We’re house hunting. If you’ve been watching the financial news you know this might be the worst possible time to sell a house. However, it is also a great time to be buying. So, we’re house hunting.

The ready accessibility to the MLS for the counties around us makes it a lot easier. We can see what is for sale, how much it is listed for, square footage and all that. So, we’ve been using mlslistings.com to make a list of houses that we think we’re interested in and then, on the weekend, we drive out and do drive-bys of the places on our list. At the same time we drive around the various neighborhoods to get a feel for the community. When we got home, I was had a hard time associating the fliers we picked up with the location from which we got them. I figured this was an excellent justification to learn about geocoding.

I already have a Canon PowerShot Pro 1 camera, which will have to do until I pick up my Canon 5D. I needed a way to embed the latitude and longitude into the EXIF of the image. I was hoping my Garmin StreetPilot i3 would provide the lat/long information I needed but it can not. So, I purchased a Magellan eXplorist 210. I chose this particular device because it was the cheapest handheld GPS device with a display and a USB connection. For those wondering, the eXplorist 210 connects to Mac OS X and appears as a volume and is completely usable with Mac. So, now I have a way to track where I’ve been.

The trick then, is to use a track file from the GPS device to determine the exact lat/long where the photograph was taken by using the time of the photograph. The EXIF data in the photograph will have the time it was taken. The GPS log file will have a lat/long associated with that same time provided that it is on, logging and with the camera. There are a number of applications that might help us out. I only tried as many as was necessary to accomplish my intended goal. There might be others out there. Here are the applications that I tried.


This one did not work for me. No idea why. Might have been me, maybe it’s the software. It simply did not work.


This works great for my purposes. Using LoadMyTrack’s Translate File from the File menu I translate the Magellan track.log file which is in a proprietary format to GPX which is an XML interchange format. I’ve never been able to get any of these applications to talk directly to the 210. Not sure why.

Next, I connect my camera to the PowerBook G4 and let iPhoto import them. While iPhoto is importing I’m wondering why iPhoto does not already support geocoding. Because iPhoto does not support geocoding, I have to export the images. So, I now have the pictures I want to geocode and the GPX file from which to get the geocode in a single directory on my desktop.


While HoudahGPS did not work for me, HoudahGeo works great. I used it twice and then paid the shareware fee. HoudahGeo first loads the photo images, then the GPX file. It then matches times to determine the lat/long of the photos. HoudahGeo then gives you the option of writing the data to the image files, importing the data and the photos to Google Earth, or exporting the photos to Flickr. I do all three. You can take a look at our house hunt here.

It is a lot of fun to associate the photos you take with the location they were taken. I think all of us have sorted through the family photos and wondered, where was this taken. Additionally, we wonder, who is that person. I’d like as much information as possible embedded in the image file itself so that, when you have the image file, you have the whole story. This is a fundamental reason that I think iPhoto sucks. iPhoto provides things like keywords and description fields but the information is not attached to the image file. It is put into a separate database. Lose that database file, you’ve lost whatever information was in there. IPTC Core picks up where EXIF leaves off providing metadata fields for keywords, descriptions, photographer, copyright, etc. All of this information is embedded into the image file so that any application that supports this metadata can, at a minimum, diplay it. iPhoto ought to be leading the way. It ought to already support geocoding, IPTC, and it should be using the image file as the storage medium for the information.


[posted with ecto]

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I love my iPod. I work on a competing product but the simple fact is the iPod fits my usage model perfectly. Or maybe my usage model has been molded by iPod. One place I like my iPod most is in the car. On my drive to and from work I listen to podcasts of news (podcast), Mr. Osgood, Chip Ingram and Ravi Zacharias. It’s like having a radio station that programs especially for me. I love it.

The problem is getting the iPod connected to the car stereo. I’ve tried all of the methods that I know about. FM modulators, FM transmitters, cassette interface, and stereos with an aux in on the faceplate. An FM Modulator is a device that goes between your radio and the antenna. When turned on, it disconnects the antenna and feeds a signal directly into the radio on a preset frequency. The freq doesn’t really matter because the radio effectively has no antenna. You still have to dial in the right freq in order to hear the audio signal from the iPod. FM modulators are pretty good but the solution feels like a hack.

FM transmitters transmit a low power signal like a miniature radio station. Supposedly, if you can find a segment of the FM dial that has no signal, they work pretty well. Here in the Northern California bay area, finding a segment of the FM dial that isn’t cluttered is more challenge than I care to face. In my area, FM transmitters always sound like the radio station from the last town you passed on a road trip. Not really the listening experience I’m looking for.

Cassette tape interfaces work well if your car has a cassette tape drive. Mine doesn’t.

An auxiliary in on the face plate is what I just replaced. These work pretty well but, it turns out, the stereo manufacturers don’t really intend for you to have something plugged in all the time. The eighth inch plug is not designed to stand up to daily use. The Sony unit that I bought gave out after about a year. There are other third party stereos that are designed to integrate an iPod. These systems are beyond my budget for incorporating my iPod into my car audio.

My search for the perfect method of integrating an iPod into the car audio system led me to USA Spec. They make two devices of interest; an auxiliary audio interface and an iPod interface. According to the web site, the iPod interface will connect, control, charge and play an IPOD through a factory radio. This interface also gives you an auxiliary audio in. I chose to install the auxiliary audio interface.

