Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

GeoPic II Geotagging for Nikon DSLRs

Wednesday, August 27th, 2008

In preparation for upcoming travels to exotic locales, including the Canadian Maritimes, Ecuador, and Peru, I figured it might be nice to automatically geo-tag the photos I take along the way. Geotagging refers to applying positional information to a data source, in this case the photos themselves. Such positional information can include the GPS coordinates, altitude, and even orientation from which the photo was taken.

While it’s certainly possible to record this sort of information manually using a separate GPS and then use a program like Lightroom or a site like Yahoo!’s Flickr to geotag your photos, it’s a real hassle to do it that way. Some cameras (and camera phones, of course) have GPS capabilities built in, but for higher end cameras, like the Nikon D300 DSLR I presently shoot, there is no built in GPS feature.

Enter the GeoPic II from Custom Idea.

I ordered mine from B&H Photo for just under $300 and have been playing with it a bit for the last week in New York City and have some pros and cons to share.

First and foremost, using a GPS geotagging device in the canyons of New York City is a bad idea. It just doesn’t work very well because the GeoPic II has a very difficult time getting a GPS lock with all those tall buildings around. And of course, don’t even bother trying to start it up indoors.

The couple of times I managed to find some open space, it did lock to the GPS satellites pretty quickly, and stayed locked until sky visibility became adverse again. I have now resolved myself to using the GeoPic II on my non-urban jungle expeditions – that should be fine with trips to Costa Rica, the Canadian Maritimes, and South America all coming up in the next few months.

The next thing to realize is that the GeoPic II is dependent on the power supply of the camera. For normal use this will reduce the number of photos you can take off a full-charged battery by about half. This design decision to use the camera’s battery creates a very compact geotagging device, but if things go awry with your camera (like leaving it on, in a backpack where there may be pressure on the GeoPic II’s sole button control), it can drain the camera’s battery to nothing. Fortunately, when it happened to me (being the anal retentive king of redundancy that I am), I had a spare battery available, which saved my day. My suggestion – disconnect the GeoPic II when not in use for a while.

That brings me to another point – the GeoPic II, at least on the Nikon DSLRs, connects through the 10-pin control port on the front of the camera. It’s a bit of a trick to be able to smoothly and quickly plug the device in, especially as you need to then rotate the screw-on base for a secure connection. That’s not easy with my big fingers, but I found I got better at it over time. However, one issue I do have is that if I use a remote trigger like the Nikon MC-36 it means I cannot use the GeoPic II at the same time, since the remote cords require the exclusive use of the 10-pin control port too. And the times when I want to use a remote trigger are the same ones (big lens, tripod, no shake – night time and/or nature photo) for which I would love to know where I was when I took the photo. I will have to work something out to juggle between the two uses of the 10-pin port – and once I do, I will probably post something here.

The final annoyance, a minor one, is that the user interface for setting the various operational features of the GeoPic II is rather clunky. It involves counting the number of blinks and color of a single LED, all whilst holding the shutter release on the camera half way down. I would have happily paid another $50 for a few more buttons (the GeoPic II has one button on it) and a small LCD display to give a real status of the device and far easier and better control.

All those things, however, don’t change the fact that the GeoPic II does do what it is supposed to (local conditions permitting), namely adding a GPS location and altitude to your photos. When you combine that with a program like Adobe Lightroom (my absolutely favorite photo management software), you can see where you took your photo from, since Lightroom allows you to go to Google Maps with a single click of the mouse on a geotagged photo (you need to click on the little arrow next to the GPS position in the photo’s metadata in Library mode).

If any of my opinions change in the coming months as I use the GeoPic II in the great outdoors I will add some notes here. However, for now, I give the Geo Pic II a 6.0 on The Richter Scale. That score could be improved significantly by better (more) controls and feedback from the device via an LCD or other read out, as well as some way to use the GeoPic II with with a remote cord.

Restaurant Reviews – Barcelona

Monday, April 21st, 2008

I am in Barcelona, Spain right now on a family expedition as part of The Traveling Richters effort, heading off to other parts of southern Spain tomorrow, and then later to Morocco, Portugal, northern Spain, France, and England after that.

