Sunday, August 03, 2014

 

Down Chiefland Way with the Micro EX and AstroLive


Oh, those 1960s Florida vacations, muchachos! Mama would organize us all, pack our suitcases, fill a cardboard box with victuals (it was hard to convince the Old Man to stop at a freaking Howard Johnson’s for road food), shoo us—including Daddy, who was likely on the air for a 10-meter opening—out to the car, and we’d be off.

The three of us, or the four of us after my brother came along, would hop in the OM’s prized 1955 Chevy Bel Air and head for the Sunshine State. We’d have some vague destination in mind, usually Daytona Beach or Saint Augustine, but that was just the icing. Who knew what wonders we’d discover along the roadside? Alligator wrestlers. Live mermaids. A jungle where humans were caged and the monkeys ran free. The old U.S. Highways—90, 98, 19, A1A—were pregnant with possibilities on those long ago summer days.

Those old-fashioned vacations are yet green in Unk’s memory, and it is fun to try to recreate them when me and Miss Dorothy set out on our traditional July expedition to the Chiefland Astronomy Village. Most of the attractions I seek on those trips are far more strange and distant than Weeki Wachee Springs and its lovely mermaids, but the idea is the same: what wondrous things will I find in Florida?

Course, you can run into some not so good things down in FL, too. Back in the vaunted Day, it was Daddy’s inevitable flat tire on a blisteringly hot afternoon. Now, it is the freaking weather. We had a couple of recent Julys, 2011 and 2012, that were spectacular: nights as clear and dang near as dark as in winter. So, as you can imagine, we were awful put out when July—actually the whole summer—of 2013 was relentlessly cloudy. What the hail was going on?

The answer? Nothing. As Unk’s CAV buddy, Mike Harvey, pointed out, in 2013 we had a normal Chiefland July. Hot, hazy, and humid—and often cloudy and stormy. 2011 and 2012 were the aberrations. The ground truth is that in July in Florida you can’t expect good observing weather. Oh, you can hope and wish for it, but you can’t expect it.

Funny thing, though? This year, after a horrible spring and early summer in the southland, the weather improved as the 4th and the All Star Break came and went. Dorothy had made us motel reservations quite a while before, since we were determined to do our Florida Vacation no matter what the weather gods had in store. When she made those reservations in June, I wasn’t convinced the vacation would involve astronomy. Now I was. It seemed purty sure I would get something. How much, I didn't know, but something.

What was most astounding? As the afternoon before our Thursday morning departure burned down into a sultry Gulf Coast night, the weather forecasts for Chiefland were holding—maybe even getting slightly better. Thursday night was supposed to be dead clear, with the worst for the following two days being “some passing clouds.” Unk was definitely eager if only cautiously optimistic—the Admiral Ackbar side of his personality figgered “IT’S A TRAP!”—as he loaded the 4Runner, Miss Lucille Van Pelt.

What did I load and what was my agenda? The first and probably the best night would be devoted to taking prime focus DSLR shots with the Edge C8, Mrs. Peel, and her VX mount. I am writing a review of the Edge/VX combo, and needed some “insurance” pictures in case the weather gods chose to laugh in my face all August long.  Once that was done, I hoped to be able to finally give the Mallincam Micro EX a test.

I’d been able to try the newest and littlest Mallincam at the Deep South Regional Star Gaze Spring Scrimmage in April, but looking through the occasional sucker hole is no way to check out a camera. I also wanted to try a new computer program, AstroLive, which would control the Micro (and many other cameras).

4Runner packed and out suitcases ready, all that remained was to while away a summer’s eve. I was feeling right good about my prospects down Chiefland way, and I had Braves baseball and Rebel Yell at hand, so the night was pleasant and restful and I was actually out of bed early on Thursday morning.

Dorothy and I weren't sure about the best route to I-10 from the New Manse, so we altered our normal routine a mite on departure morning. We skipped Mickey D’s—and Unk’s traditional pre-star party fried chicken biscuit—in the interests of saving time. We didn't stop for food until we were well over the Florida line and hit the Milton/Bagdad Exit, which features a Stuckey’s in the old mode—clean, well-stocked, and full of friendly folks. Unk’s “breakfast” repast? Why, a chili-cheese dog, natcherly. You will be proud that I at least resisted the urge to order the foot-long version.

