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Archive for December, 2011

Closer on the Video Downlink

Posted by Tom Benedict on 30/12/2011

Sorry, no pictures yet. But I did finally test all the hardware end-to-end. Egads what a wait! Thankfully, everything worked great first try.

The cabling on the KAP rig is done. Except for Velcro to hold the video transmitter down, it’s ready to fly. Since I hacked the Hobby King transmitter to take the video gear, this involved changing the RC receiver as well. The antenna wiring on the Hobby King receiver is cleaner than the antenna on the Turborix receiver, so I don’t really mind. It’s a good change. The only thing I’m not 100% happy with is the 9V battery held on with Velcro strap. But for now it’s what I’ve got. I figure I’ll fly this way maybe two or three times before I get frustrated and change my rig’s batteries out for a LiPo or LiFe. (Thanks, Bill, for pointing me in that direction!)

I still have some work to do on the ground unit. The only really big one is changing out the DC power cable that drives the video receiver. The 5.8GHz unit uses a different plug than the 900MHz one. No biggie. Just two solder dots and it’s done.

I even made a screen shade for the transmitter out of some ABS plastic I had lying around the shop at home. A quick trip through the bead blaster at work and it even has a matte texture on the inside!

The last outstanding grumble on the ground unit is the ugly UGLY mess of video cables that go between the receiver and the monitor. When I wired everything up I had to laugh. The wad of cables is actually bigger than the receiver and monitor put together! UGH! But I’ve got some connectors on order that should let me build a custom cable, and clean up the mess. Meanwhile I’ll fly with the wad taped to the back of my ground unit.

Now for the good part:

The video was gorgeous. The refresh rate is extremely fast, so it’s dead nuts easy to see if the camera is stable or not. The monitor is actually larger than the LCD on the back of my camera, which is great. My eyes aren’t what they used to be, so the bigger the better. And since I have to run the camera in live view mode in order to use the video downlink, I get to see my focus spot, whether it has achieved focus or not, the shutter speed, aperture, EVERYTHING! Camera telemetry!! (Can you tell I’m excited?)

I admit. I’ve got the giddies. But a cautionary note from Bill Blake keeps rattling around in my mind: Yeah, this is neat and all. But essentially I just added a whole ‘nuther person worth of work to my setup. In addition to keeping track of the kite and of the rig, now I have to keep track of a viewfinder. It may be more trouble than it’s worth.

(But I really hope not!)

Should be a fun weekend.

– Tom

Posted in Kite Aerial Photography | 2 Comments »

Pre-Digested Information

Posted by Tom Benedict on 29/12/2011

Earlier today I was watching a video on Youtube in which Emma, a person with a tic disorder, set out to answer some common questions about her tics, and about tic disorders in general. She made a really good point in the video that got me to thinking about news and media in general.

In the video, Emma points out that coprolalia (uncontrolled swearing) really only occurs in 10-15% of the people with Tourette’s Syndrome. I knew this statistic before watching the video, but then she went on to point out that the reason people associate TS with uncontrolled swearing is because it is the most glaring, obvious, and easy to make fun of characteristic of TS. So it’s the one that’s covered the most thoroughly by popular media, at the expense of actually covering “typical” TS.

That’s something to think on! Take a condition like Tourette’s Syndrome. The best that our news and reporting services can do is cover a tiny percentage of the population with the condition, and play that up as “being” TS? Wow! Way to go, guys.

Now think about any of the other news stories you’ve heard over the past few months or years: Our kids are failing in school; Schools are failing our kids; Our communities are overrun by sexual offenders; Stop buying beef because it’s contaminated with mad cow disease or e.coli or salmonella; Cities are inherently dangerous; Concealed handguns keep us safer; We need tighter gun control to be safe; A supervolcano / megatsunami / mega asteroid will destroy all life as we know it; We’re doomed.

See a pattern?

Unfortunately I can’t offer any sort of alternative because the only real alternative is to do your own research. And where do you go for that? Video. The printed word. The Internet (oh boy… save us…) Everywhere you turn to find information, someone has already pre-filtered it for us. It’s practically inescapable.

