Sunday, May 04, 2014

well done (Hamilton)

It was a lot of fun for me at this year's astroCATS event. Better than ever. A few glitches but overall a very good event. All the talks I attended were good to excellent.

The "NEAF Gang" reconvened in the middle of Mississauga early Saturday morning. Joel reprised his role as bus driver. We made Hamilton in good time. However, his GPS was sending us the long-way-'round so I started countermanding and shaved off a couple of klicks and minutes. Colin, in his big yellow rain coat, received and directed us about the parking lot. We slid through registration pretty easily. Received our "gift bag." A few flyers, coupons, etc. Started spotting peers, members, and friends right away.

There was no map of the campus or diagram of the tradeshow floor in our bag of paperwork. No programme either. I pulled out my printed annotated map and guided a few people. We found the posted schedules here and there.

Did a quick walk about the tradeshow floor. Spotted Kendrick's booth near the front. Got a quick demo of the brand new imaging power panels with USB ports. Different versions, for USB 2 or 3, perhaps an outlet for the camera. Great design.

The first talk I sat was by Gary Colwell, prez. A primer on visual astronomy. What struck me at this talk was the direction of the questioning by some of the attendees and the talk wasn't really designed to accommodate for these people. Not that the topic was wrong. The right people were attending (and I was just watching for fun, doing the ole' master-the-basics). Gary had essentially a canned lecture with a lot of slides and he really wanted to get through all of it. And it wasn't that he didn't welcome questions and let all contribute. It made me realise that at an event like this a "workshop" might be a good thing. Encourage visitors to attend a loose framework question-and-answer session. Then people just getting started could get a lot of questions directly answered. Or answered with more detail.

I chatted with one very keen participant after. He was not a RASC or astronomy club member despite all the gear accumulated. I strongly encouraged him to attend some of the local centre's city or dark sky observing sessions. Then he could see 'scopes in action, ask lots of questions, get help on his gear.

A little sidebar. When Gary was talking about using filters on the telescope, he mentioned the usual suspects, like a red filter for increasing contrast of surface features and detail, green for example for enhancing atmospheric features on Venus. Then he said something very curious. The hydrogen alpha filter on the Moon turned it blood-red and helped one see tremendous surface detail. Hα on the Moon! Crazy! I gotta try that!

Needed coffee so turned left out of lecture room 2 in hopes of finding an open food court. Happily, a shop was open. I didn't notice at first but it was the Tim Horton's. OK. The queue, however, was long. A mix of Sparkle Motion types, students, and astro-geeks. But it gave me time to connect to the Mohawk wifi, catch up on emails, SMS the gang to see if they needed anything, and program my Psion calendar for reminders for all the other talks. Mickey slid in behind me as we crept toward the till. Caught up. Later Phil, Dietmar, and Ian joined us. Somehow I was blamed by Lora for Phil's morning purchases! Gah!

Attended Ron Brecher's Introduction to Image Processing - Part 1. Really enjoyed that! While he was demonstrating processes in PixInsight, I still learned a great deal. I liked his simplified post-processing workflow. And his time "expectations" for the basic steps—might be done in 5 or 10 minutes. I immediately understood his recommendation to crop early on. I gained a deeper appreciation of collecting flat frames, something I've never done. And the bias frames. And that I need to work at building "the library." I was intrigued that he did stretching late in the sequence.

He was very receptive and responsive to questions. Ron was very supportive. Left time for questions. Ah ha.

I noted Cotterell's question about camera temperature with a DSLR. Definitely a challenge. Immediately I recalled a tip I had read somewhere, I forget where (was it Deitmar?), that recommended a 45 second gap between shots to allow cooling. And I also remembered the tip about not using the on-board screen. Ron shared a general rule of thumb: for every 6 degree change in temperature, the image noise doubles or halves. Wow. Get those darks!

He shared with us his new web site,, where he's already posting tutorials and tips and tricks. Thank you.

As an aside, it was a good demonstration of the PI software. PixInsight, by Pleiades Astrophoto S.L., looks quite rich and appears to have a lot of features to simplify and speed workflow. Designed specifically for astrophotography. I was impressed at how fast a (skilled) user could perform some of the important processing steps. I learned from Dietmar that the software is relatively inexpensive, in the $250 range; Photoshop CC is now $50 a month?

The MacGyver Astro Gear on Saturday afternoon was cancelled suddenly. The six or seven of us who arrived in room E006, plus the volunteer, sat there for a while. One man repeated, "As of 15 minutes ago, it was scheduled." But no Mr Yates. I pinged Katrina and asked her a favour. She reported back a couple of minutes later; the astroCATS booth said it was not running. Later I reported to Gary that no one showed up.

As the group of us headed back to the DBARC building, sharing gadget tips and tricks, a volunteer collected us and apologised. Then recounted a recent RASC Hamilton meeting featuring a talk by member who found an expensive alternative for dew heating. I followed up. Dave had sourced some LED strip dimmer controls on eBay. He had successfully tested them with his dew system and found they worked very well. 12 volts, 8 amps! $4 each! What?!

Learned that the Backyard EOS developer can support new Canon cameras in as few as one or two days. Impressive.

Bumped into Bill just before he put a deposit on a Hercules 'scope. Strange—it won't fit in the back of his little car. I hung out in the tradeshow area, kicked some tires, learned about the Meade 10" Dobsonian, chatted with friends, and started to wind down. Received a baseball cap. MallinCam hats for everybody! People were receptive to my dinner plan idea, a local pub. So, piper leading the way, I guided Bill, as in-car navigator, and Joel, behind us then in front of us, to the Coach and Lantern. Good food. And then everyone headed home.

I was really interested in attending the Sunday talks. No one from the Saturday crew wanted to return. But Knox was keen. So we made arrangements to travel together. The Sunday programme was lecture-lecture-lecture with quick breaks in-between.

First things first though. Knox and I did a bit of solar observing just after arriving. Lots of sunspots today. And I was very pleased to see a Sheliak. I encouraged Knox to view the Sun's spectrum.

Damian's talk was inspiring and reminded us how technology has allowed the amateur to accomplish incredible things in a relatively short period of time. Kerry Ann, humble and soft-spoken, was inspiring. And made it abundantly clear that fantastic results are possible with a DSLR and an SCT. In modest skies, no less. Beautiful work, both. And, finally, I really wanted to sit Part 2 of Ron's talk. Another great session. Lots of learnin'! And he allowed me to audio record it.

I considered, as Peach Skyped in from the UK, how this format might be used for training...

Picked up Bill's missing screws and other bits. Then handed those off to Nicole. Breaking rule number 1: "Never change the deal."

Spotted Tony. Nice surprise. Helped him with some price checking, payload numbers, for the AVX and the HEQ5. I didn't know he was shopping. And it was clear the Celestron sales rep was completely wrong.

And then it was the end, suddenly, sadly...

Lots of great prizes. Van won big, a nice MallinCam. Congrats! He was pretty happy. Outstanding vendor support, again.

1 comment:

Doug Isherwood said...

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