Typical Late Autumn Weather Time-Lapse

Lots of fog coming and going all day long.

I knew when I woke up yesterday morning that it was going to be a foggy day. How could I tell? I looked out my window and didn’t see a single light anywhere. The fog was all around me, blocking out the thousands of lights down in Wenatchee that keep my home from getting dark at night as well as closer in lights in at my neighbors’ homes. It was pitch black dark.

But with fog and low clouds moving around, it would be a good day for a time-lapse.

The Equipment

I went down into the garage and rummaged around in a box full of old camera equipment until I found my Canon PowerShot G5. This was my first “serious” digital camera, which I bought back at the end of 2003 for aerial photography. (Back then, I had the crazy idea that my future wasband was capable of taking satisfactory photos from the helicopter to meet the needs of aerial photo clients. That turned out to be a very expensive exercise in futility.) With 5 megapixel resolution, it was a big deal — all my digital cameras up to that point had shot in 2.1 megapixels or less. I even took it with me to Supai, the Havasupai village at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, when I went on an Arizona Highways photo excursion in April 2004.

So yes, the camera is old. At least by today’s standards.

But I don’t throw anything useful away. Even when I got better digital cameras — like the Nikon D80 I bought in 2007 and the Nikon D7000 I use now — I kept the old Canon.

Years ago, I bought a Pclix intervalometer for it and started using it as a dedicated time-lapse camera. An intervalometer, in case you don’t know, is a device or camera feature that tells the camera to shoot an image periodically per your specifications. That and a tripod are the two things you need to make time-lapse movie images. You then use an app on your computer (or smartphone, I suppose) to compile those images into a movie.

G5 and Pclix
Shown here: my Canon G5 with optical cable taped on, Pclix intervalometer, and the power supply for the camera, which is not USB.

The Pclix I have uses an optical trigger mechanism. That means it sends a beam of light down a fiberoptic cable. The light is seen by the old Canon G5 as if I’ve pointed a remote at it and it clicks the shutter. To get this to work, I used electrical tape to attach the business end of the optical cable to the G5’s remote sensor. Of course, the camera needs to be plugged into power — its old battery won’t hold a charge and, even if it did, it wouldn’t last all day. The Pclix runs on a pair of AAA batteries and I was very surprised to see that they still had enough juice to power it. But I guess an electronic timer and tiny beam of light don’t need much power.

When I dug out all this stuff yesterday morning, I was kind of surprised to find it all. (Note to self: putting things away really is a great strategy for making them easy to find in the future.) Although I still do time-lapses once in a while, I’ve been using my GoPro, which is a lot more compact and easy to set up. But my GoPros and my Nikon D7000, which has a built-in intervalometer, are all in Arizona, waiting for me to join them. The G5 was my only option.

Setting Up

I’ve always been interested in time-lapse movies. There’s nothing quite like them to show the movement of slow-moving things. You can see the ones on this blog by checking out the time-lapse tag.

Of course, the challenge is to set up a time-lapse camera before something interesting happens. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried to create a time-lapse of clouds on days that clouds never made an appearance. The good thing is, the images are all digital, so if a whole day shooting results in a dull time-lapse, I can just delete it all.

Yesterday’s challenge was pointing the camera in the right direction with the right zoom magnification. (This is one of the benefits of using the G5 instead of a GoPro: optical zoom.) It was barely light out and the fog was thick when I got it all set up. I was also concerned about focus; I let the camera’s autofocus feature take care of that, but when there’s no detail to lock in on, the camera can’t focus. So I suspect there are some focus issues with individual shots.

I let it run all day from the corner of my deck, plugged into one of the outlets there, with 1 shot every 15 seconds. That’s how the Pclix was set up. I’d lost the instructions and didn’t want to mess with reprogramming it.

The Results

I checked on the camera at about 3:30 PM and discovered that its tripod had fallen over. Oops. I brought it in and saw that the last shot taken was after 2 PM, so I did get most of the day.

I brought the camera up to my loft where my office is now. It took a while to find a cable that would connect the old camera to my computer — I knew there was no chance I’d find a card reader for the Compact Flash card (which isn’t compact at all by today’s standards). I worked some magic and got the images into my computer.

