Studio711

Geek

Dronelink

One reason DJI sells the Mavic Mini for less than its other drones is that it doesn’t have as many autonomous features. However, they recently published an SDK do a number of 3rd party companies have added the Mavic Mini to the list of drones that can be controlled by their existing software. I ended up paying $20 for a hobbyist license to Dronelink. The price was low enough that it seemed like it was worth a try.

The main customer of the software seems to be companies who need to get aerial photos of buildings, bridges, etc but they don’t have a stable full of expert drone pilots who can quickly get the shot perfectly every time. With the software, the route planning can be done completely from a website and then executed via a phone app connected to the controller. You can also create simpler programs out in the field directly from the phone.

My old S7 was woefully underpowered and while it would run the software, the drone had barely taken off before it complained about the lag and refused to continue. My new Pixel 4a does a much better job but for a complex curving route where the gimble is constantly adjusting to keep pointed at a specific object, there are noticeable glitches. For simple routes, it seems to do a good job.

Here’s an example of a “trucking shot”. Imagine someone driving along in a truck with a camera pointed out the side. I didn’t make a perfectly straight path so you can see some points where it turns but overall, there isn’t stuttering to the movement.

Now here’s an image of a more complicated route followed by the video that resulted.

You can see the stuttering as my phone tries to chug through all the commands in real-time. I suspect that if I had one of the flagship phones, that stuttering would go away.

For $20, I’m still happy with this purchase. I want to try to plan out a route that is simple enough to capture smoothly and then run it every week or so and try to stitch it together into a timelapse after the construction is complete. I’m guessing I won’t be successful but I suspect I’ll learn a lot in the process.

Saving Money Is Cool

I’m very thankful that we added air conditioning to this house. This last Sunday it was in the mid-90s and we burned that sucker all day long. But I’m also a cheapskate at heart. I haven’t yet figured out exactly how much energy it consumes, but it’s far from free to run so I try to use it as little as possible. Here’s our basic strategy if it’s going to be warm:

  • Leave windows open the night before to cool the house down as much as possible.
  • In the morning, leave the windows open until it’s the same temperature inside as it is outside. Then close every window and close all of the blinds on the south side of the house. Turn on the AC.
  • In the evening, once the outside temp is the same as the inside temp, turn off the AC and open everything up to get free cooling from outside.
  • Run the house fan to keep the air circulating. Our vents pump more air downstairs than upstairs (they were designed for heating) so even just running the fan can cool it off upstairs.

We are PacNW wimps so we run the AC if it’s 80 or higher and we have it set to keep upstairs at 76 degrees. Our EcoBee thermostat supports multiple thermostats which is really handy in situations like this. It also has an API so I can connect to it and pull data off. I have logs of the indoor temp from each sensor along with the outdoor temp so I wrote a quick program that helps us remember when we should close the windows or open them back up. Now we get a text reminder when we need to make changes to the windows/blinds.

Here’s an example of what it looks like on a day that got up to 84 degrees. The night before, it got down to 59 degrees outside and inside it got down to 69. Around 10:30, the outside temperature got up to the same as the inside temp so we shut the windows, closed the blinds and turned on the AC. The house coasted until 5pm before the AC finally kicked on a few times until 8:30 when we shut it off and opened the windows.

Here’s a comparison to show how much of a difference this strategy can make: On Sunday, it got up to 96. By cooling the house down a lot the night before, the AC didn’t kick on until 2:35.

That night it stayed very warm so I never opened the windows until 6:30am when I got up. The house barely cooled off at all before I had to shut things up again. Monday only got up to 87 but the AC ran almost exactly the same* amount of time as the day before!

This works really well around here because even on hot days, we get a “marine push” that brings cool winds in the evenings. Another key is that we have low humidity so I only remember one or two days where we ran the AC more than normal because of high humidity.

* On Monday, I shut the AC off at 8:40pm. So to compare the two days, I took all of the AC usage up until 8:40pm on both days. Sunday’s usage was only 20 minutes less than Monday’s usage even though it was 10 degrees warmer.

Android Security: Bouncer

Maybe I’m paranoid, but I like to keep track of what permissions various apps have on my phone and I like to keep them as limited as possible. The Bouncer app is awesome for this and even though I’ve used it for a couple years, I don’t think I’ve ever written about it here.

When an app requests permissions, you can configure bouncer to automatically remove those permissions immediately when you’re done with the app, after a fixed amount of time or never. So for something that I use all the time like Google Maps, I never remove the permissions, but for something like Untappd or Instagram, I make it request camera permissions from me each time and then Bouncer removes those permissions when I’m done.

The removal happens by automating your user interface so you need to stop touching it for a couple seconds. It can be annoying, but generally it makes me happy because I don’t have to wonder what those apps are doing with my camera or location information in the background.

It’s a free app so it’s worth a shot if you’ve ever had similar concerns.