So the only real solution is to be a skeptic. Not a cynic, mind you. A skeptic. Look for the holes in the logic. Ask the questions that beg asking. And be aware when you’re really getting an answer and when you’re being fed a line of BS. Form your own opinions.


– Tom

P.S. Nope, I don’t have coprolalia. When I swear at someone, it’s because I think they need to hear it.

Posted in Tourette Syndrome | Leave a Comment »

A Semi-Kinematic Fiber Mount

Posted by Tom Benedict on 29/12/2011

As Designed As Built

I still haven’t wired up my 5.8GHz video downlink for my KAP rig. Life keeps getting in the way. Mostly I’ve been living in the shop at work, making parts. Today I finished the last project I had to get off my plate before building the two cameras for our new instrument. Just in time for the new year!

Before describing what this is, lemme back up a little…

We have an instrument at work that is fed light by a fiber optic bundle. An injection module lives on the telescope whose job is to get light into the fiber. The other end is a spectrograph that’s located in a temperature controlled room deep inside the building. The arrangement works quite well, but the performance of the whole thing depends on very accurate positioning of the fiber. Essentially the light of a star needs to be focused onto a fiber 100 microns in diameter, and positioned to better than a micron. Tight tolerances.

To make it even more fun, the bundle has three fibers in it, not just one. All three need to line up with optics in the injection module to better than a micron. So rotation is just as important as the position.

Ideally a bundle like this would have a precision ground rectangular ferrule with nice registration features on it. As you can see, the ferrule is round. And there aren’t any good registration features to set rotation off of. To be fair, the original design was copied off of another instrument that has given years of good service. But it only had a single fiber, so rotation wasn’t important, and it was installed once and never touched again. This one is removed and installed every time the instrument comes off the telescope. And each time it’s installed, the optics in the injection module have to be re-aligned to match the new position and rotation of the fiber bundle.

Clearly something had to be done.

The idea behind this new mount really goes to our master machinist, who has since retired. He took one look at it and said, “You should make something like the chuck on a ram EDM machine.” And that’s precisely what we did!

The heart of the thing is a stainless steel v-block that’s toward the rear in both pictures. I wound up making it out of some unknown 400-series alloy I grabbed out of the scrap box. I rough machined it, then surface ground it to size. This was the most critical part in the whole thing. I’m new to precision grinding, so it took me almost an entire day to make. It’s really not that complicated a part. I’m just slow. It has a bunch of tapped holes in it to boot, which is always an adventure with stainless. I’m happy to say I didn’t break any taps, for once!

The clamp block is made out of 330 stainless, and the collar and pin is a commercial shaft collar with a 3mm dowel pin pressed into it. That constrains the fiber in rotation. Depth is set by a shoulder in the aluminum base block. The v-block is recessed into the aluminum base block by 6mm, and is locked into place with a pair of button head screws. (I love it when I can work button head screws into a project. They’re so nice looking!)

To install the fiber you push it into the hole, snug down the clamp block screws, rotate the fiber until the two pins touch, then torque the clamp block screws down. That’s it. The fiber bundle is 7.5mm in diameter, and is held over 24mm of its length. That’s a 3.2:1 clamp, so the arrangement is quite stiff once things are cinched down.

Which is good for us! Because this mounts to the telescope, there’s no fixed direction for gravity. The fiber is protected by a stainless steel jacket, so there’s some weight hanging off of it. The long clamp on the v-block keeps it from shifting around as the telescope moves. (Remember that 1 micron tolerance on position and orientation? Yeah!)

The instrument this is intended for is already checked out for its upcoming run, so we won’t get to install this for almost a month. I hope to have good things to say about it once we put it into service.

Now on to my video downlink!

– Tom


Posted in Astronomy, Engineering | Leave a Comment »

Depression Sucks

Posted by Tom Benedict on 27/12/2011


Depression sucks. When it hits, it’s like a big gaping hole in your life that everything falls into. Good company, good stories, laughter and smiles, none of it really helps. It’s like you’re being eaten from the inside. Hollow.

