A Short Update

Well, there’s not a whole lot new in the world of James, other than a few minor things.

Beer Brewing

I just recently transferred my Dunkelweiss-like beer into the secondary fermenter. I left it in the primary fermenter for two weeks instead of 1, I don’t anticipate this to cause any issues with the outcome of the final beer, but we’ll see what happens.

I tried my bottled Irish Hills Ale, and at least I can say it tastes like beer. It does have a hoppy finish, the body isn’t too bad, but I think I was hoping for something with a bit more body to the beer. It’s a bit lighter than I expected, but it’s a good beer for the first run. I can at least say I’ve got a drinkable beer and I’m happy about that! 🙂

Beaglebone Black

I’ve been working my way through the book “Exploring Beaglebone” by Derek Molloy. It’s a great book that provides a lot of information of the Beaglebone Black (BBB) microcontroller. I’m trying to work my way through the book in a sequential fashion since I want to understand not just how to put circuits together, but how the Beaglebone architecture works.

What I’ve been working through this last month is just learning how to run the Linux command line. The BBB comes pre-loaded with the Debian operating system, which means in order to use the BBB, you have to understand a bit about the Linux command line. From what I’ve read, you can connect your BBB to a computer monitor, add a keyboard and mouse and run a Linux operating system like Ubuntu off it, just like an ordinary computer! This is pretty incredible since the BBB is the size of a credit card.

Learning the command line is rather challenging since the book presents all these new terms that make a non-savvy Linux user like myself scratch their head. There’s a lot to learn and it will take a long time to fully understand the Linux operating system.

Photography

Sadly, I still find myself using the “Auto” function of my new DSLR for the majority of the time. I can say that I’m getting a little better at knowing when to use longer exposure times and different shutter settings to create different photos. I was in Toronto last weekend and managed to get some good photos of Niagara falls and downtown Toronto. You can see the album here.

I’m hoping once I get a little better grasp on the BBB to get my time-lapse project somewhat underway. I’ve been slacking in this department.

Classic Car Hunt

Since I’ve decided that I want a classic car, I’ve been mostly trolling Craigslist for that new classic to hopefully enter my garage soon. There’s lots of options out there, but I have a feeling I’ll find myself with a 1974 – 1979 Corvette.

One of the things I’ve found is that it’s a bit challenging for me to jump right in and start looking into classic cars. So much scrutinizing is needed when looking at a classic car and while I’ve decided that I’m going to get one, I know it’s not a quick process. Sure, if you really wanted to you could go out and buy one today in good shape if money is no object, but when you’re on a budget, finding the best car you can for your budget is a time consuming process. There’s so many things to think about. What kind of classic do I want? What are the main issues with these particular models? How easy is maintenance? How easy is it to find parts? How much will certain parts cost? When looking at cars, what red flags should I be aware of? How original is the car?

A lot of these questions come down to figuring out a few things, like how involved you plan to be with owning a classic, how much you want to spend time doing repairs (I’ve been told no matter how much you spend, classic cars will ALWAYS need repairs) and how much money and work you want to put into it.

I’ve started looking, though it’s going to be a long process. For now, I know I want a black, blue, or silver Corvette (though not the 78 silver anniversary two tone silver, I personally don’t love the two colors), model years 1974 – 1979 with a standard transmission (though the transmission isn’t a deal breaker, I could do auto if the right car came along). We’ll see what happens

 

 

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Woodward Dream Cruise. So…many…classics…

On August 15, I can honestly say I felt like a kid in a candy store as I walked along the streets of Woodward. It was the Woodward dream cruise. While technically this year it ran the week of August 10 – August 15, Saturday was the big day to come out and see the attractions. Being outside and 82 degrees was a bit much after a while, but there was lots to see.

Hot Rod Outside of Woodward
Hot Rod Outside of Woodward

Dodge Charger

More Woodward
Woodward
Woodward
Woodward

The first stop I made was near “Old Woodward” near Woodward and 13 mile. Chevrolet had a section outside of old Woodward set up here and I was told there was lots of Classic Corvettes over here, so naturally I had to stop here first.

Chevrolet Section
Chevrolet Section
Race Cars
Race Cars

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Corvettes!
Corvettes!
Beautiful C1 Corvette
Beautiful C1 Corvette

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Of course there was lots more than just Corvettes along Old Woodward. There was a mix of very classic, classic, custom, and new cars. There’s no shortage of things to see when it comes to cars.

