mm water clear tri-colour 4-pin LEDs by Knight Lites. KLL-65RGB-1P. Woo hoo!

The packaging answered a question I had considered regarding the voltages. "R- 2.6V, G- 2.8V & B- 4.2V at 20mA." I also noted the brightness ratings: "red 6000, green 5000, blue 4500 mcd." Bright!

Thank you!

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

wrangled the calendar

Ha! Not exactly a hack but I finally gained control of the RASC Toronto Centre web site calendars.

Andy took this log-in with him to the grave (like the Yahoo owner creds). While I could see the setup configuration file, and even though the user ID was plaintext, the password was scrambled. This prevented me from doing calendar management, making new calendars, and administering users.

Tonight, I finally figured out how to reset the system! HA!

Three years! Three years, man!

the first 2012 SkyNews

The Jan/Feb issue of SkyNews showed up.

I immediately jumped to page 33. Yep! There it was. Manuel's cool image of Jupiter, with a moon shadow exactly over top the Great Red Spot.

Way to go, buddy!

I was also looking forward to this issue so to begin some planning for the new year...

Kepler-22b in the zone

Oh to be a exoplanet scientist. These must be heady times in this particular field. The confirmation that Kepler-22b, slightly larger than Earth, is in the habitable zone of a star very similar to our Sun, is pretty exciting stuff.

The number of candidate planets found by the Kepler probe has almost doubled to 2326. From one probe. Looking in one part of the sky! Think about it. Just imagine. Try to imagine all the worlds out there that we have yet to discover.

Won't be long now...


I keep thinking about this. As fantastic as Kepler is, it only detects transits. Imagine how many stars are rejected because no transit is observed. But that does NOT mean they don't host a solar system. With Earth sized planets. In the habitable zone... Just imagine.

Monday, December 05, 2011

made ST3 handout

Worked on the SkyTools 3 demonstration presentation handout. Was able to fit all the text copy on one side of the page. That left the other side for images! w00t! I included two representative snapshots and then labelled elements.

Printing it was a challenge. Shoulda bought that crazy cheap printer from Staples... The ole' Apple LaserWriter is going a little crazy.

I think I'm ready for my Wednesday presentation on SkyTools 3. I'm lookin' forward to it.

problems in Opera

In order to avoid BSODs on John Smallberries, I needed to stop using Firefox. Or rather, not use any Mozilla-based browser.

Don't miss it 'til it's gone, eh? Still need to run a darned browser! Ping. I'll run Opera. It's been a while... I installed in and fired it up. Nice interface. Clean, modern. Then I hit my blog.

Oh oh... there's something wrong with tag cloud. A bunch of words are missing.

OH OH... the editor doesn't work. Looks like it's not activating the WYSIWYG tool at all. Buttons missing. I'm seeing HTML code. Damn it.

Then I tried Check Spelling. Don't do that...

Sunday, December 04, 2011

contacted Cangar

Eric referred me to Cangar Holdings. Said he might be able to help in the Celestron circuit board issue. Certainly Mark at Efston's not been real communicative. Filled out the web site form...

Funny. The anti-robot challenge question asked if the Moon was white or red. I answered, "depends," knowing that was not the answer the form was looking for. It kicked me out for being a smart ass. Heh, heh, no DoS 'bots or smart asses allowed!

Saturday, December 03, 2011

touched up Paul's 'scope

While celebrating November birthdays and commiserating the end of the high-performance driving school season with Meg, Linda, and Paul, I spotted Paul's small refractor telescope, some sort of automated Meade. But when I tried to rack the focuser of the refractor, it didn't move, and something seemed to be sticking. I fiddled with it, for a bit, and got it going. He was happy.

It'd be fun to get together in the future and do some stargazing together.

planetarium software interest

Kersti triggered a conversation in the RASC Toronto Centre Yahoo!Group regarding planetarium software. It was innocent enough. She wanted to know the differences between Stellarium and Starry Night. And things turned rather lively.

I immediately posted that without direct SN experience I could not offer direct comparisons but my impression was that Starry Night, a commercial offering, was quite powerful. Then I listed a bunch of features not present in Stellarium, such as field of view rotation or alternate star chart sources.

