5 May, 2010 – 6 January, 2017
Rest in peace, my friend
Posted by Tom Benedict on 07/01/2017
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.
Posted by Tom Benedict on 23/03/2016
Despite the progress I’ve made on my sound gear I haven’t had much of a chance to get out with it. Life, or the effects thereof, got in the way.
A little over a month ago I wound up with severe neck and shoulder pain. It took about three weeks to get a slot with a physical therapist, but that meant I had time to get my x-rays done in advance. The results weren’t great. Years of kite flying combined with overall bad posture means I’ve partially compressed one of the discs in my neck, and decades of neck jerking tics because of my Tourette’s means I’ve given myself repeated whiplash injuries in the same general area, and the beginnings of arthritis in my spine. PT is going well, but I’m not in a position to carry gear, fly a kite, hike, etc. So I’m out of commission when it comes to sound recording, kite aerial photography, photography in general, RC airplane flying, or pretty much everything else I do for a hobby. For the record, I’m officially broken.
Another two to three weeks should see me past the worst of the pain, but I can’t keep doing things the way I have been. Part of the physical therapy is re-learning how to look up. Despite how simple this sounds I’m trying to un-do forty seven years of bad posture. Even if I pull it off (and I’m bound and determined to pull it off!) when I do get back into KAP in a serious way I’ll need to use belay glasses or something similar in order to avoid further injury to my spine. Likewise if I stick with the PT regimen I should be able to wear a backpack again some time in the near future. But walking for hours carrying twenty pounds of KAP gear is off the list permanently.
I don’t necessarily have to give up any of my hobbies, but I do need to re-think how I do them. I’m trying to re-think how I carry sound gear so most of the weight is contained in a waist pack. There’s a fantastic thread on the KAP Forum about repackaging RC transmitters into more compact and much more functional units. Meanwhile lighter, more capable cameras have come on the market that mean there’s no real point in flying a DSLR from a kite any more. If I can shave the weight I’m carrying and figure out better ways to carry it, I should be able to keep on playing for many many decades to come. But if I don’t make the effort the outcome is certain.
Take care of yourself. There’s only one you in all the universe.
Posted by Tom Benedict on 26/02/2016
Some months ago a co-worker and I were characterizing a pressure and vacuum system at our summit facility that changes its output as a function of angle off of zenith. As boring as that may sound, that’s nothing compared to what it actually meant for the people doing the characterization. Until something new comes along it’s my gold standard definition of boredom:
“Moving to plus thirty degrees. … Mkay.”
“Kay… Ok, go to plus fifteen.”
“Moving to plus fifteen degrees. … Mkay.”
“Kay… Ok, go to zenith.”
“Moving to zenith. … Mkay.”
“Kay… Ok, go to minus fifteen degrees…”
It went on like this. And on… And on… We made scans from +75 degrees to -75 degrees in fifteen degree increments. Over and over and over, day after day. By the end of a week of this my brain went off into some mathematical neverland. Positive angles were boring because they were what they were. No depth to them. No nuance. But negative angles… oooh, they’re tricky.
The rotary stage we used doesn’t do negative numbers. It wraps around to 360. So the negatives go from 0 to 345 to 330 to 315 to 300 to 285. The first fifty times or so you can convince your brain there’s nothing wrong. But by the time you’ve done hundreds of scans weird things start to pop out at you. I found myself thinking, “If you take away fifteen from sixty, you get forty five! And if you add forty five to fifteen you get sixty! And seventy five is a multiple of five and five and THREE!!” It was epiphany after epiphany! This stuff was MAGIC!
I think some of this had to do with the inane repetitiveness of what we were doing. I think the rest can be chalked up to oxygen deprivation. Luckily by the time I got down at night my brain had calmed down enough to realize how bizarre my mental state actually was. I opted not to share my new-found knowledge with my kids so they never had the chance to say, “Dad, I think you’re off your rocker. That’s basic math.”
