Redoing the power distribution of my scope

After many years of use, I’ve decided that it’s time to redo the power distribution of my telescope.  The power box project that I did was great at the time, however over the years there a couple of things about that project that didn’t really work out too well.  Here’s the problems that I had with the first version.

Replacing my laptop.

The laptop that I have been using with my scope is over 10 years old.  This isn’t a problem in itself, but there are a few things that are worth noting.


  • Sony Vaio VGN-A115ZIt’s power hungry.  The internal battery is worn out, and only lasted about an hour in real use anyway.
  • It’s very picky about the input power, so can’t be run from a 12v DC-DC converter, unless it’s plugged into a car with a running engine (too low input voltage otherwise)
  • The 230v power supply doesn’t work with an inverter. Lucky I have a generic that does work.
  • Inverters are power hungry.
  • It’s just plain awkward to use the laptop in the dark.
  • The laptop has suffered from a HDD failure, so I replaced the drive.  If the laptop needs any work again, it’s not going to be so easy to repair it.

APC Back-UPS ES 700G

So, what of my Netgear ReadyNAS?  Well, I needed a better power supply.   Enter the APC Back-UPS ES 700G.TTOUln6Pvcpf-2fs7vf7JFZA-3d-3d_BigProductImage


This UPS should be able to run my NAS for about an hour without mains power.  What’s more, it has a Data power which when used with the supplied cable will attach to a UPS port on the ReadyNAS.   Once that’s done, the ReadyNAS will recognise that the UPS is attached and start working with it.

Using the ReadyNAS configuration I simply set the power threshold two 20%.  This is when the NAS will power down.  It worked right out of the box, and I didn’t need to do much.  This UPS was twice the cost of the PowerCool, but the peace of mind makes it worth the money.  If you look at the UPS, it has provision to power 8 devices, 4 will get UPS coverage, the other 4 will get surge protection only.  Frankley, I’d have been happy with a single power outlet, as I’m not intending plugging anything else into this UPS.


UPS fun and games continued.

As I said in an earlier blog post. The Powercool UPS’s are cheap and cheerful, but the USB device in these isn’t supported by my Netgear ReadyNAS.  My ReadyNAS is an important device on my home network as it stores my software library, film library amongst other things.   To me it’s important that this device doesn’t simply loose power if there’s a power cut.  Last week I attempted to power it from a PowerCool UPS – the power part worked fine, but the USB monitoring isn’t compatible between the UPS and the ReadyNAS.   So, the PowerCool is now providing UPS support to my home network.  Yep, if there’s a power cut, my Cable modem, Switches and Routers will stay up until my PowerCool UPS runs out.  I did purchase a second one of these, as I have network gear in two seperate places, so I have one powering a switch, router and cable modem, the other is powering a switch and router.  (basically I have network gear for each floor of my house)

So, why the sudden interests in UPS’s?

I’m looking at the remote connectivity of my network.  Currently, I have 2 desktop PC’s, 2 Laptops, a ReadyNAS, a TimeCapsule, a couple of Laser printers, Apple TV and a few other devices.  So, I’ve been looking at the backup strategies, and resilience of my home network.  Whilst it’s great that, I’m backing stuff up to my ReadyNAS and TimeCapsule, there’s not really any protection for those devices.  So I’ve thinking about that and want to make sure that my devices are protected.

What do I mean by protects?

Let’s tackle each of those devices.

Desktop 1 – I need that machine to power down safely when there’s a power cut.

Desktop 2 – don’t really care about this at the moment, it can be unprotected.

TimeCapsule – There’s no provision in that for UPS interaction, so it can remain unprotected.

Laptop 1 – spends most of it’s time on charge, it’s internal battery is good enough.

Laptop 2 – same, but when I go away, I’m taking that with me.  Nothing special needed.

ReadyNAS – I need this to be up for as much as possible.  Provided I can access it, I’d like to be able to do so.  I need it to power down safely, to protect the data stored on it.

Printers – these can loose power when there’s a powercut, that’s fine.

Network infrastructure, I have 2 swtiches, 2 wireless routers, and a cable modem.  I need these devices to remain active for as long as possible.  As long as my broadband connection remains active, I’d like to have some ability to access my network, even if I can’t access all the devices after they have safe powered down.


So, to make this a reality, I’m going to need several UPS devices.  This is why I purchased a cheap Powercool UPS.  it does the job for powering my downstairs switch and router.  I could probably have it power my VirginMedia Tivo, but I’ll think about that later.   I’m going to get another one of these and set if up to power my Cable modem, upstairs switch and router.   Those two UPS’s will keep my network up and running whilst the power is out for a short time.  If the network is out for a long time, the network is power down until mains power is restored  – that’s fine as the devices save the config and there won’t be any risk of corruption due to power failure.


