Sunday, October 09, 2011

 

Eye and Telescope 3.0


What? Not another article on dadgum software! Yep. In part at least, muchachos. I want to tell you-all about Eye and Telescope 3, which is now available in the good old U.S. of A. after what seemed like an interminable wait. I said most of what need be said about this excellent soft in my full review in Astronomy Technology Today magazine (Volume 4, Number 1) and a blog article nearly two years ago, but there are a few loose ends to tie up. The other part? It’s fall and time for the Possum Swamp Astronomical Society’s Autumn Public Sky Watch, so, yep, my yearly paen to public outreach.

Let’s talk about E&T first. What is Eye and Telescope, anyhow? It’s a planner. Y’all know how I preach the benefits of planning-type astronomy software, so I was predisposed to like it from the get-go. For those of us who engage in big observing projects, or who just want to see a lot of good stuff instead of the same old things every night (“Seen M13, seen M27, seen M57; reckon I’ll call it a night.”) the planners, which are essentially giant databases with provisions for making log entries, and even drawing charts, are just the ticket. With an organized list, you have a plan, and you see much more than you would by wandering aimlessly across the sky.

But Y’all heard all that last week. What’s new this week is that we now have another very good planner (for Windows) that’s stable and fast and attractive and which you can buy for a song—$75.00 (from Cambridge University Press). In some ways Eye and Telescope is like last week’s subject, AstroPlanner, or any other planning program, but it brings its own features and paradigms to the table. For the straight poop, the minutiae on Eye and Telescope, go back and read the blog article in the link above. The program is still in v3.0, and everything I said there still applies. Just want the short and sweet? Hokay: here ‘tis…

I reckon I was aware Thomas Pfleger had E&T’s publishing/distribution difficulties sorted, finally, but I hadn’t thought much about his program in a couple of years. Not till one recent afternoon when a package dropped through Chaos Manor South’s mail slot with a thump, scaring the cats and getting my attention. Opening the thing revealed Eye and Telescope in its new English-language garb with a (short) English manual. What did I do? I immediately grabbed the netbook and set about installing the program.

Why in tarnation did I have to install the cotton pickin’ thing again? It’s still in v3.0, the same version I received two annums ago. Because the computer where E&T resided, my much-loved Toshiba Satellite, died from a smoky failure of the internal section of its power supply in the interim. Also, I figured that if the program ran good on my modest Asus netbook, it would run good on anything. Finally, I wanted to refresh my memory on the install process.

Which is simple. All you gotta do is slap the E&T DVD (there’s only one) into your optical drive—an outboard USB one in the case of my netbook—and mash “OK” to begin. You then click through the usual installer dialogs: where, how much, etc., and you are done. One thing I didn’t recall? That the install is slow—fifteen minutes or so. The long waits are for the Hubble Guide Star Catalog to load and for 9,000 deep sky images to be transferred. The length of my wait may have had a lot to do with having to use a USB DVD drive instead of the speedier onboard one of the Toshiba, since I don’t remember being kept waiting so long when I loaded the program on the old laptop.

Despite the long install time, E&T ran very well once it was on the hard drive. It was substantially quicker to start than last week’s subject, AstroPlanner, and any function seemed snappier in E&T than it did in AP. On the other hand, Eye and Telescope doesn’t quite have the feature set of AstroPlanner, and certainly not the wealth of catalog data, and I’d expect a somewhat slimmer program to run better. It’s a trade-off, in other words. Nevertheless, I appreciated Eye and Telescope’s impressive speed on my modest astro-puter.

Once the program is installed, you click on the cute little icon it’s put on your desktop and proceed to doing what you do with every astro-ware the first time out, entering user data: location, time, date, etc. Actually, before you do that you have to get rid of the help window the program launches automatically at startup (which you can, thankfully, turn off in the Options menu). You also have to register the program. If you don’t want to do that right away, you can run E&T in unlicensed mode (with only the Messier catalog available), but you might as well get 'er done.

The program serial number is found on the back of the slim instruction manual, but you must also input a license number. There was a sheet of paper in the DVD case that had my data on it, but I suspect most users will have to get their number off the program’s online registration website. As I noted in my original review, the process is a little annoying—it took me several tries to get the LONG serial number, which includes both upper and lower case characters and which is case sensitive—input correctly. But, hey, you only have to do it once.

When you’re done, go to the User Info menu on the toolbar and tell the program about your site’s (or sites’) location and time zone. A couple of cautions here. First, latitude and longitude need to be entered in degrees and decimal minutes—30.5 instead of 30d 30’, for example—and you have to go to the Options window to set your daylight savings status. The former is not much of a problem, but the latter is something of a pain in the butt. Not because you have to leave the site screen to set it, but because, as far as I can tell, you have to turn DST on/off manually when it comes in/goes out of effect. I wish all programs would give you the option to read/use the computer’s time/zone/DST. Oh, well.

