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Glowire, and Machining Under the Influence of the Cold

Posted by Tom Benedict on 08/01/2011

The errant kite order my wife and I placed several weeks ago finally came in.  Or rather, it’s been in for a while, but nobody told me.  Let me back up a little first:  We have a PO box that we use to get our mail.  There’s no home delivery where we live, it being a fairly rural setting and all, so this actually makes sense despite the fact that neither one of us is a scam artist.  It’s been hard convincing online and mail order vendors of this at times, but it’s true nonetheless.  In case you’ve never had a PO box, this is how it works:  If it’s mail, they  shove it in your box.  You open it with a key, remove your mail, close the box, and lock it.  If it’s a package, they stick a card in your box.  You take the card up to the desk, and they give you your package.  Sounds simple, right?

Most of the time it really is.  Card = Package.  If you order something, you start looking for your card.  Kites tend to come in long, thin boxes.  In postal terms this is called “Not Subtle”.  I think it’s also called “PITA” because every time I order kite stuff I get funny looks about the general shape of the thing.  It doesn’t conform to the Standard Box Formula they’ve developed, therefore its contents must be Suspect.

This time in addition to having three kites for my kids that might actually stand a chance of flying in the nutty winds we get in Waimea, it also contained the Glowire kit my wife got me for Christmas.  It’s like a cross between kite lights and Tron!  So you can understand I was eager to try them out as soon as they arrived.

They didn’t come in time for Christmas, and didn’t come before the new year, either.  Figures something cool like that would have to wait until my vacation was done and I was back at work.  Turns out I was right.  I went back to work on Monday, and drove up to the summit to work on one of our cameras that persists in losing vacuum.

The story of the camera is a long and twisted one, and one that to anyone other than another astronomical instrumentation specialist would be about as interesting as reading the US tax code after it had been used to wrap several thousand pounds of raw fish.  (Sorry, that’s boring AND gross.  My bad.)  Suffice it to say the camera has a vacuum leak, and it’s hard to find.  We came up with a plan that involved my making several parts in the shop in Waimea.

That evening I checked the post office.  No package.  Rats.

The next day I designed the new parts, found the material, worked out a cut strategy, and OH BABY!  I knew I’d make them on the big CNC mill in the shop.  I only recently started using the mill, and even then I’d only ever used the pre-canned cycles (means: stuff the mill will do itself, if you can describe the job.  Like making a hole.)  This time I was doing the full CAD/CAM/CNC process.  YAAAAY!

At lunch I checked the mail.  No package.  RATS!

The next day I started cutting metal.  Or so I thought.  One of my co-workers had the cold.  My daughter had the cold.  My son was getting sniffly, but by GOLLY I DID NOT HAVE THE COLD!  (Oh yeah I did…)  My first clue was when the tool plunged into the material, and the material started moving around!  I had clamped it down, but had never tightened the bolts on the clamps.  LOOSE PART!  I hit the emergency stop switch, swore silently to myself, and set it back up.

At lunch I checked the mail.  STILL no package.  GRRR…

With the material bolted to the table, things went a little better. I started boring out the central hole, and got ready to set the spindle speed and the feed rate.  You can tell how a machine is cutting by listening to it, and by looking at the chips coming off it.  Most of the time you can set it up so it hums along, removing metal cleanly, with nice thin firm chips of metal flying off.  Nothing I did seemed to help.  And the chips were getting bigger as it went.  Eventually I stopped the machine and realized the tool had been screwing itself into the material, pulling itself out of the collet that held it in the spindle.  Instead of cutting 0.100″ deep, it had ramped itself into the material until it was cutting almost half an inch at a time.  I re-seated the tool, ran it again, and this time it came out faster.  Finally I ground a flat on the tool, stuck it in a toolholder instead of a collet, and went at it again.  This time it worked.

I bored out the central hole using the pre-canned cycles, spotted my eight hole bolt hole circle, and got ready to face that side clean.  The part is 7.620″ across, so I figured if I faced an 8″ circle, I’d have a nice clean surface to indicate off off for the next step.  I entered everything in, and started it going.

