President’s Message – May 2008
Posted On May 1, 2008
By Barbara Toy
Well, after a promising start to the rainy season, the rains abruptly stopped in March, and everything started drying out. As seems to be the case with every type of rainy season we have in Southern California (based on the warnings that issue from the Powers That Be whether we have a very wet year, a very dry year, or anything in between), this will undoubtedly contribute to the danger of fire in the upcoming fire season. We mainly talk about Anza when we talk about fire, but wherever you are, please take appropriate precautions to minimize any fire danger to yourself and those around you, and make your surroundings as fire resistant as possible.
As to Anza in particular, the deadline for weed clearance is the end of May for pad and observatory holders, but usually the weed growth doesn't stop with the weed clearance in May. The few structural items we lost in the fire at our Anza site a few years ago were surrounded by grasses or weeds that had not been cut back – this was particularly noticeable with the electrical box that was damaged on Mars Hill. So keeping the weeds cleared away from all of the structures and equipment can really pay off!
Although we had the April Anza star party as a back-up to the March star party for the Messier Marathon, it was a wash-out – it’s hard to see anything through thick fog, and we had thick fog out there most of the night according to those optimistic souls who stayed the full night. If any of you were holding onto your Messier Marathon forms until after the April star party to see if you could do better than the first time around (or for any other reason), please send them in to the club’s P.O. box or give them to me when you see me, so I can get you your official 2008 OCA Messier Marathon certificate!
If you visit our Anza site regularly or check our website for weather information from Anza, you’ve probably noticed that we’ve had a lot of problems with our Internet service over the last few months, and lost service entirely for several weeks. Rick Wiggins kindly took the lead in contacting the satellite company that provides our Internet service to make arrangements for repair of the equipment on site, and he and Vance Tyree have put a lot of time and energy into resolving the problem. At this point, it seems that their efforts have been successful and we currently have reliable Internet service, but we’re not yet sure that all of these problems are now behind us.
In case you’re interested in the details of what’s been going on, here are some excerpts from the information Rick Wiggins sent to the satellite company and to those of us in the club who are involved in the issue, starting with his account of events leading to complete failure of the system:
We currently [as of March 29] have complete outage as of approximately 8AM March 22. The outage gradually developed over several weeks with the following signature. After replacement of the LNB and amplifier…, the system worked fairly well. However, within a few days, we would still experience outages ranging from 10 secs to 10 minutes. Then we had an outage of over 24 hours, which gradually recovered. Similar scenarios repeated over the last several weeks. Many of the long outages were correlated with rain or high humidity and the return to service [was] several hours after the humidity became lower. The signature is that the service starts losing bandwidth up to the point where the only thing that will work is an occasional ping, then it goes out. Recovery is the reverse. This last and permanent outage started on a night with 95% humidity, [the system] started to recover as the weather became dry several days later, but then dropped out completely and remained [out].
Events & problems leading to the [failure] (Nov. 2007-Mar. 2008):
The main problems began after some construction to [Anza House] in November, 2007. The roofing contractor needed to temporarily move the antenna tower (two 4 inch square metal supports) several inches away from the building and bent the metal in doing so. He later cut the steel supports and re-welded them straight, leaving the antenna in approximately the same vertical position, but necessitating realignment of the antenna by the service technician (Alan Maretsky). The service then worked for a few hours and went down completely. Alan was called again to realign the antenna and did so, resulting in the system returning to work, but with the gradual fade and outage situation described in the previous paragraph. During the last two trips, Alan has replaced the modem, the LNB, and the transmit amplifier…. We do not know of anything inherent in the [roofing] work…(other than the temporary pointing problem) that could be causing the outage….
A different technician came out to the site and met with Vance, Rick and their crew on April 4 – I don’t know who all was there from the club, but they were able to do any necessary repair, welding or other construction that might be needed on request of the technician. This is Rick’s account of what was done:
The satellite technician arrived a little before 1PM as planned and went on the roof to assess the system. He was unable to get a steady signal using his signal strength meter attached behind the LNB. In addition, he noted that the flashing lights on the modem indicated loss of signal sync.
We informed [him] that we had all the resources required to make any changes that he wanted with the installation… include[ing] installation of new metal supports, fixtures, or anything required and that we had the ability to do metal construction including welding. We instructed him…to make any repairs he deemed necessary including antenna placement and mounting. We also requested…that he replace the feed-horn and waveguide assembly including the polarizer to ensure that these parts were not part of our ongoing problems. He informed us that he had no parts other than the connectors, which he did replace….
He proceeded to disassemble the entire antenna structure and realign it including making the dish mount post vertical. We (the OCA staff) added a brace to the antenna mount post to form a tripod support. This provided tremendous stability and reduced any movement due to wind by a factor of 10 to 100. The mount is now extremely stable…. The technician then performed a final alignment and checked the signal by having the satellite service office perform a check. He indicated that the signals measured by the satellite company indicated a very strong signal that was as good, as or slightly better than average for this location….
