Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Adding GPS data to your photos – really easily

Have you ever wished you could remember exactly where you were when you took that beautiful seashore photo? Or how about trying to explain how to get to the perfect picnic spot you discovered along that scenic river? Or, maybe you simply want to get back to that remote campsite where you accidentally left your iPad!

If any of those scenarios sound familiar, you are probably a candidate for a GPS-enabled camera. Once you start adding GPS metadata to your photos, you’ll be surprised at all the unexpected advantages it can offer. 

Years ago, however, adding metadata was at best - a pain. It used to be a matter of carrying a GPS device and then taking readings at each place you took a photo, so you could come back home and try to match them correctly. One lost note and you didn’t know which GPS coordinate went with which photo, not to mention the chance of error when typing in long and cryptic GPS coordinates.

Now, that’s all a thing of the past. With today’s accessories and software, it can all be done automatically, or with a couple clicks of your mouse.  

I recently had the opportunity to test drive a number of GPS devices in conjunction with some specialized software from GeoSpatial Experts in Thornton, Colorado. Their GPS-Photo Link software is used extensively by law enforcement, government, oil & gas, rescue and natural resource management groups around the world.  With a simple “wizard-like” menu progression, you are stepped through the process and then presented with a wealth of output possibilities. 

The software packages start around $149 and go up to the “do-all” master package - GIS Pro Series  for $349.00. That was the one I used, and I must admit to being quit impressed with all the options it presented. Watch the attached video to see how easily the output files were created.

The new version 5.0 outputs to ESRI Enterprise Geodatabases, Access files and PDF files as well as the ESRI Shape Files, Google Earth, Word and Web pages available in previous versions. In addition, the new interface is more interactive, allowing users to apply a variety of mapping functions to their photo project and preview the results on a live digital map before generating the final output.

That’s all well and good, but how do you get the GPS data needed to go with your photos, you ask? Actually, there are a number of options. The first and simplest method is to attach a GPS sensor to your camera if there is one available. I tested the Nikon GP-1 unit on a number of my Nikon DSLR’s. It was as simple as inserting the unit in the hot shoe atop my camera and plugging in it’s cord to the Nikon 10-pin connector on the front of my camera. 

Once plugged in, I merely had to wait for the unit to detect the GPS satellites above me, and when the green light came on, I was ready to shoot. Waiting time ranged from 15 to 75 seconds depending on location, cloud cover, etc. Usually it was on the lesser end of that range. The GPS data was then automatically included in each of the photos I shot and was ready for plotting as soon as I downloaded them to my computer. 

I also wanted to try applying GPS metadata to shots made on my Canon S-90 pocket camera which doesn’t have any hot shoe or connector. Not a problem, according to the experts at GeoSpatial. They had a solution for that as well. By using a separate handheld GPS unit, I merely needed to turn on the unit when I started shooting, and then turn it off again when I had completed my shoot. All the while it was on, it was creating a “log file” of dates, times and GPS coordinates as I traveled about. 

Once I was back at my computer. I merely attached the Garmin Trex handheld unit via a USB 2.0 cable and downloaded the log file to my hard drive. The Photo Link 5.0 software then matched the times on the log file with the times on my camera’s photos and it knew exactly which GPS data to apply to which photos – no interaction necessary on my part. Gotta love that. No more note-taking and no more mis-applied data. 

One trick made it all work seamlessly…when you start creating the log file, you need to take a photo of the GPS unit, showing the time-of-day. Later on, the software will offer you the opportunity to match the time shown in your photo with the time shown on your camera. The software compares the difference in the two and automatically syncs the two to give you the accurate location where you were when you pushed the shutter. 

When you have the need to present your photos with map accurate locations, you’ll have a hard time finding a better package than Photo Link version 5.0. With all the output possibilities this software offers, it’s hard to imagine a need it can’t meet.  A free, fifteen-day trial is available as well.

