Sunday, May 12, 2019

KStars v3.2.2 is Released!

Thanks to all to the hard work by KStars developers and volunteers, we are happy to announce KStars v3.2.2 release for Windows, MacOS, and Linux.

In this release, support for x86-32 bit architecture has been dropped and the Windows 10 executable now requires an x86-64 bit system.

Improved Observing List Wizard

This is a maintenance release to fix a few bugs and introduce a few enhancements:

  • Important stability fix for crashes reported with FITS Viewer.
  • Ignore Video Streaming when guiding via PHD2 with a video device.
  • Automatic syncing for Active Devices on Startup.
  • Meridian Flip Fixes.
  • Keep GUI parameters for scheduler and capture in sync with row selection
  • When a manual filter is detected, prompt user to change the filter and update the driver accordingly.
  • Fix observing list wizard object filter by time and altitude and introduce a coverage param where the user can control the percentage.
  • Improved saving of settings in all Ekos modules.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

KStars v3.1.0 is released!

I'm glad to announce KStars first release of 2019: v3.1.0 for MacOS, Linux, and Windows. This release focuses on improvements to stability & performance of KStars. In 3.0.0, we introduced quite a few features which resulted in a few regressions that we worked hard to iron out in this release.

Ekos Scheduler

Eric Dejouhanet fixed a few bugs with the Ekos Scheduler along with making steady improvements to cover all corner cases for multi-object multi-night scheduling which can become quite complex.

Ring-Field Focusing

Eric also added a new feature to the Focus module: Ring-field focusing. This method limits the area which stars are detected between an inner and an outer ring. This can be useful in images where
galaxies or nebulaes can be mistaken as stellar object which often lead to erroneous HFR reporting.

This can only be used for full-field focusing.

Meridian Flip

Wolfgang Reissenberger migrated the Meridian Flip handling code to the Ekos Mount tab. This makes meridian flip possible even if there is no capture process going. If the mount is tracking and passes the meridian, it can be triggered to flip now in the Mount Module.

Ekos Documentation

Yuri Chornoivan migrated online Ekos documentation to KStars official documentation. This was a tremendous effort due to the volume of the documentation data involved. Now Ekos documentation are properly managed by us in KDE and should get translations like the rest of the official documentation.

Ekos PAA for Non-GOTO mounts

Sebastian Neubert introduced manual workflow for users who would like to use Ekos Polar Alignment Assistant Tool with manual non-GOTO mounts. Now the users are prompted to rotate the mount when it is required to do so until the process is complete. This is Sebastian's first code contribution to KStars, welcome to the team!

MacOS Build Script

Robert Lancaster developed a comprehensive script along with detailed documentation for building KStars with Craft on MacOS. This enables users to wish to either develop for KStars or use the latest bleeding edge versions from trying it out with a single script that pulls all the sources and compile them accordingly with the aid of KDE's spectacular Craft technology.

DSLR LiveView

The LiveView window received a few enhancement to enable zooming and panning for supported DSLR cameras.

Other Fixes & Improvements

  • The FITS Viewer window is now automatically raised to the foreground when a new image arrives.
  • Dark Library now considers all DSLRs to be shutterless.
  • Mounts are grouped by manufacturer in the Equipment Profile Editor.
  • Preliminary support for websocket to INDI::CCD on the client side.
  • DBus interface expansion to provide more fine control over KStars.
  • Fixed relative focuser bug in autofocus mode.
  • Improved multi-channel histogram by providing dedicated controls to each channel.
  • Fixed Auto-Stretch affecting raw image values.
  • Support for compressed FITS (*.fits.fz) in INDI. This can cut the transmission time to 30%!
  • Improved display of Parked status.
  • KStars defaults to limited resource mode on ARM architecture.
  • When there is binning change, always FORCE setting of frame values even if they did not change

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Chuangnuode Intelligent Science & Technology Scam

A couple of months ago, I ordered microSD cards from Shenzhen Chuangnuode Intelligent Science & Technology Co., Ltd, a reseller on Alibaba. This is not my first order from Alibaba and I'd have to say that 90% of the time, everything goes on fine with the product getting delivered as per the specs especially since I always order items with the AliBaba trade assurance.

