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Windy Knoll Observatory - My Build Thread


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How did you build your footings for the corner posts? I'm assuming they are a sonotube of sorts (what diameter?)

All the posts are treated & setting on precast concrete pier plugs like the ones in this pic. Never actually measured but would guess they’re about 12” diameter & 6” thick. The plugs are 2 ft. below ground to the bottom since the frost line here is 24”. Then dirt was tamped tightly around each post until the holes were completely filled.

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Was planning to post an update once the floor was complete but ran out of time on Sunday evening. Now it’s been raining off & on the past couple days so the whole thing is covered with a huge tarp to keep the unpainted plywood from getting wet. The only section left to finish the floor is the pod so I’ll post some pics once that’s been done.

Would’ve already been done - but there were several odds & ends that needed to be taken care of before the floor could go down. Had to put a bottom in the underfloor compartment - which consists of ¾” aluminum angle screwed to the joists forming a ledge around the inside perimeter for the plywood to rest on. Then silicon caulk was applied to the angle’s top surface with L brackets on top of the plywood to lock it in. This way I didn’t have to drill through plywood & into the angle which simplified things quite a bit and saved some time. I’m not all that pleased with the gap where plywood meets pier but knew it shouldn’t be in direct contact. Anyone have any suggestions for what’s best to use to seal that space?

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Next - two conduits were installed from the pod to the compartment . The ¾” one is for a 120V circuit (mains) that will power a 2-gang receptacle. And the 2” one is for everything else so the mains don’t interfere with the USB’s.

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Lastly, the grass underneath was sprayed, then 4 mil black plastic was laid out with pea gravel on top to hold it down. This should prevent any vegetation from coming back so I won’t end up with a jungle of weeds underneath. I really needed more gravel but will add some more along the way.

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Oh Yeah, almost forgot  - some stairs were built from the ground to the floor which is a rise of about 30”. Didn't get a picture of the stairs yet - but I will.

Hope to start building some walls this weekend if it doesn’t rain...  :smiley: 

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I used to help run network cable in my younger days and we were always told it was a no-no to run it parallel to any electrical wire because of interference. How did you get around that? (It might be a non issue with USB)

Sent from my Nexus 6 using Tapatalk

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Hi Scorpius,

You could spiral wind a small wire around the power conduit and earth it using an earthing rod at one end. That would shield the com conduit from any interference.

The gap can be filled with a soft expanding foam. We have some over here manufactured by Soudal called Flexifoam. It does not harden like most gap filling foams but stays soft. It can be used to fill around door frames or behind plasterboard without forcing it apart. It is a good insulator as well. Or you could use silicon filler. I'm not a fan of silicon as it will not bond to itself. So if it goes wrong it cannot be repaired without a lot of work.

By the way Soudal Flexifoam can be used to encase any delicate equipment in a case. You just need to wrap the item in cling film then support it on small blocks underneath the item to allow the foam to get under it in the case. Fill the case with the foam half way, Wait for it to set then trim it flat to the half way mark. Then do the rest with cling film over the first half. Obviously shutting the case lid and awaiting it to expand fully and set. You will end up with a purpose made foam compartment for your gear.

Derek

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I used to help run network cable in my younger days and we were always told it was a no-no to run it parallel to any electrical wire because of interference. How did you get around that? (It might be a non issue with USB)

Sent from my Nexus 6 using Tapatalk

These days with cat6 cabling it's less of a problem.

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I used to help run network cable in my younger days and we were always told it was a no-no to run it parallel to any electrical wire because of interference. How did you get around that? (It might be a non issue with USB)

Sent from my Nexus 6 using Tapatalk

Guess I thought having them in separate conduits would prevent interference but maybe not.

Hi Scorpius,

You could spiral wind a small wire around the power conduit and earth it using an earthing rod at one end. That would shield the com conduit from any interference.

The gap can be filled with a soft expanding foam. We have some over here manufactured by Soudal called Flexifoam. It does not harden like most gap filling foams but stays soft. It can be used to fill around door frames or behind plasterboard without forcing it apart. It is a good insulator as well. Or you could use silicon filler. I'm not a fan of silicon as it will not bond to itself. So if it goes wrong it cannot be repaired without a lot of work.

