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14. Finding North, back on track – part II

Previously: losing direction

A week passed quite quickly. After a busy Saturday, I finally got the time to fix my gimbal mounting with the new rubber connectors and finally test that my gimbal survived the crash.

A quick test at home showed that for the most part the gimbal is working, although it seems like it is not going full range facing down relative to how I remember it, and it starts to shake as it gets to about 80º. I’ll need to verify this later on and see if I need to re-calibrate the gimbal’s range….

Happy and confident, I made my traditional cappuccino and off I go on my way, back to where I left off last week.

Just before leaving, something in me felt like it is about time I’ll mark my drone with some “return-if-found” label just in case I lose it, so that maybe someone nice will actually return it to me if they find it. So I quickly printed some labels with my phone number and a Thank You message and I was ready to hit the road.

If you ever rode any motor-bike, big or small, you probably had an accident with it, jus the rule of owning a motor-bike. Although I only drove a 125cc Yamaha bike, I had my share of crashes and falls. Even got my first cast and first ever surgery thanks to that 2-wheels toy in 2005 which was the last time I ever drove one after realizing that 4 accidents are just too much! So, like any biker recovering from an accident, you have to put yourself at the same spot to get over the fear of the accident.

Yes, I was not actually in mid-air during the crash, but it was still shocking enough to feel like I have to “fix” this fearful feeling.

I got back to the crash site at SkySong, parked, set everything up, and just to be on the safe side, I ran another calibration. I decided to take off from the same spot.

While I was setting up, I noticed a couple of ladies that came to take still photos of the SkySong construct which was my target as well.

I did my quick flight check, made sure the GoPro is set to video mode (a new item on my check list since I made that mistake on our last family vacation, where I ended up with short bursts of photos instead of my video…) and off we go.

For a second I felt like I’m in the matrix, although I didn’t see any black cat, I did see my plastic bird acting as strange as last week, I guess I can’t only blame the calibration for what happened last week, the quad started to fly against my will, and almost hit the buildings around us. I managed to stabilized it and push it towards the white domes of the structure.

The little practice from last week did help, but before I knew it, I hit one of the metal wires that holds the structure in place and my drone is performing a familiar rotation in mid-air and throwing its nose down while starting to fall.

[DRAMATIC MUSIC GOES HERE – pause for 3 seconds and then continue reading]

[3 Mississippi]

[2 Mississippi]

[1 Mississippi]

But unlike last week, it stabilized after about 10 feet and adjusted itself to float in mid-air! Probably a black cat is a must for a real déjà vu, lucky me!

Draining one battery pack, I reloaded and went to my next spot, flying in the center of the structure.

Got some, what I hope would end up being nice shots and was able to attract the two ladies why started to shoot the flying object instead of the original target, what can I say, I man with a drone is like a man with a baby… you can’t go unnoticed…

Feeling more confident by the second, I’ve started my 3rd and last juice load, putting everything in, picking up a new takeoff spot and we are off the ground.

I decide to do a quick vertical acceleration to get a nice shot when I hear a loud POP sound and I can see that the drone has decided to puke out the battery. Luckily for its own good, the wires of the battery are strong enough that the battery can’t just detach from the power plug. Now,  I know you wouldn’t believe me when I’m saying that every time I locked that battery door I was thinking how come it never opens? Well now I have my drone in about 40-50 feet off the ground with its electric “fuel door” unlatched and the battery on its way out, hanging by the power cord…


So, how do I bring it down without causing the battery to fall off it and by that kill the power and drop the drone to its “death”???

As much as I tried to keep the drone level, it kept pulling its nose down which means the battery is ready to jump off….

With a  shaky hand and sweat over my forehead, I managed to bring it for a short pit stop to fix the battery door and secure it before this little touch and go is complete and the drone is back in mid-air finishing some nice aerobatics moves before the battery is emptied and I’m landed with no major issues to report.

So boring that even the two ladies decided they can go without even exchanging contact info with me (so we can share photos and videos, what did you think???)

So finally, after a 2nd weekend, a broken gimbal, and a somewhat restored confidence, I’m giving you: the “SkySong of Scottsdale” video…

13. Losing track of North – Part I

After being grounded for almost 5 months since my last flight, thanks to the crazy heat here in the desert, I finally found it reasonable enough to fly my plastic bird on a fun ~85ºF (30ºC) nice Sunday morning.

