Archive for March 2008

Observing Report 27th-28th March 2008 (Webcam gets first light)

Posted by on March 28th 2008 in Observing Reports

After what seems to be weeks of cloudy sky, last night started reasonably clear, so I nabbed the chance to see what can be done with a webcam attached to the scope.

The webcam of choice is the Philips SPC900NC, which is recommended by every man and his dog because the sensor is a CCD instead of a CMOS, and because it's fairly easy to modify for raw image and/or long-exposure capture (I might get around to modding mine sometime, but for now I'll keep it as is until I get the hang of this imaging malarkey). It's also recommended because it's cheap (currently <£30 from Amazon, even cheaper if you shop around).

It's been removed from the original housing and temporarily rehoused in a cheap plastic box, primarily to allow a T-thread adapter to be fitted in place of the supplied lens. Removing the lens means that the IR-cut capability is removed as well, which has a detrimental effect on image quality, so I'll be sourcing a suitable filter soon. For now, though, it's a case of going with what's available.

The webcam was attached to the Baader Hyperion Zoom eyepiece using a 50mm extension tube to give the required image size on the chip. Setting the BHZ to 12mm gave the best image, but the seeing was absolutely rubbish, nothing was staying in focus and the image was boiling and hopping about all over the field of view.

Still, anything's better than nothing, I needed some practice and some material to work with, so I rattled off a few .avi captures until I'd amassed just over 9,000 frames, then took some dark-frame captures to aid in the stacking process. Shortly afterwards, I had to stop as the skies clouded over again, so I didn't get to look at anything else interesting.

After packing up, I plugged the dark-frame and the best 5% of the .avis into the K3CCDTools stacker and a while later, after much mucking about with settings, parameters, buttons, knobs, dials, gauges and other such software options, it spat out an image not unlike this:

which was crudely Photoshopped (over-exposed, too much gain, many other faults too) to give this:

I'll play about with the acquired .avis later to see if I can drag a better image out of the data.


Posted by on March 27th 2008 in Wildcamping e-petition

Well, the number at the top of the petition page may well say 999...

but there are actually 1,000 signatories on the list now!

Don't believe me?

You'd better count them, then.


One thousand. 1 grand. 1,000. A kilo. Mille. Tausend. Duizend. Mil. Ettusen.

Whichever way you look at it, it's something to be proud of.

Well done! Keep it up!

Next stop: 2,000


Our OSOS08 Weekend

Posted by on March 17th 2008 in Bloggers' Meet, Great Escapes

The arrival of Duncan at BHX heralded the start of our OSOS08 weekend and the start of the inclement, and probably appropriate, weather. After the "hail, fellow, well-met" handshakes at the terminal, we hiked through the rain to the vast car-park and, surprisingly, found the car quite easily in the midst of the sea of steel and glass that goes by the name of "Long Stay 1".

After making sure that Duncan was awake (by nearly losing the car on a tightening left-hander (I blame the shift in the centre of gravity)), we escaped the confines of the airport site and ploughed our way through the orange-tinted drizzly gloom that had settled over the M42, M6 and M69.

On arrival back at home, Duncan was introduced to Chris and Ella, vittles were consumed (including the gifted cloutie duff, thanks here to DM and his mum) and the chat went on into the night. The idea of wildgardencamping was abandoned due to the number of branches that were falling from our willow, so Duncan bagged himself a comfy(?) spare bed at no extra charge.

We were up bright and early on Saturday morning, unfortunately the weather wasn't quite as bright but at least it wasn't torrential. The mad dash to the NEC was as dull as ever until I decided to ensure that the passengers were still awake by driving over the kerb at the entrance to the car-park. It was an accident, honest, I couldn't see the kerb from my seat. Anyway, everybody else in the car-park was alerted to our arrival by the grating sound of underbody on concrete, so I reckon that our guest was quite brave to volunteer to queue to buy the parking ticket (thanks for that, Duncan) while we got our packs out of the boot.

After the trek past the lake and through the tent display area we left Duncan at the entrance so that he could meet Darren to pass on one of the tickets kindly donated by Lay, the Outdoors' Bloggers Forum admin. When we made it past security and check-in, Ella was in retail-therapy heaven. We wandered the stands and bought some bits and bobs before Chris queued to put Ella's name down on the waiting-list for a go on the zipwire.

Meanwhile I wandered off to find the Alpkit stand and try to buy the Hunka bivy bag that I had fondled so keenly at the 2007 show. Sadly they were out of stock, so I had a gander at the latest incarnation of the Gourdon (the "20", complete with mesh pockets and bungee attachments) - I was tempted, but could only justify getting one if I parted with the "25" that I was already carrying. Sadly, the Alpfolk wouldn't do me a part-ex, so I had to walk away empty-handed (but not until I had tried on a few of their Filo down jackets - they look to be excellent value for 65 notes). I met George while I was there and we managed to communicate without an interpreter, despite his use of equatorial rhyming slang. Anyway, he was the bearer of good tidings - his missus is on the mend, that made him happy. Get well soon, Mrs. LBP.