By the way Soudal Flexifoam can be used to encase any delicate equipment in a case. You just need to wrap the item in cling film then support it on small blocks underneath the item to allow the foam to get under it in the case. Fill the case with the foam half way, Wait for it to set then trim it flat to the half way mark. Then do the rest with cling film over the first half. Obviously shutting the case lid and awaiting it to expand fully and set. You will end up with a purpose made foam compartment for your gear.

Derek

Hi Physopto - Thanks for the tips! I can spiral wind a wire around the big conduit from underneath if interference turns out to be a problem. Will look into the soft foam sealant you describe as that’s likely going to be the best solution. Main concern is keeping mice, spiders, insects & bees out of the compartment all of which are common pests at this site. The foam should prevent infiltration of the last 3 but mice might still be able to chew through . However, they’d have to climb a 20 inch vertical wall of concrete or scurry up the post adjacent to the conduit - then “tiptoe” along making several  tricky maneuvers at the cross-blocking to even get in a position to chew through the foam. I don’t put anything past those little rascals though so need to take every precaution to prevent my cabling from being destroyed and the compartment from being converted into a rodent condominium!

These days with cat6 cabling it's less of a problem.

I was thinking Cat6 over USB since the total distance from pod to cameras will be roughly 10 ft. more than the standard USB limit. This 4-port 2.0 USB over Cat6 extender from Tripp Lite looks like it should do the job but any advice along these lines would be greatly appreciated. Not sure what the negative amazon review is trying to say about connectivity of keyboards and mice so maybe some additional research on my part would be prudent before purchasing?

http://www.tripplite.com/usb-2.0-over-cat5-cat6-extender-hub-transmitter-receiver-hub-high-speed-usb-330-ft-100m-4-port~B203104/

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B008ABKYO8/?tag=mh0b-20&hvadid=4968308114&hvqmt=e&hvbmt=be&hvdev=c&ref=pd_sl_7tyezpr52y_e

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You could use silicon sealant in a very thin layer at the pillar to wood and soft foam inside. Soudal make a silicon called Silirub, silly name I know  but decent stuff. They also do a sealant that is over paintable called "Soudal Fix All " but it does not like UV light. No problem underneath but it is not as flexible as silicon.

The alternative is to fit a two piece floating  wood cover fixed to the pillar, so that it overlaps the hole by some amount. with a very small clearance to the bottom of your observatory. It may be difficult as there is very little clearance from your pictures. You could do it in one piece dropped down from the top. I suspect that there is not enough clearance though, so that is why I suggested foam.

One last point is to paint the pillar bottom  with anti- vandal paint, the really gooie type that never dries.

Best of luck in whatever decision you make.

Derek

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If you did that  you would have to ensure that pieces of gravel could not get jammed between the pier and the wood or you would definitely loose isolation! It would make it difficult to get at the junction boxes as well.

Looking at the pictures again you could just fill all around the gap between the pier concrete and the wood joists for the floor.

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If you did that  you would have to ensure that pieces of gravel could not get jammed between the pier and the wood or you would definitely loose isolation!

 A bit of duct tape or foam shoved into the gap would sort it.

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Fill the cavity with pea gravel or shingle. Mice are more than happy to chew through wood if they really want to get in. Pea gravel will fill the void and still isolate the pier.

Hi Zakalwe, not sure pea gravel will work in my situation since it would just fall through the gap and land on the concrete where there’s nothing to hold it in place. I think the elevated design is what’s complicating things since a slab on grade - with no underfloor compartment - wouldn’t have this issue. However in the end, I believe it’ll be worth it since everything will be routed to the compartment through below floor conduits - then up through the bottom hole & inside the pier exiting through the “owl’s nest” keeping all cables & wires off the floor. I actually got this idea from another build but until it’s been tested in my situation – I won’t know for sure.

BTW, how’s it going with your new Mesu mount? I saw in another thread where you had commissioned one which caused me to become quite envious when compared to my lowly AVX.

You could use silicon sealant in a very thin layer at the pillar to wood and soft foam inside. Soudal make a silicon called Silirub, silly name I know  but decent stuff. They also do a sealant that is over paintable called "Soudal Fix All " but it does not like UV light. No problem underneath but it is not as flexible as silicon.

