The Robservatory

Robservations on everything…



Demonstrating iMovie’s stabilization feature

On our flight home from Denver last week, our 10-year-old daughter had the window seat. So I asked her to record the takeoff (using a Canon pocket cam with 1920×1080 video). I gave her no tips (she’d never tried this before), other than to minimize any reflections off the window and to try to keep the camera steady.

The results weren’t bad, given her lack of experience at such things, but they weren’t really usable. So as with my early-morning Portland take-off, I fed the raw video to iMovie’s stabilization routine. The end result is nothing short of amazing, with some caveats as noted after the video:

(Also available on my YouTube channel.)

At first glance, the changes are nothing short of extraordinary. The raw video is almost unwatchable in spots, due to the extreme camera movement. The stabilized video, while jumpy in those same spots, is infinitely more watchable. There are some tradeoffs, of course, to get this stability.

Aviation geekery: Rainy early morning PDX departure

Earlier this fall, the FAA decided to allow use of electronics below 10,000 feet on flights. As an aviation geek, this was great news; not because I could now use my iPod or whatever all the time, but because I could use my camera to record takeoffs and landings.

In particular, I think takeoffs are amazing events, wherein a huge multi-ton semi-controllable beast of a machine on the ground transforms itself into a powerful and graceful master of the skies, seemingly weighing nothing and covering vast distances at over 500 miles an hour. But I wax off-topic…

I don’t fly all that often any more, and yesterday was my first flight since the rule changes went into effect. It was also a very early departure (5:40am takeoff), so it was pitch black outside. Plus it was overcast and a bit rainy.

Nonetheless, I couldn’t let the opportunity pass me by, so I recorded the takeoff and initial climb out of Portland. There’s even a bit of commentary, for the sake of my daughter sitting next to me.

(For the best visual experience, click the gear icon to choose 1080p, and then zoom to full screen.)

Despite the darkness and rain (or perhaps because of it), I find the resulting video to be mesmerizing…but that’s mostly because I am an aviation geek, and love this stuff. If you’d like the technical details behind the video, keep reading.


A visit to an amazing aviation museum

evergreenlogoIf you’re an aviation enthusiast (as I am), and you’re ever in Oregon, you owe yourself a trip to the Evergreen Air and Space Museum.

Despite living here for nearly 20 years, I’d never been until last week. The kids had a day off school, and we had some tickets we’d bought during a fundraiser for OMSI, so we went and made a day of it.

The museum has a large collection (100+) of aircraft, all in impeccable shape. In addition, there’s quite a collection of space memorabilia, including a full-size Titan rocket. The star attraction, though, is the Spruce Goose, Howard Hughes’ massive flying boat. There’s also a waterpark whose key feature is four water slides that drop out of the side of an actual 747, which sits on top of the water park’s building. Our passes included cockpit access to the Spruce Goose as well as a tour of the cockpit of the 747 sitting on top of the waterpark.

As you might expect of an aviation enthusiast, I snapped a ton of pictures. The more bearable of my efforts can be seen in this album (set to open in a new window). You can navigate with the on-screen buttons, the arrow keys, or by clicking directly on each image; you can also resize your browser window, and the image sizes will adjust.

If you enjoy all things aviation, you should put the Evergreen Air and Space Museum on your list; it’s definitely worth the time and effort it takes to get there.

Indoor flying fun

For quite a while, I’ve wanted an electric radio controlled (R/C) helicopter–one of the small ones you can fly around inside the house. Over the last couple years, I’ve tried cheap versions (complete waste of money; they fly like crud), and the expensive versions seemed too, well, expensive for what would be nothing more than a silly time waster.

Then, just before Christmas, E-Flite released the new Blade mCX, a smaller, lighter, and easier-to-fly version of their Blade CX2. The CX2 was one of the expensive models I’d passed on earlier. The mCX, however, comes in $50 cheaper than the CX2, and came close enough to my self-imposed $100 limit that I bought myself one for Christmas :). (Click the image at left [and any image in this writeup] for a larger view.)

After only a few minutes with the mCX, I was hooked. This machine is unlike any other R/C helicopter I’ve ever tried to fly. Within a couple minutes of my first power-up, I had it hovering in place, and could maneuver it relatively well. Even for me, a complete novice to R/C flying, this machine is incredibly easy to fly. R/C purists probably dislike it, though–relying on dual counter-rotating rotor blades and a gyro, the mCX isn’t a “real” R/C helicopter in any sense. But for my desires, it’s (nearly) perfect.