This is why I fear the question every kid asks: “Are we really going to use this math stuff once we’re out of school?” I’m afraid of what I’d tell them.
Posted by Tom Benedict on 07/01/2016
So far I’ve replaced the oil pan gasket, the valve cover gasket, the timing belt, water pump, timing belt tensioner, top dead center sensor, harmonic balancer, timing belt cover and gasket, the alternator, and the front brake calipers, and had the rotors turned. That doesn’t include the earlier work that included spark plugs, most of the fluids, a clutch bleed, a brake bleed, body work on the rear door handle, fixing one of the window regulators, replacing an inside door handle, etc. Having a new old car is… a learning experience. A really painful one.
Things I’ve learned so far:
1 – I hate working on cars. I really do. Despite how that list sounds, it was all an act of desperation, not love. The car needed the work done, and the total cost from a shop would’ve been at least two times the cost of the car. So I did it myself. But I really hate working on cars.
2 – This doesn’t change how I feel about building stuff, including the idea of some day building a car from a place like Factory Five Racing. What’s the difference? First, it wouldn’t be my daily driver – my transportation. It’d be a shop project. More, though, it would be the first time any of those parts ever saw each other. My new old car has seen three hundred thousand miles of dirt, abuse, grime, questionable mechanical work, and it shows!
3 – Owner’s forums are awesome! I never could’ve done the timing belt without the help of reddawnman’s DIY on the Civic Forums. He wrote it with a lot of humor, humility, and wit. It got me through some of the darker parts of the job.
4 – There’s nothing like having the right tool. On the advice of reddawnman I picked up a Honda crank pulley tool. It cost about $10 on Amazon (more about that later), and was invaluable in the job’s eventual success. Our mechanic at work loaned me a high powered impact wrench that took off the crank bolt in less than five minutes. I’m equally indebted to him.
5 – Amazon rocks for car parts. You tell it all the details about your car, and it lets you filter results for your car. Everything I got fit perfectly. First time for me.
6 – The more you dig, the more you find. I used reddawnman’s tutorial to figure out everything I would touch between the hood and the timing belt. I considered everything in that list questionable. Turns out with the exception of the motor mount and the power steering pump, everything needed replacing. I thought I was safe with the timing belt cover, but at some point in its sordid past some mechanic snapped off all the mounting lugs and left it that way. It only cost $25 to get a new one. I won’t have to touch it again for another hundred thousand miles.
7 – Order everything in advance. I did this for everything on reddawnman’s list, but probably should’ve thought about the timing belt cover, seeing as it’s plastic, it’s only $25, and not having it in-hand delayed the job by over a week because of shipping.
8 – Jobs lead to other jobs. One step in reddawnman’s DIY was to remove the coolant reserve tank from the radiator. It’s held on by one screw. When I tried to remove that screw it jammed, and eventually ripped the mounting lug off of the (plastic) radiator. Easy enough to fix: epoxy it back together. But to reach the broken lug I needed to remove one tiny plastic part that was in my way. And the only way to do that was to… REMOVE THE WHOLE FRONT BUMPER COVER! See?! This is why I hate working on cars! (I did eventually get it epoxied back together. And I replaced that crappy screw!) (Another thanks to reddawnman for including body panel pop fasteners in the list of stuff to get in advance!)
9 – Anti-seize is your friend. No, really. Just don’t get it on you. The stuff is gross. But a thin film of anti-seize on each of the fasteners I put back onto the car means the next time I do this job it’ll be about a zillion times easier. And I won’t wind up wrenching a mounting lug off of my radiator.
10 – There is something very very special about digging that deep into an engine, leaving your car disassembled for over a week, putting it all back together, and when the moment comes, having it start perfectly on the first try. No other sound on earth sends as clear a message: Buddy, you didn’t screw up. Congrats.
I drove it home this afternoon, whole and hale again. There’s still some excess road noise I’m starting to chalk up to the horrible state of the suspension bushings. But that’s a project for another day. For now, I got my car back.
