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2016/07/22 Japan Day 11: Kanazawa and Okayama-bound
π 2016-07-22 00:00 in Japan2016, Trips
After a good night and great breakfast in Kanazawa, we went to the famous Kenroku-en, one of the 3 most famous gardens in Japan, so we started with a tour there. Needless to say that it was fantastic:














We then met meeting Atsuko-San at 09:30, our nice volunteer guide from GGN (good will guide network), and she took us around famous samurai houses in the area as well as the Higashi Chaya geisha district (not unlike the one in Kyoto, just a bit smaller):





[rigimg:1024:173*|we learned that stone inside a rope knot means "don't go there" :)]


*Higashi Chaya District, were geishas perform (less so nowadays, but still)
*Higashi Chaya District, were geishas perform (less so nowadays, but still)













I was a fan of Atsuko-San
I was a fan of Atsuko-San

At the end of the tour, she nicely walked with us to Myoryuji Templa (aka Ninjadera) for our tour reserved at 13:00. Sadly no pictures allowed inside:



From there we walked back to the castle which we hadn't had the time to visit yet, and found another nice volunteer guide who gave us a tour outside (we did the inside on our own, it's not as impressive):









our friend from that morning was back
our friend from that morning was back



On the way out, we went to check their garden:




And we finished our day in Kanazawa by going to the Omicho Market, before catching a cab back to our hotel and heading to the train station for a long-ish trip to Okayama (3h30 via Kyoto):






the JR500 looks bad ass :)
the JR500 looks bad ass :)

but we took a nozomi instead of waiting 1h extra for a slow hikari
but we took a nozomi instead of waiting 1h extra for a slow hikari

2016/07/21 Japan Day 10: Takayama to Shirakawago to Kanazawa
π 2016-07-21 00:00 in Japan2016, Trips
After a night in Takayama, we went to see a few more things before heading out. We started with the morning markets by the river, and went to see Takayama Jinja, a former government outpost and walked through old town a 2nd time after it opened. That gave us a good chance to get hilda beef sushi and hilda beef on a stick (a local high quality beef):





lots of big koi in the river
lots of big koi in the river



lots of little birdies living in old street :)
lots of little birdies living in old street :)









yummy beef sushi
yummy beef sushi

We then had just enough time to get the train station by 10:50 and take the next bus to Shirakawago, and old town village:











we got to see live silk worms
we got to see live silk worms











We ended up only spending 2H in Shirakawago to having to make a bus reservation for our bus to Kanazawa, and honestly I wish we could have spent 3H but the next bus was another 2H later, i.e. 4H there. 4H wouldn't have been horrible, but leaving after 2, we got hte highlights and had more time to visit Kanazawa where were were going next after a 90mn bus ride. We started with the Suzuki Museum on his life and the pursuit of Zen, but sadly it explained very little about Zen and was generally a waste of time:


So next, we went to the move interesting 21st century contemporary art museum, which was much more fun and has an expo about fake olympics in a city sounding a lot like a big chinese capital :)


the fuck you olympics, very funny :)
the fuck you olympics, very funny :)

3 way ping pong
3 way ping pong

fun race :)
fun race :)

Some of the other expos were interesting too:




The swimming pool was cool too :)



We then found a nice steak restaurant where we had expensive beef prepared by the chef in front of us :) (I even managed to make a reservation on the phone in Japanese)




nice view from our room
nice view from our room

2016/07/20 Japan Day 09: From Tateyama to Takayama
π 2016-07-20 00:00 in Japan2016, Trips
After sleeping in Tateyama, we took the first train we took that would take us to Takayama, but sadly getting out of Tateyama was long and slow, and because of a complicated train routing, staying on the direct train got us in Toyama 9mn too late and made us miss our fast train connection to Takayama (apparently we had to exit our direct train and take a connection to arrive in Toyama quicker, that wasn't obvious). As a result, we wasted an hour waiting for the next train (this time a slow one), and arriving there at slower pace:





this is where we climbed up
this is where we climbed up

our first train out
our first train out



our next slow train
our next slow train


Finally we arrived in Takeyama, and went to Matsuri no Mori, the museum on the big float festivals they have. The floats are kept in a temperature controlled room, and on animated display once an hour. They were quite impressive:

the big door allows for the floats to get in and out a few times a year
the big door allows for the floats to get in and out a few times a year












