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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.

Geonaming your Geotags – Automatic picture captions

This time last year, I wrote about how to Geotag your photos using a simple GPS device and oodles of free software. Not much has changed in that process since, except now there’s a lot more software to choose from and the clever folks over at have made it a lot easier to export your GPX tracks.

The spatially-aware web is producing a lot more services for us to use, and now some excellent reverse geocoding functionality. That’s the process of taking geo-data (such as longitude and latitude) and getting place names back. Which is really cool for tagging, titling or adding descriptions to your geocoded pictures.

They provide an impressive array of web services in both JSON and XML ranging from postal code searches, to reverse geocoding based on the community-based Wikipedia entries. And if that’s not enough for you, you can download a copy of their huge database and manipulate it off-line however you want.

So me, I wrote some JavaScript to take advantage of the reverse geocoding and tied it into the Blakepics Gallery2 Tags module. I’ll take the Wikipedia entries as an example, because that returns the most landmarks for me. The example code at the bottom of the page actually makes use of two more web services in addition.

The URL to call the web service is pretty simple enough:

var url = "" + lat + "&lng=" + lon + "&radius=10";

I’ve kept everything in JavaScript rather than building any back-end code whatsoever, so you need to make sure to use the JSON web services and take advantage of the script tags to avoid any cross-domain security policies. The JSONScriptRequest library can be a powerful ally here. This leaves my server to do more important things, but it all depends on your needs for the app.

url += "&callback=showWikipediaNames";
bObj3 = new JSONscriptRequest(url);
// Build the dynamic script tag
// Add the script tag to the page

Then on the callback
function showWikipediaNames(wikijsonData) {
var wikiobjects = wikijsonData.geonames;
if (wikijsonData.geonames) {
for (var i=0;i<wikiobjects.length;i++) {

With me so far? The final step in the process is to add the call to the JavaScript into your Gallery2 templates.

<a href="#" onclick="return showGeoNameOptions(this, {$}, {$block.gpsinfo.LoadGPSInfo.lon});">GeoNames</a>

And before you know it, you have suggestions from geonames on how to tag your photos. Now you can go away and make it suggest some titles and descriptions too. If anyone’s interested in packaging this up into a slightly better Gallery module (or any other application), drop me a line. If this is enough for you, download my example and use it as you see fit.



The Great Gormley Hunt – Event Horizon, Blind Light and Quantum Cloud

Gormley #31
Antony Gormley is probably most widely known as the man behind The Angel of the North. Actually, he’s the man of the Angel of the North, using his own body as the subject for a huge number of sculptures designed to challenge our perception of ourselves and the space that we live in. Recently, as part of the Blind Light exhibition at The Hayward, Gormley has erected 31 casts of himself and put them on rooftops and walkways around London. Well, not personally – I’m sure he had some help. Every one of them faces the Hayward gallery, turning the watchers into the watched – and keeping Londoners looking skywards for the last 2 months.

Putting aside the rumours that Gormley himself is actually inside one of the life-size casts, I naturally wanted to find them all. So since I had this afternoon off from work and it’s not far from the office, I decided to stalk Antony Gormley’s creations for a little while. And I think, armed with a trackstick and camera I’ve managed to find all 31 of them. It’s very difficult to tell now, which are the same statues from different angles.

Three viewing terraces at the Hayward provide the means to see all of the statues, and as Gormley’s previously commented – it’s very interesting to become part of the small community on that rooftops, trying to find them all. Whether actively pointing them out – or passively seeing other people do the same. It’s also rather eery to have all of those lifeless bodies staring back at you.

Quantum Cloud, Greenwich Peninsula, by Antony Gormley And Event Horizon isn’t the only attraction nearby. Inside the gallery, there are a huge number of sculptures and exhibits , including Allotment II, 300 reinforced concrete life-sized units each modelled upon the inhabitants of Malmo. Every single one is different, and you can’t help but be impressed at the sheer number of them, as well as yes – as the guide says – it’s anthropomorphic heaven. Throw away all your 20th century ideals of not being allowed to have first impressions any more. These are concrete blocks, and you won’t be hauled off to jail for being sexist, racist, ageist or judging someone by their appearance in any way. You can’t help but find your favourites or make random judgements over what sort of person they would be. Well I couldn’t.

