Mancala

Today, if weather permits (and actual genuine spoiler, it looks like it won’t), I’ll be helping with recording a Guinness World Record attempt for the largest number of people playing Mancala at any one time.

What is Mancala? I hear you ask. This is Mancala (not, as Wikipedia first warns us, to be confused with mandala or Lake Manzala):

Mancala is one of the oldest known games to be played. Mancala is a generic name for a family of 2-player turn-based strategy board games played with small stones, beans, or seeds and rows of holes or pits in the earth, a board or other playing surface. The objective is usually to capture all or some set of the opponent’s stones, beans, etc. Versions of the game have been played for at least hundreds of years around the world.

It’s part of the kids’ school’s 20th Anniversary celebrations and I think it’s a great way to remember a special birthday year.

The students have made and decorated their own Mancala boards and learned how to play the game – which is no bad thing in itself, as this article tells us:

Because there’s a lot more to playing these games than just… well… playing these games:

The African continent has a long history of gameplay that extends back to pre-slavery and precolonial times. Board games, in particular, have been used to teach, or reinforce, values as well as cognitive and motor skills.

The list of requirements for a Guinness World Record attempt is unsurprisingly rather long and arduous, but the team at the school responsible for this attempt have got it all in hand. For my part, I’ll be taking Florence the Mavic up to record the fun from on high. I may have to hide her behind some trees to get some protection from the wind.

Having been desperate for rain for most of this year, the inevitable Whatsapp group set up to keep us informed with the latest updates is ironically suddenly filled with prayers for dry weather for this morning. It’s not looking promising, but we’re going to give it a go anyway – the fourth term calendar is too full to easily accept a postponement.

Wish us luck – and maybe watch out for some of my aerial footage illustrating a new World Record  for South Africa in the 2020 GWR Book.

New drones

Bad news. I no longer have the coolest drone on the market.

That’s because last week, DJI released two new Mavic 2 Pro drones: the Zoom and the Pro. There’s been a huge number of comments on these new offerings across the droning community for a while now, but no-one has actually had any hands-on experience with them, because… well.. obviously they weren’t available.

Now they are, and obviously, one of the first to have one (or two) was Casey Neistat – a guy whose opinions on these sort of things I value tremendously. I started to watch his review with my Mavic 1 sitting next to me and an understanding that, inevitably, these new drones would render Florence pretty much defunct as the flagship, cutting edge consumer unit.

Before I continue, here’s his review:

tl;dw: unsurprisingly, two great drones. He prefers the one with the optical zoom (the… er… M2 Zoom), the other one (M2 Pro) is also good, but falls down a little on value for money.

So yeah, my Mavic 1 is now old news.

Or is it?

Because first off, there’s every reason for these models to be better than Florence. They have the benefit of being released 20 months later than her, and in a marketplace which features such cutting edge technology – technology that still regularly astounds people that see my drone – that’s a massive, massive advantage. Not least in that DJI can look at their consumers’ wishlists and react accordingly.

They’re more expensive too. Sure, you’re getting a few more features, but aside from the improved cameras (and you can look at the video for direct side-by-side comparisons), there’s not really that much else added.

The M2 Pro FlyMore package (the direct equivalent of how I bought Florence) comes in a cool R10,000 more than I paid for my Mavic back in January last year. And because of that, Casey suggests that for the quality of picture vs value for money, Florence can still hold her own against the M2 Pro. Boom.

There are two other points to take into consideration as well, and these ones are personal, so I fully accept that they might not be the same for everyone.

Firstly, if you are buying your Mavic 2 drone next month when they get to SA, then enjoy it. You’re going to have an amazing time. But you will have already missed out on the 20 months of fun that I have had. Sure, I could have waited for the Mavic 2, in much the same way that you could have waited for the Mavic 3. But I have had such a good time all over the world with my drone: I have no regrets whatsoever.

And secondly, because money doesn’t grow on trees, my choice of which bits of technology I want to upgrade has to be tempered somewhat. Sure, if I won the lottery tomorrow I’d be at the DJI Store on Wednesday.
But that’s (probably) not going to happen.
A far more sensible approach is to wait until your technology begins to limit what you can – and what you want to – do with it. I’ve done that on a couple of occasions with cameras (indeed, I’m just beginning to get there with my current entry-level Canon DSLR).

I’m nowhere near that point with my drone. I haven’t even scratched the surface. The problem is that it’s just such fun to fly. You head out with the best of intentions to shoot some amazing video or some such, you pop it up into the air and just “warm up” with a few runs in and out over the beach or wherever, and you’re having such a good time that you do a few more.

