Gear

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So You’re Considering a GoPro

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GoPro Hero 3 Black

GoPro Hero 3 Black

This morning I got a message from a friend considering a GoPro camera as a Christmas present. Since I’ve gotten that question several times, I decided to put together a blog post with what I’ve been telling folks who might be thinking about getting one, either for themselves or as a present.

I’ll state up front that I love my GoPro, but sometimes it’s a love-hate relationship. Even though I (and lots of other people) come up with different ways to use the camera, it’s a niche product, and you have to know its limitations. TL;DR version, I wouldn’t recommend it as your sole camera, but if you’re an active, creative photographer, you’ll find yourself using it in all sorts of ways you never imagined when you first got it. (more…)

Time Lapse with Daffodils

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Depth-o-Fields

Depth-o-Fields

Last weekend I tried setting up a back yard time lapse to see if I could capture the water rising when the beaver rebuilt his dam. Well, the beaver did rebuild, but I wasn’t able to catch the activity. I didn’t even get to catch the water rising. However, I did promise to post the results, and here they are…

As seen in the video, there’s a long stretch of nighttime, and that’s when the water rose. It’s low when the video starts, then when the image comes back in the morning, the water comes back up. Oh well. You can see the neighbor’s huge television from across the lake flickering in the upper left corner in the nighttime shots. (more…)

Backyard Time Lapse Set Up

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2014 Snow-003

Beaverdam in the Snow

We have a very active family of beavers in our back yard. They have managed to dam almost our entire little lake (or the streams that run through what used to be a lake.) While I personally like the beavers, and enjoy seeing the lake much fuller just upstream, their activity is flooding some of my neighbor’s yards. One of my neighbors will occasionally disrupt the dam and let the water flow through. But, the beavers build it right back. It’s a never-ending battle.

2014 Snow-006

On Saturday I looked out the back window to see the water flowing again. With all of the melting snow, I guess there was the danger of more flooding, so my neighbor broke through the dam once again. I knew it wouldn’t last, that the beavers would rebuild quickly. I figured this might be a good time to try out my long-term time lapse rig with the Raspberry Pi. (more…)

Time Lapse with Raspberry Pi

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Take a look at the video below:

Now look at this one:

Both of these time-lapse sequences are by UK photographer Neil Bromhall. These types of time-lapse photos take a huge time commitment – weeks and months. This one, from Norway, took a full year.

In order to get the correct effect, the camera must remain in place throughout the video. Unless you’ve developed some miraculous method for placing the camera in the exact same spot each time with the exact same zoom and focus, the image will jump around and not look right. That means that you’re going to have leave your camera there, probably outside, exposed to weather, and not very secure. (more…)

Cat Trio – A PicoBoard Theremin with Scratch

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Cat Trio

OK, I’m sure that’s the most confusing post title of all time. I’m sure it will make sense by the end of this post.

This is a Theremin…

Moog Theremin

Moog Etherwave Theremin

…and I want one. Unfortunately, Santa (aka, Laura) didn’t agree. Something about it being too expensive and weird-sounding. :-) Oh well. So, I decided to look into options for building one. I had been playing with the PicoBoard and MaKey MaKey, and thought those would provide excellent options.

It seems that everyone wants to make banana pianos with the MaKey Makey. Since a MaKey Makey imitates a keyboard, it’s great for discreet keys and tones. However, a Theremin operates on a continuum, sort of like a violin or trombone. Therefore something else was needed. That’s where the PicoBoard comes in, with its ability to return values along a continuum based on its sensors. (more…)

Fun with Small Electronics

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Small Electronics 2

Left to right, a MaKey Makey, A Picoboard, and a Raspberry Pi

I’ve been having fun with the MaKey MaKey. However, it has some limitations. As the name implies, it can substitute for any key. However, there are some limitations. If you want to get into sensors and other extended capabilities, you need more stuff. You can use the device as an Arduino, but you would need to add light sensors or microphones, etc. I decided to expand my capabilities. I added two more components to my collection – a Picoboard and a Raspberry Pi. I’ll start by describing the three boards and their capabilities, and will describe specific projects in later posts.

PicoBoard

PicoBoard

Since I’ve already described the MaKey MaKey, I’ll start with the Picoboard. The Picoboard contains a series of sensors, including a slider switch, push button, light sensor, audio sensor. These sensors are based on electrical resistance, and return a value based on that amount of resistance. There are four inputs for alligator clips that can be connected to conductive material, kind of like the MaKey MaKey.

PicoBoard

Since the MaKey MaKey substitutes for any key, it will work with just about any program, but it’s a perfect match for the Scratch programming language. The PicoBoard, on the other hand, will only work with Scratch, as far as I know. In fact, the PicoBoard was originally known as the Scratch Sensor Board. The device was built and sold by the Playful Invention Company until about 2009, when it was discontinued. It has since been picked up by SparkFun. In other words, it’s a board that’s got some age on it.

Raspberry Pi

Raspberry Pi B

The Raspberry Pi (RPi) is a full-fledged computer that will fit into an Altoid tin box. It has 512 MB of RAM, and ARM processor that handles Linux nicely, HDMI and composite video and audio outs, and two USB ports. Instead of a drive it reads and writes to an SD card. All of it is open sourced. Sweet. I got the B unit, which comes with an Ethernet port.

