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Archive for January, 2014

Uncharted Course

Posted by Tom Benedict on 15/01/2014

In all the years I’ve had Tourette’s Syndrome I’ve never medicated for it. In my case there’s never really been a need. The tics have rarely been so bad that they have interfered with my daily life, and most of the people I live with and work around have accepted that they’re there. It hasn’t always been this way, but I’ve managed to weather through most of the difficult times, too. I’ve come to peace with the idea that I’ll have tics for the rest of my life. It is what it is.

Unfortunately, this changed recently. For the last six months my shoulder-shrugging tic has led to chronic pain in both shoulders. It’s so bad now I can’t lie on my side without serious discomfort. Getting to sleep at night has turned into a real chore. I could take something for the pain, but the larger question is whether this will lead to more permanent damage down the road.

So I talked to my doctor. The upshot is that yes, without treatment, this will likely lead to permanent injury. So we discussed options. My goal is to reduce the frequency or the severity of the tics without getting rid of them altogether. Partly this is because I’m used to having tics and just want to reduce them enough to stave off injury. The other reason is that if this tic goes away, I’d like to go back off medication. And the only way to find out if it’s gone away is not to medicate to the point that it is masked completely.

Last night I read through all of the possible side-effects, took a deep breath, and took my first dose. The one I’m using was originally designed to treat high blood pressure, which I’m borderline on. It’s just serendipitous that it also reduces tics associated with TS. Yay for me. Other effects include lower blood pressure (of course), dizziness, fatigue, etc. Pretty typical for a blood pressure medication, and not too bad for something used for a neurobiological disorder.

So what do I do my first day on meds? I go to work at 14,000 feet of altitude! Exactly where you don’t want any of the following: low blood pressure, dizziness, fatigue, etc. I managed to weasel out of driving any vehicles, but among other things I wound up operating a sheet metal shear, a bending brake, a drill press, climbed ladders (more than one, for a total of about fifteen climbs), climbed stairs, and operated a crane – everything I shouldn’t have been doing. How did it feel? LOUSY!

The one good thing is that the shoulder shrugging tic has abated to the point that I only tic a handful of times a minute. Not bad compared to the once every couple of seconds I was ticcing even a day ago. And the severity of the tics is less as well. It’s almost as if my body can’t muster up the energy to do a full-throttle tic. This could be the fatigue, of course, but I doubt it. In my experience fatigue typically exacerbates tics rather than improving them.

My doctor urged me to give it a month before drawing any conclusions. It takes about that long for the transient effects of introducing a new chemical to your body to settle out. I figure it’ll take about that long for the pain in my shoulders to subside, too, so it’s a good number to work with. I’m giving it a chance.

– Tom

Posted in Tourette Syndrome | 3 Comments »


Posted by Tom Benedict on 07/01/2014

It’s a new year! The Earth has another orbit under its belt, and the stars are back where they like to be when the northern pole is tilted away from the sun. It’s time for: A – a stiff drink and some loud singing, B – wishing out loud in a whiny voice that I had more days left on my vacation, or C – new year resolutions.

The answer, of course, is A. But I took care of that a couple of days ago. And a couple of days before that. Come to think of it, I’ve been doing that pretty regularly this whole vacation. And B has been going on for the last 48 hours. So I’ll go with C instead.

Here are my resolutions for 2014:

1 – Quit being so damn uptight.

This one kicked my butt in 2013. I am uptight. I worry that the global economy will finally tank to the point that people don’t want to spend money on observatories. I worry that we’ll have another bigass earthquake like the one we had in 2007, or another wildfire like the one that nearly claimed my entire neighborhood a few years ago. I worry about my kids and about their futures. All these worries have one thing in common: They are things I cannot control.

This particular exercise in stupidity came to a head in the middle of last month. The latest round of a child-induced stressor had me sitting in my car in the parking lot at work with a pulse over 120bpm and intermittent chest pains. I sat there taking my vitals, trying to analyze the chest pains, and deciding whether to drive home or call 911 for a ride to the hospital. That really was the last straw.

I have to learn to let go, even if it means I let my kids learn consequences in an occasionally irrevocable way. It’s their life. Not mine. It’s outside of my control.

2 – Get out more.

Ever since Rydra went in for her craniotomy in 2012 I’ve been in caretaker mode. Initially she needed it. She couldn’t cook, she could barely walk, and we had three kids in school. That was true for maybe the first few months after surgery. But even once she was back on her feet and doing her normal activities (like TRX and spin classes several times a week – activities that would have me panting on the ground wheezing, “No more! No more!”), I was still in caretaker mode. I couldn’t shake it! I stopped going out to do KAP or even photography on the ground just so I could be available at home in case I was needed. (Hint: I wasn’t needed. Not that much, anyway.) The little photography I did was either work-related, or was done while walking my daughter to school.

