Stephen Smith's Blog

Musings on Machine Learning…

Archive for the ‘Life’ Category

Me and My Drone

with 7 comments

Introduction

This article doesn’t have anything to do with ERP software or programming practices. I received a drone for my birthday this year and this posting is about my drone. My drone is a DJI Phantom 2 Vision+. Basically it’s a flying camera that can take still photos or videos. Its easy to fly and can do some quite amazing things.

IMG_3050

Privacy

A lot of people are against drones because of privacy concerns, that people will take pictures of them in their backyards or through their windows. But just to be clear, drones aren’t stealthy, unless someone can sneak up to you running a gas powered lawn mower, they won’t sneak up on you with a drone. Most videos showing drones taking pictures of people have the sound turned off. Further most of these videos are showing drones being very finely controlled around backyard or porch obstacles which means the operator is very close. Controlling a drone this finely only looking through the camera or via GPS is extremely difficult will like result in a crash.

Further there are far more effective ways to spy on people. I think people may not realize how powerful modern telephoto lenses are. I can take pictures of skiers on the cut on Grouse Mountain from Queen Elizabeth Gardens with my telephoto (15km). Before these, telescopes and binoculars were pretty effective, though like drones tend to stand out. These are much more effective ways of spying on people, just look at the NSA.

I think the lesson here is to stay alert and keep your drapes pulled if you want privacy. Certainly drones have a lot of potential for abuse, but I tend to think they are a little less effective than the media makes out.

Drones for Good

There are a lot of applications where drones are helping to find lost hikers and motorists. For instance a man was in an accident on the highway, got a concussion was disoriented and wandered off into the snow. The RCMP in the area had a drone with an infrared camera and were able to locate the motorist quickly and save him. Without the drone he would likely have died of hypothermia. Similarly several hikers have been rescued from the local mountains because search and rescue located them with drones which could fly easily into difficult terrain.

Drones are also used to inspect oil pipelines and building exteriors. Tasks that can now be performed more frequently and safely.

Journalism is able to film events like riots much more reliably than previously. This allow people to get a much more accurate view of what is really happening when events unfold.

Control

If you’ve ever played with those cheap remote control helicopters, you know they are very tricky to fly and crash into things all the time. Modern drones are a bit more sophisticated than that. You start by getting a GPS and compass lock and then the drone software uses that data to make the drone very easy to fly. The control very precisely control the movement and it is very easy to get the hang of it.

IMG_3048

The remote control uses a Wi-Fi transmitter to communicate with the drone. There are two joysticks, one controls the horizontal movement of the drone. The other controls up and down and horizontal rotation. Then there is a dial on the side which controls the camera up and down. There is not rotation or zoom for the camera, you must rotate the drone and move the drone closer or further away. The camera takes fairly panoramic photos.

To use the camera, you need a smart phone (Android or iOS). There is an app that will communicate with the drone through the drone’s Wi-Fi network. Basically it runs a camera app where you see what the camera sees and then you take pictures from the phone. The drone has a micro-SD card in it so you get the full resolution photos from that when you retrieve it.

Since the drone has a GPS you can program it to follow a route prescribed by GPS coordinates. I haven’t had a chance to play with this yet, more because I’m tending to not wanting to risk it getting very far away from me and after all the Wi-Fi has a range of 1km (but does require line of sight).

If communication with the remote is lost the drone will automatically return to its launch point.

Photos

Drones make a great platform for taking pictures. You can get aerial pictures of your house or other scenery. It’s amazing what you can photograph from 400 feet in the air.

DCIM100MEDIA

DCIM100MEDIA

I would love to take pictures of wildlife with my drone. So far I’ve only filmed my two Chihuahuas who hate the drone and try to bite it at any opportunity. But hopefully as I get better at flying and have a little patience, I’ll be able to photograph the local deer and bears.