Mr Mortfield jumped in, flag-waving for Software Bisque's TheSky. Indeed, another commercial product, it was very good at imaging planning, with its good handling of field of view simulations.

This reminded me that there are some major players out there, including Cartes du Ciel, Earth Centred Universe, Red Shift, that others might be using, but that I had not seen directly compared anywhere. I put it to our members to keep an eye out. And after sending that message, I suddenly remembered kStars on the Linux platform. I had tried it on my Ubuntu machine.

Mortfield also pointed out that mobile market is getting interesting, with apps being specifically built for smartphones, some of which offer telescope control. Good point.

Katrina joined in the conversation and shared a link she'd found. The author had written reviews of a number of software applications. While old, there's lots of details. A great referral. But I'm still thinking a table or grid will be useful. She also alluded to liking SN as it is Macintosh compatible.

Then Allard chimed in, sharing that he likes Starmap HD for his iPad, and that he's using his iPad software more than his desktop tools.

This is clearly a hot topic for our members!

Friday, December 02, 2011

holidays and forums

Sharmin's request highlighted, again, that the Toronto Centre has not settled on dates for events for 2012. It's not trivial, choosing dates for all the events and activities. It requires some consideration and effort from several people. We need input from the Recreational Astronomy Night Meeting chair, the Speakers Night co-ordinator (aka the veep of programs), the Observing chair, the Carr Astronomical Observatory chair, the David Dunlap Observatory chair, and the Education committee chair. Oh, and Annual Algonquin Adventure co-ordinators. So, nothing I can do, until they provide their info. But it occurred to me I could at least enter all the other stuff, the Canadian, Ontario, Jewish, and Islamic holidays, the new Moon dates, other interesting astronomical events, and other big events like NEAF, Starfest, etc.


Good to see Mr Mortfield busted on techno-babble in his email message about TheSky6 and astrophotography. On the RASC Toronto Centre main Yahoo!Group he mentioned "plate solving" with a CCD image, without any explanation. He's usually the one busting our chops on acronyms and arcane terminology... Mr MacNaughton caught him on it.

Sharmin needs dates

Sharmin emailed mid-day. Said that she was trying to juggle some dates with her work, already, for 2012. She wanted to sync up with RASC Toronto Centre events.

She asked me about the "next two work parties at the CAO." Replied that unfortunately I could not help her with that. It was the Carr Astronomical Observatory committee chair's job to nail down those dates. Referred her to Tony.

Next she wanted to know the AAA dates. I told her I didn't have them in front of me. And ultimately it was a decision made by Annual Algonquin Adventure organisers. After some digging, I found the message from Lillian and Robert with the 2012 dates. I forwarded it on.

And finally she asked for her CAO annual pass renewal dates. Again, not my bailiwick; that was data managed by the Membership chair. I encouraged her to discuss the matter with Ralph.


This reminded me that I had not rolled Lil's note, with the new dates, into the web site page. So I added a quick note. And put it in my calendar too!

lots of interest in SN

My announcement on the Yahoo!Group regarding the last couple of seats in the Stellarium course was something of a catalyst. A number of members piped up saying that they'd like to take a Starry Night course or workshop, if one was offered.

Not the first time we've heard this.

This time though, Eric said he might do something about it. He reminded members that he works with Starry Night as a "planetarium trainer." He also said that he'd be "enthusiastic about helping to lead a Starry Night workshop in the future." All right!

It would be awesome if we held workshops on the various popular software tools. There's been requests for imaging processing topics. I've been promising Stellarium level 2 and SkyTools level 1. And I think we could offer something on TheSky6 as well... We certainly have the talent. It's the time issue though. The course preparation is not trivial.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Stellarium repaired on Linux

I learned that the latest version of Stellarium (0.11.1) was available for Ubuntu Linux but the Software Centre had to be tweaked a little to use a Personal Package Archive (PPA). But after I upgraded from 0.10.5, and started the app, it froze. I tried to completely remove all traces of the software unsuccessfully. But then it occurred to me that maybe something in the user profile was messing it up. I deleted the hidden user folder .stellarium and reinstalled. And it was good!

