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Thursday, September 15, 2016

Drone Review and Reality Check: Capabilities, Flight Times, Costs, Best Brands - Interview with Michael Nash

Separating drone realities from drone hype is critical in an area that is seeing rapid development of technology, applications, and a legal framework that supports more uses of drones. Welcome to an interview with Michael Nash, Mechanical Engineering Ph.D. candidate with extensive experience in robotics (including drones).  In this interview, Nash provides a reality check as he details the capabilities of drones, their limitations, and discusses their potential.

Michael will be presenting a paper, "Drone Reality Check .. .What Drones Can't, Won't, and Flat-Out Refuse to Do" at the AAPG Workshop: New Opportunities with Drones:  New Needs,  FAA Rule Changes, New Technologies, Dec. 1-2, Houston, Texas.

1. What is your name and your relationship to drones?
My name is Michael Nash.  I am a doctoral candidate at the University of Oklahoma in Mechanical Engineering with a concentration in robotics.  I have experience in aerospace system design and control systems and have practical experience combining the two in the design and development of drones from raw materials and mathematical modeling by integration as embedded firmware performing the sensor fusion to filtering to actuation.

DJI Phantom 3
2.  What is a drone, from your point of view? How is a drone not quite what the public generally thinks it is?
The common conception places drones as somewhere in between automaton and remotely-operated vehicle.  Most of the time they are imagined to be masters of their environments that live aloft. 
The way people should define a "drone" is between a hobby RC aircraft and self-piloting aircraft following GPS waypoints.  Both capable of collecting data with lightweight sensors, but none capable of spending a significant amount of time in the air (unless specially built by an aerospace/mechanical engineer).

3.  In your opinion, what are some of the most realistic claims that are being made about what drones will do for you?
Drones can provide non-flying humans with an "eye in the sky".

4.  What are some of the most outlandish?
Delivery drones come to mind.

5.  Please list and very briefly describe the types of challenges facing drone pilots?
Pilots of drones are pilots; piloting takes skill that takes time to develop.  The lay-man cannot pick up drone controls for the first time and fly a drone effectively.  Hundreds of hours of practice on a particular platform (be it rotorcraft or fixed wing) stand between the first-time enthusiast and competency.  Ironically, pilots needn't be college educated but can often be found at the local middle or high school.

If the entity wishing to deploy the drone does not wish to employ an experienced pilot, they should plan for repairs.  For rotary-wing aircraft such as helicopters and (tri, quad, hex, octo)x-copters, and propeller-driven fixed-wing aircraft, nearly all crashes will break propellers.  Fixed-wing aircraft will frequently lose wings or receive damage to control surfaces; x-copters will break motor shafts, motors, and arms.  The electronics are fairly robust, but very often get pulled.  The most severe crashes will damage the on-board battery resulting in fiery explosion.

Hobby drones purchased for less than $100 made solely for flying in a gymnasium or low-wind field will be more resistant to damage and can possibly crash 100 times needing only propeller replacements, but they will not be capable of carrying special sensor systems (max payload likely less than 1kg).  Drones capable of a significant payload (yet still less than 5kg) will be less user crash-friendly and can be $1500 up. An example is the newest of the DJI Phantom series, the Phantom 4, with a fly time of 30 minutes.

No multirotor aircraft will fly for an hour (see the information at bottom).

No radio controlled aircraft will be controllable outside a couple hundred meters; if the controller signal is not attenuated, you won't be able to see it.  Professionals may argue this, but professionals don't need to use their drones to collect scientific data.

6.  Please list and very briefly describe the challenges facing the people programming the drone?  (please explain how a drone is or is not a robot)
If one is personally programming the drone's logic, then the skill can be shaved with programmed responses such as low-altitude altitude hold using distance sensors (such as infrared or ultrasonic rangefinders to continually monitor how far the ground is), interpreting pitch and roll relative to global positioning using GPS, or even converting the controller to an input to select waypoints defined as global coordinates to which the drone could travel.  None of these include interaction with sensory equipment, though for the most part it could be effective in a fixed position.

