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Archive for May, 2016

SPIE 2016 Manuscript Done

Posted by Tom Benedict on 30/05/2016

Last week didn’t turn out quite the way I’d intended. Right after writing my last post I got a call from my sister to tell me my father had to go to the emergency room. Neither of my siblings were in a position to fly in to help him, so I offered. I spent last week helping him get back on his feet, get to all the doctor’s appointments my sister set up for him, and figure out his next move. This meant I wasn’t spending that time making further edits on my SPIE paper or flying kites and cameras for World Wide KAP Week, but I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. WWKW rolls around once a year, and I knew I could submit the manuscript to SPIE remotely no matter where I was in the world. I needed to be at my father’s side, so that’s where I was.

Turns out I didn’t need to submit the manuscript remotely, though. I got back two nights ago, a couple of days before manuscripts were due. I gave the paper one last looking over just in case. Just… In… Case… Yeah.

Here are some lessons I learned from “just in case”:

  1. No matter how many times you check your spacing, there’s always a space somewhere you don’t want it. (Yes, I’m using this to justify how anal I am when editing.)
  2. When proofing a paper, also check captions and figure titles. I had one graph labeled “Diffuse Reflectance of Bulk Materiaw 1.5ls”. Um… What?! (Global search and replace can be a real bitch at times.)
  3. Be sure to catch all your little place-holders and fix them. One sentence included “…overall reflectivity between 6-?% across the full range…” In three rounds of editing by multiple people, no one caught that. Not even me.
  4. I always put in too many commas when writing a first draft.
  5. I always leave too many in during subsequent edits. There’s always one more comma to kill.
  6. Above all else, listen to the input from your co-authors. Right before flying out to be with my father I had a frenzied text conversation with one of the co-authors on the paper who insisted on a particular change in the paper. I disagreed, but I had to drop it when I got on the plane. When I got back I found I agreed with him. I made the change, and the paper was stronger for it.

That last one really applies to all forms of writing, not just technical and scientific papers. Listen to your editors. Listen to your co-authors. Listen to people who tell you something doesn’t make sense, doesn’t flow, or is just plain wrong. Even if it means a complete re-write it means you’re connecting with at least one more person when you finally publish.

I submitted the manuscript this morning. I’ll start designing the poster tomorrow.


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SPIE 2016 – Manuscript (almost) In The Bag! / World Wide KAP Week 2016 / Visitors

Posted by Tom Benedict on 20/05/2016

Manuscripts for the 2016 SPIE Astronomical Telescopes and Instrumentation Conference are due May 30th, so a little over a week off. With my usual level of good planning I didn’t associate that date with a visit from my friend and his wife (May 27th-29th) or the dates for World Wide KAP Week 2016 (May 13th-22nd). So no, of course I didn’t get an early start on things! I left things ’till this week. >sigh<

But I think I’ve got a workable rev of my manuscript in the bag. The graphs took a while to sort out, but everything came together this afternoon. I still have at least one round of editing left to go, but at this point it doesn’t have to occupy my every waking moment.

I think I avoided impacting my friend’s trip, and I still have this weekend for WWKW. Not ideal, but not a complete loss, either. I’m picking out a couple of subjects for WWKW, and tonight I’m going home to clear my chips and charge my batteries. Kite flying and kite photography, here I come!!



Posted in Astronomy, Kite Aerial Photography | Leave a Comment »

Why I Don’t Like Targeted Advertising

Posted by Tom Benedict on 10/05/2016

It’s the new “thing” in marketing: targeted advertising. Instead of getting broad-based advertising you may or may not be interested in, advertisers are now contracting with search engines like Google to target their ads to people who are interested in their products. More efficient advertising! It’s great, right?! The way it works is simple: You search for something, then that thing appears on every… freaking… web page… you visit.

Two problems with this scheme: Back when I bought my DR-70D recorder, I did something remarkable. I actually bought it! So for the next three months I got ads trying to get me to buy (drum roll for the oblivious here) another DR-70D recorder! Every time I started a browser it showed up. Buy me. BUY ME! BUY ME!!! Way ahead of you, bro. Now SHUT UP!

