The Wrong Unit by Rob Dircks

The Wrong Unit Book Cover
I really needed something humorous to read and The Wrong Unit really paid off.

There is a lot of humor and humanity in this story of a… well wait. This is yet another one of those stories where I don’t want to give too much away. Even telling you the main plot idea in the book would be giving to much away.

Let’s just say it is a very humorous story of the distant future where machines have… You’ll have to read or listen to it yourself to find out.

From the publisher:

I don’t know what the humans are so cranky about. Their enclosures are large, they ingest over 1,000 calories per day, and they’re allowed to mate. Plus, they have me: an Autonomous Servile Unit, housed in a mobile/bipedal chassis. I do my job well: keep the humans healthy and happy.

"Hey you."

Heyoo. That’s my name, I suppose. It’s easier for the humans to remember than 413s98-itr8. I guess I’ve gotten used to it.

Rob Dircks, author of Where the Hell is Tesla? and Don’t Touch the Blue Stuff!, has a “unit” with a problem: how to deliver his package, out in the middle of nowhere, with nothing to guide him. Oh, and with the fate of humanity hanging in the balance. It’s a science fiction tale of technology gone haywire, unlikely heroes, and the nature of humanity. (Woah. That last part sounds deep. Don’t worry, it’s not.)

©2016 Rob Dircks (P)2016 Rob Dircks

I rate this book a 9 out of 10 and recommend it to anyone looking for a good story with plenty of humor.

The Frequency of Aliens by Gene Doucette

The Frequency of Aliens Book Cover

This is the second book in the Sorrow Falls series. The first was The Spaceship Next Door which I read and reviewed last year.

I really enjoyed The Spaceship Next Door and The Frequency of Aliens continues the adventures of Annie Collins as she heads off to college. I really don’t won’t to tell you much more about the story, I feel that the less you know, the more you will enjoy it.

Suffice to say Steve Carlson does an amazing job narrating the book bring all of the characters to life including men, women, ghost, and aliens alike.

From the publisher:

Annie Collins is back!

Becoming an overnight celebrity at age 16 should have been a lot more fun. Yes, there were times when it was extremely cool, but when the newness of it all wore off, Annie Collins was left with a permanent security detail and the kind of constant scrutiny that makes the college experience especially awkward.

Not helping matters: she’s the only kid in school with her own pet spaceship.

She would love it if things found some kind of normal, but as long as she has control of the most lethal – and only – interstellar vehicle in existence, that isn’t going to happen. Worse, things appear to be going in the other direction. Instead of everyone getting used to the idea of the ship, the complaints are getting louder. Public opinion is turning, and the demands that Annie turn over the ship are becoming more frequent. It doesn’t help that everyone seems to think Annie is giving them nightmares.

Nightmares aren’t the only weird things going on lately. A government telescope in California has been abandoned, and nobody seems to know why.

The man called on to investigate – Edgar Somerville – has become the go-to guy whenever there’s something odd going on, which has been pretty common lately. So far, nothing has panned out: no aliens or zombies or anything else that might be deemed legitimately peculiar…but now may be different, and not just because Ed can’t find an easy explanation. This isn’t the only telescope where people have gone missing, and the clues left behind lead back to Annie.

It all adds up to a new threat that the world may just need saving from, requiring the help of all the Sorrow Falls survivors. The question is: are they saving the world with Annie Collins, or are they saving it from her?

The Frequency of Aliens is the exciting sequel to The Spaceship Next Door.

©2017 Gene Doucette (P)2017 Gene Doucette

I rate The Frequency of Aliens the same as I did The Spaceship Next Door, a 9 out of 10 and recommend it to everyone.

Mechanical Keyboards

If you read my review of the 2016 MacBook Pro you know how much I dislike the keyboard on it. Along with that I have been reading Norman Chan on, co-workers, gaming sites, and “computer experts” talking mechanical keyboards and how wonderful they are, my interest was piqued.

My goal for a keyboard is for it to be comfortable and to give a reliable amount of feedback for my not-so-fast touch typing. I don’t need it for “gaming” or a crazy amount of n-key rollover. Just something solid, reliable, and comfortable. I would have loved to build a keyboard kit with all the soldering and programming that entails, but I have other things I would rather be doing. So I spent months shopping and comparing every mechanical keyboard I could lay my hands on.

I eventual bought a Corsair K-something-or-other. I quickly figured out that the keyboard required software installed on the computer to work. That is a no-go for me as they keyboard will be moved from Mac to Windows to Linux and I want it to work the same way no matter what it is plugged into. I researched a bunch more keyboards and found that most of the popular ones require software, usually only available for Windows, to do more than act as a basic keyboard.

Then I took another look at the Cooler Master series of keyboards, turns out all of its features are programmed and stored directly on the keyboard. That means your settings and macros are stored and usable even when you switch the computer it is plugged into, exactly what I was after.

Cooler Master MasterKeys keyboards come in many variations, no back-light, white or blue back-light, RGB back-light, also Cherry MX switches in Blue, Brown, Red.

I chose a Cooler Master MasterKeys Pro S, with RGB back-lighting, Cherry MX Blue switches, in a TenKeyless (TKL) design for home use and for the office I chose the exact same keyboard but with Brown switches.


I generally like full-sized keyboards with number pads, but at work I have been using an Apple Bluetooth keyboard for the last 7 years or so and have gotten used to it. When I went looking for a mechanical keyboard I discovered there are 3 typical sizes.

  • Full-Sized – This is the usual keyboard with the number pad
  • TenKeyLess (TKL) – Everything is where it would be on a full-sized keyboard but with the number pad cut-off
  • Compact – A lot like a laptop keyboard with no number keys and the arrow keys are usually below the left-hand shift key
  • Gaming – Usually a keyboard similar to a full-sized one, but with additional macro and media keys knobs and switches

I chose a TKL size as I don’t really feel the need for the number pad and I like the extra space it leaves on my desk. Having that extra space for the mouse is great.


For my home computer I wanted to go all in with the clicky-clicky of Cherry MX Blue switches, but for the office I went with the Brown switches which do not make the click sound. I then did a blind, or rather deaf, test and determined that the Blue and Brown switches in the Cooler Master keyboard are exactly the same with the exception of the click.

