Things I've learned, while learning KStars/Ekos/INDI/StellarMate (hereafter referred to as simply "this"), up to my first remote capture session.
Look, now: I'm relatively young, I can be naive, and like many of us, I get giddy over a clear night. Much of the following points might seem intuitive, but just think of them as my "notes to a past self". These are the tips I really wish I could go back in time, and slip into my own pocket... and I'm still learning how to check my own progress and keep notes after plenty of time spent acclimating to this workflow and environment. This is the culmination of ~1.5mo of learning this workflow. I barely know my way around a Linux terminal, I have the lightest understanding of how INDI functions, and I still think Ekos can be better (it does get better every week, as evidenced by forum posts and update notes accessible to us all). This is all great to me, because I'm a new-comer, and the next wave of new users will probably have an even smoother transition into this!
Once you've gotten involved with KStars and Ekos, INDI inevitably follows and the rabbit hole is as deep as the sky is wide. If you're going to "give this a go" or a "try", I can't stress enough that you need to commit your time, equipment, pre-existing knowledge, and maintain a positive outlook. You will find stress, but do not despair and never let go of the idea behind it all. I'm writing you now from the comfort of a couch with many tabs open on various aspects of this workflow, while my first scheduler file captures NGC 7331. Even now, I notice my stars aren't perfectly round, but *I'm. Getting. Subs.* I don't expect the maintenance to cease, or the trouble-shooting to disappear, or the clouds to not reappear once I've found a fix for the issue(s) at hand. I've simply committed to this amazing open-source idea, and whether I cling to it for years to come or not (I certainly plan on it), I'm treating it like I'll never switch to another software, many of which I already own but have foregone for this. Commit yourself, and learn- never forget that this is an ever-evolving workflow and it will always be getting better than it is in the present moment.
2)When you have a question, don't hesitate to post to indilib forum!
I'm generally an anxious, shy, coffee-fueled individual with little patience, but I somehow maintain enough stamina to push past any seemingly un-intuitive or difficult settings I encounter, and I continuously find the will to simply ask others for help when I can go no further. I always try to remember that I didn't write the language- others did, and so I have to think like they do; if I can't think like they do (and I'm no coder or Linux wizard), then I absolutely must ask. What's more, one of the greatest aspects of this forum is to give feedback in furtherance of making this all easier for newcomers and veteran users, alike. If you have issues, trouble, feedback, or praise- post it! Even if I get 5 total reads without comment, something I've encountered (and on which I've posted) will remain here, searchable to everyone and possibly useful to many, if not a single person at least. As far as I can tell, the only not-useful post is one which includes no detail. Tell everyone what you're experiencing, good or bad or even neutral- it adds to the community!
3)Remember there exist knowledgeable, helpful, friendly people behind all of this.
This almost belongs with #2, but it'd a bit deeper than just the forums. The people behind this community are among some of the most helpful people I've encountered anywhere on the web, and some of them are behind StellarMate support. You won't have to go far here, to find one of the developers or maintainers giving advice, and usually on a short timescale. I haven't been here for long, so have only interacted with a few, but it goes without saying that Jasem Mutlaq is very near the roots of this all. Many of the issues I've experienced have been directly- and, again, quite quickly- solved or at least addressed by Jasem. I actually ran into a mount issue while writing this very sentence, and since I have StellarMate, I opened a support chat. The thing is that, in my mind, if you're experiencing a hardware or driver issue, it's in everybody's best interest that the developers understand what's going wrong, and finding some manner of resolving the issue. It isn't everybody's job, but I've found that each of the developers play their part. StellarMate comes with the advantage of a more dedicated support- I've watched Jasem tunnel into my Pi3 over TeamViewer a few times now, to help diagnose problems, as well as to make further progress on drivers- of course he doesn't own every piece of equipment INDI supports, so this is a useful method by which he and the other developers can gain insight into realtime device and driver testing. The meta-type point I'm trying to make is that the developers and maintainers care, and it shows in an authentic sense. (We didn't completely solve the issue, but I did get back to imaging NGC7331 for the night, and I'm now prepared to log the issue correctly next time it presents itself).
4)Attempt your own workflow, first under sub-optimal conditions.
Get a feel for what your good nights will be like before they arrive- this usually accompanies most things with an AP setup, of course. Before you go out into Bortle 1 skies (or better!), like I did during a new moon phase, don't be afraid to take your setup out during a more full moon and try this out. As you've likely gathered, there's a large amount of functionality to this workflow. So, get out there, sync your mount, build a mount model, gather Alt/Az points for your site's artificial horizon in KStars, take some subs or a couple full rounds of LRGB, tackle guiding with the internal guider on a brighter star if needed- or, for the sake of fulfillment, try to go for a full sequence in the scheduler. Nobody wants to waste clear nights, and even though you might lose a few while you're on this learning curve, get a head start on your own journey before the really promising nights come around. Worst case scenario, you lose a night of moonlit skies and a little sleep while executing a full sequence. Finding errors under imperfect skies is the perfect feeling, leaving you time to seek and find solutions, and becoming more prepared and knowledgeable, generally.
