GoPro Karma sucks

Summary: Do not buy a GoPro Karma.

I made the poor choice to buy a GoPro Karma drone, even after all the bad reviews. They first released it a year ago and had to recall it months later because drones would just fall from the sky. They supposedly fixed that bug and updated the software and re-released it.

The Karma seems attractive because you can attach your GoPro camera to it, you don’t have to use a camera that is built into the drone. I figured a GoPro camera would be best, I already have one, so I wanted to use it. The Karma is also thinner, the camera mounts on the front rather than underneath so it can look upwards as well as downwards, is supposedly quieter, the controller looks much better than the competition and has its own screen rather than require you to use your iPhone and includes the Grip. It originally did not have a “follow me” feature but they added it a few months ago in a software update. It seems like a decent product, but the devil is in the details…

The first thing you want to do is put a GoPro camera in the drone’s harness. The instructions simply show a pictograph of the camera sliding into the harness. But if you try you can’t do it because the door covering the ports won’t let you plug the camera into the harness. I found a YouTube video explaining how to do it – you have to remove the door!

Once you turn on the drone, it tells you that you must update the software. The Karma remote is the only way to update the software on the drone and you simply connect to your WiFi network, download the updates and update the devices. I couldn’t get it to connect to my home WiFi — it silently fails to connect, no error messages. I spent 30 minutes with their tech support and they had no idea why it didn’t work. They insisted that I was mistyping the password, but I was sure it was correct.

Also, there’s no way to see the WiFi password you entered so you can’t check for typos after you enter it. Worse, there’s no way to re-enter a WiFi password so if a WiFi network you’re using ever changes the password, you have to restore the Karma remote to factory firmware, go through setup again, enter the new password for the WiFi network, then download and update the software on it again. It’s unbelievably bad software design.

I eventually found someone on YouTube with the same problem and the commenters figured out that it is because they all were using Google WiFi. I tried taking Google WiFi out of the equation and created a hotspot WiFi network from my Mac. But the remote doesn’t even see the WiFi network. I contacted GoPro tech support and here’s their answer from “Ericka A”:

Hotspot and Mesh network will not handle the update of the Karma drone that is the reason we advise customer to connect it with a stable connection.

That’s a ridiculous explanation, Google WiFi is stable enough for me to update the OS on my iPhone, iPad, desktops, all software I use, even Google WiFi’s firmware itself. Plus, the GoPro camera can be updated over Google WiFi just fine. But not the drone. And note that they don’t “advise” customers to not use it, they don’t say that anywhere, it just silently fails. Bad design.

I had to bring all the hardware to a cafe and use their WiFi network to download the software and update all the devices.

Unfortunately, the drone comes with one device that can’t be updated by the Karma controller: The Grip. And the Grip does not work with their newest camera, the Hero 6. You must update the software on it before you can even turn it on. The only way to do that is to use their Quik app on a desktop computer, but the Quik app doesn’t work — as soon as I log in, the screen goes black and you can’t do anything. They’ve known (or should know) about this since June 2017 and they still seem to be clueless about it and have no fix.

To be clear, you update the drone itself, the stabilizer and the drone controller over WiFi using the drone controller. There’s no other way to do it and, again, it only works with some WiFi networks. You update the GoPro camera with the iPhone app (which works fine over any WiFi network). And you update the Grip with the desktop app only. It’s dizzying how many different ways you are required to update your GoPro equipment.

Once I got everything updated, I tried to fly the drone. This takes you through a compass calibration step. It took me 20+ attempts to calibrate it, which takes a minute of you holding it and turning around slowly. Step 1 always worked, Step 2 always failed. Eventually it worked. So I started the propellers and lifted off. It started flying north all by itself and it was out of my control. I was on top of our building and it was heading off the roof so I frantically tried to get it to land. I got it to descend enough to run into a tarp on the wall, the propellers cut gashes into the tarp and broke 3 of the propellers.

I’d had enough at this point and contacted GoPro to get a refund. They told me they don’t take refunds because I broke the (replaceable) propellers. So I bought replacement propellers, put them on, recalibrated the compass, recalibrated the joysticks (!) and tried again.

After several complaints that it could not connect to GPS, it finally worked. 8 days after getting the Karma, I had my first successful flight. I’d be happy but after all the hell I’ve been through and after spending $1,000 for this thing, I just can’t like it. But I’m stuck with it.

Note that I still cannot get the Grip updated. As I write this, I have been talking to GoPro’s tech support for 95 minutes and they have no clue what the problem is with their Quik software. Again, it’s been an unresolved issue on their own forums for 5 months but they don’t know anything about it.

I’ve been using tech products since the 1980s and I’ve had my share of frustrations with them. Maybe there’s been worse back in the early days of computers, but not by much. DO NOT BUY A GOPRO KARMA DRONE! Get the DJI Phantom instead.

The good news is that I imagine it’s only a matter of time before the drone falls from the sky and is destroyed and I no longer feel compelled to keep using it.

Gates Foundation + Optimism

The Gates Foundation, who refers to themselves as “impatient optimists”, was planning a launch party for their renovated Discovery Center when an employee saw someone at their gym wearing an Optimism t-shirt. She asked about it and learned about our existence and wanted to have our beer at their event. Tonight, Gay and I joined our events person, Colin, to serve our beer.

Coincidentally, it was designed by our favorite architect, Tom Kundig, who also did our brewery and our home.

Coincidence #2: the woman who was in charge of the renovation got up to speak and Gay recognized her as someone she worked with at Aldus back in the 1990s. She remembered Gay and they quickly got caught up on their lives. Small world.

My 48th Birthday

I’m 48. Time sure flies by faster every year!

I got the day off from work, our tradition. I had coffee and enjoyed the quiet empty house. I rode my Peloton bike (1000 kJ exactly, only 2nd time hitting 4 digits). I spent the rest of the day reading, watching YouTube, and browsing the web in my home office that I spend very little time in these days.

Gay (with Eva’s help) made me a steak dinner with horseradish sauce, a baked potato and salad. And another tradition, a German Chocolate cake for dessert.

Bye Lexus

I sold my beloved Lexus LS460 today. 😢 I bought it in 2008. Not having a commute, we never had a need to drive much so, except for road trips, we didn’t put many miles on it. After almost 10 years, it only has 28,675 miles, less than 3,000 miles per year! We don’t have a need for 3 cars so I’ve had it on my To Do list for years to sell it. But I couldn’t bring myself to do it, it was so much fun to drive. So it mostly sat in the garage, depreciating in value, waiting for a long road trip.

The good news is that I sold it to my friend Charles who drives for Peninsula Truck Lines and delivers grain to us at the brewery. He’s an affable guy that I’d see almost every week or so for the last couple years and we always chatted about the Seahawks. He saw the Lexus at the brewery one day and I mentioned that I was going to sell it. I was planning to auction it on eBay but never got around to taking photos and posting it. He was interested and kept asking about it and eventually offered a reasonable number so I accepted it.

Basecamp in Astoria, Oregon

The kids had a 3-day weekend so we took the Basecamp on its first trip. We brought Barley so this was his first trip too. We drove it to Astoria, Oregon.

Lunch at Fort George Brewing:

At our campsite at Fort Stevens National Park:

At Shipwreck Beach:

On the edge of the country:

….where we could drive the Jeep on the beach:

Dinner at Buoy Brewing with a stellar view of the Columbia River and Washington:

A cool glass floor where you can see seals relaxing underneath the brewery:

The Basecamp did really well. I’ve never towed an RV (or anything) before so it took 2-3 hours for me to get comfortable driving with it behind us. It’s a bit cramped when all 5 (+Barley) are inside and using the shower means you turn the entire Basecamp into a changing room, but it’s spacious inside considering it’s so small. We can all sit comfortably around the tables when it’s configured in the U-shaped seating. We can all lay down on the bed and we did that while watching a movie — The Goonies, which was set in Astoria! — on the iPad, which worked great with the Anker Soundcore speaker.

Airstream Basecamp

After dropping the kids off at school, Gay and I drove to the “local” Airstream dealer to pick up our 2018 Basecamp today. We agreed to buy it a couple weeks ago when we put the deposit down on it and finally found the time to get there, an hour away, and pick it up.

How’d we get to the point of buying an RV?After our trip to Oregon when we camped in a tent for 3 days in Carson, Washington, we decided an RV would be more fun so we started looking into an Airstream. The original plan was to get a bigger Airstream, like a 23- or 27-footer, but eventually decided that a Basecamp would be a better starter RV for us. We had no experience and we soon realized that long trailers have issues with general driving/maneuvering and some campgrounds are limited in the size of a trailer they can accommodate. Plus, a short trailer wouldn’t require a new tow vehicle.

It officially sleeps two, but all 3 kids can easily sleep in it — the bed is 6-feet by 6-feet, practically a King Size bed! Actually, all 5 of us can fit on the bed, although it probably wouldn’t be comfortable all night. It has a bathroom with a shower, a 2-burner stovetop, a fridge, microwave, A/C and solar panels to keep the battery charged. We also ordered the optional tents that attach to it providing more living space, but they have to be delivered from the factory in Ohio.

We like a trailer, rather than a motorhome, because we prefer a good car and a good trailer to a combination of the two. A trailer can be left at a campsite while we drive our car around during the day. You see a lot of motorhomes towing tiny cars for this reason, which seems backwards to us.

We liked Airstream because they look good, the interiors are bit more upscale and they’re all aluminum so they don’t rust. This thing even fits into our garage (with some effort)!

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The kids love it. We all had dinner in it before Gay and Havana went off to Girl Scout camping for the weekend. Ironically, they went without the Basecamp.

I’m looking forward to exploring the Pacific Northwest with it and the kids. When I first moved to the Pacific Northwest I had grand plans to go mountain biking, skiing, kayaking and camping. I’ve lived here for over 20 years now and did very little of that, always choosing work over play. It’s time to make good on those plans.

Hudson’s 9th Birthday

We celebrated Hudson’s 9th birthday in Sunriver:

He wanted a poop emoji cake, so Gay had to put her baking skills to good use.

It was great that his best friend Bowie and his family was here with us. He thought we had forgotten about his birthday and presents because of the vacation and that he wouldn’t get any presents but he was wrong.

In the path of totality

I woke up at 3:30am to check traffic to Madras and Salem and both were clear. We originally thought everyone would go to Salem because it’s closer to Portland and just 50 minutes down I-5 so we were going to go to Madras to avoid the traffic. But Eclipse-ageddon didn’t happen so we decided to go to Salem.

By 5am we were out of the hotel and after a long wait at Voodoo Doughnut for donuts and coffee, we got to Salem by 7am, brought our camping chairs to the State Capital grounds where a lot of people were already gathered and waited until 9:05am for the eclipse to start.

Here’s a video at the total eclipse, it went dark very quickly and then we could take our glasses off and see the corona around the moon. It looks like a dim sun in the video but in real life it was a thin ring of light around a black circle. Amazing.