The mCX weighs one ounce (with battery), and has a rotor span of just 7.5 inches. Everything about this machine is tiny, including the motors (the round items in the image at left) and the battery (visible at the bottom of the image; it’s got a red dot on it). The front of the machine is the brains, though–a circuit board there holds the gyro, motor control units, fully proportional servos, and radio receiver. Amazing that it all weighs but an ounce.

Combine that with very sensitive flight controls, and you can fly the mCX almost anywhere–I’ve flown it above the garage’s workbench, for instance. The throttle is amazingly precise, making it easy to fly at whatever altitude you desire. As a brief example, here’s a video of me flying around in the den, trying to keep the mCX within view of the fixed video camera:

Read on for more about this amazing little machine…

San Juan to Dallas in-flight images

The following will probably only be of interest to aviation buffs–so if that’s not you, you can stop reading now :).

My wife and I recently took a week to go scuba diving in Bonaire. I’ll be posting more about that trip shortly, but getting to and from Bonaire from Portland, Oregon, isn’t exactly simple. There’s an overnight Continental flight that leaves out of Houston once a week, but neither of us enjoy such flights, so that was out. We wound up flying to Dallas (on an MD-80), then to San Juan, Puerto Rico (757-200WL), and then on to Bonaire (ATR-72). On the way down, we spent a night in Dallas, but coming home, we did it as one (long) 20-hour day.

While flying home, I snapped a number of pictures of the various islands we flew over–starting with the Turks and Caicos Islands and ending as we flew over the Bahamas. I found the mix of clouds, shadows, land, sky, and water to make for some very interesting images. None of these are award-winners (I was using my Canon 850is again, and there are often reflections in the window), but I just loved the colors.

As noted, more on Bonaire later–including a review of the island as a destination for scuba divers, as well as some of my underwater images from the week’s dives.

Too much realism in flight simulation?

As a (non-active) instrument-rated pilot, one of my favorite diversions is X-Plane—as it’s the closest I’ll ever get to flying the “big iron.” There are realistic touches in many spots in the sim, including the occasional bird flock visible during takeoff or landing at some airports. Now I’d seen these flocks on many occasions, but hadn’t realized that they were actually…involved…in the simulation.

But the other day, I was taking off in a 747 out of Portland (not like we really get those here), and a flock flew across the runway just after I rotated. Despite my best efforts, the 747 flew right through the clump of birds, and the he results were…quite surprising, and more gory than I was expecting. Read on for the details and a (too realistic?) screenshot.

Free time at San Francisco International

747 approachingMy Friday flight home from WWDC (San Francisco [SFO] to Portland [PDX]) wasn’t set to depart until 9:15pm, probably putting me in the door around midnight. In an effort to get home somewhat sooner, I headed to the airport around 5pm, as there was a 6:15ish flight to PDX, and I thought maybe I could get on that one instead.

However, when I reached their gate, the departure board indicated “delayed,” and the estimated new departure time was 9:40pm–well after my booked flight’s departure. With no pressing requirements for the next four hours, I made my way to the end of the C concourse, where I had a good view of the planes taxiing by–as well as a view, though quite far away, of landings on runways 28L and 28R.

Thinking simply “I wonder if someone will come question me about this,” I got out the Nikon, attached the 70/300mm zoom, and started snapping pix. Amazingly, over the course of an hour’s worth of picture taking, I was completely ignored by Homeland Security. (The first few images were snapped from a café near the international terminal, outside the concourse proper.)

The pictures may only be of interest if you’re a true aviation nut; most aren’t even that good. I do like, however, the nose-on shot of the China Airlines 747, which was snapped as it maneuvered on the taxiways just outside the concourse. It makes a most impressive desktop image when cropped to fit 1920×1200! (As always, if you ever want a full-size version of any image, just ask.)

A different kind of paging…

It’s Sunday morning as I sit here in this San Francisco airport café, having just arrived on my flight from Portland for this week’s WWDC. The flight itself was fine–the air was smooth, the plane was lightly loaded, and I had an entire row to myself. Without being in first class, it just doesn’t get much better than that!

