Go To or Go Broke

by Theodore R Frimet

teach an amateur to fish

Year three in amateur astronomy. I’ve met friends along the way. Mostly thru business. They often times appeared to be larger than life. Then time and experience sets in. The veil is lifted and we begin to see the stars thru the cloudy nights. Mere mortals remain, untouched by the ambiguity of our hope filled senses. Someone or some Übermensch will guide the way, as we learn to walk the new path. This is sheer utter nonsense. You are alone in the universe.

May I remove some of the stones, and make them yield before you now?

The Meade LX200 GPS is vintage circa 2003. 2001 if you pay attention to the copyright writ onto the glowing red Autostar II. Originally a get from Long Island, hobbled together with love. It is, or rather was, the push-to telescope of my learning years. All two of them. A year later we embark upon another purchase. The very same model and nomenclature. However this one is a working GoTo telescope. Of course, it comes with its own vintage issues. Let’s muse together!

Cloudy Nights. eBay. Craigslist. Oh my! Find and find again. Emails tempting the sellers to lower their shields. To be honest, most have attached firm prices to their longest held possessions. I admire them for their steadfast nature. However the market is the jury. Judgement is swift to pass, as the price comes to greet the buyer.

Our seller, recently back from a trip overseas, reposts his offer as reduced in price. I take the bait. Haven’t you learned a thing, yet? Some fish react to scent, while another looks to color. The sport as taught to me by a lone fisherman, at Bristol Wharf, is to shake the money maker. Movement of the non-living material, floating astern the fish – triggers the massive wave of evolution that Darwin had instilled. To our benefit the prey lunges to and fro and attacks the non-tasty morsel. Tighten the line, and reel in the catch of the day! I am hooked. I buy a used Meade LX200 GPS, caveat emptor.

My PayPal shows total cost at $741.18. Factor in gas, and tolls to an out of state purchase, and we tally an additional $20/20. Moses, strikes the rock twice and $80 is the bill. $820, so far. The biblical punishment is lessened as an aircraft aluminum table, attached to the field tripod, comes with no strings attached. Retail be damned, as we knocked off $200 in savings. $620 – now stay the course!

This damsel is in need of a power source. Skip to my Lou as we venture to a super store for batteries. I am retarded if I insist on paying $7 plus for two batteries. Each nightly tee-time would rifle thru my purse at $40. Look no further, as we toss our lot into a Lithium power tank.

I cozied up to another amateur, last year. He was on battery power. I suggested a power tank. What is good for the goose is good for the gander! $169.38 to yield into my possession a Dynamo Pro Lithium Power Bank. $789. The mercury begins to climb.

An extended power line from battery to scope mandates the tour of AgenAstro Products. A foray to eBay for a trusted vendor, as well. Since we can observe in the backyard, and power is available, Monster Parts sets us up with the correct AC – DC converter, and male tip. $22, and $14 respectively to yield $825.

Set up the scope, with clear horizon. Power on. Power on. Power on, sesame! The GPS finds Easton Pennsylvania, as the closely held kin of Jenny Jump in New Jersey. She finds level, and North, post-haste. Yet neigh to find a star, despite her claim to align to Dubhe, and Sirius.

Days turn to weeks. Weeks to a month. Study and learn from those that have gone before. Cheat a technical discussion with vibrant thoughts and replace a worn battery. Days transpire. No cloudless nights. Take a spin during the afternoon. Knowing the limitations and features, I am stuck.

The firmware. The horror of knowing that the database and software is so far out of compliance, that there is no way to go ship to shore. Another purchase awaits, as Jim at Scopestuff accepts my meager order for an RS-232 and modern USB attachments. Add $50 plus and we total $875. We thank Jim, once again, for the sale of screw replacement parts, destined for the LX200 GPS. Partner, this isn’t my first rodeo.

What is the scope worth? Uncle Rod stopped at the LX200 Classic without data on the GPS version. “What would be “right price”? Certainly less than a grand. In the 700 – 800 neighborhood, for a later and well kept example.” Rod’s buying guide is 2013, and we are 2020. Evidently, being sold on Cloudy Nights had an interested party part with $1,250 of their hard earned paper. So, perhaps for all of my efforts, thus far, I am in the hobby end of the investment, and have not lost my shirt.

Factoring in my anxiety for tapping and reverse drilling a few stuck screws, replacing a battery, additional purchases, and pending a firmware update – I hold up fairly well these days.

Although your mileage may vary, I am not suggesting ever, that a newcomer purchase a used 8 inch SCT GoTo. Not without friends with benefits – those being an Astronomy Club membership, and a strong constitution to keep up with Clint Eastwoods’ quote: “a man’s got to know his limitations”. Nothing wrong with buying used, as long as the right people are consulted, throughout.

Remember, when you ask for help, this amateur friend, having gone thru this process before you will ask, “have ye updated the firmware, yet?”

Private sellers probably get all sorts of negative feedback, so I wanted to take the time and give you some good news.

I obtained the correct RS-232, and USB cables (not the inexpensive $4 ones), and successfully obtained, installed and linked, StarPatch (2). By the by, using a dual boot MacIntosh Laptop, running Windows 10, StarPatch will need to find COM PORT 8. I suppose that other personal laptops will be a different communications port.

After a missed attempt, last Friday evening – I did manage to download and install ALL of the patch, and firmware for the Meade LX200 GPS, this Saturday morning!

If an amateur should sell another LX200 GPS for your club, and someone gives you grief, feel free to write us a note!

There are some details that are missing in the mire of firmware. Cloudy Nights (1) poster (AstroPal – February 2017) recommends pressing “999” after powering on the telescope, but before the handset activates. And of course, plenty of patience, as the telescopes operating software may be painfully slow to some.

There is also plenty of confusion, out there, with people thinking that they can update the hand paddle for this older GPS model, while all the while the intelligence is built into the telescope base. Hence, the first item to swap out is the battery, followed by a firmware update with correctly sourced wires from ScopeStuff.

I have also had success, dual booting my Mac, into Windows 10, and remote operating the telescope in Stellarium. Right now, however, running the Mac OS only version – is proving to be a tad problematic. It is probably a software configuration that I need to pay attention to, so that when I slew to Polaris, the scope doesn’t point West. lol.

Problem will be solved when I buy a low cost Windows tablet, to run the maiden flight, truly out-of-doors.

It has been about 45 days since I made my decision to shop and purchase a used Meade LX200 GPS. I suppose that it pays to say, “caveat emptor” as I muse that the $200 extra value saved, truly didn’t factor out the final cost at roughly a baby grand.

References:
(1) AstroPal posts on Cloudy Nights, aka Cloudy Nights CNC Classifieds and Forums (2017, February 12). Thread LX200GPS gives proc trap 2 error during alignment/tracking. Started by Timmo, Dec 24 2016 09:43 AM (last accessed Saturday, February 15, 2020 4:54 PM) https://bit.ly/39Ansfs
(2) “StarPatch and the GPS Setup patch were designed and programmed by Chris Carson with the help of Dick Seymour and Andrew Johansen. The additional Autostar, Audiostar and Autostar II patches were developed by Dick Seymour and Andrew Johansen and are included with their permission.” – quotation last accessed from the below website on February 15, 2020, 5:24 EST https://www.stargps.ca/about.htm
This entry was posted in March 2020, Sidereal Times and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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