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Which pointer is best?
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Dome-L Discussion:
Which pointer is best?

rmccolman2001
Jul 27
At Morehead, we have two styles of red laser pointer in our dome -- dot and arrow. While the arrow-style laser pointer makes a fairly nice projected arrow, nearly all of our staff appear to dislike it in favor of the dot-style pointer.

I'm not sure I fully appreciate the objections to the arrow pointer. Personally, I was raised with arrow pointers in planetariums prior to the major swing toward laser pointers, so I'm quite comfortable with projecting an arrow, and I even prefer an arrow for pointing out individual stars. (Either way, I really enjoy NOT having the old-style console-powered/wired pointer, given how prone the cables always were to suffering wire-conductor failure in the middle of a live presentation!)

I'm curious as to the preferences for pointers out there in the broader planetarium community. If you have a preference one way or the other, I'd be interested in knowing why you have such a preference. Is the dislike of arrow-style pointers among the Morehead staff an anomaly compared to the rest of the planetarians out there? I'd be interested in finding out....

Thanks in advance,

Richard McColman
UNC Morehead Planetarium & Science Center
Chapel Hill, NC
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Jul 27
Hi Richard,
I've used both the dot (laser) pointer and arrow (laser) pointer. I personally like the arrow because you can point to a specific object rather than circling the object with the dot. But we have both available and if one pointer had a dead battery, I have no problem using the other!

Sincerely,
Noreen Grice, Manager
Travelers Science Dome Planetarium
The New Children's Museum (West Hartford, CT)

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Russo, Steven L (Big Sandy)
Jul 28
I am partial to the arrow, but my other planetarium operators like the dot.
That is why we buy the laser pointers from Ash Enterprises as their pointers are adjustable from dot to arrow and you can also adjust the arrow size.
Steven LJ Russo
Director, East Kentucky Science Center & Planetarium
Big Sandy Community and Technical College
http://www.bigsandy.kctcs.edu/eksc
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alan.dport
Jul 27
Richard;

Not to be snippy, but I have always preferred neither of your choices. You mentioned the tethered pointers of yore that many planetarians have never seen. I inherited a pistol style original Spitz A1 pointer in 1980 that I kept alive until 2014 when we opened the new astronomy center. I kept it tethered so it could be dimmed and brightened with a console control. But the kodalith image in it was always a small circle. Not the original arrow or the new laser dot. (Lasers are so limited.) I won't go into how we manufactured new led pointers that project a broken circle image, but instead, answer your core question, "Why?"

For every point out I ever did, I tried to show my audience how to envision and recreate the constellation pattern I was showing them. I did not need to show them that I knew it or that I knew the star names, they needed to 'SEE' the star pattern. Early on I realized that the circle placed on the star was the most unambiguous guide for the eye-brains of my audience to see and remember. Conversely, an arrow shows them a direction to move their eye, not the star point they should focus on. A dot either overpowers and blots out a star or becomes a spinning merry-go-round completely divorced from the star in question. Moving a circle from star to star emphasizes each star comprising the pattern, and its ONLY motion is along the linear path of each connecting line between stars. The KISS principle might apply here. It certainly has been successful for me and my visitors who never before saw either a flying horse or the smattering of stars that resemble one.

If I had my way, that style would be the standard for all planetarium pointers..

Alan Davenport
Retired

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KDC
Jul 29

I think the appeal of the dot pointer is that you don’t have to think about which way the arrow is oriented.

Kevin Conod
Manager, Dreyfuss Planetarium
Newark Museum
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Russell Waugh
Jul 30
To all those interested in the dot vs. arrow pointer question, may I suggest an experiment? Ask your audience which they prefer. Spend a minute or two pointing out stars, constellations and (if you have them) deep sky objects, alternating arrow and dot. I will do this myself, too,but won't have an opportunity until September when our classes start again.

Russell Waugh
Owens Science Center
Prince George's County Public Schools

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Eddy Pirotte
Jul 31
Just a thought: when using an arrow, you have to twist your wrist. Using a dot pointer is easier by drawing a circle around the object. Only problem is that most operators (and I noticed this on several occasions) circle the object too fast, something you see aswell in ppt's. An operator knows what he/she is pointing to. Your audience doesn't have a clue. So draw your circle very slowly and several times so that everyone has a chance to locate the spot.

Just something I wanted to share.