Davinci Resolve

One of the big reasons I built a new PC recently was to make it easier to edit 4k video footage as more and more of my devices are able to record it. I’ve been using various versions of Adobe Premiere Elements for 10 years, but I’m starting to feel like I’ve outgrown it. The problem is that the next level of video editors is the same stuff the pros use which means it’s complicated and expensive. The main contenders are Adobe Premiere Pro and Final Cut Pro from Apple. Thankfully there’s a third option: Davinci Resolve.

Resolve initially started as a color correction tool but evolved to include a full editor and special effects tool. The best part is that it is FREE. That’s right. Free! Or at least it’s free until you start editing the next Marvel movie and then you’ll want to shell out a few hundred bucks for the Studio version of Resolve. But there’s no way a mere mortal at home is ever going to get that far.

One downside to Resolve is that it has a very steep learning curve. Thankfully I’m not totally new to editing and our library also includes a free subscription to Lynda.com. I took a ~5 hour course, learned the basics, and then plunged into my first video: a full church service.

Because we’re staying home, we decided to publish as much of a normal church service online as we could. Pastor spent many hours at church recording the various segments and DaveK recorded some organ pieces from home. I was able to get it all pieced together and posted. You can find it on our Facebook page and our YouTube channel.

Other than having to do some searches to find a few very basic things, the experience was good and it didn’t add a huge amount of time to the way I did things before. As I get better I’m confident that I’ll be able to make them look even nicer and do it faster than before. Specific things I’m already enjoying:

  • It has a feature that syncs separate audio and video tracks with a single click! This was a constant source of pain for me before because even if I got them synced up, at some point they might start to drift by a couple frames.
  • The titles are done through their full-blown effects system so the sky is the limit. I stuck with the built-in titles for this first video but I thought even those looked very nice.
  • Rendering is FAST. This software uses both my CPU and video card to get the rendering done as quickly as possible.

The three of us put in a huge amount of time getting this one service done, but it looks like we’ll have a lot more chances to optimize our workflow. The biggest hiccup was transfering ~12GB of files around but it turns out that just dumping them on the PC at church and letting Backblaze put back them up was the easiest and most reliable solution. The upload speed there is very slow (2Mbps) but reliability proved more helpful than raw speed.

It was also really tempting to try to use the special effects to light the candles, but I resisted. We’ll get those lit in real life and made some other small tweaks for next time, but if you’re using these videos and there’s anything we can do to improve your experience, please share them with us!

4k Video Editor Build

When we got our new Go Pro 8, I learned that my PC wasn’t new enough to play back the HEVC encoded video, much less do any editing with it. Sure, I could save the video in a different format, but I’ve been itching to upgrade my PC at home and this, combined with the 2.7K video that my drone records, was a good reason to go for it.

My requirements were that I wanted to be able to smoothly edit 4k video, view video in 4k resolution, and render edited videos as quickly as possible.

Every PC I’ve built or purchased before this point have been Intel CPUs, but lately, AMD has been kicking Intel around the block in terms of price to performance ratio. Just check out what the stock market thinks about the two companies over the last 5 years. The Ryzen 3770 seemed like a good price point for my build. It has 8 hyper threaded cores running at up to 4.4GHz. I built out a nice system around it with 32GB of DDR-3600 memory and an NVMe SSD. I’ve had no personal experience with that kind of SSD but wow, it’s FAST! Remember how much faster your computer was when you switched from a spinning hard drive to an SSD? This new drive is 10 times faster than the SSD in my last desktop. It reads data at a speed of 2.5 GB/second!

Here is the full parts list:

The build went pretty smoothly. The pcpartpicker.com website helped me avoid some incompatibilities. Once I got all the parts together, I flashed the BIOS, tweaked a few settings to get my RAM clocked up to the right speed and then installed Windows. Or rather, I tried to install Windows. It kept getting to about 60% of the way through and dying. As an “I don’t know what else to try” step, I rebuilt the installation media on the USB key and voila, it worked!

I capped it all off with a 4k monitor, the Asus MG28UQ. That felt like a splurge because my existing monitors were plenty good (though not 4k), but wow, once I got this all assembled, I ended up staring at YouTube demo videos and being amazed at the clarity. Plus it’s fun to see my drone footage in its full glory.

For a perf test, I fired up Handbrake on my old desktop and this new one, gave it a beefy video file from the drone and adjusted Handbrake with the same settings on each machine. This new machine got through it almost exactly 3 times faster than the old one. It’s not all roses though. I had a much nicer CPU cooler on the old machine and this new one is noticeably louder (but it has built in RGB leds… oooooo.)

It’s fun to have this new machine and it’s certainly going to make editing all those videos for church less painful. I’m also very excited to start watching things in 4k. I expect this will translate into a 4k TV before too long and then a 4k projector once my current one dies.

As a small reward for reading through all this nonsense (or at least scrolling to the bottom), here’s the first video I edited on the new machine. It’s all 2.7k footage from my Mavic Mini. Elijah and I went down to 60 Acres and took turns flying it around.