Imaging Astronomy in France

We are fortunate that our house in France is in a small village in the middle of nowhere, on top of a hill and with very little light pollution.   As a consequence I have installed a 10.25″ Celestron Schmidt Cassegrain telescope so that I can do some star watching.  I think the only other place where I have seen better skies is in the middle of a desert in Namibia.   It can be absolutely breathtaking  to see the Milky Way in its full glory and some of the star clusters are mind blowing.

One of my closest and  long standing friends John lives near Limoges and he is similarly smitten by things mechanical, optical and horological.   He recommended that I invested in a webcam to mount on my telescope to take some digital imagery of the planets.    As a result I picked up a NexImage Celestron camera on Ebay and was ready to experiment.

The process is fairly simple (in theory) ….. you find a planet and lock the telescope to it and then record a few seconds or minutes of video.   The video is made up of frames and you use software to select the best frames and then stack the frames ‘on top of each other’ to enhance the image.   (iCap to get the video footage, PIPP to filter the best images, Registax to stack the images). The results are startling in that you start with a wobbly blob in the eyepiece and end up with a pretty clean image of the planet in question.   Thankfully there is a lot of help and assistance out on YouTube to get you to a result.

So here is my first attempt at Jupiter which I was pretty pleased with.

celestron-icap-pipp-registax
Jupiter image processed with Registax

Yes I know you might be thinking how many other things does this guy play at ?? ….

Some people when they get to mature years want to travel the world and see places.  I just like to make things, experiment with stuff, stretch and widen my technical knowledge.   Do stuff that I never had time to do while busy working in order to give me me time and resources to do stuff when I stopped working ….. keeping the grey matter active.

Fortunately I have a wife that tolerates my eccentricity and for that I am eternally grateful.

Similar or related subjects : –

    Wireless Tag technology for remote sensing and security

    Useful Wireless Tags for Monitoring Assets

    Some while ago I happened upon wireless tag net which market a range of simple to use wireless tags for temperature, humidity, movement etc.   These devices use short range wireless comms to a wireless node connected to the house broadband router.   Once activated the tags can be monitored and controlled via the web.   There are a number of extensions to this using other technology devices which all in all make them rather attractive and useful.

    I decided our house in France would benefit from the use of these devices and this would allow us to monitor the house from the UK.   I bought a package of 5 temperature/humidity/movement tags and a single moisture tag for the garden.

    These are really easy to set up and add to your web portal.   Results are graphed for you to see trends etc.   Really nice simple and useful product.

    I could put lots of pictures up but the best thing is to follow the link as above and read all about it.   Deliver to the UK was quick but got hit for import duty and VAT.

    Similar or related subjects : –

    Shipping to France

    Unusual for me but this is a bit of rant …. but ultimately a helpful one.

    As we were on a short visit to France we flew out this time on that ‘Irish airline’ from Bristol to Bergerac.  To avoid their complex baggage costs we put all the heavy and bulky stuff in box, taped it and strapped it and booked it with DPD to ship to our house in France on their 2 day door to door service.  Potentially this would arrive a day after us and we would have some clean underwear.

    DPD are usually excellent …. you book the package, take it to one of many local nominated stores who act as agents and two days later the package is delivered in France.  I can never understand how this is possible for the price.(20kg for GBP30)

    This time it didn’t go so well.

    The package dimensions and associated weight did not allow drop off to a local store but instead had to be collected by DPD themselves.   I booked the consignment at 9am on Tuesday and immediately got a message to say the package would be picked up that day before 5pm.

    Which it wasn’t.

    Contacted customer services, apologies, new shipping label issued, pick up tomorrow promised.   Strangely enough after the re-booking I received an acknowledgement giving me a pick up time slot which I did not receive after the first booking.

    Now we were leaving early next day (Wednesday) by the aforementioned Irish airline so we would not be home to hand over the parcel.   Customer support pointed out that we did not need to be there for the pickup but we should leave a note on the porch door indicating that the parcel clearly visible inside the porch was the item to be picked up and taken.   Without this the courier would not pick up the item even though it had a DPD label clearly in view.  It was pointed out that the package would not be insured until collected which is clearly the correct approach.

    On arrival at Bergerac we received an email to say the package had been picked up, was on its way and would be delivered on Friday.   Great news.

    Now our house is on the edge of a village.   We have no house names and no house numbers in the village.   French postcodes are totally useless.   Their postcodes can cover an area the size of Greater London so the courier is between a rock and hard place.  We are somewhat spoiled in the UK where postcodes only cover maybe 10 houses maximum in a very tight local.

    Given the knowledge that the courier is not going to easily find our house we give a mobile number which appears on the DPD label and as a belt and braces I taped ‘finding our house’ instructions to the outside of the box including the GPS coordinates.

    You can see where this is going …… Friday morning in France we received an email from Chronopost to say the package will be delivered that day between 11am and midday.

    I sat patiently waiting until noon when an email arrived saying the driver needed more instructions …. follow the link and give more details.   The link box provided allowed 70 characters.  Ever tried fitting instructions into 70 characters when Rocamadour is one of the words ?