Alpfolk - happy smiley people. We likes them, don't we, my Preciouss? Oh yes, we does

We parted company so that I could retrieve Chris and Ella, then we went over to the Gear Show Case area where Ella was disgruntled when she didn't nab any of the freebies being chucked into the audience. Undeterred, after the presentation she went and remonstrated with the freebie-chucker and was invited back to a later showing.

Next to the Gear Show Case was the Gibbon Slacklining display stand, and the gymnastic side of Ella's persona just couldn't resist having a go at negotiating the tautliner straps. She did well but couldn't manage to emulate the jumping antics of the resident expert. Indeed, we were to return to this place a few more times during the day, but by the time we had decided to shell out on a set, their stock had all gone. Never mind, we'll get one somehow.

Tentative steps



Then it was time for the Outdoors' Blogger Meet at the pub, where old acquaintances were renewed and new faces were matched up to names that had been, up until then, just virtual friends (I won't bore you with the full cast list). Sadly I missed Sally's killer butt, but hey, there's always next year. There were some deep and meaningful conversations to be had, with plenty of blox thrown in for good measure, and a good time was had by all. Andy tried to get some podcast material from me, but I had to decline. I'm not one for fame and fortune, you see... I'm the shy, retiring type. I did, however, condescend to appear in a group-photo of our bunch of happy campers, but alas the photographic skills of the bloke that I harassed into taking the pic left something to be desired. He has my thanks anyway, though, as this is the only group-shot we have so far:

Movers and Shakers... just like the cameraman

Of course, I was well down my second pint of dishwater (Cumberland Ale is excellent in it's natural habitat, but it doesn't travel well and it rebels at the evil concept of being served in tacky plastic plant-pots) when it was time for Ella to do her fly-over on the zipwire, so the pics are a bit wobbly, but nowhere near as wobbly as my legs would have been if I had dared to do the zipwire myself!

Cleared for launch

In-flight entertainment

We took in a few more stands to push the e-petition a bit further before going outside for lunch, then it was back to the show. Ella had a go on the bike at the Tourism Ireland stand, but she was never going to get far without that missing front wheel, and lifting the rear wheel was a tad unfair too...


After the mandatory visit to the Buff stand, where Ella got a cool Blue Fire, we nipped across the aisle to bag her some red sunglasses to complete the rebel adolescent biker look.

Hall 3 and the rest of Hall 2 were toured quite quickly, there being little of interest to us there (we're not into water-borne activities or touring the world) so we repaired to Hall 1 where Ella chatted up some of the Royal Marines. I seized this opportunity to nip back to the pub to catch up on events, and soon it was time for the E-Petition meet-up in Hall 3, where the John Hee Steering Committee did a sterling job of drawing up a plan of action for the post-OSOS08 wildcamping-legalisation campaign. Chasrle popped in to join us, and I'm pleased to report that he looks nothing like his OM avatar.

Then it was back to Hall 1 and a session of buying more bits and bobs (now don't laugh, but I bought a travel hair-dryer... it's for removing condensation from the scope optics, not for my lank locks and bristles. Honest!). Ella had been back to the Gear Show Case and had fluttered her eyelids and sweet-talked the freebie-chucker into throwing her a T-shirt and a hat. He got a hug from her as his reward.

We met up with Duncan again and went to watch the fallers... sorry, that should be climbers... in their attempts to (occasionally) defy gravity and complete the testing route to the suspended car. Meanwhile, Ella had been queueing patiently for a go on the not-ice climbing wall, and watching her ascend the synthetic verglass I reckon she'd got the right idea. Looks like that's yet another set of kit to spend money on in future years, eh? 🙁


Planting the pick

And that was it. After losing Ella yet again (don't go there!) and bagging a pressie for Annabelle (who was spending the day with Grandma) we made our way home, collected said pocket-BG, and sat in expectation of a relaxing wind-down evening and a tasty meal.

But it was not to be...

Our chosen Nepalese restaurant had cooked a fine selection of dishes for us, but had entrusted delivery of them to a bloke who couldn't discriminate between arse and elbow... several polite but firm phone-calls to the restaurant confirmed that the vittles had been despatched on time, but they arrived nearly two hours late (hmm... the restaurant is only five minutes away by car, 15 by foot) and the food was, well, tepid, despite claims that it was still hot. Duncan will vouch for the fact that I was just a little put out by this. Next time I will be serving my own dehydrated meals, or we'll invade their establishment and eat on the premises.

After shooting the breeze until the small hours, we got some shut-eye before I had to ferry Duncan back to BHX for his return flight. Suffice to say that it stopped raining soon after he boarded the plane, and when his "I'm back home now" text arrived, the sun came back out.

So, by way of a summary, we had a great time with good company, we made a few new friends, and we ended up richer for the experience, despite being poorer for the purchases. Top stuff!

