Tuesday, May 31, 2011

saw ISS (Toronto)

Got up extra early, before preparing for a gig in Oakville, so to catch the International Space Station and Space Shuttle flyover. I wanted to see the pair, with the STS undocked from the station. I did see the ISS at 5:11 AM, to the north, low, but I did not see Endeavour. Trees (with leaves) in the way. That was part of the problem.

Monday, May 30, 2011

links to Sharmin

Sent Sharmin my long list of web links for sites that I use when preparing for a The Sky This Month presentation.

She's hinted at being a backup for the TSTM presenters.

updated GBO log sheet

Found a goofy typo on the latest Geoff Brown Observatory supervisor log sheet. Fixed that up. Also rewording the questions about the telephone.

wiring planning

Tony asked me to do up a nice (er, clear) drawing of the functional wiring for the BAO and MODL projects. Show the wiring from the house, to the new lots, via the GBO. With gauge (main and ground), amp breakers, distances, etc. I used Visio. He was happy, "Hey, that looks damn good!" He forwarded this to Jason's dad (a pro electrician) for comments.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

retrieve drip tray

Had left my oil drip tray at the CAO after the generator maintenance work. Found in, still wrapped in a garbage bag, in the garage.

another flat

Tony and I found the left rear tire on the riding mower flat. Tried pumping it up but it leaked out pretty quickly. We unmounted the wheel and Tony packed it in his gear to take to the city. We'd need the Stargrazer up and running soon, to clear the grass around the new CAO MODL lots...

Saturday, May 28, 2011

delivered talk

Delivered my short talk at the Open House and Awards Picnic after kicking off the event with the Canary Islands video. I struggled a bit with Tony's machine. And then I got the hook. Still, I think some enjoyed it. And picked up a couple of new web sites.

Eric followed me after a short break, showing some interesting old videos.

Tony did the last presentation, talking about the CAO's past, and what's coming up, with the Bob Anderson Dome and the My Own Dome Lot projects.

Then we rolled in the raffle prize draws. That was pretty exciting. Some great prizes, including the out-of-print astronomy-themed Monopoly game.


Ooooh. I get it now. I see what Tony was doing. By getting me to do a presentation, he was guaranteeing I would be at the Open House... Sly.

won award!

I was selected by the RASC Toronto Centre Council for the Ostrander-Ramsay award for astronomical writing, in particular for the regular "webspotting" column in the SCOPE newsletter. I was dumbstruck. Good thing I showed up...

Charles, the veep, presented it (while Ralph, prez, down under, watched and listened by Skype). Photo by Sharmin. While I was hamming it for Scott's photo.

Still can't believe it.

enjoyable afternoon

Finalised and posted the day schedule. Thanks to Kiron and Phil for the legal-sized sheets.

I installed the red solar lights in the yard around the back deck and steps to the GBO, so to light the way.

I prepared the Celestron 14" and Tele Vue 101 telescopes, for visual and video astronomy, although the skies were not looking good.

The high winds dissipated enough to allow for the rocket launches. I was on fire duty again. It was a big draw, even though Tony had to scrub Big Bertha's lift off.

Spent a long time chatting with Caroline's husband (Stephen) and son (Nicholas). I don't know where she was... Stephen is really into photographer and keen to get into astrophotography. I remember them from the First Light sessions.

Had a little chitchat with Silvana and friend. Gave them a tour of the GBO. They hope to return when the skies are good.

Briefly chatted with Dave D. as he scouted out the place. Unfortunately I could not spend a lot of time as I was getting ready for The Show. Still, he was able to check out the grounds and the Paramount. He was very impressed.

We were visited by Nena and John, our neighbours atop the hill. Friendly folk. There's an astronomy connection too! Weird.

It was good the rain held off.


I replaced the compression hose clamps on the generator oil drain line with adjustable ones.


The lack of Sun affected us in many ways. Not only could we not do any solar observing, but Tony cancelled the heavy equipment rental for the weekend. No trenching or excavating while the ground was so wet.


Joel put a short launch video on YouTube.

Friday, May 27, 2011

fans of the RASC

I Heart RASC.

By the henna master.

pre OHAP

Travelled with Kiron again. We took Dunlop this time. It's a good route. Avoids a lot of lights. Low limit in a couple of sections; but overall it proved faster. Less stressful.

Did a few chores once at the RASC CAO.
  • Readied the OHAP schedule and received legal size paper sheets.
  • Prepared the red LED solar lights.
  • Printed the latest The Evening Sky Map for May. Kiron posted them around the grounds for me.
  • Inspected the generator. Green light, Ready to Run indicator. Despite a report that it did not run...
  • Made and posted "water is potable" and "use the BBQ" signs.
  • Made and posted a "this is a server" sign for the security and weather station computer.
  • Made little tent cards for the kitchen table: "do not slide chairs."
  • Returned cleaned towels and face cloths.
  • Cleaned the living room carpet (after the little terrors last year). Hopefully the same won't happen. Oh oh. Did I do this in the wrong sequence... Should I have planned to clean on Sunday?
  • Loaded and tested my presentation on Tony's computer. Loaded and tested videos.
  • Put out (and labelled) bottled water for the presenters.
  • Annotated the circuit breaker notes for the water heater vs. the water heater closet (baseboard) heater.
  • Printed an updated GBO roof motor circuit on legal size paper.
  • Returned the AVerMedia PCMCIA card and dongle to GBO.
I coddled together parts for the custom red LED solar lights. I had obtained a box of 10 new lights. The plastic lens is regularly being broken with our current crop. It was good to have a fresh set of batteries as well.

Tomorrow's the Big Day, the 2011 Open House and Awards Picnic... And I have to deliver a presentation.

Lots of people started showing up. I juggled accommodation. I was still subbing for Dietmar while he was overseas. Tom arrived, without guest Mike or brother Nick. Sharmin and Shawn arrived with Phil. Terry arrived. Grace, Trevor, and Tony arrived (with Ben). Brenda and Eric showed up. Jason made it, also without guest. The no-shows relieved some of the pressures squeezing everyone into the bedrooms.