Next, we went to the Hida Folk Village, which was an interesting tour showing how old houses were in that region (turns out in Shirakawago where we went the next day, they had more houses still like this):















we learned about raising silk worms
we learned about raising silk worms

they make little white cocoons like those, and they are unwrapped to make silk threads
they make little white cocoons like those, and they are unwrapped to make silk threads

Next, we took another cab to Takayama Festival Float Exhibition Hall and Sakurayama Hachimangu Shrine next door, which has a fantastic replica of Toshogu Shrine in Nikko:




















From there, Jennifer was tired of walking with the long hikes we had done the last day, so she went back to our ryokan, while I did the very well marked Higashiyama Walking Course, a very nice walk that takes you through more than 10 temples and shrines, and to the forest where they have castle ruins, and deer like animals that I sadly was not able to see during my walk:

aqueduct that allowed a water stream to cross another water stream, cool :)
aqueduct that allowed a water stream to cross another water stream, cool :)

this honda fit, did not fit :)
this honda fit, did not fit :)

the walking course was very well marked and easy to follow
the walking course was very well marked and easy to follow












nice forest walk (although a lot of uphill to the castle ruins, but no animals :(
nice forest walk (although a lot of uphill to the castle ruins, but no animals :(


I then went back through town to our ryokan for the night. It was held by a nice family and we got a yummy custom dinner :)


all houses used to have access to the water, but some just gave it up now
all houses used to have access to the water, but some just gave it up now

it had big koi fish and ducks
it had big koi fish and ducks

our ryokan had a very old cat that was half deaf and blind
our ryokan had a very old cat that was half deaf and blind






2016/07/19 Japan Day 08: Travelling and Hiking the Japan Alpen Route
π 2016-07-19 00:00 in Hiking, Japan2016, Trips
After arriving in Shinano Omachi the previous evening, the start of the west side of the Alpen Route, and a great night at the excellent Kurobe View Ryokan we stayed at, we gave them our luggage just before 08:00 to transfer it to our next hotel on the other side of the route (a long bus ride around the mountains) while we were going to take the fun away across the mountain. At 08:00 they dropped us off at the first bus that took us to Ogaziwa, the first leg up the mountain:

nice view from our Ryokan room
nice view from our Ryokan room


it gets expensive when you add the fees
it gets expensive when you add the fees

The weather is finicky, and we got super lucky that day, but they had nice displays showing the weather along the route and on the other side of the mountains (where it can be very different):





Now is a good time to mention that we got super lucky with the weather as in mid July, we could have been greeted by thunderstorms, and low cloud obscuring the view everywhere. During the busy season (in April/May just after the route opens and you can see the crazy high snow wall), people can wait 1h+ between each mode of transport, making the whole thing a lot less fun:

but we missed out on this :)
but we missed out on this :)

Then came the time to take an electric bus through a long tunnel to Kurobe Dam:

we got a funny ticket guy :)
we got a funny ticket guy :)



Kurobe Dam was worth almost an hour to walk around and take pictures from different angles:







time to walk to our first cable car
time to walk to our first cable car

no line, yeah! :)
no line, yeah! :)




then we connected to the ropeway after a very quick 10mn stop to take a few pictures
then we connected to the ropeway after a very quick 10mn stop to take a few pictures




We finally got to Murodo, the top, by a respectable 11:30, giving us time to hike up to the top (Mt Tateyama). The hike up is about 800m of climbing, initially on ok trails, but then it turns into sheer boulder hoping and rocks and gravel that slide down as you try to walk up. Let's just say it was more difficult and took longer, but we made it up:




we got lucky and saw a local grouse with 2 little chicks :)
we got lucky and saw a local grouse with 2 little chicks :)



evntually we got to the rest house at 2700m before the trail turned into rock hopping for the last 300m
evntually we got to the rest house at 2700m before the trail turned into rock hopping for the last 300m



