Monday, February 28, 2022

lumpy lives

Renewed the domain.

For three years. 

Lumpy lives!

Or to put it another way: you're stuck with me for another 3 years at least...


What a PITA Network Solutions is.

I have to deal with these people twice. Sometimes twice a year. For my company domain and for this fun domain name for my fun hobby. When they expire close to one another.

Network Solution/internic seems like the snake oil salesmen of old. But maybe they feel they can do this because they have us by the short and curlies.

It begins with annoying, repetitive, badgering, spam-like advertising MONTHS before a domain is due to expire.  "Your services are coming up for expiration." Then unnecessarily urgent, insistent, fear-mongering messages. "Keep Your Domain Active." Or, your "domains will be deactivated." Later, "Deactivation Notice." Well before the expiry. Constant peppering. Isn't it ironic that they send a barrage of messages not unlike spammers.

Strong-arm tactics this year over on my company domain but "giving" me a related .SITE domain for free but then demanding the payment for it after one year gratis.

This year I felt like the renewal messages were deceptive, sneaky, deliberately opaque. I start receiving messages every 2 weeks about the renewal coming up. Ah. It's February. The expiry date is late May. On opening the message, there's a big, eye-catching, set-the-hook headline:

Early Renewal Benefits

But the line below, if you bother to read it, says:

Renew now and save 50%* on new products, from domains, email, hosting, and more!

Oh. So that's not a renewal benefit. There is no benefit. So there's no need to renew early. There's no incentive. You're just grovelling for my money way out ahead of the expiry.

I would like to report these people to the international better business bureau. Meh.

So, I decided to play Devil's Advocate this year...

I wanted to see if I could get the 50% off.


3 February 2022. I fire up the chat on the Network Solutions web site. No way in Hades I'm gonna phone this in...

Human Rotciv P., Web Advisor, offers to help me. I tell him, "I received an email notification, it said 'Renew now and save 50%".' Does this apply to me?"

See that? I was giving him an out.

Huh? He asked a surprising question. "Does it say that the promotion is from us, Network Solutions?" 

I answered affirmatively. I sent him a copy of the email along with the sending address.

My Web Advisor then said, "Do not reply nor provide further information on it. That email is not from us and it has been reported as phishing email."

Too bad we weren't on video chat because my mouth was hanging open...

Looked completely legitimate to me.


He went on. "You can also block the email so that you will no longer received an email from it."

Ha, ha, ha. I would LOVE to block annoying, nagging, confusing, repetitive, misleading messages from Network Solutions! That'd be awesome!

I terminated the chat, tongue in check. This representative was bonkers. 

But my question... remained unanswered.


In the meantime, I double-checked the rates. 

Of course, that takes a hundred clicks and careful reading and many checks, to ensure you don't get sucked into agreeing to some service or feature you don't want. And I calculated the cost per annum.

years priceper year
1 42.9942.99
2 83.98 41.99
9 350.91 38.99

A very-slow but still welcome cheaper-by-quantity model.


23 February. I thought, "Let's try again today..."

After coming out of the queue, I was connected with human Marie.

Said I wanted to renew and I was curious if I applied for the "Early Renewal Benefits."

She said, "Let me check on that. One moment please..."

And then after a short while said, "I can get this renewed for you instead."

Oh. A bright light at the end of the tunnel.

I asked for a confirmation. "Are you saying I can renew at 50% off?"

Marie said, "Yes, but I will have to process that for you manually."

And we were cut off!

The chat dropped.

Ha. A key technology company can't maintain or re-establish a digital communications.

I scratched for the day.



In the meantime, I updated my profile.


Two days later. Let's get back on the horse.

Connected with Zeke. Verified my account. But he couldn't answer my questions. So he handed me off to Amruth Yogeesh, Web Advisor, who assured me he could help. "I will definitely help you with the domain renewal with a lesser prices."

Again, I asked if I applied for the 50% discount offer (fully expecting to be declined).

After a moment, he came back with the message. "The price of 2 years renewal is: $ 127.56. As we are running the amazing discounts on the renewal, I can get the domain renewal for you at: $ 83.98 for 2 years. You will save: $ 52.00 by renewing it today."

What? Shaking my head.

I told him what I thought the regular prices were.

Amruth said, "The prices have been hiked."

Whiskey tango foxtrot?! Really? In the last 2 days? I opened another browser and crawled through the renewal screens. The prices were not hiked! He was smoke-screening.

Then he pulled the car salesman tactic. "I have checked the discount offers for you with our admin team and I can get your domain renewed for 2 years at: $ 67.18. Shall I renew the domain name for $ 67.18 for 2 years now?"

Didn't make sense. I needed to stall him to crunch his numbers in a spreadsheet. I asked "What about 3 years?"

"The 3 years term, I can get it renewed for you at: $ 98.38. You will save $ 24.00 for choosing the 3 years term."

Crazy math.

My radar was going off. "That's just a straight renewal right, no other services or features, right?"

Amruth confirmed, "Yes. It's just a domain name renewal for now."

So I pushed back again, "The email from network solutions said 50% off, so I guess that does not apply?"

And he said, "The 50% offer is available for 5 years, 9 years and 10 years domain renewal."


That was very strange.

"What's the regular price for 5 years?" I asked.

"The regular price for 5 years is: $ 210.00. After the discount offer, I can get it for you at: $ 159.96 for 5 years. You will save $ 51.55 on choosing the 5 years term. It is a good saving offer."

Either he was lying and doing some strange mathematical guessimetrics. A bit of both, actually.

I told him that I did not understand. "The renewal page shows 5 years regular is $199.95. You said 50% applies for 5 years or more. So that'd be $100 or so after the discount..."

The crazy man said, "The price which is showing it to as: $ 199.95 is without the tax charge."

Oh boy. "So without tax the discounted 5 year price at 50% off would be $100, right?"

He threw a curve ball from the mound. "No. The private registration service will be added as a free service along with the offers."

I retorted, "I did not ask for private registration, you said before a straight renewal."

"I have rechecked the offer discounts and the team said, the service is free."

"So 5 year renewal regular $199.95 discounted to $100 plus free private registration?" I pressed.

He came back with, "The 5 year discounted charge is: $ 159.18 along with the private registration service free with it."

To which I replied, "Well that's not free then." 

And I started to dismiss him.

And he got desperate. Do they work on commission? "The private registration fee is: $ 9.99 / year. You will get that service free for 5 years. You will save $49.95 for 5 years. The domain renewal price is: $ 210.00 and after discount it is: $ 159.18 for 5 years. Here, you will save $ 51.55 for 5 years. When we add, the price discount is: $ 101.50 for 5 years."

Where was the 210 coming from?! He was making no sense.

And he was gish-galloping me! No way, mister.

I declined. Terminated the chat.

When the chat asked for a review, I clicked 1 for poor service and the chat window locked up. 

Ha. Don't accept bad reviews, eh?

Wow. What amazing bafflegab! "Prices hiked." No, that was a lie. $210 for 5 years - no, that was a lie. $159 after discount - that was not 50%. 

Adding private registration "for free." No, he was burying that fee. With an opt-out that I suspected would be difficult to wriggle out of.

And... I still didn't have a straight answer.


I crafted a complaint letter but left it in draft.


Shall we venture into the den of the lions again?

Today, I steeled myself.

Connected with Scott Boudreau, from the Sales team. Asked about renewing Said, "I received an email entitled 'Early Renewal Benefits.' It says I can renew now and save 50%. Does this apply to me?" And then I immediately texted "I see the one year, without any extras, costs $42.99. 2 yrs 83.98. 3 yrs 122.97. I was thinking i'd go for 3 yrs if i'm eligible for the 50% off."

To which Scott replied, "Are you sure it's not renew early and save 50% on any NEW purchases?"

Finally. My leading question was challenged. At last. A good first milestone.

I feigned reading the email for the first time. 

Scott said, frankly, "I thought so. Mostly it's 20% off, sometimes 25% on renewing."

