Feedback on Helper Wizards


#1

This is a long winded post… my apologies up front for that. Its purpose, however, is to solicit feedback from both new and veteran users that help shape this stuff before we spend any time and effort on it… This stuff is of no use if it just obscures the original complexity with a new one.

SGPro has grown over the years and, like most software, it rarely becomes simpler to use. There are lots of complex programs out there that require some amount of effort to learn (Photoshop, PI, etc). The thought that you can coordinate a complex array of gear to run a complex sequence of events with very little effort is kind of preposterous. That said, we are not averse to lowering the curve when possible. Increasing complexity is born primarily from three areas of concern:

  • A necessity to support as much equipment as possible
  • A necessity to support automation for countless permutations of gear
  • A necessity to adapt to the imaging environment

As such (and based on lots of “SGPro is too complex” feedback), we have decided to add some helper wizards into SGPro. They will look like standard Windows Wizards (like when you add a printer) and be far more guided than just cracking open the help manual. The downside of wizards is that you don’t learn where a setting is stored if you want to change something you did at a later time… but the forum can help with that.

When thinking about how to approach this, there were lots of variants bouncing around… but the underlying theme was that there is simply no way to provide a singular wizard for all your needs. This approach will likely be no better than just throwing you the help manual. The wizards need to be targeted, fairly short and have a great deal of focus. In order to support this idea, we are considering the following Wizards:

  • Equipment Profile Wizard: Explain the profile system (often a sticking point), have user connect all gear to the PC, gather basic settings for all your gear, make sure connections work, save it, then end with some screenshots showing usage of the profile in different ways. Query ASCOM props to auto fill applicable fields (user overridable of course)
  • Sequence / Target Wizard: Explain the basics of a sequence, ask about profiles to use, gather information on targets you want to image, auto populate location, ask about centering, slewing, rotation, etc. Provide a way to enter events (and use them in the targets you asked for). Maybe a wizard for a single target where you can append it to a sequence… not sure just yet
  • Auto Focus Wizard: Explain how AF works, guided collection of information about how your AF should run, ability to transfer (save) collected info to the current sequence or a profile.
  • Auto Meridian Flip Wizard: Explain how auto MF works, ask user to connect mount, collect info detailing when to flip (wizard will determine if your mount supports flipping before meridian and explain why (if not).

Please use this thread to detail any thoughts about this stuff…


#2

Of all the items you have here, an auto focus wizard has the biggest pay off. I know you are looking at the focus algorithms so a wizard to set the parameters would be very helpful. If the user started with an in focus scope (perhaps with a mask), you could do some automated tests to determine backlash, step size etc. At the moment users have to do this manually and there is not a lot of understanding about how to approach it.

A meridian wizard might help people understand how to set their scope and SGP to work together as there seems to be some misunderstanding.

I’m not sure that wizards for the other two items are going to be big payoffs. Instead I would recommend taking a hard look at the UI for these elements to make them as clean as possible. Also, consider adding help links were they are missing on dialogs. I know there is a lot of confusion about profiles but I think the approach is right but perhaps some targeted UI changes would help. Having a wizard filling in fields is not a lot of benefit. All you would be doing is rearranging the same data. The right UI would do the trick. On the other hand, wizards that do tests and calculate fields are a great help. Thus the recommendation for focus and perhaps meridian wizards.


#3

Hi Ken, let me start by saying what a great idea! I love SGPro, and have high hopes for it and the automation it promises. Four months in, imaging each full moon weekend, and most clear nights between, and I still don’t know what I don’t know! The learning curve is steep.

In addition to the wizards you propose, can I suggest a “Run a Sequence” wizard? Sounds simple, but I always end up in recovery mode soon after starting a sequence, before getting the SGPro and the guider happy with each other. It does not matter if PHD2 is running or not, calibrated or not, guiding or not when I start the sequence. Settling the guider for the first time for each sequence always seems to put the sequence into recovery.

From there, depending on what I have to do in recovery, it seems pot luck if centering runs or not, pot luck what filter centering uses, pot luck if auto focus runs or not, pot luck if the first auto focus succeeds, pot luck if auto focus runs immediately AFTER the first exposure, etc, etc. Much related to my interventions earlier in the run.

