Sunday, August 19, 2018

I'm experimenting...

I'm experimenting ... with moving the mix of my posts more towards Twitter and less on the blog.  If you'd like to follow me on Twitter, here's my account. 

Why am I doing this?  Several reasons:
  • It is far easier to post photos and videos on Twitter than on Blogger, and it's clear from my blog's statistics (and about the same on Twitter) that those are what draw the most interest.
  • The vast majority of my blog posts are shorter than the new, expanded character limits on Twitter.
  • Searches on Twitter are faster and more reliable than searches on Blogger.
  • Twitter works well on phones and tablets; Blogger not as well.
  • It's much easier for people to comment on Twitter than on the blog, and I don't have to moderate the comments.  On the blog, if I don't moderate comments I get many spam comments per day – very annoying.
Some bloggers have moved entirely to Twitter, not only for the reasons I gave above, but also because they can also do longer postings with “tweetstorms” (threads of related tweets), and I'll be experimenting with that as well.   It's possible that I'll move entirely off this blog and onto Twitter.  It's also possible that I'll discover Twitter isn't the vehicle I want, and I'll abandon it. :)  For now, at least, this is just an experiment.

The blog will continue to have my tweets on the right sidebar, so you can still visit the blog and get both.  Future posts to the blog will always have a tweet that links to them, so you can also just follow me on Twitter and be sure you don't miss anything here...

Friday, August 17, 2018

At last, the digiscoping adapter...

At last, the digiscoping adapter...  If you're crazy enough to be a long-term reader of this blog, you may remember that I bought a very nice spotting scope some time ago.  My intent was to use a digiscoping adapter with it to let me take (fairly extreme) telephoto shots of wildlife using my iPhone X.  Such a great plan!  Unfortunately, Swarovski (the maker of the spotting scope) failed to cooperate by making a digiscoping adapter for the iPhone X.  Had I selected any other model of iPhone, they had me covered.  I've been waiting ever since for them to catch up with my iPhone.

A few days ago, I did my tenth or eleventh search for the adapter – and still Swarovski isn't making one.  But then it occurred to me that there might be a third party maker – and I found one right away!  Interesting twist: they're located just south of Salt Lake City, practically in my backyard.

So I ordered an adapter for my scope and iPhone X, and also a Bluetooth shutter release for my iPhone (so I wouldn't have to tap the screen and vibrate the scope to take a photo).  The adapter works great!  I went out this afternoon and did a little test shooting on our feeders.  Some of the results below.  On all of these photos, I was between 15' and 20' away from the feeders.  The second photo, of the yellow jacket, was at a range of 17' – not bad detail for that distance!  I like the fifth photo where you can see the goldfinch's tongue, and the last one where you can see how far down the hummer's beak extends...


The drone saga continues...

The drone saga continues...  This morning I successfully attached the new propeller motor to my drone.  However, as I started reassembling the dozen or so parts I had to remove to get to the motor, I managed to put one back incorrectly.  The result was to smash and slice the teensy coaxial cable for the antenna that's mounted inside the landing leg (one segment at right).  Upon discovering that fact, I'm afraid my language for the next 30 minutes or so was most inappropriate for the Mormon community that I live in.  I'm fairly certain that many of the words and phrases I used are completely unknown to these folks.  Fortunately, I was alone at the time.

My first thought was that I'd buy the replacement part from DJI (the drone's manufacturer) and just replace the whole thing.  Turns out there are two problems with that idea.  First problem: I'd have to disassemble most of the drone to do it.  I figured this out by taking the top off the drone to expose the wiring (at left).  That antenna cable starts as one of the four gold connectors at the right-center of the photo.  Then it's threaded through a braided protective sleeve, which is in turn threaded through the carbon-fiber frame.  I'd have to disassemble the entire left side of the drone to thread the new one in – and then I'd have to successfully reassemble the whole mess without breaking anything.  I'll avoid that risk, if possible!  Second problem: DJI won't sell me that part.

So where does that leave me?  Well, I discovered that the coaxial cable is a standard type called RG-178.  So I ordered a 15' length of that, and then I'm going to attempt to splice a couple of inches into the antenna cable to replace the part that I smashed and sliced.  This is going to be a bit of a challenge, as that cable is just 0.072" thick (less than a tenth inch!).  It will be microscope and fixture time, 'cause my hands aren't going to be able to do it. 