7.  What are some of the challenges involved in working with drone-derived data?

Drone derived data has its own unique set of challenges. 
The most significant is noise.  If your sensors are analog signals being measured by on-board computer, you will be struggling to shield the sensor lines from electromagnetic interference from the motors.

Parrot BeBop Drone

The high current pulses can also wreak havoc on magnetometers. 
Propellers or motors that are slightly off-balance will cause vibrations in the entire craft that can reduce image resolution on cameras at best, and rattle loose hardware at worst. 

Review of drones (quadcopters) with flight times and prices

A google search for "high flight time quadcopter", result #1 (for me):

Quadcopter Price (USD) with Flight time (min)

Holy Stone HS170
$40-$50 6-8 minutes

MJX X101C $140 8-10
Parrot AR Drone 2.0
$270 Up to 20 minutes

Traxxas 7908 Aton
$400 14 minutes

DJI Phantom 3 Std
$500 20 minutes

Chroma Camera Drone CGO2+
$600 30 minutes

Yuneec Q500+ Typhoon
$1400 20-25 minutes

3DR Solo Drone
$800 20-22 minutes

DJI Phantom 4 Pro
$1400  30 minutes

DJI Phantom 3 Pro.
$800 25 minutes

DJI Inspire 1 T600
$2000 25 minutes

From the next link, "5 Longest Flight Time Drones to Buy in 2016!" (

Quadcopter name with Flight time (in minutes)

DJI Phantom Aerial UAV Drone
15 minutes

Parrot Bebop Drone
18 minutes

DJI Phantom 3 Advanced
23 minutes

Yuneec Q500 Typhoon Quadcopter
25 minutes

Chroma Flight-Ready Drone
30 minutes

Would you like to learn more?  Working with Drone Data 101 Course | 30 November 2016.  This course is a primer on processing UAS acquired data, and leveraging it in common business platforms such as ArcGIS, Google Earth, SketchFAB and others. In this course the participants will learn about the types of data that can be acquired by drones, how to render that data into 3D models, and more…Register today.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Rubrics As Full-Process Compositional Power Tools

Start, rather than end, with the rubric?
A rubric can be used in the invention phase of writing, not just in assessments.  It is just a matter of perspective, and whether or not you’re willing to create a rubric that piques the imagination and triggers a series of ideas of how to structure and build the essay or other piece of discourse.

The ideal rubric can be both a “triggering rubric” and a “checklist rubric” and can be used in the invention, outlining, drafting, and revision phases of writing. Here are the uses of a good rubric:

1.    Brainstorming / invention:  Reading the rubric can trigger thoughts and ideas, and help with narrowing / focusing the main idea and clarifying the desired outcome or goal of the writing
2.    Outlining: Developing an appropriate sequence, as well as connections back to the main idea and the writing purpose or goal
3.    Drafting:  Thinking of the best possible examples and supporting evidence, deciding where to place statistics, examples, case studies, and references to published reports
4.    Revising:  Triggering thoughts and ideas about where there might be gaps and a need for expansion, and also where it might be necessary to cut, prune, or re-organize

Customized Rubrics: Reinforce mission, passion, vision, and the “rhetorical situation”
Working with a rubric does not have to be a dry, boring experience. Yes, it can certainly be used to check boxes and to carefully assess whether or not a paper has met expectations at each level of competency.

For example, you can use your rubric to incorporate additional criteria besides the typical “purpose statement” and “organization.” You can add rows for additional criteria:

1.    Reflects ethical values, respect for diversity, and a sense of fair play
2.    Demonstrates competency in the technical area in the topic
3.    Exhibits rigorous research design and method
4.    Discusses competing perspectives or views in a thorough-going manner
5.    Uses several types of supporting evidence, which can include statistics, case studies, examples, and research study results

Don’t forget the Meta-Cognitive potential of the rubric

1.    Internalize the writing process
2.    Apply experiential learning
3.    Incorporate prior learning
4.    Situate the learning – place in a context

The following rubric is one that can be used for expository writing; specifically, for college-level courses at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. It can be used as a point of departure.

