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Skytools 3 worth ???

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#1 Andrev

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Posted 05 June 2011 - 11:32 PM

Hi.

After reading the skytools 3 features, it looks a very accurate software when time come to locate faint objects like Pluto. I tried with Starry Night Pro Plus 6 but not enough accurate to locate it.

Some of you are using it ? Is it worth to pay $179 USD for it ?

Andre.

#2 rmollise

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Posted 06 June 2011 - 11:43 AM

Hi.

After reading the skytools 3 features, it looks a very accurate software when time come to locate faint objects like Pluto. I tried with Starry Night Pro Plus 6 but not enough accurate to locate it.

Some of you are using it ? Is it worth to pay $179 USD for it ?

Andre.


For me it most assuredly is. It has allowed me to see far more than I ever thought possible. I am currently over a thousand objects into the Herschel list thanks to ST3.

#3 Andrev

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Posted 06 June 2011 - 12:16 PM

Rod.

According to what the I read on the website, it looks like they have pay a real attention to the star's position. It seem very accurate. What I hate with Starry Night and Stellarium, yes they goes down to 20th mag, but if you compare both in the same area, nothing correspond. SN seems having less stars than Stellarium but this last one show different things than SN...

I'm very curious to try Skytools 3 and compare it with what I see in my C14. I tried to find Pluto using Starry Night but I was unable to locate the stars I had in my FOV.

I'll give is a try.

Andre.

#4 Paula E

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Posted 06 June 2011 - 12:33 PM

FWIW, I think TSX Pro, particularly with the stellar database addons like UCAC3, is more accurate than ST3. (You can get more stars in TSX anyway, at least if you use UCAC3 and NOMAD.) Because you can add more catalogs to it, I think TSX wins here.

That said, ST3 is excellent and extremely helpful for finding faint objects. I find I use both ST3 and TSX about equally for this. (I find them to be complementary to one another in this regard.) ST3 is especially nice in its ability to display things like position angles for faint galaxies, and plots of their relative sizes in the eyepiece. This can be extremely helpful. (Not so much with pluto, I realize.) I feel pretty confident in saying that you WILL NOT be disappointed in ST3 - it is awesome.

One thing to keep in mind about stellar catalogs, though, is that all of them have errors.

#5 Andrev

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Posted 06 June 2011 - 04:54 PM

Scott.

I already passed my order. I sincerly think I have to give him a try. I ordered the pro edition. Definitely, I'll compare it with Starry Night, Stellarium and my C14 just to see what is the result in matter of accuracy.

Thanks for your comments.

Andre.

#6 Paula E

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Posted 06 June 2011 - 06:28 PM

I think you'll be pleased Andre. Make sure you take the time to setup the FOV indicators for ST3, it helps a lot in terms of matching what you see.

It is also very useful software in terms of it's logging capabilities, and its autogenerated lists are both fun and useful to my mind.

#7 rmollise

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Posted 07 June 2011 - 05:24 AM

FWIW, I think TSX Pro, particularly with the stellar database addons like UCAC3, is more accurate than ST3. (You can get more stars in TSX anyway, at least if you use UCAC3 and NOMAD.) Because you can add more catalogs to it, I think TSX wins here.

That said, ST3 is excellent and extremely helpful for finding faint objects. I find I use both ST3 and TSX about equally for this. (I find them to be complementary to one another in this regard.) ST3 is especially nice in its ability to display things like position angles for faint galaxies, and plots of their relative sizes in the eyepiece. This can be extremely helpful. (Not so much with pluto, I realize.) I feel pretty confident in saying that you WILL NOT be disappointed in ST3 - it is awesome.

One thing to keep in mind about stellar catalogs, though, is that all of them have errors.


"More" does NOT equal "more accurate." Quite the opposite. In my experience ST3's databases are the best in the bidness. ;)

#8 Paula E

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Posted 07 June 2011 - 11:59 PM

"More" does NOT equal "more accurate." Quite the opposite. In my experience ST3's databases are the best in the bidness. ;)


You have a valid point. I think Greg's processing of various catalogs into his stellar database fixed quite a lot of errors. (I don't think he touts this feature enough.) I don't expect that his data is as accurate positionally as the UCAC3 (because I don't believe he used UCAC3 since it didn't exist while he wrote ST3), but I wouldn't be surprised if it had substantially fewer outright errors than USNO B1 or NOMAD. The processing he's done is VERY different than any of the other programs I think. I know he put in an enormous effort on accurate double star data, for example.

