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Kyphoron
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Reged: 04/05/05

Re: Comparative review - observatory planning software new [Re: theskyhound]
      #6075902 - 09/11/13 09:20 PM

Charlie,

I don't think that this is an angry topic at all. I can understand why Greg is upset, his product has been misrepresented and that should be clear by all the responses and comparisons on the forum.

I think that its clear by what has been posted in the forum that there are some major flaws in the article and they are being discussed here. I also notice that No one here said that Skytools is "better" than Astroplanner but have pointed out that Skytools got poorly represented in the comparison.

Your right, this is not an S&T article but personally I am more likely to listen to the advice of a fellow astronomer over a publication that may be getting compensated for their review per advertising. So to me word of mouth goes a long way.

Again, you say that anyone can write an article but if Greg wrote it then it would obviously look like he is pushing his product. If I wrote it I would easily miss some key features simply because the program is so extensive that I would not even know where to begin.

I personally have used both programs in the past and Skytools fit my needs. I can honestly say that I could not write a comparative review simply because there are options in both programs that I am unaware of.

I will close by saying that this would not have been an issue here if the review were more of a true comparison and not an article lacking many facts. As Greg pointed out, if the user inputs all the fields correctly when starting out with Skytools the program will do the rest. It will tell you when an object is viewable, it will calculate what you should see in a certain eyepiece, finder scope, Binos or naked eye. Let me tell you based on what I have seen Skytools when set up by the user correctly is spot on.

Thank You.

Edited by Kyphoron (09/11/13 09:24 PM)


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gdd
Pooh-Bah


Reged: 11/23/05

Loc: N Seattle suburb, WA
Re: Comparative review - observatory planning software new [Re: theskyhound]
      #6075956 - 09/11/13 09:59 PM

Quote:

SkyTools uses a different approach. You enter your telescope data, eyepieces, how much light pollution you have, etc. The program computes the limiting magnitude based on a scientific model. It also displays only the extended objects (galaxies, nebulae, etc.) that can be seen in the telescope at that time under the expected conditions.





If the extended object is just barely visible or your observing skills are not the greatest you could use the easier to see star patterns to confirm you are looking where the object is? A similar situation would be framing an invisible object using nearby star patterns so you can image it. Sounds like you have it covered.

Gale


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Tom TAdministrator

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Reged: 02/26/02

Re: Comparative review - observatory planning software new [Re: gdd]
      #6077170 - 09/12/13 02:32 PM

FWIW, I've used both and while I've found them both very capable, the only one I continue to use is SkyTools. Frankly, if I was limited to one piece of astro software SkyTools would be it.

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equuleus
member


Reged: 08/07/08

Re: Comparative review - observatory planning software new [Re: theskyhound]
      #6077317 - 09/12/13 03:51 PM

If these reviews are done by amateurs then the forum moderator should insist they be submitted to the program author or software company for comment before posting. Short of that, the review should include a caveat that the review has not been checked for factual errors.

Don't confuse this with freedom of the press or free speech. Professionals have controls in place which includes fact checking. And if these forums were to support free speech....well you can imagine.

In this case the reviewers credibility is pretty much shot for the future.


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Mark Martin
newbie


Reged: 08/21/10

Re: Comparative review - observatory planning software new [Re: Charlie Hein]
      #6077332 - 09/12/13 03:57 PM

Dear Tom,

As someone who has used SkyTools 3 extensively and even taught several classes on its use (though I do not benefit in any way from its sales), I was very surprised to see the many omissions and mischaracterizations of SkyTools 3 in your comparison of it to AstroPlanner here on Cloudy Nights. One thing that was striking was your suggestion that SkyTools only contains a "Help file" to instruct people in how to use it. Aside from the help facility that you are aware of, there is a handbook for the starter edition and are user guides available for the standard and professional editions that are available as free downloads from the Skyhound web site at http://skyhound.com/downloads.html. The handbook for the starter edition is 123 pages, the standard edition user guide is 566 pages, and the user guide for the professional edition is 623 pages. These documents describe every feature of the program in detail. In addition, there is an extensive library of video tutorials that demonstrate how to use many features or how to accomplish specific tasks available at http://skyhound.com/skytools_tutorials.html. There is also a SkyTools Yahoo group at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/skytools where the author of the software and people like me answer questions and provide help.

