Sunday, November 11, 2018

Buying a car in Vancouver

Blargh. Did you know in British Columbia, you'd have to pay 12% tax (5% GST + 7% PST)? I found that out a few days ago and it's been a bummer :-/ Factoring in the high ICBC insurance for a new driver - I was quoted 3.2k++ for one year's pleasure insurance (i.e. not a daily driver), and I also have to pay for monthly parking. Add all the maintenance costs, and petrol for the car... Gah! It adds up for something that is not a necessity in my life.

Last month though, I took my carshares over 1400km, and the bill is not pretty lol. I thought it'd be nice to have a car to take _really_ long distances, as well as to go autocross with. I'd budgeted enough to pull the trigger on some pre-2005 NA/NB Miatas, but then came across this 12% pst and that totally blew through what I'd budgeted >.>

That said... I've been considering what I want to use a car for:

- Travel around BC, Northern USA (Primary use)
- Autocross (Not a priority, nice to have)

And I definitely want a Miata as my first car, so I am now considering getting a 2006/2007 model, the NC.

Reasons to get a NC:
- Newer vehicle, with more modern safety design
- 11, 12 years old vs some NAs that are over 25 years old
- Largest Miata, should fit my fat butt
- Modern amenities

Reasons not to get an NC:
- Price
- Lack of pop-up headlights
- Purist think it's not a real miata - like I care

Going to check out some NCs at a dealership tomorrow, then I'll have to decide how that will slow down my retirement plans. The easy way out, is to do overtime. Sadly I haven't been doing much as I've been finishing work ahead of schedule >.>

Friday, October 19, 2018

Duffey Lake Road

Last weekend, I traveled 522km from Vancouver up to Lillooet and back just to drive along Duffey Lake Road. It was a brilliant day out, and I made several stops, one at Squamish for a short rest break, and then I had lunch at Grimm's Deli in Pemberton. From there, it was just under two hours to get to Lillooet along Duffey Lake Road. I then retraced my way back, but I only stopped at Squamish for dinner, as the drive took far longer than expected, and was almost dark by the time I returned to Pemberton.

This road winds through the mountains and it used to be the old way to get to the interior of BC but now its superseded by the coquihala. As you can see in the video, not many vehicles travel this route. I rented out my favourite Mazda 3 for the day, and it did admirably all the way.

Once April comes around though, I'm going to do it again, but with the Scion FRS - between October and March only vehicles with winter/M+S tires are allowed up north, and the FRS only has sport tires. Whatever that means. I think it'd definitely carve up those mountain roads with impunity :3

Sunday, October 07, 2018

Dash cam observations

One of my favourite pastimes is watching dash cam videos. Primarily, I use it as a tool to observe situations and how I can learn from the mistakes of others and to avoid getting into those situations.

First, people are just too damned assertive of their right of way. If someone wants to enter your lane, even if they are not in the right, just back off, let them in. I keep seeing people just speeding up to close the gap instead of just letting people in, and both vehicles get damaged. What's up with that? Is it worth your time and money just to be right? I don't get this.

Next, drive defensively! Oh my synthesizers, why do people drive so fast and also keep close to the cars ahead? Leave enough space in order to respond to the situation ahead! It also gives a much better view. I just don't get people.

That said, I'm one of those lucky few that don't need to commute to work and only drive for pleasure. Perhaps if I had to drive everyday, I would sing a different tune.

My experience so far in Vancouver has been very positive. Sure, I've encountered red light runners and idiots that don't turn correctly. But in general I feel that other drivers are pretty chill. I've also been reviewing my own footage, and I think that - based on the stripes on the road - that folks here in Vancouver don't drive as fast as footage I watch in the states down south.

Thursday, October 04, 2018

Got a dashcam.. because.

I recently purchased a Vantrue N1 Pro dashcam. I thought it'd be good to have after watching all the bad Vancouver driver videos on youtube. Thus far, I must say I haven't met any crazy bad drivers - yes, I've driven through Richmond and Surrey - and if anything I thought most of the folk are pretty chill. Definitely have met some people with no regard for others, but just slowing down and letting 'em go ahead does the trick.

So far, I've been using it to improve my driving skills. For example, over the weekend, I entered a right turn lane over a solid line instead of the dotted lines closer to the intersection. Not going to make that mistake again!

The N1 pro is one of the "middle" of the pack cameras. It doesn't have the almighty super capacitor people rave about, and it only does 1080P. It doesn't have wifi, and it only captures the forward view. What I did like about it is the price, and contents of the package.

First, it comes stock with a suction mount. That's perfect for people like me who drive only carshares. Next, there's a 12V to USB mini cable for powering the camera. That cable also provides an additional usb port for charging, pretty neat. Also included is a micro usb cable. You can power the camera via mini usb through a port on the suction mount, or to the camera via micro usb. Interesting design choices, but eh.

In use, it's fine, I guess? It's my first dashcam*. It captures the going-ons in front of my ride very adequately. To be clear, it's not one of those "2k" cameras, and license plates and similarly small details are only visible up close when everything's not moving. The controls are not very intuitive, but once you've read the manual, it's clears it straight up.

