Archive for the ‘Software’ Category

I’m Back! I think.

26 January 2017

Well, this is odd. It’s been a bit over a year, I think (too lazy to look and see for sure) since my last posting here. On top of that, this particular post isn’t necessarily my standard fare. It’s probably a mix of rant and quick updates. All ranting is my personal opinion, of course. No pretty pix, those will come later.

So, which first, the rant or the updates? Ah, you figure it out, they’re all mixed together.

Photography wise, it’s been a bust, between building the Vardo (done!), Idaho weather, my dad, and other stuff, I’ve not actually gone out “to do photography”. I’m working on that, though, and you can expect some more pictures this year. Time lapse. Video. Landscapes. Macro. Whatever grabs my attention at the moment. And yes, I did indeed say video, that wasn’t an error.

I’ve written a small script, more a proof of concept idea than anything else, that I plan to video. If it turns out good enough, I might even look into YouTube. My granddaughters want me to start putting my videos up there and I’m tempted. If this project works, I probably will start putting a couple of older videos up and create more. I never expected to get into or enjoy making video but I find I do.

Don’t expect much in the way of audio on my videos. I’ll try and include music based on the input of other people, but I have a beef with the lousy captioning on YouTube and am going to extract my revenge by including captions and no voicing. So there. I swear, I never know whether to laugh or cry when I see the automatically generated captions on most of the YouTube videos. It sucks. The only ones any good seem to be those that go out of their way to include captioning themselves.

This next video project is showing me a bunch of stuff already, and I can’t get out to the Owyhees to film it. Film it…video it…whatever. I have a DJI Phantom 4 and that’s what gave me the idea for this video. Next up, I needed a video recorder that could become your eyes, so I wound up asking around and borrowing a GoPro Hero 4 Black. The video specs for that match well with the video specs for the drone, BUT the Hero 4 is a fixed fisheye. More on that later.

The Hero 4 has no playback capability and the only way you can get any kind of immediate feedback or live feed, is to use their Capture app. Or a third party one. And guess what? Those idiots at GoPro seem to think you absolutely need to log into their servers before you can get any use out of the app. Yeah, right. Waaaay out in the middle of the Owyhees, where I set up for my video on the GoPro and test it, where there’s NO cell service? How in Hades am I supposed to log into their servers from there? Stupid and pointless. However, I did manage to find an older Capture version and that one lets me have live feed and control over the camera to change settings WITHOUT having to log into their freaking servers first. Those of you out there wanting this…look for the newest version prior to 3.x. It also has the older logo. Just be sure and don’t allow your apps to automatically update or it’ll get replaced with the new one. You’d think losing their market share would warn them and that it’s logical that if you want to keep your fan base, you shouldn’t push out an upgrade that makes it impossible to use the app where there’s no service. Especially for a camera intended for extreme stuff out in the middle of nowhere. I guess common sense isn’t part of the job requirement there.

Now about the GoPro fisheye situation. For my wants, the fisheye gives me a great wide field of view, but it does have those pesky fisheye effects. You know, the curved  vertical and horizontal lines that should be straight.

To remove the fisheye effects, there are plenty of tutorials and apps out there. The first I tried was the GoPro PC app. Posts, reviews. blogs all say it has a built-in fisheye fix that’s good. Guess what? Yup, you got it. It, too, requires a server login. Forget it, I’m not gonna look for an older version of that, too. That made it easy to uninstall and discard with only a second or two’s thought.

I moved on to four programs that I already have. I’ve restructured my home systems so I have a laptop that’s just for photography work. On that machine, I have Linux as my OS: Ubuntu Studio. There are some things I don’t like about the OS layout, so I may just migrate to a clean, minimal Ubuntu 16.04 and have only the video and graphics programs that I find work for me. And yes, there is a point to mentioning this.

The four programs I was looking at for the fisheye removal are: Adobe After Effects (Win), daVinci Resolve Free (Win), OpenShot (Win/Linux), and Kdenlive (Linux).

