First Steps on the Drone Path

Bird’s-eye views are not normally possible unless you have a helicopter at your disposal. So when I found out drones were becoming affordable I bought and sold a few second-hand ones (starting in October 2016), experimenting with them a bit. I started with a seemingly (long story) disfunctioning second-hand DJI Phantom Advance. Gave up on that in January 2019 when I got the Parrot AR Drone 2.0 Elite Edition. That one worked fine, but I thought it was really bulky and noisy and somehow didn’t motivate me to use it. So none of them really ticked all the boxes, but thankfully I discovered an Indiegogo campaign for the Micro Drone 4.0, initiated by Extreme Fliers. The specs were amazing, the price was under $200 and I went for it straight away. It hit the required funding (over €1.5 million) in late March 2019, so that made me quite happy. Now all I needed to do was wait. I also ordered some extra batteries, at which time I had only spent a little over $200 (drone was €145, 3 extra batteries €65).

Those of you who have heard of the Micro Drone will by now already realise what I didn’t really want to realise until mid May 2020: the specs had deteriorated (in particular a flight time of less than 5 minutes per battery charge) and the entire device was not going to get delivered until after the summer (well over a year later than projected). In fact, the whole thing might indeed be a scam. Over 14000 comments on the Micro Drone’s Indiegogo page and a “backers unite!” effort to get their money back will provide you with plenty of disaster tourism to whet your appetite on.

Be that as it may, sometimes you’ve just got to take your losses and move on. Thankfully the Covid crisis left me with nothing to spend my holiday money on, so I could get a proper drone. Not second-hand, not via eBay, but new. And the kind backers at the Micro Drone page on IGG had been going on about another and much better drone to get as a replacement, the DJI Mavic Mini. It was about twice as expensive, but a flight time of up to half an hour on a single charge, and a range of up to 4 km sure seemed to more than compensate that. At just under 250 grammes (amazing!) you also don’t need to officially register it. I went for the DJI Mavic Fly More Combo, which included two extra batteries, a smart charger, propeller protectors, a carrying case and a bunch of spare propellers. More than enough to have a lot of fun with.

In the days between ordering the item and receiving it I watched quite a few videos n Youtube. There was a guy who made it fly 5 kilometres and back (over a flat landscape), and someone else who made it go up 500 metres. Exciting stuff, with beautiful videos as a result.

But it wasn’t until I actually got my hands on the Mini that I truly realised what it was like to have a properly manoeuvrable sky camera at my disposal. You suddenly view terrestrial objects in a different light, like how to approach them from the air, where to take off and land without trees or too many inquisitive people, which viewing angles would be most advantageous. It gives you a feeling of tremendous freedom, and a rekindled appreciation of places you visit, or even the town you live in. Seeing things from above is just, well, frikkin’ awesome.

Obviously, the first flights are adrenalin-fueled. The first time I got a “connection lost” message, or a “strong wind” warning made my bollocks drop and stomach knot. The first time flying over water. The first time you see a bird flying by under it. The first time you accidentally use  “sport mode” when you’re pretty close to trees. The first time you actually lose sight of where it is. When you see some birds showing semi-aggressive interest in it. But after a couple of flights you get a feeling of how to navigate and, quite literally, the sky becomes the limit.

PROS:

  • it is really very compact: drone + remote + 3 batteries fit in a modest 26x20x6 cm carrying case
  • single-charge flight time is almost almost 25 minutes or more, which is usually enough for at least 2 and usually more sessions
  • very good video quality, more than good enough for a non-professional user
  • easy to use for an utter novice such as I was (and still am, a bit)
  • nice automatic video shoot options (though you eventually won’t use ’em that much I guess)
  • very convenient “go back home” option to get it to fly back to where it took off
  • wonderful range

CONS:

  • no collision detection – if you pay no attention, it will just fly into things
  • no tracking option (I understand they didn’t include it in the software because otherwise DJI would not be abe to sell the somewhat more expensive model anymore)
  • the batteries take quite some time to charge (up to 90 minutes per battery)
  • the propellers seem pretty fragile
  • it sees where it is, and will automatically adjust maximum height depending on where it is, or even not take off near an airport (I can see how that could be a “pro” rather than a “con” for many people 🙂
  • flying at night is really not useful, the camera doesn’t pick up too much
  • the camera is always horizontal, so no yaw like on a helicopter

I made a bunch of short-ish videos of flying around Gouda that I edited (without sound) and put on a Youtube playlist in case you’re interested. Despite there being more cons than pros, I would unreservedly advise anyone who wants to get a drone that is more than a child’s toy yet no expensive professional one to get this Mavic Mini. The pros are much, much bigger than the cons, for sure. Expect to pay a bit under €500 for the Fly More Combo package.

