Failure is always an option

A long time ago I was a bit of a Formula 1 fan. It was cool to see the things those cars could do, and I was fascinated by all the cutting-edge innovations they came up with. But one season Ferrari, so dominant for so long, had poor performance after poor performance. Eventually they got their act together, but it was a season lost.

If they can be the victim of the "cascading failure", I shouldn't have been surprised when it happened to me. To quote Adam Savage, failure is always an option.

I normally take my images from the the ASV's dark sky site in central Victoria. But during the lockdown, the site was closed, so I stuck at home, and also stuck with planetary imaging as the trees in my garden prevent my tracking a deep-sky target for a long time. Eight months without a deep-sky photo is cold turkey!

When the place reopened, I was off like a shot. It was the time of a full moon, but that didn't fuss me. If my image wasn't great, that was OK, I was going back to the dark sky site!

With my computer armed with the latest versions of the software I needed, I set up and waited for darkness. As soon as the computer could see stars, an old version of SharpCap gave me a good polar alignment.

Then it all went wrong.

PHD, the guiding software, reported that it couldn't see the guide camera. Puzzled and a little worried, I rebooted the computer, only to have more software fail. To make things worse, my computer's USB connections seemed to be collapsing. It turned into a cascading failure, with one disaster followed by another.

I was forced to do the walk of shame - go home without a single image.

Back home I did some diagnosing, and replaced the guide camera. At least they're not too expensive.

Testing in the back yard, I found that still, nothing was going right. I reinstalled SharpCap and PHD. No effect. I went back to a few older versions. Still no effect - still no camera. I tried other software. It was intermittant, but the camera seemed to be working and I had to keep rebooting.

Eventually I tried rolling back the communications backbone software, ASCOM, by two versions and things began to work. At least I was getting some images from my cameras.

But things didn't get much better. I tried slewing to a target - a star cluster of some kind - I can't remember. My mount missed the target so badly that the computer couldn't recognise any stars. And to make things worse, my off-axis guider was out of focus. That's a painful and time-consuming job to fix.

My current hypotheses is that the new version of ASCOM (6.5sp1 for the interested) doesn't play nicely with the old SharpCap (v2.9) and it's causing mayhem with my computer's USB connections. I'm still out of commission but now I think I can fix things. It's going to be a lot of work before I'm back at the dark sky site.

Running a complex rig is like driving an MGB. Beautiful ... when it works.