Sunday, June 28, 2015

Accurc + vmware fusion = win!

This is the second time I'm using a virtual machine, and I'm surprised at how good it is. Installation of vmware went without a hitch, and after I converted my windows 8.1 dvd to an .cdr with Disk Utility, vmware fusion immediately picked up the new install, and promptly went through the install with nary an input from me.

What more can I say. It works. I can now practice on virtual helicopters and planes. I must say that flying the virtual aircraft is quite a humbling experience; I must have destroyed several thousand dollars worth of helicopters and planes as I messed up the orientation and have them nose dive instead of pulling up :(

In any case, this will keep me occupied, don't think I'm going to get a real model too soon now!

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Last weekend in Adelaide

This is my last weekend in Adelaide. I will be rather sad to leave this lovely town and great co-workers at RSP, but the life of vfx people is moving around. Oh well.

Early this week, I sold my quadcopter as I decided that I want to learn how to fly a Collective Pitch (aka CP) Heli. Here's a demonstration of the aerobatics as performed by a top tier pilot:

So, I started this very, very fine weekend taking the tram down to the South Terrace, where the South Australian Radio Controlled Helicopters Members were practicing and doing their moves. No pictures as I wanted to be the King Of Non-Obtrusive R/C Helicopter Observation.

I watched several seemingly new members practice their hovering on their big ass (450, 500 sized?) helis, and shortly another member joined the field with what I _guess_ is a 700 sized nitro monster. That beast did amazing moves, and several times I breath caught as a seemingly guaranteed crash was suddenly turned around into a beautiful reversal.

Blessed be the God Emperor of Mankind.

Unfortunately, while in a simple bank, this gigantic heli suddenly fell out of the sky. I was a fair distance away so no idea what happened, but I could see one of the gigantic katana-like rotors had broken in two.

After observing another more relaxed example of helicopter aerobatics, I bid silent farewell to the fine folk with their birds, and moved on to my next destination, Model Flight.

Model Flight is 3 stops away from the South Terrace tram stop, and is chock-filled mostly with helis and aircraft, quadcopters and ground vehicles. I'd actually ordered in a copy of Accurc the previous day and was there to pick it up. I also picked up the cheapest 4 channel r/c transmitter that I could use with it, the Spektrum DX4E.

There are several schools of thought for learning helicopter aerobatics - one, you progress through the main types of r/c helicopters - coaxial, fixed pitch, collective pitch. Some people move from coaxial to collective directly.

Other suggest that if your end goal is to learn aerobatics, it would be better to just learn how to fly a CP from the start, as the throttle control of the CP Heli is very different from that of FP Helis - On fixed pitch, the throttle simply increases the RPMs of the rotor. In the event of a crash, you need to chop the throttle to zero in the hopes of minimizing damage.

On a CP helicopter, the same stick control no longer controls the speed of the motor, but the pitch of the blades. Hence, you can cause the helicopter to not only push air down, but push air upwards as well, a necessity for inverted flight.

Many budget and seemingly awesome helicopters that I was planning to buy (e.g. Blade 120SR, Blade Nano CPX) are sadly showing up as discontinued. While I'm certain parts will be available for years, I'm leery and decided that I will actually pick up a larger CP helicopter, one meant for advanced modellers, the Blade 180CFX.

The whole internet is probably shaking its collective head. But I'll see what happens down the road, it's not fixed in stone yet. Which is why, I decided to spend some moola for Accurc and the transmitter - to get some virtual practice in where crashes only use up electricity and time, not spare parts and time to fix stuff.

I've been reading about various Spektrum transmitters, and decided to just get the cheapest base model for using with Accurc. What's interesting, is that the version I got appears to be slightly different from the one usually seen on the Spektrum website. On their website, the DX4E has a 2 position ACT/AUX switch (as well as watching several youtube videos demonstrating this switch) that gave me a mild confusion about what I actually bought. Later, I found out from the Super Cub S manual that there are actually 2 versions of the DX4E, and I happened to get the version with the 3 way toggle switch for use with various flight modes.

