ripple effects

The World Wide Web became generally available in 1993-94. This was when my family became AOLers and remained happily so for years. At that time, we had a Windows 3.1 computer with a 2400 baud modem. The sounds of that modem dialing into AOL will forever be etched in our memory. This is also when I began upgrading computers. Two upgrades, in particular, were almost miraculous: a new 14,400 baud modem made connecting to and enjoying the internet a whole lot better, but doubling the internal RAM from the typical 4MB (yes, megabytes) to 8MB was like getting a wholly new, laughably fast computer. And that extra 4MB of RAM cost over $100 at the time!

The 1990s and 2000s were decades of quick and impactful techological developments. Internet access through cable or fiber optics spurred mad growth in the web. Where “wasting bandwidth” was previously almost criminal, it was now encouraged. And just as I went through a series of digital cameras in those years, so, too, I bought a series of ever-more-capable computers and laptops.

I seem to be a fan of HP computers. Their desktops and laptops have served me well, even if I found a sudden reason to upgrade every 3 or 4 years. But things seem to have slowed lately, and there are fewer compelling reasons to buy a new computer.

So I’ve been using an HP Pavilion Slimline desktop computer (6GB memory, 1TB storage) for some time now. I bought this to be the repository and backup for the other computers in the household, as well as the anchor for the household WiFi network. That terabyte could easily handle two laptops and my daughter’s computer and still have plenty of room left over for the music library and my thousands and thousands of digital photos. I also have a networked storage drive with a 3 terabyte capacity as a redundant backup, because, as everyone with a computer knows, computers eventually fail.

I bought a 20″ Samsung monitor with that PC, and later upgraded to a 22″ Samsung. The latter had a resolution of 1440×900 resolution, which was just fine. I “processed” a lot of photos on that machine and it was up to the task – until I bought the Canon EOS 80D digital camera. This new camera spits out JPGs at a whopping 6000×4000 size and high definition video at 1920×1080. Naturally enough, I’ve been lusting after more pixels. My 15″ laptop display is 1920×1080, the big flat-screen televisions are 1920×1080, so I wanted to upgrade the monitor for my desktop. A higher resolution monitor was definitely on the wish list.

on the spur of the moment
adjective: spur-of-the-moment
on impulse; without planning in advance.
“I don’t generally do things on the spur of the moment”
synonyms: impulsively, on impulse, impetuously, without thinking, without planning, without premeditation, unpremeditatedly, impromptu, spontaneously, on the spot…

Without really thinking, I saw online and instantly ordered a Samsung 28″ (HUGE on a desk) monitor with 4K UltraHD – a native resolution of 3840×2160, or four times the number of pixels of the 1920×1080 screen on my laptop. In digital camera terms, I was going from 2 megapixels to 8 megapixels! BestBuy had it delivered the next day.

But when it arrived, I found that I had no way to connect it to my PC.

My first mistake – not checking the specs on the new monitor, especially in how it connects to a computer. This one requires either HDMI or a DisplayPort connector, neither of which my PC had. All I had were DVI connectors. A little checking told me that my PC was older than I thought, six years old, built back before people like me envisioned a 4K UltraHD monitor. I guess I ASSumed that it would use a standard old VGA connector, but I didn’t even have that! My desktop had two DVI connectors, no VGA, and for sure no HDMI. I can’t even say that my old machine was capable of sending a 3840×2160 signal to the monitor.

Rather than looking for a DVI-HDMI converter and possibly “dumbing down” the signal to this new monitor, I decided that a new PC was in order, one with HDMI out and a graphics card built for 4K Ultra HD, but I didn’t want to spend a lot of money.

My second mistake – rushing the purchase without “due diligence.”

I picked out a cheap (read: inexpensive) new HP desktop (let’s call it the “fat line”, a hefty silver Pavilion model) which did have HDMI out. My BestBuy app told me this model was not available “within 250 miles,” so I placed the order online and BestBuy, amazingly, had it in my hands within 48 hours. Now, there’s nothing I enjoy more than setting up a new computer (okay, there are lots of things I enjoy more), and what with deleting bloatware, transferring files and updating and installing programs, and then getting the thing networked and friendly with other computers in the house, it can be an all-day event. But when I hooked up that PC to my new monster monitor, the output was GLORIOUS. My photos never looked so good.

The colors and contrast on my new monitor are stunning. Side by side with the previous monitor, the new one is just much, much better. And did I say HUGE? I have room for two or three open programs, easily. Looking at my photos on that monitor is like looking at them framed up on the wall. I can see the original JPG onscreen at 50% size, not zoomed out to 25%. The screen is 28″ diagonal, or about 25″ wide, in a widescreen 16:9 format. LED flat-screens have come a long way, and prices have dropped significantly. This model retailed at almost $400, but was on sale at BestBuy for $279.99. I HAD to buy it. I had no choice! And I don’t regret it for a moment.

There were unintended casualties, though. My old version of Adobe® Photoshop (and I mean 15 years old) appeared tiny on the big screen and the fonts were unreadable. In the end, I opted to buy the Adobe® Photography Plan, which gives me the latest edition of Photoshop, Lightroom, and much, much more for a “worth-it” $9.99/month.

My old favorite game SNOOD is a goner. This little gem dates back to the ’90s, and the cavernous spaces of the new monitor have it crawling and now unplayable. I may opt for a newer version of the game, but the old one simply won’t work on my new computer. (Still works like a charm on my laptop.)

But, then… The new PC is, indeed, a lesser, “affordable” HP model. This was my mistake, buying without really doing my homework, and the new monitor actually reveals the shortcomings of the new computer. With all of 4gig of RAM onboard, opening Photoshop and Lightroom at the same time is a huge effort and things start to crawl. On a hunch, I ordered a pair of 8gig RAM sticks to install, and increasing the memory from 4GB to 16GB speeds things up A LOT. I may end up upgrading the processor, too. It’s an AMD Ryzen 3, low on the list of processors for gamers, but fully capable of displaying my photos in 4K beautifulness. This is the newer generation of AMD processors with onboard graphics capabilities – no separate graphics card needed.

