Sunday, February 28, 2021

the entire series

Here is the complete video series on driving a mount with Stellarium.

  1. preamble, researching your possible path > watch
  2. device independent solutions, e.g. ASCOM > watch
  3. connection, wired, USB adapters, wifi, extensions > watch
  4. Stellarium initial steps, mount configuration steps > watch
  5. mount prep; connecting, slew, halt, concluding > watch
  6. wrap up, cautions, limitations, commissioning > watch

This should get any user going, whether on Windows, Mac, Linux, with just about every type of mount.

released the final Stellarium mount control video

Released my part 6 of 6 video on connecting Stellarium to a telescope mount. 

Just wrapping up here, concluding the whole series, but taking the time to give cautions and warnings. I hope people trying to robotic control will go through a commissioning period. I'd hate to learn of people crashing their telescopes, smacking their camera, or snapping cables.

Part of a detailed, thorough series of videos on how to connect your computer to a telescope mount and drive it from Stellarium. We will discuss platform, cabling, and software issues. This should help everyone get connected.

What a journey.

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Next | Previous

Saturday, February 27, 2021

saw shadows (Bradford)

The backyard was blue.

Popped outside. No snow on the deck. Not bracing cold. A nearly full Moon, way up. Casting dark shadows.

I could see only 3 stars.

As the county goes back into lockdown, looks like I'll be limited to the yard for a while...

But it's a great backyard...

Friday, February 26, 2021

vicarious

Betwixt and between.

While driving the the lick-boh, I noted the very round "big" Moon low down in the east almost directly in line with Holland St.

Colourful sunset the other way.

But I was feeling too tired, too stressed, to too wired to set up the back yard.

I hoped Chris tags his Moon targets.

Called him!

He tagged some doubles and IW targets. Good stuff.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

posted suggested Feb '21 doubles

Prepared my double star "bulletin." It is a short list of suggested targets. I shared this on the RASC Toronto Centre forum. I post here for all.

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Oh look. Clear skies. Yeh! Oh look. It’s nearly a full Moon!

Well, at least you can try for some double stars.

Here’s a short selection for February 2021 of double and multi-star systems from my life list for your observing campaign. I found them interesting.

staralso known asalternate catalogue(s)
26 AurBU 1240SAO 58280, HIP 26536
β (beta) CamS 459, 10 CamSAO 13351, HIP 23522
HD 63536 in CMiΣ1149 (Struve, STF)SAO 115981, HIP 38189
Tegmen in CncSTF 1196, ζ (zeta) 116, SAO 97645, HIP 40167
HR 3701 in LynSTF 1338, HD 80441HIP 45858, TYC 02991-0699 1

Can you split them? What subtle colours do you see? How different are they in brightness? I hope you will share your double discoveries with us.

Onward and upwards.

Blake Nancarrow
astronomy at computer-ease dot com

shared comments

Submitted my thoughts and observations on the OSC Virtual Star Party. Talked about activities for the tel-cam operators, my impressions of the YouTube chat, and Canadian weather conditions in February. Hope I didn't ruffle feathers.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

next DDO Up In The Sky

The Up In the Sky event at the David Dunlap Observatory is coming up on 27 Feb. Public viewers, visit the Richmond Hill site to purchase tickets. RASC members, reach out to the chair Denise to volunteer. Ron is doing the virtual SkyLab. Sounds like Francois will be sharing astroimages.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

the interconnections

This is all part of a long, slow realisation. A slow (slower) rewiring of my brain. But what I accomplished tonight is mind-blowing, brain-expanding—to me. I just simply hadn't really thought of it much, thought of it in detail, but the interconnection of computer and mount (and arguably any piece of astronomy equipment) and the ensuing communications between software and mount firmware and hardware is... well... not rocket science. The feeling is that of an epiphany even though it is not a grand thing, a fantastic discovery of something no one knew. But the feeling is the same, me reaching this point of understanding that the communications between my laptop (John Gomez) and my mount (Vixen Super Polaris hacked with the IDEA GoToStar motor system and hand box) is just simple codes, short little codes, along a serial communication channel.

Boom.

If you'll indulge me, it has this profound sensation all around it and I think it partly because of interconnectedness!? My first forays in the Information Technology industry, going way back, early 80s, on my first work term job, under the remarkable tutelage of the late John Bramwell, was learning about computer communication. One day, John said, "We need a modem to connect our PDP terminal to the remote mainframe computer. Buy a modem for us." And I said, "What's a moe-dum?" He smiled.

Later I procured a 300-1200 baud Gandalf modem.

Some 15 years before I'd start seriously using internet services.

Such a smart man.

How times have changed. How much knowledge have I accumulated. All the experiences I've had. Some of which are getting dusty and musty and tattered. I have not used a serial communications modem since... I can't remember when! I guess essentially I stopped when I started using "high speed" internet service at home. Yes, for a while, I continued carrying around on personal and business trips a portable modem, about the size of a deck of cards, and checked for CompuServe dial-up numbers for my destination. Remember that?! Used my Psion computer for decades with serial communication. But it's been a long time. A long time since I worried about baud rate, stop bits, parity, handshaking protocol, terminal type, serial cables, pin diagrams, gender-benders, 9-pin to 25-pin adapters, null modems, DTE and DCE... But it's all in there, buried in my brain, sitting on engrams. I heard echoes today.

So it's been bubbling away for a couple of months.

And it's all tied to, or reignited with, the Stellarium work, curiously. I wanted/needed to connect a computer to Stellarium so to demonstrate and teach students how to connect the software to a mount and to drive the mount, slew to a target. I had added that frequently-requested topic to the level 2 course outline, I had promised it years ago, and thus I was obligated to talk about it.

I was relieved to get Stellarium and the mount working on 7 Jan 2021, after a scary moment.

That first intermediate level 2 course happened on 25 Jan 2021. It was well-received. Not all the students intend to do the hookup I think but it was helpful and illuminating to some. If nothing else, I was able to show what is possible. An advertised feature of Stellarium is driving a mount and I proved it worked. And, again, as I've said elsewhere, I was certain it would work even though I had never done it before with Stellarium. So that had enormous satisfaction linked to it, to see it functioning.

Now like a good educator or instructor or tour guide, I wanted to be well-versed on the matter. So I started collecting data, reading web sites, watching YouTube videos, reading the 350+ page Stellarium user manual, reaching out to other users, taking screen snaps, requesting screen snaps, making notes. I wanted to see and verify the Stellarium mount control for different mounts, different hardware, different computers and operating systems. And I hate to say this but almost every resource I found on the internet was... (I need to be diplomatic here)... every video and web page was... um, poor. 

Missing information, incompletely information, outdated, lack of understanding of features, lots of luck, incorrect assumptions, convoluted information, ambiguity, shakey cams, unintelligible audio, you name it. Some people had really no idea what they were talking about. It was extraordinarily frustrating and disheartening and... inspiring!

I thought, "Well, there are no good videos out there, so I better make my own." I felt I had a lot of expertise I could bring to the table, experience, background knowledge. I know how to teach, I know how to relay challenging technical concepts with hardware and software. I thought, I can make a video to knock it out of the park. 

My first effort, my first slide deck, my first rehearsal yielded a messy, clunky, two hour video. With a sense of urgency, I redid everything and now have my thorough, deep, expansive series of YouTube videos on interconnecting Stellarium with a mount. That was really satisfying. And again, I learned a lot.

Along the way, I had a chance to get dialled into, dialled back into, working with the ASCOM environment. Years ago I have found a working mount driver solution and it proved its value again for the Stellarium situation. The Vixen SkySensor 2000 PC driver offers a working solution (not perfect) for driving my IDEA GoToStar. And now I've seen it in action with two completely different astronomy applications, SkyTools and Stellarium. By itself a great example of the independence model offered by the ASCOM platform.

I first got the Vixen SS2K driver operating in 11 March 2013.

Some 7½ years later I used it again.

And seeing the SS2K driver working well for the peculiar mount but with a modern planetarium nudged me to update the ASCOM team. It was awesome when they embraced my suggestion.

I learned all the different ways of slewing in Stellarium.

I discovered a bug when slewing by RA and Dec.

I learned that some NexStar and some iOptron hand controllers have built-in USB serial adapters. A good and a bad thing.