Just as the Moon started peeking in my window...

updated Stellarium QRC

For the impending Stellarium workshop, I thought I'd review the Quick Reference Card that I made. It worked well for the spring workshop. But now version 0.11.x is out. Would it need to be modified? It also occurred to me that I had written it for the Windows and Macintosh platforms specifically but that I might want to adjust it to support the UNIX environment. So I fired up Ubuntu Linux and Stellarium 0.10.5 and checked on the keyboard shortcuts. Was pleased to see that everything was good. That is, there were no mistakes or errors in the QRC per se. But also that the keyboard shortcuts for Linux are identical to Windows. So it required only very minor edits.

Stellarium course full

I put out the word that there were a few more seats available for the Stellarium workshop. As anticipated, that prompted a few humans to sign up.

Then Kiron messaged and said he wanted back in! Crikey. Now I'm over capacity. This is after signing up for the spring session and cancelling late in the game. Sheesh. OK...

Still, I'm gonna roll with it. We did have a no-show in the spring session. So I'm assuming something like that might happen again.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

a good meeting

You won't often hear me use those two words together in the same sentence. Still, it was a good evening. Jason had coordinated a meeting downtown. I arrived first, then Jason, and finally Allard. It was great to get to know him better and learn his background. And I was particularly pleased that he is comfortable as our project manager for the web site redesign. I believe that having him on the team will prove a great asset.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

more beta testing

Skyhound released a new version (the third, Capella) of the beta release of SkyTools 3 Starter Edition. I haven't been able to test it for a while. Took another cut tonight. Found that a number of changes have been applied. And I found more and new errors.

BenQ tips printed

Just heard from Diane. She appreciated my notes on adjusting the BenQ. Along with Tony, she printed up my notes and put them in the projector cases. Good stuff. Hopefully, there will be less anxiety when presenters are setting up (at the last-minute).

updates noted

Cool. The three mistakes I found in the Coloured Double Stars list inside the 2012 Observer's Handbook have been noted in the Updates section of the RASC national web site. With the changes to the supplemental material, this closes the loop on this matter.


The  Updates section was moved...

updated council listserv

Applied some updates to the RASC Toronto Centre council Yahoo!Group, adding and removing people, as the slate changed slightly.

Stellarium for Symbian

As my old Psion Series 5mx has been acting up, I heard about another port or build of Stellarium.

This time on the Symbian platform! And, purportedly, it is legit. Made by the original author of Stellarium. Is that Noctua Software?

There's a thorough review (of version 1.0.6) at the All About Symbian site.

Tony wants in too

Cool. Tony, past president, wants into the Stellarium workshop. Heh, looks like I'm going to have half of the Council!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

updated GBO log sheet

I updated the supervisor log sheet for the Geoff Brown Observatory. A fairly major change was required now that we're leaving the power on in the building.

installed pilot light

Charles and I took to installing the new small neon pilot lights in the switch panels for the outdoor lights. We worked live.

It was a little fiddly with the vestibule switch with the tiny light and the four existing switches. But I got it working. Then I heard Charles curse.

His light proved more delicate: one of the leads snapped off. We'll have to finish that little job later.

new contact page posted

With Tony's blessing, I made and posted an updated emergency contact phone list at the CAO. I merged info from lists previously managed by me and Scott.

rolled out new manual

Phil had printed a colour copy of the latest CAO Site Facilities Manual for me. He pointed it out this morning.

I had noted the large envelope from Phil's office with my name on it but hadn't clicked. I cracked it open. The new edition looked really good. I three-hole punched the new pages and put them in the duotang.

There were also new colour prints for the directions map as well as the updated Thornbury services map. Which I promptly posted on the bulletin board.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

they got the Dell going

Tony had requested a computer. Tom on the Yahoo!Group responded. Phil picked up the Dell system unit with hard disk but without optical drive. I brought up an external drive. Tony bought a new wifi mouse-keyboard combo on Black Friday. Someone dug out a CRT to monitor it. Steve took up with challenge of integrating it. I told him where to find a copy of Windows.

He got hung up when the Windows couldn't see the hard drive. I suggested checking the BIOS to see that it was listed. It did show. Dietmar wondered about the boot sequence but it was correct. Steve googled the matter. And learned, at last, that the drive could be configured to operate in an IDE compatibility mode. And that was the magic bullet. He was able to proceed with the Windows installation.

