Author Archives: Mark J Daniels

Quadcopter – two- or three-blades is best?

Today, I’m experimenting with changing the stock two-blade rotors on my Syma X5C toy quadcopter with some three-blade options that I picked up from eBay:

I’ve read differing views on which types of blades are best so it will be interesting to see the results when I get the aircraft outside. That won’t be happening properly today, though – it’s far too windy! I’ve tested to make sure it flies still, and it does, but time will tell.

Meanwhile, any drone, quadcopter or just general aircraft enthusiasts out there have any views on which types of blades are better?

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ParentMail – The Seven Steps of Hell?

I genuinely shudder when my email client pings and the subject line reads: You have been sent a new message.
ParentMail subject line

I spend a lot of my day dealing working with developers and designers to build a product that helps the pub trade manage their online presence as easily as they can. There’s one key element I’ve learned during my time doing this: keep the User Experience simple.

Services such as Google and Twitter, or the WordPress platform I write this blog on, work because the process to access their product then achieve what you wish to are extremely easy.

ParentMail, an online communication platform to help schools deliver messages to parents, fails.

The User Experience is dire and poorly thought through and leaves me wanting to throw whichever device I’m trying to read a letter about my child on through the nearest closed window.

To get an understanding of what I mean, here’s the process if using a good old fashioned web browser and my laptop:

  1. Receive an email to my personal email account, telling me there’s a message about my child waiting for me in ParentMail
  2. Click on the button in the email to go to ParentMail
  3. Log in to ParentMail – the longest you can set the cookie time out to is one month but invariably I have to log in each and every time I visit.
  4. Choose the school my child goes to (a redundant step if there is only one child, one school; or two children, one school)
  5. Select the email that I’ve been sent, inside which is a message asking me to download a PDF.
  6. Download the PDF
  7. Open the PDF, which is a letter that could have been attached to the email I was sent to my personal mail account in step 1.

As both my boys go to the same school and sometimes the same letter is sent out for each of them, I technically have to go through this process twice to read the same piece of information.

In this always connected world, where over 60% of Internet traffic is now consumed via a mobile device, there are the obligatory mobile apps for Apple and Android platforms.

But these don’t simplify the process enough. Sure, the app keeps me logged in, missing out step 3, and I’m taken straight to the relevant school, missing out step 4 above (I wonder if this would happen if there was more than one school involved) but the rest of the process stands as above.

Notifications still come through via email to my personal account, rather than a notification in my device and, most annoyingly, the app insists on forcing the device to landscape mode, which I don’t personally like. At least if I access ParentMail via the mobile browser I can see it in portrait mode comfortably.

I get that ParentMail exists to make distribution of notices much easier for the school and aims to eradicate the issue of letters not making it home or remaining in a school bag for weeks at a time, teenagers being the forgetful creatures that they are, and there are other features apparently within ParentMail that could be useful: information on Parents Evenings, for example, or the ability to notify the school of a child’s absence. I’ve used neither of these functions to date, but the process of getting to each section is not far removed from the above.

From a user’s experience, then, ParentMail is the most frustrating communication service available to me. I genuinely shudder when my email client pings and the subject line reads: You have been sent a new message.

Do any other parents feel the same way, or is there actually an easier way to get straight to the message that I haven’t found?

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Adcash – any advice?

So, for a little while now my mum has been complaining about adverts from Adcash popping up on all her devices whenever she tries to browse web pages.

Being as it’s mum, and being as she’s IT illiterate, I was pretty convinced that she’d simply installed some rogue piece of malware on her devices.

I sent through some instructions on how to rid herself of it but apparently – apparently – they didn’t work.

Now, my mum lives in Malaysia and yesterday my family and I arrived to visit. After a debacle of a journey getting here (a story for another blog) and a visit to the Malaysian Grand Prix (definitely a story for another blog!) we collapsed with jetlag.

But I woke this morning feeling refreshed, switched on my phone and browsed some never-ending stories about Jeremy Clarkson and the future of Top Gear.