Recalling that USB is serial communications... you know, Universal Serial Bus.

I learned about the INDI GO initiative.

I learned that StellariumScope is not really needed anymore.

I learned how to use a remote computer for Stellarium control.

It reminded me that I have used ASCOM in many ways. I had forgotten my Gemini 1 Losmandy experience. I had forgotten, in the sands of time, my ASCOM electronic focuser experience. It was good revisiting those memories.

The pedagogical rewards. Wow. To teach all this, to explain all this, I had to do so much research and testing and experimenting and it was all amazing! So amazing. It's been fantastic developing this deep understanding of the tool.

Yet, I was feeling a nagging sensation. Maybe it was highlighted, elevated with Stellarium as it is lacking in some interface controls. I currently caution users that there's no Stop or Abort button in the Slew Telescope To window. I really worry that an excited telescope user is going to crash their telescope into something, or snap a cable, or burn out a motor. One must know and be ready to deploy the keyboard shortcut in Stellarium for halting a slew. That whole thing strikes me as very odd...

It got me thinking, is there a way to have more control? Stellarium is the chart, the map, and can get you to a target. But could another tool offer additional controls of the mount? I remembered, vaguely, the plethora of options made available by EQMOD et al. But I was a little fuzzy on the particulars. It was a year ago (which oddly feels like so much more) that I explored EQMOD, the virtual hand controller, the target list plug-in EQTOUR.

(Re-read information and, dismayed, found that the EQMOD stuff is only for the SynScan world.)

Then I headed down a path of... let's try again. So I revisited many of the options available for iOptron mounts. Didn't meet with much success.

I had a quick look into the INDI environment but nothing grabbed me.

Rattling around in my noggin was the idea of DIY. What is I wrote my own driver. In my ASCOM travels I noted the pages for developers and I read some of the notes and watched a video and saw the caution that a mount driver was the most complex work one might undertake and I spotted the supported languages and frankly perked up a bit when I saw it could be done in VBA! The reference to Python got me thinkin' that I should learn it anyway, given its broad appeal in single board computer projects. But after a bit of reading and testing I wondered just how easy Python would be for me and was it the right way to go if I was trying to build a complex driver... What about VB? I know VBA reasonably well. Maybe doing work in Visual Basic would be easier. Maybe a lot easier. I downloaded the free Visual Studio.

One evening, it struck me that writing a complete full driver, yes, could be very challenging. But what about a not a whole driver. What if I worked on a smaller idea, an adjunct, a sidecar type of idea. What if I made a small virtual hand controller...

I got so excited on that notion that I designed the graphical interface for a virtual hand controller! Display panels to show data from the mount. A very large Emergency Stop button. N-S / Dec buttons; E-W / RA buttons. Slew speed slider. Switch for tracking. And then wish-list things: Connect and Disconnect buttons, a Load Gears button, Spiral Search, Park button, Sync button (which would really work). Heh. Go big or go home, eh?

Those N-S / E-W buttons remind me of the DDO 74! What a treat being able to fly that big 'scope.

Somewhere I wondered about source code and I spotted the source provided with a LXP ASCOM driver. Yes, I know, I saw the warning that one should not use another developer's code... Still, I didn't see that it would hurt if I just had a look. For the broad strokes...

On the evening of 30 January 2021, I wanted to have a go at Sirius and then "get some data" for the OSC Virtual Star Party 'cause I just felt it was going to be cloudy. Star parties in February in Canada? Hrrm. But here was a brief patch of clear skies offered to me so I tried to split Sirius B. Nope. No joy. But then I imaged the sigma Orionis target. And for the first time, I operated the camera inside, using my USB-ethernet extension. That worked great but Holy Universe did that make me appreciate the perks of RASC membership and being in the Toronto Centre and having the keys to the Carr Astronomical Observatory and being a training supervisor so to have access to the Geoff Brown Observatory and being able to use a Paramount, a big 'scope, TheSky, TPoint modelling, and an electronic temperature controller focuser. Spoiled rotten. 

I sure missed the remote mount control on the 30th. So was pleased when I got things working, the next night, along another long data connection. Now I could control a camera and I could drive a mount, both from indoors. 

Focusing? That remains an issue. That triggered another pursuit of building an electronic solution. I started looking at Pulse Width Modulation wiring diagrams, stepper motor tricks, Arduino solutions. But that's a story for another day...

And I think it was around this time that I noted something very interesting. I don't remember exactly where but I believe it was in reference to an iOptron driver and Meade LX200 commands. Which cracked through my brain like a bolt of lightning. What? What?! If iOptron uses the common LX200 language or command set, does the old IDEA GotoStar use LX200? Early 2 February 2021, I was vibrating at the prospect.

With high hopes, I tried a boatload of ASCOM LX200 drivers! Sadly, nothing worked. Or it didn't improve on what I have with the SS2K. I tried ASCOMPad. Didn't work. I was very excited when I found the "Advanced LX200 driver" with little hand controller interface. No fricking documentation, weird results, improper treatment of the side-of-pier information, sporadic results, occasional lock-ups, and frequently changed things on the hand controller for no obvious reason. Damnit!

Lookin' more and more like I'll have to make my own.

So, tonight, I thought, let's see what I can do. Let's see if the LX200-like commands in the GoToNova documentation will work with the earlier GoToStar. Fired up the mount and accepted Aldebaran as the alignment star. After sorting out things with the Tera Term, port, speed, protocol, restarting, I readied to send some passive codes, codes to read or pull data from the hand box... 

From the "General Telescope Information" section, I tried to get offset from Greenwich Mean Time or UTC. I entered :GG into the terminal app and on pressing the hash or pound (#) (and I remembered some discussion about that in a ASCOM programming video), I immediately saw W 05:00#

Holy Space Balls. It worked! Wow. This changed everything. This meant I could do what I wanted. I could write a program to open the serial port and issue commands and the mount should work. A full driver? I dunno. But a little virtual hand controller to augment stuff in Stellarium or SkyTools. Oh, that would be sweet!

Asked for the current date with :GC#. Worked.

Asked for the current local time with :GL#. Worked.

Requested the current local sidereal time with :GS#. Fine. Compared to MySiderealTime on the Android. Close enough.

Asked for the current latitude with :Gt# and longitude with :Gg#. No problem. Bit of a funny display format, sDD*MM:SS#, until I realised the asterisk looks a bit like the degree symbol.

Retrieved the current Right Ascension with :GR# and Declination with :GD# and double-checked the values against SkyTools. I also pulled the current Altitude with :GA# and Azimuth with :GZ# and verified with ST4VP.

I queried the side of the pier which telescope was positioned on with :pS#. All good! Look at that.

Encouraged, I decided to start pushing data...

I set the GMT offset with :SG sHH#. The response code 1 appeared and the hand controller showed the change.

Just incredible. I was successful sending commands to the mount. This was so exciting.

I set the date with :SC MM/DD/YY# and time with :SL HH:MM:SS#. Worked.

Changed the location using the latitude and longitude for the CAO. Used :St sDD*MM:SS and :Sg sDDD*MM:SS#. So amazing seeing the new information on the hand controller screen.

OK. Time for the big thing! Slewing to an object.

I defined the target Right Ascension with :Sr HH:MM:SS.S#. Accepted. I commanded the target Declination with :Sd sDD*MM:SS#. Accepted. Eeeee. 

Readied for my first Telescope Motion command. I composed a command to slew to most recently defined RA and DEC coordinates. I slowly typed :MS, turned to the mount in case it went hayware, and pressed #. Off it went. Slewing to Alphard. Incredible. 

I gave new coordinates for a star below the horizon. As expected, the mount didn't move, and it returned the string 1Object is below horizon #. Impressive.

I was able to set the slew or moving speed for the N-S-E-W direction keys with :RC0# for 16x, :RC1# for 64x, :RC2# for 256x, and :RC3# for 512x. I found that :RG# set the rate to 1x. I believe that is specifically a guide rate command. I tried a few random things to apply different rates without success. The HC itself offers 9 speeds via the number buttons 1 through 9. Missing was 2x, 8x, 128x, and MAX. Perhaps a limitation of the original LX200 language?

I tried the motion commands, slewing in a particular direction, like holding the relevant button on the control pad. I used :Mn# to head north. Then I issued the stop command with :Qn# and it spun down.