almost there
almost there

yeah, got to the top
yeah, got to the top

the peak had a small shrine at 3003m
the peak had a small shrine at 3003m


damn, should have brought my snowboard :)
damn, should have brought my snowboard :)





now we only need to walk back down to the building where our next bus was going to be
now we only need to walk back down to the building where our next bus was going to be

sadly we didn't have a lot of time to go check out other parts of the top plateau, like the volcanic section
sadly we didn't have a lot of time to go check out other parts of the top plateau, like the volcanic section

back down
back down

to the next bus
to the next bus

In hindsight, it was a mistake, but we got a recommendation to stop at Midagahra and Bijo-daira on thw way down. They are likely both worth visiting, but I'm guessing they are mor impressive during a different season. When we went they were just ok. We shoud have spent more time at Murodo and done more tails up there. We managed to rush both the boardwalk (40mn in 25mn or so, and the caldera climb (25mn instead of 50mn), and caught the very next bus out, putting us a bit ahead of schedule. The caldera climb itself was pretty underwhelming, sadly:



this was supposed to be the caldera view, mmmh, ok
this was supposed to be the caldera view, mmmh, ok


Next, we took the bus to Bijo-daira for a forest walk:

big waterfall visible from the bus on the way down
big waterfall visible from the bus on the way down


we did the short loop, pretty muddy and hilly, but sadly we didn't see any of those birds
we did the short loop, pretty muddy and hilly, but sadly we didn't see any of those birds



at least we saw some cool trees :)
at least we saw some cool trees :)

multiple trees merged, and some trees seemed to split off into multiple ones
multiple trees merged, and some trees seemed to split off into multiple ones

After a 1h hike for the loop, we took the last transport back down, a cable car to Tateyama:




bits from a former lava flow
bits from a former lava flow

almost there
almost there

And we finally made it to our hotel: Morinokaze Tateyama, where we enjoyed another nice onsen and an ok buffer dinner and breakfast:

ready for onsen
ready for onsen


2016/07/18 Japan Day 07: Kyoto to Tsumago-Magome hike, Matsumoto Castle, and off to Shinano-Omachi
π 2016-07-18 00:00 in Japan2016, Trips
This was a long day, we had to get up early to catch a 06:48 Hikari from Kyoto to Nagoya (mostly because JR sucks, the 07:12 Nozomi would have been just fine, and honestly that was my real target, it's just because we ended up too early that we actually caught that slower Hikari, so called "bullet train"). After a change in Nagoya, we took the Shinano Express train to Nakatsugawa. From there we took a taxi to Magome, a quaint little town in the Kiso Valley where our hike started.



connecting to our shinano
connecting to our shinano

shinano is pretty nice inside
shinano is pretty nice inside

finally arrived in Tsumago after being dropped off by our cab (there were busses but they would have taken too long)
finally arrived in Tsumago after being dropped off by our cab (there were busses but they would have taken too long)

I found this little guy on the ground , turns out it could fly fine
I found this little guy on the ground , turns out it could fly fine






we stopped for hot tea on the route
we stopped for hot tea on the route

you're supposed to ring the bell to scare the bears away
you're supposed to ring the bell to scare the bears away
















The hike was pretty in parts, and followed the road in other parts, but still, just seeing the beautiful flowers, rice growing fields and nice little towns of Magome and Tsumago was worth the trip. Sadly, despite my early research, I didn't find out that they could have sent our luggage from Nakatsugawa to Nagiso, the train station after Tsumago, so we had to take a rather expensive cab ($60, 30mn) from Tsumago back to Nakatsugawa (and wake up a taxi driver since there were none at the taxi station they were supposed to be at). Thankfully I built in enough buffer time (50mn, including a 30mn drive) that we got back to Nakatsugawa in time for our hourly express train to Matsumoto. In hindsight though, we could have gone to Nagiso, picked up our luggage and take a crappy slow train from Nagiso to Matsumoto, and have arrived around the same time.