With both keyboards I tend to “bottom-out” the keys, which adds a lot more noise to my typing. I have found the solution to be some inexpensive O-ring switch dampeners that have made typing quieter with the added feature of shortening the throw of the keys.

RGB Backlighting

I need back-lighting so that I can see the keys in darker environments, I don’t really need the RGB and the fancy features that come with it, but I do get a kick out of having the keys light up bright purple when I touch them. Fun, but not necessary.


Wow, these keyboards are tall! I find it impossible to type on them without a wrist rest. I like the Glorious Gaming Wrist Pad in Full Size. I tried the TKL version, but found it to small as my wrists, especially the left one, sits outside the width of the keyboard. The firmness and height of the wrist rest is exactly what I needed. Ergonomically a keyboard should tilt slightly down and away from you and not up and toward you where your wrist are bent stressing out and leading to carpal-tunnel issues. With my old keyboard I was able to attach supports to the front of the keyboard lifting it, the Cooler Master keyboard is so tall that I don’t think lifting the front would be a very good solution.

At some point I may build a mechanical keyboard from a kit just so that I will have more control over the angle and height it.


I bought some fun keycaps to replace the “Cooler Master” OS specific keys and the escape key with Portal characters. Love them!

Other Options

You can build from a kit, you can build from parts sourced from all over the world, you can buy a ready-made keyboard like I did and customize it with different keycaps. You can get a keyboard like the Planck that has fewer keys but may be faster for a dedicated typer after a transition period. You can even get keyboards that are just a grid of keys for assigning macros to, and not just for gaming, you could create macros to type things for you that are typed often.


I really like the Cooler Master MasterKeys Pro S RGB keyboards, both the Blue and Brown switches are exactly what I was looking for.

The Phoenix Project by George Spafford, Kevin Behr, and Gene Kim

It’s been awhile since I used Safari Books Online, O’Reilly’s online subscription service, to read something, so I picked The Phoenix Project which was recommended to me on my login page.

The Phoenix Project is a “novel” about DevOps and all that entails being implemented in manufacturing and retail environment where IT had always been seen as a necessary evil. I think a lot of people, both inside and outside of IT can relate to that. The back of the book is full of resources and information about where to learn more about DevOps, continuous deployment, and automation tools.

I have yet to work somewhere where DevOps is a reality, not sure that I ever will, but a boy can dream. I have worked somewhere that was able to deploy multiple times a day, which was pretty great. But most places I have worked only deployed once a month, or a quarter, or in one instance only once every 18 months, when they were lucky. It really shouldn’t be like that.

From the publisher:

Bill is an IT manager at Parts Unlimited. It’s Tuesday morning and on his drive into the office, Bill gets a call from the CEO.

The company’s new IT initiative, code named Phoenix Project, is critical to the future of Parts Unlimited, but the project is massively over budget and very late. The CEO wants Bill to report directly to him and fix the mess in ninety days or else Bill’s entire department will be outsourced.

With the help of a prospective board member and his mysterious philosophy of The Three Ways, Bill starts to see that IT work has more in common with manufacturing plant work than he ever imagined. With the clock ticking, Bill must organize work flow streamline interdepartmental communications, and effectively serve the other business functions at Parts Unlimited.

In a fast-paced and entertaining style, three luminaries of the DevOps movement deliver a story that anyone who works in IT will recognize. Readers will not only learn how to improve their own IT organizations, they’ll never view IT the same way again.

I rate The Phoenix Project an 8 out of 10 and recommend it to anyone in IT, anyone who manages people in IT, and to everyone who is sick and tired of late-night deployments that always seem to have a lot of problems.

Apple MacBook Pro 15-inch Late 2016 Review

After 7 years it was finally time to update my trusty old 2011 MacBook Pro. Due to my dislike of the choices Apple has made with their laptops in the last few years, my first stop was an HP Omen Windows 10 machine with lots of upgrades. After a couple of months of trying to get Windows 10 and Windows software to do what I want in a way that I felt efficient doing it, I gave up and decided to give up on Windows, yet again, and get another MacBook Pro.

I am only going to cover what makes the MacBook Pro different from the HP Omen as they actually have a lot in common. But my main reason for choosing the MacOS product over a Microsoft Windows product is the operating system and not the features. In fact the Omen has a MUCH BETTER keyboard, better storage options, a better video card, and can handle double the RAM of the MacBook Pro. On paper the HP Omen is a much better computer than the MacBook Pro, if I could run MacOs High Sierra on it, it would be a better computer in almost every way.

What I Like

The build quality of the MacBook Pro is fantastic, it is solid with no rattles or cheapness. I have covered it in a case from KEC with a great space image on it which fits perfectly and protects the laptop from scratches while making it clear that it is my laptop and not someone else’s.

The screen is also great, at a resolution of 2880×1800 at 220points per inch, and is super bright when I want it to be. The color reproduction is solid and dependable.

The computer is fast; even with less RAM, a slower video card, and the same processor, it feels noticeably faster for the way I use the computer. This is probably due to the control that Apple has over the hardware and software used with their computers, I think that is still a huge advantage.

The trackpad is pretty great, but with High Sierra I sometimes get confused about the multi-finger gestures and with how large it is I find it difficult to determine if I am on the left-hand or right-hand side of it.

What I Don’t Like

The Touchbar is a distraction that the computer could really do without. The way that it is constantly changing, moving buttons around, is awful. Just talking about something like that around the water cooler, it sounds kind of cool, but even a quick back-of-an-envelope usability test would show anyone that is a bad idea.

The keyboard is the worst keyboard I have ever used! Worse than the chiclet keyboard on the Atari 400. Buttons stick, offer almost no feedback (unless they stick), and is just horrible.

Only 16GB of RAM… just ridiculous! There are very few Windows machines over $1000 on the market that cannot be upgraded to at least 32GB and many of those may be upgraded to 64GB. It is claimed that having 32GB of RAM would greatly reduce batter life, but with the way that most professionals use these laptops battery life is not much of a concern. As long as it would have 3 hours of battery life, that would be fine.