The best part of the evening was the mac & cheese and wings dinner that Lora had made! Yum.

ISS complete

With the transfer of the 50-foot-long boom from the Space Shuttle to the International Space Station, making it the Enhanced International Space Station Boom Assembly, Cmdr. Mark Kelly called down, "Space Station complete!"

It took just over 1000 hours of space walks.


Thursday, May 26, 2011

headlights north please

Reminded OHAP visitors not staying overnight at the CAO to park with their headlights facing north.

(Although I was not expecting clear skies...)

packed tools for Trev

Trevor wanted to do some riding mower maintenance as well as a tune-up of the ATV while at the CAO. I packed a few speciality tools for him.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

high-volume problem

Yesterday, Ralph wanted to send an urgent message to the entire RASC Toronto Centre membership about the David Dunlap Observatory.

He tried using the "old" high-volume SMTP mail management tool in our web admin tools. Something he has used in the past. Something the past SCOPE editor (Phil) used to notify members of the newest newsletter. But neither Ralph or the current SCOPE editor (Eric) had touched the tool in some time. In fact, neither had used since the web hosting switchover to HostPapa.

I wasn't surprised it didn't work. After reviewing Phil's notes, I jumped into the server and found coding in the CGI files still referring to the old server. I hacked at the code for a bit and got the program going. I conducted a test with a handful of personal emails and saw that it was working. I prepared the tool with Ralph's message and the list of over 500 member email addresses. And thought I was done...

This morning, when I saw that very few people received the message, I assumed the worst. It was a couple of hours later than I found the 400 or so rejected messages in the server admin inbox. Cricky! An outbound filter on the server had blocked most of the messages. Our old tool, while clever in its approach, would not work. At least, not be convenient. If we batched recipients (max. 50 per hour), it would take a day or two! Reconciled who received the message...

While logged into the admin account on HostPapa, at around 9:30 AM, I started examining the Control Panel. And I stumbled across a group email tool. It used GNU Mailman. All we'd have to do was make a master list and then send the message to the listserv. We could tear it down after. I conducted several tests around noon to make sure that it would work. Satisfied, I loaded all the candidates into the system, configured the appropriate restrictions on the listserv, and finally sent out Ralph's message. I was feeling pretty confident. Documented everything and sent a summary report to Ralph and Eric.

Ironically, Ralph himself did not receive the message. I polled a few others. It still didn't work for nearly everyone. Damn. Out of desperation, I reposted his message on the Yahoo!Group. To cover the bases... I don't know what this means for the future. Is Mailman itself outdated? I was under the impression that National uses this tool for its lists. So it should work for us.

An exercise in frustration.

Took hours of my time to analyse.

Why do these things get left to the last minute?


I phoned Eric. Asked if he'd like to use Mailman in the future with the newsletter notice. Urged him that we test it sooner vs. later.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

password confusion

Manuel sent a note to RASC Toronto Yahoo!Group saying he was having trouble logging it. He was trying to use the national credentials on our site.

Eric helped him out.

I'd really like to nip this in the bud. Why are our new members not getting this information?

submission guidelines

I wrote up some formal submission guidelines, particular for third parties wanting to post items on the RASC Toronto Centre web site.

I'm getting a little tired of their bellyaching...

Will send to the prez to get his feedback.

Monday, May 23, 2011

made presentation

Like a publishing editor to an author, Tony urged me to "write what you know..." For the Open House and Awards Picnic, he thought I should prepare a presentation based on my RASC Toronto Centre newsletter webspotting articles. Do a roundup. Feature the best of the best.

I complied. Unable to think of anything else. With time running out.

Reviewing my submitted articles from late 2007 to date, I assembled an outline. I built the slide presentation initially with OpenOffice but then using PowerPoint (2007), knowing that I'd have Tony's laptop at my disposal. Made a custom background.

I made a handout as well.

I also captured two videos, locally. I planned to show one, the very moving time-lapse of clouds and stars I had seen recently on APOD, as part of the edutainment keynote.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

wifi walkabout

Phil walked about the CAO grounds testing the wifi signal...
While service was flaky at the picnic table for Jean and Lora, and non-existent in the T@B for both Lora and me (parked between the observing pad and the back door), the signal within the house was "Excellent." The signal strength per my ASUS netbook right now:
  • In front of GBO: Very Good
  • Middle of observing pad: Good
  • Outside THO: Low
  • In front of garage door: Low
  • Driveway, direct line btwn house & garage: Very Good
  • Picnic table (BBQ): Very Good
I don’t think it’s an issue of loose wiring. Could it be the new antennae is very directional?
Indeed. I told him that it was...

focal ratio corrected

I found a typo (data entry) in SkyTools3. It was on the RASC Toronto Centre Carr Astronomical Observatory (CAO) Celestron 14" Schmidt Cassegrain telescope profile. Somewhere along the way I had entered 10 for the f/ratio prompt; it's an f/11 'scope.

This explained why I was getting the incorrect magnification numbers...

Saturday, May 21, 2011

webspotting 21 - Mars!

Published in the Jun/Jul 2011 issue of SCOPE, the newsletter of the RASC Toronto Centre. Republished here with permission. Minor edits applied.


It seems that we astronomy-types spend a good deal of our time setting people straight. We chat and argue and explain. We patiently write articles and write emails, debunking, clarifying, demystifying, and correcting. Every August, the Mars-as-big-as-the-Moon emails start flying about the Internet. We have had to explain that lunar eclipses are actually quite common; it's just that they are a bit special when they happen on the Solstice. Recently, we've had to downplay the crazy Super-Moon hoopla. Just watch an astronomer get their back up when someone calls them an astrologer! You can balance eggs any time. No, really! Some blog about astronomy myths. Some write books on it. Some have turned it into a career.