The powerful stop command, killing motion in both axes, worked fine with :Q#. The hand controller switched from Cel. rate to Stop. I've seen that behaviour. Huh.

With some experimenting, I was able get the slewing status with the :SE?# command. Either "slewing" or not.

I was successful getting current tracking rate with :GTR# and changing it with :STR0# for sidereal, :STR1# for solar, and :STR2# for lunar.

I was very happy to see the park command work with :PK# though it didn't seem to close-out like it does from the HC, with the "you can power off now" message.

Tried the current servo controller software RS232 command language version query with :V#. Worked.

Tried the current servo controller software information with :Vs#. Yep.

Tried the current mount type command :GAM#. Worked.

There appear to be commands for syncing, called calibrate mount, :CM# and :CMR#, but I did not try them. I was tired.

There are other intriguing things, like slewing to a location by altitude and azimuth, setting the mount park position.

I had a quick scan of an official Meade LX200 guide and not surprisingly the command set has been extended for modern, more powerful mounts. Still, it looks like the core, basic command set is well-supported by the old, crazy, weird, unique, powerful, impressive IDEA GoToStar.

I'm excited to go to the next stage... I think by idea is quite doable.

A crystalline thought today was: "It's simple." It's not as complex as you think. It's just simple codes on a serial line.

It still all has me reeling. This strange culmination of so many things, serial communications, cable building and pinouts, coding, a curious motor control system that I'm still learning things about, the possibility of having dramatically improved mount control, remotely controlled from my computer.

holy terminal

Wow.

Via Tera Term, I just issued some commands to the GoToStar hand controller.

Wow.

updated DS info

Applied some little updates to the national RASC Double Stars program. Keen-eyed Hugues spotted a little problem.

uplifted

Oddly satisfying.

George L, a registrant for the Mar 1 Stellarium course, acknowledged my "big" email notification.
Thanks for the detailed heads-up.  This is quite an uplift from other lectures that I have attended.  I'm really looking forward to attending.
I often wonder if people find these messages annoying, awkward, drudgery, hard work, whatever. I certainly cannot be accused of not providing information about upcoming courses.

Probably, realistically, some like it, some tune it out.

But it is really nice to hear that it stands out.

Monday, February 22, 2021

taught again

Taught another level 1 Stellarium course to RASC members. Good session. Ian B was on board, auditing me. He's taking the reins next week. It is so awesome having a pro instructor helping out.

tried NGC 4725 again

Imaged NGC 4725 again. First captured this amazing galaxy back in Feb 2018. Hoping to improve on the image quality. Worse... sadly.

tried Whale and Crowbar again

Tried to image the Whale and Crowbar galaxies again. Hoping for a better result than last June. No marked improvement.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

uploaded video 5 - the big one!

Released my part 5 of 6 video on connecting Stellarium to a telescope mount. This big one! This segment focuses on connecting, verifying a good connection, slewing by various methods (keyboard, window button, to a selected object, the centre of the screen, or to a specific RA/Dec coordinate), interrupting or halting a slew (only possible by keyboard shortcut), and disconnecting gracefully. VERY EXCITING!

Detailed, thorough series of videos on how to connect your computer to a telescope mount and drive it from Stellarium. We will discuss platform, cabling, and software issues. This should help everyone get connected. Some cautions and warnings too...

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Next | Previous

Saturday, February 20, 2021

scuttled

Saw the clear weather coming and got excited. All right. I can shoot my wide-field, barn door tracker shot of the Orion constellation. Started to review the weather sites. Most looked good but oddly Clear Outside said heavy clouds. Complete disagreement. Weird. But then, on checking Good To Stargaze, I realised, the Moon was going to be bright. Gah. Oh oh, and where was it going to be sitting? I had hatched this idea, this imaging target, ahead of the OSC event. But that was a week ago, near the new Moon phase. Fired up Stellarium and noted Luna parked right over top Orion. And all the wind went out of my sails... Frack!

Thursday, February 18, 2021

saw Adrian on the CBC

Woo hoo. Fellow RASC member Adrian Aberdeen was on the CBC National tonight. They interviewed him about his hobby during COVID and featured some of his excellent photographs. Fantastic!

I was pleased to hear Arsenault refer to his struggles with Toronto light pollution...

§

The segment is within the full live stream starting at 1:02:58.

reviewed an article

Melody said that she's been asked to write about double star observing for the RASC Halifax Centre newsletter. She wants to cheer on the DS program! Thanks. She asked if I might review her planned submission. I sent a few suggestions. Fun reading about and seeing hers and David's reports and sketches. So excited that the word is getting out.

helped at virtual star party

Helped at the OSC Virtual Star Party. Chris, Louise, Rachel, and Bhairavi were the speakers. I joined Francois, Ian W, and Tanya for telescope operations. Jana and Andrew were behind the scenes making it all work.

the crew for the OSC-RASC VSP

Too bad we were clouded out.

§

The recorded video is available on YouTube.

shared part 4 video

Released my part 4 of 6 video on connecting Stellarium to a telescope mount. This segment focuses on preliminary steps required in configuring Stellarium. We need to activate telescope mount control (normally off by default) and we need to create a telescope mount profile (at least one). And along the way we need to refer to the proper communications port.

Detailed, thorough series of videos on how to connect your computer to a telescope mount and drive it from Stellarium. We will discuss platform, cabling, and software issues. This should help everyone get connected. Some cautions and warnings too...

§

Next | Previous

heard of the landing

I missed the landing of NASA's Perseverance. Sounds like it went well. A dusty black and white image from the hazard camera was sent in short order. I understand they landed near the centre of the target ellipse.

imaged Wolf 359 for 2021 (Halifax)

Imaged Wolf 359 again. A fast-moving, close star. Aimed at GSC 00261 00377.

star Wolf 359 in luminance

Luminance only, 8 second subexposures, 12 stacked shots. FITS Liberator, GIMP. North is up; east is left.

Captures:

18 Feb 2021
12 Mar 2020
22 May 2019

Maybe I've enough for a little movie...

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

lookin' cloudy

Peeked at the weather for tomorrow night. Lots of clouds. Snow, in fact.

helped at speaker night event

Helped at the RASC Toronto Centre speaker's night meeting. I was the questioner. A little stressful. Good turn out. We didn't have to wrangle any humans behaving badly. We used a pinned message for the first time. Really enjoy Hilding Neilson's talk!

corrected video 4

Found an error in video 4. I had redo some audio. I completely mispoke. Funny. I had no idea at the time...

Monday, February 15, 2021

released part 3

Released my part 3 of 6 video on connecting Stellarium to a telescope mount. This segment focuses on the data connection for mount control.


Detailed, thorough series of videos on how to connect your computer to a telescope mount and drive it from Stellarium. We will discuss platform, cabling, and software issues. This should help everyone get connected. Some cautions and warnings too...

Saturday, February 13, 2021

a decent meeting

Attended the first official AV committee meeting. Overall: good.

found sound

Found the waveforms feature in OpenShot. Game changer!

Geek flash-back, capturing sound bytes on my Mac SE with SoundRecorder...

Friday, February 12, 2021

good to reconnect

Met Lil and Bob online along with Tony. Good to catch up. The "Up Here" people with the city folk.

attended rehearsal

Attended a rehearsal meeting with OSC and RASC. For the Virtual Star Party scheduled on Thursday 18 February 2021. 

Virtual Star Party on Feb 18

Had the DSLR connected to John Max to simulate a telescopic view. Started throwing out images as the speakers were discussing topics. Seemed to be an OK thing to do. Then pre-planned sigma Orionis image was used. Good stuff. They called another meeting for next Wednesday! Can't make it. Working.

another member tried

Heard from Claudio. He too tried to split Sirius. Yesterday...

He made an aluminium occulting bar for his 6mm and 8mm eyepieces.

He focused his C8 with a Bahtinov mask.

Used his shiny new Tele Vue PowerMate 2.5x.

Fired up FireCapture.

Activated the planetary mask plugin.

Capture a few thousand frames.

No luck.

The horrible seeing didn't help.

converted another

Kim H, on Kingston forwarded my thank-you to Rick W. She thanked me for coming to their online meeting. Nice. Then she said, "I have downloaded the files for Double Stars." Woo hoo. Another convert!