And if I fail with that repair?  Fortunately for dummies like me, DJI has a mail-in repair service.  I can throw the drone in it's shipping container and send it back to them to be fixed.  If I have to do that, I'm guessing I will be the source of the day's entertainment for the techs...

The rewards of direct charity...

The rewards of direct charity...  I've mentioned before that we've switched our charitable giving to direct charity – no organization like United Way in between us and the people or animals we're helping.  Not long ago, we funded some surgery on Yoda (a cat) that her owner couldn't afford.  Yoda's owner has no idea who we are (our desire), but she knew that the vets who did the surgery did know.  It turns out the owner is a talented artist.  As a thank-you to us, she painted this delightful little watercolor of Yoda, and a note giving a bit of Yoda's background. 

This isn't the first feedback we've gotten, and each time we get some it reinforces our commitment to this style of direct charity.  We know our charitable giving is going exactly where we want it to, because we know exactly what it's being spent on.   That's a vast improvement over what we used to do all by itself.  But even better, once in a while something like this happens and just makes our ability to help all the sweeter...

Debbie had a hankering...

Debbie had a hankering ... for Mexican food today, so we had lunch at La Unica, our favorite Mexican food restaurant in Cache Valley.  Debbie had the rolled tacos (one of their specials), and I had a carnitas burrito smothered in enchilada sauce.  Both outstanding, as always.  And now we're in a Mexican food coma...


Cache Valley geology...

Cache Valley geology...  Here's a (very) basic introduction.  The Lake Bonneville part is the most relevant to anyone trying to understand the landforms visible from the valley floor...

Thursday, August 16, 2018

So this morning we set out for Hardware Ranch...

So this morning we set out for Hardware Ranch ... with every intent of getting some drone footage of the beautiful canyon on the way there.  But when I got the drone out and started to set it up, I noticed that the propeller mount wasn't quite right – it wobbled alarmingly.  So we gave up on the drone (again!) and just did some wildlife viewing.  Didn't see much, though.

Once back home, I got the drone on the workbench and started poking at it.  I quickly discovered the wobble problem: the screws I'd just installed the day before were already working their way loose.  Loctite is required.  Worse, though, I noticed some more of the grinding that I thought I'd gotten rid of.  The more I tried rotating the motor back and forth, the worse this grinding seemed to get.  I must have a piece of iron shaving (from drilling out the screw heads) stuck in there, attracted by the powerful permanent magnets in the motor's bell.

That led me to a bunch of googling.  I found one guy – just one! – who took the motor apart for precisely the same reason.  He needed some snap ring pliers and a homebrew shaft press to do it, but he managed to get his motor apart, got the shavings out, and then put it all back together.  The surgery required, though, is pretty daunting, and I wouldn't be surprised if I broke something in the process.  I'm expecting a spare motor in today's mail, so I'm going to replace that motor altogether, then try disassembling and fixing it. :) I'll have to pick up a couple tools to do it, but if I can really fix the motor it's probably worth it as the thing costs $80. 

Meanwhile, I've removed the motor with the shavings in it.  That is quite an involved process all by itself!  Tomorrow, assuming I really do get the spare motor today, I'll install the spare and then I hope I'll be back in the air with the drone...

37 years...

37 years...  That's how long ago Debbie and I were married, in a pretty venue in Bonita, California.  We had just Debbie's mom and a few friends there, seven or eight people in all.  Went to the world's worst lakeside resort (at Lake Cuyamaca, east of San Diego) for our two-day honeymoon.  Burgers for dinner.  We loved it anyway.  Hard to believe that she stuck around all those years, through good times and bad.  But I'm very glad she did...

Even if she can't remember when our anniversary is.  :)

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

DEXA scan...

DEXA scan...  I went in for a routine medical visit on Monday.  In going through my medications, my doctor mentioned that she had recently read something surprising about people with Vitamin B12 issues (I have pernicious anemia): they have a higher risk for osteoporosis.  She referred me to our local hospital to get that DEXA scan, which will measure the level of mineralization in my bones.  This really surprised me, as on those few occasions in the past when I've had skeletal X-rays, the radiologist typically made some comment about my “elephant bones”, referring to how thick and heavy they were.  The last thing I ever expected was to be thought of as “at risk” for osteoporosis.

