Saturday, 22 December 2012

Tasco 1603EF focus motor on SkyWatcher SK1309EQ2 telescope

Since I was having trouble with astrophotography focussing my telescope via the webcam, I decided to try out a motorised focus control - sometimes misleading called an automatic focuser. I found the Tasco 1603EF for about £20 all in on eBay, which seemed worth a try with my SkyWatcher Explorer 130M, also known as the SK1309EQ2. I was expecting a little tinkering might be needed but fitting it was extremely straightforward. SkyWatcher do sell their own focus motor at about £50, but it was unclear if this would fit my telescope.

Tasco 1603EF focus motor on SkyWatcher SK1309EQ2 telescopeTasco 160EF manual focus clutch button

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Webcam telescope image of Jupiter & Moons

It is winter again, and the upside to it getting dark before 5pm is many more chances for astronomy. This week I had my SkyWatcher telescope out again, and captured a few images of Jupiter and its moons using the XBox Live Vision webcam.
Wednesday 28 November 2012, Jupiter and four moons.
640 × 480 pixel uncropped image from Xbox 360 webcam,
No filters, prime focus, SkyWatcher SK1309EQ2 telescope.
Single snapshot using wxAstroCapture under Linux.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Mouse in the house!

I've been working on using a Raspberry Pi using passive power over ethernet to monitor webcams in the birdboxes at the bottom of the garden, using the software Motion to capture images or stream video. Given it has started to get cold at night (with frost) I've been testing the camera setup in doors, using it to keep an eye on some autumnal wildlife - at this time of year we get mice in the house:

We'd heard noises in this cupboard, and caught mice here last year, but I was a little surprised to get pictures of a visitor the first night I setup the cameras at this location. Now switching to the second camera positioned closer which benefited from the indirect illumination (and was actually in focus):

Monday, 22 October 2012

TomTom Bluetooth Remote & Raspberry Pi

A while back I bought a TomTom Bluetooth remote control (here's a good review) with a view to using it with a Linux home theatre computer (HTPC) running XBMC or similar. As far as the computer is concerned, it is just a Bluetooth keyboard.

TomTom Bluetooth remote control

While most of the information below should apply to any Debian/Ubuntu system, this time I was using the Debain variant Raspbian on a Raspberry Pi. Since the Raspberry Pi has an HDMI connector I may keep one connected to our TV, but this could also work out nicely for controlling a Raspberry Pi running the GPS software Navit in the car. Time to get Bluetooth on the Pi with a USB dongle!

Monday, 15 October 2012

Navit GPS on Raspberry Pi

I've got a USB GPS dongle working with my Raspberry Pi, so I started exploring mapping software that I could run on it if I were to mount the RPi in my car with a little screen - the simple low resolution screens used for reverse parking cameras sold on eBay for under £20 look perfect.

Two options came up, GpsDrive and Navit - both of which recommend map data from Open StreetMap. Of these only Navit is available in the Debian/Raspian repository, so I tried that first.

$ sudo apt-get install gpsd gpsd-clients navit

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Pharos/Microsoft GPS-360 on Raspberry Pi

I bought a Microsoft GSP-360 USB dongle on eBay as an impulse purchase, toying with the idea of running a Raspberry Pi in my car for live map display or at least route tracking for contributing road traces to the Open Street-Map project. Just getting my location out of it proved harder than I'd expected.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

24V passive POE for Raspberry Pi

Today my 24V power supply arrived - the final part I needed to try a 24V passive power-over-ethernet (POE) solution down a 40m cable to drive my Raspberry Pi and two webcams. Good news - it works!
Raspberry Pi and two Xbox Live Vision webcams
using 24V passive power over ethernet (POE)

Saturday, 29 September 2012

ChipsBnk USB SD card reader

Last month bought an SDHC USB adapter (£1.75) and a triple set of own-brand 8GB Class 10 SD cards (£12.99) from claiming to support up to 20MB/s. One card wouldn't even mount but found this open source tool (for Linux or Mac) very useful to test the remaining memory cards: Michel Machado's F3 (repository on github).

Monday, 6 August 2012

Power Over Ethernet for Raspberry Pi

This weekend I tested powering my Raspberry Pi and two webcams via a simple passive Power Over Ethernet (PoE) adapter. Success! It was only a 2m ethernet cable, but I hope to use about 40m in order to set this up at the bottom of the garden to monitor the webcams in my bird boxes.
Raspberry Pi serving two webcams under Motion, 5V supplied by PoE

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Raspberry Pi with two webcams

Provided they are plugged directly into the Raspberry Pi's two USB ports directly, I've been able to connect it to two web-cameras at once, and stream the pictures using the open source Motion software (which also records images for any movement). Watching a double webcam feed from Safari on my iPad, while controlling the Raspberry Pi using Panic Inc's SSH application Prompt was kind of fun!

