The View Up Here

Random scribblings about kites, photography, machining, and anything else

Archive for October, 2009

My First Week with an iPhone

Posted by Tom Benedict on 21/10/2009

I finally broke down and got an iPhone.

To be fair this has been in the works for a while.  I’ve been following the development of the iPhone since the first one came out, and have a theory that it will play a fairly pivotal role in the future of personal computing and computing in general, but that’s a topic for another post.  Some time ago I made a deal with myself that if I could come up with five applications on the iPhone that would significantly change how I do KAP in the field, I would be in the market for one.  That happened a while ago, but I still held out.  When looking at something like this, it’s hard to know if the decision is being made for legitimate reasons, or simply because it’s a cool gadget.  I erred on the side of cool gadget, and waited.  It was finally a combination of three things that convinced me to get one:

  1. I was due for an upgrade on my existing cell pone
  2. The ATT website had refurbished 16GB 3G iPhones listed for $99
  3. One of my co-workers let me play with her iPhone long enough to completely fall in love with it

Ok, so in the end it’s still probably the cool gadget factor that pushed me over the top, but I did have five applications that I will use when I’m out KAPing:

  1. GPS – Prior to this, I was in the market for a small handheld GPS.  I was looking long and hard at the DeLorme PN-40 for some time, but the price tag kept me from taking that plunge.  That the iPhone comes with a GPS that applications can actually access went a long way toward convincing me that this was a viable route.  The performance of the DeLorme likely exceeds what the iPhone will do, but if I was after the ultimate in accuracy I would be looking at the higher end Trimble hardware, all of which is seriously out of my price range.  And from the testing I’ve done the iPhone GPS is plenty accurate for my needs.
  2. Google Earth – When the iPhone first came out, a fellow KAPer named Cris Benton picked one up.  Shortly after, he described a particularly difficult session where he needed to fly over a rail yard in order to get his camera in position over a particular subject.  The rail yard was in use, so there was no way to walk through it.  Instead he pulled up his location on Google Earth, visually determined the direction of the wind, and given his kite’s line angle he calculated how much line he needed to let out to get his camera in the correct position.  It worked like a charm.  With the addition of the integrated GPS in the iPhone 3G, this becomes even easier.
  3. Anemometer – Yes, there is an anemometer for the iPhone.  It’s a $0.99 application, and is limited to a 0-25mph wind range, but at the cost it’s well worth it as a backup for my Kestrel 2000 anemometer.  I have yet to test this in the field, but from what other people have said it’s typically good to +/- 1 knot, and switching units is trivial.  Before trusting it I plan to run it in side-by-side trials against my Kestrel.
  4. Inclinometer – The iPhone 3G has a 3-axis accelerometer built into it.  This has set the stage for a number of apps that replicate the behavior of a carpenter’s bubble level.  But for kiting I was after an inclinometer that would tell me the angle of my kite line.  Turns out there are a whole host of these as well.  The one I got was free off the iPhone App site.
  5. Safari Web Browser – The pre-paid data plan on the iPhone makes using the integrated web browser a real no-brainer.  You can’t rack up data charges by using it, so there’s no reason not to.  Also, since the Safari browser on the iPhone is a full-blown browser, you can hit practically any web site and view it the same way you would on a full-blown computer.  This lets me bring up the local wind forecast while I’m in the field, and to check current conditions at a number of weather stations to see if conditions are changing.  I can also use this to cruise Flickr when I fly at a new location to see if there are any interesting subjects nearby.

In addition, there are a number of non-KAP applications I’m using for other reasons.  The notepad and alarm clock are particularly nice.  The iPhone will also take voice memos, which is great for taking notes while KAPing since writing while managing a radio and kite winder is asking for trouble.  I also installed issh, which is an inexpensive combination ssh, telnet, and VNC client.  I’m no longer in the UNIX sysadmin line of work, but I still do run machines at home and at work.  Now I can get to them from practically anywhere.  I also find I’m using the iPod functionality more than I thought I would, since all my music will fit on my iPhone.  The photo gallery application also makes it easy to pack a large number of KAP images on my iPhone so I can show them to people when they ask what I’m doing. Oh, and it’s also a pretty good phone.