I’d love to share insightful words of wisdom for how to deal with depression, but I don’t have any. It’s been a plague and a curse for as long as I can remember. The crummy thing is, I can be feeling on top of the world and all it takes is a couple of seconds for me to feel like I’m under the bus.

I’m fortunate in that the depressions I go through aren’t because of a hereditary condition or a chemical imbalance. Get depressed often enough and you wind up studying it to try to better understand it. I started trying to get a handle on mine over ten years ago. I learned that mine is situational. In every case I can point to a root cause. Even this time. It’s good information to have, but it doesn’t make dealing with it any easier. And it’s rotten to know that all it takes is an unfortunate combination of words coming out of someone’s mouth or off of their keyboard, and I’m back in the hole.

A while ago I saw this quote, credited to Neil Gaiman, one of my favorite authors: “Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self-esteem, first make sure that you are not, in fact, simply surrounded by assholes.” Truer words have never been said. The real trick is to divest yourself of assholes. Sometimes that’s easier said than done.

Another trick is to ply yourself with distractions. Time to build that video downlink and to keep studying for my General class exam.

– Tom

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »


Posted by Tom Benedict on 26/12/2011

I took the examination for a Technician class radio license on the 14th, and passed with only two wrong answers. Yaaaay! But until my name appeared in the FCC ULS database, nothing was official. I checked this morning, and there my name was. W00t! I have a call sign! WH6DWL  Or Whiskey Hotel 6 Delta Whiskey Lima. (Hey, can’t beat a call sign that means you get a double whiskey!)

So at long last I’m legal to power up the 5.8GHz video transmitter I bought over a month ago to use on my KAP rig. I’m also legal to purchase and use a UHF/VHF dual band radio. I hope to have the video transmitter working later this week. The HAM radio will have to wait a little while.

Meanwhile I’m studying for my General class license so I can play in HF space as well. (I wound up picking up the license manual from one of the VEs who administered the exam for my Technician class licensee before I even left the testing session!) After looking at the prices on HF gear, even used HF gear, it’s just as well the General class license will take me a while. I figure I’ll be licensed long before I can afford the toys.

I hope to make more HAM related posts to my blog in the future. Meanwhile I have a viewfinder to wire up, and call sign labels to attach to the transmitter!

– Tom

Posted in Radio | Leave a Comment »

Poop Humor

Posted by Tom Benedict on 21/12/2011

No, I’m not planning to wow you with my scatalogical humor. This post is, quite seriously, about those wonderful people who deal with poop on a daily basis, and the great sense of humor they all seem to maintain. I’m talking about plumbers and pumpers.

This all starts with a lot of boring back-story. Rather than put you to sleep, I’ll skip most of it and say that for the last fifteen years or so we’ve lived on either septic or cesspool systems, and because some of them have had more than their fair share of problems, we’ve had ample opportunity to get to know the pumpers and plumbers in our area.

Pumpers and plumbers deal with poop on a daily basis. It’s smelly, it’s messy, and according to one pumper it means they have to get a bunch of shots each year that other people don’t have to get. Personally, I rank pumpers and plumbers up there with the super-human hero types. I’m serious about that last part. Look at it this way: When you were a kid, did you ever play the “what would you do for a?” game? It goes something like this:

Kid 1: “What do you really want, more than anything else in the world?”

Kid 2: [Stereotypical Girl] “A pony!”    [Stereotypical Boy] “A BB gun!”    [Me] “A rocket that’ll take me to the mooooon!”

Kid 1: “What would you do to get it?”

Kid 2: “I don’t know…”

Kid 1: “Would you… dig your way through a pile of pooooop?!  Hahahahahaha!”

Kid 2: “EWWWWWW!”

See? Fun game. It can even be played as a three-way:

Kid 3: “I’d dig my way through a pile of poop if you paid me enough.”

Kid 2: “Really? How much!?!”

Kid 1: “No fair! You’re supposed to dig through your own poop, not pay some other kid!”