Then I ran them through an app that resized them and put the time in the corner.

Then I fired up QuickTime 7 Pro — which I’ve always used for time-lapses — and created a movie with 30 frames per second. So each second of this movie is 7-1/2 minutes of the day. Here it is:

What surprises me most is just how much of the day was foggy. Keep in mind that my home sits on a shelf about 800 feet above the river. In the winter, we often get inversions that fill the valley with fog. Sometimes I’m above it, sometimes I’m in it, and sometimes I’m below it. Yesterday, I was mostly in it and above it. At one point, I looked out my office window, which faces south towards the cliffs, and it was perfectly clear. Yet at the same time, the view through the camera was nearly completely fogged in.

Of course, this has motivated me to do some more time-lapses. Maybe I’ll produce a few in Arizona when I head down there for the winter. But I think I’ll leave my clunky G5 setup home.

Self-Publishing a Paperback with Amazon KDP

Easy enough, but not ideal.

Part 107 Explained
Want to become a commercial drone pilot? Start by learning all about the FAA’s Part 107. This book will help. Buy the ebook edition on Amazon or from Apple. Or buy the paperback edition on Amazon.

Back in April, I wrote and published a short guide to FAR Part 107, which are the regulations governing commercial small UAS (drone) pilot operations. In the U.S., a pilot who wants to fly a drone for hire must get some training on these rules and then prove they know them by taking a test. If you’re not already a pilot, there’s additional certification and training that must be done. The FAA has recognized that a small UAS is an aircraft and must be regulated as such. As a helicopter pilot sharing airspace with drone pilots, I’m pretty happy about that, although I’m not happy about the folks who operate with little or no regard for the rules.

In preparing for the test and later answering people’s questions about the regulations, I looked for a guide that explained everything in plain English. When I couldn’t find one, I wrote one. It was my first book project in about four years and it wasn’t very tough for me. When it came time to publish it, I did it the easy way: I created ebook files in the correct formats and published them in the Apple bookstore and on Amazon.com.

Understand that I’m a big proponent of ebooks and very rarely buy printed books anymore. It’s a lot more convenient for me to read on my iPad and I get the added benefit of taking as many books as I want with me on trips without adding any weight to my luggage. I assumed that the folks who wanted a book like this would be on the same page as me.

But apparently that isn’t so. Lots of people seem to really like printed books, even for something as short as this one.

I normally use a print on demand publisher for my paperback book publishing needs: Lightning Source. They are affiliated with Ingram, so any book I publish using their service is automatically listed in Books in Print and appears in bookstore book catalogs, including Amazon and Barnes and Noble. The service isn’t difficult to use if you have the ability to create a PDF in the correct format. I usually write my books in InDesign, which can spit out documents in the formats I need. I fill out a few online forms, I upload the content and cover files, I pay a nominal fee, and I wait. The books are usually available within a week or so.

But yesterday, while checking the sales for the Part 107 book on Amazon, I saw a link for creating a paperback using Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). I did some research on how it worked, what it cost, and how royalties were calculated. It seemed straightforward enough so I thought I’d give it a try. I figured that if I didn’t like the results, I could cancel publication and get the paperback printed through Lightning Source.

I spent about five hours yesterday prepping the manuscript for print publication. The trouble was, the manuscript I’d published as an ebook was absolutely filled with links to references on the web and cross-references to book content. In the ebook, you could tap a link to go right to that source — another benefit of ebooks over printed books. I had to manually convert all of the references to URLs in footnotes or page references in parentheses. I also had to remove all of the URL formatting that had been applied to link text. And because many of the URLs were really long, I had to use a URL shortener — I prefer bit.ly — to give each link a short, custom URL.

When I was done, I tried creating a PDF but didn’t like the results. I was working with Microsoft Word 2011 — I never did go to the Office 365 suite — and it doesn’t offer many options for PDF files. And, for some reason, it was spitting out a separate PDF for each section of the document. (I used sections to add custom headers for each chapter of the book.)

Since the KDP system accepted Word documents, I uploaded in that format. I then spent another half hour recreating the book cover for print.