Matsumoto was recommended by the guidebooks for an original Japanese Castle. It's not the biggest, or the most famous, but it's one of the 12 Japanese Castles that hasn't been destroyed and rebuilt. Actually it's Japan's oldest existing Castle, more than 400 years old. We got super lucky to have Takayama-San from ALSA (Alps Language Service Association), the local volunteer guide group, who was super nice and met us at the Castle after I called him to enquire when we were in the train and found out that their guides who are usually there, are only there until 15:00 and we were going to arrive at 15:20. Takayama-San very nicely offered to come personally to the Castle to give us a tour, and with his explanations our tour of Matsumoto Castle was much more instructive and enjoyable than if we had been on our own.





Takayama-San, explaining the castle's history to us
Takayama-San, explaining the castle's history to us











oh noes, poor fish
oh noes, poor fish


After the tour, we had enough time to catch out last train of the day at 17:55, and arrive at Kurobe View, a very good ryokan in the Shinano Omachi area (so that we could start the Alpen Route the next morning). The room was spacious and the food for dinner was both excellent and plentiful (and then some). Breakfast the next day was not too shabby either.




nice beds, great room
nice beds, great room


dinner was ridiculous, so much food and so good
dinner was ridiculous, so much food and so good



After all this food, I went to brave the onsen:






And then time for bed, since we had to start our Alpen Route traverse at 08:00 the next morning, not too bad...

2016/07/17 Kyoto Aquarium
π 2016-07-17 00:00 in Aquariums, Japan2016
I had a quick look at the Kyoto Aquarium because it was indoors and had AC, but to be fair (and as expected), it was nothing to write home about, including the underwhelming and loud dolphin show. Still, a few pictures:












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2016/07/17 Japan Day 06: Kyoto, Gion Matsuri Day 2
π 2016-07-17 00:00 in Japan2016, Trips
The Japan Guide Entry on Gion Matsuri gives details on the Gion Matsuri's festivities.

After the huge crowds of the first night of Gion Matsuri, we went to see the float procession the next morning. We found a decent enough spot away from the huge crowds and thankfully the rain stayed away in the morning. It was fun to see those huge floats (the big ones are called hoko), some with a mast that went way too high up (probably not good during a thunderstorm), and because they are not designed to turn (the wheels are fixed), each 90 degree turn is a huge 10mn enterprise involving bamboo turn (the wheels are fixed), each 90 degree turn is a huge 10mn enterprise involving bamboo turn (the wheels are fixed), each 90 degree turn is a huge 10mn enterprise involving bamboo slats, water, lifting a flats that's way too heavy (over 10 tons), chanting, and entertainment :)





turning this takes a long time, almost like watching paint dry :)
turning this takes a long time, almost like watching paint dry :)


10mn later, we're good :)
10mn later, we're good :)

oh noes, another one showed up, it'll take a while to turn :)
oh noes, another one showed up, it'll take a while to turn :)







During the day, we went to see a few things and hide from the oppressing wet heat. We started with Higashi Honganji and Nishi Honganji:












Next, while I didn't have high expectations, I had a quick look at the Kyoto Aquarium because it was indoors and had AC. It was barely worth an hour though.

More interestingly, the kyoto railway museum next door was quite good:


first bullet train
first bullet train

that JR500 shinkansen looks bad ass
that JR500 shinkansen looks bad ass



I wish we got to use those seats
I wish we got to use those seats












I found some new orangina flavours I didn't know :)
I found some new orangina flavours I didn't know :)






From there, we went to the Kyoto national museum:










It then time to head back to our room, return our rental bikes and towards Yasaka Shrine for the evening procession of mikoshi:






poor guys, they were sitting under torrential rain
poor guys, they were sitting under torrential rain



After the festivities, we bought some yummy meat that Jennifer cooked in our rented apartment, and we got an early night due to our next day starting around 05:50 due to long travels.