There are a lot of people complaining about dongles and adapters. I am not one of them. I bought a couple Amazon Basics USB-C to USB 3 cables to replace USB-A to USB 3 cables and a pair of AUKEY USB-C to USB-A adapters that are so small they can stay on the cables I use them with and I am good to go.

I also bought a Sinstar 8 in 1 adapter that includes an SD Card reader, Ethernet Port, and HDMI Port along with some other ports I really don’t use. It gets pretty warm when used but has been great so far.


This is what makes a MacOS laptop work better for me than a Windows 10 laptop. I was able to replace most of these in Windows, but not all of them. When I did find a replacement, it did not work the same or was not as easy to use.

Now that you can install Linux as a subsystem in Linux, there may be some real options there. I’m keeping an eye on that.

Playing Dungeons and Dragons at DragonCon 2016

Logo for Dungeons and Dragons

Before DragonCon 2016 I had decided that I wanted to play Dungeons & Dragons at the convention. Even though I played D&D in high school and went to a lot of conventions where it was played, I had never actually played at a convention before.

In the early 80’s I played Dungeons and Dragons with my friends at lunch and on the weekends along with a bunch of other role playing games (RPG). Most of those games are not played very much anymore, but D&D is now on its 5th iteration which has apparently brought it closer to the first version which is what I remember.

At DragonCon I got to play 3 sessions, 2 of which were great and 1 of which was kind of meh. So much in an RPG depends upon the person running the game, the Game Master (GM) or Dungeon Master (DM), the player characters (PCs), and the module or adventure.

I tend to play “good” characters, with Lawful Good Human Paladins and Chaotic Good Elf Rangers being my preference, and in the convention setting that does not always work with the other players at the table. If everyone else is playing “not-so-good” characters like Warlocks, Thieves, Pirates, etcetera, a Lawful Good Paladin is kind of a stick-in-the-mud, which can actually be fun if the other players are into playing along, but it can also be really not fun if they want to play all serious. That last game at DragonCon was the latter.

Also keep in mind that I had not played since 1986 and never with anyone but friends. So at a convention with a hard time limit with a bunch of strangers was a very different experience.

D&D 5e is a lot like what I remember in high school, apparently previous versions, especially 3.5e, were a lot more complicated. Right now there are only a handful of books needed, actually you could play the game entirely for free using the Systems Reference Document (SRD).

If you are interested in playing D&D I highly recommend checking out gaming at a convention, it was a lot of fun and I was able to learn a lot about the fifth edition rules and how to play the game.

Blade Inductrix FPV

Blade Inductrix FPV

I have owned a few “toy grade” multi-rotors and I have to say that this is my favorite.

The Inductrix was a toy quadcopter by Blade that was special because it used inducted fan style motors and props which protects the propellers and may give a small power boost. Later, some guys created the Tiny Whoop was created by taking an Inductrix style quad and adding a small camera and transmitter to it so it could be flown FPV.

Seeing the success of the Tiny Whoop, Blade created their own version and named it the Blade Inductrix FPV. It is essentially the Inductrix with a tiny camera and 25mw video transmitter. You have to supply a transmitter and goggles or screen.

With 205mw batteries I bought off Amazon and the great STRIX Power Stix 1s Charging Board I get about 3 minutes a flight, which is ok, but not great.

Fatshark goggles with the Laforge diversity modules, a spiral antenna and a patch antenna, I can fly pretty much anywhere in my house and still get reception good enough to keep it in the air.

The frame is a bit fragile, I recommend buying a couple extra and using a carbon fiber or 3d printed x-frame to add some rigidity and reduce the chance of breaking the motor mounts.

I highly recommend the Blade Inductrix FPV to anyone wanting to fly FPV no matter what kind of flying they want to do!

The Spaceship Next Door by Gene Doucette

The Spaceship Next Door audiobook coverI really liked The Spaceship Next Door, it is the first of Gene Doucette’s books I have read and now I look forward to reading/listening to his other books.

I bought this book from Audible and listened to it using the Audible app on my iPhone.

The characters Annie, who is overflowing with teen energy, and Edgar with his G-man attitude are a wonderful mix that makes this a wonderful sci-fi story even though there is really nothing new or ground-breaking.

The narration by Steve Carlson works well, his voice is perfect for Edgar and he does a great job conveying Annie’s energy and nosiness.

From the publisher:

The world changed on a Tuesday.

When a spaceship landed in an open field in the quiet mill town of Sorrow Falls, Massachusetts, everyone realized humankind was not alone in the universe. With that realization everyone freaked out for a little while.

Or almost everyone. The residents of Sorrow Falls took the news pretty well. This could have been due to a certain local quality of unflappability, or it could have been that in three years the ship did exactly nothing other than sit quietly in that field, and nobody understood the full extent of this nothing the ship was doing better than the people who lived right next door.

Sixteen-year-old Annie Collins is one of the ship’s closest neighbors. Once upon a time she took every last theory about the ship seriously, whether it was advanced by an adult or by a peer. Surely one of the theories would be proven true – if not several of them – the very minute the ship decided to do something. Annie is starting to think this will never happen.

One late August morning, a little over three years since the ship landed, Edgar Somerville arrived in town. Ed’s a government operative posing as a journalist, which is obvious to Annie – and pretty much everyone else he meets – almost immediately. He has a lot of questions that need answers, because he thinks everyone is wrong: The ship is doing something, and he needs Annie’s help to figure out what that is.

Annie is a good choice for tour guide. She already knows everyone in town, and when Ed’s theory is proven correct – something is apocalyptically wrong in Sorrow Falls – she’s a pretty good person to have around.

As a matter of fact, Annie Collins might be the most important person on the planet. She just doesn’t know it.

The Spaceship Next Door is the latest novel from Gene Doucette, best-selling author of The Immortal Trilogy, Fixer, The Immortal Chronicles, and Immortal Stories: Eve.

©2015 Gene Doucette (P)2016 Gene Doucette

I rate The Spaceship Next Door a 9 out of 10 and recommend it anyone looking for a fun sc-fi story.

