A year or so ago we bought a Subaru Outback, and then an Aluma trailer on which to haul it behind our class C RV. The Outback fits perfectly on the Aluma trailer, but figuring out the best way to tie the Outback down on the trailer was a bit of a puzzle.

A friend of ours (with the same trailer and Outback) suggested these lasso tie-down straps, which we tried. However, our trailer didn’t have attachment points in the best places for using those straps, and we improvised. Long story short, the straps didn’t work very well for us and frayed and broke–not very good when you’re towing down the highway. A better solution was needed.

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Finally. I’d been waiting for weeks for an evening that would provide decent enough conditions for me to attempt my first imaging session with my new telescope, camera, and mount. Between clouds and smoke from forest fires, I’d been stymied for quite some time, but last Thursday evening finally presented clear skies and a little dark time before the moon rose so I could set everything up and try some long-exposure imaging of deep sky objects.

My first attempt at imaging M31, the Andromeda Galaxy.
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The William Optics UniGuide 50mm guide scope

In my quest to put together a decent starter package for doing deep sky imaging, I purchased a William Optics UniGuide 50mm guide scope and a ZWO ASI290mm mini guide camera to use for guiding my main telescope during imaging. Both appear to be fine pieces of equipment, but when I did some bench testing I discovered that in order to bring images to focus in the ASI290mm mini guide camera, it had to be positioned in the guide scope such that it was just barely inserted. Some additional length in the guide scope would be a good thing.

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Well, comet Neowise has come and (pretty-much) gone, but it put on an impressive display while it lasted. I managed to get out my camera one evening and take a few pictures, including this one:

Comet Neowise, taken July 20, 2020 from Woodland Park, CO (elevation 8400 ft). Taken using a Canon 250D DSLR with a Canon EF 50mm lens at f/1.8, 5s exposure at ISO 3200, modestly processed with Affinity Photo.
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I’ve been running my NexStar 6SE scope in the field using an old 12V 7-Ah gel cell battery for awhile now, but it’s kinda heavy and has to sit on the ground, meaning I have to pay attention to not getting the power cord wrapped around the mount as I slew the telescope. I really wanted to find something that was light enough to attach to the arm of the mount itself but still had enough power in it to run the scope for at least an evening. Surfing some of the message boards, I found several reports of people using battery packs from TalentCell. The message board posts claimed up to several nights of observing with their battery packs. It sounded like I had found the answer.

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Having recently gotten myself a new Windows 10 laptop (an Acer Aspire E 15 that I really like), I’ve been going through the process of getting everything set up and installed the way I like (I’m kinda anal retentive about that). That gives me cause to explore new possibilities, like “how can I get my Google contacts and calendar (from my Android phone) to sync up with my installation of MS Outlook on my laptop (which I use for email)?” I’ve asked that question before but never found a decent answer. This time, though, I found a great solution, and it’s free!

GO Contact Sync Mod is a utility I found that runs in the background on my laptop, reaching out to Google’s APIs to keep my Google contacts and calendar sync’d with those in MS Outlook. It has a straightforward user interface where you can define the rules for reconciliation (like “if there is a conflict, the Google contact should overwrite the Outlook contact”). You can tell it how often to perform the sync and it will do so quietly in the background. I’ve been using it for a few weeks now and it works so well that I forget it’s there.

(Why don’t I just use GMail and omit MS Outlook entirely? I have my own domain, including email addresses, so I don’t use a GMail address. And I much prefer MS Outlook’s interface to GMail.)

FAR Circuits is now making available an assembled and tested board for the Bluetooth Digital Setting Circles project. The board includes a preprogrammed PIC16F628A chip as well as a fully-configured RN-42 Bluetooth module. You’ll still need to solder a connector for your power source of choice, and you’ll need to obtain your own rotary encoders and connect them through the RJ-45 port included on the board.

For ordering information, go here.

If you’ve been geeking out for a couple decades, chances are you at least saw the Radio Shack ProbeScope at some point in time.

The Radio Shack ProbeScope
The Radio Shack ProbeScope

I bought one back in the late ’90s and found it to be fairly handy for a number of things. Its sampling rate, as I recall, was 4MHz, meaning you could use it to at least detect the presence of RF in a circuit. I also used it to help me debug the code I wrote to emulate serial communications in the microcontroller for my Digital Setting Circles project.

The ProbeScope included a floppy disk with software on it for both DOS and Windows that allowed you to view the waveforms on your PC by connecting the ProbeScope to the PC’s serial port. Alas, the software was written back in the 16-bit days and won’t run on the 64-bit operating systems on most modern PCs. Plus, who has a floppy drive to read that disk anymore? But if you’ve read any of my other blog posts, you know I have a habit of finding ways to revive old but still useful technology that’s long since been left behind.

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This is a little tidbit I stumbled across while reading KE7X’s “The Elecraft KX3 – Portable” manual. I was interested in adding a PTT switch of some sort to go with the lightweight computer headset I intended to use for portable operation with my Elecraft KX3. It’s possible to use the XMIT button on the front panel for PTT, but I wanted something a little more convenient.

A KX3 menu setting, a simple momentary SPST pushbutton switch, and a repurposed ballpoint pen housing ended up doing the trick. I think the picture below is worth a thousand words:

Homebrew PTT switch for the KX3.
Homebrew PTT switch for the KX3.

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