Talk to the folks at GeoSpatial Experts to make sure you have the right combination of hardware and software. They offer everything you’ll need from GPS enabled cameras, to GPS add-ons, to handheld units to software. Their tech support is top-notch as well.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Great value in replacement earbuds

Christmas 2010 is the perfect time for those trendy tech purchases. Holiday gift choices this year are available no matter what your budget. So let’s look at a few suggestions for those travelers on your list this year. Today we’ve got the perfect solutions for someone who wants to just chill out with some good music without breaking the bank.

iHome Metal Earbuds

Ever notice that you can now spend as much on a pair of earbuds as I used to spend for a plane ticket to fly from Cleveland to Baltimore? Let’s also assume you need an extra pair of earbuds to go with that new iPhone or iPad. With  a MSRP of $29.00 and a street price of under $17.00, you probably won’t do much better than the iHome iB24 metal earbuds

The metal housing helps ensure a very durable unit that still sounds great. Nice bass and nice treble were evident no matter what genre I played. This unit also comes with an in-line controller and microphone, so you don’t need to switch headsets when you receive or make a phone call. The in-line controller also handles volume, play/pause/skip, track selection, voice commands, and answers or ends phone calls. Press and hold the controller’s center button to use VoiceOver commands. (The controller only works with 3GS or newer iPhones, 2nd generation or newer touch, later model iPod Classics as well as the 5th generation nano and 3rd generation shuffle.)

Detachable and replaceable (they give you small, medium and large) ear cushions help to isolate noise and give you a proper listening environment. The whole unit then stores in the supplied carrying pouch, and fits comfortably in your pocket or bag. 

Other iHome products I’ve used and loved:
IP49 Rechargeable, portable speaker for iPod or iPhone – true concert sound in a travel case.
iHM79 Portable, rechargeable speakers- external speakers that are small and light enough for a backpack, but produce nice rich sound.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Yet another airline fee?

Yes, another fee to add to your already skyrocketing airline cost of travel. But wait; maybe you’ll like this one. In a first for the airline industry, Continental Airlines introduced another booking fee today. Actually, it’s a fee to lock in your ticket price for three to seven days without a commitment to purchase the ticket.

This new airline fee is called FareLock, and it’s available for those booking reservations online at continental.com.  For $5 you can ask to hold the price for your ticket for 3 days, or, for up to $9, they will hold the price for seven days.  You also have the option to let the order expire at the duration of the time selected, or if you select the “auto-ticket” option, the order will be filled if you don’t get back and cancel it.

"FareLock is an innovative option for customers who need extra time to plan their travel before purchasing a ticket," said Chris Amenechi, managing director of merchandising. "This new option is another way that Continental is giving our customers more choices and more control over their travel experience."
According to their press release, the FareLock option is available on “certain” domestic and international itineraries. Time will tell how much of their ticket inventory will be affected by this new offering.

Checking on fares from Cleveland to New York, I noticed that the option failed to show up on any flight I checked. Talking with Continental’s service desk, it appears they are not turning the option on until tomorrow, Dec. 15.

Want to read about other airline fees, you might wish to check some of my past articles:

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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Best kept Cleveland secret - the "A Christmas Story" house

Cleveland is a long way from Hollywood, but it still shines on the silver screen in more than one film. But, this time of year, A Christmas Story is probably the one seen on as many screens as any other. Supposedly based in Indiana, the film was actually shot in Cleveland and Toronto.

Originally a flop when released in 1983, A Christmas Story eventually garnered cult status after appearing non-stop on cable station TNT on Christmas Day in the 90’s. Another film classic was born.

The exterior scenes of Ralphie’s home were filmed in Cleveland’s Tremont neighborhood, close to downtown. The home and yard used for the film were eventually purchased on eBay in 2004 and restored to their film-day’s glory. The house is now open for tours.

Across the street, there is also a museum, complete with behind the scene’s photos and multiple TV’s playing clips from the movie.
• Recall the classic scene where the schoolboy gets double-dared to stick his tongue on the flagpole.
• Remember when Mom and Santa warn Raphie he’s “liable to shoot his eye out”
• And who can forget the Major Award leg lamp.

If those don’t bring the movie back into the forefront of your memory, check out A Christmas Story in 30 seconds in this animated spoof.

Brian Halloran of Dallas, Texas was at the A Christmas Story house recently with his wife Terry, daughter Claire and son Alex. Watching the film is an annual Christmas tradition in their family and this year, while visiting Cleveland, they just had to stop by the house for a visit. Standing with the Major Award leg lamp, they posed for a family portrait to remember the visit.

In addition, to touring the house and the museum, there is also a gift shop across the street complete with leg lamps, bunny suits, etc. With three places to visit, it’s a great stop before or after Christmas shopping. The house is located at 3159 West 11th Street, Cleveland, Ohio 44109, just about five minutes from downtown. You can visit their website for hours and prices.

Eye-Fi Pro X2 memory card - extended review

Every once in a while, something revolutionary hits an industry – hopefully for the better. Such is the impact of the Eye-Fi memory cards for digital cameras. The newest in their line, the Pro X2 is an absolutely astounding combination of 8 GB of memory, WiFi support, geotagging, RAW support and ad hoc network capabilities. If there is a photographer on this year’s gift list, you couldn’t find a thing he’d like better.