But I shouldn’t complain, because at least it meant I wasn’t getting ads for other things during that time. (Oh yeah, it gets worse.)

A little later I was looking for cylindrical mirrors for a project at work. I wasn’t looking for much. Just some Pyrex tubes I could aluminize in our small chamber so I could do some tests. Nothing big, maybe 25mm in diameter. So I searched Google for small Pyrex tubes, and by golly I found some! Just the right diameter, just the right length, just… some part of some sort of heated ultrasonic delivery system or something?

They were replacement tanks for a particular model of e-cig. I really don’t like e-cigs. I really really don’t like them. Among other things kids at the schools around here are using them to inhale THC-laced liquid and exhale the fumes onto other kids. My kids. (I REALLY don’t like these things.)

No problem, right? Just close the search window and find some other source for Pyrex tubes. Never have to think about it again. Simple!


For the past three months I’ve seen ads for e-cigs every time I start up a browser. Hey, I searched for it so I must want to buy it, right? Buy it! BUY IT! E-CIG E-CIG-E-CIG!

I tried searching for other stuff. I tried cameras. I tried microphones. I tried anything that would get that damn e-cig ad off my browser. It didn’t work, though. I just have to wait it out until the damn thing goes away.

This is one of the many reasons why I occasionally go full-throttle Luddite. My #2 pencil never pulled this crap on me.


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SPIE 2016 – Surprises Along The Way

Posted by Tom Benedict on 06/05/2016

I spent the last week scanning all the samples I’ve been prepping for the last several months. We’d scanned some of these materials before, so some of the results didn’t come as a surprise, but a couple did.

The scans I’m running are what’s called “Total Integrated Reflectance”, or TIR. The idea is to illuminate a sample with a particular wavelength of light, collect all the light reflecting off of it at that wavelength, and measure it. By doing this at a bunch of different wavelengths you build up a TIR spectrum. I’m running spectra from 250nm to 2500nm, or from the UV to the near-IR. This covers any instrument that uses a CCD detector along with many instruments that use near-IR detectors like the H2RG from Teledyne.

What you want to see is a flat spectrum around 5% or below from 250nm to 2500nm. That indicates a material that’s good to use to control stray light across that entire range. Unfortunately that’s true for some materials but not for all of them, even if they look black to the human eye. One of the more surprising sets of materials were the black flock papers from Edmund Optical. These are a mainstay for controlling stray light in instruments and amateur telescopes. I was caught off-guard when the reflectance of all three of the flock samples popped up long of 720nm! They’re black to the human eye, but in the near-IR they’re closer to a light gray.

Here’s a look at four of the materials I’m scanning, photographed using an IR-converted CCD camera. The filter in this camera cuts on gradually from about 650nm to around 720nm so it’s not ideal as a measurement tool, but it gives a good idea of how the materials behave from 720nm out to about 1000nm.

SPIE 2016 - Black Samples in the NIR

The blackest material in this set of four is the Industrial Strength Velcro. But only the hook side! The loop side is made from some other material that’s remarkably reflective in the NIR. The black flock paper to the left of the Velcro is considerably more reflective, even though to the human eye it looks much darker. One of the other surprise materials was the Black Tak tape from City Theatrical. Even though it appears not to be very black in this photo, that’s only around 5% reflectance. Even better, it maintains that reflectance across the entire spectral range. It’s neat stuff!

The half-tone bar at the top was printed on a normal laser printer. Toner, which is almost straight carbon, is quite good at absorbing light across the entire range of the tests. (Yes, toner-covered paper is one of the samples I’m running.)

I’ve run into some other surprises along the way, but those will have to wait for the paper. I’ve got another couple of days of scans still ahead of me before the real work begins: analysis and writing. Then I get to design a poster!


Posted in Astronomy, Engineering | Leave a Comment »

IDCD 2016 – Part 2

Posted by Tom Benedict on 02/05/2016

Cloud Forest

As it turns out it did rain, but my gear survived!