When I was all finished, I previewed the book. That’s when I discovered that KDP had changed pagination for some reason that wasn’t immediately apparent, thus making my table of contents incorrect. Great.

I was offered the option of downloading a “corrected” Word document, so I did. When I opened it up, I discovered that the “correction” included changing the margins for the document. I knew what they said the margins should be, but I thought that was a suggestion. Apparently, it was a requirement. So I opened my “uncorrected” file, changed the margins, updated the table of contents and cross-references page numbers, and made a few other minor tweaks. Then I saved the file, uploaded it again, and previewed the results. It was fine.

Ready for Publishing
Here’s the dialog that appeared when I clicked Publish.

I clicked the buttons that needed clicking and eventually saw a dialog box telling me that my paperback had been submitted. Although one message had told me it could take 72 hours, this one said 12 hours. Whoa.

I shut down my computer for the day and went about my business. It was only 3 PM. I think I spent a total of 6 or 7 hours on the conversion process.

This morning, a little black dog who will remain nameless in this discussion decided she needed to bark at the coyotes howling off in the distance at 3:15 AM. That was all I needed to wake me up.

I lay in bed for a while with my iPad, checking weather, doing a word puzzle I do every morning, and checking in on Twitter. Then I decided to check Amazon to see if my paperback book appeared. I was very surprised to see that it did.

Book Listing
Here’s my book, all ready for purchase. I think it might be #1 in New Release and #11 in in Books > Arts & Photography > Photography & Video > Aerial because I bought two copies this morning.

Of course, I bought two copies right away: one for me and one for my friend Jim, who got me into drones. The only way I’m going to see the book is by buying it. At least I earn royalties on the purchase.

I guess what blows me away is just how quickly the book was made available. When they said 12 hours, they weren’t kidding. I used standard Prime shipping; my book will arrive Monday because today is a holiday and they don’t deliver on weekends. Still, that means they’ll print and ship the book tomorrow.

If the book looks as good as the ones I get through Lightning Source, I might have a new provider for my limited audience paperbacks. Let’s face it: Amazon sells more books than anyone else. For a book that normally would not appear in a brick and mortar bookstore, there isn’t much of a reason to get it in that Ingram catalog. And although I need to run the numbers, I suspect I might actually make more money publishing through Amazon; I’ll have to do a cost analysis to see.

As for ease of publishing, well, if you don’t try to get fancy and you use the Word template Amazon provides, it’s pretty darn easy to publish a book. So easy that I’m thinking of doing it again this month. The only thing I miss is the flexibility of getting my manuscript just the way I like it. Maybe it’s time to fire up InDesign and use that to create PDFs that KDP can’t change.

Instant Pot Goat (or Lamb) Tagine

Another quick and tasty pressure cooker meal.

Last spring, I bought a half a lamb and a half a goat from a local organic rancher. The meat came butchered (of course), packaged into a variety of cuts, and frozen solid. Each package of meat was tightly wrapped with plastic and then covered with white butcher paper. Some of it spent a little more than a year in my freezer with no ill effects.

Goat Tagine
Goat tagine, prepared in an Instant Pot.

As I’m working on clearing all the meat out of my big garage freezer for a new batch of meat next spring, I’m searching for recipes that are easy, tasty, and, if possible, Whole30 compliant. I found one called Goat Tagine with almonds and apricots on The Guardian website. I fiddled around with it a bit to Americanize the ingredient list and turn it into a recipe for my Instant Pot pressure cooker. Here’s my version.