The remainder of our journey was as uneventful as ever. We did pass through a fair amount of rain, but as we approached the exit for the Florida - Georgia Parkway for the run into Chiefland, the clouds—as they are sometimes wont to do—began to disperse. We refueled Miss Van Pelt at the good old Sunoco station, and Unk, to maintain tradition, grabbed a Jack Links Sasquatch Big Stick to serve as his lunch.

When we arrived in Chiefland, we didn't have to decide what to do. As always, we stuck to the pea-picking PLAN. Check into the motel. If it’s not raining, head to the CAV to set up. Back to town for a supply run on Wally World. Supper (when it’s obvious there will be observing) is usually Taco Bell. Quick stop at the room. Out to the site to finish preparations.

How was the motel? If you are a dedicated reader of the Little Old Blog from Chaos Manor South, you know we switched from Days Inn to Best Western some time ago. The Days Inn was just nasty the last time we stayed there (though I’ve had somewhat encouraging reports on it since). You also know Best Western changed chains and is now a Quality Inn, just like the old Holiday Inn Express de-evolved into a Days Inn. The Quality Inn is now the only game in town if you don’t want to brave the Days Inn or stay at what Unk calls “the Pregnant Guppy Motel,” a little independent hostelry, the Manatee Springs Inn. Seems to me Chiefland is big enough to support a new motel. Sure hope that happens someday.

Bottom line? The Quality Inn is neither much better nor any worse than when it was a Best Western. It is sufficient. The rooms are reasonably clean. The breakfast is edible. The staff is friendly—if a little clueless. Only major downcheck this time? The “hot” water was tepid at best. The motel is still preferable to tent camping, however, especially in the summer, and is quite acceptable for three or four nights.

After we were finally settled in our room a blamed hour after we arrived—the desk clerk couldn’t find our reservation and initially put us in a standard room rather than the suite-like “family room” we’d requested—it was out to the CAV to see what was what and, most of all, to set up. There was plenty of blue sky, and it was obvious there’d be plenty of observing Thursday night.

When we arrived at the Billy Dodd Memorial Observing Field, I was pleased to see two of my old CAV compadres, Carl Wright and Paul LaVoie, were onsite and ready to go. I won’t say it was pleasant setting up Mrs. Peel and the EZ-Up in 90-degree temps, but it was doable. We took it slowly and there was a constant breeze. Unk was only a tetch overheated and out of sorts when we were done. Still, it was dang nice to blast the air conditioner on the way back to town.

What’d we get at the dadgum Wal-Mart? The usual:  Kolorado Kool Aid (for after run celebrating), Jack Links and granola bars to serve as Unk’s midrats, plenty of bottled water, and—of course—MONSTER ENERGY DRINKS.

Thence to supper. On those Thursday nights when it’s obvious the clouds will hold sway, we repair to Bar-B-Q Bill’s for steaks and beer. It was apparent there’d be ample sky watching on this night, however, so we settled for Taco Bell, where Unk indulged himself with the Dorito Taco Big Box.

Supper done, it was, surprisingly, time to skedaddle. Despite the fact that sundown wouldn’t arrive till nearly 8:30 p.m., time was tight. Losing an hour in the process of getting checked into the Quality Inn hurt. I didn't feel rushed, but I felt some pressure to get my final preparations done. The camera had to be mounted on the scope. So did the guide camera. Computer had to be cabled to the VX. Etc., etc., etc. I got everything done with some time to spare but not much time to spare.

What is there to say about Thursday night? Surprisingly, not much. Despite Unk not having done any prime focus DSLR imaging in over two years, it went without a hitch. The reason for that was two-fold:  the new (well, new to Unk) Nebulosity 3 is even easier to use than its predecessor, and the Canon 60D I am now using for deep sky astrophotography is likewise easier to use than my previous astro-DSLR, a Canon 400D. The 60D has Live View, which makes focusing uber quick, and you don’t have to worry about a pea-picking shutter interface cable for long exposure work. Shutter control is handled by the same USB cable that downloads images to the laptop (when you are using Nebulosity).