P.S. This is probably the last time I’ll write about working on this car. It’s really not my thing. Just had to git ‘r done.
Posted by Tom Benedict on 29/09/2015
This has nothing to do with kites, photography, sound, engineering, or anything else I’ve written about over the past several years. It’s a post about a car. Two cars, really.
I’ve driven my Jeep for over ten years. It’s taken me all over the Big Island, and has brought me to all sorts of places where I’ve done photography, kite aerial photography, RC airplanes, and pretty much everything else I’ve put my mind to during that time. I bought it used, drove it, loved it, swore at it, fixed it, and finally sold it to someone who appreciates it for what it is: a good, dependable four wheel drive adult-sized Tonka truck. It’s a fun car, and those were some fun years.
I replaced it with a newer, but no less used Honda Civic. I had a couple of reasons for swapping it out, none the least of which is that my daughter is learning to drive. Jeeps are fun, but stick-shift Jeeps are finicky. I didn’t want her to get discouraged before she ever discovered all the places it could take her. Also, her drive will be considerably longer than mine. Gas mileage finally started to matter.
Any time I buy a used car I try to remind myself that they’re never perfect. They can’t be. Stuff’s going to need fixing before they’re really driveable. I try to budget at least half the purchase cost of the car toward immediate repairs. I looked at a couple of cars and found a nice little diamond (well… a zircon) in the rough: a 2002 Honda Civic LX… with almost 300,000 miles on it. Perfect? No. Not even close. But worth working on? I hope.
On the plus side it’s a stick-shift, just like my Jeep. Unlike my Jeep it has better gas mileage, a better power-to-weight ratio, a working radio, cruise control, and air conditioning. On the negative side after driving it for a couple of days and doing a basic tune-up, I found it needs a new exhaust manifold and catalytic converter (cracked), new wheel bearings on all four wheels (worn out), a new oil pan gasket (leaking), a new timing belt (last one was a hundred thousand miles ago), a new power window motor in the rear right door (broken), a new inside door handle (dying), a new outside door handle (cracked), steering wheel cover, brake pads, wiper blades, etc. But the engine is in remarkably good shape, for all that! While changing the spark plugs I was delighted to see that all four cylinders are fine.
I’d actually budgeted in the cost of a new engine, so as bad as all that sounds it hasn’t added up to anything really unpalatable. My daughter helped me with the tune-up and had her first introduction to working on cars. As the parts start coming in she’ll learn how to service her breaks, replace wheel bearings, work on car doors, replace an exhaust manifold and catalytic converter, and all the other stuff that needs doing. The end result will be another fun car with at least another hundred thousand miles left to go on it and a daughter who may never enjoy working on cars, but who certainly won’t be afraid of them.
Posted by Tom Benedict on 05/06/2015
I’ve been missing for some time now. I haven’t written in months, and haven’t pursued the things I said I’d pursue in my previous posts. In some ways I’ve been in a cocoon. In other ways I’ve been a chicken running back and forth across a busy highway. Life’s just like that sometimes.
Back in October my father had some serious health issues. I wasn’t there, and my family agreed that I wouldn’t help anyone by being there. I knew they were right, but it hammered home how far away I am from my family. I love my father dearly. I can’t stand the thought of never seeing him again.
Shortly after that my cousin and I got in touch again. I found out she’d gone into professional photography, and was setting up her own studio space. We talked about photography, art, pursuing a personal vision, and all the other things connected with our mutual love of creating photographs. We both finished up by saying how fun it would be to grab our cameras and head out together. But she’s a quarter of the way around the world from me, in Texas.
While setting the summer schedule at work, two of my co-workers announced they were taking their families on trips across the American Southwest. This is one of my favorite places on the planet. When I was a kid my family went on numerous road trips across the Southwest. As an adult I went on another road trip with my father, visiting places we’d never been when I was younger. I’ve been trying to figure out how to take my own family there, but never solved the problem of how to get there without breaking the bank. My co-workers’ announcements just hammered home how much I miss it. The last time I was in the Southwest was fifteen years ago. I haven’t seen it since.
