Sunday, May 17, 2020


#560: The New Herschel Project, the Preparation

365 days. 400 objects. One astronomer and a less than perfect suburban backyard sky.

How far will it go? We can only wait. And wait. And wait... 

The New Herschel Project. Coming soon to a computer terminal near you!

Putting the Losmandy GM811 back in service had been remarkably trouble-free—especially considering my increasingly fumble-fingered and forgetful nature—so, I was on to the next step, Muchachos, getting a laptop computer connected to the mount. While the New Project's 400 objects wouldn't require the organization the Big Enchilada's 2500 demanded, even 400 meant I'd want a planning program running in the field. "What have I seen? What do I still  need to see? What can I see tonight?"

While there was a fat, waxing Moon in the sky, she wouldn’t prevent me from testing the GM811/PC Ethernet connection--indoors, at least. Since I’d set the mount up for Ethernet before, that wouldn’t be a problem to get going, I thought. That’s what I get for thinking.

I am—as usual—getting ahead of myself. What about night two with the Losmandy I alluded to last time? I did get out the next evening following the replacement of the Gemini 2 computer’s battery (hardest part was getting the darned thing open so I could swap out the little button cell). Result? The new battery was fine; clock time was right on the money.

As I also mentioned I might do, I swapped out the refractor for my Edge 800, Emma Peel. Every goto was bang on, with me just leaving the 8mm Ethos eyepiece in the SCT for the duration; even at 175x everything was somewhere in the field. Well, what I could see was in the field. Luna was really interfering now. I did a few more slews, shut down, quitted the backyard for the den and TV, and the next morning tore down mount and scope.

Next up: wringing out the mount’s LAN connection. Why Ethernet in the first place? Well, no darned old USB - serial adapters to fiddle with. No restrictions on cable length. Most of all, in my experience from when I first began using the mount, Ethernet just works with the Gemini 2.

The object goto page of the web interface.
First thing was to download the instructions for setting up the interface from Gemini, instructions that largely concern assigning a static IP address to the computer’s Ethernet port. I remembered these directions fairly well from following them with my old Toshiba laptop: Easy enough. Quite detailed. Really too detailed. Yep, too detailed. The author doesn’t just explain the “how” of the setup, he explains the why for each step. Something this cat doesn’t really give a fig about.

After puzzling over pages of small type for more than a few minutes, I recalled that after I’d first received the GM811, I’d written up a simplified set of Ethernet instructions and posted them on the Cloudy Nights bulletin board in case some other new Gemini 2 user was as bumfuzzled by the instructions as Unk was. A search of the Cloudy Nights turned them up, I printed them out, and was ready to roll—or so your benighted old Uncle thought, anyhow.

Sat down to the nice, new Lenovo laptop in the dining room where it had been stationed during the weeks when I’d been teaching my university courses online. First thing was to open the Network and Sharing Center, go to “change adapter settings,” and right click on the LAN/Ethernet icon. Welp… There wasn’t no Ethernet icon. There was one for Wi-Fi and one for Bluetooth, and that was it. What the—?!  As I wrote last time, a sneaking suspicion gripped your correspondent. I started examining the connectors on the lappie. USB 3? Yep, three of them. HDMI? Uh-huh. Ethernet? Nope.

A visit to Amazon revealed there was, as I’d speculated, such a thing as a USB3 to Ethernet adapter. As a matter of fact, that seemed to be a rather common item. I picked a mid-priced example, ordered it via Prime, and it was soon in my hands. I’m still bemused, though. Why no Ethernet port? Surely PC makers don’t think Ethernet is going the way of RS-232. Or do they?

Mallincam Junior, hand control, and receiver.
Whatever. Plugged the adapter into the Lenovo, and that blasted LAN icon showed right up. Connected my CAT cable between PC and mount, turned on Gemini, and went to work. Using my instructions, it was a matter of 10 short and easy steps and I was done. If you’ve got a Gemini 2 and are wrestling with the website instructions, shoot me an email at and I will send you a copy of my simpleminded guide to Gemini 2 Ethernet configuration.

I was done, but was I done successfully? There are a couple of ways to connect to the mount with Ethernet. You can use the Gemini 2 ASCOM driver, which is much like the serial ASCOM drivers you are used to. That will work with any ASCOM compatible astronomy program—which is almost any astro-ware these days. Or you can use the Gemini 2 computer’s built-in web page. That allows you to connect to the mount using a web browser.

Since it was daytime and me and the GM811 were sitting in the sunroom instead of out under the stars, I didn’t think it was necessary to mess with planetarium programs and ASCOM. The web interface would show if all was well in a hurry. It did—well, as soon as I went to the Gemini 2 website and looked up what the user name/password the browser was asking me for should be (“admin,” no password).