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Sparrows Nesting

After the disappointment of no residents in Bird Boxes 1 & 2, and the evicted blue tits in Bird Box 3, I was delighted to find Bird Box 4 in use - even if it wasn't by woodpeckers, but by sparrows. This was probably my favourite photo:

Rather than regular photos collected automatically, I was only able to check the camera periodically by taking a laptop down the garden - it was far beyond USB range.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Targus USB 2.0 Micro Webcam

My Targus Micro Webcam just arrived a few weeks back - the link is for Amazon where it is currently £8, you can get at a similar price on Misco too, but I got lucky on eBay for just £4 while looking for an economical USB webcam with a USB based microphone. The Targus website says model number AVO05EU is now discontinued - so similar good deals might be available for a while.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Widescreen upgrade for Birdbox 1

Over the weekend I upgraded my first Birdbox webcam to the improved design I used for the Woodpecker nest box camera, with a wide angle lens to capture the whole floor, and splayed IR LEDs to avoid whiteout/glare.
Xbox webcam original lens, forward IR LEDsXbox webcam, 2.8mm CCTV lens, splayed IR LEDs
During the upgrade I considered replacing the camera mounting in order to rotate the camera, but decided the confined box made it too much effort. With the new lens I can now capture the whole floor and some of the side walls - the view shifted slightly while reattaching the box to the wall - but it will do.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Blue Tit in residence

This evening I popped down the garden to check the webcam in Birdbox 3, to see how the blue tit nest was coming along (after the occupying tree sparrows gave up), and for the first time was able to watch a live feed of a bird in the box:

That was a nice surprise - I left them to their snooze.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Birdbox Battle Vol 2

We had a pair of Blue Tits building a nest in BirdBox 3, but they were usurped by Tree Sparrows.
5 April 2012 - Tree Sparrows

Monday, 2 April 2012

Xbox Birdbox Mk IV: Woodpecker nest box

I found this Woodpecker nest box at the top of a shelf at a local independent Garden Centre gathering dust, and at £16 it seemed worth a try, given Greater Spotted Woodpeckers have been fairly regular visitors to our garden.

Woodpecker nest boxMale Greater Spotted Woodpecker eating peanuts

Saturday, 31 March 2012

Birdbox Battles

A bird box can be a dangerous place... photos from Saturday morning after the Blue Tits have been setting up home for about a week:
Is breakfast ready?A nice sharp beakOpen wide!

Birdbox Update for the week

At the moment at least, not that many people seem to be reading the bird box blog posts, perhaps because thus far they've been more on the technical side of setting up the cameras and infrared illumination. So here are a few more pictures...

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

CCTV lenses on an Xbox Webcam

Anyone following this blog will know I've been hacking Xbox Live Vision web cameras for fun. This started with removing the lens, and attaching a telescope - which is great for photographing the moon, or the bottom of the garden. The M12 x 0.5mm thread (aka S-Mount) is also used on many CCTV cameras, so you can get alternative lenses covering a range of focal lengths. I decided to buy a £10 set on eBay and try them out.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Xbox Birdbox Mk III

Yes, I made a third bird box with an infrared modified Xbox Live Vision webcam. This used 4 IR LEDs as in my original design, but splayed even more than in my second attempt.
4 IR LEDs on webcamCrude wooden clampsWebcam installed in birdbox

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Another eBay webcam with Entron inside

I've been using eBay late at night again for impulse purchases... this was a £2 webcam claiming 5.0MP (which turned out to be 0.3MP again).

Square 0.3MP webcam

My favourite thing about it is the packaging where on the back there is nice spoofed Skype logo:
Skype, Free internt telephony that just sucks [sic] 

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Night Vision Xbox webcam bird box Mk II

I've already made one DIY IR LED Night Vision Xbox webcam for a bird box, and since I had some infrared LEDs left over, I decided to make another: Xbox Birdbox Mk II. This time I selected a taller bird box to ensure I capture the entire floor in the webcam's field of view, and tried six directional LEDs splayed to try to get more indirect lighting.