OctoPrint and the Prusa i3 MK2S

octoprint logo

I ran the Prusa i3 Mk2S for a couple of weeks by copying files to the SD card and then printing from there.I could have also printed directly from a computer plugged into the printer, but that computer would need to stay connected and powered on while printing. Either one of those solutions work well enough, but I really wanted to be able to print from multiple computers while not dedicating a laptop or desktop to printing, and most of all I wanted to be able to monitor the printer remotely with video.

OctoPrint is a web interface for 3D printers that can use a Raspberry Pi or similar inexpensive computer. With a Raspberry Pi 3 it allows for the sending of prints, controlling the printer, recording time-lapse videos, and viewing the printer in action remotely.

I used a Raspberry Pi 3 and installed OctoPi and connected a Raspberry Pi camera with a long ribbon cable along with camera and board mount that I found on Thingiverse. It all went together very easy.

I highly recommend watching Thomas Sanladerer’s “Getting started with OctoPrint” video, it will get you through most of the setup process.

I setup a domain name with No-IP so that I can reach the OctoPrint server from anywhere in the world, following the steps was very easy. There is even a Linux Dynamic Update Client that will keep my IP address updated.

I also installed the TouchUI plugin to get a better user interface when using OctoPrint on my phone, which is totally awesome.

The time lapses created by OctoPrint are very cool. By having the camera attached to the camera bed the point of view moves with the object being printed which makes it look like it is standing still while the printer and the room behind it are moving back and forth. I like this much better than having the camera stationary while the printed object is moving back and forth in the video.

If you are using a 3D printer and want to control and monitor it remotely and/or capture video of it printing, I highly recommend giving OctoPrint a try.

Prusa i3 MK2S 3D Printer

Assembled Prusa i3 MK2S

I spent a lot of time and energy researching 3D printers before finally buying one, and even then I am not real happy with the first one I bought, but that will be another post. This one is about the second printer I bought and love, the Prusa i3 MK2S Kit.

The Prusa i3 MK2 is a very popular and highly rated printer, Make Magazine gave it their Outstanding Open Source, Best Value, and Best Overall awards in 2017. Thomas Sanladerer says “The Original Josef Prusa i3 MK2: It doesn’t get any better than this!

You may have already done some reasearch and found that it takes up to 2 months to get this Prusa kit ship shipped to the states, I ordered mine on February 13 and it did not ship from the Czech Republic until March 31st and I received it a few days after that.

The total I paid for the kit with shipping came to $781.26. In the world of good 3D printers with auto bed leveling, a heated build plate, 8 inch by 8 inch by 8 inch (it’s actually bigger than that) build area, and quality components like the E3D V6 hot end, is an amazing price.

Prusa i3 MK2S kit parts

I could have bought it assembled for $200.00 more, but I believe you should have the experience of building from a kit as you WILL be taking it apart to maintain it if you are going to be serious about 3D printing.

Putting the printer together was not that hard, Prusa provides wonderfully detailed directions online in a format where you can ask questions and get clarification quickly. Many times someone at Prusa will even update the instructions based on feedback within a couple days of a comment being made. I used an iPad to view and follow the instructions, it worked great.

There are also many videos on YouTube, some as long as 12 hours, with people building their Prusa i3 MK2 kits. Also there are many video reviews, troubleshooting help, and timelapses of prints in progress.

After 6 weeks or so of printing about 18 hours a day, something went wrong with my printer. I am still not sure exactly what went wrong, because I bent the heat break tube while trying to fix it. I ordered a new tube, nozzle, and boden tube from the MatterHackers website. I then proceeded to make some mistakes when re-assembling the E3D hot end which triggered a chat session with Shane at Prus who patiently helped me troubleshoot the issue.

I led him down multiple wrong paths, I kept thinking it was an issue with the extruder motor, but eventually we figured out the issue was the filament cooling where it shouldn’t be. I spent some time with the E3D V6 Assembly instructions, figured out what I was doing wrong, took it all apart for the fourth or fifth time, and carefully assembled it following the E3D instructions to the letter. Then BANG! I was back in business.

If you are looking to get into 3D printing and want a printer that will last a long time, is easy to fix and maintain, will print almost any filament, and are willing to spend around $800.00 to get started, I recommend the Prusa i3 MK2S kit over anything else on the market.

The MonoPrice 3D Printers are getting great reviews and prices cannot be beat. I have been tempted by them, but I think I would save up and get another Prusa with all of its features instead.

E-flite Radian

E-flite Radian

This Radian is the larger sibling to the UMX radian with a 2 meter wingspan, there is even a larger version, the Radian XL that has a 2.6 meter wingspan. So this is the middle sized, although still quite large, Radian.

After flying the UMX Radian for awhile I decided I was ready for its big brother. I have heard from many places that the larger E-flite Radian flies just like the little one, well as an inexperienced pilot I have to disagree.

I think the big difference between the 2 is the AS3X system in the UMX which provides a lot of stability and helps keep the plane flying level and smooth.

Radian battery compartment

With the larger plane and the lack of AS3X I find it much harder to control, to the point that I have put it nose-first into the dirt twice now. Yes, on my first maiden flight, about 2 minutes into the flight I lost control and put it into the ground at high speed. It broke the fuselage in half and crumpled the nose to the point it could not be repaired.

It is very nice that a replacement fuselage is available for less than $30. It took me about an hour and some E6000 to strip the parts I need from the old fuselage and get the new fuselage ready to fly. It was easy to do with some patience and care.

The second flight was even worse than the first. I did not keep it in the air much more than a minute when it felt like it was not responding to my commands. I think it was responding but I just had no idea what to do to get it to pull out of the dive it was in. So BANG, back in the dirt. At least this time I think I can glue it back together and not replace any parts, we’ll see.

My plan now is to find someone at the airfield who can buddy-box with me and give me some lessons in flying fixed wing planes. To tell you the truth I could use that kind of help with multi-rotors and ground RC.

Even though I have had my issues with the Radian, I would still recommend it to anyone looking for a starter powered sailplane, but not as a first plane.

E-flite UMX Radian

E-flite Radian UMX

After a couple of years flying multi-rotors I decided to give a fixed wing plane a try. At some point I built a Flite-Test Trainer which I never really got to fly due to my total lack of experience. Then I did some research and decided to buy an E-flite UMX Radian.