With the added RAM onboard, this new PC is more than capable of showing my photos in their best light.

And this monitor is a keeper.

  • – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

The monitor is Samsung’s UE590 28″ LED 4K UHD model in black bezel, silver stand. Highly recommended. Easy on the eyes with stunning detail.

The PC is the HP Pavilion 590-P0020 with AMD Ryzen 3 2200G processor with Radeon Vega 8 graphics, 4GB memory, 1TB hard drive, in HP’s “natural silver” finish. Unfortunately, not recommended. Kick in a few hundred more $$$ and buy a better model.

Added a Logitech K800 illuminated Bluetooth keyboard. Recommended. Good weight, wireless, illuminated black keyboard.

Added a Logitech 2.1 speaker system (2 speakers + subwoofer, model 980-001260). Recommended, and speakers look really good on the desktop. Reacts well to my software equalizer.

possible upgrades per AMD:
AMD Ryzen7-2700 (Pinnacle Ridge) 8 cores/16 threads
AMD Ryzen5-2600 (Pinnacle Ridge) 6 cores/12 threads
AMD Ryzen7-1700 (Summit Ridge) 3.0 GHz, 8 cores/16 threads
AMD Ryzen5-1600 (Summit Ridge) 3.2 GHz, 6 cores/12 threads
AMD Ryzen5-2400G (Raven Ridge) 3.6 GHz, 4 cores/8 threads (45 – 65 W)

2nd Look: 2018 Ford Escape

US News & World Report ranks the Ford Escape 8th among Compact SUVs.

“The Escape is one of the best all-around performers in the class, with sporty handling, a firm suspension system, good steering feedback, and a composed ride on smooth roads.”

Okay, but let’s see how they compare the Escape against two others that they liked better.

“Which Is Better: Ford Escape or Toyota RAV4?
The Toyota RAV4’s middle-of-the-road performance makes the Ford Escape the more engaging SUV to drive between these two. The RAV4 delivers a comfortable ride and decent power from its lone available engine, but the Escape’s athletic handling and potent available engines set it apart. The RAV4 does offer some advantages over the Escape: It comes standard with loads of advanced safety features, and its cargo area is even larger than the Escape’s. Choosing between these two is a matter of personal preference.”

Bottom line: Escape is much more fun to drive. RAV4 is better for people who don’t like driving. Yet the RAV4 is ranked 6th, above the Escape.

“Which Is Better: Ford Escape or Honda CR-V?
The Escape has plenty of cargo space and a decent amount of passenger room, but the Honda CR-V outdoes it and is the better choice in most cases. Even taller passengers have plenty of room to stretch out in the Honda’s back row, and the its cargo area is among the most expansive in the class. Additionally, the CR-V is more fuel-efficient than the Escape, and it delivers a smoother ride. If you’re looking for an engaging ride, however, you’ll prefer the Ford.”

Bottom line: Honda has more room for big people and gets better fuel mileage. But the Escape is just so damn much fun to drive… Still, the boring CR-V is ranked No. 1.

Here’s the thing: I love (live) to drive. First and foremost, I look for a fun driving experience in any vehicle. In a compact SUV, obviously space in storage and seating is primary, but if it’s no fun to drive, I can’t live with it.

The Ford Escape is a Ford Focus dressed up as a sport-ute. It is built on the same platform with same dimensions, except that it’s about 8 inches taller. The Escape retains the Focus’ European-style handling and suspension, which is so much fun in the smaller vehicle.

The Titanium edition is the priciest version of the Escape, but well worth it. This is where you get the 2.0-liter turbocharged engine featured in the exciting Focus ST model (245 HP). You also get the upscale interior and amenities that are normally included in optional packages for the lesser versions.

  2018 Focus SE Hatchback 2019 Escape Titanium
Wheelbase 104.3″ 105.9″
Length 171.7″ 178.1″
Height 57.8″ 66.3″
Width (including mirrors) 80.5″ 81.8″
Track width (front) 61.2″ 61.5″

So, with the Titanium edition Escape, you get a really good driving experience in a vehicle with plenty of acceleration, excellent handling, plenty of cargo space, and an interior environment that’s better than my own livingroom. Plus too many other goodies to list here.

See: https://www.ford.com/suvs-crossovers/escape/models/escape-titanium/

See my original review of the 2018 Ford Escape Titanium here.

2018 Ford Escape Titanium

Background

I kept my 1993 Mustang 5.0 for 19 years. In the second half of its life, there were constant and unexpected repairs. I had three different tow truck outfits on speed dial. But I wanted my wife to drive a worry-free car, one not likely to leave her sitting stranded by the side of the road. Leasing was the perfect answer. Her first leased vehicle was a 1999 Mercury Mystique, but then she shocked me by moving to the Ford Escape in 2004. In those days, the Escape was much more truck-like, a boxy affair that sat up high on its axels. She really enjoyed the SUV experience, and so leased another Escape in 2007. And 2010. In 2013, not keen on the Escape’s new redesign, she moved to a Focus (major surprise!), but then came back to the Escape for the 2016 model, for its higher seating position.

For the 2012 Focus makeover, Ford relied heavily on its German and U.K. design teams for an all-new Focus generation. They turned a rather lackluster economy car into a good-looking vehicle that was actually fun to drive. The Focus was one of the top-sellers in the world, when it wasn’t THE top seller in the world. Having spent 3 years driving both the 2013 SE and 2013 base model S sedans (one auto, one manual), I can say without hesitation that Ford nailed it with that Focus. Steering and handling were tight and predictable, though still forgiving of driver error. The car had very much a European feel to it. The manual transmission could have used a 6th gear, but it shifted “like butter.” The cabin was intimate and nicely appointed.

white gold at night

And the current Escape benefits greatly from that Focus redesign.