And then suddenly:

Maybe that video thing can wait til tomorrow.

And guess what happens tomorrow?
I simply don’t have the discipline to overcome the amount of fun I have when I launch my drone.

So, while my Florence is now technologically aeons behind in this exciting, fast-paced field, I’m very happy to keep working playing with my Mavic 1.

It’s still amazing. It is.

Now: DRONES ON MARS!

If there’s one thing that everyone on Earth can clearly agree on, it’s that there can never be such a thing as too many drones.

And it seems that NASA are now planning to start the drone craze on Mars as well with a new helicopter device:

The US space agency said Friday it plans to launch the first-ever helicopter to Mars in 2020, a miniature, unmanned drone-like chopper that could boost our understanding of the Red Planet.

I’m not sure how they plan to get a GPS lock, given that there are no S’s around Mars, but this is NASA, and if they faked the moon landings, well, then they can do most anything. And that likely includes coming up with a superb name for this craft, just like they did with ApolloChallengerDiscovery and Titan.

And that name is… [drum roll]…

The Mars Helicopter

[sad trombone] Oh.

And they’re starting small:

Its first flight calls for a brief vertical climb of 10 feet (three meters), followed by hovering for a half minute.

Wow. 10 feet. 30 seconds. Hold the front pages.
Don’t push yourselves, NASA.

I clearly need to get my Mavic out there, stat. I’d be buzzing Olympus Mons, shooting high quality 4K video and doing dronies on Curiosity while NASA’s rookies were still putting the paperwork and requisition forms together, wondering if they could maybe risk trying a gentle turn to the right.

If you’re reading this, NASA, I am available for this kind of thing (in between my lab antics with TB). I’ve flown over the Northern Cape: I know what desolation looks like.

But I don’t think I need to be in Texas or Florida or California or wherever you’re running your circus from at the moment. If you can control a drone on a planet 55 million kilometres away, I really don’t think it matters if I’m across a bit of sea from your place.

And I’m certainly not going to Mars.

Have drone, won’t travel.

Old drones

The recent explosion in consumer drones on the market is exactly that: recent.

If you wanted a decent quadcopter with a camera on it, say, a decade ago, you’d have been looking at spending tens, possibly even hundreds, of thousands of your given currency.

But just because consumer drones are a new thing doesn’t mean that there weren’t ways to take aerial photos back in the day. That day specifically being one of the 365 examples from 1907.

The helicopter wouldn’t make an appearance for another 30+ years, so this wasn’t rotary-engined – it was feathery.

Here’s the link (warning: may include pigeon).

Dr. Julius Neubronner, a German apothecary, submitted a patent application for a new invention: the pigeon camera. The device was precisely what it sounds like—a small camera fitted with straps and equipped with a timer so that pigeons could carry it and take photos in flight.

Yes, seriously:

And back then, this technology was every bit as revolutionary as the stuff the DJI is offering us now.

The images his pigeons captured…  are among the very early photos taken of Earth from above (the earliest were captured from balloons and kites) and are distinct for having the GoPro-like quality of channelling animal movement. That perspective that is so commonplace to us now, in which the rooftops stretch out before us as though they were made of a child’s blocks, and people crawl along like ants, was a rare sight when Neubronner took his pigeon pictures.

And they also had problems with propellor-shadow. Or the avian equivalent, at least:

It’s a good reminder that while we might like to think that we are pioneers in any given subject area, there’s actually every chance that it’s been done before.

Two panos

I’m not a huge fan of panorama photos.
Well, I like the idea, but all too often, the actual product never really matches up to what I was hoping for (or even expecting).

Unless you’re going to plan ahead and take your own individual photos and stitch them in lightroom, it’s not going to be a great result.
That said, if you’re willing to acknowledge that you are using a mobile phone and not a DSLR, then your pano app can be fun for sharing a scene on whatsapp (or… er… a blog).

I popped the Mavic up above the early morning mist at home this morning and got this. It’s 21 images stitched together by the DJI software, but then you only get a 0.6MB image.
Still, what a shot (though I say it myself)…

One of those occasions where you really wonder if anyone would notice if you sent it up another 80m.

I didn’t. Obviously.

And then this, from Camps Bay this lunchtime. We had a spare half hour and so we grabbed a quick ice cream and a walk on the beach.

Full size here (10928 x 3520 nogal).

We’d forgotten how amazing Camps Bay can be out of season.
It was nice to be reminded.

 

UPDATE: I went back the next day and took a real panorama. You… well, you can see the difference. 🙂