I'm not sure exactly why but there may be a resurgence in the whole Moon landing hoax. In fact, I recently had a conversation with someone who was confident that humans landed on the Moon but didn't believe they communicated in real-time (or near real-time) by radio and television signal. I had not heard the spin before. I found that intriguing, particularly given that modulation of electromagnetic waves is a well-established technology. Nikola Tesla was demonstrating it in the 1890s to his classroom students. And we had television and COMSATs in orbit around the Earth years before we headed off to our nearest celestial neighbour. We would not have GPS units and smartphones if it weren't for awesome "wireless telegraphy."

I have heard (and I hate to say this) that some of the name-a-star web sites are a tad unscrupulous. There be dragons! As usual, check your sources. Get a referral. Do some digging if you’re interested in doing such a thing. It is my understanding that it is only the International Astronomical Union (or IAU) that gets to name stars and planets and dwarf planets and Pluto and moons and very small rocks. Gotta be careful, right?

Anyhoo. With all the talk of Mars of late (a crater named after Alan Shepard's Freedom 7 spacecraft, the preparations for the Mars Science Laboratory rover  Curiosity, the Red Planet moving back into our evening skies, and its next apparition occurring a few months from now), I thought I'd let you know about a great opportunity that you should take advantage before it's too late. Step right up. Visit the Mars Shop! 


Then, get one of these [a Martian property deed]!

wifi flaky

Lora, while enjoying the June bugs, submitted an email to the CAO Complaint Department. Somehow, it landed in my inbox...
Wifi has been flaky (more so than my pie crusts) this weekend. Last night, I could not use my notebook/ITouch in the T@B, GBO, by the garage or at the picnic table by the BBQ - they would only work if I were inside the house. Almost hitched up the wagon to head home in the dark!

Today a bit better, I could use it inside the house, on the deck or at the picnic table. About an hour ago, I managed to get incoming emails while inside the T@B.

Jean was also having problems [with her Blackberry] - she left a comment for you in the guest book.

Phil has had no problem using his BB though at times he says the signal strength is weak. I'll have to get him to try out his netbook tomorrow in various locations.
Could it be the higher than normal density of blackflies and June bugs?!

I forwarded the message to Matthew.

little ladies

The NASA science PD referred to the orb spiders on orbit, at the International Space Station, as "the little ladies."

Esmerelda and Gladys!

Apparently Gladys is a little bashful.

See the NASA site for more info on Spiders In Spaaaaace!

imaging with the CGEM

Sent Manuel a link to an astrophotographer's site. He uses the Celestron CGEM.


Lots of good photos and good tips.

guiding test (Etobicoke)

Manuel invited me over for some observing and imaging. I helped lug gear outside.

10:00 PM, 20 May 2011. After we set up the 'scope, I viewed Saturn, flanked by 4 moons, 2 on each side. We were using his Celestron 9.25" with starbright xl coatings on CGEM5 mount. I was a little suprised that the CGEM didn't have a polar scope proper; it's just a sighting tube.

He was not using focal reducer. He didn't have a reticule eyepiece. I was also surprised that he didn't have any dew heating equipment.

Viewed M57, M13, and M5.

Met his neighbours John and Grace. John said that he saw an astronomy talk last summer up near Thornbury, at an orchard, by an RASC person. Dude. That was me!

12:13 AM, 21 May 2011. Manuel was trying his new guide scope, the qhy5v. And he now had a qhy9c as the main camera. He was trying the phd guiding software. I gave pointers and tips. Checked things in SkyTools3.

12:38 AM. He was done the guiding setup. But we still weren't getting great images.

I wondered if the polar alignment was too crude. I wondered if the on-board 2 or 3 star alignments screw things up... I wondered if he had done periodic error adjustments. Maybe I should read the manual...


Spent some time clarifying (I hope) how things worked with the Carr Astronomical Observatory: how one booked, getting there, what to expect when there, etc. I really hope he'll make it up there soon.

Friday, May 20, 2011

chatted with BST president

The president (and/or owner) of Bruce Street Technologies, Blair, said it was OK to call him anytime. I felt a little bad for bothering him outside normal business hours but he assured me it was not a problem. In fact, he was still working.

We had a good chat about their wireless internet services, new towers in Grey County, our sightlines from the CAO to their equipment, the infrastructure and speed of their equipment. I shared with him what we currently do and what we expect to do in the future. He seemed very amenable. He was not opposed to anything we were doing. In fact, he offered that they'd set up the appropriate ports for our remote access requirements. I was very pleased to learn that he had visited us during the last public open house.

He left me with a few questions. I made a note to re-read the rate sheet and contract. But I'm feeling better about them.

I'd still like to meet them face-to-face...

Phil took the baton

Phil reported that he was at the CAO. He reported the skies were looking good! He coaxed Nicole and Gilles up. Good stuff.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Tim bailed

Tim H. was the designated CAO supervisor this weekend.

He just said it is calling for cloud and rain. I immediately looked at some of the local weather resources. It didn't look too bad to me.

Tim also said that there was "no interest." Both Tony and I thought that a little inappropriate.

Regardless, I wasn't entirely surprised.

presenting at OHAP

Tony is scrambling to arrange for some presentations are the RASC Toronto Centre Open House and Awards Picnic on May 28.

I made some suggestions for possible topics.

Not surprisingly, he asked me to do one of the talks. Uh boy. Gotta come up with a topic in short order...

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

missed the docking

I wrote it down wrong in my calendar... 6:16 PM EDT, instead of 6:16 AM! Could have watched it before work...

But I caught the replays after work.

This was the last docking of the Space Shuttle Endeavour.

They will be delivering the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer 2 (among other things). The search for dark matter will continue...

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

updated ECR

Scott had some change requests for the RASC Toronto Centre Expense Cheque Requisition. I updated the Excel file and uploaded it to the Council group. I also uploaded it to the CAO supervisors group.

custom wifi antenna

Matthew was at the CAO for the work party. He built a custom directional antenna for the D-Link wireless router. I don't know anything about antennas but I think he said it was 5 dipole.

Primarily reports were promising. Lora and Phil with the camper trailer parked beside the garage were able to access the network (from inside the camper) with netbook, Macbook, and BlackBerry where, in the past, they could not do this.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

helped at work party

It was the regular spring work party at the Carr Astronomical Observatory, to prepare the facility for summer use. Tune up the lawn mower, remove the storm windows, fix busted stuff, do a big clean.