Ah. So, no 50% deal for me, but he extended the olive branch.

He offered, "$29.99 a year at the moment for renewal." About $13 off or around 30% off.

I asked about a 3-year term. 

"$89.97," Scott said. Then went for the close! Sneaky guy.

I verified it was for a "straight renewal" with "no extras," we exchanged some data, I made the legal department happy, we sealed the deal, and I received my order number.

I thanked Scott for his help and gave him a very good rating.

No BS.

I was happy.

The confirmation email arrived seconds later. All good.

Still, their notification practices are nasty. And they have some people manning the chat line who are nuts or on drugs or can't do math. And sell snake oil.

But it shows that with Network Solutions, you need to ask. Without a relevant promo code, the online tool will not apply a discount. Chat or phone and ask for a deal.


I'm not good at this. I don't like haggling. I don't like the upsell. But doing it by text chat gives me time to think, it reduces the pressure, it avoids the stare-downs, I can do my fact-checking, and run a spreadsheet to crunch my own numbers! I would not do well on a live phone call with these people.

6 minutes after

I learned the previous RASC National Secretary (an executive role) usually published the minutes the same day of a meeting. His record was 6 minutes following adjournment. Impressive.

holy smokes

I didn't know you could get Rockets so big!

Found at the Party City in Newmarket...

Ha ha.

big Rockets (candies)

Was wanting some regular Rockets to strap to the side... (space flight humour there.)

Main stage with strap on boosters!

Visit the maker's web site to blast off!

kicked the tires

Was feeling a bit of cabin fever so ventured out. Ticked some boxes on the errands list. And did a bit of window shopping (no pun intended).

I need to shop for a small computer. To replace the ASUS Eec PC netbook. To run SkyTools in the field, at the telescope. Small, light-weight. Doesn't need to be a screamer. Doesn't need to do image processing.

GPD mini laptop

OK, maybe not that small...

At Staples, I ambled into the computer section.

I looked at and touched a few small machines. I've very curious about the current crop of ASUS units. They have some flip-type portable computers. Do I need a slate?

And then I saw a tiny Microsoft machine. A MS Surface computer. I was surprised by the form factor! Nearly exactly the size of the old trusty netbook. Wow.

[ed: I believe I spotted a Microsoft Surface Laptop Go at $759.99, regularly $959.99.]

Expensive though. Well. Comparatively.

Would a $300 or $400 small thin laptop do the job? Should I budget for more?

When the Surface machines came out, it went through my mind "never in a million years."

But this was the best looking machine of the right size!

I thought I should reach out to people I know who have used them... perhaps an early adopter.

spotted parhelia (Bradford)

Spotted a faint ring around the Sun, near the end of the mid-day walk.

Very faint. Twenty-two degrees. Some ice up there.

Also noted a faint arc at zenith. 

[ed: Faint Parry Arc.]

Sunday, February 27, 2022

it's fix it February!

I learned from Adam Savage it's Fix It February!


I didn't know that!

Well, I just got my new tiny wire strippers... so what can I fix?!

reported a key problem

I reported on the forum. The Enter key wasn't working in SkyTools 4.

It was a small bug but irksome.

In SkyTools 3, I used to regularly hit the Enter key in a list to toggle the check mark on and off. Very handy for selecting multiple objects.

Now, in SkyTools 4, I had to use the mouse. Not fast or convenient.


theskyhound replied:

I had to change the key in order to be consistent with Real Time Tool's use of the Enter key to automatically advance to the next object.  I needed a key for that purpose that was big and easy to find in the dark.  I changed [the planner selection key] to "s".  It looks like I forgot to document the new key [in] the planner keyboard shortcuts help page...


I'm OK with another key. Doesn't really matter what. But I want a key...


Then it occurred to me I need to update my SkyTools shortcuts documentation...

learned minutes n/a

James Edgar, editor of the RASC Observer's Handbook, asked Eric Briggs on 27 Feb 2022, before 10:00 PM EST, if he had posted the 2021 AGM minutes.

On 28 Feb 2022, designated secretary for the RASC national organisation, an executive of RASC, replied:

I am also working on the February 28th deadline and I plan to have draft national AGM minutes for you tonight.

In other words...


The 2021 AGM was on 27 June 2021.

That was 248 days ago.

thanked my proofreader

Melody proofread my Excel file for the Deep-Sky Gems.

I thanked her for her time and effort and good work with her magnifier!

Applied the changes. It's ready to go...

worked the DSC draft

With the DSG work fresh in mind, I hammered away in Excel at the Deep-Sky Challenge list. More quirky data. But less.

Saturday, February 26, 2022

shared the DSG draft

Finished the first draft of the 2022 Deep-Sky Gems spreadsheet file. James Edgar gave me an Excel file with content scraped from the original source (or PDF). 'Course it was rather raw...

Excel's text-to-columns choked on it so I had to write custom formulae to parse the content. Sheesh.

Put it into a pretty table, add a checkbox and space for quick notes.

Uploaded to our shared drive for the Observing Committee to have a look at.


Wait. What?

There's a new version of SkyTools available.


What's that about?!

What's under the hood?

awarded 4th DS cert

Recently reviewed another Double Stars certificate, from a RASC member in Saskatchewan. Exciting, this one. This fourth application draws even with the Deep-Sky Gems certificates.

The first DSG cert was awarded in 2013. The last, about 9 months ago. That's one every 2 to 2½ years.

The DS program was launched late 2020 or about 15 months ago. Four certs now: one every 4 months roughly. Wee!

I know of others in work by various RASC members. Maybe this year, for 2022, we'll double or triple the number for the Double Stars awards (no pun intended). That would elevate it above the Deep-Sky Challenge program, with 9 people viewing the challenging targets.

Onward and upwards.

I also noted that we're getting close to 800 certificates total... 

collecting data

Trying to get in the mood to work on the National Observing Committee report for the Annual General Meeting...

This was sprung on me last year when I became the interim chair. An overdue report was expected and I had to really scramble.

It was sprung on my again this year with a short deadline. 

I said, no... you'll have to wait. 


Don't need passive-aggressive tones or "you should have known" attitudes. You can yell at me when I don't follow the dates in the committee documentation. Given there is NO [ed: scant] documentation, then you need to take a chill pill. 

You'd think people would be a little more friendly and accommodating. Given everything. Nope. 

And I'm getting really tired of people not carefully reading their email and responding to questions.

I did put out a note for input to the team. A few have chimed in, bolstering my spirits.

And I did start culling my Obs Comm folder in Thunderbird.

Got the award recipient list done. That alone took more time because of the wonderful quantities: 68 applications for the past year. It's still mind-boggling.


Edited. Stumbled across an old e-mail which I clearly did not read carefully. Committee reports are due end of February. OK. OK. I'm workin' on it.

on deck, two Montreal talks!

After discussions with Carl J, Karim J, and Russell F, I'm on deck for two talks for the RASC Montreal Centre. Yep. Two!

First up, on Tuesday 15 March, during their GSP (Global Star Parties) evening, I'll be representing the RASC national observing committee (once again) and talking briefly about the different certificate programs. Time permitting, I'll talk about how to observe and log and apply. That'll fit nicely with the centre-specific observing programs and those by the Astronomical League.

Then, about a month later, on Wednesday 13 April, during their next Citizen Science event, for episode 5 in the series, I'll be discussing doing double stars research. I'll briefly talk about the various methods for measurement, preparing and submitting a paper, and contributing data to the Washington Double Stars catalogue. This should complement Dominique's recent talk on how she measures doubles for fun.


Starting building a slide deck for the latter...

received cable cover

A little follow-up regarding the newest piece of equipment (the ever-expanding equipment list!)...

It's been on the shopping list for a while but I finally obtained a cord minder.

I've thought of this kind of thing often when observing in the backyard in the tent where I often am working from the table and driving the mount from the computer over in the open-air section of the tent, with cables running along the floor (ground) between. Black cords. In a darkened tent. At night.