I suppose I was more impressed by E&T this time out than I was at first blush in 2009. A major reason for that was that I still remembered how it does things. While I hadn’t used the soft in a while, I knew about its take on observing lists. There are, confusingly at first, two kinds: You have Plans and you have Projects. Plans are for short lists, small collections of objects you want to visit on any given evening or weekend. Projects are for large lists like the vaunted Herschel Project.

How about go-to? The program uses ASCOM, so it should be able to deal with almost any scope. “Should.” AstroPlanner should have been able to work with the EQMOD driver for my Atlas mount, but it couldn’t. While I haven’t tested Eye and Telescope with EQMOD in the field, I was relieved when a quick test with the EQMOD simulator went well. I believe E&T will work splendidly with that special program. Only nit? Eye and Telescope does not have a go-to button on the toolbar. To send the telescope to its target, you right click on an object and choose “go-to” from the menu that appears.

No, Eye and Telescope does not have extensive charting facilities, but the maps it generates look good, and, most importantly, work well. I was never kept waiting for charts to draw. If these charts are not enough, the program will, like AstroPlanner, work in concert with external planetarium programs like Cartes du Ciel, TheSky, Starry Night, and many more.

I often find it useful to look at an image of my target object, especially when I am going after the uber faint stuff, and E&T has that covered. While the program cannot download Digitized Sky Survey Images (why not, Mr. Thomas?), its collection of nearly 9,000 pictures will make that less necessary than it would otherwise have been.

Final verdict on E&T 3.0? I like it just as much now as I liked it the first time I ran it. And my wants for it remain the same. I’d like a dedicated button on the toolbar to send the scope on go-tos, and another one to access the ASCOM connect/setup dialog. While the program features lots of objects, over 100,000 (mostly galaxies, natch), I’d like even more catalogs. Finally, I’d like lots of ready-made observing lists available for download. Mr. Pfleger now has several posted on his website, including the H-400, but there needs to be many more. I would guess that if the program catches on, users will take care of that.

Also available on Thomas’ site is the beta of E&T version 3.2. I loaded this up and it ran great. I haven’t used it much yet, so I’m not sure what is different about it, but it seems ready for prime time given my brief tests.

Getting a program working is one thing; using it is another. I decided I’d generate an observing list with Eye and Telescope for the PSAS’ fall public Sky Watch. Nothing fancy, four or five bright Messiers like the Ring and the Dumbbell. I chose to use the “plan” function rather than the “project” mode for such a short list. I wouldn’t take the computer into the field, either; instead, I’d rely on a print-out.

As I noted in my initial reviews of E&T, that’s where the Plan bidness really shines. You don’t print your list per se. Instead, you export it as an .html file. That sounds weird, I know—that’s what I thought at first, too—but it ain’t weird; it is wonderful if you don’t want to tote a computer. Open the resulting .html file (with your web browser), and you’ll find not just a list of objects, but detailed data on each, numerous pictures, and more. That came in handy at the Sky Watch for help in answering the little folks’ numerous questions.

List in hand, it was time to gird my loins for the dreaded (by some) public outreach. I’m not going to talk your ears off about the whys of public star parties, since I did that just a little while back, but I would like to spend some time on the hows if’n you don’t mind.

Come star party day, allow yourself plenty of set up time. I usually arrive on site about 45-minutes beforehand. Why? At most public events, you’ll find your guests will begin to trickle in well before the published start time. Our Fall Event was scheduled for 7 p.m., but, sure enough, excited little folk and their parents began to show up by 6:30. You’ll find it much easier to set up before they get there; it’s hard to remember what goes where and hooks to what when you are fielding a constant stream of questions like “Is that a telescope,” “Can we look at a star?” “How come I can see the Moon in the daytime?” and the ever popular “WATCHA DOING, MISTER?!”

Plenty of set up time is good, but what do you set up? What sort of telescope and what sort of ancillary gear? I tend to keep it simple telescope-wise. I often use my 80mm f/11 alt-azimuth mounted SkyWatcher refractor, Eloise, because I am lazy. She is painless to haul around and put together, she looks like a telescope to kids and parents, and 80mm of refractor is more than sufficient for the targets I show my customers: the Moon (most of all), a bright planet (if there is one), a bright star (very popular), and maybe a bright DSO or two (save those for the tail end of the evening).

And yet, and yet… Sometimes I kick it up a notch with my venerable 6-inch f/8 Criterion RV-6 Dynascope, Cindy Lou. With her big and relatively heavy 60s style German mount, she is not nearly as easy to lug around as the refractor, but she has several pluses. Most of all, she has a decent clock drive. Not having to re-center your telescope between kids is a godsend. She also has enough aperture to make the best and brightest of the Messier look like something for patrons old enough to appreciate them—little kids have a hard time seeing deep sky objects in any telescope—and show-off the planets in astonishing detail. Best of all? She is still simple. No computers to fuss with, no alignments to do. Plunk her down with her polar axis facing roughly north and I am done.

