Posted by: daximus | August 6, 2009

Photo Trails in Google Earth and Google Maps

I recently returned from a two week vacation in Glacier Park and Canada. I went on several decent size hikes and managed to take a whole ton of pictures. I wanted a cool way to show others the hike as well as all the pictures taken. I have gone through the tedious and error-prone process of manually geotagging pictures before using picasa and google earth – there had to be an easier way. Using the combination of a handheld GPS, digital camera and various free programs I was able to produce the map seen above. The remainder of this post is an attempt to outline how I was able to accomplish this.

Handheld GPS capable of collecting track data and a means to transfer to computer
Digital Camera
Standard Windows Desktop

Easy GPS
GPX Editor
Microsoft Pro Photo Tools
Google Picasa
Google Earth

I loaded my Magellan Sportrak Handheld GPS with fresh batteries and turned off the electric compass (electric compass really uses a lot of power).  I ensured my digital camera’s clock was in sync with the clock on the GPS.  Right before I started the trail I reset the backtrack log so that I would only have data from this particular hike.  I hooked the GPS to exterior of my backpack so it would always have a good strong signal.  Now I hiked and took pictures for the next 8 hours with my GPS on the entire time.  At the conclusion of the hike I turned off the GPS so it didn’t track the car ride home.

Now I have GPS track data and hundreds of pictures that don’t know where they were taken.

1. Pull down the track data from the GPS using Easy GPS and save as a GPX file

2. Using GPX Editor clean up any erroneous or undesirable datapoints (for example I had data from the parking lot that I didn’t care to map).  Sometimes you have edit GPX file manually using a basic text editor.

3. Open Microsoft Pro Photo Tools and drag all the photos you want to geotag into the thumbnail section.

4. In Microsoft Pro Photo Tools click “Load from file” in the Track route section and find the clean GPX file containing the corresponding track data.

5. Now select all the thumbnails and click “Place Images” – this will match the “Date Taken” time stamp of the picture with a location timestamp in the GPX file.  Under the “Map Browse” tab you can shift the pictures timestamp if per chance GPS and Camera times were out of sync.  At this point if you click done it will geotag the photos for this session.  You must go File->Save all images with new data to persist the geotag.  The pictures are now geotagged.

6. Load up the geotagged pictures in Google Picasa and create an album with only the pictures you want to appear on the map.  Highlight the album and goto Tools->Geotag->Export to Google Earth File.  You’ve now created a KMZ file containing all the geotagged photos.

7. Open up the created KMZ file and the GPX file in Google Earth.  Using google earth you can add folders under “My Places” create a folder to represent your trip and drag the photos and GPX file in there.  Organize as desired.  Now you can simply right click the newly created folder and “Save Place as”.  This will create a KMZ file containing the pictures AND the GPX track data.

8. You can now reference this data in google earth anytime you want and turn on/off entire tracks/trips.

9. If you want to share this with others I would recommend uploading the KMZ file to a public location accessible via HTTP (I found anything much over 3000 kb wouldn’t display through google maps so you may have to trim some pictures out).  I chose to upload mine to  You can then simply type the URL of the KMZ file into Google maps and it will display it for you and you now have a nice URL to distribute to friends and family.


Posted by: daximus | April 14, 2008

Computer Ethics

The 1994 edition of Computer Ethics by Deborah Johnson was somewhat outdated in terms of examples and technology. I found it interesting how it still managed to capture many of the issues that still face the computer industry today and will likely continue to be a problem regardless of advances in technology. Data privacy is one of the issues discussed; even with more detailed legislature the issue still comes down to personal decisions and policies. Databases and applications can be made as secure as technology permits, but there still must be due diligence by all people involved. All potential data stewards still have the power to leak information whether it is deliberately or inadvertently. I believe that most ethical issues related to computers are not tied to current technology but are tied to people and their due diligence and ability to discern between right and wrong.

Posted by: daximus | April 8, 2008

Fair Use – That’s Not Fair!

It seems that many corporations don’t play fair when it comes to fair use of digital media. I get very frustrated when I legally purchase media and can only play the content using the vendor’s approved methods or even lose the ability to play the media all together when I have reinstalled the operating system and the licenses no longer work. I am more than happy to pay the price for legitimate media but wish the various vendors would stop making me jump through hoops just to watch or listen to the content. Their intent is obviously to prevent the illegal duplication and distribution of the content, but what these protective measures are even better at is frustrating and driving away legitimate customers. The pirates are going to always find a way around the protection and likely wouldn’t buy the content anyways if they found they couldn’t circumvent the protective technology. It’s time that the media vendors fully embrace the new distribution method and get rid of all the annoying protective measures and make it more convenient. This in turn will attract additional customers (those who have avoided downloading digital media because of the headaches) and make up for any lost revenue due to illegal copying.