I was on deck for a couple of specific jobs: installing the new roof wheels in the Geoff Brown Observatory and maintaining the Generac generator.

Photo by Ian Donaldson. New wheels on counter behind deer caught in the headlights.

Charles and I worked on the GBO roof, jacking it up, and installing the new wheels with roller bearings. I could hear the difference! This will hopefully greatly reduce the strain on the roof drive.

Speaking of motor drive, Charles and I installed the new upper Lovejoy coupling. It was a bit fiddly but everything went well. The new plastic spider should reduce the lag and lash.

The generator was overdue for an oil and filter change. I had Trevor help me out. We checked the spark plugs for residue and gap. Inspected the air filter. Everything went well and checked out. I wanted to do the valve clearance but we determined it would be a big job, requiring the removal of the battery and facia some covers and grills. Tony agreed that we leave it for a sunny, warm weekend...

I was going to do the riding lawn mower maintenance but I learned the Joel normally does that.

Charles and I also scouted the garage, shooting photos and taking measurements, with the intention of installing something to ease opening and closing the big garage door. Perhaps a chain drive...

Charles and I also took down the last couple of storm windows (including one for the library).

Charles, Trevor, and Tony put up the new projector ceiling mounts. I helped a little with the upstairs, living room unit. Took us a while to find the joists. My stud finder had a little freak out.

A lot of the usual suspects showed up to help at the CAO: Lora, Phil, Nick, Tom, Brenda, Eric, Dietmar, Geoff, Joel, Charles, Scott, Kiron, Ian D., Trevor, and Tony. We were also joined by Thomas, Matthew, and Ostap. Ralph was cook.

Ian shot lots of photos.

Of course it was crappy, pissy, damp, cold, foggy.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

took up reins

Dietmar handed over the CAO bookings to me. I'm on duty for 2 weeks or so. Which includes the Open House and Awards Picnic... Uh boy.

Friday, May 13, 2011


I transferred the Mabella occultation video from the camcorder to the CAO GBO Dell laptop using the AVerMedia TV card.

Watching the video in full screen mode on the laptop LCD was good, better than trying to see stuff on the little LCD in Denis's kit, or right on the Canon camera.

But, alas, it is, for me, still indeterminate...

pre work-party

Kiron and I headed to CAO for the spring-opener work party.

We left mid-day. He's between jobs. I need a job. We thought we'd get a jump on the rush-hour exodus leaving the city. I remembered to avoid the north-bound Black Creek log jam, taking inside Jane.

I suggested that if we got away early enough, the 400 highway would actually be fast. It was. I also wanted to avoid the "main drag" in Barrie, Highway 26. So, I plotted out a new route to try. The plan was to turn off the 400 before Bayfield. On the way up, I regretted not printing a map or noting the details. I made Kiron exit too soon onto Essa road. When we started turning south-west, I knew something was wrong. But then I remembered I had the netbook in the trunk, with MS Streets and Trips (albeit an ancient version). Ah. We should have taken the next exit.

Still, I navigated us back up to Dunlop St W (which I should have remembered). It was a short stint west to then connect with 10 Concession (aka George Johnston Rd) bound for Minesing. Despite the circuitous path, it proved quick and easy. No traffic. I took the wheel once on 26. Showed Kiron the route west from Stayner, up the scenic escarpment, through Duntroon and Rob Roy.

We arrived the E.C. Carr Astronomical Observatory at 2:45 PM. Ian D. pulled in just behind us. We marvelled at the continuous thunder overhead. Within 15 minutes it was raining heavily. Dietmar arrived a short time later but did not exit his SUV, to wait out the rain. I fetched him with our umbrella. The squal moved off to the north-east.

Dietmar wanted to start staking out the My Own Dome Lots and Bob Anderson Observatory space but it was too wet. Tony also discouraged us.

Lora and Phil arrived with Skeena.

There wasn't much to do. I started into a few chores...
  • I installed the repaired, reconfigured Telrad on the Celestron 14" optical tube assembly and tested it. It worked great.
  • I installed the large LCD monitor in the Geoff Brown Observatory for future MallinCam use and tested it. A-OK.
  • Checked the generator status. Super green!
  • Removed the "telephone" label from the exterior of the house.
  • I made up and printed new "clean your room" reminder notes for the CAO bedrooms.
  • I also made and printed a food and condiments note for the main fridge.
  • Shut off the generator battery heater circuit (for the summer).
  • Moved my toolboxes to the GBO.
  • Charged up my cordless drill batteries.
  • Put one of the newly printed colour editions (thanks to Phil) of the CAO Site Facilities Manual in a duotang with clear plastic cover. Put the spare in the Info Tech binder.
Phil fixed the starter on barbeque. It only needed a AA battery. I didn't know that! Simple fix. Made a note in the upcoming Supervisors manual.

We tried to find the spare propane tank.

We changed the labels on the kitchen cupboards. I took down the handwritten white labels; we used Charles's label maker with clear tape. Much better. While making labels, I had one done up for the Telrad, noting the power requirements, voltage and polarity.

Showed Phil my custom deep red LED head lamp. He noted, "It's heavy."

Chatted briefly with Dietmar about taking over the CAO bookings while he and Millie travelled in Europe.

Did a little web site editing.

Nothing else to do on a cloudy night.

Big day tomorrow...

Thursday, May 12, 2011

hacked a Telrad

Someone left the switch on with the Telrad on the C14 which drained the batteries of course. Then the batteries leaked. Which destroyed the battery holder.
"So I'm taking it home to my workshop, my dear. I'll fix it up there. Then I'll bring it back here."
Initially I considered simply replacing the battery holder. Denis, however, suggested I hard-wire it and pull continuous power from 'scope or pier. Good idea. No more battery worries.

As I wondered how to step down from 12 volts to 3, I considered a basic voltage divider circuit. And I could use the extra 9 volts to produce heat. But then we already have a dew heater for the Telrad. Maybe I could use a LM317...

