Dochula Pass, Bhutan

Greenland by r12a
Greenland, a photo by r12a on Flickr.

I’ve been processing some photos that have been lying around since last year. This is one of a few pictures of Greenland, taken as i flew over on the way to the Unicode Conference. Amazing glacier flows!

See similar photos in lightbox view.

I was in Berlin for Localization World and then Potsdam to talk about Japanese Layout last month.

I didn’t get much time for photos in Berlin. These photos were mostly taken during the dinner cruise. And in Potsdam it poured with rain most of the day, so the photo look a little dark.

I also uploaded a bunch of photos from a trip to Berlin with the family in 2005.

There are 4 new sets of photos:

I was in Prague for a face-to-face meeting of the ITS (International Tag Set) Working Group in October, and I finally created a couple of sets of photos of the town that I took in my free time.

It’s such a photogenic place, you can almost point the camera in any direction and click the shutter and come away with interesting photos. I didn’t have a huge amount of time, so I stayed in the main tourist track, although this time I did make it up three towers – definitely a good move.

There are 2 new sets of photos:

  • East of the Vltava This covers the Staré Město (old town), including photos from the top of the clock tower and the top of Prašná brána (Powder Gate).
  • West of the Vltava Malá Strana and the Praský Hrad complex, with views back over the city from the top of the cathedral tower.

I was in Hyderabad, India in January for a workshop exploring internationalisation issues surrounding the Speech Synthesis Markup Language (SSML), and we got a little time to take photos. (I’m reinstating this post because I accidentally deleted it 🙁 )

There are 2 sets of photos:

  • Charminar etc Charminar is a monument at the centre of Hyderabad. This set also includes photos at the nearby Mecca Masjid, and some tribal dancing.
  • Golconda Fort High on a hill overlooking Hyderabad, there has been a fort here for nearly a thousand years.

I returned from Lahore, Pakistan recently, where I delivered a keynote speech at the Softech event, and a 2 hour technical talk. I was taken out several times to view the sites, for which many thanks to the organisers and students.

We had some worries when the Chief Justice brought his protest against President Musharraf to Lahore. I had to move from my hotel near the city centre, so that I could be sure I would be able to move freely between the hotel and the university. And for a while we drove around with an armed personal bodyguard in tow. Luckily, there was none of the violence that took place in Karachi just afterwards. Otherwise, I found it a fascinating, if rather polluted, place.

There are 5 new sets of photos:

  • Lahore streets Photos of people about their business in the city.
  • Wazir Khan Mosque A beautiful, colourful mosque, made even more so by the warm late afternoon sun.
  • Lahore Fort Known locally referred to as Shahi Qila, there are indications that there has been a building here for at least a thousand years. The current construction is several hundred years old.
  • Badshahi Mosque Opposite the fort and built in 1673 by the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb, this is one of the city’s best known landmarks, and a major tourist attraction. It’s easy to see why. I really liked it.
  • Wagha Border Ceremony At Wagha we saw an extraordinary spectacle. Every morning and night there is a ceremony when the border between India and Pakistan is opened and closed. The soldiers make choreographed, aggressive movements and the crowds that gather to watch shout patriotic slogans towards the Indian side. It’s an extraordinary sight, but frankly rather unsettling. Even though most of the people present seemed to enjoy themselves, it can’t be a good way to improve international tolerance and cooperation. The photos tell the story.

Several times recently I’ve needed to explain how I add gps information to my photos. I thought it would help to document it here. I’m not saying this is the best way to do things, but it seems to work reasonably well.

Update (9 jul 2008): I have updated the Python script linked to near the end of this article.

If your browser window isn’t wide enough to show the right side of the pictures, just click on the picture to see the whole thing.

The NaviGPS device.

Plotting points while taking photos. I carry around a GPS device (NaviGPS) that plots points at intervals you can choose. I usually opt for every 5 seconds. The device is really light, small and waterproof. Main problems:

  1. Finding something to carry it in. I can’t seem to find the armband Scytex describes, and though carrying it in my trouser pocket worked reasonably well, I think it was sub-optimal. I recently acquired a small thin bag that clips onto my backpack or camera bag.
  2. Buildings can block the signal. This was an issue recently in the narrow streets of Oviedo’s old town. But it’s usually fine, and even in Oviedo produced usable results.
  3. Although the plots are usually incredibly accurate, there are occasions where parts of the track seems slightly displaced from the route you can see on Google Earth. I don’t know whether this is because Google Earth is slightly incorrect or the GPS points are slightly off. (See how I deal with that below.)

I also try to remember to synchronise, as GMT, the data/time in my camera with the date/time in the GPS device before I set off (although you’ll read later that I have a way of dealing with this if I forget).

Converting points to tracks. When I get back to my computer, it takes about 10 seconds to upload the data from the GPS device to a folder using a USB cable. The resulting file has a .nmea extension and contains information about latitude, longitude, elevation, etc, and a timestamp for each point plotted. (Example.)

I use a small Python script I wrote to convert that to a .kml file that can be viewed on Google Earth or Google Maps. (The code is given below.) The script takes about one second to run. The result is a line that joins all the ‘dots’ together, and provides timestamp information and elevation data on the left of the screen for each 5-second plot that links to the the appropriate place on the map. (See the picture below.)