By adding additional criteria, which tie directly to a specific writing occasion, it’s possible to use the rubric at every step of the writing process, as detailed above.

Thursday, September 08, 2016

Composition Invention Strategies: Power for the Paper You Must Write

There are many ways to kick off the writing process.  Some of the best approaches involve simply listing ideas or free-writing without any kind of censoring or restrictive thought. The key is to start the flow of ideas and to discover everything you can about what you want to learn about the topic, what you want your audience to do, what kind of discursive outcome (rhetorical situation) do you think you’ll be able to accomplish, and what uncovered (and creative) connections there may be.

Key elements:
* flow of ideas
* topic discovery
* audience persuasion / “do” something
* ultimate outcome
* unique and undiscovered connections

There are many effective techniques in the “getting started” phase. It is often a good idea to try more than one when writing.  

Topic bulls-eye: 
This is a great way to narrow your topic. Write down the first main idea or topic that comes to mind. Then, consider the topic and whether or not it is too narrow or too broad. Write down other terms or words that approximate or approach the main idea. Soon, you’ll start honing in on the topic that makes the most sense, given your goals.

Goals Description and Your Own Personal “Rhetorical Situation”:
What do you want your paper to do? Lloyd Bitzer wrote of “the rhetorical situation” in his now classic article (yes, please Google it now. It will do you good. I can provide a link but you’re better off looking it up yourself, and then thinking about how it ties to your own prior knowledge). The “rhetorical situation” is something I like to refer to as the “persuasion equation.” It’s the end-product and result of the actions and activities.

For example, if you want your piece of discourse to persuade a group of people to vote for a certain candidate, you’ll approach your writing activity much differently than if you want to persuade someone to purchase a new smoothie at a local organic grocery store. You’ll need to know something about your audience, their values, their goals, the context, and competing ideas or “rhetors.”

But, before we get too complicated or digress into some of the outer reaches of the “rhetorical situation,” let’s step back and break it down. To get started, we need to simply look at our goals and objectives. What do we want to accomplish?  Here’s where bullet points can be useful.

Quick-list of goals:
    * audience attitudes to change
    * audience actions to inspire
    * values and emotions to incorporate
    * author reputation to shore up

Uncensored Freewrite: The Deep Dive Into Your Unconscious
Can you write for 5 minutes without stopping? You might be surprised how difficult it is to do. Sometimes it’s almost impossible if you’re easily distracted by social media or the Internet. And, sometimes, you have to trick yourself and put your freewrite in a form that simulates a situation you care about. For example, you may need to create a situation in which you’re writing a letter to someone about a situation you care about. Or, you may need to pretend your writing in your journal about things that you observed but that bothered you, or which triggered emotions.

Of course, this is probably the most difficult of all things to do -- after all, we spend much of our lives trying to avoid emotions or at least to channel them. Self-control is a good thing, but sometimes it keeps us from really understanding ourselves, and it pushes us into a rut of predictable, proscribed responses.

If you have committed yourself to a freewrite, be sure to tell yourself that you do not have to show it to anyone, and also that grammatical errors, spelling, facts, etc. are not as important as you might think they are. They can always be revised later. What you’re trying to accomplish right now is a deep dive into your unconscious.

MindMaps: Triggering connections through graphical representation.
There are a number of tools that can help you if you prefer computer graphics to a pen and piece of paper in which you write words, and then associated ideas or concepts which you then branch out. The mindmap helps you visually see the way you relate your concepts or ideas, and the visual representation triggers more thoughts and ideas. After you complete the mindmap you can save it, or use it after you’ve completed your first draft in order to identify where you have gaps or unexplored connection.

Here’s a free mindmap program ( which does not have all the functionality of a MindMeister (or your own piece of paper and pen), but it’s a great way to get started.  If you don’t need all the functionality, you can always simply use Google Slides or PowerPoint to start some ideas and then share with your collaborators to start creating interactive brainstorming.

