Thursday, March 23, 2017

Polemaster--Better than advertised! Trump, the ACA, and AHCA

It's been a week of disruptions and minor mayhem here, with clear nights that have been out of sync with my ability to take advantage of them. Until last night, that is.

My new Polemaster polar alignment tool worked quickly to give me a good polar alignment (as yet unconfirmed photographically). This was my first time trying it and I doubt if it took more than ten minutes to go through the basic and precise alignments. Some comments:
  • You initially need Polaris in the field of view. All I did is level the mount, set the altitude for my latitude, and get it eye-aligned with north. No bending down or stooping to sight through the polar axis. This brought Polaris into the field, although near the bottom.  I adjusted altitude and azimuth further to roughly center Polaris before beginning the alignment process.
  • Don't be put off by the coma you see around stars that are away from the center of the field of view. This isn't an imaging device for making pretty pictures; think of it more as a star detector. The coma shouldn't enter into the centroid calculations in a way that matters to the result, anyway.
  • Under the glow of my inner red-zone sky the device had no trouble finding the needed stars; The field looked best with the gain set to maximum. 
  • Several times you are asked to use the software to rotate the field of view. The rotation steps are a little coarse, making it difficult to exactly center stars in the target display circles. I don't think this matters much at all; all you need to do is get it reasonably close to the center.
  • At one point you use your hand control to rotate the field of view and see that a star stays on a displayed circle. If it goes off the circle you have to start over, but with modest care when specifying stars (using double clicks) the star will stay right on the circle.
  • Unless the manual has been rewritten, ignore it for the actual process of aligning. Instead follow the on-screen guidance--it's clear and perfect.
  • The USB cable is kind of short, but not so short as to cause a problem. Next time I use it I'll try adding a short USB extension cable.
  • When I was done the precise alignment indicator (showing a tiny box and circle whose centers will coincide when alignment is perfect) suggested that I was within atmospheric limits of perfect. Simply touching my mount would lead to a shift away from perfect.  This makes me wonder if the process is best performed when the mount is already loaded for imaging.
In summary, the Polemaster alignment procedure was smoother and simpler than I expected. Although I don't yet have tracking data or an image to confirm the quality of the polar alignment, I'm confident it was at least as good as most of my manual efforts using PHD or visual drift. And it was much faster and easier!


As for politics, where does one even begin?

Every day it becomes more obvious that the Republicans have no idea of how to govern; They are a party badly divided between conservatives and radical ideologues. The former may understand the political process, but the latter seems bent on burning down our country so that it can be replaced by crude dog-eat-dog land in which the word compassion means nothing.

The laughingly titled American Health Care Act (AHCA) is neither American in nature or a real Health Care plan. It is an act, though, of both callousness and cowardice. It supposes to create more freedom by stripping away almost all of the sensible parts of the ACA. Should it pass, people will be free to drop their coverage because it's too expensive. Free to not get preventative care that might avert or detect illness before it becomes expensive to treat. Free to spend a huge portion of their income on health care, leaving them with little to spend on things like housing, transportation, food, and education.

This is what the radical Republicans want: A punished working class poor. And let's not forget the racial component of this: Many of the people who will suffer the most are members of minorities. We know how the radicals despise blacks, Hispanics, Muslims, and Native Americans, and all "those people" who come from any culture other than white European.

Oh, and what did Trump say about the ACA replacement while he was campaigning?

“I am going to take care of everybody … Everybody’s going to be taken care of much better than they’re taken care of now.”
"No one will lose coverage"
"No one will be worse off financially"

All lies. He never intended to make good on any of that. But that shouldn't come as a suprise given the number of lies he made while campaigning, and worse, once elected. But so many of you voted for him, choosing to overlook his inability to be truthful. Happy now?

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Sessions and Perjury; Polemaster Comments Tomorrow (I Hope)

This is supposed to be a blog about amateur astronomy, but the Trump Administration is a daily stream of blunders and lies that are impossible to let pass. The latest:

July 2016

According to the State Department, Sessions meets twice with Sergey Kislyak, Russian ambassador to the United States. At that time Sessions is an advisor to the Trump Campaign. Kislyak is the same person who met with NSA advisor Mike Flynn; as a result of those meetings, Flynn would be forced to resign on February 13, 2017.

January 10, 2017 Senate Confirmation Hearing

Senator Franken: "If there was any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of this (2016) campaign, what would you do?," the Minnesota Democrat asked. 
Mr. Sessions (under oath): "I'm not aware of any of those activities. I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I did not have communications with the Russians."

Recall that this is the same Jeffrey Sessions who voted to impeach President Clinton. Here is what he said about his vote (I have put the key statements in bold):
It has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt and to a moral certainty that President William Jefferson Clinton perjured himself before a Federal grand jury and has persisted in a continuous pattern of lying and obstructing justice. The chief law-enforcement officer of the land, whose oath of office calls on him to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution, crossed the line and failed to defend and protect the law and, in fact, attacked the law and the rights of a fellow citizen. Under our Constitution, equal justice requires that he forfeit his office. For these reasons, I felt compelled to vote to convict and remove the President from office. . . .

It is crucial to our system of justice that we demand the truth. I fear that an acquittal of this President will weaken the legal system by providing an option for those who consider being less than truthful in court. Whereas the handling of the case against President Nixon clearly strengthened the nation's respect for law, justice and truth, the Clinton impeachment may unfortunately have the opposite result.
 It's rather plain that Sessions knows what to do with perjurers: They must resign. Furthermore, Sessions says that allowing a perjurer to remain in office will weaken the legal system.

I couldn't agree more.