This should be fine for when I try out fixed wing flight. Hopefully this won't be an issue with Accurc.

Speaking of which, as I'm running OSX, I actually cannot run Accurc as it is a windows-only application.


Which means I will be running a virtual machine with vmware fusion, and will need to pick up a windows license tomorrow.


I'll see how that runs and will update here. I also need to download the 1.6gb v1.5 package. How does this software work? Is that usb thing that comes with the package a copy protection dongle of sorts? I still need to get windows installed in the vm, so we'll see.

After dropping all my new toys at home, I left again with my gopro to test out the various protune settings. Evidently, protune actually uses a higher data rate for the videos, giving higher quality. Mmmm.

My tests today were for the color profiles, between "GoPro Color" and "Flat". I recorded several resolutions with those two settings, and will have to spend some time with Davinci Resolve checking out how to grade 'em.

After this, I met some of my co-workers for an hour at Marksman Indoor shooting range, just by Chinatown.

Personally I was like "uh, guns. boring." but I ended up having a really good time there. Good friendly staff made for a great experience.

It also helped that I kicked butt with the various handguns we shot:

Clockwise from top left: 9mm Glock, .45 Glock, .357 Ruger Magnum, .44 Super Redhawk.

I think years of practice with the dslr helps :P

 With the range done, we set of for one of Adelaide's best burger places, Bread and Bone, before ending the day with some desert at Movenpick.

Back home I'm now mostly packed up, and a bit lost before the move. Oh well.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

GoPro and Can Openers

I got this nifty can opener in Montreal, and I've been meaning to shoot some footage of it in actual use for a long while. And, I got some with my gopro.

First up though, battery issues? The Hero 4 silver was fully charged and left on my table. That was Sunday. Today, when I switched it on, it was showing 2 of the 3 bars of battery life.

Is this battery drain? I'm going to have to keep track of this. The self discharge of lithium ion batteries shouldn't be so poor. Geez.

Next, I'm starting to get the hang of the workflow of GoPro studio, but discovered that certain things, like the speed of the clip cannot be keyframed. Evidently, this feature is only available in the Premium (and I'd assume also the Professional) version of GoPro studio. Even basic controls like curves are not available unless you pony up the moola. 

So, for now, I'm thinking my workflow - if I _ever_ get into this editing thing - will be to use gopro studio to export the cineform quicktimes (if necessary) as my DI, then bring them for editing, colour correction and grading in DaVinci Resolve.

Apart from Resolve, I've also been trying out Lightworks. Couldn't really get into it as I've found some good tutorials for Resolve so I'm going down that route.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Argh, viewing 4k video on OSX

Something weird is going on, and I can't seem to figure it out yet. I've got a bunch of test footage off my gopro at various resolutions (4k, 2.7k, 1080P, 720P etc). However, attempting to view the 4k and 2.7k files using either vlc (2.2.1) or quicktime 10 definitely gives me some kind of scaled playback.

It seems that somehow, it's being scaled down to the width of my mbp's resolution before playback. What, and why?! Using Quicktime 7 gives a different story; when viewing a 4k file on Quicktime 7, I can only see a tiny portion of the image on my screen when viewed at Actual Pixels. On vlc and quicktime 10, this option is simply not available (qt10) or does nothing (vlc).

Very annoying.

There is a zoom function in GoPro Studio, but I don't see anywhere an option to zoom to 1:1 pixels. Blargh. While I'm not interested in shooting 4k, I would like to pixel peep my test footage to see what kind of detail can be pulled out of that tiny sensor.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

GoPro battery life!

So far I've done several tests with the gopro, and the battery life with just the camera running is good for what I need. I ran two tests today (with the lcd screen automatically switching off after 1 minute), and the batteries ran out at the 1hr 45min mark. One of the tests had the battery freshly charged, and the other had the battery charged over 12 hours ago. I'm _kinda_ convinced there's not over-excessive battery drain now. But I'll keep an eye on it. Probably the very first charge and its super miserable performance just didn't hold very well.