Assuming your camera uses SD cards, Eye-Fi has a card for your situation. If you use SD, and especially if you shoot RAW photos, you need to load up on the Pro X2. Where to start? There is so much to like about the card.

SPEED  Writing  photos to your card is done at impressive Class 6 speeds. A card is only good for pros if the data can be written as quickly as the photographer is shooting.  I recently shot snow-tubing races and this card had no trouble keeping up with me.

SIZE While all the current Eye-Fi cards offer at least 4 GB, the Pro X2 offers a generous 8 GB of storage. For a professional Nikon shooter, shooting RAW images, that equates to almost 400 images per card. For an amateur shooting JPEG images, expect well over 1,000(up to 4,000) images depending on the quality setting in your camera.

UPLOADING For my entire previous shooting career, uploading my images was a case of finding my card reader, plugging it into the appropriate computer and then waiting while it transferred my images. With the Eye-Fi line of cards, assuming you have WiFi, when you turn on your camera within 45’ of your computer (90’ outdoors), the transfer starts automatically. Photos are delivered wirelessly to the folder you designated during setup. No more removing the card. Just turn on your camera and watch the photos fly onto your hard drive as each photo shows in a small thumbnail on the lower right corner of your screen.  

AUTO SHUTOFF Watch for auto shutoff on your camera – if it shuts down before all the images are transferred, you’ll need to restart it or transfer the old fashioned way. Many cameras now have support built right in for Eye-Fi cards and they will not only stay on during the entire transfer, they are smart enough to turn your camera off when completed.  Over 10 million cameras now have this support built-in.

ENDLESS MEMORY  What’s that – endless memory?  With a configuration you set, the card is actually smart enough to know what files have already been uploaded, and if you start to fill your card, it can erase those photos you’ve already uploaded to make more room for continued shooting. The percentages when this kicks in and the whole process is determined by you during setup.

NETWORK COMPATABILITY  Eye-Fi works on all 802.11 b/g/n networks. Depending on the traffic on your network, it’s capable of transferring data at 10-15 megabits/second.

HOTSPOTS  As you travel, you probably don’t carry your router, so photos can be uploaded and saved at thousands of AT&T hotspot locations including  Starbucks, McDonalds, hotels and airports.  One year of hotspot access is included with your purchase.

AD HOC NETWORKS  Out on a beach, up in the mountains, no router and no networks = no trouble. You can set up your laptop to create an ad-hoc network and wirelessly transfer photos anywhere.

ONLINE UPLOAD  As your photos are being uploaded, they can also be stored in the cloud on a special Eye-Fi server.  Your photos go here for a rolling 7 days, just in case your camera should get lost or stolen.  After seven days, Eye-Fi assumes they are safely stored somewhere else and then removes them. If you want permanent storage, that’s an extra cost option. If you are using a metered data plan, this feature can be turned off to avoid excessive charges. Once online, you can share the photos with any smartphone.

ONLINE SHARING  While on the road, people can’t wait to share their travel photos. Now, you needn’t wait. Again, with a user configurable setting, you can instantly upload one or all of your photos onto most of the popular social media sites. They can be sent to Facebook, flickr, Picasa, MobileMe plus a dozen or more others, right from your camera with no computer needed. (You will need a hotspot or network access however.)

VIDEO  The Eye-Fi cards can handle a variety of video formats including: mpg, mov, flv, wmv, avi, mp4 and mts.  Files are limited to 2 GB in size. Videos can be uploaded wirelessly to YouTube, flickr, SmugMug, Picasa Web, Phanfare and Photobucket.

GEOTAGGING  There is no GPS actually onboard the card, but with an amazing use of Wi-Fi positioning technology, if you are near any Wi-Fi signal, it will register it and use it to geotag your photos. Even if it’s a secured Wi-Fi signal you don’t have permission to use, it will locate the signal’s source in a database and use its location to tag your photos. Truly amazing. Since it’s using WI-Fi instead of GPS, that means it will actually work inside a building where standard GPS would not.

RAW FORMAT  Pros generally shoot RAW images, and that’s an area where the photo industry could have been nicer to Eye-Fi. Every camera manufacturer seems to have their own proprietary RAW format and metadata is kept in different places on different brand cameras. So, even though the Eye-Fi Pro 2X will shoot, store and transfer RAW files just fine, don’t be surprised by mixed results when it comes to some of the other features.