I am getting better at dealing with these little dilemmas, but it is very labor intensive working through the automation hang ups. My best practice is about 90 minutes from powering up a polar aligned mount (or the sequence start time) to imaging, but I understand SGPro can do much better, and most blame rests with the operator.

My overall efficiency remains < 50% in terms of actual exposure time to available dark hours, with the remaining time being split between spurious automated tasks, like calibrating a guider that is already guiding, waiting to settle the guider before stopping it to center on a target, capturing an image and plate solving after the scope has crashed into the mount before a meridian flip (15 minutes AFTER the prescribed time to flip), and helping SGPro work through these types of issues.

I was not trying to harp on the challenges I am having with SGPro, but it seems I am battling with big picture, high level issues rather than configuration, or operating individual components of the automation. I am enjoying advancing up the learning curve, and get immense satisfaction from small wins along the way.

More power to you,

Tom


#4

Thx for the feedback Tom.

I really don’t know how a wizard would help you with this… recovery mode is designed to help with this. Unless you change a setting to stop this from happening I have no idea how a wizard could assist here.

Just a point of clarity for other (possibly new) folks reading this… This is not a typical experience with SGPro.


#5

Just a quick clarification on this thread. Please reserve this for your thoughts on easing the setup required for complex activities and not the details of issues you are currently experiencing. It is certainly OK to mention issues you are having (had) as they pertain to setup (and setup helpers), but please reserve these details for their own threads (where you are welcome to go into as much detail as you’d like).


#6

One thing to bear in mind is that the complexity of a process cannot be reduced. All you can do is move the complexity around. Moving the complexity to the developer is a good thing for the user but it makes things more complex for the developer. Many people don’t appreciate this, there’s an assumption that something that’s simple for the user will be simple to develop. It’s actually the other way round.

It is possible to increase the complexity though.

There are two basic styles of UI, the toolbox and the wizard. SGP uses the toolbox approach, all the things that the user needs to set up are available and the user has to go through setting them all up. There’s very little guidance on what to set up. Advanced user like this sort of approach because they have full control.

The Wizard approach would guide the user through setting everything up with the user being forced to set things up in the same order each time. This tends to be easier for beginners but frustrating for advanced people.
The way it would work is that there would be a setup wizard instead of the sequencer and control panel windows. It could be a bit like this:

  • The user would be asked for the equipment they are using. This woudl include telescope focal length, aperture and if it’s obstructed. The guide method would also be set. The equipment is all connected and useful properties read from it. - Next
  • The camera options. Plate scale is set using the camera pixel size
    and the telescope focal length and cooling will default to a sensible
    values based on the camera properties - Next
  • The focus options. The focus steps is calculated from the telescope
    CFZ size and the focuser step size. Auto focus is set based on the
    capabilities of the equipment, if there’s a temperature sensor auto
    focus is done on temperature change, if not on time. - Next
  • Plate Solve options. Sensible defaults are provided depending on what
    is installed on the system. - Next
  • Guiding options. Again select defaults based on what is installed. - Next
  • Target Settings. Set the target. Maybe have a way to do this by
    name from some sort of database. Centre or slew is set depending on
    what’s available. If there’s a plate solver centre, if not Slew. -
    Next
  • Event Settings. The ability to select a set of events would be nice
    generally but maybe turning it round and asking questions such as how
    long do you want to image, what sort of data you want to collect and
    what exposure you want to use would be an alternative. So if a user
    want to collect LRGB data for 6 hours with a maximum exposure time of
    5 minutes they get 15 * 5minutes of L, R, G and B.
  • Start!!!

The system will remember everything and use that as the default so a user that’s already set up will simply keep pressing the Next button.
Throughout the settings that are already made are used as a guide to what should be set so, for example, if a user hasn’t specified a focuser the focuser set up could be skipped or the default setting set to pause and prompt the user to focus manually. Similarly no focuser or no rotator would skip that step.

This is a totally different UI and a huge amount of work to set up. In fact I’m not sure if it isn’t a different product.

I’m not expecting that this will be implemented but it could provide a few ideas. Essentially the idea is to guide the user through the setup process by only asking questions that are relevant at that moment and always asking them in a form that is easily available to the user. Anything that can be read from the hardware or calculated is.