There are many versions of the Radian and the UMX is the smallest and cheapest of the bunch at around $90.00 for the Bind-and-Fly version, meaning you have to supply your own transmitter to fly it. There is a FPV version that comes with a camera and transmitter, along with much larger version all the way up to the Radian XL with a 2.6 meter wing span.

The UMX Radian has been a great plane for me to get started with, the AS3X system does an amazing job keeping it level and steady even in a moderate amount of wind. But I feel like the AS3X system is not allowing me to learn the skills I need to fly larger planes that do not include include it. More on that in a later post.

And most amazingly, this little plane is able to catch thermals and ride them until the plane is a dot in the sky. The first couple of times I caught a thermal and took it up and up it was a real thrill. Even with the 150mah batteries I regularly get 10 full minutes of flying and every now and then I get as much as 20 minutes.

The plane is so docile and easy to fly that I am usually sitting in a chair in the shade while flying it, but once it becomes a dot in the sky it is best to stand up and pay a bit more attention, but one of the really great things is that it is so light that even if you plant it into the ground you most like won’t break anything.

I highly recommend the UMX Radian to anyone looking for a small inexpensive docile flyer that can take a bit of wind and take some bad landings without breaking.

DragonCon 2016 Pictures

Alan Tudyk at the Firefly Guests panel at DragonCon 2016

Jason Isaacs in the Wait Until My Father Hears About This! panel at DragonCon 2016

Tori Belleci in the Confirmed: An Hour with Tory and Kari panel at DragonCon 2016

I had a great time at DragonCon this year, actually got to play Dungeons & Dragons Adventure League on 3 mornings in a row!

More pictures are over at my SmugMug site.

ZMR250 Multirotor Frame

ZMR250 Multirotor Racing Drone

ZMR250 Frame

My first 250 size quadcopter frame was a ZMR250 which I have been told is a clone of a Blackout 250. The Blackout costs $150 from GetFPV while the ZMR is available for as low as $20 from various sources. I got my first one from Banggood in May 2015, it required some drilling to get the 2204 motors to fit the arms and the SMA VTx to fit through the top plate, but I was pretty happy with it overall.

My initial build included:

  • Banggood ZMR250 Carbon Fiber Frame
  • SimonK 20Amp ESCs
  • SunnySky 2204/2300kv Motors (I think they were knock-offs)
  • 700tvl Sony Board Camera
  • ImmersionRC 600mw VTx and Spironet Antennas
  • Naze32 Flight Controller
  • Home-made Power Distribution Board

I chose black and orange as a color scheme using orange shrink-wrap and propellers. After making a lot of mistakes and burning myself with the soldering iron a dozen or more times I decided to name the plane “Orange Pain”.

Since May I have rebuilt the machine a number of times due to burnt out or broken parts. I have gone through a Naze32, two 600mw VTx, a very expensive board camera, a top plate, three motors, three SN20a ESCs, and a ton of props. I bought an FPVModel ZMR250 and built it as a second plane but have since parted it out.

The current iteration of Orange Pain includes:

  • A mixture of Carbon Fiber parts from the original Banggood frame and a FPVModel ZMR250 V2 frame
  • RotorGeek RG20A ESCs
  • SunnySky 2204/2300kv (I think these are real)
  • Fatshark 250mw VTx
  • 600tvl Sony Board Camera PZ4020
  • Naze32 Flight Controller
  • DYS Power Distribution Board

I think this is a great setup for an intermediate racer or daily basher. I am currently struggling to get the tune on it right and am ready to pay someone else to tune it for me.

After rebuilding the machine a number of times I have learned a few things.
The expensive FPV cameras are not worth it, stick with the $30 Sony PZ4020 or PZ4020M with or without a case.
600mw Video Transmitters are not needed and the extra heat can greatly shorten the life of the unit. A 200mw or even 25mw transmitter may last a long longer and provide a signal that is comparable to the higher-powered transmitters at racing and public park distances.
If you short out a flight controller it is probably ruined. It is good to have an extra on hand.
Spend the extra money on 2 sets of drivers, keep one set in a toolbox at home and carry the other set with you.

I really enjoy my ZMR and recommend them for people getting started who want to build their own. The FPVModel ZMR250 V2 is made of a much higher quality carbon fiber than the Banggood frame, but the cheaper frame is not a bad buy.

ImmersionRC Vortex Pro-Tunes

Vortex 285 – FPV Race Quad

Vortex 285 – FPV Race Quad

The Vortex comes with 10 “Pro-Tunes” that were developed by sponsored pilots before its release. I did a bunch of Googling after buying the Vortex to try and find more details about these varoius tunes and found nothing more than a short video from UmmaGawd about the Vortex.

So here are all the tunes as of October 2015. I hope they add some new ones soon that are specific to newer motor and prop combinations, especially DAL props.

Preset 1

Pilot: AntohonyRC
Props: Gemfan 5040
Motor: T-Motor 1806
Pack: 4S
Camera: Mobius
Style: Easy Rider

Preset 2

Pilot: BewweB
Props: Gemfan 5030
Motor: T-Motor 1806
Pack: 3S
Camera: Mobius
Style: Beginner

Preset 3

Pilot: BewweB
Props: Gemfan 5030
Motor: T-Motor 1806
Pack: 4S
Camera: Mobius
Style: Intermediate

Preset 4

Pilot: BewweB
Props: Gemfan 5040
Motor: T-Motor 1806
Pack: 4S
Camera: Mobius
Style: Race

Preset 5

Pilot: BewweB
Props: HQ 5x4x3
Motor: T-Motor 1806
Pack: 4S
Camera: Mobius
Style: Howler

Preset 6

Pilot: BewweB
Props: Gemfan 5040
Motor: T-Motor 1806
Pack: 4S
Camera: Mobius
Style: Freeride

Preset 7

Pilot: BorisB
Props: HQ 5045
Motor: Cobra CM-2204/32
Pack: 4S
Camera: GoPro
Style: Acrobatic

Preset 8

Pilot: Nocomp
Props: Gemfan 6045
Motor: T-Motor 1806
Pack: 3S
Camera: Mobius
Style: Freerider

Preset 9

Pilot: Porco777
Props: Gemfan 5030
Motor: T-Motor 1806
Pack: 4S
Camera: Mobius
Style: Extreme

Preset 10

Pilot: UmmaGawd
Props: HQ 50540
Motor: T-Motor 1806
Pack: 4S
Camera: GoPro
Style: Precision

In the next couple of weeks I hope to experiment with each of these tunes and see how each performs with the props described and with various DAL props.

