An Introduction to Flying Machines – Part 1

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My dad likes remote control cars. My brothers like remote control cars. I like them too. As a family, we grew up playing with train sets laid out on the family dinner table. As kids we also used to enjoy playing with a “Thunderloop Thriller AFX Slotcar Set” and making things out of Lego. The things that typical boys enjoyed playing with.

So where do I begin with this flying journey? How about this last Christmas. It was the year of… strangely enough remote control toys – yet again. Some years it’s been remote control 4WDs with over-sized tyres, other times, there have been noise making cars, or ones that only turn when you reverse them. Well, cheap infrared helicopters were in this Christmas. We flew them around, bounced them off walls, hit light fittings and dented couches until the batteries ran out, before we would charge them for 10 minutes, use the small charge stored in the capacitor and do it all again.

A few months ago I came across some quadcopters on the Internet. Mmmm… These looked like fun. I was so impressed that I looked on ebay and searched around and found a DJI Phantom Quadcopter for about $300 – well within budget. I thought, that looks like a good deal (because others of the same thing were over $600). As it turns out I got stitched up on eBay. But, PayPal came through for me in the end. (Thanks guys).

It’s a good thing it happened this way though. It started me on a journey to find out more about what these flying machines were really all about and the vast amount that are truly out there. I got my money back, and felt like I had received a bonus $300. Budget now doubled!

I write this not as someone who is an expert, but as someone who has gone from knowing nothing, to some who has watched videos, read up and who now knows a little more than the majority of my friends. Why is this so? Because none of my friends have a flying machine quite like I do.

It seemed to me there are several different types of flying machines around. To keep it simple, lets just use the word copter, as the generic term. There are several types of these copters around – all with a prefix to tell you how many propellers there are. I’m not going to be talking about planes, helicopters, wheeled devices or tanks as this hasn’t been the focus of my research.

So, the common ones are.

  • Tricopter – 3 blades
  • Quadracopter – 4 blades
  • Hexacopter – 6 Blades
  • Octocopter – 8 Blades

It took me a while to figure out, but the more blades you have – the greater lifting capacity you have – in a basic sense. I like photography and the odd hobby filming, so I thought a hexacopter would be a good start.

As I mentioned, there are many different types, and I’ll try and break it down a little. DIY open source kits which you put together yourself, or; closed source proprietary systems which are generally purchased in a ready to fly kit. 

When I say drones/copters I’m not talking about military drones that cost a million dollars to fly, nor am I talking about a Cinestar 8 HL (or an Aus version), or the one used in a recent Top Gear Nile Special. I’m talking about a simple pro-sumer version with a minimum few features – such as GPS and waypoint controls. The ones you can get at a local electronic shop are the toy ones – these are not the ones I’m interested in.

The DJI unit I originally looked at is a proprietary system, though many people have modded them and done add-ons and hacked the frames to accomodate more things, but overall I felt these didn’t have the greater flexibility that their open source brothers have.

The OpenSource model however is a rather different beast. I somehow discovered it and found that there are many people out there all doing really cool things and I wanted to be a part of it. Why? Firstly, the OpenSource model is great because it’s a community collaborative thing, and updates are often regular. Secondly, the amount of people and active members I found at DIYDrones.com was massive. Theres’s a great source of material, and regular content.

There was a problem though. The more I looked at the different options, the more I got confused.

Many years ago, I remember looking at getting a satellite decoder box, because my house had a satellite dish on it. Why wouldn’t you? Free TV channels right? If you start looking up that kind of content of what to buy, how to find the right satellite you discover quickly that it’s a completely different language full of acronyms and words that are only in use in that field. Needless to say, I gave up.

Looking in to the world of these copters has been like that for me. I still don’t have a clue what half of the acronyms are that are dropped, and at the moment – I don’t really care. But, what I have found out, I’ve decided to share so that others won’t be confused like I was.

So, you want a flying copter but don’t know where to start? That was my position and you are not alone.

If you go down the DIY option, this image (source) (and many others like it) is probably one of the most helpful things you can have to understand the basics of what you need to get one working – at least of the electronics.