This vacation has been wonderful in that regard. I did get out. I did do KAP and ground photography. And nothing bad happened as a result. Only good came of it. And honestly Rydra was glad to see me go outside so she could get some peace and quiet without someone hanging over her shoulder the whole time.

I have to quit assuming I’m responsible for everything, and go play more.

3 – Stop drawing and start making.

I get into cycles with design vs. fabrication. It was one of these cycles that delayed my entry to the world of KAP. I got interested in kite aerial photography when I first ran across Cris Benton’s web site in 1999. But it wasn’t until 2007 that I finally put a camera in the air. Why? Because I spent all that time desigining KAP rigs instead of flying them.

I’ve had a couple of projects in the design phase for a while now. I’ve done sketches, 3D models, and a couple of shop drawings. But honestly most of the stuff on my plate is really scrapbox work: grab a chunk of something, machine on it ’till it looks about right, and make a part to mate with it. It’s not rocket science. I could probably hammer out half this stuff in a single weekend if I just stood at the cranks and did it.

I need to stop using CAD and start using my hands.

Actually, come to think of it I really only have one resolution to make: Stop worrying and go create.

So that’s my plan.

– Tom

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Crabs, Sunsets, and Serendipity

Posted by Tom Benedict on 06/01/2014

This may be the last of my barrage of photography posts for a while. My vacation comes to an end the day after tomorrow, and tomorrow is entirely given over to obligations other than photography. (Though I might find a way to sneak out some time before sunset. Just… one… last… time!)

That being said, yesterday was a very good day. I went back to Waialea Bay to photograph sand crabs. I figured I’d hedge my bets and try to photograph them three ways:

Way #1 – The Shotgun: I stuck a Gopro in the sand near a crab hole, running a five second intervalometer. The idea here is that among the hundreds of pictures on the camera at the end of the day, a couple would have a crab in them. Pick the best one and call it good.

Way #2 – The Robot: I recently upgraded CHDK on my Canon A650 IS. The newest rev comes with a bunch of pre-loaded scripts, including one that does basic motion detection. I tested this out about a month ago, pointing it at a street. As each car drove by, the script tripped the shutter. After fifteen minutes I had a whole slew of pictures of cars. It worked like a charm on cars, so surely it would work on crabs!

Way #3 – Old School: I stuck my Canon T2i on a tripod, plugged in a cable release, and sat patiently until a crab poked its head out of its hole. Click!

As it turned out the Shotgun approach didn’t really work. I had a lot of pictures of sand, but no crabs. I think the blinking red light on the camera freaked them out. The Robot approach also didn’t work. For some reason the script kept timing out or something. I only had one photo on the camera, and that was just sand. But the Old School approach worked great. All it took was patience. I’d still like to go back and try this again, but I was happy with how it worked out.

Sand Crab 1

I learned something about crabs during all this: They startle easily. Flashing lights on cameras, the sound of mirrors slapping up, the sound of shutters tripping, anything out of the ordinary startled them and sent them scurrying back into their holes. I learned I could time my shutter to a crashing wave and not startle them. Waves they can deal with. Mechanical stuff, not so much.

Eventually the light started to fade and I couldn’t really photograph the crabs any more. So I stuck my ND10 filter on the lens and pointed my camera out to sea. I had this subject all picked out: a pile of rocks just offshore that would look like a mountain poking out of the clouds.

Cloud Mountain

It worked out ok, but trying to get this brought home one of the fallacies of doing long duration photography at a public beach park: If your shutter is open for any length of time, someone will walk in front of your camera during that time. The longer the time, the more likely someone will walk in front of you. Point your camera out into the water while people are swimming, and you can almost guarantee it.

That’s when I realized that the people walking in front of my camera were actually more interesting than the cloud mountain idea. So eventually I gave up, took the ND filter off, and ran with it.

Endless Summer

I got lucky with the Gopro as well. About the same time I switched from crabs to sunsets, I aimed my Gopro toward the sun and let the intervalometer keep going while I messed around with ND filters. I somehow missed this guy with my T2i, but the Gopro wound up with a keeper. I took out the characteristic Gopro fisheye with PTLens, but otherwise left it as it came off the camera.

Done for the Day

Four keepers in one day is extraordinary for me, and made up for some of the less than satisfying sessions I had over the past couple of weeks. It’s a great way to end a fantastic vacation.

