Gathering firewood.

There’s nothing nicer in the winter than sitting in front of a fireplace with a large supply of wood fuel.

A while back during a wind storm we had a locust tree blow down. It was a tall one at about 70 feet. When it came down it took down a bunch of other trees with it. These things are heavy!

Yesterday I went out to cut it in 6-10 foot sections where I can use my grapple to get them in a clearing where I can cut them into firewood sized chunks that can be split and stacked for the rest of the winter.

We use this firewood every day in the winter to keep our home warm. It is a nice source of renewable stored energy. When we use the fireplace it can be 10º outside and still be 75º inside.

We have a nice wood burning stove in our fireplace as an insert. Its a “reburner” which means it burns extra clean and put out almost no smoke from the chimney. And gets wicked hot.

The first step in getting a bunch of firewood is gathering all the wood into one location. The next step, which I’ll be doing today, is cutting, splitting and stacking it so we can have it dried out for the rest of the winter by the time we run out of what we already have.

Years ago I stopped buying pre-cut timber to burn in our fireplace and replace that wood with wood from our own property. We have plenty of wood here that falls on it’s own or a tree that dies that needs to be cut down. This also gives me an opportunity to clean out the underbrush as much as I can, trim the smaller trees, cut down all the vine that is so ugly and allow us to walk and enjoy the trees and wildlife that hangs around in them.

These days a truck load of timber can cost $600. That’s about a cord of wood. Its not much. Its a little work and time but I enjoy doing this.

I especially enjoy sitting in front of a blazing hot fireplace in the middle of winter around here.

Sunsets after a storm.

Lately it hasn’t rained much around here except for the occasional thunderstorm that rolls by. It has, however, been very humid especially in the evenings after the sun goes down.

We do get these crazy sunsets at night after a storm rolls through. The air is thick but calm. The cicada and other noise makers are out in earnest. We have two new hoot owls that make their noises right as the sun is going down.

When all this is going on it looks like this:

Sunset August 16, 2019.

This photo was taken by my DJI drone about 40 feet above my driveway just as the sun was setting behind the Appalachian trail.

I would say that a good 80% of the sunsets look like this when the sun is actually out. It’s either like this or completely clear.

This is my favorite time of the day. My work is done, the pressure is off, I can sit and relax and just enjoy where I am.

I love where I live. It’s been a long and winding road to enjoy these sunsets.

One last snow storm.

It’s February 21.

I woke this morning with ice covered snow. Snow is not unusual for this time of the year. It feels strange only because I think I’m done with the winter of 2018/2019. I am ready for spring.

Like last year, I’ve not had to use my snow thrower to move large amounts of snow as in years past. It sits quiet, thankfully, in the barn. I don’t have to work in the weather now so I let the snow do what the snow is gonna do.

Today it’s been warmer than it’s been since I’ve been physically here this winter. The current temperature in the front yard is 55ºF so the snow is quickly melting. Because of the temperature difference between the ground and the air we get the low fog and cloud layers in the morning.

Sunrise after a snow storm.

I missed the 65º “Indian Summer” when I was gone for work a few weeks ago. So the 55º was as warm as I’ve seen it this winter. We normally get a few days like this each year in between the really cold weather we otherwise have.

It’s fun to take the drone up through the fog in the clear above. Things look so different up there where the birds fly.

I don’t know how to get a shot like this without the use of a drone (or helicopter).

The lonely tree; It now has a large broken branch from all the ice and wind.

This winter has been nice. At night when there is no wind Its super quiet around here above a layer of ice. I’m glad we have four seasons here.

I’m glad spring is just around the corner.

More snow; More cold.

Yesterday we had another snow storm roll through this area. The snow didn’t amount to much. We did get more than was predicted which left quite the wintery landscape behind.

The above was video taken from my drone while the following is from my Nikon camera using an intervalometer:

I’m almost never in a position to use my nicer cameras to do time lapse photography like this. It’s not hard but quite time consuming so if you have to baby sit the camera you can’t be working like I have been lately. But stuck in my home and working at my desk allowed me the time to monitor the camera while it took 1000 images through the day.

Ironically, the above uploaded on to YouTube is about half the actual resolution of the images. You tube and other services take out so much of the quality to save storage space and not use so much bandwidth.

The camera was set up for manual images with fixed focus, fixed aperture and fixed f-stop. All of the rest was done with software. I use Adobe Lightroom to do the heavy image edits, crops and the like. And then LRTimelapse (Version 4) to put together the time lapse. LRT is very cool and powerful software.

And the drone also takes some very unique images in raw image format so that the image can be manipulated very easily post production.

The Lonely Tree in undisturbed snow after a storm.

I like the high contrast photography I learned when I was 16/17 years of age. Back then I would look through all the Ansel Adams photographs in awe of how he accomplished such unique high-contrast black and white photography.

He’s gone now but I can’t wait to tell him about drones.  He would carry his camera gear on his back, spend days/weeks in the wilderness to get the perfect image.

I flew my drone from my front porch in between work meetings to get this one. Things have changed. Photography has really changed even in my lifetime.

Stay warm!

