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Observatory computer setup

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Americo Watkins's picture
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Observatory computer setup

My observatory computer has died  after several years, and I now need to sort out a "new" reconditioned one for the domed observatory with de-humidifier.

It will control a Paramount MEII  mount using MaxIm DL via The Sky X  + PhD2.

No doubt I will now be using a Windows 10 machine.  I have heard stories regarding Windows 10, particularly now that one can not stop Windows 10 updates, of the telescope/camera side of things failing the following day after a perfectly run night.

Does anybody have any experiences similar to the set up proposed with Windows 10.

I had thought of running the above software with a Linux  OS machine, but  using a Windows 10 emulator to run the software.

Any suggestions?

Eric

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Pure Linux system?

Linux can certainly run a telescope control system natively but you'd have to use alternatives to the packages with which you are familiar.

WINE is getting pretty good and may be able to run MaxIm DL et al. but when I tried to run Astrometrica under WINE on a Ubuntu 18.10 system it failed because of the lack of some critical component in WINE.  You may have better luck.

An alternative to WINE is to run Windows 7 (or whatever you have) in a virtual machine.  Again, it may not be completely plain sailing but it may work just fine.

I can go into much more detail but perhaps that's best done off-line.

Americo Watkins's picture
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Observatory Computer control

Hi Paul,

some of my problems may have been related to having older re-con machines.  I'm trying out anew NUC machine with windows 10 and will see how that goes.   Software Bisque have just introduced a Linux  based "The Sky X prof", also Astroart& has a Linux version.  but as you say  the other software I use in conjunction with it have not.

I shall see how I get on with the new set up  for the time being.

Cheers,

Eric

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Observatory computer setup

Hi Eric,

I run a similar setup. Windows 10 with The Sky X, Maxim DL and PHD2 controlling an Astrophysics AP1200 mount. It all works very well. I find Windows 10 very good and stable, other than occasional annoying updates. I think you may be able to prevent updates by setting the internet access as a metered connection, though I am not sure if that still works. I tend to spot updates before hand as they will usually happen on my indoors PC first, and then run the update in the daytime.

Cheers,

Andy

Americo Watkins's picture
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Observatory computer set up

Andy,

thanks, that's encouraging to know. I believe that on windows 10 professional the auto updating can still be turned off, but not on the home versions.

I'd be interested in your Ascom settings for Phd2 and the ACOM The SkyX controlled telescope.  I understand that with the lodestar as auto guider the camera to mount cabling is no longer required.  Also if you still guide with Maxim DL what type settings you use to link to the guide camera.

Maybe you could contact me off forum.

Eric

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Maxim and The Sky X

Andy and Eric why do you use both Maxim and the Sky X? Don't they overlap in functionality? 

Regards Andrew 

Americo Watkins's picture
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MaxIm and the Sky X

Hi Andrew,

I use my camera via MaxIm i.e. imaging, exposure sequences, focus and  point here functions.   I prefer them to those available on the Sky X.  Sky X have changed and improved some of these functions so perhaps I may give them another try.

Eric

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MaxIm and the Sky X

It is the same for me. I like the camera control functionality of Maxim DL. I got the Sky X later when I needed a more capable planetarium software for my spectroscopy projects. The same goes for PHD2. I was using Maxim for guiding but I found keeping the star on the spectrograph slit hard going, so I tried out PHD2 and have never looked back.

I should add I am using Maxim DL 5, an old version. When I need to change software I may look for cheaper options as I am no longer making use of the image processing functionality of Maxim.

Andy

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MaxIm DL and The Sky

Much the same with me, but the other way round.  TheSkyX is installed but, strangely perhaps, prefer The Sky 6. MaximDL 6 is used for camera control, including guiding.  My experience is that it guides very well as long as there is a bright enough star within the field of the SBIG-8 / AO-7 AG combination.

For VS work I tend to take enough 30s subs to achieve an acceptable SNR and then move on to the next target.  MaxIm DL's stacking function is invaluable for this.  Given that some variables can change by several magnitudes from night to night, my approach can save significant telescope time.  To avoid confusion: Maxim DL is used only as a first-look eyeballing procedure, not for final analysis where a local installation of astrometry.net and SWarp is used for stacking.

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W10 Home OK for me

I was also concerned by updates and stability, I now run most of my astro software on HP W10  i5 recycled business laptop from CeX, with card reader, DVD, one USB3 and 2xUSB2, 250Gb SSD.  No problem. The card reader provides extra capacity for data.   I can avoid unexpected updates by keeping it in airplane mode.  It will update when reconnecting to the internet, so i keep an eye open for the "feature updates" and just allow them to install when the laptop is not in use. I also set the  "no install" period to include night hours".