For now, I just wanted to note I have blended my review methodology (The Richter Scale) from this site on the other site in reviewing several Barcelona restaurants:

A Little Early – Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 18th, 2007

While on our travels in Fiji recently, a small creative streak overtook us, and we (the Bonaire-based Richters) decided to assemble an image for Christmas time and our annual greeting to friends, family, and associates alike. See below.

The above image is composed using the bark of a coconut tree, flower blossoms (including that of a Plumeria/Frangipani on top), and shells of small cowries found while wandering the beach, as well as a cork we found). The result is our Tropical Christmas Tree.

With that, we’d like to wish you all (early) a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Jake, Linda, Krystyana, and Bas Richter

The Traveling Richters

Monday, October 22nd, 2007

Life as a home schooling parent has been rather busy of late, hence the lack of posts here in this blog. However, as part of our homeschooling efforts, we are also traveling quite a bit more now. To document those travels, we have now set up a new blog and web site to share our experiences with our friends and family, and anyone else interested.

That site is located at http://www.TheTravelingRichters.com. Please check it out.

All travel related posts and reviews that would have otherwise gone here in this blog will now appear there. I will continue posting technology comments and reviews here, however.

Travel News: American Express Platinum or Centurion & Admiral’s Club

Tuesday, August 14th, 2007

I was in line to check in at the American Airlines Admiral’s Club in San Juan’s airport this morning, when I happened to overhear something about a “new program” being discussed with the passenger in front of me. Being naturally curious, I asked for details, and learned that as of this morning, anyone with a valid same-day ticket on American Airlines, and in possession of either an American Express Platinum or Centurion (“the Black Card”) can gain free admission to the Admiral’s Club.

This parallels similar club access already offered to higher level AMEX card holders for Continental, Delta, and Northwest airport clubs.

Kudos to AMEX and AA for working this one out (although I already have my lifetime Admiral’s Club membership, so it doesn’t do me much good). Unfortunately, the new relationship between AA and AMEX does not extend to transferring Membership Reward points into the AAdvantage frequent flyer program.

In any event, as an AMEX card holder, I was surprised to learn about this by accident, so I called AMEX customer service and was told they themselves were only notified of the new benefit last night, and that AMEX is planning on sending a letter to Platinum and Centurion card members later this month, and then doing a major public roll-out in October. Talk about a soft opening. Kind of like doing previews on Broadway, I guess.

More information on this new AMEX card member benefit is located here (courtesy of the Dallas Morning News).

Review: Honest Technology’s IPTV & CAM Anywhere Deluxe

Thursday, June 21st, 2007

I’m a big fan of using my media wherever I happen to be. I carry my entire music library on the road in the form of my iPod, I watch TV and TiVo via a Slingbox, and I have three wireless and two wired ways to connect my notebook to the Internet when I travel, so that I will rarely be off the grid. I also have set up a bunch of WebCams on Bonaire so I can see what’s happening when I’m away. I then came across Honest Technology IPTV & CAM Anywhere Deluxe, a $130 product combining place-shifting TV viewing and an integrated WebCam server (with a WebCam).

I’ve used the IPTV & CAM Anywhere Deluxe on and off for the last few months and find it an interesting product. I have also seen a number of features added and fixed via the built-in automatic update system (very convenient).

Because the IPTV & CAM Anywhere Deluxe includes the “MY-IPBOX TV&CAM – USB 2.0 TV/Video Capture Device & PC Camera” – a piece of hardware with a TV tuner and built-in WebCam – let me start with this box. First, in order to use both the WebCam and TV tuner functionality, you need two free USB 2.0 ports on your PC, as all of the functionality is exposed through server software running on the attached PC. The box also features a port for allowing composite or s-video input (and sound input), as well as cable TV input. For my testing I used the cable TV connection, as well as both USB cables. That, incidentally, required an inexpensive cable TV splitter. The actual device is pretty small, and when the attached PC is powered on, thus providing power to the device, a bright blue LED is visible in front.