Announcement of new Fear of God / Détente site with Forum

I first heard Fear of God’s “Within the Veil” on 14 March 1992 and I was instantly hooked. In the month after, I saw Fear of God twice, and both times met their vocalist Dawn Crosby. I did not realise it wasn’t the original line-up, but the music was there. To me, “Within the Veil” was the album of 1991 (not Metallica’s black album, though I loved that too back then).I was 24 at the time, and Fear of God struck a chord in my soul despite my rather privileged life.
In autumn 1998 I found a site dedicated to Fear of God maintained by Kevin “Bl00d” Nunn. Oddly enough, I was the one that told him about Dawn’s untimely death nearly two years earlier. Her death affected me deeply. Could I have done anything to prevent it? I had been in touch with her off and on since 1992, but apparently my fan comments had not sufficiently helped her see the bright side of life. I knew she had been a pained, troubled soul.

At the time I discovered Kevin’s tribute site, he barely did anything to update it anymore. So when I asked him if I could take over, I think he happily agreed.

So on 8 December 1998 I launched the first iteration of my version of the site. Since I was not in touch with any members of the original line-up, it focused on the then current incarnation of the band, going by the name of Fog. My main contacts were vocalist John Childs and guitarist Tony Mallory. The domain was jezabelsdreams.com, named after the album released by this band.

Fog dissolved, as it does, and in March 2001 I launched a totally revamped version of the site, inspired by having been on the phone with original guitarist Mike Carlino the winter before. It focused much more on the line-ups that recorded “Recognize no Authority” and, obviously, the seminal “Within the Veil”.

Years later, I happened upon Tony Keastead’s Dawn Crosby fan page on Facebook. We struck up a mutually beneficial exchange of information. When I decided my Fear of God site wasn’t really going anywhere due to lack of time and lack of news, I contacted Tony to ask if he was willing to take it over and become the third webmaster. He agreed, and nearly 17 years to the day after I had re-started the site, he took over. I occasionally visited the site, and was glad to see it was being updated more often than I did.

Late 2019 or early 2020 I visited the site and noticed the domain had expired. There was now no official presence of Fear of God, nor Dawn Crosby, on the web.

During the Corona crisis it occurred to me that I should at least make sure that there was some semblance of a repository of All Things Dawn. This culminated in my registering fearofgod.band (fearofgod.com, my first choice, was taken by some fashion brand). I re-instated the site from a backup, checked out the Wayback Engine Internet Archive to add some of Tony’s latest changes, updated various bits and bobs on the site, and also added the forum you’re reading now.

Now it needs to be said: The new version of the site doesn’t use state-of-the-art web design techniques, so it may not work well on phones or other small screens. But there is for now, and the foreseeable future, a place where fans of Dawn and her bands can find information and, due to this forum, meet.

If you’re interested, visit the site on fearofgod.band or detente.online.
I hope you’ll enjoy the site and that you’ll join the forum if you’re into these bands. I only wish Dawn could have been around to enjoy this part of her legacy.

An idea for a cool smartphone App – developers please check out

I don’t know if such an app exists, or if it is already part of the functionality of an existing app, however…

The basic premise is that the app gives you a notification when you hit a certain GPS location. This can be used by yourself or by others. If you want to send a notification to yourself, it uses no external app. If you want to send a notification to others, it uses Whatsapp.

Some of the uses could be:

  • Once you arrive at location you need a notification (when I am near the local supermarket, “I need to go in and get potatoes”)
  • Once another person arrives at a location they wll get a notification (“good luck with your job application interview!”)
  • When you arrive back home (“hang up the washing”, “get the food out of the freezer”)
  • When someone arrives at their holiday destination (“Have a great holiday, don’t forget to use sun tan lotion” – or something less patronising 🙂

The ‘internal’ (notifications to yourself) received notification screen should have a button for “Close/OK” and a button for “Next time” (so it will give you the message again the next time you hit the same GPS location).

The notification creation screen should have a zoomable, scrollable map on which you can drop a pin, specify an optional user from your contacts list (with name and phone number(s) listed, and if no user is specified, it will notify the person themselves), and type the actual notification message.

