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Transit of Mercury 2016

Captured through Slooh


New and improved video projector for my super cheap, but great planetarium

If you've followed this blog for the past several years, you may remember that I have a planetarium where I teach. It was built in 1987, from equipment made in 1961. In 87, that made sense. There were no big developments in projection, so an old, quirky Spitz Nova III with a massive Spitz A3P console and soundboard (I have no idea why. I think Spitz just wanted to get rid of it) worked fine. Fast forward to the 21st Century, and we have kids that are no longer impressed with little white dots on the ceiling, and all of the production companies went digital. In 1998, when I took over, the amount of work that went into maintaining the equipment, creating, setting up, and putting on a show, was daunting.

     Over the years, I became a pretty good engineer, rigger, welder, and scavenger. But, the kids were no longer impressed, and if you're a teacher, you know that there has to be some level of entertainment. The cost of cool, however, was too much. I looked for options, and I found one. An LCD projector bouncing off a $25 curved security mirror. The results were a little underwhelming, but acceptable. Using Stellarium, and Celestia brought astronomy back to life in an old, obsolete planetarium.

     I was okay with what I had, but a VGA projector does an okay job, but the new 4K, and soon 8K projectors will certainly rock the house. For now, I will settle with my new HD NEC

All of the following images are cellphone captures



Dark Sky Photography with my new (to me) Panasonic LX-3

Being an astronomy teacher, I am always asked how to take great astrophotos. I really have no idea, but I am always willing to learn. The only option I have to take dark sky images is my favorite camera, and the greatest camera ever built, a Pentax K1000. I love that thing, and it takes amazing photos, but being that it uses film, and my inability to wait patiently for results, I never considered using it for night sky applications. Digital is the way to go, but the teacher part of my title means that I can't drop $1000 on that specific application. I started reading forums about point and shoot cameras that take great images in the dark. The Panasonic LX series seemed to be a stand out. My price range under $100, and Ebay came through. I picked up a loved (aka beat) but functional LX3 body, with a clean lens for $80 after shipping. Here are the first few shots.
A random tree 60 minutes after sunset

Zoomed in on Orion

Constellation of Taurus

Injury Report App Form Setup

Thank you for downloading the App. I hope you find it useful. It's not ready to go right out of the box. You will need to set up your Form page using your computer tablet or phone. The Form page allows you to enter data, and store it securely. Once you have the app, you'll need the Form to add to it. It will be stored, and since it's web based, any changes you make to the Form will be made in the App.

Here is the Form page. Open it and
I know this sounds like a pain, but it helps in keeping the Form from being destroyed by kids

 Please follow the next set of instructions carefully. This form is a live form. That means that any data you add, or changes you make will be saved on my copy. Please copy the form before doing anything else. If you find that the page has been altered, let me know ASAP so I can fix it

From the File Menu, Make a Copy

Change the Document name to make it easy to identify. In order to keep the data private, be sure you do not share it with anyone.

Your new Form should now be available for you to Edit and Use

The next part is easy. Select View Live Form

Paste the address in the app, or use it as is for reporting Injuries in a spreadsheet on your computer,

Be sure to test it out, and double check your privacy/share settings on your form

My next post will help you convert the spreadsheet into a report document

Another Action Cam Comparison 1080 GoPro Hero vs 1080 No Name Clone

Why stop with one Chinese GoPro knock-off, when you can have 2 at a forth the price. My last review was a head to head comparison of a 720p Action Cam I bought on Ebay for $32, and the new GoPro Hero. The 720 is a nice cam, and I'm happy with the cost/results, but the narrow field of view was a turn off. As a car dash cam, I think it's a nice option. Now, Ebay also sells 1080p cams for around $50, so I think that this resolution comparison would be more apples to apples. This new cam has lots of extra features that the $129 GoPro Hero lacks. Multiple time-lapse options, and wifi are the two I liked the best. Since I don't own other GoPro cameras (3, 3+, White, Black, 4, Etc) I'm not sure what this clone is made to compete with. But, based on price, you can buy 2 of these cams, with tons of accessories, and still have $20 in your pocket when thinking about the Hero.
$129+tax  Hero vs $54 free shipping Ebay SJ400 clone
Let there be no doubt, I love my Hero. It's simple, to the point, and gives amazing results. I am only looking at low cost options, that give a high level of price/result ratio. You may be curious, broke, on a tight budget, or be considering buying a $400 GoPro, but don't know if it's worth the cost. I think that dropping $50 on a nice quality cam that you never use, is better than doing the same for a $400 one.


The clone has wifi that connects to your phone, or tablet (Android specific?) via an app called iSmart DV

Having the wifi, and the LCD screen is a real plus when centering and leveling the camera. I have found it useful when I mounting the cam on my bike, outside, or in a spot with a tight fit. This a nice, but not a necessary option. The wide field of view on these cameras, makes it a point at anything and it will be in the shot camera.


Clone Time-Lapse The poor quality is due to YouTube compression . The actual video is HD

The time-lapse feature on both cams is really fun to play around with. The clone gives you several options beginning with 2 seconds and going to 60. 5 second interval is great for fast clouds, 10 for slow, and the rest is to experiment with. 60 would probably do well with flowers blooming. The GoPro Hero does it only at .5 seconds, which is ideal for fast moving objects.

The Hero excels at time-lapse. The SJ4000 clone can't do the .5 sec
GoPro Hero (the quality is reduced by YouTube processing)

I will post a side by side video as soon I get time to play. For now I'll keep them both with me


Action Cam Review GoPro HERO vs a clone of a clone

I never thought that I would need/want an action cam until I was given a GoPro Hero as a birthday present. It's the entry level camera offered by GoPro, and is simple to use, and gives amazing results. I'm certain that I can find an educational purpose for it, but for now, I'm just enjoying playing around. The only thing I would add to it, would be a few more options for time lapse.

While I was looking for less expensive accessories, I kept seeing clones. The SJCAM makes a clone that is similar in price to the HERO, but has the features that a much, much more expensive GoPro has. Then I would find clones of the SJCAM clone, called SJ4000 (like the SJCAM) Being a science teacher (not and english teacher, which is why I don't edit my posts), I thought that I should test it out, just for the sake of curiosity 

I'll say that the quality was not bad, and it has a few features that my HERO does not. I'll continue playing around with it, and keep you posted.

Time Lapse Fun

Today's phones are amazing pieces of technology. Most of my students think they're only good for texting, and Snapchat, and that's really sad, especially when you consider the cost. Phones are like a modern Swiss Army Knife. They can make things easier, and get you out of a jam in a pinch. One of the new apps I've been playing around with is called Framelapse. I picked this app because it had good reviews, and was free, though I think it's more than worth the cost of a cup of coffee. I have been using my GoPro for that same purpose, but with Framelapse, I get instant gratification.. Now I use my GoPro to take a pic of my camera using Framelapse.
I use a Galaxy 5, and a back up battery so I never run out of charge. I ride a lot in the city, and take out the camera when I sit down to eat, or just enjoy the view

If you're looking to faster moving time lapse, you might consider an action camera like a GoPro. Generally, fast moving objects require a 0.5 sec time lapse speed. Fast clouds, 5 sec, slow clouds 10 sec. flowers blooming 1 to 2 minute speeds

GoPro Hero at 0.5 sec