Saturday, December 26, 2015

Tech Story - Follow-up - SpaceX success with rocket booster recovery

Mon, 20 Dec 2015, USA date. SpaceX were successful with their experiment of flying their rocket booster back to base and soft-landing it. Video coverage: skip to 31:00 min mark for the landing.
(Scroll down past the still photos for the video.)

I monitored news coverage. From here in NZ I saw reasonable coverage by the NZ Herald newspaper website and the BBC. A big disappointment was TVNZ One News which is the biggest TV broadcaster in NZ. This has a history as a semi-commercial broadcaster with public service broadcasting aims along the lines of a mini BBC. In recent years, while still government owned, it has gone more and more commercial and received a lot of criticism for dumbing down. I suggest that poor coverage of this event supports that assertion.  I watched most of the 6pm broadcast news that day and next day and saw no coverage. Its website had brief coverage but only of the launch while missing the main point by failing to show or comment on the recovery.

Backstory "The Why and How of Landing Rockets" at:

Monday, December 21, 2015

Tech Story - SpaceX rocket launch today to attempt space travel breakthrough

Major tech news story with big implications. SpaceX is launching satellites today but it is what they are going to attempt afterwards that could make history. They will try to fly the rocket booster back to base and soft-land it so they can reuse it.  Rocket reuse has been an engineering challenge for at least 50 years and if today's experiment works it will be a major advance in bringing down the cost of spaceflight and opening up "the final frontier".

Backstory "The Why and How of Landing Rockets" at:

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Tech Story - Outlook 2010 stops sending after upgrade to Windows 10

Had problem - tried fixes - now sharing the one that worked.

The problem:
Computer upgraded from Windows 8.1 to the new Windows 10. Then Outlook 2010 email system would not send emails. Variety of error messages about network connection errors but checking other internet use - all OK. Did searches. Tried a variety of suggested fixes. Sharing the one that worked.

In brief:
Run the command prompt as an administrator. Run this command:
sfc /scannow

Thank-you "AJPC"!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Tech Story - Sony NEX-5N crash and fix - "unable to use memory card - Format?"

Last night - good filming session on project "Brave Love".

Today - problem.  Number one camera, Sony NEX-5N giving strange problems leading to a complete crash.

Fix.  Change the battery.

Insight.  This happened with my number 2 battery running low giving strange problems rather than useful warning messages.  Number 2 battery is a low cost 3rd party pattern battery.  Good service for 2 years but now this.

On changing the battery, everything came right.

Does this mean avoid 3rd party batteries?  I don't think so.  We just need to be aware that the "pattern" battery can give strange results when it is running low and the fix is to charge and/or change the battery.

What are these "strange problems"?

1.  I tried an experiment to shoot test video with "precision digital zoom".
(Aside, I know it does not make normal logical sense to do this but this is a special case where I wanted to try out some vintage c-mount lenses on the NEX.)  The video recording froze. Here was the classic case of the battery going low co-inciding with an unusual experiment so I lose a lot of time assuming that the event is connected with the unusual experiment.

2.  Repeating message on-screen.

"unable to use memory card

This message does not make sense because there is only a "no" option with no way of responding with a "yes".

This message alternated with
"re-insert memory card"

3.   Dim-light dead
After some repeats of 2 above, NEX got into a state where switch the camera on, and the lcd screen lights up slightly, ie slightly lighter than the black of the off state.  And nothing else.  That one had me thinking battery.  Change batteries and everything recovered.

This may seem like a trivial and obvious piece of knowledge, but on running the Google search "unable to use memory card - Format?", I did not find useful information so maybe it is useful to put this into the internet mix with the contribution - "low battery - charge and/or change it!".

Thought experiment! The follow-up experiment which I do not have time to do would be to run an equally aged official battery to a low level and see if it delivers the same or more graceful behaviour.

And what about that play with old c-mount lenses?  With a battery change I discover that this is for stills only. Any "precision digital zoom" setting disappears when I press the video record button.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Congratulations to Bronwyn Calder - short story published in Landfall 229

Congratulations to my wife Bronwyn Calder - also my frequent film-making partner including her work on "Brave Love". Bronwyn won the "Graeme Lay Short Story Competition" run by the "NZ Society of Authors" with her short story "Endless Sea" set on a cruise ship visiting the Antarctic. "Endless Sea" has now  been published in "Landfall 229".  "Landfall" is a New Zealand literary journal and it is high status for NZ writers to appear in it.

Comments from the competition judge:
Hypnotic descriptions of the Southern Ocean and the Antarctic constitute the physical background to this story. The underlying theme is one of attempted escape and a yearning for personal fulfilment, aims which are ultimately defeated. Yet at the same time the woman narrator is made aware, by the ice which surrounds her, and the banal reactions of others to it, of the importance of what she has left behind. A finely conceived and executed story and a very worthy winner.

