I first became seriously interested in image processing in the late '80s. I was working at Bell Labs at the time and had access to a lot of interesting people and computer resources. I remember playing with the Voyager images as they became available. During lunch and after hours, my buddies and I would experiment to see what we could do with them. I used an image-processing tool called IMDISP, written by Ron Baalke, and available via an ftp site at NASA. A bunch of us used to pass the images around on the old USENET, and it was fascinating to see what details we could coax out of the amazing data coming back from Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. This was in the pre-Hubble days, and there was very little deep-sky imagery available over the internet at that time; when someone found a place where you could download images of nebulae and galaxies, it was usually very slow because of all the people downloading the images.
I used a UNIX mainframe to do most of my initial experimenting, as early PCs were just too slow and limited in memory capacity even to consider many of the more involved imaging tasks. It wasn't until the 486-based machines came out that I even bothered building a PC for use at home.
I first ran into Richard at Stellafane in the early '90s. At the time I was planning to build an observatory, and I happened to encounter Richard on the trail on the way to the Friday night tent talks and struck up a conversation on the subject. At the time Richard was editing Telescope Making as a side project to his main work on Astronomy. There had been some coverage of small observatories both in TM and Astronomy, and I had a few questions about the mechanics of building a roll-off roof. As we chatted, Richard mentioned a CCD camera project that he and some others were working on—something that he hoped would be made available as a kit. This really captured my interest, as I had been playing around with emulsion-based astrophotography and was frustrated by the long exposure times.
The following year my 9-year old daughter and I were at Stellafane for her very first time. Saturday night after the talks we wandered up to the pink clubhouse on Breezy Hill and there was Richard with the prototype for the Cookbook 245 CCD camera. He had a 50-mm camera lens attached to it and was taking wide-field images of the Milky Way with the rig mounted on a small camera tripod. I joined in and spent the next several hours helping to find objects while Richard demonstrated the operation of the camera. I was hooked.
The next spring my buddy Neil and I built our first Cookbook 245 CCD cameras. We started taking a lot of images and soon realized that we needed something more than the photo editing software that was currently available. I bought a copy of Richard's CB245 package to process my images, but I really yearned for a Windows-based package to do the job. I had been programming in the C language for the previous 16 years and decided to experiment with some of the new Windows-based development tools that were coming out. I wrote a package called Prep245 using Visual Basic to create the GUI and using Visual C++ to do the number crunching. I spent a few hours on the phone with Richard, from time to time, ask-
ing questions on image processing techniques. His book, Introduction to Astronomical Image Processing, had been a really helpful reference and got me started on a lot of the more advanced capabilities.
Prep245 had been out for about two years, and I was thinking about making some upgrades to it. I started corresponding with Richard and floated the idea that we might collaborate on a Windows version of his popular DOS software to accompany an image processing book that he had been wanting to write. It has taken three years to complete the job, and the result you now hold in your hands.
This software has been written by people who use it regularly to calibrate and process their own CCD images. Our approach has been to analyze the way we work with our images and to write software that facilitates that work flow. Realizing that not everyone has the same work style, we recruited a number of serious amateur CCD imagers, each working on different imaging projects, who pounded on the program and gave the features a real workout. We owe a real debt of gratitude to them for the years of testing each and every feature, retesting each update as we added new functionality and fixed the inevitable bugs. The end result is an intuitive, easy-to-use package that provides a complete solution to just about any astronomical project one would undertake using a CCD camera, whether it is supernova hunting, generating light curves of variable stars, tracking the changing details of Jupiter's atmosphere, recording the spectrum of a planetary nebula, creating accurate color images, or taking pretty pictures of favorite deep-sky objects.
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