AUTOSTAR SUITE USER FEEDBACK
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Last updated: 23 September 2004
This page is for user comments and information specific to the Meade Autostar Suite. If you have any comments, suggestions, questions or answers to questions posed here, e-mail them to me and I'll post them. Please use an appropriate Subject Line on your message. Thanks. (The Lunar Planetary Imager, LPI, is covered in the Helpful Information - Astrophotography area.)


Subject:	More AutoStar Suite info
Sent:	Sunday, September 19, 2004 19:51:00
From:	Jay Lewis (mktscope@bellsouth.net)
I mentioned that I turned on the Task Manager.  As you know it puts a "%
CPU" "graph" in the lower right window.  If I only invoke "scroll up"
when the CPU usage is very low, I can get through many more stars than
just pressing "scroll up" quickly.  The best speed seems to be one every
two seconds.

So, it seems that as ASS is running CPU usage is growing and shrinking
and if I press "scroll up" when usage is high it goes to 100% and hangs
the system for about 20 to 25 seconds -- then it calms down.

I have no idea what this means -- just reporting what I see.

BTW, what happens when either of you use the remote HBX and try to move
the cursor to change the date by using the East or West keys??

Final dumb question:  What can't someone write a AutoStar emulation
program that would make it possible to connect the computer directly to
the 'scope without AutoStar?

Best,
  
Jay Lewis
Coral Gables, Florida
And:
From:	Richard Seymour (rseymour@wolfenet.com)
"ASS is running" covers a lot of possible activities... are you
having the map follow the telescope?

I haven't tried it (recently), but i remember from my testing that
the Remote Handbox is -not- a click-for-click duplicate of the 
Autostar itself.. which can be a Good Thing.
Examples of differences include: 
Scrolling messages just plain -appear-.  No scrolling.
(well, that's semi-good... if the message is -too- long, you lose
 the beginning).
Instant access to -anywhere- in the menu tree (via the left window).
 ..that alone has me forgiving a -lot- of minor sins.
Ease of entering negative numbers.. you -don't- have to "slew left"
 to reach the sign.. just type it in.

I have answered that question many, many, times over the years.
The Autostar speaks to the telescope base via three bidirectional,
addressed-packet (modified) I2C bus systems.  The hardware is easy
to "duplicate" with CMOS chips on your PC's parallel port.
But Meade does not document the protocol, and reverse-engineering by
many I2C bus hobbiests has so far failed to yield a result beyond
 being able to say "Stop!" to the motors.  (not "Go", not 
"what's the encoder saying?", only "Stop!" which is a one-byte command)

Or, you could buy an LX200gps... that family has the Autostar buried
in the telescope base itself... the handbox is merely a dumb peripheral.

have fun
--dick
And:
>And thanks for putting my mind to rest about direct control.  But I'll bet
>that if Mead did offer a program for direct control there would be a market.
>Just consider the installed base of laptops today versus when Meade
>introduced the AutoStar.

Au contraire... Meade uses the Autostar to create a process-independent
system... if the PC -directly- controlled the telescope, it would have
to be -much- more responsive to subtle timing effects, and as you're
seeing, that can suddenly leap out of Meade's control.

The Autostar accepts "LX200 serial" commands... so you can use
programs written years ago to control a brand new scope.
By the same token, Meade -has- published the serial protocol,
and the crowds of third party scope-controlling programs can
and do write new programs which therefore work with the oldest
LX200 through the newest LXD75.

Your "no autostar" proposal is similar to installing a Mel Bartels
scope controller program into your POC... which may require limiting
yourself to some older version of Windows (or DOS) to ensure its proper
operation.

Windows 2000 and XP both work to -totally- isolate the user programs
from reaching the physical hardware (if you can't touch it, you can't
break it)... so your telescope program is suddenly faced with having 
to beg to send and receive warped messages (your proposal would -also-
require a hardware peripheral, since the standard parallel port does
not operate in the way required for no-Autostar operation).  Of course,
maybe the hardware would be a USB device, leaving out the masses of
pre-USB PCs (and a few laptops).  USB (and parallel) have severely
limited cable-length restrictions... the current rs232 serial control
"system" can be run hundreds of feet by merely using thicker wire.

