Location, Location, Location

Hold Steady - Almost Killed Me

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I’m starting the post with a positive jam (thanks Hold Steady).  This post might be scary to some and I figured you might want the mental reinforcement.  Ever since mobile phones became connected to the Internet, the ability of “the man” to track us has become easier and easier.  Ironically, this power was given freely by most netizens.

It’s not wiretaps, email snooping, or cell phone tracking that give them (and your grandparents) the ability to know what you are doing minute to minute, but instead twitter posts, facebook status updates, yelp/foursquare/gowalla check-ins, and something I wanted to talk about in this post – geolocation.

Geolocation for those unaware, is the adding of real world address or GPS information to a virtual object like a picture or post.  The reason I wanted to call attention to geolocation is that compared to status updates, twitter posts, etc., it often happens unknowingly or accidentally for the average user.  When you post to twitter that you are eating at such and such restaurant, you’re actively telling the world where you are.  When you post/email an interesting photo for your friends to see, you may not realize that you could give out your home address.

This is because newer cameras and most smart phones can now use their built-in GPS units to tag photos with where they were taken, including your home or anywhere you take pictures.  The problem for the average user is that the picture doesn’t appear to hold this information and so there is seemingly nothing to fear.

The location information is there, I promise

For those that know where to look though, it’s quite simple.  I took the picture above with my iPhone this summer while at the Very Large Array and as I will show you, it recorded exactly where I was standing.  Viewing the information involves something called EXIF. You can think of EXIF information as the writing on the back of the photo.  In the past, EXIF information included what type of camera took the picture, when it was taken, what the aperture of the camera was, etc., but now it can also include information like GPS coordinates.

On a Mac, the process involves opening the photo in Preview, viewing the inspector, and going to the GPS tab.  Apple conveniently put a “Locate” button that shows me on Google Maps exactly where the photo was taken.

Screenshot showing GPS information lookup

On Windows, the process almost as simple.  Just right-click the picture and click properties.  Under the “Details” tab if you scroll down, you might see a GPS section like the one pictured.  I should note that this is only for Vista and Windows 7.  Windows XP will not show the GPS section even if the photo contains one.  For XP users you can download a program called KUSO to see this information.

Example using Windows 7

Now that you’ve seen it done, it seems pretty simple. Most people have never opened the “Inspector/Properties” and thus never realized just how much data is there beyond just the picture.

You can relax slightly because common places photos are posted to: facebook, twitpic, and flickr clear out this information automatically.  While they may be removing it from public viewing, they still are able to see this information themselves and they could change their policy about sharing that information at any time, so I still recommend removing the data yourself before uploading.

When using less reputable websites, forums, or emailing attachments is when you are most vulnerable.  In these scenarios, the photo is sent unaltered and thus containing all the EXIF information.  In these cases, you will need to remove the information yourself before sending.

So how do we get rid of this information?  There are many programs, and many operating systems, so I can’t go into all the ways, but I’ll cover a couple very common scenarios for Mac and Windows.

When using iPhoto on a Mac, whenever you export a photo or share a photo, there is a little checkbox for including location information.  Just make sure the it’s unchecked and you are ready.

Exporting in iPhoto

A program called SmallImage for the Mac is another good option if you prefer to remove all EXIF information in addition to the GPS data.

For windows you can download a program called Easy EXIF Delete.  For Adobe Photoshop users, on either OS X or Windows, use the “Save for Web…” command and this will remove any extra data.

There is of course one way to avoid all of this hassle – don’t use the location services of your phone or camera.  I have an iPhone, so I can show you how to disable it on iPhone/iPod Touch devices, but for other manufacturers you’ll need to check with Google or your nearest geek.

Location Settings

On the iPhone, click Settings ->General ->Location Services. Here you can disable all location services at the top, or pick which individual applications are allowed to know where you are.  Find the Camera and slide it to “OFF” and now all your photos will be geolocation free.

This is by no means a comprehensive list, but Google is your friend and I mainly wanted to bring the idea of geolocation to your attention.  There are plenty of good reasons to have your photos geotagged, but knowing when to use it, when not to use it, and how to remove it, will keep this feature from turning into a liability.

