Archive for the ‘Updates’ 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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A Return to Camping

20 August 2015

It has been almost since my kids were born, around 35 years, since the last time I’ve actually done what I would call camping. I’ve been out and spent the night in a tent or in the car, as you’ve seen in my other posts and pictures, particularly the astrophotography posts. But it’s been decades since I’ve actually gone camping as in the family going up in the hills and spending the weekend in a campground.

That’s what we did this last weekend. And that’s when I discovered just how much I missed it. The really cool thing about it, though, is my wife even said how much she enjoyed it. That gives me even more motivation to get the Vardo done.

So, on to the camping….

We left Friday morning and headed up, planning to go to Warm Lake and stay in one of the campgrounds there called Shoreline. We stopped at the gas station south of Cascade to get some treats and so found out about the Cougar fire in the area. For those unfamiliar with “Cougar fire” and the like, fires in the US NW are usually named after a creek, mountain, or other geographical landmark in the area and this one was named after Cougar Creek. We called the lodge for a status, discussed the situation and decided to go on in to Warm Lake if we could. On the way in we saw some side roads off Warm Lake Road that were blocked off, including one with the sheriff sitting there to keep people out but still keep it open for the firefighters to access the Cougar fire.

The Shoreline campground was full when we got there, which didn’t really surprise me. Around here, during the summer, unless you reserve a campsite in advance, some places a year in advance, it’s hit or miss whether you’ll be able to stay in any particular campground. However, we had noticed a really nice campsite along the road to the campground, and wound up staying there with room for all of us in “one” spot: my daughter’s family (7), my son’s family (4), my sister-in-law and one of her sons (2), and my wife and I. Fifteen of us in one camper and three tents, as you can see in the picture below. No services, just campsites, but it was a few minutes walk to the lake and outhouses and water was available at the lodge just a few minutes away by car so it was really pretty convenient. Happily, the temperatures were cooler there than at home, as well.

A full circle panorama showing the campsite in the woods with the trailer, tents, hammock, trees, road.

Campsite panorama

We set up a canopy over our tables near the firepit and that served as our kitchen for the weekend. The firepit was our communal center. And of course, we had a hammock to relax in, when we could get the kids to quit playing in it.

Shows the yellow canopy we set up over the white camp tables with my daughter and her husband by them and my wife in the hammock in the foreground, playing a game on her phone.

The kitchen and the hammock.

Naturally, since it is camping after all, both nights had campfires and S’mores. We also cooked a few trout and hot dogs over the fire. One of the funny highlights was when my nephew roasted six marshmallows on his trident and crammed them between full-sized Graham crackers on top of a bar of Hershey’s Chocolate. Boy, was that one huge, messy S’more! I wish I had a picture of that to include here.

SHows a little red flatbed trailer, 4' by 8', with wooden side rails behind a blue Geo Tracker. Grey tarp creates a dome over the rails to provide a sleeping area.

The little red trailer rigged for sleeping in.

We even managed to jury-rig a small “camper” out of a utility trailer, some tent poles, and bungie cords. For a cot we had a reclining camp chair. The railing at the back was removed to provide access.

We had a blast! It was a really dusty campsite and also smokey from the Cougar fire two to three miles west of us. Because of the fire, either a sheriff or firefighter would come by each evening to advise us of road conditions. Friday night, the sheriff said we didn’t have to evacuate, but he wasn’t sure that he would personally remain camping in the area. We discussed that and decided that if we had to leave, they’d come by and let us know, so we stayed put. The next evening we learned that the fire had jumped the road and so the road was currently closed. The next morning it was opened up again, so even with the fire related conditions, we actually had a really good time and no problems getting back out Sunday afternoon.

Dutch oven cooking was supper Saturday. My son fixed up a chicken stew around noon and we maintained coals and fire throughout the day.

12" Dutch oven in coals in fire pit with lid off showing chicken stew comprised of 1" pieces of corn on the cob, baby carrots, chopped onion, chopped potatoes.

Dutch oven chicken stew

Paper plate in my lap loaded with chicken stew as described in previous picture.

Chicken stew served up! YUM!

Shows tripod created from long poles found in the area over the fire pit with a 12" Dutch oven hanging from a hook made from a small stick. Also shows other 12" Dutch oven in coals to side of fire pit. Chairs in background around the fire pit with the little red trailer and Geo Tracker in the background.

Field assembled tripod with proper lashing at top and a field made hook for the Dutch oven and coffee pot to hang from.