However, this seller apparently thought they could cheat their way through. So instead of sending me the Class 10 SD cards as requested, they went for the lower speed Class 6 SD cards. Even though I specifically told them I will test the SD cards, they didn't care at all.

Not only were the SD cards class 6, but they were prone to corruption a lot more than previous cards I got from Taiwan. This caused incredible headaches since I used them for StellarMate. After testing the cards, their speeds were slightly above class 6 but well below what you expect for a class 10 cards.

After raising the issue with the seller, they stuck to their story, but then I raised dispute with Alibaba to get my money back for this scam. They then acknowledged that they indeed cheated as illustrated below!


Then they agreed to take the cards back, but they requested it to be sent via regular mail as UPS/Fedex/DHL would apparently incur some costs on that. In Kuwait, you avoid government registered mail like plague since it is managed worse than 3rd world countries. I tried avoiding sending via regular registered mail, but then AliBaba asked me to do so in order for the dispute to go forward, and so I did.

Now it's been a month and there still isn't any news on the package. Government mail, even registered one, could take ages to reach its destination.

So what's the take away from this? On one front, it's hard to avoid such scams. If you deal with Alibaba you will eventually get bitten by them. Even if you ask for samples, they can send you the "good" samples first and then send you the lower quality ones later.

Though to be fair most transactions I had in Alibaba went great without a hitch, so this is an outlier and not the rule. However, avoid this reseller at all costs and find more reputable sellers on their network.

UPDATE 2019-03-29: Finally AliBaba agreed to fully refund me today. The package arrived in China on February 14th, but it took the seller 4 weeks to report about receiving it. I have always used Alibaba Trade Assurance by default for all my purchases, but this case proves that it is a very solid insurance to protect you against dishonest sellers. Happy with Alibaba's effort in resolving this case!

Friday, December 21, 2018

KStars v3.0.0 is released!

After 4 months of development, we present the KStars v3.0.0 release as an early Christmas present for our users worldwide.

KStars v3.0.0 packs a lot of features and bugfixes as we strive to develop the most comprehensive planetarium platform for computers today.

XPlanet Solar System Viewer

Robert Lancaster developed the XPlanet Solar System Viewer which is a significant improvement of the KStars built-in viewer. It can display high resolution images of all the solar system bodies in addition to numerous moons.

By adjusting a few controls, the tool can deliver an immersive experience for the user.

You can zoom, pan, and rotate all objects seamlessly using an efficient algorithm.

Improved FITS Viewer GUI

Significant improvements to FITS loading & processing were made by employing various multi-threading techniques. For large images that requires similar computational tasks, KStars creates 16/32 threads that concurrently work on processing the image data. Most of the backend code now relies on asynchronous loading of data which in turn led to a smooth experience for the users.

Robert Lancaster took on the challenge of simplifying the FITS Viewer interface in order to make all information accessible as fast as possible to the user. The updated FITS Viewer now adds a non-intrusive drawer that the user can drag to expose several functionalities such as:
  • FITS Header
  • Histogram
  • Statistics
  • Recent Images

Scheduler Improvements

Eric Dejouhanet dedicated the last few months to resolving various issues with the Ekos Scheduler. The scheduler is now a lot more robust against many complex observation requirements & scenarios. It is also more tolerance to INDI disconnections and can resume from disconnection without going into panic mode.

This is a full rewrite and verification of all steps of evaluation of a list of scheduler jobs with the following existing constraints:
  • Dark sky, which schedules a job to the next astronomical dusk/dawn interval.
  • Minimal altitude, which schedules a job up to 24 hours away to the next date and time its target is high enough in the sky.
  • Moon separation, combined with altitude constraint, which allows a job to schedule if its target is far enough from the Moon.
  • Fixed startup date and time, which schedules a job at a specific date and time.
  • Culmination offset, which schedules a job to start up to 24 hours away to the next date and time its target is at culmination, adjusted by an offset.
  • Amount of repetitions, eventually infinite, which allows a job imaging procedure to repeat multiple times or indefinitely.
  • Fixed completion date and time, which terminates a job at a specific date and time.

