Forums Historical Software Bisque Blogs Richard S. Wright Jr.’s Blog Mr. SkyBoxx goes to Winter Star Party

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    Richard S. Wright Jr.
    Senior Moderator

    What an office!Who's ready for this year's Winter Star Party? This guy is! It's hard to pick my favorite yearly event, there are quite a few at the very top of the list, but the Winter Star Party is the tippy top. I've actually been attending before I even worked for Software Bisque and only missed one year due to a death in the family (that was not a good year). It's less than a day's drive away, and although I already live in Florida, the Keys are a whole different kind of Florida. It's quasi local, which means not only do I get to hang out with some of my vendor and far flung friends, but often members from my local club are also there (seriously… there's a guy at my grocery store, and I guy I hang out with at Starbucks who come too!). A week “working” in the keys is still work… but man, WHAT AN OFFICE!

    This year is somewhat special, as after having had to have last year's event in Chiefland due to extensive damage from hurricane Irma of the site, we are returning this year to Scout Key and we are actually going to be straddling both the (operational portion of) girl scout campground, and the neighboring boy scout campground. I can't wait to visit some of my favorite tiki bars and restaurants too. There should be a good crowd there and they actually had to cut off registration to keep from overflowing the available facilities this year.

    Okay, so Software Bisque (me) is going… what's our story? Well, I'm bringing both the Paramount MYT and the Paramount MX+, both with my best refractors aboard. One thing I really want to show off and promote is using the Paramount MYT for VISUAL ASTRONOMY. Using the WiFi board and an iPad, I truly believe the Paramount MYT is the world's premium visual astronomy platform. It fully supports TPoint, ProTrack (so your targets stay in the eyepiece even if you're not perfectly polar aligned), and lunar and solar tracking rates! I may even pop in my DayStar Quantum if the Sun has anything interesting going on.

    On the MX+, I'm going to be showing off SkyBoxx and I'll be doing ALL of my deep sky imaging with it. Stop by and see it yourself… and if you bring me a micro SD card, I'll even format it with the SkyBoxx OS so you can try it yourself!

    What is SkyBoxx you ask?

    Well, it's not “just” TheSkyX Professional running on a Rasbperry Pi. We've been shipping that for well over a year now, and I've been talking about it for years prior. There are several other vendors jumping on the bandwagon with us too, ATIK, ASI, and Stellar Mate to name the top three are all offering prepackaged Rasbperry Pi's with a collection of open source and some custom software already on board.

    If you're a Raspberry Pi fan, you can configure it however you like, and yes run a full copy of TheSkyX Professional on it, with all our Add Ons as well (TPoint, Camera, etc.). The device support isn't quite as deep as it is on Windows, but there's a good handful already and plenty of people are already going this route to design their own customized imaging system built on a low-power computer that can be hidden away somewhere.  You've been able to do this for well over a year now, although we haven't made nearly enough noise about it.

    SkyBoxx is a preconfigured OS install built for the latest Raspberry Pi 3 ModelB+. It's sole goal is to facilitate mobile/portable imaging and make it as easy as possible to get up and going quickly, and to be able to run everything off of a battery (possibly), and do real practical deep sky imaging without having to use a power hungry laptop. You can control SkyBoxx with your smart phone or tablet… and that includes iOS and… wait… wait… wait for it… and Android. 

    Really, for SkyBoxx we've done all the work for you so you don't have to be a Linux guru to setup your Raspberry Pi and install TheSkyX Professional on it. The computer runs on only 5V DC (and will run from the Versa Plate 5V DC jack if you have an adapter), and when it boots up, it broadcasts a WiFi network. You join the WiFi network with your phone or tablet, and can access an administration page with any web browser (technically, it does need to be HTML 5 capable). You can also access via a web browser, the full TheSky LTI interface running on the device. Alternatively, you can also use a VNC client, or a soon to be updated TheSkyHD on iPad, which will have a new SkyBoxx interface screen available. Got an Android Tablet? No problem, just join the WiFi network, open Chrome and put in the address for SkyBoxx and you're up and going.

    With TheSky LTI running full screen on your tablet, you can do a rough polar alignment, a streamlined TPoint run, even an Accurate Polar Alignment while centering a star up that is being displayed real time on your phone or tablet (the new wizard by the way, will never move the alignment star out of your field of view, so you can iterate and never “get lost” or accidentally center the wrong star). You never even need to see the old polar alignment report. Heck, with shorter focal lengths, I find TPoint and ProTrack do enough for me and I don't even need to refine my polar alignment!

    For good measure, if you're doing outreach, there's live stacking with full color support, and you can put it in a full screen mode with no GUI displayed at all for a Kiosk or projector type experience.

    Of course, we want to make imaging as easy and trouble free as we can, so a SkyBoxx configuration and LTI are designed entirely to capitalize on and exploit the “Paramount Experience”. An important subtext here is that the SkyBoxx/Raspberry Pi route is not a way to lower the cost of your imaging kit (although, that portion certainly will be the least expensive thing you buy!), it is meant to make the computer disappear into the mount, and the mount to disappear into your work flow. Connect with your laptop even if you want over the WiFi network, but close your laptop once your series is running to save battery power. Check on your runs from time to time with your tablet, etc. I believe you will find this the premium imaging experience on the market for any price.

    I'm also going to concede that SkyBoxx is not for everyone, even in the Paramount camp. If you have a high-quality image train, and a reasonable pixel scale, you should not need to guide. Guide star free imaging is not only trivially easier than guiding, but it makes imaging fun again. You'd be surprised what a modern camera can do with only 3 to 5 minute subs as well with a reasonable focal ratio! But if you want to insist on very long exposures with long focal lengths and image trains with a lot of moving parts… well, you can always run the full TheSkyX Professional which will have everything the most demanding imager might want. Can you run TheSkyX Professional on SkyBoxx though instead of LTI? Well, of course. We're not stupid ;-)

    I'm on the speaker's list this year, and I'll be talking about our breakthrough new focusing tool, @Focus3 and more about SkyBoxx. I hope to see you there, and I'll be more than happy to give you a tour. 




    Never before have I ever wanted an RPi so bad in my life.

    Maybe.  Just maybe, this is the incentive I need to buy one finally.

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