Immersion RC Vortex First Flights

Vortex 285 – FPV Race Quad

Vortex 285 – FPV Race Quad

I have seen a handful of people flying Vortexes around the Atlanta area and after rebuilding my ZMRs like 5 times I decided to give the Immersion Vortex a try.

I bought it from Atlanta Hobby along with both the Carbon Fiber Crash Kit and the Plastic Crash Kit. I also got a cable to allow me to easily connect a Spektrum Satellite receiver without having to make a cable of my own.

I got it home, took it out of the box, connected it to a computer and installed all the updated and such, then was ready to fly. It took me a couple of weeks to have the time and place to fly it, it rained 3 weekends in a row.

Once I finally got to fly the experience was very good. I started out with the Gemfan 5030 props that came with it, Turnigy Nano-tech 3S 1300mah batteries, with a RunCam HD, and used BewweB’s Pro-tune number 2. It flew really well and was a lot of fun. Not what I would call fast or agile, but still fun.

Next up I put a Glacier 4S 1300mah battery on it with DAL 5030 props, it was much faster and a bit more agile. Then I swapped the props out for DAL 5045 Bull-Nose props, but they were too aggressive and drew more amps than I was willing to risk.

Right now I feel like the Vortex’s largest issue is the proprietary 12 amp ESCs. 12 amps is not enough to run 6 inch props on 4S batteries without burning them up very quickly, and right now you cannot get replacement ESCs and without doing something extreme you cannot use larger ESCs.

After 7 flights with a mix of 3S and 4S batteries the ground cable to the FPV camera broke at the connector. I fixed it by cutting up a cable from a RunCam FPV camera and soldering together with the Vortex FPV cable. I also popped the cap off the video transmitter’s antenna, found it and popped it back on, but I plan on gluing it on before my next flight.

Overall I think the Vortex is a decent quad, the trends have changed a lot since its creation and so it has fallen out of favor in comparison to smaller multirotors like the Shendrone’s Tweaker and Krieger, but that does not mean that it is not a good quad. I think it is suitable for fun-flying and even racing at a beginner to intermediate level.

Sorry about the lack of video, the RunCam HD was not at enough of an angle so about all you could see during my flights was the ground. A quick Google search will lead you to many videos of pilots much better than me flying the Vortex.

The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher

I have re-listened to this series a handful of times now and it just gets better every time. I burnt through my credits on Audible faster than usual this year so to delay spending more credits I decided it was about time to listen to all 15 books in the series, I skipped Side Jobs this time.

Harry Dresden is such an amazing character and the world Jim Butcher has created is fantastic. But what makes the series so wonderful are the supporting characters, they are as unforgettable as Dresden.

James Marsters does an AMAZING job narrating these books, you owe it to yourself to listen to the audiobooks even if you have read the books yourself. He adds so much to them!

“Polka will never die!”

I rate the series a 10 out of 10 and recommend everyone give Storm Front a try.

DragonCon 2015

We had a good time at DragonCon this year. It was a strange year and I felt kind of off the whole show. But I had a good time talking with friends and taking pictures.

The Costume Contest and Masquerade were great, seeing the BSG folks and Karen Gillian was great, and listening the Jim Butcher is always fun. Steranko was a crack-up and the American Horror: Freak Show folks were a blast. The Georgia Philharmonic Orchestra was amazing and Rasputina was delightful.

DragonCon 2015 Photos

American Horror: Freak Show

Costume Contest

Battle Star Galactica


Georgia Philharmonic Orchestra


Jim Butcher


The Lost Fleet by Jack Campbell

The Lost Fleet is a science fiction series written by John G. Hemry writing as Jack Campbell and consists of 6 novels centered around Captain “Black Jack” Geary and the Alliance Fleet. This is good old military science fiction space war stuff.

I listened to these novels as audiobooks from Audible. Christian Rummel does a great job narrating all 6 of the novels and brings all of the characters to life. When adding up the playtime of all six novels you get 60 hours of space battles, political infighting, and military atmosphere.

This is not my ordinary type of reading, I usually go with something lighter, but The Lost Fleet had been recommended to me so many times that I couldn’t ignore it any longer. I am glad I finally picked it up, they are pretty great for what they are. Military space battles with some real military thought put into them.

I listened to all 6 of them one after the other, just couldn’t stop myself. And now I am on to Jack Campbell’s Beyond the Frontier series.

The books that make up The Lost Fleet are:

  1. The Lost Fleet: Dauntless
  2. The Lost Fleet: Fearless
  3. The Lost Fleet: Courageous
  4. The Lost Fleet: Valiant
  5. The Lost Fleet: Relentless
  6. The Lost Fleet: Victorious

What the publisher has to say about Dauntless:

The Alliance has been fighting the Syndics for a century, and losing badly. Now its fleet is crippled and stranded in enemy territory. Their only hope is a man who has emerged from a century-long hibernation to find he has been heroically idealized beyond belief.

Captain John “Black Jack” Geary’s legendary exploits are known to every schoolchild. Revered for his heroic “last stand” in the early days of the war, he was presumed dead. But a century later, Geary miraculously returns from survival hibernation and reluctantly takes command of the Alliance fleet as it faces annihilation by the Syndics.

Appalled by the hero-worship around him, Geary is nevertheless a man who will do his duty. And he knows that bringing the stolen Syndic hypernet key safely home is the Alliance’s one chance to win the war. But to do that, Geary will have to live up to the impossibly heroic “Black Jack” legend.

I rate The Lost Fleet series an 8 out of 10 and recommend it to anyone who loves science fiction and has a taste for the military.

Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel

I really like the Borderlands series of games, they are the right combination of first-person shooter (FPS), customizability, and goofy humor. The mechanics have always been good and it has been much more fun than frustrating.