So I find W10 fine, I ignore the fancy patchwork shortcuts. I put all the apps in the tray. It looks like W7. There is also a registry hack that will put the seconds display into the clock if you so wish (I found it on the internet). In the system folder there is Internet explorer. You can use this instead of Edge if you prefer it. 

The windows 10 OS is better designed on timing issues, there are fewer, or better controlled interrupts (compared to XP and W7). This would benefit software requiring UT, and the reliable timing of fast data collection.

Ive not used linux or Wine.

Nick Atkinson's picture
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Hi,

Hi,

There are more updates with windows 7 which is the operating system in by observatory based lap top as against windows 10 on my PC. With regard to guiding I have found Maxim 6 very relaible using the sety box tab and multi star guiding with an errror of 0.25 of a pixel being achieved

Cheer

Nick

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Upgrade from W7 Ultimate

I wasn't sure whether to revive this thread or start a new one but then plumped for this.  Background: today is the re-awakening for my W7-Ultimate observatory controller.  Windoze Update just brung over 66 updates (it's been asleep since April 2 after all) and a dire warning that security updates will not be available after January 14 2020.  Actually, Enero 14 2020 because it's a Spanish install but we know what it means.

The material posted above indicates that W10 home should work fine but it isn't clear whether that is through a fresh install or after upgrading from (presumably) W7.  Can anyone set my mind at rest please?  The hassle of re-installing everything anew is daunting so I'd much prefer to upgrade.

Thanks,   Paul

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Upgrade

Hi Paul,

In the end I got my self a new NUK system (Gigabyte  Brix) with Windows 10 professional installed which is dedicated to the observatory. I had to re-install all of the software, but now I know it is all up to date.  It is so small that I'm able to quickly disconnect it and bring  it in after observing should I wan too. Rather expensive, but I was  tired of older used  re cons giving up the ghost after a couple of years.  So far it seems ok, but I've not had that much observing done.

Eric

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Win10

Thanks Eric.

In my case I've a bunch of additional cards in the PC, serial ports mostly, which may not work in a new system so I'm averse to swapping the hardware given that it appears to be working well.

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Emulator

Could you use USB/serial emulators?

Nick Atkinson's picture
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Widows 10

Hi folks,

From 14th January 2020 Windows 7 will not be supported. This means that I will have to install all the software and data, or at least that is being suggested. My main concern is Maxim DL because it will be impossible to migrate from Windows 7 to Windows 10 and as Maxim is my Camera control and guiding functionality it will expensive if I have to buy a new version, maybe I should have in retrospect had subscribed for updates but my thinking at the time was to purchase a new version , currently I have maxim dl professionsal version 6 and await version 7 in due course.

Clear skies

Nick

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win 10 & MaximDL 6

That is seriously bad news from my point of view.  Can you point me to sources of information about the incompatibility of these two components please?

If it's seriously the case it will be much easier for me to continue with Win7 and insert an old PC configured as a nailed-down firewall between the observatory and the interweb thingy.

Added in edit: just found https://www.cloudynights.com/topic/515833-windows-10-and-maxim/  --- opinions seem mixed.  Some had serious troubles, others had none.

Americo Watkins's picture
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Windows 10 and MaxIm Ver 6

Hi Nick, I use Windows 10 professional which directly installed  and MaxIm 6.14 and experience no difficulties in using it so far,  though I may migrate to other telescope control software now.

Eric

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When something works I don't

When something works I don't like changing it. My main observatory computer is running Win 7 (and CCDSoft and TheSky 6!) but I have one old machine that is still running legacy software on an XP box. All of these machines are firewalled off from the Internet (both inbound and outbound) by my router and even the Win 7 machine no longer auto-updates since MS updates have a horrible habit of breaking things (they broke remote desktop a few months ago on one of the Win 7 machines I do allow to update). I can remote onto the observatory from outside my home network using a VPN. In the vast majority of cases of these "embedded" applications there is no need for internet access. Updates you want, such as orbital elements etc. can be done manually under your control. Even Win 10 doesn't reboot randomly if it is firewalled off from the MS mother ship.

Nick Atkinson's picture
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VPN

Hi Nick,

This looks like something worth looking at. I have be been thinking about using ethernet LAN point to point aka peer to peer from my observatory HP windows 7 machine to my PC now on window 10 since it blew a fuse in my study. Which VPN do you use?

Clear skies

Nick

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The VPN I currently use is

The VPN I currently use is Softether (https://www.softether.org/). I have it running on a hardened Linux box which acts as my border firewall but it will run under pretty much any OS. It is a VPN that operates at the ethernet frame (data-link) layer. It allows you to connect a remote computer to your internal network via the insecure Internet. I have one hardened machine that runs the VPN server and I can then connect through that to the target machine using any protocol that the rules permit (RDP for instance). The observatory PCs are completely isolated from the Internet. I don't generally allow my observatory or meteor camera PCs to do updates but, as long as I keep my internal network clean, that shouldn't be a problem.