I have to mention that this mill has a recirculating coolant system on it.  A jet squirts a continuous stream of coolant fluid on the rotating tool, and this coolant goes EVERYWHERE, winds up on everything, and drips constantly the entire time the thing is running.  About this time I came to the conclusion I really was coming down with the cold, and had made myself a nice cup of tea.  Between the trickle trickle trickle of the coolant dripping all over the mill and the bladder-inflating characteristics of the tea, I was dying.

It was a facing job.  The mill basically traces a cutting tool around in a spiral pattern until it’s machined off a circle of material.  In my case, 8″ diameter (or so I thought) and 0.005″ deep.  Surely it can run itself while I go to the bathroom.  SURELY.  Well…  I’m glad I saw where that was going, and stuck around.  The thing machined a wider and wider circle, until it looked like it could take a whole dinner plate in there.  That’s when I realized I’d put in an 8″ radius, not 8″ diameter.  It was going to happily machine the clamps right off the mill table.  I sighed, hit the E-stop again, and set things back up.

That evening I stopped off at the post office, and there was a card!!  A package!  My GLOWIRE!

No, it was a package for my daughter from one of her friends.  GRRR!

The next day I came in, this time with a massively sore throat and an utter and complete lack of sleep because I’d been hurking post nasal drip all night.  It was also my last day to make these parts, only one of which I had made any progress on.  I persevered.

The next step was an O-ring groove.  I used an undersized tool, cut the groove in two passes, and then used two cleanup passes to remove 0.003″ of material inboard and outboard of the groove.  Let the record state that aside from spotting the bolt hole circle, this was the ONLY part of the job that worked as planned.

The last step was to separate the part from the bulk material.  Before he retired, the master machinist we used to have on staff gave me this sage piece of advice:  Always hold onto the part you care about.  It sounds like such a simple idea, but so many home shop machinists, myself included, hold onto the bulk material and cut the part “free” as in “free to bounce around and encounter the cutting edge of the tool that cut it loose”.  Don’t.  I’d planned in room to get additional clamps in at this point, so I set them up and tightened them down this time.

By this time I was weaving around and my eyes were gummed up from the cold.  I knew I should’ve quit, but if I could get just this one part off, maybe the other people working on the camera would find the leak!  I ran the pattern.  It worked, but it barked like a sick dog the whole time!  Nothing I did with the spindle speeds or the feed rate made it better.  Little did I know the end mill I was using had a busted tooth, and that it was basically battering metal out of the way rather than cutting it cleanly.  It finished the pattern, and the part looked like a rough sand casting.  Every outside surface was dinged and pitted from the tool bouncing around.  I almost cried.  And at the very end the tool fractured and broke.  Then I really almost cried.

It takes a lot to bust a half inch carbide mill.  But apparently not so much that I didn’t pull it off anyway.  I stuck a new mill in and started making cleanup passes on the part.

Eventually it did clean up, just in time for me to realize I was beyond sick at this point and had to stop.  I cleaned up as best I could, brought the part in to give to the guy who was going to work on the leak, and got in my car to go home.  On the way I stopped at the post office one… last… time…

I had a card!  I also had a card saying some long/tall/weird package was going to be returned to sender if I didn’t pick it up.  I RAN to the window to get my kite box.  But I had to wonder why they were going to return it to sender after it had only been here for one day.  So I asked:

“Hey, I got this return notice.  Do you know how long the package has been here?  This is the first I’ve even seen a card for it.”

“Lemme see…  It’s been here since Monday.”


I would’ve stuck around to complain that I had never even known it was here, but I just wanted to get home and lie down in bed.  So I drove home, opened the box, pulled out my Glowire (and the kites for the kids) and promptly fell asleep.

It’s really no fair to get something cool like that, then be utterly unable to do anything with it.  Two of my kids have flown their kites.  I’m finally on the mend (though my chest feels like it’s full of steel wool), and now it’s raining.

Ah well…  There’s always the flu.

– Tom

Posted in Kite, Machining, Weather | Leave a Comment »

The Lunar Eclipse that Wasn’t

Posted by Tom Benedict on 23/12/2010

I had plans to photograph the lunar eclipse.  Ooooh, did I ever have plans!