Written by John in: Photos,Ramble,Travel | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Photo of the Week

Migratory birds beware

Migratory birds beware

Once again I find myself travelling to Austin.  This makes 3 times in the last month.  For whatever reason I decided that I should drive this time, which means taking a two hour nap at 10PM, waking up at 12AM and then driving 17 hours.  As I was driving on I-20, the sheer number of wind generators is astounding.  For about 15 miles around Sweetwater, TX, as far as you can see north and south is nothing but a sea of windmills.  I was lucky enough to grap this shot by holding my camera out the passenger side window.  Hopefully “green” companies are friendlier about leasing the land and royalties than oil speculators of the past.

Written by John in: Photos,Ramble,Travel | Tags: , , , , ,

Life in motion

I have never owned a video camera, but I have often used the video function of my digital camera to capture the nuances of time and space that sometimes eludes two-dimensional photography.  Having a video often gives the sense of 2.5 dimensions.  In recent history I had been fine with simply shooting the video and archiving it unedited believing that the raw footage was somehow better.  Something has changed and now I feel compelled to convert my perfectly good memories into more artistic visions.

Unfortunately, I find that while I’m a creative problem solver when math, processes, and electrons are involved, this does not necessarily translate into the arts.  A few years ago I was very interested in audio creation and production and became versed in the ways of Audacity, Sound Forge, Garage Band, Fruity Loops, Pro Tools, and Reason to name a few.  While I know know an incredible amount about how music is created and produced using these programs, under my direction, bad techno is still bad techno regardless of whether I’m using an intro program like Garage Band or and advanced tool like Reason.

Now comes my new found interest in video production and editing.  Currently I am trying out several different programs.  The first post from yesterday was done using Avidemux and VirtualDub (both open source and free).  Today I created a similar video using iMovie just to compare the processes and workflows of the programs.  While iMovie is definately easier to handle, I feel the options lost (and the fact it requires a mac) limit it to only certain basic tasks.  So welcome everyone to my amateurish films, hopefully with time they will become more intriguing and complex.  Along the way I hope to share why one thing worked and another one didn’t.

Now to continue yesterday’s theme of hitting the open road, here is some old footage of a drive through southern Australia on the Great Ocean Highway from Melbourne to the Twelve Apostles.  Pardon the pixelated and choppy nature of the video, it was shot with a 8 year old Sony camera in which high quality mode was 320×240 @ 15fps.

Written by John in: Ramble,Travel,Video | Tags: , , , ,

Call of the wild

May 1, 2008

I don’t know what it is about traveling that compels me to write or better yet regular life that prevents me from writing, but here I am again on another business trip journaling. Alaska this time. I was almost a little scared when I first heard of this trip. Where I’m going is just another city, but that’s not what you think about when envisioning Alaska.

The name conjures up visions of the last American wilderness from lame spotted owls to fierce wolves, grizzlies, and polar bears, oh and the highest suicide rate.

Unfortunately I’m only going to be there for 24 hours. Of course 19 hours of that will be daylight so I’ll probably just push through and try to see as much as I can while I’m here. Tomorrow I have to perform a site survey for company a. Should be easy, schmooze some old company b manager, scan a bunch of equipment and hopefully three hours later – I’m out. I have a rental car, and I plan on testing the “unlimited in town mileage”. Currently my record stands at 900 kilometers for a 24-hour rental.

I’ll have to do some research this evening while sitting in my jacuzzi tub and find out what to do. Alaska has always one of those places I wanted to go, but not to do anything in particular. I don’t find whale watching interesting and I don’t find cold beaches interesting for very long. And yet, this is a place I have always wanted to visit. Maybe I’ll start south around Anchorage or Juno and just start heading north until I can’t take it any more. My idea of an ideal vacation in Alaska is more like a Jack London novel – camp with wolves, befriend one who later saves my life, and then eventually leave after having been challenged and learned valuable life lessons.

Or…I’ll see what bars in northern latitudes are like.

View from hill above Anchorage, AK

View from hill above Anchorage, AK

Written by John in: Photos,Ramble,Travel | Tags: , ,

Do I come here often?

It’s strange to be reading with vigor again.  Not since reading science-fiction novels in my teens that have I been to the bookstore twice in two days each time picking up two books.  I love it when numbers have a way of working out like that.

Yesterday after having a great conversation with an Australian by the name of Mark Stewart while here in Melbourne my music curiosities were awakened.  We walked around the local JB Hi-Fi, a record and video store, and showed each other bands that each liked.  There was a surprising similarity given our age and background differences.  He recommended an old school Australian punk band named Radio Birdman and I picked up an anthology of theirs from 1974-78. So far I like the album, very much like the clash, sex pistols and doors, very raw.  For whatever reasons, this new awaking in music made me want to open other avenues in my dormant mind.  I walked the streets for a while and came across a bookstore and purchased How To Be Good by Nick Hornby and Do I Come Here Often? by Henry Rollins.  By the way, next time I decide to get back into literature, do not do it in Australia.  Each book costs $24.95, but oh well its an investment in a new chapter in my life (pun unintentional, but I’m trying to make it a policy not to press the delete key in this journal).

I’ve nearly polished off Henry Rollins.  His unforgiving attitude is inspirational.  The man never stops, always on the lookout for the next opportunity to punish himself into action.  It is strange that all through the book he talks of how he hates himself and is depressed, yet somehow you still wish to live your life his way.  He has these Todd Dowd like stories where he meets with Jerry Lee Lewis, John Lee Hooker, David Lee Roth and travels all over the world meeting incredible people, you can’t help but try to incorporate some of that into you life.  Henry is the reason I have started journaling again. As I age I find myself having foggy memories and displaced timelines.  I believe forcing myself to recant from time to time will make me sharper, more introspective, and as a nice side affect a better writer.

Anyway, with Henry nearly gone, I for some reason decide that I’m not going to have enough to read given I have a week left here in Australia and a long flight home.  This makes no sense since I brought nearly 2000 pages of text with me, but none of this seemed to be of a fine enough pedigree for my newly awakened mind so its off to the book store again.  This time I pick up The Book of Dave by Will Self and Survivor by Chuck Palahniuk.  After reading the first chapters I believe these will do nicely.

I do worry that all this literacy will lead me to being an elitist asshole.  I already feel that better than thou personal creeping around the corner.  It feels good.  It’s a quality that I sometimes admire in Meaghan when its might isn’t directed at me.  The alternative is to be some philistine who rants in coffee shops ignorantly.  I hate that guy.  Two of them were in the café tonight discussing how music can change lives.  That much I believe, but their arguments were mundane and painful to listen to.  I have heard more thought provoking conversations about beer alcoholic content percentages across state lines.

Anyway, this entry is already becoming much longer than I intended, I will sum up with the actions of today.  I woke up but hit the snooze several time because I decided it would be a good idea to stay up and watch Return of the King last night.  After a few cups of coffee it was off to Telstra to do the same boring shit and write down part number upon part number.  Fortunately, do to some bureaucracy about forms and such the day was cut off around 11AM because we didn’t have access to the last floor of the audit.  I had a bit of lunch with my Vision Stream helper mentioned previously Mark Stewart which reminds me, I owe him $10 from lunch.  Got my hair cut by a perfectionist barber, and then read the rest of the day when I should have been working.  All in all, it’s been a great day.  So great that I have only just now come back to my loneliness and longing for home.

Written by John in: Ramble,Travel | Tags: , , ,

Around the world for a burger

Fuck, eating at another damn McDonalds.  I sit in a very international city filled with cuisine from around the world and after wondering around forever all I end up with is a Quarter Pounder Meal (yes they use the imperial units even in Australia).

Whenever I travel I usually spend most of my time walking the streets.  This time however my luck has not landed me any place special.  My shoes seem to be keeping to the path of least resistance.  I leave my hotel with no particular place in mind, head in a seaming random direction and yet I find myself staring into the same shop windows and passing the same restaurants.  I fear the next time I walk through China Town I will need to introduce myself to this one hostess that I have passed several times.

I hate talking to people when I travel, preferring to observe and pass judgments alone.  Yet, I find myself fantasizing about some extraverted person seeing my loneliness and dragging me to all the places that I am missing.  I know that somewhere in this city of millions there must be a 24-hour coffee shop.  There must be a dive bar where the jukebox is good.  I punish my blackberry and all its infinite connectivity with keywords that should evoke the address of the places I seek, but to no avail.  So now 9000 miles from home its fast food, a book, and a bed.  Maybe I’m not so far at all.