One minor annoyance of this camera is the input for the mini usb faces to the driver's left, I wish it was on the right. If not, the camera works great for it's price. I could use the micro usb cable, which is exits on the right of the camera, but I won't subject a tiny microusb cable to the weight of the cable, and the mini usb is the one that has the 12V adaptor connected to it.

The packaging is probably my main gripe. It's too damned nice. I really dislike how "wanna be Apple" the packaging felt like. For gods sake, all I need is a a box with some protection, I don't need no fancy slide out paper sheath with quality printed manuals. And a separate box to hold the cables and mount. Slick, high quality bag of the camera. No seriously, I'm not sure how much the packaging adds to the price. It's really nice, and I'm just going to toss it in my storeroom till I sell the camera.

If there's one thing I hope the camera will be updated with is the exposure compensation. Right now you can only adjust it in gradations of one stop, that's pretty massive. I think having the option of half stops would really improve the blown out skies. Also, there's no memory card with it. I'm using a 32GB card with it at the moment and it fills up pretty rapidly; three minutes of footage runs about 345mb, so about 4hours-ish of footage. No biggie, as the camera has a loop mode that erases old footage when the card fills up.

I must say some days I wish I'd just blew more money and got a top of the line 2k camera. But I don't drive that much, and if I really wanted good driving footage, it would be better money spend getting a mount for my dslr.


*I originally bought a Viofo A119S, but it just stopped working like after fifteen minutes. Didn't want to deal with that so returned it andn got the N1 instead. The A119S does seem like a better camera though; high resolution, super capacitor. And the button layout made more sense. Packaging was not over the top. But yeah, failing after barely half an hour? Nah I'm good.

Tuesday, October 02, 2018


I've got my N license in British Columbia a few weeks ago! This means I can drive alone in a car, but only with one passenger, and restrictions like no electronics usage etc. After two years, assuming I'm still alive and not maimed anyone, I can be upgraded to a full license and will be able to use a gps (yes!) and carry more people.

Now cars here in Canada are extremely cheap, from a Singaporean's perspective. A brand new Mazda 3 GT for example is about 25k. EXTREMELY CHEAP. That would probably cost like 3,4 times more back home.

Now, I'm one of those idiots that care about investing for retirement and personal finance. Can I afford a car? Easy. Can I justify it? No. So, I've opted instead to go with car shares. There's lots of car shares (and rental companies) here in Vancouver. I've barely over a year of experience, and some carshares need over 2 years of driving experience (e.g. Zipcar, Evo). The two that allow, as afar as I know is Modo and car2go.

Haven't driven much with car2go, mainly because it's a bit more expensive than Modo. Modo's about 2.50 for half an hour plus .30 a km, but car2go runs about 32 cents a minute, so even a ten minute jaunt costs a fair bit. It gets cheaper if you get one of the packages, e.g. an hour is 13 bucks, or 22 cents a minute. But Modo's five bucks an hour for their regular vehicle + 30c a km.

The key advantage of car2go is they're great for one-way trips. You don't need to return the vehicle to its start point, so long as it's parked at a proper parking space. I try my best to plan out one way trips because the smart car is good fun, but it rarely occurs.

Now the smart for two is a pretty solid vehicle. I love the throttle and brakes, and the car is so easy handle. A few things I thought might not be so good, especially going downhill, is that I need to crane my head down in order to see the traffic lights.  Visibility on the rear isn't the best either. Overall, it's a fun peppy car. Haven't taken it on the highway sadly, I'd be keen to see how it handles there.

Modo is Vancouver's big car share co-op, and the one I've been driving the last few weeks. I've driven a few cars and thought I'd put down some thoughts about them:

2016 Honda Fit (Blue)
Compact, throttle is a bit more responsive than I like. I'm sorry to say while I think this is a brilliant ride for the price, I thought it was a bit forgettable. It's.... a car.

2016 Honda Fit (Red)
I'm not sure what's with this particular Fit, but this car drives great! It had a "Eco" button that I don't remember seeing on the Blue one (edit: It's there, I checked recently). With that enabled, the car accelerates really nicely, but eco turned off, the car became really sensitive to throttle input. The fuel economy of this car appeared really bad though, I drove about 100km (downtown to Belcarra National Park, to New Westminster then back downtown) and that ate up nearly half a tank of gas (?!). Odd.

2016 Honda CR-V
I never liked SUVs, but I had to find out exactly why they're clogging up the road. This car feels damned planted on the road, and the steering feel is excellent. Eco mode is brilliant, makes for easy throttle control, and regular mode was a bit more touch but gives plenty of power to go uphill in New Westminster. It's wider, but I think the higher seating position allows me to better know where I am on the road. Lots of space inside, and lots of usb ports to share too, plus two 12v ports! I can see why people like 'em but I think I'm gonna stick to smaller cars like the Fit.

Fiat 500
I really want to like this car, and I will definitely rent it again, but it's the most twitchy car I've driven so far, it's rather scary when driving on a wet highway. The engine noise is also the loudest of all the cars I've tried. It's fun to hear the revs, but I soon got sick of it. The auto transmission also shifts around the 50km/h mark, which is annoying. The steering has zero feel, but it's super maneuverable.