The help facility that you referred to is also much richer than you indicated. When you first start the program, a small dialog box offers you the options of reading through the "Getting Started" or "Tutorial" portions of the help facility, provides a link to the video tutorials, and gives the URL of the Skyhound web site. Several parts of the help facility are accessible using buttons on the toolbar at the top of each major window within the program. Aside from the parts that I mentioned above, there are buttons for context-specific help, an extensive set of How-To's, and the general help facility index.

Another aspect of your review that struck me was what seemed to be a misunderstanding of the many ways that you can create an observing list. It seemed that you thought that the Nightly Observing List Generator is the only way to create observing lists in the program. This is only one of the ways available to a user. To create your own observing list, you typically create an empty list in whatever observing list group you like via the observing list menu, which is accessible using the blue down-arrow next to the title "Observing List". Then you add whatever objects you like to the list. You can copy objects from other lists, find them individually by name or location using the Designation Search tool, find multiple objects at a time based on almost any criteria you can think of using the Database Power Search tool, or read them from a simple text file you created. Furthermore, you can download pre-made observing lists, such as the lists of objects for Astronomical League observing programs, from the Skyhound web site. These lists are usually created by people like me and then uploaded to the site and vetted before being released for general download. Objects can be copied between observing lists one or more at a time (contrary to what you said) and the objects displayed in a list can be filtered to exclude objects based on a number of criteria. As you mentioned in your review, SkyTools also provides access to regularly updated and corrected lists of transient phenomena such as comets, novae, supernovae, and minor planets. The author of the program maintains these lists himself so that SkyTools has the latest and most accurate information possible for finding short-term astronomical events.

The Nightly Observing List Generator is also a much more flexible and useful tool than you seemed to indicate. The lists are tailored to your experience level and capabilities for your equipment at the location that you will be observing and for the night you're planning to observe. It can be helpful for beginners and advanced observers alike. Even for someone with as much experience as you have, it can be helpful to look through the list that this tool generates since it might contain objects that you wouldn't have otherwise thought to add to your list.

Another aspect of SkyTools that you didn't seem to understand was the nature of the SkyTools database. The author of SkyTools is a professional astronomer and he has exerted enormous effort to create a unified database as free of duplicates and errors as he could muster. The standard astronomical databases are rife with errors and inconsistencies, partially due to historical factors. These have been corrected and resolved as much as possible in the SkyTools database. I do not mean to say that the SkyTools database is perfect. It is still a work in progress and the author continues to make corrections as errors are found or as new information arises. But it is the result of many years of effort by a professional astronomer and it is much more accurate than simply downloading the plethora of standard databases and munging them all together, which is what most software does. If an object truly isn't in the SkyTools database, you can add it to your copy of SkyTools via the Supplemental Database. But this feature should be used very sparingly after very carefully verifying that the object is truly absent, often in consultation with the SkyTools Yahoo Group, and that your information about it accurate.

In contrast to what you said, there is extensive information available for each object in the SkyTools database. Simply right-clicking on an object in an observing list or typing "i" when the object is selected will bring up the "Object Information" dialog box, which provides the information about the object from the database, access to images of the object, information about the altitude of the object from your location during the specified night or throughout the year, pages where the object is located in various references, likelihood of observing the object in your different instruments, recommendations about when to best observe the object, and any information that you might have entered about the object yourself. This information is also available within all of the SkyTools search tools.

In your extensive discussion about eyepiece views, you seem to have misunderstood the nature of the finder charts that SkyTools generates and neglected to consider the many other kinds of charts that SkyTools provides. SkyTools creates charts that are overall views of the sky (like you see in the middle of your favorite astronomy magazine every month), naked eye views, interactive "planetarium" charts for general use, and finder charts for use in finding objects at the telescope. The finder charts that you mentioned in your review are actual simulations of the star field that you will see using your equipment at your observing location on the specified night. The star fields in each of the 3 panes are calculated to match what you will see with your naked eyes, through your finder scope, and through the eyepiece that you have specified. If you have set all of the parameters in the program appropriately, the views shown in the charts should very closely match what you see at the telescope, without any tweaking on your part. SkyTools intentionally only simulates the star fields and doesn't attempt to simulate the views you will have of most deep sky objects. This allows you to appreciate the objects yourself directly when you see them through the eyepiece. SkyTools does, however, provide the means to download many different images of deep sky objects from a large variety of sources and will display them on the interactive, planetarium charts.