I won't have the result until next week sometime.

The tech who did the DEXA scan, a nice young lady named Lisa, first took my weight and height.  This was another shocking development.  Not my weight, as I keep pretty close tabs on that.  But my height!  I've been 5' 10.5" tall since somewhere in the '60s.  I've been measured a lot of times by a lot of people, most especially in the Navy (in the '60s).  I was always 5' 10.5".  This morning was the first time I've had my height measured in something like 20 years, though – and they measured it at 5' 8".  Holy shrinking bones!  I've lost 2.5" of height!  When the hell did that happen?

The most surprising part of that, to me, is that I had utterly no idea it was happening.

This article suggests that I'm losing height at a faster than average rate.  That doesn't sound good.  Now I'm a bit anxious to get the results of that DEXA scan!

So this happened yesterday...

So this happened yesterday...  We visited the Post Office to pick up our mail, and I climbed back into our car and handed the mail to Debbie.
Me: Look, Jim and Michelle sent us a card!
Debbie: Oh, what's it for?
Me: ...
Debbie: Oh, your birthday!
Me: Uh ... no.  My birthday is in September.
Debbie: Oh, our wedding anniversary!
Me: Yup.  Do you know what date it is?
Debbie: The 10th?
Debbie: The 21st?
Debbie: The 11th?
Debbie: The 12th?
Debbie: The 15th?
Debbie: The 17th?
Me: ...
My wife has no idea when our wedding anniversary is. :)

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Well, that didn't work out quite as planned!

Well, that didn't work out quite as planned!  As I was carrying our drone to the car last night, I snagged one of the propeller mounts on a stair rail – and just like that, I was out of (drone) action.  I had spare parts (came with the package I bought), so I thought it would be a quick repair.  However, in no time at all I'd managed to strip out the T8 Torx-head bolts that held the mount on.  Dang it!

I put that aside and we went for our wildlife drive anyway.  We saw a bald eagle (likely the same one we've been seeing, as it was in the same place near the Hyrum Power dam), lots and lots of fawns (just now starting to lose their spots), a great viewing of a pair of Sandhill Cranes, and the best viewing of a flock of cedar waxwings that we've ever had.  Great!

Once I'd stripped the screws on the propeller mount, things got much trickier.  First I had to cut away the already broken propeller mount, which is made of carbon-fiber reinforced resin.  That took but a moment.  Then I drilled out the two screw heads – tedious, but not difficult.  However, in the process some steel chips worked their way into the motor, attracted by the powerful permanent magnets in them.  After that happened, the motor no longer turned freely.  Gulp.

I kept going, though, figuring I'd deal with the steel chips later.  At this point I had roughly 3/16" of bolt shaft exposed.  I got a pair of Vise-grips on that, and turned – and nothing.  No movement at all!  WTF?  Some research on the web reveals that DJI (the drone manufacturer) routinely uses red Loctite on these bolts (possibly others, too).  That stuff is like epoxy glue – no way are you going to turn that bolt, unless you heat it.  Now that I had the plastic out of the way, heating was a possibility.  I broke out my big soldering iron and heated one of the shafts up until the motor started getting uncomfortably warm.  Applied Vise-grips again, and ... motion!  I had to repeat the heat/Vise-grips cycle a few times, and this was tedious as heck, as I could only turn the bolt about 60° at a time because of other parts in the way.  Eventually, though, success!  Both the mounting bolts were out of the way.

Then I tried turning the motor by hand again.  There was scraping and grinding as I did so, from those darned steel chips that made it into the motor.  I put the new propeller mount in place, then I decided to try lighting off the drone to see if I could work the chips out by just running it for a while.  A few minutes later, I had the motor spinning – and making a gosh-awful racket.  But after about 30 seconds of this, it suddenly stopped racketing.  After that, the motor spun freely and all appears to be well.  Phew!

I have some foam rubber “booties” designed to protect those parts, and they will be installed from now on.  I don't want to go through that again!