Lovettsville Oktoberfest 2018

This past weekend we celebrated fall in our small community of Lovettsville at the 9th annual Lovettsville Oktoberfest. It’s grown from a small event taking essentially one city block, a few vendors, beer truck and such to the event it is today supporting tens of thousands of visitors to the small town.

I flew the drone over the event and visited the main tent with the music and merged the two together.

I’m there primarily to help the Loudoun Amateur Radio Group (LARG) support the communications for the event. We play a critical role in helping coordinate public safety of the event each year. Our time is purely voluntary but the effort is very professional. This is our 9th consecutive year of supporting Oktoberfest at Lovettsville.

Oktoberfest 2009 to 2018

One of the more compelling events of Oktoberfest is the Wiener Dog Race. The dogs and training staff work on their skill set all year long to pull off this compelling event. Here is a very brief video of one of the races of this day.

We set up in two locations each year and then many of the members “roam” the event and provide another channel to help with anyone who many need it. It’s proven critically important the last few years.

2018 Lovettsville Oktoberfest – Radio Crew at the small tent

The crew above was just who was there when this picture was taken. There were many others who helped this weekend. Hats off to everyone who helped us!

The venue has changed in a very big way from when we started years ago. There are so many more people there now! The first event was likely less than 1000 people. This year it was tens of thousands but I have no idea how many were actually there.

If you come next  year and want an easier parking experience come on your motorcycle! That’ll shorten every bit of your time fiddling with traffic at this crazy intersection we call the “Squirkle”. It’s not quite a square; not quite a circle and takes 119 signs to help people navigate it properly. When it was first put in and operational it was quiet a fiasco. Lovettsville is different. I’ll leave it at that.

The food was great, the crowd was well behaved and seemed to have a good time. Lots of people were in the tents listening to the music, dancing and mingling with their friends.

After helping here I picked up my wife and we went for a motorcycle ride. Not a bad way to spend a Saturday.

We’ve past the Solar Equinox.

It’s inevitable that the days will get much shorter now that the sun has past the equator as a highest point in the sky. We’re into fall now and headed to winter. The trees have started to change color once again.

Sunset past the solar equinox

For me the mood can be a bit melancholy in the winter months. We seem to have more cloudy days than sunny and even the sunny days will be uber short in the coming months. I prefer the longer and hotter days of summer. Its 59º outside as I write this on September 23, 2018. It’s as hot as it’s going to be today. And, of course, it’s raining all day today.  Since I can’t really work outside I’ve decided to hang out inside all day.

Looking north towards Harpers Ferry and the Potomac River

We live at 39º north latitude which enjoys a pretty wide swing of all of the seasons. Here’a 10 second video of two sunsets. One is on the longest day of the year around June 21 and the other right at the equinox three months later on September 21.

The taile of Two Sunrises

The sun will continue south until around December 22 when it’ll turn back north and signal the start of winter. That’s when it gets really cold around here.

Since we go on walks every day together we’re going to have to get used to the colder weather coming. The seasons change just slow enough that we figure out how to tolerate the cold before it’s thrust upon us. All of the cats do the same thing when they go out in the cold; they shake their front paws and whence before they jump outside. They would never wear a boot/sock or “clothes” to keep warm preferring instead to just be outside. Well, Mongrel anyway. The girl cats prefer to be inside all the time. Still their coats will become very thick soon as a part of the changing seasons.

Tolerating my shenanigans before going on a walk

Neither of us are totally happy to be stuck inside while it rains. Mongrel meows at me as if I can turn it all off and we can go for a walk together. You see, he doesn’t like his paws wet either. And I can’t turn off the rain. It’s interesting he thinks I can. It’s an elevated view of this clowder leader.

He doesn’t like me at my computer. His reminders to go on walks help me get out of this office and outside when we can. Today just won’t be one of those days where we take our three walks a day. Or tomorrow, Tuesday and likely most of Wednesday. But later in the week looks super. We need 4-5 days of sunshine and no rain to finish some projects around here.

The calm before the rain storm.

In another few hours it will start raining. I’m writing this after the fact not knowing exactly when it’ll start and how much it rains but what I did know is that we needed the rain.

When we go from dry to wet the sunsets before are pretty spectacular.

Sunset July 20, 2017

I do my best to capture what it looks like around here when the sky changes during the golden hour of dusk. The photo is nothing like standing around here watching the hues change from harsh light to pastel. Then the light fades into infrared glow and then, around here at least, total darkness.

Surface of Jupiter? Or hay field?

No, just some hay bales from 400 feet above.

20 years ago I wracked my brain trying to figure out how to get a camera elevated to take some photos. I figured that the view up there with a still camera that could be somehow controlled would make for interesting photography.

My process was a complicated and unscientific process involving a big kite and a windy day; the polar opposite of what I do today. But I kept trying because I just knew there would be interesting photography up there. I knew this because I flew an airplane and wanted a way to capture the beauty of what I saw when I flew.

My ideas didn’t amount to much. Most of the photography I have is from a camera in my hand while at the controls of an aircraft flying over 100 miles an hour. Hardly stationary but with some work I could get the photos I was looking for. But boy was it expensive and time consuming.