The alternative is to fit a two piece floating  wood cover fixed to the pillar, so that it overlaps the hole by some amount. with a very small clearance to the bottom of your observatory. It may be difficult as there is very little clearance from your pictures. You could do it in one piece dropped down from the top. I suspect that there is not enough clearance though, so that is why I suggested foam.

One last point is to paint the pillar bottom  with anti- vandal paint, the really gooie type that never dries.

Best of luck in whatever decision you make.

Derek

Derek – All good suggestions & thanks for the advice. Although it may not be the most humane solution, I like the idea of coating the concrete and lower pier with that special sticky stuff since as the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Since the potential for critters taking up residence in the compartment must be addressed, once the first few “explorers” get stuck in the goo, it might discourage any future invaders.

As far as the gap itself, I’m thinking your suggestion of flexible, non-expanding foam will form an adequate seal while maintaining pier isolation provided access from below is denied.

Regards,

Paul

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BTW, how’s it going with your new Mesu mount? I saw in another thread where you had commissioned one which caused me to become quite envious when compared to my lowly AVX.

Im getting there. The weather, as usual, is stopping play as it seems horrible when I have free time and clear when I have commitments :mad:

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Well Fellow Stargazers, started a thread recently regarding USB over Cat 5/6 extenders & the opinions were somewhat mixed.  http://stargazerslounge.com/topic/253260-whats-the-real-story-behind-usb-over-cat-56-extenders/ So guess I’ll be the guinea pig this time around because I went ahead & took the plunge & ordered one of these: USB-Ranger-2204-datasheet.pdf

I should’ve given more thought to how my observatory would be setup to power & control everything (assuming I get it under roof before the snow flies) but think I’ve come up with a viable game plan so here it is & as always comments and suggestions are welcomed.

The laptop (& me) will be in what I’ve dubbed “the control pod” which will be a 5 ½ x 4 ½  ft. space enclosed on 3 sides having a fixed shed-type roof. The pod will be open on one side to the observatory which is roughly 11 x 11 ft. inside. There are two conduits installed below the floor which extend from the pod to an underfloor compartment at the base of the pier & there’s a 4” hole in the pier at the same level through which cables can be routed up through the pier exiting through the owl’s nest before attaching to whatever needs to be connected.

So the USB transmitter will be located in the pod next to the laptop & an unshielded Cat 6 cable will be pulled through the larger conduit to connect the transmitter to the receiver that will be in the underfloor compartment. The receiver requires power which will be provided by a 120V receptacle located within the compartment & that receptacle will also supply power to the mount via Celestron’s AC adapter since I quit running the mount off batteries long ago. Even though the Cat 6 cable will be unshielded, my understanding is Cat 6 is far less susceptible to interference from nearby mains which was a concern someone had raised earlier. So with the mains wire in one conduit & the Cat 6 in the other - with the conduits separated by about 6” - I’m hoping EMI won’t be an issue.

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One thing that appealed to me about the USB extender is it can run more than just four USB devices. The manufacturer says you can connect standard USB multi-hubs to the extender’s ports increasing the total number of USB devices communicating with the PC through the Cat 6 cable up to eleven. That doesn’t necessarily mean you can connect eleven high data rate devices & expect them all to work simultaneously but some of the devices I’ll be employing aren’t high data rate but are still essential to my scheme . As far as USB 3.0, those data rates aren’t supported by this extender but I don’t own any USB 3.0 devices anyway & probably won’t for some time - but if I ever do, I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. The plan is to use Stellarium & Celestron’s virtual HC called Nexremote. http://uncle-rods.blogspot.com/2013/12/nexremote-again.html  Found this YouTube video which confirms that combination will work with my mount https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F8jwJzQu8qA & I’m also going to use a wireless gamepad controller to operate the mount from the pier when needed. http://support.logitech.com/en_us/product/cordless-rumblepad-2  I’ve yet to find any definitive documentation indicating the wireless gamepad will work in conjunction with Nexremote plus Stellarium but don’t see why it shouldn’t if the controller is just a wireless extension of the virtual HC residing on the laptop - & it’s the virtual HC that’s actually “talking” to Stellarium. I know a lot of folks opt to control everything remotely from the PC but I don’t ever want to be in a position I can’t operate the mount (slewing, etc.) while standing at the scope and you can’t use the physical HC & virtual HC together. I’d be very interested to know if anyone has tried this approach with a Celestron mount, Stellarium, Nexremote, wireless gamepad and USB over Cat5 extender & if so, what were your results?

