Today is the first time this year I've been home for two solid days in a row. I've been a busy bee, and it's a good thing I do most of my work on laptops!
January 1st, I drove with my family to Key West Florida for an early morning ferry ride on the 2nd to the Dry Tortugas National Park. This was my second trip to the island, which is 70 miles west of Key West. We camped there under the darkest skies I've ever experienced for four days and three nights. You'd be an idiot not to at least take a camera, but bordering on idiocy in the other direction I was not content with a camera and I brought a Paramount MYT. Thanks to El Nino, the skies were not clear most of the time, but I did have some success with both wide field and deep sky imaging. This was an adventure that will require a more detailed writeup, probably in a different venue than my blog here. Suffice it to say though, with weight limits in mind, I took a Paramount, scope, and two batteries to a remote location with no power (there is not even fresh water on this island!), and was able to image under the darkest skies I've ever had access to. The key to this was a lightweight battery system and the now late alpha stage "Raspberry Sky" project. The laptop is the most power hungry device in your portable imaging arsenal. In just two weeks+ from today I'll be giving at talk at the Winter Star Party (also in the Florida Keys), titled "The Future of Portable Imaging". The description for the program is as follows:
Twenty years ago, the idea of a laptop connected to a telescope was laughable. A few years from now, it will be again. The embedded computing revolution is here and it's changing how we interact with appliances and machines all around us. Amateur astronomy and imaging are no exceptions. As the computer starts to disappear into the system, will astrophotography ever be as easy as using a point and shoot camera? Richard will discuss what Software Bisque is doing to pursue this goal, as well as other third-party projects pursuing this progression towards the ultimate "Imaging Appliance". Q&A and discussion will be encouraged during this presentation.
I'm pretty committed to this idea, and just as Software Bisque led the early digital imaging revolution, I think we are going to lead the next one too.
After a late afternoon ferry ride home, and driving through the night to get my son back to college in time for classes, I had a day to unpack and then I drove across town to visit the American Astronomical Society meeting, which was being held in the Orlando area. I crashed the vendor area and checked in on some friends, and sized it up for a possible event we should attend to showcase our high end mounts. I caught up with Tim Puckett and his wife at the SBIG booth, and Tim is going to come and setup with me at the Winter Star Party for a couple of days to show off their cameras. We both want our customers to know that SBIG and Software Bisque are still working together to ensure the best software support for anyone who chooses SBIG for his or her imaging solution.
The following day, I was in danger of being home two solid days, so after dropping son #2 off at the airport I went down to my dark sky site in South Florida for an "invitation only" star party. We had a good group of friends there, some accomplished imagers, and some vendor friends as well. I had all three of the current Paramount Models (No, I don't even know what I'd do with a Taurus!) on duty and there were 9 Paramounts total in all. This was a productive week of "Field work" if you will. There was one guy there, an accomplished professional in the sciences who purchased a MYT a year ago. He read the entire manual before taking the mount out. He thought the manual was fantastic (there you go Daniel!), and that the software is obvious and intuitive to use. Other people... not so much. While working as an engineer, I also spent more than a decade as a part time teacher at the college level, and I've learned a thing or two. There are different learning styles, and one way is not necessarily "right" or "wrong". People's learning styles and intuitions are subjective, and arguing over it is akin to arguing whether vanilla tastes better than chocolate (well, we DO know the answer to that... right?).
As well as some programming, I spent this week (the weather was actually only good two nights, and half those nights!) acquiring content for an upcoming series of "Richard's Recipes". My training videos so far have been well received, with some criticism mostly aimed at the video quality. Well, I have some new software, and the quality is much better. I've been using an upcoming update to TheSkyX's look and feel (no, don't worry, nothing major) and recording how to use the camera, focus, do a polar alignment, etc. Look for these soon as I get them edited, probably right after the Winter Star Party.
With only two nights of half decent weather (plus one severe thunderstorm with 50+ mph winds!), I returned home to see a forecast of two clear nights the night after I was home. So of course... after one day at home, I went back (it's about a two hour drive) for a couple more nights with the intent of doing some more of those training videos, using real data and situations. This did not go as planned either... I really hate the weather this year! I'd swear you could hear the tell-tale sound of beep beep beep those big trucks make when they backup, as the front stalled past us, then reversed and rolled right back over my location. I should probably think about getting into radio astronomy....
Meanwhile what's the status of code? TheSkyX on Ubuntu is almost ready, and the Raspberry Pi project is also almost almost ready. There are a couple of things that have delayed things from my initial estimates.
- We are upgrading our frameworks from Qt 4 to Qt 5. This is not trivial... PixInsight did this just recently in fact. This brings a lot of advantages, one of which is better support for Retina displays on Mac, and other high resolution displays. It also brings a lot of regressions (it breaks other things). Since we are making such big changes, it's also a good time to make some other underlying changes we've been putting off.
- This Qt 4 to 5 migration was a little tricky on Ubuntu. I'm at the point now where I have to figure out how to install this on other people's machines and get all the binaries, etc. in the right place. Tedious and time consuming, but not a big technical hurdle. I've been imaging on Linux for well over a year now so this is ready as soon as I can get it packaged up.
- The Qt 4 to 5 migration on the Pi was another trick. Qt 5 is not available as pre-built binaries on the Pi yet, and I had to build it myself, and trick it into not using the full screen OpenGL options. We have completely broken with Qt 4, so there's no going back, and I simply have to get Qt 5 working with TheSkyX on the Pi if we are going to keep it as current as the other desktop editions. I just made a breakthrough on this last week, so I'm confident I'll be showing this off at the WSP in a couple of weeks.
- Finally, there is device support. I was content with what we had, but Steve insisted we needed to get SBIG support in. You might think I'm blaming Steve for being late... but um... see above ;-) I'm only telling you this because our continuing commitment to work with SBIG comes right from the top here. SBIG has been very helpful, and this part is stalled at the moment because of my own delays from the above, not from any lack of support on their part.
In short, Linux and Raspberry Pi are almost there, usable by the developers, but still in need of cleaning up before we can distribute them cleanly. Added to the previously specified devices to be supported are SBIG cameras, and OPTEC/Starlight Instruments focusers (thanks to some assistance from Starlight Instruments and Optec last week as well).
Windows, Mac, Linux, embedded, and mobile. Software Bisque is going to be everywhere that matters. Soon.
01-22-2016 6:53 AM