I managed to image four targets during the course of an evening that slowly evolved into a stunner. Looking up at the Milky Way as it began to burn, I opined that this July new Moon was turning out to be nearly as good as 2011’s and maybe better than 2012’s. While seeing was not terrific, it was OK, and away from the horizons where clouds were shuttling past off and on, it was good and dark.

What did Unk do while his exposures were in progress? I wandered the field admiring the video images Carl was getting with his C8/CGE combo, and the prime focus images Paul was grabbing with his Edge C11 and Astro-Physics mount. Wasn't much else to do. You tell Nebulosity how many subframes of a subject you want, how long the exposures should be, and it does all the work—which is a good thing, since Neb probably knows a lot more about prime focus deep sky imaging than your benighted old Uncle does. I wandered over to the computer to check on progress occasionally or to send Mrs. Peel to a new target, and that was all the “work” I did.

Chugged a Monster about midnight, which kept me going till 2 a.m., no prob. Actually, I could have made it well past two, but at that time the sky, while still purty danged good, had hazed up a mite. It was still fine, mind you, but maybe not good enough for more prime focus deep sky. I threw the big switch, packed the computer, and stowed some of the other gear. It would turn out Unk should have been more assiduous about protecting the astro-stuff, but I was feeling on top of the world. It had been a splendid run under splendid skies. What could happen?

Anyhoo, Unk was down the spooky lane of mossy old oaks, onto highway 19, and back at the motel by 2:30 a.m. Just in time catch a Finding Bigfoot marathon on the (analog) cable TV.  Unk, still pumped and not a bit sleepy, broke out the great big bottle of Rebel Yell I’d picked up at BubbaQue’s Liquors (right across the street from the Quality Inn) before heading to the site.

Believe it or no, Friday morning Unk was up in time to make it to the motel’s breakfast with Miss Dorothy. How was it? They had outstanding biscuits and gravy. That was all I needed—well, that and a cup or three of Joe—to see me through till lunch, so I gave it a thumbs-up.

Breakfast washed down with a gallon of coffee, D. and I quitted the motel for a day at Duma Key. That’s our pet name for Cedar Key, a formerly sleepy fishing village on Florida’s “undiscovered” west coast that is now a major tourist attraction. Maybe too major. July 4 last year, Dorothy and I tried to visit the Key, but could not find a place to freaking park.

Since we’d be passing the turnoff for the CAV on our way to Duma Key, I asked Dorothy if she’d mind if we stopped for a few minutes to check on the gear. It has been sprinkling rain off and on in town at breakfast time, and I was aware I’d left a lot of stuff sitting out. Dorothy was amenable, so we visited the field. And it was a good thing we did.

The sprinkles in Chiefland had been a major downpour at the CAV a dozen miles away. Everything was soaked. Mrs. Peel was fine under her Desert Storm Cover, but the table had about half an inch of water standing on it. My observing notebook was waterlogged. So were several cardboard boxes. The camp chairs looked like birdbaths. Dorothy and I spent the next half hour drying everything out. Paul lent us a tarp to cover the table and chairs in case an afternoon shower rolled through, and I resolved to always pack tarps and use them in the future. In amateur astronomy, it’s always when you get complacent, when you get the big head, that you get bit on the rear.

How was Cedar Key? It was as fun and picturesque as always. We didn't spend a lot of time strolling around—it was just too darned hot—but we had a good time. We began at Steamer’s Clam Bar, where Unk ordered the crab cake sandwich (crazy) and the onion rings (insane). Got to have something to wash it down with, right? Several draft brewskies saw to that. As we sat in Steamer’s, another thunderstorm rumbled through and dropped rain, but it missed the CAV. Thankfully, we’d got the only rain we’d get there the whole time.

Back to the motel for...? Yep, you guessed it: n-a-p-t-i-m-e. Unk semi-dozed and semi-slept in the cool room for about three hours, and was rarin’ to go as sundown came on. Thursday night had been work. Friday would be fun, if fun with a purpose.

That purpose, as above was to check the Micro. What’s a Micro and how is it different from the other Mallincams? Heretofore, most deep sky video cameras have used ½-inch CCD chips. Recently, though, perhaps stirred by folks experimenting with inexpensive off-the-shelf surveillance cams, there’s been considerable interest in 1/3-inch sensor vidcams for astronomy.

