Into the heart of Vietnam

The bridge to the minority village

The bridge to the minority village

I am totally blown away. Just 20 minutes ago, Minh and I were walking through a minority village in the mountains to the west of Hoi An. A small group of people, across a high wooden suspension bridge separated from the rest of Vietnam living a nomadic lifestyle in well-built wooden huts suspended off the ground. Now I am sitting in my hotel room, soft clean sheets, en suite bathroom, television, electric fan and tiled floor, safe and dry from the unforgiving rain outside. This trip has been many things, all in various quantities – entertaining, humbling, frustrating, enlightening, depressing, insightful, informative, cheerful and uplifting. It’s such a short time to be away, but with everywhere I go, I’m forever grateful.

We started off at 8am this morning from Hoi An, with a short walk down the road for breakfast. Bread, eggs, and the strange omelette-type mix which involves a lot of oil and spices in equal quantity. So far, Minh’s promise to pray for good weather was holding out well for us. Not a drop of it in sight. Seven hours later and I’m drenched to the bone, and wondering if the wrinkles in my hands will stay with me forever. Having loaded up the bike, waterproofed my luggage and ourselves (thanks to Minh’s spare waterproofs, and visor/helmet), we were on the bike and away.

It didn’t take too long to realise that we would be spending a large part of the day negotiating floods, although we did skip the overloaded looking ferry that was loading up motorbikes on what used to be the road. Our first stop was a small village where I was taught how to make rice pancakes. Obviously I excelled at this particular task without trouble, accustomed as I am now to an entire range of popular Viatnemese jobs. I’m a little bit concerned that I was the only person invited to eat said-pancake … Perhaps I didn’t do a good a job of it as I thought. Regardless, they were too polite to say anything.

We then rode around in the rain a lot more, which was actually more more interesting and fun that it might sound. Covered head to toe in waterproof gear and speeding through the wind and the countryside was a fantastic way to see the country, it seems impossible to me now that it wasn’t always on my itinerary. We stopped for food, coffee, and for a tour around My Son – an old ruined Cham site, earlier settlers in Vietnam, the kings of whom are believed to have been buried at the site as early as the fourth century. In The War, Viet Cong based themselves at the site and large parts of it were levelled by American B52’s. the parts remaining are still definitely worth a visit.

From there, we went up into the mountains where if you weren’t already calling it “heavy rain”, you were now selecting all the thundercloud images from the bottom of the drawer, and slapping them onto the map. Ali may remember similar weather when we took an open-top jeep ride around the mountains of Gran Canaria. I’m genuinely beginning to believe that I shouldn’t go above a certain altitude. However, as Minh says – “we are together, we will be fine”, and I trust him to know his own country. He has been doing this 10 years, and promises me his story over dinner. Whenever we happen upon some particularly heavy rain, flooding, or disintegrated road, Minh yells a whooooop which I’m slowly discovering roughly translates to “oh my god, we’re going to die”.

While writing this, the water has taken out the power in the hotel and as far as the eye can see. Ironic, as the same water is generating electricity for the entire country at the dam we passed earlier. I had been watching two geckos on the ceiling fighting a moth, taking small bites from its wing whenever it gets too near. I call one Stan and the smaller one, Sophia. This is Vietnam 🙂

Hoi An – The town for walkers and primitive vehicle users

Hoi An - No motorbikes allowed

Hoi An – No motorbikes allowed. Heaven.

I waved goodbye to Minh, and set off on my own into Hoi An for the afternoon.  Hoi An is a UNESCO heritage site (as is My Son), which more than satisfies my quota for this trip.  At the mouth of Thu Bon river, Hoi An was a bustling sea of merchants from all over the world, although particularly China and Japan.  It is also famous for its high number of tailors who will make you fitted suits, shoes, and all other manner of clothing in as little as 20 minutes in some cases.  If you want some shoes with your name proudly displayed on the side, this is the place to come.

As I walked into the central area of Hoi An (it’s not very big), I came across a sign blocking the middle of the road.  “The town for walkers and primitive vehicle users”.  No motorcycles allowed.  I screamed with glee, and ran forwards into salvation.  I considered hiding out in Hoi An for the rest of my trip.  Ignoring Minh, pretending I was lost and sitting quietly against the nearest building until someone arrived to deport me.  Bit of a waste though.