To avoid trip hazards and—more importantly—cable snags and disconnects, I considered that a cord-way or cover would be good to have.

cord cover with yellow stripes

I ordered online and procured a 3-channel cable protector or floor cable cover by AGPtek. It's 6.65 feet long (2 metres), black with 2 yellow safety visibility strips. It is made of flexible PVC and rated for indoor or outdoor use. It's 83mm wide and stands 17mm tall. I hadn't considered it but I'm happy to learn it is made from non-toxic materials. 

"Does not conduct electricity." Good to know.

I'll make some in-situ decisions next time the tent is out back. I might need to cut it in half length-wise. And it seems I'll have to slice the bottom to open up the channels.


Added to the packing list!

updated the companion

Lazy Saturday.

Updated the lumpy companion site: the double stars page 1 for Sirius B attempts and the reclassification of Σ2146, the library for magazine info and the overlooked FITS software, astronomy hobby accessories for the new cord minder, the main photo gallery for all the remaining 2021 images, the finest NGC gallery for many processed colour images, the presentations page for the recent talk for the RASC Edmonton Centre, and the Stellarium software page for the recent bugs.

Along the way, I corrected a few little problems in the lumpy blog itself.

Slowly catching up.

Stuff not touched since the brouhaha in October.

Fun reviewing the images since March 2021.

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

ETX 125 for sale

Blast from the past. Randy called me up. We caught up on Teutonic cars and other things. His late father was getting into astronomy but passed before he was able to get much use of his Meade ETX 125. I recommended putting it up for sale on Canada-Wide Astronomy Buy & Sell. Which he did. Lightly-used, excellent condition, original box, carrying case, plus.



Saturday, February 19, 2022

gathered the team

Ran a meeting of the Observing Committee. It was really good to put some faces to names. I think we made some progress on a few matters.

Friday, February 18, 2022

frustrated by Stellarium bugs

While observing the level 2 course yesterday, as Ian walked through the process of adding a comet by using the Online search feature, I saw right away something was not working right...

Nothing came up as a search result!

Normally—assuming you use the official designation, correct syntax and case—a suggested entry will appear that you can then select to add to the database of solar system objects.


He was using Stellarium on his Mac.

I tried it immediately on my Windows machine.

Same issue. No result.

I did notice the progress bar briefly flashing at the bottom-right but with the value 0%...

Some of the class participants reported success so it was not my first suspicion that the MPC server was down...

It was not working for any of us running the latest version 0.21.3. Oh oh. A bug in the newest Stellarium!

I jumped into GitHub and looked for a bug report. Nothing.

So I created a issue ticket with some quick notes...

At the end of the course, after 9:00 PM, during the social and Q&A, I offered to show another method, the List method. It works fine.

At 23:41, someone (or a bot) on GitHub responded.

The hardware info, steps of reproduction and log file are really important and help us resolve over 90% issues fast.  Of course, in some specific cases we need more data, but we ask the required data separately...

Come on. I'm not some noob...

In the morning, I spotted another GitHub message, this time from Alexander W. At 4:06 AM local time, he said, "Please try remove older verson before installing v0.21.3." [SIC] 

At 10:23 AM, I posted a request on the Stellarium Classroom, asking for help in testing the bug.

I posted on GitHub:

I'm collecting data.  I'll pull the log file. 

But one datum is that this was on a completely fresh install.

Forgot another datum:

If I try Online search, after it fails, I cannot use the Lists tab.  It's all locked out.  A restart of Stellarium presents the Lists tab normally and in fact a comet can be found by this means.  So the 2 takeaways:

The failure of the Online search breaks the normal function in the Import data window.

Users can still add comets but not by using the Online search tab.

10:32 AM, I captured the LOG.TXT file from the Stellarium instance and posted that for the developers to noodle on.

A couple hours later, a good message rolled in from GitHub:

GitHub update from the developers

Yes. Vindicated. Ooh. High importance!

Warned Chris V of the issue. He replied at 12:31 PM, "That's good to know."

And I updated Ian. He replied at 9:49.  He was glad to hear they were working on it "with some urgency."


There are good things happening with Stellarium but some troublesome bugs of late.

Chris and I are very upset with the breaking of the bookmarks feature. We were excitedly building observing lists and they don't work now.

We've had to drop the topic from our Stellarium training courses.


Everything was working well up to Stellarium version 0.21.1. 

The bookmarks feature proper offered a number of useful features. For example, you could store an object with a date and time attached and/or a location attached. Chris and I (and others) found this useful for The Sky This Month presentations where the date and time were often important, say for planetary appulses at sunset, or interesting conjunctions at sunrise. Chris and I started building observing lists, without date, time, or location, for general purposes and RASC observing certificate programs. 

In fact, we built an observing lists page on the RASC Toronto Centre web site in the spring and summer of 2021. Chris, Arnold, and I shared The Sky This Month target lists. I made the Explore The Universe and Double Stars certificate program lists. Chris made the Explore The Moon (binocular and telescope) and Finest NGC

We vetted each others files.

We also figured out ways to hack the files a little with columns of additional data.

Chris continues to make lists for his Beyond Messier column in SkyNews. We encouraged people use them and described how to download and install the JSON files.

11 April 2021, I also put the JSON file for the Double Stars on the national web site.

Also, in an interesting though clunky manner, one could generate JSON files inside Stellarium using the Astronomical Calculator tool.

Then on 27 Sep 2021, it all went to hell.


6 Oct 2021, 6:17 PM. Chris texted me. "Stellarium 0.21.2 was released a week ago. Just looking at what's new, now..." He noted excitedly there was a new "Observing Lists" feature. He said the "go to next twilight" was very easy to use. Read that many Astro/Calc items were addressed.

I warmed up the laptop and installed it. 

And then he said, "No more Bookmarks!"

Roh roh.

Chris could not import any of his old bookmark (JSON) files. They did not load. Oh no...

I wondered if they are using a different file format or a dramatically different structure. Chris noticed a very different appearance in the Observing Lists screen. Now no way off associating varying dates and times with objects.

I said "that screws up the presentation aspect of bookmarks."

He agreed. He said there was nothing in the user manual. Figures.

Chris jumped on GitHub. "Folks are fuming." he said and he decided to revert to the previous version.

Chris thought the Astro/Calc Positions tab was Observing List-ready. He lamented "Why screw up Bookmarks?"

I relayed my great distaste when programmers removed features. "Leave 'em, add new stuff, see if people shift over."

I had a close look at the software and the web site. 

The Stellarium v0.21.2 release notes stated, under the major changes, that the old "Bookmarks replaced by Observation Lists."

The date, time, location associations with bookmarks were removed, as Chris noted.

The export to JSON from the Astronomical Calculations was removed.

We had to tell people about this new problem!


25 Dec 2021, 1:00 PM. Chris V told me of Stellarium 0.21.3. Woo hoo. There is a Santa Claus. I wanted to open the neat Christmas present but I couldn't. Not right away. Mom's Mac was running OS 10.11 and Stellarium wanted OS 10.12. Gar! 

Chris said he was sticking with 0.21.1, for the bookmarks!

I posted on the Stellarium training forum a few days later that a new version of Stellarium was out but the bookmarks feature was still broken.


21 Jan 2022, 4:22 PM. Chris sent over three of the four JSON files for the Levy Deep Sky Gems. Four days later he sent the final file.

Maybe these are of limited use, but I'll stick with v0.21.1 and use them extensively for Beyond Messier and for pursuing the DSG certificate.

Busy at the time, I didn't get a chance to check his files.

On the evening of 26 Jan, I finally shook down his work. Sent my review.

A little challenging (again) in part due to the little issues in the Observer's Handbook... That's a story for another day.

On 27 Jan at 11:43, Chris thanked me for the deep dive and uploaded his files to the RASC TO site.


I had a look one day in GitHub to learn more about the bookmarks issue. It seemed like it was a contentious issue where one developer went off on his own and deployed new code without any consultation. That upset the other developers in addition to the users. 

I did not get a clear sense of how it would be resolved...

it is done

Alister messaged me. His 3D printed focuser tube arrived!