Sunday, August 12, 2018

A little catching up...

A little catching up...  On Thursday evening we went on a wildlife viewing expedition, sans drone – what a mistake that was!  Despite the smoke in the air (still very bad) and lots of traffic, we saw a lot of wildlife.  The first photo below was a real surprise for us: an osprey, perched in a dead tree right on the road's shoulder, about two miles from the mouth of the canyon (not a place where we've seen the osprey before).  Then just east of the holding pond, Debbie spotted a moose – a big bull (second photo), antlers in velvet, browsing on willow.  Later we saw lots and lots of does with fawns (mostly twins), several young bucks, a bald eagle, Sandhill cranes (last photo), kingfishers, about ten million swallows (up at Miller's ranch), kestrels, and probably some other critters that I've forgotten.  We're going to repeat the trip on Monday evening, this time with the drone.  Of course we'll probably see nothing on that trip. :)


Our purchase of our friend and neighbor's property is proceeding rapidly.  Closing is scheduled for next Wednesday.  The real estate people involved seem a little befuddled by how easy the transaction has been – no series of offers/counter-offers, a handshake (literally!) agreement on price, all cash, no seller incentives – they almost don't know what to do. :)  I have to line up a surveyor soon, to let us split up that lot into two pieces: one that we're keeping, and one that we'll be selling.

Debbie made us a memorable meal yesterday – we got fresh mussels from our grocery store, and she cooked them in a white wine, butter, and garlic base.  Damned fine, they were!  Next time we see them, we buy more – a pound between the two of us left us wanting more. 

Friday night we went to the Cache County Fair and Rodeo, and had a grand time except for having sore butts and backs from sitting on the stadium seating for four hours.  The barrel racing was again my favorite event – it was a very close competition this year!  I just ordered us some folding stadium seats, as we seem to be doing this four or five times a year...

Saturday was sod day – our yard workers cut out a bunch of sick and dead grass and replaced it with new sod.  They also prepped our “dead zone” – two acres of lawn-to-be.  They're getting ready for seeding it all in a few days, after the abject failure of the seeding last fall.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Porcupine Reservoir...

Porcupine Reservoir ... is located about five miles southeast of our home, and is the source for the irrigation water for us and everyone else for miles around us.  It's a beautiful spot, and this morning we took our drone over there and made some video...

One thing you'll notice around the shore line are what look a bit like the cliffs of Dover.  They're not – they're the barren sides exposed as the level of the reservoir drops.  The reservoir typically fills up with the runoff from melting snow in the mountains and the spring rains, hopefully being completely full by May.  All summer long we get little rain, so as the irrigation draws water from the reservoir, its level falls.  When the irrigation stops (typically in September or early October, depending on the weather), the reservoir will stop dropping and may even fill up slightly.  The following spring, the cycle starts all over...

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

One good thing about getting really tired...

One good thing about getting really tired ... I can sleep!  I was out for 7 hours last night, which is really unusual except when I'm taking diphenhydramine.

The photo at right is from the north side of our deck, showing the two hummingbird feeders I put up a few days ago.  I found out about these a couple of years ago from my sister Holly.  I bought them back then, but we didn't have a good place for them until our deck was done.  Each of these feeders is 4' long, and has 44 “flowers” for the hummers to feed from. You might have noticed that there are no perches as are commonly seen on commercial hummingbird feeders.  Instead, the hummers keep flying while they're feeding, and the “flowers” are at just the right angle for them to do so.  This is how hummingbirds feed naturally – the usual commercial feeders require them to learn a new feeding behavior.  So said the blurb about theses feeders, along with the claim that the hummers would be on the feeders quickly.  They were!  Less than five minutes after hanging the first feeder, we had a female checking it out and feeding from it.  Now with both feeders up for the past few days, we have hummers on them all day long – as many as eight simultaneously, and the number keeps creeping up.  Win!

The engineer in me can't help but notice a significant design flaw, though.  The clear plastic tubing that forms most of the feeder is fairly thin-walled – and when the feeder is full, it bends in the middle.  Clearly this will get worse over time, too.  I'm going to purchase some sturdy metal to glue to the bottom, to solve that.  If I don't, I doubt these things would last a year...