The current satellite connection is much better than it’s been for several months, but we still have concerns about its long-term reliability. Rick’s email setting up the service call with the technician specifically asked that the technician who was to come out on April 4 replace all portions of the system on site that hadn’t yet been replaced, to eliminate them as possible sources of the problem, but, as he noted, the technician didn’t bring the necessary parts. Since the past failures occurred during extended periods of high humidity, we probably won’t know if we still have a problem for several months, after the start of the next rainy season; even if we have a lot of thunderstorms this summer (which we hope won’t be the case), that humidity won’t last long enough to give us the necessary assurance. For now, however, you should be able to access the Internet from the Anza site when you’re out there – if you have problems with this, please let Vance Tyree or me know about it.
MORE ON RTMC
I mentioned the RTMC Astronomy Expo last month, specifically the fact that the club will have its usual booth and needs volunteers to help run it. Besides volunteers at our booth, we generally have a number of OCA members who volunteer in different capacities for RTMC itself. This year, one of our members is the keynote speaker – I’m sure none of you will want to miss Chris Butler's presentation Saturday night! In addition, one of our astroimagers, Alan Smallbone will be giving a beginning astroimaging class at 4:00 on Saturday.
As general information, RTMC started as the Riverside Telescope Makers' Conference, and has been held at Camp Oaks near Big Bear City for many years. Telescope making is still an important aspect of the conference, and one of the major events is the contest among various telescopes that were designed and built by their owners; winning recognition in this event is a major honor, and years after a telescope has won an award, you'll still hear it identified as an RTMC award winner. You can see the different telescopes that are entered in the contest dotted around the Telescope Field and other observing areas, and you should check them out if you have a chance, as they often have very innovative designs and it's interesting to see what people are doing in this aspect of the hobby.
RTMC is also known for its vendors, and for its history as a place to get bargains on various types of gear. In addition to the commercial vendors, attendees bring astronomical and other gear they want to dispose of to the swap meet that’s also an important part of the event. People who bring things to sell generally set up tables along the walk near the dining hall, and the greatest amount of swap meet activity seems to be early in the mornings on Saturday and Sunday. Actually, I understand that a lot of selling goes on after RTMC opens on Friday, but I’ve never been able to get there early enough to see this for myself.
Besides all this, there are lectures and other events during the day both Saturday and Sunday, including tours of the Big Bear Solar Observatory, a scale model of the solar system to explore, and activities such as swimming, hikes, horseback riding and archery. A lot of people camp for the weekend, in tents, RVs or vans, and there are some beds available in cabins on site – for details, please see the RTMC website (http://www.rtmcastronomyexpo.org/). You can also come as a day visitor, or stay in a hotel in Big Bear City rather than at the campground itself. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served in the dining hall at set times, but you should get tickets in advance to be sure you'd will be seated. There is also a hamburger stand on the grounds where you can get hot food, and many people bring their own food with them.
Another long-standing and very popular tradition at RTMC is the raffle that is held both Saturday and Sunday after dinner. There are different tickets for children and adults (so the prizes are age-appropriate), everyone there gets one ticket, and you have to be present to win. Generally, the grand prizes have been large telescopes generously donated by Meade and Celestron, and there are a lot of other very nice prizes as well donated by different vendors and clubs.
We’ll be taking the annual club picture at the OCA booth on Saturday at 1:00 p.m., so please plan to join us there! And, if you can spend an hour or two helping with the booth on Friday afternoon, any time on Saturday or on Sunday morning, please contact Karen at Karen@Schnabel.net. Kyle Coker has kindly agreed to bring tables, etc., from the booth back on Sunday, and Bob Buchheim will be taking the canopy and tables out there on Friday, but we may still need some people to take things for the booth out on Friday or early Saturday – please contact Karen to see what help she needs if you can help out with this.
FOR THOSE INTERESTED IN GETTING STARTED IN ASTROIMAGING
If you don’t know much about astroimaging but think you might like to try it out, Kyle Coker has been doing a session on the basics of astroimaging for the Beginners Astronomy Class for the last couple years. This gives an overview of the various aspects of imaging – basic considerations regarding mounts and tracking, different types of telescopes and cameras, software that can be used to control the mount and cameras and for collecting images, focusing, and basic information about processing. The next time he’ll be giving this class is August 1, as the last session of the current cycle of the Beginners Class. If you don't want to wait until August, as mentioned above, Alan Smallbone will be giving a beginning astroimaging class at RTMC this year, currently set on Saturday, May 24, at 4:00 p.m.
Both of these sessions are good ways to cover the basics, learn what’s required, and get a better sense of how you can successfully tackle the rather steep learning curve inherent in getting good images – it’s a lot to pull together, but the images are worth it! Both Alan and Kyle are experienced imagers and have been active in our Astroimaging SIG for several years, and they both have used a wide range of cameras, from lower-cost types through upper-end models. They have also both used DSLRs for astroimaging, which is something many people are interested in because DSLRs can be used for more than just astroimaging.
The AstroImaging SIG is considering whether it should do another more in-depth imaging class that would have an emphasis on hands-on training. How they would do this depends in part on what people who would sign up for the course want to learn, specifically as to the types of cameras and types of imaging (planetary and solar imaging, for instance, are much different than deepsky imaging). If you are interested in attending such a class, please contact Tom Kucharski (TomRigel@aol.com), the coordinator for the Astroimaging group, and let him know about your interest, and also what type of imaging you are interested in doing and what types of equipment you already have, if any.
© Barbara Toy, April 2008