Any of the charts that you create within SkyTools (on-screen or printed) can be customized in an unbelievable number of ways. In fact, a common complaint is that the user has too much control, which can lead to unnecessary complication. Charts can be made using many different projection schemes, including some similar to the Sky Coverage chart you showed from AstroPlanner, and can include as many objects as you like.

Just as the author of SkyTools thought that you would want to view objects yourself rather than seeing simulations of them on the finder charts, SkyTools doesn't provide any predefined ratings (beyond what you can infer from the lists that the Nightly Observing List Generator creates), as you noted. Instead, SkyTools provides the means for you to rate objects yourself. It also provides the means for you to prioritize the objects in a list and to specify whether or not you have observed an object or whether you want to re-observe it. In addition, SkyTools has extensive and convenient logging facilities for recording your own observations.

As others have pointed out, it is possible to transfer lists from SkyTools to other programs and specifically possible to transfer lists to Sky Safari in it's native skylist format via the "Export Observing List" option on the observing lists menu in the Nightly Planner. You stated that SkyTools was unable to do this.

Lastly, SkyTools provides telescope control facilities that are probably at least as flexible than those in AstroPlanner. You can order your slews in any of the ways that you can order objects in an observing list and you can even manually slew using your mouse from within a star chart.

This covers the inaccuracies in your article that disappointed me the most. But, in what I have written, I have only scratched the surface with respect to the facilities available in SkyTools. It would be great if you could correct some of the mistakes in your article. But, at the very least, I encourage you to give SkyTools a closer look yourself. Watch some of the video tutorials and maybe read about features you're interested in in one of the users guides. It's a much better and more extensive program than you have given it credit for and you might even find it to be extremely helpful in your own observations.

Mark
--
Mark A. Martin, Ph.D.
V.P. Programming
Rose City Astronomers
Portland, Oregon, USA
http://rosecityastronomers.org


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tomdean
member


Reged: 10/04/09

Re: Comparative review - observatory planning software new [Re: Mark Martin]
      #6078029 - 09/12/13 11:52 PM

Mark,

Thank you for providing a better answer than I can. I agree completely with all of your answer.

I was very disappointed by the casual neglect Thomas Fowler gave in his review. (bite my tongue!)

Tom Dean


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gdd
Pooh-Bah


Reged: 11/23/05

Loc: N Seattle suburb, WA
Re: Comparative review - observatory planning software [Re: Mark Martin]
      #6078149 - 09/13/13 02:02 AM

Hi Mark,

The OP said SkyTools was "easier to learn" and "more intuitive". Would you say the SkyTools UI is designed to hide functionality unless you know how to activate it (such as right clicking or special tricks such as typing the letter "i")? While this would present a less cluttered view and would make beginners tasks simpler, some may conclude certain advanced functionality does not exist if they do not dig deep enough or look in the wrong places. Like others have pointed out, it is a good idea to ask for help.

Gale


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Mark Martin
newbie


Reged: 08/21/10

Re: Comparative review - observatory planning software new [Re: gdd]
      #6078490 - 09/13/13 10:32 AM

Hi, Gale.

As I indicated at the beginning of my letter, there is an avalanche of documentation associated with SkyTools that the author of the review seemed to be completely unaware of. And this documentation is not hidden. There is a small dialog box that opens the first time that you start SkyTools, and every time thereafter if you don't permanently dismiss it, that points you toward the "Getting Started" and "Tutorial" documents as well as the video tutorials and the Skyhound web site that contains all of the other related documentation. Also, an entire quarter of the buttons on the toolbar (4 out of 16) in the major portions of the program provide access to the help facility. These resources very prominently describe important ways of working with the program, including right-clicking, which is one of the main actions required for operating the software. The keyboard shortcuts, such as typing "i", are also displayed prominently on all of the menus. This is not at all hidden or seldom-used functionality. There is also context-specific help available at every point within the program. SkyTools is a sophisticated piece of software and it requires at least a little time and effort to learn. The confusion expressed in the review makes it seem like the author never even read through the most basic documentation, which would be the "Getting Started" and "Tutorial" documents I mentioned above.