    Gave up and just wrote along the lines of ‘the instructions are on the box for all to read and so is the telephone number.   Read and use please’.

    Reply comes back – package will be delivered on Saturday between 8 and 12.

    Package did not arrive on Saturday …. contacted DPD via their interactive web dialogue.  Lots of apologies,  Chronopost need more instructions etc.   Told DPD to tell Chronopost to forget it, I would go to the depot on Monday and collect it.

    Monday morning at 8 am email arrives from Chronopost to say the parcel will be delivered that day between 11 and noon.   I now had the local depot contact details so I rang them and asked if they really meant it.   They said they had instructions on the parcel on how to find us.  Revelation indeed.

    And yes the package arrived at 11.30 am on Monday.   The two day service via DPD to France had taken 6 days including the weekend.

    The conclusion to all this is that I suggest if you send a parcel from UK to France, perhaps with DPD, then when booking in the shipment, in the Company name field, put in capital letters and brackets ( ITINÉRAIRE À CHEZ NOUS SUR LA BOÎTE).  This will appear on the courier address label and will also appear in their master routing manifest.   If you have a French phone number use this rather than a UK mobile.   They do not seem to like ringing a +44 number judging it to be a potential franglais session or just too difficult or not allowed.   Then on a separate label, in French (use Google Translate as a starter) and in large bold print, detail exactly how to find your house and stick it to the box.   If you think it might help add a picture as appropriate and also add the GPS coords.

    This should give them zero room for wriggle and you might get your package in the promised 2 days …. but remember that as ever in France …. ‘demain’ rules.

    Similar or related subjects : –

     

    France Visit – Managing Expectations and Martel Railway

    It has been a bit quiet due to a visit to France.  As ever France continues to be a contradiction to me.

    We are having some work done on the house – a terrace and balcony on the rear of the property and a new wall bordering the driveway to define the terrain.   This has been ongoing for nearly a year since first discussed and agreed with the builder.  There is always a reason why the project is delayed be it weather, subcontractors etc.   Like many other similar encounters there is no communication either positive or negative to let you know what is going on.   You arrive expecting to see something as promised and it is not done.   It results in a confrontation, a shrug of shoulders and ‘tomorrow’ (Demain).   I used to think Peter Mayle was joking in his book ‘A Year in Provence’ but now I am not so sure.

    I can’t help but contrast this with when I was in business when I always stressed to my team that they must manage the client expectations.   If the job was going to be late tell the client early on so there are no surprises.   If you are going to delivery before expected then also tell them so they think you are wonderful.  This clearly does not fit with the French psych.   That having been said they are nice people and we have some great times out there.

    Anyway the light is at the end of the tunnel and the work they have done looks excellent and very well engineered.   It has just taken a very very long time …..

    Martel Steam Railway

    Speaking of tunnels we had a friend staying and we visited the Martel Steam Railway for a steam train ride.   The Martel line is a few miles long and has a very steep gradient from the village of Martel down to the valley side overlooking the Dordogne.  The society runs both steam and diesel engines and the carriages are really just open trucks with a roof over them.   It was busy and it was hot (mid 30s).   We had the added pleasure of a brass band on the journey playing ‘umpahpah’ music.

    View from the trackside over the Dordogne Valley

    There is a lot of history regarding the line.  For a steam engine the gradient is very steep and the engineering of the line involved a number of tunnels of varying length.  During WW2 the line had to be pressed into service for all mainline traffic following resistance action on other routes.  If you are in the area it is worth a  visit.

    Martel Steam Engine in the Dordogne

    http://trainduhautquercy.info/en/steam-train-martel-le-truffadou/

    Similar or related subjects : –

    IT issues in France – Google Backup and Sync + Port 25

    As you might have guessed from the above we are in France and the weather is somewhat hot being in the late 30s centigrade.   It is too hot to sit outside so I am inside playing IT.

    For the past three visits I have seen an issue with my desktop having long and erratic ping times and download speeds as tested with Okla speedtest.   I have had support visits from the service providers and still no joy.

    I brought out my new XPS13 and discovered that if the resident desktop machine is not online everything is normal for all connected devices (25ms ping and 8Mbps download) (That is fast for rural France …).  If I boot the desktop everything goes very pear shaped.

    Huge frustration to say the least with all sorts of things on the desktop being checked and services stopped etc to no avail.

    I noticed last night that when ever I turned the desktop off, the shut down process was held pending Backup and Sync closing down.   A search today revealed that Google Backup and Sync is a connection killer.   While I wasn’t really aware I had every loaded it in the first place, I certainly know now that I have unloaded it.   Normal service resumed.  Magic.

    The other issue that has arisen which I had forgotten about is that in France the use of Port 25 on POP connections is regarded as spam by France Telecom.  The XPS was not sending messages due to being set to  25 and it now is set to 587 outgoing (110 incoming).

    So a useful hour (or two) spent inside from the heat has got me two ticks on the problems to be solved list.

    Time for a Pimms and lemonade to celebrate.

    Similar or related subjects : –