The Fountain

We watched The Fountain in the theater on our anniversary. It is a good movie about eternal life, love and death. I rate it 8/10.

On our anniversary, we went to the theater and watched The Fountain. It is not often we get a chance to watch a movie in the theater, so that was fun.

Was it an appropriate movie for celebrating our anniversary? Yes and no. The Fountain is about love, death, and eternal life. It has three parallel stories situated 500 years apart. The plot is about trying to escape death and find eternal life and then finally embracing death as being a sort of eternal life.

I liked it very much, though Amber was a bit depressed and didn’t think it an appropriate choice for the occasion. I rate it 8/10.

The Syrian Bride

This is a good movie about a marriage across the ceasefire line between Israeli-controlled Golan Heights and Syria. Family estrangement, conservatism, clash between Israeli and Syrian bureaucratic requirements are all depicted well. I rate the movie 8/10.

The Syrian Bride is about the travails of an Druze family in the Golan Heights. Of course, they are in a way stateless. So when a girl in the family is to be married to a Syrian guy crossing the border becomes an issue and red tape rears its head.

There are a number of other threads and subplots about other members of the family. There is the estranged older brother of the bride who was excommunicated from the clan because he married a Russian. There are the tensions between the aspirations of the older sister and her husband’s fear of societal reaction.

It is a good movie, worth watching. I would rate it 8/10.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

It is a book about magic and magical it is. Quite long but fun to read, Susanna Clarke has come up with a winner for her first novel, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is a fantasy novel. It is about the quest of two English magicians, Strange and Norrell, to bring magic back to England.

It is a thick novel, about a thousand pages in the mass market paperback edition, but it is very enjoyable. I finished it in a few days as fast as I could.

This being Susanna Clarke’s first book, I look forward to reading more from her.

I recommend it highly.

UPDATE: Razib asks for more. So here is a whole seminar on the book.

Apocalypse Now

Apocalypse Now is now a part of the culture. It is a movie about a Colonel gone bad (and mad) in the Vietnam War. Francis Ford Coppola did some great work here. I rate it 8/10.

Apocalypse Now is so famous that it doesn’t really need a review from me.

Now there is a new version out on DVD called “The Complete Dossier” that includes both the original theatrical cut and the longer Redux version. I think parts of the Redux make the movie better but it also increases the length by quite a bit and make it a bit slow.

I had seen parts of Apocalypse Now now and then on TV and was thoroughly familiar with all the famous quotes. But I wanted to watch it completely and properly.

It took us a while to watch it as with a 2 year old one has to be careful. So we had to wait for her to sleep before we could watch it.

Overall, it is a haunting movie about the Vietnam War. I would rate it 8/10.

The First Human

The First Human is a good and readable book about the search for the oldest hominin fossils. It describes the science, the fieldwork as well as the disputes in the field of paleoanthropology.

The First Human by Anne Gibbons is about the search for the oldest hominid (or is it hominin?) fossils. It focuses on paleontology and the search for the earliest fossils close to the divergence of humans from the common ancestors of humans and chimpanzees. As such, it describes the fossils and our current understanding of them and does not deal with other related topics of human origin like genetics (more on that later in my review of Before the Dawn).

I was afraid the book might just be a catalog of facts: This fossil was found there by X on this date and so on. But it is much more interesting due to the way Anne Gibbons writes and organizes the facts. It also describes the disputes and the politics of the discipline of paleoanthropology and it seems like this is an acrimonious field.

John Hawks who makes a very brief appearance in the book also has a review on his weblog.

The Man Who Copied

This is a Brazilian movie about a young guy who trying to impress a girl copies money and gets in trouble. It is a good movie and I rate it 7/10.

O Homem Que Copiava or The Man Who Copied is a Brazilian movie about a poor photocopier operator who falls in love with a girl and follows her around. To impress her, he decides to copy a 50 Brazilian Real bill to buy something from the store she works in. As the story progresses, he gets into more trouble as he finds ways to make some money.

Overall, it is a good movie. I rate it 7/10.

Geotagging Photos

Armed with a GPS and a digital camera with a love of hiking, it is time to store the location I take my photos into the images and then show them on a map. I review several software which can do this and present my workflow.