OpenShot was the first I looked into, and while it’s a nice basic editor, it was taking me too long to find out how to deal with the fisheye effect so I dropped that approach. I then went and played with After Effects and it did a reasonable job, but the file size went from 357 MB to 12 GB. HUH? OK, I figured that was user error and I could set the parameters better later or transpose to a different format. At the same time I was playing with After Effects, I was messing about in Kdenlive. That one was not only easy to deal with the fisheye, but it had a couple different ways to do so. After I got done trying After Effects, I then looked into daVinci Resolve. This was just as easy to use as Kdenlive but the free version is apparently time bombed or has a file size or video length restriction. Unlike last time I used it, this time it slapped a watermark on the entire video. I’m going to look into that, but if that’s the case (time bombed or file size) then I’m going to toss it.

So, looking at the various outputs, I was rather surprised to find out that the best resulting corrected video came from my Linux machine: Kdenlive’s Defish filter. Not by a little, but by an easily noticeable difference. File size, quality of resulting video, quality of corrections…Kdenlive was the best. daVinci Resolve was the next, but it had a huge file size as well. That I expected, though, as Resolve doesn’t output the final video, only the feed into the conversion. That I could live with. To be honest, though, when I started looking at these I really didn’t expect the Linux program to come out ahead like that. That was a very welcome bit of support for my Linux love.

I’m going to take a look at PiTiVi (also Linux) later and see how it compares to Kdenlive, but going forward right now it looks like for my project I’ll be using Kdenlive as my editor.

On the writing front, I’ve been assembling an ebook with the various tales of the Pa’adhe. It has a cover for each story plus the ebook itself. I need to create three more covers, so I’m waiting for the weather here to get better so I can go get the pictures I need. We’ve busted the local records across the board for snow this winter. We got more than the winter of 1985, and that was on the ground only about two weeks. This winter’s snow has been on the ground for over a month now, and it’s been piled high. Buildings have collapsed as a result of the amount and type of snow.

I’ve sure enjoyed my first year retired, but funny enough, I sort of seem to be way more busy than when I was working. And I’ve still not gotten back into my radio stuff. Maybe this year!

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The Grief Continues

1 July 2014

The title says it all.

This is one of my longer posts. You’ve been warned. It does have some pictures, though.

I really like Dexpot,  a virtual desktop manager. I have seven desktops defined, based on the major categories of my various work: writing, pictures and graphics, programming, regular work, etc.. It works well and it is fun to watch the seven-sided cube (in my case) turn to the right desktop, especially once you get the speed the way you like it. I really like the way it lets me clean icons from my desktop(s) for greater focus and ease of use. Being able to copy and paste between the desktops is useful, too, as is still having access to the Orb and all the installed programs no matter what desktop you’re on. I like it enough that it’s the only program I allow to start when Windoze starts.

All in all, it’s a great program, or so I though until last Thursday.

I had used The Photographer’s Ephemeris (TPE) the day before to check sunset times, angles, etc.. I knew the spot I had in mind wasn’t exactly what I wanted, but I thought it would give me a nice landscape. I was expecting good cloud formations for a very nice sunset. I was itching to do some time lapse. I hadn’t done any since a year ago or so.

Sunset was around 9:21 pm local according to TPE. I decided to leave at 8:30 pm. I invited my wife to go along and she accepted. YAY!! I love it when she goes with me. I thought maybe I should leave around 7:45 instead to give me more time to get there, get set up, and get going taking pictures. Then I forgot that and actually left at 8:30.

First Grief: It took longer to drive to the place than I thought. I had figured 15 minutes but it took half an hour. Along the way, I saw some awesome shots. I would have been in the shade of a cloud, the distant field was brightly lit, off in the distance was a very nice cloud arrangement, with shafts of light and shadow streaming to the ground. Gorgeous! My wife even commented on them, suggesting I do the shoot there.

BUT I had this spot in mind and THAT was where I was going.

