Monday, November 18, 2019

2019 Advanced Imaging Conference

People have tried to get me to go to the Advanced Imaging Conference in the past, but being in San Jose, CA, it was too expensive to travel there from the midwest.  But now that I live in the Bay Area, it was a short drive down there!  So I finally attended this year, and I must say I had a blast.

I drove down on Thursday night (November 14th) after my quantum mechanics class.  It was pretty late in the evening, so there was virtually no traffic, woo hoo!  I stayed at the Hyatt across the street from the convention center, and due to some construction going on around them, the entrance was very hard to find!  I think I went around the block about three times before finally finding it.  But after that kerfuffle, check-in went smoothly, and I was soon passed out.


Friday morning, I walked over to the convention center, wearing my star-spangled button-up blouse, and a giant grin on my face.  I love conferences and conventions.  Such a feeling of excitement and anticipation.

I immediately ran into some of my buddies from The Astro Imaging Channel, who I was very excited to finally meet in person.  I met Alex McConahay at the 2018 Texas Star Party, but I had only known Eric Coles online thus far.  Later in the morning, I found Tolga as well.  I also found Cary Chleborad of Optical Structures (owns JMI, Astrodon, Lumicon, and Farpoint),  who gave a presentation on TAIC, and for whom I tested a Lumicon off-axis guider (which I still have, since I've been having so many mount issues).  I also was greeted by quite a few people who recognized me from TAIC.  That was so cool!  :D:D

Eric Coles, Tolga Gumusayak, Alex McConahay, and myself (on Saturday)

I attended Warren Keller's session on getting started in PixInsight, and after having used it for the last year, I knew a lot of the basic functions already, but picked up several handy shortcuts and useful features I hadn't noticed yet.  I took lots of notes on my tablet.  I also had him sign my copy of his book Inside PixInsight.  After his talk, I made my way to the vendor hall.  Within it lay a dizzying array of manufacturers and other astro-related companies, many of whom I've heard of, but some of whom I hadn't.  I wandered past the Celestron booth and greeted the world-renowned lunar photographer Robert Reeves, who I had met at the 2017 Texas Star Party when I won a few books of his in the door prize drawing.  I also got to chat with him a fair bit at the 2018 Texas Star Party when I took a Meade camera and filter drawer off his hands that he was getting rid of, and when I was complaining about all of the ailments of my Celestron mounts (he was one of the people manning the Celestron booth).  After chit-chatting with him, I made a beeline to the Astro-Physics booth, which was right next door: they had their brand-new Mach 2 mount on display!  

I thought about getting a picture with it, but decided that would be slightly on the ridiculous side.

*Sigh* gotta save up my money!  Although, every time I mentioned desiring the AP, people would then ask, "Have you thought about a Paramount?"  They also come highly recommended.

I ran into more acquaintances at lunch -- the couple of guys who were set up around me at the 2018 Texas Star Party!  I borrowed a couple pieces of gear from them as well there.  It was really neat seeing all of these people.

In the afternoon, I attended Adam Block's session on advanced processing, and he went over a couple of specific techniques for dealing with particular processing issues, which were really neat.  I took notes, but I'll also have access to the videos after the conference on the AIC website, which is good because there were too many little details to write everything down.  I was petering out in the afternoon, so I just set up my laptop in the main area and worked on catching up on blog posts.  It was a great day!


If I thought Friday was good, Saturday was even better.  The Hubble Award winner, R. Jay GaBany, gave a talk on contributions my amateurs to science with regard to astronomy and astrophysics.  I'm not just talking about variable stars and occultations: he used his 20-inch scope to image stellar streams in galaxies that were suspected to have had mergers in the past with dwarf galaxies.  Wowee!  What an accomplishment.  He was able to capture these faint structures that nobody else had.  

Later on, in the vendor hall, I caught wind that the folks at the Canon booth had brought along their new advanced-consumer-level printer and were doing free prints for people.  I managed to get four prints, and they look incredible!

My Rho Ophiuchi Complex from my trip to Chile this summer.

My time spent at the Canon booth sidetracked me and caused me to miss the only talk given by a woman, dang it!  After lunch, I went to a talk by Rogelio Bernal Andreo, who I have seen on NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day many times.  He talked about bringing out fain structures using PixInsight, and one of the examples he used was of this incredible and enormous supernova remnant known colloquially as the Spaghetti Nebula, or more formally as Simeis 147.  I cant wait to try some of the new techniques!

I skulked around the vendor hall some more and got to chatting with a guy working the Woodland Hills booth about my mount troubles.  They were selling a wide array of accessories, and I was looking for some parts I might find useful.  He said they had a Paramount MyT that they didn't want to take home and would sell me at a discount (they're $6,000 new), and they'd give me $600 for my Celestron CGE mount, as well as shipping labels.  So I went and checked it out -- I could lift he whole thing, tripod and all (minus telescope and counterweights)!  An improvement over my CGE and CGE Pro for sure.  (Not to mention the obvious performance improvement).  I told him I'd think about it.  I immediately went and found the TAIC crew hanging out in the main foyer to seek their opinion.  After discussing the pros and cons (not that there were many cons), Tolga offered me a better deal to buy one from him as a dealer.  I also figured I can get more for the CGE mount by selling the parts -- people are selling functional motor drives for $500 on their own (and my CGE mount still has one functional one).  I decided to take the rest of the day to think about it.  I went and talked to the Software Bisque folks, and also talked to other non-SB people to get their opinions on it.  It would certainly meet my immediate needs -- good tracking and overall better performance, relatively portable, can take my 11-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain, and the inclusion of one year of TheSkyX, and then it's $100/year after that.  Plus, I could take it home that weekend.  Software Bisque also had one of their new Helium tripods there as well.

While there, I got a picture with the biggest mount at the show -- because why not!  It's a new product from SoftwareBisque just announced at AIC.

Imagine trying to fit that in your car!

Saturday night was the gala dinner, and I decided to dress up in my nerdiest best: a new Ms. Frizzle-esque planet dress.  I was extremely excited about this, and I got a lot of compliments on it!

After the whole afternoon to think and discuss about whether to buy the mount (and checking my bank account), I decided to do it!  I've been crippled by my malfunctioning Celestron mounts, and I was planning on making the mount purchase in 2020 anyway.  I was extremely excited, and also kind of freaked out by such a big purchase -- I think it's my biggest purchase to date!  (Well, with the exception of my car, I suppose).  But this should set me up for a good long while of imaging.  I'm also believed to be the first owner of the new Helium tripod!  

Wow, what a day!


There was one round of talks and workshops, and I went to the one my J-P Metsavinio about splitting up your images into DSO and stars and processing them separately.  I've got to try that sometime!  I know I've got some images that have some dim nebulosity in them, but I couldn't bring it out because then the stars would blow out, and other problems.

Finally, there was the door prize drawing.  There were some pretty incredible prizes up for grabs, including a $10,000 L350 Planewave mount!  My usual raffle drawing luck was not with me this year, however.  Oh well!

After checking out of the hotel, I parked in front of the convention center to load up my new Paramount MyT!  There were a few parts and pieces they were going to have to ship me since they didn't bring them with them to the conference, but nothing I critically needed to get the mount set up!  


I had an absolute blast.  Got to see & meet a ton of people, finally got a functioning telescope mount that should work well into the future, and had a fun weekend to forget about all of the stress of school.  The next AIC is in 2021 -- I'll see you there!

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