Thursday, February 11, 2021

topped up another SLA

Since I had the gear out, I topped out the other good marine SLA. It reached full status quickly. No issues. Yeh.

Battery "D."

watched the Framing The Future webinar

Watched the RASC-SkyNews Astronomy today, Framing the future webinar.

The speakers were Sophia Gad-Nasr, Sara Mazrouei, Nicole Mortillaro, and Sarah Gallagher. Amazing people.

It was hosted and moderated by SkyNews editor-in-chief Allendria Brunjes and RASC outreach co-ordinator Jenna Hinds along with the Next Gen committee chair Emilie Laflèche and RASC Diversity and Inclusivity committee chair Roland Dechesne.

I really enjoyed the talks. Inspiring and insightful.

And a good reminder that we have a long way to go.

struggled with software

As I gathered data about the Aline occultation, I ran into a bunch of issues... What do people do who are not tech-savvy.

Of course, I was dumping everything into Evernote. I'm using the old version 6.19.1.8538 on the Windows 10 desktop computer because the new version is a disaster. I mean, I'm happy that Evernote has stepped back and is rebuilding from the ground up for a unified code base across all platforms. It will be better in the long run but there's no way I'm going into that minefield. Maybe when it's version 10.243? Evernote can pay me to be a software tester; I will not be a guinea pig for them. Hello, that's alpha testing! 

Every once in a while I lock up and crash this old Evernote but... it behaved.

Visited Steve Preston's amazing Asteroid Occultation Prediction page and searching for Aline. Got it. Reviewed the facts and figures for the event. It sure looked like the shadow was going through my next of the woods with latitudes around 43 and 44.

Got the target star: TYC 0678-00196-1.

Fired up OccultWatcher. Using 4.6.0.5. There's a new version. I'm loathe to install new software. I'm so disenchanted with this stuff. Still upset about the lunar occultations issue...

Chris asked me recently about Occult. There be dragons.

OW launched fine and gathered data from the interwebs and sounded the tone all was done. I found Aline. If in the candidate list, that meant it must be close. Pulled up the map. Right over Bradford! The green centreline just a short distance away. Wow. An easy one I should, theoretically, be able to do from the backyard.

Spotted a nearby 'scope on the map. Ha. Tom Luton. How about that.

Got the proper asteroid name: (266) Aline.

Fired up my old trusty SkyTools 3 Professional. Loaded in the target star. Done. Searched for Aline. Hey, look at that, it popped up. Added it to the observing list. Set the date to 6 March. Launched the Interactive Atlas. Oops. Selected both and reopened the IA chart. Good, two markers. But far apart. Moved forward and backward a bit in time. Oops. Had the time wrong: 0041h UTC would be Friday 5 March 2021 around 8:00 PM EST. Changed the date and time in ST3P and reloaded the chart. Hmm. Still far apart. Ordered SkyTools to do an update of the Current content, comets, asteroids, etc. Reloaded the chart after that finished. Still rather distal. Plotted the path. Did not cross the star. Oh oh. Thought to myself, I should report this...

Aimed to the star to verify that was right. Looked a little dim...

Huh. No magnitude value in the Status Bar. Kinda noted that out of the corner of my eye. That's highly unusual.

Double-clicked the TYC 0678-00196-1 star. Object Information box shows mag 99.9. Really?! That ain't right.

Hopped into the Skyhound Forums, SkyTools 3 support area, and submitted my findings and a screen snap.

Out loud I wondered: Asteroid data OK? Bad data on the star?

Shutdown the app and started SkyTools 4 Visual Pro. Replicated the setup.

Same problem with the star... But the asteroid was practically on top of the star. Set my location from Toronto to Cupcakes. Bang. It was a good plot.

Zoomed in. A lot. Local time of occultation: 19:48:39.

Examined the wide-field and increasingly magnified views of the field from the occultation website. Good correspondence in my planning software.

Issued a quick update on the Skyhound Forums. 

Shared the good news.

In the meantime, Greg had responded. Bemoaned that it was difficult to check half a billion stars. Be careful what you wish for. He shared that he used the value of 99.9 to denote "unknown magnitude." He said he's planning to root these gremlins out when he redoes the database for the Gaia content. Can't wait. The developer noted that the current minor planet database includes objects that are near opposition and brighter than 12.5 magnitude only. Oh. OK. He kinda slapped my hands for using ST3 given ST4's been out for a year and that's where he's focused. Yeah. But... Then he dropped a bomb. ST3P support is ending in 6 weeks. Noted. 

Wanted to assess sight lines. Launched Stellarium. Admittedly, I was using the old version on the John Max computer but at least I had backyard landscape profile ready. Awesome. A good height above the western trees.

Then I thought: Oh, use the cool Bookmarks feature in Stellarium. Clicked on the nearest star. Opened the Bookmarks window (not sure it was actually a working feature in version 0.18.x). Set the date and time and location switches on. Added the bookmark into the list. Good. Let's test it. Went to another object, hit the Go button, no problem. Chose the new bookmark, Go. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, ended up in the middle of nowhere.

Something to do with catalogue? There were no names anywhere...

Immediately phoned Chris to warn him. He fired up his Stellarium 0.20.4 and we compared notes. I was using, again, a much older app. I only had the default four catalogues loaded, to magnitude 10.5. Chris had more catalogues installed. Nevertheless, he found an "unnamed" star. He bookmarked it, jumped somewhere else, jumped back no problem. What we found out was that the new version recorded the RA and Dec of the selected object, in lieu of a name. So this revealed a bug in my version, in the bookmarks, patched in the new version by using coordinates. Good.

But it speaks to a major issue in Stellarium, long-standing. There are many stars in the virtual sky that do not show a star name. So if you choose it, while it might be a Tycho star, you have no idea where you are. That ain't right. Clearly it's pulling some data correctly, for the magnitude, location, colour, and other details show. Just no name or label.

There must be a big problem with the catalogue database for Stellarium, perhaps the star name field is empty. Or the catalogue file is fine but the extract/load is faulty. We could not think of any planetarium software that did not show a name for any star selected. Chris suggested I submit a bug report. Uh huh.

Aside: we talked about air mass. Chris liked seeing the extincted magnitude and the air mass numbers in Stellarium. Said I was used to them, given my long-time use of SkyTools. We considered that a good "line" feature to add to Stellarium would be air mass "rings" (with optional numbers). For the feature request list. Yeah.

Rejigged things in Stellarium ('cause the sky display was kinda wonky). Thought, I can still use the Bookmarks feature, just so long as I use a "named" star. Added the new bookmark, tested it, and it was fine. Returned to the star and set the date and time correctly. Wait a second! It was aiming below the horizon! What now?! Flipped the landscape (with the location option on) away and back to Cupcakes and all was well. That's a different bug! Wow. But, I suspect it's corrected as well in 20.4.

I wondered about the field of view. And then I realised this was a bright star. Maybe I didn't have to haul the "big rig" out. Popped into my lumpy companion and checked the life list magnitude limit table. Filtered on the ETX 90. Woo hoo. Best or deepest was 12.2 with a number of mag 11 sightings. That was exciting—I could use a grab-and-go 'scope.

Opened the Eyepiece viewer in SkyTools. Ugh. A small window appeared, jammed into the top-left corner of the screen, covered by the Task Bar because I have my Windows Task Bar at the top of the screen where it should be. Of course, with the top edge of the eyepiece window being partly covered, there was no way click on the window interface controls. But, as a computer geek, I know the keyboard shortcuts. Duh. 

I know stuff

So I pressed Alt-Spacebar to show the control menu and I chose Move and I used the down arrow keys a few times and then wiggled the mouse and clicked near the middle of the screen. The window snapped to the original position. What?! Tried again. Snap. Schlanger. Had a closer look. Oh. Weird. The app thought the window already was maximised. Tiny window, about 1/16 the size of the screen, SkyTools thought was at maximum size. I hit Restore and repeated the earlier steps. Sheesh.

I harangued the developer in the past about not managing the windows of the application effectively. There's clearly still some issues. I'll have to grumble about it again, assuming I can recreate the problem.

