DSI - Get ‘em while they’re hot

August 17th, 2007 by webmaster

The Meade DSI was introduced a few years back, and brought affordable, long exposure prime focus CCD imaging to the masses. Available in colour or monochrome, they had an immediate impact on the amateur astrophotography community.

Well, the DSI is being replaced with the DSI-II, and the old stock is being dumped at prices well below cost. In fact, the Monochrome with filters model, formerly about $600, is going for less than I happily paid for a used one, without filters, just a year ago.

So they are not the latest and greatest, if you want to get into CCD imaging on the cheap, or if you need a guide camera, don’t miss this opportunity to pick one up. Many major astro-retailers in Canada and the US are carrying them at this price, so you should be able to find one near you, or order one online.

And yes, I couldn’t resist, I bought another one. 

Happy imaging!


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Windows Vista - not ready for prime time!

August 14th, 2007 by webmaster

I will be the first to admint that Vista is pretty. But beyond that, I have nothing nice to say. I didn’t want to get Vista, but I had no choice. you see, my previous machine died, and still being under warrantee, it was replaced. With a new one. With Vista.

Now, the specs on the new machine put my old one to shame, and yet Vista was like molasses - slow to load, slow to switch users - and despite 1 gig of RAM (which on an XP box would be great), it seemed like most of the memory was used up just running the OS. Despite the MS hype that Vista is the most robust and stable Windows version yet, my machine would freeze fairly frequently, and I would get bluescreened at least twice a week. Then one day, while my eight year old daughter was playing one of her games, the machine froze, and would not respond to anything. No big deal, thought I, I will just reboot.


On startup it went to the Startup Repair utility, which then tells me it can’t repair the problem. So a machine that is 2 months old is killed by a kid’s game. Now, with XP, I would use the Recovery Console to see if I could fix it - but guess what? No recovery console! According to the Acer tech support, my only recourse was a recover re-install. Wipe the drive clean along with two month’s work. I don’t think so.

Fortunately, I was able to download a Knoppix CD image on another machine and burn a Knoppix boot disk (if you don’t know about Knoppix, check it out at www.knopix.org) which could read my NTFS drives and rescue my important files. With that done I was free to reinstall the OS - but frankly I don’t want to go through this again. So I am installing XP instead.

Maybe I will try Vista again some day - but I will wait for SP2, when hopefully it will be ready for prime time. But for now, let’s just say “friends don’t let friends use Vista”.

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July 11th, 2007 by webmaster

Yesterday the weather was sketchy, but I dragged my wooden tripod (the “tristipes”) into the POD, levelled it, and mounted the 10″ Ray Thompson Telescope. It was nice to know that I could just leave it there, set up, protected by my POD.
Tonight was the first clear night in the POD. As soon as it was dark enough (the scope was already set up yesterday!), I collimated it and polar aligned it using the Telrad. A quick star test indicated the optics on “Ray” are not as bad as I had feared. The f/6.3 LX3 has a reputation of fuzzy images, in part due to a large central obstruction (40%), but also the fast primary and seriously convex secondary. (these scopes also have a reputation for losing the reflective coating from the secondary, but this one is fine so far). But once collimated, it was not at all bad - and as a wide field 10″ DSO scope, not bad at all.
My kids and my niece came down and were excited to see a variety of targets, including Jupiter, M22, Albireo, and M57. After the kids left my mother in law (”Nana”) came down for a look at the same targets, plus M31 and Gamma Delphinus. After everyone left I spent some time hunting down the Saturn Nebula in Aquarius to add to my Finest NGC list.
When I was done, all I had to do was drape a tarp over the scope, collect my EP’s, and close up. How cool is that!
The other thing I came away with from the evening’s observing is that the height of the scope could be dropped by 10″ or so, to make it more comfortable to observe sitting down.   

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POD Day!

July 9th, 2007 by webmaster

At last, after over a year since first hearing about it, I took possession of my own Skyshed POD. My friend Pete was here with his pickup, so we drove 35 minutes to Shallow Lake to pick up the grey and white XL3 from SPI. We made a second trip to pick up a second POD, this one to be delivered to my friend Geoff Gaherty.
With Pete’s help we got the walls and dome halves assembled, and then the weather stripping and plates were attached. The dome halves were mounted with the help of my father (aka “Bambo”), and the POD was ready for business by the time the inevitable storm rolled in.

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Observing Log - Jupiter quick entry

July 6th, 2007 by webmaster

July 6
Humid, patchy clouds.
Looking at jupiter, the GRS was visible using my 15mm WA, barlowed, in my 8″ Dob. The spot was transiting around 11:00, minutes before Europa entered transit across the face.
Then the clouds moved in…

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Observing Log - quick entry

July 1st, 2007 by webmaster

Yesterday’s Saturn-Venus conjunction was clouded out. Today it is clearer -  enough to see that Saturn is at ~1:30 wrt Venus. It always amazes me when the motion of objects in the sky is that discernable over a short period of time.