After chatting with The Sage, wherein he suggested simply reconfiguring the Telrad for 12 volts vs. 3, I started rummaging the parts bin. And I found everything I needed:
  • 470 ohm 1/4 watt resistor
  • female RCA jack
  • plastic two-wire strain relief
  • heat shrink
  • 22 gauge wire
  • and a long single RCA patch cable
I desoldered the stock 51 ohm resistor and replaced it with the new one. Cut out the old battery holder, after marking the wire polarity. Drilled a 1/2" hole in the Telrad body, near the battery compartment. Tested my Kendrick controller for polarity (centre pin positive). Wired up the RCA plug, fed the wires through the strain relief, snapped the plug in place, and soldered the leads to the internal wiring.

Works great.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

participated in super meeting

For the first time to date, the Carr Astronomical Observatory supervisors met up, at once, face to face. It was something I thought important to do with increased responsibilities. And some of the recent challenging personality situations. Tony also thought it a good idea with future plans, like the remote observatory.

It was a pretty good meeting with a pretty good turnout. Phil, Dietmar, Ian D., Steve, Tim, Tony, and myself crowded into the Horvatin dining room. Regrets came in from Ralph and Ian W.

Tony provided a hard copy of the CAO Site Facilities Manual that I have been updating. He went through it in a fair amount of detail.

We also reviewed Dietmar's list on the Yahoo!Group. To that Tony and I noted some additional chores not on the list.

I handed around the Fire and Safety manual that Scott had prepared. We discussed new and improved procedures in emergency situations.

Dietmar talked a little about the operation of the Paramount.

It was good to have everyone on the same page.

Tony asked me to keep some notes with action items. Erg.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

sent agenda

Hoping it wasn't too late, I emailed Tony some agenda items for the CAO supervisors meeting, scheduled for tomorrow evening.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

he fixed it

Dave returned.

He spent an hour or so on the roof and connecting to the wifi radios. Got everything going.

Our CAO internet service is back up.

He was very apologetic. And he returned the ethernet cable he had taken.

spring targets (Blue Mountains)

With the C14 and TV101 to ourselves and surprisingly good skies again, Ian and I did a bit of observing of spring-time objects, accepting suggestions from SkyTools3 and Turn Left At Orion.

10:50 PM, 7 May 2011. We revisited the Ghost of Jupiter, aka NGC 3242 and Caldwell 59. Tonight, I went up in power with the 18mm. But I don't think it improved the view. Ian couldn't see anything: he had been looking at the waxing crescent Moon in the battleship binoculars.

10:54 PM. We checked out the Spindle Galaxy, aka NGC 3115 and Caldwell 53, in Sextans. Oh. Nice! It presented as a nearly edge-on galaxy with a bright centre. It was fairly large in the 27mm ocular (at 145x).

11:08. I wanted to look at some colourful stars, perhaps some deep red variable stars. A suggestion from ST3 was R Coronae Borealis or SAO 84015. I directed the Paramount to the proper location but there didn't seem to be anything there... Was it a variable star at the low period? I checked SkyTools. And mis-read the Object Info dialog, thinking it was not variable. Weird. Nothing interesting in the field.

(It is a definitely variable. Wikipedia says it can "fade by several magnitudes at irregular intervals." Closer examination of ST3 shows it ranging from 5.7 to 14.8.)

We went to M13, the great globular cluster. Sweet. And that told us the 'scope was working, the eyepiece was working, the mount and software was fine. Oh well. I'll need to revisit that object later. Does seem odd as it is suggested by ST3 as an "interesting star."

Ian headed off to bed.

I too was feeling a little tired. Despite my light afternoon nap. The nap helped, to be sure. The scratchy throat I had started to feel didn't seem to be a significant issue. Overall, I was feeling pretty good! So, I decided to press on.

I switched the SkyTools software to display my spring TLAO list. And there was a good number of unlogged items!

11:25. I just viewed the double star in Cancer. It's called as ι2 (iota-2) in TLAO and Σ1291 or STF1291 in ST3. It's also referred to as 57. I saw light orange stars. TLAO describes the ι2 stars as yellow. I could split them with the 27mm but not with the 55mm (71x). They seemed equal brightness and equal colour. Even with the 18mm (217x).

(I didn't realise that I had already viewed this target. First viewed ι2 on 25 May 2008. For some reason, I had not noted it in ST3. I learned later that I had a log entry on the A star, the primary, 57, but my custom TLAO observing list included the B star, and there was no log entry on that... A "quirk" of ST3 that it binds log entries to a specific star.)

ι2 is not to be confused with ι1, which is 2.5° away. I think, at the time, I was a little confused by that also... (I first viewed ι1 on 5 April 2008).

I needed more coffee... I headed to the house for a break. Took some Advil. Oh, and some cookies.

11:34. As I stood on the back deck surveying the sparkling dome overhead, I noted a bright meteor in the ESE. I was a little surprised at the slow speed and long duration. It went through Ophiuchus, travelling vertically. It went nearly straight down.

Going the wrong way for an η (eta) Aquarid...

11:49. Wow. I just observed ζ1 (zeta-1) Cancri aka Tegmen (or Tegmine). It is a triple system with a tight double. I used the 18mm to looker closer at the tight pair. Then I tried the 10mm but the seeing (and sky altitude?) was poor.

(Another one I had already observed... It was definitely not noted in ST3. But that's because of the tight pair in the triple, having not split them well, on 1 March 2009.)

11:56. I tried to split φ (phi) Cancri without success. I wondered if it was too low. I used up to the 18mm. The main star was a lovely orange though. That was weird because it is a medium-tight pair...

[Did I go to φ1 by mistake? Perhaps I entered or selected the wrong object in TS6. I had intended to view φ2. An argument for using one computer to drive the 'scope! And, once again, it turns out I had already successfully viewed this pair, on 11 Feb 2010, from the back yard... I don't know why ST3 was not updated. Nor was there a check mark in the TLAO book...]