Beyond the documentation, I wouldn't characterize the advanced functionality within SkyTools as hidden. It is often accessible by just pressing a prominently displayed button on a tool bar. It seems like there are a lot of buttons that the author of the review just never tried pushing. Or maybe he didn't understand what he was seeing when he pushed them. Or maybe he satisfied himself that he understood how to operate the program after attempting only the most basic tasks. Although "easier to learn" and "more intuitive" are generally thought to be complementary descriptions, they might be mischaracterizations of SkyTools in this context and really only reflect the author's surprisingly superficial experience with the software. In any case, right-clicking, in particular, is one of the primary ways you interact with the program and is absolutely not hidden or advanced functionality.

Mark


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Kyphoron
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Reged: 04/05/05

Re: Comparative review - observatory planning software new [Re: Mark Martin]
      #6078652 - 09/13/13 12:27 PM

I would also like to add that the program is very user friendly but the author of the article as mentioned did not take the time to "play" with the program to learn what its capabilities are. I will not hide the fact that this program is BIG. Its extensive and has everything that any astronomer be it amateur or pro could ever want or need.

I have been using this program for years and I am still learning new things about it and how it seems to adapt to my needs. This is not to make it sound like the documentation is inaccurate but to say you grow with the program

One thing that I will say is that Greg is open to new ideas and if you do have a question about a feature of the program that you don't understand you can simply ask him in the yahoo group and under normal circumstances you will get an answer within a few minutes to a couple of hours at most. Also customer support is A+ in my book. The two times I had to contact Greg by filling out customer support it was not anything wrong with the program but what I had entered in the fields that I forgot to reset after an observing session. In other words I still had the day before date imputed into the program while looking for a comet and didn't realize it so the comet was in the wrong position for the night I was observing.

So can anyone take Skytools and open it for the first time and use it right away? YES!!!! Will it benefit you to watch the tutorials and read through the documentation? YES!!! But this is true of any new item you get even an astronomy program. Will you continue to learn and grow with the program? YES!!! If you go to the Skyhound website and click the Skytools 3 tab at the top there are some tutorials that you can look at and I think there still is a demo of the program that you can try before you buy. So I urge people to check it out for themselves and you be the judge.

Finally I will say this program is made for functionality for use by Star-Hoppers and Goto astronomers alike. Don't expect to see pretty screens like Starry Nights. Its not that kind of program.


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will w
scholastic sledgehammer
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Re: Comparative review - observatory planning software new [Re: Kyphoron]
      #6078809 - 09/13/13 02:00 PM

I for one. anyone who is going to write a review on any product should do a little research on the product. if possible use the product for a while. get to know how it works inside and out before writing a review.all so as Ron said someone else can write another review. will w

Edited by will w (09/13/13 02:17 PM)


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Cames
sage


Reged: 08/04/08

Re: Comparative review - observatory planning software new [Re: Charlie Hein]
      #6079066 - 09/13/13 04:47 PM

My original post in this thread may have been misinterpreted and I am attempting to clarify. My concern is that the integrity of the CloudyNights library of articles and product reviews is at stake here. The proceedings that I have read so far cast a cloud over what I might be exposed to when researching within the CN library.

I do not in any way object to the author’s opinion of the superiority of one product over the other. His preferences and his right to express them here without coercion are unchallenged. Nor am I implying that the author acted deliberately to malign a product.

What I object to is that the false statements about the features of SkyTools 3 that have now been published (as if written in stone) are allowed to stand without warning the unaware reader or novice.

The fact that there are misstatements has been clearly demonstrated in this thread. Almost anyone who has had hands-on experience with SkyTools 3 knows immediately that multiple assertions that the author has made are clearly and demonstrably not true! The published misinterpretations and untruths of how SkyTools works are egregious. They rise to the level of being deal-breakers for almost any unsuspecting customer trying to make an informed choice. However detailed the rebuttal in this current thread, that unsuspecting customer Googling his/her way to the review article in question won’t have the benefit of these discussions to point out the misstatements of fact. He/she will have been deceived. That deception will eventually come to light for that reader and; when it does, the stature of the CN library is irreparably diminished.

I would like to see the author, Fowler, and experts on the two software packages reviewed here to collaborate in order to correct the misinformation that has been put forth. Then, preface or annotate the article in such a way that makes it clear to the unsuspecting reader where the errors lie.