All in all I’m more than pleased with it.  I’ve already taken the small portfolio out of my KAP bag, which saves a fair bit of weight and space.  If the anemometer works out well, I may start keeping my Kestrel at home on longer KAP hikes.  The inclinometer, GPS, Google Earth, and readily available wind forecasts are all new, and I haven’t really had a chance to see how much I will use them, or what effect they will have on my work flow in the field.  But already it’s an improvement.  Can’t beat that.

– Tom

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A Planned Return to Kua Bay

Posted by Tom Benedict on 04/10/2009

I’m still pretty stoked by how well the planned KAP session at Kiholo Bay worked out.  In going through my pictures of the Kona coast, another location that really stands out as needing more work on my part is Kua Bay.

Kua Bay, or rather Manini Owali Beach at Kua Bay, is a gorgeous white sand beach surrounded by black lava rock.  It is hands-down one of the friendliest locations for doing seaside KAP on the Big Island, provided you are willing to work on top of razor sharp rocks.  It was south of Manini Owali Beach where I figured out how to set up and launch a 6′ rokkaku without letting any part of it touch the ground.  It was also where I did the bulk of my 4×5 KAP camera tests, and found out how much that camera did like to land on the sharp rocks.

In a couple of the sets I’ve done there, I’ve found some pretty good signs of earlier settlements there.  This is no mystery, and as far as I know the place is fairly well understood from a historical and archaeological standpoint.  Still, it’s nice to see that I can recognize these things from the air.

As with Kiholo Bay, my photography at Kua Bay has shown potential, but not much beyond that.  I’ve tried to squeeze a good working ratio image out of what I’ve done there, but I haven’t been able to do it.  So with the same methodology that I used at Kiholo Bay, minus the Photosynth sets, I went to work in selecting a camera location.

The one I wound up choosing is five hundred feet inland and about a hundred and eighty feet north of the anchialine pond at the inland tip of the beach.  Ideally the camera would be no more than two hundred feet off the ground, though I intend to shoot a series of photos at various altitudes and a couple of positions near this one.  Again, I’m planning on using multi-row burst KAP to get the photos I need, and I plan to fly without a polarizer.

I’m taking next week off to finish the layout work on the WWKW 2009 book, but Wednesday I’ll have my son at home, and plan to go to Kua Bay in the hope of making the photograph I’m after.  Here’s hoping the weather and the wind holds!

– Tom

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Join the Club

Posted by Tom Benedict on 03/10/2009

A few weeks ago, my wife and I took the kids to the county fair.  (Yes, even islands in the middle of the Pacific get to have county fairs!)  It was a great day, full of rides, surprisingly good food, and a stop at a booth where the Hilo Photography Club was showing some of their member photography.  Seeing other people’s prints on the wall got me to thinking about how isolated I am with the photography I do.  I trade notes with two of my co-workers who are into photography, but for the most part that’s it.  Every other interaction I have is online through Flickr, or through various forums for aerial and kite aerial photography. It’s strange, because for the most part I really am a loner.  But I found I really wanted to join a photography club.  Bad.

But driving to Hilo, especially on a weekday night, really didn’t hold much appeal.  I work during the week, and it’s an hour and a half to Hilo.  This would be like driving from Sealy, Texas, to the middle of Houston and back.  On a Wednesday.  So I looked around and found there is a second photography club on the island, based in Kona.   It’s not exactly in town, but forty-five minutes is still better than an hour and a half!  I liked the photography I saw on their web site, so I figured I should give it a try.

Still, things are never that easy.  The first person I had to convince was my wife.  It may be my idea to join the club, but our time belongs to the both of us.  Once I told her it was one night a month, though, she was ok with the idea.  As it turns out the club met the following evening, so with my camera bag in hand and an address written on a scrap of paper, I jumped in my Jeep after work and headed out.

One problem with addresses on this island is that they assume you know the roads.  Despite its being a fairly small island, there are still a lot of roads!  I didn’t exactly get lost, but I didn’t know where I was, either.  It took a while, but I finally got there.  The meeting was low-key, the folks were pretty friendly on the whole, but I was surprised how little interest there was in talking to a newcomer.  I literally sat in the corner, and despite working up the courage to speak up during the critique session, no one showed much interest in me, or even asked what kind of photography I was into.

Nonetheless, I liked what I saw.  The critiques were constructive, but they were also pretty direct.  No bubbles there!  If someone didn’t like a thing, they said so.  But they also said why, which is the real point of a critique.  At the end of the meeting I was determined to come to a second one, and to bring pictures to show and get feedback on.  The president of the club took down my name and email address, and invited me to the next meeting.

