You might have an image of a software developer as someone sitting at his desk all day type type typing away on a computer drinking Jolt cola and eating Doritos. It's surprising how busy I am, in and out of the office, and nothing brings this into sharp relief like a week+ long road trip someplace with little cellular signal and Internet access. It's Wednesday after the Texas Star Party ended Sunday and I'm just now home and back to work (it's a VERY long drive from Florida to Ft. Davis...plus some recovery time, I mean... I had to watch Game of Thrones too). While gone, I've accumulated a huge number of emails from customers, and vendors alike about various problems, successes, and just on going projects. Several voice mails about "things to discuss", and also, Daniel has tagged me (helpfully) on some forum support messages that need my personal attention. Add to that the physical exhaustion, a pile of mail and bills, dumping an SUV full of gear into the living room and oh, there is no food in the house... yeah, I'm suffering - ha ha!
With all the complaining out of the way, I can tell you what a great time the Texas Star Party was! This was my fourth consecutive trip to Ft. Davis (flew once, drove three times), so now I'm a veteran. I setup on the North end of the upper field along with friends from Sky-Watcher USA and Starlight Xpress. Naturally I was shooting with my own Esprit 120 and Starlight Xpress camera, and they were using their own Paramounts (a MYT and an MX+) as well. We are definitely getting some momentum at this Star Party. There's a good handful of people now that visit regularly, and that I spent time with on the field walking them through different processes, and some are becoming old friends now. At my first TSP, there was me, one customer, and one friend on the field with Paramounts. This year there were Paramounts everywhere, mostly Paramount MYT's. Four lined up in a row on the lower field, at least two on the middle field in plain site, and a couple on the upper field besides the three that we had setup in the manufacturers demo area. There was an imaging workshop going on as well, and one of the instructors was using a Paramount MX+ for demonstrations. Two or three people were "pushed" over the edge and I am looking forward to seeing them next year on the field with their own Paramounts too!
Clearly, the Paramount workflow and TheSkyX Professional does work well for a lot of people ;-)
Aside from sales and customer support, we (the other vendors and I) did some actual work on the field. We were testing some new camera technologies and scope plug-ins. If I had a dollar for every time someone asked if TheSkyX worked with non-Paramounts, I could buy... something nice. We ran TPoint using a Sky-Watcher EQ 6-R on the field and did an accurate polar alignment just like you would with a Paramount. We could even go unguided for about a minute (not quite as good as a Paramount!), and I showed Michael from Starlight Xpress how to guide with TheSkyX. "I didn't know it was that easy to guide with TheSky X" he said afterwards. Ah... that was satisfying. I also made a few LTI converts out of people who found they could setup a nights run with multiple targets and even a focus run or two and then get some sleep while their system imaged for them in the night.
Another very satisfying experience was that one of the systems next to me had a lot of camera connection problems. This sounds pretty mean... but bear with me. Shortly after a TPoint run started, the camera would drop out. I just sat and listened quietly and didn't speak up. Kevin and Michael jumped up, and examined the mount. Tried again. Camera dropped. Very frustrating. Changed cables.... restart. Camera dropped AGAIN after a few images. Changed cables and an intermediate hub this time, re-tied everything down. Success! Not once did anyone say "TheSkyX is dropping the camera connection! Richard come and fix my software!" Imaging is hard work sometimes no matter how good your tools, and it was nice to see "pro's" at work who knew how to diagnose what was obviously a hardware issue before blaming the software. Yes... I'm probably going to get nasty emails about that and sometimes it IS the software (and occasionally even MY fault), but how many times have you seen someone on the forum uninstalling and reinstalling TheSkyX or even Windows over and over again because a hardware problem won't go away?
This is one of the great things about star parties too. It is just plain difficult to diagnose things on a support forum, or even over Team Viewer. "It works flawlessly with XXX, well, except it has this one bug... or only has 1/2 the features". Clearly we have different understandings of the term "flawless". Once the "other" program that a camera supposedly worked with was just returning the same image over and over and not reporting an error to the end user. This doesn't count as "works" either in my book (this also turned out to be a cable run issue).
If I can wander over to your setup, I can almost always get someone going. Sure, there are the hopeless cases, but I can count them on one hand over 10+ years of star parties.
Another user nearby with an AP mount and TheSkyX (yes, they work together just fine too) had problems with his filter wheel... again, turned out to be a cable. Worked the night before... here's some difficult to accept advice. So what? Ever had a flat tire? It wasn't flat yesterday was it? Technology seems aloof and scary to people, almost like magic, but it's not and it really is exactly the same thing. Everything works the day before it stops working, and nothing works forever.
Another interesting note was the guy doing the imaging workshop with his MX+ ALSO had cable problems. What is it about TSP? The dry air? The dust and dirt? It seems there was a cable poltergeist running amuck.
Check this out, a flock of Paramounts! On the lower field some guys I know (sold them all MYT's) were setup all in a row together. Two of them even had Raspberry Pi's setup to run their mounts. What's with the little tents? They hide in these so they can look at their images without a red screen.
This brings up an epiphany I had this week too about live stacking. I've put a lot of work into color support for our new live stacking feature in TheSkyX Pro and LTI, but at a big star party such as this, you might as well go mono. They are very strict here about light trespass and with a red screen you can't see your color image anyway. You might as well shoot with a more sensitive mono camera unless you're at home or an outreach event where you can show the color data plainly.
I'll be doing just this at the Grand Canyon Star Party at the end of June by the way, on the North rim Monday and Tuesday and on the South Rim the rest of the week. I hope to see some of you there, and hey bring your imaging rig and setup near by. But remember my first rule of star parties.... bring lots of extra cables!
05-08-2019 10:38 AM