Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Using the DJI Phantom 3 Advanced for the First Time, Updating Firmware

Bottom Line: DJI Phantom 3 Advanced is AWESOME. 
Here are some hints if you are getting started with one. 

I bought a Phantom 3 Advanced recently.  I started off with a Phantom 1, and ended up drowning it in Puget Sound.  I think that a propeller may have loosened and fallen off.  I spent a lot of time and energy trying to make that Phantom 1 do what I wanted, which was to take still images with a GoPro Hero 3+ Black camera.  It was a lot of work.  I ended up having to do way too many steps before each (very short, 5 minute) flight: connect the 9V add-on battery to the Boscam 5.8Ghz transmitter; connect the battery to the actual Phantom (their design, and problematic); connect all the wires to the GoPro camera; turn on the GoPro and start recording; and the list goes on.  I did a few flights where I forgot one thing or another, and ended up with nothing.  It was frustrating.  I have always been more of a stills photographer than a videographer, and attempting to take still images rather than video with a GoPro remotely was very difficult. 

I bought a Phantom 2 (non-Vision), thinking that I'd solder up some wires again and put on a GoPro camera for best quality.  I was not looking forward to it because of all the time and troubleshooting that this would involve.  I am really tired of soldering stuff and having wires all over the place too -- I did plenty of this as a college student. 

When a Phantom 3 Advanced model came out at a good price, I decided to buy one.  I did not realize what a great machine this was.  Everything is thought out well and I have everything I need out of the box.  The Phantom 3 Advanced is the same as the Phantom 3 Professional, except the camera shoots 1080 video rather than 4K (a new firmware upgrade allows the Advanced to shoot 2.7K). 

Right out of the box, I have a DJI camera on a gimbal, which gives incredibly steady video shots.  It takes videos and stills.  Right out of the box, I have first-person view (FPV), which lets me see what the camera on the drone is seeing.  I have control of the camera, the gimbal (which lets the camera shoot straight down or level to the horizon), and the drone itself with the DJI transmitter (again, right out of the box).

To see what the camera on the Phantom 3 sees (FPV), you need to supply a smartphone or tablet that uses the DJI Go app (it used to be the DJI Pilot app, which is no longer available).  I tried a Nexus 5 phone and a Nexus 7 second generation tablet with the DJI Go app.  The Nexus 5 phone did not work well at all with the Phantom 3 -- I kept losing the signal to the drone, and had to fly it blind.  The Nexus 7 II, on the other hand, has worked near-perfectly with the Phantom 3 and DJI Go app.  I can turn video recording on and off from the tablet, and I can see what the camera sees -- almost perfectly. 

DJI specifies the following as being very compatible with their DJI Go App:

iOS Version v2.2.0. Requires iOS 8.0 or later. Compatible with iPhone 5s, iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, iPad Air, iPad Air Wi-Fi + Cellular, iPad mini 2, iPad mini 2 Wi-Fi + Cellular, iPad Air 2, iPad Air 2 Wi-Fi + Cellular, iPad mini 3, and iPad mini 3 Wi-Fi + Cellular. This app is optimized for iPhone 5s, iPhone 6, and iPhone 6 Plus.

Android Version v2.1.0. Requires Android 4.1.2 or later. Compatible with Samsung tab s 705c, Samsung S6, Samsung S5, Samsung NOTE4, Samsung NOTE3, Google Nexus 9, Google Nexus 7 II, Ascend Mate7, Nubia Z7 mini, SONY Z3 EXPERIA, MI 3, MI PAD.

If you are starting out with a Phantom 3, I would bet that using one of the above specified smartphones or tablets will give you far better results than using a phone that is not in the above list.  I have an iPad 3rd generation tablet also, and I simply could not install the DJI Go app (not sure why -- wouldn't the OS of the app be the determining factor rather than the model of tablet?). 

I've flown the Phantom 3 twice now, upgraded the firmware to version 1.342, and it's all worked out great.  I will wait a bit and then upgrade to the newest firmware, which offers some exciting flight modes, which you can see on the DJI site.  I'm always cautious about updating to the newest firmware or OS on any machine, and one friend has told me that his Phantom 2 worked fine until he updated the firmware -- upon which his Phantom 2 never again worked well. 

For my initial flights, I can say that the video is just outstanding.  It is steady and sharp.  I have not been as impressed with the still images, but I am sure that I will get there. 

For the first time, taking good videos is easier than taking stills. 

There are a few resources to guide you through updating your firmware.  I found that DJI's video tutorial was pretty good -- but their PDF guide was really lacking in some essential information.  Here are some tips when updating firmware:

Follow the instructions on other sites.  Be sure you have enough battery power and that you give this whole firmware update process a good 40 minutes.  The firmware update should take 25 minutes. 