Here’s an example just using a word processing program (Okay, MS-Word):

Sunday, September 04, 2016

Escaping "Helpless Poverty" in Safety-Net-less Victorian England: Mary Elizabeth Braddon's Dead Men's Shoes (1876)

Victorian England was a time of industrialization and social change, which brought prosperity to some, and the end of traditional livelihoods to others. Social and income inequality created a huge chasm, the spectre of which inspired true dread because it could mean falling into wretched poverty and social oblivion.

Secrets, masks, deception, and deeply buried pasts with all their convoluted relationships lurked at the fringe, always threatening to destabilize an individual or a family, and cast them downward in social and economic hierarchies.

This was writer Mary Elizabeth Braddon's world, and her special perspective was one that plunged deep beneath the surface to explore the fear, greed, treachery, and longing of Victorians with secrets. Braddon, born in 1835 and dying in 1915, lived in the latter part of Queen Victoria's reign, and also into Edwardian England. Braddon's world was marked by the transformational magic of technology (transportation and manufacturing, in particular) which created opportunities for people to disguise themselves and their identities in order to achieve their desires.
In Victorian England, one could be "transported" to Australia, escape, and return to avenge oneself, or go to India to become either a nabob or at least someone capable of approximating a shipping mogul in the eyes of the individuals who felt both awe and vague resentment, jealousy, or distrust of those who left for the far reaches of the British Empire.

But, above all, the yawning chasm of poverty could be encountered at almost every step. Women were most vulnerable.

There were quite a few ways to fall into the chasm of sickness, poverty, and social isolation. For women, if one did not marry, and marry well, a live of grinding servitude awaited. There were more ways to earn one's own living, but still there were not many, and of those, many carried the unpleasant miasma of social opprobrium.

If you were a woman and from a "gentle" class, you could become a governess and slowly starve. You might start a small school for young women. Or, you could scandalize yourself and "tread the boards" (become an actress), write salacious novels (hoping for best-sellers in three-volume sets), become an artist or musician, or, lower yourself and start small shops or tea rooms.

Writing "sensation novels" - an emerging profession for literate women. Many published anonymously or as "Mrs. Fulana de Tal"  to avoid social censuring.
Or, you could involve yourself in intricate plots to capture the heart of someone who might leave you a legacy. Before reading Mary Elizabeth Braddon's Dead Men's Shoes (1876), I really did not know what the term meant. Basically, hoping for a "dead man's shoes," means to become a vulture and hover around, waiting for someone to die so you can take their shoes and wear them.

Mary Elizabeth Braddon captures the fear, social humiliation, and desperation of people living on the margins of gentility. In Dead Men's Shoes, the heroine, Sibyl Faunthorpe, who has made an unwise marriage to an impecunious but kind-hearted and creative gentleman, and because of his inability to find work, she is literally starving even as she is about to give birth to she and her husband's child.

The desperate need to do whatever she can is what forms the motivation for what appears to be greed of truly staggering proportions. The plot is absorbing and quite complicated, but to summarize, she returns to her childhood home where she was raised by her uncle, the local physician, and with her two younger sisters.  Sibyl arrives, concealing her marriage (and the fact she has just given birth) to try to ingratiate herself to her uncle, Stephen Trenchard, who has recently returned from India, now elderly and in poor health, from India. He he presumed to have converted himself into a nabob of sorts, and is presumed to be a wealthy magnate of a shipping company, and Sibyl schemes to position herself to be the legatee and to be the one who inherits his riches. By all appearances, he is truly a spectacularly wealthy tycoon, albeit a skin-flint.

It is probably useful to note here that Anglo-Indians (Britons who emigrated to India and settled there) do not fare well in Braddon's novels. They tend to be morally reprehensible and to bring shame of not complete and total disaster upon their extended families. The novels that feature truly evil Anglo-Indians include John Marchmont's Legacy, Henry Dunbar, A Phantom Fortune, and Dead Men's Shoes. In contrast, those who work in Australia usually come back with experience and honor. Examples of Australian success include Fenton's Quest, Lady Audley's Secret, and Dead Men's Shoes.