Respectfully
-------
C


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Natty Bumppo
member


Reged: 08/30/13

Re: Comparative review - observatory planning software new [Re: will w]
      #6079428 - 09/13/13 09:07 PM

Will, I have to disagree with you and Ron (rboe) on this one. As a newbie to this site, but not a newbie to this hobby or the scientific community, I expected when I joined CN that the articles and reviews here would at least be factual to the best of the reviewer's ability. In addition, as a "newbie" I expected at least somewhat of a peer reviewed before publishing. If for no other reason to CN than to relieve them of liability of bad and inaccurate reviews such as this. But even more so, that those who are new to the hobby aren't misled by bad or misleading reviews, whether unintentional or otherwise. As Cames says above, the very integrity and reputation of CN and their published articles are at risk; but how is a brand new user to know if they aren't credible?

Unfortunately I didn't encounter that on this article. If I'd not already been a longtime user of SkyTools I would've thought it was an entry level product by the writeup, bought the wrong product, and likely become very unhappy with my choice. I've also been an AstroPlanner user since v1.x on Mac and now 2.1 on Windows. So I'm very familiar with both products.

But, to do as you and Ron suggest, a bad/biased review doesn't mean to me we should clog up cyberspace and this site with more and more repetitive reviews of the same product. Nobody would want to weed through the "noise" to find the good ones then.

The best suggestions I heard above and agree with are those who ask the OP to spend more time familiarizing himself with the products and do an honest evaluation, setting his own bias and preference aside first. That last part I understand is hard to do. Lastly, my own wish, if possible would be for some sort of mini "peer review" or fact check when someone submits an article/review, before it's posted.

Forgive my post here and thanks for letting me vent. I know my first couple posts here weren't as positive as I'd like. My first one actually went unanswered, not unusual in and of itself. But within a day of that, I saw another post making fun of an entire group of people here because of one person's misguided acts (almost bordering on hate - here), just to make the OP of that thread feel superior. These were quickly followed by seeing this comparison article, and the anticipation of looking forward to reading it, only to be absolutely shocked by how wrong everything was about it. Sorry, but I've not exactly had a best entry or welcome of any kind into CN.


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Richard McC
Carpal Tunnel
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Reged: 12/31/04

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Re: Comparative review - observatory planning software new [Re: Natty Bumppo]
      #6079752 - 09/14/13 02:37 AM

This post is my reply to some of the discussion above but not to the original article (I have never used either piece of software so I'm in no position to sensibly talk about them or the comparisons made in the article). Reading the preceding posts I think that some of you misjudge (in a perhaps flattering way) what CloudyNights is or the resources we have at our disposal. This is a (privately owned) public forum and the reviews and posts displayed here are the opinions of the authors of those reviews and posts, no more and no less. Some of those opinions are very useful and illuminating (see any of Ed Zarenski's articles on binoculars to give just one example) while others are less so or even plain wrong (despite my best efforts the last class almost certainly includes some of my posts over the years!). CloudyNights relies on a relatively small group of unpaid volunteers to keep things ticking over and even if we wanted to "fact check" or "peer review" every submission that we received we don't have the resources to do it. I'm afraid people will have to "weed through the "noise" to find the good" stuff and I hope you find the signal to noise ratio high enough to make that endeavor worthwhile. One advantage we do have over a company like Elsevier (whose peer reviewed journals still require some weeding through despite their astronomically high prices) is that we can allow alternative opinions to be presented promptly for the reader's attention. That is where threads like this and Ron Boe's suggestion above come in.

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Kyphoron
member
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Reged: 04/05/05

Re: Comparative review - observatory planning software new [Re: Richard McC]
      #6079970 - 09/14/13 08:35 AM

I think weeding through post is a good idea but I also think that this post in the forum should be directly attached to the article. In other words instead of it being in the forum it should be attached comments like Youtube has. So after reading the article a person is able to scroll down and look to see comments posted. In doing so a person can make an informed judgment based on other user comments.

