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A nothing-happens weekend

This is probably a good thing. I had a nice flight of the helicopter on Friday. I zero wind (and I mean dead calm), I got the hang of using the dopey little tail rotor to put some control in the direction of flight. It has two states, on or off. Turning is achieved by a very very light touch on the stick, so that the rotors alter speed relative to each other, the faster rotor causing the body of the machine to rotate. As you can imagine, this is freakishly delicate, and more so when the thing is facing you so the controls are back to front to what you might expect.

Today I took it out and hooked the Nokia mobile phone to it. Well, held on underneath thanks to a rubber band. Not a sophisticated setup.

The quick'n'dirty way of adding a camera to a little helicopter. Shame about the weight.

Weighing in at a shocking 100g, the phone worked as a camera (pointing straight down) provided I had a fully charged battery, then threw the helicopter in the air with the rotors at maximum throttle, and watched as it come back down a little quicker than would be nice.
It gives me a little bit of hope that a lighter camera might not support taking off, but it may stay in the air long enough to record something.

Here's the very first ever Rick helicam footage. And because it is pathetically uninteresting, I've stuck some other stuff recorded with the Nokia 6230i afterwards. This claims to be good quality. The original was, actually, worse. Here I zoomed it 200% and ran a smoothing/deblocking process with AVIDemux. It's still crap, though. :-(

And to show the change in mobile phone techology in only five or so years, I took the helicopter out for a spin (ho-ho-boom) following a charge. The clicking you can hear every so often is me 'trimming' the settings. This is not the model with the built-in gyro. Sadly, as I suspect that would make life easier, though it might add to the weight?
I was not really flying, there was a very gentle breeze, so I let that carry the helicopter around. And, as many flights seem to do, it ended getting overly acquainted with the shrubbery. You'll notice the ground is soaking and the odd whisps of fog wafting across the view. Well, at least it isn't a foot deep in snow. There's that...

PS: Sorry Rob. ☺


Katakana - lesson 1

As you might have noticed, I have a set of katakana flashcards, which I do not look at as often as I should. So I though I might write an introductory course, which will pretty much mean I have to pay more attention.

Okay. Let's begin by knowing what we're looking at.

Japanese has three styles of writing:

  • Hiragana - this is a set of 46 "symbols" which represent syllables used in Japanese speech. These are distinguished from katakana by virtue of being sleek and curvy. Pretty much any Japanese can be written in hiragana, and on some manga you will see little hiragana beside kanji to aid readers that might not yet know the kanji.
  • Katakana - this is the same 46 sounds, only using a different way of writing. In the case of katakana, they are more angular and squarey. Katakana is used for words of foreign (non-Japanese) origin, and also for attention-grabbing. As you can imagine, written Japanese does not lend itself to western typographical conventions such as bold and italicised. Also, traditionally being written downwards, underlining wouldn't work either.
  • Kanji - these are the horrible ones. With each ideograph representing a 'concept', Kanji range from simple (two or three strokes) to amazingly complex (20-plus strokes). To give you an idea, this '東' is the sun (which is '日') rising behind a tree (which is '木'). The sun behind the trees means "east". The next ideograph I want to mention is '京' which is a drawing of the ancient lantern that used to guard, and mark the limits of, the capital city (Google image search for "ancient japanese lantern", you can sort of see it in the kanji).
    When these are put together, they look like '東京' which is said like to-kyo. As in Tokyo, the capital in the east.
    You'll see that dinky little lantern in the name of Kyoto '京都' which roughly translates as the capital city. Kyoto was certainly not the first, but running in at some 680 years, it is the longest serving capital city in Japan's history.
    In fact, there is still some debate as to whether the real capital is Tokyo, or whether Kyoto is still the capital. Or maybe both? Read this entry on Wikipedia for more details.

    Way off in the future we'll cover a few useful kanji, but given that an average school child needs to know a couple of thousand, you might get an idea of the difficulties.

There are more than 46 sounds in Japanese. For example, you won't find 'do' or 'kyo' in a basic kana list. These are formed by adding little symbols to certain kana to mark the sound change - for example to 'ト' with two little marks added becomes do 'ド'.

If you're still reading, don't panic! We'll take this real slow-and-easy.

Today, we will start with the vowels. The order of vowels in Japanese is a, i, u, e, o.

  • ア a
    Said like the 'a' in "hand".
    There isn't anything to confuse this with.
  • イ i
    Said a bit like the 'ee' in "see".
    There isn't anything to confuse this with.
  • ウ u
    Said a bit like the 'oo' in "spoon". Note that there is no "uh" sound in Japanese, so my name "Murray" cannot be said. A peculiarity of Japanese is that in numerous cases, the 'u' is not said. This is how アイスクリーム ("a-i-su-ku-rii-mu") can come out sounding roughly like "ice cream", though some people may say this with the 'u' sounds intact.
    Be careful, the kana for wa is ワ is identical except for the little thing poking out the top.
  • エ e
    Said a bit like the 'e' in "elevator".
    There isn't anything to confuse this with, except for the possibility of thinking it might be 'i' because of its resemblence to the latin I.
  • オ o
    Said a bit like the 'o' in "pot".
    There isn't anything to confuse this twirly dancing guy with.

Did you notice how in the ice cream example, アイスクリーム, the 'a' and the 'i' were said as separate sounds? The 'eye' sound at the beginning of the word "ice" is approximated in Japanese by having an 'a' followed by an 'i', like "aa-ee".

That's it for today. Just those five. More next week. ☺


Your comments:

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Rick, 26th February 2011, 18:06
I should add, as the battery depletes, the relationship in speed between the rotor motors changes slightly, and this is why it will need frequent retrimming for hover-flight. It is less trouble when running in a controlled mode as you can joystick it, but it's pretty hard to do that and record... ;-)
Rob, 28th February 2011, 10:39
I wonder how easy it would be to wire up a couple of sensors and a microcontroller to handle that for you. Add in some programming options, and you could even get it flying autonomously ... Bet you could do it with a Beeb, but it might be a struggle getting the chopper to lift it..
Rick, 8th March 2011, 02:49
If the data format was known (looks cheap'n'cheerful, some sort of PCM?) it shouldn't be too hard to program something, indeed the later models have an on-board gyro to help keep the thing trim. I'd be more concerned about the accuracy of the sensing. 
As for flying autonomously, I guess if it crashes into the bushes, it is not doing any worse than me. ;-)

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