2016/07/16 Japan Day 05: Kyoto, Gion Matsuri
π 2016-07-16 00:00 in Japan2016, Trips
After our few days in Tokyo, we headed towards Kyoto for their Festival Gion Matsuri. We arrived in the mid morning via a very packed Nozomi bullet train (people were standing in the aisles for a 2.5h train ride), and after checking in our hotel, we went towards Eastern Kyoto to do a hike in the hills and end up in [Kiyomizu Dera||http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3901.html] (I figured that the main attractions would be packed with people):

sucks to ride a bullet train like this
sucks to ride a bullet train like this

after arriving we went to rent bikes for 2 days
after arriving we went to rent bikes for 2 days

Kodai-ji
Kodai-ji






fresh water cray fish
fresh water cray fish

after our hike, we arrived at Shoren-in's Seiryu-den with a nice view of Kyoto
after our hike, we arrived at Shoren-in's Seiryu-den with a nice view of Kyoto








and we arrived at Kiyomizu Dera
and we arrived at Kiyomizu Dera









On the way back to our bike, we managed to get in Kodai-ji just before it closed:





with a view of Ryozen Kannon next door which had already closed
with a view of Ryozen Kannon next door which had already closed

we were lucky enough to see our first real geishas in the wild :)
we were lucky enough to see our first real geishas in the wild :)



Last, but not least, for the first night of Gion Matsuri: Yoiyama which is the viewing of floats in the streets. I figured it would be viewing of floats with a bunch of street vendors and that it'd be all nice and good. In real life, it was an insane sea of people, it was super hard to get anywhere, streets were randomly closed even to pedestrians by making them pseudo randomly one-way.
The amount of crowds made this less fun than it could have been, and Jennifer really did not like the huge crowds:



it got bad
it got bad






then I went to bike back to our room (Jennifer had left earlier)
then I went to bike back to our room (Jennifer had left earlier)

See more images for Japan Day 05: Kyoto, Gion Matsuri
2016/07/14 2 Michelin Rated Restaurants in Tokyo: Aoyama Esaki and Narisawa
π 2016-07-14 00:00 in Dining, Japan2016
While in Tokyo, Jennifer looked fancy restaurants we could eat at, and she found two that our hotel was able to make a reservation at: Aoyama Esaki and Narisawa.

We went to Aoyama Esaki on thursday evening for dinner. It was a simple traditional japanese food restaurant:






The next day, for lunch, we went to Narisawa, which was a more fancy lunch with interesting presentation, and Jennifer enjoyed a great sake pairing to go along with it:






one of the many sakes
one of the many sakes



Kobe beef
Kobe beef




very good and fancy lunch, I'm glad we went :)
very good and fancy lunch, I'm glad we went :)

2016/07/14 Japan Day 03-04: Tokyo
π 2016-07-14 00:00 in Japan2016, Trips
During days 2-4, I was at Linuxcon JP of course, and gave a talk about Open Source at Google.
On day #3, we made a reservation for dinner at Aoyama Esaki, and I noticed that TEPIA, a technology gallery, was nearby, so we went for a visit and they nicely gave us an english guide for a private tour


spider protein fiber
spider protein fiber

squid harnesting device :)
squid harnesting device :)

flexbile 3D printed hand
flexbile 3D printed hand

Then, we had a nice dinner at Aoyama Esaki


On the way back, we walked around Shibuya, for its fun crossing as well as the shopping streets:




The weather had not been good (mostly rain almost all the time), the next morning we walked around the nice Chinzanso hotel grounds before my conference started:




During lunch break, we went for another nice meal at another Michelin rated restaurant (2 stars): Narisawa:


See more images for Japan Day 03-04: Tokyo
2016/07/13 Linuxcon JP 2016, and my talk on Open Source at Google
π 2016-07-13 00:00 in Linux
It was nice to be back at LinuxconJP for another year. This time I gave a talk about Open Source at Google



There were other talks and keynotes of course:









Good times, thanks to all the organizers, volunteers and speakers.

2016/07/12 Day01 Tokyo
π 2016-07-12 00:00 in Japan2016, Trips
After arriving late in Tokyo the previous night, we woke up a bit early due to jetlag, and went to Tokyo station to exchange our Japan Rail pass vouchers. Great way to waste 2H (counting transport) because the counter at the airport was closed when we arrived. Thankfully it was not a huge deal because what we wanted to see that day didn't open until 09:00 anyway.
As a reminder, I generally do not recommend the Japan Rail Pass, its limitations that disallow use of the best trains are not acceptable in my opinion. I just decided to use it this time, due to the number of times we were going to use the train this time.

WTF?
WTF?