12:00 AM, 8 May 2011. Midnight! I examined HD 74348 aka Σ1266, in Cancer. It is a wide double (TLAO says 23" apart). The main star is yellow; the companion orange. Both stars are fairly faint. ST3 says mag 8.7 and 10. This pair is not noted in Sissy Haas's double stars for small telescopes book.

12:04 AM. Awesome! 54 Leo is very cool. It is a pair of bright stars, the main is white, maybe with a touch of yellow, and the companion is much fainter, but still bright, and with a hint of blue. This would be a good showpiece pair, for star parties. Easier than Porrima! Easily split in 55mm.

Haas describes the binary system as "banana-yellow... and... sapphire blue." Banana-yellow, ha ha, I like that one! Webb says, "greenish white, blue." Dude, clean your specs.

12:11. Wow. I finally saw the famous variable star Y Canum Venaticorum aka La Superba. It is amazing! It is like an ember in a fire. The colour is deep orange. Should have showed this one to Ian. The rich star is all by itself in a high power eyepiece, there are not a lot of other stars around. Perhaps a low power ocular (or binoculars) would mix it into a field of white and blue stars...

12:20. I viewed Messier 65. It was nice, a canted spiral. It looked mottled on the one side. Is it assymetrical? I should look at some images... oh, no internet! It was very nice in the 27mm.

12:26. I saw, on the computer-screened star charts that M66 was nearby. So, I used the joystick and simply panned around for it. I found it below. Not too far away. It seemed more disorganised, more mottled. Is it perhaps bigger?

Grabbed the joystick again and panned around. I found I could just fit 65 and 66 in field with the 27mm. The eyepiece true field of view I had calculated to be 29 arc-minutes. That's pretty cool, these two galaxies a half-degree apart. Oh ho, I saw that 66 was brighter! And it seemed to be less tilted, more face-on to us, yes?

I dropped in the 55mm. That made a very pleasing view, these two Leo galaxies. It occurred to me that this view would be nice to sketch... with the different shapes and sizes and brightnesses and the handful of field stars. Another day perhaps.

(This is in the area of the Leo triplet. Where was the third one? NGC 3628? I must have missed it.)

It was really dark now. The moon was setting. The sky was darkening; the inside of the observatory was dark. Finally.

12:34. I viewed M94. This felt like almost the best time of year to view it. I remembered trying last August. Now it was almost straight up. Even then, overall, it was faint in the 55mm. The face-on spiral galaxy looked good in the 27mm, with a super bright centre. The centre seemed star like (or is that a star?). I noted a little Sagitta-like asterism nearby. I threw the 18mm at the distant island galaxy and I could start to see mottling and dust in disk. It was good to finally get a piece of that faint fuzzy!

12:47. Time for a planet... The "star" of the show: Saturn, of course.

I saw Titan above the ringed wonder. There were two moons above and close to ring (Dione outside and Tethys inside). There was another moon below, close to ring (Rhea). Something was hovering in and out of view, about same distance as Titan, in line with rings. Was it Hyperion?

12:50. I kept soaking up photons. It paid off. I was able to see Enceladus, near Rhea, inline with the rings.

I found the dark edge in foreground of the rings, the leading edge of the rings, really interesting. It was very pronounced.

I could easily see the Cassini division inside the rings with the 18mm.

I thought the seeing really good.

But I couldn't see Mimas. I tried and tried.

It felt damp outside, at the telescope. I checked the warm room conditions. The humidity was 54% and temperature was 13°C.

I wanted to stay up more but with possible cold symptoms I didn't think it a good idea to push it.

It was a shame though. It was turning into a beautiful night. And an all-nighter might have afforded views of a gaggle of pre-dawn planets... I closed up the observatory.

I didn't have any problems with the roof at all.

Inside, ready for bed, at 1:54, I checked the outdoor conditions on the Davis weather station:

5.8°C temp
83% humidity
pressure 101.51 and rising

I enjoyed that session. Got a bunch of checkmarks into the spring Turn Left At Orion list.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

we helped Bren

Bren dropped in for dinner and some observing. She had told me over the phone that she was going to bring her log book and make notes (as we prescribed in the NOVA course). All right.

She arrived while I was helping Dave. Dinner conversation was interesting...

Afterwards, Ian and I set up the orange tube C8 on the observing pad. We took the Telrad from the C14. As I had brought my eyepiece case, I loaned her my vintage Celestron 26mm Plössl. Ian walked her through how to run the SCT on fork mount. I was busy with the occultation stuff.

Just before 10:30 PM, she left for her cottage.

She was thrilled to see Saturn.

occultation happened (Blue Mountains)

I had travelled solo to the Carr Astronomical Observatory to video record an asteroid occultation. I was looking forward to a successful event using Denis's kit and the CAO computer controlled mount. The weather looked promising. And I gave myself lots of time to prep.

The occultation of the 11.6 magnitude star (TYC 0758-00544-1u) by asteroid (510) Mabella happened. But I'm not sure if I got it... I reviewed the video but still wasn't sure. I'll have to transfer it from the camcorder and look at it on a big screen.


During set-up, I saw that I was getting a lot of electrical interference using my home-grown 120-12 volt adapter. I hijacked the battery from the lawn mower and MacGyvered the wires in place.

9:56 PM. I had everything ready to go. I was just waiting.

Checked conditions with the SQM. 19.93. 8 degrees.

I didn't want to use such a high integration setting but I need to use 4 to draw out the star. Similarly, I needed max gain and hi gamma. Ugh. The video image was grainy and noisy.

10:14. The star was supposed to go out (or rather, drop 4 magnitudes) for approx. 2 seconds. I watched the event live. I don't think I saw anything. But then the seeing was borderline with the target star... It flickered in and out.

10:23. I watched video screen on camera. I couldn't see it go out. I'll definitely need a big monitor. And to go through it frame by frame.

Or, is it simply a miss? The rank was low: 33.


Cranked up the integration and gain and recorded for a while longer. If the asteroid was in fact magnitude 15.8, maybe I could coax it out!

But I realised later, my math was off. If I had been recording through the C14, with a mag 14 or 15 limit, and then going 2 deeper with video intergration, sure, I might have been able to see it.