He and Tim worked on it for the balance of the evening to configure and update it.

they tried

The lads had tried to get the wireless camera going but just weren't getting what they wanted. Tony reassigned me to work on it after lunch. Dietmar brought me up to speed.

They had the software installed from the mini DVD to Tony's computer. They had the Chinavasion CVLM-I34 camera configured in a basic way, with our local area network settings at the CAO. They were able to interact with the camera through a web interface, when connected by hard line. Dietmar walked me through the login screen. But the wireless wasn't working.

I asked for some quiet and settled in.

Indeed, with the camera was working well with the ethernet cable connected to our upstairs router. I noted that the web user interface came up fairly quickly. I did notice however that I was inside Firefox and the link that Dietmar had directed me to use to login was associated with ActiveX and thusly Internet Explorer. Oops. I clicked instead on the "push" link for Firefox.

I checked the wireless settings. Scanned for wireless networks. Two came up. It looked like the Mac addresses for each WLAN was included. I paged the GBO and got Charles. Asked that he deenergise the Linksys in the observatory. Rescanning showed a single device. Good. Keep it simple. I wasn't sure it was detecting the proper encryption. I checked it again the WAP settings. Which reminded me that the d-Link unit is very poor. It didn't show the encryption, which I took to mean AES. I set the camera to match.

It was around this time that I noted the port number. It was 188. That was odd. I put it to 80. Keep it simple. I applied a name to the camera, Polaris (get it?) from anonymous, so that I would be able to tell that I was connected to the proper, reconfigured device. Double checked all the other settings. Everything looked pretty good. It looked like, previously, the guys had set the camera to use a fixed IP. I configured it to use dynamic. It rebooted automatically.

The IP camera tool was running in the background of Tony's laptop and after a moment, it showed the camera, with a new IP address, and with the name Polaris. Good signs. I hit the camera with Firefox with the ethernet cable plugged in, without a port number, and everything came up OK. The video feed was working. I rebooted the camera and disconnected the network cable. After a moment the IP camera tool popped up with the camera details. Tried Firefox. Made sure I used the push mode. The video feed came up! All right.

It looked like all the different options I had touched, IP address change, the standard port, the Firefox link, had worked. It was good to see the video working without the ethernet cable. I told Charles and Dietmar. They took the camera outside and bolted it up. I returned to my Stargrazer work.

They connected a few long extension cords to get power to camera. Then tried to view the camera with a laptop. No luck. But when they told me they weren't sure the laptop itself was working, I pointed out that there was no reason to have it beside the camera. Let the viewer sit in the house and use some of our radios to chat with the person near the camera.

Dietmar flagged me down as I was starting to cut some of the longer sections of the lawn. As I drew up, he started shaking his head. Oh oh. I returned to the house.

But when I tried to access the web UI, it didn't respond. I tried many times. No joy. Tried Internet Explorer without success. Nothing.

I removed the camera from its outdoor mount. Tried it from the kitchen table. Sometimes the page would partially load in FF. Nothing appeared in IE. It was weird that the Tool was always showing the camera.

Reconnected via hard line and put the camera back to factory settings. Then provided our network settings via the tool application. Once again, specified our network and wireless details. Double-checked the wireless encryption, this time by checking the settings in the netbook, and discovered it was, in fact, set to use TKIP. Set the camera accordingly.

Deinstalled and reinstalled the IP camera software. No improvements.

As I googled for information and tips, I kept running into articles and blogs of people panning it. That was not encouraging.

I considered upgrading the firmware but I wanted approval from Charles. He was in Thornbury trying to track down St Peter's Winter Ale. When he returned, I asked what his return or refund options were. None. He said it would be more expensive to ship back. Crap. So then trying to change the firmware might not be a bad idea then. We had nothing to lose. He agreed.

Exploring the upgrade options quickly revealed that it wasn't going to be automatic, that it wasn't going online for the proper source. You needed the files already installed on your computer to proceed with the upgrades. I tried to find the firmware and web UI software. I got nowhere with that. The Chinavasion web site didn't offer any downloads other than the user manual. The manual was not technical at all; it simply explained the screens. No troubleshooting topics.