Hope this helps,

Chris


#7

First off, I’m 100% behind this idea. Given the growing complexity of
SGP a wizard(s) to set some initial settings would be helpful. I’ve
been with SGP since before it was “pro” and I’m trying to recall some of
my learning curve issues. Personally, I find the user interface very
easy to navigate and I have trouble understanding why others have so
much difficulty.

I don’t have anything to offer in terms of guidance for how this is
implemented, other than to say I think that your 4 wizard proposals are
certainly in line with what I perceive most “Help!” comments come from.
Having said that, a big caution in my mind is that if the user still
experiences what they perceive to be a major failure even after going
through the setup wizards, that might be enough to drive them to abandon
SGP altogether. I think you need to try and strike some balance between
the wizard “doing everything for them” and some training along the way
so people then have a bit of a handle on where things are and how to
find them. For example, I like the idea to show some screenshots of the
Equipment Profile at the end of the wizard, or maybe even a little movie.


#8

Thanks for the feedback. I freely admit I am not a User Experience (UX) engineer. Most “amateur” software suffers from this issue. Often their designers have expertise in a particular area and enough knowledge of software to convey that expertise to a UI, but the way in which users interact with the software becomes convoluted over time (or maybe started out that way). Either way, UX is more of an an art than anything else…

This is a fair point. Not every part of the wizard would be about grabbing a setting for use in some routine. It is our intent that the wizards are a mixture of training and guided information capture. In some cases it might even be appropriate to to end a wizard with a troubleshooting guide (like at the back of instruction manual. We could present common issues and provide direct links to sections of the help that are too verbose for a wizard page.

This is a mathematical certainty. That said, we can create the illusion that something
is less complex by guiding actions and helping users focus on what it is they are after.

This is all true. In my mind the wizard would overlay the current interface. In this manner, advanced (power) users can still operate the way they like (no wizard will be forced on anyone). New users might prefer a wizard to help get things started. Starting SGPro for the first time, you would be prompted to use at least one Wizard (but not forced).

The Wizard approach would guide the user through setting everything up with the user being forced to set things up in the same order each time. This tends to be easier for beginners but frustrating for advanced people.

You could be right about this…

I think we would like to prioritize the equipment profile wizard first. All of the data we have collected (via this forum, private messages and forums external to this) indicates that this is often a major source of confusion and we believe it will get new users up and running pretty quickly. In any case it seems to be what people complain about most when saying things like “SGPro is pretty good, but…”

After we get this down, we will likely move onto an AF Wizard. We’ll see about the others based on feedback from out initial stab at this).


#9

This would not be so much about a Helper Wizard but may complement one. How about a popup window that could have a list with all of the data fields for a module.
These list could popup when one was using the a Helper Wizard as a quick view of all of the data fields and there set values.
Maybe even a box in the module header that could be checked and unchecked to show the list. It could be used as a quick check of the field settings with in a module.
Steve B


#10

This may not be a popular response so apologies, but you guys put so much time and effort into improving the software I wouldn’t want you spending precious time on writing wizards.

Sgp is by FAR the simplest capture software out there. It’s really intuitive after a few outings. It’s interface is much better than Maxim.

I was up and running in two or three sessions by using the excellent article on the first week. Harrys videos on auto focus and plate solving teach you a lot. And the manual isn’t heavy going and gives you everything you need.

Astrophotography is a challenge. It’s not easy. It has a steep learning curve. You simply have to learn yourself how to capture your data. But with the resources and an hour or two reading up and experimenting should get things moving a little. And that challenge for me was fun…

So my two pence worth is that it would be better to pulling together the links to the resources I’ve mentioned above than writing wizards to cover the basics.

There’s an awful lot to be said for ‘rtfm!’

Sorry rant over now !

Kit


#11

Kit,
That’s a fair point, but let me offer a counter argument. If the wizards
eliminate 50% of the support questions people ask on the forum and directly
to Ken and Jared, then developing wizards is a worthwhile investment of
time in my opinion. As I’m sure you’ll agree, ultimately Ken and Jared
will decide where to prioritize time and what may or may not save them time
in the long run. But, I agree that pulling the resources you mentioned
together in one place would also be helpful.