I find his visual estimates of what I see in the eyepiece to be overly conservative. (TSX is overly optimistic.) Both programs allow some amount of tweaking to this. Anyway, I end up using them both for this, sometimes one of them represents an object better than the other. I definitely use TSX more for this - it's planetarium style interface is just better at this in my opinion. (However I use ST3 much more heavily for many other tasks.)

When it comes to finding stuff, in terms of database cross reference, I think ST3 is generally MUCH better, or at least more user friendly. Every month for the past year I've been entering the monthly lists of DSO's from the monthly celestial calendar post in the celestial events forum. So I get a pretty good idea of how easy it is cross reference various catalogs. (With TSX, this is more painful, to be sure.)

Both programs handle stuff from the messier or NGC catalogs with no problems. Handling cross references of open clusters or abell planetaries and some other objects is another matter entirely. One of the problems is that neither program handles fairly common abbreviations for some of these catalogs perfectly. They are both hit or miss, although TS3 is generally better about it. For example, both will find Mel 111. (You have to know to cross reference this from the SAC lists in TSX though - which is a real drag.) Neither of them gets K 11 - you better know this is really King 11. (oops for TSX I meant SAC King 11!)

On the other hand, let's say I want to look at a neat Hickson Compact Group - Hickson 61. OK, I type in Hickson 61 to ST3 - blam, up it comes. I try the same thing in TSX Pro - fail. However, if I know to type in HCG061A, it comes right up. (The parser / search engine here for these cross references is pretty weak.)

However, if I want to look for this by the more common name "The Box", well, if I type that into TSX Pro - it finds it no problem. In ST3, I get a choice of either "Box Nebula" or "Jewel Box" - neither of which is what I want. (BTW, this particular example is listed on Greg's website under the name "The Box". :crazy:)

My point is that both have their strengths and weaknesses. In general I find these searches to be more user friendly in ST3, at least compared to TSX. For every "the box" example there's a bunch more HCG061A type entries with TSX, although again, for common stuff, by and large both programs easily handle whatever you throw at them. (Messier's, NGC/IC, common names, etc., for the most part both programs have them all.) For off the beaten path type objects, despite my example above, I think ST3 is generally much better, at least in the sense that it's easier to search for them.

BTW, I don't mean to overly criticise either program - they are both great in my opinion. Although both have a fair amount of overlap, they each have features where they excel over one another. (ST3 basically plans all my eyepiece time. TSX Pro basically runs almost everything in my observatory.) I really do view these programs as being complementary - I use 'em both virtually every time I'm at my scope.

#9 rmollise

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Posted 08 June 2011 - 12:23 PM

You have a valid point. I think Greg's processing of various catalogs into his stellar database fixed quite a lot of errors. (I don't think he touts this feature enough.)


This is one of the best things about ST3. Not that it's perfect, but danged close...danged close. :lol:

"Accurate Stars to 20th Magnitude -- the Professional Edition of SkyTools comes with an Extended Data DVD with over 522 million stars down to 20th magnitude. These stars have been combined from multiple sources and filtered for accuracy. Other software can only go this deep after a time-consuming download and complicated installation of very large professional catalogs. That, or the purchase of an expensive external hard drive with the data pre-installed. Even then, you only have the raw, often conflicting, catalog data."

;)

#10 okieav8r

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Posted 08 June 2011 - 12:51 PM

I've got just about every planetarium/observing/planning program there is, and ST3 is best, IMO.

#11 Paula E

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Posted 08 June 2011 - 01:26 PM

You guys are too nice! I'd be more glowing about ST3 were it not for some problems:
1. It is slow. Watching the real time display crawl along updating the list just makes me want to scream. Some evenings this borders on unusability for me.
2. Its error handling is freaking horrible - I crash this app routinely.
3. Its font choice is *really* unfortunate on higher resolution screens. It's just tiny and hard to read in the dark.
4. I think the user interface for the visual sky simulator is just really poor:
a. The elements are completely unreadable on a high res display in the dark.
b. It is quite difficult to pan around - as best I can tell you can't pan with the mouse at all, dragging the mouse zooms you in, generally to a ridiculous degree.
c. I find it is easy to get ST3's VSS into a messed up state where it generates a really useless display. (See attached.) It is *really* painful when you get into this mode - a redraw takes around 30 seconds or so.