Eddy Pirotte
Belgium
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Op 30-jul.-2015 om 20:45 heeft Russell Waugh het volgende geschreven:

> To all those interested in the dot vs. arrow pointer question, may I suggest an experiment? Ask your audience which they prefer. Spend a minute or two pointing out stars, constellations and (if you have them) deep sky objects, alternating arrow and dot. I will do this myself, too,but won't have an opportunity until September when our classes start again.
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Craig, Jim
Aug 1

In the “dot vs. arrow” debate, I can add only this.

It’s unlikely that anyone in the audience will have an arrow pointer. However, I’ve seen people bring laser pointers into planetariums (not mine yet and I hope my luck holds out) and hijack programs.

So as long as I have an arrow or other unique shape, I’m going to continue to use it.

Jim Craig
James H. Lynn Planetarium
Schiele Museum of Natural History
Gastonia, NC 28054
http://www.schielemuseum.org

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Jenny S
Aug 2

I like the arrow for three main reasons.

Firstly, I can point at something while keeping it still. I find moving dots really distracting.

Secondly, it's not as alarmingly bright as the dot, so my eyes don't react so much when it appears on screen. I've been in some domes where I've had a little stomach lurch every time the thing has appeared. Not very relaxing.

Thirdly, I can hold it unmoving, on screen, and be indicating not only a location but also a direction. I do this eg when pointing out how to find the North Star (if I went this way, which star would I hit?) or drawing eg the Great Bear (can you see a star further this way for her nose?). As far as possible I like to get people to discover things themselves before I point directly to them.

We set ours (which can switch between arrow and dot) so the arrow points the same way as the side of the pointer with the button (we tape it into this position). In this way it's possible to make it appear on screen the right way up every time.

I have the advantage of being able to brace my wrist on a ledge, to control the motion and get it slow, smooth and precise.

I think laser technique is a huge thing that makes such a difference to both communication and professionalism, but is rarely taught.

Jenny
-----------------------------------
Dr Jenny Shipway
Head of Planetarium
Winchester Science Centre, UK
http://winchestersciencecentre.org
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Steve Berr
Aug 2
Other recipients: dom...@googlegroups.com
I personally have always hated the dot pointer because it always seemed to lead to a maddening circling of the object of interest. The arrow pointer was more my favorite. It allowed for more deliberate and calmer indication of what you were drawing attention to. But then (I think it was) Alan Davenpor) suggested something even more ingenious. A projected circle. Brilliant! No twisting of the wrist needed, and no dancing around some object with a little blob of light. I am not a mechanical genius, but I’ll bet someone could create a pointer with a circle that could be expanded with a slight thumb movement on the pointer’s shaft so that you could indicate a single star or a small group. But in any case, bravo for the circle! If I was still at a console I would be looking for this kind of a device right now.

Steve
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Theo Wellington
Aug 3
I'm not sure Staples still carries these (try ebay), but they had one that had a dot, line, arrow, circle....and a pointing finger.
Didn't get the chance to see what that last would have done with a middle school group.
Also had a nice raised button. Some of the lasers have a recessed or flush button that my fingers can't find by touch.
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On Sunday, August 2, 2015 at 4:15:30 PM UTC-5, Steve Berr wrote:
But in any case, bravo for the circle! If I was still at a console I would be looking for this kind of a device right now.
Steve
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Dave
Aug 3
Dot vs arrow
I Like the white arrow for the many reasons that Jenny Shipway mentioned, but I would like to add one more: only with a white arrow with a momentary switch (and a little practice) can you create a fairly representative meteor-streak across the sky.

David Maness
Sharpe Planetarium Supervisor
Pink Palace Museum
Memphis, TN
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Russell Waugh
Aug 4
Re: [DOME-L:9882] Re: Pointer preference
I located some of these "variety" pointers Theo described online (thesite escapes me now). The images of the various options show ed that the circle had a red dot at the center, which would diminish or defeat the purpose IMHO.

Russell Waugh
Owens Science Center

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Andy Dolph
Aug 4
Re: [DOME-L:9883] Re: Pointer preference
I had a couple of those that I got online cheaply - I had them setup as one plain dot or arrow, and one as a flying saucer for fun. They only lasted a few weeks before they fell apart though.
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Karen Klamczynski
Aug 4

I know what you mean by "maddening circling of the object," but I think people who do that have learned it or fallen into the habit of doing that. If one can calmly point and gesture with an arrow, one can calmly point and gesture with a dot.
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Rich Sanderson
Aug 5

Relating to the discussion about pointers, can anyone recommend a decent laser pointer that only projects a dot (arrows don’t do anything for me!) but is durable enough for planetarium use and utilizes standard AAA batteries. I’ve tried a variety of lasers purchased on-line and from Staples (approx. $40), and they last 6 months if I’m lucky. Surely there has to be a simple, red dot laser pointer that is better quality than that. Thanks.
Rich Sanderson
Seymour Planetarium
Springfield, MA

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rmccolman2001
Aug 11 (19 hours ago)
Thanks to everyone on DOME-L who responded to my inquiry about pointer preferences. From the responses (although there wasn't an overwhelmingly one-sided preference), it appears that the a fair majority of respondents prefer the arrow pointer over the simple dot -- something that wasn't a huge surprise to me, frankly.