This all started when a friend of mine mentioned that he needed a single image that said: “Time Lapse”.  This is no small feat since most time lapse work results in a video, not a still image.  Once he explained the use he had in mind, though, the video idea went out the window.  It really did need to be a still.  We tossed some ideas around, and finally I remembered a project I worked long and hard on, but never really made headway with.

Back when I was doing a lot more 4×5 photography than I am now, I was given a box of things that came from various sources inside the family.  One was a camera of my great grandfather’s, a “pocket” Kodak camera that pre-dated the Great Depression.  It took a roll film I couldn’t find any more, and it had what looked like a lens built along the tessar design (symmetric doublets on either side of an aperture stop) set in a wonderful old shutter.  It was dirty, gunky, and not looking so great, but I knew it was a diamond in the rough.  I couldn’t wait to remove it from the original camera and mount it in a 4×5 lens board.

At the time I worked in a chemistry lab that was making optics.  I was also learning machining at the time, so I was up to my elbows in tools and optical cleaning equipment.  I disassembled the lens (not a huge trick with a large format lens) and disassembled and cleaned the shutter.  Keep in mind this shutter dated from the 191x era.  I wouldn’t do this with a modern shutter, which looks a lot like a Swiss watch once you get the cover off.  This shutter had “Big Parts”, a term coined by a friend of mine the first time he popped the hood on a 1960’s era Mustang and compared it to his 2000’s era Mustang.  Yep, dem be bigparts!

Cleaning took almost no time, and once everything was back together I discovered the real joy with this lens and shutter: the cable release also cocked the shutter.  So once it was installed on the camera, you could make exposure after exposure on a single sheet of film without touching the camera.  This means diddly squat if you’re doing straight photography, but it’s seriously cool if you’re doing multiple exposures.

I mentioned I was working in a chemistry lab making optics.  We were making diffraction gratings, and part of my job was to document our work to the best of my ability.  Imagine you’re seeing me making wikkid sounding snickering noises and rubbing my hands together, because that’s exactly what I did when I learned this was a job function.  “To the best of my ability” meant, to me, “You get to have a truckload of fun photographing what you do, and get paid for it.”  Oh yeah!

One question we were trying to answer was how much light was diffracted into each order of the grating.  We came up with a pretty good setup for measuring this, though the setup built by the guy they hired after I left was far better.  But for fun, I aimed a HeNe laser at one of our gratings and photographed the light diffracting off of it using multiple exposures.  Here’s the sequence:

  1. Do a normal “lights on” exposure of the setup.
  2. Turn off the lights, open the shutter.
  3. “Paint” the incoming beam with an index card, your finger, a piece of paper, whatever.  Keep a consistent pace as you do this.
  4. Then “Paint” the outgoing beams coming off the grating with that same index card, finger, etc.  Again, keep a consistent pace as you do this.
  5. Close the shutter, and turn on the lights.

What you get are these beautiful light beams floating in space, casting all the right reflections, and looking entirely like a movie special effect.  It also did a great job of showing that we got most of our light in one order (we had the grating arranged in littrow for all tests) and that the other orders had very little light in them.

The lens and shutter worked like a champ!

That’s when I got the idea of photographing a sunrise.

My idea was to do something similar to the laser beam trick, but use the shutter to capture the sun at various times during the sunrise.  I figured five minute intervals would be about right.  The only difference from the camera’s perspective is that the sun is a lot brighter than our laser beam, so I had to dump a lot of light.  I couldn’t afford the neutral density filter I needed, so I used two sheets of Kodak TMX film, overexposed and developed, placed in front of the lens.  If I remember right, this dumped the sunlight down enough that I could use something approaching a normal exposure without burning a hole in my film.

Unfortunately it never happened.  I tried diligently for several months, but every sunrise session ended in disaster.  I even drove out into the country, but things still seemed to go wrong.  The idea works.  I’ve seen other people do it.  But I never managed it.