Anyway, I think "near perfect" is overly generous.

I will say again that there's nothing even remotely close in quality to his random observing list generation algorithms, or the ease of creating observing target lists and logging observations. That part of the program is just superb.

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#12 simpleisbetter

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Posted 08 June 2011 - 01:41 PM

I've not had any trouble with it either. Scott, what sort of hardware are you running that's causing ST3 to put such a burden on your system? That question asked, I will mention that after looking at your attachment, it's no wonder your computer is crashing. It's a wonder you haven't overheated and permanently damaged your motherboard or CPU yet. 14 major applications running simultaneously (I counted your running apps in your taskbar) has to be hard on resources.

#13 Paula E

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Posted 08 June 2011 - 02:22 PM

I've not had any trouble with it and find it does everything it's supposed to and just as it should do it.

Scott, what sort of hardware are you running that's putting such a burden on your system? That question asked, I will mention that with all the apps simultaneously running in your taskbar shown on the attached pix, it's no wonder your computer is crashing. That has to be hard on resources.


The picture was from my desktop system, not my observatory computer. The desktop isn't even remotely heavily loaded - I'm not running a compile on all 4 cores or anything like that. It is a core i7 running win64 with 12 GB of RAM and 2TB of disk.

The observatory PC is a more humble Core i5 with 4GB of RAM and 350GB of SSD running win7 x86. (But for one comm port driver I'd be running win7 x64.) Generally it's running TSX Pro (have to run this for a Paramount), and ST3. The redraws in ST3 are very slow while connected to the mount. POTH actually helps with this to some extent. POTH eats lots of errors back from devices, and doesn't pass them on to apps that link to it. Life with ST3 + POTH is generally much more pleasant than with ST3 directly linked to "TheSkyControlledTelescope."

My computer does not crash. ST3 crashes. It will either:
A. Disconnect from the telescope. (Annoying but rather minor and easily corrected)
B. Disconnect from the telescope, and then open up about 150 little windows with an ASCOM error message. (It is annoying to close all those windows).
C. Randomly crash with an error message "Error sorting obs list" or some such. Generally this happens during one of the rather slow updates, and if I'm unlucky enough to do something crazy, like scroll with the mouse wheel. (Not totally sure if that is the culprit, this isn't totally easy to repro.)

BTW, I don't want this to turn into a "bash skytools 3" thread. It has some issues, that is all I'm trying to say. Is it perfect? not in my opinion, but it is still very good at what it does do. In some areas it is without peer, in others it can kind of fall on the floor.

People reading something like this from me need to understand a couple of things:
1. I am picky.
2. If there is a problem in a system I am using, I am liable to encounter it.
I have reported many, many issues in every single piece of astronomy software I've used. (Literally - all of them.)

BTW, the screen shot I attached isn't really a loading problem or a crash. I'd assert that ST3 generating an image like that is just broken - it is not a very useful image. MOST of the time it doesn't do this.

To be honest, I have enough problems with it that I've considered abandoning it. Trouble is, the stuff that works is just flat out awesome - the folks who mention that are correct. So the ratio of "Awesome::Problems" still leaves it in the "Worth the troubles" category... :)

#14 simpleisbetter

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Posted 08 June 2011 - 02:40 PM

Hi Scott, I fully understand what you mean, that you aren't wanting to bash ST3 here. I was just surprised to hear you having so much trouble; I've had just about every piece of astro software on the market, and ST3 is the first one I've owned that is lightweight without giving up any capabilities. And for me it's been the most reliable; only once did it crash on me (actually locked up my computer) but that was my fault - don't unplug the USB/Serial or unplug scope power before sending the disconnect telescope command from ST3.