#12

Equipment Profile Wizard: Explain the profile system (often a sticking point), have user connect all gear to the PC, gather basic settings for all your gear, make sure connections work, save it, then end with some screenshots showing usage of the profile in different ways. Query ASCOM props to auto fill applicable fields (user overridable of course)

Completely agree with this portion. I would add in populating all of the profile data points like image scale/camera properties/etc. Is there a way we (or maybe this exists?) could populate that info for them? I’m sure asking your average newbie what his ‘read noise’ is tends to send them scurrying. Also, I’d recommend standardizing where the local astrometry.net server install is and a link to the current ‘accepted’ PHD2 verison. I see quite a few requests for the where the ‘developer snapshots’ are located on the PHD2 website… they’re not super obvious. If you had a link on your main website to these software packages, I think it would go a long way.

Sequence / Target Wizard: Explain the basics of a sequence, ask about profiles to use, gather information on targets you want to image, auto populate location, ask about centering, slewing, rotation, etc. Provide a way to enter events (and use them in the targets you asked for). Maybe a wizard for a single target where you can append it to a sequence… not sure just yet

Good idea. Explain each step and what it means (links to the help file would be sufficient, no one seems to read it until we send them a reference from it). Wizard for a single target with the import options would be good. Could also be used as a segway for the Framing and Mosaic Tool.

Auto Focus Wizard: Explain how AF works, guided collection of information about how your AF should run, ability to transfer (save) collected info to the current sequence or a profile.
Auto Meridian Flip Wizard: Explain how auto MF works, ask user to connect mount, collect info detailing when to flip (wizard will determine if your mount supports flipping before meridian and explain why (if not).

Great idea. Again, just referencing the information already in the help file would be useful and having it populate the data boxes. I dunno if there could be a ‘first light auto focus routine’ that states, 1.) focus your target to the best of your ability. 2.) runs auto focus routine using L filter to determine HFR 3 on each side of the curve 3.) Runs AF routine on each filter and stores offsets/focus point automatically. 4.) populates the autofocus tab. You’d also need an option to discover backlash in your system which I think is an iterative process.

In response to Kit,

I agree completely that quite a bit of SGP can be found by RTMing. However, people are inherently lazy, and ultimately we want Ken/Jared to make money so we can continue to get an evolving (and well maintained) product. So, if we can remove some of the entry issues, we can keep their bottom line moving upwards. I think that makes it a worthwhile endeavor.


#13

I would tend to agree with kit. You guys have done such an amazing job with this software that I think a lot of the problem is that people just don’t want to put out the effort to RTFM. As was said, AP is a complex task, but SGP makes so much of it so much more manageable. But it does require some initial effort from the user. I do own MaximDL, and I never use it. I find SGP much more user friendly. Any software this complicated is going to require effort to learn to use with your particular gear. I think Ken and Jared have done an amazing job, and I can’t fathom imaging without SGP.

Thinking back on when I was first learning SGP, the one thing I found confusing was that I could change my settings in two different places - in profile manager or in control panel, but it was not at all clear to me the difference between the two. I couldn’t understand why I would change a setting, only to have it change itself back! Or not. Depending on where I had changed it. It took me a while to figure out that changes made using control panel are temporary - for the current session only. So if my default profile in profile manager has me imaging at 800 ISO, and I decide to change it to 1600 for just this session, then I would want to make the change in control panel. Doing so will not change my default profile setting of 800 ISO for next time out, which it would if I changed them in profile manager. In short, if it was more clear to new users that setting changes using control panel are temporary - for just that session, and that changes to the default profile settings have to be done in profile manager, there might be less confusion and frustration. This was the one point that confused me for a good while. But overall, I don’t know how much easier you can make it to use.
Dean


#14

The people on the Software Bisque forums say the same thing, “I thought TheSkyX was difficult but now I’ve had six months of trying things and reading the manual and I now find it easy and intuitive”.

What happens is that software teaches people how to use it and they will unconsciously work round the difficulties in it. It is worth listening to people’s first impressions because that’s where you can find what is not easy and intuitive.

Chris


www.mainsequencesoftware.com