So, I halted my activity. I reported to Tony, Dietmar, and Charles, that I could successfully operate the camera with a hard line connection but that it did not respond properly on wireless. That the web pages and Javascript worked fine with ethernet cable suggested the UI components were working correctly. It seemed to be something in the wireless section itself. I even went so far as to test the camera without and without its little antenna, with the GBO WAP powered back up. It saw the Linksys with its antenna screwed in; but it only saw the house WAP with the antenna removed. Very strange. I brain dumped with Tim and Steve. We couldn't see a solution.

I closed off by suggesting that we keep the camera. But the only way we'd be able to use it would be via hard line...

repaired Stargrazer!

I was very happy. I successfully affected repairs to the Stargrazer at the CAO.

Everything was in place on Saturday morning at the Carr Astronomical Observatory to work on the Motomaster riding mower with Briggs & Stratton engine. Even though it slowly dawned on me that I had forgotten my electronic toolbox back in the city!

At breakfast, I looked over the new parts that I had ordered and that Tony had picked, paid for, and brought north. In fact, when he dropped in to Kooy Bros new spacious shop, the brake actuator had just arrived, out of back order. But I wasn't too excited about the brake arm; I was most interested in the solenoid. I suspected it was the culprit in our no-start situation. So that was priority one. I also checked the pinion gear for the starter motor. Oh ho! New design. The redesign with metal teeth suggested that others had been running into trouble like us. And finally, there was the new oil dip stick tube seal. Dietmar had charged up the lead acid batteries a couple of days before.

As I readied for battle, Trevor asked if he could help. Sure! We took the new parts, a hot cup of coffee, the Fuji camera, my snap ring pliers (with interchangeable tips), tie wraps, the 2008 lead acid battery (which seemed to be performing better than the 2009), and the intelligent battery charger to the garage. Found the lawn mower still on the ramps.

10:33 AM. After taking some photos of the old and new side by each, we swapped the solenoid. Initially, I connected the power leads incorrectly. Once connected, we tried to start her up. I turned the key, the solenoid clicked, and the engine turned! w00t! Power and good lines and a solenoid doing its job.

The engine didn't seem to want to start. But I didn't think it a problem in the engine itself. It sounded like the starter motor gear was not working. No surprise there. So, it was onto the next step: new gear install. This I was most anxious about, with the small snap ring holding the cap and spring in place. I was not sure if my snap ring pliers would work.

We pulled the plastic starter drive cover and main engine outer metal blower housing cover off to give good access to the starter motor. Oops! Almost forgot. I asked Trevor to disconnect the battery...

We returned to the C-clip. And while not a perfect match, we found the snap ring pliers did work. Spreading the ring open slightly allowed us to coax it over the top of the shaft. And the tapered top allowed us to get a good handle on it, before it went flying! I had brought my two types of circlips, just in case. Carefully removed the metal cap. The spring was next. The spring appeared to have some fabric spacer or washer on top, slightly damaged. And then I tried to spin the old pinion gear off the clutch drive. It wouldn't clear the engine gear ring nor the inner blower housing. This required loosening the start motor mounting bolts.

11:13 AM. Photo'ed the old and new gears. Finally we installed the shiny new gear. Reinstalled the spring and cap. And then stared at the clip. How would we get this on?

We tried a few ways without success. The edges of the clip were too rounded for the snap ring pliers to work. Tapping down over the top of the starter shaft taper seemed like a possibility. Borrowed a hammer from Charles and tried a hex socket to drive it down. It wasn't a good line. No joy. Went back to spreading the ring with the pliers. Ping! The C-clip had disappeared! Trevor started looking around the front of the mower but I knew it had not gone far. It had gone inside, inside the inner blower housing! OK. Time to remove it. And it was good we did!

We found gobs of yellow fiberglass insulation packed all around and through the fins of the cylinder and the head! Damn! Sucked up by an inattentive operator? Or pulled in by a nesting mouse? We carefully plucked the spongy material out. It was easier on the right side of the engine where there were openings in the cylinder heat shield. The left side was trickier but finally cleared it. Wow. No wonder the mower was running hot! Ah ha! Trevor spotted the retaining ring! Just under the magneto. Yeh.