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Observing Log - Planetary odds and ends

June 29th, 2007 by webmaster

Observing from Meaford
Temperature ~ 13C
With the moon almost full and mediocre seeing DSO watching is a washout. However, binocular and naked eye observing were fine. Three naked-eye planets in twilight - Saturn and Venus tight together in the west and Jupiter in the south - were very cool. Saturn and Venus were a day away from conjunction, with Saturn at 11:00 with respect to Venus.
Jupiter through 10×50 binocs recealed only two moons. I checked tha handbook, and sure enough Europa was in transit, so I brought out the Dob for a look.
Ganymede and Io were clearly visible west of Jupiter, and Calisto was just North - its orbital plane tilted just enough to miss the disk of the planet. Seeing was sketchy, so it took a while to spot the tiny black dot of Europa’s shadow. The shadow came and went as the seeing varied, but the moon itself remained invisible until a minute or two befor egress, when it stood out against the darkened limb. Very cool.

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Observing Log Entry - Binoviewing the moon

May 23rd, 2007 by webmaster

Observing from my backyard in Pickering.
I decided to have a relaxing session this evening, so for the first time in a long while I took out the binoviewers and superwide 20mm EP’s, and had a good go at the 1st quarter moon in Davros, my C8. The seeing was not great, so using a Barlow (~f/23) just made it fuzzy.
I began by just cruising around the Valis Alpes region, which is one of my favourite regions. I then moved on to the crater Aristoteles, and spent some time examining the teraced walls, sigmoid central rise, and the scree surrounding the crater.
Passing over the filled crater Egende, I noticed a mountain range in between Egende, Aristoteles and Eodoxus that makes about 2/3 of a circle. I presume this is another ancient, filled crater about the size of Aristoteles, but is not named in my atlas. I would guess it had very high walls once.
Crater cassini was nice and complex, with craters in craters, and worth spending some time observing.
At about 10:19 EDT I watched the occultation of 45 leonis, but shortly after this the seeing became so poor that I decided to pack it in for the night.

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Rainy nights are for image processing

May 21st, 2007 by webmaster

May 20
Rainy. Sucks for observing, but then I realized I left my USB 2.0 adapter in the city, so just as well really. Also, bonus in the sleep department.

Finally, with this crappy weather, I had a chance to process the images from May 7.

Although most of the following will be gobbledy-gook to most readers, it is in fact a record of the processing I played with:
M3 - stack of 30 subs of 8s, saved as FITS stacked in Registax with histo stretch, no wavelets. Levels in Photoshop - no curves, then used unsharp mask - 80%, radius 1.5, thresghold 1 level.
Repeated the same procedure for M53.

m3-edit3 - stacked in Envisage, saved as FITS, levels in photoshop
m53-edit4 - same
m3edit4 - same as edit 3, but enlarged image, then reshrunk it after unsharp. Better background level in curves.
combined is single frame merged with edit 4:


M53 - edit 4

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The Parable of Rose and Daisy

May 14th, 2007 by webmaster

A cautionary tale…

Once upon a time there were two neighbours, named Rose and Daisy. Both neighbours had beautiful gardens, that they tended regularly. On any clear day in the warmer months they could be seen doting around their gardens with a watering can, checking that the plants were not wilting, and the soil was good, the weeds were not encroaching, and the lawn edges remained crisp.
One day, Daisy came home with a set of boxes, and began to busily install equipment throughout the yard.
She explained to Rose: “I am tired of all that lugging the watering can around. This new irigation system will water the garden for me at regular intervals. With less time spent watering, I can spend more time working with the plants.”  Agreeing that this sounded like an excellent plan, Rose went out and purchased one herself.
A few weeks later, Daisy’s garden was healthier and more vibrant than ever - a genuine showpiece garden.
Rose’s garden, however, did not improve in appearance. The plants were certainly healthy, but a few weeds were poking through, and some of the plants heeded dead-heading, and some of the edges were creeping in.
So why is there a difference between the two?
Both neighbours loved their gardens, but Daisy loved to garden. She loved poking in the diret and caring for the plants and pulling the weeds and trimming the edging and all the other little gardening chores needed to keep a garden in top form. Rose loved her garden, but only did the chores when necessary. When watering by hand, Rose would see all the little things that needed to be done, because she was stopping and watering each plant. With the central system, she sat back and watched her garden grow, without getting in and giving it the individual attention each plant deserved. 
You can probably see where this is heading…
With the introduction of any new technology in education, particularly one that promises improvement “automatically”, there is a risk of the teacher withdrawing behind the technology, and not giving each student the individual attention they deserve.
But this is not a criticism of teachers, nor technology. It is a cautionary tale, it comes with no moral judgement. If you are reading this, you need to take a long, hard look at your own practices, and ask yourself if you are a Rose or a Daisy - and if you realize that you are a Rose (and if you consider human nature, that would likely be the majority!), you must decide for yourself how you will ensure that each student is looked after individually.
Good luck, and watch your gardens grow!

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