Latest Allsky Image

Tuesday night we spent about 3 hours transferring the allsky camera workstation setup from a desktop machine to an old laptop machine.

One reason was that a desktop machine was so large and attracted critters (mice, spiders, chipmunks) out in the shed in the winter as it was warm and they were not. In the summer it tended to overheat. It also takes 100-125 watts of power 24/7 and that adds up over time. Finally it was hard to access if the remote desktop ever broke down, so I wanted to move it back into the observatory. Lastly, the laptop has a battery and would better withstand the many short power outages that typically occur out in the observatory.

It was successful. The allsky camera is operational again.

Some of the issues involved are detailed below, for those of you interested in imaging.

The laptop was set up with a fresh copy of windows XP Pro SP3 and all updates and patches. Antivirus (MS Security Essentials) , antispyware (Spybot S&D), firefox (v3.6.13) and UltraVNC were installed as well as windows remote desktop was enabled.

Most of the setup was done inside the house and once it got to a reliable remotely accessible stage it went outside to the observatory for more work.

Step one: install the camera drivers before plugging in the camera.
CCDSoft came with the SBIG ST237A camera and on it is a SBIGdriverchecker program. Running it several times eventually installed the latest and greatest versions of itself and the needed drivers.

I then installed the camera software itself, ccdsoft v5.00 (a variant of CCDOps) and it installed older camera drivers. arg.. after it was done, I reran the sbigdriverchecker and ran it through a few iterations again. All looked ready. Out to the observatory, hooking up the camera controller first, with a 110vac power timer on it so the camera is powered off in the daytime. It connects to the laptop with a parallel cable (LPT). Good thing the old laptop still had one, otherwise I would have to use the USB-LPT adapter I picked up last month.

The camera controller was hooked into the laptop and the laptop powered up and on the network so back inside I went,getting out of the blowing snow and -6 deg C temp.

Back inside I fired up VNC remote desktop software (I prefer it over the built in windows remote desktop) connected to the laptop and then started the CCDSoft camera program and spent the next hour trying to remember all of the little subtle configuration settings (image type, reduction, binning, camera type, filters types, removing the program toolbars, etc). Eventually it would start up and take an image and all was well.
More time setting up the autosave, network file storage location, 120sec exposure, and a sequence of 400 images (enough to cover the longest dark period).

Next was fixing the automation. We use a program called GMOUSE which allows you to record your mouse movement and clicks, which was the only way to get CCDSoft to come up, connect to the camera, turn on the peltier cooler, switch to another tab and start taking images. In the end, the old mouse macro had to be re-recorded as the various window positions were not the same on the laptop display as on the older workstation display.

Lastly into the control panel scheduled tasks to link into a couple of batch files.
Starting the run around twilight is a batch file called startccd.cmd and it fires up the gmouse macro, which starts CCDSoft, and starts imaging.

Another scheduled task to turn off the program (called disconnect.cmd) before daylight using another batch file calling gmouse and killing the CCDSoft program. These two tasks times are tweaked throughout the year as twilight times change. If the camera had an iris that could limit the light better, this would not be necessary.

That’s about it. All of the image processing is based on our linux file server and it continued to work and run even though no new images came in the last few days.

I’ll write this up for Regulus as well, adding in some of the batch files used to do this stuff.

*Update January 05*
And an expected not-expected problem cropped up at 1am… the temperature dropped to -10C and the laptop started crashing.
I knew that I had built an environmental box for the old system to keep warm for a reason!
The laptop was shut down this morning and later today will be put inside a small wooden box to help retain its self generated heat to keep it warm. The ST237 Camera Controller will also go in as well as the laptop power brick.

*update update*
The laptop is back outside in a cloth bag with its power brick and all wrapped up in a blanket. The camera controller could not fit in due to a temporarily short cable. Up and running again but still suffering from some kind of sbig camera errors about the operating system.