Italy Trip: Technical Note

Free maps from Open Street Maps in Garmin format as well as points of interest were really useful during our vacation in Italy.

We returned from a fun vacation to Italy a couple of days ago. I’ll have an account of the vacation along with photographs soon but first some technical notes.

I checked air fares on Expedia and Orbitz but in the end booked on the Delta website since they were marginally cheaper. Also I was using frequent flier miles to get one ticket for free. The only way I found to book one award ticket (bought with frequent flier miles) and other regular fares was to first reserve the award ticket (since they are less common), then buy the regular fares on the same flights and finally book the award flight.

For hotels, I checked reviews and prices on Trip Advisor to shortlist a few and then used the hotel websites to make reservations.

For planning all the sightseeing and for making a shortlist of restaurants, I used Fodor’s Italy Gold Guide and Lonely Planet’s Italy Guide.

I took my Garmin 60CSx GPSr with me. I found that Open Street Maps had maps available in Garmin format. The ones I liked the best were OpenMTBMap since they were routable and could route for hiking or mountain biking instead of cars. That was a huge success for us in Italy. We never got lost and we used the maps to go everywhere and find restaurants etc. near our location. It made life much easier and even when we wanted to walk around in the back alleys in Venice we could do so without any fear of really getting lost since whenever we wanted to go back we could use the GPS.

The maps came with lots of POIs(Points of Interest), but I wanted some specific ones too: the hotels we were staying in, train stations for travel between Rome and Venice, restaurants, Cafes and Gelaterias that I wanted to go to specially and some important sightseeing. So I used Google Maps to locate these places and saved them to My Maps there. Google Maps’ My Maps allows you to export the list of placemarks in Google Earth (KML) format. Then I used GPS Visualizer to convert the list to GPX format and used Garmin POI Loader to transfer the locations to my GPSr.

I plan our vacations in detail and these maps and list of locations on the GPS were very useful everyday as we went about sightseeing and enjoying Italian food. In fact, while walking around, I would notice that there’s a nice gelateria nearby and we would go enjoy some gelato.

I read almost three books on the Kindle during the trip, even though I read only on planes and trains. While it was a fun experience, I found one some hitch: Flight attendants want you to turn the Kindle off during takeoff and landing.

UPDATE: One thing I forgot. I tried to reserve train tickets between Rome and Venice on the Italian Rail website but it just kept denying my credit card. Apparently, it’s a common problem for credit cards with non-European addresses. However, I didn’t really need to buy the tickets before going there. There was enough space when I made reservations three days before the train travel at the Rome Termini station.

Plagiarism

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. But copying whole articles without citation is not.

While plagiarism has been there forever, the Internet makes it really easy. At the same time, it makes it easy to find out if someone has copied and pasted your writing and passed it off as their own.

Recently, I found out that Paksir has copied my blog article about global gender attitudes without so much as a hint of where it came from. My comment on his blog to provide a link has gone unanswered for more than two weeks.

Let’s look at a more amusing example: Muhammad Imran Latif’s portfolio page. I was alerted to the similarities with my About Zack page last year. I tried contacting him, but got no reply. Since then, I have made some minor changes to my about page, so let’s compare his description of himself with mine from the wayback machine

Imran Latif Me
My name is Muhammad Imran Latif. I am usually known as Pomy & Imran. My name is Zakaria Ajmal. “Zakaria” is a biblical name and hence has different spellings and pronunciations in different languages. I don’t mind the different spellings that much, but to make it easy, I am usually known as Zack.
I am 27 years old and i am originally from Pakistan where I was born and raised. I was living in Daska, the beautiful city, before coming to the Islamabad. I am a Muslim. I am 35 years old and am originally from Pakistan where I was born and raised. I was living in Islamabad, the capital city, before coming to the US. Like most of the Pakistani population (97% according to the CIA World Factbook), I am a Muslim.
I came to the Islamabad 1 years ago and am currently a Web designer and Network administrator Computer field. I came to the US 9 years ago and am currently a graduate student in Electrical and Computer Engineering (research interests: computer vision and graphics/animation, video and image analysis, telepresence, etc.) at Georgia Tech in Atlanta, GA.
Other than research and teaching, I like to plants and gardening. I am also very much interested in economics, information technology teaching, social work, politics and national affairs. Other than research and teaching, I like to camp and hike, travel and take photographs with my digital camera. I am also very much interested in science fiction, history, politics and international affairs.
I got married to Sofia (nickname: Bahaar) on September 5, 2005. We have had a lot of fun together and plan to live together happily ever after. I got married to Ambrin (nickname: Amber) on December 1, 1994. We have had a lot of fun together and plan to live together happily ever after.
On August 29, 2006, a cute Michelle was born to Baahar and me. Nowadays, she is the center of our universe. On August 12, 2004, a cute Michelle was born to Amber and me. Nowadays, she is the center of our universe. She has a weblog of her own on which we post her photographs, video clips and milestones etc. If you would like to read her blog, please email me.

