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Microsoft Surface Book

Four years ago when Microsoft released the first generation of their Surface line-up of tablet computers, I gave Surface RT a try. While I was pleased with the hardware construction of the device, I was deeply disappointed how few apps that they actually worked on the RT version of Windows.

In 2015, after several re-iterations of the Surface line-ups, Microsoft finally made a full laptop version: the Surface Book. It is convertible laptop, the screen can be detached and used on its own as a tablet, while when its docked on the keyboard, it has extra battery and a dedicated GPU chip. Being the nerd as I am, I immediately jumped on getting my hand on one of these devices.

In November of 2015, I bought myself a C$2700 Surface Book with a dedicated GPU.

Hardware: I only have one thing to say - amazing.

The laptop is light, chassis is rigid, and beautifully put together. Currently Apple's 13-inch MacBook line-up does not have anything that can match this 12 and half inch Microsoft laptop. First of all it has the latest Intel Skylake processor, Apple hasn't got that on any of their Macbooks yet. Secondly, it has a dedicated GPU. If you want a dedicated GPU on a MacBook you would have to go to the larger and much heavier 15-inch MacBook Pro. So in terms of combining a light weight compact laptop with processing power, the Surface Book is a hands down win and months ahead of Apple.

The cool new features such as the detachable screen/keyboard works really well. the display is fantastic. The laptop is dead quite for simple tasks like browsing, and only turns the fan on when running heavier tasks such as gaming and film editing. The keyboard is as good as any you would find on the Apple MacBook Pro line-up. The stylus is superb and works really well, although I do not like some of the default Windows settings pertaining to the stylus.

Software: now this is where things start to fall apart.

I like where Microsoft is going with the Windows 10. They have definitely made it better than the Windows 8, which was at times confusing even for someone like me who has been using Windows all my life. Some major improvement includes a better Start menu (over what was on Windows 8), integration of a number of productivity apps such as Weather, Mail, Calendar, and a contact book. This is something that had been missing from Windows for years, and one would have to buy the Office Outlook before - now these are standard on Windows 10, to match those that come with Apple's OS X.

Microsoft has also made significant improvement on its search function, there is even the voice assistant called Cortana. It kind of reminds me of the movie 'Her' (I can see nerds falling in love with Cortana in the years to come). Now with the search function, you can search for system settings, web, and files on your hard drive. I'm not sure if this was the same as on Windows 8, but definitive better than the Search function on Windows 7. However, it is not quite yet as powerful as Apple OS X's Spotlight search. It does not search in the content of the files on your hard drive, it only looks at the file name ... something for Microsoft to improve on.

Now lets talk about issues. There had been so many problems related firmware driver crashing right out of box that I thought I had bought a lemon. Luckily after installing updates most of these issues have disappeared. Few that remained are not critical but absolutely adds to the user experience frustration.

The biggest problem is with Windows sleep. The computer doesn't go to sleep as it is supposed to. It consumes about 3% battery per hour even when it's sleeping. It turns out it's a Windows issue, they haven't figured out how to put the Intel CPU in deep stage of sleep and some tasks are running from time to time, causing the battery to drop. The funny thing is that the battery life on the Surface Book is actually quite good, so some users have reported worse battery life during sleep than during light use such as browsing! The work around for this is to set Windows to hibernation instead of sleep, luckily Surface Book resumes from hibernation fairly fast - although not instant.

While the Surface touch pad works really well for scrolling and zooming with two fingers. Those who are use to the gestures on the OS X will be disappointed with the Surface. While I'm sure the hardware is capable of anything that Apple's laptops do, the Windows 10 does not have sufficient gesture support. Windows 10 does not support 3-finger dragging, 4-finger desktop switch, etc. All of these little things do add up, and get in the way of productivity. While there are work around to most of these, they do not feel as natural as on a OS X.

Verdict: Windows 10 needs improvement

Overall, I think the Surface Book has got some of the best hardware and so beautifully put together in such a light weight and portable format. However it fell short on the software most due to Windows 10 being so new and full of issues that have yet to be addressed by Microsoft.

After almost two months of use, I decided to return the Surface Book and get a 15-inch MacBook Pro instead. I know the 15-inch MacBook Pro has older CPU, has shorter battery life, and heavier. But the seamless personal experience delivered by OS X makes up for everything that the Surface Book does better than the MacBook. In the end, although Surface Book has superior hardware than MacBook in almost every way, it leaves much to be desired when it comes to the operating system stability and features.