The limited magnitude of the TV 101, I calculate to be 12.7.


I don't know why, exactly, I decided to do this but I removed the focal reducer from the camera for this occultation. I just thought I'd have tons of light given the dark location, 11 km from the centreline. But should I have kept it in? Particularly given the small aperture of the TV101? I didn't think I would need it with an f/5 'scope. Did the Moon lighting interfere? Kinda kicking myself now...

I tried to use the Vixen flip mirror as well but it added too much length to the light path, combined with extension tube. That just slowed down focusing.

he broke our internet

There was a knock at the door in the middle of the afternoon. It was Dave Osborne. He's a local installer, antenna guy. He dropped by the CAO, hoping we were around, because Georgian.net was having some sort of wireless signal trouble. He had a switch and loose gaggle of cables in his hand. The switch looked 10 years older than the existing one. He was glad to see me, a familiar face. He asked if I could let him in. OK.

We headed to the basement. He immediately noted the shelf I had built for all the network gear. He started swapping out the Linksys switch; put in the "new" one. And it didn't work. Tried different ports. Didn't work. Rebooted everything. Didn't work.

He asked if I had a computer he could borrow. He had forgotten his. OK.

He asked if I had a standard ethernet cable he could borrow. OK.

I let him use the netbook while I fetched a cable. He hard wired it into his equipment and fiddled for a while. Wasn't clear about their router login. I certainly didn't know it. We briefly connected to one of the radios. But in the end, he didn't get anywhere. Finally, he put the original switch back in place so to get to a known good state. Nothing seemed to work at this stage. Our entire internet service was down.

(He didn't realise it at the time but somehow he had taken down Thornbury tower! Completely wiped out their Thornbury service. Wow.)

It was getting into the dinner time slot. I was looking ahead to the occultation. I gave him a deadline. Which he sailed past. I said I really had to go. He asked if could work unattended and continue to use my computer. OK.

It was about an hour later, as I was finishing dinner, that he came up from the dungeon, with a long face. He relayed that he had not resolved any of the local site issues (or those of the downstream customer). Despite leaving the original switch in place. He shared with us the Thornbury tower problem. I was astonished.

His feeling now was that it was a radio problem. Huh. So nothing to do with a switch... But he didn't have anything with him to fix it. He climbed in his van, leaving us without internet, and said he'd be coming back Sunday morning.

IWOOT Cartons

Ian was doing some nature photography with his Canon bodies and big-gun lens. He also had his binoculars out. I looked through them at one point.

Wow! What a view. Clean all the way to the edges. Very high transmission. Very three-dimensional. Not too heavy to hand hold. And I could form a single image. Not something I can easily do in many binos. In a word: beautiful.

Then I looked at the name. Ah, of course: Carton Adlerblick!

10 x 50
field 5.3°
fully multi-coated

Ooh. Look! They're on sale, 25% off, 'till the end of July...

didn't expect that (Blue Mountains)

After the hockey game Ian D. and I checked the skies. It was clear! We weren't expecting to do any observing tonight! w00t! The weatherman was wrong. Let's go.

We worked together to quickly open the Geoff Brown Observatory. This might have been the first time that I worked, as an equal, on prepping the GBO. Lately, I've been coaching people. Not that I mind training! Quickly and quietly, Ian and I tackled various tasks. It was fast and fun. We discussed the start-up sequence of the computer and mount.

It was around 11:00 PM, Friday 6 May 2011. I grabbed the Sky Quality Meter. The best reading, over head, after a couple of tests, was 21.06.

In Bisque's TheSky6, we randomly chose a target and slewed the Paramount ME. We landed at Messier 61 and briefly viewed it through the Celeston 14" Schmidt Cassegrain telescope. It looked to me to be a spiral galaxy. It was big but faint. But before I could really sink my teeth into it, Ian chose a new target. It was a few moments later that I learned I had never seen this deep sky object before. Hey!

11:18 PM. We enjoyed M104, the Sombrero galaxy. We were using the Tele Vue Panoptic 27mm, yielding around 145 power. It was lovely. I could see the dark foreground lane. The centre was very bright. I could see a faint star above, i.e. north, which was not as bright as GSC 05531-1225, a mag 13.2 star!

11:32. Ian looked at Saturn and reported, "it is not very steady." I took a peak. Whoa. Looked good to me! It was bright. The air seemed fairly steady. I could see three moons to right (east, Tethys, Dione, Rhea) and Titan way off to left. Iapetus was way off to the bottom right.

It took a bit of effort but I spotted Enceladus, close to the rings, inside Tethys! It's been a while...

We referred to an observing list I had prepared in SkyTools3.

11:52. We headed off to the planetary nebula Ghost of Jupiter or NGC 3242 or Caldwell 59. It was pretty low and clouds were coming in. But it is big and bright. There was a bright ring within a round cloud. I spotted what looked like double stars nearby but ST3 doesn't mentioned anything special about them.

I wondered where the name came from. Did that mean it would show strips or bands? I didn't see anything that appeared Jupiter-like...

Clouds continued to move in so we shifted to objects at zenith.

12:01 AM, 7 May 2011. We looked at the Owl Nebula or M97. It presented itself as a big fuzzy lint ball. It was hard to see detail. Ian remarked, "I've seen it better." I agreed. I didn't notice the dual dark regions, the "eyes" of the Owl.

12:10. We took in globulars M12 and M10. They were very nice! But, in short order, they dimmed with passing clouds. We were getting socked in.

We did a quick shutdown and headed back to the house.

That was better than a poke in the eye with a stick!

12:35. I checked the conditions according to the Davis weather station:

8 km wind
6.6°C temp
89% humidity
100.84 pressure, steady.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

NSN testing with Dietmar (Etobicoke)

At long last, the plan coalesced. Dietmar and I set a time to test the RASC Toronto Centre MallinCam Hyper Color with the Night Sky Network. We were just a little overdue. We had hatched the plan back in January or February when I brought the MallinCam down from the Blue Mountains... We would meet at Dietmar's home, bolt the RASC Toronto Centre's colour MallinCam to his 'scope, conduct a full test of the camera and software, and broadcast—via the Night Sky Network site—what we were imaging with the sensitive video camera.