However, just before we pushed back from the gate in Portland, I heard this on the plane’s PA system: “Rob Griffiths, please press your flight attendant call button.” Uh oh. Talk about a quick way to elevate one’s heart rate–nothing like an on-board page to accomplish that! A sampling of thoughts that ran through my head: “Uh oh, what happened to one of our kids!?” … “I bet I left something at home, like my luggage, and my wife is calling to let me know” … “They figured out that their online check-in tool shouldn’t have let me move from the cheap seats up into Economy Plus?” [I was able to jump from row 22 to row 8 without any trouble] … “Was there something in my carry-ons that they’ve just now discovered to be dangerous?” … “Someone saw me taking pictures of the airplanes from the concourse windows and called security” … “I always wondered what happens when someone is asked to press their flight attendant call button; looks like I get to find out!”

After all that (and more) had run through my head for a couple of minutes, the flight attendant showed up and simply said: “Ah, thank you–we just wanted to make sure you were on the plane. Didn’t want to leave without you!” Whew, no emergency, no trouble. But then I began to wonder…how come they didn’t already know I was on the plane? After all, I had handed them my boarding pass at the top of the jetway, they had scanned it through their boarding system, and I heard the thing go “beep.”

The only thing I can think of is that by jumping from steerage into Economy Plus (or whatever my airline calls it), I somehow confused their system. Perhaps the gate agent did something special to let me claim my ‘upgraded’ seat–the flight was quite empty after all–and that somehow ‘lost’ me in the system? Whatever the reason, it was just a bit disconcerting to find myself ‘lost’ in an airplane despite having had my boarding pass scanned prior to boarding!

In any event, I’m here now, and have a free day to explore the city and its surroundings and take some pictures with the new camera. Tomorrow things get busy, with the (public) keynote talk in the morning and then a number of “state of the union” presentations in the afternoon, and a reception in the evening. I’m hoping that there are at least one or two real ‘wow’ secret features revealed in Leopard, as I’m not overly impressed at the moment (based on the features shown on Apple’s OS X pages). We’ll know one way or the other in about 24 hours!

Ten things to do in the next twenty years

Over the weekend, I was thinking a bit about the next 20 years, and things I’d like to accomplish within that timeframe. Nothing practical like “preparing for retirement” or “funding the girls’ college accounts” or even “remembering to mow the lawn weekly.” No, it’s always more interesting to think of the fun things one might be able to do in the future.

So here’s my list, focused on those things I think would be the most fun or most interesting. As with lists of this type, there’s a good chance that well over half my list will remain unaccomplished–family, work responsibilities, and economic realities always seem to get in the way of our dreams. However, I will do my best to check off at least some of these items while working within the confines of reality.

A little (simulated) flying fun…

If you’ve been reading here much, or have ever seen me speak, you know that I’m somewhat of an aviation fan. I’m an instrument-rated private pilot (though not current, thanks to family, money, and Oregon weather!), and X-Plane is one of my favorite diversions. I love being able to pilot aircraft I’ll never have the chance to fly here in reality, and to fly in weather conditions that I wouldn’t dare to go near in a real airplane. X-Plane also features real-world weather, so I can fly around the Portland area in conditions that closely match what I see out the office window.

Yesterday, it was foggy here. Really foggy. Almost all day. So during lunch, I took the Nike LearJet (OK, the X-Plane version thereof) out from Portland International for a little spin. Take-off in foggy conditions is relatively straightforward–full thrust, max rate of climb, maintain runway heading (instrument departure procedure? Nah!), and I broke out into the blue skies above at about 3,500 feet above the ground. I flew off to a clearer airport for a couple touch-and-goes, then headed back to Portland. Given the fog, an instrument approach was definitely required. I chose the ILS for runway 28R, and maneuvered the plane towards the final approach course.

Then I got lazy, something I couldn’t ever do when flying instruments in the Piper Warrior I trained in: I set up a fully-coupled autopilot approach, including auto-throttles. As pilot, my job was now reduced to system monitor–I only had to choose the desired airspeed on the autopilot panel, remember to drop the flaps and gear, monitor the system’s progress, and then the autopilot would take care of the rest. Just for fun, I used SnapzPro to record the approach, from the ILS intercept to touchdown, and uploaded them in case anyone wants to see X-Plane, or what a really foggy approach might look like.

The Robservatory © 2017 Built from the Frontier theme