Next, I’ll be purchasing a better UPS for my ReadyNAS, this one has the requirement that my ReadyNAS can properly monitor it, shutting down when the UPS runs low on power.  Finally, I’ll be getting a 4th UPS to protect Desktop 1.  That will give me the chance to make sure that my work is saved.  These two UPS’s will help to protect my data from corruption.

Powercool Smart UPS 850VA

1565_PCUPS850VA_1_BigProductImageToday I picked up a very cheap PSU.  This was admittedly an experiment to see what this thing is good for.   The idea was to purchase this as a ups that I could dedicate to my ReadyNAS 104 in order to give it some protection from power outages.  Well that was plan A.  Plan B, is was to put it to use on my Desktop PC to give that some protection if it wasn’t suitable for the ReadyNAS.  Plan C & D is to use it elsewhere in my house to provide some resiliance to my network.  I’ll be explaining why in another blog post.

Turns out that this UPS whilst the spec look quite good on paper, it turns out that this isn’t really good for either my Plan A or Plan B.

I bought this UPS for the bargin price of £33.60, so for that price it’s good.  Actually, I’m thinking about getting another in a couple of weeks if I can get one for under £40, but I’ll not pay any more than that.  From my list of plans above, I’m going to use this UPS for either Plan C or D.

So that’s my verdict – it’s OK, but not brilliant.  So what’s the problem?   Turns out that this UPS is a a Chinese import.  It’s got USB connectivity, which is a useful for monitoring the device.  However, the implemented protocol is a proprietary one rather than something more standard.  In short, it won’t work with my ReadyNAS 104.  This means that my ReadyNAS can’t monitor the UPS and receive a shutdown notification if the battery falls below a threshold.   It’ll keep my ReadyNAS running, but it won’t monitor, so if there’s a powercut it’ll just delay the time until the ReadyNAS looses power.  That’s an improvement, but not ideal.


So why not use it for Plan B.  Again, because it’s a Chinese import, I’d rather not put their software, which already looks old and dated, onto my PC.  So, again no monitoring.


So, it’ll be employed in helping to keep my network running.  That means I’ll put it to keep either my upstairs switch, router and cable modem running, or put it downstairs to keep a switch and wifi access point up.  For those devices it does not matter if the power goes out after a while.  This UPS is cheap, but for unmonitored devices that’s fine.   This will keep my home network infrastructure protected enough, that should I loose mains power I can keep using my network.

Installing MySQL

MySQL is going to be the back end database for the server.  It’s a fairly good RDBMS (Relational database management system) there are several others to choose from, for my Needs MySql is the database that I’m going to use.

To install MySQL it really couldn’t be much simpler.

log into your linux, using the username and password that you setup with installing.

issue the command

Then enter your root password.  This will give you SuperUser access.

now issue the command

apt-get install mysql-server mysql-client

you will be prompted to enter a password for the MySql root user. note: this is not the Operating Systems root user, the MySql root user will only be able to access the database in god mode.
After the files complete the copying process, you are done.  MySql is installed and running.

Building a Lamp box using debian linux

LAMP – Linux, Apache, MySql & PHP.  These software packages installed together make for an extremely powerful way of hosting websites. Various forms of Linux can be downloaded for free.  Apache is the most used web server in the world and it’s free. MySql is a powerful relational database and PHP is a powerful scripting language.  Together these programs provide everything you need to create full websites with ineractiviy.  What’s more with the power of a relational database, you can provide very data rich pages to your users.

Over the next few posts, I’m going to detail a method of setting up a fully working LAMP system.  The steps will allow you to build a new lamp system from scratch to run on either a 64-bit intel based processor, or a Raspberry PI.  Apart from the initial steps for installing the Linux OS, everything else will be pretty much the same.

I’m going to install three different systems with this setup.  The first two will be virtual machines running in VMWare (One on VMWare Player in windows, one on VMWare Fusion on Mac OSX). The third will be installed as the main OS for a Raspberry PI Model B.  As these systems are based on different hardware, I need to use two different installers.  For the virtual machines, I can use the installer for Debian linux from here, for my download I chose the “amd64” download as this is for 64-bit processors (which both my desktop and laptop have)  for the Raspberry Pi I used the Raspbian download from here, it’s worth me pointing out that this will also install Debian Wheezy on the PI.