This was the first time in about 50 years that I made a tripod and only the third hook I made. It worked really well and we even used it for coffee in the morning. We did have one problem with the Dutch ovens that we initially blamed on the tripod: the bail on the one hanging from the tripod apparently got pulled out of shape. We couldn’t lay it over and just lift up the lid, we had to slide the lid out the side. Later, when cleaning up we discovered we’d swapped the lids when we prepped and put the food in the Dutch ovens. When we switched the lids, the bails on both ovens worked just fine. Now we know what to check next time.

Playing in the lake, Saturday, I discovered muscles I hadn’t used for decades. For that matter, I only survived three swings on the rope before I was afraid I couldn’t hang on for the next one. Come the next morning, I found I had sore muscle under the sternum and my underarms. It was a good feeling, though, and made even better when I realized I had gained back another notch in my belt by the end of the weekend.

Rocky ground with a big crack in the rock. Red Bocce ball in the crack.

That was NOT where he wanted it to stop!

One of the games we played was introduced by my nephew: Cross Country Bocce. We only played to 5 points per game, and we got a real workout. The rules were simple: start from one point and the person going first throws (yes, throws, not tosses!) the little white target ball anywhere they want. Then he or she throws his Bocce ball (one per person playing) to try to get closest to the white ball he just threw. Then the person that threw the white ball has to go find it and point out to the rest of just where the white ball was. Sometimes we could see it on the ground, but a lot of the time we couldn’t and had to try and guess what was there to deflect our balls into the right spot. Whoever gets closest (and sometimes that’s a couple of feet or more away) gets the point and throws the white ball for the next round. Repeat until someone has 5 points. With all the rocks and trees, there was no guarantee that the white ball or your Bocce ball would go where you aimed. After all, that little white ball fits between trees better, for one thing and bounces off rocks more. So we were up hills, through brush, on the road, and watching our balls roll or carom all over the place as we tried to allow for slope, rocks, trees, bushes, and so on.

Little target ball and several red, blue, yellow, grey Bocce balls on the ground around a tree. Ground is covered with twigs, sticks, rocks of assorted sizes.

One of the very few times most everyone got to the white ball.

The above is one of the few times most of the balls were clustered around the white ball. It is a picture of the type of ground cover we were playing in, too! One of the throws of the white ball was hilarious: It hit a tree, bounced off to hit a tree close by, bounced off that second tree back to the first, rebounded back to the second, once again off that back to the first…I think there were five or six bounces between the two trees before it fell to the ground. Kind of like a Japanese Pachinko game, I think. There were many more hilarious throws, too, but this one was particularly funny.

Shows my son bent over his son's shoe taping the front half back together with silver duct tape after he walked the sole off. Granddaugther stands to the side watching.

Thank heavens for duct tape!

We had at least one casualty that required major treatment. Fortunately, there was some duct tape to hand and we were able to properly ensure the continuity of the weekend. As a matter of fact, when we left for home the next afternoon, this shoe was still going strong after playing all over the place in the rocks, hills, sticks, and riding bikes.

Like I said, we all had a blast and we’re looking forward to more camping. I’m eager to get the Vardo done and get out camping with it.

A Return Update

5 March 2015

It has been a weird beginning to the year for me.

I fully meant to return to this blog well before now, but somehow writing for my blog just wasn’t a priority. From time to time, I’d think of something to write about, but I just never sat down and actually did so.

From an amateur radio standpoint, I’ve been working to develop something I refer to as The Thumper. It’s based on something I read about in a blog post where the ham described his fondness for CW (Continuous Wave, aka Morse Code) and an on-the-air experience meeting a group of deaf learning ham radio and cw. The original Thumper was mentioned only in passing, and described as “a device that attaches to their forearm and taps them to indicate the Mose Code being received.” I have various issues with LED displays and my current tactile transducer setup leaves much to be desired. For The Thumper, I’d started by utilizing an Arduino driving a RC servo and while that does work to an extent, it has an inherent speed limitation that I don’t like. Almost anything over 10 wpm keeps the servo at the end of travel, making it impossible to detect the characters. I’m now looking at using a vibrator similar to those in cell phones, compliments of a good friend and fellow ham. Although not what I originally envisaged the vibrator does show better promise and a nice theoretical response to faster CW speeds. Coupled with a LED, it may turn out to be the best solution for me to listen to the radio. I know, but the combination might turn out to be better than the parts. Right now, I’ve only got the Arduino driving the vibrator. Still to be done is receiving and converting over-the-air CW signals provided via the audio jack of my radios.