With Sage, I’ve made several trips to Africa and have taken many photographs out in the preserves and parks. My wife Cathalynn is convinced I get to close to things like Rhinos from the pictures she’s seen. But that’s due to the power of my zoom lens and I don’t really walk up to the rhinos (really I don’t). I would love to take my drone to Africa to film wildlife, but right now you require special permission to do this with a lot of restrictions, so I suspect this would be quite difficult. On the one hand I think this makes sense since drones are noisy and could be quite disturbing to the wildlife, but then they do put up with all the vehicle traffic from all the tourists.

Movies

The drone camera can take movies of what it sees. I’ve been playing with this, but don’t want to post anything yet, since I need to get a bit better at flying. Mostly I tend to turn the wrong direction first before turning in the right direction, so my movies can be a bit disorienting. But there are some amazing videos being produced by drone operators. They are great for filming sports like mountain biking and skiing since the drone can follow the athlete down the course filming them the whole way. Here is an amazing drone film taken in the world’s largest cave in Vietnam: https://youtu.be/nzoLZoTqQa8.

A lot of movie companies are now using drones to film movies, but they tend to use $100,000 drone/camera combinations to get the quality they need for the big screen. This is still cheap compared to hooking up wired guide ways that move the camera to track flowing scenes.

SDK

One cool thing is that there is an SDK for the DJI drones where you can write customer iOS or Android apps. The first level lets you get all the telemetry and camera data from the drone, the second level lets you program and control all the drone’s system, so you can program special purpose flight maneuvers and camera operation. Some applications in their promotional material include voice control and 3D mapping.

Technology Upgrade Cycle

Like most technology these days, it tends to put you on an upgrade treadmill. My drone is only a few months old and already there is the Phantom 3 just coming out. This is similar to digital cameras, tablets and phones. The goal is once you buy one, hopefully you will want the newest model and hopefully will upgrade pretty frequently. I figure that the life of a drone is quite a bit more dangerous than other electronic devices, so my upgrade cycle will probably have more to do with crashes than with new features on new models.

Summary

Drones provide a great tool for taking photographs and videos that you wouldn’t be able to get any other way. Good quality consume drones are now readily available for under $1000 (but you can spend as much as you like). I think you will be seeing many more drones in the sky, and like cell phone cameras changed journalism so will drone cameras.

 

Written by smist08

April 12, 2015 at 10:09 pm

Posted in Life

Tagged with , , , , ,

Remembering Leonard Nimoy

with 2 comments

Introduction

The original Star Trek came out in 1966 when I was only six years old. It only ran for three seasons but had a great influence on so many people. Leonard Nimoy lived a long life and did many things; but, to many of us he is still and will always be Mr. Spock. I think I spent my entire childhood watching the original Star Trek, first the original series and then over and over again in repeats.

I’m amazed that for a series that only ran for three seasons for a total of 79 episodes (I guess television series had more episodes back in the sixties). The series covered a lot of topics and became firmly embedded in pop culture. Leonard Nimoy as an actor, even with very little make up certainly came across as rather alien (maybe more so than some of the modern CGI aliens). His character Spock introduced us to a rather rich character with logic, telepathy, the Vulcan nerve pinch and now and then getting quite emotional. After all Mr. Spock is half Vulcan and half human and the battle between his human and Vulcan sides is one of the things that makes his character quite interesting.

leonard-nimoy-flare-640

Logic

Mr. Spock is best known for his pursuit of logic, suppressing all emotion in order to become a purely logical being. This was probably greatly annoying to a lot of parents who now had to put up with kids always pointing out that most things are not logical. On the other hand I think it was a great way to promote critical thinking which is a skill that often seems quite lacking in society in general.

For people looking to fit into a more and more complicated world that is changing faster and faster, I think you could do far worse than adopting a more Vulcan logical approach to life. If you are worried about being conned or deceived often stepping back and applying some logic can be a great way to analyze things without getting caught up in the moment.