I have none of the problems you mention, running on an HP Pavilion laptop, i3 M330 2.13GHz, 4GB RAM, Intel GMA video, & Win7 64bit. Also running ASCOM 5 tied to a CG-5 mount. Your description along with your screenshot had led me to believe you were either overtasking or running into IRQ or address conflicts with other hardware or software. Even with 10 years in Network Admin & IT Supt I still shake my head at the peculiar things software and hardware do - and don't do when they should...

Hope the best for you in this mystery.

#15 Paula E

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Posted 08 June 2011 - 04:28 PM

I have none of the problems you mention, running on an HP Pavilion laptop, i3 M330 2.13GHz, 4GB RAM, Intel GMA video, & Win7 64bit. Also running ASCOM 5 tied to a CG-5 mount. Your description along with your screenshot had led me to believe you were either overtasking or running into IRQ or address conflicts with other hardware or software. Even with 10 years in Network Admin & IT Supt I still shake my head at the peculiar things software and hardware do - and don't do when they should...


Thanks, and I appreciate your sentiments. I expect that part of the problem is the interface between ASCOM and TSX. This is not a happy marriage of software. In particular, bits of this need to be rewritten in my opinion. (I've looked over the source code.) I've been tempted to do this, but haven't had time. (Nor motivation really, my gut feel is that taking that on would equal some work, with not much to show for it but misery, acrimony, and strife.)

#16 simpleisbetter

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Posted 08 June 2011 - 04:37 PM

You think there's a possibility that ASCOM 6 will fix some of it? Just checked their website and the RC for ASCOM 6 is available now, if you're the daring type. ;)

#17 rmollise

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Posted 08 June 2011 - 04:57 PM

You guys are too nice! I'd be more glowing about ST3 were it not for some problems:
1. It is slow. Watching the real time display crawl along updating the list just makes me want to scream. Some evenings this borders on unusability for me.
2. Its error handling is freaking horrible - I crash this app routinely.
3. Its font choice is *really* unfortunate on higher resolution screens. It's just tiny and hard to read in the dark.
4. I think the user interface for the visual sky simulator is just really poor:
a. The elements are completely unreadable on a high res display in the dark.
b. It is quite difficult to pan around - as best I can tell you can't pan with the mouse at all, dragging the mouse zooms you in, generally to a ridiculous degree.
c. I find it is easy to get ST3's VSS into a messed up state where it generates a really useless display. (See attached.) It is *really* painful when you get into this mode - a redraw takes around 30 seconds or so.

Anyway, I think "near perfect" is overly generous.

I will say again that there's nothing even remotely close in quality to his random observing list generation algorithms, or the ease of creating observing target lists and logging observations. That part of the program is just superb.


1. Hmmm...it's not slow for me, even on my Pinetrail netbook.

2. It has never, ever crashed on me.

3. Yep. But that has more to do with my middle-aged eyes and the computer display than the program.

4. It's different...and I used to feel the same way. Now? I think it is BETTER.

I don't think it's "generous" at all...more like Just the Facts, Ma'm.

Since you seem to be suffering from some unusual symptoms--slow refreshes, crashes, and messed up screens--that I haven't had and don't hear other users complain about, I think the majority of your problems are system related. As in your particular setup, video card, driver, etc.

Greg is very responsive. Have you mentioned any of this on the ST3 Yahoogroup?

#18 Paula E

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Posted 08 June 2011 - 06:52 PM

As in your particular setup, video card, driver, etc.


Regarding the crashes, I would believe that the set of astronomy drivers involved could be an issue. In fact I think that is probable, therefore it could well be system related in that sense. I said as much. (The slow refresh, issue, only happens in the real-time display when the scope is connected.)

As far as video card / drivers / etc., I don't believe that is the issue. If I did, I have the wherewithal to either fix the problem myself (I have the source code - note my avatar), or file a bug and get it fixed. I actively follow a number of forums, this one included, to report driver issues back to my company. I do this voluntarily, as a courtesy to the community. I *wish* it was the video driver.

I've written an ASCOM driver, I have had it throw an exception, and noticed that ST3 tends to disconnect or crash when this happens. I've fixed my driver, but noticed that highly similar failures happen with other drivers that I *didn't* write. What more can I say about that? I don't know how much you actually know about programming, but this type of situation is actually exceedingly difficult to code correctly, and it's difficult to test. My conclusion, from my tests, is that ST3 could use some work in this regard. Lots of things could - it is HARD to make this perfect. There is also very probably other software at fault - at a certain point there is only so much an app can do. I am simply of the opinion that ST3 could probably do a little more than it does.