Blind Light, the namesake of the entire exhibition is a massive glass box filled with a bright white fluffy cloud. The result of this, is that once inside you can’t see a damned think. After wandering around, barely able to see your own hands held out in front of you – you will have no idea where you are. Ghostly shadows will occasionally pass by and if you keep going, you’ll find the edges of the box where spectators will see your face emerge from the mist. It’s very surreal, but a great experience, and yet another example of Gormley making the spectators a part of the art. Not one for the claustrophobic, perhaps.

I won’t list everything else, I promise. Go for yourself and experience the world through different eyes. What I will do, is talk about another Gormley gem in the mostly forgotten area of London that we call Greenwich. The Quantum Cloud stands at 30m tall, making it even larger than the Angel of the North at Gateshead. In fact, until the construction of the B of the Bang sculpture in Manchester, 2005 – it was the largest sculpture in England. The Quantum Cloud sits on the Thames, by the pier at the newly opened O2 Arena, formally known as the Millennium Dome. It’s formed of hundreds of 1.5m lengths of random steel rods, at the centre of which you can make out the 20ft tall man standing amongst the cloud. But don’t look too closely, or you won’t see it. Magic eye, eat your heart out.

Hotel City SM. Location Unknown.

Yesterday I found myself visiting the Salt Mine at Wieliczka, approximately 15 km southeast of Krakow. I say “found myself visiting” because it wasn’t entirely planned. I was planning on going to see the dragon, as I said before – but after I spoke to the front desk at the hotel, my plans changed slightly.

“When do you want to leave?”
“Wednesday would be great.”

“2pm today?”
“Wednesday would be better.”

“They won’t be going tomorrow.” Said front-desk dude.
“How about Thursday?”
The receptionist spoke a little more to what I was convinced at this point was the talking clock, before putting the phone down.
“She says they won’t leave tomorrow, and after that, she doesn’t know. It’s too early to tell.” That’s Poland for you.

And so I found myself all booked up for 2pm just like the God’s, fate, the travel organisers and the receptionist had wanted me to. But more about that in the next post 😉 Meanwhile, this extra time gave me a great opportunity to spend the morning figuring out where the hell my hotel is in relation to everything else.

On my first trip into the great unknown of Krakow I’d forgotten to take both my trackstick and guide book with me. The trackstick probably wouldn’t have been a whole lot of use. As I’m sure you remember from my blog posts from Croatia (you do remember, right?) the trackstick has no visual display other than a blinking LED that can be either red (no signal) or green (good signal). This is generally only helpful if you’re trying to figured out whether you’re indoors or outside and even then it might not be the easiest way to reach a conclusion. The guide book on the other hand, that one. has maps.

So on my first trip into Krakow on Monday, I learnt that the centre is a really long way away. I now know it’s about 5km. But there are also other things around my hotel like a hypermarket, a cinema, roadside out-of-town shopping centre, a campsite, a whole lot of residential housing, and an incredibly large amount of green. Just down the road a couple of minutes is a huge sky-piercing “if communism were a religion”-looking church. Sanktuarium Bozego Milosierdzia (Sanctuary of God’s Mercy) is actually much newer than that, completed in 2000 but it still reminds me more of a stadium from the communist era, or as Rough Guides say “a beached ocean liner”. Beautiful.

Towards the campsite area is a large woodland area with scattered paths seemingly leading nowhere, but lined with benches dotted about regular intervals. These benches are constantly filled with groups of Poles meeting and walking dogs. I’ll say this for Krakow, the canine culture is one filled with dogs that I want to steal. There are very few “cutesy” dogs in this area. You won’t see Paris Hilton fleeing the law to Poland and walking down the road with a chihuhua under her arm. That’s because the real dogs, the gorgeous looking Alaskan Huskies will kill both her rat as well as her. We hope.