Still, I was on my way to simulating the field of view. I configured the app to use the little Meade with a 26mm. Nice. I was very happy. It's exciting the prospect of being able to see an asteroid occultation at last without having to use the more complex telescope. And then there's the weather...

What a peculiar experience, all these bugs and gremlins.

important day

Today is February 11.

This is the International Day of Women and Girls in Science.

This resolution was made at the United Nations General Assembly on 22 December 2015.

The day recognises the critical role women and girls play in science and technology.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

signed up for AAVSO talk

While watching Rick W's presentation on upcoming events, I noted the AAVSO talk entitled How to do DSLR photometry by Barbara Harris. Interesting! 

I registered for the webinar on 6 Mar 2021 (7:00 PM Universal Time).

I wonder if I might improve my abilities with double star measurement by also capturing magnitudes...

attended Kingston meeting

Attended the Kingston RASC meeting.

I was keen to watch Judy Black's presentations on RASC observing certificate programs, including the newest, one on Double Stars (grin). She advocated logging. Her work is amazing, inspiring.

Answered a question in the Zoom chat, from Bruce E, about instrument required. A small telescope is needed. Shared that I tested with a 90mm.

Spotted Malcolm P when I connected. Long time!

Hank's solar talk was interesting. Great images.

Enjoyed Rick's presentation on upcoming astronomical events. I like how he tied targets to certificates. Cool to see as I've been doing that for a while too. His talk triggered a couple of things...

learned of Aline occultation

While watching Rick W's presentation on upcoming events, I noted the occultation of a mag 10 star in Taurus by asteroid Aline flying horizontally over south-western Ontario on 6 March.

I asked about the time. 0041h UTC.

So Friday 5 March 2021 around 8:00 PM.

Others asked about the elevation. Looked pretty high in the sky...

Hmm. Interesting! 

Aline shadow path

Look at that. Right over the backyard!

(266) Aline will occult TYC 0678-00196-1 for about 4.4 seconds. Rank: 99. Magnitude drop: 3.46. Moon: 50 % sunlit, 165° distance; Sun: 77° distance. Approximate projected width in km: 123.

I'm practically on the centreline!

Tuesday, February 09, 2021

recovered a SLA battery

Oh no!

I suddenly remembered the battery!

I had used the big heavy marine Sealed Lead Acid battery on Saturday night to power the dew heater for the 8-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain Telescope.

I had used the deep-cycle SLA it to ensure I had enough amps to full power the Kendrick dew heating systems.

Ended up using it for a few hours. 

In extreme cold, -16 or -17. On the ground. Exposed. Not in a blanket. Not warmed...

Of course it was back inside now, back at room temperature, but I had broken one of The Golden Rules of lead acid batteries.

Thou shalt not let thy battery remain in a discharged state after use.

Oh no.

I checked the volts with the integrated meter. It was around 11 volts!

I had broken another Commandment!

Thou shalt not let thy battery voltage fall below twelve.

Crikey!

Oh no. I had killed it. I had destroyed the battery

I have four of these beasts but I was sad at the thought of losing one. By, essentially, mistreatment on my part.

Hooked it up to the Canadian Tire and Telescope Smart Charger and it immediately detected a problem. It started a reconditioning process. Would it work? After a while, it started a recharge programme at very low amps and slowly built up. I closely monitored the battery. When it got pretty warm, I halted the process. Next day, I started again...

Next day, I started again.

Next day, I started again.

Then the next day, I started again...

To make a long story short, I recovered the battery! 

Whew.

Lots of nursing and coddling and gentle recharging. Lucky.

§

Battery "C."

loaded the level 3

Wow. Processed some follow-up data and evals from the level 2 Stellarium paying attention to who wanted more training. There's enough for a nearly full class! Wow.

Just need a syllabus!

Built a Google Form / classroom quiz with a list of advanced topics that people can vote on.

spotted a double log entry

Richard posted one of his log sheets with sketch in the RASC Toronto Centre forums.

He working on the new Double Stars program. It is an amazing entry, with good details, a little confession, and a return visit to get more details and verify the target. And the sketch is brilliant with lots of field stars. And the directions of course. I'm proud of him, excited to see more. And I'm chuffed. It's fulfilling to me to see someone pick up this branch of the hobby and quickly developing good skills. 

It occurred to me as he posted this. He's doing some cheerleading for me!

UAE reaches Mars

Al Amal entered an orbit around Mars. Excellent news after its 7-month journey of some 480-million-kilometres. The spacecraft slowed its rate using its main engines for 27 minutes so to let Mars's gravity take over. The CBC article described Mohammed bin Zayed, the U.A.E.'s day-to-day ruler, as ebullient. The orbit will be refined in the coming weeks.

§

Mohamed Bin Zayed tweeted a report and shared a fantastic image.

Mars from Al Amal probe

He wants to bring good to mankind, science, and the future.

Monday, February 08, 2021

sent out a quiz

Sent a quiz to the Stellarium participants via the quiz feature in the Google Classroom, which ultimately uses a Google Form. Asking them to vote on potential topics for the level 3 course.

released video 2 of 6

Launched my second YouTube video on connecting Stellarium to a mount, the next in the multi-part video. 

This is part 2 of 6! It focuses on solutions provided by ASCOM, INDI, Alpaca, and INDIGO.

Over the course of the entire series, I will show all the steps for connecting a computer to a telescope mount and driving it from Stellarium.

This entire video series is very detailed, very thorough. I will discuss OS platform issues, cabling considerations, communication port assignments, mount drivers, whether internal to Stellarium or managed by external software, and other software issues. Some cautions and warnings too...

This should help everyone get connected.

§

Next | Previous

attended the first meeting

Attended a planning meeting for the February 18 virtual star party by the Ontario Science Centre. Two more were scheduled plus individual technical sessions, if necessary. Asked if I was supposed to prepare a full video with voice-over. No. OK.

toasty

Time to switch to Kelvin. It's a balmy 250 for the next couple of days!

Sunday, February 07, 2021

controlled a focuser

Totally forgot that I had done this, used an Optec temperature-controlled focuser with ASCOM., within Backyard EOS. Over four years ago. Cool. That further broadens my ASCOM experiences: 4 or 5 mounts, a virtual controller or two, and an electronic focuser.

heard she liked the question

Learned that Dr Katie Breivik was pretty chuffed with my question and that I read her white paper. She expressed how grateful she was for the contributions by amateurs.

launched Stellarium mount connection video series

Launched my YouTube video on connecting Stellarium to a mount. Actually it is multi-part video. This is just part 1 of 6!


Over the course of the entire series, I will show all the steps for connecting a computer to a telescope mount and driving it from Stellarium. 

This entire video series is very detailed, very thorough. I will discuss OS platform issues, cabling considerations, communication port assignments, mount drivers, whether internal to Stellarium or managed by external software, and other software issues. Some cautions and warnings too...

I will show solutions in ASCOM and INDI and briefly discuss Alpaca and INDIGO.

This should help everyone get connected. 

§

Next | Previous

Saturday, February 06, 2021

another double query

So, Chris B asked about another double...

He thought it was a Herschel, written as a number followed two H's, a capital then a lower case, italicised, and then another number as:

41 (Hh 753)

I had never seen something like this. I did some digging. A tricky one....

Google referred me to a book. Memoirs, Volume 40 (XL), by the Royal Astronomical Society. It appears to be a complete catalogue publication with 10,300 doubles.

Viewed the big table called:

Sir John Herschel's Catalogue of Approximate R.A.'s and N.P.D.'s of Double Stars.

On page 121, I found...

  • Entry 9457
  • Hh 753
  • aka 41 Aquarii (with a dagger)
  • RA 22 4 54 (h m s)
  • NPD 111 55 (° ')
  • data from 1830

I didn't know what NPD was. The amazing wikipedia to the rescue:

In some 18th and 19th century astronomical texts, declination is given as North Pole Distance (N.P.D.), which is equivalent to 90 – (declination).

That meant NPD 111 55 is -21 55 Dec.

When I looked up 41 in SkyTools, I noted:

  • R.A.: 22h14m18.1s
  • Dec.: -21°04'27"
  • aka H N 56, HR 8480, HD 210960, SAO 190986, PPM 273536, and HIP 109786.
  • AB: 5.33+7.16 mag
  • PA 112°
  • Sep 5.10"

The RA and Dec from the old book didn't seem to match 41 Aqr. There was nothing notable, no obvious double, at the "old" location. And 41 Aqr was over 2 degrees away.