Electronic Layout

Basically you need the following: (for a quadcopter)

  • 4 motors with blades
  • 4 Electronic speed controllers (ESC) for each of the motors
  • A battery
  • A radio receiver (and transmitter)
  • A “computer/brain” (I went with this leading model)
  • A frame and wires to hold it all together

Once I discovered this photo much of it made sense.

I looked at some of the stuff on HobbyKing (a website with many remote control items) and there were heaps of cheap options. I started looking at the frames. If I was going to have a copter, I wanted it to look good. The next problem was figuring out which models worked with what, how the ratings of motors worked, the size of the blades, the frame, the bla bla bla bla. I nearly gave up – again.

Instead, I started looking at kits that where ready to be built. This was more up my alley. The hard work was done, and I just had to put it together… As Jeremy Clarkson puts it “How hard could it be?” – yeah right…

I chose a Hexacopter from 3DRobotics with the full electronic kit. This saved me having to know what an ESC was, and what kind of rating a motor had. (I still don’t know what the specific motors are that they sent me. I just know they are blue and go really fast.)

The reason I chose to go with the OpenSource system, was community support There was software available, new firmware updates, it looked really good. I’d chosen the ArduPilot box and after searching on the DIYDrones website, I finally found what I was looking for. The final piece in the puzzle was all about batteries.

Do you remember when Linux first came out? I remember compiling kernels many years ago, and people saying, “Yeah, this is the future”. The future? Yeah…Whatever. Make it friendly and don’t make it crash on me. These days, it is much more stable and there are more than a few consumers using it.

This was where I found myself in the copter world; scratching my head and trying to figure out a bunch of information that everyone knew, or just assumed that was already known. This was probably one of the hardest things to understand. That and trolling through the massive amounts of forums posts. There was plenty of good help available however. My questions: Post 1. Post 2. Post 3

Now back to the batteries… If you are looking at buying a DIY drone, there are 2 things you aren’t told. Firstly, about a transmitter/receiver (and a charger) and secondly, what type of battery you will need.

The 3DR Hexacopter will easily handle/need a 3C 2200mAh 11.1V. What is all this? 3C means it has 3 cells. 3 parts of a battery that make up the 11.1 volts required. The 2200mAh value is how much power is in the battery for how long it will run. There is another value and that is how much punch it has, but a value of 30 will work fine. All up, a battery like this, you will get 7-8 minutes from it. (Yep, that’s all unfortunately). This is what they look like and the approximate price.

I’d like to say 2 things about when ordering parts from the Internet. My intention was to have a flying copter and be able to be proficient at flying so I can take aerial video. I made sure I ordered months in advance. The guys at 3DRobitics in the USA, I can not fault. I ordered on a Thursday/Friday night Australian time, and it arrived on the Tuesday. I also made an order from HobbyKing at the same time. I ordered batteries and a radio remote controller and receiver from them. I still haven’t received the package and it’s still sitting in Hong Kong (apparently) – and this was back in mid May, 2013. Now to be fair to them, it could be the mail service they use – SpeedPost.sg. Correct me if I’m wrong, and maybe my expectations are too high, but I would expect that when they say a package will be delivered within 3-6 days, that it will be.

You get what you pay for. If you want items, get them local or from trusted suppliers.

Needless to say, I discovered a nice little RC hobby shop up the road from me. They don’t specifically have much tri/quad/hex copter gear, however there is plenty of other equipment. They have batteries, chargers, transmitters and basically what I needed. I should have gone there in the first place. I’m a fan of supporting small businesses, especially specialty shops like this. Needless to say, the friendly staff are very helpful.
http://www.mildtowildrc.com.au/

On another note, I have found the story on 3DRobotics very interesting:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n1E_CPxR3LA (watch the whole 5 videos)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cwH7w1vOlIs (another one)

Part 2 of the building phase will come next.

Thanks! Let me know if this article has helped you in anyway.

Making a small quid at car parks

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I had a thought the other day, and technically you could make it work.

Legally it may or may not work, but if anything you’ll probably just upset the car park owner in doing this exercise.