Landfall 229 description from publisher Otago University Press

Landfall 229 at "Time Out" bookstore

Askar - a fantasy novel by Bronwyn Calder

The Graeme Lay Short Story Award, 2014: Judge’s Report

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Tech Story - Old Cellphones as wireless roaming webcams? Possible if "old" = almost new!

Our webcast experiments got me thinking about accessible webcasting cameras. "Real" video cameras are impossible or difficult to get to act as webcams. Conventional webcams are very limited.

Searching for answers leads me to this article:
Author Ryan Dube suggests using old cellphones as webcams.  For us, advantages could include a viewfinder for a roving camera operator and wireless connection to the base PC over wi-fi.  Productive use of old phones has philosophical appeal.

This led me to a long journey through many options. Hopefully with these notes I can save this time for someone else.

Best solution I found: Android App "IP Webcam" by Pavel Khlebovich.  Here is what you need to know so you can get there faster than I did!

App Info does not say what version of Android we need.  It only says "Varies with device".  I succeeded with an LG E400f with Android 2.3.6. I lost lots of time trying to get the Google "Play/Market" app providers  to work for older phones with Android 2.2 or 2.1 - only to then discover that "IP Webcam" was not available for them.

Note that while running,  "IP Webcam" has 2 versions of its network address and we need to choose the right one for what we want to do on the base PC.
In my case I see this version displayed on the phone:
I enter this in a browser on the base PC and I find that the phone now has its own mini website with a monitor window and lots of controls and information.  Good quick test and possibly useful for security surveillance.
The alternative version looks like this:
I need to add suffix "/videofeed" to the basic address to setup my  PC "feed receiving" software.
In this "ManyCam" screenshot, the small thumbnails are video from the PC webcam and the cellphone.  The cellphone feed is switched to the main output screen.

In this "ManyCam" screenshot, the small thumbnails are video from the PC webcam and the cellphone.  The cellphone feed is switched to the main output screen.(click on image to enlarge)

"IP Camera Adapter" is a free download from
"IP Camera Adapter" receives the "signal" from your IP Webcam Phone and translates it into  a "virtual webcam" which means it becomes available to apps like "Skype" .

Screenshot of an LG E400f cellphone with "IP Webcam" feeding video to Skype via "IP Camera Adapter".  The Adapter appears in Skype as option "MJPEG Camera". (click on image to enlarge)


Other trials:  I have an old Windows 7 phone.  I found 2 apps for that.

"Cam Broadcaster" by Venetasoft, NZD 1.50,  comes with a downloadable PC "Venatasoft WP Console" app as part of the package.  It is monitor-only ie I could not find a "virtual webcam" capability.  I did find I could get remarkably good results by using "ManyCam" to "screen-scrape" the video from the console window.  My base PC has 2 screens which gives me enough space to leave the console window clear for such workaround trickery.

"PocketCam" by Senstic, NZD 7.00 (approx. USD 5.00) also comes with a custom download, Senstic  "PocketControl" receiver,  for the base PC.  I did achieve "virtual webcam" capability with my setup but at a slow frame rate of about 3 fps.  I prefer "Cam Broadcaster" because I can get a better result for what I want and I am OK with the workaround setup needed.

I recommend "IP Webcam" as a clear winner for most of you reading this.

For me it may be Venatasoft "Cam Broadcaster"  for the near future to go with my available phone.   A screen-scraped "Cam Broadcaster" lets me record or webcast in my preferred widescreen image format of 640 x 360.

To move to "IP Webcam", I need to go hunting in web auctions for a low cost Android phone with Android version 2.3.6 or above and widescreen video - which probably means 1280 x 720.


Other notes.

A helpful discovery.
You do not need a SIM card.  All this will work just as well, or just as badly, treating the phone as a non-phone wifi camera gadget.  When I was having  app market/play/store problems one of my ideas was to borrow a SIM card and get the phone working as a phone to see if that would make any difference.  No. Makes no difference.

Security considerations
In my case, a phone in this role needs to be lent out to students and various volunteer film-making helpers.  It needs to be safe from accidental messing -up.  Unfortunately on going to remove the Google Account from an Android Phone I get dire warnings that this will erase everything. What I therefore do is run an organisational Google  Account for Android experimentation.  Then when I have the apps on the phone I shut down the phone - then I get into my PC regular internet browser, login to Google and change the password.  This effectively kills account operations on the phone.  The phone may do some complaining popup messages but just ignore it.