Typing http://Gemini into Microsoft Edge (or whatever you use) allows you to do lots of stuff including slew to objects. All I wanted to do, however, was see that I was connected to the mount. I pushed the virtual HC slew buttons on one of the pages, the mount moved, and I was done. I’d get the ASCOM driver set up as soon as the old Moon got herself out of the way…

And as soon as a package of batteries including a CR2 cell arrived from Amazon. I told y’all the other day that the New H-Project will, like the Big Enchilada, include both visual and video observations. I further said that in the cheap-simple-easy spirit of the New Project (while I’ll use the somewhat upscale Losmandy mount, a Celestron AVX or a Meade LX85 would no doubt work just as well), I’ll probably limit the cameras to the Revolution imager and the Mallincam Junior Pro.

A check of Junior showed he needed batteries for both his hand control (AAA) and hand control receiver (CR2)–Junior, you see,  uses a little HC to set and initiate long exposures. A survey of the junkque drawer in the kitchen showed that there were no AAAs on hand, much less the CR2 required for the receiver. I might coulda got one of those CR2s at WallyWorld, but I’ve gone from trying to avoid the place pre-Covid to staying out of there period. Amazon, then. The batteries would arrive about the time Moon began to seriously wane, so I decided I’d start the Project with the Mallincam Junior in hopes of giving him a clean bill of health after the battery replacement.

While I call my little camera "Junior," as was kindly pointed out to me my Mallincam extraordinaire, Jack Huerkamp, he is actually a Junior Pro. The plain Junior is an entirely different camera. Anyhow, I holed the little cam to my new laptop upon which I’d installed the Mallicam Junior Pro control software (which allows you to set everything except long exposures). I wouldn’t be able to test the long exposure hand control, no, but I'd be able to see that the camera still functioned, and that the program was set up correctly. Fired everything up, started the software, selected the correct com port, and enabled the crosshair overlay, which appeared on the screen of my good old DVD player/monitor. So did the color bars when I enabled them. Looked like Junior was just fine despite not having been used in—get this—SIX YEARS!

Well, darn. The CR2 batteries finally arrived from Amazon on Thursday. Do you wanna guess what else arrived? Yep, clouds. Every night between Thursday and Tuesday showed up a disgusting red or yellow in my fave astro-weather-app, Scope Nights. Adding insult to injury? I discovered Publix sells CR2 batteries, so I coulda had one a week ago. Ah, well, such is the fate of this oft-bumbling astronomer.

I told y’all not to expect a new blog entry every Sunday, but it looks like you might get just that for a little while, anyhow. But don’t get used to it. As I mumbled the not long ago, I am thinking in these latter days “twice a month” sounds about right. However, twice a month it will be, no foolin’, and when I have the material to bring you an article every Sunday for a while, every Sunday you shall have.

Plugeroo Department:  If you are an imager and aren’t reading Amateur Astrophotography Magazine, why not? It’s evolved to the point where I can say it’s the best thing done on the subject in a long time—maybe ever. I should have mentioned it more often, but with the near-demise of this here blog over the last three years, I never got around to it.  Well, the blog is back and I’m telling y'all to get to this magazine's website and get your hands on it. I am proud to say some of old Unk’s simpleminded articles on the subject have even appeared in this fine publication in the past (don’t let that stop you from reading it!)…

Plugeroo Part Deux

You asked for it! Nay, you demanded it! Well, one or two people may have mentioned something about it. I am talking about the forthcoming 2nd Edition of Unk’s vaunted SCT book, Choosing and Using a New CAT. I recently recounted some of my work on it during my recovery from my accident last year--it was tough going due to your old Uncle's really dilapidated condition. But it all worked out. Overall, I am pleased indeed. It’s not often you get to go back and fix those nagging issues that have bothered you for the better part of a decade (like some of my prose, and those lousy black and white photos in the First Edition).

I can say without reservation this is a much better book than the First Edition, and if you like that, you should really, really like this one. What’s changed? Naturally, the buyer’s guide chapter was almost completely rewritten thanks to a decade of changes in the telescope market. Same with the imaging chapter. And a lot of my MESS has been cleaned up elsewhere in the book. Did the publisher do some things I don’t like? Sure. That’s the way the game is played. But, I’m happy with the results, no ifs, ands or buts.

“When,” you ask? Amazon got “mid-May” from the publisher, but here is the thing, y'all:  Up until about two weeks ago I was still working with the production department making corrections. And there’s the Covid virus. So…I am doubtful about May. All I can say is "When I know, you will."

Your doubts about May are confirmed. Amazon is currently showing June 25,2020 as the new release date.

Hi Rod,
Really nice to see you back in action after your back problems and accident. Your blog both fascinates and challenges me to do more observing every time I read it.
Your good humour and kindness have been apparent to me ever since I started reading your posts on sci.astro.amateur decades ago in the good old days.You are a real friend of the amateur astronomy community.
Brighter days...and darker nights...ahead!!
best wishes to you
Kevin Berwick
HI George:

As a matter of fact, I had to send them one last correction a couple of days ago in response to an inquiry from them. But that is a wrap! :)

Thanks for your (overly) kind words. It's comments like that that keep me keepin' on. :)
Uncle Rod
It’s good to see the blog up and running again and that you are back observing . Reading your blog has inspired me to drag the old ‘scope out of retirement and start an observing project of my own. Good luck tracking down the “aitches” again.
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