At last, the task is done.

Got it!  Looks great.  The thumbscrews go in nicely.  I've painted the interior flat black and will install it tomorrow!  You can be sure I will put this in an article for our newsletter.  Can I put in a "thanks" to you in SkyNews, or might that invite too many requests?

I told him that Steve deserved some credit too.

Thursday, February 17, 2022

assisted in level 2

Assisted Ian B tonight during his first teach of the Stellarium intermediate level 2 course.

It went well. First time jitters. To be expected.

I think we found a bug in Stellarium 0.21.3.

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

spoke at Edmonton meeting

Delivered my presentation on the RASC observing certificate programs to the Edmonton Centre, for their AstroCafé event.

Went well, I think.

It will be posted on YouTube soon...


Page on RASC Edmonton site with link to video and PDF copy of slide deck:

The direct link on the RASC Edmonton YouTube channel:

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

learned of sync upgrade

A bit of good news today...

An email plopped into Thunderbird as I was finishing off dinner. From the Skyhound Forums...

Oh. Oh. Oh! What could it be?

Subject: New Reply to observing status from sync?


theskyhound has just replied to a thread which you have subscribed to at Skyhound Forums.

Here is an excerpt of the message:
It'll be available in the next update, which should be very soon....

Thank you,
Skyhound Forums Staff

Oh my Universe. Very good news indeed from developer Greg. 

It seems like I'll be able to restore all my SkyTools data. Not just the observing lists, telescope configurations, observer details, location profiles, and log entries, but also the observing session status indications!

Those first ones are critically important. A log note is tied to a piece of equipment, location, and person. So all that data needs to be kept.

I discovered recently the "backup" process did not restore the observing session status indications.

Greg's take on this was that if transferring an observing list STX file from one computer to another, there was no need, it was perhaps inappropriate, to copy the observing status. Yes. I understood that.  STX files, fine.

But observing status indicators were not being transferred through the synchronisation process, a completely different process, a feature used by a single user trying to use data on more than one device. This same feature is the one currently recommended (required?) for the migration from old SkyTools 3 to the new SkyTools 4. 

And that meant the primary means of backing up my decade of data to transfer to the newest version of the software would not be complete. Data disappeared.

That was shocking and disappointing and disheartening.


Let's back up a bit, shall we?

I bought the SkyTools 3 Professional software after much research and consultation. 27 Aug 2010, I installed it, borrowing an external optical drive, on my awesome ASUS Eee PC 1000 netbook under Windows XP. Took me a while to get up to speed on The SkyTools Way but probably, it's fair to say, a year later I was drinking the Kool-Aid.

In the fall of 2011, I was invited to serve as a beta tester for the new SkyTools Starter Edition. December 2011, I gave my first demo of the software to RASC Toronto Centre members. Greg said of my recording video in 2018, it was the best he had ever seen. In January 2014, I released a comprehensive shortcuts guide for the software. By December 2017, I have over a dozen shared STX files that people could download. In the spring of 2018, I began beta-testing version 4, first the Imaging product, later the Visual. I also negotiated a group "club" discount for RASC members. Then in August 2021, we did focused testing on the Real Time Tool in Visual 4.

Over the years, I drove a lot of mounts with the Real Time mode. This included my super-charged Vixen Super Polaris with IDEA GoToStar, a NexStar 11 GPS, and a Software Bisque Paramount ME.

Over the years, I used SkyTools in many ways. Primarily for session planning, at the telescope for field identification, and morning-after logging. I used it for member and public sky tours. I used it to suggest targets in The Sky This Month presentations and long-range planning. Calculating ephemerides and plotting asteroid and comet paths. Occultation planning. Extensively for double star work. Astrophotography planning and execution. I.e. everything. Almost everything.

Can you tell I'm a fan-boy?

Anyway, I got dialled into the good options available in session planning and execution.

You build an observing list by some means (often with multiple inputs). If necessary, you apply priorities within the Observation Priority column. Objects can be rated (something I used when building lists for sharing). I didn't often use it before the observing session but certainly during I'd start interacting with the Observation Status column when the Sun went down.

The observing status indicators are used within a session to show progress or things to revisit.

observing list status indicators

There are four status settings:

  • Observed - closed white dome
  • Not yet observed - open observatory dome
  • Re-observe - open dome with redo arrow
  • No value - blank

Without getting into specifics, I used these a lot. There were very useful in an evening, across a weekend or observing week, worked well with filtering and prioritising, and I used in various cross-checks (e.g. observed targets should in general be logged).

And I just assumed they'd transfer as I migrated my data from the old software to the new.


As noted previously I started helping in the beta testing of SkyTools 4 in 2018. On 11 Feb 2020, Greg released the V4.0 Octans Update which signalled the last round of beta testing.

the beta team

At that stage, I actually wasn't sure what to do... 

I mean I generally feel this way about software, if I don't have to upgrade, I won't. I was comfortable with SkyTools 3, fast in it. Even though I had a lot of stick time with the new product, it was still different enough that I would get disoriented. And there were no significant bugs in 3 that were hindering me... So, slowly over time I did more things in 4.

Lowered myself very slowly into the cold, cold waters.

(I haven't used ST4 Imaging much... It truly is a leap, with significant improvements. But I just haven't explored it much. And I could do what I needed to do with ST3... satisfactorily.)

While there were many great new features in ST4, there were some gaps. For example, I regularly used the Current Events capability to look up appulses, conjunctions, transits, occultations, elongations, and moon events such as Jovian shadow transits. But the new product did not offer this. So it forced my hand. I needed to keep ST3 around.

And there were still some bugs.

Greg has never said but I think he did a wholesale complete bottom-up re-write. I really felt that during the beta testing. Long-established, core features of the software needed testing and showed buggy behaviour at the early stages. If my hunch is true, it was a mammoth undertaking. And it is to be expected that there'd be a lot of bugs introduced, as opposed to a simple revision.

Version 4 crashed on me. Often. The official release I had some trouble with. And some of these issues were very frustrating, happening at bad times, when I needed a result quickly, or I need a stable platform. So I'd throw my hands up, hurl expletives inspired by Captain Haddock at my monitor, and switch back to my trusty ole steed.

Now this could be because the software on the John Max computer was dirty. From all the iterative changes, installs, rollbacks, futzing. All atop a Win10 OS that itself was not pristine.

I guess for much of 2021, I was just staying the course. I used both. I'd use ST3P for some projects and checks. I'd use ST4VP or ST4IP for some new things. 

But another critical factor was my tiny computer.

I continued to use the very long-in-the-tooth, old, cranky netbook John Repeat Dance with SkyTools 3 Pro chugging along just fine. It was The Observing Computer. It was the Mount Control Computer. I continued to use this during my observing or imaging sessions. It remains a perfect (or near perfect) platform. Small and light-weight with good battery life. Another if-it-ain't-broke item.

Yes, it's running an extinct OS. Yes, the case is cracked. Yes, I can't run Evernote on it any more. Yes, it's doesn't connect with modern wifi points now.

But it works. And well.

My typical use-case over the last couple of years was to build observing lists on ST3P on my AMD desktop computer, comfortably in my office, with big monitor(s), full extended keyboard, real mouse, quickly and easily, applying "current" updates for comets, novae, etc. Then when a new observing list was done, ready to go, I'd export the STX file, get it over to the ASUS netbook, import, and I was OK to go. OK to go.

The list was now owned by the netbook. I'd update the observing status for objects through the session and log targets seen the morning after.

While the project is essentially done now, I heavily used SkyTools 3 on the desktop during the RASC Finest NGC image planning with the Burke-Gaffney Observatory. In fact, I did not move any data there to the netbook. All the planning was done on the desktop. Now, when a good image came in, I'd log that on the netbook SkyTools directly as done, logged, completed.

This was working well.

All's well.

I just thought... I'd keep using it until it died. This would work until the netbook died. And then I'd get a new ASUS, with the smallest screen possible, with an up-to-date OS, and then I wouldn't be locked into SkyTools 3. And, heh, the remaining kinks in ST4 would have been worked out.