But let's say Meade -did- make a "blind autostar" as an interconnecting
peripheral device... When all is said and done, you'd probably find
that it costs nearly as much as a "real" Autostar, and would be priced
surprisingly high, due to the relatively limited market (Autostars
sell in the hundreds of thousands... the "AutoLink" would most likely
have a smaller-than-10,000 market.  Especially when you figure that
-only- Meade programs could talk to it (for a few years), and the 
programs which -could- talk to it would -not- be "lightweight".

Whereas all you (as a PC) have to tell the Autostar is either:
Set RA=xx:xx:xx  Set Dec=yy:yy:yy   Go!
or 
Select Catalog SAO.  Select object 308.  Go!

I think (and wish) that the Autostar has a long and happy future...

have fun
--dick
And more:
Further to my recent posts about Autostar/Remote Handbox "hang-ups" --
 
I searched through the archives and found the commentary below in the
following post.
 
Subject: Mike: ScopeDriver 2.0.2 Released
Sent: Tuesday, November 4, 2003 12:43:03
From: Support@ADPartnership.net (Technical Support) (Steven R. Hutson)
 
ScopeDriver offers a great deal of telescope control, so it is sending
lots of commands to -- and getting replies from -- the instrument every
minute. Some Meade telescopes with certain firmware revisions could
sometimes stop responding to serial control when commands were sent too
rapidly or in a certain sequence at certain times. The problem was
intermittent on some instruments, permanent on others, and the issue
would only appear in a small percentage of a few Autostar models.

Interestingly, the above issues *do not* appear in most other, seemingly
identical, models, even with identical firmware revisions. I postulate
that they may be related to electrical component values, environmental
factors, design issues, or some other factor that can change over the
course of a production run.

Fortunately, thanks in great measure to your help and that of tester
Howard Visser of Edmonton, the complex series of steps leading to these
communications issues has been unraveled, and a workaround has been
developed. Testing indicates that these connection issues have been
resolved in ScopeDriver 2.0.2.
So...
a) someone else recognized the bug
b) it seems Autostar is the culprit, but not all 497's have the problem and
c) someone figured out what was going wrong and developed a fix
 
Interesting.
 
Jay Lewis
Mike here: May or may not be related. Don't know.

And:

From:	Richard Seymour (rseymour@wolfenet.com)
It is correct that sending more than a couple of LX200 serial
commands per second to the Autostar is asking for problems.

The programs which have explored that realm quite deeply are the
various Satellite-Chaser programs (such as SatelliteTracker).
They have to drop back to about a once-per-3-second coordinate-pair
update rate to avoid confusing the serial port channel.

But AutostarSuite "knows" these limitations, and doesn't push them.
(we hope, Meade frequently suprises me...)

have fun
--dick

Subject:	AutoStar Suite Problems (networking)
Sent:	Sunday, September 19, 2004 12:16:04
From:	Jay Lewis (mktscope@bellsouth.net)
Believe it or not, there hasn't been a clear night in Miami since July! 
So I decided to do some dry runs to improve proficiency with Autostar
Suite.

I have searched the site (also called "The fount of all wisdom"), but
can't/didn't find any answers to the issues described below.

Same old problems surfaced:

1.  When the remote HBX initializes (not smoothly at all -- sort of fits
and starts), if the Starmap is on the screen it goes blank (white) and
hangs.  It eventually comes back after initialization finishes.

2.  The EAST and WEST buttons on the remote HBX screen will slew the
scope, but will NOT move the cursor in the date or time fields (have to
use the keyboard)

3.  After setting the scope to talk to ASS via network and initializing
the remote HBX (per Dick's 07/29/04 posting) if I go to
Objects>Star>Named and use  the scroll up or scroll down buttons to get
to the star I want to see after pressing scroll up (for example) four
times --

a) the screen on the HBX starts to scroll thru all of the named stars
b) the remote handbox screen just displays the last star name before the
scrolling started
c) the starmap is hung (I know this because I can see that it is not
updating the local time) or goes white

This happens with any of the lists on the Autostar database.

The "fix" is to click scroll up once or twice to stop the scrolling. 
After a about 15 seconds, the starmap comes back into view with the
correct time (!) and after another few seconds the remote HBX screen
reports the star shown on the HBX.

