The View Up Here

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Archive for January, 2013

Jobs, Vacations, and the Nature of Stress

Posted by Tom Benedict on 09/01/2013

As I think I mentioned earlier, a few weeks ago I took a vacation. It was my first one in a year and a half. My first one since my wife went into the hospital with a brain tumor. WAY overdue. My vacation was two weeks long. On day two, my younger daughter got sick. By the end of the first week there was only one well person in the house. It wasn’t until the last two day of vacation that we were all finally well again. On the face of it, it probably sounds like a disaster. In reality, it was heaven.

Aside from two parties we went to (each safely in the “all’s well” periods of the vacation), we didn’t do anything. We couldn’t. We were all sick! We slept late. We ate comfort food. We hung out together. We played cards. We caught up on rest. We actually relaxed. It was exactly what we all needed. Some of us just had to run high fevers to get it.

Any time my stress levels change significantly, it’s fun to watch my tics to see what they do. In the months leading up to vacation, I had a loud vocal tic that was getting steadily worse. After a couple of days in the eat, sleep, and be sick house, it was gone. So was my neck-wrench tic. So was the slap like a seal tic. Most days I hardly ticced at all. The one time they really came back was when I took a phone call from work. But the next day they were gone again.

All good things come to an end, though, and eventually the kids went back to school and I went back to work. I had one day to get back on my feet, then the pace picked up and things were back to normal. In the five days since I’ve been back we’ve done an instrument change, torn apart the prototype camera to fix two leaks and install replacement parts, and had one catastrophic failure at the summit that has shut us down completely for the foreseeable future. Five days. That’s all it took. The seal-slap is back. The neck-jerk is back. And the drunken pirate “HO!” tic is back as well.

But it’s different. Except for the shutdown, I’ve enjoyed being back at work just as much as I enjoyed being on vacation. The challenges seem fresh now. It feels like we’re making two steps forward for every step back on the cameras, rather than the other way ’round. I’m not just running to stand still. I actually feel like I’m running.

It’s nice.

– Tom

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“Ya gettin’ deep, man!”

Posted by Tom Benedict on 01/01/2013

One of my favorite quotes from Snarf Quest. One that describes my life way too accurately, way too often.

So here’s the basic problem with any hobby: it’s like user files on a computer. Eventually they expand to fill all available space. I do kite aerial photography. And recently I started flying model airplanes. I try never to think about how much I’ve spent on kites, cameras, and gear for doing KAP. It’s still less than I paid for my entire college career, but it’s more than I paid for any one semester. (I went to a state school.) Still, in terms of sheer enjoyment, the two rank neck-in-neck.

Now model airplanes are starting to take a toll. Ok, ok, so it’s to be expected. Planes will crash (especially if I’m flying them), things will break, and things will get lost (like the propeller that came flying off my plane a few days ago.) I bought new props, new prop adapters, tape, glue, etc. Eventually I’ll have to replace something serious.

Meanwhile, I’m experiencing something else that hobbies tend to do: creep. When I started doing KAP, I found all sorts of reasons to use a KAP rig on the ground, too. This is when gigapanoramas were really catching on. Flip a KAP rig upside-down, slap it on a tripod, stick in an autoKAP controller, and voila: gigapan rig! (And having used an actual Gigapan head, I honestly think an inverted KAP rig does a darned good job for a fraction of the price.)

This time it’s the planes creeping into KAP. Up until a week ago, I had a perfectly good reason not to use LiPoly batteries with my KAP gear: I didn’t have a charger. Lithium chemistry batteries require a lot more care and feeding than the NiMH batteries I’ve been using, which require only a little more care and feeding than plain ol’ alkalines. After a KAP session, all the batteries go in the charger, and get stuck right back in when they’re done. LiPoly batteries need to be balanced. They need to be charged at the right rate. They need to not overheat. They need need need. I was glad I wasn’t using LiPoly batteries for KAP! They’re a hassle!

But with electric airplanes there’s really not much choice. Lithium chemistry batteries are the only game in town that can keep up with the power to weight ratio necessary to get an airplane in the sky. So I got a charger. I got a nice charger. It’ll work on my car’s 12V system, or I can plug it in the wall at home. And it’ll charge batteries with some unholy number of cells in them. So now my excuses are gone. I ordered LiPoly batteries for my KAP rig. And of course I ordered batteries for my video link as well. I’m crawling with the things now. It’s scary.

Oh! But wait! There’s one more catch with LiPoly batteries. If any cell in the battery falls below 2.5V, the whole thing goes kaput. So you have to balance them, charge them only at the specified rate, and you have to monitor the bejeebers out of them to make sure they don’t do anything weird. So today I ordered a bunch of battery alarms. These plug into the balance connector on the battery and monitor each of the cells. If one drops below 3.3V, they let out an ear-piercing shriek. One of these is going in my plane – the thing that started all this. The other three are going in my KAP gear: one for the KAP rig (which will soon use a 2-cell LiPoly battery to drive its servos), one for the video transmitter (a 3-cell LiPoly), and one for the video receiver (another 3-cell LiPoly). My goal? To be careful enough that I NEVER hear any of them.

There. My hobbies are oozing into each other. I’ve made the switch to LiPoly batteries.

– Tom

Posted in Kite Aerial Photography, RC Airplanes | Leave a Comment »