Checked Stelle Doppie for 41 Aqr. Nothing in the notes...

Is it 41 Aqr after significant proper motion? I don't know how to assess that. But 2 degrees seems like too much in 200 years.

I read the preamble in the Memoirs. I believe the Hh 999 convention refers specifically to John's father's (i.e. William) catalogue. I learned the dagger (or obelisk) mark indicated the item was documented and validated in other document or manuscripts.

It was all a little inconclusive.

I asked Chris for other data. Magnitudes, PA, Sep?

He replied a short while later, "Yeah I think it must be 41 [Aqr], Webb lists them as 6 & 8th Magnitude and ~11.2" separation."

I pointed out it couldn't be 41. The mags and separation didn't match.

In the meantime, I ran a search in Stellarium. Looked for doubles in a 5 degree circle in the area. Nothing matched Chris's numbers... Bogus binary? Dubious double?

finished post

Worked on the Stellarium mount video series. Part 1 of 6 is in the can...

Added the teaser. Ha! Found some free music. Made and added the intro. Ha! Had to redo the title cards. Had to drop the boosted volume in the segments: clipping badly on the output.

More seat time with OpenShot Video Editor.

forwarded a question

Asked if my question for Katie could be submitted.

In your White Paper entitled "Stellar multiplicity: an interdisciplinary nexus," you suggest we need more information and greater understanding about binary star and multi-star systems as it affects many branches of research in astronomy and cosmology.  Question:  is it fair to say that amateur astronomers measuring and reporting on double stars, doing citizen science perhaps from their backyard, can contribute in a small way to this endeavour.

Denise thanked me for the question.

off the hook

I was relieved of duties at the DDO. Andrew and Denise approved. Whew. I need a break.

warned of beta

Shared with Chris B my double star portal page so to provide a handy reference to common double star discoverer codes and catalogue references. Warned it was by no means a complete list. Emphasised that the Struve clan was very active! I also gave a warning.

The other very confusing catalogue is Burnham. A lowercase Beta (β) is used with his doubles. This is NOT to be confused with the Bayer designation for stars.

wrong one

Apologised to Chris. I had goofed.

I looked up STT 17 and not STTA 17. Stoopid little A. Sheesh.

The irony was not lost on me...

Sent a new screen snap from SkyTools.

OΣΣ 17 is between γ (gamma) and μ (mu) And. Still kinda close to M31.

Also known as HD 8481, SAO 54667, PPM 66251, and HIP 6578.

Shared the link to Stelle Doppie.

Checked the (new) facts and figures.      

  • WDS ID: 01245+3902
  • discoverer code: STTA 17
  • RA 01h 24m 30.85s and Dec +39° 01' 30.3"
  • or 01 24 30.85 +39 01 30.3
  • P.A. 101.00; sep 35.4
  • magnitudes: pri 7.96; sec 9.80
  • This double is not physical.

He thanked me again.

helped a Regina member

Chris B of Regina pinged me. He was looking for a double star, OΣΣ 17, but having some trouble with the catalogue reference. He thought it was from the "Ottos Index" but was looking for a HD designation or a map

Happy to help. I sent a snap from SkyTools 3 Pro and shared facts and figures. I also referenced the Stelle Doppie page. 

That's awesome, thanks Blake!

He said he had SkyTools but had not installed it, not having a PC anymore.

He shared he was working his way through T.W. Webb's Celestial Objects for Common Telescopes (a book from the 60s). Then he said:

I'd never really bothered with the doubles but between your list and some of my observing friends who observe doubles I've been enjoying them more!  Sometimes Webb makes interesting notes so I'm creating a list just for fun.

Made me happy.

He shared that some of the double star nomenclature was rather foreign. He asked if he could ask about ones he can't sort out.

Sure.

updated the new team

Sent out an update to the astro-camping crew.

Told them I had created the new Google account. Ready for testing.

Noted I had heard from the editor of the Observer's Handbook.

Said that we had put out a query to Lil and Bob.

And that I was planning to talk to Grace and Tony to learn what materials they had.

helped with software view

I had sent a follow-up message to Richard answering his part of the question about software, like Stellarium, and its presentation of a field of stars. Zooming in, turning on equatorial mount mode, showing the equatorial grid, and rotating the view 180° with the H and V flip controls.

Told him how I configured Stellarium to match his double star sketch.

Seems it helped him out.
That is great.  I spent a couple of hours using the equatorial orientation and grid to look at my drawings. 
This was good to hear.

He went on.
This double star observing is great since it there is too much light pollution in Sutton to do serious deep sky observing.  I used to live in Sarnia where I had no problem doing the Messier & NGC lists.  Those latter objects look better in photographs than to the naked eye whereas double stars are better in the telescope.  Some of them are amazing to look at.
A convert!

Friday, February 05, 2021

surprised

Found a surprise, a nice little treat. I can fairly say that I am a paid magazine contributor. I'm a pro astronomy writer. Still kinda freakin' me out... Surprised, thrilled, satisfied, honoured. Lots to unpack here.

helped CAO chair

Helped the new committee chair for the Carr Astronomical Observatory get his email account sorted.

met more volunteers

Enjoyed meeting the new volunteers keen to rejuvenate astro-camping events. Woo hoo!

re-packed DDO landscape

Prepared the David Dunlap Observatory landscape (with Eric's images) for Stellarium using new techniques and options (e.g. light pollution). 

a parcel

Shared it with the level 2 class graduates. Ward was very happy.

phoned the chief

Chatted with the prez, regarding the YouTube incident. He was seeking some clarity on our exposure. I was pleased with the outcome. I'm hopefully we'll get ahead of this issue.

caught up with Tony

Chatted with Tony H on various RASC matters. I think I won my argument.

talked to a new volunteer

Met with a member interested in volunteering. We had a good chat, I talked about the role, the past chair, some of the typical activities, and shared a detailed report. We plan to connect soon.

I'm in!

We created superuser accounts for managing the RASC TC Google Workspace. I received my new account thanks to Denis.

explained directions

Richard W and I were chatting about directions in the eyepiece. He wasn't really clear why we wanted this information for the double star observations in the new program log sheets.

I explained why it helps us know the position angle of a partner in a pairing. In fact, it can be measured, for those leaning to formal measurement. If viewing a binary, returning later and noting a change in the angle would show the orbital motion. From his sketch, I could tell the partners to beta Mon were to the south-east.

directions

But I also shared that noting directions in the eyepiece is useful for moons around planets, planetary surface or albedo features, and even with deep sky objects, for example, when their were two in the view. Generally, a good habit, a best practice, for all types of observing.

I really enjoyed his log note and sketch!

He thanked me and said, "Your double star list is keeping me busy during COVID."

Wow. That made me feel good.

sharing overload

Sorted out all the shared folders from the audio-visual team. It was getting a little bewildering.

moved files from personal account

Reorganised the Stellarium files for the training classes. They were in my personal Google Drive. I put them in the Stellarium RASC user account. Had to inform the class members of the change: issued a notice in the Google Classroom.

§

Informed the level 2 students by direct message.

always more complicated

Heard from Dave L regarding the offset mystery with BGO and the SBIG. I was getting big jumps (and then gaps) in the vertical parameter.
In looking at the code, it is more complicated...  It [appears] it does not consider the actual field size (fullsize=yes or no).  I'll look into this in detail and likely make it smarter and update the docs with what it actually does. 
So I'm not going crazy. It's the robot that's crazy.

Thursday, February 04, 2021

an amazing shot

My sister shot a photo with her iTouch while walking to work this morning. Wow! Lots of bright parhelia goin' on.

parhelia from St Thomas

iPod Touch, f/2.4, 1/2717 of a second, ISO 25.

There's a super-bright Parry Arc. It is the big V-shape [ed: ah ha, I didn't realise the pun, at the time.]

There's a faint 22 degree halo around the Sun which touches the bottom of the Parry Arc. With a hint of colour, like a rainbow!

I bet there were bright Sun dogs left and right.

I think I see a faint pillar rising up from the Sun.

