Skies and Oceans

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The idea of exploring the oceans sounds very interesting to me. Mainly because of the fact they cover 2/3rds of the planet and they are huge bodies about which we know very little. One idea was to use an aquatic drone but it can also be done using a weather balloon or a DJI.

Space and seeing the planet from a very high altitude. About the height of 10-15km up to about 25 km. 100,00 ft. Using weather balloon.


Use a telescopic drone to film the milky way. From a high altitude.


Sports journalism with drones

When I was playing racing video games a good decade back, the thing that amused me was to look at replays of my drive in dramatic camera angles. I always wondered if that would ever become a reality – camera going around the car as it moves. More recently, the spidercam has been used in giving dynamic and interesting views in sporting events like football, rugby, cricket etc. This works perfectly well when the size of the playing field is defined and restricted. What about sporting events that are not?

This got me thinking how drones could help cover events that happen over longer distances – like a marathon, ultra marathon or a cycling tour.  Presently, these events are covered by helicopters or motorcycles riding along to capture the action. This causes noise and air pollution distracting the runners/cyclists from focusing on their goals, not to mention the cost of flying a helicopter over the course. Drones could really take advantage of putting the camera in the air, enhancing viewers’ experience and giving them a good perspective. There could be solar powered drones flying along runners, that would cover the environment and topography in a really dynamic way.

So, my idea – No, I am not planning to shoot the New York City marathon this weekend. I was thinking more like a demo video on how an ultra or a trail run could be covered with drones by shooting a simple 5 mile (trail) run or a race among 3-4 people. Everyone could be given heart rate monitors and GPS watches so that the info could be presented real-time as an overlay when focusing on them. Flying out (zooming out) would really put things in perspective and give an overall feel of the environment. It could even be a single person running in the park and the footage of his run could be presented in an interesting way. Here are some basic sketches of what I had in mind.







Drone feature: It would be great to define a point of interest on a map so that the camera on the flying drone would always face in that direction irrespective of which direction it is facing. Taking this to another level, what if the point of interest is dynamic – like a moving person. It should technically be possible because, the POI could send GPS locations constantly and the drone would be aware of its own position and height in space. It should be possible to calculate roughly the angle in which the camera should face to cover the point of interest.

Lynnewood Estate


Have I mentioned my obsession with abandoned buildings?

I’ve been interested in Lynnewood for almost a year now. I started doing research on Gilded Age mansions in Pennsylvania for a story I was working on, and Lynnewood is by far one of the most outstanding estates I’ve looked into. For one, the property is humongous. The estate and its owners were known for their extravagant parties, and one of these parties was even written about in Time magazine in 1932. “The ballroom, with its Louis XV and XVI furniture, its Chinese vases, its four crystal chandeliers, was filled with tables,” the article reads. “Joseph Early Widener, master of the Hall, was having a large party. If an uninvited guest had mingled with that company, first amusing them with witticisms but finally enacting a Poe-like “Masque of the Red Death,” there would have been havoc throughout the land.”

Though my interest in Lynnewood is not completely morbid, it has been touched by tragedy. Peter Widener’s eldest son and grandson died on the Titanic. After Peter Widener died in 1915, the estate was used for training military dogs during World War II. Since then it has been passed from one church to another, yet none of these churches have managed to do anything with the impressive estate and it remains vacant. As of this past July, the property is on the market for $20,000,000. Though it’s suffered over the years from neglect, the estate is still beautiful, if fairly eerie, and was dubbed by Widener’s grandson to be “the last of the American Versailles.” I’m curious about how a place that was such a symbol of its era could fall into disrepair, and what it would look like if you could see into its windows (there’s an iron fence around the property, but it doesn’t stop some people from going to investigate). It sounds like there may still be furniture inside. The area in general should be okay to fly in, but I don’t know how it works with these old abandoned properties that don’t really belong to anyone anymore.

There is also the St. Nicholas Coal Breaker in Pennsylvania as well that has an interesting history of visitors rearranging its insides, and then Long Island’s Kings Park Psychiatric Center which was, during the time it was operating, known for being on the cutting edge of psychiatric treatment. I am, of course, talking about lobotomies and the like.

Palisades the horizon of NYC

“The Palisades are among the most dramatic geologic features in the vicinity of New York City, forming a canyon of the Hudson north of George Washington Bridge, as well as providing a vista of the skyline.”


