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Archive for January, 2012

A Thursday Walk

Posted by Tom Benedict on 20/01/2012

In an earlier post, I mentioned a mental roadblock I’ve been running into with kite aerial photography and with photography in general. I’ve been struggling with this for the past year or so. Stepping away from KAP just seemed like one more brick in the wall I’m trying to get past. It wasn’t a happy post.

One of the biggest issues I’ve been having is that I’ve really lost my eye. Looking back at the photos I’ve been making, they’ve been getting more and more stilted. Compared to stuff I did even two or three years ago, there’s a spontaneity and effort at composition that’s just not there in my recent stuff. Except for a couple of sessions here or there, I haven’t even been that interested in picking up a camera. It’s like the thing has become my nemesis. It just isn’t fun any more.

So when my younger daughter suggested we leave home a little early every morning to do some photography before school, I wasn’t sure what I thought.

Let me back up a little…

My younger daughter had a birthday earlier this month. She asked for a camera. My wife wound up getting her a really nice little compact. It’s waterproof, it’s impressively shock proof, and there’s no protruding lens barrel to get smashed when someone bumps it. She hasn’t put it down since. Every chance she gets, she grabs her camera and goes. It’s only her second camera, so she’s still in the phase of taking pictures of everything that can be described with a noun or verb. But it’s tough to beat that kind of enthusiasm.

The first couple of times we went, it was rough. I saw stuff. I tried to photograph it. But it was horrid. The exposures were horrid. There was no composition. No choice of elements in the scene. As time wore on I got more depressed even as she was getting more excited. I wanted to quit. But she didn’t.

This morning I tried something different. I took off the kit lens that came with my camera and put on a 100mm macro. It’s the older version Canon made of this lens, but it’s still a really nice optic. I grabbed a tripod and my cable release, and the two of us left the house twenty minutes earlier than usual.

It was still rough. But for the first time in a long time it started to feel like fun. I wound up thinking a lot less and feeling my way a little more. If I saw something in the frame I didn’t like, I’d tweak it. A stray blade of grass, a bright pebble that draws the eye away from the subject, or just the angle of a leaf. For the first time in a long time it felt a lot more like making a picture and a lot less like taking one.

The results aren’t stellar, but I’m pleased with them. The compositions are all very basic, but it feels ok. It’s a start.


Study in Green IA Study in Green I

The wind was really blowing too hard for photographs of vegetation, even down under the eucalyptus trees where we were. After getting frustrated trying to photograph a pretty and somewhat diseased looking weed, I saw this little ivy just below. It was sheltered by the other plants, so there was almost no motion when the wind blew. I composed the image, focused, and used live view to zoom in on the tip of the leaf on the left. At 1:1 pixel size, I could see when the wind slowed down enough to give me a solid photograph.

Study in Green IIA Study in Green II

After looking at this in the camera I intended to crop it to vertical and lose the right hand side of the frame, which isn’t critically sharp. During editing I got so wrapped up with exposure I completely forgot to crop it. Not my best work, but it’s fine as-is. I might come back tomorrow with a pair of tweezers to do a little cleanup on this leaf in order to give it another go.

Signs of LifeSigns of Life

The stream bed where we walk is littered with old coral rock. I don’t know the story on this stuff, but the stream runs down off of Kohala Mountain. Some time in the past there were some pretty serious tsunamis out here (we’re talking hundreds of thousands of years ago). As a result there are coral deposits up on the slopes above town. It’s entirely possible this chunk of coral is quite old. It’s equally possible someone got some crushed coral from the local stone yard to line their driveway or rock wall with, and it wound up in the creek. I just liked how it looked next to the red leaf.

Stop Go DeadStop / Go / Dead

The composition on this one is almost identical to the one above it. I arranged the previous one, but this one is just the way I found it. The funny thing is I did the previous one before this one. Complete serendipity. By the time I made this photograph it was almost time for my daughter to be at school. So I had already been ruminating about photography, her enthusiasm for it, my current burnout, and the enthusiasm I hope I can reclaim in the not so distant future. The coloration of the leaf looked so much like a mix of red/green stop/go that the metaphor was not lost on me. When I saw the blackened leaf sitting next to it, my heart skipped a beat. I don’t want my interest in photography and in kite aerial photography to be dead. I want that enthusiasm my daughter has! It’s just not there yet. But maybe some day it will be.

– Tom

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My HAM Shack

Posted by Tom Benedict on 16/01/2012

While trying to set up a video downlink on my kite aerial photography rig, I wound up studying for and getting my HAM license. I’ve set the video link aside for the moment, but I’m already studying for the General license and eyeing used HF gear on Ebay and with the local club.

Meanwhile I picked up a small dual-band handheld transceiver so I could start to play.