The Little Feller...
And that is what the Mallincam Micro EX is. It is a 1/3-inch color camera, but it is definitely not an off-the-shelf one. It has been optimized for astronomy by Mr. Rock, and is better suited for our pursuit than the Samsung “closed circuit” cameras the folks over on the Cloudy Nights BBS like to play with. Nevertheless, it is at heart a simple device:  no cooling, only a few adjustments, small form factor, and the aforementioned smaller imaging chip.

Sometimes small and simple is beautiful, however. The EX’s little, nearly cubical body means you can insert it straight into the visual back on a fork mount SCT, even with a focal reducer screwed onto the rear port, without having to worry about the camera running into the drivebase at higher altitudes. No star diagonal required. That is a big deal for SCT owners.

Despite an extensive menu system, there are really only four adjustments on the Micro most users will have to fool with more than once, and that is a damned good thing if you are a beginner. The many adjustments of my beloved Xtreme sometimes still leave Unk scratching his head.

Another benefit of small and simple, of course, is that Mr. Mallin can sell the camera for less than the “big” Mallincams. A barefoot Micro is an amazing 99 bucks. With cables, power, supply, and a 1.25-inch nosepiece, it is a still astounding 169 dineros.

I was eager to see what the little feller would do, but I’d need something for it to image, which was not happening. Drifting clouds at sunset had morphed into something that was not quite overcast, but was at least very thick haze. Mr. Harvey was of the opinion that we could expect clearing by 1 a.m. I hoped he was correct.

Turned out he was. We actually began to get some improvement sooner than that and I was able to get Mrs. Peel goto aligned well before midnight. One of the first things folks ask about 1/3-inch chips is whether they make goto alignment and goto a challenge. Yes, they cover less sky than a ½-inch chip at the same focal ratio (for me, f/3.3 using my old Meade reducer). But not that much less sky, and I certainly had no trouble with goto. Anything I requested was on the chip of the Micro from one horizon to the other.

M13
Well, it’s not quite right to say Unk had no trouble with alignment. I almost always have trouble of some kind. In the course of drying everything out that morning, I’d checked the scope, discovered I’d left the Rigel Quickfinder turned on, and managed to mess up its aim in the course of replacing the battery. It took a little doing to get scope and finder to agree again, but after that, it was purty smooth sailing.

I sure was happy I’d got to try the camera back in April. In some ways, it is that horse of a different color when compared to the Xtreme. At least the way I use the Xtreme, controlling exposure and other settings with the laptop. You do get a computer cable and a software program with the Micro, but computer control with it is a different proposition than with other Mallincams.

All the Micro’s program does is throw up a window on your screen that duplicates the five buttons on the rear of the camera. You use the onscreen buttons to navigate menus and make changes to settings that appear on the video screen not the computer screen (unless you are piping video to a computer—more on that shortly). If you have used the wired remote available for other Malincams, it is a lot like that.

How about them settings? Although there are plenty of little icons and submenus to navigate, as above, once you have the camera initially set up (the instructions are clear as to how to do that) you only have a few to worry about.

The first is found in the Exposure menu and is, yep, camera exposure (shutter speed). Somewhat counter intuitively, it ain’t called “exposure,” but “lens.” Whatever it’s called, it allows you to vary the Micro from a maximum exposure of “1024x” (about 17 seconds) down to very short exposures suitable for the Moon and planets.

The ol' Dumbbell...
The second adjustment you will use frequently is “brightness,” which is also found under the Exposure icon. It can be varied from 0 – 99. Just set it at a level that provides a pleasing image of your current target.

Under the SYS (enhance) menu, you will find “gamma,” which is like contrast. It can be set at .3, .45, .6, or 1.0. I usually run it at .45 or .6 to get a picture that is neither too dark nor too washed out.

There’s one other menu you will visit, at least once in a while, the Color settings. These four are Automatic White Compensation (balance), Automatic Trace Whitebalance, Manual (white balance), and “Push,” which measures the image’s color balance. I usually just left this one on “auto,” though I did go manual and adjust red a couple of times when imaging nebulae.