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About as classic as it gets

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So many Cobras!
So many Cobras!

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Rolls Royce Section
Rolls Royce Section

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DMC Delorean!
DMC Delorean!
Pantera
Pantera

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BMW Z8

After taking a browse through old Woodward and seeing the plethora of cars on display, I took a walk along Woodward where the cruise was happening. Most people were simply setting up chairs (or camp in some cases) and watching the cruise from the sidelines. There was no shortage of unique cars cruising along Woodward.

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Some people came armed...
Some people came armed…

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Mix of old and new
Mix of old and new

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I had hoped there would be more Corvettes all in a row between the 1974 and 1979 years, since I’m going to be looking into a Corvette in this time period (once I get finances figured out…seems like there’s always something else to be paid for). For the most part, most of the people with Corvettes I was interested in were doing the actual cruise, and not showing off their cars. I saw a few for sale, which gave me a good indication of what people were selling for and what the actual condition of the car was. The price was likely marked up a bit for the condition of these cars since it was during Woodward, but it gives me a ball park figure to start looking at. Typically Corvettes in the 1974 – 1979 model years with a 350 engine go for between $8,000 – $16,000 depending on their condition. They can be much higher than $16K, but this is generally where they fall in between. The higher priced Corvettes have usually been restored and are in very good condition, sometimes on the side of being garage queens. The lower priced ones usually still have the same 40 year old paint on them, show a few cracks in the fiberglass here and there, and may be in need of some TLC. That being said, you can find them outside this price range too, this is just generally what I’ve found on my preliminary search. The actual search will begin in the (relatively) near future.

After this I took a drive up further North on Woodward up to Bloomfield Hills. There were still people camped out on the side of the road watching the cruise, however there wasn’t as many people as there were closer to Woodward and 13 mile.

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My last stop was over at the infamous “Mustang Alley” along Woodward and 9 Mile. Hosted by Ford, they certainly made a great show of Mustang Alley. There were Mustangs ranging from the 1964 1/2 model year all the way up to the 2016 Shelby GT350. Also Ford displayed a lot of their current vehicle lineups on the west side of Woodward, which included models like the F150, Focus, Fiesta, Transit, Flex, and Explorer.

Mustang Alley
Mustang Alley

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2016 Shelby GT350
2016 Shelby GT350

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More Mustangs DSC_0251

Mustangs Galore
Mustangs Galore

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After Mustang Alley, I took one last trek up Woodward and found a few more cars that caught my attention.

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Sebring GT
Sebring GT

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The pictures do a better job showing what the day was like. I can say it’s one of the largest car shows/gathering of classics I’ve ever been to. It’s only made me want to own a classic car more, which doesn’t help when I keep trying to save money. We shall see what the future has in store.

Nikon D3300 DSLR Update: What I’ve Learned So Far

While I continue to play around with my new DSLR, I’ve learned a few things just from toying around with the camera. It’s been a lot of fun playing around with a camera that has much more advanced settings than an ordinary point and shoot. I’m much happier with the quality of the photos I get from the DSLR than my normal point and shoot cameras.

One thing to note is that it doesn’t mean you can’t get spectacular shots with a DSLR only. Some of the best pictures I’ve taken have been with the camera on my smartphone. Most smartphone cameras have more than enough megapixels to take great photos for everyday point and shoot photos.

Since I’ve gotten my DSLR, I’ve had a chance to try it in a few difference scenarios. I’ve taken some photos at Island Lake State Park here in Detroit, I’ve taken some photos at the Quicken Loans 400 NASCAR race, and I’ve tried the 1080P 60 FPS (frames per second) video capabilities of the camera just outside my home. Below are a few of the photos I captured. I’ve taken a lot more, but I’m keeping it to a few photos for the time being. Maybe later if I want to showcase more photos, I’ll set up a photo sharing site on Instagram or something. Who knows.

Island Lake State Park. I was trying close up shots.
Island Lake State Park. I was trying close up shots.
Another Island Lake Shot. I was using my zoom lens for this photo.
Another Island Lake Shot. I was using my zoom lens for this photo.
Quicken Loans 400 NASCAR Race. Crazy big grandstand.
Quicken Loans 400 NASCAR Race. Crazy big grandstand at Michigan International Speedway.

