Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Getting set up for remote operation

The weather hasn't cooperated here on the weekends for a while so I have been busy with yardwork and some indoor projects. A few weeks ago my wife's 2-year old laptop started making some noise whenever the fan was running. This was a sign that the fan was about to go. On top of that, the LCD was beginning to fade out. This seemed like a good time for my wife to upgrade. I got the idea to try repairing the fan and get a little more use out of the little laptop. Something I have wanted to do is control my telescope and cameras via remote control. Currently I have been leaving my Dell XPS M1210 outside while it snaps aways a series of images. That always makes me a little nervous to leave my main computer sitting outside unattended. As soon as my wife's new laptop came in, a HUGE Dell Inspiron E1705, I proceeded to tear apart the old laptop and fix the fan. That is, of course, after copying gigs and gigs of files to the new laptop in case the old one didn't survive the surgery. I managed to locate a brand new fan on Ebay and it will be here in a few days. Meanwhile, this is what the laptop looks like now:

All that work just to get to the cooling fan! Pretty much everything in the laptop had to be removed. Fortunately the service manual was easily available on the Dell support site.
When I started looking into remote PC operation, I first tried Remote Desktop Connection, which is built-in to Windows XP. I quickly ran into one stupid limitation with Windows XP Home edition - XP Home cannot be controlled remotely by another PC. BUT, XP Home can control another PC remotely without a problem. This was a problem because the old laptop is running XP Home and my newer XPS is running XP Pro. After looking around I came across TightVNC. This free program works on Windows and Unix and is so easy to set up and use. In a couple of minutes I had my XPS controlling the old laptop (of course this was all before I tore it apart!). A nice thing I like about TightVNC is that the PC being controlled does not black out it's screen like Remote Desktop Connection does. This means that if I go outside to check on my telescope, I can quickly make changes on the local laptop without having to run back inside and disable control with RDC. I will still have to go out and get everything focused manually, but after that I should be able to do most everything from the comfort of my sofa. Eventually I will finish my electronic focuser project and make that PC-controlled. One other important piece that makes this all possible is the EQDIR interface and EQMOD software for my EQ6 mount. This eliminates the need for the hand controller and puts the functionality into PC-based software.
But, all that will have to wait because this weekend looks clear and the moon is nearly new. Time to finally get back out and do some imaging!

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