That was the plan.


Something else happened.

Something else in early 2020 happened that really took the wind out of my sails.

And it was my fault.

To keep a long story short, I tried transferring an observing list, as an STX file of course, from SkyTools 4 to my netbook's SkyTools 3. And I broke SkyTools 3. 

Greg revealed that the STX file format from v4 was not compatible with v3. I had likely corrupted my data in the small computer!

The really bad news was that I had not taken a backup of the ST3P data on John Repeat Dance for some time. 

I was devastated.

It took days to recover and I was able to reconstruct much of the lost data. But it was really upsetting. 

I wish I had known beforehand about the file format and that one should not the transfer. 


That was the second time I had a big loss with SkyTools. The first was returning from the August 2013 StarFest when my netbook (the first one) fell out of the car and was driven over!


On 26 January 2022, I fired up SkyTools 3 Pro. I forget what I was working on at the time... maybe checking something about Sirius. Hello, what? An update notice! A bug with the StSci DSS download was fixed.

I applied the update and when ST3P relaunched, it showed as version 3.2L. But then another dialogue box appeared.

It was the End of Life notice! Support for version 3 was ending. The software would continue to work but no more software updates would be offered. Also the data updates for comets, minor planets, novae, and supernovae would end.

This was the end of the road.

My heart sank a little. 

I'd not be able to use SkyTools 3 anymore.

How would I observe now?

How would I plan?


Then I calmed down.

As long as the ASUS portable computer kept running, I could still use SkyTools 3 Pro. Of course. No need to panic. The immediate disconnect would be new comets. But even then, there were workarounds. But I could still do all my double stars work, deep sky object observing, with no direct impact. Calm down.

Still, I had a quick look at Canada Computers, Best Buy, ASUS Canada... lay of the land, pie in the sky, online window shopping, considering what would be the new small computer beside the telescope. Actually, that was a little bewildering due to the extraordinary array of choices these days. I realised it would take a serious sit-down so I put it on the back burner.

Again, no need to rush. It was not that I was dead in the water. If I want to observe tonight, with John Repeat Dance nearby, I can. If I need to figure out where Sirius B is beside the searing bright parent, I can. If I want to tackle some new targets from Levy's Deep Sky Gems, I can. I could log imaging NGC 3486 for Chris Vaughan.

But a door was closing. Sooner than I expected. And I needed a new plan. 


Sipping my coffee on Saturday morning, 12 Feb, I thought, well, let's do it. Let's try migrating. Let's move my official, prime SkyTools 3 data over to SkyTools 4!

I decided to do so in a prospective way using the loaner laptop, the lenovo Thinkpad. It would allow me to do a very clean install in that I could re-image the C drive and then do a fresh install of ST4 and finally load in my backed up data. If it glitched, no great loss. If it worked initially, I could shake it down for a bit, run it in parallel.

Immediately, I did a SkyTools backup on John Repeat Dance.

Jumped into forums to find instructions but after a while gave up.

Launched SkyTools 4 on John Max and looked in the help documentation. Ah ha. Found it.

I read the recommended method was to perform a Sync process. Briefly, this creates a special database that, under normal circumstances, can be used for replication, to allow a user with two end clients, possibly with unique datasets, to merge everything together. I re-read the dozen steps and cautions and warnings again. 

Performed the preliminary steps on the old machine and created the Sync database.

Meanwhile on the slim Thinkpad I wiped the C disc, installed SkyTools 4, and applied updates. 4.0J R10.

Zipped up the Sync folders and dumped it on the NAS. Pulled the compressed file into the Thinkpad and let 'er rip.

All went well. There was a battery of changes I applied per the instructions to avoid problems. I was pretty happy at the end. All my telescopes and custom eyepieces were there. All my observing locations were there (plus locations I had used for others in their trip planning). Yes!

And then I readied for the hard work...

As much as I had tried avoiding it, I had a reconcilation problem ahead of me.

  • John Max - SkyTools 3
  • John Max - SkyTools 4
  • John Repeat Dance - SkyTools 3
  • and now lenovo - SkyTools 4

And each one of those datasets was unique!

Yep. All different.

I had dabbled with ST3 on Max in various things. I didn't think there was anything major on this computer that I needed over in the target dataset. But I had to check. Similarly, I didn't think there was a lot I had done in ST4 on Max but again I had to have a look-see.

So, I started into the comparison. And immediately found disparity. A couple of examples:

  • RASC Insider's 200505 (for a RASC presentation)
  • zodiacal (double stars that could be occulted by the Moon)
  • TSMT 2004 (for a RASC presentation)

About a dozen in, I started to wonder if maybe I shouldn't do another sync?! Would that be the fastest way? I wasn't sure. Some of what I was finding was experimental and me just goofin' around. So I wouldn't want it all to come across necessarily. So I kept plodding along... despite a nagging feeling.

And then I noticed it.

Something was missing. 

Some of my data was missing.

I checked a list on the old computer and on the new. Yep. All the observation status data was lost. 

It hit me hard, stopped me dead in my tracks.

The log notes, after some checks in the new install, were intact. This was very important. But arguably the observing status is important too. To me, it meant I was losing some history. I would not be able to look back to an old observing session on a particular evening to see what happened. Yes, I generally log things that I consider "seen well" but I relied on the Re-Observe and Not Yet Observed to bring things forward into a new observing session. As noted, the Observed was a good cross-check to ensure something was logged. All that was gone. Gone!

To verify they didn't transfer directly, I tried to transfer over an STX from ST3 on Max to the new computer but ran into a different problem... Oh boy.

I felt dazed.

I tried to find posts in the forums. I thought I read a note that addressed the issue, where Greg acknowledged it, and he said he would address it. But clearly it was not happening in this newest version of SkyTools 4. Finally, I started a new thread, perhaps pleading, looking for a solution.

The developer acknowledged my message. Explained the indicators weren't transferred in STX files. But seemed to soften at the idea that they could transfer in a Sync command.

I argued that these indicators were very important to me.

And made a sacrifice to the computer gods.


Greg's message today suggests I will be able to enjoy a complete data transfer in the future.

I'm feeling relieved.

In the meantime, I'm work the reconciliation issue...

Monday, February 14, 2022

busy Stellarium day

What a day. What a day for Stellarium training!

We were expecting some... additional interest. When the RASC Weekly e-newsletter rolls out on Monday morning with a reference to a Stellarium software training course, there is usually a gaggle of members who sign up.

And those training course references happen as the RASC calendar is scrapped for content... So if I remember to populate the calendar, we get an automatic slot in the e-news.

Today's RASC Weekly noted not one but two Stellarium courses! And the floodgates opened.

Some 15 people reached out. (Day's not done yet, either!)

So this meant for a lot of wrangling of humans from across the country, updating the master registration database, loading waiting lists, pulling a few from the waiting list into the Tue 15 Feb level 1 and Thu 17 Feb level 2 courses, clarifying backgrounds and experience, and some long distance phone tag. 

And then I discovered the first dozen applications I processed, I did wrong! Duh. I wondered why I wasn't getting replies to somewhat urgent queries. When I replied to the application form, I did not notice it used the incoming address! Crikey. So I had to redo a bunch of sends. Stupid Gmail doesn't support a normal POP/IMAP re-send so it was a LOT of copyin' and pastin'. Gah.

(That may be correctable... I will check the form properties.)

Lesson learned. [ed: Fixed form settings!]

On top of all this, today was the one-week-out magic date for the next Stellarium course, the Mon 21 Feb level 3 session, which I'm teaching for the first time. So another batch of messages went out the outbox.

Oh. Before doing that, I had to update the lesson files, having recently decided to switch to a winter landscape from spring-time. They were on the loaner Lenovo. And built the very first level 3 advance event (and template) in our Zoom Meetings account.

Created a new boilerplate for future notifications. 

(Yesterday I drafted the new level 3 evaluation and updated the slide deck.)