Kid 3: “Don’t worry. I’ll send you a bill. Now where’s the poop?”

That third kid is likely to grow up to be a pumper or a plumber. And thank goodness that third kid exists! ‘Cause let me tell ya, I’d give up the pony and the bb-gun and the rocket to the mooooon so long as when I flush the pot everything goes down. And yeah, I’m willing to pay that third kid a lot of money to make sure that happens. It’s worth every penny.

Even when you’re kids, that third kid is great to have as a friend. They’re brave! They’re daring! And not one day goes by that they’re not fun to be around because something cool is going to happen. As adults, it’s even better to have one as a friend because, let’s face it, they’ll keep you out of the poop.

I’m convinced that humor is an essential part of the job. Without it, I can’t see how you’d survive the daily grind. Besides, without exception I’ve had a great time talking to every pumper I’ve ever met. And now that I’ve been dealing a little more with plumbers, I have to add them to that list. Every single one has had a great sense of humor. And every single one has been a blast to talk to.

My favorite pumper story comes from the first time I ever had to get a system pumped. We were living in Texas. It was Christmas Eve, if you can believe it, and both toilets in the house backed up. This was our first septic system, so we didn’t even know who to call. We called a plumber, who referred us to a pumper. On Christmas Eve? No way!

Yes way. About an hour later the guy showed up with a ginormous truck. He had to show me how to dig up the access port on the system, but in no time he had his truck sucking the tank dry.

It was cold, but he was laughing, smiling, and telling funny stories. Sure, I could’ve hidden in the house to stay warm, dry, and un-smelly. But come on! What a rare opportunity to learn about another trade! So I stuck it out and talked to the guy.

Part way through he realized there was a prophylactic floating in the tank. “Um, sir? You know you’re not supposed to flush those things.”

I looked down and saw it. “We don’t. Not that I know of, anyway. And I figured I’d know, right?” Har har… Yeah, don’t try to match poop humor with a pumper. They’re better at it.

An uncomfortable silence settled over the two of us. Eventually he asked, “Um, did you just buy this place or something?”

“Yeah, like six months ago.”

“Oooooh!” A big smile lit up his face. “That explains it. Probably the previous owners. But be sure not to do that. It’ll plug your leech field. That happens? I have to come out and flush the field.”


“You don’t wanna know.”

This time the silence was more companionable.

“You know,” he said, “One of the most uncomfortable jobs I’ve ever done was this preacher’s house. I open it up, and there’s a condom floating in the tank. I brought the guy over and showed it to him, and I told him the same thing I told you. You shouldn’t flush these things.”

“Mmm…” I said, not really seeing where this was going.

“Then the weirdest thing happened,” he said. “The guy just storms off! And I was like, well what did I say? Then he storms back out of the house, dragging his teenage daughter by the arm. The guy shoves her face down toward the tank and starts yelling at her about, ‘Look what you’ve done? What have you been doing behind my back?’ and all like that. And here I am pumping their poop. I mean, I can’t leave or anything to give them space. I just kinda had to stand there and hold the hose and act all casual while the guy reams his daughter out. Hey! Don’t mind me! Just a bystander, pumping your poop. Man! You talk about uncomfortable!”

I felt awful for the minister’s daughter, but I had to laugh in spite of myself. “Hey, at least she was using protection!” I said.

“I know!” he replied. “But it’s not like I was gonna say that to a minister right then!”

After he was done he cleaned his equipment, loaded his truck, and handed me a bill. It was a couple of months worth of car payment. More than I’d spent on all the presents we’d bought that year. And you know what? It didn’t look bad at all! As the guy climbed into his truck he leaned out and said, “Merry Christmas.”

“Merry Christmas,” I replied. And I meant it.

– Tom

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

The Pain of Moving In

Posted by Tom Benedict on 20/12/2011

I’ve spent the past several days moving into my new laptop. That probably sounds overly melodramatic, but so far it has been as traumatic as moving into a new house. All the old stuff needs to fit, maybe with a little more organization than in the past. And any move comes with it the hope that eventually all the boxes will be unpacked, and that the last one won’t be found while moving into the next new house.