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

I am one tired hombre...

I am one tired hombre...  I suspect my brother Scott is just as tired.  The two of us “pruned” some branches off an old black willow along our irrigation canal.  Some of these branches were 20" or so in diameter!  We moved something like a ton of wood (brush and logs) from the tree to my now gigantic brush pile.  Some of the individual logs were right at the limit of what I can lift, probably 160 or 170 pounds – and there were quite a few of them.  Whew!  Glad to be done with that!

Debbie fixed us up with a simple but lovely meal: roast chicken, baked potato, and asparagus.  Yum!

After our meal we did a little drone work, including the first still photos we've taken with it.  This was because Scott wanted some photographs of our yard, to assist in his landscape planning.  The one at right is one of about 20 we took today.  The side of the house facing the camera is the front of our house, and that's Scott's first landscaping project.  There will be three trees in the front yard, and then the entire front needs landscaping.  We're eager to see what he's going to come up with.  Our directions to him are (a) don't be weird (in other words, no penguin-standing-on-its-head topiary), and (b) an informal English garden is the model. It's really exciting for us to finally be working on the landscaping after all the remodeling on the house itself...

Sunday, August 5, 2018

The drone leaves home ... and we feast again...

The drone leaves home ... and we feast again...  Debbie and I ventured out to Blacksmith Fork Canyon this morning, and made two drone flights along the way.  Our skies are full of smoke from wildfires in California, Nevada, and Utah (see pollution report at right; click to embiggen).  That particle count is normally around 15 or 20 for us, and often below 5 – so the 132 reading is pretty bad.  Even at short distances of a few hundred yards, the “fogginess” in the air is quite evident.  Our eyes burned a bit, and I had a couple of coughing spells.  In the videos you'll see that smoke, where normally we'd have perfectly clear visibility.

We spotted a bald eagle perched near the pond behind Hyrum Power's dam.  As quickly as we could, we got the drone out, set it up, and attempted to capture some footage of the eagle – and we did!  We also flew up alongside the angled bluff above the eagle, and shot a little footage of the dam and the pond behind it, all just for practice.  The best parts are three short sequences at the start of the video.  After that there's a blooper reel of sorts, which would, I'm sure, amuse anyone who actually knew what they were doing with this stuff.

Further out, near Hardware Ranch, there's what looks like an old mining road.  It leads up to a couple of rock outcroppings – small bluffs, really.  We've long thought this was a pair of abandoned mines.  This morning we flew the drone over the road and the suspected mines locations to see what it really was – and now I think those are just rock outcroppings with animal trails leading around them.  No mines. :)

Our first impression of flying the drone around in the back country to take video?  It's going to be a lot of fun for both of us!

When we got home, Debbie whipped up a meal for us (at left) and my brother Scott, who's been slaving away pruning at our house. Oh, you should be so envious!  Those are fresh Oregon sea scallops, broiled with a lemon/garlic/butter sauce and topped with lemon rinds and garlic.  She's been making these for years, but it seems like every time she gets them even better than the time before.  And of course it doesn't hurt a darned thing that we're now able to get fresh (never frozen) scallops.  The vegetables are Brussels sprout sections and Bermuda onion pieces, coated with olive oil and seasoning, and roasted in the oven.  Heavenly, every last bit of it!  By the way, this (like everything Debbie cooks these days) is very low in sodium.  We've been a very low sodium house now for almost two years.  I've never liked very salty foods, but now after Debbie has got the spices-instead-of-salt down pat, I've gotten to the point where restaurant food tastes too salty to me much of the time – even places and dishes that I used to like just fine.  I've been spoiled!  And I'm convinced now that salt is just the easy way out – the “substitute” spices are superior to the salt! 

Saturday, August 4, 2018

First dual controller flight!


First dual controller flight!  This wasn't super-exciting or anything, but it did give us the chance to get our feet wet with dual control.  Debbie was controlling the gimballed camera for this entire video, and I was flying with the FPV camera.  If you decide to suffer through this video, you'll clearly see that we need (much) more practice – but we did actually manage to capture video as intended.  You just need to ignore all the bits where we screw up (and in future videos, it's likely we'll just edit them out anyway).  Mainly here you get to be amused at our feeble attempts to play wildlife  videographers.  :)

Tomorrow morning we're going to pile all the drone gear in our car and head out to Blacksmith Fork Canyon.  With luck, we'll find some deer or a nice bald eagle.  Even if we don't see any wildlife, there are still a couple of landmarks we can take some video of...

