AJ Henderson AJ's Blog

September 17, 2017

FAA Part 107 Remote Pilot’s Certificate

Filed under: Cool Stuff,Photos,Technology — AJ @ 2:39 pm

So for those who don’t know, I recently was given a broken Phantom 3 Pro for free and fixed it up and decided to get my Part 107 Remote Pilot Certificate from the FAA.  I took the test this morning and passed with a 93.  It was an interesting process since I was the first one taking the test on a new system that PSI had just rolled out.  After helping the proctor figure out how the system works, it ended up only taking about 15 minutes of the two hours allotted to cruise through the 60 questions, even with double checking answers.

The first piece of advice I have for anyone taking it is be sure to note that there is a legend section in the start and then all the “sections” start which are basically just the page numbers for the documents being referenced and start after the legends.  It was easy once I figured out how to use the book itself, but having studied online, the supplemental materials book was actually the most confusing part of the entire test process (including figuring out how the computer testing system worked since the proctor was as new to it as I was.)

I used UAS Ground School with the AMA discount code for training.  It honestly wasn’t really necessary as the test isn’t that hard if you do some basic studying, but I found it was worth it just for the level of detail they went in to and the fact that it helped with understanding things that weren’t directly needed for the test itself, but are still useful tidbits of information to know.  I wouldn’t want to pay the full $200 for the training, but at the discounted rate of $125, it was worth it in my opinion.

Now I just have to wait for the test to show up in ICARA so I can get my certificate processed.  Let me know if you have any aerial photography needs.  For any of my photo/video friends with drones that don’t have their certification yet, I can also act as the remote pilot while you still operate the controls if you have a potential job with your drone, but haven’t had a chance to go through getting your part 107 certification yet.

July 5, 2013

Birthday and More Photo Investments

Filed under: Cool Stuff,Personal,Photos,Technology,Work — AJ @ 6:31 pm

So, hit 29 this year.  For a combined birthday present and business investment I decided the time was finally right to pick up the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II.  As some may be aware, there is currently a $300 off sale going on from Canon that is reflected across all retailers.  In addition, I found it on Buydig with another 5% off (plus 1% from my credit card), free shipping, a free multi-coated Hoya UV filter, a free cleaning kit and free 2 day shipping.  The cleaning kit was kind of a joke and 2 day shipping didn’t matter since it came from NJ and had to wait until I was home to sign for it anyway, but the filter was a nice $60 bonus.

I got it on Friday after my birthday and just before Autotask’s summer engineering picnic.  Wanting to give it a try, I swung by home and picked it up.  It was a great day for really putting the lens through its paces.  It was cloudy with on and off rain leading up to an all on down pour which gave me a chance to try out the weather proofing.  I’m pleased to say it held up very respectably.  I was using the 5D Mark iii with the battery grip on it (which notably does compromise the weather sealing a little bit, but only if water comes up from the bottom of the grip.)  I did finally head for cover when it got to an all out down poor, but through multiple small to moderate rain showers I was able to keep shooting no problem.

The only problem I noticed with the weather sealing (and I’m not sure if it was the weather sealing’s problem or not) was that two minor very small spots of condensation formed under the top LCD panel where I’d been handling it.  It was exceptionally humid though and the rain caused a very rapid temperature change, so I think this may have just been condensation and it evaporated within the hour with no ill effects.  Otherwise, there were no signs of any problems from the rain.  I’ll probably still pick up a rain coat for it for added protection, but it’s nice to know that the weather proofing really does work.  (Plus it’s a bit fun to get weird stares from people wondering why you are shooting with an expensive looking camera in the rain without concern.)

Rain or shine, the focus was fast and very accurate, though I did find the limit of modern AF point selection.  Since I was shooting mostly vollyball from fairly close (mostly individual player shots) and following the ball itself, I had to leave it on full autofocus.  While the reject rate was only about 1 in 3, I was a little disappointed because I normally am aiming for closer to 1 in 5 or so.  That said, I think it was probably an unrealistic expectation for conditions.  Between the net, the ropes holding up the net and other players, there was a lot of movement and shifting the shot very fast and it still held up 2 out of 3 shots focusing on what I intended.  Even on the shots where it didn’t focus on what I wanted, something was in sharp focus.  So the camera doesn’t quite read minds, but it is very fast and accurate.  This was also before I had a chance to micro-adjust the lens.

As far as sharpness goes, I was a little disappointed, though I think this was again a result of unrealistic expectations.  I was comparing it to the results from my 24-70mm f/2.8L II which has got to be just about the sharpest lens on the planet.  While, in my opinion, the sharpness of the 70-200 doesn’t even remotely approach the sharpness of the 24-70, it still isn’t anything to complain about.  Reflections are still pretty clearly visible in people’s eyes at portrait distance.  It’s also still easily twice as sharp as my 70-300 f/4-5.6 IS is, and as previously mentioned, the AF is so much faster and tighter.  The full time manual focus, shorter minimum focus distance, fixed lens length and orientation and extra speed round it out to make it quite satisfying even if it isn’t as magic as the 24-70 was.  (f/2.8 across the entire range is a beautiful thing.)