For me, moving into a new computer used to be pretty easy. In the past I was a UNIX sysadmin, so I liked to keep all my “real” stuff on a server. A new desktop machine was just a new place to log in from. So what?

Eventually, though, I made the transition to my new mode of operation: I’m a desktop user. My mail lives on my desktop. My CAD stuff lives on my desktop. And (heaven help me) all my photography crap lives on my desktop. So when I change my desktop computer, everything has to move.

Almost everything went smoothly. The two hold-outs were email (who knew Thunderbird could store mail in so many different locations, depending on what version of Windows you were using!) and my colorimeter.

In case you’ve never used one, colorimeters are cool. They’re used to color calibrate your monitor to a known standard. I got mine while editing the World Wide KAP Week 2009 book. I never looked back. Having and using a colorimeter is great. What sucks is when you can’t.

Since my old laptop is now semi-permanently attached to an external monitor, I had to do something about that monitor’s colors. I looked at my photo stream, and saw all kinds of blown out stuff. The cold cathode gauge I’d photographed looked an almost radioactively lurid purple. Skies were an evil shade of blue. Even grass looked like acid. Horrid! After calibration, everything looked like it was supposed to.

I still haven’t calibrated my new laptop’s screen. Unfortunately the colorimeter I bought back in ’09 is tied to a license. So I can’t just install the software, calibrate, and be done. Even more unfortunate, I can’t find my original disk. Oh it’s still around. I just haven’t found it. Worse still, Datacolor, the company that made it, has lost my registration. So no new keys for me. It sucks.

But I’m moved in. Photoshop now lives on my new computer, along with all my other photo editing software. This is where I’ll be processing my pictures in the future. So if you notice some oddball color casts to my stuff over the next few days while I scrounge around and find the software that came with my colorimeter, bear with me. The light bulbs in my new house have a weird color cast. Be patient while I change them out.

– Tom

Posted in Photography | 3 Comments »

A Challenging Flight

Posted by Tom Benedict on 16/12/2011

Ever since I started doing kite aerial photography, I’ve been itching to fly at Ulu La`au, the Waimea Nature Park. It’s located right behind the place where I work, so access is easy. It’s got a lot of photographic potential, and aerial views of gardens are always good to have.

The difficulty is it’s ringed by eucalyptus trees, many close to a hundred feet high. Oh, and there are smaller trees inside the garden itself. Oh! And there’s practically no way to walk in a kite that was launched elsewhere because the only open side to the park has power lines right next to it. In short, it’s a PITA.

I figured out a couple of routes in, all of which would involve a second person, a tag line, carabiners, and a gawdawful hand-off while the person who launched the kite clambered through some brush, down through a running creek, up through the brush on the other side, followed by a bit of a mad scramble through the garden itself. In short, they were all even bigger PITAs.

Earlier this week I just decided to try to launch on a gust and get my kite above the tree line as quick as I could. To my amazement, this actually worked!

But that’s where the fun stopped. The sun was high, the kite was high, I forgot my sun glasses, and by the end of a thirty minute session I could feel the migraine coming on. I got all the gear down safely, but 90% of my photos were tossers. I’d missed almost every subject I’d tried to photograph. Even so, I had a couple of good ones work out.

Waimea Nature Park 5

Waimea Nature Park 4

Waimea Nature Park 2

Even as I was going through them, I  found myself wishing I’d had that video link I’ve been working on. I really really want a viewfinder the next time I put a camera in the air.

– Tom

P.S. Last night I took my Technician Class HAM license exam. I passed! As soon as my name and call sign appear in the FCC ULS database, I’m good to go!

P.P.S. The HAM bug has caught me good and hard. I bought a copy of the General Class license study guide before I left the test, and I started reading it today at lunch.