The skyline we see in New York City was created by quarying the stone from the Palisades which have left an amazing presence behind:


“The basalt cliffs are the margin of a diabase sill, formed about 200 million years ago[2] at the close of the Triassic Period by the intrusion of molten magma upward into sandstone.[3] The molten material cooled and solidified before reaching the surface. Water erosion of the softer sandstone left behind the columnar structure of harder rock that exists today. The cliffs are about 300 ft (100 m) thick in sections and originally may have reached to 1,000 ft (300 m).”

My Idea is to show both the geological foundation that created the hudson river which made NYC the central port that led to it becoming the city it is today as well as the actual stones that were quarried from this location to create the monolithic skyline we know as New York City.  The sheer vastness of the rock is unfathomable and viewable at scale only from a helicopter (or drone).

I would like to have a view of the rock face and also the view of the horizon of NYC to show what the 200 million year old structure became.


There is literally no other way to have a tracking shot of the stones below to show the entire vast space that was removed and then shift to the skyline that it then became unless you have a crane or a helicopter (or drone). This would be amazing.


Have you ever heard of Dudleytown?

I admit it, and not just because it is close to Halloween: I love a good ghost story. A friend told me about a place that her best friend went and was so terrified he would never go again: it’s an abandoned settlement near Cornwall, Connecticut that has been rumored to be one of the most haunted places in America. The mythology is strong enough that there are quite a few articles (this is in the Washington Post)about it online. Books have been written, filmmakers tried to make a documentary, the google photos, predictably, have a lot of empty forest with ‘orbs’ that might or might not be ghosts. The If you want to read up more about the myths of the town, you can click here.

But there is very little evidence that any of the myths are actually true. One of the most detailed websites, The Legend of Dudleytown, helped to explain the legend and also debunked most of the stories about the cursed town and all the madness and chaos that happened there. Yet that did not stop people from traveling to where the site was, despite it being owned by a private entity known as Dark Forest Entry Association, who treat anyone accessing the forest as trespassers and one could get ticketed. Yet that apparently did not deter people from heading there.

There is something really interesting about the persistence of myths, legends, and how secrecy actually helped to perpetrate a story as nonsensical as the Dudleytown hauntings. The facts never did add up, but the association, comprised of families living in the area, who got tired of people going there ghost-hunting,  trashing their private land and performing ‘satanic rituals’, is seen by others as trying to hide the truth. To be fair, having the street to Dudleytown named as “Dark Entry Road” probably doesn’t help.

Dudleytown is supposedly here. It could be  fun project where a story can be seen as whether the situation of Dudleytown is still the same. Internet sources suggest there are patrols of police and residents who try to deter trespassers, as well as curious ghosthunters  and hikers who still want to access the area. It could be fun to fly the drone over the area, and talk to all parties involved in this affair. I just did a quick twitter search and there are still a lot of talk about Dudleytown. I found this, so I am guessing the legend is still alive and well this Halloween, much to the annoyance of the Dark Forest Entry Association.

Staten Island? Staten Island!

Most of my project ideas at the moment revolve around Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts. Mayor Bloomberg’s administration completely bungled the execution of its “Built it Back” program, designed to provide homeowners with the funds to rebuild. As the New York Times reported in September:

From the outset, Mr. Bloomberg’s ambition was to forge a new model for disaster recovery, one that would provide help but also make certain that the waste and corruption that occurred in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 would not be repeated in New York. In response, however, his administration and their outside consultants created an application process so rigidly linear that it became nearly unworkable.

Two years after the hurricane, the result of those grand ambitions has been a morass of bureaucracy; 13,000 still-displaced families; and continued blight along the shorelines in Staten Island and the Rockaways. Mayor de Blasio, who managed to buy himself some time after first entering office, is starting to feel the heat. The investigative reporting around these issues has been quite good, but I think they’re missing the aerial view that would tie the facts together and communicate the scale of the challenge in places like this ghost town that are “going back to nature.”

There are lots of different directions to take a project like this one. Here are a few initial thoughts:

  • Look at the ghost towns that the Build it Back program has failed to serve.
  • Analyze the progress of reconstruction efforts in wealthy versus poor neighborhoods.
  • Explore the city’s efforts to fend off the next storm, through flood plain management and other environmental strategies.

