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    Richard S. Wright Jr.
    Senior Moderator

    The road warrior returns… whew, 10 days on the road and I think I'm done for a while! Next up is NEAIC/NEAF and that's still a ways off so hopefully I can get some issues with @focus3, etc. wrapped up now that I've stopped moving for a while! 

    First stop (two Fridays ago) was a drive by at the Orange Blossom Special Star Party held at Withlacoochee River Park in Florida only a couple hour's drive from my home (that's a mouth full, right?). Not a bad gathering and a decent site for a star party far enough away from Tampa to have reasonably dark skies. I gave a talk about TheSky LTI, @focus3, and showed some videos I'd captured of live focus runs. There was quite a bit of excitement about LTI, and a few people seemed to have rekindled interest in using TheSkyX for image acquisition. I guess that's why they pay me to go to these things ;-)

    Friday night I stopped and spent the night with visiting friends Warren and Christine Keller who have family in Weeki Wachee springs (yes the place with the mermaids) and then drove up to Chiefland for the Winter Star Party vendor/speaker setup on Saturday.

    The Winter Star Party is without peer, and is my favorite event of the year. Vendor friends come, imaging friends from all over the country come, and many members of my own local astronomy club (CFAS – Central Florida Astronomical Society) are there as well. Normally this event is held in the Florida Keys, which is a splendid location for many reasons, not least of which is the amazing view of the southern sky. Unfortunately Hurricane Irma hit the middle keys especially hard last year and the girl scout campground which usually hosts the event was heavily damaged. Repairs and cleanup are underway and we have our fingers crossed that WSP will be able to return to everyones favorite southern locale next year.

    WSP Site DamageThe draw of the keys is a substantial motivation, not just for attendees but also their families and we feared the worst for attendance. Normally around 500 or so, we were down quite a bit, but still peaked over 200, which was a pretty good turnout. The Chiefland Star Party group graciously offered their location for an alternative site which pretty much saved the star party this year. The skies in Chiefland are actually much darker than in the Keys, but of course there isn't a great deal “to do” outside of the star party. Some vendor and personal friends and I did drive over to Cedar Key (30 minutes away) and had a meal at a tiki bar which was about as close as we could get to the true keys atmosphere. It was a great time though.

    I assisted Jon Talbot with a three day PixInisght workshop (I was his lab specialist really – helping people with their computers and software during the live hands on class) and did my own presentation on top tips for beginning imagers. We did have a food vendor on site too, and it was a passible star party with several other vendors there as well (Explore Scientific, DayStar, Starlight Instruments, and others). The one thing you can never control about star parties however is the weather! Unfortunately we had mostly clouds and rain early in the week, and later in the week we were teased with blue skies, and a small peak at stars before it would cloud over.

    I brought both a Paramount MYT and a Paramount ME II, both bedecked with my favorite refractors. There was precious little clear sky time, and I spent most of what there was working with customers. There were five other Paramount owners setup near me, and a number of people using other mounts with TheSkyX Professional. I calibrated guiders, taught people to use both @Focus3 and @Focus2, and diagnosed some other issues on site. It's a good exercise to go through and face to face is so much better than forum posts. You can see their frustration, feel it… and when you get things working, it is so gratifying to see someone enjoying the hobby, now thanks to your help. Tech support does not always have to be a drudge – LOL.

    I did get a good run on the Leo Triplet, but alas it was all Red and Green filters, and no blue due to the clouds moving in. I should have known better and will often shoot RGB, RGB, rather than one filter at a time, especially when the weather is iffy (new setup, had not set filter offsets yet). I also did a run on the Horsehead Nebula earlier in the night. Clouds were moving through, and the real benefit of going unguided and having automated focusing in place paid off. After pruning out excessively hazy images, or outright cloudy shots, I had a grand total of 69 minutes worth of 3 minute sub-exposures. I'm a big fan of short exposures when the camera supports it (low read noise), and with clouds coming through continually I think it actually improved my overall usable data. I could have been a lot happier with the bloating and bloom around Alnitak, but it was sufficient to win first place in the Deep Sky category of the astrophotography contest! 

    As for me now, back to work! I'm hoping to have some more exciting things to talk about by the NEAIC/NEAF time frame. I'll be giving a talk too at NEAIC about using Raspberry Pis and this proliferation of small computers everyone is using for imaging lately!

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