That said, I find it surprising that the lcd permanently switched on lasts about an hour and a half, a 15 minute difference from the lcd off.

A quick google indicates that for newbies, a tank of oxygen will last about an hour for the n00b depths I'll probably be diving at, so this bodes really well for what I need it for. In a good situation, I can turn on the recording before I dive, and it will probably still be running after the dive. So, if I am going for a few dives in that day, I probably need to bring a few batteries.

During these tests though, the camera runs really hot; the last test I ran, the button besides the lens was uncomfortably warm. Hopefully, the camera will run cooler underwater.

Can't wait to use it for timelapse and other stuff! Sooo exciting!

Flying by the Torrens River

I have been flying in the morning before work at the park by the Torrens river. Lots of open space, and not many people around. This morning, the Adelaide Fire Service was doing some kind of testing or practicing near by. Was wondering why the fire truck was parked out there, and they started testing out their equipment shortly after I started flying.

Thankfully, I had the sd card on board, and engaged the camera to get some shots of the fire fighters in action. While the wind was really strong today, the X4 was able to slowly fight against it, though I had to engage Expert Mode at times - basically the high performance mode - so as to not have the quadcopter blow away!

Was really tempted to fly the quad up and get a closeup of the fire fighter, but with the negative press going on about how people are flying their quads irresponsibly and ruining it for the rest of us, I decided to stay safe and stay above the green.

Times like these I wish I had a bigger quad with a gimbal and a gopro, it would have been far more interesting and less dizzing to watch!

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Got myself a GoPro!

Got myself a GoPro yesterday! Long story short, I'm planning to get my PADI Open Water Certification (I wanna go diving with seals! With basking sharks! With whale sharks! With Godzilla!), and thought that having an action cam would be super. It would also be great to experiment with timelapses (the so-called Nightlapse mode is particularly intriguing) and the fast 120fps capture of some modes will be great for capturing slo-mo footage as vfx reference.

As the tides of the warp would have it, there was a sale this week and I decided to get the Hero 4 Silver.

It was a rather difficult decision to make, as the top of the line model, the Black could record a step faster than the silver could. But in the end, the decision to get the Silver fell down to these reasons:
  • LCD on the back! I never understood how people could have shot so much amazing footage without the lcd. I suppose some of them must have bought the add-on lcd screen.
  • Protune. 
  • Nightlapse - appears to be simply a timelapse mode... with a dragged shutter. Ah marketing.
  • 240fps with the WVGA resolution, 120fps at 720P!
The black has some really drool worthy features, like being able to shoot 4k at 30fps, vs 15fps on my silver. But I decided that I really don't need that! The things I'd really love from the Black, is really the  1080P @ 120fps and 720P @ 240fps - but really. I don't _need_ those.

The base model OTOH doesn't seem very appeal though - apart from price. The waterproof case is apparently permanently attached to the camera, and the battery is non-removable. What. Nope.

Having shot some test footage today, I was quite surprised at how good it was. Being used to crappy cell phone and digital camera footage, this is truly a breath of fresh air. Even indoors in low light, it does a really good job.

Focus is an issue though. It's probably focused at infinity (?) and subjects a few inches from the lens will need a diopter to focus right. Something to look into when I get to the actual diving part and doing sealife portraits :P

Now I'm not trusting the battery life of the camera just yet. Last night, after fully charging the camera, I put it away as I didn't have a high speed memory card for it. This morning, I bought the memory card, a 32GB Samsung Pro, and then went out to shoot some test footage, and the battery life was horrendously poor.

I basically shot 20 second clips, in every single video resolution/fps available. This was using the GoPro app, and thus having wifi enabled on the gopro. Barely 20 minutes passed before the battery was blinking red. I was like... (o.0)

Prior to that, I think I'd used the camera for maybe 10minutes, after putting in the sd card. Could it be that the camera somehow drains the battery overnight? I am certain the wifi function is turned off.