After driving a Focus, you would immediately recognize the current Escape as the “big brother.” Built on the same platform, the Escape’s dimensions are virtually identical to the Focus (except height), and the interior is strikingly similar, so it’s just like driving a larger version of the Focus hatchback. Our 2016 Escape SE model (www.tfrog.com/tfrog) featured the 1.6 liter turbocharged (Ecoboost®) four-cylinder engine at 178HP. It had a respectable amount of power on demand and that engine proved to be a steady powerplant over its three years. It never gave us pause over the 60,000 miles we put on it.

front seats

Our White Gold 2018 Escape Titanium has medium light stone heated leather seating surfaces in a handsomely furnished cabin. A couple of high-gloss black pieces complement the dashboard’s high quality plastics. The feel of the leather-wrapped steering wheel (also heated) is excellent. This Escape was ordered with the optional Class II trailer towing package, so it also has “paddle shifters” on the steering wheel. Shift the 6-speed automatic from Drive to Sport mode and the paddle shifters offer (pretend) full manual control. I’ll play with that after the first 1,000-mile break-in period, when this Escape gets its first oil change.

keyfob

Forget keys. Get used to carrying a keyfob, a black controller about 3½” long. Hit the Unlock button, and the Escape turns on front and rear lamps, along with courtesy lamps under both side mirrors, a welcome sight at night. When you carry the keyfob on your person, just a touch of the driver door handle unlocks all doors. Slip into the driver seat, put your foot on the brake pedal, and a one-touch button starts the engine. The electronics immediately come to life, including the dominant 8″ display that is your direct communication with the Escape. With the available Remote Start (featured on the accompanying FordPass cellphone app), I can start the Escape while I’m in the kitchen fixin’ my morning coffee, and the car will warm up before I get down to the garage. Without a keyfob inside the car, however, you cannot shift out of Park. The keyfob also allows you to raise or lower the rear liftgate (which is also operated by sliding your foot underneath the rear bumper – cool, when your arms are full of packages).

The Escape ST

The base level S model is your entry point, ready to go out of the box, but with a 2.5 liter inline-four rated at 168HP. The next step up, the SE, comes with a bunch of appealing extras and a 1.5 liter turbocharged four (179HP). A new SEL model packs even more, with plenty of available options to upgrade. The Titanium edition is the top of the line for the Ford Escape, and it comes with more goodies than I can describe here (window sticker reproduced below). Once we were done “building our own Escape” on the Ford website, there were very few remaining options available for the Titanium, and those are the ones designed for people who probably shouldn’t be driving in the first place – accident avoidance systems like lane-keeping, autonomous braking, etc. We ordered none of those. The car does have proximity alarms, which warn when you come too close to something. Unfortunately, these alarms go off every time we pull into the garage. But, between these alarms and the generous 8″ rearview camera display, backing into a parking space is simple and easy. The Titanium also has Parking Assist which steers for you into a parking space, horizontal or vertical.

The Titanium edition is also the only Escape that gets the 2.0 liter turbocharged four cylinder engine that powers the Focus ST (previously available as an option on the SE model). Here, it is rated at 245 HP with a corresponding dip in fuel economy. But the difference over the 1.6 liter Ecoboost four is definitely noticeable. It is smooth, it is confident, and its power puts it in the top of the class for small SUVs. Combined with excellent driving characteristics, the Escape Titanium is a pleasure to drive, as well as a utilitarian vehicle for all situations. With the optional Intelligent Four Wheel Drive setup, winters will be no problem for us. (Of course, I can always turn off the Traction Control System if I just want to spin the tires.) This is why I call it the “Escape ST.”

dashboard

The steering wheel includes the standard cruise control, phone and audio controls, and driver display menu controls. Add paddle shifters, and there’s a lot going on here. The leather-wrapped wheel is contoured to fit the hand well, and it can be adjusted in and out, up and down to your liking. The dash in front of the steering wheel has large speed and tachometer (RPM) gauges, fuel and temperature gauges, and a digital display with quite a few options (average MPG, trip meters, miles since fueling, miles until empty, etc.).

8" display

The main 8″ display sits front and center on the dashboard. The home screen is split into three sections – realtime navigation map, audio source, and connected cellphone. Inside the menus are a crazy amount of options that will have to be explored. For now, we have three banks of five FM presets, two of five AM presets, a single-CD player that sits above the display, an AUX port (my iPod Nano, tucked inside the voluminous storage bin under the center armrest with its own USB port/charger), and cellphone all offering source media for the audio player. (Also Sirius Radio, but I’m not a fan.) Radio includes HD AM/FM. The SYNC®3 system allows voice commands for almost everything.

Tap the map and it expands to fill the screen. We asked the system to find our home address (which it did, quickly) and then we had prompts all along the route (“turn left 1/10th mile ahead”… “turn left now”) until “You have arrived at your destination.” I’m sure this will come in handy one day.

Between navigation, audio, and connected cellphone, there is much that this electonics hub can do, and a week spent thumbing through the manual may be in order. It will take a bit of time just to become familiar with all of the voice commands available. The display itself is touchscreen, so paging through the menus is quick and easy. But this is best left to your copilot/navigator, of course.

Below the central display/audio unit is the dual-zone climate control. Yes, separate settings for both driver and passenger! A/C and heat can be directed to windshield, person, or footwell, any combination, or all three at once. On a cold day, press a button to heat the rear glass, and the outside mirrors, front and back windshields, and front wipers are all heated and de-iced. Not really looking forward to trying this out.