We walked around the imperial palace grounds and bit, and then headed towards Yasukuni Shrine. It's a Shinto-style shrine commemorating Japanese war dead with a military history museum on its grounds (Yūshūkan War museum):







A few pictures taken by others:



The museum itself had a some nice displays, but the main reason we found it interesting, is because it depicts the last 150+ last years of history, as written by the Japanese. To be honest, it was a bit troubling at times. While they did mention some things that are known to be true, and not always mentioned on the western side. For instance:

  • The US did indeed put an embargo on Japan to force them to vacate some countries they were occupying in Asia, and fully knew that Japan not having enough natural resources, would either have to yield or go to war
  • When Japan says that the US forced them to fire the first shot, at some point, you can kind of agree with that if you take the stance that Japan didn't see wh the US should dictate to them what they ought to do in Asia, or not.
  • They also explain that Japan did not refuse to surrender before the nuclear bombs were dropped on them, but that they were looking at their options and communicating with Russia and that instead it was judged that they had not replied and therefore refused to surrender. This is not much mentioned on the Western side since basically it means they didn't really have to drop the atomic bombs on the Japan. Read more: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3635822?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents and http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/12947

  • On the flip side, the entire museum was sadly very devoid of anything hinting that Japan had every done anything wrong, or was responsible in some ways for the wars it got involved in. Or other things like:

  • they make a point to mention that Japan wa an ally against Germany during the first world war, while totally forgetting to mention that they made a pact with Hitler during the second world war.
  • What's well known as the nanking massacre where over 200,000 non fighting Chinese were killed, or 20,000 women were raped by Japanese soldiers, is mentioned as the "Nanking campaign", and mentions no wrongdoing whatsoever by the Japanese :-
  • All in all, this entire story was written as Japan really being forced to invade some countries to counter the Russians, and being later victims of WWII. It was a bit disheartening, Germany for instance has done a much better job admitting their faults, knowing how they got there, and how to avoid such mistakes in the future.
  • Some displays:





    cruise missile that used a poor kamikaze pilot as pilot
    cruise missile that used a poor kamikaze pilot as pilot

    a submarine/torpedo (the pilot took it manually to its target where it would explode)
    a submarine/torpedo (the pilot took it manually to its target where it would explode)


    sadly, this probably contributed to the number of war heroes they had
    sadly, this probably contributed to the number of war heroes they had



    After much longer than planned at the museum (3H30 when the long tour was meant to be 2H), we went to the nearby science museum in a non descript building:






    Demo on how to limit the effect of earthquakes in buildings:

    Watch the demo with the balloons in the video, it's super "cool" :)


    We used the rest of the afternoon to spend a bit of time in Akihabara which was nearby, and went to Google to meet Eric for dinner:






    See more images for Day01 Tokyo
    2016/07/12 Harinezumi-Cafe
    π 2016-07-12 00:00 in Cats, Japan2016, Trips
    [izu:Hedgehog Café in Tokyo]

    Yeah, so Japan is known for having the crazy cafés. They started with the cat cafés, then bunny café, owl café, and now a hedgehog café.

    We came around 19:30, the hedgehogs were alert and active (they are nocturnal animals, so it's not surprising that they are sleepy during the day). The staff did have some that they left alone so that they could rest, and let us chose amongst the ones that were awake and active.
    Now, let's be fair, hedgehogs are not really meant to be furry pets, especially with strangers. The 2 I got bit me, not to attack me, but because they confused me with food (their sight is poor, they work by smell), but on the plus side their teeth are not sharp so while I was convinced they'd draw blood, they did not. One of the 2 also pooped on me repeatedly (but they have baby wipes for that).

    Was it fun? Yes.
    Are hedgehogs really the best animals for petting cafés? I'd definitely say no.