I love the interior though, it's so kitsch! Unfortunately I don't like the rpm/kmph display, it's confusing with the RPM reading on the inner ring, and the kmph on the outer ring with a gear/cog motif that makes it difficult to read exactly how fast you're going.

Still, it's a very popular vehicle and I've not been able to rent it when I needed a car. There's also other variants that I want to try, like the 500C (convertible! oooooh) and the performance model, the Abarth. Not a big fan of the later - don't like the text emblazoned on the sides, and the interior is a boring single tone, not kitsch enough for my taste.

While this has 4 seats, there's no way anyone's going to be sitting in the back lol. Well, maybe if they're like, tiny. One great thing about this car, only two doors, brilliant. That way, you only need to buy one bazooka, point it to the right, and let it rip when you see a t-rex trying to get in. Don't reload when driving, that's unsafe.

Mazda 3 Sport
OMG this car rocks! It's got good enough power for hillclimbs and getting on the highways. Interior is boring and un-kitsch but super comfy. Throttle is... not super direct, I feel there's a slight lag but it's a good thing. I thought I could control it the easiest. Dashboard is boring and utilitarian.Two usb ports and a 12v socket in the center console.

Handling is pretty solid, I felt very confident on the highways or narrow roads. I've also got brand bias, as I'm a big fan of the MX5 and FD3S, both of which I've never ridden lol. #initiald

If I ever needed to buy a car, this is probably at the top of my list. The main problem: It has 4 doors, meaning 3 extra egress points for velociraptors to enter the vehicle. It's expensive to buy like, 3 mini guns as anti-velociraptor defense.

(2014?) Toyota Prius C
I think this car is brilliant for city driving in mostly flat area; it doesn't have the strongest engine and you can hear it whine when you're on-ramping a highway or climbing steep hills. And New Westminster has steep hills! Not the steepest in BC but yeah I can easily floor the throttle and the car just.... tries its best to accelerate. The throttle positioning is also a bit tight; I had to keep shifting my foot to get a good place else I'd be trying to push against the right wall.

The throttle is great at low speed and for city driving, I feel it's very optimized for that range. When on the highways, yeah, flooring it doesn't really do much lol. Steering is very solid, it doesn't feel as "on rails" as the Mazda 3, but I felt very confident with it. I like the brakes as well, it was easy to slow down without over compensating.

The shifter does feel a bit cheap, but usable. No dashboard behind the wheel - the speedo is in the center and it's a digital readout. I thought this was a great speedo unit - unambiguous and easy to read. Definitely the car I had the easiest time keeping my speed with. I also think it was the only car I've driven so far that has a dash cam.

And yes, this car has 4 doors, which presents a problem when being assaulted by dinosaurs that know how to open doors. Consider buying one anti personnel mine, aimed at yourself, it's cheaper and you'd probably feel less pain than being eaten alive by dinosaurs.

2017 Toyota Prius C
The prius c above was recently replaced by this newer one. I only took it out for a short drive for dinner, and essentially I think it's a more refined version of the older one. Environmental controls were a tad confusing but I just put it into Auto mode and set a temperature and it worked great. Didn't get a chance to use the cruise control, mainly because I couldn't find it in the dark and I had to get to a dinner. Mazdas and Hondas have it just by my right thumb, and makes it easy to toggle on/off. I did think the older Prius C had more grunt off the line, but it was rainy today so possibly the TC kicked in. The headrest also felt rather hard, definitely not a car to go for long cruises in. I think, like the previous version, that it's easy to park and a very good city use vehicle. Oh, the e-brake mechanism? Very delightful to use :)

2012 Mazda 2
Eh, this is like Mazda's analog to the Honda Fit. Overall, I think the Fit is a better vehicle - but I'm comparing a 2012 vehicle to a 2016, so I'll stop there. That said, I really enjoy this car. Of all the brands I've tried so far, the Mazdas fit me the best. Even this budget car fits me really well. Handling is good, and small size means easy to park.

2018 Hyundai Elantra
The impression I got was that Hyundai made less than good cars. Evidently that's in the long past. While I don't fit just quite right with it, it was an excellent ride, and I really loved the backup camera in this car! I will have to take it out for a long jaunt like the Mazda 3 to really get the feel of it. If I had to nit pick, I would say that compared to the Mazda 3 it has a slight understeer entering the turn, and the steering wheel's grip was a little on the smooth side.

2015 Nissan Versa Note
Eh, I doubt I will rent this car again. I found the handling a bit too squirrelly for my taste, and I did not fit very well in the driver's seat. Throttle response I felt was smoother than the Mazda 2, which was nice, but the brakes felt really weak.

2016 Scion FR-S
Best handling car of all the cars I've driven to date. Wow. This thing just takes corners like a champ. And it's super flat in turns. Throttle is amazing and shifts so fast. Zomg. Come next year, I'm taking this up the mountains for a spin. The ride quality is rather harsh though. It also has rear seats, which I'd totally forgotten. Definitely only for kids. If not, it's a great place for bags and stuff.