How to cause a message to pop up on another person’s screen depending on their GPS location? I don’t know, Although it would make the app less userfriendly and less instantly usable, it might actually require the recipient to also have the app installed (which will probably require some sort of registration system – if so then based on their international phone number?). Or maybe this could be limited only to the people you also have in “Find My” (which on iOS allows you to keep track of where people are). This latter option would greatly limit the app’s use, as you might want to send people notifications that you’re not so close with that they have allowed you to follow their whereabouts.

I don’t know if Whatsapp supports fully automated sending of messages, but I do know Whatsapp is usable by other apps so in the worst case it could automatically trigger Whatsapp with a predefined addressee and message, waiting for the user to actually confirm sending it manually.

Should anyone pick up his idea, I ask to be involved in the development and testing process. Thanks!

Nuraloop – The Second Coming

A little over two years ago I received the amazingly wonderful purveyor of sonic ecstasy, the Nuraphone (reviewed here). Almost a year ago I found out the same manufacturer was going to do a much more compact, in-ear-only version, the Nuraloop. Having been utterly impressed by its big-and-burly cousin, I transferred the required pre-order fee without any further thought. Originally planned for last December or January, the release date was moved down quite a bit due to Corona. I was pretty sure it would be worth the wait, though…or would it?

About a week ago I got out of bed and checked my email, finding a confirmation that the device was going to be shipped any day now, and could be expected within 1-7 working days. To my considerable surprise the Nuraloop arrived that same day, early in the afternoon! I eagerly unpacked the item, pleased by the thought that must have gone into the package design. Very functional, very aesthetically pleasing.

The Nuraloop earpods aren’t like many of today’s earpods in that they are not two separate pods. I knew that beforehand, obviously, and didn’t mind that at all. I am always losing things, and to me this just makes them more difficult to lose. An arguable disadvantage is its proprietary charger cable. No standard USB connector on the Nuraloop side. But it is very sexy – it clicks on with its magnet, and can’t be connected wrong due to the magnet’s polarity not allowing it. I am a sucker for these little stylish design touches. It makes for a very positive first impression.

Except for the pods and the charging cable, the packaging also includes eartips in 4 different sizes, a travel case and an analog mini jack cable. Like the charger cable, this mag(net)ically connects to the “Nura” thingamajig in the middle. It is very flexible, like those of its bigger cousin.

First thing you need to do, like with the Nuraphones, is connecting them to your smartphone via Bluetooth and downloading the Nura App. It will then examine your hearing, including its idiosyncracies, and create a Personal Hearing Profile. This takes about two minutes in total (part of which is spent giving you feedback on whether the earbuds are fitting snugly enough).
When it started playing music I was pretty much over the moon with how great everything sounded. That was when I discovered that the ‘Personalize’ option hadn’t even been enabled! Once it had, my jaw literally fell open, a lame “w-o-w” escaping. “Music in Full Colour” they call it, a description that couldn’t be more apt. It’s every bit as impressive as the sound quality of the Nuraphones, however in this case coming from a much smaller set of pods. I was impressed no end, blown away.

The Nuraloop has all the same features as the Nuraphones, including near-identical Active Noise Cancelling (ANC). And the touch buttons have even improved! Whereas the big cousin merely supports separate left/right click/double-click, the Nuraloop buttons support click as well as rotate (making rotating motions with your finger). Much more intuitive and user-friendly than its bigger predecessor.

The Nuraloop really is the full package. It’s everything it promised, every hyperbolic statement come true. I would unreservedly recommend these to anyone who actually loves music.

The Nuraloop retails at € 229 (excluding shipping) from the Nura website (where you can also find out about the features I have not covered here).

Sixth Day at Home: Positive things to Covid19

Remember when I said I had to do something to consciously resist dark and depressing thoughts about the whole Covid crisis? Well, I have decided to concentrate on a variety of positive aspects and that works. Here’s a list that I will probably extend in due course. Maybe it will inspire you too.