A few additional observations:

- One respondent mentioned a concern about the buttons on some arrow laser pointers being a bit difficult to locate by feel in the dark due to those buttons being more or less flush with the surface of the pointer barrel. I've experienced that same frustration myself, but came up with a solution that works really well. All that's required is a small nylon cable tie ("zip tie"). Just tighten the cable tie around the barrel with the molded latching mechanism of the tie positioned just forward of the button, and then cut off the loose bit of the tie. This provides a nice tactile "bump" on the barrelto find with your thumb. You then simply allow your thumb to fall back behind the cable tie's bump and you're right on top of the button.

- It was also mentioned several times that pointer "etiquette" is often lacking in planetarium presentations. I agree, and part of what we train our staff on (with varied success) is using the pointer more effectively. Part (but not all) of this problem of poor pointer technique, I think, is due to the fact that laser pointers are so small and lacking in mass and length that they are incredibly easy to flit about, making the projected dot or arrow jump about on the dome in a way that's reminiscent of a mosquito's or gnat's difficult-to-follow flying motion. (This issue was a bit less of a problem with the large-flashlight-sized wired pointers of old.) I have noticed that some planetarians compensate for the laser pointers' small size and mass by carving out a customized slot in a longer (and heavier) wooden dowel and taping the pointer into the dowel's slot. (This adaptation also makes the pointer less prone to being absconded with by visitors with "sticky fingers.") Along similar lines, I tell our presenters to stiffening their wrists while holding the pointer, and to direct the pointer by means of moving the entire forearm at the elbow. While this alone doesn't solve all the problems of a "jumpy pointer," it's a good start. The rest of it entails developing (and instructing) deliberate, slow, and smooth pointer motion techniques.

- Somebody mentioned color blindness being an issue with red laser pointers, something I was unaware of. (I have some red-green color blindness myself, but was previously unaware of the variety of color blindness that makes pure red color invisible to some.) For that reason, I think it might be good to have a white light pointer, perhaps by incorporating a white, high-brightness LED into a small barrel-shaped battery-driven pointer device. (Something for me to consider working on in my spare time?) BTW, from what I've seen in online information, somewhere in the neighborhood of 0.6 % of the population suffers from this type of color blindness.

- I was also intrigued by the concept of the circle pointer that was suggested. Maybe if I do make a white-light LED pointer, I'll incorporate a circle rather than an arrow.

Thanks again to all respondents. Interesting input all around.

Richard McColman
UNC Morehead Planetarium & Science Center
Chapel Hill, NC
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Russell Waugh
Aug 12
More on Planetarium Pointers
If anyone can stand more pointers about planetarium pointers, I offer these. Lawrence Hall of Science has a page describing how to make an LED pointer with ordinary materials ( http://www.lawrencehallofscience.org/pass/passv05/LEDpointer.doc ).Theirs projects an arrow, but it should be adaptable to a circle projection. Alan Davenport (ret.) also passed some suggestions on to me about circle pointers. Mind you, I haven't tried to make one of these yet, but it's on my to-do-someday list.

WRT pointer etiquette and the flying red mosquito, I always start by saying I'm going to point my red dot at the top of the sky (or the highest place in the sky or the "zenith" if I have introduced that word). That gives the audience a chance to locate it. Then I slowly move it to the place of interest, so they can follow without breaking their necks. Sometimes I vary the starting point; I might say I'm going to put my red dot next to the brightest star, or next to the moon, or next to the North Star (by way of having a little review after I've shown how to find the North Star).

Russell Waugh
Owens Science Center
________________________________________ rmccolman2001
Aug 12
And for those of you who haven't seen it, a number of years ago John French (Abrams Planetarium) posted a nifty design for an LED pointer made from plumbing parts and a few other odds and ends:

http://www.pa.msu.edu/people/frenchj/pointerglpa2005/

Richard McColman
UNC Morehead Planetarium & Science Center
Chapel Hill, NC
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