Flight Ops

More than a few birthdays ago, my wife bought me a drone.  It wasn’t one of those fancy-schmancy deals you see on websites, it was more of a teenager’s style, built for rough and tumble, and accidents aplenty.  It had a basic 2 MP camera/video capability and came with extra rotor blades in case the originals were damaged or destroyed during use.

I remember messing around with it, and a couple of times almost getting it caught on the roof of the house, as well as into trees, the neighbor’s yard, and so on, reminding me that I probably needed to find a big open field somewhere for flying, but never really did.  After about a week of playing with it, I got tired of not being very good at flying and put it back into its box and set it aside.

Fast forward to about five years.  For the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking about dragging the drone out and seeing about messing around with it again.  I remember purchasing a few extra batteries soon after getting it, along with a multiple battery charger so that I wouldn’t have to wait an hour between flights.  The drone originally came with 2 batteries, so I bought 3 more to increase the flying time from 18 minutes to 45.  Since each battery takes approximately 40-45 minutes to charge, it would help me to continually swap them in and out almost indefinitely, or at least until I got tired of crashing the drone into things.  Or until I got better at flying.

Over the past week, I’ve been taking it out for an hour or so at a time.  Since it’s a very lightweight drone, I’ve had to gauge the wind, since even a 5-7 mph breeze can have a marked effect on the flight abilities of the thing.  Too, I don’t have a lot of places I can fly it, and there are obstacles I have to maneuver around.  Like trees.  And the roofs of this house and the neighbor houses.  With limited battery time, if I happened to get it stuck, it’s going to be there awhile.  I’m not about to rent a cherry picker to get it off a 2-story roof due to pilot error.  Or stupidity.

Needless to say, there’s room for improvement.  Like other things I’ve gotten interested in, there have been thoughts of upgrades.  But for now, I think with winter coming on, it might be best just to consider maybe increasing the flight time little by little, before going for major upgrades, like a newer, more expensive drone.  Considering finding a different place to fly it around here has proved problematic.


Geeking out

When it comes to desktop computers for me, either it rains, or it pours.  Mine never seem to behave correctly for very long, and since I build my own systems, I’m always tinkering with it, and trying to either fix something or keep it from crashing completely.

For the last six months, my issue has been with the monitor.  Or the video card that came attached to the motherboard of the desktop.  I think it was more the video card since I was able to use the monitor attached to my laptop, via an HDMI cable for a period of about a year.  My original issue was the desktop was misbehaving, I would power it up, it would run for about 30 seconds, then shut off again.  I spent the better part of a few days troubleshooting it, then decided it wasn’t worth my time and energy and shelved it while I used the laptop as a workaround.  I bought a 4-bay HD enclosure to simulate the storage on the desktop and for a time it worked ok.  It wasn’t the best configuration, but it was doable, and I wasn’t having too many issues.  True the desktop was basically a doorstop under my computer desk for a year, but it was out of the way and wasn’t causing an issue.  Every few weeks, if I remembered, I’d power up the desktop, it would go through its 30 seconds routine and shut down again.  And life would continue on.

Until one day when I powered it up, it stayed on and went through its complete startup.  Even to the point of starting Windows and just sitting there, as if it managed to fix itself.  I was, rather surprised to say the least.  Tech doesn’t fix itself.  At least not in my universe.  Maybe where Skynet™ is the dominant lifeform.  Not here.  Or at least I hope not.  Regardless, I didn’t take it for granted, I sprung into action and backed up settings, grabbed copies of programs and information I hadn’t been able to access for months (except for the really important stuff that I was able to pull from hard drives that I just physically removed from the tower and accessed remotely) and tentatively disconnected the laptop from the monitor, etc, and used the desktop again.  All the while thinking that maybe it was time to go to Newegg.com or Tigerdirect.com and get a new barebones system to replace this one.

Except I didn’t necessarily want to make the expense and headache of setting up a new system.  Barebones builds don’t always go so easily.  I compare it to the Johnny Cash song ‘One Piece at a Time‘, since you’re marrying different components to one system, and they all have to work in concert with one another.  The selling company does most of the hard work for you, in that they crunch the numbers and decide which motherboard and chipset work together, and make suggestions if you want to up or downgrade, depending on your needs.  If you’re a gamer, you’re going to want a more powerful system (an overclocked chip more than likely, a beefier motherboard, power supply, and so on) much more so than someone that does a few things in a multi-tasking form.  In the intervening years, I’ve upgraded to a 64-bit system from the 32-bit I grew up with, being able to access more of the memory onboard of the computer, and things run faster with the advent of access to broadband Internet.  We’re not talking dial-up or even DSL anymore.  Although it’s not the ‘big-leagues’ either.