Software installation was relatively painless, although I found a system reboot was required. I did have some issues with configuration at first because the software was using the TV tuner already installed in my PC, but after I changed that in the software configuration, all was good with the TV server. The TV server software and WebCam server software are separate applications but can be run concurrently. Both require the use of a login if you want to be able to access the TV playback and WebCam views from the outside world, and part of the IPTV & CAM Anywhere Deluxe package includes a code key to allow you to register for this login ID and on-line service via the web site at http://www.my-iptv.com. This integration with the web site also allows for configuration settings (like channel names) to be accessed remotely.

The initial version of the TV tuner server software did not properly allow me to auto-scan my available channels, but a later software update appears to have resolved this issue handily.

Viewing the TV output on a remote system requires installation of an 11MB “player” application. That too was simple and easy, and once I identified my server using the login ID and password, I was connected. Included is a very cool “TV surfing” feature, which goes through each channel, grabs a screen shot, and then creates an array of these images for a visual channel menu. It took about half a minute to create for the 30 or so channels my cable system here on Bonaire has. And TV viewing (with sound) worked just fine. There is presently no DVR (digital video recorder) functionality built-in – i.e. no ability to rewind live TV, but there is a recording capability available, and if you reside the U.S. and have a ZIP code and standard cable TV provider, you can use the My IPTV web site to select programs to record on a single program basis. I did not find any sort of “Season Pass” capability to allow me to record all programs of a particular title like TiVo or Window Media Center offer. And unlike Windows Media Center, you cannot edit the channel listings or assignments – probably not important to the average user, but those of us in places without ZIP codes need that feature.

You can also apparently burn recorded TV programs onto DVD, but I did not test this feature.

The only real issue I had with the IPTV & CAM Anywhere Deluxe was that on the Windows XP system I installed the server software on – and note that the PC and server software must be running to allow remote viewing – the sound of the TV program was always audible. Other than muting the system sound entirely, there was no way to turn off sound output for the IPTV server software so that I could use the PC to listen to other audio without sound “collisions” (interference caused by multiple sound sources being blended). I am told by Honest Technology that under Window Vista this is not an issue – only under prior versions of Windows, such as XP. What this means is that you should not run the server software on an XP equipped PC that will be in use by others in your household while traveling and enjoying remote TV viewing. I do see the reliance on a running PC as being an added imposition, mostly because of the additional power consumption and the unreliability of Windows over long periods of time, but I also understand the necessity, as otherwise this would be a much more expensive product (like the Slingbox).

The WebCam feature is pretty simply to use. The WebCam server supports the integrated WebCam in the “box”, as well as up to two other WebCams, all connected to the same PC via USB connections. That limits the distance the WebCams can be located away from the PC, and in practice, I suspect most people would not use more than one or maybe two WebCams. For my test of the WebCam server I placed the IPTV/CAM box in my living room (attached to my HP Digital Entertainment Center PC), pointed the box at the couch, and then used the integrated WebCam both to keep an eye on my kids in the living room while I was in the office, as well as letting their mom and grandparents in New Hampshire observe them. All they needed to do was login to the My IPTV web site and select the MY-IP Cam option, and voila, they could watch the kids be couch potatoes too. The only thing I needed to do was open up a port on my router to allow the outside world to connect to the PC where the WebCam server was running. This same router configuration also appears to have allowed the remote TV viewing to work.

The tiny little camera in the box provided reasonable enough clarity, and worked surprisingly well in low-light conditions (when the kids were highlighted only by the light from our big screen TV). It took the kids a while to figure out that I could see them from my office, after which they took to covering the box with a hand towel to avoid parental monitoring.

The IPTV & CAM Anywhere Deluxe package is pretty good deal for someone who wants to have both remote TV viewing and WebCam monitoring of the area near their PC back home (or in the office), especially consider the price of $130. You’d pay that or more than that annually just for TiVo or other integrated EPG service. Having the system require an operating PC is the biggest drawback I see, and mostly from a reliability perspective, because if there’s a power outage back home (or a Windows crash or hang) while you’re traveling, you might need physical involvement to restart the PC. Then again, we’ve had the Slingbox hang as well, requiring a power cycle to be done manually.

I give the IPTV & CAM Anywhere Deluxe a 7.5 out of a possible 10.0 on The Richter Scale.