Sunday, May 31, 2015

Google Photos- wow!

The new Google Photos app is quite amazing! The search feature is actually kind of scary with how accurate it is, and what's really amazing is that this was only announced this last week and so I'm sure there are tons of geeks like me uploading all their pictures to it (I'm currently at about 18,000 of 65,000- that'll teach Google to offer me free unlimited storage!), and it's constantly offering up collages, animations and panoramas it's automagically put together from my pictures- like the one above from a few years ago in Tobago that I particularly like :)

I do admit to a niggling twinge of concern about privacy and putting all my personal pictures on Google's cloud, but I have them all backed up to the cloud anyway through my CrashPlan account. And Google promises that the search function is completely private to me and I've not got anything to hide anyway... and I, for one, welcome our new Google overlords :)

Thanks to Colin for keeping tabs on the Google I/O this week when I was to busy to and cluing me in to this- it really is a game-changer and if you have a collection of digital images you'd like to be able to back-up and easily search you owe it to yourself to check it out!

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Saturday stroll

Holly was limping a bit yesterday evening, and though she seems fine now I decided (through an overabundance of caution) that we'd just do a couple of leash walks today, one now and one later, around the leafy byways of Rye.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Prom Photographer

Doing my yearly duty as the Fanwood prom photographer at the Davenport Country Club in New Rochelle :)

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Weird Connections...

It's very interesting the way the mind works.

This morning in the car on the way home from dropping Crisp at school I had the World Service on and they had a little piece commemorating the fact that today was the anniversary of the death of TE Lawrence ("Lawrence of Arabia") in 1935. My mind went to the obvious- that I should watch the wonderful movie this weekend (I'm pretty sure Crisp hasn't seen it- and he should).

But then I couldn't help hearing "Tee Hee Lawrence... because of his high-pitched, girlish giggle" from Alan Bennett's wonderful 1968 play Forty Years On that I used to listen to (and not really understand, but enjoyed immensely) as a kid when I delved into my Dad's enormous record collection of London & Broadway cast recordings. It was an odd thing to be in there, it didn't really belong as it isn't a musical, but I loved the voices (of Gielgud and Bennett himself amongst others) and the atmosphere of English public school life (for some reason I think I always had a subconscious desire to go to a public school, probably mostly because of this album and Lindsay Anderson's bizarre 1968 movie If...). Most of the satire went over my head, but I enjoyed a lot of the jokes even if I didn't fully understand them.

So, after a quick search found that Google Play Music did not, unfortunately, include that album in it's archives I did find a complete recording of the play that the BBC did in 1973 on YouTube. A quick detour to one of those YouTube converter websites and I had the audio on my hard drive as an mp3, and I have now uploaded it to my Google Play Music library, so later on when I walk the dog I can listen to it and see what memories it brings back (and if I still find it as funny and slightly mysterious as I did as a youngster), and I present it here for your enjoyment if you have an hour or so to spare :)

What an amazing age we live in! Now I just have to go and see if If... is available on Netflix...

Sunday, May 17, 2015

You Turkeys!

Jackie ran in this morning as I was about to get in the shower and told me to grab my camera as there were three huge wild turkeys in the columbarium!

They had a good look round and then wondered off down Milton Road...

Friday, May 15, 2015

New Quadcopter Camera :)

I have posted some of my quadcopter videos in the multicopter subreddit on Reddit, and I have gotten some nice comments and advice. One chap asked what sort of camera I was using and offered to send me a better one as he had a spare. I wasn't sure he was serious, but it arrived this week and here it is :)

It's a Mobius, full HD 1080 camera (so for the best experience,  make the video full-screen and click the little gear wheel and choose 1080p quality), which is much better than my old one.

This is just a quick video of a couple of flights- my aim today (as well as a little of the usual zooming about) was to try and fly much more smoothly and see if I could get better at hovering.

Sunday, May 10, 2015


As usual I was taking silly pictures over at Jody's during the Mother's Day festivities (you can see the whole album over at FaceBook here)- and happened to capture this one.

This is my new favorite picture of Jackie :)

Happy Mother's Day!

