Ever since I have gifted my patio with a beautiful zinc coated steel pier, thus gaining the ability to have a permanently polar aligned mount, it’s got easier to remotely control my whole setup with minimal effort. Of course, by minimal, I still mean considerable. You will understand if you are an astrophotographer too.
The pier is located only a few meters from the windows in my living room, and that means that I can use 5 meter long USB extensions to reach my laptop which is comfortably sitting, as it should, in my lap. Does that spell r-e-m-o-t-e to you? It certainly does not to me.
I would be constrained to stay on the couch, and there would be three cables running to my laptop: one COM cable that’s used to connect to the SynScan controller of my HEQ5, one USB cable that comes from the Canon EOS 450D camera, and one USB cable that comes from the QHY5 guide camera. Luckly, the laptop I’m using has a dock that has a COM port, or else I would have to use a COM-to-USB adapter, bringing the number of needed USB ports to three. And aren’t we forgetting the external hard drive? Four. And how about the mouse? Five. I have only two USB ports on this old T43 laptop, and the one USB powered hub I have tried ended up causing a lot of problems, with annexed nerve wreckage.
Yeah, that was certainly not remote.
Right next to the pier, there’s a certain tools/storage room, whose secret agenda is to come between my lenses and some astronomical object many light years away. When it’s not too busy doing that, it serves as a place for a lot of junk. In this room I also have an old computer which turned out to be perfect as a dedicated astrophotography box. It’s got two Intel Core 2 Duo processors, and 2GB RAM. Plenty for my purposes.
The problem? The room does not have wired connectivity (I find that odd, as it certainly has power and the rest of my house if littered with CAT5 sockets) and the wireless signal coming from the router inside is too weak to reach the utterly underpowered antenna sticking out from the back of the computer, alone in a corner, covered by a ton of dusty cables. Luckily I had a Linksys WAP56G wireless access point sitting around, and that would’ve made an excellent wireless repeater! Except that the stock software would only let it work, as a repeater, with some other Linksys router (namely, the WRT56G, i.e. something in the same family).
And that’s where Open Source comes to the rescue, thanks to what I have learned to appreciate as the immense power and usefulness of DD-WRT. I even tweeted my love for it. DD-WRT is a replacement firmware compatible with lots of routers and access points, and it will definitely enrich the capabilities of your device. Give it a try. It has been quite easy to set it up as a wireless repeater for my main wireless network, and my mind was (figuratively, you just need to specify, these days) blown away when I learned that it could simply configure the LAN port on the AP as a switch port. That means that I can have the astrophotography box wired to the AP, the AP linked to my main wireless network, and my laptop anywhere in the house, linked to the same network, remote controlling the astrophotography box!
To achieve the actual remote controlling, I have resorted to the even so popular VNC. Some networking magic and a little port forwarding later, I can now literally see the content of the screen of the remote computer right in the screen of my laptop; wirelessly and efficiently.
So my astrophotography routine can now be broken up in the following steps:
- Look at the sky.
- It’s cloudy.
- GOTO 1.
Just kidding. Here it is:
- Remove the Telegizmos Series 365 cover from my pier, uncovering the HEQ5 mount.
- Mount the optics on top of it.
- Turn on the computer in the tools room. Note that the cables to the cameras and mount, whose ends belong to the computer, are already connected.
- Connects the cables to the appropriate ends in the cameras and mount. Connect the power of course.
- Go inside and connect to the astrophotography box from the laptop, via VNC.
Considering that the mount is already polar aligned, and that, thanks to the brilliancy of EQMOD, as long as I remember to park the scope after each session, I won’t need to repeat any 3-star alignment or anything, everything should be ready to start imaging.
I probably need to focus at this point, so I can just go outside with the laptop in hand, have a look at Live View from Canon EOS Utility, and adjust the knobs accordingly.
I can now simply go inside, program the shooting, and I can continue using my laptop without worrying that I might do something that interferes with the imaging.
Neat, isn’t it?