Posted by: daximus | March 29, 2008

The Law of Statistics will Prevail

I recently have been asked to work on an Internet Safety Wiki, it’s the same concept as Wikipedia except that it’s primary focus is on Internet safety. While working on this site, I came upon links to other sites with similar content. I could not help but wonder why I should dedicate all this time and effort into this wiki site when for the most part it basically duplicates existing content. It then occurred to me that statistically speaking the more content out there, the more likely someone is to find something of value when searching for information on Internet safety. In addition to simply getting more content out there, because of the wiki format, the personalized content allows more people to be reached. This format allows individuals that have had first hand experience with internet safety issues to weigh in on the matter and place emphasis on what worked in their situations. So let us all contribute to make the topic of Internet safety more personal and applicable and let the law of statistics prevail for those searching.

Posted by: daximus | March 27, 2008

Share the Coding Goodness

There have been numerous occasions for school and work where I have encountered programming problems. I know other programmers have encountered similar problems and have solved them. I among others often turn to the open-source community to search for existing solutions. Sometimes a perfect little gem of code is found that integrates nicely. Occasionally though, we find ourselves cursing the half-baked solutions scattered across the web and then we go and write our own solution and continue on our way. After I read The Cathedral and the Bazaar” by Eric Raymond it occurred to me that my work should be contributed back to the community. I realized that a good portion of open-source software is produced by people in similar situations with a comparable skill level. I need to stop criticizing the work that is out there and start contributing where I can. Releasing to the community a solution or even an attempt at a solution forces the problem solver to think and approach the problem more carefully. It allows others to provide input on the same problem and perhaps provide valuable insight that otherwise would have been unavailable, and hopefully provides an overall better solution for all those facing similar problems. For these reasons I believe all qualified programmers, who benefit from open-source, should contribute back to the community.

Posted by: daximus | March 20, 2008

The World is Flat – So What?

So the world is flat, how does this affect me? As the world continues to flatten and globalization charges forward I think it will largely determine where I work, what I do, and how I do it. There have been times that the United States has struggled in terms of industry and economy. These will continue to happen partially because of the flattened world. Regardless of how many times we may encounter paradigm shifts that cause hardship, we have adapted. However in earlier periods of seemingly hard times it was governments and companies that had to step it up and adjust to help us survive. But now with the trends described by Friedman in “The World is Flat” it is apparent that individuals will have to step it up. Individuals now have the power to shape society and even industry, but we also have the responsibility to develop these in a sustainable manner such that everyone from the factory workers in China to the CEO’s of corporate America can continue to move forward. The decisions we personally made yesterday, today and will make tomorrow have the potential to impact society and industry.

I have always tried to keep as many doors open as possible for myself. Part of this entailed taking that extra calculus class, taking a shop class, studying physics, chemistry and biology and ultimately deciding to come to a university that encourages its students to be well rounded individuals. I never really consciously thought that these steps would help me survive in a flat world. But according Thomas Friedman it is decisions like these that will help those about to enter “the real world” have the creativity and skill set necessary to excel in today’s global economy. In “The World is Flat” Friedman made it quite clear that it’s no longer sufficient if you want to succeed to simply learn a single skill and plan on doing that for the remainder of your career. We need to diversify and think outside the box.

I believe the concept of lateral thinking (creating connections between different fields) is not new, just more essential now. Friedman references Leonardo DaVinci as a great template for lateral thinking. While few of us will ever achieve the Renaissance Man status that DaVinci attained, we can become Renaissance Men and Women at a level that still leads to success. We need to take our interests and strengths and apply them to our chosen field and see what happens. I don’t think there is or ever will be a law or formula for success in the world. It’s just important that we take opportunities available and be creative because if we don’t there are literally billions of other ready and waiting to do so.

Posted by: daximus | March 13, 2008

Psssst… Got any Skittles?

An eighth grader made a grave mistake; the offense took place in secret, probably on the outskirts of the visual radius of teachers. Money changed hands and the young Michael could already “Taste the Rainbow.” He had bought some Skittles from a fellow student. Skittles are not slang for an illegal substance, this contraband was of the sugar-laden variety. The original punishment was three days suspension (which has now been reduced to one), he was removed as class vice president and denied attendance at the Honors banquet. I wonder how these children will know how to deal with skittles out in the real world when the Skittle police are not there to protect them. Given that there was an official candy ban in place, I actually do not question the need for a punishment. What I do question is the severity of the punishment. If this kid got suspended, what happened to the dealer? What is the penalty for a serious offense like a spitball or a tack on a teacher’s chair? The death penalty? I think a detention would have sufficed, but it seems someone got a little overzealous enforcing the candy ban when this sentence was dished out.

