Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Rocking C House Build Time Lapses

In early 2014, it came to my attention that a house was to be built locally to me. I approached the owners about filming the build process. I've always wanted to do a long-term time lapse project, as well as to see exactly how houses are put together. They graciously allowed me access to the site and to place a camera.

The build started on March 31st 2014, and my videos run until the main structure was completed, around the 22nd July. I set the camera to record between 5am and 8pm at 1-minute intervals. This meant it produced a minimum of 900 frames each day. It would produce more frames on busy days - around 1200 frames - as it uses motion detection as well to trigger the camera. I could have chosen to switch off motion detection, but I left it on in order to see more detail. So while the timeline might be slightly skewed, in the grand scheme of things it's not making a huge difference by the time I've cut the relevant parts of each film sequence.

If you're only going to watch one of these, watch Part 2; it's the most visually exciting, seeing the structure being built.

The Takeaways

I've learnt a few things from doing this.

I used a Bushnell field camera which is normally used for spotting wildlife.

The advantage of this is:
- it's camouflaged (it took forever for the house owners to spot it, tied to a tree)
- batteries last 2-3 weeks (takes 8xAA)
- it's weatherproof
- You can choose between time lapse or motion detection. If you look at my videos, it's doing both; there's a T or M flag in the bottom left that tells you what the trigger was for each frame.

It doesn't, however, handle bright white concrete very well, since it's designed to capture brown animals against green and brown trees. So I found that bright Texas sun on bright concrete and pale wood would wash out badly. I've reduced the exposure of pretty much all the morning-to-mid-afternoon sequences down by a stop and a bit, but the files are all jpg and that's about as good as it gets.

I've also had a few instances where the camera just stops recording, for reasons best known to itself. I _think_ the culprit is a dodgy battery connection; it seems that if you run your fingers along the line of batteries, it's enough to bring it back to life. But it's annoying when you've left it sitting for a few days and have nothing to show for it.

You could use a GoPro and that was my first thought, since they are small and weatherproof. However, the battery life is very short. When you run time lapse on a GoPro, it stays on constantly, it doesn't shut off between frames. So you get the same ~3hour battery life as if you were running video. I have seen folks mod the case by drilling a hole over the power input and then running the camera off whatever power source they have fixed up, but then you're no longer weatherproof. It's also more expensive losing a GoPro than a Bushnell, if someone decides to walk off with it.

If I was doing this again, I'd research my field cameras to see if there's one that is better optimised for bright subjects. The one I have was originally bought to see what kind of critters visit us in the night, so it's just what I had on hand for this job. * see Addendum; below.

I'd also like to get two or three of them to film from different angles, so if one drops out then you still have others. Also, houses are big, and I've lost the right hand end since it doesn't fit into my field of view. There's many days when the builders are doing things around the other side of the house, and I just can't see it. However the tree I have it tied to was about the only place I could put it that was going to remain out of the way and have a good view of the site.

One other thing I've learnt is that you shouldn't be afraid to move the camera. I was married to the fact the camera was in its one spot, and wanted to have the finished video from all the same viewpoint, for continuity. However, we ended up with a big gap of at least six weeks between the outside of the house being finished, and the concrete driveway being poured. I was all set up to get the little bit of pathway that was all the concrete which would be appearing in the shot. Then I spoke to the homeowner about it. He'd been busy; I'd been away and also busy, neither of us had fully thought about what was going on. We decided to move the camera after all, to catch more of the driveway being put down. Of course, if we'd had this conversation earlier, I'd have moved the camera and caught his swimming pool being installed. You live and learn though. As it is; the camera decided not to record the part where they actually laid the driveway! Since a flat white bit of motionless concrete isn't that exciting, I have finished the video with the walls being coated in stone, instead.


As for editing the movie, this takes patience, and hard drive space. 900 frames per day eats up hard drives pretty quickly, so I'm using an external Drobo drive to hold it all. I'm copying each day's worth of images into a separate folder.  Lightroom and LRTimelapse are used to bolt everything together.

You have to open each day's directory which will ingest all the frames into LRTimelapse, then click to initialise them, in order to be able to play back that day's sequence. This takes about five minutes, and only then do you know if you've caught anything interesting that day. If nothing happened, repeat with the next day until you find some action. Then you can get into Lightroom and go back and forth with the files until they're corrected the way you need them - you will likely need to alter exposure and/or cropping, as well as deflickering the images. This page on LRTimelapse.com explains the process. Then you can export and render the video sequence. If you have around 1000 images files, this lot will take 20-30 minutes, for each day's video.

Once you have a bunch of daily videos, you can load them into Final Cut or another video editor, and cut them until you have something like the videos shown above.