I’ve never been very good at being an entrepreneur before – so here’s my hypothetical quirky idea.

So… here’s the thing… the car park you’ve been using for using forever to park your car in in the morning, and then catch the bus to where you work has just put tolls and ticket machines everywhere which say the “first 4 hours free” limit. That sucks right? You work 8 hours, and so you need at least 10 hours to have your car stored for free… So now, your commute to work is going to have to change.

What if though… (queue the imagination music)

So you meet up with someone who sits outside the car park all day and charges you $10 to manage your car. You give them $10 and they park the car in the free car park. You go to work, via the bus/train. Then after work, you come back to the car park. That someone then gets your car, and you go home – doing what you’d previously done.

So what happens with your car during the day? Well, every 3 hours, that person moves the car out of the car park and finds a new spot for it, all the time keeping well within the 4 hour time block listed on the ticket.

It’s a win win for everyone. He makes $10 from you and although it’s a small increase to you from before, it’s better than the $40 (or however much) for parking 8 hours in the car park or parking in the underground car park in the city at an even higher rate.

So here’s the thing. Say someone was to do this “car management”, you’d only need to have 10 cars to manage. You could make $100 a day and keep 10 people happy.

A great feature that Dreamweaver lacks

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After browsing this page, I got thinking about the current workflow I have.

I have and use the best (and worst) of both worlds in Mac and Windows. Mac at home, and Windows at work. At home I use Dreamweaver CS5.5 and Notepad++ at work. I use a MAMP setup at home and upload everything to a local intranet at work, but preview everything in FF/Chrome/IE/Opera and every other browser.

I have the tag/syntax autocompletes off as it gets frustrating when you are going back to edit things with copy and paste in multiple places and using code like:

echo $var . “<b>bla</b>”; //etc, and it just gets a little lost…

I never use the built-in preview thing in Dreamweaver. Why? Even with dual screens, it’s not efficient. People don’t browse the net in a Dreamweaver preview window…

Editing pure HTML is fine, but using the Live view is useless when using dynamic PHP on a local server(or remote for that matter), which require lots of data from other files and mysql databases. Last time I tried, it unfortunately just didn’t work.

The biggest thing I want to see in Dreamweaver is where you double click on a variable (as can be done in NP++) and all of them in the document highlight. It is such a great feature and I use it constantly.

Why use it constantly? Well, because I highlight the variable and then scroll up and down the page, and I can see straight away where that highlighted text is. There is less need to use “find” and have the cursor ‘jump’ to somewhere in the document, where you then have to try and locate your spot again.

Have a look at these two screen shots, and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

The above is Dreamweaver CS5.5

This is Notepad++.

Notice the same code, yet in Dreamweaver, it doesn’t automatically highlight the selected text.

The best file management utility for Mac OSX

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Having grown up with a computer in the house, I become very proficient with command based systems, from using the old Point and Shoot menu system to writing DOS batch files and other various things, in not only qbasic, but yes, even gw-basic, I was kind of nerdy.

Why tell you this? Well, these DOS based systems were fantastic and very powerful in their ability to batch process things, find and locate things – all with the use of the keyboard. One such product I highly miss on the GUI platforms we all use today is that of XTreeGold, and products like it.

There is a program written by an Australian called ZTree, which is almost identical in it’s use, look and feel, but with modern day architectures for handling larger files, and massive directory structures, utf8 files etc. All this is great if you are using a Windows platform of some sort. You could and can run it in an emulated environment, but it’s not entirely optimal at times.

However, if you are using Apple platforms, there aren’t too many options available like this that I’ve found with the same power and ability as Ztree. There is one which is similar, but no-where near. That program is muCommander.

Update: May 30th 2015
The muCommander project is basically dead now. However, the project has been picked up again and forked: http://trolsoft.ru/en/soft/trolcommander/
It looks worth checking out!

Just this week I made a purchase of a Lacie 5Big 2 on special at $369 to start using it as a permanent backup device. With a few teething issues to sort through from it, I found that my biggest problems have been keeping the connection to the device alive. It seems that because it’s a network device, it just likes to drop out every 10 hours or something – something I’m going to investigate and look at to fix.