In use, there ain’t much to running the Micro. I’d go to a target, set the exposure to 128x or 256x for focusing, set exposure to 1024x for imaging when I was done, and let fly. How effective is a “mere” 17 seconds for deep sky work? Well, hell, y’all, I was limited to 10-seconds with my old Stellacam 2, and successfully imaged thousands of objects with it. With this color camera, 17-seconds is enough to give you decent images of any Messier object.

You are not limited to bright Messiers, however. I got a nice pic of Pegasus’ “Andromeda Junior” galaxy, NGC 7331, with the Micro, and, since I was in the neighborhood, moved over to the somewhat notoriously dim galaxy group, Stephan’s Quintet. It didn't put my eye out, but it was visible. Later in the evening, the Bubble Nebula wasn’t just there; it was showing plenty of red color.

The Ring, natch...
Frankly, y'all, I was impressed. Despite a thin haze layer (which gave my pictures a green-brown cast), objects looked right good, with the live video looking substantially better than the quick grabs shown here. The Dumbbell really wasn’t much worse than it would have been with the Xtreme under similar conditions. Same with the Ring. The Lagoon Nebula? It was good enough that it made ol’ Unk’s jaw drop a substantial distance. And one of the hits of the night was considerably dimmer than any of those. NGC 1023, the peculiar galaxy in Perseus, didn't just show its preternaturally bright central area, but plenty of its lens shaped disk, which was golden in color.

Is the Micro for you? You could do worse. You should, however, understand its limitations. Compared to the Xtreme, this is beginner’s camera. It is uncooled, and its small chip has both warm and hot pixels. While I got good results with 17-seconds of exposure, if you are going after the really dim junk, or just want smoother, more detailed images, you will miss the longer exposures of the more advanced cameras. You may also find the lack of a gain adjustment limiting. While there is a gain setting, it is only useful in the camera’s special stacking mode, and not for normal observing.

Like the Mallincam Xtreme and  other deep sky video cameras, you will notice some amplifier glow in one of the corners of the frame at longer exposures. I don't find this disturbing with the Xtreme and it didn't bother me with the Micro either. I am after details and deep images, not pretty pictures. If you want pretty pictures, get a freaking DSLR.

The funny thing? What I thought would be most limiting, the 1/3-inch size of the chip, didn't turn out to be a handicap after all. I actually forgot it was “just” a 1/3-inch sensor after a while. With my 8-inch SCT and the f/3.3 reducer, the chip provided enough field to image most objects. No, I couldn’t fit consarned Andromeda in there, but it won’t fit on a ½-inch chip, neither.

In the end, we got about two OK hours and two good hours Friday night. That wasn’t a lot, but the little Micro was so trouble-free I was easily able to image several dozen subjects in that amount of time—which included quite a while spent messing with the settings to see how everything worked. With the exception of  the Micro's built in 5-frame stacking mode, that is, but I hope to try that soon (absent minded old Unk forgot all about it till we was back home).  Anyhoo, at 3 a.m., the conditions were degrading again and Unk’s old bod was reaching its “I have had enough” limit. Big Switch Time.

Back at the dadgum Quality Inn, all I could find on the tube at 3:30 in the a.m. was the ten-millionth airing of a Man vs. Food episode. After a couple of hits of the Yell, however, it began to seem interesting, and Unk didn't get to sleep till going on four effing thirty.

Saturday morning, I let Miss D. do breakfast without me. That was OK. I dang sure wanted to leave room for lunch at Bill’s. The tourist action for the day would be a visit to Chiefland’s famous Manatee Springs State Park. You won’t see any Manatees in the summer, but you can stroll in cool quiet beside the springs and see plenty of other wildlife. There was a nice addition to the park this time:  a new snack bar selling not just racks of ribs done on site in a big smoker, but COLD BEER. If I hadn’t been set on Bill’s, I coulda spent the entire day at the Springs.

Ah, yes, Bar-B-Q Bills. I’ve raved about it plenty here, so there’s little need to say anything more this time. I will just opine that it was as good as ever. The old-fashioned salad bar is still fresh and there still ain’t no purple vegetables in there. And the vaunted Lunch Special is still enormous, consisting of mucho sliced beef or pork, mound o’ fries, slaw, beans, and a huge hunk of garlic bread. Even Unk could not finish the entire meal, though he wanted to.

