No, I'm not retiring from star party duty, I mean the last star party of 2016 of course!
Last weekend I was invited as the "Premium Workshop" speaker at the Riverside Astronomical Society's annual Nightfall star party. It ran Thursday night through Sunday morning, and I had a great time. My workshop was all day Saturday and was on the topic of selecting gear and best practices for imaging. No, it was not a Paramount commercial, but I did of course draw on some customer support experiences for the bit about diagnosing tracking problems (regardless of who's mount you own). I've been asked many times now to speak on the topic of astrophotography, and I tend to focus more on getting good data, rather than what to do in PixInsight or Photoshop. Best practices and good data is a much less subjective topic than "pretty pictures". Let's face it, there is no "one way" to make brownies, and so there is no one way to make a beautiful photograph of an astronomical object. Also true, some peoples brownies taste better than others... I'll let you draw your own conclusions there ;-)
There's not a lot of room for opinion though when it comes to what causes trailed stars, methods of increasing your signal to noise ratio, or judging high-quality camera performance. These are the things I'm more confident about and can defend passionately, and with the authority now of more than a few years experience behind me (and I get to do this all the time, not just the occasional weekend mind you <g>). If you don't like the taste of my brownies, that's fine, but don't push me if you think it doesn't matter if you use rotten eggs or sour milk in the mix.
Star parties, despite all efforts to focus on location, are probably 80% about the social aspects of the event. Nightfall is no exception. I have grown to love quite a few friends out at the Riverside club, and was pleased to get to see many of them again and spend some time under the stars. I also saw many customers, old and new, and it's an excellent reminder sometimes that we have a lot of customers who don't necessarily have Paramounts but are avid users of TheSkyX and the Add Ons. One or two regulars on the forum were also there, and I spent a good bit of time "chewing the fat" and getting to know them better. I genuinely hope I get to "hang out" with them again at another event down the road!
It was a star party after all, so I brought along my WFDM (Wide Field Dream Machine), which I put on my Paramount MYT (shipped ahead of time). I ran it with the Raspberry Pi and used my laptop/iPad to control the whole thing. Somewhere between home, the TSA "inspection" of my Pelican case, and the star party, my focus motor went kaput and I had to focus by hand. Yes, you can hand focus with TheSkyX, just watch the HFD values and tune it yourself! Naturally, Florida boy brought along a hurricane for the west coast, and the system brought clouds for the star party. Thursday night was a complete wash, but Friday and Saturday there were "periods" of clear skies. This is where the visual crowd wins because they can just hop from sucker hole to sucker hole all night long. There was some sky glow, but the Milky Way was prominent, and I got a little data on the Andromeda Galaxy while talking with other imagers and doing a little on site support here and there.
My next (public) star party isn't until the Winter Star Party in February. WSP is hands down my favorite event of the year (NEAF is actually a close second), and I'll be speaking this year on the topic of "Portable Imaging". I hope to see you there!
Meanwhile I'm home. For the next two weeks I'm pretty much putting every other project on hold and focusing on camera and device support. There's a lot of 50% to 95% done plug-in updates/reboots and I just need to think about only cameras for a little bit. I think a lot of people will be happy to see some of what's on the back burner getting finished up and out the door. Look for updates for QSI, FLI, ATIK, and QHY hopefully in time for the next daily build (which tends to be more monthly - LOL).
Oh, about that whole brownie metaphor... it's not even close to my best brownie ever, but for only an hour's worth of real data, it's not that bad if you have it with a glass of cold milk. Besides, when is it not fun to make brownies?!
11-03-2016 8:12 AM