Advanced Features

I have been pondering having an “Advanced” version of AstroPlanner containing various features only of interest to more advanced users. There would be an extra fee for these features to be enabled. Here’s some of my thinking on the matter.

There are some potential features that are occasionally requested by more advanced users of the application. Although AstroPlanner is already riddled with features, some of which could be considered “advanced” (e.g. scripting), some of these potential features could be marginally dangerous in the wrong hands.

For example, the ability to create your own internal catalogues. Currently (well, actually until last week), all internal catalogues (e.g. Messier, NGC, Arp, etc.) were generated by me, using a mix of preprocessing using a a custom-written app for each catalogue and final processing using a very flakey tool, originally coded 12 years ago. Except for very straightforward catalogues, this is a finicky and time-consuming “expert” process. Trust me.

I have now created a feature in AstroPlanner that does the job of both the custom pre-processing app and the ancient, finicky final processor. It’s much nicer and more efficient than the old way. A lot of the preprocessing is no longer required, and the tool is much more flexible and user-friendly (see a forthcoming post about this).

However, it is still a very complex process. The user manual entry for this is going to be long and arcane (and I’m not looking forward to writing it). I don’t want the average amateur bugging me incessantly about arcane details of how to configure this tool to import some specialised catalogue. There aren’t enough hours in the day. Nor do I necessarily want every Tom, Dick, or Harriet getting into the catalogue business. Although there is a lot of error detection in place, it’s still eminently possible to create a catalogue that has bogus data in it. An “advanced” user would, hopefully, be in a better position to know that the data are bogus and correct them.

I also debated with the concept of just putting all the advanced stuff into V3, which would help “sell” the upgrade. This, unfortunately, doesn’t resolve the “expert” issue above, and probably won’t help with upgrade sales, since the features are only of interest to a few. 

Of course I can’t prevent non-experts from signing up for these features (unless I administer a pop quiz :^), but I doubt it will be a major problem.

Here are some of the current top contenders for “advanced” features:

  • Catalogue generator (largely done). Create your own optimized internal catalogues.
  • User-contributed catalogues (a la plans and scripts). Share your catalogues with other advanced users.
  • Double star orbits (largely done). Where available, show plots of double star orbits and predict current separations and position angles.
  • Ephemeris generator. Generate accurate ephemerides for various solar system objects.
  • Imaging mosaic planner. Create an “optimal” mosaic of images to cover a given area of the sky.
  • Resource database editor. Don’t see your telescope, eyepiece, etc. in the lists of vendor-supplied hardware? No problem, add your own stuff and let all users benefit.
  • FITS file loading/saving.

This does not mean that I’m not planning any features for the next major (or even minor) release. I have plenty of ideas for that. However, oddly enough, most of them require a lot more work for me than the “advanced” features proposed here.

Also, just because I’m working on this stuff does not mean it will be released. There have been several features in the past that were partially or fully developed before I decided not to include them, for various reasons (including a possible patent licensing dispute :^).