Thought: I was the guy who bought a 1993 Mustang 5.0 with no options. All I wanted was a small-block American V8, a stick shift, and a comfy seat. A stereo unit was the only plus I needed. Anything else would have just gotten in the way. Today I drive an Escape with everything in the book!

[photo of seat controls]

The driver seat has a 10-way power adjustment regimen (including lower lumbar support… ahhhhhh), and the front passenger seat has 6-way adjustment. Three memory presets on the driver-side door will return your seat and outside mirrors to your preferred settings each time.

[photo of rear seats with center section down]

The rear seats do not offer a lot of room, BUT the rear seats do recline! There are additional vents back there for heat and A/C, and there is an actual 110-volt powerport for charging laptops, tablets, etc. There are “map pockets” (who uses maps anymore?) on the backs of the front seats, extra lighting for rear passengers, and a panoramic vista moonroof overhead that spans both front and rear seats. A middle section of the rear seats folds down for extra cup holders. Both seats fold down fully and lay flat, 60/40 split, for plenty of space for cargo. We had two bicycles laid flat in our 2016 Escape, front tires removed. With the rear seats upright, there’s still plenty of room in the back for our weekly trip to the grocery store.

18 inch sparkle wheels

Our Titanium has 18″ silver-painted wheels (sparkly!) that remind me of wagon-wheel spokes. I’ll point out that they’re not easy to clean (too many nooks and crannies), but they do look really nice when washed. The spare tire is under the cargo floor and it’s the usual shrinky-dink, suitable only for driving to the tire store. There’s also a funnel here, if you get caught out of gas and have to use a gas can to refuel. The fuel door hides a capless fuel intake. Hint: When done fueling, hold the fuel filler handle for an extra 5 seconds, then remove. This allows any vacuum to dissipate.

Thought: Ford likes to claim a certain level of fuel efficiency for the Escape (20 city, 27 highway, 23 overall), and to meet those numbers they have installed the Stop/Start system. When you come to a stop in traffic with your foot on the brake, the engine shuts off. Lift your foot and the engine starts up again. The feeling can be disconcerting, especially if you’re about to pull out quickly into a small gap in the traffic. We turn this off, and it has to be turned off each time you start the car, as it’s on by default. After a few tankfuls and around 1,200 miles, our average fuel consumption is right around 20MPG. Another contributor to this low mileage is the fact that the 2.0 turbo is just a lot of fun to drive. A little too much fun.

A couple of additional little touches I really like. All four side windows are operated by one-touch up and one-touch down buttons. A touch on the down button and the window goes all the way down. A little practice is in order if you want to stop the window at any point. Push down to start, then pull up to stop the window’s descent. Also, front cup holders have LED lighting that can be set to a range of colors (I like green). All other interior lighting is any color you want, so long as you want Ice Blue.

We would normally have traded our 2016 Escape on a 2019 model, but the 2019s are delayed until November. Our lease ended mid-October, so we had to choose a 2018 leftover.

We went over the Build Your Escape pages at the Ford website, discussing each option, and ended up choosing the Titanium edition (for the 2.0 engine, leather seats, lots of goodies), four-wheel drive version with the trailer towing package (just to get the hitch). We presented our choice to the local Ford dealer, who found exactly what we wanted in his “extended inventory.” The only difference was the inclusion of the Panoramic Vista Roof ($995), that we didn’t order but don’t mind having. Since this will probably be our last leased vehicle, we wanted one that we could happily purchase at lease end.

Lookin’ good.

The White Gold is a color shifter. In bright sun, it appears almost white. At dusk, it looks to be beige, and at night it shows as a dark tan.

Window Sticker

ESCAPE 4WD
2018 Escape Titanium 4WD
105.9″ Wheelbase
2.0L EcoBoost Engine
6-Speed Auto Trans w/ SelectShift
Exterior: White Gold Metallic
Interior: Medium Light Stone Leather Seats
Assembly: Louisville, KY, May 3, 2018

Exterior
Active Grille Shutters
Easy Fuel Capless Filler
Fog Lamps
Hands-free Liftgate
Headlamp Courtesy Delay
Headlamps – Automatic HID
LED Signature Lighting
Mirrors – Heated/Power Glass/Manual Folding/Turn Signal/Memory
Privacy Glass – Rear Doors
Rear Interval Wiper/Wash/Defrost
Roof-rack Side Rails (Silver)
Taillamps – LED
Windshield Wiper De-icer

Interior
1-Touch Up/Down Front/Rear Windows
110V/150W AC Power Outlet
4-Way Front Head Restraints
60/40 Split Folding Rear Seats
Ambient Lighting/Illuminated Entry
Carpeted Floor Mats
Dual Illuminated Visor Vanity Mirrors
Dual Zone Automatic Climate Control
Leather Trimmed Seats with 10-way Heated Driver/Passenger (Driver w/ Memory)
Leather-Wrapped Steering Wheel & Shifter Knob
Powerpoints – 12V
Smart Charging USB Ports (2)
Steering Wheel: Heated, w/ Cruise & Audio Controls, Tilt/Telescoping

Functional
Auto Start-Stop Technology
Enhanced Active Park Assist
Intelligent Access w/ Push Button Start
MyKey®
Power Steering w/EPAS
Rear View Camera
Remote Start System
Reverse Sensing System
Securicode Keyless Keypad
SiriusXM®
Sony Audio System – 10 Speakers
SYNC® Connect
SYNC®3 w/8″ touch screen
Voice Activated Navigation

Safety/Security
Advancetrac with RSC
Airbag – Driver Knee
Airbags – Dual Stage Front
Airbags – Front Seat Mounted Side Impact
Airbags – Safety Canopy
Front-Passenger Sensing System
Latch Child Safety System
Perimeter Alarm
SOS Post Crash Alert System
Tire Pressure Monitoring System

Warranty
3 Year / 36,000 mile Bumper to Bumper
5 Year / 60,000 mile Powertrain
5 Year / 60,000 Roadside Assistance

Equipment Group 400A

18″ Sparkle Silver-painted Aluminum Wheels
235/50R18 A/S black sidewall tires
Panoramic Vista Roof ($995.00)
2.0L EcoBoost Class II Trailer Towing Package w/ Paddle Shifters ($495.00)

$33,490.00 Base Price
1,490.00 Options
34,980.00 Total
995.00 Destination & Delivery
$35,975.00 Total MSRP

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Drone on

A Cautionary Tale

 

The drone you see above is my second drone. It took me all of four days to crash and destroy my first.

Pre-crash video

Bird’s-eye view of home and back yard

This video (make sure quality setting is at 1080p HD) is a simple launch, ascend to tree-level, and take a look at back yard, reservoir behind us, and a pan around the neighborhood. Just this example shows the possibilities of a video drone. YouTube is full of far better videos. YouTube also has interesting compilations of drone crashes, to show how quickly and easily you can get into serious, drone-ending trouble. The oak tree in my front yard turned out to be a drone magnet, and I flew the drone into it at about 30 feet. When I cut the engines, the drone tumbled to the ground.

When checking the drone afterward, I managed to lose control of the thing, and it flew off across the street and ended up in the neighbor’s yard, severely damaged. It was then that I realized where I went wrong.

Learn to Fly

 

The Phantom 3 Standard

This is the DJI Phantom 3 Standard, one of the best entry-level video drones (“quadcopter”). That sweet little camera you see underneath has a 1/2.3″ sensor, shooting 12 megapixels through a 20mm f/2.8 lens. Max image size is 4000 x 3000 and it easily handles video at full HD (1920 x 1080) in framerates of 24/25/30, unbelievably smooth (jitter-free). You can download a User Manual here, if you want all of the specs on this model. Suffice to say, the results are better than you’d expect for a $500.00 pricetag.

There are many available choices in this growing sector, and even DJI offers a wide variety. Buying your first drone requires a lot of homework. Read everything you can find, including user forums, before making a choice.

I was thinking like a photographer, when I should have been thinking of my student pilot days.

This is an aircraft. Technically, it is an unmanned aerial system (UAS). The drone, itself, is the sexy bit on the right. Four motors powering four propellers, a state-of-the-art battery that provides about 20 minutes of flying time, and a quadcopter capable of flying to the FAA-limited 400 feet altitude and a WiFi-limited distance of about 500 meters.

You should be browsing YouTube videos while you’re researching which model to buy. And you should be watching any manufacturer-supplied videos and tutorials before you try to fly your new drone.

no drone zoneAlso be aware that there are FAA restrictions in the use of airspace in the U.S.A. and some overall rules that need to be followed. Don’t think that you can just unpack your new drone and start flying whenever wherever. Do not fly within 5 miles of an airport without first notifying them of your flight. Do not fly over people (sorry, no stadium shots), and don’t even think about messing around wherever there are emergency first-responders involved. You do NOT want to be the idiot who interfered with a medical evac chopper.

There was an attempt to have all drone owners register their drones with the FAA, but we then decided that folks who fly drones purely as a hobby need not register. You can register (I did), but you don’t have to. BUT, here are the rules:

  • Fly at or below 400 feet
  • Be aware of airspace requirements and restrictions
  • Stay away from surrounding obstacles
  • Keep your UAS within sight
  • Never fly near other aircraft, especially near airports
  • Never fly over groups of people
  • Never fly over stadiums or sports events
  • Never fly near emergency response efforts such as fires
  • Never fly under the influence of drugs or alcohol

If you use your drone for business in any way (or if it weighs more than 55lbs.), there are different and more stringent regulations. Check before you buy or fly.

You’ll have to also check for any local regulations in your area. A kid crashed his drone in a playground in one local community, and regulations were rushed through to keep drones off of any public property in that borough. In Pennsylvania, there are six (only six) state parks that allow drone flying, and even there they restrict the area allowed. The FAA offers a handy app called B4UFLY, which uses your location to warn of any conflicts. Use it.

Forget flying a drone in our National Parks. Some asshole(s) has already messed that up for the rest of us. Drones crash. And they like to crash in the exact worst places. They’re also called “drones” because they make a really annoying droning sound, which impedes upon the peace and tranquility that many are looking for in our national park system. (And many other places. Be aware of those around you and be considerate.)

con·sid·er·ate
kənˈsidərət/
adjective

Remote Controller

The unsexy bit on the left is the remote controller (RC). Two toggles control the aircraft’s flight (up, down, left, right, etc.). There’s a lot covered in the manual. Take your time to digest. There are also pre-programmed flight modes that are covered in DJI-provided YouTube video tutorials. The RC sets up a WiFi link with the quadcopter and also your display device of choice.

Connected to the RC is my old HTC One M7 phone. This runs the DJI app, which is your complete interface to communicate with the drone, to control video or stills, check battery levels, and so much more. As a personal note, the DJI app is not compatible with my new HTC 10, and I was lucky to still have the One M7, which does handle the app. Before you buy a drone, make sure that the device you want to use is compatible. Manufacturers can’t keep up with all of the latest and greatest phones, tablets, etc. Again, the UAS community has a lot of YouTube videos available, including complete overviews of the DJI app.

A helipad

I bought a helipad. Don’t laugh. When you’re starting out, ideally you’d want wide open spaces with no trees, no wires, nothing that could grab your drone and throw it in the trashcan. I have trees all around my back yard, so I take off and land in the center of the yard. When this particular drone is powered off, the camera hangs lens-down in the grass. Any dew on the grass will transfer to the lens, so I sprang for a helipad, just to keep the lens out of the grass. It’s also handy to take with me, so I’ll have it wherever I choose to fly.

We all know that we should always READ THE MANUAL (PDF download here), but I will stress that, in this case, you should READ THE MANUAL. When I bought my first DSLR years ago, the best advice was to go through the manual, try everything out point-by-point, then go through again. This is even more important with things that fly. I took a lazy approach to the flight part, concentrating more on the photography side, and ended up buying a second drone. Learn to fly first.

I had read (and so, have no excuses) that it is really easy to become disoriented when flying a drone. It’s one thing to fly when it’s going away from you, but when it’s coming back AT you, everything is reversed. Push left on the stick, and the drone flies off to the right. Push forward, and you’re suddenly going backwards. Practice, practice, practice, to get a good understanding of flight in all directions.

When your drone is up at 200 feet, it will rarely bump into anything. Almost all drone crashes happen at or near ground level, and a large portion involve trees.

trees

The Phantom uses GPS in flight. This is what allows the copter to hover in place without drifting. This also allows the copter to return to its starting point, if anything goes wrong (low battery, lost signal, etc.). Connecting to seven or more satellites is a good-to-go state, otherwise pay close attention.

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God, I’m old

July 4, 1776 was not the birth of the U.S.A. It was the day that the colonists said, “We’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore.” After that, grab your guns ’cause war is a-comin’.

July 12, 1776 – The Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union were underway, approved for ratification in 1777, and formally ratified March 1, 1781. THIS could be an official birthday of the United States of America, which, before this date, were a loose collection of 13 colonies.

September 3, 1783 – Nine years later, the Revolutionary War officially ended, the Treaty of Paris was signed, and England recognized the 13 colonies as independent. THIS would be the birthday of the United States, in my opinion. Now we were an independent entity, as recognized by the world.

June 21, 1788 – New Hampshire was the ninth state to ratify the Constitution, which replaced the Articles of Confederation and formalized the central federal government of the Republic. This would be the birthday for the U.S. federal government, I suppose.

Dec. 15, 1791 – The first 10 amendments to the Constitution (collectively “the Bill of Rights”) was ratified, 15 years after a bunch of old fogies in Philadelphia decided to get uppity.

Ever since, it seems, the United States has been at war with one country, group, or other entity (primarily Native American tribes) over its entire lifetime, right up to the Korean War, which ended in 1953. For a brief time, we were at peace.

June, 1954 – I was born.

I have lived for more than a quarter of this country’s existence.

I have lived under 11 of the 44 presidents, soon 12 out of 45. I was named after the 34th president, in whose term I was born. Dwight Eisenhower, the first Pennsylvania Dutch president (look it up), had a long list of accomplishments, many impressive – from establishing the national system of highways to the creation of NASA. His vice president was Richard Nixon, and his nephew David would eventually marry Nixon’s daughter Julie. But I digress.

JFK, RFK, MLK, LBJ, Richard M. Nixon and Spiro Agnew… these are not historical figures to me; they were “current events” when I was in school. We researched the Cuban Missile Crisis in real time for class, using Time, Newsweek, and other magazines and newspapers printed on paper. The riots around the 1968 Democratic Convention, hippies, Viet Nam War protests, Kent State, Woodstock, the Cold War, all headlines in newspapers and network news of my youth.

Mine was the generation taught to cower underneath our school desks, in preparation for the day when a nuclear blast would vaporize us in about a tenth of a second. I remember exploring the fallout shelter in the basement of my junior high school, marvelling at all of the sealed drums of saltines and walls of toilet paper. (No, it would not have kept us safe from a nuclear strike OR fallout, but at least we could wipe our…uh…crackers.)

Although born in the 50s, I’ve always considered myself a “child of the 60s” (ages 6-16). These were formative years and an interesting time to be growing up in America. (White suburban America, I should point out.)

Television & Movies

The earliest movie I remember seeing was Babes in Toyland at the Lansdowne movie theater. Don’t remember anything about the movie, but IMDB tells me that it came out in 1961 (I was 7) and starred Annette Funicello, Ray Bolger, and somebody named Tommy Sands. Ed Wynn, great character actor, was the Toymaker, and a very young Ann Jillian (would have been 11 or so) played Bo Peep. I don’t remember any of the movie, the plot, or the actors that were in it, I only remember that it’s the first movie I went to see.

Lansdowne Movie Theater

Movies you see when you’re young and impressionable have a far greater impact than movies you see later in life. (“Get ’em while they’re young.”) Great movies of the 1960s include (in no particular order)
Psycho
2001: a space odyssey
Lawrence of Arabia
The Graduate
Rosemary’s Baby
The Sound of Music
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
The Birds
Cool Hand Luke
To Kill a Mockingbird
Mary Poppins
The Manchurian Candidate
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
Planet of the Apes
The Dirty Dozen
Dr. No / Goldfinger / Thunderball / From Russia With Love
Cleopatra
The Village of the Damned
The Jungle Book
Easy Rider
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

Original episodes of I Love Lucy aired during my lifetime, but I was two, almost three when the series ended and went into reruns. The Ed Sullivan Show owned Sunday nights, was the leading source of entertainment, and something we waited all week for. This was the show that introduced The Beatles to the U.S., showed Elvis Presley from the hips UP, and toward the end rocked the house with a 12 year old blind kid, Stevie Wonder. It would feature acrobats, spinning dishes on poles, dancers, and a haunting little sockpuppet, Topo Gigio.

One of my early TV favorites was (The Many Loves of) Dobie Gillis (1959-1963). (C’mon – Tuesday Weld was Dobie’s love interest.) My youth was a great time to be a young TV watcher – The Man from U.N.C.L.E., the original Star Trek, and a very young Robert Loggia in T.H.E. Cat (a series very few remember). Along with Star Trek, my other favorite series was I Spy, starring Robert Culp and Bill (before he was famous) Cosby. I loved Get Smart, I Dream of Jeannie, Bewitched, The Avengers (when I could see it – Diana Rigg), My Favorite Martian, The Green Hornet, a very bad Batman (not a fan of the Adam West series, in hindsight). The 1960s was prime television time.

Comedies:
Bewitched
The Dick van Dyke Show
The Beverly Hillbillies
Gilligan’s Island
The Addams Family
Green Acres
Hogan’s Heroes (yes, Nazis were funny in the 60s)
The Munsters
Petticoat Junction
Leave It to Beaver
Get Smart
Mister Ed
I Dream of Jeannie
Make Room for Daddy
Father Knows Best
My Three Sons
McHale’s Navy
My Favorite Martian
That Girl
Dennis the Menace
The Monkees
Car 54 Where Are You?
Family Affair
Bachelor Father
Courtship of Eddie’s Father
The Patty Duke Show
The Flying Nun
Hazel
The Real McCoys
The Jackie Gleason Show
Gidget
My Mother the Car

Dramas:
Lost in Space (ick)
Perry Mason
Adam-12
The Twilight Zone
Dark Shadows
The Fugitive
Daniel Boone
Columbo (1968)
Ben Casey
Ironside
Burke’s Law
Alfred Hitchcock Presents
77 Sunset Strip
The Mod Squad (1968)
The Defenders

Westerns were big in the 60s:
Bonanza (No. 1 with a bullet)
Marshal Dillon
Maverick
The Rifleman
Rawhide
Cheyenne
The Virginian
Have Gun Will Travel
Sugarfoot
Death Valley Days
and, of course, The Wild Wild West
For laughs, let us not forget F Troop

In animation, we had Tobor, the 8th Man after school, Popeye, Mr. Magoo, Rocky & Bullwinkle, Yogi Bear, Astro Boy, Jonny Quest, Underdog, Space Ghost & Dino Boy, The Road Runner, Spiderman, the original Jetsons and Flintstones (before they got cheap and cheesy) in the evenings, and a whole host of other cartoon shows beneath mention.

The very first Law & Order episode was still decades away.

Jean points out that television broke out of the studio in the 1970s in favor of the great outdoors – Streets of San Francisco, Kojak, Baretta, Cannon (large man in a Lincoln, a Quinn Martin production), and the great Rockford Files.

We had four channels – NBC, CBS, ABC, and then WHYY (1963). I remember when networks would “sign off” at midnight, playing the Star Spangled Banner, before turning into a test pattern. Only Johnny Carson went a bit later. (Carson succeeded Jack Paar in 1962, so he was the first late show host I would remember.) When UHF was eventually added (along with circular antennae to augment the standard rabbit ears), we had several more channels (17, 29, 48, and later 57), even if reception was spotty at times. UHF was nothing more than reruns of broadcast series and old movies from the 30s, 40s, and 50s; very little original programming. Still, two of these channels would grow up to be Fox and the CW. Although most broadcast stations would continue to sign off for the night (or go to infomercials), it was soon possible to stay up all night watching old movies, and I did. I think I saw every film ever made by John Wayne, Dean Martin, Burt Lancaster, Glenn Ford (my favorite), etc. Yes, of course, I had a crush on Doris Day and I thought that Hedy Lamarr had to be the most incredibly beautiful woman ever on the face of this earth. (Okay… Grace Kelly, the exquisite Elizabeth Taylor, and the woman who personified SEX to a lot of young teenagers, Marilyn Monroe. Let us not forget them.) I spent many a late night watching old movies. All in black and white on a 17″ television screen in the kitchen.

I did not see The Wizard of Oz in color until well into my teen years. Before then, I had no idea what all the fuss was about when Dorothy first opened the door and looked out on Oz.

Music

When I was still very young (I want to say age 6), I appeared on a local WCAU-TV show as a pianist. The host would talk about classical music, and then I would play a short example. There was a script with the text and musical snippets, but it must be long gone by now. For my troubles, the station gave me a Sunoco-branded transistor radio, which was built to look like a miniature gas pump. No doubt, the TV station got them for free (promotional purposes), but I didn’t know or care. Loved it. (In retrospect, I’ve felt cheated ever since. Where’s the $$$? Shoulda joined the musician’s union.)

Since I was a classically-trained pianist until age 16, I was late coming to the popular music of the day. Missed the British Invasion by The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, but leaned toward more complex music, rather than the 3-minute, one-idea radio tunes. For a variety show in high school, I performed my own piano solo version of Mason Williams’ Classical Gas. (YouTube) Someone tried to indoctrinate me into the masterworks of a young Bob Dylan, but it didn’t take (did not care for his voice). Not long after, I was heavily into Genesis (with peter gabriel), Loggins & Messina, The Doobie Brothers. Late 60s to mid 70s was a glorious time of growth in rock, but it’s all just tailed off since then (in my not humble opinion).

I was about 16 when I first heard music in STEREO. It was Emerson, Lake, and Palmer on an 8-track player in my brother’s old VW bug. The rotating drums at the end of Lucky Man was a revelation. The original Sony Walkman wouldn’t arrive until I was well into my 20s. My first car had an 8-track player (1972 Ford Pinto). Subsequent cars had cassette tape decks, and I made myself a million “driving mixes.” My son was born the same year the Compact Disc became widely available.

An older friend took me to the bar at the local Holiday Inn to hear a three-piece jazz combo. Like many a classically trained musician, I marvelled at how they could take a theme and then go off to heights unknown, without sheet music, without script, and then somehow manage to bring it all back to the beginning theme again. Ever since, I have made it my mission to be able to improvise freely, to “make it up as I played it.” Classical Gas may well have been the last piece of sheet music I ever used.

Pre-Tech


Needless to say, we did not have smartphones, CDs, VHS, or even computers. We had rotary phones (stick your finger in and rotate the dial). At the summer cottage in Maine, we had a party line – you could pick up the phone and hear your neighbor’s conversation.

