Archive for February, 2009

A Quick Peek at the RegiStax 5 beta

Saturday, February 28th, 2009

Well the beta is out on a 30-day trial and I downloaded the beta this afternoon to do a little testing. I first tried it with my current test subject – an AVI from a night of good seeing. I fired up RegiStax v5 and selected 64×64 alignment boxes and then let it pick how many and where to place the boxes. The area of the Moon was near Walter so there were many features to choose from. RegiStax decided to put down 230 alignment points and distributed them pretty uniformly. It also avoided the area beyond the terminator. It took 24 minutes for the initial alignment, 1 minute to make a reference from the 50 best frames, 2 minutes to optimize, and 1 minute to stack the best 200 out of 1300 frames in the AVI. Total run time 30 minutes for 230 alignment points. Not Bad. I had just run the same AVI through AviStack on the same machine the night before with 2500 alignment points. That took 36 minutes. I reran the AVI through AviStack using only 230 alignment points ( I had to manually delete nearly 160 points because I could not get AviStack’s auto placement routine to lay down fewer than 390 points). AviStack ran through that case in 20.5 minutes. So, RegiStax is faster than AviStack except when you force AviStack to use the same number of points. When I looked at the RS version compared to the AviStack result using 2500 alignment points – after wavelet enhancement (using the same tool), I could easily tell where the RS processing could have used more alignment points. The problem boils down to this – when you use 10 times as many alignment points, the distance between points is 3 times smaller. This results in 3 times less distortion (on average) from seeing within any single stacking polygon. If your skies are like mine this will make a noticeable difference in the result. The quality of the final image with RegiStax v5 is still not as uniform as with AviStack. One other thing to know about RegiStax. It aligns and stacks to sub-pixel accuracy and so if your images are not properly sampled you will lose some resolution.

My next test was my old test AVI of the region near Aristarchus. This was an AVI where RegiStax had a tough time tracking some features in the darker areas of the Mare. I could not get v5 to complete the optimize step. The program would simply crash. I did not, however, try some of the new settings – this is after all a Quick Peek of the Beta on the day of release. It also decided that only 32 alignment points were needed. I’m going to have to spend some more time on this test case and learn some of the new controls that are supposed to help in these situations.

Here are a few problems I noticed in the beta which I assume are going to be easy to fix in the final release:

The status bar along the bottom has a place where RS reports Time Used and Time Left. For some reason that line is split in two – one above the other – but the single line height of the status bar cuts the top off of the top line and the bottom off of the bottom line.

I was running RS on Win XP under Parallels in coherence mode on my Mac. The first time I ran RS, it kicked Parallels out of coherence mode into a small window with scroll bars. It had apparently changed the screen resolution from 1920×1200 to 1900×1182!!! After restoring everything back to the way it was, RS did not repeat this the next time I ran it.

Here is one thing that I think is going to remain a problem:

One of the problems the previous versions of RegiStax had was that the reference created after setting the Limit frame count still had slight geometric distortions which only really became apparent when you tried to build a mosaic from multiple AVIs. I compared the RS result to the AviStack result using the difference mode in PhotoShop. AviStack reported that the seeing in this AVI was never greater than 2-pixels of relative shift – so this is a very quiescent sky I was imaging through. The comparison between the two results showed that only one alignment point had a slight relative shift. It was an area of sharp contrast around a 40×40 pixel crater. Not a definitive test, but given the problem I had around Aristarchus I suspect RS is still going to have problems with astrometric accuracy.

So, my quick peek tells me the following. RSv5 is faster than v4. There are more features to learn that should help with problem AVIs. If you are fortunate to live in a place where your sky provides excellent seeing or you are shooting at shorter focal lengths – you are going to like RegiStax v5 and can use most of the automated features. If you are like me with a sky that rarely cooperates – the jury is still out. I will learn the new features and report back here within a week.

DISCLAIMER: I am now contributing some post processing code to the AviStack program. You may feel that this limits my ability to remain objective. Fair enough. Try these tests out for yourself and report your results here. I’d love to hear from you.

New iMac and M$ Office 2008

Saturday, February 28th, 2009

The day finally came when my not so old government owned computer at work was replaced by a contractor owned computer. The process we lovingly refer to as being ODINized was happening in my office. My ‘old computer’ was only two years old (a nice white iMac) and worked for what I needed it to do. I often ran OS X along side Win XP under Parallels and thought I could probably use a little faster CPU and more memory. So, I was looking forward to the new system which improved both aspects. I won’t get into the details of what works and what doesn’t other than to say that I’m not a happy camper yet.