This year's addition to the shrine of the monkey :)

I commissioned one of Crispy's talented friends (in Wisconsin- the wonders of the internet) to draw a cartoon of him. I think she caught him pretty well...

Friday, May 08, 2015

More Quadcopter fun :)

I went back to the soccer field this morning, but about an hour later than I did last Friday, so the sun had time to burn off the mist that was around this morning but had also had time to whip up a bit of a breeze. The wind would have made flying my old, toy quad completely impossible, but was not problem for this one- though it did make it interesting :)

I'm still just doing what I call "circuits and bumps": flying around and getting more of a feel for it and then landing and doing it again. I'm still also mostly flying in what is called "self level" mode, which means that if you let go of the sticks on the controller it should just level off and hover (not exactly what happens- especially in this wind!); but I did try a few times flying it in "rate" mode, which means that if you have it tilted forward to fly forward and let go of the sticks it will stay tilted forward and moving forward. It's much more responsive in this mode, but much less forgiving.

And what a difference balancing the props made! The video is so much smoother and the motors sound less angry- though I have noticed that there is a lot of buzzing from all the loose-ish wires and cable ties etc... I need to go over the whole quad and neaten and tidy everything up. But I flew for over an hour and didn't break a single prop- amazing! Though I will admit they were pretty chewed up and out of balance by the end of the session and should have been changed at some point, and one of my heavier landings must have knocked the lens of my little recording camera as all the last few videos are out of focus. I will try and fix it, but a guy I met on one Reddit (where I posted last week's video) is sending me a much better camera anyway :)

So, another very successful morning! What I really need is the chance to fly every morning for a few days, or to be able to stay all day and recharge the batteries as I go so I can really start to learn, but even doing it like this is great fun.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Throw Back Thursday

They have this thing on FaceBook called "Throw back Thursday" where you're supposed to post old pictures of people.

Today Jackie was looking for one of her game discs, and came upon this, so I though I'd post it for TBT and in honor of Mother's Day this weekend.

Crispy's graduation from Tot's Village (daycare) in Port Chester in 2004 :)

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Window deflectors

Got my fancy new German window deflectors for the car (the little hoods along the to of the front windows). Now I can leave the windows open a bit and hopefully the wet dog smell that tends to build up with the warm weather will dissipate a bit :)

Jeez, lighten up, part 2

I posted my previous little rant on Reddit as well as here, and got quite a few replies along the lines of "I read and enjoyed that stuff" and "it's important for kids to read this stuff" and "the lighter reading should be for their free time", and while I actually agree I think times have changed - a lot!

When I was growing up reading was my main source of entertainment. We only had 3 TV channels which were not 24 hour (this was in the UK), and video games and the internet had not been invented, so if you wanted to be entertained you read. I hated being told what to read by teachers (as do most kids), but my escape from reading what they told me to read was to read what I wanted to read.

Things are totally different now- if my son wants to escape from what the school tells him to read (and he does) he has: 24 hour wall-to-wall TV, video games, his phone, text messages, Skype, and everything the internet has to tempt him with. Reading for pleasure is just one of many options now, and because he is beginning to associate reading with unpleasant subjects he does not want to read about it is getting lower on his list. And before you tell me that as parents we should be controlling what he has access to- I agree, but if you think it’s that easy you obviously have not tried to raise a teenager lately!

Kids must read an awful lot of different things as they plow through the homework they are set, and much of it is dry, textbook reading. And while I agree that an appreciation of fine literature must be taught as part of their education, does the subject matter have to be so deep and meaningful all the time? By treating it this way we are producing a generation of kids who see reading as “work” or a “chore” as they associate it with homework and as something that has to be done before they can do what they want to do, probably  online.

I think there needs to be a radical rethink of the way “English” is taught to inspire kids to enjoy reading, to treat it as something they enjoy and want to do- and you don’t do that by making them read nothing but “worthy” books that will teach them other things. Teach the other things in the other classes, let Social Studies teach the history and Health teach the responsibility and the social justice. English should be about teaching kids to read and write, they should be taught to read for pleasure and enjoy the beauty of a well turned phrase and a ripping yarn. Only by reading good, gripping stories that they enjoy and they feel are relevant to them will they keep doing it for fun after the class and the homework is finished. And only by exposure to lots of reading will they learn to be effective and creative writers themselves.