Zoom lens test...

Zoom lens test...  Yesterday I received a new lens for my drone's camera: a Panasonic Lumix MFT, 14mm to 42mm power zoom.  Of course that meant that I needed to fly with it and see what it could do.  The video at right shows three simple little demonstrations of it.  Bottom line: it's a great addition to my drone kit, especially the telephoto capability for our hoped-for wildlife videos and photos.

A key element of the wildlife photography capability is for Debbie to be able to control the camera independently of me piloting the drone.  This morning I got all the equipment required for that together, set it all up, and tested it out.  I had a bit of confusion trying to get it all linked up by radio, but once I did that it all worked just great!  Debbie's controller has a stick that controls the camera's panning (back and forth movement), and another stick that controls the its pitch (up and down movement).  She can tap the screen to set the focus and exposure for a particular place in the scene, and can use an on-screen “thumb wheel” to set the zoom level.  The gimbal on the drone keeps the camera perfectly pointed in whatever direction she left it, so if she let's go of the controls, the camera stays pointed correctly – even if wind is buffeting the drone, or I move the drone around.  Nice!  We'll try operating the drone together later today, and I'll probably take some video of that.  Unless it's laughably bad (not an improbable event!), I'll share it up here...

Friday, August 3, 2018

A (very) slight improvement...

A (very) slight improvement...  I just figured out how to add narration to my videos, so now you're going to be subjected to the annoying sound of my voice instead of just the amateur videography.  Here I got right behind Scott as he was raking our south field (but he never saw the drone)...

First drone video...

First drone video...  I won't be winning any prizes with this, but here it is.  There's no audio because my video editing skills are lame and I don't know how to do it yet. :)  The guy on a tractor raking hay into windrows is Scott Norman.  He leases our south field from us to raise alfalfa, and that's the field he's working on.  There's a scene where I fly over to an abandoned gravel quarry – that's roughly a half mile east of our house...

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Badgers and drones...

Badgers and drones...  We had a bit of excitement here this morning, involving the badger at right.  I heard the dogs losing their minds in the southeast corner of our fenced back yard, so I walked out to see what they'd found.  It wasn't hard to figure out – this fellow was about 2 feet from four dogs, with a fence between them, and he was hissing, charging, and basically acting very obnoxious.  When I approached him, as when taking this photo, he even charged me!  As Bugs would say, what a maroon!  I didn't have a gun at hand, but right nearby were some 10' lengths of 2" plastic conduit – just right for a badger bonker.  I gave him a couple of whacks on his thick-skulled little head.  He didn't like that much, but it got his attention – and then I used the conduit to prod him into the brush by our irrigation canal.  I heard him snuffling away, and he didn't come back all day.  If he does reappear, next time I'll greet him with my .22 rifle...

We had yard work going on the past couple of days, and I've been helping a bit on that.  Our lawn contractor was here, and that took a bit of time.  I also had a Tesla tech here both yesterday and today to finish up on some repairs.  In between all that, I managed to finish unpacking my drone and it's accessories (creating a mountain of cardboard and packing materials in the process), getting it all assembled, all the firmware updated (there are a lot of computers in that thing!), and actually flying it.  I've flown it for about an hour now, including about 20 minutes with the big, fancy, gimballed camera.  I haven't actually taken any photos or video yet, just practiced with the camera.  Even with a single controller it's not hard, but when we get Debbie on a separate controller to handle the big camera, it will be even easier.  The picture from the gimballed camera is remarkably steady even in gusty winds like we had today.  Oh, and I also made a distance test flight: about a half mile to an abandoned quarry, which I circled and then returned.  I was quite relieved when the drone made it back to my vicinity, but the truth is the thing worked flawlessly even at that distance – and the first person view (FPV) camera made piloting it a breeze even at that distance. 

I think I'll be ready to try flying it out in the boonies after just a few hours of practice...