I was struggling with all these thoughts when I saw a posting for an electronic engineer at the Hobby Eberly Telescope at McDonald Observatory in West Texas.
I first saw McDonald Observatory when I visited as an undergraduate astronomy student back in 1990. This was before HET was built. It’s also where I first met my wife. I visited several times afterward, usually with other friends. She was working for an astronomer at the time, so her visits were more work-oriented and kept her up at night, so to speak. Later, one of my housemates took over as director of the Visitor’s Center, so we had even more reason to visit. McDonald Observatory figured large in my life for many years, though I never actually worked there. But for so many reasons it’s been near and dear to my heart all this time.
So yeah, I applied for the job.
Earlier this week I got a phone call, letting me know interviews would be scheduled the following week. I talked it over with my boss this morning, and he agreed it would be a really good career move. It was a tough conversation for me, and I’m guessing it was tough for him, too. But it meant the world to me to have his blessing to pursue this.
I don’t know how much I’ll be writing in the next two months. I truly don’t know what the future holds. I just hope it’s bright.
Posted by Tom Benedict on 17/02/2015
Several years ago one of my cats, Ember, lost a leg to a car. It was a long, drawn-out process during which we and his vet tried to save his leg and give him back the life he had before the accident. In the end Ember persuaded us all that he’d be better off without it. Rydra and I took him in, and his vet performed the amputation. His road to recovery was lightning fast compared to the hell we’d already put him through. Within days he was running, jumping, meowing…
And sleeping… just like a cat.
The weekend before the amputation Rydra had me scouring the web for stories from people whose cats had also had legs amputated. We both knew what we had to do, but she wanted me to be comfortable with the decision. I found some Youtube videos and a couple of forum posts, but not much more than that. Now I’m doing my part so that other pet owners who find themselves in the situation I was in will have a little more information to draw from.
Ember’s case is complicated because the accident caused nerve damage and damage to his urinary tract as well as the shattered femur. His bladder and urethra were both ruptured. His vet was able to stitch his bladder closed, but she couldn’t reach his urethra, buried down inside his pelvis. Instead she inserted a catheter and used it as a mandrel over which he could rebuild his urethra on his own. When she removed the catheter a week later we all breathed a huge sigh of relief that the operation had worked. If his urethra hadn’t healed, he would’ve died.
The combination of the injury to his urinary tract and the nerve damage he suffered has some longer-term implications. He refuses to drink water, so we have him on a special diet of wet food that provides the water he needs. The nerve damage makes it hard for him to have bowel movements, so that, combined with his tendency to under-consume water is a recipe for constipation – a life-threatening situation if not treated. His vet prescribed him a laxative and a combination laxative and stool-softener, which we give to him twice a day. Even with the diet and the medication he sometimes needs enemas to reset the works, so to speak, and get him moving again. (No, no pictures to share for that particular operation!)
Setting those complications aside, life as a three-legged cat isn’t bad. Walking is awkward, but he manages. It hasn’t slowed down his ability to run, though, which makes sense if you look at a cat’s running gait: their back legs move as one. He can’t jump as high as he used to, and climbing trees is out of the question. But otherwise he gets around just as well as he did before the accident.
The biggest impact has been with grooming. Cats scratch their head, neck, and shoulders using their back legs. He can still reach all those spots on the left side of his body, but not on the right. Within a couple of days of the amputation we’d worked out a kind of sign language so he can tell us he needs help: he arches his head and pops his leg nub as if he’s scratching. That’s the sign for one of us to reach out and lend a hand.