– Tom

Posted in Photography | 3 Comments »

Long Duration Sunsets – One More Lesson Learned

Posted by Tom Benedict on 04/01/2014

I’ve been participating in a photo assignment on The challenge this month is to do aerial photographs of water and the things water does. Most of the folks on RCGroups use RC aircraft for their aerial photography: helicopters, multi-rotors, and fixed-wing. I’m mostly using kites, though I did make one abortive attempt to use a plane a couple of days ago. The photos from my last post came out of my efforts for this assignment.

Yesterday afternoon I headed down to Hapuna Point with a full compliment of KAP and PAP gear to do some more aerials for the assignment, but the weather was overcast and the light was lousy. I managed to get my T2i in the air using a kite, and put my A650 and Gopro up using both my 16′ carbon pole and my 24′ painter’s pole. But everything I did looked horrid. Which just goes to show: you can’t fix bad light by throwing equipment at it. If it’s not there, it’s just not there. I eventually figured this out and packed it in.

But one thing overcast skies are sometimes good for is sunsets. There was a band of open sky at the horizon that hinted at good things to come. Waialea Bay is just south of Hapuna Point, and has a spot I think should make a good sunset. I just hadn’t pulled it off yet. So that’s where I headed next.

Making Waialea Sunset

When I got there I stuck an ND10 filter on the end of my lens and tried to pick a spot. It took me a while to sort out just what I wanted out of the photo, so I’m glad I got there early. As the sun set it peeked out from below the clouds and lit the sky up just the way I had hoped. And unlike my previous session at Waialea Bay, there was almost no wind so my lens wasn’t getting coated by sea spray. Perfect!

There was just one catch: the surf was up. I didn’t notice it at the time, but it was tumbling all the rocks on the beach. By the time I tripped the shutter for the last time I was up to a five minute exposure. This made for a lot of tumbled rocks. This came back to haunt me later.

Five minutes is a long time for a shutter to be open on an un-cooled digital camera. I knew the dark current was going to hurt. As I was packing my gear I put the lens cap on my camera and started a five minute dark. When I got home I used Pixel Fixer to remove hot pixels and to subtract the five minute dark from my RAW file. A little processing later and…

I had hundreds of what looked like ghost rocks scattered all over the sand! As each wave had come in, it had re-arranged the rocks. Over and over and over again. The lower third of my photo was essentially unusable. I wound up cropping it into a wide pseudo-panoramic format, but I lost some of the elements I wanted in the frame. So not perfect, but still pretty.

Waialea Sunset

At some point when the waves are lower I want to try this again. And in the future I’ll be on the lookout for things like wind and surf shifting objects in the frame. As I found out the hard way, they really don’t work.

– Tom

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First Aerial Photography of 2014

Posted by Tom Benedict on 03/01/2014

I’ve been on vacation for the last week and a half, and still have five more days to go. This is a GREAT way to start a new year. I’ve also been doing a ton of photography. Mostly long-duration sunsets, but I finally got airborne over the last two days for some aerial photography.

Yesterday I flew a plane with a Gopro on it, just to see what it would look like. Up until now I’ve only done videos from planes. Never stills. This time I wanted to see what stills looked like. Unfortunately my setup was far from ideal, and I wound up tip-stalling about a hundred feet off the deck. I couldn’t build up enough airspeed to recover, so the plane went in. The Gopro survived, but the plane needs a new nose. I’m taking this opportunity to replace it with one that’s a little more conducive to mounting cameras. Meanwhile, the latest photograph of Mala `ai garden was done from a plane:

Mala `ai from a Plane

Today I grabbed my KAP gear and headed down to Waialea Bay for my first KAP session of 2014. To be fair, I’ve been dragging my KAP gear all over for the last week, hoping to get some flying in. But the weather has been horrid for KAP: no wind, lots of rain, and terrible light. Today changed all that. Lots of wind, no rain, and stellar late-day light.

Two at Waialea Bay

The wind was pretty rocky for this location. I used a Flow Form 16, which is normally a reasonably stable kite. Today it was swooping all over the place. I hung my T2i from the line anyway, and flew. Only two of the pictures were truly blurry, but almost all of them were soft to some degree. This was one of the only survivors. It’s reasonably sharp, though the composition isn’t exactly what I was after. Still, after days of nothing it was great to have something coming off the camera.

So here’s to 2014. May it be a year of good weather, good flying, and good times.

– Tom

Posted in Kite Aerial Photography, Photography, RC Airplanes | 2 Comments »