    That being said, they're still cute and make for good pictures:




    it's a small breed, hedgehogs can get much bigger than that
    it's a small breed, hedgehogs can get much bigger than that

    mine was both inquisitive and a bit mischievous
    mine was both inquisitive and a bit mischievous

    it bit the crap out of my Tshirt but the teeth aren't sharp, so it didn't make a hole
    it bit the crap out of my Tshirt but the teeth aren't sharp, so it didn't make a hole

    I got another one after that. It didn't bite, but it pooped a lot :)



    Erik-San was there with us :)
    Erik-San was there with us :)

    Jennifer was happy with hers
    Jennifer was happy with hers

    it was much less trouble :)
    it was much less trouble :)

    she had fun :)
    she had fun :)

    One floor up, there is a bunny café, where some bunnies are a bit crazy, while others are very cuddly.

    this bunny was so soft and cuddly :)
    this bunny was so soft and cuddly :)


    Jennifer got a crazy hyper active one, so I gave her mine
    Jennifer got a crazy hyper active one, so I gave her mine


    Good fun was had :)

    See more images for Harinezumi-Cafe
    2016/07/11 Bixler2 conversion to Pixfalcon with Micro HKPilot Telemetry Radio + OSD and Brotronics PowerTowerRX
    π 2016-07-11 00:00 in Rc
    In in herited a Bixler2 at the Baylands swap meet, and figured it would be a nice ardupilot/FPV test platform instead of that expensive and harder to fix BFG2600.
    I used the opportunity to try a smaller pixhawk: the pixfalcon, and a different Broversity OpenLRS receiver: Brotronics PowerTowerRX

    Pixfalcon Review for an RC plane: small but bad wiring

    Let's start with the pixfalcon and its accessories. I bought it to try it out because it was small. Long story short, it's a good value for size and money, but the wiring and plugs are really bad. Quite a shame :(


    I bought these 2:

  • PixFalcon Micro PX4 Autopilot plus Micro M8N GPS and Mega PBD Power Module
  • Micro HKPilot Telemetry Radio Module with On Screen Display (OSD) unit - 915MHz
  • It's a nice shrunk pixhawk. It offers almost all the pixhawk functionality but:

  • it's lacking the AUX1-5 outputs
  • speaker is internal. It works but it's not loud
  • the very worst thing about it are its connectors. The DF13 connectors on the pixhawk aren't big, so they should have worked, but the pixfalcon uses yet another smaller connector. This part really sucks because I have lots of DF13 cables and none of this new connector that really didn't need to exist. As a result I wasted time splicing cables because as soon as you want to connect to a regular pixhawk accessory, you need a hybrid cable with one type of plug on each side.
  • A somewhat worrying this is that my pixfalcon does not get powered by voltage on the servo rail. This means that it's only powered by its power module, making it single powered. This does not fill me with joy.
  • speaking about wasted time, the next stupidity is that the pixfalcon assumes that its 8 outputs are getting connected to ESCs for a multirotor. As a result, only the first one comes with VCC and GND, and the other ones do not, they only come with a single signal wire. Come on, now I had to waste more time adding the missing pins in the plugs and wire them all with VCC and GND so that I could plug them into normal servos. This is likely the stupidest thing in that kit, although it would also be the easiest one to fix.

  • the power module also feels stupid if you're not using a multirotor. It's much bigger than it needs to be, but because of the stupid non DF13 plug that needs to bring power to the pixfalcon, I ended up using it so that I could use the power cable with power plug. And the current sensor on it is pretty inaccurate below 3A, that's not good :(

  • Another bad thing is that the wiring of pins on the I2C connector doesn't match the one on pixhawk, so on top of having to make an adapter cable due ot the gratuitous use of different plugs, the wiring order is also different :( See: http://www.rcgroups.com/forums/showpost.php?p=34894771&postcount=469
  • speaking about those silly cables, they can also be too short. The GPS one was definitely too short and I had to splice 2 cables together to get enough length. Good thing the kit at least came with a spare
  • This then brings us to the Micro HKPilot Telemetry Radio Module with OSD. Another piece of hardware with 0 info, it wasn't quite clear if the serial port would be connected to the radio, or the OSD, or both. Turns out it's only connected to the OSD, so you use that to flash the OSD, and the radio, you connect to through the pixfalcon as a passthrough. I'm not sure if you can flash the radio that way, but at least I was able to configure it. All in all it's a cute little design, but I regret that the antenna is built on the board and that there is no connector for an external antenna. Range is probably 1km at best with a very good receiving antenna on your ground station.