These scratching sessions are distinctly different from normal petting, which he still enjoys thoroughly. He wants fingernails, and he wants them kicking as if he was scratching himself. He’s pretty good about giving us directions for where to scratch, how hard, etc. The only thing he likes better than a good scratching is the cat brush. At the urging of his vet we got a “slicker” brush we use to brush him all over every day or so. Just as he does when he asks us to scratch him with our fingers, he directs the brush sessions to hit all the spots he can’t normally reach. He’s a good teacher, and I’m a well-trained surrogate rear leg.
We’ve been careful not to take that too far, though. It’s one thing to be a surrogate leg so he can scratch places he can’t reach on his own. It’s another for us to carry him around and help him with tasks he’s perfectly capable of doing himself. We’ll pick him up to groom him or to pet him, but we always let him get down on his own or place him back where he was when we picked him up. He doesn’t rely on us for getting around.
All of our cats are indoor/outdoor animals, and all of them hunt. Ember is no exception, and is still just as avid a hunter as he was before he lost his leg. From the reading I did before taking Ember in for the amputation, I gathered that weight gain and lethargy are major concerns for amputee cats. Maybe it’s because he likes getting around on his own. Maybe it’s because he’s still such an active hunter. I can’t say for sure, but this hasn’t been a problem for him so far.
One surprising change is that he’s far more comfortable around cameras now. The first time I pointed a lens at Ember he freaked and ran as if a one-eyed monster was chasing him. (Which, in a way, one was.) I did photography at various stages of his treatment, so I guess he just got used to having a lens pointed at him. These days he’s completely laid-back about the whole thing, and even has patience for lighting.
As much as the pictures in this article might indicate that Ember is a complete slacker, I should probably point out that they’re all from one photo session that came after a full night of running around carousing outside. Eventually he had enough of me and my camera, and sent us packing.
Posted by Tom Benedict on 09/06/2014
Saturday evening the kids decided they wanted to see Pixar’s Ratatouille. The last time we watched it I vowed that I would make ratatouille before we saw it again. Of course I never got around to it, so Rydra and I figured an even better thing would be to make ratatouille so we could eat it while watching Ratatouille.
More traditional recipes for ratatouille are chunkier, closer to a vegetable stew. But the presentation of the ratatouille in the movie is so nice we decided to go that route. Lo and behold, while searching for recipes I found a Disneyesque ratatouille recipe on allrecipes.com.
We didn’t have all the ingredients, but as a friend of mine from Marseille explained years ago, most of French cooking has its origins in peasant food. It’s what I call “fridge cleaner cuisine”. You use what you have. What we had was some onion, garlic, copious amounts of zucchini, and red yellow and orange bell peppers. And… the dreaded mandolin slicer.
Several years ago our mandolin slicer decided I needed to be taught a lesson.
And teach me it did! Fingers are not carrots! Don’t take the thing lightly. Like ever! I’ve been terrified of the mandolin slicer ever since. I’d love to say that I learned respect from this experience and came to a good solid mutual understanding with it. But nothing could be further from the truth. I’m still scared of that thing. (I made Rydra slice the vegetables!) Ever since that wonderful learning experience Rydra has referred to it as “the finger slicer”. Me? I call it the Devil Tool.
The ratatouille turned out well.
So did the movie. It’s just as much fun to watch now as when it came out. And this time we had food to match!
P.S. That was the first time I got to apply a pressure dressing. When I went back for my EMR refresher course a year later the instructor asked if we got to use our training. I explained about chopping the tip off my finger and applying the pressure dressing one-handed. One of the other guys in the class, the head of security at one of the resorts, said, “Only time I’ve had to use a pressure dressing was when one of the cooks cut the tip off his finger with a mandolin slicer!” Um… Yeah… When I explained that’s exactly what happened everyone got a good laugh.
Posted by Tom Benedict on 13/05/2014
It’s been a rough three months.
I have no clue if I’ve written about any of this, so bear with me if this covers stuff I’ve already talked about. Some months back my wife was diagnosed with a coarctation of the aorta. This is a birth defect that’s typically caught in the teen years. Left uncorrected it usually results in permanent damage to the internal organs, but by virtue of her active lifestyle, her diet, or by sheer providence, Rydra’s internal organs have taken no damage at all. Even better news, it’s a treatable condition. So about two months ago she went in for graft surgery.