Of course one thing to remember is that logic is a way of making deductions based on a set of assumptions. If you don’t start with good assumptions then purely logical reasoning will lead to rather crazy conclusions. This is where critical thinking and science come in. If you start from good solid assumptions then logic will take you far. If you start with ridiculous assumptions then you get the logic often put forward by various politicians and others looking to manipulate you for their own purposes. A key takeaway for useful logic is to always question and refine your assumptions. Mathematics is based on this. Most Mathematics starts with a small set of assumptions or axioms and then builds a theory using logic and mathematical proofs to determine where they lead. For instance Euclid created his Geometry on a few axioms like “It is possible to draw a straight line from any point to any other point.” And from these proved many useful Geometric theorems that we all learn in school today.

Mathematics tends to be a mental exercise where a practical use isn’t necessarily the goal. Science uses mathematics, but everything has to be tested against the physical world. So if you start with a set of axioms and get a theory, but experiment shows some part is wrong, then one of your axioms is wrong and needs to be fixed. Science tends to be very demanding in this regard as Spock would often point out to Kirk.

MrSpockSays

Science Officer

Mr. Spock was both the second in command and the science officer for the Enterprise. As science officer Spock could apply his logic in a scientific context that was quite inspirational to a generation of budding scientists. He then had use of the ship’s scanners and his trusty tricorder when on landing parties.

One of the Enterprise’s primary missions was scientific discovery. The series was created around the same time as the Apollo moon program was in full gear. The assumption here was that the moon would be the first step and we would continue on to the planets of the solar system and eventually the nearby star systems. As it turns out we gave up on pursuing space and it only seems like we are starting to get interested in it again now nearly 50 years later.

star trek Tricorder 08

Computers

Spock was also the computer expert on the Enterprise and the common use of computers in the Star Trek series also planted the seed for many budding computer scientists. It’s interesting that the people creating the original series were most concerned that their computer technology was the most far out there thing on the series. They were convinced that we would have things like faster than light star ships and transporters far sooner than we would have talking computers that you could ask anything and get an instant intelligent answer. Of course now we have exceeded the computer technology in the original series, but warp drive still isn’t on the horizon.

There were quite a few episodes concerned with completely logical machines who often wanted to wipe out us illogical biological beings in some sort of pursuit of perfection. These episodes would often showcase the relationship between logical Spock and emotional Kirk. Asking the question of what makes us human, our ability to think, reason and be scientific and logical versus our emotional intuitive side? Usually coming to the conclusion that you needed both and that balance is required.

Star-Trek-The-Original-Series-Desktop-Computer-3

Summary

I’m sure we’ll see many more Vulcans and new Mr. Spocks as Hollywood reboots this series every now and then. But to me the real Mr. Spock is Leonard Nimoy and he will be missed.

Leonard_Nimoy_William_Shatner_Star_Trek_1968

Written by smist08

March 22, 2015 at 2:51 am

Wearable Devices and Sports

with 2 comments

Introduction

I happen to be on holiday this week on the Sunshine Coast (in BC, not Aus). I’ve doing a lot of running and cycling so I thought I would blog a bit on how new devices like GPS watches, step counters and Phone Apps are helping track sports. I have a Garmin GPS watch and an iPhone 4s. So what can I do with these and what is the potential as these devices improve?

The GCC

This year Sage is again participating in the GCC (the Get the World Moving Coporate Challenge). Basically you form teams of 7 co-workers and each of you wears a pedometer for the duration of the event. You then enter your steps, meters swam and km cycled into the website each day.

You then are tracked as you walk around the world and compete with other teams, either generally, within your company or within your area. The website is quite good, provides lots of useful information and tips on how to improve your health and fitness levels.

gcc

To do this tracking just requires a pedometer and their website. No other high tech gadgetry required. It will be interesting to see if more low tech solutions like this one (though the web site and pedometer are both fairly sophisticated) or solutions requiring more hardware like smart watches and extra devices will become the norm.

Garmin GPS Watches

There has been a lot of talk about Apple, Google and Microsoft coming out with smart watches this fall. Further several manufacturers like Samsung already have devices on the market. Then there have been a number of failures like Nike’s entry in this field. I think a lot of these companies have been looking at the success Garmin has had here. Garmin has transformed itself from manufacturing standalone GPS’s (which have now largely been replaced by functionality built into every phone) to making quite useful GPS sports watches.