Ingredients

  • 1 tsp cumin seeds. Not easy to find; ground cumin, which I use a lot, is widely available.
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds. I could not find these locally; all I could find was ground coriander. So I used slightly less than 1 tsp of that.
  • 2 whole cloves
  • 12 black peppercorns. I don’t see why they can’t be rainbow peppercorns if that’s all you have.
  • 2 tbsp olive, rapeseed, or sunflower oil. I used olive oil.
  • 2-1/2 pounds goat or lamb, trimmed and cut into bite-sized pieces. The original recipe specifies shoulder of kid or goat, but I went into my freezer and pulled all all the remaining goat packages I had: steaks, chops, shanks. Goats are small animals so although that might sound like a lot of meat, I think I came up short on the total amount of meat after I’d cut out the bones and trimmed away what little fat there was. My main goal, however, was to finish up all the goat left in the freezer and I succeeded.
  • 2 onions, peeled and roughly chopped. I used yellow onions.
  • 1/2 cinnamon stick.
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced. I suppose you can use the kind in a jar.
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 2-inch piece of ginger, peeled and grated.
  • 1 tsp hot, smoked paprika. I didn’t have this so I used 1 tsp of regular (sweet) paprika and about 1/8 tsp chili powder. I also added a drop of liquid smoke, but I think I could have used 2 or more drops because I didn’t taste any smokiness at all.
  • 1 15-oz can crushed tomatoes. I used a pint-sized jar of chopped tomatoes in their natural juice. I’d canned them earlier this year. I really love being able to use my own garden vegetables in recipes year-round.
  • 1 cup dried apricots, cut in half. I got Turkish apricots in the natural foods section of my supermarket. They’re available in bulk. They’re not the pretty orange ones that come prepackaged and are available elsewhere in the store. Instead, they were dark colored and didn’t look very appetizing. They tasted great and weren’t nearly as sweet as the orange ones. (That’s all I’m buying from now on.)
  • 1/2 cup whole blanched almonds. I used slivered almonds because I prefer smaller pieces in my food.
  • 1 small bunch fresh cilantro, chopped.

Instructions:

  1. Set up the Instant Pot and make sure the pot is clean and dry. Press Sauté and allow the pot to heat. Then add the cumin, coriander, cloves, and peppercorns. Toast lightly for a few minutes, stirring frequently to prevent scorching.
  2. Transfer spices to a mortar and pestle (or spice grinder). Pound or grind into a powder and set aside.
  3. Add 1 tbsp oil to the Instant Pot and allow it to heat. Then add the meat and brown it. You might have to do it in two batches with some additional oil; I didn’t. Transfer the meat into a bowl and set aside.
  4. Add 1 tbsp oil to the instant pot. Then stir in the onions. Cook, stirring occasionally, until tender; about 5-10 minutes.
  5. Stir in the ground spices, cinnamon stick, garlic, ginger, paprika, and salt and cook for another 2-3 minutes.
  6. Stir in the tomatoes and their juices. While cooking, use a heat-resistant rubber spoon or wooden spoon to scrape away at any dark bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. The liquid in the tomatoes should make this easy.
  7. When the mixture has come to a boil, stir in the meat and any of its released juices.
  8. If necessary, add hot water to bring the level of liquid up to nearly cover the meat.
  9. Add the apricots and almonds and stir well.
  10. Cover the pot and lock the lid. Turn the steam vent so it’s closed.
  11. On the Instant Pot, press Off, and then Manual. Set the time to 30 minutes.
  12. Allow the stream to release naturally for about 10-15 minutes, then carefully open the pot.
  13. Stir in the chopped cilantro and serve.

A few notes about this recipe:

  • You might need to add more salt. The original recipe was vague on what was needed so I made it without salt. It definitely needed salt so I added about a half teaspoon before locking down the lid. I try to minimize my salt intake for health reasons so you might want more.
  • The original recipe, which was written for the stovetop, instructs you to cook kid for 45 minutes or goat for 60-75 minutes before adding the apricots and almonds and then cook for another 45 minutes. This would obviously cook the apricots less. You could simulate this in the Instant Pot by pressure cooking without the apricots and almonds for 20 minutes, adding them, and then pressure cooking for another 10 minutes. Then you’d have to deal with pressure release to open the pot to add the apricots and almonds. I’m lazy so I didn’t bother. It’s up to you. I don’t think the flavor will change.
  • Reduce the pressure cooking time by 5 minutes if you’re using kid instead of goat.
  • The recipe suggested serving with couscous, rice, or flatbread. But since I’m trying to avoid grains and gluten — yes, I’m still on that Whole30 thing and I’m actually liking it — I cooked up some finely chopped cauliflower and pretended it was rice. I poured some tagine right over that. Excellent.