Here were some useful tips from a couple of websites, that offered more detail than the DJI tutorials (especially their not-so-great PDF instructions):
After the minute it will beep in a pattern such as “Beep-Beep-Beep-Beep-Pause” and this will be repeated during the whole firmware upgrade. ...It’s much quieter than the startup beeps. During the process the front LED indicators are solid red, and the Aircraft Status Indicator LED’s flash yellow. [I was pretty concerned about seeing my LEDs flash yellow for several minutes until I read this].

(Updating to 1.4.0010 i got the normal standard bootup beeps four times around the 13th, 14th, 15th and 17th minute into the process) After each it just continued it’s normal “Beep-Beep-Beep-Beep-Pause” sounds.
(Updating to 1.4.0010 at 31min the beeps got a bit distorted for a few seconds then returned to normal)
After about (13 minutes in my case for 1.1.0006 and 32 minutes for 1.4.0010) The beeps will change to a “Beeeeeeeep-Beep-Beep-ShortPause” tune. This means the firmware upgrade is complete.  [Yep, the beeps changed.  I was not at all sure what to do after 38 minutes had passed, since the Phantom 3 was still beeping.  After reading this and the other blurb below, I realized that the process had ended]. 
Shut down your Phantom 3 Note: The Camera Processing Board, Gimbal and Camera can be hot to the touch, happens to me too. Just be sure to let it properly cool before flying or putting it away.


Phantom 3 Firmware Beeping Sounds

With the Phantom 3 firmware update,  you have to pay attention to the beeps the quadcopter gimbal and remote controller are emitting during the upgrade.  Here is some information on these beeping sounds.  I have videos below which will also take you step by step through the update process.

Ready to update sound from the gimbal similar to D-D-D-D  D-D-D-D.  You don’t have to do anything at this point.
Fast beeping noise indicates the firmware is updating. This can take up to 25 minutes. Sound is  similar to DDDD DDDD.
Slow beeping sound when firmware update is complete.  Similar sound to  D—DD D–DD.  At this point you would restart the Phantom 3 manually.
NOTE: A long beeping sound means the update has failed.

Updating the firmware in your remote controller (RC):
After updating the firmware in your Phantom 3 drone, you may have to update the firmware in your remote controller (RC).  Or you may not. 

I spent a good hour trying to figure out the various instructions on updating the RC.  It appears that you can link the RC to your smartphone and DJI Go app, and then update the firmware on your RC that way. 

However, if your RC has older firmware (I am not sure what is considered old), then you need to put the new firmware (the newest for your RC is version 1.3.20 as of today) on a USB flash drive, then put that USB flash drive on the RC itself.  I tried this with various flash drives.  It never worked.  That's when I discovered this forum post:

I had the same problem (RC never updates with USB flash drive). Talked with support and was told if you have the GL300B version control it was sent with the latest update. The GL300B not A is the newest version and it will update wirelessly at a later time. I have flown my drone 16 times and it has worked perfectly.

In other words: Look on the bottom of your RC.  If you have the GL300B, then it is the newest version.  Here's what I think.  I think that the GL300B RCs already have v1.3.20 firmware on them.  If you have a GL300B RC, then trying to update it with a USB flash won't work. 

The DJI website states this:
The All-in-One firmware v1.4.0010 does not include remote controller update package. However, for the best user experience, it is recommended that the users who are using the firmware that older than v1.3.20 to update the firmware to v1.3.20 before updating the aircraft.

Here's what I think: if you desire to update your Phontom 3 to v1.4.0010 (which I plan to do in a few weeks, because it seems to have some awesome features like "follow me" and "point of interest"), then update it FIRST to v1.3.20.  Make sure your RC is also update to v1.3.20.  THEN AND ONLY THEN, update again to v1.4.0010. 

Like I said, I am holding off on updating to the very newest firmware until a few weeks have passed, to be safe. 

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Great Hammerhead Shark Trip, Bimini, January 2016; and Tiger Beach (Tiger Sharks, other sharks), November 2016

I would like to let interested divers and photographers know that I will be on two trips, with the focus on getting close to sharks, with Epic Diving in the coming months. I'm excited to go diving again with Epic Diving's Vince and Debra Canabal, who are super-smart and super-nice people.  Of course, I am also excited to be going back to these destinations, which offer opportunities to see really cool sharks up close. 

Here are the trip dates.

Great hammerhead sharks, Bimini: Jan 29, 2016 to February 4, 2016: I believe that there's only one spot left.