The story lines in the Borderlands series do tend to be thin, this is not epic story telling by any means, but there is a story and it stays pretty consistent throughout the franchise, and I really enjoy it.

Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is the third update to the franchise. There are 3 main games, Borderlands, Borderlands 2, and now Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel. But each of these have a lot of downloadable content available that greatly extend the gameplay.

So far I have made my way through The Pre-Sequel with Nisha bringing her up to level 50 and now I am working my way through with Jack from the most recent DLC.

These games are solid fun if you enjoy FPS and the skill trees give you the opportunity to play the game using many different styles of play.

My only real complain right now is that the Mac and PC updates are not in sync so as a Mac player am having a tough time to find groups to play with. That is very frustrating as Jack is the perfect team player and should be most enjoyable with a full group. I think a group of 4 jacks would be a blast.

I rate Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel an 8 out of 10 and recommend it to anyone looking for a fun FPS to play.

Lock In by John Scalzi

Here is something new, an single audiobook with 2 performances. Not 2 narrators in the same recording, but 2 narrators with their own recording. Kinda cool.

I bought the audiobook from Audible as a pre-order that came with the added benefit of giving me the Amber Benson recording of the book.

I first listened to the Wil Wheaton recoding and really enjoyed it. Wil Wheaton has turned in some great performances as a narrator of audiobooks and this is no exception.

I am familiar with Amber Benson primarily from Buffy the Vampire slayer that I thought she was great in. I didn’t know that she is also an author and has narrated audiobooks.

After listening to the Wil Wheaton version of the book I decided to wait a month or so before listening to the Amber Benson version. During that break I read a blog post by John Scalzi that was pretty cool and shines a new light on the book. It makes the story kind of gimmicky, but I don’t believe it ruins the book.

WARNING: This link contains SPOILERS that will absolutely impact your enjoyment of reading or listening to Lock In. So don’t follow the link unless you have already read the book. If you have read it, please check it out, it is a cool aspect of the story you may have missed.


I enjoyed the story in Lock In and hope to read more stories that take place in the same universe. There is also talk of a TV series or a Movie, that could also be cool.

From the publisher:

"I love working with Audible, in no small part because they’re committed to doing what’s right, both for my books, and the people who listen to those books. There’s a really excellent reason for Lock In to have two entirely different versions, so when it came time to make the audiobook, Audible did an ingenious thing: they asked both Wil Wheaton and Amber Benson to record entire versions of the book. As the author, I’m impressed with Audible’s commitment to my narrative – and I’m geeking out that both Wil and Amber are reading my book. This is fantastic." (John Scalzi)

A blazingly inventive near-future thriller from the best-selling, Hugo Award-winning John Scalzi.

Not too long from today, a new, highly contagious virus makes its way across the globe. Most who get sick experience nothing worse than flu, fever, and headaches. But for the unlucky one percent – and nearly five million souls in the United States alone – the disease causes "Lock In": Victims fully awake and aware, but unable to move or respond to stimulus. The disease affects young, old, rich, poor, people of every color and creed. The world changes to meet the challenge.

A quarter of a century later, in a world shaped by what’s now known as "Haden’s syndrome", rookie FBI agent Chris Shane is paired with veteran agent Leslie Vann. The two of them are assigned what appears to be a Haden-related murder at the Watergate Hotel, with a suspect who is an "integrator" – someone who can let the locked in borrow their bodies for a time. If the Integrator was carrying a Haden client, then naming the suspect for the murder becomes that much more complicated.

But "complicated" doesn’t begin to describe it. As Shane and Vann began to unravel the threads of the murder, it becomes clear that the real mystery – and the real crime – is bigger than anyone could have imagined.

BONUS AUDIO: Audible’s audio edition of Lock In contains the bonus novella, Unlocked: An Oral History of Haden’s Syndrome, written by John Scalzi and narrated by a full cast.

©2014 John Scalzi (P)2014 Audible Inc.

I rate Locked In a 9 out of 10 and recommend it to anyone who enjoys police thrillers or science fiction.

DragonCon Photography Team Computer Setup

As a volunteer at DragonCon one of my current responsibilities is getting the computers setup for use by the photographers and the librarians. This year I had to re-learn a lot of what worked so well last year as my notes were not complete, so I decided to write them up more thoroughly this year and post them hear so that I will not loose them.

At the 2014 DragonCon we used a total of 5 computers, 3 for the photographers to drop off photographs at and 2 for the librarians to use for key wording. The computers were running Windows 7 and required a lot of Windows updates and video driver updates before they were ready to use, luckily the internet connection at the show was fairly fast on Thursday afternoon when I was setting them up.

We call the 2 librarian computers A and B; each computer has 2 external hard drives which we call the Piles, a primary drive and a backup drive. The primary drive on each library computer is shared on the network as Pile A and Pile B.

I don’t know a lot about Windows networking, so I winged it and believe I set up a Windows home network with file sharing turned on. I wasted a lot of time before I figured out that all 5 computers had the same network name so they could not share files, giving each computer a unique name fixed all of the sharing issues I was having.

On the desktop of each computer I made a shortcut to the shared Pile A and Pile B folders so that the photographers could easily find the correct place to copy their pictures to. At this point I was done with the 3 photographers computers, by the end of the show photographers had installed Infranview and other tools to help them edit and cull their photos.

On the librarian computer we install the latest version of Adobe Lightroom and use it in the 30-day trial mode. Next up is importing the keyword list provided by the show into Lightroom, this gives us a controlled vocabulary for keywording making pictures easy to find later on.

Then in Lightroom install the latest version of Jeffrey Friedl’s Folder Watch Plugin, this is the tool that automatically imports any new pictures found in watched folders into Lightroom, it is really amazing how quickly and reliably this works.

Then we use the Windows Sync Toy and Windows Task Manager to keep the primary and secondary drives in sync so that at the end of the show we can turn over the primary A and B drives to the show and keep the backup A and B drives for the photography team’s use.