Posted in Kite Aerial Photography | 1 Comment »

Applying for a Job – A How-To

Posted by Tom Benedict on 15/12/2011

We’re hiring at work. I can’t go into specifics, but suffice it to say that we have had a lot of applicants. A lot of applicants. So we’ve all been pawing through application packages, trying to make the first cut before the phone screens begin. It’s been fun, since we’re basically window-shopping for our new co-workers. But at the same time it’s a little frustrating. I see people making some really classic mistakes that are killing their chances for getting a phone screen. These mistakes are easy to avoid.

In case you haven’t applied for a job in a while, this is how the process typically works: A call for applicants goes out. This shows up as a newspaper posting, a listing on Craigslist, a listing on a job hunter’s site like, or on the employer’s web site. An applicant then applies for the job with their application package: cover letter, resume, and professional references. This can be via an online form, through email, or through a paper application via the postal service.

This is where it gets brutal. Once a job has closed, the hiring committee (which can consist of only the hiring manager!) reads through the application packages and cuts a lot of them right then and there. Some smaller subset will receive a phone screen, after which even more of them are cut. In the end a very very small subset may be brought out for face-to-face interviews. Of those only one gets the job.

See how many opportunities there are for your application to be tossed in the circular file? [circular file: n – trash can]

The whole trick is not to give the hiring committee reason to “file” your application. It would be great if that decision was made strictly on your job qualifications. Sorry, that’s not the case. All kinds of things affect that decision. Here’s my short list of dos and don’ts:

  • Write a well-crafted cover letter as part of your application package. Tailor it to the job posting. Show enthusiasm for the job and for the place of employment. If, on the other hand, you write it in such away that the hiring committee thinks you didn’t even read the job description, this sends the clear message that you really don’t care. ‘Nuff said.
  • Include a resume and list of professional references, even if not asked. If you are asked and fail to include it, you’re done. Look at it this way: The job posting says, “Please send resume, cover letter, and at least three professional references to the following address.” Sending a cover letter that says, “Resume and references available upon request” is silly! They did request it! You failed to provide it. This sends the clear message: “I have no clue how to follow written directions.” ‘Nuff said.
  • Fill out all the slots on an online application. Don’t just enter “See Resume”. I realize it’s a pain in the ass. I realize it may take you an hour. Want to know how long it takes to read a hundred resumes, phone screen twenty people, and interview three? Hint: It’s longer than an hour. (Real hint: It’s several weeks.) This sends the clear message: “I won’t follow the rules when asked to.” ‘Nuff said.
  • Spell check and grammar check like it’s the new religion. This sends a message of professionalism that employers are looking for. Sending a sloppy cover letter full of misspelled words makes an employer wonder: If this is how seriously you take a job application, how seriously will you take the job? ‘Nuff said.
  • Capitalize appropriately. If your cover letter begins with “i am applying for the job you posted to…” the employer has to wonder if you really are that sloppy, or if you really think you’re the reincarnation of e.e.cummings. Unless you’re applying for a job as a poet, it won’t fly. And if you are applying for a job as a poet, you’re setting yourself up to get slammed during the interview. ‘Nuff said.
  • Use specific language. Avoid vague language. Here’s a vague example: “Modeled, designed, and verified subsystems and assemblies.” That means diddly. It’s technobabble. “Modeled, designed, and verified operation of the guider acquisition electronics and optics” is much, much better. The previous example sends the message that not only can you not walk the walk, you can’t even talk the talk. ‘Nuff said.
  • Get your technical terms right. Here are two examples I’ve seen recently: “network switcher” and “molecular turbo pump”. Neither of these exist. A “switcher” is a type of power supply. A network “switch” is a piece of computer networking hardware. A “molecular turbo pump” sounds like some MEMS device that’s made on a nano scale. A “turbomolecular pump” is a vacuum pump used in the hivac range. As with the previous point, using half-assed terminology sends the clear message that you can’t talk the talk, much less walk the walk. ‘Nuff said.
  • Read a little about your potential employer. If you get so lucky as to have a phone screen, don’t be caught unprepared. If you applied for two mechanical engineering jobs at two *dyne companies, damn well know what each one manufactures before they call. Otherwise you sound like an idiot. ‘Nuff said.
  • Describe yourself, not just your skills. And please, don’t use catch phrases and power words for this. Don’t describe yourself as “dynamic, engaged, and results-driven”. Egads. That describes a robot. Or someone who drank way too much caffeine. Be honest. Something as simple as, “I have a sense of humor, and like to get along with my co-workers,” goes a long way.