So, now on to our main point of the article.

With so much data to back up, of videos, photos and audio, the Lacie drive is something I basically needed to prevent data failure. When you have lots of data to copy and transfer, you will find it’s going to take a long time.

One of the biggest problems with the OSX Finder program is that it can’t handle file errors very well when copying files. If it finds an error, it basically stops. No options to continue or anything. This is useless if you are copying terrabytes of data, and you don’t know where the files stop, what was copied, and what had the error, or why… It’s painful and is not the tool for the job.

The main reason I like muCommander, is that it gives you options of what to do when things stop working. The most common error I got when copying the data, was “Error, can’t copy file X” or something to that affect. What the? As it turns out, the connection to the Lacie drive had been dropped. By what? Not sure. I’m suspecting the computer was at fault. But, either way, once I re-established the connection, I was able to hit retry in muCommander and the process continued.

You can’t do that in Finder!

Another problem associated with these kinds of large copying is associated to when things go wrong. In Finder, when you copy a file, the folder becomes greyed out and unavailable for browsing until the copying has finished. So, what happens when it breaks and the files are still there, but you can’t view the contents? You have to get nerdy… I had it happen to a few directories.

You can easily solve this problem when it gets broken. I found the solution here. For the executive summary and easy fix, just do this:

Open Terminal:

type in something to this affect and you should be right:

$ SetFile -d 06/13/2011 /PATH/

As it turns out, when Finder is copying files, to let the GUI know that it’s being used, it changes the date to 06/13/1946. So, basically, you just change the date, and the folder will come back to normal.

As a little side note. I found this brilliant little program called FinderPath. Load it, and the path at the top of the Finder bar becomes editable – just like Windows Explorer. A tool for the power user! Highly recommended.

Stop & turning in to & – solution

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Recently I had to solve a painful problem using PHP and Javascript.

I discovered that trying to pass, or create a URL with &val=val was becoming &amp;=val and couldn’t find a way to fix it.
As I was implementing the script in to a Joomla site, it was becoming automatic. Without the Joomla integration, it worked ok. It was very strange, but I have now found the solution.

This was how I solved the problem, using substring(0,1).
Here’s an example of how to maybe use this code.
function callAJAX()
    {      
        var var_Date = document.getElementById('DateAJAX').value;    
        var l2 = '&type=' + <?php echo $type; ?>; 
        var l2=l2.substring(0,1) + '<?php echo "type="  . $type; ?>';  // stupid js fix 
        jsfunction('ajaxdiv', 'phpfilename.php?date=' +var_Date + l2,'<? echo $num; ?>'); 
    }

The URL will result in something like this:

phpfilename.php?date=2012-10-31&type=2

 

I hope this helps all the other geeky boffins out there .

 

Ahmadinejad hails imminent arrival of ‘Ultimate Savior, Jesus Christ’

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Hello, I’ve noticed that I’ve never written anything like this before, but I was watching the tv tonight, and had one of those “Ah ha!” moments… So, I decided to scribble down a few thoughts.

I’m someone who likes to keep my eye on the news, not for the local news about neighbours fighting with each other, or councils who won’t fix roads, or which is the best toothbrush to buy, but on world events and other newsworthy happenings.

As such, a recent story happened at the UN security council last week where the President of Iran gave a speech; which may even be his last if they are not re-elected again.
He stated the Jesus Christ will be coming back again soon, (http://english.alarabiya.net/articles/2012/09/26/240346.html) and that their Islamic prophet will teach Jesus how to pray and so on… Basically one part truth to 1000 parts heresy.
Here’s the thing though, Ahmadinejad sees it as his duty to usher in the Shiite Muslim’s messiah, the 12th Imam. Frightening stuff if you don’t know about any of this that is already foretold.

Israel will have a war on its hand soon, yet ultimately The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob will win the victory – over Satan and his false teaching.

