Action Camera Review: Garmin Virb Elite

After seeing a fellow MSNE autocrosser post a video with nice data overlays, I asked what datalogger and software he used. It turns out it wasn’t just a data logger, it was a camera that gathered his speed, acceleration, and so on for him. It was the Garmin Virb Elite. The ‘Elite’ part signifying the difference between the non-sensor, data-less variant.

I’d never heard of it, and I thought I kept at least a cursory eye on the action camera market. I was familiar but not impressed with GoPro’s Hero line (and always confused about which version had what features). The Hero prices always seemed steep for what they were. I’d talked with other autocrosser’s about their cameras. I’d looked at the Sonys, the knock-offs, and the half-way knock-offs. But then again, I’d never actually bought a real action camera, and am definitely not a professional video producer. I am decently savvy enough with technology though.

So, I immediately looked it up. $260 on Amazon at the time (more on that later). Good reviews. I read review sites. A couple days of contemplation later, and I decided, “Hell, it’s a good starter camera at worst.”, and bought one. Another couple of days later and I’m happy to say I am thoroughly impressed.

So, let me quickly point out some pros and cons that mattered or were interesting to me:

Pros:

  • Records 720p60, 1080p30 and lower. That’s about as far as my video cares go.
  • Wireless control via phone app (iOS & Android)
  • Easy record/off slider (glove-friendly), with LED feedback
  • Onboard LCD viewfinder (unbacklit)
  • Wireless viewfinder
  • GoPro mount adapter (to use GoPro accessories)
  • Long battery life
  • GPS, Accelerometer datalogging to GPX (XML) format (non-proprietary)
  • Decent video editing software at no extra cost
  • Can do dash-cam duty (overwrite oldest recordings)
  • Can invert video by 180° via setting

Cons:

  • No suction cup mount
  • No tripod mount (1/4″-20 threaded hole)

For another $5 or so, you can purchase a tripod mount on Amazon, so it’s no big deal. It still would have been nice to have one in the box anyway.

What sealed the deal for me was the sensor data, and the GPX output format. It just so happens the post-production video software I use, RaceRender, handles GPX. This is in addition to the MSL (MegaSquirt log file) format. So, I can get RPM, boost level, and throttle position from MSL, and combine it with speed, and G-force from the camera. Cool! That’s a lot of data, more than I can display in the video frame at one time.

Referral link:

Msqur Update v0.60b

A little while ago I updated msqur.com to 0.60b. Changes include:

  • Added engine make/code fields for uploads
  • Added view count and increment

And less visibly:

  • Finished OO refactor
  • Update API documentation (not public yet)
  • Added deployment scripts

I still haven’t finished INI file parsing 100%. There’s a bit more to do, but I’ve been busy with work and other projects. I’m thinking of releasing the project under an appropriate open-source license once I finish that, so hopefully others can join in on the fun.

On Properly Setting Your Cooling Fan Temperature Threshold

When I first installed an aftermarket ECU (Megasquirt I) in my 1984 300ZX, years ago (almost 10 as of this writing!), I used the recommended GM sensor for coolant temperature. It required a bit of machining to fit the sensor, nothing major.

With my latest engine (and the two cars it was in), I decided to use the OEM Cylinder Head Temperature Sensor, since hey, why not? It was already there, in an optimal spot. All I had to do was make software changes to calibrate MS-II to it’s temperature/resistance curve. I had the data in the Factory Service Manual, all was well. Continue reading

Msqur Update v0.53b

I’ve rolled out the update 0.53b to msqur.com. This includes:

  • INI Parsing (i.e. better MSQ support)
  • Bug fixes and better error handling

So now it is a bit more usable. The INI Parsing turns out to be a bit more complex than I anticipated, but I rolled out a decent intermediate update in the meantime.

Before completing the INI parsing (or anything else for that matter), I’ve decided to overhaul the entire codebase. This is because I wrote the first version off the cuff, but I’ve been receiving a few feature requests and it’s turned into something that merits proper design considerations. So, I’ll be adding a much needed OO and configuration revamp to it.