With the inner blower cover off, it afforded excellent access to the top of the starter, so we tried hammering on the clip. Still no luck. With no other option, we forced it on by coaxing it around the groove with a combination of the snap ring pliers and bent-nose pliers. It worked! It distorted or opened the clip a little but I was able to force it to compress and then nestle in the top cap.

11:28 AM. Stupid little 5 cent part, as usual, giving most of the trouble.

OK. Now I was keen to see if we had a working mower. Dietmar had asked earlier who would be the test pilot. I wanted the job. After Trevor hooked up the negative terminal and we cleared the foot wells of tools and parts, I climbed in the seat. Throttle low, choke on, in park, neutral, brake on, key to on... I turned to the Start position. She fired up! Yes! Amazing. I was overjoyed. What a great feeling.

12:06 PM. We reinstalled the inner blower cover and the front and rear brackets. We turned in the new seal into the engine block. Screwed it in so it was completely flush with the metal of the engine. Then we test-fit the dip stick tube. It was a good tight fit.

It was time for a test drive. She started up right away. I rolled her off the ramps and out of the garage. I headed over the house where Tony, Dietmar, and Phil were chatting. I updated them. They were curious to see how the starter motor worked. So I shut down and then restarted it. With the starter motor cover still off, we got a good look at the clutch raising the pinion gear into the flywheel teeth and then disengaging once the motor caught. The thing was starting easier than ever before. We were all really happy.

12:22 PM. I reversed and headed to the garage. It was a little tricky finding right shifter position with the forward/reverse lever, without the cover plate, but all worked well. The main hurdle surpassed, it was time to work on the oil dip stick tube. And it was lunch time.

Ironically, Tim arrived a few moments later. I was grateful for his support last week, comforting me that my train of thought was sound. Clearly, the solenoid and the starter motor gear were causing major problems. Now the Stargrazer lawn tractor was back in business.


After lunch we buttoned everything up.

We reattached the outer blower cover. We test-fit the dip stick tube once more and observed, again, that the markings on the blower were higher than were the dip stick mounting plate wanted to lay. I suggested a new hole in the blower cover, down, and a little to the right, would allow for a new mounting point, while leaving some metal between the old screw hole. Trevor agreed. We borrowed Charles cordless drill and probably the dullest bit in his kit but at last we were through. The self-tapping screw went in fine as Trevor applied pressure downward on the dip stick. Engine repair done!

Reinstalled the shift cover (with cutout), after reattaching the kill ground wire to the reverse safety switch. Reinstalled the rotating cover atop the flywheel fan. And rerouted the wiring near the dip stick and the starter motor, primarily so to make draining the oil easier in the future. Secured them with a tie wrap. Trevor cut off the excess. Checked the oil level and added a splash.

And, at last, cut some grass!


Every once in a while, someone from the house would come by to pick my brain. They were working on the IP wireless camera. I'd give them a suggestion and they'd head back indoors.

I noticed Tony and crew pulling the new security wiring through the underground conduit.

Friday, November 25, 2011

reviewed BenQ settings

As a couple of the Education people had encountered some frustration trying to use the BenQ digital projectors after they had been set in a ceiling mode, I noted the menus and options necessary to change the image orientation. I'll tidy them up later and send them off.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

astrophotography talk redux

I delivered my "astrophotography can be simple" presentation to the Orillia Astronomy Club at the Lakehead campus.

Great night. I was a little stressed at the beginning of the evening, having not given myself enough time for the journey. But it all worked out. Nice group of people. And it was a treat being able to present in a modern facility with great tools!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

webspotting 24 - constellations

As published in the Dec 2011/Jan 2012 issue of SCOPE, the newsletter of the RASC Toronto Centre. Republished here with permission.


During the brilliant, amazing, 7-night clear patch at the beginning of October, I spent every night out under the stars. I left the telescope on the porch so I could hit the ground running on each successive evening. It was like having a permanent observatory. And it was sweet.