One of the great things about the RPi is that it can run several different operating systems. Most run Raspbian, which is a version of Debian Linux optimized for the RPi. However, it can run other distributions and can run a couple of different flavors of the XBox Media Center (XBMC). Since these boot off of an SD card, swapping to a new operating system is as simple as changing SD cards.

Raspbian

When these things first came out I had no idea how I might use one, but now I’ve got tons ideas. Most of these involve time lapse photography. More on that in a later post.

Each of these devices does something different and could be used for their own projects, but they also play very nicely together. Any of the programs that run on Linux will work with the MaKey MaKey. Raspberry Pi comes with Scratch installed, so it will work well with the PicoBoard. Right now I’ve got ideas of ways that I could create a type of Theremin, where the PicoBoard resistance sensors trigger the sound board on the Raspberry Pi, and instrument/timbre selections could be made with MaKey Makey connections.

So, lots to do an experiment with on these cold winter days. We’ll have to see see what I’m able to create.

UPDATE: I’ve been reading more online about these devices, and found a great video explaining the differences. The PicoBoard is based on an ATmega328 processor, which is the same processor used in many Arduino boards. Since the MaKey Makey is Arduino-based, this makes it more akin to the PicoBoard than the Raspberry. The following video does a great job of explaining the difference between Arduino and the RPi, and when you would want to use each.

Let’s consider one specific application of interest to me – Time Lapse Photography. If I were going to create a computer controlled dolly mechanism for panning a camera during a time-lapse session, I’d probably use an Arduino since it would primarily be controlling motors. If I were going to be controlling the camera directly, or collecting the images, I’d use the Raspberry Pi.

MaKey MaKey and Google Earth

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Makey Makey and Google Earth-001

MaKey MaKey – Front Side

Before Christmas I got an Amazon gift card for my birthday, and I used it to buy a MaKey MaKey. It arrived just before the hectic Christmas rush and our traveling, so I didn’t really get a chance to play with it. These past few very cold days have been the perfect opportunity to see what this thing can do.

So, what is this thing?

A MaKey MaKey is an Arduino-based computer interface that allows any conductive material to be substituted for a key on the computer keyboard. The name is a contraction of “Make Anything a Key,” or “MaKey.”

The kit comes with alligator clips and jumper wires to attach to…just about anything. The board is connected to the computer via USB. You connect the clip to some conductive material such as aluminum foil, liquid, or even a piece of fruit. Another clip is attached to the ground on the board, the held in one hand. Touching the fruit-foil-liquid will complete the circuit through your body and trigger the key, depending on where the first clip is attached on the board. (more…)

Building a Kayak Condo

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Kayak Condo

Kayak Condo

About a decade ago I needed a place to store my fledgling kayak collection. I had three kayaks and a canoe that needed to be stored somewhere. I put together a small rack that held the boats quite nicely.

Old Kayak Condo

Over the years the small rack just couldn’t cut it. First, it was getting weak. I hadn’t braced it like it should have been. Secondly, it was in the wrong place. I had put it on the middle level of our yard so that I could take the boats down to our lake, or pull them up when we were going elsewhere. Turns out it was inconvenient for both situations. Our little lake has become almost unpaddleable, so most of the trips were away somewhere. (more…)

GoPro on Lake Robinson

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Paddling_on_Lake_Robinson

It’s been a tough winter. I hadn’t been out on my kayaks in a long time, and I missed a great Lowcountry Unfiltered trip on Saturday. I needed to get out on the water. So, Sunday morning before the rains started, Laura kicked me out the door with my touring boat and pointed me in the direction of Lake Robinson. The plan was to give the GoPro camera a shake down and make sure it would do everything it promised.

I chose Lake Robinson over the other local paddling venues quite frankly because it’s boring. The scenery from the park is spectacular with the mountains in the background, but once you get out on the water your only view is of the housing developments that ring the lake. Granted, there are interesting birds, and if you just want to get out and paddle it’s fine. However, nearby Lake Cunningham has much more to see with its lily fields and other quirks.

Lake Robinson (1 of 11)

Yet, this suited me perfectly. I was here to test the new camera, and if it didn’t work correctly, I didn’t want to be disappointed that I’d failed to get a shot. I had my Fuji waterproof camera and Panasonic Lumix as back-ups, but the GoPro was the focus of the mission. (more…)

Tactical Macramé

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Tactical Macrame

Back when I was a cub scout one of our crafty things to do was to make lanyards from bits of plastic strips. Tandy Leather sold (and still sells) the stuff by the spool. I got pretty good at various braids, and made several lanyards that never really got used.

Google Image Result for http:rexlaceclub

Fast forward 40+ years…

Braiding with strips of stuff is back. It even made its way into 2004’s Napoleon Dynamite

Deb: Well, maybe you’d be interested in some home-woven handicrafts?

Google Image Result for http:farm1
Deb: … And here we have some boondoggle key chains. A must-have for this season’s fashion.
Napoleon Dynamite: I already made like infinity of those at scout camp.

This season’s fashion, though, uses parachute cord, aka 550 paracord instead of plastic stripping. The height of fashion seems to be the “survival bracelet”. I had seen these at outfitter stores, and even at the occasional quick stop shop, but didn’t pay much attention until I was given one at the EdTech conference back in October. I’ve been wearing mine since then, more as an uplifting reminder than for any need for an emergency supply of parachute cord. (more…)

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