Saturday, 08 May 2010

I decided yesterday to start using my Nikon D200 digital still SLR camera to do some interval shooting, and then took the series of images to make a time-lapse film. It’s something I’ve messed with before a little bit, but for some reason I decided I wanted to dive right in.

I made a couple so-so quick and dirty videos yesterday, and then shot some night clouds moving across the star-lit sky last night. The nice thing about living where I do is that there’s lots of sky and trees to help frame the shots, and the city lights are fairly far away. So clouds get a glow on a long exposure at night but the stars show up nicely, too.

Anyhow, another cool thing about this new little hobby tangent is that I can spend three to five minutes setting up a interval series shot, click a couple buttons, and then walk away for about 90 minutes while the camera takes its pictures. That works great for quickly starting a shot between work calls or what have you.

I used to be a photographer professionally – back when people still shot film. That was two careers ago, and I miss it at times. So I have a pretty solid understanding of how things work for different types of exposures, and all the weirdness that goes with long exposures. But with digital cameras things get messy when you do exposures more than a second, and the whole video noise thing is really pretty annoying.

At any rate, I came up with a few videos, so I thought I would post them here along with a few noted about how they’re made.

My initial videos were kind of messy, but you can click the links to see them if you like. Gotta start somewhere, heh.

I’ll start here with a video I made today, which took advantage of the rather spectacular clouds building in the sky over my house this afternoon. To see this video in its highest quality, view it in HD at YouTube.

The night shot at the end of the above video was filmed last night. I didn’t quite capture the stars as brightly as wanted, but it still turned out pretty nice.

So, tonight I decided I wanted to try again. I adjusted the shooting exposure (went from a 10-second exposure to a 15-second one) and the result was the quick video test below, which shows the stars much more clearly I think.

Night clouds and stars take two from Greg Hughes on Vimeo.

It’s not really too hard to do these time-lapse films. I have a camera that will do interval shooting, and I also have a remote intervalometer shutter release for it. Some consumer cameras have this feature, some require an external controller like the one I have.

Once the series of photos is made, I import them into QuickTime Pro. You just choose File > Open Image Sequence and then point at the first file in the numerical sequence. As long as the files are one complete numerical list, QuickTime will import them in the right order. Then I export the files as MP4, 1920x1080 and 5,000 Kbps or higher bit rate.

After that I pulled the film segments with the soundtrack audio into Windows Live Movie Maker on Windows 7, produced the video with transitions and what have you, then exported to a new hi-def video. I also automatically published to YouTube.

That’s about it. I will try to post a more detailed tutorial sometime soon, after I do a few more time lapse sessions.



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Photography | Random Stuff | Tablet PC
Saturday, 08 May 2010 01:52:44 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Wednesday, 05 May 2010

Once again this year, I have been asked to shoot an Independence Day fireworks show for Western Display Fireworks, and this year it will be in beautiful Anacortes, Washington up on Fidalgo Island, next to the San Juan Islands. I’ve never been there before, and am looking forward to the shoot. There’s an airport up there, so I may just have to plan a weekend flight up that way to scout out the site before the show.

If you think you might be interested in being part of the volunteer fireworks crew, this is your invitation to find out more and see if it’s something you’d be interested in. It’s hard work, but that never hurt anyone. We do some heavy lifting at times, and it’s a bit of a dirty job. But once you’ve experienced it, it’s awfully hard to stay away the next time around. I first smelled the smoke and caught the commercial fireworks bug back in 2000, and soon after that I got licensed as a pyrotechnician/operator and have been shooting shows ever since.

This year we will head up to Anacortes on July 3rd, set up all day on the 4th, shoot the show and clean up after (yes, it’s quite a long day), and then return to our respective homes on the 5th. You'll handle the shells, set up and load the mortars, help wire them all up to the firing equipment, learn all about how they work, participate in a full set of safety lessons, and - most importantly - you'll be a key part of bringing an awesome July 4th celebration to the people of Anacortes and the surrounding area.