  • There may be more of a feeling of global solidarity
  • Cash payments may become obsolete, indeed maybe all of them will be contact-less
  • We stay in contact with our elders more
  • We learn to work together and stay in touch with colleagues better
  • We wash our hands more, which is always a good thing
  • Anti-vaccers may now finally shut up (alternatively, millions of people will get autism after summer 2021)
  • The ultra-rich may be a lot less rich – it may be needed to tax them a whole lot more more to enable countries to emerge from this crisis economically
  • Carbon emissions have temporarily decreased a lot
  • The Chinese may stop eating exotic animals (while they’re at it, maybe also rhino horns and other things that supposedly make boners ease to achieve) and licking bats
  • Wet markets may be banned globally
  • Pharmaceutical companies are going to invest into research towards more general vaccines that may work against as-yet-unknown viral strains, or maybe entirely different ways to kill viruses (sound waves? radiation? just thinking out loud)
  • There will be ways to filter fake news from social media much more efficiently
  • Trump and Johnson may conceivably no longer be in a leadership position
  • Romantic consumerism (travelling to distant places) may become socially unacceptable (which includes a lot less CO2 emissions from airplanes)
  • There may be better quality TV shows as shitty new ones can’t be made and they’ll have to resort to reruns of The A-Team, The Knight Rider, Airwolf, Miami Vice and Friends
  • Even Trump can’t avoid non-re-election now (please please let this be true!)
  • Scum birds (seagulls, crows, magpies) are less prevalent in the cities and towns, probably due to much less edible human waste

There are also some things that may change in the near future that I am neutral about, I just think we’ll notice them…

  • Shaking hands may become a thing of the past

Last updated 16 April 2020

Third Day at Home

So the Dutch government has decided to go for the “herd immunity” option, where gradual spread of the virus will eventually prevent the virus from propagating exponentially. What really bothers me, though, is that herd immunity might be attained after several months…or years. Around half the population will need to have gone through a Covid19 infection, meaning a lot of people will need to have gone through the health system. How on earth can that be spread out over a period long enough so we don’t go through the oft-cited maximum capacity limit of the health system? And how is the world going to survive, financially, if nobody is really producing, importing or exporting anything at a large scale for such an extended period of time?
These thoughts irrecovably suck my thoughts into a dark well of despair. I understand climate change deniers ever more – it’s so much nicer to believe that things will really be OK and that no shit has hit any fans, rather than to know the full extent of any bad situation. That’s probably a basic psychological trait of human survival. But I surely hope no important policy makers fall into that category of people.

I read that the EU is investing 80 million euros in the German company that Trump was thinking of buying a few days ago. Reading such a news item gives me something positive to focus on.

Second Day at Home

Yesterday I already discovered that a scheduled holiday is entirely different when compared to a forced holiday. The involuntary nature of having to be at home even spoils the potential sense of freedom. And doubly so in an adolescent. My stepson had spent literally the entire spring break lying in bed watching videos on Youtube, but now he insisted upon going outside to play football with friends (something which was utterly impossible to suggest doing during said holiday). He was already bored at 09:00 AM, yesterday as well as today.

Today I spent most of the morning videoconferencing with fellow teachers of English, which starts out like it’s quite a bit of fun but then turns out to be ever so less efficient than meeting in person. Still, we managed to conceive plans for all grades. We need to plan as though things will be back to normal early April, but we also need to keep in the back of our minds that perhaps this entire school year will need to be rounded off with distant learning. How would you objectively decide whether a student is fit to move to the next grade if you can’t really test them? Out-of-the-box thinking is required.
Throughout the videoconference, my wife was sniffling and sneezing in the background. She has that sometimes, and has had it ever since I’ve known her. But in these Corona-suffused times, it does worry me more.

I visited school briefly. There were no children, and only a few colleagues who had chosen to meet face-to-face rather than via Microsoft Teams. I collected some paper-based protocols needed for near-future speaking tests in fourth grade (to be done via Teams) and went back home. The weather was lovely – sunny with a light breeze. In literature and movies, this is the kind of weather accompanying scenes of happiness and joy. It made me think back to the May 2000 Enschede fireworks disaster, where 23 people died and a whole neighbourhood was levelled against a background of blue sky, brightly shining sun and twittering birds.

Yesterday evening I watched some television and marvelled at the advertisements. Obviously, these had been booked in advance of the whole Corona thing, still blithely promoting trips abroad, special supermarket sales and other things that are not on people’s minds at the moment. The insanity of it all could have been complete if Albert Heijn’s regular “Hamsteren!” (Dutch for hoarding) campaign had been broadcast.

I’d like to round off with some good advice I read on Twitter earlier, which I’d also like to impart to you: Behave as if you might be spreading Corona, not as if you’re trying to avoid it.

Stay healthy.

First Day at Home

My wife looked up whether schools were ever closed, nation-wide, in the history of education in the Netherlands. They last were in World War II. And that was primarily because of lack of heating, not national policy. We were curious because, as of today, all schools in the Netherlands are closed due to #covid19. And we’re teachers.