5)Before updating (or sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get upgrade);
-always always always *always* make a backup of your current system
+for doing so, it is useful to have a second SD card at the ready, of the same make and model (but of course not required)
-make note of the version you had versus the version to which you're upgrading
-the moment you find any error or issue, open notepad or similar and write yourself a note; things like simple shorthand really help in communicating your issues later on.
6)Watch every video and tutorial you can, that includes reading the tutorials on the indilib site.
Too many times, I found myself jumping into a function, just to stop and check myself, and seek out the basic tutorials. Most of us are prone to quick action-taking, but doing a little homework really comes with no loss, and at least some gain of insight. Do it! Even the older tutorial videos by Jasem from years ago provide valuable insight into what actually goes on in this environment, and about what the various projects are all about. Personally, I also enjoyed some "full night" no-audio videos posted to Youtube by Ekos/INDI users- they were very valuable in visualizing what an 8hr session (no joke, there are some long videos) entails. Also, make sure you're submitting logs correctly- there are certain ways to do so, and certain ways to definitely not do so (I'm guilty, and still learning!)
7) Practice. Patience. and Perseverance.
You're committed, you have support available which is hosted by those behind the software (and sometimes hardware), you've done some soft runs for practice, you're taking notes, and you've read up on some how-to. You're going to get there, eventually- there is no doubt about this. Don't let some clouds, or dew, or even a driver issue get you down. Photons will continue to rain down, even after you're gone from this plane, so just chill and do your best not to lose the enjoyment of it all. We're not all scientists, and even as a scientist myself, I often find this type of mindset helps me greatly in the laboratories in which I work. This isn't a chore, so keep your head up and have pride in being a part of something so dang awesome!!! Seriously, if I can get to my first sub frames with this setup, I know you can. You just need a little equipment and a can-do attitude. A few extra GB of storage space helps, too
8)Support. This. Now.
I'm not rich. It took me an extended amount of time to acquire my equipment. I have a family, bills, and everybody has to eat. I get it. I just made my first actual donation to INDI- it wasn't that much, and it certainly won't support anyone's salary, nor was it tax-deductible (maybe one day, here in the US?!), but after being so kindly received here, I can let go of a few cups of coffee for now. In the near future, my plan is to donate a certain amount per hour of finished images (i.e. X dollars/ Y hrs of light gathering). So maybe after each image's final touch up in PhotoShop, I make note for a future donation or immediately donate the calculated amount. That's my personal pledge; you have to find your own. I won't judge you if you don't, but giving advice and receiving help only go so far. Can you afford 5 Euros or 10 dollars or X Yen or Y real, right now? I'm not converting currencies, just trying to make a point. If you're out under the sky, capturing lights, somebody's own time and care has been poured into it- give back to this community, it will help. Finance discussions are a bit of a cultural taboo, I know, but say it with me, "if we can afford the glass, we can help pay for the gas!" If you can buy this equipment or the parts to fashion your own, and aren't out there monthly on an educational outreach, please think to help out with a little fuel to stoke the fire that keeps us all warm!
Your experiences, your issues, your feedback, your criticisms (critique, not harsh words!), your frustrations (again, elaborate and don't take it out on others), your triumphs- and share your own personal reflections, like I have here. Maybe above all, once you have some understanding of this workflow and this community, share the very idea with others who might one day be reading this. I've climbed aboard a special type of project, and I want others to feel the excitement that I do; of course many are comfortable in their own settings, like humans do, but even if 1 out of 10 people who hear about it become interested, it only will add to the enjoyment of us all.
You were warned: I can be naive, I'm young, and I'm new to this workflow. Just like you, however, I can't show you a more cohesive and friendly community geared towards developing an open-source astronomy platform. This is something very special and I felt happy and excited to write out my thoughts, here. I may have went too far for some, and not deep enough for others, but either way, I'll look forward to seeing you on the forums or under dark skies.
Cheers to this great community and clear skies to everyone who puts effort into these projects.