We need a crew of about 6-8 people, and at this point I have myself plus three other people confirmed and on the crew list. So, there’s room for a few more! Pretty much anyone who can handle explosives per the federal government can participate (I’ll explain those rules to people who express an interest, but suffice it to say pretty much anyone can help).

Last year I asked for volunteers here and on Twitter and we ended up with a great crew of people who had a lot of fun. So, I’m hoping for the same thing this year!

The fact is, it’s not often you get a chance to blow up thousands of dollars of someone else’s stuff, and we’re talking about the real thing here – not the little stuff you buy at your local fireworks stand. This year’s show consists of 3-inch to 6-inch diameter shells and is bigger than the show we shot last year in Des Moines, Washington (a couple of videos from last year’s show are embedded below to get your appetite going).

If you think you might be interested, drop me a line at 503-766-2258 or email me (address is in the side bar). I’m glad to answer questions!

Here are the videos from last year – The first one was shot from right in the middle of the mortar tubes at the firing location, and the other from the spectator end of the pier. Enjoy!

July 4th 2009 Fireworks - Des Moines, WA from Greg Hughes on Vimeo.

Fireworks - July 4th 2009 - Des Moines, WA from John Losey on Vimeo.



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Fireworks | Random Stuff
Wednesday, 05 May 2010 22:16:00 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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image Okay, file this one under super-cool. A company called Parrot has built and demonstrated a flying model helicopter (quadracopter?) called the AR Drone. With four blades, it’s controlled by an iPhone using WiFi and the phone’s motion-sensing capabilities.

It also streams video from a camera mounted on the flying machine back to the iPhone. It’s a like mini predator drone for your living room or back yard (well, sort of).

I want one. Or at least to play with one. As a product it looks to be well-executed and a lot of fun.

Check out the Web 2.0 conference demo video below, as well as a Parrot video. A whole slew of additional videos from Parrot are available on YouTube.

You can also find out a whole lot more about the AR Drone from the Parrot web site – Just click here.

 



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Apple | Geek Out | Tech
Wednesday, 05 May 2010 11:38:21 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Monday, 03 May 2010

On Friday evening last week I stood in line for about an hour along with a slew of geeks and even a few nerds at the Apple Store in Tigard, Oregon to get one of the first Apple iPad 3G models. There were about 35 or 40 people ahead of me in line, and a few more than that in line behind me by the time the 5pm release clock rolled around and the Apple staff came screaming down the hallway in the mall.

Within only 15 minutes I was already on my way back out the door of the store with a 64GB 3G model in a bag, and about $930 less in the bank (I got the AppleCare contract based on past experience). I picked up the model with the most storage simply because (again based on experience) I have tended to skimp in that area and have always come to regret the choice. So, this time I was all-in.

As I have mentioned before here, I use my iPhone for all sorts of things, but especially for aviation related tasks. Since the Foreflight aviation software for pilots was released in an iPad HD version in early April, I knew that was going to become my electronic flight bag. In fact, I might not have even bought an iPad at this point if it wasn't for Foreflight. I waited for the 3G model before buying because its built-in GPS can be used by Foreflight's maps and location-based information system. I'll write a Foreflight HD review soon. It's quite awesome, especially considering this is the first rev if the HD version. I can't wait to see what they improve and add over time. Check out http://www.foreflight.com for details.

After using it for a few days, though, there are lots more reasons I'm glad I made the jump and picked this thing up.

There are so many well-worn cliche statements about the iPad that people have used over the past month. Some of them are especially true, though. For example, reading and writing email on this thing is awesome. It's the way it should be.

Not everything is so perfect in iPad land, though. I wrote this blog post in a program (BlogPress) that is available in a HD version that uses the full iPad screen space, but it won't publish to my site. I guess the metaweblog API isn't good enough for it. :) Unfortunately it appears a good, solid, full featured blog authoring app is a pretty serious gap in the bazillions of apps available on the App Store. There's an opportunity just waiting for someone to tackle it.