I asked if she was outside not shooting through glass? I was wondering what all the white specs were... She said the air was sparkling. Must have been really cold.

I shared the link to the Ice Halos page.

Jealous.

feeling some joy

It's a real double-edged sword.

In deploying the Stellarium training courses, I wanted to take a fresh tact, come at it from a good place, not bog it down with baggage, be energetic and open and highly accessible.

But I'm getting really frustrated and irked and... bitter? A number of people are... presenting challenges. 

People are not reading emails. At all. People are skimming emails. RSVP requests are being ignored or not followed. When I send bulk emails by BCC, I'm terribly concerned they are not getting through. So I beg for RSVPs. I need acknowledgements and feedback. Only 50% are returned.

I know I'm not perfect. My communications can be unclear. I try very hard to avoid typos and grammar errors. But overall in this regard I think I'm doing well. I think I'm a good communicator, above average. Thorough. Focused. And, at the same time, humble, always improving, optimising, looking for better ways.

For an upcoming course that people were getting a little pushy about, not quite demanding, I asked for confirmations. Nothing. So I've lowered these people, dropped them back into the waiting list, and pulled others keen to go ahead up into the roster. I'm expecting, dreading, the heated argument... "Why did you not include me?" Well, you were not expressing your interest.

And, I'm doing this all for free!

I wanted to try a high-touch approach with this, keep it human, personable, responsive. When it works, it works, and it fills me with great joy. 

Thanks again, Blake.  I checked the roaming folder and found everything I was looking for.  I also applied your tip to add semi-transparent view outside of ocular.  That is very helpful indeed.

The psychic energy from that, the uplifting, the pedagogical rewards are soul-satisfying.

It buoys me for days. My buddy from high school calls it "friendly juice." I was recharged, ready to take on the world...

Then someone sends a message with the word "instruction" in the subject line asking to attend the webinar and then doesn't show up reporting they could not connect with the "Zoomer" software. Pinging my email multiple times after the webinar has started. I think they were expecting corporate level service and respond time from... us. Me. One person.

This has highlighted an issue. I need an assistant to process people. Humans arriving late even though I told them to arrive early. Not reading their emails properly and botching a login to a virtual meeting. Doing both things at once. Arriving late and botching the login. Then getting angry that no one is helping them. I don't know. Is that harsh? I just assumed people would be on time and know how to get connected. I did tell people in advance, well in advance, they could reach out to me to practice.

With a new instructor coming online, maybe this issue is moot. While Ian teaches, I can run block.

This drags me down. I know well that some struggle with information technology and that many of the RASC members were born when there were no personal computers on the planet. 

But I do think it is reasonable for me to assume that people will meet me half-way. I cannot be your personal IT assistant. Is that discriminatory? I feel awkward about that. But I'm working hard. I'm learning every day. I've learned a LOT in the last couple of months. 

I set out, from the start, wanting to come from a different place. In my corporate training environment, everything is commodity. Base price, then extra this, plus that, premium this, platinum that. I didn't want to work that way. I wanted to be open and sharing and accessible.

But this is VERY taxing.

The people with high demands (maybe unreasonable) are taking away from my capacity to give to those in need, legit, having done the work.

Is it naïve of me to think so lofty of society members?

Some say I should automate all this. And I think we will have to if we get dozens or hundreds of people wanting it. Let the robots deal with the majority, the tech savvy, the self-sufficient. But then of a personable, human, high-tech for those struggling. Maybe a hybrid approach is needed. Still, and this is uncomfortable to say, I think some are taking advantage, consciously, and some unwittingly.

This is a free service.

I'm a volunteer.

You should be grateful

This is a slippery slope. A few bad apples are making me feel bitter. 

I really want to rise above this.

Already I'm enjoying some things in this new approach. Stronger connections with students, a relationship, something possibly ongoing, a friendly face. Greater sharing (but still room for improvement there). A good sense of community and comradery. Continuous learning. I'm learning stuff through course prep and questions from students. Participants pointing out things, sharing their discoveries. Participants sharing breakthroughs. We're working together. I like to think that excitement is transmitting to the participants. We're all in this together.

These rewards were what I was after. It is what fuels a teacher. It is so... it is satisfying. But I'm looking for a bigger word. It is a pure thing. A pure emotion.

It makes my heart grow one size.

reacted

We saw a troll (?) return to our RASC TC YouTube channel this evening. I had warned the AV commitee and new centre president of this potential issue.

This time, he didn't hold back. Curiously, when I was presenting he let loose... The remaining moderator jumped in and deleted his messages and muted him. But this peculiar person stole some thunder.

I let the new president have it. I am very angry. And concerned. There's been good opportunities to get ahead of this but nothing was done. The council needs to get ahead of this and not be reactionary.

Wednesday, February 03, 2021

pitched multiple wx tools

Delivered my "weather tools" presentation at the RASC Toronto Centre online meeting. It was live-streamed on YouTube. The raw recording is available for viewing. My bit starts at 1:00:30 and ends at 1:37:49.

I wrote a companion article and posted it on the RASC TC web site.

At the conclusion, Ward asked if there was a way to predict conditions far into the future to aid in trip planning. If a Canadian destination, I suggested reviewing the Environment Canada historical and climate data pages. I showed my 3D surface map for the percentage of clear nights by month by hour. Eric said, "I like this graph!" High praise.

I also referred to the RASC Observer's Handbook. [ed. Page 72 in the 2021 edition. Essay entitled “Frequency of Nighttime Cloud Cover” by Jay Anderson. The maps are based on 16 years of data.]

No questions from the YouTube viewers but lots of questions outside and after.

Ron, on the RASC TC forums, asked about local weather. I encouraged him to carefully set his tools for local sites. I advocated AWC. Chris agreed.

Jim asked about portable weather products. I told him about the Oregon Scientific and OneWorld portable weather stations and shared links to my old presentations.

Paul from Ottawa (by direct email) asked about my home portal page hacked in HTML. I forwarded the address and suggested he dive into the code.

Wow. Neat.

§

Holy smokes. I totally forgot to mention in my presentation the Clear Sky Alarm Clock website. This takes Attilla Danko’s amazing data and applies criteria. Then when good conditions are headed your way for your favourite locations, you can receive email alerts. Told the RASC TC members. Updated my website article.

registered a viewer

Cool!

Got a hit for the Stellarium training via the slide in announcements slide deck delivered by Tom, the new RASC TC president, on the YouTube live stream. 

With this new query, I was able to fill the level 2 intermediate Stellarium training course.

It actually works.

That clearly shows someone watching the announcements about a service and responding.

recognised photographer

On the RASC Toronto Centre forum, I drew attention to the item in the RASC national bulletin. 

They discussed the "Astro-image of the week with Kersti as an award winner. She does amazing wide-field images. Then she said, "Thanks, Blake! You have always been one of my inspirations in this endeavour. And your encouragement invaluable.

I was flabbergasted.

Humbled.

I've been greatly inspired by her, wishing I could do what she does.

sucked in

I'm getting frazzled...

Still, I felt obligated to attend the Zoom meeting rehearsal for Saturday's DDO Astronomy Night. By itself, not a big deal but I was on the edge. 

I was anxious also because of sequencing: the speaker had NOT been pre-screened. So the dress rehearsal was really a tech shakedown. 

In the end, it worked out OK. Smart people involved all round and while there were tech issues we hammered them out pretty quick.

The other matter, important to me, was the Saturday plan. And my suspicion proved true. The AV and DDO team were assuming I was to be the questioner. Now that wonderful Celia is gone, who will do it? I asked if others on the DDO team had been asked. It really is their show... I shouldn't be roped in automatically. 

I asked that the DDO committee be asked. Hopefully someone will step up. I offered (like any guilty volunteer does) to be the backup.

§

The irony of this is not lost on me, the volunteer wrangler for the centre. We really should be less assuming and less passive-aggressive.

§

Woo hoo. They found a helper. I think I'm off the hook.

going online

Heard from my editor. Sound like my "modern builders" article is also going to show on the SkyNews web site.

Tuesday, February 02, 2021

shuffled Stellarium stuff

Did a bunch of Stellarium administrivia. Having another instructor means that I have to generalise everything to "we." And while I was sorta using the new GSuite—er, Google Workspace— account, I had yet to consider the best way to use things.

