Trails End Computer Club

Bulletin for the week of MARCH 13, 2016

WEEKLY MEETINGS
EACH Wednesday 

Program or Lesson 9:00 - 10:00 AM
One on One Help 10:00-?
In the Library

SPECIAL INTEREST GROUPS:

If you would like to meet in a small group to discuss special computer related subjects or form a Special Interest Group lets discuss it.

Our bulletin is also available on line by visiting tecc.apcug.org and clicking on bulletin.


Our weekly program or lesson is intended
to be of interest to all computer users.
Following the program an allotment of time will
be available for one on one help to those
who want a better understanding of something done
 during the presentation.

Upcoming Events

Wednesday MARCH 16, 2016 Meeting in the Library
 8:45 AM Set up your computer
 9:00 AM Lesson
10:00 AM One on One help

This will be the last regular meeting of the season. 

The Trails End Computer Club will continue regular meetings for the new season beginning December 2016. In the meantime, a monthly bulletin will be published  and an email notification will be sent out.
Thanks to our leader and the general membership for making the club the success it is today. Because each of us shares our experiences with other members we all learn from each other.
Harold

Look in the sky! It’s a bird, it’s a plane...it’s a drone!

Meeting review by Mike Hancock, Newsletter Committee, Golden Gate Computer Society,   www.ggcs.org,   editor (at) ggcs.org

At the November 23, GGCS General Meeting, George Krieger, drone photographer, drone video producer and drone technologist, showed two drone-created videos: one of San Francisco seen from above and around Coit Tower; and one of Highway 1 road improvements in the Bixby Bridge/Big Sur area. Drones, or UAS’s (unmanned Aerial Systems), usually have four rotors and are called quadracopters, and they have a camera similar to a GoPro, but gimbal-mounted.

The legal system is working on rules for all drones, except toys, to keep airspace safe, and permits drones to fly no higher than 400 ft. (will soon go to 500 ft.). Operators of delivery drones, of Amazon and Google speculation, will be required by the FAA to obtain a license and will have to fly no higher than 25 meters (83 feet) in the airspace over your property.

Since our airspace has over 100,000 planes and since there is the potential for millions of drones, it is clear that rules must be observed. See https://www.faa.gov/UAS.

New versions of drones take only six months to come to market and can broadcast signals from about 1,000 feet from the controller. 3D Robotics, a US-based company, makes roughly 80% of controllers, and DJI, a Chinese company, provides roughly 80% of drones themselves.

3D Robotics used to use open-source software, but this approach is changing; DJI is closed-source.

Drones, depending on the drone model and cost, have remarkable cameras with multi-gimbal stabilization, and dampeners.

The law today permits drones to fly only within eyesight of the operator but, with extras, they can fly up to five miles. Drones have heat sensors, GPS, accelerometers, pressure sensors, and Wi-Fi extenders, and they can take 3-D movies.

They fly in areas where the sensors can feed data back. They have been used to fly over blowing whales, which are not disturbed by their presence, to gather data. Elephants, on the other hand, are frightened, likely thinking the drones are swarms of bees.

From DJI, starter drones are the Phantoms 1 and 2; the 2 can fly 12 to 14 minutes with its stabilized GoPro and weighs under 5 lbs. All drones are battery operated. The DJI version has a camera, designed by DJI with Adobe support that takes RAW pictures.

The DJI Phantom 3 Professional has a 4K camera with Sony sensor, 94 wide angle f2.8 lens, and 3-axis gimbal stabilization. The camera can take 12MP still pictures. The main controller is the brains of the operation, collecting all data from the system, which includes GPS, inertial measurement, speed controllers, vision positioning, and auto takeoff and landing. It costs about $1,290.

The DJI Inspire is the flagship and can fly 15 miles at 50 mph. It has a Zenmuse 4K camera with a Micro Four-thirds CMOS sensor and a 15 mm f1.7 lens. It has a retractable landing system. The controller has a live map and radar and it has battery charge tracking. Basically, this small drone can do things that a much larger drone can do. The DJI Inspire 1 Pro costs about $4,500 in basic form. This manufacturer also sells the DJI Cosmos hand-held camera.

3D Robotics offers the Solo Quadracopter with 3-axis gimbal for an advanced GoPro camera. It employs a 1 GH2 Linux computer at the drone and at the controller. It can be automated for filming and has a touchscreen controller. The battery provides 15 mins flying time. The cost, including the GoPro camera, is about $1,900.

Another US manufactured drone is the Yuneec Typhoon 4K Q500, with handheld

CGO gimbal steadygrip. Drones use photography for stills, panoramas, videos, mapping, and 360 Virtual Reality with GoPros. George showed us a drone video of mapping the Carmel Mission for an event setup, and felt that mapping will be the most lucrative use of drones in three to five years. He also showed us a video of a totally circular rainbow and a para-jumpers tracked by a drone. They are now also being used for photogrammetry and for providing aerial video of events. Drones may operate no closer than five miles to airports. Much of the technology derives from military applications.

George then demonstrated a DJI multi-gimbal 15-pound drone in the meeting room.

This drone had a barometric pressure sensor to set altitude. Liability insurance is required for drone operators; Aerial Pack insurance costs $1,400/year. IDs are not yet required for drones. Control of drones is by ‘packet’ technology, thus if it loses signal, or if the battery gets low, it comes home.


My Chrome Away From Home

By Greg Skalka, President, Under the Computer Hood User Group, CA,    www.uchug.org,      president (at) uchug.org

I’m writing this on my new Chromebook at 30,000 feet over the Pacific. I decided to take my Chromebook with me on a vacation trip, as I wanted to see how useful it would be as a traveling companion. I also wanted to continue exploring the capabilities of this device. I’ve had it for a couple of months, but have not had the opportunity to investigate all its features.

For a very low cost device (I paid only $130 for my Acer Chromebook 11 at Fry’s on a promo code deal), it so far has proved to have a lot going for it. At home, I would often use it daily to look up something on the internet, as it can boot up very quickly. Even though I planned to take my normal Windows laptop on this trip, I really wanted to take this Chromebook. I was not confident enough in it to leave my familiar Windows PC friend behind, however. With space and weight an issue on an airline trip, I probably didn’t need the hassle of taking two screens and chargers. My quest for knowledge won out, however, and I determined I could take them both. My wife likes the Chromebook as well, and did not discourage me in taking it. She insisted on bringing her laptop as it has work software on it, so between the two of us, we are traveling with two laptops, an iPhone and a Chromebook.

It is interesting that I am so enthusiastic about this Chromebook. I am much more excited to use it than I am my iPad Mini. Maybe I’ve never gotten into the Apple way of thinking, but I find the Chrome OS much easier to understand and operate. Maybe it is because the OS is symbiotic with the Chrome browser, which I have been using for a while on Windows computers. Chrome also seems a lot more like Windows in its approach to things, while I think Apple goes out of its way to be different.

The travel environment is also quite different these days, in some good ways and some not so good. This is my first flight since the FAA and airlines loosened up restrictions on electronic devices on commercial flights. Previously, almost all passenger electronics had to remain off from taxi to 10,000 feet, and from descent down to landing. My main gripe with those restrictions was that, with the advent of digital photography, I could no longer take photos out of the plane window during take-offs and landings, and at low altitudes when the views are the most interesting. I took lots of those kinds of photos in the old 35 mm film days (with an older manual camera), so it was really refreshing to be able to take some great shots over San Diego at dawn when we took off.

The airlines are much more integrated into the digital world since my last flight. In addition to checking in online and printing my boarding passes for Alaska Airlines, I was able to pay my bag fees (more on that later) and print luggage tags, speeding up check in. Even the aircraft are more accommodating for travelers with electronic devices. Alaska now has USB and 110 VAC power outlets at every seat, so you can arrive at you destination with your devices fully charged. They also have the now-standard paid Wi-Fi and movies, though not over the ocean.

In spite of these advances in technology and some very friendly and helpful employees, the airlines have found ways to turn air travel from an exciting adventure into an expensive battle of attrition. I’m traveling to paradise, Hawai’i, through a metal tube crammed full of people and luggage. Airlines once were known for service, with everything, including meals, drinks and baggage service included. In the last ten years or so, however, it seems to me that the airlines have moved profits to their number one priority, and moved customer service way down on the list. Planes are now typically always full, overhead bins are overflowing, any refreshments other than soda and peanuts are costly and bags usually have to pay to fly as well. The seats look thinner, less padded (lighter to save fuel) and are probably closer together now.

This flight that my wife and I were on was completely full, so while I was in the window seat taking photos, my wife was in the middle seat on one side of a center aisle, with a large man in the aisle seat adjacent to her flowing over the arm rest. Even on an almost six hour flight, we received no complementary meal service, just drinks and pretzels (there was someone on our flight with peanut allergies, so no peanuts were served). The airline did provide a number of choices in meals they offered for sale, or we could also bring our own food on the plane to consume (a trend that does not work so well for those other passengers with food allergies, as there is no way to limit what foods customers bring on). My wife and I chose to bring on some snacks, and eat some equally expensive airport terminal food before boarding.

We also had to pay additional fees for the airline to transport our checked bags (two bags in total, at $25 each). With a lot of airlines now charging bag fees, a lot of customers try to avoid them by bringing more in their carry-on luggage. This results in less space in overhead bins and more time spent boarding passengers, as they search for space in an overhead bin. Getting off the plane takes longer with more passengers trying to exit down the aisle with rolling carry-ons. I did see fewer passengers with laptops on our flight; most passengers played with their smart phones and tablets instead. Of course, maybe they didn’t bring them out on the plane, preferring, like me, to use their smaller electronic devices in the cramped seating.

So far, the Chromebook has done well on the trip. With over 8 hours of battery capacity, I’m not worried about trying to fish my charger out of my bag to try the airline’s in-seat power. It boots up and shuts down in around ten seconds, so I can check things quickly. It was able to easily connect to the free airport Wi-Fi and the GoGo inflight Wi-Fi hub on the plane. Even though the Chromebook was built to be online, I can easily write this column in Google Docs while offline, and save the file on my USB thumb drive (or so I thought; more on this later). I can play music I brought on the thumb drive (I found that ear buds, though compact for travel, give poor results with all the background noise on a plane), or watch a movie file I brought.

So, why bring the larger and heavier 14” Windows laptop?  While I can get all my email through a web browser, it is so much easier with Thunderbird, which is not available under Chrome. I can also feel safer checking my email on free airport Wi-Fi, as I have a VPN on my laptop (the setup of my Private Internet Access VPN under Chrome OS appears difficult). I also have a 1 TB hard drive in the laptop, so as I fill up camera memory cards with vacation selfies, I can off-load to the laptop drive and then snap more pics. With only the Chromebook, I’d have to either invest in more memory cards, or resurrect the old photo hard drives I thought were obsolete (and are now quite small).

Once we arrived at our destination, we still used the Chromebook a lot to look up local points of interest and map out sightseeing trips. I found, however, that the Chromebook was no match for the old familiar laptop in some respects. Perhaps with further experience on the Chromebook, I may find out how to do all the things I found a lot easier (or possible) with the laptop.

One thing I have not quite figured out is Google Docs. I think I understand the Chrome Files app; it is similar to Windows File Explorer (I’ve yet to figure out how to do the same things on my iPad). I started writing this column in Google Docs on the airplane, which, since I was not able to connect to the internet, was in off-line mode. I tried to save and get out of Docs a few times early on, to make sure it was actually saving the file. I was unable to determine where it was being saved on the Chromebook, however. I finally tried to save the column on my USB thumb drive, and thought I had, but was not able to open the .gdoc file with my Windows laptop. I might have been able to install the Google Drive program on my laptop, or there might be a way to export the file from the Chromebook as a .docx file. In the end, I took the easy way out and selected all of the column’s text in Google Docs on the Chromebook, and then pasted it into an email (in Gmail). I sent the text in an email to an account I use with Thunderbird on the Windows laptop, and then pasted the text into Word, where I could edit and write comfortably.

I guess I still have a few things to learn about Chromebooks. I’m glad I brought it on this trip, as it has a lot of advantages over my Windows laptop. I probably overestimated how much time I’d have on this vacation trip to learn about and experiment with the Chromebook. I brought some eBooks on the Chromebook to read, but that’s not really what my wife had in mind for our vacation.


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