Still, nothing says time lapse like a dozen suns rising from the horizon in a single frame.  And doing this with a digital camera and Photoshop would be even easier than doing it with a single sheet of film.  I tested the idea out at the beach, and even though my focus was off and the images were fuzzy, I processed them anyway and proved to myself it would work.  I got ready for the eclipse.

The morning of the eclipse I pulled up the GOES10 satellite feed to see what the weather in the Pacific was like.  Lo and behold, there was this continent-sized tropical storm bearing down on us like a freight train.  I felt like one of the agonized character drawings from Hyperbole and a Half!  I could feel my hair poking up and my eyes bugging out.  GAAAH!  “I could drive somewhere!” I thought.  So I started checking web cams all over the island, including those at the summit of Mauna Kea.  Hey, how cool would that be!  Photographing a lunar eclipse from the summit!  Nope, they were opaque, too, and the summit had snow warnings.  As the clock rolled forward, despair began to set in.

After dinner, we took the kids out to the driveway to look at the completely overcast sky.  We were all wailing to some degree at this point since the kids had been looking forward to it as much as I had, albeit for different reasons.  Sadly, my wife and I put the kids to bed and moped a little.  Eventually she went out to look, just in case.  I stumbled out after her.

Sometimes life has a way of slamming the door in your face, locking it, throwing the deadbolt, and sucker-punching you through the mail slot.  Earlier in the week I’d bruised my ankle putting my son’s bicycle away.  As I stepped out of the house this searing pain shot up my leg as I rammed my bruised ankle into the scooter he’d parked in front of the door.  I stumbled past that and stepped on the pile of… of… THINGS! the kids had left on the porch.  I careened away from the pile and whacked into a board they’d been using as a bike ramp.  I reached down with a trembling hand, trying to decide whether to put the board off to the side or just throw it in a fit of rage.  That’s when my glasses fell off.  In the dark.  At that point I knew if I moved I’d squish them.

I finally shuffled over to the house, found a book light, and used it to find my glasses.  Somehow they’d folded themselves neatly and were sitting on the ground lenses up.  Go figure.  I used the light to clear off the porch enough to navigate, and walked over to join my wife.

The only ray of light at the end of this story is that she didn’t turn to me and say, “The most wonderful hole opened up in the clouds, and ohMIGOD you should’ve SEEN it!”  That would’ve sent me over the edge.  Nope, she just shook her head and sighed.

We watched the dim light of the moon slowly fade behind the clouds as it went into eclipse, then walked back into the house to read a little before going to bed.

Ah well…  There’s always sunrise.

– Tom

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Challenging but Rewarding

Posted by Tom Benedict on 17/11/2010

I recently had a pair of flights that yielded really nice results.  The first was done just on a whim.  In the past I’ve flown at Mala`ai, the culinary garden at Waimea Middle School in Kamuela, Hawaii.  I like flying there for a number of reasons.  It’s a pleasant place to fly with no ground hazards or obstructions, it’s a great place to try out new ideas for orthoimaging, it’s an interesting subject, and the school uses the images to help plan future work in the garden.  One of the coolest things about the garden is that it’s largely the students who do the planning and the work.  And boy do they ever move FAST!  I’ve never photographed it twice and seen the same thing.  It’s constantly changing.

But almost every time I’ve flown there, I’ve underestimated the size of the place!  The field of view on my camera’s lens is such that the field of view on the ground in the horizontal direction is almost exactly the same as its altitude.  This helps me compose shots when doing orthoimaging.  But vertically the field of view is smaller, and in the past I’ve clipped.  This time was going to be different!  I’d fly high enough to get the whole thing in one shot!

And in the end I did:

Mala`ai - The Culinary Garden at Waimea Middle School - 11 November, 2010

This is still a composite image because I wanted to be able to rotate it to line it up better with the edges of the frame.  But there are no stitch errors inside the garden that needed attention.  The garden itself came from a single image.  As soon as I’d processed the image I let the folks at the garden know there was a new image to download.

About a week and a half ago I got a call to ask if I could photograph the Anuenue Playground in Kamuela, as well.  I’ve wanted to photograph the playground for years, but there are a number of ground hazards and obstructions that have made it less than ideal.  Even though the adjoining football/baseball field doesn’t have lights any more, the poles that used to support them are still there.  There are large trees near the park.  It’s bordered on two sides by busy roadways.  And worst of all the park is full of kids!  I have never had a rig fall off my kite line, but that doesn’t mean I don’t believe it can.  So a great deal of additional paranoia was called for.