6 IR LED Xbox webcamGardman Nest Box & webcam

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

6 LED webcam with microphone

I just bought a "USB 30.0M 6 LED PC Laptop Video Web Cam Webcam + Mic" on eBay, which (as I suspected) doesn't live up to its claims - 30 mega-pixels! Ha! Not that I expected much for £3 but still... it only seems to be 0.3 mega-pixels.
Example retailer's photo of 6 LED webcam

Xbox birdbox first visitor (and second)

After three nights up on the wall, my new "Xbox Birdbox" (bird nesting box with an IR night vision modified Xbox Live Vision webcam) recorded its first visitor using the 'Motion' automated webcam monitoring software. It was probably a blue great tit, but as the images are infrared dominated it is hard to be sure of the colouration - there is only a hint of yellow in some of the frames. This would have been a great image except for the focus:

Sunday, 11 March 2012

IR Night Vision Xbox webcam birdbox

I've already talked about removing the red glass filter in an Xbox Live Vision webcam to make it infrared sensitive - what I did next was add some infrared emitting LEDs to the camera so it can see in the dark. Not for astrophotography, but for close range night vision - inside a birdbox.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Japanese Yen bank notes under infra red

I have an Xbox Live Vision webcam modified for infra red (IR) sensitivity for astrophotography, by removing the red glass filter. This helps with capturing hydrogen-alpha light which is handy for red nebulosity etc. Some people do this to normal digital cameras too for infrared photography. Today I tried a DIY infra-red pass filter to block out most of the visible light... and tested it with an IR remote control and some bank notes.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Webcam Moon Mosaic with Xbox Live Vision

A couple of weeks ago I took a series of photographs of the moon using my telescope and the Xbox Live Vision webcam to turn into a mosaic. It took me a while to composite them together, but I managed to do this using some free open source software called Hugin.

Moon Mosaic, 4 Feburary 2011

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

WebCam capture with Python on Mac OS X

I typically program in Python, and in the absence of any open source astrophotography software for webcam image capture that will run under the current Mac OS X, perhaps I can write something myself. So - how can you capture web camera photos from Python? One way is using OpenCV (originally Intel’s Open Source Computer Vision library). Another popular library is VideoCapture, but it is Windows only.

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

UVC webcam exposure under Mac OS X

Apple's Mac OS X includes drivers for USB Video Device Class (UVC) cameras, which means that most webcams, including  the Xbox Live Vision, are just plug and play without needing to install any specialist drivers. However, the Apple provided webcam software Photo Booth doesn't allow any control over things like the exposure, gain, or frames per second (FPS), which are quite important in astrophotography. And it only captured at 640 × 426 pixels. So what can we do about this?

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Xbox 360 WebCam IR filter

My first blog post was about mounting the Xbox Live Vision camera on a telescope for astrophotography. Last night I removed the built in red glass filter, which makes the webcam much more light sensitive - especially for infra-red (IR). I actually bought a second Xbox 360 camera for this experiment, so I can show photos with and without this modification.

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Mains power for multi-speed EQ2 motor

Thus far I've been using my telescope just outside the house, or sometimes indoors when it has been very windy. This means rather than wasting batteries to drive the multi-speed EQ2 motor (and batteries don't tend to last very well in cold weather either), I thought I should look into a mains adapter.

Inside the EQ2 motor controller

I decided to open the control box for my SkyWatcher telescope's EQ2 mount multi-speed motor. Other than curiosity and to see how you might fine tune the speed, my main goal was to check the 6V power supply polarity in order to connect a mains adapter.

Multi-speed motor for SkyWatcher EQ2 mount

After trying the single speed simple economy EQ2 motor with my SkyWatcher telescope, I decided to upgrade to the multi-speed version which I think is much nicer to use and definitely worth the extra money.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Simple motor for SkyWatcher EQ2 mount

My SkyWatcher telescope came with their entry level equatorial mount, the EQ2. This is designed to allow the right ascension axis to be motorised, so that it turns to compensate for the Earth's rotation. Without this, you must manually keep tweaking it! With the motor, you can point the telescope at something in the sky and have it "stay put" for longer. This obviously is quite important for astrophotography, but also simply for sharing a good view with anyone else. Here's how I got on with fitting the simple EQ2 motor.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Xbox 360 WebCam for Astrophotography

Xbox Live Vision (green LEDs on)
My Christmas present this year was a telescope, and after successfully using it on the first couple of clear evenings to observe Earth's moon, Jupiter and its four biggest moons, I wanted to try and take some photos - without spending hundreds of pounds if I could help it. From some reading online, connecting a web camera seemed to be the best plan.