Posted by: daximus | March 11, 2008

Women and Technology

There are concerns that the United States is falling behind in technological developments. Some authors have mentioned that an untapped human resource is women. I worry that this line of thinking leads to legislature and policy that ultimately may prevent qualified individuals from being admitted into Master’s or PhD programs simply because schools must comply with a policy. This however does not justify sexual discrimination; a well qualified female candidate should not be passed up simply because they are female. Schools and employers need to have a blind admittance process that eliminates discriminating variables like gender. Candidates should be admitted to competitive positions based upon qualifications, not based on quotas and legislature. I believe that failure to admit the most qualified candidates will actually augment United States falling behind in technology, and may result in our human resources (whether they be male or female) going into other professions or abandoning this country’s educational institutions.

Posted by: daximus | February 28, 2008

Blu-ray: Clever Marketing or Superior Product

Last week Toshiba threw in the towel in the competition for high definition DVD market. I would hope that in a scenario where two competing technologies emerge that the best one would win. In reference to Blu-ray vs. HD DVD, it is hard to say. Is Blu-ray a better product; all depends on the definition of ‘better’. Blu-ray had a better name and higher capacity; on the other hand HD DVD was less expensive and more durable. In retrospect it is easy to say that we all should have invested in Blu-ray technology. But even a year ago what should have we all purchased: Blu-ray or HD DVD? Personally I let others bear the early adopter cost. By refraining from jumping on a HD bandwagon did I let others determine the triumphant format? Me personally not investing, I don’t think I had any impact. The collection of people like me, possibly a small impact (given that we probably held off due to cost and may have sided with the less expensive HD DVD). I believe a big reason the Blu-ray came out on top was not because it was the better product (I’m not saying that it wasn’t the better product though) but because it had better marketing (honestly, which sounds cooler: Blu-ray or HD DVD) and because companies like WalMart and Warner Brothers said we will only do Blu-ray.

Posted by: daximus | February 26, 2008

Everybody Owns Security

Security always appears to be lower on the priority list when it comes to technology. While reading The Cuckoo’s Egg I was amazed as Cliff Stoll recounted his experiences with various computer systems and security holes. Even after vulnerabilities were identified it took quite some time or a major breach for them to be patched in some instances. I have experienced similar things at my work place; there have been several cases where no one seems interested in patching vulnerabilities until a fatal exploit is demonstrated. Attitudes like this perpetuate security flaws throughout applications and systems. A high-level attitude change is necessary to really overcome shortcomings in security.

Most are familiar with the saying that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. I think this applies nicely to computer security. A link in the security chain is not just software or code; a link could also be a policy, an organization, or an individual. Because of this patches to hardware, software, and even processes are not always sufficient to solve security vulnerabilities. For example, we are often encouraged to have strong passwords (so not to be susceptible to dictionary attacks), but unless enforced some will not abide by the policy. Even with mechanisms in place to enforce strong passwords, some users will simply write down their “strong” passwords and post it on their monitor. Now the casual observer could easily gain access to critical resources. Thus a secure system requires a conscientious effort from all parties involved. It can be difficult to get the policy makers, policy implementers and policy followers to cooperate and understand each other’s perspective.

Security also does not get top priority because there are some organizations that think their products are not directly impacted by poor security implementation. While they may not be directly impacted, I think they can have a very negative impact on other systems or products. For example, a emacs hole allowed the hacker in The Cuckoo’s Egg to gain root access to a system. In this case emacs was not directly affected; however, an entire system was compromised. Continuing with the example from the book we see that Cliff’s system was not too severely impacted (in fact had the minor accounting discrepancy not been identified, it is likely the hacker would not have been discovered) but it was used to compromise other systems. A very similar thing happens on a larger scale today as unsecure computers are assimilated into botnets. To my knowledge, those that are responsible for the original hole (whether it be in an application, OS or even hardware) have not been held directly responsible for the outcomes. There needs to be greater collaboration and openness among the industry to help address these shortcomings.

I doubt that vulnerability free products will ever be produced, nor do I think every vulnerability will ever be patched. Because of this, society needs to adopt an attitude that security is everyone’s problem; we all own some responsibility for sufficient security. Openness and cooperation in the software industry will allow issues to be identified and resolved sooner. Openness in society will result in better policy, better understanding of policy and greater compliance with policy. Everybody owns security; we just don’t know it yet.


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