I am not sure if it’s a blessing or a curse, but it’s reality at the moment. I have 4 exam classes that will somehow need to be guided towards the pinnacle of their highschool careers, but I don’t think anyone can even predict whether the exams are even going to happen in the usual month of May. Like Yoda said, “Difficult to see the future is.”

A select group of colleagues (I reckon management and middle management) have been asked to go to work today, probably to make plans for the near future. I already have a OneNote page titled “When school starts again”, full of miscellaneous thoughts of what to do then. How can we determine if children have enough skills/qualities to flow through to their next year, even if they have missed up to 4 months of school? How heavy can next school year’s curriculum be made to allow them to catch up? How can we prevent less autonomous children from falling by the wayside? I have one rather less autonomous stepchild at home, who instead of realising he may need to do something himself now, thinks the summer holiday sure started early this year. Netflix yay!
And even before school starts: How can we replace colleagues who may fall ill, without ourselves toppling over? How can the less tech-savvy colleagues be educated to help students at a distance? How can I do a ‘classical instruction’ for the exam classes? These students would normally have had another 5 weeks of regular school time. We use Microsoft Teams with Skype for Business, but what are the limits?

Still, I am good at seeing the silver lining of any cloud, no matter how big and thunder-laden it may be. When our government communicated these crisis measures, they released a list of ‘crucial professionals’. Teachers – despite decades of below-inflation pay rises and dwindling social status – are on that list. Youtubers, pastors, account managers, advertisement execs, wellness instructors and influencers weren’t 🙂 Also, CO2 emissions in China have virtually disappeared. And there’s a lot less traffic on the road: This morning, there was 13 kilometres of traffic congestion in the whole country. I think that’s the lowest since what is reckoned to be the first official one, on 29 May 1955 (not counting the ‘autoloze zondagen’ – Car-free Sundays – which we had in the 1970s).

Because I am basically a black-souled pessimist, however, I’d like to round this bit off with what I consider is an absolute lowpoint of the whole Corona virus crisis: That harmful White House halfwit, Donald Trump. He even outdid Boris “take it on the chin” Johnson. After first suppressing Corona infection statistics to increase his chances in the oncoming presidential election, the Orange One recently proposed to buy a German company that is allegedly making headway in the creation of a Corona vaccin. If there is any such thing as karma, he and his family will suffer before their time is out.

These are times for great leaders to grow to their full potential. I hope ours have what it takes.

1917 – Does it live up to the Hype?

As a regular visitor of the cinema I had seen the trailer for Sam Mendes’ epic new film, world-war-one-flick “1917”. Much was made of it supposedly having been shot in one take. Always the sceptic, I found myself paying close attention to continuity errors (of which I spotted none, but I am only human) as well as tell-tale scene change enablers such as moving behind a thick tree, entering a very dark room, or close-ups of dynamically moving scener (water, flames, etc.). I estimate the movie was shot in about 4 to 8 takes, melted together through well-designed camera movements. Well, definitely two takes (scene change when Schofield falls back down the stairs).

Not that anyone will ask me, but I think the film deserves whichever Oscars it can get. It’s impressive, visceral, confrontational and overwhelming, with good acting and an ending that will keep you on your toes until Benedict Cumberbatch’s final immaculately spoken words. The uselessness of war breathes throughout the narrative, which is the message the viewer will take home.

This is really worth a visit to your local cinema. One of the better war movies since “Saving Private Ryan”.

The Professor is no longer with us

There are some people you don’t expect to die. Not because you think they’re somehow above the laws of nature, but because they have always been a part of your life, they always contribute in their way. They have effectively become part of your eternal surroundings, like an old oak tree in your garden.

Neil Peart, drummer and main lyricist of Canadian rock band Rush, was such a man. He was there before I was, his band helped me through puberty and youth, his lyrics were brilliant and thoughtful, his music transcended eras and tastes. He was one of the very few musicians I felt a personal connection to, no matter how irrational or idiosyncratic that may be. When I was going through a bad patch I read his “Ghost Rider”, which I guess was the main cement of that connection. I adored his lyrics, admired his drumming, I mean, Neil was one of those legendary artists who was the whole package. A person to look up to, a person that could help you sail the stormy seas of existence.

I guess I, and many others with me, will have to weather life’s storms without him around.

I am not one to send out prayers, but my thoughts in this time of loss go out to Neil’s loved ones as well as his band mates in Rush. And also to the world of progressive rock for which he was a huge source of inspiration.

I feel gutted. Going to put on “Presto”, hoping I will keep it dry during “The Pass”, then go through my angry phase with “2112” at max volume.

Catch the spirit, Neil, catch a fish.