How much do you want to bet that Imran’s daughter is not actually named Michelle?

For the record, here is my policy on copying stuff:

All original content, whether text, images or multimedia, on this weblog, Procrastination, is Copyright © Zakaria Ajmal, except for posts by other authors which belong to them.

You can excerpt the contents of this website anywhere else but you must attribute it to us and cite the location (URL) from which you are quoting. However, you are not allowed to copy our images without permission. Similarly, you are not allowed to hotlink to any of our photographs.

An exception to this policy pertains to the comments by visitors and readers, which belong to the commenters themselves.

Hat tip to the two readers who tipped me off about these two cases.

How Zack Buys a New PC

I decided to build my own desktop again after my Dell laptop troubles. Finding everything at Fry’s was easy and assembling it was fun.

The title has been shamelessly stolen from Photodude.

Last July, I was having a lot of trouble with my Dell laptop. So I wanted to backup the data in my hard drive. I went to Fry’s to get an enclosure for the laptop hard disk so I could connect it via USB to my old desktop. There I started looking at computer components. But in the end returned with only the USB enclosure.

By the weekend, I had decided I wanted a new desktop since my old one was almost 8 years old (Pentium III 550MHz) and the laptop was still not working. The good thing is that Fry’s has people who can help you with selecting the appropriate parts for your computer. I do still recommend doing your own research in advance, but they are helpful.

The question that Captain Arrrgh asked was why build one’s own computer. I agree that it is not really cheaper to do that and requires some research and technical know-how. But it is fun. And it gives me an opportunity to wander in Fry’s for hours. Plus I get the exact machine I want.

So here’s what I got:

The hard disk and RAM are in my opinion critical in a computer’s operation, more so than the processor speed. I did not get 4GB since a 32-bit operating system (Windows XP Professional in my case) is limited to about 3.5GB of RAM. Two hard disks, with operating system and programs on one and data on the other, work much better and the Raptor is really fast. My Windows XP boots up so fast I can’t believe it. And Photoshop is also much faster than before.

There was one important factor in selecting the components and that was for the power supply. Not only did I need a power supply with more wattage than required for the components, I also had to check what the current requirements for the individual 5V and 12V rails were.

Assembly was a breeze. The components, especially the processor, need to be handled properly, but that’s it. If you are interested, here are the installation instructions for Intel Core 2 Duo processor.

I ran into a problem while installing Windows and chipset drivers that came with the motherboard. I was getting the dreaded blue screen of death. At first, I suspected the hard disk, but some testing showed it to be a memory problem. Or more accurately a reading problem on my side. The timing settings of the RAM were being read automatically from SPD EEPROM but the voltage setting was not. The motherboard BIOS was defaulting to 1.8V while the memory specifications called for 2.0V. So all I had to do was change that setting manually in the BIOS and it worked perfectly.

It took me a few days to reinstall all the software and get all my data from my old desktop and my laptop.

Later, Michelle demanded a computer of her own, so I gave her my old desktop. Since I didn’t want to buy another copy of Windows, I installed Ubuntu Linux on it. Now I am searching for all kind of programs for young kids for Linux. I installed Debian for Juniors package, GCompris and whatever else I could find on the Ubuntu repositories. My plan is to keep her computer disconnected from the net unless we need to connect for some reason. This will keep all kinds of issues away, I hope.

Dell and Blogging

Dell came through, thanks to my blogging, and replaced my laptop with a brand new Inspiron 1501.

At times I think of blogging as a useless activity. Yes, it has helped me meet new and interesting people, some of whom have become good friends. Yes, blogging has made me somewhat famous in that I sometimes run into people, offline or online, who have read my weblog. And of course blogging is a way to keep a diary and express my thoughts on a variety of topics.

Then again, I recall the PhotoDude complaining on his blog about not getting software user manuals and having them delivered the next day. But he is an A-list blogger unlike me!

So I had a rant here about my problems with my Dell laptop. A few days later, I got an email from Dell HQ from a person who had read it. Lo and behold, he offered to replace my computer. That was on July 26.

Meanwhile, my old Inspiron 5150 was repaired at the depot and returned to me. Then I went about copying everything off of it so it could be returned.