All the while I was noticing a pattern in the level 2 requests. People weren't answering a specific question. Light bulb! It must be a missing field! PEBKAC. [ed. Added!]

Tidied the inbox (particular of circular duplicate messages to myself!).

Reviewed Ian B's new level 2 slide with the data flow infographic. Gave some suggestions.

Opened the matter with the team, picking more training dates, for March and April now...

I think I got everything sorted out.


considered tiny cold mirrors

How did the Sun greet you today?

While hand grinding the coffee beans, I took in the snow crystals outside reflecting sunlight. Like tiny prisms bending light, they flickered white, yellow, red, and blue.

It was another cold day in south-western Ontario with an air temperature of -15° Celsius. 

Let's switch to Kelvin, yeah. Feels so much warmer! It's a balmy 258°K.

(And for those still trapped in the 1980s, that's 5° Fahrenheit. Gettin' down to where C and F align...)

Dark roast beans coarsely ground, I fired up the machine. Mmm. Coffee!


Back on 16 January, I enjoyed a similar morning. The Sun's light slipped through the bows of eastern evergreens and reflected off the snow making bright points of light. The snowflakes, like pieces of glass tossed, diverted beams of light into my eyes. They were little mirrors those tiny hexagons.

I thought of the eighteen hexagons heading from Earth to the Lagrange point number 2 (L2). I thought of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) and its beryllium gold-coated mirror segments drifting through cold dark space.

The new telescope by NASA in the US with contributions from the European and Canadian space agencies launched on Christmas morning, a gift to scientists and researchers around the world.

I watched the launch on 25 Dec 2021 at 6:30 AM. While there wasn't much to see, it was thrilling. And it went without a hitch. Rocket launches ain't easy and there's always a degree of risk but the Ariane 5 launcher has a great track record and it performed flawlessly. 

I think everyone started to breathe again when it reached orbit and deployed it's solar array.

Still. Lots to remain anxious about. These were the first 49 milestones of the 344 single-point failures. Ugh.

Nevertheless, I was happy and relieved. All the extraordinary work and effort and planning. All the great care that went into building this new deep space telescope. They had to take the time. They had to be perfect. And it was all starting to pay off.

Exciting! Exciting stuff. For space nerds. 

I had to be quiet, in the early morning, as Mom slept. Alone, I made a silent Woo Hoo!


Some time later I noted Dr Becky's YouTube video, ugly Christmas sweater and all.

She was so funny.

Kid in a candy shop.

Science nerds getting excited!


I started monitoring the JWST page at NASA. It has lots of great content. I was particularly interested in the interactive tracker (Metric version linked) and I tuned in daily, some times a few times each day.

snapshot from the JWST tracker

The snapshot above shows the progress on 8 Jan. I would flip between the distance and time scales. I watched the temperatures drop on the "cold side" of the telescope.

Another big moment was the unfurling of the multi-layer shield. A lot could have gone wrong here but the aluminium-coated Kapton diamonds deployed perfectly. The five sheets, each less than 0.1mm thick, would deflect the Sun's energy. Whew! 

Full deployment was another celebratory moment. And then I monitored the unlocking of the mirror segments starting on 12 Jan. The individual hexagonal parts, each 1.3 metres across, edge to edge, elevated correctly over the coming week. Her wings stretched.


I totally forgot to look at the DSN page after the launch. That would have been fun. But I jumped in later and saw the new data feed.

snapshot from the Deep Space Network page

The snap is from the Deep Space Network web site on 22 Jan.

Hailing frequencies open.


I started reading the blog every other day or so. It's good for keeping up to date.


The pop-ups in my Android's Chrome were wonky and annoying. Lots of sources, who don't know what they are talking about, touted the telescope beginning to image stars. No. Not really. It's calibrating. It's in the commissioning phase. Hold your horses.

Tuned in to Dr Becky again on 11 Feb.

She talked about the first image, showing the fragmented blobs, a star broken and scattered, as the mirror segments were being calibrated and aligned. This will be a long and careful process which will result in a single focused star, with a resolution down to 0.1 seconds-of-arc.

This is the "naff" image Dr Smethurst's on about:

uncalibrated star image from JWST

NASA continues to change the angles of the hexagons, collecting and directing photons from light-years away. Like when amateurs collimate their mirrors and correctors.

Today I popped back into the JWST web site. Hadn't looked for a while. Oooh. Look at that!

Those temperatures look good. 

Some of the instruments need to operate at 50°K. So we're getting there. Almost as cold as Ontario!

Such an amazing accomplishment. Everything is working very well. 

I'll have to segue to this in future project management training courses I deliver. The JWST team had to be perfect. Absolutely perfect.


I visited Sandra J's blog. About a year ago she talked about the science of snow sparkles and shared some lovely photographs. 

Tiny frozen hexagons bouncing colourful beams of photons into her camera.

snowflakes reflecting sunlight by Sandra J

Ain't science beautiful?

Sunday, February 13, 2022

found the back issues

The SkyNews magazine web site is a little confusing (to me) on back issues. Ironically, a Google search led me back into the site to the appropriate page. I should evergreen this somewhere... And I'll have to chat with the editor.

launched new forms

We rolled out the new course evaluation forms (sitting on the RASC national Google platform) for Stellarium level 1 and 2 courses.

Saturday, February 12, 2022

updated registration

Did some participant processing for the Stellarium Training Series.

tried FL4

Used for the first time FITS Liberator version 4.

It is available from NOIRLab (part of the National Science Foundation). First learned of the newest version of 9 Feb, a couple of days ago. It was released in early 2021.

On examining the screen snapshot on their web site, I was thrilled to see a dark mode button. Thank the Universe! Falling inline with all the other image editors.

FITS Liberator in dark mode, full screen

I reviewed the feature list. Ah, 64-bit support. Makes sense. Whoa, hold the horses. I noted the minimum requirement is 64 bitness. Dang. My main computer is stuck in 32-bit so I won't be able to take advantage directly.

Ooh. Full screen. That's some important. The previous version 3 ran in a small window and the image space was a fraction of that! So you were really hemmed in.

When I ran the app, I discovered the "toggle full page" button which ditches the chrome in the app. Sweet. Now you can do a full proper preview of an image. Combined with dark mode, you have a much better sense of brightness, gradients, and overall image quality.

Overall, the interface is the same but things have been gently reworked. For example, FL3 had a combo-box drop-down menu for the stretch method. Now we have three tabs. The Power tab however supports a factor so you can achieve any direct or fractional power required. This makes for a cleaner interface. And when you run maximised, everything is less crowded.

One thing I discovered that I could not do is zoom into the histogram. I used to do that to drop the black point with some precision. I sent an email to the general mailbox...

Another fun discovery was learning that you can drag-and-drop a file into the editor space. That's so useful. That's a huge productivity boost. It was a pain having to close down and restart the app each time before.

There are two videos available by Robert Hurt, one of the project originators, to help one get up to speed. I jumped into the second and learned a lot. Quite good.

I downloaded the quick start guide but found it pretty light-weight. I had a quick look "A short introduction to astronomical image processing" PDF as well. It's fair.

So? I like it. A lot.

processed NGC 2903 in colour

Processed Leo galaxy NGC 2903 in full colour, a Finest NGC target. Captured this data back om 29 Jan '17. And 2 days after that I tried to put it together. I guess I wasn't happy with the results then.

Tonight, I'm happy with the result...

Finest NGC 2903 in colour

FITS Liberator 4, Photoshop CS2. Luminance 60x10, RGB 60x5.


Did you catch that?

FITS Liberator version 4.

Somehow I missed the announcement or notification of the upgrade but in the summer of 2021 the image processor and converter was upgraded from version 3 to 4.

I wanted to give it a try. I put the previously downloaded EXE onto a loaner i5 laptop with Win 10 64-bit and installed it without difficult. After some acclimation (I'll discuss this in a separate post), I had my TIFF images ready to go. Via the NAS, I transferred the files back to John Max and fired up Photoshop.