So what is happening? Is Sessions living by his own words? No, the response is one of denial, both from Sessions and the White House.

It's been over a month since Flynn resigned because of his meetings with the same Russian. What has Sessions been doing in that time? Why didn't he admit to what he had done last month? I guess he and his boss know what is best for the country, even if the truth has to be kept from the public.

This is a good old fashioned cover up, a stonewall Nixon might have admired. But we do remember what happened to Nixon, don't we? Evidently Republicans don't.


And now the obligatory astronomy content.

It may be clear tonight! That means I can test my new PoleMaster. I probably won't do any imaging because I'll be in my light-polluted back yard. I could travel to Cherry Grove observatory, but the recent heavy snowfall (about 15 inches at the observatory) has probably made the site unusable.

Tomorrow I hope to add a glowing review of the PoleMaster to the many that have been written.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

A New PoleMaster Waits for Clear Sky; Step-down Rings; A More Presidential Trump--Maybe.

Another inch or so of fresh snow here as March begins, along with continuing clouds at night.

PoleMaster update: My PoleMaster (PM) arrived and all is well so far as I can tell without some stars to try it on. I'm not going to give you an "unboxing" description other than to say it arrived quickly from OPT and in perfect condition. Withing the cardboard shipping box QHY encloses the PM in a tin box. I'm not sure if this is supposed to be for storage or marketing effect.

Some commenters have mentioned that the included USB cable is a little short. I don't think this will be a problem because the PM mounted on my CGEM's polar axis port is basically stationary.

A really nice touch concerning the cable is that it attaches solidly to the PM using two small thumbscrews. I hope this helps correct one of the banes of using the Orion StarShoot Autoguider camera, which seems almost eager to drop its connection during polar alignment.

The adapter for my CGEM mount fits perfectly; The PM camera locks with ease onto the adapter. The Camera sits on the mount without any play and can be removed easily when alignment is done.

The PM manual is every bit as difficult to understand as people have said. I would guess a better translation is in the works--it's needed!

I'll say more after I actually use the PM.


It's common practice to stop down a lens when imaging with in order to give sharper stars and less chromatic aberration. This is usually accomplished using an iris made of metal vanes that form an adjustable diaphragm. Because the inside edge of the diaphragm resembles an equal sided polygon, it causes a spike-like diffraction pattern that can be very evident around bright stars. here's one from the image I posted last time:

A Most Imperfect Star
The purple blob just left of the star is an internal reflection from somewhere in the lens. Multi-coating can only do so much, apparently. And you can see the dimmer stars suffer from shape and aberration problems. It's a $40 lens, so I'm not expecting anything close to perfection.

The spikes in the image are from stopping the lens down to f/5.6 from its wide-open f/4. Perhaps you don't mind spikes like these in your images or think that they add esthetic appeal.  If you don't like them, or simple like round stars better consider using a step-down ring (SDR).  An SDR attaches to a lens just like a filter and act as a bladeless diaphragm. Here's what one looks like:

55mm to 37mm Step Down Ring
To figure out which one is right for you there are two numbers you'll need to know: The filter size for your lens and the iris diameter for the focal ratio you plan to use. Let's take my Tamron 135mm lens as an example.

We begin by finding a little circle with a vertical line through it on the lens. It looks like a Greek letter phi and will have a number next to it.  Usually this is found on the specs ring at the front of the lens, but on my Tamron it's on the side of the lens. As it turns out, my Tamron takes a 58mm filter.

I find that the Tamron works well at f/4 rather than its wide-open f/2.5. The f/4 objective diameter of a 135mm lens is just 135mm divided by 4, or 33.75mm.

Therefore I would use a 58mm to 34mm SDR. Easy! Or maybe not.  SDRs don't come in every possible size, so you may need to take an inner ring size that's not quite what you want or get creative by using multiple SDRs.

Because SDRs have threads on the inner circle it's possible to fit one into another. It happens that the SDR my Tamron wants is not one I could find. There is a 58mm to 55mm SDR, a 55mm to 37mm SDR and a 37mm to 34mm SDR; used together they give me the 58mm to 34mm I want!

As it turns out, my Zuiko 200mm lens needs a 55mm to 37mm SDR, so I have two reasons to buy it. And if I want, I can use the two smaller SDRs on my Zuiko to give it a focal ratio of f/5.9.

How will this all work out? I'll let you know when the SDRs arrive from Ebay and the sky clears!


Back to politics.

The President gave an ad hoc State of the Union talk last night, and it was clearly designed to calm the fears over the havoc of his first month in office. Trump actually sounded more presidential than ever before, and while he seemed a bit more conciliatory it was only a first step toward normalcy. His behavior up to the talk has been dreadful, so the expectations for last night were about as low as can be imagined. It sounded like a toned down campaign speech, which is about right for a talk like that. It was woefully short on details, but that wasn't a surprise.

Has he turned the corner and decided to act more like an adult? He's 70 years old; a little late to take entry level classes in government, ethics, and morality. And recall that two days earlier he had proclaimed "Nobody knew health care could be so complicated!" I think that Trump was the only person one the planet who failed to grasp this simple fact. Certainly the Republican party knows this, as they've taken over six years to devise a coherent alternative to the ACA. (We're still waiting for them to put up or shut up.)

And last night Trump's thin skin was glowing red over the death of the Navy SEAL William Owens. After passing the blame off on his generals earlier in the day he opted to hide behind a widow's grief.  I've never been a fan of State of the Union speeches that traded on heroic acts--Every president since Reagan has done this--but last night was a new low.  New lows are what Trump has consistently been about, so no, I'm not all that optimistic that last night was anything more than show. Time will tell.