“Excuse me”, a small voice sounded behind me.  “Crap, they just come in without their motorbikes, and drag you out!”, I thought to myself.  All smiles, I turned around, “Hello”.  “Hello sir.  You come to my shop now?  I make you very good suit.  You need suit?”  Shit.

I knew it was too good to be true.  I’m starting to think that Vietnam will not be happy if any tourist makes it out with less than double a years salary of debt.  I’m exagerating, but there is a feeling of “take take take”.  Perhaps it’s not totally unwarranted, and at least I hadn’t seen any beggars in the country so far.  Any money you do part with is for a service or goods, and earnt.  Which is rather refreshing when I think back to our own Welfare State back home.

As in Hue, there has been heavy rain in Hoi An overnight and the banks of the river are full to bursting.  Water floods the lower streets, and up to the edge of the lowest of the bridges.  Children are laughing, playing, and enoying themselves in the water, as cyclists try and manoveur through the water.  “Well at least it’s keeping them amused”, I laughed to an older english-looking lady standing on the corner watching.  “It’s keeping me amused, too” she replied.

I’ve been staying in hostels and mostly around young travellers embarking on South Asia tours between schools, or before a career has properly taken hold – everyone recommended Laos.  “You must go, the tubing is awesome”.  You might have heard of it, you take an inflatable tube down the river and visit bars alongside the riverside, staying in your tube, slowly drinking and making your way to liver failure, and the last of the bars.  “I had to drag my buddy back, because he fell asleep in the tube.  I threw up in mine.”  Sounds lovely.

So it was incredible to hear Avryl’s very different story.  She joined a tour of Laos last year with over 20 other people, which involved skipping about all over the place very quickly and very much sticking to the well-trodden tourist route.  Feeling a little short-changed, she contacted the same local tour guide and arranged another private tour within Laos for this year.  As the year went on, she arranged fund raising with the help of her local church and raised over 3,000 pounds to help a number of schools that the tour guide knew, and was somehow related to.  The money has been used to build school-buildings, and buy equipment to give the children a better future.  She spoke with such passion about how it felt to be handing over a simple notebook and a pen to each one of these children who had nothing.  Retired, she is now travelling through Vietnam and up to Hanoi – before returning home to continue the fund-raising and helping the children she has met however she can “in whatever time [she] has left”.

“Go, go to Laos.  Visit the local people.  You won’t regret it,” she advised me.  “I can give you the name of my tour guide.”  Touched by her story, I handed over my card and offered all I could think of.  “If you need a web site… For the fundraising.  Drop me a line – I won’t charge.”  It seems a pitiful offering in the light of her achievements, but it’s all that I have.

High-spirited by the interesting and varied people I’ve met in Vietnam, I explored the rest of the city by foot.  I’m looking forward to the tour into the mountains tomorrow, so I hope I can get a good nights sleep.

Heading towards the South of Vietnam involves planning everything carefully

Monday night.  There are five days left of my trip and still a little under 1,000km to go before Saigon.  A loud thick relentless rain is crashing against the pavements and buildings outside.  I decided now was a good time to take stock, recall the stories from all the travellers I have met along the way, and plan the rest of my route to Saigon.  In the west of course, it goes by its new official name of Ho Chi Minh, also in Hanoi – but the closer you get, the more it’s referred to as Saigon.  Traipsing through Rough Guides and the Hostelworld web site, I could only find $20+ hotels in Hoi An, which aside from the 14 hour train journey, is double what I have been already paying.

Screw it, I thought – I’ll work it out when I get there.  I’m not really one for planning, I feel it can ruin a perfectly good holiday of chance encounters and unexpected surprises.  If today was anything to go by, I couldn’t be more right.

I left Hue and its pouring rain in the morning, after a discount of $2.50 for the terrible inconvenience of having to go to the hotel across the street for my room, because the other was full.  “Would you like motorbike right to train station, sir?”  “Aaaaaargh”, I screamed, throwing my bags at the womans head.  “I don’t”, tossing over the chairs, “want”, kicking over some nearby plants, “a goddamned motorcycle!”.  I snapped myself out of my Scrubs-inspired imagination and replied solemnly, “No.  Thank you”.  “It’s free.  For the inconvenience of the room.”  I backed slowly away and started running for the door.  Well, it’s the principle of the thing.