Plans are under way for more Owyhee explorations, and while doing that I fully intend to try HF radio work from way out in the middle of nowhere. I’m building an end-fed, multi-band wire antenna that should be tuned to each band: 10m, 20m, 40m, and 60m. It’s only mobile in that you can easily carry it coiled up in the vehicle, to use it you have to park and deploy it. We’ll see how that works in practice, but I’ve got good expectations. I’ll be focusing, of course, on CW and PSK but when solo. If I have a friend along, I’ll be trying some phone work as well. More than likely, I’ll be band scanning and if I hear anything, I’ll pause on that and see if I can contact the other person.

Photography-wise, I’m currently teaching a beginning photo class, but with a twist. In all my previous classes I noticed that there was never a deaf or hard-of-hearing person attending. This time, I told the community education group that I would teach a beginning class in sign language. When I shared this idea with the few deaf community members I knew, the enthusiasm was outstanding. In the end, due to various reasons, there were only three in my class. We’re having a blast and there would have been at least two more were it not for an age limitation posted on the community education web page. That limitation didn’t apply to my class, but that exemption information was not passed on to the people that wanted to sign up. Word’s starting to get out there about this class, though, and I’ve mentioned I’ll offer it again, the same way. One of the reasons for doing this is that I just felt like turning the tables on the regular offerings…they’re oriented towards hearing people, the deaf have to get an interpreter. This time, though, it’s the hearing that have to get an interpreter if they try to attend.

I have also been investigating the use of the Shutterbug Remote with my Pentax K3 DSLR. Testing with an iOS device showed that the remote works well with the K3, but I’m getting crashes using the Android version of the app on my Samsung Galaxy Note 4. Testing with a Samsung Galaxy S5 shows it works reasonably well with that phone, so now I’m trying to determine whether or not it’s a setting, a FW, or a HW issue with my Note 4. An email to the developers has not provided any response, so I’m very unimpressed with the customer service aspect of their website. Enough that I’m not providing a link to it. It would be really nice to get this remote working with my phone as it’s a great little device which when used as an intervalometer provides better timing control capabilities than the built-in intervalometer mode of the K3. If I can’t get it working, I’ll definitely have to create an Arduino intervalometer or something.

I’ve built a new woodworking bench (above) in my garage along with a DIY woodworking bench vise (below). These will come in handy when I start building the Vardo.

On the Vardo front, I’ve started gathering materials to modify the trailer for the Vardo. It took me a while to figure out the best way to use my flatbed trailer for the Vardo, and still be able to easily use it as a flatbed trailer. One of the things I had to deal with was me being “greedy.” The flatbed trailer is 12’ by 6’ and I had been doing my designing based on that entire area.

Image of a 6 foot by 12 foot utility trailer with one pair of wheels. Sides are an open framework of angled metal. Tail gate is about 4 feet tall when up and contains a metal mesh. Parked next to a blue-green 1992 Chevy Blazer in front of the garage in the driveway.

This is the new utility trailer that will become the base for the Vardo. I’m especially happy to get the all metal bed.

I was going to have a big Vardo that had luxurious room inside. Kind of a contradiction to my original plans for a simple, cozy Vardo, actually. As a result, one of the things I had to figure out a way around was the six tie-downs on the trailer bed near the sides. I finally realized that they provided a perfect way to fastend the Vardo to the trailer, a la pickup campers: straps built onto the framework of the Vardo that connect to the trailer tie-downs via turnbuckles. To do that meant I had to narrow the width of the Vardo box to fit inside the tie-downs enough that I could hook them into place and tighten. It’s only a 6” loss in width, give or take, but it also freed up the solution to another issue: I wanted to put the same kind of mesh that I had on the tailgate along the sides of the trailer. That way, things put in the trailer wouldn’t roll out under the existing side rails. And I could use that now open area to store poles for awnings, and other such gear.

I’ve been doing quite a bit of fishing lately, for rainbow trout. Normally I would catch and release trout, but my wife and I have found that we like the fish. I’ve learned to fillet them so that we don’t really need to worry overmuch about bones while eating. Only about 15 minutes from my house is a great little pond where, so far, I’ve always managed to catch my limit every day. I didn’t use to fish that much, or to enjoy it, but I’m finding I do. I’ll probably go fishing rather regularly while retired, using that to supplement our diet with fresh fish on a regular basis. It’ll be interesting to see how the fishing goes as the weather warms up.