Tuesday, July 29, 2014


You know what? I fucking hate selfies.

Don't get me wrong, the occasional arms-length snap with your phone when you're out with your mates is fine, but that's more about the occasion than just taking a picture of yourself. I'm talking about the people who seem to be addicted to taking pictures of their own face.

If you go onto flickr or instagram, you'll find people who post nothing but literally thousands of pictures of their own face. Why? Why does anyone need that many pictures of themselves? Here's my face when I've just woken up. Here's my face while I get ready for work. Here's my face while I'm sitting at my desk. Here's me in the bathroom mirror.

Oh, and don't forget: "Here's half my face so I can fill 3/4's of the frame with my tits. I've tagged it #allnatural #nofilters so you know that my skin really is poreless plastic and my eyes really are purple and look like they're glowing. SOMEONE PLEASE TELL ME I'M PRETTY! I'VE EVEN COMMENTED HOW UGLY I AM SO EVERYONE WILL TELL ME I'M GORGEOUS!"

(Hint, Instagram sluts...no one who thinks they're ugly takes a hundred pictures of themselves every hour. But if you have such low self esteem you base your whole self worth on fishing for compliments by posting pictures of your tits, have at it.)

It nearly blew my mind when I found that the dedicated selfie-camera is actually a thing.

The Casio EX-TR35 actually makes me angry. It's basically a camera with the lens on the wrong side. Yep, the screen and all the controls are on the same side as the lens. It's literally built for taking arms-length selfies...complete with built in filters and 'makeup mode'. I wouldn't even mind so much if this was a cheap toy, the kind of thing you buy as a gag gift or buy for your 13 year old daughter... but this is a £900 camera (roughly $1300 USD)

Are you fucking kidding me? You can buy a Canon 7D for that...and the worst part is, this is actually fucking selling. It's popular. People are dropping pro-DSLR money on a camera that only takes pictures of your own face...sure you can use it as a regular camera, but as it's a fixed focus, wide angle lens, it's designed solely around selfies...so you're not just spending £900 on a selfie camera, you're spending $900 on a shit selfie camera.

So, by this point, you're probably asking yourself why I hate selfies so much. Why it makes my blood boil. Well, I can sum it up like this:

You have a camera in your hands. For the first time in history we can easily and cheaply capture high quality images and share them instantly with the world, and we can store them indefinitely without them ever fading or degrading over time. Jesus Christ. What an opportunity. What a responsibility.

Imagine if this technology existed 500 years ago. Imagine having access to a vast library of pictures from the 1500's to the present. Imagine everything we could learn, from what the Napoleonic wars looked like, to what average, everyday life was like in that period. You could truly get to know what the people were like back then.

Think of what the most interesting pictures are. Most of the time, it's not the well known, historical pictures that capture the imagination. It's not really even the professional, posed family portraits. It's seeing a snap of what your home town looked like a hundred years ago. The candid shots.  Your dad as a teenager rocking those bell bottoms.

We literally have an entire world of possibilites to capture. What are we taking pictures of?

hERe's My faCe, LOL!

If you think I'm being overly dramatic, you're right, I probably am...but I just think it says a lot about us as a culture that when the average person is faced with an entire world to photograph, the one thing they choose to photograph is themselves.

Really. Just how self centered are we?

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Plot Holes

So I just read one of those nitpicky articles, exposing the plot holes of movies.

Why doesn't anyone in post apocalyptic movies use bicycles? Why didn't they think to put tracking devices and remote kill-switches in the replicants in blade runner? Why put an actual person in the Mech murder-bots in Avatar? Man, these writers are idiots.

Except that they're not. They're really not.

Let me give you a writer's perspective.

Every story needs conflict. This is basic Writing 101. In fact, let me give you a 101 exercise. Imagine two people on a rooftop. One is about to kill himself by jumping off. Now, try and write the dialogue between the two guys with the other guy trying to talk him out of it. It's pretty easy, right? Ok, now try and write the dialogue where the other guy thinks the guy should jump off. It's impossible...unless the jumper creates the conflict by changing his mind.

In short, no conflict, no story.

The thing people tend to miss is that the super-easy, common sense solution completely removes that conflict and kills the narrative... and most of the time, coming up with an explanation as to why the protagonist can't use that solution breaks the rest of the story...and even if it doesn't, all it does is highlight the plot hole in the first place. Not to mention that in a movie you have extremely limited time. Do you want to spend 15 minutes moving the story forward, or handwaving a plot hole?

So, let's try it:

In the big climax of Avatar, the bad guys attack in gigantic mechs that have a nice squishy human running them, sitting behind glass that the Navi can put arrows through. So there's the nitpick: We have drone technology today, so why are we going to battle with such a glaring weakness? Why not send unmanned drones being operated by guys in a bunker a few hundred miles away?

Well, we've just broken the story, because there's no way for the Navi to win. Without the squishable weak point, the drones are virtually unkillable, and even if the Navi find a way to destroy them, all they've done is take out some equipment belonging to a trillion dollar corporation.They'll just send more and more because we've already established that 'Unobtanium'  is valuable enough to warrant any investment.

So let's explain it. Maybe there's some kind of radiation that means the remote signal can't get through. Well, that's solves one problem, but opens a few others. How do you explain the voice communcations that we can't lose because we need it for the story? Even if we establish that there's no need to communicate, everyone will just say: "Why not send autonomous drones?" Point a few hundred in the right direction and program them to destroy anything that looks like an oversized smurf.