After a short 3-hour train ride to Da Nang, I emerged out of the train station clueless about what to do next.  “Motorcycle?” came a distant voice.  I ignored him and made my way in the general direction of somewhere-else.  Minh was standing on the corner.  “Excuse me, you go to Hoi Ann?  Where you from?  I take you motorcycle, many people from London I take”.  Minh was more conversational than pushy, a trait difficult to come by in most of the motorcycle druglords I’d come across.  Most tour guides in Vietnam carry little black books around with them, filled with reviews of their services from all over the world.  The cynical among you might thing there’s a counterfeit store where you can get them made with your name.  I must see if I can find one for myself.

Minh came very highly recommended, and I didn’t notice that any pages had been torn out.  He took me to his friend who would take me the hour trip by car to Hoi Ann, for 200,000 dong.  Approx 10 pounds to you and me.  The motorbike was over half the price, and came with an authentic Vietnamese experience.  With my principles not as solid as I thought they were, off I went.  “Why don’t you go to Saigon on back of motorbike?”  Minh asked.  I laughed, yeah right.

When we arrived at Hoi An, Minh pointed me towards the My Chau hotel with spacious rooms, en-suite shower and bathroom, and large double bed for $8 a night.  Beats hostelworld hands down.  Once I’d checked in, we sat down and talked about my travel plans for the next 2 days.  “I take you place not in Lonely Planet”, they’re not in Rough Guides, either – and the idea was immensely attractive.  As with all good travel plans, the itinerary I had worked out for myself back in Hue was torn up and thrown away.  I now leave Hoi An at 8am with Minh, and we’re travelling to the Cham ruins at My Son, into the mountains and staying in a small local village named Hien, before returning to Da Nang and catching a night bus into Saigon on Thursday.

I’m looking forward to having a guide for the penultimate part of my trip, as well as leaving the well-travelled path a little bit, if not completely.  You can address me as Mr McGregor.

But before you do… Hoi An…

Random thoughts from the north of Vietnam

Some random small things I’ve picked up along the way was going to twitter, but decided there were too many, and they’re too long…

Eating snakes… One of the hostel legends – first you drink the bile, then the blood, then you eat the beating heart.  Apparently you can feel the heart beating in your stomach.  There’s a place just outside of Hanoi you can try it.  I’d only do it at the end of the travels though, nothing ruins a holiday like being violently ill.

Snake wine.  It has a dead snake dead scorpion in it.  And looks a lot like olive oil.  The rumours are that if you drink the whole bottle, the poison makes you blind.  I say put it in smaller bottles.

Even though the hotel I booked in Hue was full, I can still use their free wifi if I go over by the balcony.  Well, it’s only across the street.

The same hotel should change their router password… I can login with admin / admin.  You get this a lot in places that offer free wifi, why don’t all routers force you through changing the password when you first install it?  Plug and play that creates a rubbish system is still a rubbish system.

Vietnamese cities don’t have many massive landmarks that I can use to orientate myself.  The tall narrow streets are not helping.

So, my BGT-31 GPS has been a lifesaver.  Once I find a place like a hotel or a train station – I can mark it, and use it to create way points later on.    It tells me which direction I’m heading in; North, East, South or West, which I should be heading in, and how far it is.  It also makes me feel a bit like a ghostbuster if I hold it out in front of me while I’m walking.

I can’t sleep on trains if I’m lying down.  I had the same restless nights when I was in Croatia.  Remarkably falling asleep sitting up and talking to myself on the way home from work has never been a problem.

I often pass by Facebook requests from old school friends that I can’t remember from 5 years of school.  But I’ll happily add someone I’ve spoken to for only 15 minutes in a hostel.  And I still have to ask their name again, because “hey man” never returns any successful matches.

There are a lot of good rock bars in London that I don’t know about.  And it’s embarrassing finding that out from a Swedish bloke who lived there for only a year.

Seeing a live pig tied upside down on the back of a motorcycle was well worth seeing, no matter what the animal rights activists say.

I’m beginning to understand the phrase “more people die every year crossing the street, than do flying”… Londoners should still be afraid of flying.

The book sellers on the streets have offered me huge stacks of Lonely Planet Guides, but never Rough Guides.  I wonder how accurate their counterfeiting is, or wether the books contain helpful gems such as “you should stay at my place, very cheap”, and: “Always buy lonely planet guides from the local street book people.  They are cheaper and more accurate.”  All said and done, as Mike (I won’t take the credit) – at least they’re selling something tourists will find useful, and not some useless cheap tat.