Sibyl's husband, abandoned, but still in desperately (albeit improbably) in love, tries to find her, but eventually gives up and goes to Australia where he is a successful agent for a trading company. Eventually he returns to find that he has inherited a title and an estate. Sibyl, of course, does not know this. She is trying to ingratiate herself and inherit her uncle's millions, hovering and hoping for a quick decline of health. In the meantime, she pays someone to take care of her little baby, who is quickly growing into toddlerhood.

Sibyl believes her enterprise is worthwhile because if she achieves her end -- the dead man's shoes -- she and her husband will be reunited, she will reveal that they had a little boy, and all will be nirvana, particularly with the balm of the peculiar and unpleasant old uncle's money.

If the avarice in this scenario seems preposterous, it seemed so to others who found out about her plans. And, it did not help that the rich uncle dies of cyanide poisoning, and Sibyl has, coincidentally taken a vial of the stuff from her uncle's pharmacy.

And, the dead man's shoes turn out to be worn out at the end of the day. He died almost penniless; and was banking on the bit of money he wrested from his illegitimate son back in India, and his reputation and fame for credit from the local shopkeepers. 

I won't go into details, but there is a very happy ending for all, or at least the promise of one. And, before you dismiss Braddon as a sensation novelist of over-the-top hyperbole, I'd like to mention that her ability to portray psychological depths and to show the complexity of heart, mind, and conflicting views of society is quite stunning. She also creates a role for the pure of heart and the individuals who cling to a vision of relationships and reality that rewards the stalwart and good of heart.

In addition to the psychological realism, the description of the social milieu gives incredible insight into the details of life in Victorian England at basically every level of society. In addition, one sees just how times of rapid technological change impact all levels, and while the disruptions create opportunities for others, the close doors and engender desperation in others.

Saturday, September 03, 2016

Review of Visme: Presentations, Photo Editing, Animations

I'm reviewing the free version of Visme ( because I stalled around and let my free trial to the premium version expire before I had time to really work with the program.

There are quite a few sources of presentation templates and infographic software, and many are free. So, how does one wade through and finally decide which one to use? I like the idea of using quite a few of them.  Just for fun, I thought I'd create a collage with a few photos that I took along with some of the shapes in the Visme library of free items.

In order to use the graphic, I had to save it and then download it. With the free version, I can download a jpg graphic. But, with the  premium, I can save it as the following file types: PNG, PDF, and HTML5.

Visme graphic I created using the free version and playing with Visme's shape library and a few photos I took in Mexico.
Visme offers infographics, but most come with the premium version. If I had the premium version of Visme, I might prefer it. But, at the moment, my favorite infographic cloud-based software program is Canva ( It is easy to use, and the built-in template give me endless inspiration and ideas. As with all infographics, planning is the most important part. What do you want to communicate? What is your message? Why do you need to communicate the message in infographic form? What are your advantages?

After you've determined what your purpose is and what you want your reader to do with the information (the famous "rhetorical situation"), you can start taking the next step.

Canva is great for infographics, and it also has presentations. But, so does Google slides. And, for that matter, PowerPoint's many online repositories can provide you with templates.

So where does Visme fit in?  To me, what makes Visme really special is what lies beneath the first slide -- in the depth and breadth of the presentation templates, and that they are very easy to animate.

They can also be connected to Screencast-o-matic for excellent and easy-to-make audio-accompanied screencasts.

But returning to Visme -- here are a few of the advantages: 
  1. Visme's tools are very professional and allow you customize more than you can with some of the other templates and interfaces
  2. The photo editor is very easy to use and powerful
  3. The font library is fun and very extensive
  4. The banners are perfect of quick construction of banner ads for placement on websites
  5. The simple charts and graphics within the infographics section are extensive. They're not free, though. 
How much does Visme cost?  Right now, there packages for free, $7 per month, and $15 per month. If you're a designer and you use Visme to build ads, etc. the price is certainly worth it.