Tiger Beach (tiger, reef, lemon, and other sharks): November 6-12th, 2016.

These trips are land-based, which is something I really prefer. I will be on these trips as a “regular diver” (I am not the trip leader) and as such will be happy to engage in informal chats about photography and to point out how much better my photographs and gear are to others' on the trip. Just joking.

If you want more information, feel free to message me here or contact Epic Diving. Their website is:

Sunday, August 30, 2015

We Got Lucky: New Blue Whale Shots

I was fortunate to spend time in the open ocean off Baja California recently, hoping to photograph kelp patties -- floating masses of kelp -- and the many types of fish that gather under the patties. 
We got real lucky one day.  

This is a blue whale, the largest animal to ever exist on earth.  Like all whales, they are pretty shy and are extremely difficult to get close to.  We lucked out with this individual, who approached our boat closely.  

With any encounter with a whale, the opportunity to make photographs of the animal is exceedingly fleeting.  Having more than 10 seconds to actually see the whale and photograph it is about all one gets.  Taking still photographs involves knowing your camera gear so well that you don't have to think about it.  There's no time to set focus, so you need to set focus before the encounter.  You need to know what the light conditions are so that you can set your ISO and shutter speed beforehand.  If you get anything wrong, you will end up with nothing to show for this once-in-a-lifetime encounter.  Shooting video is even harder -- you have to hold your breath, dive down at least a bit to get away from surface chop, and try to shoot steadily for at least 15 seconds without shaking the camera. 

Several divers and photographers have obtained photos of blue whales both topside and underwater, but obtaining photographs of such large, fast-swimming animals can only be considered a rare, special event.   As an example, perhaps only one or two dozen photographers have ever captured images of blue whales; and film teams have routinely spent 60 days hoping to film blue whales with no success.  

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Consumer Tip: You Can Buy Alcohol and Prescription Medications at Costco Even if You Are Not a Member

I recently learned about this consumer tip when I saw the following question in a newspaper or magazine: 

Question: I hear if you are going to just buy alcohol or pharmacy you are let in (to Costco) even if you don't have membership. True? 

Laws prohibit pharmacies and liquor stores from discriminating. If you want to sell to anyone it has to be available to everyone. Hence the no membership required for prescription drugs or alcohol.
I discovered that yes, you can use Costco's pharmacy as a non-member. However, you won't get the member's discount if you are a non-member.  Costco offers most prescription and other medications at a pretty nice discount if you are a member.  

Consumer Finances: Credit Card Interest and Debt

I have several credit cards, but I have never, ever carried a balance on those credit cards.  I use them for nearly all purchases, because I get airline miles and/or cash back on my purchases, and I get up to a 30-day grace period on all purchases.  I pay off my credit card balances each months and I never carry a balance.

If you use your credit cards this way, you never pay interest, late fees, or other fees.  The card is essentially a free way to delay paying for the things you buy -- but only a short delay.

If you ever carry a balance on your credit card (you don't pay the account in full each month), if you are late on a credit card payment, or you get cash advances from the credit card -- then watch out!  This is one of the worst things you can ever do from a financial standpoint.

Credit cards charge a ridiculous amount if you are late or miss a payment.  If you miss a payment, you will be charge late fees (usually around $25).  Even worse, you will now be stuck paying interest on ALL purchases from now on.  There is no longer a grace period.

Ask this question to your credit card issuer, for instance.  Let's say one month you don't pay off your entire balance, or you are late with a payment.  This is a general question, not specific. 

You had a balance of $250.  You were late.  Or you only paid $150. 
You have a small balance left of $100.  You have to pay a late fee.  You have to pay interest on that original balance of $250. 

Here's the question.  Normally you would have a grace period for new purchases.  For instance, you had a balance due of $250 on 7-22.  You paid late, on 7-23.  Therefore the bank charges a late fee and interest. Normally, you would pay off the entire balance before 7-22.  New purchases after that date would not be subject to interest and would not need to be paid until 8-22. 

Now, however, you are carrying a balance.  You buy stuff after 7-22.  You will be charged interest immediately on the stuff you buy after 7-22. 
To repeat:

If you are late on payment, your ENTIRE balance will be charged interest. This will include all new charges.  Once you pay off the last statement's overdue balance, then interest stops being charged.
You will be charged interest immediately on the stuff you buy after 7-22.