2018 Toyota Prius
Oh my god. This car is the plushest car I've ridden. It goes over bumps and rougher patches of road effortlessly. Handling is vague, feels like I'm driving a cloud. I do think the Prius-C has more driving character. On the flip side, the interior of this car is pretty nice, and the one I drove had a backup camera is is sweeeeeet!

One interesting tidbit - the back of the prius is mostly plastic - I could not stick my N sign on any of the surfaces. The sides of the car are metal though, my N sign sticks well and fine there. Acceleration is nice and smooth, and the brakes are also quite nice, and they can jam the car to a hard stop if you push it deep enough. I think thus far, this and the Mazda 3 are my top choices for long trips.

Unfortunately, the Prius has 4 doors, so yes, it increases the difficulty of defending yourself if sharks attack.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Leckerton UHA-4

I was wondering about my storage rack today and came across this bit of kit I bought when I was still working in Australia, a Leckerton Audio UHA-4 portable DAC. I bought this waaay back in 2015 when I was still messing about with gear, in particular, the Focusrite VRM Box.

The VRM box allowed you to simulate speakers using your headphones, and while I have no idea how accurate or usable the simulations were, they did one thing really well - I really thought the audio was coming from in front of me, like I was listening to speakers. Too many times I panicked when I'd looked at the clock and realized I was mixing after midnight - only to realize.... whew... I was on my headphones. On my vrm box.

With regular headphones, the music usually appears inside of you, somewhere between your ears, with stereo material coming from the left or right. I won't go into the details why this is so, but consider this: When you listen to speakers, both speakers contribute to both ears. Some of the sound enters your ears directly, but lots of it enters later - after bouncing off your table, ceiling, walls.

You get none of that with headphones - the audio goes directly to your ears, one earcup covering each of your squishy input receptacle.

The UHA-4 was bought after much reading to get the same effect of the vrm box with my mp3 player. It has a crossfeed function that bleeds some of the source from one side into the other, simulating what we'd hear with speakers.

Unfortunately, the reason why I haven't touched this piece of kit for years is that the crossfeed doesn't really do much for me. I tested it with logic by panning a mono source to just one ear, and with crossfeed on, there is definitely bleed being sent to the other ear, but I had no change in spatial difference, nothing like the vrm box. It was still inside of me, if a bit warmer. I decided it was time to sell it, so I packaged it up good... and never got around to selling it.

So today I picked it out again to try the crossfeed for shit and giggles, because hey, maybe my hearing has improved with age!!! Yeah riiight. But still I plugged it in and listen to some tunes with my pair of Grados SR80 and I realized something.

This baby makes the bass much "tighter". The bass in the SR80 is normally sufficient but this amp seems to balance out the music really really well. On top of that, the really detailed high frequencies which always make me take off my grados after an hour or so appear to have been tamed and smoothed out. I'm really impressed. All my music is new and fresh again!

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Vintage watches

Recently got back on the watchmaking bandwagon, and instead of just fiddling around with antique pocket watch movements, I decided to get some "mostly working" vintage watches that I could use as dailies. I'm hoping to learn how movements fit into cases,so I can fit my other movements into cases. That would be something to actually do with the hobby, since I can't really have a lathe or mill in my tiny apartment. Not unless I want to endure the ire of my neighbours.

This Girard Perregaux above is my current daily. There's something about the vintage dial that gives me strong bauhaus vibes. According to the seller, it's equipped with a Girad Perregaux cal 03 movement. This handsome piece has been running nigh-perfectly on time in the last few days, so I'm reluctant to pull it apart. Pretty amazing for something build decades before I was born.

My issue with this watch is how small it is. The crown is miniscule, and the act of winding it up is quite harsh on the fingertips.

The straps it came with are terrible though. Supposed to be new, but the buckle broke apart the very first time I wore it >.> Time to go searching for a nice comfortable band.

Now this Gruen is another one I hope to put to use on occasions I wear a waistcoat. Unfortunately the movement - a Veri Thin Precision - appears to be a bit sticky - it works for a few hours then stops. Then goes, then stops. I hope the balance staff didn't get damaged in transit. Will be pulling this baby apart to give it a good cleaning/inspection to see if that would help. More than likely I'll break it into a few million pieces.

I'll be visiting Germany later this month, one of the things I hope to buy there are vintage watches made in the GDR. For example, GUB, Ruhla, Glashutte. Need to read up more on how Lange saved the german watchmaking industry. For that reason, I'm heading down to Dresden, then Glashutte to soak in the history of german watchmaking.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Getting Redshift3D to run on a macbook pro

Getting back into more houdini out of work, and thought I'd try out the Redshift gpu renderer.

It took me several hours, but I finally got it workingon my 2014 macbook pro.
- Purchase Houdini Indie (Apprentice does not allow 3rd party renderers)
- Install CUDA Drivers
- Install matching Nvidia Web Drivers
- Setup houdini.env file
- Install specific version of houdini to match the compiled dso.

And... then I found out I the mbp's 2GB GT 750m had insufficient vram left over to run anything heavy. Just a few toruses and I was out of vram >.>


I guess I'll have to research egpus tomorrow.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Kurious : 1 minute

I had the privilege of attending a session of Circ du Soleil's Kurious this fine evening, and my words are simply inadequate to describe the spectacle I saw.