If you do a little research online you will see all sorts of reports and studies that show that reading for pleasure is in decline. In a brief search I found a Time article that reports that 45% of 17 year olds admit to only reading for pleasure a few times a year, while a Huff Post poll found that 28% of Americans have not read a book in the last year… how freaking sad!

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Jeez, lighten up!

Crisp has come home with another wonderful piece of light reading for school.

This has been a tough year, they told us the theme in English would be the human condition, but do they have to make all the books so deep and meaningful? So far they've been through Of Mice and Men, 1984, Master Harold and the Boys, Night, Maus, and now The Kite Runner. All great books it's true, but whatever happened to reading for fun?

The themes of all these books are pretty dark, and while I know they want to try and teach a little history and social responsibility along the way do they have to do it with every book? Couldn't they throw something light in there every now and then?

The one saving grace is The Taming of the Shrew which he seems to be enjoying (I'd kick his ass if he didn't), but every other book he comes in with he now approaches with dread no matter how much we try to encourage him. This is a kid who used to love reading, and by piling dark book on dark book he's starting to lose that spark. 15 is a rough year for teenagers, they have more than enough angst of their own to deal without every book the school makes them read piling on more.

There are lots of great books that tell happy, uplifting stories- how about cutting the kids a break and giving them one of those to read once in a while?

Prop balancer

So... it turns out the reason the video on my quadcopter is so "wobbly" is because the propellers are not properly balanced. It's known as the "jello" effect and you can read more about it here.

What you need to do is make sure all the props are as balanced as possible so they don't vibrate as they spin at high speed (which is what causes the wobbly video), this also has the added benefit of making your motors last longer. You balance the props by putting them on a little rod that holds them perfectly centrally and then balancing it on a couple of cups or glasses, as shown in this video, the alternative is to buy an expensive magnetic version that has the advantage of absolutely no friction... or make your own- guess which I did :)

Here is the prop balancing rod ($5.26 from Amazon) with the prop mounted suspended by the magic power of magnetism between 2 neodymium magnets ($5.86 for 10, also from Amazon) on a homemade rig. This is mark ii, the magnets are stronger than they look and the lighter version I built first wasn't strong enough to hold them apart!

Notice that because of the strong magnets and the careful spacing there is a gap between the rod and the magnets- so- no friction :)

Now I just have to spend an evening before I go flying again going through all my props and carefully sanding and balancing each one, which may take a while as I break them quite often so I've started buying them in bulk- the last order that I got had 80 in it and I have more on the way (they're much cheaper in bulk too)... but then hopefully my next video will be smooth and jello free :)

Monday, May 04, 2015

Friday, May 01, 2015

Quadcopter win!

After last week's propeller shredding visit to the woods I was very keen to get out with the quadcopter today in a spot with fewer obstacles and more space. Jackie very cleverly suggested the soccer field just the other side of Playland Parkway where the old nursery used to be, so I charged up all 4 of my batteries and headed over there first thing this morning hoping to have the place to myself- and I did :)

I flew around very happily for about 90 minutes, managed to land more often than crash, and only broke 6 props (and my order of 80 from China came in yesterday) while flying all 4 of my batteries flat. This is the perfect spot early in the morning- I didn't bother anyone and no-one bothered me (and there was a cop car parked in the parking lot behind the little hut for about half the time I was there and he didn't seem to care).

It is SO much easier to fly using the fpv mask when you have some space to play with- and I've learnt that you need to be bold: it's when I get nervous and cut the throttle that I crash, if I keep flying and steer myself out of trouble I'm much less likely to.

I have a few things to work on- the video is very wobbly, but I think part of that is the little rubber anti-vibration mount it's on, I think it'll actually be better just velcro'd directly  to the frame so I'll give that a try next time.

I had an absolute blast... and my flying had definitely improved by leaps and bounds by the time I left :)