The installers are all fairly straight forward.  For the Intel based images, you are provided with an ISO file which can be plugged directly into VMWare whilst creating the virtual machine.  For the Raspberry PI, the installation process means using another machine to format and install the image onto the SD Card, then boot the PI.

Minimum install

Installing Debian Wheezy as a virtual macihine


Either way, you will end up with the same boot loader and installation options.  For my install, I chose to install  the absolute minimum, no GUI, no tools, or anything, I wanted complete control over the setup process.

Once installed I will be manually installing Apache, PHP, MySQL and an FTP server. This will give me the ability to use the linux machine in the same way that I would use for web hosting.  If I wanted, instead of the FTP, I could use SAMBA to create windows file shares which might work well as an alternative to FTP.  That is a decision that I can make later.  If I desired there is nothing stopping me from having both FTP and SAMBA.

The observant will notice that I after install I executed the APT-GET UPDATE command. This makes sure that my Linux install is completely patched.  I believe that patching is always the better option, it helps with issues like the recent Heartbleed scare.


Next post installing MySql

Freeing my guidescope

For several years I’ve been using the same guidescope setup.  That is, a SkyWatcher ST80 mounted onto my Meade LX-90.  When it works this setup is great.  With a webcam in the Skywatcher, and a DSLR in the LX-90.  Running K3CCDTools to do the guiding.   My setup has a big and common problem, sometimes I cannot find a star to guide with!

The root cause of the problem is that the guidescope is mounted on my Mainscope using tube rails. The Guidescope is ridgedly tied to the mainscope and cannot be moved outside of a very small area.  At the weekend I was attmpting to take a photo of M51 – The Whirlpool Galaxy.  After aligning the scope and slewing M51 into the field of view, I attempted a photo – 5 min unguided.  This worked reasonable well, there was some star trailing.  It proved that the scope was on target.  I then attempted to put a star into the field of view for my webcam (Phillips TouCam Pro II) this was not successful.  There simply wasn’t a bright enough start in the field of view to register on the K3CCDTools software.  I then loosened off the scope rings as much as I could, but this had no effect, there simply wasn’t enough play to allow me to put a star – any star into the field of view!

I’m currently in the process of trying to come up with options to solve this “interesting problem”.  The tube rings that I’m currently using are the Astro Engineering AC441 Parrellel rail system with 5″ rings.

So what are my options?

1. Bigger rings?  That should give me more play, so that I can point the guidescope seperately to the main scope.

2. Install the guidescope on it’s own swivling mount?   This way, the guidescope can be seperatly pointed to the closest conveniant guidestar.

3. Get another telescope to use as a guidescope


So for my options, the one that is going to solve it without any doubts is option 2.  However, it comes at a price.  I’d need to completely replace the dual rail system with a Dovetail bar, onto the new dovetail bar, I’d install a Skywatcher GuideScope mount.  Then to that, I’d need to source a new set of rings with a dovetail that can be attached to the Guidescope mount.  This will give some movement, but will cost over £300 to implement.

Going for a smaller telescope is also an option.  I could get a 70mm Skywatcher Mercury.  It’s an f/10 scope so matches my LX-90 focual length.  The scope would mount into my existing tube rings.  but there does remain the question of if I can get enough play to make this work, also with the 10mm less light gathering, it may not help when it comes to finding guidestars.

So finally my option 1, get bigger rings.  Currently, I have the 5″ rings mounted on my dual rail system.  There are 7″ and 9″ rings in existance.  With that in mind, I figured that the 9″ rings are going to be too large, and won’t grip the scope.   I’ve just managed to find some 7″ rings, which comes with a complete set of bars too (which means spareparts to me)  This will give a couple of inches of play around the ST80 that I currently don’t have.  With any luck (and yes there will be an element of luck involved here) this will mean that I can mount the ST80 and adjust the position to get me access to a good 30° sweep of the sky, or larger.

If this experiment works out, I’ll be able to point the guidescope at a nearby bright star even when it’s not close to where I can currently point.  There are limits on the amount of distance that I can slew away from the main scope before strange things will start happening, but there should be a star close enough to allow the guider to work.

iPlayer on the Pi

I can’t take credit for this.  here’s how to get the BBC iPlayer working on RaspBMC.  As I said, I can’t take credit.  I got the information from here on the Raspbmc forum.


In short the instructions are simple enough to follow.

first ssh into the RaspBMC terminal.

to do this either use Putty or use another linux machine and type


enter yes if needed

and the password is raspberry



Then on the XBMC front screen navigate to System -> Setting -> Add-ons -> Install from zip file

now select the Home folder -> home -> pi ->


You should now have the iPlayer installed as a video add-on.