For the first twenty minutes or so, I was somewhat put off as I could not find any narrative to the amazing performance. Hey, one of my hobbies is writing, ok?

But when the show ended, it came to me there... perhaps there was a narrative. What we experienced over the two-hour long performance, was really an expansion of possibilities for every minute in our lives.

If you watch the show, watch the clock.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Advent Children Complete

Holy Crap. Netflix - Canada - recently included Advent Children in its lineup, and I was like... eh, I've watched it nearly every day for years, might be good to catch it again later.

Finally watched it tonight and I was like... wait a second. I don't remember many of the scenes in this film... has old age finally caught up with me?!

This is because: It's Advent Children Complete. Ah.

Complete solves ties up several loose ends the original film, such as, how did Denzel suddenly become part of Tiffa/Cloud's family? Why would he suddenly go off with a random stranger to be cured? (He still does it but at least there's improved context). The final battle got revamped halfway through it, there's proper blood now, and Sephiroth really gives Cloud a good beating. And Cloud's new omnislash takes it to a new level.

Lots of detail has been added as well, more dirt during fights, and scratches on the 'cycles.

Still, I wished when the did complete, they would just friggin' fix the "people running in circles around a monster for ten minutes and not running away" scene. That's so beyond lame. And let's not get started with the water hydrant scene. Laaaaaame. There is absolutely ZERO chance of that amount of water forcing back a summon that probably weighs a ton or two.

Music wise, they've changed the edit a fair bit, and I personally prefer the pieces chosen in the original. I also question some of the edits, it just doesn't cut as well at times. Originally, Cid's entrance was him saving Tiffa. That scene is totally gone, and it's very jarring to watch him suddenly appear to just introduce the High Serra.

Overall, super pleased to have watched it. Always nice to catch up with kid memories.

Friday, November 03, 2017

Serious Sam 3: BFE and Borderlands 2

These two are _seriously_ old games, and I'm just gonna write some thoughts on them because I'm on holiday, and I got them last week. Us OSX players don't really get much choice, eh?

So first, Serious Sam. This game was a very different experience from the first game, and overall I probably won't want to play it again. The first Serious Sam is frikkin a bag of laughs and a simple, endless gorefest. I don't think it's _that_ fun playing solo, but in multiplayer it's amazing, especially with friends.

I didn't feel the same way in BFE. First the maps are a pain in the ass to navigate. I found them overly large, and I'm supposed to hunt down keys to open gates. That just threw off my pacing. Sure, we need some things to break up the endless waves of enemies, but I felt the "fetch quests" were just slowing down the game and I didn't feel any need for them. There were also some underground maps that were dark, and I could barely see anything at all. I'm wondering if there's a calibration problem on my screen as my friends were able to take down those chittering space monkeys in the dark with seemingly no problem. Gah.

And oh, those gates that stop you from progressing until you found a key? Seriously? As unfit as I am, I am certain I can climb over them. That totally breaks whatever little immersion I had of the game. I also didn't like that you had to press E to climb ladders. Like... what?

In any case, this is a game from 2011, and gaming has progressed tremendously since then. I'd hope Since I rarely spend time actually playing games these days. On the plus side, the frame rate is amazeballs even when entire regions are clustered with smoke/dust sprites. The SBC cannon brings back so many memories, and having them split apart a werebull down the middle is lol-tastic.


Borderlands 2 released a year later, is a serious eye opener. Now these days, while I don't actively play games, I do watch playthroughs on youtube. I'm personally more interested in how the story works, rather than wanting to actually play a game.

Now borderlands blew me away with how well developed and thought out the UI, controls and levels were. From my no-longer-a-gamer perspective, it is a game that's really well polished. I am still amazed when I can walk up to a tiny little object on the floor, and am able to read the text on it. Like... is this the mega-texturing thing I've read up from before? Totally, mind blown.

Story wise, I found it quite passe. Fetch quests all over the places, and there were some plotholes (how could Roland die?! He was a vault hunter too!!! And one shot KO? It wasn't even a headshot!!!) My first run through I tried to blaze through it without any side quests and found it nigh impossible for certain missions - my level was just too low, and was taking forever to do damage to enemies. After reading up some hints, I finally got around to doing quests, which both boosted my levels and gave me some equipment that was super useful against specific enemies/bosses.

The final boss I was a bit non-plussed - for a warrior supposedly able to destroy everything on the planet it's... actually quite small in stature. And the amusing part was taking it down with just a plain old pistol lol.  That said, if we ignore the story, in terms of gameplay the pacing was superb, and the bosses, I really enjoyed lots of the boss fights. Many pushed me in the corner, but I was still able to break out of it.

I've played 4 of the 6 classes in the game, and a few days ago I decided to just uninstall the game because I could not help myself wanting to play it. Definitely a game to play for sure.

Monday, September 04, 2017

Neato D3

I bought my original Neato XV11 late 2013, and it sadly gave up the ghost around mid 2015. I got it repaired (took close to five months to get it fixed), and it continued to run till a few months ago when it suddenly shut down, and only had a half-glowing led around its "run" button. It'd come alive again for no particular reason at times, and was perplexing to come home to a robo vacuum just lying in the middle of the room.

