Fall Colors

Usually fall is a very busy season for me, but this year I have a reduced schedule because I didn’t book any events (I thought I was going to be running tech for a start-up, but it fell through). Since hunting season is coming, I’ve been taking the drone on patrols and waiting with bated breath for the leaves to turn.

I leaned on it a bit with a smudge/paint filter to blur it because that’s how it feels: patches of colors silently flying by under you as you float in the air.

The edge of the treeline is pretty, too. I decided I would do a horizontal pass along the ground, by setting up the drone’s height and then turning the camera on for a speed-pass at low level.

I was so busy thinking about how I was going to do that, I forgot my finger was still on the forward control.

Often the camera cuts out when the drone hits something, because the battery gets knocked loose. In this incident, the only damage was some time spent rummaging in the hemlock trees trying to find the battery, and two broken propellers.

DJI makes a pretty good, solid drone.

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Last year I was having severe problems with the drone – it would fly and sometimes flip over and pile-drive into the ground. I’m embarrassed to admit that I figured out what the problem was a year later (after DJI replaced the drone under warranty!) – here’s what happened: the drone has firmware, as does the drone controller. Periodically, it starts nagging you that the firmware needs to be updated, which is a process involving copying the .bin file down to a memory card and booting the drone with it and waiting to see if it bricks itself. The controller is updated via the iOS app that controls the display on an iPhone or iPad. What I did not realize is that the battery has firmware too and when you update the aircraft it also updates the firmware in the battery. So, it flew fine until I flew it on a different battery that had not been updated. The last time I updated the drone, I had to do the whole reboot/upgrade process for each of my batteries, and now it works great. I’m moderately happy that the processing power of computers is being used all over the place to produce neat things that are kind of smart and work mostly well – but I hate the fact that we have all become system administrators. Back in the oughties I was predicting a sort of weaponized “singularity” in which system administration becomes top-heavy:

For the record: it was user error. Or, as our support people used to code it back in the start-up I was running in the 90s: “EBCK” – Error Between Chair and Keyboard.


  1. Some Old Programmer says

    To be fair, this is poor system design. If the drone firmware has critical interactions with other elements, it should have a compatibility matrix and–at a minimum–notify the user that there could be a problem. This could save the poor customer support staff some grief (and the company a fair amount of coin if they replace less stuff under warranty).
    I still remember my surprise when an old Windows box was having problems reading from an old CD drive and, thanks to some Google investigation, I discovered that the CD drive had a firmware update that fixed the problem. On the one hand, smart peripherals no doubt save OS’ a lot of code by presenting a higher level of service abstraction, but when things go sideways it’s more fun for users/sysadmins that need to diagnose problems and risk bricking important components by doing firmware updates.

  2. says

    Some Old Programmer@#1:
    To be fair, this is poor system design.

    Yes, it is. Interfaces should check compatibility or at least version, before they start to interact.

    Generally the DJI stuff is pretty idiot-proof, which is why I had to invent a whole new way of idioting!

  3. kestrel says

    Beautiful! The colors are amazing, we don’t have those trees here so these are colors I don’t often see in the trees. Although I have often wished I could get sugar maples to grow here (they don’t).

    It’s supposed to snow here tonight. Great to enjoy those fall colors while they last.

  4. says

    Beautiful. I have some pretty fall colors in my garden, but unfortunately the forests here are rather bland – mostly spruces with occasional birch or maple, that turn into uninteresting yellow/brown.

  5. sonofrojblake says

    I had to invent a whole new way of idioting!

    I’m an engineer who works with scientists (polymer chemistry PhDs mostly). More than once they’ve expressed bafflement at how something could happen, and I’ve had cause to repeat the engineer’s mantra:

    Every time you make something idiot-proof, nature builds a better idiot.

  6. Holms says

    Sometimes I wish Eucalypts showed autumn colours like that. When the dominant tree family (or genus or whatever) is evergreen, there is very little visible difference bwteen the seasons, except that the creeks have water in them for a few months in the middle.

  7. chigau (違う) says

    I’m from prairies and aspen parkland and tundra. Autimn is red, orange, yellow, brown.
    I thought you were messing with the colours until I image-googled.
    I am boggled.

  8. says

    I’ll try to post some stills when I get home.
    There is a pair of maple trees near the post office that look like fire-bombs going off. They are on this open green field – really amazing. But I have never had a camera at the right day and time of day and the sunset hasn’t hit them right… someday. Maybe.

    The drone flights were at sunset. In the crash footage you can see it’s getting dark. So the drone’s camera is slightly increasing the color contrast as it’s trying to adjust the exposure.