I hadn't had a good run like that since February. But there was a little gotcha. In the winter, I can see more sky. Now, with leaves clinging to branches, in the treed High Park neighbourhood, there was relatively little of the celestial sphere to work with. My options would be limited to whatever I could hunt down in Cepheus, Cassiopeia, Lacerta, or Ursa Minor. But that was OK. I knew there was much to see. Lots I could learn. Up to this point, for example, I had only viewed one double star system in Cepheus. And I had no idea where the lizard was exactly—I didn't even know the main stars.

It was in this context, forced to view a small sliver of the sky from my small deck, that I realised I wanted constellation-specific lists. I have the wonderful Tirion SkyAtlas 2000 charts and the handy-dandy Pocket Sky Atlas. But I was suddenly interested in a different book, one I had only recently seen for the first time. A book a number of our members recently purchased together. It was Bryon Czarnik  who suggested, last year, Peter Birren's Objects in the Heavens and coordinated a group purchase at a reduced rate. It features constellation charts and for each there is a list of all the notable objects within. It would have been perfect.

Yes, I was planning to use my computers and software applications, like SkyTools and Stellarium, so I'd have no trouble finding and locating targets. But the experience would be different. Here, I wanted to view an object, and then, on a chart, see what was interesting and proximal, so I could do a little star hop, if that, maybe just slide a little, to the next object. Save time. Observe more.

All this got me wondering if there was a web site that had charts like this. And after some initial searches, I wasn't really pleased. Most of the promising searches dropped me into a web page that listed items of interest, but, invariably, the list was rather short, and there was never a chart or map. I gave up the search at the time, reverting to a hybrid approach with my current paper and electronic resources.

But I just gave it another go. And was very happy to find some useful charts, small, in colour, constellation specific, with objects identified, and—joy—completely free. Guess where? The official source! Yes, the organisation we all know and love, the International Astronomical Union. Surf into where you’ll find the constellations alphabetically arranged, with pronunciation tips, the genitive form, and then links to two versions of a chart, a GIF (small, for on-screen) and PDF (large, for printing).

Each simple chart emphasizes the constellation boundaries and lines. It shows if there are any variable stars, planetary nebula, bright diffuse nebula, globular clusters, open clusters, and galaxies in the area. Star magnitudes are visually expressed in the usual way with appropriately sized filled circles (down to 6). Bayer identifications (the Greek letters) are noted for stars with  some proper names shown. The equatorial coordinate lines appear as well. My only complaint is that double stars are not marked. Come on!

These charts may look a little familiar. The Sky and Telescope logo at the bottom right hints at who made them. Wish I had these in early October.

surveys coming back

Found 4 paper survey responses in the mailbox today. All right!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

survey link out

Jason sent a note to the RASC Toronto Centre Yahoo!Group with covering note and the link to the web-based survey. The ball is rolling fast now!

And that means, I need to email the rest of the membership, using the bulk email tool...

not a panic

Tony made it seem that we must have a printed lease ready to sign for the new MODL 4 lessee tomorrow night. It was Dietmar that smoothed the waters, reminding us that we must get the new party signed up with RASC National Office first, affiliated with the Toronto Centre, and buying a CAO Annual Pass. Then we can do a lease...

I printed a sample for our interested person to review.

hacked a cable

Denis needed a custom cable for his astro equipment. Asked me to make it for him. Gave me long 60" cable with male RCA plug as well as one of those little universal power plugs.

I'm trying to put a USB hub on my imaging rig and I would like to run it off my Kendrick controller's 12V DC output (similar to what you did with the Telrad this past summer).

Misplaced the original note so I had to spend some time snooping. I knew I had put it in my Psion... but it wasn't showing up on various keyword searches. It wasn't until I considered that it could be the archived that I was able to confirm the required configuration. It needed to be 20" long and tip negative.

That made we wonder where negative was on a Kendrick controller... I powered up my old trusty Type IV and checked the polarity. Centre pin was positive! As I suspected.

I noted the layout of the RCA cable: central white wire was the pin; with the bare wire the shell.

The last piece to the puzzle... the plug configuration. The centre hole was the far pin; the outer shell was the "near" pin.

So, that means the bare wire goes to the far pin.

Fabricated a strain-relief, bowed the cord, and glued the strain-relief to the plug.