That’s the lot.  It’s a bit of a strange format for me to add on the blog and I blame twitter.  It also makes me want to include some poem about friendship or love at the bottom, and request you send it to 5 of your closest friends.

Remember, if you get it back – someone loves you too.

No, I don’t want a &%*$@# motorbike

Motorbikes, everywhere

Motorbikes, everywhere

Since my last post, I’ve had a day in Hanoi, an overnight train to Hue and a day here exploring the Imperial City.  Tomorrow, I have a train booked to Da Nang, where I’ll hopefully be able to find some way to Hoi An, as well as a hotel when I arrive.

The food has been fantastic so far.  I can only describe it as a clash of Thai and Chinese foods,as you might expect.  Lots of noodles, rice, meats, and fish.  We went to one of the street restaurants on the night after getting back from Ha Long Bay, and I loved every bite.  A little bit saddened that nobody was brave enough to order an entire dish of the Noodles with Pigeon, sure… But my stomach will probably thank me for it in the end.  I still haven’t found these fabled banana leaf pate’s that are supposed to be really good, but the fried banana healthy-heart-attack is another trusty snack.

Secondly, I have to get the rant over and done with.  Motorbikes.  A typical conversation around Hanoi or Hue has been going something like this…
“No, thank you.”
“where you from?”

And so on…

This is typically happening approximately every 30 seconds any time I’m anywhere near a road.  Which is basically all the time.  Variations are now beginning to include:  “Motorbike?”  “Yes it is…”  “You want ride?”  “No.”, and to toy with them a little more, “Moto’?”  “Cheese grater.”  “Where you from?”  Give them a blank look and walk off looking back suspiciously.  Everyone I meet has similar stories, and we all hate them.  I particularly enjoyed being lost in Hue looking for my hotel, with one motorbike driver telling me it was one way, and the next telling me it was the opposite direction.  One particularly helpful bike-spawn told me, “Nooooo, that’s very long way…2km”.   “No it’s not..”, I proclaimed pointing at the map before finding the hotel right around the corner.

The moral I’ve taken away from this is don’t trust the motorbike madmen, ever.

One random direction actually had me wandering around parts of the city I would otherwise never have found, and believe it or not – one of my favourite areas of Hue.  Never mind the citadel, the imperial city, or the museums – I found myself walking through what could only be described as the poor area.  Mud-track and decayed roads just minutes away from the attractions across the river, and endless streams of people pointing and staring at the crazy pale man with sweat pouring down his body carrying two large backpacks.

The more adventurous of the children offered a “hello” and a “how are you” before running back to their friends laughing and hiding.  Only one man offered me a motorbike ride and fortunately he was at the receiving end of a polite decline.  He then followed and talked with me as I walked.   “What’s your name?”  “Where you from?”  “Are you married?”  The three questions you can be guaranteed to be asked within the first two minutes of any conversation.  “See you again soon!” he yelled, as he waved me off so I could be pointed at and laughed at by the next group.

I felt like I was in the Vietnam of 20 years ago when tourists were a rarity barely ever seen and a novelty to the people who live here.  Or maybe I just looked like shit.  Still I felt as though I should be imparting some sort of western wisdom to the children following me killing time and practising their english, or the ones who thought they were incredibly brave by touching my arm.  Perhaps some Krispy Kreme  recipes or how to buy a McDonald’s franchise would save them from the rickety patched-up wooden shacks I saw all around me.  As a girl sped by me on a moped with live ducks, flapping to escape their handlebarred prison, I came across the local market selling fruits, vegetables, prepared meat, live meat, rabbits and dogs (I think both fall under the category of live meat).  Scattered all around were families sitting on plastic chairs, eating freshly cooked noodles.  “Perhaps they’re better off without that Krispy Kreme”, I thought.

I certainly wish  had more time to explore the smaller areas like these, escape from the cities and into the smaller towns dotted around the coast.  My time in Vietnam is going really quickly, and I still have at least half the country to cover, not to mention everything I’ve passed by on the way.  I have a feeling I’ll be coming back one day, I just hope I don’t leave it so late that McDonald’s and Starbucks poison the landscape and the minds of the Vietnamese.