Gave Ian access to the Stellarium instructors account. Considered how we might use the "master" email going forward.

Added entries to the department calendar. This will become increasingly important in the future as more trainers come onboard. Integrated in the RASC Toronto Centre ICS feed to Ian and I can hopeful avoid conflicts.

Moved all the course files, student files, admin stuff out of my personal account over the RASC TC account. Important. Symbolic. Annoying. Google Drive does not offer a simple, fast way. The easiest for me proved downloading and uploading (believe it or not). But all the Google Docs morphed into Microsoft Weird documents so I had to convert them back! Crikey. Can't we all just get along?!

All this gave me a chance to update various files that needed tidying up.

Discovered problems. I'm on Windows; Ian's on Mac. My PowerPoint slide deck blew up. Maybe this needs to move to and live in Google Slides...

Next issue: ween people off my personal Google Drive...

§

Earlier, I rejigged content on the RASC TC web site, pulling the specific instructor information out of the course pages. It's better on the hub page.

added a tether

Should have done this a long time ago. A logical time was when I has swapping the battery. Regardless, I now have a anchor in the IDEA GoToStar hand controller so I can stop dropping it on the ground.

checked the prognostication

Wiarton Willie's called it: early spring. No shadow seen. Woo hoo!

discovery

Hold the phone...

The IDEA GoToStar uses LX200 commands?!

Monday, February 01, 2021

connected to the mount!

Another breakthrough today.

With the Vixen Super Polaris mount back inside—and defrosted—I was curious to test some things. I'm really keen to have remote control of the IDEA GoToStar motor driver system and hand controller. Handy when the temperature goes below -17°C.


motorised remote focusing

Kicked around, briefly, the idea of building my own focuser to turn the knobs of the Williams Optics external focuser. I'll do more research later.

Oh. There's an opportunity to borrow a focuser... Would it fit on the C8? I'll have to do a little experiment there.


VHC

First up was to see if there was a virtual hand controller that might work with my weird setup. 

I've used the Celestron NexRemote with the N11GPS at the CAO. I recall playing with a virtual HC when writing about EQMOD. Saw a video where someone used CPWI. Learned about the clever SynScan app for slates recently while researching Stellarium hookups. For the first time, I used the old StellariumScope, a week or so ago.

Google directed me to a Cloudy Nights post (from Apr-May 2020) where someone was writing their own VHC. Cool. It looked good. But then one of the commenters said, essentially, why bother, and suggested ASCOMPad. Huh. Downloaded version 2.09 from the EQMOD site.

Tried it. It did not respond when I tried to select the mount. Then, after jumping around and trying different things, I saw it connect to the Vixen SkySensor driver. Once. Then nothing happened. It was after successfully connecting with and using the simulator. Tried a few more times. Then I stumbled across multiple instances of the app! Sheesh. Cleaned up and tried again. Connected! But then the slew direction buttons did nothing. Hit STOP. It worked! Oh oh. It didn't release. It was like it was jammed on. Had to kill app to regain control of the HC. Tried again. Definitely an issue: N, E, W, S, Park not working... When I tried the Sidereal Rate button, it issued a stop to the mount! And locked it up again.

Does ASCOMPad need EQMOD around? It did not seem like it but I downloaded it anyway. No improvement.

Had a look at EQMOD (been a while) but it is specific to SynScan. Synta EQ mounts.

Learned of the AstroEQ project by Tom Carpenter. Sounded promising at first. But didn't get anywhere there. I think it is specifically for building your own motors and motor controller circuit boards! Hard core. Confusing documentation. I bailed.

I'm still not convinced it is a closed matter... Maybe I can try iOptron drivers or other Vixen drivers.


long connection

OK. I had been thinking about this since the Sirius imaging run

I had successfully connected to the camera some 15 metres away and enjoyed working inside while the mount whirred away. 

All the slewing and focusing had to be done outside, by hand.

I "burned up" one solution in the distal control of the DSLR. I used the USB-ethernet IOGEAR adapters. But on Saturday night I couldn't figure out the cabling solution for mount control. Brain freeze?

Rest of the weekend I noodled long cable methods. Now it was a good time to try things. Dug through my old computer cable boxes. Found a bunch of dusty 25-pin serial cables. Found my box of adapters, gender changers, jumper boxes, null modems. Fished through my "travel kit" with backup power cords, old tiny modem, still more adapters, and old console server cables. Piled everything on the desk.

Did the known-good connection between the Windows 10 laptop, Stellarium, Vixen SkySensor 2000 PC ASCOM driver, USB-serial adapter, data cable to the IDEA GoToStar hand controller. That all worked fine.

Test 1: Getting some distance between the mount and hand controller. 

Installed my 6-wire custom extension cable and junction between the IDEA GoToStar hand controller and RA motor driver input. Didn't work at first but it turned out the USB-Serial device had glitched. Out. In. Boop beep. Tried again. Sweet Universe! Stellarium worked. That gave me almost 4.5 meters.

Test 2: Getting some distance between the hand controller and the computer.

Grabbed an unopened bag for a "full loaded" 25-pin serial straight-thru cable. Hooked up all the needed 25-to-9 adapters and a gender bender and inserted this frankencable between the IDEA data control cable and the USB-adapter. Holy Universe, it worked. The old 10-foot serial cable and crazy jumble of adapters worked. So now I had another 3 metres. 

Jumpered in another long serial cable. Nothing. No joy. Tried every cable. Nope.

I had tried it before on a whim and there was no response but I thought I'd give it another go. Some Google searches strongly suggested that you could send serial signalling down ethernet cables... 

Spotted the part number 74-0495-01 on the old TANDBERG console cable adapters. Google sent me to a site where you could buy them. DB9 female to RJ45 female serial console terminal adapters. Serial! It's gotta work. I hooked everything up again, making sure the connectors were secure. Disconnected and reconnected the USB-serial adapter. Green LED power standby good. Issued the Connect command in Stellarium. Double flashing red LED activity working! And the reticule moved to the current star. Yes! Wow. Wow. I have a passive solution with a short ethernet cable.

Spotted in my blog an entry from 2015 where Dan had lent me one of his RJ45-DB9s to get the CAO GBO Optec focuser to work.

With high hopes, I inserted my 50-foot yellow ethernet. Woo hoo! The mount moved and reported its position. 

There it was. Another frankencable but now, suddenly, I had the working path. A 20 metre or so hard line connection. Now, in theory, I could control the mount.

functional diagram for camera and mount connections

That's mad. It's not pretty but this should work.

It's not ideal without slew buttons but it will work if I can decipher alignment issues and perform small slew commands from Stellarium.

Maybe I can try plate-solving too. But that's a whole other rabbit hole.


DIY

I've thought about it before; starting thinkin' about it again: writing my own driver.

Last week I watched a brief video on controlling a piece of astro gear (a focuser) with ASCOM. Good demo, highlighting the key steps. With the warning that mount control was the most complex programming.

So I thought about it some more tonight. Revisited the ASCOM site. When I reviewed the 20 supported languages, I saw some familiar names. On spotting Python, I thought, "Well, I was thinking about learning it anyway." Downloaded 3.9 and tried a few things in the CLI interpreter. Gah. Brute force method. Downloaded the Thonny IDE. Syntax issues ahead... as usual, when learning a new environment. Then I wondered what it would be like to connect to the ASCOM environment, system calls, etc. from within Python. Kind of a double whammy.

In the list, of course, there wwere a lot of MS languages. Plus JavaScript. I wouldn't have to relearn or readapt as much, presumably. Geez, it sounded like it could be done inside VBA too! That's what I've worked in most, lately. Anyhoo, I downloaded Visual Studio Community 2019. And then I initiated the .NET download. Big.

What am I getting myself into...

Noted another option: "... modifying the EQASCOM source to interface with your mounts' goto controller." Hmmm. Is this the way to go? A framework will be established. Maybe it'd be as simple as loading in the IDEA instruction set... But what's the code base for EQASCOM?


remote computer control

A completely different approach is to not bother with the long cables per se. Put the controlling computers beside the mount. But then operate the computers by remote control. Load TightVNC on John Gomez. It's already on John Repeat Dance. Then I'm off and running, right?

§

Wait a second! Is StellariumScope the solution, right in front of my face?