The watches tend to be a bit bigger than a normal watch but still not uncomfortable to wear when running. Perhaps not the greatest fashion accessory, they are really quite useful. Besides recording your speed, location, distance and elevation in great detail, they also have heart rate monitors to give you quite a bit of information. Then they have a web site that is no extra charge to store and share all your routes and runs. For instance here.

garminconnn

The info is collected by the watch and then you upload it to your PC when you get back and then from there to their web site.

Generally this then gives you all sorts of metrics where you can see how you did, your pace every kilometer, how you did on uphill’s and downhill’s, etc. You can then track your progress and have a good idea of how you are doing.

Runtastic

There are quite a few fitness tracking apps for the iPhone. I just chose Runtastic because I liked the dashboard display in their app store ad. But otherwise it’s been fine, except for a bit too much promotion for the pro version. There are ads in the app and web site, but at a reasonable level, I think for the service you are getting.

There are a lot of attachments available to mount your phone on your bike; however, I’ve found that doing this really drains your phone’s battery quickly (i.e. in about an hour) and so isn’t really all that practical.

Runtastic Road Bike

More typically it’s better to leave the display off since then it doesn’t seem to use that much battery. Also if you stop to take pictures or something, make sure you switch back to the app first. The iPhone doesn’t have good multi-tasking, so unless the app is the active one, it probably won’t be doing anything.

Once you are finished your ride, the app uploads the data to the website and allows you to share what you are doing via social media (as any of my Facebook friends know). For instance this one here.

runtastic2

Like the Garmin website, this one gives you lots of information and makes it easy to track your progress as you try to improve your sport.

The Future

I think that companies like Apple are looking at this market and hope it is a bit like the early MP3 music player market was. Then a company like Apple could come along, redefine the market, make it dead simple and create a much larger market than what the early technology startups could achieve.

Whether Apple can repeat the iPod success in this market is yet to be seen. And they are certainly going to face a lot of competition as Microsoft and Google are hoping they can do the same thing.

Garmin type devices have better battery life and better durability than phones. However phones have better apps and greatly benefit from continuous Internet connectivity. So what are successful future devices going to need? From my perspective they will need:

  • Better battery life. Operating with only a couple of hour’s batter life is insufficient. This should really be a week.
  • Better durability. They can’t just fry when they get a little wet in the rain. Cycling and running are outdoor sports performed in any weather. Athletes don’t want extra clothing or gear to keep their watch dry. Further it would be great if these work for swimming. After all there are already a great many regularly triathlon watches that work great while swimming.
  • Intelligent support for more sports. Useful metrics gathered while golfing for instance. What about soccer, football or hockey?
  • Do not require a separate data plan. If you have to pay $50 per month to a cell phone provider then they are dead in the water.

Another area where there is great research going on is developing more sensors that measure things like blood glucose levels, blood pressure, etc. It will be interesting to see how tracking these additional metrics can help athletes.

There are also appearing apps that intelligently use the Phone’s camera to do things like analyze golf swings and tennis strokes. As these improve we may reach the stage where casual players can get real professional coaching and feedback right from their phone.

On the flip side, there is a lot of concern about the possible privacy implications of these devices. For instance if I record heart rate monitor information and it starts detecting abnormal behavior, could an insurance company find out and cancel my insurance? Could it be used in other adverse ways? Generally this sort of medical information is very protected. Will these devices, services and web sites offer the necessary levels of personal privacy protection? Will I find out I have a heart condition because suddenly I start receiving ads for defibulators and pace-makers? There is certainly a lot of concern about this out there and there have been many Science Fiction stories about the possible abuses. Hopefully these won’t all turn out to be prophetic.

Summary

By Christmas shopping season we are going to be inundated by new intelligent watches and other form factors that can help us track and improve our fitness levels. They will track all sorts of metrics for us, provide feedback and even professional levels of coaching. It will be interesting to see if this sparks a greater level of interest in fitness and sports. Maybe these will even help with the current epidemic obesity levels in our society.