The UI now displays target altitudes at the current simulation time, and at startup and completion times. It also displays the lead time or gap time between jobs to help with imaging time optimization. Warnings appear in some situations for the user to detect problematic situations, such as a job completing under the minimal altitude.

  • The rewrite starts by estimating the imaging duration of each job, and eventually reorders them based on option "Sort Jobs by Altitude and Priority".
  • The reordering algorithm sorts jobs by altitude, considering a setting target is higher than a rising target.
  • When the option is enabled, targets will be automatically sorted whenever jobs are evaluated, using the current simulation time for altitude calculations.
  • When the option is not enabled, a button is available to reorder jobs manually, using the first job startup time for altitude calculation.
  • This reordering helps to optimize imaging time when preparing a schedule with multiple targets.

Scripting & DBbus

KStars makes full use of DBus to enables scripting over many aspects of the application. All the Ekos modules DBus structure was migrated to a modern Property/Method/Signal framework. Furthermore, a new DBus interface added for the Field-Of-View (FOV) objects to enable complete control over them by 3rd party applications.

Lunar Eclipses

Valentin Boettcher added functionality to calculate and draw the earths shadow disk on the Moon from any distance.

There is a new eclipse tool in the astrocalc which can find lunar eclipses quite fast. It is overhauled and modularized over the original code.

The Eclipse Tool comes with an API that can be extended for other eclipse types.

Find Dialog

The venerable Find Dialog is now persistent so it remembers the past searches. Any time you find an object, it stores it in the history list where it can be easily retrieved later.

Capture Module

The capture module now incorporates a cooler On/Off button. Additionally, user can now clear Camera configuration.

The prefix target is automatically set when slewing an object as long as there are no active capture operation.

Misc. Works

Various tasks that not immediately visible on the surface, but it improves the code quality & stability over the long term.

  • Dedicated Binary Object channels when communicate with INDI driver to increase throughput and responsiveness of drivers.
  • Fixed performance regression in Star Profile viewer.
  • Guide mode resets calibration when it detects pier side changing.
  • Migrating code to new style Qt Signal/Slot connections.
  • J2000/JNow support in Mount Module.
  • Do not cast DSO coords seconds to int as we lose important precision. Use full resolution as double.
  • Fix issue with subframed calibration when auto-select star is not enabled. Now subframed star position is set properly in the internal guider before.
  • Support for compressed FITS files (.fits.gz)
  • Add live view support to focus module and rework existing one in capture to be icon based.
  • Show loaded coords in sexigesimal format and in high precision when possible.
  • Do not add any camera or ST4 devices to guide module if guider is external. Instead put guider type in guider dropdown and disable it.
  • Honor settling time in Polar Alignment Assistant tool.
  • Add warning when slewing to Sun. Adjust tracking rate if supported by the mount depending on the object type.
  • Add option to control DSLR image viewer. It can now be turned off.
  • Improve PHD2 support.

Thanks to

  • Yuri Chornoivan excellent maintenance for the documentation, spelling, and grammatical mistakes introduced by us. Thank you Yuri for putting up with our terrible spellings!
  • Csaba Kertesz fixed KStars Lite Android crash.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

KStars on Microsoft Store

I'm glad to announce that KStars is now available on Microsoft Store in over 60 languages! It is the first official KDE App to be published by KDE e.V on the MS Store.

Currently, KStars v2.9.8 is in the store and should be updated every stable release.

While KStars has sand-boxed packages for both MacOS & Windows, we are still missing a Linux sandboxed package. Earlier attempts at packaging a Snap package failed and I didn't pursue it further due to lack of support. Additional work at creating an AppImage also failed due to a few technical issues with linuxdeployqt and SSL. If anyone can help us create a Snap/FlatPak package, that would be great.