Now that I have a GPS, I can have some fun with hiking and photography. The idea is to record my position on the GPS while hiking (i.e., the tracklog). This will provide me (and others) with a good record of different hikes. In addition, I can pinpoint the location where I took photographs and hence tag the photos with those coordinates (i.e., geotagging).

Here is the procedure I use for the purpose:

  1. Set the GPS tracklog setting. My GPS allows time, distance and auto. Time and distance options are for specifying the time or distance respectively after which the GPS position should be recorded in the tracklog. Auto mode tries to determine the optimal interval automatically, though Garmin does not provide any information about how it determines the optimum interval. The preferable mode is specifying the time interval. If you are walking, then a time interval of 6 seconds should give you maximum accuracy and in my case the tracklog won’t fill up to its maximum of 10,000 points for about 17 hours. This just needs to be decided on once.
  2. At the start of the hike, set the camera clock to the time from the GPS. You can either use UTC (popularly known as GMT) or your local time zone. I prefer to set the camera to UTC since then I don’t have to get into the hassle of changing camera time at the end of daylight savings or when I travel.
  3. Sometimes, I also like to take a photograph of the GPS screen with the time showing so that I can later compare the difference in their clocks.
  4. Reset the tracklog.
  5. Mark waypoints on the hike for features, like parking, trailhead, scenic view, waterfall, etc. Write some shorthand in the waypoint name on the GPS to remember the reason later.
  6. Take photographs whenever I feel like it.
  7. Go home and upload the waypoints and tracklog from the GPS to my computer.
  8. Upload the photographs from my camera.
  9. Run RoboGEO to geotag the images and create a Google map.
  10. Use GPS Visualizer to create an elevation profile for a hike.
  11. Upload everything to my web server.

One thing I also want to do is to create a database of the tracklogs of trails which I hike. For this purpose, I will be providing you the GPX file for my hikes here. However, it would probably be a good idea to upload them to public repositories of trails. Does anyone know any such good sites?

Before using this technique on a hike, I decided to test it with a walk locally. I set my GPS tracklog setting to “auto”. With this setting the average time between tracklog points was 12 seconds but there was one interval of 2minutes and 57seconds, probably when I was sitting.

I tried several software solutions for geotagging and creating maps with the photos. Here is my review of them.

TopoFusion

Rich Owings told me about TopoFusion which is a great software with lots of features. But their PhotoFusion is not up to par. It is super-easy to use. All you do is load the tracklog either directly from your GPS or from a GPX file on your computer, point PhotoFusion to the folder where the photographs are and voila!

However, it does not output the coordinates of the photo locations in any form (EXIF data of the images or as waypoints in a GPX file). Hence, we are limited to its own output which shows the locations on USGS aerial and topographic maps with camera icons.

Another problem is that the camera icons do not stand out and can be difficult to spot in the web page output. We also have no options to set the size of the map image for the web output, so we have to set the size of the main TopoFusion window to whatever size we want the final map image to be.

if I provide an output folder in the options for PhotoFusion, thumbnails and all other files are created there. But the original photos are not copied. However the link to full photos in the web page is to the output directory, so those links don’t work without copying the original images yourself.

Also, thumbnails are created but you have to specify both width and height and so there might be a black band if the aspect ratio is not correct. You can see that in the one landspace format thumbnail in my test scenario.

Finally, the output of PhotoFusion is a static map image and the user cannot pan, zoom out or do other interesting things with the map like you can with Google Maps.

One good thing about it is that the output includes an elevation profile and other useful info (like distance travelled etc.)

Here is my test of TopoFusion.

WWMX and GPS Visualizer

Let’s now look at some free solutions. While there are several free solutions, none of them are as easy to use or as complete for this task. One has to use multiple software: one for geotagging the photos and another for creating maps.

The best solution for the map creation is GPS Visualizer, an online tool that does almost anything you could think of.

But before using that, I needed to geotag the photos using my tracklog. I checked two programs for that.