Written by smist08

July 5, 2014 at 4:17 pm

Running for a Cause

with one comment

Introduction

Today, I’m not going to talk about technology or ERP. Instead I’m going to talk about one of my other loves, namely running. I started running back when I was 35 years old. For most of my life before that I couldn’t put on weight no matter how hard I tried, I was perpetually extremely skinny. Then I turned 35 and things changed. I started to put on weight quickly, my only exercise was various weekend warrior type activities. As a result I ended up hurting my back during some ice skating and ended up immoveable for several days. As part of my recovery I went to physical therapy where they basically blamed everything on my lack of physical fitness.

Once I recovered from my back injury, I pledged to start exercising regularly. At that time I lived in Tsawwassen and several of my neighbors were avid runners. So I started getting up early and going for a run every second morning along the dyke. Once I got going, I joined the Tsawwassen running club the Bayside Striders. After that I worked my way up running in 5K runs then 10K runs then half marathons and eventually full marathons.

I found that only running and running the long distances required for marathon training was too hard on my body and I would frequently get injured. So after running four marathons I took up triathlon which then mixes up the training between swimming, running and cycling. Since doing that I haven’t had a sports related injury (knock wood). I worked my way up to participating in the Victoria Half-Ironman race. Then since then I’ve continued training, but only participated in a few running races including the Sun Run and the Terry Fox Run.

Setting Goals

I’ve found running and triathlon are great ways to stay in shape. But for the last year or so I’ve been letting other priorities get in the way of my regular training. As a result I’ve gained back some weight and ran my slowest Sun Run since my first year participating. I think part of that is that I haven’t been entering races. I think unless you have a goal it’s just too easy to let other things take precedence.

SVHMHeader09

My wife, Cathalynn, has been afflicted with quite bad psoriatic arthritis for the past few years and volunteers for the Mary Pack Arthritis Program. She was attending a party thrown for volunteers and found out that the Arthritis Society was participating in the Scotiabank Vancouver Half Marathon Charity Challenge. I found out about this just as I finished the Sun Run and realized that I would have two months to train and bring my running distance up from 10k to 21km for the Half Marathon distance. This seemed like an ideal goal. Improve my fitness by increasing my running distance and raising money for a charity I really believe in. So I set this as my goal, started fund raising and started increasing my long runs by 2km each week.

Cathalynn has written a guest piece for this blog on her Arthritis experience here.

2012 Scotiabank Vancouver Half-Marathon

Setting a goal has definitely made a difference. Rather than just skipping a midweek run just because I have a busy day or too many meetings, now I find a way to get that run in. Similarly now my long run becomes much more important on the weekend.

Running for Charity

Running for charity is a great way to combine a running goal with giving back to the community. Fundraising is easy now with the Web, whenever you sign up for one of these, a web site gets created that people can contribute to.

arthritissociety

So if you want to check out my site, its at:

http://my.e2rm.com/personalPage.aspx?registrationID=1845589

and please sponsor me for this race. It’s a great cause.

Garmin Smart Watch

Well, I guess I can’t really blog entirely without mentioning technology. When I run I use my Garmin GPS watch which records my route and all sorts of running data along with it. So for instance you can see the data for my 14km long run last weekend here. It also has a heart rate monitor and will record your heart rata data as well (though I didn’t wear it on the run in the link). There is a lot of talk about Apple coming out with a smart watch, but I tend to think that Garmin has been doing this successfully for quite some time now. Incidentally Cathalynn gave me this watch one Christmas, so thanks for the great gift.

Summary

Running is a great way to stay healthy. To reduce weight and increase cardiovascular health. The main obstacle is usually fitting it into our busy schedules. Setting goals like big races is a great way to provide motivation and to give our running priority. Running for a charity is a great way to make it personal and to provides a great way to give back to the community.