What I do want to talk about first is the new iMac. I like the aluminum finish. I never really thought the white with thick clear casing was all that attractive. Distinctive? Yes. Attractive? No. This system has the glossy screen. A lot has been written just on the switch to glossy screens, but I have to say that I liked them when I first used one on my 17″ MacBook Pro and I love it on the new iMac. I also now understand why Steve Jobs likes to wear black shirts. The reflectivity is high, but not distracting to me. The reason is that when you are focused on the screen the background reflections are out of focus. It is even more true with my old eyes which have a very limited depth of field. I simply do not see the background when looking at screen content. The machine is fast(er) and the doubling of memory from 2 to 4GB really helps with Parallels and Win XP – but I knew that from using my MacBook Pro. What really sucks on the new iMac are the speakers. They sound terrible for anything other than the Beeps, Boops, and Groans of the system event sounds. For music just don’t bother – they suck completely. The sound on the old white iMac was not this bad. I wish there was a headphone jack on the front, sides, or bottom of the iMac. Since I have to use headphones for quality sound I hate having to turn my monitor slightly so I can reach the back where the headphone jack is. For some reason I can’t quite do this by feel (it is the the outermost hole on the back and I can feel where it is) while it is nestled in with the other things residing on my desk.

The new iMac also came with the standard ODIN software load which included Office 2008. I have a lot of documents, spreadsheets, and powerpoint presentations built with Office 2004. There is a lot not to like about office 2004, but I really dislike Office 2008. Two things in particular really stand out for me. First was the fact that Office 2008 decided it needed to reformat the column widths and row heights of my 2004 spreadsheets. Now I know that all of my 2004 sheets had a different geometry and that moving one of them to a windows version of office caused problems with fonts and cell sizes, but I cannot afford to resize all of the spreadsheets I’ve created in the last 5 years. I do not even know whether the new column/row geometries are even compatible with the windows version of office now. The second thing I do not like about Office 2008 is all of that useless crap at the top of the screen. With the old system I could put all of the tools I need in my own custom single-line tool bar and use most of my screen area for content. With Office 2008, I have to have some tools in a tool bar and some in that header area where the title and menus are located. Then there is that worthless bar of buttons (I think it may be called the Elements Bar) that helps the brain dead with their access to tools I never use – forms, styles, … . The elements bar cannot be turned off. You can collapse it, but you can’t make it go away. The amount of wasted space at the top of the work area has easily doubled (with the bar collapsed). If I wasn’t before, I certainly now am convinced that Micro$oft is hell bent on writing software for the most idiotic user. They shun the needs of normal competent users (let alone power users) because they fear that an idiot and potential new customer might stray across a product of theirs that has been customized by a person who can think independently and has customized the GUI to suite their needs, likes, and habits. They worry that this chance encounter might scare the new customer away. As you might guess, I ripped Office 2008 out by its tonsils and reinstalled Office 2004. … And then spent the next hour patching the patches to the patches that were patched by the previous patch.

I guess this is why I stilll write my own software.

digg

Friday, February 27th, 2009

I’ll be short and to the point. Someone submitted one of my flickr photos to digg and it made the front page. Holy Moses! I’m glad I was not serving that from here. It ended up getting 70+ thousand hits on flickr in 3 days. Most of that came on the first day. But that is not the point of this post.

Boy has digg turned into a bunch of whiny self righteous negative nincompoops! I guess digg is old enough now to have turned into just another /. So where is the next digg? I need a new home for tech stuff where the tech still outweighs the stuff.

Stimulus Package

Saturday, February 14th, 2009

Well, the stimulus package is all but signed into law. Looking through the details, I see that (other than getting the bill to pay for all of this spending) I qualify to deduct the sales tax off of any new car I buy this year. Whoop-de-frickin-do! If only someone made a car that I would actually want to buy.

I also note that NASA is getting $1.0B which is down yet again from the $1.5B which had been reduced to $1.3B. I need to dig a little deeper to see how all of the new money is allocated within NASA. I did submit a couple of proposals to the agency in response to their call for ideas on what could we do right away with a stimulus augmentation. I think there may still be a chance of getting at least one funded.