Below is a video I took of myself skateboarding. It’s only a couple of clips, but it also includes some close up action of the NASCAR race at the end. Already I like the filming quality of this camera a heck of a lot better than other cameras I’ve used. For example, I’ve used my GoPro lots, and while I like it, there’s a crazy amount of barrel distortion (rounding of the edge of the video frame, see here for a better explanation of distortion in photos). That being said, you can beat up the GoPro and it still works (putting a GoPro under your skateboard will beat it up really quickly).

There are certainly a lot of positives to having this camera, but there’s also a few negatives.

The Pros

Amazing Image Quality

For just using the auto function, this camera captures amazing photos without doing too much work on the users end. You can open the box up, charge the camera battery, and start snapping great photos right away (this model anyways, other models might not be so intuitive).

Amazing Video Quality

As I said earlier, the video quality is awesome. I like the quality of the videos I can get with this camera, especially with the 1080P video at 60 fps. It’s smooth and crisp.

There’s Lots of Features

This could be good or bad depending on what you want, but it’s fun to see all the different aspects you have control over. Whether you want to control the aperture, manually adjust the focus, remotely control the camera from a computer (while not exclusive to DSLRs, this is a cool feature), shoot RAW photos (I have yet to understand this better…I’m still learning, but apparently it’s a valuable feature for photographers) or manually adjust a ton of other things, it’s good to know the features are there.

Lots of Additional Lenses to Develop Photo Styles

There’s a ton of different lenses out there that will work with the body depending on the kind of photography you want to do. If you like macro photography, there’s macro photography lenses out there. Sports photography? There’s telephoto lenses out there if you’re a ways away from the action. Prime lenses will give you a very high quality image, despite the fact that they don’t zoom.

The Cons

The Camera is Big and Bulky

One of the biggest trade offs is carrying this camera around. If you want to get good photos, it usually means your not only carrying this behemoth of a camera, but also the lenses, extra batteries, memory cards, a tripod, and if you’re really into it, additional lighting fixtures. You can accessorize pretty quickly if you start getting into the hobby.

It Gets Expensive Quickly

Depending on what you want to do with photography, DSLRs are not cheap. The Nikon D3300 was an entry level DSLR, and it still cost $650 dollars with the lenses. While this is a pretty good price considering what I got, it’s still $650 for a camera.

What really gets expensive afterwords is the additional lenses and accessories. A good lens can easily cost you over $300, and can even go up to over $1,000! A better flash than the stock one can cost you $60 – $300 depending on what it delivers.

While it really comes down to how involved you want to get with photography, it’s not a cheap hobby.

True High Quality Images Take a Lot of Work

I have to be honest, so far I’ve only used the “Auto” function on my camera. Even though I have Adobe Photoshop on my computer, I have no idea how to use it effectively. It’s not something that can be learned quickly, as the art of photography is not intuitive to me.

To create a truly high quality image, you have to understand all aspects, whether it’s the lighting of the scene, the aperture and focus of your camera, the lens used for the scene, or using filters and effects to process your photos afterwords. There is a lot to learn and while you can get good quality photos using just the “Auto” function, getting outstanding photos requires a lot of work and a lot of time.

I’ve had fun so far just getting to learn about my camera and how to use it. The next step will be figuring out the kind of photography I want to get better at and what I need to do to develop outstanding images.

Project #2: DSLR Time-lapse Rig (Part 1 – Prototype)

While I’d planned on starting a skateboard grind box, I’m finding my broken toe is still a bit tender. As much as I’d love to get to work on the box, I figured I take a stab at a photography based project while I give my toe a little more rest.

This is more of a filming based project, but it involves taking images at a set frequency and then compiling the images into a high speed video. The easy way of doing this is taking a video at normal speed and speeding up the video playback. I’ve done a few videos like this before, like the one I’ve attached below.

All of the time-lapse videos I’ve created in the past have had one limitation. The camera has always been fixed in one location. While this isn’t a huge problem, it limits the types of time-lapse videos you can make if the camera is fixed in one position.

A DIY project I’ve wanted to take on for some time is creating a time-lapse slider. This is basically a rail which moves the camera at small increments along one axis while the same takes it’s pictures at set increments. The difference is you get a high speed video with slow moving motion along a given axis. It’s hard to explain with my limited vocabulary, so I’ll point you to a blog post that gives a good breakdown of the type of project I’m looking to work on. David Hunt has made a DIY time-lapse slider and documented the whole project here.

This project is also a good one to start now that I’ve gotten myself a decent camera. However, having blown my project budget for June, I didn’t exactly have the funds to purchase the materials required to build the slider. I don’t even have a bill of materials or a slider concept to work towards creating. Until I have some kind of concept idea or idea of material costs, I won’t be rushing out to purchase components.