The trouble was, each time I click a link to a new page my phone is inundated with Adcash pop ups.

Now, I haven’t installed any apps since arriving. Haven’t downloaded software or clicked on any “what happened next is amazing” rogue links in social media.

All I did was arrive at my mum’s house in Kuala Lumpur and connect to her router…

It’s not just my device either. My fifteen year old son got in to a tizzy thinking that, yet again, he’d be in trouble for not taking care when installing items on his phone and, to be fair, he’s usually to blame. But not on this occasion. Since arriving at his Nana’s, he’s been plagued by Adcash too.

So, I’ve followed all the usual protocols. I’ve searched for advice on the internet (much of which doesn’t work). And now I’m stumped.

Is it the router itself?

Does anybody out there know what this Adcash is? And how to get rid of it?

Or do I need to call in Mulder and Scully?

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#TheDress is back – but this time it’s different

A couple of weeks ago the Internet went a bit barmy for something called #TheDress – a social media campaign that went viral overnight after somebody asked the question what colour this dress was.

The topic became so popular it quickly toppled Madonna as Twitter’s favourite conversation piece after her fall at The Brit Awards.

But just a couple of weeks later, The Dress is back, this time in one of the cleverest hijackings of a social trending comment I’ve ever seen. The Salvation Army in South Africa has put together a new campaign about domestic abuse, with the headline Why is it so difficult to see Black And Blue?

Taking their lead from the argument of the dress’s colour, click on the image for the story.

Why is it so hard to see Black & Blue?

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Think of the Power Rangers. Then watch this…

If you remember the Power Rangers the way I do, then you’ll remember it as a really rubbish program that, somehow, had children goggleeyed at the box.

Now, remembering its utterly dire special effects, camp choreography and disastrous dialogue, watch this…

Haim Suban, owners of the rights to Power Rangers, aren’t happy with this fan film and are trying to get Joseph Khan and Adi Shankar, who produced this reimagining, to take it offline, so watch it while you still can.

But this fourteen minute film stars names such as Katee Sackhoff (of the Battlestar Galactica reboot) and James Van Der Beek (Dawson’s Creek) and is possibly the most vivid fan film I’ve ever seen.

It’s worth a watch but comes with a warning: Parents, this is not suitable for your wee ones. This is definitely rated 18.

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Your Helmet is Your Brand

Dear Formula 1 drivers.

Did you know that most fans don’t actually like it when you change the design of your helmet every single race?

It’s not big and it’s not clever.

In fact, it’s quite irritating.

And it’s reached a point where the FIA have decided that, rather than focus on the immediate threats for our beloved sport, like the financial state of some teams or the noise your engines make, they must spend an inordinate amount of time coming up with a rule that says you can’t change your helmet each race.

So stop doing it, ok?


An F1 Fan.

Now, I don’t particularly like it when drivers change their helmet designs on a race-by-race basis. Sebastian Vettel began the trend and everyone thought it was cool, and then they realised it was quite annoying. Vettel has had around sixty different designs since he started his career.

The Autosport news article.

The Autosport news article.

And, by the time the fans had realised it was quite annoying (probably the second race), the other drivers had thought it was cool, too, and started doing it.

The fact is that, even in this digital age of high definition TV and on-screen graphics, fans and pundits alike still look for familiar traits to identify a particular car/driver combo heading towards them on the track.

If this changes regularly, it’s hard for anybody to identify a driver and we have to wait for Anthony Davidson to point specific drivers out to us on the Skypad afterwards.

I think it’s fine to have a commemorative design for a specific occasion; a centenary race, an anniversary event and so on. Or to have a new design at the start of each season. After all, it’s what the teams do with the liveries of their cars so why can’t the drivers do it with their helmets?

Nevertheless, teams don’t change their liveries every race so neither should drivers change their helmet designs so frequently.

And yet, should the FIA have gone to such pains as to introduce a rule that physically bans such practice?