I personally think that Visme would be a better solution if it also included a library of cut-out characters. It's really a pain to have to subscribe to five or six different services just to create the kinds of instructional or promotional materials that you want / need to create.

Here's a social media graphic (using the premium version) that I assembled using photos from Pawnee, Oklahoma, where a 5.6 earthquake in September 2016 impacted historical buildings, some much more than others.

That said (and all whining for a utopian solution aside), I like using Visme, and love the results. Here's just one experiment -- photos taken in Mexico and in downtown Tulsa on Cinco de Mayo 2016 at the Chihuahua races :) :)

Friday, September 02, 2016

Review of FotoJet: Cloud-Based Collage, Design, Photo-Editing

I'm always looking for cloud-based programs to help me with graphics. My favorite photo-editing program continues to be PicMonkey (, but it's pretty limited when it comes to doing more than photo-editing and collages.

Plus, most of PicMonkey's best features are "premium" and so if I want to create a Zombie Apocalypse of last year's Tulsa Oktoberfest, I'm out of luck unless I pony up the $39.99 per year it costs. Granted, that's not a lot of money, but it adds up, and I have to actually use PicMonkey to get the value for my investment.

Fotojet's a little different ( First of all, it's free. It's somewhat limited, but adding new templates and features seemingly every day.  While it does not have all the cool fonts and design themes (Backyard Cookout, Stars & Stripes, Baby, and Vampires, just to name a few), nor does it have built-in beautifying touchups, it does work well with templates for social media.

It's designed to make your social media have a lot more impact through graphic appeal, and the Facebook and Instagram templates also work well for blog posts and LinkedIn.

Fotojet is also perfect for creating albums and materials for your scrapbooks or collages, and instead of having to host it on Fotojet, you can download the graphics in a number of formats.

I thought I'd try out Fotojet's Collage, Design, and Editing functions to see how they worked on a few of my photos.

Here's a quick collage I made of the a vacation to Lo de Marcos, Nayarit, Mexico. It was a snap to use the online editor to add text.

I used the Design tool to create a header for a social media post, or a digital postcard. It was very simple - I just uploaded my photo to the tool, and started to play.

While exploring the various templates, I happened across a new one on Collages. It is one that allows you to create a comics-themed or graphic novel of your experience. It's quirky and cute, and reminds me a lot of PicMonkey's Comics themed fonts, clip art, etc. What I like about FotoJet is that it introduces a design that helps you keep the process quick and the results uncluttered and professional. As you can see, you have quite a few to choose from. Use of the templates is free, but you must be a registered user.

I played around with the photo editor. In this one, I made the background black and white, and then restored color to my face and neck. Drama on a bleak, winter day. It gave it a Wuthering Heights feel in my opinion. I like it.

In this one, I wanted to emphasize the Wild West feel of the town of Pawnee, Oklahoma, and give the composition a grounded feeling, while also adding a bit of energy and focus. So, I combined a few effects. I like the results! My feeling is that the changes were subtle, but they add an element of interest and visual dynamcs.

Look closely at the building in the background. It was built in the early 1900s and the building stone consists of sandstone bricks. Unfortunately, the 5.6-magnitude Sept 3, 2016 earthquake damaged the buildings. I'm hoping that they will be restored.
 Finally, I returned to the collage tool to see what I could do with more photos of my New Year's Eve in Lo de Marcos, Mexico. It took very little time, particularly since I did not edit or enhance the photos themselves -- I just took them directly from my phone.
I'm very excited about Fotojet, and it will be my "go-to" tool for collages and social media templates. I'm eager to see what new templates will emerge. As far as I can tell, Fotojet is adding a template or two every week or so. It's easy, fun, and free -- and, the images inspire me to write stories, add posts to my social media, and think of the "same old - same old" from a new vantage point.

I love cloud-based tools because I consider them to be true creativity-enhancers and triggers for innovative thought.

And, I have not even gotten into how they can be used in the workplace to create a spirit of unity and enthusiasm!

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