June, 2017

Today We Are 15!

Somewhere over Hertfordshire

Happy Birthday me!

This blog is 15 today. This is probably only of academic interest to most people, but who says blogs don’t have legs?

Over time this blog has morphed and changed a bit. But I still enjoy using it as an outlet for writing about things that interest me. And yes, for showing off photos and videos.

I confess that unlike the tenth anniversary, I’ve not bought the blog a cake and some candles. I’ve not even done some lists. The best I can give you is the photos above and below that were taken locally yesterday.

Chase Farm Hospital

DJI Mavic Pro – Initial Thoughts

Long time readers will know that I’ve been playing with a DJI Phantom 3 Advanced for over two years now. I’ve posted a number of videos and photos from that drone in the past and I’ve been very happy with it. However there’s no denying that its size limits where you can take it. You do have to actively choose to take it with you – perhaps at the expense of other things. I’ve had the whole kit fit into a rucksack, but I need other baggage if I’m taking anything else with me. It’s especially limiting for something like a cycle ride.

So when DJI release the Mavic Pro last year I was very tempted. It has more sensors than my Phantom 3 Advanced. Notably my early mistake of crashing the Phantom into a tree wouldn’t be possible with this. And the functionality is greatly improved too with lots more modes making use of the available sensors.

Now I confess that I was actually pretty happy with the 2.7k camera of the Phantom. While 4k video is nice and future proofs myself, I don’t actually have any way to see it back at that resolution. My laptop isn’t that high a resolution and nor is my TV. In any case, there are limits to the bitrate it records 4k at, and I suspect I’ll be using 2.7k to a larger extent with the Mavic.

One other consideration was the ultraportable DJI Spark which has just been released. This only shoots 1080 but is tiny and is a true go-anywhere drone. The arms don’t fold smartly like the Mavic, but it’s very pocketable and is the sort of thing you can easily keep in the bottom of your bag. I suppose my biggest concern was its performance in windy conditions. The UK doesn’t always have perfect drone flying weather, and while I’ll always avoid the rain, bigger beasts tend to be a bit more solid in the air. That said, in some of the YouTube reviews posted, it looks like it performs decently.

Another consideration is the likelihood that DJI will release an updated Mavic at some point soon. The Mavic Pro was released in October last year but it was post-Christmas before it was more widely available. No doubt there will be a new model available ahead of Christmas this year, but it’s like waiting for the next phone or the next computer. There’s never quite the right time to buy.

I still went with the Mavic, and I bought the Fly More pack – as much as anything for the additional two batteries. Other accessories were moderately useful, including some extra props, a car charger and so on, and although the bag is nice it’s not perhaps quite as tough as would be useful for protection. The hub charger is good, although I was slightly disappointed to learn that it charged batteries sequentially. So if you load 3 or 4 batteries onto it, it still only does them one at a time.

You will need to allow time to charge everything up, and importantly, get the most up to date firmware. DJI basically forces users to use the current firmware by making you use an account. If you don’t have the current firmware, your flight distances are highly restrictive. That all said, while it’s still slow, it’s a bit more obvious than the old Phantom 3 way of doing things. I updated using my phone (on WiFi at home), and that gives you a good idea of where you’ve got in the installation and update. Much better than listening for strange sounds from you Phantom!

The little remote is very nice, and DJI include microUSB, Lightning and USB C cables in the box to connect with your phone. I’ve been used to using a Nexus 7 for my phantom – which is basically that device’s single use. And I notice that there are lots of devices around that let you “mount” a tablet to your remote if you want. In use my phone (an HTC 10) worked well, although you’re going to be flattening your phone’s battery using it rather than a bespoke device. I can live with that for the benefits in portability. I’ll probably pack a small Anker battery charger in my DJI bag to recharge my phone if it flattens after a decent flight. I did however notice that the Mavic’s remote loses charge faster than my old Phantom 3 Advanced remote, which could effectively run for weeks on a single charge.

I played a little with some of the modes that track you as move, although I need to learn more about them.