Ok, so how do we explain why we can't use self-piloting drones? We know the Navi are primitive, so we can't have any technology that specifically targets them...and we can't really sell a kind of interference that specifically effects radio control, AI, but not voice comms and a way to monitor the battle.

Of course, we can sidestep the whole issue and set up an elaborate diversion plan where the Navi attack the bunker where the drones are being controlled from...but then we lose the whole scene. A squad of Navi stomping people in an office isn't as much fun or as interesting as a massive mech battle in the jungle.

Basically, that's the real problem. You have a minor inconsistency that can be quite easily explained (Hey, maybe the bad guys in Avatar have manned vehicles because they're arrogant pricks nd don't see a primitive tribe that hunt with spears to be that big of a threat)...and if you try to close that inconsistency, you break the story or just create more inconsistencies.

It's why when a computer is being hacked, they never just turn the computer off or unplug the network cable or disable the wireless adapter. If they can do that, it removes the threat and makes the scene pointless. If they can't, they have to come up with an explanation that's probably even more ludicrous.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Hubsan X4 Video Recording Review

I'll have to start this by saying I'm not an expert quad pilot. In fact, I pretty much suck at it.

So, I've had a standard Hubsan X4 for about a year and, after trying out 3 or 4 similar micro-quads, I have to say it's simply the best micro-quad you can buy. It's cheap, easy to fly and is just a perfectly engineered little machine.

For example, quadcopters are essentially fly-by-wire machines. You tell the quad what you want it to do and an onboard computer, with the help of gyros and accelerometers, adjusts the throttle on each of the four motors to make it perform the required maneuver. Without this, quadcopters would be just about impossible to fly. Something as simple as flying forwards would mean simultaneously adjusting the speed of all four rotors to make the machine tilt forward enough to move forward and maintain altitude without flipping over.

As you can imagine, this is tricky, and a lot of other cheap microquads just don't do a very good job of it. For example, the Silverlit Space Galaxy tends to overcorrect and assumes if there's no input on the controller, that you want it to hover in place.

There's none of that with the X4 model. In beginner mode you have a steady, docile machine that just about anyone can fly. In expert mode you have an extremely fast, agile, responsive quad that does what you want it to do, when you want it to do it.

So what about the X4 Video Recording model?

To be honest, there's very little difference between flying a standard X4 and the X4VR. It's just as responsive and easy to fly and actually seems sturdier that the Standard X4 (a fast, uncontrolled crash from about 3 stories high with no damage proved that). The only downside is that the X4VR is obviously a little heavier which means a slightly shorter battery life (approx 8-10 minutes) and slightly slower climb rates...but there's no drastic drop off in performance.

The video quality is actually a lot better than I expected from the tiny camera in the X4VR at 720x480 at 25fps. It's essentially the same quality as a decent laptop webcam, and as it records to a microSD card, there's as much storage as you want, with a 5 minute video taking up approximately 170mb of space.

Operating the camera is simple, with a single button on the side of the quad. Press the button once and a red light will start flashing, showing that  recording has started. When you're finished, pressing the same button again stops recording and saves the video. Having flown a standard X4 for so long, I'd sometimes forget to save the video before disconnecting the battery...but that's down to me rather than the quad.

The only real downside I found, which again is more a problem with me than the quad, is that the quad will power down after a crash to prevent further damage. With a standard X4 this is something you probably wouldn't even notice. You have a minor crash, the power is cut, then you get your quad, reset it and relaunch. However, on the video version, cutting the power also means losing any video you've recorded. More than once, I'd recorded 5 minutes of video only to lose it due to a sudden gust of wind and a bad landing...but again, the solution to this is not to crash.

In other words, I can't recommend this quad enough. It's an excellent flyer, cheap enough to where it's not the end of the world if you damage it beyond repair, and extremely cheap to order new parts if you have a more significant crash. The quad comes with four replacement props, and replacements are literally pennies to buy.

Now the review is over, here are some experiences with a few tips for newbie pilots like myself:

The most difficult thing I found to get used to is actually orienting the camera. There's really no such thing as the 'nose' of a quad...they can fly just as fast and easily sideways and backwards as forwards. Because of this I learned to fly the X4 with the nose always pointing away from me, so left on the stick always meant the quad would move left, etc, etc. Obviously, if you want to record something, the camera has to be pointing at it...which really highlighted my inexperience. Quite often, especially when the quad was at altitude, I'd lose track of the orientation...which can lead to a panicked moment when you steer the quad towards the rooftop or tree you're trying to avoid. The quad has coloured LEDs on each prop to help with this, but on a bright day when the quad is high above you, this is difficult to see.

I also flew my standard X4 exclusively indoors. If you've done the same, I suggest some practice outside at low altitude and over grass before you try flying at altitude or over less forgiving terrain. Wind is obviously a factor, but I'd found I'd got into a few habits that make sense indoors but are practically suicidal outside. For example, if I was flying indoors and got into trouble, my habit was to immediately cut power....a 6 foot drop onto carpet causes a lot less damage than props at full power hitting a wall or the TV.

On my first trip outside I had the quad about 3 stories high and nearly went into a wall. Without thinking I cut the throttle. By the time I realised my mistake, the quad was already too low and falling too fast to recover. Luckily, the only damage was that a prop came off, but was easily reattached.

Basically, having a camera on your quad makes you want to immediately fly as high as possible to get good footage. My advice is practice and get as comfortable as possible before going for those high altitide shots.