The View Up Here

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

Archive for September, 2013

That’s Why

Posted by Tom Benedict on 24/09/2013

Ever since Rydra’s craniotomy surgery two years ago she’s had MRI scans of her brain done every six months. Seeing these completely clean scans twice a year was a great reminder of how many more years we had ahead of us, thanks to her surgeon. We’d leave the MRI office, stop at a cafe, and just talk and enjoy the sunshine before I headed back to work.

In the backs of our minds we knew there was another reason – an altogether more ominous reason we were doing this. But clean scan after clean scan gave us so much reason to celebrate, we didn’t really discuss it. We enjoyed the sunshine and each other’s company, and looked forward to a whole slew of tomorrows yet to come.

This last time was different. She’s got a 6mm growth just below her left optic nerve. Rather than open her up again, her surgeon wants to remove it with gamma knife treatment. She’s slated to go in on the 7th of next month. Two weeks.

As we were leaving the office her surgeon reminded us: “That’s why we’ve been doing these scans. This was always a possibility.”

“Yeah, I know,” I said.

But I couldn’t help wishing things had been different. Not that I wanted us to be blissfully ignorant. Ignorance isn’t bliss. It’s ignorance. It’s dangerous. It’s where we were when she went in for what she thought was a regular optometrist’s appointment just over two years ago, before she knew she had a tumor. I just never wanted Rydra to have to go through this again.

We still went for coffee. We still sat and talked. But we were both more than a little grim as she dropped me off at work afterward. That evening we discussed plane flights to get to the treatment center, arrangements for the kids, and all the little impacts on life our family was going to face, all the while staying away from the real question we were too scared to ask: how many tomorrows are left?

The answer to which is “all of them”. Because every single one is worth fighting for. And fight we will.

That’s why.

– Tom

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Trials and Tribulations of a Hobby

Posted by Tom Benedict on 19/09/2013

One question I’m often asked when I’m out doing KAP is, “How many cameras have you destroyed?” So far the answer is none. A lot of what goes into KAP is making sure you’re safe. Not just to your gear, but to the people and the things around you. I have had some impacts at higher speeds than I’m comfortable with, but so far my cameras have always come away intact.

Kites can take damage, too. I’ve replaced my fair share of spars, and have patched more than one sail. This is par for the course. And while it’s possible to lose entire kites to trees or to broken kite line, so far I’ve escaped that particular tragedy.

Put it all together and it’s possible for me to lose well over a thousand dollars on a single flight if something goes horribly wrong. Between the kite ($100-250) the camera ($850 new) and the rig (about $300 rolled into it right now), it’s substantial.

All of which puts some perspective on this:

Raptor Gone

It’s my first complete loss catastrophe with RC airplanes. The unfortunate bird is my Raptor 2000 Advance from R2Hobbies. Earlier in the day I had a hard(ish) landing. Afterward I checked all my control surfaces, but forgot to check the notoriously fragile tail for fractures. It turns out the left surface had broken loose. When I re-launched, the tail feather wobbled enough for me to see something was wrong. I did everything I could to bring it around for a landing, but before I’d completed the turn the feather snapped off entirely, and the airplane went into a building.

No damage to the building, but my ego took some damage and the plane was almost a complete loss. The left wing is still intact, provided I can glue the wing tip back on. The rest is gone.

I pulled all the electronics out last night, and to my surprise I found everything survived intact: 6 servos, 40A ESC, receiver, motor, and even the prop all came through unscathed. (The battery dead-shorted on landing, unfortunately. No fire, but no battery either.)

So as bad as it looks, it’s not as bad as it could’ve been. And certainly not as bad as a KAP accident. The plane was $120. That’s half the price of my Dopero, and only slightly more expensive than my Fled – two of my low-wind KAP kites.

While I’m still disappointed, it’s not the end of the world. It’s par for the course with this hobby. The same is true of most hobbies. This one just seems to be a little more spectacular when things go wrong.

I had a good month of Getty sales, which helped put me back in a good mood. After a couple of days of asking around on the RCGroups forums, I’ve got a Phoenix 2000 glider on its way along with a Thermal Scout from Winged Shadow Systems and a 5.8GHz radio link to get audio vario information on the ground. But that’s a post for another day.