According to the interwebs, this is likely a sign of a failed capacitor, aka the C10 fault. A capacitor should be an easy thing to replace, or so I thought, but taking apart the XV11 was far more of a chore than expected. In the end, there were some screws that were inaccessible as I didn't have screwdrivers long enough, so I decided, it's time for a new vacuum.

My choices were simple, Neato is basically still top of the pack for robo vacuums. And I definitely wanted a vacuum that had Li-ion batteries. That boiled me down to a few vacuums, and thought I'd just pick from the latest crop.

The D3 is the cheapest of the pack, and I choose it as it did not have a side brush attachment. Less things to fail, or maintain. It also has a smaller bin capacity as well as battery size. Given how "large" my "apartment" is though, those are non issues.

I've been running it for a few days and it more or less functions the same as the XV11. There are a things to note:
  • Not as loud as the XV11, which is nice.
  • "Gentle Navigation" mode keep a bit more distance from objects, and the Neato moves at a slower pace. I've noted that this mode bumps into stuff much less, but it seems that it causes the Neato to occasionally avoid small, tighter areas. 
  • Have to use a phone app + wifi (2.4ghz, specifically!) to setup the Neato. Seriously? It even requires you to create an account with the Neato website. wtf. The XV11's firmware was more than enough to setup a schedule to run 3 times a week. That's all I need. If I want to run the robot, I can just.. you know, walk over and press the run button. I can't see me needing to, oh, I'm in Europe right now, but I _really_ want to vacuum my room. They could have done it like with some security cameras; each camera has a unique QR code that the app uses, and doesn't need to create an account for.  I personally think this "connected" business is just marketing stirring RND's pot of stew.
    If, I could say, have a visualization of the slam algorithm as the robot does its chores, sure, maybe, it'd be a cute thing to have for show and tell. But not required for a domestic robot. Bleh bleh bleh.
  • li-ion batteries. These are the good stuff, and while I would have preferred to get a cheaper, last generation robot, I spent the extra moola for them.
Overall though, I'm still rating it pretty high. These robots save me untold amount of hours just cleaning up the dust and detritus, and they have pretty low maintenance The XV11's probably going to craigslist to be sold for parts. It works... when it wants to, so hopefully it's next owner can sort it out.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Defold Game Engine

I haven't fooled around with game engines in a long while, and I recently learned about Defold. It's an engine bought over by King (of Candy Crush fame), and it's primarily for 2D development, though it's a 3D engine at heart.

I've been playing with it for over a week, mainly learning Lua and going through the various tutorials. For what it's designed for, it's superb.

However, when I started to deviate from its roots, I found it quite challenging to work with.

For a start, the camera. In Unity for example, it's quite straightforward to setup/position the camera, ortho or 3D, and do stuff like space transforms from screen space to world. It's all worked out in the api.

In Defold, things get a little more tricky.

The camera is pre-defined to work in a certain way, with the camera centered at the bottom left of the screen, which is perfect for what the engine is designed for. Given the genre of games that King develops, as well as a fair amount of games I've seen in the forums, this is perfect. It works out of the box, not much tweaking required.

For me, I wanted to try something different, a camera centered at 0,0 and that's when things got tricky.

To do so, you'll need to figure out a projection matrix for it. It's challenging, as I'm not a strong maths person. Embarrassing, considering what my job is. Hours were spent on Scratchapixel trying to understand exactly how it all works. I've definitely walked away with an improved understanding of the rendering pipeline, as well as a refresher course on matrices :)

On the flip side, the html 5 export is an interesting thing, it would be cool to dev mini games for my chromebook and stuff like that. I'm also quite fond of the way they handle input, some of my basic tests for mouse/keyboard input went flawlessly. Haven't yet tried touch, but given as I'm not as fascinated with mobile game dev as before, I don't think I'll bother.

I think the key draw for me is the engine's dev team. Defold was original developed years ago before it was bought over, and the development team, including the original developers, are active in the forums. That's houdini-like levels of awesome!

I've read many arguments why not to use an engine by King, (Banner Saga trademark thingy). That's really icky, but you know what, the engine itself was created way before King, and the folks developing Defold are responsive on the forums. For that reason - plus I'm not a game developer - I've decided to stick with Defold as my fun engine for choice for the time being.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Visualizing airflow!

This is beyond cool, Schlieren Photography. My first thoughts were, "Hey! Would be awesome to visualize the airflow over diy rc wings."

Upon closer scrutiny, it's setup requires a fair bit of space, and needs a few pieces of equipment that are probably not so easy to obtain.

Still bloody cool though!

Sunday, May 21, 2017

BV141 Inspired Flying Wing

First up, I want to be clear that this little side project has been stopped as it's far too complex for what I'd like to achieve. Without further ado, here're a few snapshots of my BV141 inspired flying wing.