Greg is very responsive. Have you mentioned any of this on the ST3 Yahoogroup?


Yes I believe I have. I would like to follow up further, but I'm at my limit of how much of other people's code I can debug. I've found in the past that it takes quite a lot of work to get one of these guys to pay attention to me. Maybe at some point, when I run out of other things to do, I'll debug this further. (As in setup windbg and observe first hand what is going on.) That is generally what it takes. I have spent an enormous amount of my personal time on issues like this with other vendors. I do feel bad for not following up further on this. It does tend to be a big personal commitment though.

BTW, for the most part these issues can be worked around - I've used ST3 ~60 evenings over the past year. I'm simply pointing out that it hasn't been problem free for me. I am very happy to hear that it has worked out well for you - I would expect that, I think it is a very good program.

#19 simpleisbetter

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Posted 08 June 2011 - 10:28 PM

You know, when you mentioned the ST3 to TSX connection, through ASCOM, it seems the only variable involved, and only difference between those of us not having trouble and your problems are TSX. Are you certain TSX is 100% in everything?

#20 rmollise

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Posted 09 June 2011 - 06:50 AM

Yes I believe I have. I would like to follow up further, but I'm at my limit of how much of other people's code I can debug. I've found in the past that it takes quite a lot of work to get one of these guys to pay attention to me. Maybe at some point, when I run out of other things to do, I'll debug this further. (As in setup windbg and observe first hand what is going on.) That is generally what it takes. I have spent an enormous amount of my personal time on issues like this with other vendors. I do feel bad for not following up further on this. It does tend to be a big personal commitment though.

BTW, for the most part these issues can be worked around - I've used ST3 ~60 evenings over the past year. I'm simply pointing out that it hasn't been problem free for me. I am very happy to hear that it has worked out well for you - I would expect that, I think it is a very good program.


Assuming someone else's code _needs_ debugging. Since these problems seem peculiar to your setup, I don't believe it does. ;)

#21 Paula E

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Posted 10 June 2011 - 12:50 PM

Assuming someone else's code _needs_ debugging. Since these problems seem peculiar to your setup, I don't believe it does. ;)


"White screen of death"
Repro'd on 3 systems:
1. Core i7 Win7 x64 12GB RAM, 2TB disc GTX 8800 GPU Resolution 2560x1600
2. Core i5 Win7 x86 4GB RAM, 350GB disc GT240 GPU Resolution 1600x1200
3. Core 2 Duo Win 7 x86 4GB RAM, 500GB disc AMD 5870 GPU Resolution 2560x1600

1. Define a telescope and eyepiece combination. Probably doesn't matter, but I defined a 0.5m f6.8 scope with a 31mm Televue eyepiece.
2. Search for 61 Cyg
3. More object info
4. Action Menu
5. View Scope / Binocs -> choose your defined view from step 1
6. Enable only the eyepiece view in the display, no naked eye or finder scope view
7. Spin mouse wheel to zoom out
8. Wait for a very long time.

Skytools3 looks to be using 100% of one of the threads on one of the cores.

On the AMD machine it's been crunching away for about 25 minutes now. A spin of the mouse wheel resulted in it attempting to plot a 2957 degree x 180 degree FOV. This would appear to be an application problem to me - it should not be possible to choose a FOV that is this large, and even in less absurd cases (bear in mind I can easily repro this with just an accidental bump of the mouse wheel) it can be somewhat difficult to recover from this.

BTW, during the time I've been typing this message, ST3 is still chugging away, trying to plot this eyepiece view.

1. If this isn't a bug, how exactly would you classify it Uncle Rod?
2. I believe I have repro'd this on enough different system configurations to eliminate "it's unique to your setup". However, if, in your opinion you think there is some other variable I should consider, please let me know.
3. In terms of "debugging other people's code", I meant that it is quite tedious and time consuming to setup multiple computer systems with varying hardware and software configurations in an effort to root cause a failure. The other issues I mentioned would likely take a considerable amount of effort on my part to develop instrumentation and debugger time to prove conclusively that ST3 is or is not to blame. I simply don't have time for this. If I felt the author would be cooperative in this matter I'd feel more inclined to take action here, but based on past personal experience with him, I do not believe that will be the case.
4. Who else's code do you think should be debugged in this case?