Rotary Phone

For entertainment, we would actually “go outside and play.” This was unscheduled, uncoordinated, unstructured playtime with no parental or adult supervision or oversight, believe it or not. Two-hand-touch football was a standard. Roof ball (bouncing a tennis ball off of the eaves of the house) was a constant. My favorite toy was a stick – it could be anything, from a sword to a rifle. I climbed trees a lot and basically just roamed around.

For a time in the mid-60s, I would take the old Pennsylvania Railroad into Philadelphia each week for piano lessons. Noisy, windy old rail cars in an ugly dark red color, occasionally an equally ugly dark green. We lived about equidistant from both the Overbrook and Wynnewood stations on the old Main Line (now Paoli-Thorndale route), so I would walk to one or the other. Wynnewood had the stores, but Overbrook was a better walk.

Pennsylvania Railroad

When I first became aware of cars, most families had only one, and we would laugh today at what was considered a traffic jam back then. There was no trouble at all finding an open road, and “the country” started much closer to town than it does today. I was 10 years old when I was first captivated by the all-new Ford Mustang. The Mustang just celebrated its 50th anniversary year. (I think I learned about a new “rock ‘n’ roll” group called The Beatles in that same year.)

Cars in the early 1960s reflected the country as a whole – wide open spaces. There was plenty of sheet metal, with plenty of gaps. Plenty of wasted space under the hood and within the cabin. Aerodynamics and wind drag wouldn’t come into play until the late 1970s. Vinyl-covered bench seats up front (without seat belts) let you slide from side to side in the turns. This is when you could squeeze four across, with extra bodies in laps, if necessary. Safety was not a concern, and it’s a wonder that the species survived this era. More and more attention was paid to power and acceleration, while the technology of stopping would lag behind.

The Philadelphia Suburbs

King of Prussia Mall opened in 1963 in the middle of nowhere. This was only what we call the Plaza today, more of an open-air shopping center, but understand that the Plaza has since been expanded, itself. There was a J.C.Penney anchoring one end, a cheapo department store E.J. Korvette, and an Acme. Later, Gimbel’s and Wanamaker’s would come in, and the mall would be enclosed. For Philly-area folks, there was no Blue Route. The best way to get to King of Prussia was to drive out Route 352 and then take King of Prussia Road (the back way). Or take Montgomery Avenue/Gulph Road all the way out.

Exton Square Mall would open ten years later in 1973, Springfield and Granite Run Malls shortly thereafter. Malls would become THE place to be, for everything, and then fall out of fashion, all since the 1960s. Times change.

Granite Run Mall 1974-2015, R.I.P.

Granite Run Mall 1974-2015, R.I.P.

Pre-dating the King of Prussia Mall was the Bazaar of All Nations in Clifton Heights (Baltimore Pike). This was an early attempt at a mall – a collection of shops all under one roof. The shops were ultra-quirky, but so were the customers. You could get a custom t-shirt imprinted or find those special frames for wall mountings. Didn’t much like the place, but there were times when I HAD to go there, for something you couldn’t find anywhere else.

The local Blue Laws were in effect for all of my childhood. This meant that almost nothing was open on a Sunday. This grew out of misguided christian thinking, which assumed that everyone was christian and/or all christians kept the Sabbath holy. (For instance, even still, Pennsylvania car dealerships are closed on Sundays.)

One of the very few stores open on a Sunday was Wawa Food Markets (“Mama, I want my Wawa.”). Back when my weekly allowance was a quarter (that’s right, 25 cents), I would go to Wawa on Sunday and pick up the latest comic book (12¢) and a TastyKake (10¢) and three pretzel rods out of the container on the counter (1¢ each). When I was 18, I was working at that Wawa, still the only thing open on Sundays. We were busy with a constant line of customers, all buying their Sunday papers*, milk and eggs, and sliced deli. For sure, the staff had to kick it up a notch on Sundays, but it was actually fun. The only game in town.

* By papers, I mean newspapers. These were oddly shaped, folded, thin paper reading materials that we bought to find out what was happening locally and around the world (“news”). Philadelphia had two major papers – The Philadelphia Inquirer (morning) and The Philadelphia Bulletin (evening). This was before the internet, before 24-hour cable news networks. The news in these newspapers could be as much as a full day old, but this is how we consumed our “news media.” In particular, the Sunday edition (which always came out on Saturday) would be three to five times as thick as usual, crammed with articles of local interest, sections on entertainment, style, living, and all of the advertising circulars and the all-important Sunday comics in color.

The Route 104 Red Arrow line ran on tracks from 69th Street all the way out to West Chester. (Think: day trip.) The trollies were replaced by buses in the year I was born. Still, Route 3 has seen a LOT of construction over the past 60 years. But I remember when there was NOTHING between Newtown Square and West Chester, except the Dairy Queen in Edgemont. Civilization is slowly creeping westward out of Newtown Square, but it may be rethought. It seems that the young generation is rediscovering city life, leaving the suburbs/mortgages/yardwork/cummuting/cars behind.

The more things change…

mis·an·thrope

mis·an·thrope
/ˈmis(ə)nˌTHrōp,ˈmiz(ə)nˌTHrōp/
noun

a person who dislikes humankind and avoids human society
synonyms: hater of mankind, hater, cynic

I am a misanthrope.

I’m watching you, humanity, and I don’t like what I see.

Let me be clear: I don’t like people. Persons – individuals – I can deal with. People in groups suck.

We make rules, regulations, laws to deal with groups of people, not usually for the individual. But in any group, there’s always one person who is determined to screw things up for the rest of us. There’s always one yahoo.

I’m politically divisive. I don’t give a rat’s ass for anyone who would vote for a Republican with a straight face. There’s something wrong with you if you think Donald Trump was the best choice to be President of the United States.

That said, enjoy this blog. Hope you find something of interest. I didn’t.

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