Here is my updated checklist:

  1. Verify that each computer has a unique network name/id
  2. Run Windows Update and install all updates
  3. Update video card drivers if they are separate from Windows Update
  4. Verify that all computers are using the same type of networking so they can see each other, in Windows 7 a homegroup network is easiest
  5. External Drives
    1. Attach the primary and backup drives to the librarian computers
    2. Format and name the external drives and name them
      1. Pile A
      2. Pile A Back
      3. iPile B
      4. iv. Pile B Back
    3. On the Pile A drive make new directories named Pile A and Lightroom A
    4. On the Pile B drive make new directories named Pile B and Lightroom B
  6. Sync’ing
    1. Here is a great article that walks through setting up sync’ing
    2. Install the latest version of Sync Toy
    3. Set up a New Folder Pair in Sync Toy to keep the primary and backup drives in sync, use Echo so that changes to the primary drive are copied to the backup drive but not from the backup to primary
    4. Use Windows Task Manager to run Sync Toy every 10 minutes
    5. Verify at least once a day that the sync’ing is occurring successfully, but the primary and backup drive should have the same number of files in the Pile directories
  7. Lightroom
    1. Install the latest version of Lightroom and choose the 30-day version when launching it
    2. Preferences – “Lightroom > Preferences”
      1. General
        1. Uncheck “Automatically check for updates”
        2. Unchesk “Show splash screen during startup”
        3. Choose the correct DragonCon default library
        4. Uncheck the “Select the “Current/Previous Import””
        5. Turn off all completion sounds
    3. Remove all of the modules except for Library and Develop. Right-click the top toolbar and uncheck the unneeded modules.
    4. Then import keywords, “Metadata > Import Keywords”. Verify that the full keyword list is available in the “Keyword List” panel. More information about keywording in Lightroom is available at
    5. Setup Jeffrey Friedl’s Folder Watch Plugin
      2. Lightroom “File > Plug-in Manager”
        1. Choose “jf Folder Watch”
        2. Choose the parent folder on the Pile
          1. Defaults are good with the following exceptions (If desired “Apply meta data preset, covered elsewhere)
      3. Choose “Watch”
      4. Choose “Restart on Launch”
      5. Choose “Show Splash on Launch”
    6. f. Then create a new library named “dragoncon-2014-pile-a” or “dragoncon-2014-pile-b” and save it into the “lightroom a” or “lightroom b” folder on the attached primary external drive
  8. Testing
    1. Use a non-librarian computer to drop a couple of pictures into Pile A and Pile B
      1. Verify these pictures appear in Lightroom on the expected librarian computer
      2. After a period of time verify that the pictures and updated Lightroom library appear on the backup drives
    2. At least once a day check the primary and secondary drives to verify that they are in sync

We are always looking for better ways to handle the 30,000 plus pictures we collect at DragonCon, if you have any big ideas please let me know.

DragonCon 2014 Recap

We had a great time at DragonCon this year. The costumes were amazing, the photography staff did a great job capturing the event, and we actually got some sleep. Our son Eli stayed with the grandparents where he got to run wild and play with new toys.

My favorite costumes were How to Train Your Dragon, the Music Box Dolls from Chitty Bang Bang, and The Dreamer.

How to Train Your Dragon

Music Box Dolls from Chitty Bang Bang

The Dreamer

Bobbie made a great costume from a lost episode of Doctor Who named "The Celestial Toymaker".


The Celestial Toymaker

My favorite panels were Colin Baker, Ron Glass, Jeri Ryan, Terri Gilliam, Evanna Lynch, and Sparkfun.

Ron Glass

Jeri Ryan

Terry Gilliam

Evanna Lynch


Remote Host Identification Has Changed!

After updating the operating system to Debian and plugging in your BeagleBone Black via USB you may receive the error message:

This is normal as the RSA key has changed when you updated the OS.

The easiest way to fix it is to run ssh-keygen -R then try connecting again.

When connected via USB
ssh-keygen -R
ssh debian@

When connected via Ethernet
ssh-keygen -R beaglebone.local
ssh debian@beaglebone.local

You should then be asked to add the new fingerprint to your "known hosts", say yes and you should then be asked for your Debian password who’s default is temppwd.

And your in debian@beaglebone:~$.

Thanks to

Setting up Debian on a BeagleBone Black

This post is about installing Debian (BeagleBone Black – 2GB eMMC) 2014-03-27 and Flashing the eMMC using a Mac running OSX 10.9 Mavericks.

I decided to get a head start on using Debian with the BBB which is soon to tbe the default OS installed on them.

These are the steps I used today to get up and running:

  1. Download image from
     – BBB-eMMC-flasher-debian-7.4-2014-03-27-2gb.img.xz
  2. Use Unarchiver to extract disk image
     – BBB-eMMC-flasher-debian-7.4-2014-03-27-2gb.img
  3. Download PiFiller to copy the disk image to the SD card
    WARNING: Do not insert the SD card yet, PiFiller will tell you when
  4. Run PiFiller and follow the directions
    1. Choose the disk image
    2. Insert the SD card
    3. Verify that PiFiller has found the correct device
    4. Some more verifying, click OK a couple of times
    5. Now wait awhile, it took about 20 minutes on my MacBook Pro
      Holy Cow! The dialog box opening and closing gets really annoying to watch!
    6. All set when you get the “Your SD card is ready” message
  5. Eject the SD from the Mac OS then remove it from the computer
  6. With the BBB unplugged, no network, USB, video, power cables, insert the SD card into the BBB
    WARNING: The SD card pokes out of the back of the BBB enough that it is easy to bump it and cause it to eject. Especially when plugging in a USB or HDML cable. It pays to be slow and patient when manipulating the BBB with an SD card in place.
  7. Get ready: When plugging in the BBB you will need to hold down the Boot button until all 4 USR lights turn on
     – While holding down the Boot button insert a 5V 2A power supply, release the Boot button when all 4 USR lights turn on
  8. Now the USR buttons should start blinking in a seemingly random pattern, this should go on for 20 to 60 minutes depending on the OS and SD card
  9. When the USR lights all light-up again the eMMC has been flashed with Debian
  10. Remove the power adapter
  11. Remove the SD card

You are now ready to plug-in the devices you want to work with and enjoy Debian

More information about installing operating systems on the BeagleBone Black: