This was my first thought

Images and videos of the protests last week in Cape Town were shared widely across social media, but if there was one image that was more widely shared than any other, it was probably this one:

And while most people’s thoughts on seeing it were about the power of the protest and the sheer numbers of people present, I was wondering how legal it was.

And it seems like it might not be very legal at all. (Apologies for the Business Insider link.)

They mention the fact that Parliament is a National Key Point (although the photo is not taken over Parliament). They mention the fact that the pilot is flying over a crowd (not good practice, because a kilo of drone falling from the sky is going to sting a bit, minimum). They also point out that there was a NOTAM (NOtice To AirMen) (did you just assume my gender?) (let’s not go there) in force because of the World Economic Forum meeting at the CTICC.

I hadn’t considered that one, but it’s probably the most serious of the alleged infringements.

The reason I didn’t really go much further with my thoughts about the photo was twofold: firstly, that (as with every other aspect of life here) no-one cares about the laws and they’re never enforced anyway, and secondly, that I genuinely thought it must have been taken by a professional operating from a helicopter, because (to my eye at least), it seems to have been taken from well above the 120m ceiling allowed for drones. And yes, I know that’s just another law to ignore, but if I was a news person (which was who I had assumed had taken it) and I wanted this shot, I’d have used a chopper, not a drone.

It’s more bad press for drones and it’s going to highlight the lack of sensible admin around flying them. We have yet another dysfunctional government body to blame for that one, together with a misleading media. For example, this line:

Drone pilots have long complained that the SACAA is not issuing pilot licences fast enough. With an application process that can take up to three years… only an estimated 1% of those who operate drones in South Africa are doing so legally.

…is confusing. You don’t need a licence to fly a drone if you are a hobbyist. Whatever the guy who took this photo is guilty of, it’s wrong to assume that he needed a licence to fly his drone (although a little common sense may have been beneficial).

Pi Day Fly Day

It’s Pi Day, (because it’s the 14th March, or 14/3, or 3.14 in the American notation). This is clearly not the South African way of doing things. However, on this occasion, I’m willing to overlook this US-based nonsense in the name of education. The school has based an entire Maths Week around today – “It’s all about Maths and Fun” (so clearly not big on Venn diagrams, then) – and it’s been an excellent learning experience for all the kids.

I was asked to help out today with ‘togging one of the events: namely a Pi on the field, made up of all the classes in the keystage, and I was only too happy to help. Here’s one of the lower altitude photos I took:

Obviously, I used the drone: my tripod wouldn’t extend to the required height for even this relatively low level shot.

The students were very patient (although the process really didn’t take very long, thanks to some fantastic organisation), but this is one of those things that won’t mean anything to them until they see the photos, which is why I hurried through the editing as soon as I got home and got them back to the teachers in time for them to see what they were part of today.

Tomorrow: Maths Week Dress Up Day!

Also tomorrow for those wondering: March’s 6000 miles… crossword.

More drone photo disappointment

We’ve been here before (harvesting water lilies again, nogal), but…

Spoiler: they’re really not.

Now, I’m not saying that I could have necessarily produced anything better (although my waves breaking on rocks beats their waves breaking on rocks IMHO, so actually maybe I am).

but honestly, if these are the “50 best drone pictures of last year”, then… ugh.

The quality is disappointing, the variation in subject matter is really poor (any chance of another boat harvesting some plants or doing some fishing, please?) and the winner (reproduced here only so you don’t have to click through and be continually disappointed):

clearly breaks one of the many unwritten rules of flying a drone: don’t harass wildlife. Add to that several over roads and a few above crowds: it’s not exactly showcasing the best of drone etiquette.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some lovely photos in there, and I still firmly believe that taking photos from a drone opens up a whole new world of perception of common or everyday objects or scenes.

But “best 50 drone pictures of last year”? Sorry. No.
At least half of these are really rather ordinary.

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.