Ha Long Bay – One of the 8th Natural Wonders of the World

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

Ha Long Bay is said to be the 8th Natural Wonder of the World.  I believe it’s one of the many 8th natural wonders of the world that exist in a great number of places where the Tourist board have a say.  I’m pretty sure Plitvice Lakes in Croatia fulfilled the role of 8th natural wonder the world, as well as Gulfoss in Iceland.  Maybe these guys should get together.

Back to The Bay.  It was Thursday, I’d arrived at the hostel around 9pm, having lost an entire night.  Adrenalin must still be running, because I was awake at 7.30 the next morning to sneak myself onto the 8.00 tour of Ha Long Bay.  It involved a bus trip across to Ha Long City, a boat ride around the bay, a couple hours kayakking, back to the boat, eating, drinking and sleeping on the boat, before another trip around the bay and back to Hanoi.   Wait, kayakking?

It might help to know that I don’t swim.

My attempts at treading water have largely involved not treading water, and sinking in a mild but not unreasonable panic.  So it might be safe to assume that kayakking isn’t my sport / hobby of  choice.  Then again, holidays are all about trying new things, aren’t they?  And I was only dead for 6 minutes.

My parents read this, I shouldn’t joke.  The number of islands in Ha Long Bay varies widely depending on your sources.  But it’s an impressive amount limestone islands scattered around 1553 sq. km. of Ha Long Bay, and even more extending up the coast to China.  Rough guides say 1969 of them in the bay, and another two thousand along the route.  The result in the misty/cloudy weather was a seemingly endless scattering of rocks appearing and disappearing as the boat progressed deeper and deeper into the unknown seas.  The name itself means “Dragon Descending”, so called for the legend given to the area.  It tells of a celestial dragon sent by the Jade Emperor to stop an invasion.  This dragon spat out pearls which formed islands with jagged rocks to destroy the incoming fleet.  They say the dragons enjoyed themselves so much, they moved into the area themselves, and now live among the islands.

Didn’t see any though.

No matter how much we drank.

I suspect some of the others did.

The kayaking was also really good fun. Being two-man kayaks, I teamed up with the Swedish guy I met on the bus and we created a formidable team, after half an hour out on the waters, drifting,  sending ourselves into tunnels and around the islands we even worked out that we could steer our kayak and weren’t just the victims of fate of chance.  We’d lost the guide, most of the rest of the group, and our larger boat of course.  We made it back alive though, of course.

We had quite a large group of 27 people, and were served up some fantastic Vienamese food on the boat.  Beer and music was also in plentiful supply, as were the bottles of vodka, although perhaps fortunately, the drink wasn’t included in the cost of the tour.  I will note that it did feel very much like being on the set of Big Brother when the camp-sounding Yorkshire guy found his way over from a boat 2 decks down.  Like the new housemate, he continued to shout very loudly about the injustice of having missed the Backpacker boat, and ending up with a bunch of old people who had already gone to sleep.  “What does India stand for!?” he proclaimed randomly.   “I’ll Never Do It Again”, for no reason – before he started listing all the places in India he really enjoyed visiting.  Genius.

On the way back into Ha Long City, we picked up some more people who had been staying on one of the islands in the area and dropped a few off, greatly increasing our size, and weight on the boat.  “Is this boat leaning a bit?” We all wondered aloud.  “They are asking if you could all move to this side of the boat”, said Dao The Tour Guide, “it is because we are sinking”.

That was reassuring.

Fortunately, the age-old trick of almost everyone shifting their weight to the other side of the boat fixed the problem completely, and we only had to do the same once more before we arrived safely back on solid ground.  Those Vietnamese…

Well, it’s about time to go and find a computer online so I can actually post these past two entries, then it’s off into the Hanoi Old Quarter for a bit of exploration and food.

Good Day to You, Vietnam

I’m finding it almost impossibly hard not to start the entry with a popular line from a certain Robin Williams movie.  So impossibly hard in fact, that I’m going to mention it in the first paragraph and therefore keep my air of coolness and originality, but live up to all the clichés at the same time.

I’ve been in Vietnam for a few days now, and probably not unsurprisingly I feel behind on my blogging already. I could probably blame this on the jet-lag.  Except I don’t really feel any.  I left London on a cold November 19th.  With the time differences, long flights, and the changes in the weather…  It’s now June.