I surveyed the place a couple of times that week, trying to find a good angle to launch and approach the park.  But depending on the direction of the wind I could add above ground high voltage power lines to the list of ground hazards.  No thank you!  It looked like the only reasonably safe approach was for the wind to blow out of the west-northwest, and for it to be super-steady.  I didn’t even bother to call back to let them know.  I felt like a failure.

Two days after I made the garden picture, I checked the wind models.  Lo and behold, the afternoon called for soft and steady winds out of the west-northwest!  Sure ’nuff, by 2:00pm the winds had shifted and the conditions were ideal.  I waited out an event that was happening in the football field, my chosen launch spot, but by 3:30pm the coast was clear.  I put up my Fled, put my camera in my ortho rig, and got it in position.

There’s one other piece of KAP gear that figures prominently into this session: my son.  I knew I’d never spot it on my own, so I asked him to grab his walkie talkies and come with me to the park.  He got on the radio and guided me in, and I checked my apparent altitude against the footprint of the park on the ground to make sure I had the field of view to get everything.

I came close.  There’s one apparatus in the park that didn’t make it into the photo set, but the rest of the park did:

Anuenue Park, Waimea

I didn’t get enough overlap for a clean crop, but it covered the bulk of the park with reasonably sharp detail.  A quick pass through PTLens to take out barrel distortion and a small amount of tilt, and then a pass through ICE to make the composite, and the image was done.

All in all the camera was in the air for only 14 minutes, taking pictures every five seconds.  The resulting set of images offered a rich selection to work from.  I feel confident that as the restoration work on the park progresses, I’ll be able to return and make additional documentation photos for them.

Can’t beat a good day.

– Tom

Posted in Hawaii, Kite, Kite Aerial Photography, Photography, Weather | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Good and The Bad

Posted by Tom Benedict on 09/07/2010

The 2010 SPIE Astronomical Instrumentation conference was a blast.  We worked some seriously late hours, and all of us were dragging our tails by the end of it.  But the amount of information I came home with was…  for want of a better term, it was astronomical.  But that’s a post for another day.  This one is about the KAP I managed to do while I was there.

“Managed” is the right word to use in this case.  Sunset was at 8pm, and the only full day I had to do KAP was the Saturday before the conference.  I had some problems with my flight, so most of that day was lost.  Even so, it was the most productive day I had, from a KAP standpoint.  I wound up staying at the Porto Vista Hotel in Little Italy.  I highly recommend it for a couple of reasons:  1 – It’s a nice hotel.  That’s tough to beat.  2 – Close proximity to a lot of good KAPing.  3 – It’s in Little Italy!  As it turns out it’s also close to a camera store, which I didn’t visit, and a Blick Art Supply, which I did.  Twice.  It’s about a two minute walk to the nearest trolley station, and it’s only a few blocks from the Maritime Museum, which boasts some outstanding KAP subjects.  Unfortunately none of the KAP I did there really worked out.  This is the best of my efforts:

Maritime Museum

Further down, there were a number of other good subjects.  Some I wound up photographing with a pole, others with a kite.  By far the best KAP I had in San Diego was at the marina at Seaport Village:

Seaport Village Marina

The wind was steady enough to let me do some panoramas as well, one of which turned out nicely:

Seaport Village Marina Panorama

Heading back toward the hotel is the USS Midway and the statue, “Welcome Home”, which I photographed using a carbon pole:

Welcome Home

If you’re already taking framed kites with you, I highly recommend bringing a lightweight pole as well.  The carbon pole I use is a collapsible fishing pole intended for breem fishing.  It’s far from ideal, and the performance isn’t up to that of the higher end carbon fiber carp poles.  But it’s light, it’s portable, and it only cost me $20 at K-Mart.  I had no problems transporting mine, but even if it did take damage, it was cheap insurance against poor wind or restrictions on flying.  It also let me do some night photography in and around Little Italy:

Fountain in Little Italy, San Diego

Little Italy at Night

The only time I flew once the conference began was on a day when there weren’t any afternoon sessions I really wanted to attend.  Instead I grabbed my gear, got on the trolley, and headed over to the SDSU campus.  The wind was plenty strong, the weather was clear, and it should’ve been a fantastic KAP session.

