I took advantage of the Thanksgibbons holiday to try to get my new telescope firing on all cylinders, with limited success. On Thursday I tried to align the viewfinder, which I had been having a lot of trouble with because it was so wobbly. I tried tightening it with both of the allen wrenches that came with the scope, only to find that neither allen wrench fit the bolt. I then realized that the viewfinder hadn't been installed properly -- the front tab was entirely out of its slot. I corrected this problem with a flat-head screwdriver and continued the alignment process, somewhat concerned that I had to use sheer physical force to solve a problem with the new telescope this early in the game (my repair job involved pushing down on the tab with the screwdriver until it snapped into place rather unwillingly).
The rest of the alignment process didn't go so well. Aligning the viewfinder requires getting six screws into agreement as to where the viewfinder should be pointing, which is difficult enough without introducing your own idea as to where you think the thing should be pointing. Ultimately I got it to where the image that appears in the lower right quadrant of the viewfinder appears in the center of the telescope, which is close enough for rock 'n' roll as far as I'm concerned.
Last night was exceptionally clear, so Dr. M and I took the scope out to see if we could use the computer to find cool shit. I pointed the scope north (using a compass) and leveled it as best I could to get it into the "home" position, told it what city it was in, and then told it to point at the moon. I figured this would be a good start, since I could see the moon without the telescope and would therefore be able to tell if the telescope was behaving properly. The scope got itself into the general region of the moon, but was far enough off that I had to correct it with the directional buttons on the hand controls. I tried to memorize how far I had to push it in either direction to get it pointing where it thinks it's pointing, but that didn't work very well. I have my own ideas as to how to fix this problem, and I'll report on my progress assuming my patience holds up.
Imprecisions aside, however, we did end up seeing some cool things. First on the list was Mars (yes, the planet), which I could actually also see with my unaided eye. Without the scope it looked like a reddish star, but through the scope there was definitely a discernible disk and a distinct orange color. I'm also pretty sure we saw the Pleiades, and some star clusters that I forgot the name of. Next time I'll bring my star charts and hopefully get a better sense of where things are and what I'm looking at.
I'm still pretty excited about all this.