So you shouldn’t bring out your go-to scope? That’s up to you. A C8 on a go-to mount can be a very good public scope. It’s got an eyepiece position that’s perfect for young and old, and kids are naturally attracted to a high-tech computer hand control. B-U-T…make sure you can get your mount aligned in a hurry. The wee ones will be onsite before it is dark and will want to look at the Moon IMMEDIATELY. They will not understand your need to wait for alignment stars to appear. Luckily, most computerized mounts allow you to do a Solar System Alignment (on the Moon), a “last alignment,” or just a "fake" alignment so you can get the thing tracking in R.A. before you can see alignment stars. Go-to functionality? I suppose you could do a better alignment after the stars wink on, but you’ll probably be too busy showing off Luna, and you won’t need go-to to get to her, Jupiter, Vega, and M57, anyway.

What else should you bring? Eyepieces, of course. I leave it to you whether to haul out the Ethoses or stick to bargain Plossls. Yes, you will likely get a little teenage mascara and sticky kiddie-finger stuff on the eye lenses, but that can be cleaned off. Me? I use my Orion Expanses. They have nice big eye lenses that are easy for the little folk to look into, deliver very good images in f/8 Cindy Lou, and are inexpensive and easily replaceable if the worst happens.

Bring a flashlight, of course. Doesn’t even have to be red, since there’s not much need to worry about dark adaptation. And a step-stool. Even if your telescope is kid-friendly (which a ladder-bound dob ain’t, so leave it at home), the smallest observers will still need to either be lifted to the eyepiece (by their parents), or stand on something. A small one-step stepstool is very handy. Do keep it out of the way when not in use; you don’t want anybody tripping over it in the dark. Allow the little tykes’ parents to assist them on getting on and off and standing on the stool.

Make sure you have notes on the objects you intend to show off. I guar-ron-tee the first thing your clients will ask after getting a look at anything is “HOW FAR AWAY IS IT?” If I hadn’t had the notes on the list I generated with Eye and Telescope, I’d have used my iPod, which has the astro-apps Sky Safari, Distant Suns, and (Celestron’s new) SkyQ running on it. I brought the iPod anyway, just in case I got off the beaten path of the list.

How’d it go? It went well. OK, OK, it went well after the usual Unk Rod floundering and foundering. Set up Miss Cindy Lou, inserted my 20mm Expanse, and pointed her at the just-before-First Quarter Moon, which was exquisite in her excellent optics. Only… Selene kept drifting, with me having to re-center frequently despite the fairly low power. Went to M13. Same “away she goes.” What the heck? During one of the infrequent lulls—we hosted well over 100 kids and parents—I decided to check and see if the Dynascope’s AC powered synchro drive was plugged into the inverter securely.

DOH! The drive wasn’t plugged in at all. Despite my recommendation to y’all that you get the scope ready before the kids arrive, I spent too much time shooting the breeze with my PSAS mates and finished set up in a hurry. I’d plugged the scope in, alright, but not into the AC receptacle on the inverter. I’d inserted the plug into a couple of vents on the sides of the inverter’s plastic housing instead, and naturally it hadn’t supplied a bit of power to the scope. Plugged the drive in for real and Cindy began tracking in her usual reliable fashion.

After M13, I went on to M57, another favorite this time of year. To cap off the evening, I finished up on brilliant sapphire Vega. Surprisingly, the one thing both kids and parents request more than anything after the Moon and Saturn is a simple, bright star. By the time everybody who wanted to had had a look, it was creeping on toward 9 o’clock, Jupiter was still too low to do anything with, and the last remnants of our audience were heading for their cars. Time to ring down the curtain on another successful PSAS Sky Watch. I was particularly gratified by how many attendees, young and old, thanked us profusely for sharing the sky with them. Even if they hadn’t… I know it sounds corny, but I still find public outreach rewarding and even FUN.

Whatev. One of the beauties about the RV-6 is that she’s quick to tear down. Yeah, the GEM mount’s a handful, but it fits easily into my 4-Runner, and the telescope’s (Bakelite) tube is astoundingly light. In about 10 minutes I was on my way back to the Old Manse. It had been a good week. Beautiful weather for the star party (for once), and Eye and Telescope to play with. You? You, muchachos, should do a public outreach session NOW while the weather is still so fine, and have a look at E&T. If you don’t have a planning program, or even if you do, it might make you very happy.

Next time: Unk was at sea on sea trial for San Diego, LPD 22, so he missed the dark observing window this time around. So, what next? My Favorite Star Parties installment one.

Comments:
Found your article looking for a review of E&T V3. And ended up enjoying reading the whole of your post about the star party. I've made similar mistake of not plugging my dew controller connector in, and cursing my battery and controller for not clearing the dew! Didn't realise until half packed up, doh! Thanks, Jim
 
FYI. There is a users group for Eye & Telescope at https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/eandt/info
 
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