Msqur Update

Well, the holidays are long over and I haven’t updated msqur.com in a while. I’m adding some configuration management to it, so nothing visible will happen for a while. What’s planned, however, is .ini file parsing so that .msq files can be parsed according to the INI file version they use. That is, I will parse the INI file for the schema to a .msq file instead of hardcoding it. This way showing a .msq from a new code version is just a .ini file upload away.

INI file parsing shouldn’t take long. PHP has exactly what I need (literally: parse_ini_file()), but I’ll have to bake my own slightly modified version since the MS format isn’t standard–if there even is a standard for INI files.

Harbor Freight Trailer Build

So I’ve got this autocross bug, despite being a terrible driver. After about 5 seconds of thought, I came to the conclusion that I must get an autocross trailer in order to improve my skills.

So, after a bit of research it looked like item #90153 was the thing to get. The key is it has 12″ wheels, whereas the cheaper one (#42708) has 8″ ones. The larger the wheel the less RPM the wheel bearings see, which is good. The increased payload capacity and trailer height were just bonuses. Since I plan on hauling some wheels and tires and some tools, I don’t see coming near the 1000+ lb. payload capacity. And if you wanted to carry more, all you’d really need is some better tires, since that’s the actual limiting factor. However, I don’t recommend carrying anything near the payload capacity.

Note that this is one of the few big-ticket items you can use the 20% coupon on, so if you want to save $46 or so off the price, use one! I got it and built it:

I also picked up a trailer jack, LED lighting kit, 1-7/8″ ball, and ratcheting straps from HF. From elsewhere I got a backup alarm, more LED lights, battery tray, some wire and a voltage gauge.

I then painted the frame and wheels to match my 280Z:

Continue reading

msqur.com – MSQ file sharing site

Well, I’ve only been working on it a little so far, but I suppose it’s good enough to post about at this point.

The site is msqur.com, and it’s for Megasquirt ECU users to share their tunes (from the TunerStudio MS software). You can upload (multiple) .msq files, assign some engine information to them at upload, and share them with other people for troubleshooting or tuning help. The goal is to make something easier than attaching a file to a forum post that others have to download and fire up the full tuning software suite to just view it.

msqur screenshot

Currently, as of this posting, it just shows you the VE, Spark and AFR tables from MS2 or MS2-Extra only. It might with with other firmwares but I have no expanded it yet. You can also enable or disable the table coloring, and normalize the VE table, converting any VE table to 5-250 VE for ease of comparison. I hope to expand it to view all data available from the MSQ file in a familiar format.

I only get to work a bit each week on it, since I’ve got a few other projects going. But it shouldn’t take too long to get this site to 90%. It’s also a nice break from the C code for the DRD project. So, I’ll post every now and then about any updates to it, so check the msqur tag for the latest info.

Raspberry Pi Robot – Assembly Part 1

So you’ve got a bunch of parts, assembly is pretty easy. I’m going to skip over most of the chassis assembly since it came with instructions, but I have a couple pointers and I’ll go over how I attached the encoders. Then I’ll talk about soldering the motor controller and wiring the encoders up, and which pins to pick from the GPIO of the Pi.

So this is what the chassis looks like fully assembled:

IMG_20141122_141839 Continue reading

Installing Arch Linux with an encrypted root

I’ve got a ThinkPad T410. I got it off craigslist in what was a somewhat shady transaction. Regardless, it came with a 300GB spinner. Not interested in finding out how much life was left on it I got a solid state replacement from NewEgg for “Cyber Monday”. A 240GB Intel one for $110, that’s less than 50 cents per GB!

The spinner has a single unencrypted partition with Arch Linux running on it. I wanted to run Arch on an encrypted partition. The main reason: If it’s ever stolen I don’t want to have to worry about any of the data on it. Bonus reason: Geek/spy points.

So, while there are excellent guides for installing Arch, and setting up encryption, and optimizing an SSD, there don’t seem to be any combining the three. In reality it’s not that much more difficult, and if you are motivated to setup encryption on Linux in the first place you probably know what you’re doing. Still, I was disheartened a bit at the lack of information so I decided to note how I went about it in general. Continue reading