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ScottAz
Fleet Navigator
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Reged: 02/06/05

Loc: Kenosha, Wisconsin
Re: Comparative review - observatory planning software new [Re: Kyphoron]
      #6080130 - 09/14/13 10:30 AM

I have used very nearly every software package that is out there for observing and logging and I have been observing for over 40 years. While I currently use SkySafari Pro and AstroPlanner on my iPad and sometimes use them in the classroom as a physics teacher, I always use SkyTools in my observatory. I can't imagine getting by without it. It is frequently updated and I have never had an issue running any of my goto telescopes or using it in the field alongside the 18" Obsession. The program does take some time to master as does a LOT of very cool things -- amazing things really -- and the author of this review should probably take more time to get to know the program. I don't see any need to get aggravated over this but SkyTools really is the best and I look forward to an updated and fair review.

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Astrosetz
professor emeritus


Reged: 10/05/03

Loc: Wisconsin
Re: Comparative review - observatory planning software new [Re: ScottAz]
      #6081819 - 09/15/13 10:37 AM

I just read the review, and I'm very surprised at how factually incorrect the author is about Skytools; the author couldn't have been more than casually familiar with the software. I'm very disappointed that this was posted as a "review" on CN -- the implication of a published review is that the writer is knowledgeable on the subject, which is clearly not the case here.

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CounterWeight
Postmaster
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Reged: 10/05/08

Loc: Palo alto, CA.
Re: Comparative review - observatory planning software new [Re: Astrosetz]
      #6087946 - 09/18/13 12:40 PM

I suppose this at the heart of my objection to the article. If someone reviewed two telescopes and for whatever reason concluded that one could not focus because the were clueless about collimation - would CN allow it to stand? Confuse alt/az with GEM? Obvious errors and showing a total unfamiliarity with the subject.

The errors in this review are on that level but what I am at this point curious about and I sincerely do not mean to violate any TOS, but seriously, how wrong, how misguided, how bad does something have to be here.... how many objections from solid members of the forums here... before anything is done to remedy?

I get the impression that whoever decided to put it up, it's now somehow etched in stone and beyond remedy.

I for one would have no problem if I'd authored something that upon casual review was found to be missing fundamentals to the point of being misleading, was at least taken down for correction by me with some note to that effect.

If I insisted it be published as is with the errors, then it should be up to someone somewhere to make the call "does it serve our community well". If the community does not think so then why the odd deferment to not taking responsibility about leaving it up?

Again please I mean no disrespect to the powers that be with regards to forum article content and what is allowable and what is not.


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theskyhound
Vendor (Skyhound)
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Reged: 03/10/06

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Re: Comparative review - observatory planning software *DELETED* new [Re: CounterWeight]
      #6089296 - 09/19/13 01:14 AM

Post deleted by theskyhound

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7331Peg
Sirius Observer
*****

Reged: 09/01/08

Loc: North coast of Oregon
Re: Comparative review - observatory planning software new [Re: theskyhound]
      #6090106 - 09/19/13 02:48 PM

For what it's worth, I had been debating whether to buy SkyTools 3 for some time and was on the verge of it when the review was published. After reading it, I was puzzled by several things that didn't match with what I knew of the software, so I held off until reading through the discussion in this thread. I've since bought it and couldn't be more thrilled with it. If it wasn't for the fact that I was already somewhat familiar with SkyTools, I would not have been inclined in the least to purchase it based on the information in the review.

Greg makes a good point, and I've mentioned it before. There's a lot of information in the CN threads that is just plain wrong, and to a lesser extent, that happens in some of the reviews. Incorrect information that paints an erroneous impression of a product can, and I'm sure often does, lead to a loss of sales for the people or small companies that make these products. And keep in mind, these are small companies, not large corporations that can absorb a short term loss with less disruption.

I'm in agreement with Greg. I've read the explanations of why it's not possible for the moderators or administrators to check every review for accuracy, and I totally understand. But in this case, it's clear the review has painted a very misleading picture of SkyTools 3. If ever there was a case where a review should be retracted or re-written, this is it.


John


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theskyhound
Vendor (Skyhound)
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Reged: 03/10/06

Loc: Cloudcroft, New Mexico
Re: Comparative review - observatory planning software new [Re: theskyhound]
      #6090159 - 09/19/13 03:23 PM Attachment (14 downloads)

From the review: "SkyTools will only generate lists of a certain type (solar system objects, showpieces, NGC objects, etc.). Only one type at a time can be selected, so you may have to append several lists to get what you want."

I have attached a screen capture showing the Database Power Search in SkyTools. Note that more than one type of object is selected, and this tool hardly seems limited.

Edited by theskyhound (09/19/13 03:24 PM)


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