The Mavic has a range of up to 7 km, but UK regulations say that you need to be able to see your drone at all times. There’s no way you can see something as small as a Mavic that far away. And I’m not sure whether a first-person headset would actually be legal here. One of the problems I had with a white Phantom was losing it against a white cloud sky. The dark grey of Mavic makes it easier to spot (and remain legal), and in any case, I probably don’t want to have to trek 7 km to retrieve an errant drone should it decide to land there. (I confess that I’ve never had a drone “fly away” from me. The closest I’ve got is have to use my eyes to fly a drone back when video connectivity caused me problems one time.)

One issue I will think about is bringing some kind of mat or cloth with me take off and land from. The lowness of the Mavic means even quite short grass could get caught by the propellers. I often find myself launching from grass, so a simple and lightweight solution would be useful.

I’m still learning about what the best recording settings are. I use RAW+JPG for photos, but video is another questions. I’ve also never bought any ND filters for a drone, although they do seem to be used a lot by the pros. We’ll have to see.

I did try doing some live streaming. I first tried YouTube, but the app kept crashing repeatedly when I tried it. So I fell back to Facebook which is never anyone’s favourite platform. They limit the video quality a bit for starters. But I confess that it just about worked (I’d embed the video, but Facebook makes that truly fiddly). A few people watched, although playing back, the video quality was at times poor. More annoyingly, there were cutouts continually. I was on 4G so it shouldn’t have been too bad, but it wasn’t great. Still it was good that the phone’s mic could be used for a sort of commentary of what I was shooting.

Otherwise, I’m really happy with my purchase. Expect more drone footage soon. In the meantime, here’s a sample of what I shot today.

Note that I shot on the default settings and have only done a tiny bit of colour correction on a couple of shots. I’m also interested to see what the difference is like between YouTube and Vimeo, so I’ve uploaded it to both, using Premiere Pro CC 2017’s settings.

Hilly Fields – First Mavic Pro Flight from Adam Bowie on Vimeo.

There are a couple more photos on Flickr too.

What Should a Kids’ TV Channel Show When Kids Should Really Have Gone to Bed?

If your child likes watching CBeebies or CBBC in the UK, then you will know that both channels have cut-off times. At 7pm, the broadcast spectrum used by CBeebies is re-purposed as BBC Four, while CBBC’s spectrum will soon become a BBC Scotland TV channel.

Either way, there’s nothing to watch on the broadcast stream once the channels go off air.

In the commercial world, that’s not usually the case. Nick Jr is showing Peppa Pig in the small hours of the morning; Boomerang is showing LazyTown; and while the Disney Channel does shutdown, it waits until midnight after an 11.15pm Hannah Montana and an episode of Groove High.

When I was in Denmark recently I noticed that the main state broadcaster’s kids channel, DR Ramasjang, aimed like CBeebies at 3-6 year olds, did something amazing at night.

The service broadcasts until 8pm each night, and then it goes into an overnight mode. Essentially it runs a video of all the characters that appear on the service tucked up in bed and asleep!

A camera pans across each character’s “bedroom” in a way that lets kids see that each of their favourite characters has gone to sleep. The implication being that if they’ve gone to sleep then you should go to sleep too. It also reinforces this message should any errant child sneak out of bed and turn on the TV in the middle of the night.

It’s a simple, yet really clever thing. I assume that you only need to make an hour of footage and then loop it. And all you really need to do is plan to shoot a short “sleeping” sequence whenever you commission a new show for the channel. All the sequences are shot in the same way, the camera panning from darkness, left to right, to allow for easy editing.

Judging from YouTube, they’ve been doing this for quite a few years. Anyway, here’s an hour of DR Ramasjang’s “godnat” sequence from 2016:

Women’s Tour 2017 – Stage 5 – London

Following Saturday’s Nocturne, I headed back into town to watch the final stage of The Ovo Energy Women’s Tour, which was concluding on a circuit not dissimilar to previous years’ Tour of Britain finishes. (This year, the men are finishing in Cardiff instead).