The 3G radio, as one pretty much has to expect, pulls down the charge on the battery faster than the iPad model that's just wifi. Of course, you can turn 3G and wifi off and on as you like, independently. How much battery power is actually used with a 3G connection seems to be dependent -- and this makes logical sense -- on the distance from the cell towers and the relative transmit power needed to make the radio connections. Id imagine its also dependent on the type of connection and the frequency band in use on a given tower. Common sense applies to battery life just like any other device. On both models backlight brightness also contributes to batty life, of course.

I've started searching for a high-output car charger, since the iPad needs more than the typical iPhone charger puts out. Kensington and a couple other companies are making a 2.1-watt charger that will allow the iPad to charge in the car in a reasonable amount of time, so I will be picking up one of those soon.

A few of my favorite other apps that have a place on my home screen page:

I set up and tried the AT&T navigator turn by turn software that I already had running on my iPhone. Even though its not iPad screen optimized and I have to use the zoom resized to go full screen, it works great and even better than on the iPhone 3G. The iPad has much louder and clearer voice navigation (and music sound for that matter) and the GPS is fast and more accurate. It just runs better overall. The iPad is a terrific GPS device it seems. Time for some custom iPad dash mounts. Do a YouTube search and you'll see a couple.

I've started using one iPhone app again that I'd let languish for some time because again its just better on the iPad even though you have to zoom it to use the full screen: BeeJive Instant Messenger. The extra real estate and bigger typing surface is great. I hope they release a HD iPad version soon.

The Safari browser on the iPad is awesome and almost so second nature I forgot to mention it. I did notice though that some sites optimized to work with iPhone are a little weird in the iPad browser. Google Voice is a good example (for both the mobile and standard interfaces especially when it comes to the voice mail playback areas of the interface).

Netflix for the iPad is pure genius, and as more flicks are released for streaming it just keeps getting more and more worthwhile. Hulu needs to get their iPad act together now, for real. The ABC video app is cool and now it plays over 3G with a new update, too. (updated) word is they will be updating it so you can play video over the 3G. Right now ABC's app only streams over wifi.

My favorite game so far is FlightControl HD, a top-down view map game where you land airplanes and helicopters and keep them from crashing into each other. Relatively simple, pure genius. Addictive stuff. I haven't tried many other games just because I'm not a huge gamer. Some of the driving games sure look fun though.

The Weather Channel HD app is also really slick. Lots of great info there, in a well-used piece of screen real estate.

There are others, as well but that gives you an idea. I'll write more at a later time.

Anyone else got a list of killer apps for iPad 3G I should be sure to check out?



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Apple | Geek Out | Mobile | Tech
Monday, 03 May 2010 17:33:11 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Monday, 26 April 2010

I’ve received a number of emails this morning complimenting me on a YouTube video showing a new app that syncs with iTunes via the WiFi connection. The only problem is, I’m not the same Greg Hughes that wrote the app.

To see what all the geeky excitement is about, watch the video below.

The Greg Hughes in question is actually a guy in the United Kingdom. He tells me he’s a 2nd-year Computer Science student at the University of Birmingham. What he’s built looks pretty cool. I hope that when my namesake submits his app to the Apple Store, they accept it and let all of us get at it (I’m wondering if they won’t approve based on past decisions, and if they’ll say it performs an action already provided by an Apple product -- but I’d sure love to be proven wrong on this one).

The app is set to be submitted at the Apple App Store soon according to the author, and it looks like we can check for the latest information at http://getwifisync.com/ (there’s not much there as of the time of this writing, but that will almost certainly change) and there’s a Twitter account at http://twitter.com/WifiSync to check out.



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Apple | Tech
Monday, 26 April 2010 07:19:43 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Friday, 23 April 2010

image I’ve been fighting a bit with my installation of Outlook 2010 (beta) for the past several days. Don’t get me wrong, now: I love Outlook 2010, it’s by far the best version of Outlook ever. The ability to have multiple Exchange account visible at one time is a killer new feature, and there are a lot of other great improvements.