Then, finally, our last night at the CAV was upon us. What was I gonna do? I wanted to do more Micro EX-ing, but I wanted to do it in as simple a manner as possible. It would be nice if I could at least organize if not pack some of the copious astro-stuff in preparation for departure morning. I had a plan:  Why not use AstroLive and forget about the DVR recorder and the video monitor? Just run the video straight into the laptop?

AstroLive and Dumbbell...
What the heck is AstroLive? I wondered the same thing when its author, Kyle Goodwin, contacted me some months back, asking if I’d be interested in trying his new program in conjunction with the Micro. What AstroLive was, Kyle said, was a program he intended to be the Swiss army knife of video astronomy. Not only would it allow you to display video on your computer screen, it would let you to process images and stack images. Hell, it would even send your scope on gotos and compose observing lists.

Naturally, given the spring and early summer skies, I was able to do just as much with AstroLive as with the Micro—not squat, I mean. I was at least able to read the documentation and have a look at the software indoors, though. Once I glommed onto what it was supposed to do, I was impressed. The software looked professional and clean. Everything was laid out in logical fashion. It was not burdened with dozens of nested menus. There were just enough to get done what needed to be done, not tons of menus and buttons to confusticate me.

“But, Unk, how do you get Mallincam video into a computer? Mallincams is analog and computers is digital…” You use a device called a “frame grabber.” These days, one looks about like a USB-serial cable. Slightly oversize USB plug that goes into the computer. Cables coming out of that terminate in female phono (RCA) plugs for video and audio input. Plug the USB end into your computer and the Mallincam video cable into the video phono plug and your are good to go (after downloading and installing drivers the first time out, natch).

I haven’t done a lot of this computer-video business, and didn't have a frame grabber. But I found an “EZ Cap” on Amazon for five bucks. This is no doubt actually a Chinese knock-off of an EZ Cap video capture cable, but it works. The drivers probably ain’t exactly right for Win 7 64 bit, since it throws up a weird looking noise bar at the bottom of the capture screen (which does not impinge on the video), but, yeah, it works and delivers sharp video images.

Micro settings menu...
How easy would it be to get AstroLive working the first time? Not easy at all, I feared. “Surprise, surprise, surprise!” as ol’ Gomer used to say on the TV. It was duck soup. Turned on the camera, plugged the EZ Cap in, lit off AstroLive, selected “Micro EX” and my capture device (in the “Setup” tab on AstroLive’s main screen), and we was rolling. The video was sharp and clear on the Toshiba Satellite’s screen, and I was able to complete the VX’s goto alignment just like always. Unk was no little impressed.

OK, it was showing the video onscreen (the camera was using its saved settings at this point)., but what else would AstroLive do for me? One of the other things it can do is control a wide range of cameras including not just the Mallincams, but the Astro Systems video cameras, and many still imaging cams as well. AstroLive will work with the Atik Cameras, Starlight Xpress cams, and, in general terms, any still camera for which there is an ASCOM driver.

Because of the limitations inherent in the Micro EX, you are confined to using the same “menus-on-the-video-screen” system as when using the Mallincam Micro control program. The controls are at least built into AstroLive, however—you don’t have to use the Mallincam control program at all, which is convenient. Also, since the menus and video appear on the computer display in front of you, you don’t have to look at or fool with a separate monitor. If you are using a more sophisticated camera like the Xtreme, AstroLive provides built-in controls for exposure, gain, and other settings.

I started to mash the buttons on NexRemote to send Mrs. Peel to the Ring Nebula. Then I thought better of it. AstroLive was touted as being able to send a scope on gotos. I’d let the program tell Mrs. Peel to find M57.

In order to goto-enable AstroLive, you have to connect it to your scope. That is easy. Once you’ve hooked computer to mount via a serial cable, click the “Choose Mount” button in the setup tab. That will bring up the familiar ASCOM chooser, and you can then proceed to link the program to your scope as per normal. Since AstroLive uses ASCOM, it will control just about any scope (and any focuser, too) under the Sun. AstroLive requires the ASCOM platform version 6.1, and will, interestingly, not even install if ASCOM 6.1 is not present.