That is an extremely well written and thought out article. You put a lot of thought into writing those words. I think it resonates very well with my experience as well. For me, I agree with what you are saying nearly 100%. One big difference for me though, is where you are donating your hard earned money to help make things better, I am donating my time adding code and fixing code to help make it better, also helping to answer questions on the forum. We do all try to contribute in our own ways to help make this project better! I truly do appreciate how much my astrophotography has improved in the last 3-4 years or so since I joined this project. Before I switched to KStars/INDI, my images were not so good with pretty poor guiding, a directly USB connected laptop with software that crashed frequently, had to use multiple programs to get everything to work, and I had to align by centering stars in my image and using the hand paddle. Now that I use KStars/INDI, my images are much higher quality, my guiding is now almost perfect, all my equipment is accessed remotely over wifi, I align my scope in seconds with plate solving, and the software crashes less frequently. Did I get there right away? Definitely not. This has been a long road, with lots of problems, issues, and coding that I have had to do. Literally hundreds of hours. But it was definitely worth my time. I truly enjoy tinkering, programming, and working out issues. Almost as much as I love astrophotography. So this project is a pretty good fit for me. The results are worth it, and if we can help get more beginners into astrophotography with a free software package with an incredible amount of features that make astronomy fun and enjoyable to do, then we have done good things for the world of astronomy.
Rob, thank you for your kinds words- and for looking past my grammatical errors-I'll have to edit them seeing as this post has been stickied. I certainly agree with what you've said here, and I hope it doesn't generally seem as if I've discounted those who edit code and provide such valuable input as you do. I recently used your installation script to do what I had failed while trying on my own a couple years ago. It was only after seeing so many companies come out with similar Pi-powered control units of which I thought, "hey, that's just what INDI has been doing, except they're open-source!", and then I saw StellarMate, and felt compelled to purchase the OS up front. A month later, I used your script to install another Pi3 indiserver over a MATE image, and I plan to use that very machine as a slave to my SM to control the mount, or at least as soon as I find the time to edit the connection. Again, a straightforward script (I believe I originally had used your pre-script, written instructions, even) which evolved out of your work, and some input from others, did for me in minutes that which would have taken me at least a couple of hours- you have saved me valuable time and resources, many times now. I have no contempt whatsoever, for people like you who are dedicated to this community in such a way- and I should have made this much more clear in my above post.
Also, I can't possibly resonate more, with your sentiment here. It honestly feels too good to be true sometimes- I managed ~2hrs of LRGB subs between writing this tonight, before clouds hit- something I would have been lucky to get 0.5hrs, had I been going with my original workflow. The cherry on top was to walk outside with my scope cover, take care of some dew, and pull out my phone to park the mount with KStarsLite app, not having to lug my laptop around with me. It's a brilliant thing, this project. I am skeptical, however, that there's some sort of magic going on behind the internal guider- I certainly never achieved these RMS values with other software... and come to think of it, this is the first night in my just over two years of astrophotography that I've actually collected more than one night of data on a target.
Thanks again, for your comments and contributions, Rob. My only extensive coding experience is in R language, which has little place in astronomy, so I consistently find myself depending on people just like you to help me succeed in working with other types of code when it comes to new software. You help translate a seemingly cumbersome and novel task into a more friendly and understandable workflow, and this means the world to people new to such an environment.
Very nice post, and totally agree with all the sentiments raised. I too am here developing, mainly because my focuser wasn't supported, so wrote the driver for it. That's what I like about open source, if it doesn't do what you want, then implement it!
I remain in awe and so impressed by individuals who can simply write in code when it's needed, especially for drivers. Watching Jasem find some random error in a pile of driver code for my focuser in TeamViewer gave me the slightest idea as to just how clueless I am in regards to coding for devices. It's certainly far past any arduino code with which I've played in the past, and even that quickly becomes too advanced for me.
I'm hoping to get into this on the Ekos side of things in order to create and/or edit tooltips- I imagine the code wouldn't be so difficult, but I do fear that I might require a bit too much hand-holding to be introduced to the ability to do so. I'm sure I will pick up hints here and there, but until then I remain 100% dependent on coders like yourself.
This is my second time trying KStars. The only thing that impresses me about it is that it runs on a Mac. I'll move to Linux someday - it's a dream, we all need a dream.
For now, being totally new to INDI and KStars and CCDCiel, I'm looking for a total Mac configuration for my astrophotography. I HAVE to get off of Windows. I found ASTAP and N.I.N.A. to be somewhat helpful, but N.I.N.A. again only runs on Windows, and my sober 2 core 2014 Mac Mini can't handle some of the features in N.I.N.A. without crashing Windows. (Running Windows on a Mac using Parallels.) And now that I've upgraded the Mini to run Big Sur, even SharpCap is crashing unexpectedly.
Well, the first thing I've run into with KStars is configuring the interface to Gemini II (Losmandy Titan 50 mount). I don't see anything in the list for gemini other than lx200gemini. So right off, I'm stuck. Since you have Gemini II, maybe you can help me jump this first hurdle.
Thanks in advance.