No, I don’t think so. It smacks of the FIA procrastinating. They don’t know how to resolve many of the issues on the table in front of them, so they’re nit-picking at little issues that rankle but, at the end of the day, aren’t killing the sport.

I think it should have been a recommendation, a piece of fatherly advice handed down from the governing body and then left up to the drivers’ and teams’ respective PR machines to recognise the simple value in fans identifying with a single image.

Just look at Ayrton Senna’s iconic design. Pretty much unchanged throughout his career, the yellow and green colours of

An iconic helmet design

An iconic helmet design

his national flag can be identified by true F1 fans of all ages even twenty one years after his death.

When shown Vettel’s helmet, would fans still be able to identify it? And in pub quizzes will they now be expected to know not just who’s helmet it is, but which race they wore it at?

So I don’t think there should be a specific rule enforcing it, but I do think the drivers should stop doing it so frequently.

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Fifty Shades of Grey. Or Peppa Pig?

So next Saturday is Valentine’s Day. After sixteen years of marriage, the missus and I aren’t that fussed by too many romantic notions, but we did think it might be nice to have a date night and go to the cinema.

According to the Cineworld app, they only have two films available: Fifty Shades of Grey. Or the truly romantic Peppa Pig…


Fifty Shades v Peppa Pig

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BMW Complaint – Day Mode Night Mode

This is a couple of years old but I’ve never heard it before – I’m not usually a fan of prank calls, but this has just had me in fits of laughter:

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A New Name

You know, it’s relatively easy to write for the magazines I write for in the pub trade because, well, I’m writing about pubs and it’s my day job and therefore I have to do it or I’ll be out of a job, but I often try and get my personal blog up and running and often I fail. I think it’s mostly because I’ve never really had one particular subject that’s personal to get my teeth in to.

But now I do: Unmanned Aerial Vehicles.

You may know them better as drones. Or quadcopters. Or basically anything radio controlled that’s not got wheels and isn’t a boat.*

And if you keep an eye on this blog, you’ve probably noticed I’ve written a lot about them since Christmas. So I’ve changed the name of the blog from Did I Say That Out Loud to Droning On. Clever, huh? And I’ll probably update the theme soon once I’ve got used to taking photographs from the air and can add something pretty to the page.

Occasionally, I’ll write something here that isn’t about flying remote controlled aircraft, but only occasionally.

I am by no means an expert in this field, but follow me on this journey as I start to learn more about it.

Meanwhile, if you’ve never visited this blog before, you can find out more about me on the About Me page.

*I'm sure somebody will think of an unwheeled, non-flying land-based remote control device that I've not mentioned above. Maybe a tank?

Syma X5C-1 Altitude Test. Failed…

Yes, this had the potential to go very wrong indeed.

I’ve been quite impressed by my Syma X5C-1 since getting it at Christmas, but I’ve struggled to find any definitive answer as to how high it can actually go.

YouTube videos have titles like ‘altitude test’ and then show impressive feats of flying, often followed by crashes, but none actually say how high the drone really went. I had a go myself last week, and flew in to a tree

The best I’ve managed to learn is that the range of the quadcopter’s 2.4ghz control is approximately 30m (~100feet), although there’s a good video here on how to increase that range. But that’s the range of the controller, not the height the Syma can fly to.

Syma X5C-1 Altitude Test - failSo I came up with a plan. It mostly consisted of installing an altitude app on my HTC One, then zip-tieing the phone to the quadcopter.

Sadly the phone wouldn’t fit through the landing brackets on the bottom of the drone and strapping it to the top of the craft was out as that would impede the rotation of the blades. So the only place it could be strapped to was the bottom of the feet, effectively turning my rather expensive phone in to landing gear.

Yes, this had the potential to go very wrong indeed.

Fortunately, it didn’t go wrong, as the phone proved too heavy for the Syma X5C-1 to lift, as this video shows.

So, back to the drawing board. Just how high can a Syma X5C-1 fly…?

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