attended my first NEAIC this year (and 5th NEAF). Some impressions:
- overall, well done and right on the money for anyone with a serious interest in astroimaging and a reasonable grasp of astronomy basics. I heard this was the largest attendance yet and I think that’s well deserved
- venue is a good choice. The accommodations were sized appropriately to the event. A friend I attended with said that changes had been made for 2019 to provide more room for the vendors and meals had been to good effect.
- couldn’t attend all the talks as there were multiple tracks. Of what I did attend, here are the highlights that jump to mind
— Don Pettit, NASA astronaut, earth photography from ISS. Beautiful images, learned some scientific factoids I didn’t know, an all around inspiring guy. He stuck around for the entire conference and was very approachable.
— Ron Brecher, astroimaging 101 tutorials, parts 1 through 4. A great intro / refresher on astro imaging, lots of practical info and links to resources on the web
—- Chris Go, tutorial on planetary imaging
— Stephanie Anderson, overview of RASA and Hyperstar imaging
—- Adam Block, intro to Pixinsight.
— ??, International Dark Skies Association, overview on light pollutions sources and effects, with surprising news about LED illuminationn issues
all of these speakers displayed great passion for and knowledge of their subjects, with genuine desire to share their knowledge. I felt fortunate to hear from them and benefit from their teaching.
- some things and topics to consider for next year
—additional introductory-level talks and workshops for astronomy newbies. I heard several comments from people feeling overwhelmed by the Pixinsight, for example, whereas I was comfortable with the subject matter as an engineer well familiar with math and programming tools.
— a talk on planning an observatory, observatory siting, dome vs roll-on/roll-off, etc.
— hands-on astroimaging workshop
— DSLR astroimaging for newbies
— principles of celestial geometry and optics for newbies ... judging by several comments and questions, seemed some people needed help with basics such as RA/declination , polar alignment, basic optical parameters such as computing FOV, magnification, etc.
— collimation workshop: demonstrations and hands on practice
in other words, I think the conference seemed well suited for the advanced beginnner to intermediate student of astroimaging, but a good place to add topic material could be that for the raw beginner... many folks attending don’t have a math/science background but may want to learn more about the basics.
I had an enjoyable 2 days as a first-time NEAIC'er.
Things that went right:
- Sessions were highly topical yet refreshingly varied. Most were well-presented and informative.
- Vendors seemed well set-up and accommodated. I'm not a vendor so that was just my impression
- Whoever made sure that there were iced water urns everywhere gets a big +1 from me
- The cadence was good, with the schedule of breaks being neither excessive or too few
- The overall hotel setting was great
Things that I'd like to see in the future:
- Maybe some more hardware-oriented workshops. There are a lot of Arduino- and RPI3-based DIY projects out there for focusers, filter wheels, all-sky cams and more. A lot of people are curious about moving their computer to their mount. Remote imaging. Stuff like that. Perhaps one of the night workshops could be a "Build your own ________" kind of thing.
- BoFs. BoFs (Birds-of-a-Feather) are informal gatherings about a particular subject. These subjects are wide-ranging and usually specific, such as "Jupiter imaging", "MaximDL users", "Observatory owners", or "Eclipse Chasers" and so-on. BoFs come from the tech conference world and tend to run on their own schedule in parallel with the main conference timetable, but tend to happen in the mornings and evenings and are around an hour long. Generally, if someone wants to run a BoF, they're given a place to hold it on a certain day or time and it's noted on the event schedule. We kind of had a form of Vendor BoF this year with ZWO and DC3 doing breakouts, and this can be expanded, I think. Here is a link to the Lisa '17 BoF schedule for examples of topic range, policy, and schedules.
Things that could be improved:
- It's time for a website that can be updated. It's very confusing when the current site is a mix of old and new info and it's hard to tell the two apart. If I weren't a CN or Facebook user, I would have absolutely no idea what was happening or be able get current information. Since I personally am a CN user, my only source of current information should not be pieced together from individual posts that are scattered across a multi-page thread or threads. Even if it's just a domain with Wordpress and a nice theme, something must be done here (and this goes for NEAF, too.) All info in one place. This is a serious conference.
- Provide schedules and materials online, on said website. There are plugins for a variety of content management systems that let you build and update a mobile-friendly timetable. Attendees can bring this up on their phone, and organizers can put a sign up on the wall in each room that is just a big QR code for the URL to the schdule. You can make changes as speakers might change for one reason or another and it's reflected there instantly. Some even let attendees select the ones they're interested in and they're notified when they are about to start, or they're inserted into their calendar.
- Rooms need relevant labeling. I was confused initially what "Breakout A" and "Breakout B" were and where they were located. I only realized that "Breakout B" was Lower Hudson only after I found someone who knew what I was talking about.
This was my 12th? 10th? (Bob how many?) NEAIC. This was the best run one of all. (Of course, Caroline was in charge!)
There is always beginner talks, so I assume that areas that were lacking were just because of the speakers lined up. (I didn't pay much attention.) I would do one if asked, but they haven't asked.
(Although, as I said at the closing, everybody seems to end at the pretty picture, and don't consider how to NOT lose you hours of work gathering data. I would like to do that talk since I'm a retired CTO, AWS cloud partner, system architect, and data signals (1-D and 2-D processing) analyst.)
Adam Block's Pixinsight talk was good, but Pixinsight itself is very complicated. (I had a discussion with Adam afterward where I opined that I've always felt that Pixinsight is unnecessarily complicated, from the UI and workflow point of view.) I'm seriously thinking of writing a book about processing with free or low-cost tools.
As far as birds of a feather, Bob tried that some years ago with 15-minute talks, but there wasn't much interest. Maybe we need to approach it from a different angle.
As for hardware, I agree that a workshop or beginner's talk about equipment and wiring. And for an imaging conference, there really isn't any fundamental talks about imaging and processing (oversampling, undersampling, Nyquist, histograms, dynamic range, amplifier noise, etc.)--although John Hayes went into it briefly, but only by mentioning it in passing.
And camera controllers based on Raspberry Pi have really hit (no doubt because it's just off-the-shelf hardware and software). So maybe a DIY talk about building it (do you really need to pay $180 for something that is built out of a $35 Raspberry Pi 3 (A, B, A+, or B+), free software, and a $10 cover with their name printed on it? (I have the very same case that I got from Amazon, without their fancy name on it.)
Plus, I've used all sorts of computers to control the cameras and mount (including open source to drive the DSLR via USB), both Windows laptops, Mac laptops, and iPad. This year I am trying to transition to the Windows 10-based GPD Pocket ($539) 7-inch with a touchscreen. I plan on writing it up when I've checked it out.
I like the idea of collimation, but also include focusing. (Which is often overlooked by beginners, I guess because it's so easy to focus during the day and doesn't have any idea of how hard it is--and how long it takes--to get good focus. And an unfocused image is next to useless and a waste of time and effort.)
Finally, I'd like to thank everyone who put this conference on. It's a lot of work, and they are all volunteers.