And that really is enough said. I cringe when I think how many of the applicants I’ve seen over the years violated one or more of these. (I really cringe when I think how many of these I violated before I wised up!) Do yourself a favor: Before you apply for your next job, ask around. See how many people you know who have been through the hiring process from the hiring end. Ask for their advice. Follow it! The whole point of the application package is to get your foot in the door. If you’re not putting your best foot forward, the door is likely to be slammed in your face.

– Tom

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“Have you ever crashed?”

Posted by Tom Benedict on 12/12/2011

I get this question a lot when I’m out doing kite aerial photography: “Have you ever crashed?” One guy went so far as to talk down my camera as much as possible, while holding up his (a very nice Canon G9) and saying, “Of course you’d never risk a real camera with something like that.” Well… Considering how many KAPers I knew at the time who flew the G9, yeah, I would.

But until recently I really hadn’t ever crashed. I’d had some hard landings, but no real crashes. One of my hard landings put my camera up in a kiawe tree. (To get an idea of what a kiawe tree looks like, picture a mesquite but with more thorns.) Another time I put a kite in a kiawe tree. And I’ve had countless opportunities to see my rig come down on its legs on hard basalt.

Now I’ve crashed. This happened back in October. I don’t think I wrote about it because the crash happened while I was testing another idea I did want to write about. The idea didn’t pan out, so I more or less shoved both issues aside and moved on. Without further ado, this is what a crashed KAP rig looks like:

KAP Rig Crash 1(As a quick aside, losing the Picavet was not the root cause of the crash. It was never there. There’s no Picavet cross on the rig because I had to remove it for the test I was doing.) The rig crashed because my kite flew at the ground, and the camera had no choice but to follow. Here’s a closeup of the worst of the damage:

KAP Rig Crash 2

Bent in multiple axes. Almost every surface affected. A real mess, basically. Now for the fun part:

The camera, a Canon PowerShot A650IS survived without any serious injury. The rubber door covering the USB port was ripped off from the force of the crash, but the camera still works. The only real loss, aside from the damage to the KAP rig itself, was the right angle USB adapter that lets me plug my shutter release cable into my camera. I was never able to find it. A new one cost a couple of bucks off of Amazon.

So the only real damage I had to deal with was the KAP rig itself. Luckily, Brooks Leffler, who designed all the bits that look bent in those photographs, designed his stuff so that it would bend before it broke, and be able to be bent back without suffering permanent structural damage. Put this another way: I stripped the rig down, bent everything straight, and put it back together. Voila, new KAP rig:

All Better Now

The A650IS is to the right in its horizontal/vertical plan rotation frame, and the rest of the rig is to the left, fitted out with my Canon T2i DSLR. (Told ya I’d fly something as expensive as a G9!)

The thing in the foreground is what I was trying to test in the first place. It’s a counterbalanced gimballed pendulum rig I was testing to see if I could get rid of camera motion above 1Hz. That’s still a work in progress. Curious point of interest: When the rig struck the ground, it was upside-down. The counterbalance arm actually struck the street first. All the damage to the rig was from the impact forces transferring to the KAP rig through the long upright. The gimbal survived, the pendulum survived, the counterweights survived with minor scuffing, and the KAP rig was rebuilt. Can’t beat it.

Crashes really are a potential aspect of kite aerial photography. You put something up, it’ll come down. Most of the time it comes down in an orderly fashion. Other times it comes down like a stone. This is no different from airplanes, helicopters, balloons, or jumping off the diving board. The trick is to never assume it can’t happen to you, and try to take the necessary precautions so it doesn’t. I’m a little wiser now, and a lot more cautious.

– Tom

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