But Outlook can be challenging sometimes. It’s a complicated program, especially when used with Exchange. So. now was just one of those times. Consistently the program would hang and I’d have to wait for what seemed like an eternity for it to come back to a responsive state. I did a lot of analysis and narroowing down the behavior by disabling a lot of account and feature settings, and decided that it seemed to be related to a hosted Exchange account I use for my greghughes.net email service. The more account features I enabled and accessed in Outlook, the more it would hang. For example, if I accessed the calendar associated with that account and then tried to open something, or if I switched from the calendar back to the mail view, or if I tried to look up a contact, Outlook would hang. It was to the point of being ridiculous in terms of getting anything done, since the hangs could last a few minutes or more at times. Outlook actually trained me to walk away and come back in 5 minutes. But that’s better than a busted up laptop, I suppose!

I started troubleshooting this and a couple other issues I was seeing that were affecting performance. One of the problems with trying to resolve Outlook issues is that the error messages the program provides are often very generic in nature and don’t point to a root cause. If I had a dime for every time it told me I didn’t have permission to do something , or for every time Outlook told me it’s trying to connect to an Exchange server and failing, I’d be rich. There are a zillion things that can cause these generic, simple errors. And the funny thing is, sometimes it’s not even an Exchange server it’s connecting to, even though it says it is. It might be connecting to a domain controller name instead to try to go a GC lookup, for example. You have to know what to look for, and how Exchange and Outlook work, in order to solve most Outlook behavior issues. Luckily I have a lot of past experience in that department.

At any rate, I eventually got to the point where I was spending my time looking at the Exchange Server’s connection status window. To see that, you locate the Outlook status icon down in the task bar near the clock, hold down the CTRL key, and click on the icon. Then you can choose the menu option for Connection Status. You only see that option if you CTRL-click the icon, though.

     Exchange-Connections 
         (Server names omitted where appropriate to protect the innocent)

One of the first things I noticed was the fact that there were communication failures to my hosted Exchange server see the red-outlined numbers above), and that the connections were taking a long time to establish themselves. The status would stay at “connecting” frequently, and that was always the same time when Outlook was hanging. So, I figured was getting somewhere. At least I had a likely correlation. The other Exchange server, which is domain-authenticated and available on the local network, wasn’t hanging. Connections were quick and reliable (as you can see from the numbers above) on that one.

That made me think some more. Every time I start Outlook, I am prompted to enter my credentials for the greghughes.net Exchange Server. Despite the fact that I click the “save password” box when I log in, I am always prompted when starting Outlook. I had planned to see if there was a certificate mismatch problem of some sort, but with the connecting communication failures happening, I wondered if there might be a problem with the credential being passed to the server. As you can see in the connection status windows picture, the connection is an Outlook RPC over HTTPS type, and so I went investigating in the account settings for the greghughes.net account:

     image

     image

Sure enough, I found what I suspected I might: Outlook was prompting me to enter a username and password – behavior that’s associated with basic authentication – but Outlook was configured to use NTLM authentication when connecting. So, logic says that it was trying for a NTLM auth, waiting around for it to time out, and then reverting to the lower-security username and password over HTTPS. That would probably explain the communication hangs, and why Outlook wasn’t saving the plain text credentials when I asked it to.

I changed the proxy authentication setting to use basic authentication, and restarted Outlook. I was prompted to enter my credentials once, and haven’t been asked since. And, the connection to the server is much more snappy and reliable.

I don’t really know why the communication hangs started up a few days ago. Perhaps something changed settings-wise when my svchost.exe file got eaten by my AV software. I have been running Outlook 10 beta for a couple months and it was a new issue (although the credentials pop-up was consistent since installation).

But, regardless it looks like at least one or two of the problems I was having are now solved. And that’s a good thing. Now I’m off to troubleshoot some auto-archiving issues.



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Microsoft Office | Tech
Friday, 23 April 2010 17:07:55 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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