Shot in the Rain

A quick shot while heading for cover when it started to down pour

Motion stopping and great focus.

Motion stopping and great focus.

Since then, I’ve also had a chance to try it out a bit more for indoor work and flash work while doing a bunch of portrait work while my brother-in-law was jamming on his guitar.  They really show the power of f/2.8 and the accuracy of the focus even in fairly dim conditions.

Portrait at 142mm f/7.1

Portrait at 142mm f/7.1

Low Light with Flash, 200mm f/2.8


Depth of Field at 85mm f/2.8

Portrait, 70mm, f/2.8

Looking forward to the first wedding I’ll be shooting with the lens on the 20th.

January 9, 2013

An A/V Christmas

Filed under: Cool Stuff,Personal,Photos,Technology — AJ @ 11:30 pm

Picked up a Speedlite 600EX-RT for Christmas and have been using it with the older one as a secondary flash.  It’s been working pretty well so far.  I notice that there are sometimes exposure issues that I have to deal with by taking a few photos and sometimes the optical transmission mode is a little bit flaky for the dual flash, but still overall a very nice setup.  I am particularly liking doing 75 degree bump flashes with the white card extended when shooting close ups with the 17-40mm lens.

Also got Magic Lantern Alpha 3 loaded up and running.  No record continuation yet, but the clean HDMI output is nice and the focus indicators make it FAR more usable as a video camera.  Looking forward to getting a chance to give it a try at Excel next weekend.  The one minor issue I’ve noticed with the clean output is that when you go to adjust the ISO, it still displays the overlay on screen instead of being able to just work off the LCD panel.  Shutter and aperture work fine though without anything on screen.  Still looking forward to getting a lens in the 30 – 70ish range, but haven’t decided when or which one to get yet.  I’ve definitely been feeling the pain of missing anything in-between 40 and 70mm.

Taken with the 5DMiii with the 600EX with the 75 degree bump and reflector extended.

Taken with the 5DMiii with the 600EX with the 75 degree bump and reflector extended.

September 20, 2012

A/V Upgrades

Filed under: Cool Stuff,Personal,Photos,Technology — AJ @ 5:27 pm

Well, it has been past time to replace the GL2 for a while now and I finally got around to upgrading.  The latest addition is a Canon EOS 5D Mark iii.  I also picked up the battery grip, a Speedlite 320ex flash, two 64gb memory cards and a 70-300mm image stabilizing EF lens to supplement the 17-40 L series lens I already have.  For audio capture I also picked up a Zoom h4n digital recorder.  For mobile processing I updated to a top end Lenovo Y580 with Adobe Master Collection CS6.

All in all, with the solid low light performance of the 5D, this rig should keep me going for quite some time and means I finally have up to date video capability again and this time at a higher quality than ever before.  Since I do this as a professional hobby, I’m open to helping with most non profit projects or very reasonable rates for commercial projects to help cover equipment costs.

I’ll eventually be updating to an underwater enclosure and strobe, a shotgun mic for distance audio and a master capable Speedlite for studio purposes (the 320 is slave capable).  I might also look in to some additional rigging for the camera, but I’ll need to see how I fair freehand first (which hasn’t been an issue in the past.)

I uploaded some quick free hand, raw camera shots from my toying around last night at http://www.ajhenderson.com/5d/.  There are also a quick rack focus test and a sample video of my cat, Shadow.  They are all using the existing lighting and iso settings up to 25k.  Focal ranges go up to 300mm with image stabilization on for the shots of the side of one of the apartment buildings in our complex.

December 21, 2011

Ice Cream Sandwich and the Galaxy Nexus

Filed under: Cool Stuff,Personal,Technology,Work — Tags: , , , — AJ @ 8:27 pm

Well, I got myself a gnex on release day.  The best part has to be the ease of grouping apps and the dual core speed.  Following shortly after that is the recent apps button to allow easy transitions between apps when multitasking.  The 4g speed is also wonderful since I got to keep my unlimited data.  I also tried out google wallet tonight at Rite Aid and it worked perfectly.

On the downside, sound quality is not as good as my fascinate was, but this may be an issue with my phone as others are reporting good sound.  Swype isn’t available yet, though the keyboard isn’t too bad.  The new location of the menu button takes some getting used to and I still occasionally am deleting emails when I mean to mark them as read.  There also is not yet a car dock that includes audio and power quick connects.  Rumor is it should be available soon though.

