Monday, August 18, 2014

Droning on

Out on my constitutional today, while picking up litter on our suburb's little beach (you do that too, right? Takes a minute, and if we all do it, it makes a huge difference) one of the fish-threatening bits of plastic that I pulled out of the sand turned out to be a burst balloon. It reminded me of the night in Bangkok last month, when I was at the start of a festival put on by the Tourism Authority of Thailand, when at the climactic moment, hundreds of helium-filled balloons were released by the crowd into the night sky.

It was colourful, of course, and everyone, me included, snapped away with our cameras and phones - but I couldn't help wondering where all those balloons were going to end up, eventually, and how many fish were going to choke on them in the river or even the sea. Not that I am particularly drawn to the bigmouth catfish that are so populous in the Chao Phraya River - even though they took the bread quite gently from my fingers when we stopped to feed them on our cruise, in order to earn a little good luck - but it's a matter of principle. Admittedly, it was somewhat party-pooping, when all the organisers wanted was to whip up a buzz before the parade started.

That evening was notable too for the drone that was filming the crowd, zipping about rather excitably and ending up colliding with the awning over the stage, falling to the ground with a clatter - fortunately not on anyone's head. It (or a replacement) was up again shortly afterwards, so that was all right.
That was my first drone, but there was a second a week or so later, on my last trip, to Kakadu in the Northern Territory of Australia with World Expeditions. The official photographer was tasked with mainly recording video, and he was keen to try out his new toy. It got its first flight on the morning we did the Barrk Walk, climbing up an outlier from the main escarpment for wide, wide views over the plains towards the cliffs, all khaki-coloured gum trees, orange rocks and blue sky. Controlled by a gamer-type handset with his phone fitted into it, Anthony had the drone whizzing up and up, along, down and around, sending its pictures to the phone, and when it came back down again, was easily caught by someone else before it landed. Impressive!

But then, having walked across the top of this rocky prominence, we got to the other edge and another long view, and Anthony sent it up again. Unfortunately, he didn't notice that he was standing under a tree: the drone shot up, hit a branch, and came plummeting back down again onto the rock. It was sufficiently broken that it was out of action for the rest of the trip, sadly (because the film it took really, literally, added a new dimension to what we were seeing).

So, drones. Technologically right up there (ha) but hampered by the human element.

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