WWMX Location Stamper is a Windows-based application which is simple to use but does not have many features. For example, the camera must be set to the same time as your computer and you cannot specify any difference in the clocks of the GPS and your camera. It needs a GPX file with a tracklog as input unless you use WWMX TrackDownload which can get the tracklog directly from a GPS. It shows the track and photo locations on a map within the application (I think the map requires you to be connected to the Internet) and then stores the location info in the image EXIF.

Another program for geotagging is gpsPhoto.pl, a command-line Perl tool to extract location info from a tracklog and write to EXIF. It has a lot of options. However, it is command-line and requires Perl installation on your computer. Also, you can’t check the results in a map. One pro for this tool is that it is OS-independent.

Once I had the images with their coordinates in the EXIF info, I had to get it in a format that would be acceptable for GPS Visualizer. For the tracklog, I could use the GPX format, but for the photo information, I needed CSV as described here and here. I wrote a short Perl script to do that using Image::ExifTool.

Now comes the time to get GPS Visualizer’s Google Maps form to generate the map. If you are going to fill out the same form again and again, it helps to use the Firefox extension Form Saver to store the form data so you don’t have to select the same options every time.

And finally using the GPX file, I created an elevation profile of my walk.

Here is the page with all the results.

So you might be thinking why go through all this hassle. First, it is free. Second, GSP Visualizer has lots of options and can do almost anything: Google Maps, Google Earth, SVG or JPEG maps, topographic, aerial, street maps, all kinds of profile graphs, etc. And you can control the presentation in detail. Take a look at the map linked to above. In addition to the Google maps, it also has USGS topographic and aerial maps as well as some imagery from NASA.

The downside is the amount fo time/effort used to create a map every time. Also, I would be dependent on another website to create and display my maps.

I do plan to use GPS Visualizer to create elevation profiles and other special maps, but it is too much work for regular stuff.

RoboGEO

RoboGEO looks good and does lots of stuff related to geotagging. You can set the location of your photos manually using Google Earth, or set it using GPS waypoints or use the tracklog. It stores the location info in the EXIF fields or can even stamp the location on the image itself. The output can also be in several formats: Google Maps, Google Earth, GPX/CSV, Flickr, ESRI shapefiles, etc.

For Google maps, the output is in the form of a web page, but it also creates an XML file with all the data in case you want to use XSLT to create your own web page. There is also an option for string substitutions in the generated web files if you want to customize. These options are not as good as having a templating system for web page generation, but they do provide ways to customize the web page code.

I used the string substitution option to add USGS topographic and aerial maps to my map pages. I got the required code to do this from GPS Visualizer and Acme Mapper.

The demo version of RoboGEO is sort-of crippleware as it adds big random error to photo locations and tracklog points. However, I liked it enough after trying it out that I immediately bought it.

Another gripe I have with RoboGEO is that it stores output files in the Program Files folder.

One feature I would really like to see in RoboGEO is to be able to put the waypoints in my GPX files on the map as well. This would help by pointing out parking, trailhead, scenic view, waterfalls, or other features on a hike on the map. I emailed Tim Helton about this and he’s agreed to put it on his to-do list.

Before I show you the map from my test created using RoboGEO, if you are overwhelmed with signing up for a Google Maps API key etc., you can simply create a Google Earth KMZ file embedded with the photographs using RoboGEO and put it online (example). Then just enter the URL of this file in Google Maps like this and voila!

Continue reading “Geotagging Photos”

Pride and Prejudice

Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice has been made into multiple movies and TV series. This latest version is good, though not as good as the BBC miniseries. I rate it 7/10.

The latest movie version of Pride and Prejudice reminds me more of Bride and Prejudice than the BBC miniseries (which was the best). And I have actually forgotten the book completely by now, so cannot compare the movie to the book.

Overall, this version was good. We liked it enough to watch it, but it isn’t great either. I would rate it 7/10.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is a classic Spaghetti Western. While I enjoyed the movie, the print restoration job wasn’t very good and at times it looks washed up. Overall, I rate it 8/10.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (Il Buono, il brutto, il cattivo) is a classic Spaghetti Western.

I had seen parts of it on TV multiple times, but never before had seen the whole movie together. So that was a good experience.

However, the print restoration job for this DVD is not that good. At times it looks washed up.

Overall, I would rate it 8/10, but if you haven’t seen it you haven’t seen anything.