Last updated: 19 May 2006
Maxfactory sent me the newest edition of their "Stars at a Click: 50 Lessons on the ETX" CD-ROM. Besides Autostar 3.x and the "classic" ETX, it now includes Autostar 4.x and Premier Edition model lessons. It is priced at $60 (US) and an upgrade is available for $25 (US).
The CD-ROM works on Mac OS X as well as Windows 2000 and XP and uses Quicktime. The 12 page manual that is supplied is mostly geared for PC users. For example, it states how the "auto" play capability works on PCs but doesn't tell you what to do on the Mac. I had to look through the list of 41 files at the root of the CD-ROM; I noticed a file called "ETX.osx", which was of type "application". I double-clicked on that and the Lessons main menu appeared on my Apple PowerBook G4/500 (running Mac OS X 10.4.6 and Quicktime 7.1). Here is what the main menu looks like:
The CD is titled "50 Lessons" but you will see only 24 items on the menu, plus 4 "pod" tutorials. Many lessons have "sublessons" so there are probably 50 in total (I didn't try to count all the options; Maxfactory assures me there are about 70 lessons in total). Here's a closeup of the main lessons menu:
The videos are of very high quality and are professionally produced. Once you have viewed the lessons and are ready to exit, I strongly suggest you view the exit video in its entirety. You will get a good appreciation for the work that went into creating this CD-ROM. Note: the screen shots included here are lower resolution than what you will actually see on the screen.
Besides lessons, with voice narration and video, there are simulations where you can interact with an onscreen Autostar to "control" a virtual telescope. There are also tests you take to reinforce your learning. New in this version are "Solo" and "Training" options; you can select which one suits your learning stage. The lessons each take about 1-2 minutes to view, so it will take you at least an hour to go through the entire suite of lessons. And perhaps much longer as some may require you 10-15 minutes if you go through them indepth. The simulations are very good. I purposely made a pointing error when simulating centering an alignment star and the program reported that I made a "3% pointing error". Impressive! Here is an example simulation session screen. You click the buttons on the Autostar graphic to make it perform just like a real Autostar and you see the ETX telescope slewing as it normally would.
Another example of interactivity in some of the lessons is this test (new in this version), where you drag labels onto the proper locations on the image. If you make a mistake you get immediate feedback.
While overall the CD-ROM is of very high quality there are a few voice narration oddities in how some words are spoken (it sounds almost like it was a digitized voice) and there are a few typographical errors and some English language usage oddities. But these do not detract from the overall experience.
If you don't like reading manuals or you find the Meade documentation lacking, or you want to go beyond the tutorials on the ETX Site, which includes the Meade video tutorials, I can highly recommend "50 Lessons on the ETX" to expand your ETX and Autostar knowledge in a fun and informative way.
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