I experimented with Canon and Nikon RAW formats. In all cases, the files transferred to my computer with no problem. Sometimes, the thumbnails would show up, sometimes not. Sometimes the geotagging would attach itself to a RAW file and sometimes not. As more and more cameras begin to incorporate Eye-Fi technology right into their operating systems, expect this to get better in the foreseeable future.

This tiny card has already revolutionized how I shoot and how I think about shooting. I doubt I’ll ever buy another standard media card for my SD equipped cameras. Eye-Fi just has too much to like. 

Monday, December 6, 2010

A perfect “10” for Contigo’s autoseal stainless steel travel mug

In the world of marketing hype, not many things deliver on their promises. When it comes to coffee mugs, I can’t count the number I’ve used that claimed to be spill-proof or leak-proof. Umm…not really – until now. Add this idea to your 2010 holiday’s gift list for your favorite traveler.

The Contigo Autoseal West loop Stainless Steel Travel Mug

This mug is the happy exception. It really is spill-proof and leak-proof. I recently shook it upside down over my laptop keyboard to make the point to a friend. I would have never thought about doing that stunt with any other mug I ever owned.
Even better, you don’t do anything to maintain the seal. You press a button to drink and release when you finish sipping. Releasing the self-sealing button is all that’s necessary to reseal it. As amazing as that already is, yes friends, it gets even better.
I like coffee because it tastes good, but I also like it because it’s hot. This double-wall, vacuum-insulated, stainless steel mug keeps it that way longer than any other mug I’ve tried as well. The company boasts 4 hours for hot beverages and 12 hours for cold beverages. I never took 12 hours to finish a cold beverage in my life, so I doubt I’ll ever test that limit. I did have the mug filled with coffee in a 40 degree garage however, and it was still warm when I finished it 2-1/2 hours later.

This mug is approaching Mona Lisa perfection already, but here comes the coup de gras. If you pick the right model, this baby is dishwasherable. Holy hot beverages, Batman, no travel mug was ever dishwasher safe before. While Contigo does suggest hand washing their decorated mugs, the brushed stainless Silver model shown here is ready to jump right in with your other dinner dishes – cap and all. No, seriously…the cap too. 
Read the rest of the story at Examiner.com

Thursday, December 2, 2010


One of the great features of books is the ability to take us mentally to places we’ve never visited. Add pictures, and we can see for ourselves what others experience in their unique neighborhoods. Add music, and now our senses begin to actually internalize the journey without ever leaving our favorite reading chair.

Such is the experience with Donald McCrea’s latest work, MIGRATION. It is 139 pages of wonderful, full-color photographs that portray all sizes and shapes of America’s cities and activities. Sometimes poignant, often humorous, always interesting, McCrea has gathered a remarkable collection of images for our journey.

McCrea, the editor and one of the featured photographers in MIGRATION, selected the best work of some of today's most acclaimed photographers, including Alex Harris, William Greiner, Peter Granser, and Edward Burtynsky. "I wanted photographs that brought America to life in all of its complexity, beauty, and contradiction," says McCrea.

I especially loved the “collections” by Edward Burtynsky, the rodeo images by Kenneth Jarecke, the big, white-sky images of Dave Jordano and the humorous daily-life, small-town visions of Susana Raab. 

In addition to the wonderful photos, McCrea includes a link to download 12 songs he composed to accompany the book. It’s an eclectic mix of R&B, country, alternative and heaven-only-knows what else, but I loved them. Turns out, McCrea has been a working musician and songwriter for the past 50 years.

Read the whole story here on Examinar.comhttp://ping.fm/Eqem1


Before my trip to Alaska, I looked for one and only one book that I would pack to take along. In no time at all, I realized this was the one I needed. They’ve been publishing this annual guide since 1949, and each year it just gets a little better.

It covers the 30 major routes that traverse Alaska and the Northwest Territories with thousands of milepost numbers listed and helpful information about that immediate area. It also covers 60 more side trips that you might certainly do well to investigate. Reading the guide, you know before you pass it, whether or not it’s something you want to see or visit.

This guide is like having a tour guide sitting next to you who has done the route dozens of times and knows every little gem there is to stop for. I drove from Anchorage to Denali on my trip. Before I even got to Alaska, this book pointed out special photographic opportunities I would never have discovered by myself. One of my most dramatic bridge shots was described in the book as a 2 minute hike from the road to get to a vantage point I would have certainly driven right by. Before I ever hit the road, I already had those mile markers I was going to be looking for. Such a great idea.  Read the whole story here on Examinar.com http://ping.fm/rEG0H
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