Getting back to the issue at hand though.  My monitor has been acting up for the better part of the last few months.  The display occasionally cuts out, then comes back with distorted colors, or it just blanks out completely.  At that point I have little recourse than to shut down the computer via the power button, something I don’t like to do, as the OS (Operating System) doesn’t have the ability to shut down things in sync, it’s more like using a big on/off button to turn off the power.  Everything shuts down at once and that’s not good for the system.  I’ve kicked around the idea that it might be the HDMI cable or the connection on the motherboard.  The MB is 8 years old now, it’s gone through thousands of power on cycles and it might be time to move on.  At this point, my interim solution has been to order a new video card.

I didn’t want to order something really fancy-schmancy, since this is an older computer.  I don’t need to run heavy-duty computer games, there are no 3D or 4K necessities or make the monitor do headstands or star jumps, it just needs to communicate accurately with the tower, and let me see what’s going on and manipulate, all the visual things one does with a computer.

That being said, I went with a $55 MSI GeForce GT 710 card.  It does have some gaming capability, but mostly I needed a durable card that could support HDMI and DVI connections (I rarely use VGA anymore) so in the future when I do break down and build a new system, the card can come along for the ride.

The day before yesterday after work I decided to install it.  I have a can of compressed air, so I used that as well to evict the dust-bunny colony that had taken up residence in the tower.  As it turns out I almost used up the entire can, there were so many inside.  It took a little doing to get the card installed, as I’ve never been very good with my cables inside a computer tower.  Cables going this way and that, not tied down or tied together, or tied much in any way, so airflow inside is predictably problematic.  With a bit of finagling though, I got it installed.  Buttoned up the tower, reconnected all the appropriate cables, hit the power button, and…nothing.  Oh no.  Did I accidentally screw up the tower?  Was there some static electricity discharge I was unaware of? (I didn’t wear my static strap, though I probably should have while working with the delicate electronics but invariably I almost always forget).  After about a minute of fumbling (and dropping the tower on my left pinky) I figured out while I was balancing on the power strip, I accidentally shut it off.  Duh.

Tried it again with the power on and voila!  Success!  The tower powered up went through its checks and the monitor came on without a whit of the previous problems.  Of course, the native resolution was off, but I think that was initially set very low in case someone has a smaller monitor.  It took only a moment or two to get it set appropriately and register the card with the home office.  It’s been working like a champ ever since and I have to admit the colors on the monitor haven’t been this crisp in ages.  Very pleased with my purchase and looking forward to seeing what this baby can do in the coming weeks, months, and years.

What my brain gets up to sometimes…

A couple of mornings ago, I was sitting in the bathroom before work reading various websites and articles.  One that particularly caught my attention was someone ranting about the intricacies of time travel.  To wit; if one were actually able to build a time machine, he posited that just going back in time wasn’t the most difficult issue.  What was, in his opinion, was the fact that if one were able to travel in time, one had to take into consideration not only the passage of time, but movement as well.  Movement, in this case meaning, the movement of celestial objects, and their relation to one another as time marches invariably on.

If you think back to movies like ‘The Time Machine‘, [the remake of 2002] it shows Alexander Hartigan’s machine creating a ‘bubble’ that resides outside of the normal flow of time, either going forwards, or backwards.  What doesn’t seem to be taken into consideration is the movement of the earth, considering that it rotates on it’s axis, and it moves within the solar system and the universe as well.  The movie glosses over this fact, instead showing the time bubble remaining static as the passage of the years and centuries goes on around him.  Of course the other thing is, nothing gets built upon the spot where his machine is moving, as if the screenwriter conveniently forgot or ignored that issue.  To advance the story, he needed a mostly unobstructed view, so he could observe the dresses in the window across the street being rapidly moved higher and higher on the model’s legs to show how progressive life was becoming as time moved on.

Honestly, when I was watching the movie the first time (and the second and so on) it never occurred to me that this was an issue.  Apparently it occurred to someone else, and they decided to write about it.  I’m rather glad they did.  It made me think, and then I could share it here.