Written by John in: Ramble,Travel | Tags:

First class

How have I gone so long without flying in first class? Having now sat in the first 6 rows of the plane I now feel that the designers of the following rows didn’t make first class more comfortable, they made the rest of the plane more insufferable. I have always flown coach and thought nothing of it really, usually because the discomfort of flying is replaced by speed and I am slightly fascinated by minimalism and efficiency. I figure that the designers of the modern day airbus must have started with the first class section, refined it, made it like a passenger would expect. Then they gathered a large group of test subject and slow removed comfort after comfort. First was the leather seating, next was room for your legs, followed by the reduction of the arm rest from the standard two elbow size, to the now less than one. The designers realized that very few people complained; passengers were too enamored by the view out their window or too busy trying to get their tiny bag of peanuts open. This left them wondering, what else can we do? So they made the seats smaller and pushed them closer together both sideways and front to back till the recline feature was more novelty than functional. I shall stop on the seating arrangements and move onto the food service.

There is one understandable difference between coach and first class and that is the fact that all drinks and food are all included with the ticket price. However how that food is served goes back to my model that first class service is not improved, coach is simply depraved. Petroleum products rule in coach – plastic and styrofoam their weapons of choice. In the front of the plane it’s all glass, ceramic, and warm towels (wtf, are these really necessary). The warm towel along with free liquor I believe are the only two true luxuries that first class enjoys, and by luxury I mean something that is pleasant but wholly unnecessary. So I covered the flatware, but what about the contents of said flatware. When was the last time you were even offered a breakfast quesadilla with fruit, much less on an airplane? Well that’s what we had.

I will now finish off on perhaps my greatest pet peeve about coach. This is going to seem silly to most but the fact that they had to specially design a price of equipment to make people lives less comfortable just makes me mad. Have any guesses what I am referring to? It’s the headphone jack. I don’t know how many have noticed the headphone jack on an airplane seeing as the music stations and movies that airplanes proved are crap, but it in no way resembles the hole on your cd player, stereo, etc. Instead it is replaced by this two prong monstrosity that is only usable by purchasing the airlines headphones! So even if you have your own headphones, you are out of luck. They purposely made a new type of socket that only their headphones would fit. Now here is the great part. In first class not only are the headphones free, but the jack in first class is your standard old headphone jack that any old pair will plug into.

It just boggles my mind that they would go the trouble of changing the jacks in coach. I mean, here these people are sitting too close to a stranger, trying to block out the kid kicking their chair behind them because the seats are so close together that a toddler with 18 inch legs can reach your chair. All they want is to watch the in-flight movie to block out the screaming kid and so they don’t have to converse with the stranger who keeps making small talk.

But no, instead you’re getting kicked in the back, you spill your coffee because it’s in a styrofoam cup that has no handle, which makes it look like you wet your pants.  So you walk to the lavatory to try to get the stain out, but there is a line because there are only two bathrooms to service 150 people who just got their one beverage. Finally in the bathroom you reach in your pocket to find that your money is soaked. You pull it out only to drop it into the blue liquid of death and there is no way that you are reaching in to get back a $5 bill. Clothes now wet, but hopefully stain free you walk, or should I say squirm back to your seat. The kid behind you is now screaming and you call for the stewardess to complain that there is no place to plug your headphones in to watch the movie. She says that’s because the headphones are $5 and you reach into your pocket and remember. Dejected and damp you succumb to the fate before you.

That is not me today though. Through a miraculous computer glitch my original flight was overbooked and I had to be moved to another flight on which the only open seat was in first class, so here I sit, in a chair befit a normal size human, a chair worthy of the price of even a coach ticket. Now that I have been to the top of the mountain, I am afraid that the view anywhere else just can’t compare.

Yes this rant is finally over.

Written by John in: Ramble,Travel | Tags: , ,

Philly Day 1.5

This post is a little late in coming, but I felt that I should rant on few things that happened later that first night. After walking around town and doing all the things previously listed, I was exceptionally hungry, so I figured I would look for a nice place to eat. I now understand why ‘Super Size Me’ was an idea founded in New England. There are zero regular restaurants to be found on the major streets, only McDonalds and the occational Denny’s, at least that’a how it is in Newark, DE. So I drove, and then I drove some more, and some more, litteraly for about an hour and half. After finding nothing of value and passing probably eight different Mcdonalds, I decided to call it quits and just head back to my hotel and eat at the Denny’s next door. Well on my way back, a light appeared before me. Something on the horizon that called to me….Chili’s. My search was finally over. I prepared my taste buds and walked up to my new found mecca. And then it happened, my literacy informed me that the writing on the door said they had closed at 10pm, and this being 10:15, I was too late. Rejected, I returned to my car and headed to Denny’s a broken man. The story should end now, and yet further disappointment lies ahead. On my way to Denny’s I contemplated the menu and set my sites on the Egg’s Dagwood with a large Dr. Pepper. Well as it turns out, Delware Denny’s has never heard of the Egg’s Dagwood that all other southern Denny’s make so well and Dr. Pepper….well it seems that our friends in Waco really should invest more in the NE because nobody has it. So I settled for a second rate Moons over Myhammy and a bad cup of coffee. The Dr. Pepper thing reminds me that I really need to stop being dependent on local beverages. Every time I travel I am at a loss for what to order because outside of Texas nobody has my favorite soda and no bar has my favorite Shiner or Lonestar beer. Well with my stomach full but not satisfied I headed back to the hotel to sleep and prepare for my early day of work and thus concludes the extravagaza that was getting food that first night.