I already told the wife that I plan to take it for a flight first thing in the morning, but as I started to pack everything up and check my battery levels I remembered that I never fixed the broken landing skid.

broken landing gear

As quickly as I could, I brought my toolkit and the new landing skid kit I ordered 5 months ago and started to work on the fix.

10 minutes later, I’m ready with a new landing skid that is taller and wider than the one I had.

2014-10-19 10.45.39

Just before living I’m talking to my wife about my dilemma of where should I film today. I’m trying to stay true to my intention to cover Scottsdale first before I got to other places.

We are throwing some ideas at each other and I’m ready to go.

Excited, I take my stuff, and my freshly made cappuccino, and I’m ready to hit the road.

2014-10-19 11.01.01

I got to my final destination… The Sky Song campus of ASU just south of old town Scottsdale.

I find myself a nice parking spot, I take a last sip from my coffee, and I’m out to set everything up and start my day.

I turn the chopper on, making sure that all the controls are properly set, I even adjust the camera’s tilt a bit down, to get a nicer picture with less of the prop-guards, and in my mind it feels like the 5 months of no-flight are behind me.

I pull the joysticks down-middle to kick off the motors… I’m pushing the throttle lever and the baby is starting to rattle, gaining power and lifting off the ground in a beautiful take off using its new legs.

So, my drone has air born in this 15 ft wide street next to my shooting target, the interesting white construct of steel and white sheets of something that looks like a sail. And I feel that something is not normal.

I had tough flights before, but nothing like that. The drone is flying smoothly, but is not doing what I want it to do. When I release the controls it keeps drifting… when I pull it in a direction, it kind of doing it, but mostly not… I thought to myself, probably the buildings around me are causing the GPS to get confused so I lift it up higher to not be blocked by the buildings.

But, as you may expect, not to my enjoyment, it decided that it doesn’t care about what I want… it will try to do whatever it wants.

I tried to control it better, and felt like maybe flying it is not like riding a bike and if you don’t practice for 5 months, you will forget how to do it properly, and especially if all you have on your belt are about 8 or 9 flights…

After trying to fight its drift with no success I gave up and decided to land it back so that I can see what is wrong.

As I tried to navigate it back to a safe landing it kept doing its thing, while flying straight into one of the walls, than back to the other side of the street, hitting one of the metal cables that holds the construct in place, a huge bang sound, it flips in air but tries to stabilize itself, hitting the wire once more and then diving down to the ground while staring at me with a feeling of disappointment.

The next second went in front of my eyes in super slow motion. I didn’t even had the time to change my reaction. The drone just rolled down while diving into the concrete floor 5 feet from me (~1.5 meters) and I see it dies and pieces flying all over!!!

Now I panic. Did I lose my drone in its first flight after so long?

I immediately try to assess the damage:

  • Gimbal is disconnected from the drone
  • Only two out of the four rubber connectors are found
  • GoPro is still running…
  • everything else looks surprisingly still in good shape.

I start looking for the missing pieces while I’m trying to think what caused this strange and new behavior. Is it all my fault for not practicing flying it before taking it on a mission?

I keep searching the floor, finding one of the connectors, but can’t find the other one.

After 20 minutes I gave up, but not before it hits me!

I know what happened! Of course….

Stupid me, when I installed the new landing gear, I had to re-attach the electric compass that is hooked to one of the legs.

What I forgot, is that when you do this, you have to re-calibrate the drone to know how to find the north!!!

This explains everything.

Before hitting the road, I went on Amazon to find replacement parts, and was shocked to see it was about to be delivered same day on a Sunday!!!

When I got home, I pulled the instructions on Google and ran the calibration “dance”.

You toggle one of the remote buttons few times for at least 5 seconds until the orange light comes on, now you rotate the drone 360º horizontally and then while facing down to earth you rotate it 360º on its roll axis.

The normal lights blinked again and I was ready to check if my drone can fly again.

Since the spare parts didn’t arrive yet, I decided to do what I should have done this morning at the first place, take it for a quick test flight without the camera to see that everything is fine.

I went to the local green area in my neighborhood and gave it a test run.

All seems perfect and ready for the next flight.

At 7:50 pm the doorbell rang and my pieces arrived.

Now I’ll have to wait until next weekend and then hopefully I’ll find the time to try this again…

But no blog post can be complete without a video, an especially if this is the video of an epic fail. So I’m giving you: My Epic SkySong Failure


Next: Finding North


12. It’s not always flying in Arizona

Previously: last days of spring

Realizing that it is too hot for flying a drone, and going through some renovation at home, I had to fill my “spare time” with other things to do. Since we have been putting hardwood floors in our house, we had to shuffle our entire house’s content between our rooms while the hardwood guy finished the other rooms.