Choosing which pictures to bring took some work.  I didn’t necessarily want to show my flashiest images, but I did want a representative sample.  I also didn’t want to have to wade through the opinions that KAP was just a cheap alternative to helicopter aerial photography, so I tried to include images that showed things that helicopters can’t do.  I intend to bring my KAP bag to the next meeting as well, when I’ll be able to show these pictures, so I also tried to include images that demonstrate the portability of KAP.  This is the set I came up with:

Here There Be Dragons

Here There Be Dragons – I wanted to open with this one, mostly to show that KAP can be used around people, and at an altitude that could also be done using a ladder.  This is a common technique on the ground when a little more height is called for, so it’s a situation I hope enough of the photographers have found themselves in to have a feel for the angle I was after.  But a ladder would’ve cast a shadow here, whereas my KAP rig did not.  So even inside the scope of vantage points available to a photographer on the ground, KAP can offer possibilities.  (Plus making that dragon was fun!)

Flying in a Blue Dream

Flying in a Blue Dream – Most aerials I’ve seen are obliques, typically taken out of the side of a helicopter or airplane.  I wanted to include an ortho image, not as an example of remote sensing or mapping, but as an example of an artistic image.  I really liked the feel of this when it came off my camera.  It felt more like a 4×5 ground glass composition than a digital camera composition.  The honu in the upper center are almost secondary to the sweeps of color in other parts of the frame.

Gemini North

Gemini North – This is one of those “KAP is portable!” pictures.  It also indicates a place where doing the photography from a full sized helicopter would be difficult.  This is at 14,000′ above sea level.  There are only a handful of helicopters on the island that can hit this altitude, and none of them are available for photography.  It could’ve been done with an airplane, but not easily, and not without violating FAA airspace regulations.  As an added benefit, this also shows how RC helicopter photography and KAP don’t necessarily overlap, either.  I doubt many RC helicopters can fly at 14,000′ altitude, either.  For KAP, I just used a bigger kite to compensate for the thinner air.

Kauhola Pt. Lighthouse

Kauhola Pt. Lighthouse – I wanted at least one picture where the camera was suspended over the water.  This is that picture.  I don’t know of any vehicle-mounted mast photographers on the island, but I’ve run into enough online to know that there is a misconception with some of them that a mast answers all needs.  Many of the places I fly don’t have roads, much less solid ground directly underneath the camera, so shots like this really couldn’t be done with a mast.  An RC helicopter or RC airplane could’ve done it, but the air was pretty heavy that day, and unfortunately fairly rough as well.  Even with a kite it was a tough day.  With an RC helicopter or airplane it would’ve been pretty nasty.  My hope with sharing this photograph is that this is a lighthouse that the club has visited in the past.  I wanted a subject at least some of the people in the club were familiar with so they could contrast this one against pictures they had done and see some of the vantage point possibilities KAP can open up.

Green Sand Beach

Green Sand Beach – I know the club did a trip to South Point.  I don’t know if they made it all the way out to Green Sand Beach, but most of the residents on the island have been there at one point or another.  It’s a fantastic place to do photography, but 99% of the photos are done to the left of where this one was made, so none of them show the backside of the cindercone that forms the beach.  Even when helicopters overfly the beach, they tend to come in from the same angle every time.  So far as I know this is the only photo of Green Sand taken from this location.  It’s well below 500′, so KAP or an RC aircraft are the only ways to get there.  Add to that, it’s pretty far off the beaten path.  A kite really is the easiest way to get this angle.

Kiholo Bay

Kiholo Bay – I included this one for a couple of reasons:  It’s recent, so it’s more or less “what did you shoot in the last month?”  I’m not cheating here by going back to the archives.  It really is a recent photo.  It’s also a good poster shot for portability since there are no roads out here.  It’s a half hour walk across the lava, or you don’t get to see it at all.  This is also one of my more planned images, so it makes a good conversation starter for the idea of planning a KAP session, or any photography session for that matter.  KAP isn’t random by any stretch of the imagination, any more than any other form of photography is.  This photo does a good job of demonstrating it.

I cropped and sized the images to work with the 1920×1080 format of the projector the club uses, and packed them off in email to await the next meeting.  The date is set for October 15th, so I hope I have good things to write about afterward.

– Tom

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