So in order to set this all up one of the first things you need is a quality USB serial port adapter & I just ordered the Keyspan model  http://www.tripplite.com/keyspan-high-speed-usb-to-serial-adapter~USA19HS/  since the one I’ve been using is a no name brand which I suspect has been causing some of my connectivity issues. So with the extender’s receiver in place beneath the floor, the wireless gamepad transmitter won’t need to be plugged into the laptop but will instead be plugged into the extender (directly or through a hub) in the compartment. Another advantage is the only HC cables will be the short, coiled factory one plugged directly into the mount & the short (about 3 ft.) one that plugs into the base of the HC. That cable will simply drop down through the pier & connect to the keyspan adapter connected to the USB extender. The USB’s for the imaging cam & guide cam will communicate with the PC through standard 10 ft. USB cables (to provide plenty of slack for slewing) which will be routed down through the pier & connected to the extender as well.

If I’ve lost you – don’t worry cause I’m still trying to wrap my mind around it too – but does this at least sound like a reasonable approach? My goal all along was to have “zero cables on the floor”. I hate tripping over all those cables in the dark & I’m pretty sure I haven’t forgotten any that would still need to be concealed. Sure, they’ll be a lot of cables extending through the owl’s nest but they’ll only be looping down enough to provide slack for slewing as opposed to rising up off the floor in a tangled mess!

Thanks for reading and for any feedback you might offer...  :smiley:

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Make sure the wireless receiver for the game pad is not shielded by the steel pier. Game pads are prone to interference problems if not in direct line of sight. Also if too close to reflective surfaces, i.e. metal or metalised surfaces. I gave up with my wireless game pad because of problems, it was a Logitech one. I have used that make of mouse for years without any problems but the game pad was useless. You may be better off with a wired version. There are one or two other threads here on SGL that mention problems.

If you have only three sides to your pod I would suggest a heavy curtain between the pod and observatory. It will keep you warmer and light out of the observatory from computer screens. A door and curtain may have been better. Friend here on SGL uses a curtain and it works well.

USB3 can and does cause wireless interference to equipment. It operates on similar frequencies about 2.4 Ghz, plenty of info on the web! So good idea to stick to USB2 for the present methinks.

Looks a great project, watching with interest.

Derek

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Make sure the wireless receiver for the game pad is not shielded by the steel pier. Game pads are prone to interference problems if not in direct line of sight. Also if too close to reflective surfaces, i.e. metal or metalised surfaces. I gave up with my wireless game pad because of problems, it was a Logitech one. I have used that make of mouse for years without any problems but the game pad was useless. You may be better off with a wired version. There are one or two other threads here on SGL that mention problems.

If you have only three sides to your pod I would suggest a heavy curtain between the pod and observatory. It will keep you warmer and light out of the observatory from computer screens. A door and curtain may have been better. Friend here on SGL uses a curtain and it works well.

USB3 can and does cause wireless interference to equipment. It operates on similar frequencies about 2.4 Ghz, plenty of info on the web! So good idea to stick to USB2 for the present methinks.

Looks a great project, watching with interest.

Derek

Derek - thanks for the tip on location of gamepad receiver and it did occur to me that big chunk of steel might cause problems with the wireless signal. The receiver could just be suspended out of the owl’s nest putting it within a few feet of the controller (which is only for use at the pier) however, if that doesn’t work maybe the receiver could be connected to a spare port on the laptop? The gamepad’s range is supposed to be 30 ft. and the distance from back wall of pod to pier is only about 10 ft. That’s just “line of sight” distance though since the total run down through conduit - into compartment - up through pier - & out to cameras is more like 25 ft. (after adding some slack for slewing). But if it turns out the wireless gamepad won’t work either way, it’s not really a deal breaker and maybe a wired gamepad could function with Nexremote but would need to do more research if it comes down to that.