The BV141 is highly unique in that the pilot sits on a separate pod that's not obstructed by the prop, allowing great visibility in its proposed role as a recon aircraft. I thought this would be a fun to tackle, as such a wing design would provide many advantages:
  • Plank-style wing would be very easy to construct from dollar tree foam/readi-board
  • Tractor prop would be quieter than pusher
  • Pod could be used for a camera with no obstruction from prop
This is where I decided not to continue it further:
  • To connect the pod securely to the main fuselage (or wing), would require additional weight a traditional pusher prop wing won't require. Such additional complexity would mean more work in the event of the crash.
  • Spinning blades of doom in the front. Nuff' said.
  • Wetted area of the addition pod, would pose much more drag than a single in-line fuselage on a pusher wing.
  • The flight characteristics of my kfm4 wing were superb, and I thought that it would be better to start from an already good design.
Even so, based on my estimates, it should be possible to get the design completed under 250g, and it'd be legal to fly here in Canada.

250g is truly a challenging limit to build to. Not only do we need to use lightweight components, we have to decide between spending the weight on batteries for longer flight times, or for payloads.

Lightweight aircraft also have difficulty flying in the wind. 

I'll be reverting to a pusher chevron wing design. It's long been my wish to have a wood fuselage alongside foam wings, and with my canard project stalled, this will be my new target.

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Can't fly my designs anymore.

I've been extremely busy this year. I've been spending lots of time trying to making a life outside of work, and it's not easy. For some reason, I found it easier in Adelaide/Montreal/London, but here I'm finding it difficult to meet people who share similar interests. That, and I'm working loads of overtime, with only Sunday off. Blargh.

Anyways, with summer approaching, I thought it'd be good to complete and maiden my canard design, but I came across some new laws regarding drones that were just announced over a month ago:

First, I'm nonplussed to have my fixed wing designs lumped under the blanket term "drones". I'd like to think that drones are self-guided autonomous vehicles, and none of my aircraft can fly on their own!

But never mind that. First, there are restrictions for aircraft between 250g to 35kg. Aircraft that fall within this limit can't fly close than 75m from buildings, vehicles, vessels, animals(?!) and people/crowds.

Last I checked, dust mites and waterbears are considered animals. So basically, the entirety of Canada is off limits unless you are a commercial operator, or fly sub 250g aircraft?

The distance, 9km from an airport, heliport etc or anywhere that aircraft take-off and land, also basically says, you can't fly anywhere. I mean, where can't a helicopter land? And for places helis can't land, they _have_ got to be animals around. What are we supposed to do? Use a space-based microwave beam to remove all trace of life before we fly our models?

The final one, name/address/phone number on your drone is just asking for malicious people to cause issues. Violate any of these, and there's a 3k fine waiting in the wings.

There's more I can write, but I finished work just an hour ago, and I need to be in bed shortly before I have another long day tomorrow.

I'm not a hardcore rc hobbyist. I am simply someone who is innately passionate about learning about new interesting things, and I also love creating things. I'm very proud when I can create something of my own design that flies and works.

This law limits my ability to design, create and fly larger models. And this means, I won't be buying parts and components from my local hobby shop - or any hobby shop at all. It does not help the hobby businesses here in Canada.

 Hopefully, saner minds will come up with a better set of rules.

In the meantime, I'll be designing smaller sub-250g airframes when inspiration strikes.

Friday, December 02, 2016


Moana is just too friggin' awesome. I think I shed a few tears during the movie. Only comment I got is the lack of bird shit on those cliff ledges, 'cause I know birds do it there :P

Looks like my mp3 player's gonna get a new OST....

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Nikon D500 first impressions

Looks like I've been rather busy and haven't blogged in a while! The last month or so was rather interesting. There were two anime cons in town barely 2 weeks apart from each other (WHY!?) and a fortnight ago, visited my first renfaire.

Panasonic LX3, booyah!

I've also been dealing with matters of the heart, but this is not the blog to blab on. In any case, my D300 has been having issues - it was saying the battery was too low, but it's definitely not, as I bought a whole new one for it! I sent it to Nikon Canada for repairs, and they said that were no longer any spares for it. I was highly bummed.

On the flip side, they offered me a D500 at a slightly reduced rate, so I decided to go with it. Honestly, if I were more of a thinking person, I would have just declined the offer and bought another D300. But I managed to convince myself to get it after calculating the "amortization" of my D300 after 7 years of faithful service.

Now to be clear, I haven't actually powered up the camera yet. All I've done are read some reviews, and plugged the battery in to charge. I like to write, ok? That's one of my hobbies.

Ok anyways, so let's go. The first impressions of the body are excellent. It feels a smidge lighter than the D300, and maybe because it's brand new, everything feels so tight (my D200/D300 were used...). There also appears to be a mottled pattern (was it on the d300? hmm) that probably help with how the camera looks when it's worn.

Then I noticed the articulated screen. Hmm. Not a fan of that. More places for dust and sand to collect. It is definitely a boon for low/high angle shots, but still... in my opinion more points of failure. I'll see how it goes.

Battery is, unsurprising, a new type of battery. I don't really care so long as it works. The charger is a lovely piece of work though.

The card slot is still the same place, and features dual XQD and SD slots. I've rarely had a need to fill the buffer on my D300, but from what I read, a top of the line XQD basically means you can't fill the buffer, even on raw. Wow. I don't actually have a XQD card yet, so can't say how good it is.