Second Grief: When I got to the prescribed location, I jumped out of the vehicle and got everything set up and ready to go. Camera on tripod — check, laptop up and running — check, Pentax Tether http://www.pktether.com/ running — check, camera connected to laptop — check, camera focused — check, lens selected — check, scene composed — check.

Image of Silverado Blazer rear gate open with laptop resting on it and USB cable running to camera on tripod. Background shows dried grasses and distant mountains under a very cloudy sky.

This is the time lapse setup I use most of the time.

So, why wasn’t Pentax Tether recognizing my camera?

Fiddling around with things, I finally got it to recognize the Pentax K-10 and take control of the camera. No idea what got fixed, but Whew! Only by now I’d lost a lot of light and was minutes away from sunset. I decided to go ahead and run a time lapse, just to verify things worked. I’d try again the next evening for the full time lapse I wanted.

#$)(&#$%&*@!!! It had worked fine last time I used it, why wouldn’t it work now? I kept getting camera buffer not cleared messages. Grrrrrr!!!!

Fiddling with the settings, I finally managed to eliminate those, but now I had “too many camera commands…wait or try later.”

Now I was getting irritated and muttering under my breath. I had never encountered either of those messages before. I had already tried rebooting camera and laptop. This time, I switched the Dexpot to not start when Windoze started, turned off the camera, and turned off the laptop. Then I started everything back up.

By now, the sun had set but there was plenty of twilight. I was determined to get something.

Third and final Grief: When everything came back up and I switched the camera on, everything seemed to be working great. Apparently Dexpot was throttling access for Pentax Tether’s storing to my hard drive, accessing the USB, or something.

With everything looking good, I hit the shutter button in the program. HUH? Only one picture was indicated as being taken, but I saw nothing on the screen. Oh, I needed to re-select the timed exposure checkbox.

Again I hit the shutter button…nothing. I looked through the viewfinder of the camera and saw…nothing. #$)*(&$&*(!! Now what??

Things seemed to be working fine…OH!

Somehow, I had reset the shutter speed to 30 seconds. No wonder I didn’t see anything, the entire image was white from overexposure and being displayed against the white background of the program. I fixed that and the pictures started showing up and getting stored to my laptop’s hard drive. Note to self…see if I can change the Pentax Tether program background to something else like grey.

FINALLY!

Of course, by now the sunset was a goner, the reds and oranges I was hoping to capture were pretty tired of hanging around and had left, but at least everythng was working properly. And I did get some pictures, nothing to write home about, but not all bad. I even managed to get a time lapse…sorta…if you watch it without blinking.

Image of distant sunset across the open farmland with the Owyhee mountains in the distance.

The sunset I was trying to capture. I’ve done better than this, but as you can see from the text I was having all sorts of trouble. At least I got something!

So now it’s Friday and I’m looking out the window right now at a totally overcast sky. Hopefully, that’ll change in the next eight hours. If not, there’s always Saturday….

AHHHHH! When 6:00 rolled around, the sky was broken and there were some nice cloud formations on the western horizon. So I started getting my gear together and my wife asked if it was time to go already. YAY, she’s going with me again!

Loaded up and headed out, this time I asked her to watch for that spot that we’d both liked. I pulled off the highway and backed into the access to the field. Opening up the back of the vehicle, I quickly set up and started shooting. All was going well until about 15 minutes later I started seeing the ‘too many commands’ message again.

Puzzled, I poked around and powered off the program and the camera. Firing up the program again and turning on the camera, everything started working again. Then I realized what had happened. Just as Dexpot defintely messed with the interface between Pentax Tether and the camera and I had fixed that, so did my screensaver settings. I suddenly realized that when I had been shooting with Pentax Tether last year, I had turned the screensaver off. So, this time I kept checking the laptop and moving the mouse or pressing the shift key to keep it awake.

After that, it was an enjoyable evening as we watched the sun set, my wife read, and I kept the laptop awake.