 

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Yuneec Q500 4K filming drone

I bought a Yuneec Q500 4K drone for filming last week. Finally got to take it out to try it out last night. I was amazed how easy and stable the drone flew. The CGO3 camera performed beyond expectation.

The CGO3 4K Camera

It was pretty much dark out by the time I got to the field and had the drone set up to fly. The CGO3 camera performed reasonably well in low light condition, there are grains in the footages but at a manageable level and should be able to remove with a noise filter in most editing software.

The camera's wide angle lens is better suited for filming purposes than that of the GoPro. The distortion-corrected image looks cinematic and more natural than that of the GoPro.

The image is however not quite as sharp as the GoPro, there are some blur towards the edges of the frame, making the footage seem "dreamy".

Besides the "dreamy" image, the drone and its CGO3 gimbal did a marvelous job at stabilizing the footage. The end result is smooth video clips that look cinematic without even trying.

Smart Modes

The drone performed as expected in various modes including the "Follow-me" and "Watch-me" modes. It is not an agile quadcopter, but a very smooth and stable filming platform.

The "Home" mode works and would bring the quadcopter to where the transmitter is and land the quadcopter within 8 meters of the transmitter. This is similar to the "Return-to-launch" function seen on most FPV airplanes and copters nowadays, except that it returns to the current transmitter location instead of where the drone was launched. In the case of the transmitter signal loss, the Q500 would return to the last known location of the transmitter. The Q500 defaults to an altitude of at least 10 meters during homing, so if the copter was below 10-meters it would climb to 10-meters first before flying back towards the transmitter, otherwise it should hold the altitude it was already at. Upon reaching within 8 meters of the transmitter, the Q500 lands itself.

It does seem to be a bit bouncy near the ground, so you may have to chop the power (by pressing the red button for 2 seconds) a bit early in case the copter bounces off uneven ground and tips over.

Flight Characteristics

There is a speed slider on the controller which controls how fast the copter reacts to stick inputs. When put in "Turtle" mode, the copter is capable of very fine incremental panning and lateral movements, and is very well suited for filming. In "Rabbit" mode, the inputs are faster but nowhere close to many other drones on the market today.

The Case

The package I bought came with a nice aluminum case with 2 sets of batteries, chargers, 2 sets of props, and the transmitter. They whole thing packs and unpacks within minute and is a nice package for hauling around with you to film sets.

Not for FPV?

The transmitter's live FPV has a small delay of maybe half a second, so this drone is not ideal for FPV flying. The drone is also bigger than the similar DJI Phantom 3 or the Blade Chroma. The Q500 is designed for filming, and it does a damn good job at it.

Safety

One thing to note is that the Q500 has a built-in data base of major airports, it would not allow you to fly near those airports and this function cannot be bypassed. There are also limits to the maximum height and distance you can fly the Q500, but they can be changed using the computer interface program that is also used to update the Q500 firmware.

Battery Life / Flight Time

Below are the test footages from the CGO3 camera during the maiden test flights, in near dark environment. It is also snowing a little bit at the time. I was able to get over 17 minutes of flying around the field before the first battery warming. In most filming situations I think you would be able to get a little over 20 minutes. The batteries that came with the Q500 indicate they are 5400 mAh 3s lipo. After the test flight, I put the batteries on my own lipo charger, and all 3 cells show 3.77V.

Verdict: you cannot go wrong with the Yuneec Q500 4K if you are looking for a drone for filming.

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the beginning

Alright, so I have had this website for a few years now and for a long time it was just a rather simple web page that I coded in a note editor on a text file. Finally over the weekend I decided to use a professional service to put up this rather modern looking site with my videos and pictures on it.

I'm going to try to fill out this 'Journal' section too with footage that I've uploaded to Youtube over the years, just so I can look back at them here. Consider that i have over 200 short clips on Youtube dating back to 2006, this might take a while.

Oscar

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Black Bird Motor Failure

Motor failed during automatic return-to-launch, the plane glided into the trees near a lake. Luckily I was able to hike through few kilometers of swamp, locate and retrieve the plane next day.

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