  • I shrink wrapped it so that it doesn't short inside my plane
    I shrink wrapped it so that it doesn't short inside my plane

    Oh yeah, another problem with that stupid use of those very small connectors is that the 6 pin cable that goes into the OSD board has wires that are too small and cannot carry enough current to bridge 5V from the video in to video out side. As a a result, I was feeding 5V from the video out side, and the voltage drop was too high and not able to power the cameras properly (like a couple of mobius, using 1A between the 2 of them combined). I had to dual wire 5V to be on both sides of the OSD board video port and ride on thicker wires.

    Brotronics PowerTowerRX review

    The Brotronics PowerTowerRX is a cheaper version of the Broversity module (without the diversity). It's actually not really smaller but it's a bit cheaper and offers 1S lipo backup to sound a find me buzzer and send a find me signal after a crash where your main battery got disconnected (actually that's very common):



    My review of the Brotronics PowerTowerRX:

  • lipo backup is a must. That's the main reason why I bought it
  • the labelling and documentation are again very lacking. I wrote some instructions here
  • Generally wiring isn't great due to lack of pins if you're hoping to get more than 1 PWM output (you have to double the ground and power pins and make your own 3 pin servo cables). You can get 2 more PWM outputs if you repurpose the RX/TX pins. One of the outputs (#5) doesn't seem to be wired at all on the board. Strangely the lipo pins are not soldered on the board, and I'd think it would be silly to use this board with backup lipo and then not have a buzzer connected so that you can find your aircraft after a crash and after the main battery has been disconnected.
  • So, this board is really meant for multirotors where you probably only ever care about PPM output, but it can be used as a slightly simpler board with backup lipo and crash buzzer if you don't want to spend more for the Brodiversity RX, and you don't mind the small wiring issues.

    Bixler2 (re)build and fixes

    I had a few things to fix on the airframe first, the ailerons and flaps weren't really tuned right, and didn't have enough throw. Also, I use differential flaps where 80% of the servo travel makes the flap go down (I'd use 100% but the foam cutout did not allow for this). This gives better results for crow flaps.

    the motor is enough to fly the plane with my extra gear, but not enough power to fly against heavy wind
    the motor is enough to fly the plane with my extra gear, but not enough power to fly against heavy wind

    As far as tuning is concerned, my BFG2600 needs elevator down on throttle up, otherwise the plane pitches up too much on full power, all the way to a stall. Interestingly on this plane it pitches down a lot on full power, so I have to give it a lot of elevator up on throttle up. My CG is also off (too much weight in the front with the 2 cameras), so I have a fair amount of nose up trim for level flight.

    Speaking of cameras, I started with a JooVuu X for 3K video (better than the 2K from a mobius) I wanted to try out, but unfortunately it's pretty big compared to a mobius, and it does not support detachable lens yet. Also I don't yet have the analog out cable for FPV, so I had to add a 2nd analog camera:


    The end result is a plane that is pretty packed, and it's definitely a challenge to avoid interference between the multiple radios, but I think I managed:


    But this was a quick hack, this top FPV had much of its view blocked, making it hard to see the ground or if I was heading towards a tree. I ended up using a mobius with detachable lens and put the lens all the way in the front nose, for a great view, but the 2 cameras combined do upset the CG a fair amount:

    mobius is leaky and damages RF signals, so I made a small faraday cage for it
    mobius is leaky and damages RF signals, so I made a small faraday cage for it

    So I can put it in the canope without it messing with the radios around it
    So I can put it in the canope without it messing with the radios around it

    this is how it looks: front lens from mobius inside, and JooVuu X on top
    this is how it looks: front lens from mobius inside, and JooVuu X on top

    The 25A turningy ESC that came with the plane was utter crap. Its 2A BEC was overheating and likely to fail quickly, so I replaced it with a BEC, but the 2 combined were a bit big and I was able to replace them with a nice Castle Talon 25 with up to 8A capacity on the BEC (sadly the Talon outputs 5.5V instead of 5V, which the mobius doesn't quite like):


    All in all, I like the plane, but the stock motor while frugal in power (10A at full power on 3S) does give a generous 25mn of flight at full throttle, doesn't fly faster than 50kph or so, which caused me to almost lose the plane when I was in very heavy wind that prevented it from flying back:


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