First cut showed two bad and opposing gradients. Is that what put me off the first time?

Created a synthetic gradient for red and removed it. Same for blue. Then did all the normal stuff, registration, cropping, etc. Nice, flat this time.

Boosted the colours and used a layer mask (first time?) to pump up the region around the galaxy. Those two huge extended spiral arms are quite something.

Still needs a bit of work, a better crop, and there's a bit of a red cast.

fielded a romp of questions

Yesterday, a friend asked me about black holes. A lot of questions about black holes. A pandemonium of questions about black holes! I had to noodle on them for a while...

These were triggered as they watched a talk offered from the David Dunlop Observatory, presented by Dr Saeed Rastgoo.

How is it that a black hole could potentially be older than the universe?

Why are black hole accretion disks flat and not spherical?

How does a black hole seem to have endless depth, but also seem to not take up an endless trail of space behind them? 

How does it hold everything it sucks into itself?

Do we have any white holes in our universe?  Or in our galaxy?

If not, does this point towards the existence of the multiverse?  Is the concept of a multiverse proven thus far in any way?

We have black holes in our galaxy, correct?

He talked about black holes being opposite white holes, with wormholes in between.  Um, what?

So, is this really a means of space travel, such as in Interstellar?

Aside from the fact that we could not transmit from within a black hole, or guarantee our survival inside of one.

I replied.

I can't answer all these questions.  And, arguably, it is difficult or impossible to answer all as it goes simply beyond what we really know.  And also it gets into the quantum domain, where normal physics does not apply.  And that hurts my brain.

I have not heard that black holes are older than the Universe.  That's a new one to me.  But they do appear to be old objects, as opposed to new recent phenomena.

Accretion discs are flat for the same reason solar systems and spiral galaxies are shaped the way they are.  They are spinning so there's angular motion and you get conservation of motion and conservation of energy.  At the early stages in the formation of an object, everything is going every which way.  But as it spins, a disc forms.  The rogue objects get kicked out or pulled into the disc.

A black hole does not "hold" content, it does not hold material.  As material "falls" in it converts to energy, usually extraordinary amounts of E.  E=mc^2.

I don't know about white holes.  Years ago I thought quasars were white holes but they are not.

There are lots of ideas about the multiverse and how to detect it.  I don't know a lot about it.  Ask Charles!

Science fiction has played around a lot with black holes and white holes and tunnels through space-time but I don't know much about current active theories.  The discussion in Interstellar shows a classic presentation of a 2-D surface folded or bent so they touch;  they are not far apart now.

Yes, we have black holes all around us.  There are small ones and they are probably everywhere in a galaxy.  E.g. Cygnus X-1, about 6100 light-years from us.  Look up the fun history of that one if you're not familiar...

But most (maybe all?) galaxies appear to have black holes in their centre, in the galactic core.  I now kind of think of galactic centre black holes as galaxy engines.

We can't directly see them but observations of the centre of our galaxy in other spectra reveal their presence.  There seem to be more than one, looping and orbiting around each other.  Or it's a single black hole in the Milky Way whipping and tossing nearby stars around.

Some galaxies have huge (er, that suggests size, but I mean mass) black holes that output a tremendous amount of energy.  Supermassive black holes or SMBH.  These power active galactic nuclei (AGN) and quasars.

Messier 87 has a SMBH.  It produces a jet of material (moving at the speed of light) that can be seen in basic astro-images.  It's the one we recently directly imaged a couple of years in radio and you can see the accretion disc which is so FREAKIN' cool.  I LOVE that we can see *behind* the black hole.

I also love the recent development of gravity wave detectors which pick up black hole mergers.  Gravity detectors are a new "sensor" or sense organ we have made.  We can now know of things happening that we didn't know about before.  It's like we were blind and now we can see.

I like the movie Interstellar because a lot of the science is really good.  But as soon as we went inside the black hole, at the end, all bets are off.  I like the tesseract representation and I like how he's strumming strings or lines in the tesseract that make gravity waves back on Earth in a different place and a different time.  This is all pure sci-fi.  Now it's supported by the best science we know but it's just some imaginative story-telling.

And I concluded with a warning: 

Whatever you do, don't fall into a Blake Hole.

Friday, February 11, 2022

the first SkyNews of 2022

Missed something... I did not note the January-February issue of SkyNews. Bought a copy back on 14 December 2021.
cover of the Jan-Feb SkyNews

The main cover story: 10 Top Sky Events of 2022. Yes, indeed, time to start planning (optimistically) for the new year.

I enjoyed the article on STEVE, the peculiar new auroral event.

I love the cover photograph.

I was published in this issue. In fact, I too made the front cover. My piece is entitled "World in 3D" where I introduce people to the steps in 3D printing with a focus on astronomy-related objects.

As I re-read the article, I laughed out loud! I had forgotten how I ended the flowchart. :-D

On behalf of the national Observing Committee, I also contributed a piece on RASC observing certificate programs.


I submitted the first draft of my additive printing article on 16 Aug and my editor acknowledged it a couple days later. On 24 Aug '21, we talked about photos. She suggested a flowchart. Right! Great idea. I made one in Visio (that was a bit meta) which she really liked.

On 14 Sep I heard a bit of bad news. The printer's paper prices went up so the editor had to do some trimming of the Nov/Dec issue. She apologised but that meant holding my article to the next. No big whoop.


If I remember correctly, I purchased the issue at my local drug store on the 14th of December. I pinged the editor about the shipping of subscriber issues on the 15th. But then a week later it showed up, the one included in the RASC membership. One of them I earmarked for proud Mom.


Allendria shared a little story on 15 Dec.

I can't tell you how much I've talked up your 3D printing story.  I even helped someone else with their 3D printing last week, noting some details from your story (and showing them a copy before they went to the local library to print their object).

Then added later:

When the person I was helping said he wasn't sure whether the size of his object was correct, I actually pulled out that flowchart and said, "You could make a paper or a cardboard prototype, you know."  He didn't, but I did my part in spreading the knowledge.

That made me happy.

I think sis bought at copy or two in St T. Between us, we made sure Mom had a copy. 

[ed. Confirmed. Sis texted me on 22 Dec at 6:05 PM. And included a photo. "I found this a Smithbooks and thought I’d thumb through it to see if you had anything in the issue… You did! I bought 2 copies and gave one to Mom."] 

pix of mag from my sis

There is a Santa Claus, after all. And I gave one to Rhonda.


Spotted the updates on the web site. Hee hee, my 3D model of the 74-inch telescope at the David Dunlap Observatory!

snapshot from SkyNews web site

That telescope model was made possible by the efforts of Ward LeGrow and Steve McKinney. 


Thursday, February 10, 2022

Beyond Messier backstory (Halifax)

There's an interesting (I think) backstory to the images Chris used in his Beyond Messier column in the March-April SkyNews.

It all started on 23 Dec '21 when Chris texted me.

I've got an idea to image a galaxy with Burke-Gaffney for my Mar-Apr Beyond Messier column.  It would be similar to your Finest NGC images, but this one's not in that list.  It culminates around 5 am right now.  Is B-G operational?

I told him the BGO was up and running (with the new mount). Happy to help. I knew the robot. More importantly, I knew the human...

Chris then messaged our editor.

Said he wanted to showcase four terrific non-Messier galaxies, three of which were RASC Finest NGC objects. He shared that I had already imaged the FNGC targets with the Burke-Gaffney Observatory and he proposed we use my data. We just needed to capture his fourth objective, NGC 3486, in a similar way to produce a collage of all four. 

This would also allow a mention of the awesome BGO service.

Chris liked my luminance frames for a couple of reasons. He thought the views were visually similar to those in the eyepiece of a regular amateur telescope (colourless galaxies). Also the field of view was like a common 8-inch Dobsonian with a 6mm Plössl.

We discussed bagging the new galaxy. The Moon (grrr) and weather (ugh) were factors. He asked Allendria how late he could submit the last captured image.