Comment on the Ideal of reuse of old phones.
Nice idea but in practice you need a reasonably new phone for this kind of experimentation else you get lost in the swamp of reduced support and interest for old phone apps.   I also ran into problems with older phones and the app provider systems - which have names like "Market", "MarketPlace", "Play" and "Store". eg  Android apps which fail to download and install with messages like " Error while retrieving information from server [RPC: S-7: AEC-0]".  I did Google searches on this and read a lot of forum advice which did not work for me - (eg  try setting up another account).  Choose your old unwanted phone carefully - not too old!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Tech Story - Live Webcasting Experience. Beware eccentric temperamental technology! Pre-record if you can!

I thought Webcasting a live forum would be a lightweight fun thing to do. That we feed straight to Youtube while live switching between cameras saving on the editing workload of our usual multi-camera shoot. No! No! No! It was all drama to get a setup of temperamental software and hardware to work together and amazing that they did hold together for one hour at the appointed time. I can now compare webcasting with our usual event-filming method which is filming in real time with 3 video cameras then edit the result before uploading to "Youtube".

  • The webcast preparation workload is way more than the workload of post-editing. 
  • The webcast is of lesser image and audio quality because of the limits of real-time uploading and processing. 
 For what we were doing, an indie mock talk show, we could get the same spontaneous live feeling by running uninterrupted with 3 cameras rolling, just like filming a concert. The live feeling would happen during recording maybe 2 days before it appears on "Youtube" which is totally good and OK.

So why even write a detailed article? Some of the tech observations and problem solving experiences do relate to other areas like webcasting for education and studio-style indie production. Our future selves, or other readers today, may have access to higher quality specialist systems like high speed internet connections combined with specialist high powered media servers.

In the meantime, if we absolutely must webcast then let us go into it with the idea that it is a medium which by its nature is not smooth and not clear - looking and sounding like early TV experiments of the 1930s and 1940s. That can have its own kind of artistic goodness, it is up to us to discover and use it in ways that work for what it is. ... which of course we did!

IN DETAIL (link to iafilm website)

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

"Brave Love" Post 03 - The Webcast Experience

Done! The webcast experience. I was a wreck by webcast time wrestling with the temperamental tech. Big big thanks to all involved for getting us through it. Special thanks to our guest Gerri Kimber for her insights into Katherine Mansfield and her work. For more on KM:
If I need to do anything like this again I will seriously consider a pre-recording session with conventional cameras and editing. Does this webcast have some magic added value of an "authentic live feeling"?  I am too close to it to answer this question so others need to tell me.
The link here is to "Version 02". Soundtrack upgrade from an audio recorder that I had running in the room. Some editing. Some sub-titles. New "proper" uploads of the video clips. New is a trial edit of Scene 21 with green screen processing applied. Appears at 43min 17sec or start at 41min to see it with another version of the same scene as I filmed it in 1981.
Some comfort to know that others find webcasting difficult:…/finding-a-camcorder-that-works-with…/
Writer David Gewirtz is clearly an expert but he had similar trouble - with only 1 of him and 1 camera. We had 5 of us present, plus 1 Skyped in, plus 1 phoned in, and 3 cameras on the case.


Link to "Brave Love" Post 01

Friday, January 9, 2015

"Brave Love" Post 02 - "100 Years of Brave Love" - the webcast.

Webcast: 100 Years of Brave Love

On 12 Jan 1915, Katherine Mansfield wrote:

".. actually finished the story Brave Love today and I don't know what to think of it even now…"

On 12 Jan 2015, our indie film-making group takes time out from our production of "Brave Love" to mark this centenary with our guests.
20:30 NZDT Auckland.
07:30 GMT London.
13:00 India, New Delhi.
02:30 New York, USA East Coast.
23:30 on 11 Jan for USA West Coast.

The webcast looks and plays on Youtube like a conventional Youtube video.
It remains available afterwards as a replay.
Planned running time is 1 hour.

The webcast will be a gathering of cast and crew from the movie talking about KM and "Brave Love" and indie film-making. We plan some interviews in character. We plan to play some work-in-progress clips from the movie. We are hoping to recapture some of the spirit of the kind of creative gatherings where Katherine Mansfield and her "Bloomsbury Set" friends threw around ideas that sparked a major historical burst of creative achievement.  We are going for an entertaining time taking our cue from TV talk shows, with a touch of KM's satirical social comment and how it is still relevant today.

LATER. Achieved with some tech challenges. The link here is to a post-edited version with the delays edited out. Guest Gerri Kimber was excellent value. It is interesting to write this note in 2021 after doing a lot of webcasting as an educator through the COVID pandemic. Webcasting has come a long way since these pioneering days of 2015.


Link to "Brave Love" Post 01