I had a bit of exciting time rooting.  Actually a week before getting the gnex, my fascinate bricked off a ota update and I had to rebuild it.  Well, it was a good week for bricking because I did the same to my nexus within four hours of getting it when trying to root.  Two tense hours later I managed to find a stock image and was able to adapt a shell script to get the steps for reflashing my phone to stock from fast boot.  It is now running quite happily rooted though.

The one last thing to figure out now is if the sound is actually bad on my particular phone and if it is a problem in general, I’ll need to decide between a Bluetooth DAC from Sony or Samsung or waiting for USB host support so I can use a higher quality USB DAC.

March 4, 2011

WordPress 3.1 Test

Filed under: Cool Stuff,Personal,Technology — AJ @ 1:53 pm

Just testing mod integration with wp 3.1

January 28, 2011

New Servers, IIS7 PHP/Perl Fun and Massive VMWare Images

Filed under: Cool Stuff,Personal,Technology,Work — AJ @ 7:45 am

So over the last few weeks I have been working on transitioning the Wiicafe.com server to a new home on a new, cheaper, more powerful dedicated server than the aging, ailing 2k3 box it had been on.  We’re now in the final stage of the move to a new 2k8 box and it has been an adventure in learning the new abilities and quirks of IIS7.

Overall, I have actually found the entire migration progress to be very easy.  After zipping up all the data for the server I was able to simply unzip it on the new server and setup IIS sites for each.  The Web Platform Installer was great in terms of simplifying installation of most services and IIS7 had a much more streamlined flow for building out the sites and sub domains.

The only really challenging part was getting Perl working for a few legacy Perl bits on the Wiicafe site.  The key turned out to be the fact that ActiveState’s 64 bit builds do not include the ISAPI filter version of Perl and the CGI based ones are not very good and are prone to crashing on code that works under any other situation.  After figuring this out from lots of research and gathering scattered bits of information from around the net (and wasting more than a few hours) it turned out to be as simple as downloading the 32 bit version, installing it on the system, creating an app pool for the portion of the site requiring Perl support, altering the app pool’s advanced settings to set the “Enable 32 bit Applications” flag and then setting up the mapping for the scripting engine as normal.

There was also an issue I ran in to after everything was set up.  I’m not sure what caused it exactly but for some reason the PHP Manager ( a really nice plugin for IIS7 that manages PHP settings for multiple versions of PHP running on the same server) decided to start erroring out and one of my php.ini files mysteriously disappeared.  I pulled the php.ini from shadow copy, but was still getting a “IIS7 File monitoring is enabled for a file which could not be found” error being returned by PHP’s FastCGI handler.  After searching the web and finding nothing useful, I tried simply using the Web Platform Installer to install a newer version of PHP and that fixed the issue on both the non-working PHP version as well as the new version.

The last bit of fun was simply trying to back up the old server.  I’m by nature a pack rat and can’t stand getting rid of a system for fear of missing something or misplacing some data.  (I have numerous terabytes of external hard drives to prove this.)  To avoid any possible loss of data, I set out to make my largest VMWare image ever.  I loaded up VMWare Converter (a wonderful free utility from VMWare for converting a physical computer in to a virtual one) on the old server but had a problem that I didn’t have enough space on the old server to make an image.  (The old server only had 120GB of HD space and over 110GB of that was in use.)  To get around that particular problem I ended up setting up a remote desktop from the new server (with it’s shiny almost empty 250GB drive) to the old server and setup a drive mapping over the tsclient share that I could direct VMWare Converter to save it’s image to.  About 4 and a half hours later I had a beautiful 103 GB virtual machine of the old server (broken in to 2GB chunks thankfully) and started the 17 hour process of downloading it all to my home workstation. (I don’t think my cable company will like me much this month.)  After the download finished, everything booted great in VMWare Player (also free).  Though I did double the RAM available to the server to make it run a little smoother.

So yeah, overall a bit of an exciting time in new server land and time to bid a fond farewell to the old wiicafe.com server that has served wiicafe and myself so well for the last 6 or so years.

November 15, 2010

3D TVs and Crazy Deals

Filed under: Cool Stuff,Personal,Technology — AJ @ 7:14 pm

So I ended up getting a new Sony KDL-55HX800.  I had been looking for a new TV for a while and Best Buy had a really good deal for a beautiful 3d Sony TV with a free PS3 and two pair of 3D glasses for basically half off. Got it all hooked up and calibrated and the quality is crazy.  I’d compare it to the difference between my really old crt and an lcd hdtv.  Great color and contrast.  3d is solid too. It does use polarized glasses to avoid a flicker but limits 3d to horizontal viewing.  Overall I like it a lot better than comparable Samsung.

October 18, 2010

MySpace and LinkedIn

Filed under: Cool Stuff,Personal,Technology,Work — AJ @ 5:21 pm

Sure they may be the abandoned end of the interwebs, but why shouldn’t they enjoy the blog linking bliss?  Thanks to Alpha Links for the latest functionality.

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