I wrote most of this blog post around September 2014. I'm publishing it in February 2015. For many reasons, I have been delayed in making part 3, but it's here now. I've also recently become aware of the existence of Brinno time lapse cameras. Their construction camera would have been the perfect tool for this job; it records for months at a time and builds the video in-camera. Oh well! I guess if I do this again, I know which tool I'll use.
Anyone else want to build a house?

Friday, September 26, 2014

Watching the races in style: Sports Car Endurance Racing at COTA

We went to the Circuit of the Americas to watch the endurance racing. The Lone Star Le Mans / Six Hours of the Circuit of the Americas contained many fabulous cars. Since Alan is the proud owner of a Grand Cherokee SRT, it allowed us to be able to purchase SRT hospitality tickets to the races. This turned out to be one excellent way to watch a race!

The SRT brand runs across the Dodge/Chrysler/Jeep family; it's the hot versions of some of their cars. The Dodge Vipers are the racing cars, although the other breeds were represented on the SRT stand at the main square in the circuit.

This is me with one of the Viper SRT cars - I think this is last year's car, on the SRT stand.

Here's the garage, in the pit area. They are removing the bonnets/hoods from the cars. Also in here is the white Viper Exchange car; I think this was technically a separate team but they seem to share the facilities.

We were thoroughly looked after over the two days. The SRT folks had one of those big trucks whose sides expand to create space inside and outside. It was pretty awesome. The hosting staff were super friendly and welcoming. Here's breakfast:

They catered breakfast, lunch and on Saturday, dinner as well, for us. Lunch was served on nice COTA plates, and was good quality tasty food.

We were also given goody bags filled with Lone Star Le Mans merchandise, and later on they gave us some really nice SRT-branded water bottles. I have to say, the ticket price for this was very good value. If we had bought normal tickets, by the time we bought food and drink we'd have spent the same amount, and this way we have a lovely home base to watch the race from, all the water we can drink, free beer, nice restrooms... it's a veritable bastion of civilization!

Another nice perk was getting to have a few minutes with the Viper drivers, who came to the truck on Friday to say a few words.

We were also allowed into the VIP area in the SRT garage; again, we could help ourselves to drinks from the fridge and watch the mechanics do their thing at closer quarters.

And when it came time to watch some track action, we could stand on top of the truck and get this view looking up into Turn 1 (spot the Viper on the track). This was a prime spot from which to cheer on the Vipers, directly opposite their Snake Pit - and it must have worked, since the Vipers came in 1 and 2 in their GTLM class, while the Viper Exchange car won the GTD category. Congratulations, Vipers! Clicky for details

So thanks, SRT people, for providing us with a splendid facility and hospitality within which to enjoy the weekend. It was great!

If you want to see some of the track action, click here for my photo gallery from the weekend.

Bonus picture: here's a lovely orange Viper SRT. This belonged to another crowd who were doing rides around the track. It's the same colour as my Jeep, so of course has to be included here :-)

Monday, September 08, 2014

Just call me Daystar!

My husband is a kind and generous man, and for my birthday recently purchased me a pair of JW Speaker headlights for my Jeep! The stock Jeep lights are legal but somewhat akin to a 40w light bulb; nothing to write home about. The Speaker lights bring a gazillion candlepower of modern LED technology to the party. Let's have a look at some before and after pictures. These are all taken at the same camera settings (1600ISO, 2 seconds, F8) and I've done nothing to them, they're straight out of the camera.

Original lights on the road, low beam.

New lights on the road, low beam.

Obviously the color temperature change is massive. The stock lights are your typical yellow tungsten color, whereas the new ones are daylight-balanced white light. There's nothing much on this bit of road to light up apart from the mailboxes, however just to the left of the lights in the middle, you can see there's a row of columns further down the street. You can't see them at all with the stock lights. That's probably a good hundred feet away if not more.

Original lights on the driveway, low beam.

New lights on the driveway, low beam.

The new lights haven't been aligned yet and they're maybe a little high (I'm going to get them checked later today) but you can see the difference here. The grass is actually green and the light pattern is very distinct.

Original lights on the driveway, high beam.

New lights on the driveway, high beam.

High beam just adds to the illumination. I can't wait to see what I can see on real roads!

PS: They look pretty damn awesome, too :-)

Monday, August 11, 2014

Boats and Balloons

This was quite a boaty weekend. Saturday morning saw me on Lake Travis, zooming about in a small boat owned by some friendly folks that agreed to take me balloon chasing! It was the annual Lake Flight of our balloon club, and I really wanted to get some different photos this year. So thanks, Jeff, for taking me. Here's some photos:

On Sunday, Alan and I went to Marble Falls to watch the drag boat racing. This is always awesome, and the Top Fuel boats are simply Bad Ass. They run the course in three, maybe four seconds. Raw, visceral power! So loud... you feel it in every bone.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Taking my Jeep Off Road

I recently joined Austin Jeep People, and through them found San Antonio-based Jeep Republic. JRep held a beginner off-road day at Hidden Falls, and I figured it was way past time for me to actually see what my Jeep could do. This is a bit embarrassing, but after almost eight years of Jeep ownership, it's taken me this long to get it off road!