We might need a Christmas Miracle?

elevated status in request queue

In the meantime, I submitted a job (from John Max with the Windows app). Then I pinged Dave Lane. He replied quickly and bumped up the priority for us! He said, "It may run tonight if the weather holds and the new mount handles the cold :-)." I updated the group and asked about the preferred format.

Then I started reworking the NGC 3521 data to remove the gradient. Ah. One of my first images with the robotic 'scope at SMU.

That evening, we watched the tweetie. I excitedly told Chris the 'scope was running. The target would rise at 11:00 PM and reach 45 degrees elevation around 1:30 AM EST (Chris forgot at first about the time zone). I noted the transparency was above average.

I asked Chris if he had examined the shared Google Drive folder. He had and he liked my revised 3521.

Christmas Eve, I relayed the bad news from Mr Lane. The job was not queued due to a software constraint: "the Moon is too close." (But I did collect more Rosette data. That's another story...)

I checked the numbers. "The Moon was 16° [away] last night; would be 18 tonight." Dave said the software restricted the target to 25 degrees. He temporarily changed the global setting to 15° and warned of a big gradient.

And then the human cautioned of the wind. Dave shared:

Last night it was 50... gusting to 80km/h!  Don't know [about oscillation] with the new mount.  Images last night that faced the wind direction were blurred.

And we waited...

Sadly, I heard from Dave at 6:18 PM AST. 

I had to shut it down - too dangerous.  The wind was gusting over 90km at times!

Dang. I conveyed the unhappy news to Chris. He was bummed and started considering his Plan B.

On the evening of 25 Dec, I texted Chris: "Tonight doesn't look great but tomorrow the 26th might be good for BGO." And it came to pass!

On 26 Dec, Chris texted me: "BGO has started imaging your first target! 😁" Indeed. I grabbed the text from Twitter. "At 01:21:08 (AST) #bgosays A special observation of NGC3486 (ID 16996) for Blake Nancarrow is starting..." Grabbed the Clear Sky Chart: cloud cover: clear; trans: below average; seeing: poor 2/5; Moon alt. 11. Later I received an automated email from the 'bot, at 1:49:57 AST 27 Dec. "#bgosays I have taken your special observation of NGC3486 (ID 16996)." Yes!

The next morning, I messaged, "dude, we've got some data!"

Given the limited software at my Mom's, I'm remoted into my desktop and did the processing there. Uploaded a PNG to the shared folder.

galaxy NGC 3486 in luminance

Luminance only, 60 second subexposures, 10 stacked shots. FITS Liberator 3, Photoshop. North is up; east is left.

At 11:40 AM EST, Chris said, "Amazing! **"

28 Dec, I submitted another job for NGC 3486, just in case.

29 Dec, Allendria chimed in: "Thanks, you two!!"

30 Dec, Dave followed up and I thanked him for his support.

On 3 Jan '22, Chris and I worked the caption for the images.

The second (backup) image was captured on 5 Jan at 1:49:08 AM AST. Not as good. Below average transparency again. Bad seeing (1/5). And the ECMWF predicted 37% cloud then.

So, an interesting journey. And a team effort.


Both Chris and I feel the printed images are too dark, unfortunately. Emissive vs. reflective media. Damn.


Pinged Mr Lane on 13 Feb. Reminded him to check his SkyNews magazine.


The Finest NGC images were:

Thanks for lookin'.

received Mar/Apr '22 SN

Received my official copy of SkyNews magazine as per my subscription and RASC membership. The March/April 2022 issue.
SkyNews cover for Mar/Apr '22

Cool aurora photos and article. Advice for the travelling astrophotography by Trevor Jones. 

There's an article on Canada's dark sky parks... Hmmm.

Page 32 features four of my photos. Chris Vaughan continues his Beyond Messier series and he wanted to show views similar to eyepiece views of some of the Finest NGCs. I provided my SMU BGO luminance frames for NGC 2903, 3521, and 3344. I also captured and processed NGC 3486 for him (with Dave Lane's assistance).

(Read the backstory if you're interested.)

Is this issue thicker?

caught up with Ian

Finished up a Zoom meeting with Ian B. We caught up on various matters. And then, to the matter at hand, discussed driving a mount with Stellarium. Ian is teaching the level 2 intermediate Stellarium course next week and we talked about some of the challenges with this topic. He's going to use his EQ-3 with his Mac. Running Stellarium in Parallels is not really an option. But I don't think it is an issue. I shared my process diagram used in my mount videos.

received flat tops

Nerd alert.

Received my package of electronics gear from Australia. Yes! 18 days early! Very exciting.

In the surprisingly light box there were 3mm wide-dispersion LEDs with flat tops. Almost 180 degrees. Fun colours. For a little astro-project I'm working on...

I'm very pleased with LEDsales.

Tuesday, February 08, 2022

sent the tube

Repacked the new 3D printed focuser tube for Alister.

Sent Canada Post with tracking. 

Let him know it was on the way.

Sunday, February 06, 2022

processed 1788 in colour

Processed NGC 1788 in colour. An interesting reflection nebula in the Finest NGC list.

Originally captured the data on 8 Oct 2016.

reflection nebula NGC 1788 in colour

LRGB: 60x10 and 60x5 for the colours. Photoshop.

Nothing showed on the H-alpha frame so it was not included.


Really worked hard at the gradient but there are still issues...

Saturday, February 05, 2022

star finder

Grace reached out for answers to some space questions. We caught up over the phone.

When Mom #2 asked about finding Capella, I quick described it. But then I thought a visual would be a lot better...

Capella in the night sky

A snap from Stellarium.

framed sheets

Framed some sheets, awards and certificates, with cheapo frames from the new nearby dollar-store-that's-not-really-a-dollar. Wow. Forgot I had so many awards from RASC Toronto Centre... Also did the treatment on my Messier observing certificate and Ontario Volunteer Service Award.

Thursday, February 03, 2022

received tube

Received the 3D print job from Steve.

Alister's replacement focuser tube. 

The monolithic design Steve and I settled on after having trouble with the threading on the insid3e of the tube itself.

I noted the tiny holes for the two thumbscrews, made by Steve.


I had reached out to Steve in late October to ask if he was interested in printing the replacement part for me (us, Alister). He told me to send it over.

Serendipitously, Steve has the same little Celestron 'scope. That proved handy for testing.

By early December, we had the first generation printed, and it worked well. No slop in the outer tube diameter. But it needed the collar. We discussed the steps required to get the thumbscrews installed and then decided to back track. I sent over a version with the collar integrated.

Steve used OnShape and got it working. He tapped holes for the screws. All done on 14 December.

Wednesday, February 02, 2022

submitted for column

Uploaded my article and images for the Journal column today.

Cleared out the old items, from the Star-Hop Maker piece.


Back on 2 January, I had proof-read the Star-Hop Maker review, which Nicole had sent out a few days before. I had submitted that first draft back in early December.

strange day today...

A mix of emotions today. Sad, irked, troubled, frustrated, surprised, happy. And a symbolic moment. I am now an RASC "national" member. I am without a centre affiliation. Am I rōnin?

found old notes

As I declutter, looking to divest myself of old collections, beginning The Big Purge, getting rid of my old science-fiction stuff, I have been opening boxes not opened for a long time. 

Yesterday I found some old science and astronomy materials, with a couple of interesting discoveries: old issues of Sky & Telescope magazine from the 80s.

The March 1982 Sky & Telescope had some curious stuff within. I found a S&T monthly star chart from 1979. 

But then some hand-written notes, circa the late 70s. And some photocopies (perhaps of Ferris's Galaxies book). And tables, photocopies of tables of nebulae and double stars. Where was this from? And when?!

Trip down memory lane...

the marmots have spoken

The 2022 prognostications are in!

Nova Scotia’s celebrity groundhog, Shubenacadie Sam (she/her/it) says a long, cold winter lies ahead.

Québec’s Fred la Marmotte predicted the same.

Ontario’s new brown Wiarton Willie claimed an early spring is on the way.

Punxsutawney Phil agrees with Samantha.

There you have it.