Yes, I do plan to install a curtain across the pod opening adjacent to the observatory. When I said enclosed on 3 sides, I meant separated from the outside but I definitely recognize the advantages of a heavy, light-blocking curtain which could slide out of the way when access to the scope is needed then be closed back once ready to start an imaging run or complete some other task remotely from the pod. Also need to find some sort of small heater to keep me and the lappy warm when the temps start to drop.

I feel much better finally having a plan for controlling the scope remotely from the pod but still want the ability to slew from the pier so hoping that wireless gamepad can somehow be made to work.

Thanks again for the advice and encouragement. Seems like it’s taking forever but I know it’ll be worth it in the end...  :smiley:

Regards,

Paul

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I found a wireless gamepad to be very hit-and-miss, even when stood beside the receiver.  A wired one worked perfectly every time.

This is not good news as I just ordered a used one off Amazon yesterday :sad:  but maybe it's not too late to cancel. Do you think a wired one will work with Nexremote? The only option is to activate a controller or not so maybe a wired one would be recognized just as well by the software?

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This is not good news as I just ordered a used one off Amazon yesterday :sad:  but maybe it's not too late to cancel. Do you think a wired one will work with Nexremote? The only option is to activate a controller or not so maybe a wired one would be recognized just as well by the software?

attachicon.gifnexremote.jpg

No idea, to be honest. I was an EQMOD user...very powerful software.

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I gave up with my Xbox wireless controller, the dongle was less than 4' away, with a short usb lead plugged straight into its own usb socket on the back of the pc, kept dropping out, it was new of Amazon....not tried a wired one use the guide scope phd screen and a telrad now plus eqmod, and Atik CCD screen for aligning....

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No idea, to be honest. I was an EQMOD user...very powerful software.

I’ve heard EQMOD is great but unfortunately I don’t believe it works with Celestron mounts.

Anyway, I’ve cancelled the wireless one ordered yesterday in time & found one like this new, still in the original packaging on Ebay. http://support.logitech.com/en_us/product/rumblepad-2 The Logitech website indicates this one will work with Windows 8 (forgot to mention that’s an issue since my laptop is OS 8.1) so I’ve ordered the one off ebay and the seller has confirmed the order & will ship it out tomorrow. Too bad this one isn’t in the list of Nexremote supported comtrollers but they say most gamepads can be configured to work. Here’s the instructions they provide:

** Warning **

If you choose to edit your Joysticks.ini file, make sure you make a backup:

If you re-install or upgrade to a new version of NexRemote, the Joysticks.ini file will be overwritten. 

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The Joysticks.ini file contains all of the Joysticks currently supported by NexRemote, as well as their button and joystick definitions

Each Unique Joystick must have a [JOYSTICK] section and must have Name= parameter.

The name must be exactly as what is shown in the joystick menu of NexRemote.

Each line contains either a Button = Function statement or an Axis  = Function Statement

Buttons or Axis without a function means they will be inactive

Comments can be added at the end by using a ; followed by text

The list of Button functions is identical to the functions listed within Keyboards.txt

One of the Buttons can also have a function of SHIFT meaning that it will be reserved as a Shift key, possibly doubling the functionality of the other buttons.

For shifted functionality, use sButton# =

For the Joystick(s), you may define them by using Axis1 through Axis8

Note that the Buttons and the Axis are predefined by the Gamepad manufacturer and may differ between them.

The following functions may be defined to an Axis

ScopeX    - Means move the scope Left or Right

ScopeY    - Means move the scope Up or Down

At run time, NexRemote will use whatever joystick has been selected in the menu and load the corresponding [JOYSTICK] entry from the Joysticks.ini file

(based on the Name)

Seems as though nothing can ever be simple huh?  :sad:

At any rate, thanks to you & Derek for letting me know a wireless controller could be problematic so now the plan is to route the controller cable down through the pier and connect it to the USB extender in the compartment. That should still leave enough cable to maneuver with it around the pier - then I’ll fabricate some type of holder to hang it on the pier when not in use...  :smiley:

post-37916-0-67647600-1443369985_thumb.j

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We've had just a wee bit of rain the past several days which has really put a damper on observatory construction. :sad:  There's several videos of flooding in the area but of course there's a short ad in between each one... http://www.whsv.com/home/headlines/Heavy-Rain-Cancels-Events-in-Augusta-County-329980441.html

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