Thursday, February 11, 2021

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 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 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.

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