It wasn’t.  The wind was strong but turbulent, and before I even got a camera up, my Dopero inverted.  I was in the middle of setting up my rig, so everything was clipped off.  I frantically tried to unclip my winder and line in time to let line out and try to save the kite, but I was too late.  The line came down across the Malcom A Love Library.  My heart sank!  I had no way of telling if the kite had hit the roof, or the glass dome just beyond.  I felt like an idiot.  Overwhelmed with dejection, I packed up my gear, reeled in the line, and walked over to see what the damage was.

Lo and behold, there was my kite dangling about halfway down the side of the building.  It was out of reach of my pole, but to my immense surprise it had inverted again just before landing, so it was sitting nose up!  In case you’ve never seen a Dopero, one attribute of this beautiful kite is that it is extremely stable.  Once it’s pointed in a given direction, it really likes to go in that direction.  It’s a little sluggish on reacting to changes in wind direction, which is one of the things that makes it an excellent kite for KAP.  I knew if I put some tension on the line, it would try to fly.  More to the point, it would try to fly straight up and off the library.

I went back out to where I’d been standing, took up all the slack I could, and heaved.  The tension in the line built as it stretched, then I felt two distinct yanks as the kite cleared the far side, and then the near side of the building.  A little shaken, a little wiser (I hope) I brought my Dopero down, packed it away, and sweated for a little while.

In the end I changed winders and switched to a 6′ rokkaku.  It wasn’t enough to lift the camera reliably, but I got some decent low-altitude KAP:

Flower Bed Outside Hepner Hall - SDSU

Love Library Plaza - SDSU

Love Library - SDSU

Shortly after I packed everything up, jumped back on the trolley, and got back to the conference for the evening session and poster presentations.  By the time I got back to the hotel, I was beat.  But a KAP session isn’t complete until the gear is checked, so I examined my line for fraying (surprisingly none!) and checked my Dopero for dings.  It got a small tear in the sail, which I opted to fix once I got home.  Other than that, I got away unscathed.

More to the point, I got away lucky.  The lesson was still learned:  If the conditions aren’t right, it’s better to walk away than to risk hurting someone, damaging property, or damaging your own gear.

Posted in Astronomy, Engineering, Kite, Kite Aerial Photography, Photography, Weather | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

SPIE and Poster Presentations

Posted by Tom Benedict on 15/05/2010

I work at an astronomical observatory on Mauna Kea on the Big Island of Hawaii.  Hawaii is also where I have done the bulk of my KAP work.  For the most part the two, work and hobby, rarely mix.  I sometimes do photography at work, sometimes even high-angle photography.  But rarely do I get to do KAP.  I can count those occasions on one hand without using all my fingers.  Still, I keep looking for opportunities and have fun every time I find one.

At the end of June a bunch of us are heading off to San Diego to go to the SPIE Astronomical Telescopes and Instrumentation 2010 conference.  I’m presenting a paper on the cryogenic cooling system for one of our instruments.  We made some fundamental changes in the system over the last two years, and the paper presents our results.  At a conference there are two ways papers are presented: oral presentation and poster presentation.  Oral presentations mean getting up on stage in front of an audience and taking your time slot to present your findings.  Poster presentations mean hanging up your poster, and during the time slot allocated for that group of posters it means standing in front of your poster and answering any questions people might have.

Oh yeah, I went for the poster presentation.  I’m not completely comfortable with public speaking, though I’m getting better at it.  But the real draw was the poster.  A poster!

The SPIE conference rules call for posters no larger than 45″x45″.  We have a large format photo plotter at work that can do 36″ wide prints.  I’m figuring on making a poster 36″x45″.  Most of the posters I’ve seen have been informative, most are easy to read, but very few of them have much in the way of pizazz.  Since my presentation is about a cryogenic cooling system and the instrumentation we put into place to monitor the cooling system, I don’t have much in the way of graphs but I have a lot in the way of diagrams and photographs.