I'll just say again that I have found and reported bugs in *ever single piece* of astro software I've tried. Many of the things I find are piddly, and frankly you'd have to be trained to even notice them. I would consider this to be a fairly serious bug - effectively hanging the program from a mouse action is serious in my opinion.

I'll post again in a couple of hours and let you know if it ever completes.

#22 Paula E

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Posted 10 June 2011 - 01:03 PM

BTW, you DO NOT want to just close the obviously out of control ST3 when this happens. It will make the ridiculously out of bounds FOV the default for the NEXT eyepiece view you open. Once this happens to you, it can be difficult to recover from it.

#23 Paula E

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Posted 10 June 2011 - 03:58 PM

2.5 hours later and the Visual sky simulation still says "Imaging..." Once you are in this mode, there's no obvious way out - restarting the program and opening the Visual Sky Simulation again results in the same behavior. (It effectively hangs attempting to render an impossibly large image.) I'm going to go ahead an bail on this, I need the machine back.

This seems unrecoverable, without either resorting to a backup or reinstallation of the program.

I think this is a fairly bad bug. I am using the latest version of ST3, by the way - 3.1f.

Although this program obviously has some merits and nice features, in my opinion, a flaw like this makes it far from "near perfect."

BTW, I would assert that this represents 3 bugs:
1. The mouse wheel event handler in the program should have some hysteresis - or at least guard against crazy huge jumps in magnification.
2. The Visual Sky simulator really shouldn't accept a FOV like 2500x180 degrees. (I can't even imagine what it's trying to render that is > 360 degrees!)
3. It definitely shouldn't save a garbage FOV like that as the default, leaving you permanently stuck with it. I found no obvious way to reset this persistent state.

Even if turns out that there is a workaround, really, this stuff just needs to be fixed.

#24 rmollise

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Posted 10 June 2011 - 05:03 PM

2.5 hours later and the Visual sky simulation still says "Imaging..." Once you are in this mode, there's no obvious way out -


This is NOT normal. And it's likely not a bug per se since no one else is reporting it and you can be darned sure it would have been mentioned on the Yahoogroup. ;)

I am running it on a netbook, for god's sake, and am not seeing _any_ of the "bugs" you are experiencing.

#25 Paula E

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Posted 10 June 2011 - 06:26 PM

2.5 hours later and the Visual sky simulation still says "Imaging..." Once you are in this mode, there's no obvious way out -


This is NOT normal. And it's likely not a bug per se since no one else is reporting it and you can be darned sure it would have been mentioned on the Yahoogroup. ;)


Rod, what kind of logic is that? Why is it inconceivable that I would be the first person to notice a bug? I am happy you aren't experiencing any problems, but that certainly does not prove that none exist. I don't want to sound arrogant, but I am willing to bet that I have more experience at finding and debugging this type of issue than the average user on the yahoo group. This is what I do professionally. It is also possible that I simply had the bad fortune to be the one to trip over this, and was observant enough to figure out the sequence of events - no skill implied - just dumb (bad) luck. Take your pick, I don't care.

The last system I tested was a clean install of ST3, with the most recent update. I started with no previous data from other installations, and re-entered the scope / eyepiece parameters. It repros no problem, and ran for 2.5 hours before I killed it.

I am running at MUCH higher display resolutions than you are on your netbook, perhaps that is at play here. The problem I describe above requires a fairly specific set of steps to repro. (Do you have a scroll wheel on your netbook, for example?)

I really don't see a high probability that this can be caused by anything else except for ST3. My ability to reproduce the same issue on multiple computers gives me a fair amount of confidence that this isn't some one-off system related issue.

It isn't as though ST3 having a bug or two means it isn't a still a good program.

My general experience with ST3 has not been as good as yours. Them's the breaks. (Thus my opinion "good but not perfect.") You can blame me for this all you want - but I think that is not a terribly productive attitude. If that helps you to feel better about your opinions, then I guess think what you will.


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