Because of complications that only came to light the day of the surgery, the graft never happened. Plan B was to install a stent, but at that point no one knew how much her aorta could be dilated, and stents for aortas aren’t exactly off-the-shelf items. So they went with plan C and performed a balloon angioplasty during which her aorta was dilated to 12mm. (A normal aorta runs from 22 to 26mm in diameter. Prior to surgery hers was constricted to 3mm.) A couple of days after the procedure we flew home so she could recover and her doctors could see about getting an appropriately sized stent.
Recovery was supposed to take a couple of weeks, but she never really recovered. For the first few days she couldn’t digest anything except oatmeal and cream of wheat cereal. That improved a little as the days went by, but not by much. Her legs had their full strength, but no real stamina. After a few weeks she could walk to the end of the driveway and back, but that was it. Clearly something was not right.
Her surgeon ordered a CTA of her abdomen to see what was going on. The evening after the CTA he called to tell her he’d scheduled a CTA of her chest for the next morning. Something was wrong with her aorta: it was splitting. Just downstream of the coarctation, the inner lining of her aorta had torn. As blood flowed into the tear it inflated the lining, separating it from the aorta wall further and further down toward her abdomen. As it inflated it blocked the flow of blood through the rest of her aorta. This was restricting flow to her legs and internal organs. He booked the OR, and we booked plane tickets back to the hospital.
This time the surgeons installed a stent across the constricted area of her aorta and down over the tear. The idea was to cut off the entrance to this false path so that blood could no longer flow into it. Over time her body would reabsorb the blood in that false path, restoring her aorta to normal function. But complication is her middle name. The operation called for a small incision over her femoral artery so the surgeons could insert their tools. But because of the coarctation, her femoral arteries are atrophied. The surgeon made a longer incision, then a longer one, then a longer one, trying to find a large enough section of artery to insert the tools. She came out of the OR with a seven inch incision leading up from her leg to her abdomen. But they got the stent in place!
She was discharged less than a week later. We flew home for the second time – me a little more rattled, her feeling a little more beat up. But hey, she was well on the road to recovery, right? Right… Less than 24 hours after we got home one of the things I’d been terrified of happened: a hard knot started to form over her femoral artery. This is a sign of potential internal bleeding. One of the points that was drilled into the class when I did my EMR training is that internal bleeding is bad bad bad. Internal bleeding from an artery is worse worse worse. And internal bleeding from the aorta or femoral arteries can leave only a few minutes to respond, depending on the severity of the injury. We called her surgeon, packed a bag in case she had to be transported back to the hospital, and drove to the ER.
As it turns out it was a combination of a seroma – a buildup of fluid – and a hematoma – a buildup of blood – both associated with the incision site rather than the femoral artery itself. We spent most of the night in the ER, but when she was released it was to go home, not to be air lifted to a larger hospital. We both sighed a big sigh of relief. But it delayed her recovery. The pressure of the seroma made it almost impossible for her to sit down, stand up, or get in and out of bed by herself. I wound up taking an extra week off from work to assist her as the seroma was slowly reabsorbed.
Rydra made steady progress over the course of the last two weeks, and on Saturday she gave me the green light to step out of the house for some R&R. There was no wind for flying kites, so I grabbed my recently repaired Bixler 2, my battery bag, and my transmitter, and headed into town. After that long a break I probably should’ve started with a couple of hours on a simulator, but I didn’t. I just stuck a battery in, pre-flighted the plane, and tossed it. I was rusty, and the flying was unremarkable. But it was like seeing sunlight for the first time in months.
I’m back at work as of today. I went home for lunch and spent most of my lunch hour going for a walk around the neighborhood with Rydra. Already she is better than she was before the second operation, and it’s only been two weeks since the ER visit. Things are finally really looking up.