– Tom

Posted in RC Airplanes | 5 Comments »

Quick ‘N Dirty Astrophotography

Posted by Tom Benedict on 10/09/2013

I ran across an astrophotograph on Flickr that really blew my socks off. I don’t like to post other people’s pictures to my blog without asking, so I’m posting a link to it instead:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/71942737@N06/8575933459/

It was made out here in the islands, and features a lighthouse, distant lights on Haleakala, and an amazing rendition of the night sky. I’ve always wanted to do wide-angle astrophotography, but I don’t own a tracking mount. To my utter delight, I saw that this photo was made using nothing more than a tripod and a DSLR. “Hey!” I thought, “I can do that!”

That night I drove up Kohala Mountain Road and pulled off about half a mile from the Kohala Mountain Lookout which is unfortunately tree-bound. My pull-off spot gave me a nice unobstructed view of the sky.

I tinkered around with settings and hit on this:

  • 18-55mm kit lens wide open at 18mm (nothing fancy here)
  • Manual exposure mode
  • ISO 1600
  • f/3.5 (as wide as it’ll go… again, nothing fancy here)
  • 30 second exposure

Lo and behold, it worked! But on a crop sensor camera even 18mm isn’t all that wide. Hey, I have a low-tech fix for that! Panorama!

I made 11 exposures and threw them into Autopano Pro. It stitched without a problem, and produced this:

Stars Upon Thars

There are some artifacts in there, but nothing bad. I could be a little more careful about setting a fixed white balance. And with some thought and effort I could probably get a lot more out of it by processing the original photos using RAW workflow. But hey, it worked!

Now all I need to do is find a foreground subject that’s even on par with hawaiiansupaman ‘s lighthouse! Thanks, hawaiiansupaman for showing me the way.

– Tom

Posted in Astronomy, Photography | Leave a Comment »

Sometimes It’s Not Photogenic

Posted by Tom Benedict on 02/09/2013

I tried. I really did. I went out to do KAP in some of the worst wind possible, and mostly I failed.

My real subject was a set of dilapidated buildings either in serious need of some demolition work, or in serious need of photography. Hey! I don’t do demolition, but I do photography! Perfect!

When I reached the site, though, I found the building surrounded by a truly evil set of power lines and trees, not to mention a barbed wire fence with a very big, very obvious sign saying no trespassing. Rather than risk kite, rig, camera, and my own non-shock-resistant self, I gave it a miss.

My backup subject was this tiny stunted tree I saw out in the lava as I drove to the real subject. I drove back to it, stopped the car, and put a kite in the air.

Here’s the problem with doing photography of any sort: Sometimes the subject really isn’t photogenic, no matter how hard you wish it to be. I photographed the bejeebers out of that tree as well as a second tree I found while walking around. None of them worked out. I wanted the pictures to make the trees look hardy. Adventurous, even. What they looked like was pathetic. I mean, let’s face it. These trees are staying alive by turning lava rock into soil faster than they can consume the nutrients in it. It’s not a glamorous lifestyle.

So instead I took pictures of one that failed utterly. It’s a stick:

Desolate

On closer inspection, I think it’s burned. I don’t know if that dates from the time of the lava flow, or if someone tried to use it as part of a camp fire. It doesn’t matter. It wound up being about a hundred times more photogenic than the trees that were still living. Go figure.

While I was doing this, a tour bus pulled up and tourists hopped out. I’ve seen them do this as I drive by in the evenings, but I’ve never understood what they’re stopping for. It’s lava, folks. It looks like rock, only fresher. But now I saw what the real draw was. It’s either the dead plant the two in the foreground are looking at, or it’s whatever the other tourists are all photographing. Oh wait! That’s my kite. >sigh<

Tourists

A little discouraged, I walked back to my car. “Hey!” I thought, “I should take a picture of my car from the air!” I did this the first year I started doing KAP, and as it so happens that first photograph was made less than half a mile from where I had parked this time. Cool!

KAP Mobile

Except that in hindsight, it probably wasn’t such a good idea. There are too many similarities between my Jeep and those poor crusty little trees. It’s just trying to eke out a living in the desolate landscape, and not succeeding all that well. The poor thing is in dire need of a wash. And some new brake pads. And new shocks. A tuneup wouldn’t hurt, either. And did I mention the wash?

I really did wish for my Jeep to be photogenic. Even more so than the trees. Didn’t work on either.

Rats…

– Tom

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