And now it all felt rather sudden! I wanted to meet up with Dietmar, like we had originally planned, in the city. I.e. before we returned to the CAO. My schedule had not worked out any time sooner. It was true that the weather had not been terribly cooperative in April. But now I was feeling a little guilty about hanging onto the MallinCam kit so late. Here it was, the beginning of "the season." The MallinCam really needed to be back at the observatory for people, supervisors or members, to use (although, one could argue that a very small select group knows how to use it). I was planning to head north in a one or two days for an occultation (Mabella) and it was a logical time to conclude the MallinCam loan. Giddy up.

All that said, while excited to conduct our testing, I had not done much in terms of final preparation. That is, I had not read through any of the materials on using the Night Sky Network. I had not broadcast on NSN. There were a lot of unknowns. Meanwhile, work, chores, unpacking, paperwork, life, and bad weather was happening.

Yes, I had the MallinCam working with the MCC control software and the new control cable (with my netbook anyway). So the physical setup piece was in hand.

Yes, I had our NSN account configured. But then I paused, anxiety growing. What the heck did I use for credentials when I set up the account?! Had I recorded it somewhere? My mind was blank. I had a sinking feeling I had not documented it...

I started rummaging through my notes but couldn't find anything. Checked my palmtop, checked the netbook, checked Evernote. Nothing. Started, in the morning, trying to get in. Tried several times logging in without success. I was guessing at the password. I couldn't see a "reset my password" function. They had changed the system, done a big upgrade, in the meantime. Would that affect things? A little after noon, while at a client site (fortunately with open internet access), I sent a message to the MallinCam Yahoo!Group, asking for log-in help. A little before 6, Craig Freeman suggested I message Jim Turner. At 6 PM, I emailed Jim directly. I continued to try logging in. If I remember correctly, it turned out to be a case-sensitivity issue (dagnamit) and, a few minutes later, I told Jim I had figured it out. Still, he offered to watch for our channel to go live. Nothing like leaving it to the last minute!

I forwarded Jim's notes (and Word doc attachment) to myself. I grabbed the MallinCam "toolbox," including "green" control cable and AVerMedia card, the ASUS netbook (Littlejohn), and the Dell laptop (Kim-chi). I intended to use the Dell to simulate our experience at the Geoff Brown Observatory where a similar computer is used to drive the Paramount.

As I arrived at Dietmar's and starting backing into his driveway, I spotted him from the back of the house. He had already set up his (new) mount and 'scope on the pier. He had a little table out and two chairs. In short order, I had bolted up the camera to the small refractor (piggybacked on the RC tube), I had the video cable connected from the BNC to the video capture card in the Dell laptop, and with the camera powered I was seeing an image. When I uncoiled the new control cable, I suddenly remembered that I had forgot to bring a USB-serial adapter. Fortunately, the Dell has an oldie-goldie serial port! As it grew darker, stars—and Saturn—peeking out, I realised that I did not have the control software on the Dell. Once loaded, we were able to control the camera. I changed the text title to verify the connection.

Without any bright objects, it took us a little while to get to focus.

The evening air was cooling off. In my haste, I had forgotten to bring another sweater or coat. Dietmar lent me one of his while he put on his ski gear. Despite not feeling well, Millie brought us cookies and hot chocolate.

I started to quickly read (er, skim) the "How to broadcast on NSN" document. While I tried to fire up the NSN site. I wasn't getting a picture. There was an error message about a call connection. I didn't see the bandwidth or latency responses. Happily, some people jumped in and helped us out. And slapped our hands along the way... for not following the guide carefully.

Man, I know! I'm in the computer training business. I'm always yelling at people to RTFM. I felt bad...

We learned that it was very important that the AVerMedia video software and MallinCam Control software not be running as one logs into the NSN system and begins the broadcast. The Flash software may detect things improperly in this situation. We fiddled with AmCap but I didn't think it necessary in the end.

At last, we were up and running. Dietmar chose Messier 3 for our test subject. I saved the chat log...
Welcome! NetConnection.Connect.Success
You are broadcasting on channel RASC TC CAO
Welcome! NetConnection.Call.Failed
: hello sports fans
: i thank everyone for their help and patience
RASC TC CAO: this was meant to test broadcasting
RASC TC CAO: the capture card
: the control cable and software
: SkyWatcher 80mm
: with 2" extension tube
: 500mm
: MallinCam Hyper Color
: atop AP900 mount
: controlled by TheSky
: Etobicoke (Toronto) Ontario
: thin cloud
: average seeing
: cool, 5 degrees C
: no wind
: can you make it bigger
: i'm zoomed to max
: 8x
: let me use the big scope!
: slewing to M13
Tony here
: goody
Tony here
: Whoa
TacomaSky: Got it all working great stuff
: still some things to noodle on
: but proof of concept is good
: Super
RASC TC CAO: correction, going to M3
TacomaSky: Both very nice targets
Tony here: There yet?
: Patience Tony
: thar she blows
: Woo Hoo
Tony here
: Very nice!
: A Very nice view
Tony here: Thanks for the show...
: thanks for tuning in
: ok
: going to sign off now
: what scope is this?
: SkyWatcher 80mm
TacomaSky: Sorry Okay thanks for the views
: TY
TacomaSky: Great start
: gn
: clear skies all
I had phoned Tony at 11:04 PM and got him to log into NSN to view our simulcast. He could see the globular! We were all very pleased. I wanted to contact Katrina but alas I didn't know how to reach her. And it was late.

And that was our prime objective: to ensure we could broadcast on NSN with our MCHC. Dietmar was satisfied with our proof of concept.

I headed home to send a big thank-you to the MallinCam Yahoo!Group.

finally a GO

Stu called a GO for the RASC Toronto Centre Dark Sky Observing session. At Long Sault.

Dietmar and I called a GO for testing the MallinCam and the Night Skies Network. In his back yard.