If you know much about the book of Revelation from the Bible, you will read that it states about the mark of the Beast, where his number is 666. (http://biblia.com/books/nkjv/Re13.17-18) Now, there is some controversy about this
explanation here, so I would encourage you to watch the video and see for yourself. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GtquNNEO7Fw)

Now with the assumption that you’ve watched the video, this is where it will get interesting. We’ve seen the whole uprising in the Middle East and surrounding areas in the last couple of years, and with it, even in the last few weeks, with the latest short movie (terrible film if you ask me) released about the Islamic prophet. The area is primed and the people are united by their faith and devotion to their leader and prophet. All the pieces are in the puzzle. It just needs to be clicked together.

When Christ returns, he will not be answering to another prophet from any other religion, he will take is faithful home, and the world will be in shambles.

Want to know what’s going to happen?

A leader will mysteriously show up and usher in a new world order of calm, and bring back stability to the world after absolute chaos erupts. Not war, chaos. The Catholic Church will endorse this new leader and thus fulfil Revelation 12. Did I hear you say heresy? Not quite… have a good read of this lengthy document and enjoy the reading. http://www.chick.com/information/religions/catholicism/sevenhills.asp

So does this mean?

It means, the Catholic church will still be here after the Rapture, and probably saying along the lines of “It can’t be the return of Christ, because we are still here”. Take heed and note that they will assist the new world leader, and there will be dangerous times ahead. The new leader will have power like you won’t believe, and it will be very dangerous times to be living in, especially for your soul.

They Catholic church endorses other faiths, as does their popes and cardinals, deacons or whatever term they use… All roads do NOT lead to God, and strangely enough, the Catholic church doesn’t engage or endorse the teaching of the evangelical world of the Christian Faith… why is that? Jesus clearly said, “I am the way, the Truth and the Life. Noone may come to the father, except through me”.

We are currently living in a time period, where things in the world have come together at such an alarming pace for the return of Jesus Christ to happen more than ever before in the history of the world!

Go through and read from Matthew 24 and have a look. Many of those things have and are happening right now… We are seeing things mentioned in Revelation that are now possible to happen, that many years ago would never have been possible, such as the internet, cable tv and other mass communication methods, for example, whereby when the two witnesses in the Bible are killed a everyone will be able to see them. How does everyone on earth see two people dead? When Steve Irwin died, every major newspaper in the world carried his photo on the front page… With Facebook, Twitter and real-time news services, we can know news instantly now. 20 years ago, none of this was possible. The book of Daniel is a fascinating book of prophetic writing that is about what has, and is yet to come.

So, interestingly enough, I learnt something recently that I’d never heard. Ever wondered who the 2 witnesses are? Well, it is thought that they could be Moses and Elijah… See this site for a very thought provoking article. (http://www.vision.org.au/the-journey/home-group-notes-elijah-pt-2)

The rise of Islam is happening at an astounding rate, and it’s no surprise. It will eventually overtake the world, by that stage, Christ will have raptured the Church and the masses will be so ignorant of what is happening, or has happened, they will believe anything that they are told.

The strange this is, that if you have a look at the Eschatology in the Bible, and that of the Koran, you will find similarities… only thing is, they are mirroring each other.

Stay alert, be aware. Jesus Christ will return again soon. Be ready.

Keep your tin foil hats off for this bumpy ride, ’cause it’s about to get a whole lot more interesting!
Steve

New Canon 7D firmware 2.0.0

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It is with a slight sense of excitement that I write this, because after owning a 7D for many years, they have finally updated the firmware in the camera to include the single biggest feature it lacked.

The 7D now has manual audio level control!!

Why is this significant you ask?

When it comes to filming, picture quality is very important, however, as a bit of an audio phreak for quality, the 7D didn’t cut it at all. Why? Because it has a feature known as auto gain…

What auto gain does is detects the volume of the audio, and if it’s quiet, it boosts the levels. Now suppose you are in a quiet room, and you want the audio to have no noise in the background? Tough luck. The camera auto turns up the detection of the quietness, and bam! You hear sounds that weren’t there all of a sudden.

This new manual feature is of huge benefit to all the 7D users.

Thanks heaps Canon!!!

Here’s my update photos…

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