Taking in lots of iconic London streets including Regent Street, Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square and The Strand, there were plenty of vantage points. At roughly ten minutes between laps, you had time to walk the course a bit, and in some places see the racers twice a lap.

While the racing was great, the overall winner was never in doubt after Katarzyna Niewiadoma won the opening stage by nearly two minutes. This year’s race was longer and harder than previous editions, but there were plenty of other things to keep an eye. Not least of which was which of the Barnes sisters, Hannah or Alice, would take the overall best British rider (For the record, it was the older sister, Hannah. But Alice showed support from the top of a van with some friends at the final podium as can be seen below).

The weather was good, and the racing fast. A fine way to spend a Sunday.

Many more photos over on Flickr.

Rapha Nocturne 2017

This weekend saw the return of the Rapha Nocturne, with Rapha resuming sponsorship. These days, the event has moved from Smithfield Market to an area around St Pauls near the Guildhall. While I have no problem with the route, it’s a shame that it no longer covers an area with bars and pubs like Smithfields did. Most places in the City are closed at weekends, and I would suggest that Tesco Express was probably the biggest winner.

Still the racing and fast and frenetic, and it comes into its own as the sun sets later in the evening. I only arrived in time to see the end of the fixie race and the final two races of the evening.

I took photos…

Plenty more photos are over on Flickr.

Vote Tellers

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If you’re British and live in the UK, you will hopefully be voting today. Indeed you may have already done so!

My constituency is considered marginal – it could go one of two ways. And marginals are key to any election win, so parties target them.

As I went into my Polling Station this morning, a man approached me authoritatively outside the polling station itself. He was wearing a blue rosette without any other clear identification and asked me for my polling number. This is printed on the card that you get sent through confirming your eligibility to vote.

Now you don’t need to bring your polling card with you when you vote. Lots of people know that, but not everyone.

But if you do, the tellers would quite like to right down your number. And if there are tellers from multiple parties, they’re likely to share the numbers between them. The reason is that back at the local party base, members have big electoral lists where they’ve marked down voters according to likely preferences and likely voting proclivities, based largely (but perhaps not solely), on doorstep interviews and so on.

Later on in the day, they’ll start ringing up or knocking on the doors of homes of people they expected to vote for them, but haven’t so far.

Tellers don’t actually know which way you voted.

However the key point here is that just because a party might like to know whether or not you’ve voted, you absolutely don’t have to tell them.

And I genuinely don’t think a lot of people know the rules, and more to the point that you can completely ignore tellers.

As I was leaving the polling station this morning a lady entering in behind me was asked for her voter number. She looked a little surprised and slightly apologetic: “I’m sorry. I didn’t think I needed to bring my card with me.”

The teller told that, no, she didn’t. And because she didn’t know, he left her on her way.

But people widely think that they have to pass on their details.

We’re British. We’re polite. “Of course you can see my card.”

There are rules on what tellers can and can’t do. They can wear rosettes (although not all do), but they shouldn’t be spreading any particular message.

However they’re unofficial, and you can politely say, “No thanks,” as I did when asked for my number this morning.

In a world where political targeting is getting more sophisticated, I’m not inclined to pass on any information to the parties. I’m not a member of a party, and perhaps if I was, I might feel different.

This election, for the first time, I’ve been targeted on a massive scale online. No longer do I see posters beyond those put up by people inside or outside of their homes. I’ve not seen any newspaper ads. But I have seen a lot of advertising across YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. And it’s all for one party. They know I live in a marginal, and they’d like me to vote for them. (The advertising is all negative, incidentally. It has all been about why I shouldn’t vote for the other lot. Well, if you can’t stand on your own policies, then I’m definitely not voting for you. Simple as that. You can take your US election tactics and keep them.)

There’s a lot of talk about how “big data” is being used to tightly target voters. and indeed put off some people from voting at all. While I’m not inclined to believe that these database-driven campaigns are as powerful as they’re sometimes portrayed in media reports, I’ve certainly come to the view that I’m not contributing to these databases.