This release on the Windows Store would not have been possible without the tremendous work done by Hannah Von Reth. She played a pivotal role in setting up the infrastructure and tools necessary to make this work, thank you Hannah!

Sunday, August 19, 2018

KStars v2.9.8 released

KStars 2.9.8 is released for Windows, MacOS, and Linux. It is a hotfix release that contains bug fixes and stability improvements over the last release.

This marks the last release of the 2.x series, the next KStars release shall be v3.0.0

 + Eric Dejouhanet fixed several issues in the Ekos scheduler to enable running duplicate jobs.
 + Pino Toscano fixed many problematic i18n strings that accumulated over the years.
 + Csaba Kertesz improved KStars Lite android build process and fixed touch support.
 + Andy Galasso fixed several issues with Ekos PHD2 support.
 + Wolfgang Reissenberger fixed logging out in capture module.
+ Yuri Chornoivan fixed minor EBN issues.
+ Using Max RMS value as the threshold to abort the guider instead of maximum pulse length.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

KStars v2.9.7 is Released!

Just in time before the next total lunar eclipse of 2018, KStars v2.9.7 is out for Windows, Linux, and MacOS.

This is a feature-rich release while still continuing on making KStars more resilient and reliable.

MacOS improvements

Robert Lancaster diligently worked to improve INDI driver support on MacOS while adding a new FFMPEG-based Web Camera driver that can even records videos streamed directly from your phone. Furthermore, drivers from SBIG, MGEN, ATIK, INDuino, SSAG, Morovian, Fishcamp, and Radio Detectors have been migrated successfully to MacOS. Peter Polakovic graciously offered assistance in the SSAG and ATIK migrations.

With INDI Webcam driver on MacOS

Robert Tricking Star Detection Algorithm!
Ekos Scheduler

Eric Dejouhanet & Wolfgang Reissenberger contributed significantly to the Ekos scheduler to improve its behavior under a number of scenarios. As a result, the scheduler is now more user-friendly and quite straight forward to setup and monitor progress. More work is pending for the next release to further enhance the scheduler.

Planning Sadr Mosaic with Scheduler
Polar Alignment Assistant

The PAA tool received few improvements to simplify the process, it's now literally a 1-button click operation.

Ekos Live

Support for EkosLive is added in this release. EkosLive is a real-time web application that communicates with Ekos via websockets to provide a feature-rich yet simple interface to control and monitor all the observatory equipment. Backed by Cloud services for storage, users can store their images on the cloud and access them at any time and from anywhere. Thanks to the rich metadata system that ships with EkosLive, it is very easy to search and categorize your astro images.

EkosLive is currently in Beta.

Custom Drivers

Long requested by the community, KStars now offers an easy method to add INDI custom drivers. This is perhaps more important to users who have multiple devices and want to distinguish them. Suppose you have two SBIG cameras and want to use them simultaneously with Ekos. Currently, there is no way to do this out-of-the-box. You need to manual create an alias by copying over the SBIG XML file under /usr/share/indi, and then rename the label to be able to use a different alias.

With the Custom Drivers dialog, it's now quite straight forward to create any alias for any driver. After a restart, you can see the new alias in the Profile Editor. Moreover, this feature also works with INDI Web Manager, so you can create aliases for remote drivers as well!

Here are more highlights:

+ Support for loading compressed FITS (*.fits.gz) in FITS Viewer.
+ Android fixes + improvements by GSoC 2018 student Csaba.
+ Disabled internet check for online astrometry solver to workaround Qt bug.
+ Fixed PHD2 file not found issue.
+ Added option to restart alignment process in scheduler in case of calibration failure.
+ Support for manual dither plus dithering to a specific X,Y location.
+ Support for Auto Park Timer in Mount Module.
+ Support for Remote Drivers in the Profile Editor.
+ Added video exposure duration control to the Video Stream window.

Ekos Auto Park Timer