One of the first rooms I had to free up was my living room. In it I have one of the most complex setups you can think of: my entertainment center.

Being the geek I am, I have about any kind of system you can think of hooked up in this little space:

Of course I have the usual suspects:

  • TV
  • TiVo DVR
  • DVD player
  • Amplifier

but add to this:

  • Computer
  • XBox
  • Wii
  • Apple TV
  • Universal remote
  • TiVo’s tuning adapter (I hate this ugly mandatory addition to my TiVo)
  • a satellite DVR
  • MoCa adapter
  • Network switch

Each one connected to a power cable, ohh and speaking of cables, let’s not forget about 1,539 feet of tangled wires and cables running throughout the system:

  • 110V cables
  • Power Supply Cables
  • Coax
  • Speakers
  • Network
  • Digital Audio
  • HDMI
  • VGA
  • IR extenders
  • A few others I can’t even remember anymore…

When I was done un-plugging it all and moving it to the temporary-room, I ended up with a pile of equipment that was about the height of my waist line (I know, given my short height, this might not be too impressive, but trust me, it was a big pile of stuff, mostly cables.)

I knew it is too hot to fly the drone,  so I decided to use my free-time to do something that is at least as nerdy as flying my drone, without leaving my home.

I decided to use this time to pre-wire my entertainment center so that I will not have this pile of cables and wires put back into my living room once the new floor is done.

So, I started planning and  measuring and sketching and diagramming  and researching and Amazoning (yes, you can use it as a verb cause I said so) and counting parts and ordering and verifying orders for 3 weeks  from 15 different Amazon vendors, while my hardwood guy did this:

which at least put my GoPro into use while its flying host was resting for the summer.

Meanwhile, I came up with this plan:


Basically, what I had in mind was to pre-wire all compartments of my unit and place panels with outlet plugs on them in the back of each section,  so that when I put the equipment back in, each shelf will have a set of outlets in the back of it ready to be plugged without the need to run wires from one shelf to the other or up to the TV.

The funny thing is that in any entertainment center few things are guaranteed:

  • The wires will always need to get to another part of the entertainment center
  • The holes for the wires will always be too small
  • All of your units will need power
  • There will never be enough power outlets in your surge protector

Or another way to say it is: entertainment center were never designed to have entertainment equipment really placed in them, only dummy cardboard boxes in display at the store the sell them.

So my plan was to have all the mess to be hidden and pre-wired on the back of the unit so you don’t need to see it, touch it, or worry about it.

This way, next time my annoying tuning adapter from COX dies, I will not need to fish its power plug out of 1,200 other cables, but instead just pull it back, unplug it, and plug it back in to restart it.

The day has come, and I was ready to start my project.

First step was to measure and cut the holes in each part of the backboard to fit the housing of all the electric and low-voltage wires.

Most of it was done with an X-acto knife but some parts had to be drilled out and cut with a power saw.

Next I started pre-wiring all the power outlets before I could mount them into place.

2014-07-15 21.04.29 2014-07-15 21.04.52

Now, I could mount the power outlets into their mounting boxes and run power wires from each of them to a new robust central surge protector.

This was not as much fun as I thought it would be… With my “advance” sense of elastic body, kneeling and standing and laying on the floor, and standing again and again and again was adding incredible amount of pain to my body.

Once done with that phase, I had to take a long night break.

When I came back from work the other day, I started working on the low voltage part:

I started to snap-in all the outlets for the HDMI, Network and Coax, just to learn that although they look symmetric, if you put them up-side-down, you will need to find a way to remove and re-insert them without cutting your fingers, while if you live them to be, they will fall back and flip inside their fitting.

I now had most of the basic plugs attached.

2014-07-15 23.41.47


2014-07-15 23.42.00 2014-07-15 23.42.05 2014-07-15 23.42.49


Next I had to wire all these to each other on the back side of that unit.

After a long evening that turned into a sleepless night I ended up with the following beauty (view from behind):

2014-07-18 00.46.16 2014-07-18 00.45.42

I also plugged a couple of super-quite fans to the back to release the heat out of the unit, and I’ve set up a network switch and MoCa connection to have wired network ready for all these devices…

Next I had to move it into place without scratching the new hardwood floor, and start putting back all my equipment, wire it all in, and test that it works, but not before I had to clean all the mess inside the unit and outside.

