Even though the Moon was almost full and the sky was pretty washed out, it was worth getting up at 1:00 AM to open up my observatory.  The air was calm and temperatures in the 40's, so it was pleasant even without gloves on, although a coat was definitely in order.  It is so pretty at night in the desert.  There were a few late night travelers on Highway 95 about a mile to the west, but other than them it was pretty quiet.

My observatory started up without too much trouble.  Windows won't recognize all the USB devices if they are plugged in before it boots, so the external USB hub with the game controller, camera, mount, and focuser waited until after the boot for plugin.  Even at that, Maxim didn't recognize the camera nor FocusMax the focuser.  It took an unplug / plug event to force Windows to recognize those devices, and then the programs began to see them. That coud be kind of a hassle.

After setting the park position and indexing the mount to its internal encoder home position, it was easy to synchronize the pointing model onto a fairly bright star.  Then it was time to find some stars for some data collection.  I decided it would be fun to test the system on some variable stars, so I used my Deep Sky Planner software to select some variables from the NSV catalog that would be visible from my location during my observing window.

What I quickly discovered is that it is challenging getting a sufficient number of reference and check stars in the same frame as the variable.  Also, the variables I chose didn't seem to be supported by the AAVSO plotting software.  It would plot the variable and the surrounding stars, but with no magnitudes on any of them.  One variable, 46 Vir, finally did have a photometric observation associated with it, but there were no tagged magnitudes on reference stars.  I am not sure if any of their reported magnitudes will do me any good with the Sloan filters, anyway.

Finally I decided to go after some open clusters.  My plan is to get magnitudes in the three Sloan filter bands that I have and measure instrumental magnitudes for all the brighter stars in the cluster in each filter.  Then I should be able to make color index plots, perhaps with g'-r' on one axis, and r'-i' on the other axis.  That should show some sort of pattern for the cluster stars, and maybe a different pattern for random field stars.  All of this will be completely unmoored from any real magnitudes, unless I can get some Sloan magnitudes for those stars to ground them in some sort of standard system.

At around 6:00 AM I was on my third cluster, thinking I would let it work on collecting data while I fixed my breakfast.  I cam back to check on it about 20 minutes later to find that the mount software had crashed, sending the scope zigzagging across the sky until it contacted the pier and jammed.  Evidently the motors were left in some intermediate state from tracking when the program crashed.  I had to pull the power plug on the drive to stop it.  I don't think it hurt anything, since it must have been a soft contact, and besides, there are no gears to strip. 

Still, it bothers me that Windows will just crash programs for no particular reason.  Maybe it dropped a USB connection.  It keeps playing its sad little chime whenever I sit down in front of the computer.  Is it sensitive to static electricity?  There might be plenty of that around, since it is so dry out here.  I am thinking about upgrading to Windows 10, since 8.1 might have some bugs in it with regard to USB connections.  Then again, Windows 10 might have those same bugs plus a load of new ones.

A chilling thought occurred to me this morning: without the mount software my telescope is completely non-functional.  It won't even guide with a hand paddle.  I am completely at the mercy of the software developers in Austria.  If their company goes tits up, then it might be bye-bye mount control program.  I wish there was a way I could program my own mount control system.

Here is something else I have been up to.  My assignment in the Designing Sound class for this week was pretty interesting.  We were to take some effects patches from a Guitar Effects website, < http://mcaf.ee/85qmlj > and recreate them from the keyboard (no copying or using the included pd file) and then create some sounds to input into the effects and record the output.

So I am sort of getting my feet wet in Pure Data at last.  I have been reading chapters in the textbook about the various objects and how to create abstractions.  Pretty soon we will be using our Pure Data patches to create original compositions.  That should be fun, but sort of challenging.

Now I am wishing I brought my midi keyboard.  Just kidding -- the dust would have trashed it.  Actually, it would be fun to pick up a small plucking instrument, like a ukulele.  It could be neat to play that in the desert darkness.  It is really quiet out here in the middle of the night.  Everything except the coyotes is asleep, or at least quiet, while I am working with my telescope.  Even my telescope is utterly silent.  Plucking an instrument while I wait for the telescope to collect the data would add a lot of atmosphere to the observatory.