Today I took a close close look at the corn.

Since I’m pretty allergic to corn pollen, it was definitely a bad idea.

what the children of the corn see

what the children of the corn see

You can see the ears are nice and the corn is about 8′ tall in spots like this one.

Where my drone crashed.

unhappy drone

unhappy drone

At least the corn broke its fall. There’s some flaw-state DJIs apparently go into where they lose attitude data and sometimes decide they’re upside down, so they flip over. The results look like this (an earlier flight with my same drone)

You get a nice view of part of my yard (the drone wasn’t very high) and some up close and upside down trees coming up to greet it.

I work on internet stuff, specifically security, and I have been really underwhelmed by the way computer-driven products work. Reliability? Pff! What’s that? As the complexity of systems go up, and their integration level goes up, the complexity of failure modes becomes a cross-product of failures in all the integrated systems. Or, as Rob Pike used to say (before he went to Google) “Distributed computing is when a computer you don’t know exists can offline your critical system”

For example, the flight controller uses your iPad to show locations on google maps (the location is currently a corn field. But, strangely, DJI never thought of letting you see the coordinates. So, I can’t go into Google maps and navigate the corn field; I have to stomp around for 45 minutes trying to figure out my position by looking at the GPS satellite map in google maps, and comparing it (“am I in line with that tree over there?”)   Integration.

the scene of the disaster

the scene of the disaster

Then there’s the question: “if the drone is so disoriented it flips upside down and face-plants propellors first in a corn field, why should I assume its idea of its location is correct?”


Reliable sources have informed the FBI that it’s probably Russian hackers that brought down the drone. Russian hackers have been remarkably active lately.


  1. says

    Oh, I should have mentioned: the reason I had the drone up over the cornfield was I was checking to see if there were any bear hangouts yet. In the fall bears often come make a flat spot in the corn and just lie back and eat corn and snooze. There’s enough corn for everybody!

  2. Dunc says

    My favourite piece on the reliablility of distributed systems is from the inimitable James Mickens: The Saddest Moment. His teaser: “Using linear algebra and a shot-by-shot analysis of ‘Pulp Fiction,’ I prove that any distributed system will be broken 93% of the time. In the remaining 7% of the time, the system will respond to your requests, but it will hang out at skateboard parks and listen to disreputable music.”

  3. Pierce R. Butler says

    “Aircraft motility has been lowered.”

    Nice euphemism-mongering there. Will the Pentagon or airlines follow suit the next time(s) they crash a plane?

    According to my dictionary, “motility” in biology applies to motion-capable single cells (including gametes), and in psychology to “responses that involve muscular rather than audiovisual sensations” (huh?). From exposure to the control system’s other messages, can you tell if this represents an erroneous attempt at displaying erudition, snarkasm, or just poorly-learned English?

  4. says

    Am I the only one who Freudian-slipped and read “corn pollen” as “porn collen”?

    Spot on with your comments on reliability – it seems there’s a rush to push out products without real-world testing. It’s the dot-com boom all over again.

  5. John Morales says

    Pierce, in the vernacular it refers to the ability for something to move under its own power.

    There’s nothing wrong with that usage; it clearly conveys its meaning.

  6. John Morales says

    chigau, no bears, since had there been, a mention would very likely have been made.

    (But you know that)

  7. says

    Aaron aka Frank@#6:
    Am I the only one who Freudian-slipped and read “corn pollen” as “porn collen”

    I don’t even know what porn collen might be! But it’s probably on the internet!

    there’s a rush to push out products without real-world testing. It’s the dot-com boom all over again

    To be fair to the DJI – they’ve been making these drones for several years and they do a good job supporting them and integrating them. It’s a pretty good product. But it’s weird when you run across something like the “oh, duh, what’s the GPS location?” problem. Sure, if I could get the memory card from the drone, it would have the GPS coordinates in the picture, but that doesn’t help me find the drone!

  8. says

    chigau@#8: No bears! Unless they were hiding a few feet from the crash-site snickering at me.

    Maybe next time I do an update on the cornfield I’ll see if I can dig up some bear-pad shots from last years’ flyover.