 

Written by smist08

May 11, 2013 at 10:40 pm

Oranges for the Arthritis Blues

with 2 comments

This is a guest blog posting by my wife Cathalynn Labonté-Smith on her experience with Arthritis. You can sponsor me in my run here.

I sat on a denim loveseat drinking blueberry punch while flat bluebirds and delicate azure flowers peered down at me from the ceiling. No, it wasn’t an Alice in Wonderland-type daydream; I was at the Mary Pack Arthritis Centre Volunteer Tea in celebration of their 75th Anniversary. As a patient, sporadic contributing writer and volunteer, my interest perked up when I heard there were 10 free entries to the ScotiaBank Half-Marathon and 5K Run for anyone willing to raise funds for the Arthritis Society.

Steve was looking for a race goal he could manage around all those business trips. He loves meeting all of you readers and has a severe case of travelophilia. However; it does make it hard for him to fit in triathlon training into his busy schedule, but a half marathon when he was just coming off the annual Vancouver Sun 10K Run sounded perfecto.

I did that race in my pre-arthritis days. I envisioned a brisk downhill pace from the top of the University of British Columbia campus to the Lumberman’s Arch in Stanley Park. I didn’t expect a heat wave so I left behind my hat as did many other runners who succumbed to heat stroke that day. Being fair-haired and freckle-faced I don’t take to heat well and knew I was far off even my usual snail’s pace when the walkers started passing me. Finally, the ambulance crew on bikes pulled up to me and asked if they could have their picture taken with me at the finish.

“I know what this means,” I said between laboured breaths, “I’m dead last, aren’t I.” They didn’t get a chance to answer because a petite runner ahead of me passed out. I felt terrible for her but was glad that the cheerful paramedic pair cycled off to someone in much more need of their services–I was still upright, after all.

I was about a mile from the finish when Steve came into focus, “Where have you been?” he asked. I can’t remember my answer it was probably a half-sobbed, “Here.” He gave me a pep talk and got me to keep up with him that last painful stretch. In the end, I got my medal and fell apart like two year-old when I found out there were no orange slices left because all the food was gone to the finishers before me.

I thought life was tough that day because I was poorly prepared for a long hot run and they were out of oranges—until the Arthritis Fairy in her blue tulle dress and cruel twisted wand came to town. About six years ago I went to sleep a busy teacher and recreational athlete to wake up an arthritis sufferer.

Since then it’s been years of constant pain, crutches, physical therapy, occupational therapy, medical leave, water walking, splints, braces, four trials of biologic drugs, off-label chemotherapy, side effects, countless tests, specialists, total life makeover, adjustments, modifications, plethora of changes little and great, losses and gains, like two new walking partners (Chihuahuas Patches and Vicky) and the people who were the keepers, like Steve.

I won’t be running any foot races with inflammatory arthritis affecting over 20 joints mostly in my feet and hands on any given day, but I will be participating in a 1K Walk to fight Arthritis next month with my casual pokey posse—Steve, our kids with paws, niece, Katrina and her entourage, neighbours, friends, their kids and/or their kids with paws. To me this is as big a milestone as any previous athletic accomplishment pre-arthritis.

If you have arthritis or know anyone with arthritis, which strikes people between the ages of two—when sufferers are too young to even say the word–and 102, please consider sponsoring Steve in his half-marathon. There is still much research to be done to make the quality of life better for those of us who suffer from one or more of the 100 different types of arthritis. I’ll be dropping him at the start of the race making sure he has a hat and be there at the end of the race with a bag of orange slices waiting with a big smile on my freckled face. Go Steve Go!

Link: http://www.arthritis.ca

NOTE: For those of you who will ask or just silently wonder about my last name. I didn’t tack on Stephen’s last name to Labonté. Indeed, I kept my maiden name—it just happened to be hyphenated and the second name happened to be Smith. I wasn’t specifically looking for a mate with a last name that was either Labonté or Smith to make things easier in the not needing to change one’s driver’s license department but it was a happy coincidence.

Written by smist08

May 11, 2013 at 10:35 pm