The program lets me add a positive or negative offset, in seconds, if I have forgotten to synch the camera and the gps device, and adjusts the times of the plots to match those on the photos.

See the example of this recent trip in Bhutan. The file at the end of that link is a particularly large file – 1.3Mb – since it contains annotations for 5-second plots over a period of around 12 hours. Usually my files are only a fraction of this size. (I often produce the track plot without the annotations. In this case, even this 12-hour file would only be about 248k.) Note: There is one long straight line in that plot – this was due to the GPS device being inadvertently turned off at one stage.

Adding geo data to my photos. After adding XMP data to my photos about location, title, etc, using Adobe CS2 Bridge, I also add latitude and longitude to the exif data using Picassa and Google Earth.

The beta version of Picassa allows you to add latitude and longitude to your photo’s exif data by visually locating a point on Google Earth.

Click to see the full picture.

Picture of the menu selection in Picassa.

You can assign geodata for batches of photos or individual photos. You just line up the target icon with the right place on the map and hit the Geotag button. (See the picture below, showing me about to line up a location with the target icon.)

In principle, to find the right place on the map, I click on the nearest timestamp to the left (see 092535 in the picture below, which was the time in GMT when I took the photo of the tree, bottom right) to identify the position, and then move the map until that position is below the target. In practice, I can usually remember and see where I was standing relative to a given landmark or street corner, etc, and I move that under the target. If the GE definition is not high for that area however, I use the timestamp on the photo and the plot trace on Google Earth.

Where there’s a discrepancy, I don’t know whether my gps plot or the Google Earth map is most correct, but I opt for the visual approach because when I use this data it is typically to show my location on Google Earth/Maps. So I try to sync to what I see (and cross my fingers that things won’t change when GE rephotographs that location).

If I can’t tell within a (very) few metres where I was standing, I don’t geotag my photo.

Click to see the full picture.

Picture of Google Earth just before I position the map for a particular photo and hit the Geotag button.

The one fly in the ointment here is that I can’t use Picassa to tag my RAW files in this way – which is a pain, because using Adobe CS I’m able to add all the other metadata I want. I’m hoping Picassa may do something about this soon, or (perhaps even better for me) that Adobe will add similar capabilities to Picassa for tagging photos from Adobe Bridge with Google Earth… For now, I just get by as best I can.

Uploading the geodata. When I upload a photo to Flickr or Panoramio, the exif geodata is read automatically and used to establish the location on their maps.

Click to see the full picture.

Picture of a photo on Flickr showing how it locates the place the photo was taken on Yahoo maps.

Using the geodata. Once I have the geodata in the photo’s metadata, I can use it in a number of ways.

I can extract it to label a photo, as in this example (click on ‘show detail’). This has advantages such as: (a) a reader can easily get at the data, eg. to cut and paste the coordinates into Google Earth or Google Maps to see where the photo was taken, (b) if the copy of the photo itself no longer contains the metadata (as in this case), the data is still available. (Note: the full-sized version of the photo linked from that page does contain the exif data.)

For my sets on Flickr, I also run some simple Python scripts to create a .kml file which shows the location of each photo on Google Earth or Google Maps. I just upload the .kml file to a server, and you can access the information from a simple HTML link. Try this example of photos taken at the Golconda Fort, Hyderabad, on either Google Earth or Google Maps. If you click on the icons you see on the map, you can see the view I had from that position.

Click to see the full picture.

A picture of a set of photos plotted on a map in Google Earth, showing how you can see a photo by clicking on an icon.

Python code.

This is the code I use to convert the .nmea data to an annotated .kml file. Before the script runs you are asked to input the name of the file to be converted and any offset needed (in seconds) to synchronise the camera time with the time in the gps device (this can be a positive or negative number or zero).

See the sample input (NMEA file) and sample output (KML file).

See the code (view the file or download and convert the extension to .py)

I had been excited at the chance to visit Bhutan for some months, and having just returned, I have to say that I wasn’t disappointed at all. In fact, it was better than I dared hope.

The whole country is a photographer’s paradise. The dzongs and monasteries are all beautiful. But so are the people. So calm and friendly. (And more stunningly gorgeous women per capita than anywhere else I’ve seen!)

Part of that is surely helped by the fact that the total population of Bhutan, in a country the size of Switzerland, is only around 600,000. The population of the capital Thimpu is about the same as that of a small town (approx 30,000). While this is surely a disadvantage for building infrastructure etc, I suspect it has its upside too. Every time I went anywhere with Bhutanese people we bumped into others that they knew. I’m sure this helps make the place seem safer and less isolating/depersonalising than any other capital city I’ve visited.

People you meet look you in the eye, and have a ready smile.

I was also amazed at the degree to which Bhuddism is integrated into the daily lives of the people – even when they watch Western television all the time.