On August 6, I got a package from Dell. I opened it and found a brand new Inspiron 1501. I was a little surprised since I had assumed that the replacement would be a refurbished machine. Anyway, the machine looks good. And I must thank the Dell guy who read my blog and took the initiative to get me this computer.

I now have two brand new computers, a desktop that I built and this laptop. Amber is having second thoughts about letting me buy the desktop.

Blog Rating

So how much bad language do I use on my weblog? Is my blog safe for kids?

Via Matthew Yglesias, I find out that my blog is not appropriate for kids.

Online Dating

May be I should tone it down a little.

5 Years of Blogging

It has been five years since I started blogging. Over time, my blogging has become more sporadic, but I plan to continue. So today here are some statistics about my weblog.

It was 5 years ago today that I made my first post on my blog which was then on Blogger. This post today is the 999th one I have made here and there have been 6,678 comments on these posts.

Number of Posts Every Year

According to Sitemeter, there have been about 950,000 visits and 1,410,000 page views of my weblog.

Since I have had a Google Analytics account since April 2006, I have collected some decent statistics pertaining to my weblog. Here are some of them (I am using the whole period from April 2006 to now for these stats).

The web pages on my site that have gotten the most page views since April 2006 are as follows:

  1. Week 20: Boy or Girl
  2. Arranged Marriage
  3. Women, Gays, Sex, Islam
  4. Blog main page
  5. Urdu/اردو
  6. Moth Smoke
  7. Marriage: Between Cousins
  8. My Home Page
  9. Commenters Looking for Marriage
  10. Week 21: Level 2 Diagnostic Ultrasound

So it seems like category and monthly archives do not get many visits while most visitors coming from search engines land straight on an individual post page.

The percentage of visitors to my weblog who use different web browsers is as follows:

Internet Explorer 80.0%
Firefox 15.4%
Safari 2.3%
Opera 1.2%

The most popular search terms for getting to my blog are (in no particular order, since I combined similar queries):

  • urdu sex stories
  • arranged marriages
  • level 2 ultrasound
  • procrastination
  • firefox sucks
  • harun yahya
  • am i having a boy or girl
  • gays sex
  • crvo
  • asylum in canada

This list mostly disappointed me.

The top 10 countries from which my blog received visits are:

  1. United States
  2. Pakistan
  3. United Kingdom
  4. Canada
  5. India
  6. Australia
  7. Iran
  8. United Arab Emirates
  9. Saudi Arabia
  10. Germany

Here is a world map with the countries I have had visitors from shown in red.

Visitor Countries Map

The list of more than 200 countries follows:

Continue reading “5 Years of Blogging”

Spammy Fame

I am so famous now that spammers are referring to my blogging.

Since I added the Contact link on my weblog, I have been getting all sorts of strange emails about asylum, sex, marriage and other topics. However, what made my day last weekend was an email that someone had received. Here is the email that was forwarded to me.

Hi,

I got your contact from the cyberspace on my search for a sincere man who is marriage minded and have value for love and friendship and recognized the significant of having a good and sincere relationship, so I saw your profile on http://www.zackvision.com/weblog/2004/05/commenters-marriage.html and decided to contact you and I hope my proposition to be your friend will not be an exemption.

Well I am Vick Mazur as you may know me and I am from Russia, which my father is from Russia and my mother is from Liberia but at present I live and work in the Republic of Benin in a Charity Organization but I am a very good girl from a good family, my hobbies are playing basketball, reading the bible, working hard and watching movies. I dislike people that lies and dishonest things, i am not too fat and not too thin, i am average in height, i do not smoke nor drink, white in complexion with blonde hair and a nice eye ball and i am also a easy going lady but i will leave that for you to to judge when we start this friendship and I hope you are satisfy with this little details about me and I will also pray to God to make our friendship last longer without regretting knowing each others.
Please I will like to stop for now, kindly tell me more about yourself, your profession and country so as to march one more step towards forever, honest and sincere friendship and I will send you my picture when I hear from you.

You can also reply me at my yahoo email address: [email address removed]

Here is a blog post by the cousin of the person who received this email.

When I checked my spam folder later, I found out that Vick had sent the same email to my very spammy email address which I don’t use for my blog as well. Did I mention that the subject of the email was “I saw your profile on http://www.zackvision.com/weblog/2004/05/commenters-marriage.html”.

So finally I have accomplished something with this blog. I have become famous. Spammers are now referring to my blog posts in their emails. Ain’t life grand!

Oh and do read my famous post and all the comments there.