The prices of the XQD are insanely affordable though. I remember back in '07, I bought on of those newfangled Extreme IV CF cards for... oh, 160AUD thereabouts? Somewhere along the great ocean road. A 4gb card gets me about 350 shots, and I usually carry a portable HDD to dump stuff. Yes, I used to shoot lots of crap back in the day. I'm much better now. Trust me.

A 64GB Lexar XQD 2.0 card runs similar - about 160CAD. And assuming 30 megs a RAW, easily over 2000 shots.

Two thousand shots. That's like 55 rolls of bloody film. Gods. I honestly do not think I'd shoot that much these days. I was having concerns about "OH MY GOD I NEED A NEW PORTABLE STORAGE" but no. Assuming I overshoot the 2k limit, I still have a SD card slot to use as fallover storage.


What's next. Ah, the flash. That's probably my number one BLEH thing about the D500. The lack of commander mode. My SB600 is now a pure on-shoe flash :( Oh well.

Oh yes the last gripe. How many megapixels is on this camera?! 21?! That's 11 megapixels more than I'd like thanks. I really don't need the pixel count. But this is mainly a first world, pixel peeping problem on my end, so I'll just squelch it here.

And as for lens choice, I only have one lens with me,  my trusty old 16-85VR. When I was looking at the D500s, there was mention about a newer, 16-80VR. That lens shoots from a beautifully wide F2.8, and closes down to F4 at the end of its range. Silence, my fluttering heart. Can you say perfect lens? I checked the price. Nope. Nope. If I were shooting as much as I was in the UK, I'd definitely consider it for the extra stop and supposedly "better" qualities. But not now.

Mounting the lens went without a hitch until... wait, my lens is mounted, why is the viewfinder blacked out?! Glaring at my lens, I was like... why you no let me look. Upon closer inspection.... Oh my good lord. There's actually a built-in viewfinder curtain. I'm assuming it's for those long exposure fans. This camera really is the pinnacle of tech, isn't it?!

(I would like to mention it's a really nice, circular viewfinder. I've only seen those on full frame FX cameras. I feel so papered.)

Without a charged battery, the last thing I can talk about are the buttons. The AF-ON button falls perfectly under my thumb as before, and there's new joystick besides it. I wonder what's it for. If I could use it to select focus points, and the big-old OK button to reset the focus point it'd be the bee's knees.

A convenient switch for photography/video is at the bottom, and there is a very convenient live view button. There is also a nice italized "i" button which I assume is for info. Somehow it doesn't fit the more serious text around it. But wait, there's a button labeled... "info" besides it. In a serious font. Maybe the i button is for uploading to instagram?

The strip of button on the left appears to be very similar to the D300's, though there's an additional Fn2 button on the bottom.

Given I have no battery, I can't comment on the top LCD, which I guarantee is awesome, and backlit. Please be backlit. On the left, the dial is very similar, with single shot/continuous low etc shooting choice on the locked ring. The top of the dial has 4 buttons. The ISO button has moved to the shutter area, and the mode button and what I assume is exposure metering added to it. There now appears to be a dedicated bracketing button... I used to use that for my flash EV compensation. Wondering where that's gone too.

Stay tuned, but there's no guarantee I'll post more. XD

Thursday, July 28, 2016


A very amusing movie! I can't believe all the internet hate from the trailers. I thought the first two trailers were quite meh, but the international trailer was pretty solid. And the film was pretty damned enjoyable and funny, and given by how the crowd with me were laughing!

I especially enjoyed how the show doesn't take itself too seriously, and the 2D ghost near the end just clinches it. Very proud to have worked on the ghost fight sequence, that looked even better after the final grade.

Who you gonna call?

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Electro Etching - Complete

It's quite difficult to find Copper Sulfate, but somehow I managed to find a small 100g bottle from Lacy West.
As this was a quick test, I just glued up a pile of waste plywood pieces into something able to support the piece being etched. They are kept more or less about 6 centimeters apart.

The first test plate was slightly damaged due to some over-enthusiastic filing to get a clean area for the wire to be soldered on. I also used a small bottle of TSPe to remove all the oil and fingerprints.
A used pasta sauce container is to be used to hold the electrolyte.
For a power supply, I got a pretty nice unit off Banggood, the cps-3205 capable of up to 5A current supply, and variable from 0 to 32 volts.
I went with 1v, for my etching voltage. The current draw during my tests were hardly taxing on the power supply, topping out at 150mAh.
The cathode appears to have worked as described by various websites, the copper plating onto the cathode.
This is the result after one hour in the electrolyte, checked at 15 minute intervals.
This is side-on through the usb microscope. Seems like a fair good bit of etching was done. 

The toner came off easily with a piece of tape. Some of it could not be removed, and I used a fingernail to scratch it off.

Didn't have any proper oxidization agents, so I just used a black sharpie to colour in the etched areas as a test :)
I thought this looked really nice!
This is the inverse of the previously etched image.
The edges are definitely more deeply etched than the center. Several sources have indicated that this would be the case, and a way to help with this is to use a cathode in the shape of a grid, not a solid plate like I have done.
Here's the reverse give the sharpie treatment :)