Written by John in: Travel | Tags: , , , ,

Philly Day 1

It has been a loooonnnnggg day. Started sometime yesterday. Left for Philadelphia, PA this morning at 7AM and since I had to be at the airport so early I ended up not sleeping last night. Thanks to Meaghan for helping me get to the airport on time. The upshot of all this awake time is that the flight passed very easily with me simply passing out and probably snoring all the way to Philly.

It’s been a while since I’ve been to a truly large city. I had always thought of Austin as being a fairly large city, but Austin is like a ¼ scale version of Philly. For all its size, it has a very quaint feel to it. The traffic is not atrocious, there are lots of people walking around and riding their bikes and it has all the comforts of home. There is an area on South Street that is pretty much like the Drag and 6th Street combined. There are venues, an Urban Outfitters, bums, and punks – pretty much felt like home. I said the traffic wasn’t atrocious, however that says nothing for the parking. The lack of cars on the road is more than made up for by the number of cars hogging the spots in which I would like to park my rental. After about 45 minutes of searching for parking I finally found a spot that I thought was close to everything…….but it wasn’t. Fortunately the rather long walk from my car to City Hall may have been one of the best experiences. Simply walking down a non touristy street admiring the townhomes and walking among the residents was somehow very calming. I’d pause every now and then to take a picture, but on the whole just walk around and pretend I was walking from my townhome to the Whole Foods or something…..for which they have two that I discovered in my journey around town.

One thing that is always great about being in the northeast is that even just walking down the street you are surrounded by history. Random statues are littered all about the city, not to mention that every building probably dates back a couple hundred years. I think they may have gone a little overkill on the Benjamin Franklin however. He’s got a street, a bridge, a building, a monument, several smaller statues, and that’s only the stuff I saw in a 4 hour walk around a fairly limited part of downtown. I didn’t even have a chance to make it over to Independence Hall yet (drove by, but as I said before….no parking) where he no doubt has more crap. Of course almost equal to Ben is Rocky as far as presence goes. Rocky has spawned several knockoff names that appear on billboards like Rocco’s Collision Repair, Italian Stallion Pizza’s, and he too has a statue. And while we are on the topic, yes I did run up the steps where Rocky once tread. I was not alone in this. I would be willing to bet that more people have run up those stairs like Rocky than have been in the art museum to which the stairs lead (which is currently showing works by Dali). There used to be a statue of Rocky atop the stairs, but I was very disappointed to find that all that is left of the statue is a pair of footprints. After much fighting about it not being nothing more than a prop and not deserving to share the plaza with the art museum, it now rests outside of the arena football team’s stadium. I did come across an interesting quote while looking up where the statue was, “Commerce Director Dick Doran was thrilled with the gift saying Stallone had done more for the city’s image ‘than anyone since Ben Franklin’“.

There’s not much else that I can describe about this experience in Philly. I went and saw other things, but that was secondary to the importance you feel just walking around in the same places where so many pivotal moments in history have taken place.

Today I pretty much just stuck to touristy stuff, tomorrow I plan on hitting one more touristy thing, Independence Hall, and then go on a search for two things that make me very happy while in a foreign town:

1.A nice cafe with Internet and comfortable couches
2.A nice bar with good music and very few people

Beyond that, most of tomorrow will be spent doing the thing I actually came to Philly for and that is my job and the business of testing some equipment. Speaking of, I should probably be bedding down because I have to be up at 7AM. I have another rant I must go on about food in Delaware, but that will have to wait…..can you feel the suspense….me neither.

Written by John in: Travel | Tags: , ,

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