Flight #03

So flight number three nearly didn’t happen yesterday as the weather was crap when I got home from work so I was pleasantly surprised when the clouds cleared around 8pm allowing some flying time. It was a bit windy but not enough to stop the flying.

I intended to drive down to the first place I flew my quadcopter, but found out that cars were not allowed down the lane so instead stopped at a spot I often walk the dog. It looks down over the town so thought it would be an ideal spot for getting shots of the fields and the setting sun.

I soon had the aircraft in the sky and filming the surrounding countryside, practicing flying and generally having some fun, especially knowing that I had extra time in the air as I now had the second battery I’d ordered.

Disappointingly, the setting sun wasn’t great to look at so in the end did some low level shots of the wheat fields and a couple of flyovers. I then headed home and downloaded the video to my laptop ready for editing tonight.

The last time I did any proper video editing using Final Cut Pro was a few years ago, but after watching a couple of online tutorials I soon got back into it. The final edit ended up a a bit smaller in frame size than I would have liked but I needed to cut out some of the video shots due to the high winds showing the propeller guards.

Anyhow, here is flight number 3…


Phantom 3 Standard Quad-copter (or drone if you prefer)

Well, after losing my first drone last weekend (Matt’s father’s day present to me had a mind of its own and flew into a lake on its first flight) I decided to upgrade to DJI Phantom 3 Standard and give flying another go.

After watching lots of YouTube videos and practicing on the DJI app, Rio and I got up early this morning and headed for the Northants countryside to test out my new toy.

Within minutes I had the quad-copter flying and filming some of the surrounding landscape; controlling the drone was simple and easy to get some great shots.

Unfortunately the battery didn’t last long and my fun ended prematurely but I had gotten the bug and was eager to get it recharged and get out flying again. Unfortunately the weather for the rest of the day was not so good, with high winds and showers so no more flying but I did manage to cobble together this video…

Fingers crossed for some good weather in the morning!

Billy the Ball

With winter now upon us and the subsequent shorter days I’ve had more time to get back into doing some gadgety stuff, both practical and programming.
I’ve just finished an online starter course on JavaScript and I’m revisiting HTML basics and of course still trying to get to grips with Python to aid in writing stuff for my Raspberry Pi. In fact I managed to get the robot arm working with a Nintendo Wii controller via Bluetooth which was a bit cool, albeit I got the instructions and program from the net. Still it worked OK and helped me understand what the different movements of the controller could be made to do.

I also did some electronics building when just before our holiday I made a small circuit board to aid the security of the house whilst we were away. It would be rather daft to say what it did but suffice to say it was still working when we got back a month later and we were not burgled!

And so to Christmas and my main present from Tina.

The festive celebration wouldn’t be the same without getting a gadget and this year was no different, although some would argue the present is actually a toy. Whilst listening to one of my technology podcasts earlier in the month I heard about a robotic device called the ‘Sphero‘ that could be controlled and programmed with your phone and once I looked it up I had to have one.

And this week, when Santa called, I finally got to play with my gadget…sort of.

spheroThe plastic covered ball is really controllable and the technology to get it to move around like it does is pretty amazing. Sphero comes with a couple of ramps, loads of free apps and some challenges to help you get to grips with its flexible maneuverability and to aid steering. As you get better with its control you can level up which enhances the play experience and gives access to more tricks and functions.

Of course what I did forget is that it also would attract some unwanted attention by our four legged friend, namely Rio who now thinks he’s got a flashing, moving toy ball to play with.
Still it is funny seeing him carry it around in his mouth, pleased he’s managed to catch the lively and glowing ball.

My next challenge is to try to control it through the Raspberry Pi, programming it using Python, although I think my skills may need to be improved a bit before I can get it whizzing around the room.

Games, game, games

drawOne of the of the successes of the smartphone has to be the popularity of the games that are available to download on to them. Early adopters had little by the way of choice and were restricted to playing games such as Tetris and Bejewelled, but as the phones became more powerful, arcade games started to appear, creating the ability to play out highly graphical racing or sports games such as Need for Speed or Tiger Woods PGA.

Then came Angry Birds, a game that seemed to really capture people’s attention, with its simplistic preface of catapulting different variants of feathered creatures at smiling pigs in order to get stars. The success of the game wasn’t just the fun of flinging fowl, but it also involved a level of skill and strategy to work out the best way to get the porkers with the least birds. 4 picsAnd the creators of the game have been clever to keep people wanting more by releasing newer versions of the same game; Angry Birds in Space and Angry Birds Star Wars are still towards the top of the download charts even now.

The latest smartphone game that seems to have captured people’s imagination is 4 Pics 1 Word, whereby you have to guess the word associated with the photographs and is very addictive.

The other main reason for the success of games on the smartphone is the ability to interact with other people remotely. We now have the ability to play games with friends and families when we are totally apart. And play with total strangers too. It is so easy to start up a game, request to play with someone else and within minutes be chasing someone on a race track or trying to out-point someone on Scrabble.

So what are my favourites?

wordsUntil recently I have enjoyed playing Draw Some (me and a remote work colleague are up to +350 correct guesses between us) but mainly I now play Words with Friends. I started playing WWF with Alison from Melbourne, a complete stranger, a couple of years ago and now we are Facebook buddies and occasionally exchange chats, catching up on each others news. I have a couple of other regular players, although they seem less chatty and more intent on beating me!

I’m sure there are many people who have never tried playing the games on their phones, siting the excuse that they’re not interested in them, but for others it’s become an obsession and I suspect they couldn’t do without their daily dose of fun.

The most popular toy in the world

I can’t recall getting my first lego kit but I do remember being given some as Christmas presents including a fire station with a rescue helicopter and one that was replica of the moon landing craft. As a young boy the excitement of opening the boxes and tipping out the hundreds of pieces on the floor, sorting out the different bits and then trying to follow the instructions was perfect.

I am certain that my interest in engineering was borne out of the hours of fun of taking a pile of bricks and making something out of them, the ability to read the manual, follow the steps has stood me in good stead for my career in a technical field. Although I was not particularly creative without the manuals, I do recall making trains, cars and buildings using the bits of a moon buggy or the wheels of a fire engine.

When it was my turn to buy lego for my kids, I was slightly disappointed that the bricks didn’t quite spark the imagination with them that they did for me. I guess that was down to the age of electronic toys and computer games, which although stimulating in their own way, do not encourage creativity and the sense of accomplishment when you’ve spent hours trying to work out how a ‘sixer’ can possibly fit in the gap where there’s only space for a ‘fourer’!

I was pleased when James May tried to tackle this ‘lack of engineering skills’ in the youth of today in his BBC series Toy Stories, when amongst some of the episodes, he encouraged children to create the longest model railway line, build the biggest Scalextric track and incredibly build a real house out of lego bricks. What would I have given to be involved in that!

And now for some lighter relief. In scouting for photos for this blog I came across these that made me laugh! My favourite is the photo copier one.