Other issues:

1. I only get one chance to use Protocol>remote handbox.  If I
disconnect, I cannot get to AutoStarCtrl via ASS (AutoStar Suite), I
must launch directly from explorer

2.  I have to reboot to get to AutoStarCtrl directly from ASS.

Just for the record.... If I launch AutoStarCtrl and use the com port
(instead of networking), there are no problems (except the EAST/WEST
thing).

Specs: HP Pavilion ze5220us, Athlon XP-M processor 3000+, 512 Mb memory,
60 Gb drive, Autostar updated to 32Ei, ASS updated to 3.61a. Any other
specs needed or helpful -- just ask

Any suggestions???
 
Jay Lewis
Executive Director
Passenger & Shipping Institute
Coral Gables, Florida
USA
Mike here: It almost sounds like a communication problem, either in hardware or in software. I didn't see which Windows version you have (any chance it is XP2????). But I'll leave the troubleshooting to Dick, who is way more familiar with Windows than I am (since I avoid using Windows as much as possible).

And:

Thanks for the quick response...

It's Windows XP (Home) with SP2.

I started up the Windows Task Manager to see what was happening as the
programs were working.  Interestingly enough, AutoStarCtrl -stays- in
the Task Manager even after I exit it.  That's why I couldn't get ASS to
relaunch AutoStarCtrl after an exit.  The only way (other than a reboot)
is to go to Task Manager, highlight AutoStarCtrl, and "End Task".  Then,
re-launching ASS will permit launching AutoStarCtrl from the Protocols
menu.

If it were a hardware problem, then wouldn't you think that the problem
would occur when the Autostar is hooked up via the com port (no
networking)? As it is, that doesn't happen -- AutoStarCtrl works fine as
a standalone connected via the serial (com) port protocol.

I think it's a networking issue too.  Since this is a new computer and
the only legacy hardware is the USB to Serial connector that -may- be an
issue. But, then why would it work OK just as a com port???

Tiz a puzzlement!

Jay Lewis
Mike here: I wonder if XP2 could be the problem. There are so many apps that don't like XP2.

And:

This also happened before I updated to SP2. Best, Jay And:

From:	Richard Seymour (rseymour@wolfenet.com)
After having read Jay's two notes and Mike's comment,
my own suggestion is: send it in to Meade as a bug report(s).
(including your Task Manager analysis)

I'd split the scroll issue off to a separate note (since it
might be different programmers).  I think you might be hitting
(confusing) whatever mechanism they use to distinguish/signal
"held down" versus "tapped".

But the process-stays-live-but-hidden definitely sounds like
a pending i/o not being properly cancelled, hence the process
has to remain "active".  This is a program-to-program signalling
error/issue, not a hardware problem.

In your email to Meade, put "Autostar Suite remote handbox error" in
the subject, and watch the typos (ASS is v3.16a, not 3.61a)
The address is   engineer@meade.com

AS -workarounds-, i'd try things like disconnecting the network
channel in RemHandbox itself before trying to dismiss it.
And/or -not- dismissing it, but just minimize it.
Also, you say "reboot".  Do you truly mean "reboot windows" or just
"restart ASS"?  Clarity, even if it requires redundancy, in bug 
reports -really- helps.

have fun
--dick
And:
... or OS X...

Jay's issue was with a program (not) exiting gracefully -after- successfully
working.  95% of the "XP SP2" issues are due to the firewall being more
safety-minded than before.

Even with Win98se, i notice that AutostarSuite is not too good about
cleaning up after itself until AutostarSuite is totally killed.

have fun
--dick
Mike here: True. But it is a less a hassle than with M$...
Subject:	505 cable connection leads
Sent:	Saturday, September 11, 2004 15:29:00
From:	WILLIAM CAMPBELL (bill.campbell2@btopenworld.com)
just purchased meade lpi and autosuite,unfortunately my laptop does not
have a serial port-only usb ports,is there any form of adapter that will
convert?many thanks,bill...
Mike here: Meade has a serial-USB converter for Windows only. Belkin and Keyspan make them for both Macs and PCs. For more on a Keyspan model see the article "Update Autostar using a Mac" on the Helpful Information: Autostar Info page.

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