Well, an English June possibly.  It’s actually a pretty comfortable 22 degrees, and all the Vietnamese are walking round in coats complaining about how cold it is.  I guess they have a different idea of winter than we do 🙂

Hanoi.  Way up there in the North, and Vietnam’s capital is like the quiet step-brother of Ho Chi Minh, or so I hear.  Although it is where Ho Chi Minh has a huge state building to show off his glorified preserved waxy body to one and all.  An honour that I find rather odd, given he was said to be a much simpler man and requested a far humbler ceremony.

Hanoi appears at first glance to have twice as many motorcyles as it does people, and reminiscent of Istanbul with non-stop traffic, horn blasting traffic-dodging death traps of roads.  Ring-tones for car-horn replacements seem incredibly popular though, so that’s a new one on me.

My arrival consisted of no less than an 11 hour plane ride into Hong Kong (Gate 13, for luck), 1.5 hours into Hanoi, and a white-knuckle 10-20 minute taxi ride into the centre and to the Backpackers hostel.  Hong Kong provided the perfect stop-off point to pick up some Chinese drugs that James had helpfully recommended to help with stomach bugs (Po Chi I think, I can’t bring myself to check right now), as well as Tiger Balm for insect bites and numbing of the eyes, should it become necessary.  I can’t see how it would.  His advice was invaluable to the speedy exit from the airport though, and armed with the pictures he drew of the boxes – I was in and out in no time.

It was also my first opportunity to get some real Vietnamese Dong, having only stocked up on a few US Dollars, the unofficial currency of choice in Vietnam.  Ordering 1 million Dong made me feel a little bit like I was the richest man alive.  Paying 10,000 Dong to go to the toilet made me feel a little bit like I was being ripped off.

So far, all I have seen of Hanoi is a small walk around the lake in the dark, which is said to be heart of the city.  And that’s abundantly clear when you see the KFC perched on the corner.  Michael, one of the first people I’d met at the hostel was very insistent that I leave at the first opportunity (I’m sure it was nothing personal), so that got me booked onto the boat trip around Ha Long Bay, 3-4 hours bus ride to the east.

Automatically Geotagging your Gallery

Tags from Blakepics

Automatically add tags to Gallery

As always, an imminent holiday has inspired me to update the entire system behind geotagging my photos.  Likewise, needing to plan said holiday has given me the opportunity to procrastinate and do something else instead.


  • A repository I can drop files created by the Genie BGT-31 GPS tracker.
  • Automatically convert the tracks into GPX format.
  • Automatically stamp any photos within Blakepics with their longitude / latitude values into the EXIF information.
  • Use that EXIF information to populate the database for the Gallery2 maps module.
  • Use geonames to get some basic tags, and automatically add those to the tags database.

I can happily report all of the above is happily running on a schedule on the Blakepics server.   Whilst I realise a lot of these options aren’t particularly available on a shared hosting server, I’m going to talk about them anyway.

A small disclaimer

Be under no illusion, a lot of these scripts are hacked together with no thought given to scalability, stability, or re-use.  They’d be a lot better off as a proper Gallery2 module to be honest – and hopefully someone will beat me to it in making that a reality.  However, for the time being – this is all provided as-is 🙂

NMEA repository

The repository is quite simple with an SFTP server running (sshd for example), and FileZilla on the client

Convert the tracks to GPX

  1. Install the rather excellent gpsbabel.
    yum install gpsbabel
  2. Run this perl script to combine all your nmea tracks to create a single gpx file.

Stamp the photos

  1. Get the gpsPhoto perl script.  You might find you need to install some perl modules:
    perl -eshell -MCPAN
    install modulename
  2. Use this script to find any matching photos from your Gallery, and tag them.  Note that I limit them to only photos I’ve uploaded myself, as I don’t want to go messing around with other peoples (and they were probably not at the same location anyway)

Fill the Gallery2 maps module with the EXIF data

There’s a maintenance task to use the EXIF data to power the maps module of Gallery2, so using Roel Broersma’s excellent script to run the maintenance tasks, these can be scheduled with the extra line:

wget --quiet --output-document=/dev/null --cookies=on --load-cookies $TMP_PATH/myg2cookies "$G2_URL/main.php?g2_controller=core.AdminMaintenance&g2_form%5Baction%5D%5BrunTask%5D=1&g2_taskId=PopulateGPSEXIFInfos&g2_authToken=$AUTHTOKEN"

Give some meaning to your location data with geonames

Geonames provides a reverse-lookup to get some more human readable descriptions of your photos.  So I use this to put in the country, region and town data into my Gallery.  You can go a bit further and get details of nearby landmarks from Wikipedia to add if you like, but i don’t find it too useful for my purposes.