And I also have every bit of that 36″x45″ that isn’t covered by words, graphs, diagrams, and photos to cover with whatever I want.  Yup, whatever I want.

Most of the posters I’ve seen use a color gradient wash as the background, or maybe a pastelized picture that’s related to the subject of the poster.  Not me.  I’m running with the whole “cold” theme, and I figured out how to work KAP into it.

Back in 2009 we had a particularly icy winter.  During one of our mid-winter instrument exchanges, things appeared to be working well, so at lunch I grabbed my KAP gear and headed outside.  The wind really was too tossy for good KAP, but I still came back with 1.3GB of photos to work with.  One set of images was good enough to make a nice wide panorama of the snow covered summit.  Sapphire blue skies above, white white snow below, snow covered cinder cones in-between, and the telescope where I work off to one side.  Perfect.

The rest of the background is going to be a snow texture extracted from the remaining photos in the set.  Hints of texture, but nothing too overpowering.  I still haven’t decided how much I’m going to carry the theme into the boxes that will enclose the various text blocks, diagrams, graphs, and photos.  I think going so far as to hang icicles around the text boxes is probably just a little too much.  But it’ll be fun.

It’s fun to mix work and KAP.  And any chance I get to make a print as large as 36″x45″ is just too good to pass up!

– Tom

Posted in Astronomy, Engineering, Hawaii, Kite Aerial Photography, Photography, Weather | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Next Hurdle – Weather

Posted by Tom Benedict on 06/05/2010

I finally weighed my new rig.  I was right.  It’s not too much more than my old rig, but it’s still significant.  The camera + batteries + lens hood came in at 405g.  The new rig + batteries + legs came in at 537g.  Total flying weight added up to 942g, a significant bump from the ~850g I used to fly with.  Still, the extra ~90g of weight offers a lot more capability for the kind of shooting I seem to be doing.  Well worth it.

The next hurdle appears to be weather and everything else associated with it.  Last weekend I did get out with my rig, but didn’t get a lot of photography done.  I found nice subjects, but the weather wasn’t cooperative.  Ho hum.

This is nothing new, and this is nothing specific to KAP.  Ask any photographer, and they’ll tell you that as soon as they see a great scene setting up, the light changes.  Or the clouds roll in.  Or the clouds roll out.  Or something happens to make the shot not quite what it could’ve been.

I’m no different.  Last Saturday morning I got out and tried valiantly to out-distance the heavy overcast that was making the skies around Waimea absolute blahsville.  I drove almost an hour out Mana Road, and never got out from under the clouds.  In the end I gave it up as a bad idea and came back with what ground shots I got.  Later that day the family and I took off to photograph the lava flow at Kalapana.  The weather was fantastic, but the lava flow had shifted, and the folks working security moved the barriers back to the point where you couldn’t see anything at all.  We finally called it a day and went back to Hilo to catch dinner before driving home.

But the weather at the house was overcast the whole time, so I can’t say we made a bad call.  Just an uninformed one.  This set me on a mission to find better tools for predicting weather for photography.  So far the best I came across is a site run by the National Weather Service.  It offers a variety of weather maps for the various islands of Hawaii, including one that indicates the extent of the VOG cloud coming out of Halemaumau Crater.  Combined with the wind maps I already rely on for flying kites, this may just be the best guide for where to find photogenic conditions for doing landscape photography on the Big Island.

I should have a good opportunity to test this over the weekend.  My daughters have a social agenda that spans all of Saturday, so my wife offered to run them around, and asked me to take care of my son for the day.  We both looked at each other like we couldn’t believe our good fortune!  My son has been my companion on more photography outings than I can count, and he’s as excited at being able to go somewhere new as I am.  So I’m using the NWS maps, my list of sites I’d like to do photography, and the Mauna Kea Soaring wind maps to plan our day.

Maybe this time we’ll have better luck.  Or maybe this time we’ll plan a head and make a little luck for ourselves in the process!

– Tom

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