Something different – a few astrophotos

Well, we finally got some decent weather last week (not raining, but not so hot and humid that I could not really see much), so I had a shot at some astrophotography. My equipment is:

  • Celestron CPC 1100 Telescope
  • Alt-az mount
  • Canon XSi DSLR camera

Since I do not (yet) have an equatorial wedge for my telescope, I am limited in the exposure lengths I can use to about 10-30 seconds before field rotation ruins the image.

My first attempt was a simple star picture – Albireo – which is a pretty double star in the constellation Cygnus. This is a stack of 10, 15 second exposures:


My second attempt was of M13, a globular cluster in the constellation Hercules. This is a stack or 15, 15 second exposures:


Finally, I decided to try M57, the Ring Nebula, in the constellation Lyra. This is a stack of 20, 15 second exposures:


As I say, these are my first attempts at non-lunar, non-planetary images. I wanted to quickly work with a low number of images to stack initially, to see if I could get reasonable results. Next chance I get, I will focus more on one object, and go for a larger number of images to try to get more detail, better noise, etc. I am also just learning to use the image processing software, which is a major effort in and of itself.

(someday I will get a wedge, and be able to try longer individual exposures).

MyRoles iPhone App


A little plug here for a couple of my co-workers at T4G (Fred Illies and Andrew Little) who have just released their MyRoles iPhone app to the iTunes AppStore.

In Fred’s words:

“I’m excited to announce that yesterday Andrew and I submitted MyRoles to the iTunes AppStore.  Once the approval process has been completed and it actually goes live on the AppStore I’ll send out another note.  (but with the insane amount of new apps submitted every day who knows how long it’ll be).

In the meantime, please check out our website at to get all the deets on why we think this zen-like to-do list can help people maintain some balance in their lives.  It lets you organize your to-do list by the various roles you play in your life.  You can also check out our MyRoles page on Facebook and you can follow MyRoles on Twitter.”

So, check it out – I would if I had an iPhone!

Why consumers won’t buy tablets –

 Why consumers won’t buy tablets –

Ok – so this guy really doesn’t get it (not surprising – there are few tech columnists out there who grasp anything that is not already mainstream). Then, hardly anyone else gets it, either. The one things he does have right in the whole article is that tablets are too expensive – but this is, of course, driven by the fact that they have never caught on enough to drive the prices down.

However, he also makes the statement “…you need a keyboard for doing real work…” This is entirely, utterly incorrect. The problem is, you do need a keyboard to do any real work only if you insist on working the same way you do on a device that has a keyboard.

Later, he says “…a Netbook like a $200 Acer Aspire One offers a better bet: it has a real keyboard, its own storage, and you can take it on the road and do real work on it, like a notebook computer or a Netbook.” Other than the keyboard statement, this is utter rubbish. A tablet has comparable storage to a laptop. And as for taking it on the road and doing real work – a tablet works better in a meeting room, on an airplane (where there is rarely room to open your laptop anymore), and my table gives me 7-9 hours of battery life. And if you are using the table as a tablet, the keyboard becomes irrelevant.

Later, he says “…you’ll probably be able to plug a keyboard into any of these yet-to-be-released tablets…” – get with it, I have been using tablets with support for USB and/or Bluetooth keyboards since 2002, and they are the same keyboards you use with your desktop, so nothing special to buy.

Working on a tablet is a different user experience, and requires a different way of working – a way of working which seems more natural if you are used to working with paper and pen. In order for a tablet to be effective, one has to get used to working with handwriting again, and get away from on-screen typing, and also away from converting handwriting to text all the time.

I learned this way back when Tablet PCs first came out (I have been using a tablet pretty much continuously since 2002). When I got my first tablet, I soon realized that I  could not use it the same way I did a “normal” computer. So, I tried a little experiment. I got rid of all of my computers except the tablet. For six months, I used the tablet exclusively. Honestly, it was really, really painful at first. Then, I gradually learned to do things in ways which made sense on the tablet – and many of these new approaches were much more natural than working with a keyboard and mouse. What did I learn? Here are a few examples:

  • Handwriting is a slow way to create large documents – typing is much faster (even for me)
  • Creating large documents with a pen may be slow, but marking up someone else’s document is great
  • It is more effective to leave most of your handwriting as handwriting
  • Dictating documents and presentations was quite effective (even more so on my later tablets than on my first)
  • When dictating documents, you have to stop think of correcting and formatting as you go (a BAD habit to begin with). Just dump your ideas out as fast as possible, knowing that you are going to go back and edit and format later.
  • Brainstorming tools are great

I also use the Tablet to read ebooks (in standard formats, rather than proprietary formats) so I do not have to blow several hundred dollars on a Kindle that does nothing but display ebooks.