To my TOTAL surprise, it all worked on the first attempt! Well, at least I thought it was. Apparently the surround speakers didn’t work.

A few days earlier, I had a professional AV guy come to re-wire my surround speakers and replace my outside backyard speakers that came with the house and were of low quality (cheap car speakers) and had to be replaced. This is because up until now the wires for the speakers where just laying on the floor underneath my carpet floor.

He did a great job and even placed a connection panel on the side of my wall, but he didn’t label the outlets correctly and it took me about 3 hours to re-trace the plugs to their relevant speakers by un-mounting the speakers off the wall and using continuity meter to find each pair of speaker’s plugs on the wall.

Then I set down for 1 hour to prepare patch speaker cables to run from my unit to the wall.

With an aching back, I went to plug them to the wall, just to learn that my cables where too short!!!

Upset, but determined, I prepared a fresh set of 8 cables, this time long enough.

So yes, things always take less time the 2nd time around. I finished it in 30 minutes.

I plugged the longer wires, and I’m ready to test the speakers for the first time, and the surround speakers are not producing any sound.

I went through my entire collection of 5.1 Dolby DVDs to find one I knew for a fact that must have a good rear track. The winner had to be my favorite movie: The Matrix!

So, I put it in, blast the volume, and I can hear Trinity talking from my center speaker, but nothing comes out of the back.

After another hour of troubleshooting I learned that I didn’t wire the plugs well enough and this is why my speakers didn’t make a sound when the police came to arrest Trinity.

After a few more adjustment to the cables (while the test movie is starting again), I was able to plug it in, just in time before the truck hit the pay phone booth!!!!

Both Trinity and my speakers were saved at the same moment!

Finally I could enjoy my living room again.

One unsolved issue I still face: I couldn’t find a way to calibrate the audio delay that is introduced by my 15 year-old Pioneer amplifier… So watching AppleTV movies in 5.1 surround is not an option for movies that has an element of surprise, because I can see the action before I can hear it… You’ll be surprised how much 100ms can ruin a good surprise…

Until summer is over, I’m going to spend more time in front of my entertainment center with the A/C in full throttle and my wife on my side….

Bring these popcorn bags!!!!

2. Gravity

Previously: A boy learns about flying objects…

I got my package with my new dji Phantom, but my camera was still finding its way to me.

Meanwhile I learned the basics of the drone, it’s feature, the controls, GPS, propellers, etc.

Before my drone will be able to fly for the first time, I was about to make any possible mistake in the book…

First, I plugged the battery pack to the included balanced charger, just to learn a few hours later that I didn’t plug the smaller plug to the charger, so 3 hours wasted already.

Next, I had to update the firmware on it, but it can’t run on a Mac and my Windows 8.1 desktop didn’t allow it to install due to drivers signing issues, so I had to reboot Windows into a special mode that skips the drivers signature check…. Did I mentioned it took me 5 times of install and remove to figure this out.

Finally I was able to update the firmware and was ready to try my first flight.

Reading on the web how stupid it is to fly it indoors, I decided to start in my backyard. When you live in Arizona, saying backyard is like saying a pool… So my backyard area is very tight… In addition I have this huge tree that is great to block the desert’s sun, here in the valley of the sun… Guess what else will be blocked by my lovely tree? GPS Signal!

Yes, my first flight was in an area that had a tree on one side, a pool on the other side and walls and windows on all the other sides, plus some columns, cause how else will the patio’s roof will stand in place???

But wait, there is more….

I found a nice spot, far enough from the pool, the tree and the house, and was ready to kick off the engines by setting the joysticks into one of the “on” sequences …

The rotors start spinning, I push the left stick up to see some elevation for the first time, and …. Nothing, as if my drone refuse to take off. The farther I push the stick, the louder it gets and it feels like it has fear of heights and it just holds to the ground as hard as it can…

After a few attempts it hit me…. What other mistake could I possibly make? Of course, I reversed the propellers and put the CW on the CCW motors, and the CCW on the CW motors, making sure my drone will try to fly INTO the ground.

As I was back at my desk swapping propellers around, I remembered how surprised I was while installing them for the first time of the amount of force it took to screw them in!!!

Ok, now I think I’m ready to fly it again, but not before I’ll have to recharge the battery! This Time I made sure I didn’t forget to plug the little connector to the charger….