That’s where I am, anyway – in case you were wondering. I sure as hell was. I’m a little dissapointed to learn that I did take the most direct route into the center on my first day, and it is indeed 5km. But on the other hand, knowing where I am is very helpful in learning that the number eight (of a possible 75 that I’ve seen so far) will take me unimaginable distances at the speed of a tram. It’s also nice to be a little way out of the centre when you’re visiting a place. You’ll always make an effort to go and see the centre – but if you’re already there, that’s kind of it. I certainly wouldn’t have read the guide book and thought “oh really. Looks like a beached ocean liner, you say? Well I can’t miss that.” Having seen it, I’ve become a much better person, I think

Split Internet, or lack of

There used to be a lovely little Internet café down by the bus station in Split. They had a large array of english books on hand, and whenever you bought a book the nice man who worked there would let you use the Internet for 30 minutes free of charge.

What a great idea. As we headed into the Internet café next door, that nice man popped his head out. “No no, here, here, fast ADSL connection”. I’ve been wanting to dump all the data from the trackstick, and generally see how close I am to filling the memory card, so I asked “well, we have this, can we install some software?” Eager to get another customer or two, he agreed and walked us around. All of the machines are linux. No good for what I needed. When I told him this, he sat us down at the router, and said we could use his one and only Windows machine. “No virus, right?” “No, no virus, just drivers”, I laughed.

You may think you know where this story is going. You may think that you’ve worked out all the twists and turns already. Perhaps you’re already skipping way down to the end, bored with whatever useless commentary I’ve added along the way. You may be right.

Five minutes later, two bottles of beer have been brought to our machine and the trackstick is plugged in. One of the girls two computers along perks up “Excuse me, my Internet isn’t working”. Firefox has an error, the computer restarts, the room full of computers are useless…

Tomorrow, news of how two British travellers managed to interrupt the Croatian power grid, plunging the entireity of Eastern Europe intro darkness.

In our second full day in Split we managed to destroy an Internet café. The guy was very nice about it. He said it was his fault, that he shouldn’t have let us use his router machine (he didn’t even charge us for the time we had used). He may be right – but I’m still very sorry Mr Internet Man.

So, if you find yourself in Split, please stop off at the yellow Internet café near the bus station. He doesn’t have an Internet connection any more, but do buy a book or three – he needs it! 🙂

The rest of the day had a lot more of aimless wandering to it, including a massive hike around the Marjan peninsula that finished Pete off, and made him go and sit down by the sea instead. I continued, determined to find the local zoo, natural history museum and hopefully a Mongoose. I found one of them…

And the zoo had a tiger! And a fox! And a Wolf! And bears! And a guinea pig… Actually, lots of guinea pigs. It doesn’t matter where you go, but zoos will always have guinea pigs or rabbits. I’m not exactly sure why… Who goes to a zoo to see a rabbit? Seriously, do children run around their parents spiralling out of control as they dance a dance of joy and longing for “oh, can we see the rabbits, please please please please!?” No. They want lions, tigers, zebras, rhinos, elephants, giraffes and llamas. Maybe not llamas. This zoo had a llama . It was right there by the entrance. I found a group of people and spiralled around them dancing a dance Michael Flatley would be proud of “We’re gonna see a llama, a llama, a llama!”. At least I would have if anyone else had been there.

All in all, it was a quite a modest zoo. It had a llama which cheered me up no end, as well as a really funny monkey that looked not totally unlike one of those old soft toys that would fold inside out and turn into a ball or a bear. Poggles? Something like that.

A trip around the rest of the peninsula gave me the opportunity to completely tire myself out and remind my legs that if they didn’t shape up soon … I was going to like, die. It was incredibly peaceful, and filled with really nice woodlands overlooking the whole of Split and the various ports that surround it. I thoroughly recommend it as a really nice addition to the lively city just down below.

Tomorrow we’re going to leaving our private (cheap) room behind, and take the overnight train to the capital – Zagreb (about 800 kunas [80 quid] for the ticket and cabin for the both of us). There, we have two nights booked in Hotel Ilica. The 1-star hotel of choice for Pete’s birthday on Sunday. Lonely Planet Guides describe it as the “Best deal in town”. It does look interesting 🙂