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Wednesday, July 09, 2008


First Light for the ToUCam

The images on the left are the ones I have just taken tonight with my new ToUCam. The images to the right were taken (about a year ago) with my old Logitech Quickcam webcam. Now, conditions weren't identical, there was cloud over the Moon and Jupiter tonight, and the turbulence was pretty bad. But it was the first time that the sky was sufficiently clear for anything, and I've been waiting to try the camera for so long, that I just had to go out. And it was the opposition of Jupiter tonight, I just had to have a go.

The neighbours saw me set up and we had a mini-star party as I set up the camera. There was even a halo around the Moon to point out to them while I fiddled and grumbled making sure that the finderscope actually pointed in the same direction as the telescope. Finally I got the scope pointing the right way, focussed protperly and worked out the exposure settings and we could see the awesome spledor of the Moon on the computer screen. The images on the screen were sufficiently sharp to impress the neigbours, and we had a nice time exploring the Moon, then a less satisfying time with Jupiter.

Despite the horrible conditions, I think you can see that the ToUCam did quite well compared to the old Quickcam. I'm looking forward to having some clear, still nights in the future to really test it out (and hopefully, when I can actually SEE the southern cross I can do a better job of polar alignment.

Mind you, this post was nearly titled EPIC FAIL. I actually bought the ToUCam a while ago, not too long after I bought my new laptop to replace my elderly one whose screen had just died. Unfortunately, the laptop came preloaded with Vista, and as work is transitioning to Vista I needed that for compatibility. But Vista is notorious for not having drivers. Indeed that ToUCam 840K does not have Vista drivers, but there was a workaround on the Philips website, so off I went full of confidence.

And failed.

The install sequence is a little complicated, but when I should have had this screen

Which would have allowed me to continue and install the drivers, I got this.

Which just wouldn't let me go any further. I tried everything, deleted and reinstalled, tried the suggestions here and here and here (to no avail) hung out on forums, sent off emails to people who had said they had succeeded, but never heard back. Nothing worked, not even colourful expletives.

I was feeling a little despondent. Should I have gone for the Meade Lunar and Planetary Imager instead? No, it turns out that it is not Windows Vista compatible either (there is a work around if you hunt around), in fact most of the affordable webcam/imager systems for amateur astronomers are not Vista compatible. I picked up a book on photographing the Moon and it fell open at a section which said that the ToUCam was the most popular astronomical webcam, giving instructions for its use. I could have wept in frustration.

In the end I did the only thing possible. I bodged up a repair to the old laptop. So now my setup takes twice as long, as I have to drag out and attach a separate screen for the elderly laptop. But it works. The ToUCam software loaded sweetly under Windows ME (remember that?), and my copy of Vega runs the ToUcam without a problem.

So, on a clear night you may see me out the back with an enourmous pile of what looks like scrap metal next to my telescope. It's my bodge computer systems, and it takes nice images, thank you.

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You bought a laptop which is not a MacBook or a MacBookPro‽ ¡Sorry, but you had it coming!
Ah, religious wars, how I love them!
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