My HAM Shack - January 2012

It’s a Baofeng UV-3R Mark II with a Nagoya NA-666 antenna on it. (Antenna of the beast!)

I haven’t joined in a conversation yet, but I’ve been using it to listen to the local traffic and hear what I can hear. To a seasoned HAM this may sound odd, but keep in mind I’m a wallflower at parties. I tend to stand around until I find a place I can sit down and listen. Eventually I’ll socialize, and eventually I’ll even become outgoing. But beginnings are hard. It’ll take some time.

I’m still getting a feel for the layout of the local repeaters. There are some good lists, even some maps, but they don’t always jive. I programmed in a bunch of them, and spent some time just scanning through them. At one point I picked up a very clear conversation while driving from Kailua-Kona to Waimea. The UV-3R doesn’t let you store text names for stored memory channels, so all I knew was the frequency, not which one it was. I figured it was some repeater up on Hualalai, and that I’d lose it as I drove further from Kona. Instead it stayed clear the entire time! It wasn’t until I got home that I learned it was a repeater on Maui, the next island over in the chain, about 65 miles away.

For an inexpensive little radio, the UV-3R isn’t too bad!

Ok, to be fair there’s some stuff I wish I had on it. It doesn’t have a keypad or any way to generate DTMF tones. So no autopatch from the local repeater, and no controlling anything remotely. That’s fine. Right now I have nothing to control, and I do carry a cell phone. It also doesn’t have any way to limit the frequency range or the memory range during scanning. Also fine by me. There are only 21 repeaters in range, so it’s not a huge list. (Though after picking up that repeater on Maui, I think I need to expand my list!) It’s got dual watch, but no real dual listen. Not a huge deal, but it’d be nice.

One feature I really wish this radio had, and that I will look for in my next one, is to be able to listen to the avionics frequencies. In particular I’d like to be able to pick up the local tower traffic when I’m out flying my kites so I can tell if I’m causing problems for anyone.

And when the day comes that I do pick up a second radio, the UV-3R will make a nice backup. Meanwhile, it’s my entire station.

– Tom

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Tool Capacity

Posted by Tom Benedict on 14/01/2012

Recently I had an odd lesson in tool capacity. Before launching into what I learned, I need to go back a little:

Around 2003 I made some vacuum feed-throughs for one of our instruments. Because of some space constraints and the decision to use a flex print rather than discrete wires to carry the signals, it wound up having a really oddball shape on the outside so the connector could be tilted at an angle. This let the flex reach the inside surface of the connector without getting crimped.

The design required a 3D contoured surface on the outside. At the time I didn’t have freedom of the shop at work, which includes a large CNC mill, so I made the parts at home. I’ve owned a Taig benchtop 4-axis CNC mill since about 2001. This was before I did all of the rework on the control electronics, so making those parts really stretched the capacity of the tool, but it worked. I made the two parts and swore I’d never do that again. Since then I replaced the control electronics, so doing contouring at home is well within the scope of what my mill is capable of. Nonetheless, I never did make more than those two original parts.

A recent problem with the electronics on one of the feed-throughs put this back on my plate: I need to make four spares. I hadn’t even opened the files since 2003, so this involved some head-scratching. But eventually I got everything back in order. These days I’m the only machinist at our headquarters location, so I do have full run of the shop. I know I can do these at home, but what a great project for the big CNC mill! It has a much bigger spindle than my Taig as well as a larger work envelope. The combination of servo motors and ball screws give it better backlash characteristics than my Taig, which uses open loop stepper motors and lead screws. But the real kicker is that it has flood cooling, whereas I have to stand by my Taig to squirt coolant at the tool while it runs. The mill at work would be perfect for this!

Or so I thought…

My first surprise came when I tried to load the finishing toolpath onto the mill. Because it’s a contouring job and because it’s a finishing path that moves the tool in many many small steps, the file wound up being 3.4MB. No problem for my little Taig at home! I use USB memory sticks to move part files around, so I never even batted an eye when I ran the part in 2003. But the mill at work uses floppies. 1.44 MB floppies. Oh… The file wouldn’t even fit.

The mill at work has, in almost every way, a larger capacity than my mill at home: work envelope, spindle horsepower, maximum slew rate, etc. But it’s limited by how large a part file it can run. In that respect my little Taig, which I can pick up with two hands, wins by a landslide. The only limit to the size part file I can run on it is the size of the memory stick I use. And if those are too small, I can finally get around to running a network cable out to the shop so I can just transfer part files via file sharing.

I found a work-around for the mill at work. I’ll be able to finish the parts in plenty of time. But it made me laugh when I realized how a minor problem like this can bring a project to a halt. And I realized how nice a tool I have at home. Now all I need to do is upgrade the big CNC at work so it can compete with my Taig.