Getting out under the wire

Posted by on March 14th 2008 in Bloggers' Meet, Great Escapes, Just for fun

Observing Report 09th-10th March 2008 (A better Saturn)

Posted by on March 10th 2008 in Observing Reports

During the early evening the weather was looking grim. Low clouds were scudding in from the West, making mount alignment impossible. After resigning myself to another missed night, I got the kids ready for bed and then went out for a smoke only to find the skies were clear with minimal light-pollution, so I raced back inside, grabbed the gear and got set up sharpish.

After three attempts to get the mount-software to accept a 3-star alignment (it's no fun having a 65ft willow tree in the garden obscuring all the reference stars!) I popped in the new Baader Hyperion eyepiece and had a look at a few old favourites (M3, M44 and M45) and was impressed with the view provided at this magnification. By this time, Saturn was well up in the sky, so I slewed around to have yet another look and there it was, bright and clear, banding visible on the surface and with moons to boot. The seeing wasn't good, thin clouds were forming and the image in the eyepiece was dancing around a fair bit, so I decided to skip the photo-session with the D50.

Taking the camera back indoors, I had a flash of inspiration/stupidity/call it what you will, and I grabbed the Olympus C730-UZ, set up the BH Zoom at 8mm and hooked up the camera in auto-focus video-mode. I set it running just to see what I could get, to download the movie click HERE.

Anyway, more of that later.

Ten minutes later and the sky was totally clouded over, so I put the kit away and set to with the laptop, trying to extract something reasonable from the movie file.

I had installed K3CCDTools3 (the free trial version) earlier that day, and was keen to see what it could do. Annoyingly, it won't accept .mov files, so I had to convert the movie to .avi and then start again. Plugging the .avi into K3CCDTools3 resulted in over 3000 .jpg frames, which I then sorted to drag out the best 20% which were auto-stacked to produce this image:


Stacked Saturn Experiment


OK, so it's not properly focused (mind you, it's better than the previous shots I took with the D50), but I reckon it's not bad for a rushed first attempt with unsuitable kit and limited Photoshop skills, and good practise for using the cheap webcam that's due for delivery any day now.

Petition update

Posted by on March 10th 2008 in Wildcamping e-petition

The total number of wildcamping e-petition signatories has just clambered over the 750 hurdle. Let's hope that the weekend campaign at the Outdoors Show results in a big boost in the number of supporters.

If you've already signed up, don't forget to enlist the rest of your family, bribe your friends and brow-beat your neighbours. Every signature counts!

If you've not signed up yet, well, need I go on?

Nope, it’s not me.

Posted by on March 6th 2008 in Rambling on...

Just a quick post to let all those nice peeps in this OM thread know that I'm NOT Urc Oxbig, nor am I his brother Mike. I'm sure that Jon Doran would be able to verify this by having his tech-team compare IP addresses, should anybody have need of such reassurances.

Hopefully the folk on OM know that if I'm going to have a pop at anybody, I'll use a recognised pseudonym, or even my proper name. Somebody did copy one of my pseudonyms a while back, to try to drop me in the shite, there was little that I could do about that except explain the situation to the affected parties.

BG! / Bearded Git / Stef (

Sexism and the City

Posted by on March 3rd 2008 in A bit of a rant

Recently-received from the Child Benefit people - one envelope containing: one letter telling me that the amount of child benefit we receive will be increased; and one leaflet from The Department for Children, Schools and Families.

Well, the letter itself is fine enough. OK, the rise isn't much, but we have to be thankful for whatever the Government of the day decides to allow us.

But the leaflet... Oh, no! The bees in my bonnet are swarming madly. The needle on the rantometer is right into the red and is straining against the stop-pin. The word "offended" doesn't adequately describe my feelings.

Why? Essentially, the leaflet's saying "with our help, you can afford childcare, so Mum can go back to work". Sounds fine and noble, eh? We're a 2-parent, 2-child family, nothing unusual in that. But hey, hold on just one darned minute, I'm a stop-at-home dad with what they term "parental responsibilities", my wife works full-time (and more), do we not fit into the equation?

Just look at these passages from the leaflet:

"Mum goes to the office, I go to karate..."

"Mum goes to work, I go to afterschool club..."

"My mum goes to work, I do art at pre-school..."

Not one mention of the word "Dad".

Therein lies my angst. Somewhat naively, I had assumed that sexism is an illegal discrimination, but it seems that it's alive and kicking in the corridors of power.


The Stumble Effect

Posted by on March 3rd 2008 in Rambling on...

Somebody "stumbled" one of my blog-posts last night, check out the stats spike:

The sun shines out of my Mum’s…

Posted by on March 2nd 2008 in Thanks

... conservatory! (According to Google Maps.)



That's got to be one in a million...

and so's my Mum.

Happy Mothers' Day, Mum.

Thanks for dinner and for the bread-pudding!

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