That being said, I do have this wonderful thing call Lego Mindstorms. It’s a solid way to at least test out the concept on a microcontroller platform that’s pretty easy to learn (luckily I meet the ages 10+ criteria…who says Lego is for kids only?).

So while the construction of the moving platform could have been a bit more solid, I made a small moving platform that moves a small amount once a minute. Right now I only have my GoPro attached to the platform since it has a built in time-lapse function, whereas my DSLR does not (more to come on that later in the post.)

Lego Mindstorms Timelapse Rig
Lego Mindstorms Timelapse Rig
Timelapse Rig With GoPro Hero 2
Time-lapse Rig With GoPro Hero 2

So with the prototype complete, I ran a trial with it to see how it worked. Basically I set it up to do a time-lapse of me while I write this post! It’s poetry in action.

 

While it’s not perfect, it’s a start. It’s pretty short since I had to speed up the video quite a bit. I did a sequence of photos every 2 seconds and advanced the dolly about a 2/100ths of a full rotation of the wheel every minute (or about 8 degrees/minute). While I was able to get an OK video, I had to speed up the motion quite a bit to get the motion somewhat fluid. Luckily, there’s always room for improvements.

The next part will dictate some of the challenges I face in regards to the design. There’s a couple of obstacles to get over, but hopefully I can make something that (sorta) works as a usable time-lapse rig. Stay tuned!

My New DSLR!

So, after much researching, researching, and second guessing myself, I pulled the trigger and forked over a decent chunk of change for a new Nikon D3300 Digital Single Lens Reflex Camera (DSLR). I’m supposed to get it in the next day or two, hopefully I’ll be able to take some pictures of it before I release this blog post.

Buying a DSLR camera wasn’t an easy decision, but it ultimately boiled down to my curiosity and desire to take a process better photos. A lot of people could argue that you don’t need a DSLR to do this, many point and shoot cameras will take wonderful photos if you understand the mechanics of photography.

Nikon D3300 Body with Two Lenses
Nikon D3300 Body with Two Lenses

I ended up getting a Nikon D3300, because the places I looked on the internet all pointed to the Nikon D3300 as a good starting point for beginners looking to get into photography. Plus, one of the nice things was that I got a great deal as Nikon was offering a huge discount. Normally the camera pack (body and two lenses) would have cost almost $1,000, I got it for $600. I’m a happy camper.

So why did I chose to get a DSLR?

Get a better grasp on photography

I enjoy taking pictures when I go out and about, however I’m usually disappointed by the quality of the photos. Some could argue that I’m not doing the appropriate post processing, or I’m not taking the photos properly, but I wanted to get a better sense of how to take good photos. Whether it’s getting a better sense of aperture settings, shutter speed, ISO, or post processing, there’s lots to learn.

Get a better grasp of filmography and cinematography

While the camera I got is not a dedicated camcorder, it still takes very videos. I’m interested in getting better videos and learning about filming techniques. I hope to look into more video stabilization methods, such as creating gimbals for getting stable and smooth footage.

Use my home built computer to its full potential

A couple of years ago I built my own desktop for the purpose of doing more filming and video editing. I was able to get a good discount on a full suite of Adobe video and photo editing programs, including photoshop and premiere pro. Sadly, I haven’t used it for it’s purpose in the last couple of years, other than to play Starcraft II or Civilization at a decent frame rate. Even for gaming, it appears I don’t play enough from my win-loss record. I’m going to try and put at least Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Premiere Pro to good use.

Test of the Auto Function
Test of the Auto Function
A Beautiful Mug my Mother Made Me
A Beautiful Mug my Mother Made Me
My Backyard
My Backyard

The above photos were just images I took with the camera without any kind of post processing. I was just testing out the camera to see what the images were like. As you can see in the first two images, the focused image is pretty sharp while the background is slightly blurred. This is known as “depth of field” which is related to the aperture of the camera (the part which lets light in). With this camera, you can adjust the “f-stops” of the camera to adjust the aperture to let more light in, which gives a shallower depth of view, or let less light in, giving a greater depth of view. Depending on the type of photo you want to take, you adjust the aperture accordingly. (If anyone reads this and knows that my info is incorrect, PLEASE LET ME KNOW. I’m an absolute beginner, and don’t need to start off with the wrong information.)

More to come in the future as I learn more about photography!