So Alan and I headed out and met with some other AJP folks, and our group was joined by a whole bunch of JRep Jeeps. They brought some experienced offroaders to act as trail guides. Their Jeeps were somewhat taller and more modified than my stock JKU :-)

First order of business was to air down - this means deflating your tyres so there's a bigger contact patch between the tyre and the ground, which means more grip. Curtis lent me his deflator tool which made the job easy, and suggested I take my stock tyres from my normal 35psi down to 20psi. Folks with bigger, knobbly tyres might go down to 12psi.

Second order of business is to disconnect the sway bar, which allows the axle to tilt more than usual underneath the Jeep body. This means you can drive on uneven ground with less fear of rolling over. An 18mm socket and wrench/spanner will do the job, but a lot of folks put quick-release disconnects on which lets you pull a pin to release them instead. Rubicon owners can just push a button; their disconnect is electronic!

Then it's time to hit the trails. Driving with my Jeep in this configuration was an experience. Obviously, it feels very different. I was told to use 4-Low; this is 4-wheel drive low gear. I normally drive about in 2-wheel drive, and also have a 4-high option. 4-Low is very low gearing; I was doing 15mph in third and would normally be doing 30 at least. So we're not racing off.

We first went up a hill in our big group of about 30 Jeeps. There's a steep, rocky part which was Interesting. It looked very steep to my uninitiated eyes! Someone told me that a Jeep is like a mountain goat, and to be honest they weren't wrong. Once I figured out how much gas to give it, we crawled up that hill no trouble at all. There was another obstacle further on; a large rock ledge down the hill. I didn't have the ground clearance to go down there - now I see why people lift their Jeeps. However, all the main obstacles have alternative routes, so I went down the trail next to it, and met with the other Jeeps on top of the ridge.

We had all parked nose-in, before someone suggested we all turn around for photos. So we did! Cue 30 Jeeps all turning round and parking nose-out, which looked awesome once we were all back in place. General milling about and checking out everyone's Jeeps ensued for a while, before Veronica (the organiser) split us all into four groups. Alan and I were in the stock Jeep group, along with at least six other Wranglers and two Liberties. Justin led our group in his much-modified white Liberty.

The park roads are fairly wide but as soon as you get into the trails, it gets very narrow. And there are scrapy, scratchy trees! I didn't expect it to be quite so narrow.... let us just say that my Jeep has acquired some battle scars... (I've since become good friends with a bottle of rubbing compound which has got rid of some scarring). Now I know why people take their doors off! And why the Rubicon usually has non-painted fenders...

I suspect there's all the mud you could wish for after a big rain, here, but this day was hot and dry, and only a little bit of mud remained. Enough to get our wheels mucky. Did I mention it was hot? You definitely want to cram as much water into your Jeep as possible; you're going to need it. It was 100F+ all day.

We crept through the trails, encountering deep ruts and tree stumps and rocks. Tree stumps have to be gone around, or driven over, depending on how tall they are. Ruts can be straddled, or just driven into. Sometimes you have no choice but to drive into them and then you get to see how to drive at all kinds of funny angles.

I got stuck at one point, on a downhill step, on a rock. Luckily I apparently have skid plates underneath, so no damage was done other than to the protector plate; and that's its job. Justin was able to root around underneath and clear some rocks, so after a bit of back-and-forth with my Jeep under his instruction, I was able to extricate myself from the ledge.

We eventually made it back to the center of the park, for a breather and rest stop. By this time it was well through the afternoon. The group went off to do another trail, but Alan and I chose to head home - we had animals to look after who were also out in the hot sun. And I have to be honest, I was pretty tired after all the driving about - constantly looking at unfamiliar terrain for several hours; trying to pick out a decent driving line. I went to sleep that night still able to feel the rocking motion!

Big thanks to Jeep Republic for organising the day, and to Austin Jeep People for generally being awesome.
Check out the video below to watch Jeeps in action.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A couple of ballooning videos

Here's a couple of videos I made recently with the Central Texas Ballooning Association, of which I am a member. In this one, I gave Greg one of my GoPro cameras on a monopole and told him to have fun with it. This video shows a couple of balloon inflations in Zilker Park. The general public are welcome to come and watch, and to help crew if they like. I used my quadcopter to get some aerial shots of the balloons.