  1. You’ll need some more perl modules
    perl -eshell -MCPAN
    install Image::ExifTool;
    install Image::ExifTool::Location;
    install Geo::GeoNames;
    install Data::Dumper;
  2. Get my perl script, which is actually a combination of all the previous scripts.  This will query the web service, and update your tags.

It all sounds very complicated…

Well, yes.  My aim isn’t to create the easiest system to set-up, it’s to create the easiest system to use.  Uploading a single NMEA track list now causes all of the above to happen automatically.  That said, I recognise that it’s not for the faint-hearted.

So why not try one of these easier solutions:

What next?

Add all of these scripts mentioned above to a cron task, and forget all about it.  You can probably combine the whole lot into a single job (I wanted to keep them separate, so some could be run nightly, and others weekly or monthly).

Hopefully this is the humble beginnings of a more efficient and elegant solution.  For now I’m at least getting a lot more data into and out of my photos

Do let me know if you make any improvements, or have any ideas for viable new features – I’d be interested to hear from you.

Geotagging with the Genie BGT-31

Don’t get me wrong, buying the Trackstick was a really good idea, it’s fuelled my interest in the location-aware Internet, it’s given me excuses to connect with other developers on Gallery2, had me writing geo-based modules, updates and hacks, and eased geotagging a whole bunch of photos.

But in the past two years, it’s also caused me to create and use some really really complicated geotagging techniques, frustration over forgetting what the flashing lights mean in Krakow, and aided and abetted in destroying one man’s Internet business in Split, even if just for a day.

Even the new Trackstick II’s still only boast a 1MB block of memory for storing tracks on, and I still need their proprietary drivers that caused me to destroy the book store/Internet Cafe in Split.  So for my next trip to Vietnam, I’ve bought the Genie BGT-31.  Granted, it’s almost twice the size of the Trackstick but contains a USB-chargeable battery which means no more carrying around stacks of AAA batteries and separate charger.

The built-in memory will store up to 20,000 records – but more importantly, supports SD cards, increases the measly 1MB into 1GB (thanks to the numerous cards lying around my flat and down the side of sofas).  These can taken out very quickly and dropped into the EEE where gpsbabel will convert the flat NMEA text format to whatever you might need … GPX, for example.

It also has a screen, so I no longer need to repeat the mantra constantly to myself in my head (or aloud) – “green for good, red for bad”.  Not to mention keep my blog posts updated with some more positioning (well, possibly).

So far the first impressions are good – and it will certainly tide me over until we can just tag the photos using our government-issue ID card’s weekly e-statements.

Ubuntu Eee (701) Suspend / Resume problems

Eee Ubuntu

Since installing Ubuntu on the Eee, I had no doubt it was going to replace the Xandros install full-time.  It has a lot more features for my inner geek and better support for the applications that only I can find essential.

It also takes a hell of a lot longer to boot up.

But that’s okay, these new Atom processors don’t take up a lot of battery life when they’re in standby… If I were a real reporter, I’d test that theory.  But since I’m blogging, so I’ll throw out any kinds of lies that I like – so long as I’m upfront and honest about it.

So far so good, except Resume doesn’t work on Ubuntu Eee, either.


So I followed the steps on the usual eee user wiki about suspend/resume.  And that didn’t work either.

What I did find, is that you can actually resume from the never-ending sleep of the Ubuntu if you run the command:

sudo /etc/acpi/ force

Furthermore, you can replace the pm-suspend command with the same – and your shiny new Ubuntu Eee will wake up when you ask it.  Rather than whining about it being too early and throwing the covers over its head.
#Make a backup, just in case.
sudo cp /usr/sbin/pm-suspend /usr/sbin/pm-suspend.bak
sudo echo "/etc/acpi/ force" >/usr/sbin/pm-suspend

And that will let you continue to use the lid or the shut-down screen for all your eee suspension needs.  Hopefully I can do something about that initial boot-time, next.