By the way, I never use my debit cards, which my bank gives me -- except to get cash at my bank's ATM machines. When you use a debit card, the withdrawal occurs immediately from your bank account -- there is no grace period.  That's not that big a deal, but merchants who accept debit cards often charge a fee to use them, and not credit cards.  I was in a fast-food restaurant a few weeks ago and noticed that they charged $1 for use of a debit card, and nothing if I used a credit card.  Last and worst -- you are not as well protected against fraudulent use of a debit card than a credit card.  With a credit card, you are AT WORST liable for only $50 of fraudulent transactions.  With debit cards, it is up to your bank whether they will reimburse you for fraudulent use of your debit cards.  Don't take my word for it and do check other sources than this blog post for further explanation.  An example:

More consumer information coming.  

Discounted Rates from La Quinta Seaworld in San Diego

I spend a lot of time in San Diego, and I've been looking for a place where I can stay along with my two dogs -- 70-lb Labrador retrievers.  I am one of those dog-crazy people.

I like La Quinta hotels because when I am driving somewhere with my dogs, I can pretty much count on La Quinta hotels to allow me and my two dogs at no extra charge.  There's no fake "pet-friendly" policy where you make a reservation only to find upon reading the fine print that only dogs under 15 pounds named "Fluffy" are allowed.  There's no usurious pet cleaning fee of $150 that is applied and is nonrefundable.

The sales manager at the La Quinta Seaworld in San Diego reached out to me and offered me discounted rates at their hotel.  I stayed there for a few days this year.  It's not a five star luxury hotel, but the price was great for such a large room.  I stayed there during their summer season (without my dogs) in a king 2-room suite.  The room had two separate rooms, but no door between the rooms.  The toilet and bathtub were in the bedroom area, as was the sink (outside of the bathroom).  In the living room, separated by a wall but no door, was a sleeper sofa, a second TV, and a small breakfast nook area with microwave, fridge, and sink.  For $99 to $109 per night, for a 2-BR suite in San Diego during the summer season, this was a great deal.

Anyone who mentions my business name (Norbert Wu Productions) can get reduced rates on queen or king suites all this year and through 2016.  The rates and conditions are below. 

Some tips:
1.  My Garmin consistently gave me the wrong exit when trying to get to this hotel, from the west.  It would direct me to take the exit just before the correct one.  When you are going east on Highway 8, when you get near the hotel, you want to take the Mission Center Road exit to Auto Circle -- NOT the exit right before this, which is Hwy 163. 

Better yet, use Waze or Google Maps, which seem to give the correct directions.

2.  This is by no means a luxury hotel.  It's a motel.  It's fairly inexpensive, but it seemed relatively clean (no hotel rooms are really clean) and safe.

3. Get a room toward the back, which is quieter, except for noise from the pool in the back of the property.  There are two buildings surrounding a central outside parking lot.  There is also an underground parking lot.  I would try to get a room on the lowest floor, towards the back of the buildings.  Then use the outside parking lot.  The hotel property slopes UP to the back, so if you have a room near the front lobby, then you face a fairly long flight of stairs to get to rooms in the front.  If you have a room in the back, then you have to scale only a very short flight of stairs to get to the first floor of rooms.  This is always hugely important for me, since I have a great deal of gear.

The elevator is very slow and did not work the night that I checked in.  I had a room at the back of the building, which turned out to work out great.  I could go past the pool, around the back of the building, to my room, without having to wait for the elevator or lug my 12 cases up the long flight of stairs at the front.

The outside parking lot, between the two buildings, is far more convenient than parking in the underground parking lots.  There's only one elevator in each building -- at the front -- a long hike if you park underground and then have a room in the back of the building.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Resurrecting Faded, Old Faxes

Who would have thought that this would be so easy? 

I have folders of old faxes, which were printed on thermal fax paper over ten years ago.  I do need to keep some of these records, unfortunately. 

There's a couple of ways to resurrect faded old faxes. 

First, you can scan an old fax in a scanning machine.  I have a five-year-old Canon Pixma that does scans.  There's a setting where I can set the scanning settings myself.  By doing so, I can control the contrast, brightness, and most importantly -- the "levels" of the resulting scan. 

I show the settings that I used to resurrected some faded fax sheets a few days ago.  It simply involves moving the left slide for the levels (the black level) almost all the way to the right (white).  By doing this, you are bringing out any possible dark text on the white sheet of paper so that it appears even darker. 

You can see the resulting scan of the faded fax here.  It's amazing -- all the text is legible.

A second way to resurrect faded faxes is to simply photograph them with a digital camera.  I simply took a photo of the faded faxes  and opened it in Photoshop.  I then went to "Levels" and crushed the blacks again.  Voila!  The faxes are readable again.  This is amazing -- digital cameras are capable of seeing far more than the human eye.  It was impossible to read the most faded part of these faxes, and simply by taking a digital photograph and adjusting the black level of the image -- I can now read the faxes.