In anycase, after charging the gopro back up, I decided to record some 1080P footage at 60fps with the lcd screen switched on to see how long it'd last. And lo and behold, it actually ran for over one and a half hours, before the battery gave up the ghost! Pretty impressive. This gives me confidence that I can use the camera underwater with the lcd on, for I really doubt I have more than an hour and half of footage to video per tank of air.

As of this post, the gopro is already fully charged, and I'll wait till tomorrow am before I run the recording test again. This is to check out what's going on with the battery - does it drain even while the camera's inactive?

We will see!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Quadcopter Simulation in Unity

Having very little bandwidth left this month, I thought, hey, let's see if we can get a quick and dirty quadcopter simulation in Unity... this was the result.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Hubsan X4 H109C Quadcopter!

Last week, whilst repairing my colleague's earphones, I went over to Jaycar to pick up some spares and happened to see some of their quadcopters on sale. Incidently, Jaycar is sort of the RadioShack equivalent here in Australia, lots of DIY parts and stuff to purchase.

There were a few quadcopters at the shop front, but cost more than I'd fork out and I usually just go "oooo lust" and the price tag would make me go on my merry way.

That fine day, I went to check out the r/c toys section (ha) and found tiny palm sized quadcopters that didn't bust the bank. Surely, these were more than toys. Or were they?

After getting home, and doing much googling and youtube watching, I decided to get the Hubsan X4 as my first quadcopter. It had many things going for it - small size is good, as I'm going to move to Vancouver shortly - good price - 720p camera (!!!) - controller is seemingly well built.

Bought one online last week and it arrived this afternoon. The charger is a tiny USB affair, and the included battery took about half an hour to charge up. The instructions are rather well written, and apart from the 'copter and controller, included a detachable guard for indoors flying, as well as additional propeller blades and a small tool to pry 'em off the 'copter.

Runtime of this baby is maybe 5-6 minutes, I didn't really time it. I'd suggest buying a few extra batteries. On the topic of buying - you'd need a micro SDHC card for the camera, as well as 4 AAAs for the controller (I wish they used AAs - I don't have any rechargeable AAAs on me)

I must say, flying it is quite a challenge. The two sticks control 3 key controls: the left stick controls how the 'copter rotates along its vertical axis, as well as controlling the speed of the motors, making the copter go up and down. The right stick moves the 'copter forward/back/left/right.

Doing it all at once - maintaining the copter at a certain level, turning and moving - is something that I'm sure will take me awhile to sort out. I've got a few more batteries arriving shortly in the mail (I hope!) and I am planning to spend some time during lunch practicing, as I'd like to get some video footage of the beach before I leave this fine country.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Repairing a Velodyne V-Pulse

Disclaimer: This is NOT a tutorial. You mess up your repair following my experience, it's not my problem.

So, my co-worker's Velodyne Vpulse's join to the connector started to go wonky, and I was all "Hey! I could replace that with a new connector!"

Should not have done that >.<

The cables inside were *tiny*, and best of all, I was totally dumbfounded when I tried measuring the resistance and everything came back as open. Evidently, every single strand of wire appears to have some kind of insulation. Tinning them was a pain. I ended up buying the flame tip for my soldering iron to just melt off the insulation before the solder could bite.

In either case, after a good few hours, I got it working (whew!). As you can see from the cable above, there are lots of tiny bundles of wires, each probably like half a mm or so. Not. Fun. To. Work. With.

There are:
  • Red
  • Blue
  • Green
  • Twisted Blue/Copper
  • Copper strands
  • Two strands of thread
Also, as this headphone is for IOS, the cables seemingly required the following connections to the TRRS connector:

Tip: Blue
Ring 1: Green
Ring 2: Copper Strands + Twisted Blue/Copper
Sleeve: Red

From my tests, Blue/Green are the headphone outputs, and the copper strands their ground. Red with the twisted blue/Coppper are for the mic.

So glad I got this working, as it was a pain to deal with such tiny cables >.>

My Shure SE215s have appeared to hold up pretty well so far, and if their cables get damaged, I'm so glad they can be user replaced. At least when I recabled my grados, they were a rather straightforward.