Unfortunately the sound of the raindrops falling on the koa leaves that lined the forest floor dominated the soundscape during the dawn chorus. Koa leaves are very flat, and provide no loft to the forest floor to absorb the shock of a raindrop hitting. It has all the acoustic properties of water drops hitting wet cardboard. Even more unfortunate, the low-slung arrangement of my SASS meant that the microphones were only about 12″ from the forest floor. I basically close-mic’ed the raindrops, and left the birds in the diffuse soundfield. That’s the opposite of what I wanted!

But I’ll let you judge for yourself. Here’s the dawn chorus from the Upper Waiakea Forest Reserve in its entirety:

(I still haven’t figured out how to make a nice, neat link to Soundcloud files.)

Despite the rain I’m taking it as a win. The gear setup works, I can leave it deployed overnight, and it can survive rain. YAY! But it places the mics too close to the ground for it to ever work well with rain. I’ll have to come up with another arrangement for recording rainfall, preferably something that lets me position the mics a good deal higher up in the air. (More R&D!)

In case you’re wondering what the birds sound like when it’s not raining, this is a sample from the evening before International Dawn Chorus Day, before the birds went to bed and well before the rain started.

Unfortunately, despite being over a mile from the highway some traffic noise is still audible in parts of the full-length track. The next time I do this I need to find a more secluded spot to set my gear.


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IDCD 2016

Posted by Tom Benedict on 01/05/2016

IDCD 2016


May 1st, 2016, is International Dawn Chorus Day!

The “dawn chorus” is when birds first sing at the beginning of the new day. As poetic as this sounds it’s not some random event out of a Disney movie. It’s a highly structured event in which birds establish territories, communicate amongst each other, and basically sort things out before the day gets going. Different species will begin and end at different times depending on a number of variables including how high in the canopy they roost, how large their eyes are (not kidding), the season, the weather, recent events, etc.

Earlier in the year I had the opportunity to experience the dawn chorus first-hand. Over and over and over. My daughter’s parakeets had babies, which quickly grew into parakeet-sized adolescent birds. They woke each morning before dawn and would launch into the dawn chorus before any of us got out of bed. Entire conversations, including requisite scoldings from mom, dominated the household soundscape until well into the day. It drove the cats nuts, but it was pretty darned cool.

I learned about International Dawn Chorus Day last year, but I didn’t really have my recording gear set up when it rolled around. This year I wanted to make an attempt to record the dawn chorus on International Dawn Chorus Day. Unfortunately the location I chose isn’t easily accessible. In order to walk in and have everything set up before the birds got going, I’d have had to wake up at 1:30am and hike over lava in the pitch black of night. To put this another way, I would’ve only had a couple of hours of sleep, driven to the other side of the island, and likely broken my ankle way out in the middle of nowhere, miles from help.

I decided to find some other way.

Some months ago while trying to figure out how to record sound without picking up any of my vocal tics I hit on the idea of just leaving my gear set up and running, then coming back to pick it up later. I thought it was quite novel, but a fellow recordist from the UK pointed out that the “drop and recover” technique has been in use for a long time, and is the best way to record natural ambience without the presence of the recordist influencing the environment. Perfect!

So earlier today I drove out to Pu’u O’o Trail (the one by the Pu’u O’o Ranch, not the one that leads out to the Pu’o O’o Vent on the side of Kilauea that’s currently spewing lava) and set up my gear in a mixed stand of ohia and koa trees. Aaaaand… then I walked back to my car and proceeded to drive back to the side of the island I live on.

Yep, I abandoned all of my sound gear out in the field overnight, hours from my house. I’M STRESSING OUT RIGHT NOW!

I just hope this pans out and my gear survives. It’s either going to be the coolest recording I’ve done so far, or it’s going to mean the end of my foray into field recording. I just hope it doesn’t rain!


P.S. That visually really confusing photo at the top is a picture I took of my gear right before I walked away from it. And left it. All on its own! GAAAH!
P.P.S. It’s a tripod with the center column inverted with my DIY SASS, DR-70D, and an external battery all tacked onto it, covered by a trash bag (rain protection!), draped with the ugliest piece of sewing I’ve ever committed (burlap). See? Visually confusing!

Posted in Audio | 5 Comments »