I’m glad I was able to see this process unfold in my lifetime. This is a view you can only get from a stationary platform relatively close to earth but high enough to see the contrast that will tell a story.

The photo above is a story of mid-summer harvest. The fruit of someone’s planning. Some of the bales are new and some are from the last harvest. Still, there must be a need for this stored energy.

They made hay while it was dry and made some interesting etching on the earth in the process.

It would rain the next day. Four inches of rain fell from the sky and turned everything deep green again around here.

March 21, 2018 Snow Storm

It seems like I just posted a blog on a snow storm!

The last couple of days has been preparing for another n’easter to come in to the mid-atlantic area as two low pressure systems collide near my home. With the crazy weather brings some interesting photo opportunities; especially for black and white high contrast photography which I enjoy so much.

Doukénie Winery

The Doukénie’s are nice people. I got to know the owners of this winery with my previous work. I’ve since lost track of them but drive by their place all the time as it’s on a road less traveled.

Random corn farm

This corn field is on my regular running/walking route. I give them shit because they use harsh chemical to treat their land. You can’t see any of that under the blanket of snow today.

Fence line of trees in the snow.

Drone photography has really changed the way I look at the earth. The first time I saw my first photograph from the drone I knew it was going to be something that would take the world by storm.

Back then I had the DJI Phantom 1 which did not have a camera mounted to it. Instead, I mounted a then unknown camera to the bottom of the drone … my GoPro (the original).

I remember being in my living room seeing the picture for the first time and saying something like, “Oh My!” which got my entire family’s attention. They wanted to know what I was looking at. It was something like you see here.

Producing the photograph is skill. The equipment is pure science.

The lonely tree

My “new” drone is the DJI 2. Even the DJI 2 didn’t have a camera so I bought a third party gimbal, wired it into the GPS of the DJI as well as into an OSD module.

The OSD, short for On Screen Display, superimposes all of the flight data into the video transmitter which I also procured and wired into the drone. All of this runs on 5 volts of dc power that I get from the drone itself.

Then I put my “new” GoPro 4 in the gimbal and tie that into the entire system.

When I fly the drone I have my FPV, or First Person View, goggles on my eyes and it is as if I am hanging from the bottom of the drone. It is literally like flying an airplane. I have the exact same instrumentation as an aircraft all displayed in front of me.

I control the drone with 2.4ghz DSS. The video downlink is 5ghz analog. It’s worth noting that the use of 5ghz downlink video is not something normally approved without a license. But I do possess the FCC license to do this.

The “wet land” experiment

This camera system that I created is not as fancy as the stuff you can buy today. Since that stuff wasn’t available when I built this I did what I could. It takes a photograph every 5 seconds as well as shooting 1080p 30fps video at the same time. So I get a little of both vs one or the other. But I do have to stay on my target for 5-20 seconds to get the photo I want. That is if I want it in high resolution and not from the video grab.

The video is not the latest 4k with all the latest technology. But for what I am doing with it I don’t need that either. For me and this system anyway, that is just a camera change. Not a drone system change. I just haven’t gotten around to swapping out the camera mainly because I don’t prefer GoPro cameras any longer as they are too expensive compared to all the other technology out there that can do just as well for 25% of the cost.

This is me behind my “camera” this afternoon

I’ve thought about buying a new drone over the past several years and, so far, I haven’t seen anything I’d prefer. There are smaller ones that fit in your pocket but don’t take better video or photos.

I think the next drone I have will be much more sophisticated in the use of aerodynamics. Like quieter props. These are not quiet machines. But they take awesome photos!

Bring it, winter.

Only 1 more day until winter arrives on December 21, 2017.

I like this day for a number of reasons:

a) We can get on with winter.
b) The sun stops sinking further in the sky.
c) Every day gets longer between then and summer.

Pastel skies at sun set – a common scene in winter.

Below is what that sunset looked like over time. I do a little RC flying in the time lapse as well.

Recently I have noticed that a small family of deer (doe and two young post fawn types) have started to come to the house at night to eat the bird seed that the birds don’t eat during the day.  At this point they have become a fixture around here. They don’t have the normal flee instinct when we come outside any longer. At night the sleep in the front yard where I can capture them easily on infrared cameras in complete darkness.

Deer in the front yard as seen in infrared. – We are all ready for winter to begin.

As we ease into night time here everyone is finding a place to lounge.

Sock; leaning on one of us while watching the other.

I hope you have had a restful night and a great day ahead.

Flying the Recruit

Lately I’ve been flying my new “delta wing” aircraft called “Recruit” and made by Ready Made RC (RMRC). I’ve put this video together to show my shenanigans trying to get some video of what it’s like to fly one as well as video from the aircraft itself.

Flying a small RC plane is really no different than flying a big one. Unless you want to crash there is a lot of preparations and testing of systems. The different being if you do crash generally it’s only pride that is damaged and something a little glue and spare parts can fix pretty quick. But when you do crash it happens very quickly and sometimes quite dramatically.

There are some outtakes from other sessions at the end of that video so watch to the end if you want to see it all.

Enjoy!

I hope you are having a fun day.