The only trouble with this is that it is so hard/expensive to return. I was there at the invitation of a government department for a regional consultation on local language computing, but to visit as a tourist you have to be on a package tour that will cost you in the region of 240 USD per day. This keeps the number of tourists down to around 17,000 last year, 14,000 the year before (although that figure will rise significantly this and next year). All that, however, is probably a very good thing. I’d hate to see the place spoiled by tourism. I do hope I’ll make it back some day.

I have only just begun uploading my photos, though I started with a bang. My first batch are of Dochu La (Dochu Pass). At around 3,100 metres, way above the clouds and with a thin layer of snow over the colourful chortens, I felt a bit like I was in heaven. More to come over the next couple of weeks or so…

Here is the final set:

A view of the street in the centre of Hyderabad, seen from the Charminar monument, looking North.

This is a test post, to see what happens when I add a link to a video I uploaded to Google video. The video is of Le Thoronet church, in the south of France. Beautiful simple architecture, with haunting audio.

Hmm. Could be worse, but it loses a lot of quality compared to the original, bright and clear 640×480 version. For example, at the end, in the original, there’s no fudging around the bright window frames, and the brickwork above the main window is clear. And of course, it’s easier to make out detail – like the fact that that’s José and Pablo at the back of the church. But then the original is much harder to fit into a blog page, it’s much slower to download, and it isn’t annotated or shared, and doesn’t come with a nice slider, etc. Choices, choices,…

New utility

I’ve been developing some small utilities in PHP to help me geotag my photos. First up for mention here is a tool for converting latitude and longitude to decimal format and to the tags needed for Flickr. I think it may be of use to other people than just me.

The following input formats are acceptable:

* Any arrangement that includes at least one of the following characters ° ‘ ” or , and lists figures in the order degrees, minutes, seconds (where the last two are optional).
* Decimal formats – useful for just formatting as flickr geotags.
* Use of N,S,E,W (any case and any location) or minus signs.

The following decimal output formats are provided:

* latitude longitude: this is arranged in such a way that you could cut and paste the whole thing as one, eg. into, say, Google Earth’s search field to find a location quickly
* geotags for Flickr: this provides the regular geotag, lat= and lon= tags plus a fourth combination tag in a format that enables to create tags with a single cut and paste

I’ve been very remiss lately about posting updates to my photo sets. I went to India twice in August, first Delhi then Bangalore. I took a morning and afternoon in each place to take photos. Although they are still just snaps taken while walking, there are some interesting shots.

There are 5 new sets of photos:

Lodi Gardens, Delhi
Humayun’s Tomb, Delhi
Qutb Minar, Delhi
Bull Temple, Bangalore
Bangalore Misc

One of these days, I’ll do this properly and really take some time over each shot. My usual situation on these photo days is that I’m constantly feeling guilty about holding my companions up, so I take a quick photo and hurry on. In Bangalore I stopped for long enough behind the Bull Temple to find good angles that my driver came round looking for me, so I felt bad about staying longer. Hmm. I need to do something about that. I do enjoy the company, though.

Exploring the bush
Originally uploaded by r12a.

Just created a set of photos from my trip to Australia. Some photos of Melbourne, and the bush south of Canberra.

Many thanks to Dean Jackson for showing me around!

Potters Square, Bhaktapur
Originally uploaded by r12a.

Well, these were actually posted some time ago, but I didn’t add a post at the time.

There are five sets on Flickr, and corresponding slide sets at my photo page which shows the photos off better.

Patan, Durbar Square
Buddhist Kathmandu
Nepal, other

Kathmandu and the surrounding area is extremely photogenic, and I’m quite pleased with these photos.

I’ve been making small improvements to my slide show format.

I post many more photos to my site these days, but I’m still maintaining my own format because:

  1. most of my photos look better on black, rather than white, backgrounds
  2. most of my photos look better in larger sizes for slide shows

Nevertheless, I have now begun integrating links to my Flickr photos from my main photo page.

I also provide links to Flickr from each photo in the slide show (for example).

I uploaded three sets of photos covering my time in Delhi and Agra, around the opening of the W3C Indian Office.

Old Delhi, Red Fort, Road to Agra

Taj Mahal

Agra Fort

A few days ago I uploaded a set of photos taken in Provence and the Côte d’Azur, France, around the time of the AC mtg.

Le Thoronet, St Tropez, Cannes, Isles de Lérins, jun 05

A little while back I posted photos of Japan to my web site. You may have seen these on my new page, but I decided to continue to post a selection of nicer photos on my own site, where I think they look better, partly because of the black background, partly the size (I recommend the slide version – just click on the photo to advance).

Asakusa, Imperial palace, Keio, Noh, may 05

This morning I reorganised my photo page, relegating some photo sets to a snapshot of the old photo page.

This coincides with the start of my new account.

Current plan is to post more photos than before by posting to Flickr, and to publish just the better ones to my photo page. I’m also more likely to post pictures of people/meetings etc on Flickr, and keep the photo page for travel photos.

Mausoleum, Hassan Tower, Wadi Bou Regreg

Oudaïa Kasbah, Medina, Almohad Walls

Photos taken around Rabat.


People & Roskilde

Taken during and around the SWAD-Europe and CEN/ISS MMI-DC Workshop on Metadata for a multilingual world.