Goto screen...
“Hokay, got scope setup squared away. Let’s see what she will do.” Clicked the goto tab, and typed M57 (M 57 would also have worked, it turned out) into the search field. AstroLive responded with the Ring’s vitals. I selected those vitals with a mouse click, mashed “Go to Selected,” and we was off. Not surprisingly, since the program uses ASCOM, goto operation was flawless. AstroLive also features a proto-planner—you can send your search results to an observing list.

Alrighty, then. Had a dern good-looking Ring on the computer display. What could I do with it? Going to the “Post Processing” tab, I saw the program offered numerous tools to enhance pictures. You can adjust the video’s histogram, subtract dark frames, and even stack frames into a finished still image. I wanted to try all those things, but I froze up. I needed to shut down early and I had a good thing going at the moment. I didn't want to mess it up by mashing the wrong button.

Instead, I confined myself to saving still images. AstroLive makes it easy to do that. Like what you see in the video display? Click “Save snapshot.” A still image will be saved to a specified location on your hard drive. The date and time of the capture will be appended to the file name. If you’ve arrived at the object by using AstroLive’s goto system, the image will also have the object's catalog number in the name. Purty dang slick if’n you axe me.

The many things AstroLive will do doesn't end with the above. There’s also a frame and focus module that helps you attain perfect focus if you are using a computerized motofocus system. I didn't try that, but I will in the future—along with the post processing stuff.

Of course, as your old Unk always says, “No software is perfect.” I’ve been fairly raving about AstroLive, but there are some things it doesn't do that I’d like it to do. At the top of the list is “capture live video.” I do like to save my video for viewing on my big screen TV. I have my fingers crossed on that once—Kyle says he is working on it right now. I would also like to see a night-vision setting for the program. And the goto system’s database/search needs to be slightly more robust in my opinion—I’d like more search options and more data.

M15...
Finally, while the documentation is good enough to get you started, it is definitely a work in progress. Several sections, including the one on Goto, are missing in action:  “This section is coming soon.” On the other hand, the program is well-designed and intuitive enough that you, like me, will no doubt be able to wing it.

In the end, how good is AstroLive? What ought to tell you something is that I have not complained about what the program does and how it does it. Sure, I’d like to see it do a couple more things, but what it does seemed danged near perfect to me and I wouldn’t change a fraking thing. I can hardly wait to try it with my more capable Mallincam Xtreme. The days of my beloved StarShoot DVR recorder and my old portable DVD player/monitor may be over thanks to AstroLive.

At midnight approached, the sky was actually holding. But not for me. As always on the last night, 12 o’clock was my designated turns-into-a-pumpkin time. I pulled that accursed Big Switch, secured the gear (it sure was nice not to have to disconnect and pack the DVR and the DVD player), and was offsite by 12.

At the motel, with a little help from the Ghost Adventures and the Yell, I ruminated, Muchachos. Not that it took much thinking (or what passes for that in Unk’s case) to conclude this trip would rank among the great ones. As we packed Miss Van Pelt Sunday morning, everybody on the field once again heard Unk’s old CAV mantra:  “Had a great time; just want to come back soon.”

Nota Bene:  You can see many more pictures from our Chiefland Odyssey on Unk's Facebook page...

Next Time:  Getting Nebulized…

Comments:
Hi Rod
You mentioned that the many adjustments for the Extreme leave you scratching your head sometimes. Me too. At Rock Mallin's star party this weekend the developer of the mallincam control software did an excellent presentation which covered all features of the software and then some. I believe the PowerPoint will be placed on the mallincam website and a video of the presentation may be placed on youtube. You will have to watch for it.
Lance

 
I'll be sure to keep an eye out for it...as usual, your old Uncle can use all the help he can get. LOL
 
Along the lines of small form factors, i've been quite happy with my little Mallincam Junior (which Mallin doesn't sell anymore). Its cubish tinyness fits quite nice on the end of my ST80 finderscope, and at 2s integration it's quite responsive as i pan the scope around.
I really like the combination of widefield plus narrowfield views. Sounds like this MicroEX might be useful for the same thing.
 
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