Lift off

IMG_20141024_170301I have a weird relationship with the DJI Phantom having only met it through the various user-generated 3D printed hacks that I used to have to plan, build and (frustratingly sort)  for Shapeways. There are twenty pages of add-ons, alternative landing gears, auxiliary battery packs and camera mounts on the website. These flying devices have entered the market in an era where personalization and appropriation are becoming the norm. I  wonder if maybe there is more of a correlation between this particular piece of technology and the demographic that seeks to push the boundaries of its use than other devices such as phones, video games or other things might fall under the “practical toy” category. Sure there are lots of people using their phones in innovative ways  especially in the ‘hacker’ and ‘maker’ communities. There is something slightly more mercenary when it comes to drones though. Whether it is a certain counter-cultural/activist vein that is inherent to the engineering type who tend to spearhead the adoption of these devices or that this product comes during an era where awareness of privacy and curiosity is keenly felt, flying machines have begun to symbolize this era… or at least the era I feel like I’m taking part in. They are as accessible as they are phenomenal and as polarized in their variety as the people who use them.

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As for me, I need to think of a project that i want to spend this kind of incredible access (and limited battery power) on. My only ideas thus far have to do with architecture and structure… specifically abandoned buildings (like Bell Labs, I WISH I had been able to go there last year). I grew up in a town just North of the Bronx with a lot of abandoned warehouses that were used by the mob to store the garbage that they controlled in the seventies. Maybe there’s something there. I am very excited about getting good at controlling the vehicle though, I think that’s where my brain is right now… maybe I’ll go on Shapeways and get some gear for it.

story ideas.

These will be more fleshed out by Friday but here are some preliminary thoughts on where drones might add a poignant dimension to a story:

  • disappearance: if you fly over a large surface area and can juxtapose and reference the taking away of an object or space of people groups over time.
  • tunnels: the tunnels in parks seem to be popular places to walk over to gaze at other atrractions, but not many know their stories inside-out (terrible pun).
  • trompe l’oeil:  I am curious to see what a whole film would look like if you could  shoot footage in the sky and flip everything upside down to see what the world looks like that way (Umkehrbrille did this with his Upside Down Goggles which you got to try on at the New Museum in 2011).

“i’m real.” -j.lo + ja rule

The ethics surrounding drones makes me uncomfortable. I remember after Ben’s intro lecture on the range of drones (from toys to warfare) and the stance that drones shouldn’t be policed and kept from the people, I pulled Fletcher aside during the break asking if this stance didn’t sound a lot like the gun rights activists’ stance in America. I know it may seem tremendously  naive and matchless, but it was truly the first familiar argument that came to mind.  A week later, I have a somewhat better understanding of the use of drones in the areas of journalism. After a few hours of sifting through the articles posted on Drone Journalism Lab, the capabilities of drones to capture footage from places humans can’t go in nature is incredible. In these cases, it offered more protection than if a person would try and shoot the footage in the same range. This is true of flying a drone over an erupting volcano and a family of giraffes. But in some ways, the heart and soul of journalism has been about the courage and perseverance it takes in digging up stories from people and places. Traditionally, if the story is inaccessible to you, the story can’t get written. And that’s where drones will change journalism as it stands today–  it’s either giving access to stories that couldn’t have been told without it, or it’s providing an entirely new way to tell unscaled stories. Even in the short interaction with the stories posted on Drone Journalism Lab, it’s undeniable that drone journalism is real, but just like everything in Man vs. Machine, there’s a valley of resistance and fear that rises about control and regulation which drone hobbyists and journalists will have to tend to carefully.

Is Drone Journalism for Real?

I strongly feel that drone journalism is not very different from internet journalism. 

The ‘journalist’ on the internet, under the aegis of anonymity, speaks freely about what he sees and conveys his opinion in a free manner. That is a moment he detaches himself from the person he is and speaks, rants, and sometimes abuses freely. Similarly, a drone journalist detaches himself from carrying around a camera and lets his extended persona aka ‘the drone’  be his eyes and ears.  I feel that it is a mere tool that is available to an individual to utilize. How one exercises that power is completely based on one’s discretion.

The major common factor between the two is the anonymity aspect. As long as one uses the powers responsibly, the risks will be minimized to a great extent. When benefits outweigh the risks, there is an increased possibility of acceptance and widespread adoption.