– Tom

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Stepping Away

Posted by Tom Benedict on 10/01/2012

It’s unfortunate to post this right after I posted my resolutions for this year, including a resolution to really get back in the air with KAP. But recently, kite aerial photography has been kicking my ass. I’ve had a working video downlink for weeks now, but a combination of bad weather, bad wind, bad planning, and just plain bad luck has kept me from flying it. I’ve had a DSLR rig for months, but I still haven’t had a rock solid session with it. It feels like I’ve spent the last year in a holding pattern.

This past weekend was no exception. Saturday I went to one of my favorite flying spots, only to be told I had to bring my kite down for safety reasons. This is the first time this has happened to me. I was disappointed, but the guy telling me was just the messenger so I didn’t fight with him. Saturday evening I charged all my batteries, did an end-to-end test of my gear, and packed it away for Sunday.

In the morning I drove to Anaehoomalu Bay, another one of my favorite spots, and one of the best places on the island to do testing because of the clean laminar wind. I tried flying a 7.5′ rokkaku, but the wind really called for something bigger. So I put up my Dopero. It gave me maybe four pounds of pull. Perfect! Out came the rig, the camera, and the radio. And… The rig’s batteries were dead.

At this point it had become a grudge match. I intentionally use AA and AAA batteries so I can replace them with store-bought alkalines in a pinch. This was clearly a pinch! I packed my gear and drove to the nearest convenience store. I figured I’d pick up some batteries, maybe something to eat since it was past lunch time, and get back out to the beach. That was when I discovered I’d left my wallet at home. I packed it in.

Enough is enough. Something is sending me a very clear message: step away. So I’m stepping away. I stripped down my KAP bag, pulled the batteries out of all my gear, and shelved everything with all due care and attention. The kites all got a re-pack, and I prepped my kite bag for just flying kites instead of doing KAP. My camera is back to being just a camera. I’ll use it on a tripod for now.

Sunday afternoon I went to the beach with my family. It was the first time I’d been there without kites in years. I just had a chair, a book, and a towel. I went out in the water and was trounced by the waves. I dragged myself back, utterly exhausted and bruised, and feeling great.

As we walked back from the beach, my wife asked me, “This not doing KAP thing… it’s not permanent is it?” I wanted to give her some kind of reassurance, but it was really too soon to tell. I think I grimaced, but that’s it.

When I got home I logged onto Flickr and saw a photograph of dune fences on Fire Island, done by a fellow KAPer. The repetition of the fences and the light and shadow on the sand was beautiful. I wanted to go play, too. Later that same evening someone commented on a KAP photo I’d posted on Google Earth. It was a really clean abstract. It made me want to go back out right then and there. But then I thought about that video downlink, how complicated my gear is getting, and how much pull I have to have just to lift my rig these days. It all came crashing back down.

This morning my daughter asked if we could grab our cameras and walk to her school from where I work. Well SURE! The walk goes along a really nice hike and bike trail, crosses over a creek, cuts through some wild taro, and goes all over the place. She brought her point and shoot, a waterproof Fuji she got for her birthday. I brought my T2i. I think I took more pictures of her than I did the landscape, but I had an absolute blast. By the end of it I found myself looking at her camera and wondering how hard it would be to build a KAP rig around it. Something really light and really simple. Just what you’d want in your pocket when the wind was right.

Nope, not permanent. But I need some time.

– Tom

Posted in Kite Aerial Photography | 2 Comments »


Posted by Tom Benedict on 02/01/2012

That time of year…

In 2012 I resolve:

To sew at least one kite – I’ve got a great sewing machine now. There’s really no excuse. And there’s no better way to learn to make kites than to make kites.

To pass my General exam – I’ve had my Technician license for less than a week, but already HF looks like a lot of fun. I have a UHF/VHF on order, but it will be well past 2012 before I can afford an HF rig. Still, I’d like to be licensed so that when the opportunity arises, I can move on it.

To write short stories – The events of late August utterly knocked the props out from under my writing. I’m in the process of putting the “me” side of my life back together. Writing needs to be part of it.

To really get back in the air – As with writing, my kite aerial photography has dropped off considerably in the last six months. In the case of KAP it wasn’t due so much to what happened in August as it was hitting an artistic wall. Hard. I want to learn to see like a bird again. I miss it.

To play more – This may sound frivolous, but it’s not. When Rydra and I flew back to the Big Island after her surgery, what I wanted more than anything else in the world was to play. It’s hard to play in a hospital. So one weekend I played Go Fish with the kids almost all weekend long. It was fantastic. Life needs more play.

That’s it. I’m sure other goals will come up over the next year, but that’s my list.

– Tom

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