Think back to the days before we used computers for everything. When you were working on a document, would you typically start at a typewriter? Or would you start with a notebook, or a pad of paper, collecting notes and ideas, creating outlines, and even writing drafts? Then you would take all of that and create the final document.

Think of the tablet the same way. using tools which are tablet-aware (such as Microsoft OneNote, MindJet Mind Manager, and others), use the tablet as you would you pad of paper. Make notes, scribble ideas, brainstorm, create outlines. Even better, you can even clip notes form online sources and collect them together as part of the process. Then after you have done all of your intellectual work, you can do the final stage – typing up the results.

Note that I admit that there are something for which a keyboard is needed. Creating and editing any significant documents requires a keyboard. Does that mean I consider my tablet “just an accessory” to my main computer? Not at all. Most of the tablets available today are convertible, and hence have a keyboard available – giving you the best of both worlds. In my case, I use a slate table – but I also have a stand for it, and a Bluetooth keyboard (I can use my tablet on its stand at my desk, with a wireless keyboard, mouse, and network – then grab it, go to a meeting – come back and set it down and I am good to go).

About the only reason I have other computers is that I spend a considerable amount of my time doing development, and my tablet does not have the computing power, memory, or screen size to be an effective development machine.

The biggest barrier to acceptance of the Tablet PC form factor in the consumer market is indeed price (and price to power ratio). In addition, as I have said before, the Tablet PC has been marketing cluster$!&% by Microsoft from day one. This is a shame, because with a good marketing campaign, and a little bit of evangelism, tablets really cold become a dominant form factor.

PS – Others with no clue:

Here they claim “It’s because you can’t work on a tablet. You can’t get things done without a decent working keyboard”. I beg to differ, and might even go so far as to say the author is full of crap.

These are the same kinds of people who said consumers would never want computers in their homes, and that nobody wanted a GUI interface.

PPS – I am also in the process of looking for a Tablet for my daughter, who is starting university in September. I a looking strongly at the HP TouchSmart TX2 series – they seem to be pretty well configured and priced reasonably in the $1000 (Canadian) range. More than a NetBook for sure, but not much more than a comparably configured laptop.

SketchFlow – Sketching and Prototyping in Expression Blend

I have just been reading SketchFlow – Sketching and Prototyping in Expression Blend. This looks really cool, and I can hardly wait to get a copy. It has been a long time since I saw a new tool that looks like it is made to use on my Tablet PC. There is also a good writeup on SketchFlow by Loren Heiny here.

Right now, I do design in OneNote – but of course there is no connection to any other tools used in the implementation of the design.

ASUS’ R50A UMPC goes legit – Engadget

Post on Engadget about the new ASUS UMPC. It is interesting that the main complaint they have (and many of the comments agree) is the “lack of a QWERTY keyboard”.

When are people going to grasp that the whole point of this form factor is to not have a keyboard? Of course, people predicted doom for the iPhone because it did not have a keypad, but Apple was smart enough to point out that that was the idea. People are so locked into one way of interacting with their hardware that they cannot think beyond it. I went through the same thing when I got my first slate Tablet PC. At first, everything I tried to do seemed extremely cumbersome and awkward. I was constantly hooking up a keyboard and mouse to create eMail and documents. Then I got rid of all my other computers, and my keyboard, and my mouse, and tried to work entirely within the Tablet paradigm for a couple of months. What happened is that I discovered that how I did things on a laptop did not work well on a pure tablet. In addition, there are things that a pure tablet is good for, and there are things it is not. For example, I find the Tablet extremely useful for:

  1. Taking notes and leaving them in hand-written form (using OneNote)
  2. Brainstorming with tools like MindManager
  3. Reviewing and marking up documents in ink (using Word, or PDF Annotator)
  4. Reading eMail, and responding, if I want to send a written response (anything more than a few lines is inconvenient to do with the TIP)
  5. Web browsing for research (and sending results to OneNote)
  6. Reading eBooks
  7. Watching video contents
  8. Dictating documents (if you have good microphones, and enough processing power)
  9. Delivering Presentations (with the ability to annotate slides on the fly, save the annotations, and distribute the marked-up slides)

Things it is not great for:

  1. Creating long documents or eMail in text format.
  2. Creating presentations without dictating
  3. Anything which would normally be done with a lot of typing – again, any amount of text input using the TIP is a pain.

What it comes down to is that Tablets and UMPCs are very useful without keyboards, but not for everything. That does not mean that they should have built in keyboards – it means they should be used for what they are good for.

%d bloggers like this: