Saturday, February 21, 2015

Great Hammerhead Shark Video Clip, Bimini, Bahamas

I just returned from a grueling trip to Bimini, Bahamas.  Bimini is the closest of the Bahamas Islands to the US.  It is only 60 miles from Miami.  Ironically, it's the most goddamn difficult island of the Bahamas that I've had to get to.  I've flown to Nassau in one day, filmed scenes for a commercial the next day, and flown all the way back home from Nassau on the third day, easily and without stress.  This trip was nowhere near as easy.  It was one of the most stressful trips I've had to take, because these days, if you miss your connection, you are sh** out of luck with the airlines and have to find a way home by relying on the largesse and professionalism of the airline that is supposed to fly you back. 

There is no reliable way to get to and from Bimini.  I'll write more, but I wanted to post a clip today.  I finally got back to my home today after three days of planes, ferries, and automobiles.  More on that later.  Here's a clip:


I was scheduled to dive with great hammerhead sharks for five days, but the trip was cut short by weather.  So I had one day of diving with these spectacular animals.  I got to Bimini on Saturday afternoon, flying Silver Airlines from Fort Lauderdale.  Unfortunately, most folks' checked luggage did not arrive with the flight.  (Silver Airlines had not made their scheduled flights for the three days before Saturday.  The small plane was packed with folks who had been stuck at the airport, literally, since Wednesday.  One couple on our trip had been forced to sleep overnight at the FLL airport because there were absolutely no hotels available anywhere within a 100 mile radius or more).

I therefore only had my GoPro Hero 3+ Black Edition camera.  I had never used it underwater before -- just for surf videos and stills, and aerials with my drone.  I had no lights.  I had no way to hold the housing well.  But the next day we went out, and the sharks were there.  The good folks leading the trip let me dive with loaner gear but did not have any wetsuits, so I dove with just running shorts (sorry, everyone on the dive -- you saw my very large gut).

I am impressed with the GoPro footage.  This clip was shot at 1080 frames at 60p.  I then conformed it to 23.98 fps, so it is slowed down a bit.  These sharks are spectacular, very cool to see.

Thanks to Joe Romeiro and Bill Fisher of 333 Productions for organizing the trip, to Mike Black and Jamin Martinelli for working so hard for our group of divers (doing EVERYTHING needed), and the Bimini Big Game Lodge for being so understanding when we got weathered out.  And hey, I have to thank United Airlines for getting me back home relatively easily when my plans changed.  I usually complain about airlines, but United Airlines did good.

A last note:
I just saw on Facebook that our trip leader, Mike Black, a terrific and gentle guy, got beat up in Bimini a day after seeing most of our group off the island. If he got beat up by thugs sent by the competition, then that is really monstrous, vile, and shocking.  He may have voiced opposition to the tagging of these sharks. 

The older hammerhead sharks all had numerous tags on them; one or two had 4" squares of flesh ripped off behind their dorsal, probably from "researchers" who had caught them and glued tags on them, which then ripped off. I used to study marine biology, even was in the PhD program at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. But I am now sickened and opposed to the constant, unending tagging of large marine animals.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Pelican Over Breaking Wave, Carmel

As an underwater photographer, I usually carry around a ton of gear, and once I reach a diving destination, I just sit on the bottom.  The amount of gear required to do professional underwater photography is monumental, as is the maintenance required to keep the gear working.   Now a pro has to buy a new camera or video camera just about every other year to keep current.  That means buying new housings for the cameras too.  Ouch!

As a result, I've always loved the simplicity of just going out on a good day and boogie boarding.  I've also been taking surf photos for many years, starting with a Canon film camera in a surf housing (having to swim back after shooting 35 frames on a roll of film was a real pain in the butt), and graduating to Nikon D200 and then Canon 7D cameras in Delmar and SPL surf housings. 

But the GoPro Hero 3 Black Edition cameras have been the bomb for surf photographers and surfers everywhere.  These guys have thought of everything.  They are the perfect surf cameras.  I wish that the quality of the still images was higher, but you can't get everything.

Here are two video clips I shot on Tuesday.   I've always admired the way pelicans skim across the tops of breaking waves.  The first clip shows a pelican doing just that, coming right over me as I filmed the wave breaking.



Thursday, February 5, 2015

Problems and Solutions That I Had Installing Mavericks and Yosemite Over Mountain Lion Mac OS 10.8 to 10.10

This blog post will help those users, probably longtime Mac users, who have been holding off on updating their OS X upgrades and are now having trouble upgrading.  I talk about installing Mavericks over Mountain Lion below, but I believe folks will have the same problem installing Yosemite over Mountain Lion also.

Here’s my particular situation, and it might help you.  I don’t like updating to new OS X systems.  I am generally pretty happy with what I have and every time I upgrade to a new OS X system, I find that several of my apps stop working.  I then have to rush around and spend hundreds of dollars to upgrade those apps or to find new apps that do the same thing. 

I’ve been working with OS 10.8.5 (Mountain Lion) for a year or so now.  I just shot some surf with my GoPro Hero 3+ Black Edition files, shot at 1080 and 60fps.   I want to make those clips into slow motion.  Well, my old Final Cut Pro 10.0.9 app tells me that in order to export those clips, I need to buy Compressor.  So I bought Compressor 4.1.3. 

However, Compressor 4.1.3 will only work in OS 10.9.2 and higher.  So I had to upgrade my OS 10.8.5 machine to OS 10.9.  In the past, I’d get this system upgrade on a DVD, or I’d get a .dmg file that would guide me through everything.  I did get a .dmg file, but it would not work.  I’d agree to the terms, select the hard drive to install on, and click Start.  Nothing would happen. 

After some research, I found that I needed to get a thumb drive or another hard drive (I used a portable USB drive) and use that as some kind of installation drive.  So here are the steps and some screen grabs, and error messages:

1.  I am going to assume that you are experienced, and you clone your drives before updating the OS. 

2.  Get a USB Flash Drive of 8GB or higher, or a portable hard drive.  It can be a desktop hard drive.  It just needs to hold some “Recovery” data which you will then use to install Mavericks onto your existing hard drive.  Erase the portable USB hard drive, partition it for one partition, and select  'Mac OS Extended (Journaled)'.   You can name the drive “Untitled.”

3.  I obtained a .dmg file called “Mavericks Installer.dmg”.  Upon opening it, I saw a virtual drive (called “OS X Base System”) containing an app called “Install OS X Mavericks.”

4.  Usually, double-clicking this app “Install OS X Mavericks” would be all that I would need to do.  I’d choose a hard drive to install Mavericks on, and click Start.  However, this did not work in this.  Nothing happened when I clicked Start. 

5.  Upon some research, I discovered that I needed to create an installation drive.  There are at least three ways to do this, but I used the Disk Utility method.

a.   Open Disk Utility.  You will see the file “Mavericks Installer.dmg” at the bottom.  Under that will be the virtual drive called “OS X Base System.”  Choose that drive in Disk Utility and click Restore. 
b.  Disk Utility should now show the OS X Base System drive as the source. 
c.  The Destination should be blank.  Choose the Untitled drive that you just formatted and drag it to the Destination window.  Your Disk Utility should look like the below:

6.  When Disk Utility is done, the USB drive should have the name “OS X Base System” also.  It is now a bootable USB drive.  It will have the same files as the virtual drive.  Here are the files on it.  The only difference, is that this drive now has an invisible Recovery drive.  I am not real clear on this.  All I know is that now you can go into System Preferences and select this drive to be the startup drive.  Restart your machine.  The machine will now boot from this USB drive. 

7.  From there I was able to install Mavericks over my existing 10.8.5 system.  I believe I simply double-clicked on “Install OS X Mavericks” in the USB drive, but I may have double-clicked the app with the same name from the dmg file that did not work before.  I can’t remember. 

Here are some error messages that were relevant to this situation:

Feb  5 09:26:54 i7MacMini.local Install OS X Mavericks[513]: *** IFDCustomizationController_10_6 does not know the size of distant package at (null)

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Flying Has Become a Horrible Experience and Giving Me Mouthwash Is Not Going to Help

Wow.  Airlines are really sticking it to their customers.  I've come to dread flying, especially long international flights.  The seats keep getting more and more cramped, and the airlines keep making things more and more complicated.  The amount of time that I waste on finding the right flight and airline to a destination is terrible.

I've been a longtime United frequent flyer, and belonging to their elite flyer status has some benefits.  I've recently flown three flights with United, and I've been pleasantly surprised by how easy it is to see their seating maps, to choose and change seats, and to even see what flights I can upgrade or buy using miles.  United's planes are kind of old, and the coach seats are way too close together both sideways and front-to-back, but I believe that's the same for all airlines these days.

I've been an American Airlines frequent flyer for many years also, but it's been over a year since I flew them.  I still get their email newsletters, however.  Here's one, and it shows how out of touch airlines can be:

Hey, American Airlines -- and all airlines: I don't need a bottle of Scope (R) mouthwash for my international flight.  I'd gladly pay more if I am flying coach for a seat with more legroom and more width so that the guy next to me doesn't alway elbow me whenever he moves.  I think that the airlines got away with downright fraud when they took away the ability for someone to transfer a ticket to someone else.  If I buy a ticket and can't make that flight, then why can't I give my wife the ticket so she can make the trip, for instance?  Your $200 change fees are ridiculously overpriced.   Just make the flight more comfortable, which means stop making the seats smaller and more crowded together.  I for one will be happy to pay a bit more to get more comfortable seats. 

Wow, if I pay for First Class, I get pajamas, slippers, and a bottle of mouthwash.
For Business Class, I get retro amenity kits.

Wow.  Who gives a crap about this stuff?  Why waste my time sending me emails about this ridiculous stuff?

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Dyson Vacuum Foot Pedal Won't Depress -- Stuck in Upright Position

I have a Dyson Animal vacuum.  I am posting this solely so other folks with the same problem can find the solution.  The solution was easy once I found it; the problem is that the YouTube video has a title that is too specific to one particular model so my Google searches didn't find this initially.   It's a great little video; the guy is a bit hostile and curses a bit much but hey, it's straight and to the point. 

Anyone with a Dyson vacuum might find that the vacuum becomes stuck in the upright position.  This particular YouTube video is short and sweet and shows the solution.  Basically, if you turn the vacuum cleaner upside down, you will see (it's difficult to see) a plastic, black "stick" that holds the vacuum in the upright position.  Use a screwdriver to jiggle the latch.  Then spray some lubricant (I used silicone spray) so this latch doesn't stick. 

"DC28 stuck in upright position FIX"

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Shooting Still Images with a GoPro Hero 3 Black Edition and a DJI Phantom Vision I Quadcopter in FPV

Correction 2-11-15: I've been incorrectly calling the "Phantom 1" quadcopter the "Phantom Vision 1" quadcopter.  I've corrected this below.  There is only one Phantom 1 quadcopter.  There are two Phantom 2 quadcopters.  The Phantom 2 Vision quadcopter comes with a DJI-designed video and still camera.  The Phantom 2 (non-Vision) quadcopter does not come with a camera and is designed to be used with a GoPro Hero 3 or 3+ camera. 

Quick summary:
If you, like me, purchased a Phantom I Quadcopter and wish to shoot high-quality still images with it using a GoPro Hero 3 camera using First Person View (FPV), then this post is for you.  The below post describes how to set up a GoPro Hero 3 or 3+ Black Edition camera on a DJI Phantom I Quadcopter to take still images while you see what you are shooting, in real time.  The gear, settings, and solutions that I describe may or may not apply to other GoPro models and Phantom quadcopters.

Longer summary:
You'd think that taking still images with a GoPro Hero 3 camera mounted on a Phantom 1 quadcopter would be easy.  If you aren't ambitious, it can be pretty easy.  I started off by setting the GoPro to take a still image every 0.5 seconds and flying the Phantom around, without seeing what I was shooting.  This worked OK, but I really wanted to see what I was photographing in real time.  I thought that this would be easy, but it was far more complicated than I initially thought.  Of course.

First, to see what you are shooting in real-time, which is called First Person View (FPV), you need to buy some gear and do some soldering of connectors.  I bought (thanks to Eric Cheng's recommendations at a Boscam 353 400mw transmitter ($60) and a Pearl Diversity monitor ($229).  I also bought a USB-video out cable (on Ebay for $5) which attaches to the USB port on the GoPro and has a connector on the other end which outputs the video signal.

Pictured are the Boscam transmitter, GoPro USB video out cable and plugs, and 9V battery to power the transmitter

The Boscam 353 transmitter is a small, light electronic box (with an antenna on it) that takes a video signal from the GoPro Hero 3 or 3+ Black Edition camera and transmits it to a receiver (such as a Boscam RC805 receiver, $30).  The receiver then inputs that video signal into a monitor.  You can buy a separate receiver and monitor, but the Pearl Diversity monitor has the receiver and monitor, along with a battery to power everything, all in one package.

You will need to buy a cable (I found mine on Ebay for $5) that fits into the USB port on the GoPro and provides wires for video and audio out.  I used a standard 9V transistor battery (Duracell, for instance) with a standard connector that you can buy at Radio Shack, to power the transmitter.  By my calculations, a 9V battery should power this transistor for a couple of hours. I used Eric Cheng's recommendations at and bought a bunch of male and female JST connectors and pre-wired JST connectors at hobbyking.  By buying a bunch of connectors at once, I saved several trips to the local electronic store.

Here's where things got more complicated.  Details are below, and here is a fairly quick summary.  The GoPro won't transmit a video out signal if you set it to take still images every 0.5 seconds -- or if you set it to take stills.  It will work fine and will transmit a video out signal if you set it to take videos.  But if you are like me, you are experimenting with this first fairly inexpensive ($479) Phantom 1 model and you don't have a gimbal, which is just about compulsory to shoot decent video.  You just want to shoot still images.

After much trial and error, I found that the only way to get decent still images from the GoPro is to use it at the following settings.  These settings ensure the highest quality stills but only take one still image every five seconds.  The video is not interrupted when the GoPro shoots still images, but you can't use the highest quality video settings in this mode.

Set the GoPro Hero 3 or 3+ Black Edition camera as follows:
My settings were as follows: set video to 1080p 30fps.  Set the camera to shoot video and take a still images every 5 seconds ("video plus still mode").  Turn off ProTune mode.

Here are the gory details:

I have a DJI Phantom I quadcopter.  It does not have a gimbal, which stabilizes the camera for steady video shots.  I am more interested in practicing with this quadcopter, and taking still photographs with it, rather than getting smooth video at this time.  I wanted the best stills possible, and this meant using a GoPro Hero 3 or 3+ Black Edition camera.

Here's what I discovered.  I wanted FPV (first person view) so I could see what the camera was seeing.  I didn't necessarily want to see through the camera, but the GoPro does allow viewing of what the camera is seeing through its USB port.  You need to buy a USB-video out cable (on Ebay for $5) which attaches to the USB port on the GoPro and has a connector on the other end which contains the video signal.  I fed that video-out signal to a Boscam 353 400mw transmitter (thanks, Eric Cheng from which transmits the image to a receiver.

You can either buy a separate receiver unit like the Boscam RC805, which has a video-out port that you can attach to a video monitor like the Prism (DIGITAL PRISM ATSC-710 7" 480I EDTV-READY LCD TELEVISION, on Ebay for $55 to $100), or you can buy (again, thanks to Eric) this cool monitor: Black Pearl Diversity Monitor, $229 on Amazon.  The Black Pearl is a monitor that has a receiver built in to it.

The GoPro Hero 3 and 3+ Black edition has a USB-out port for video out, among other things.  I connected the video out signal on this port to a transmitter, and this worked well.  I had to fiddle with the settings on the Boscam transmitter and the Pearl monitor, until I got a stable video picture on the receiving monitor.  The Boscam transmitter has four DIP switches which select what channel (frequency) the transmitter will send out.  The Pearl monitor can be set to different bands and channels.  I found the following settings to work for me and did not experiment further.  For some reason, the Boscam's printed frequences at the settings did not match the Pearl Monitor's supposed receiving frequencies, but hey -- this worked.

Boscam transmitter: DIP switches 1 and 2 in the UP position, 3 and 4 in the down position.  Binary 1100 -- Channel 4 (5645 Mhz) according to the above diagram - but the above diagram is for the Boscam TS352 transmitter.

Pearl Diversity Monitor: set to Mode: DIV; Band: E; channel: 5

Note in the above diagram that the white represents the setting of the DIP switch.  So I had my transmitter set to Channel 4.  I also saw later that the Boscam 353 transmitter is a Band E transmitter.  I have no idea what that means, other than other transmitters might be Band A and therefore not the same.

Here's what I found about the exact channel frequencies being set:
Boscam - TS353 5.8G 400mW AV Transmitter Transmitter frequency: Amateur
Radio Band, 5865M, 5845M, 5825M, 5805M, 5785M, 5765M, 5745M, 5725M;8CH
Not frequency-compatible with FatShark, ImmersionRC, Airwave based

Now that I had my FPV gear in place, it was time to take still images.  Not so fast!  Simply setting the GoPro to take images every 0.5 seconds, as I had done in the past, did not work with my FPV setup.  No picture was being transmitted by the GoPro.

Here's what I discovered: If you are using FPV with a GoPro and you want to take still images, then the only way to take stills that are the highest resolution possible (about 3900 pixels on the wide side) is to set the GoPro to take video and stills.  There's a setting in the camera to do this -- it's called the "video plus still" mode.  You can't shoot at 720p, 120 fps (which is my preferred GoPro video setting).  You only have a limited selection of video settings that also allow you to shoot stills.   I settled on 1080p 30fps.  The resulting still images were a bit less than the largest resolution images possible with the GoPro, but they were acceptably large.

Here are the still image resolutions for the GoPro Hero 3+ Black Edition:

The Hero 3+ Black Edition also has a maximum still image resolution of 12MP and 30fps burst rate

BLACK Edition
12MP Wide: 4000x3000 pixels
7MP Wide: 3000x2250 pixels
7MP Medium: 3000x2250 pixels
5MP Medium: 2560x1920 pixels

I am getting 3920 x 2160 in the "video plus still" mode.  The largest possible would be 4000x3000 pixels.

I found this on a forum, and this writer posts the issue better than I have: "I had this question, too, until I did some research.  There is no way to remotely control the GoPro from the ground.  What you have to do is enable the GoPro to take photos and video SIMULTANEOUSLY.  When you do that, you can set the GoPro to take a picture at a regular interval while it is also taking video.  I always set it for every 5 seconds.  The only thing to remember is that doing this will limit your possible resolution settings for the video. "

After much trial and error, I found that the only way to get decent still images from the GoPro is to use it at the following settings.  These settings ensure the highest quality stills but only take one still image every five seconds.  The video is not interrupted when the GoPro shoots still images, but you can't use the highest quality video settings in this mode.

Set the GoPro Hero 3 Black Edition camera as follows:
My settings were as follows: set video to 1080p 30fps.  Set the camera to shoot video and take a still images every 5 seconds ("video plus still" mode).  Turn off ProTune mode.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Trip to See and Photograph Great Hammerhead Sharks This February 2015

Hi Diving Friends:

I would like you to know that I will be participating (as part of the trip group, not as a trip leader) on a trip to see and photograph great hammerhead sharks.  The trip dates are  February 15-21, 2015.  Trip participants will fly into and stay on Bimini Island and going out on a boat by day.  Contact Joe Romeiro for more information about the trip at 

I've seen images of great hammerhead sharks from this area, and they are stunning.  These are big sharks, stunningly bizarre and beautiful up close.  Here's a tip from one of my underwater photographer friends, “If you want great great hammerhead images, go with Joe Romeiro.  The others cannot deliver what he can.  That is my advice.” 

I'll be on the trip as a “regular” diver and will be happy to give scathing criticism of other divers' photos and to incessantly show my images and talk about them in favorable terms as well.  Just joking.