The whole time I was shooting that time lapse, I had thought it odd the clouds were NOT moving and was pleased to be shooting the sun moving through the clouds. I would have sworn they were staying in place the whole hour and half I was there. It wasn’t until I actually created the time lapse and viewed it that I realized the clouds were constantly forming and disappearing as well as actually moving.

This time, I elected to use Shutter Priority so that I could set the shutter speed and let the camera adjust the aperture. This was my first time trying that setup and it did seem to do a bit of what I wanted in that the images were more reactive to normal light conditions than previous attempts at shooting the passage from sunny to twilight. This time the images didn’t suddenly go dark on me for no reason that I could discern. True, the video shows the scene going dark, but that’s to be expected when shooting into the sun like that.

Another concern I had was that while I’d done it before, it always makes me nervous shooting at the sun like this. I’ve been careful to ensure that I never shoot directly at the sun, and I consider that to be the case where the sun is right in the middle of the entire image with a straight line to the camera sensor. I always ensure that the sun is off-center by a decent amount. That, plus I’ve been lucky, I think, is why my camera’s sensor hasn’t been sun-damaged.

All in all, I had a nice time with my wife, it was good practice for some projects I have in mind later this year, and I did get a passable time lapse out of it.

The Problems with Maps

18 June 2014

Well, my plans for a very specific photo this weekend just went bust.

As you may know from this post, one of my planning tools is The Photographer’s Ephemeris (TPE). I mentioned in this Spring Fever post what I wanted to do (9th paragraph down): photograph the Summer Solstice sunrise at Three Forks.

So, it was time to do some scouting. I needed to verify angles, lines of sight, refresh how to get there, and if necessary identify a better location on the ground and re-work the lines in TPE.

I loaded up my son, one grandson, and one granddaughter last Saturday and drove out to Three Forks to perform the requisite scouting. The last time I had been there, we had stopped at the top of the canyon. This time we went down into the canyon, which was easy enough, given I was driving a 1992 Silverado Blazer, but I’m not sure I’d really want to drive a regular car down that road. A Subaru Legacy went down before us and was having no problem, and there was a pickup and a small SUV already down there, so obviously as long as you have clearance you can make it down, and back up. That road, however, is pretty rocky and is very steep. I’d swear 75% of the vertical distance from rim to floor is in that first half of the road going down. No wonder there’s a couple of switchbacks!

It didn’t look that bad in TPE. But then, it’s not a topo map either. More to the point in this particular case, if you’re not paying attention you can lose your N/S orientation.

Down in the canyon, we spent an hour having lunch and exploring the area. I, of course, checked out the pre-determined location and angles. Unfortunately, while my location and angles were correct, the canyon had various protuberances and twists not so readily evident in TPE, Google Maps, Google Earth, or Flash Earth.

What looked like a perfect alignment simply wasn’t. I could get a wonderful image of the solstice sun breaking over the rim above me, but it wasn’t what I wanted. It wouldn’t line up down or up canyon. In hindsight, I know very well I should have gone to a topo map site and checked things there.

Simply put, despite mentioning the benefits of doing your homework, I just didn’t do all my homework. Everything lines up, or appears to, but without checking against a topo map with closer contour lines, I was just working from too high level a view. I needed the nitty gritty details and failed to do my due diligence there.

I’m glad we went and I definitely plan to return as I saw some awesome rock formations across the river that would align very nicely with a Milky Way overhead. I just need to figure out how to light them up so they show up. I have several ideas how to do that and I know it’s possible to do so, so I am definitely planning a return trip for some astrophotography from there.

That’ll have to be an overnighter, though, as it’s a 2 1/2 hour 100 mile drive one way mostly on dirt roads and there’s that steep rocky road to navigate back out of the canyon.

Oh, and the title of this post? It refers to relying on insufficiently detailed maps while doing this type of planning. However, it also refers to another problem I have with maps…they’re so much fun to explore!

And there’s another, similar, canyon junction visible on the maps to the east…maybe that one would work?