I drive a 2002 Mazda B-3000 truck which is, in most ways, identical to a 2002 Ford Ranger truck. So, with a bit of trepidation, I ordered the DF-Ford20 from Crutchfield. Crutchfield offered instructions and a universal DIN removal tool. I took the instructions and refused the tool. The instructions turned out to be worthless since they did not cover the device I was installing. The instructions were free, no loss.

The device installed in about 30 minutes. There are no installation instructions included in the box but it is very intuitive. Do the obvious. It is that easy. I am currently using an RCA connector to eighth inch stereo plug cable to connect my iPod to the aux audio interface. The radio thinks the iPod is a multi-CD changer. The sound quality is very good. Better than any of the other methods I’ve tried so far.

To switch to the device connected to the interface, hit the CD button on the car stereo. I’m not sure how you would switch between two devices connected to the interface. I haven’t tried that yet. The one problem I’ve noticed so far. If, while listening to a device connected via the USA Spec interface, you hit the “SCN” button on the radio, you will lose audio. There is no indication as to what happened or what the radio is doing so this can be disconcerting. Hit the SCN button again, maybe twice, and the audio comes back.

Main points for the USA Spec DF-Ford20:

  • installs quickly and easily with no special tools
  • audio quality is very good to excellent
  • works flawlessly in the 2002 Mazda B3000
  • hghly recommend the product


[posted with ecto]

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This is a quick test of MacJournal to see what it’s editing capabilities are.
Hum, template based export of journal entries. Not sure I’d like that for blogging.
MacJournal might be pretty cool for journal writing though. We’ll have to play with it a bit and see.

My wife and I watched Babel on DVD last night. Both of us thought it was pretty slow, not very good.

Babel tells four stories that are, in varying degrees, interrelated. In my opinion, none of the four stories are very engaging. Much of the camera work was the handheld camcorder shots that are in vogue. I’ll be happy when that particular fad falls from grace. They don’t look any better when Hollywood does them.

The movie leads off with the Cate Blanchett’s character, Susan, asking her husband played by Brad Pitt, “what are we doing here?” They are presumably vacationing in Morocco. The more rural areas of Morocco, from the look of it. I spent the rest of the movie wondering at the answer to Susan’s question. Good actors did a reasonable job in delivering a mediocre script. Editing was on par with the writing.

Babel is, in my opinion, very similar to another movie, Mystery Train. Mystery Train is far more interesting. Not quite the star-studded cast but a much better story, told in a very interesting and surprising way.

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This weekend we watched the movie, World Trade Center. This is the story about two Port Authority Police Officers who were trapped in the rubble of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. The two were found and dug out. They survived some 18 to 24 hours buried in the collapse of two 200 story buildings. Their story is an amazing one.

The character I most identified with in the movie was a fairly minor, supporting role in the movie. However, the man was absolutely critical to the story. Without him, the two police officers would be listed among the dead instead of being survivors 18 and 19.

Dave Karnes, upon seeing the collapse of the World Trade Center, walked out of his accounting office, got a haircut, put on his uniform and drove to Ground Zero. He walked into the pile of rubble that other rescue workers were being restricted from and started looking for survivors. In the course of his search, he met up with another Marine, Jason Thomas, and they searched together. They found the two police officers. And then they refused to leave until they saw them pulled from the ground. Lastly, they walked away. No glory, no praise. Mission complete, move on. Staff Sergeant Dave Karnes, having already served 23 years in the Corps, re-enlisted and served two tours in Iraq.

I enjoyed the movie a lot. I can’t imagine what it must have felt like to be trapped for so long. The DVD Extras tells the rest of the story. The surgeries and recovery of the two officers. As is often the case, the two got worse before they got better. Both survived.

Great movie. I recommend it. I think it is good to remember that day. We don’t want to believe it but that enemy is still out there. Given an opportunity, that enemy will do September 11 again and worse. “You may not realize it but this country is at war.”


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Every once in a while, a direct mail campaign works on me. Which is, I suppose, why we have junk mail in all it’s nastiness. 1% of the direct mail actually works.

yourmusic.com is pretty cool. There are probably other similar services out there but this is the first one I’ve become aware of. The deal works like this. You pay a ‘membership fee’ of $5.99. Each month they will send you the first available CD from your queue. Everyone knows what the queue is, right? We’ve all been trained by NetFlix. But, just in case. The queue is your wishlist of CDs. You go to yourmusic.com and add CDs that you want to your queue, your WishList. Every month yourmusic.com sends you one. You can buy additional CDs at the same price, $5.99 per, multi-disc sets are priced at $5.99 per disc. Better than iTunes Store and I get the physical CD, which I really like.

Up to now, iTunes Store has been successful in trapping my impulse buying. Once or twice a month I’ll click the button and buy one to three CDs, songs, and music videos — and now even the occasional TV show and movie — from iTunes Store. Not no more! I’ll undoubtedly still do a lot of discovery through iTunes but now I’ll jump over to yourmusic.com to make the purchase.


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Some years ago my wife bought me a gift certificate at Audible.com. The certificate was good for three books. Interestingly enough, it literally meant, three books. I was able to buy books far beyond the cost of the gift certificate itself. The process has since changed at Audible.com. You can’t do that anymore.

One of the books I got was The Company: A Novel of the CIA by Robert Littell. My audible.com account says I originally purchased the audio book on 17 October 2003. Today, almost exactly three years later to the day, I finished the book. There were two false starts over the course of that three years. I have the unabridged edition which means that I have listened to 40 hours of audio book. For all of that, it is a great book.

Littell tells the history of the CIA from it’s formation, out of the ashes of the OSS, to the collapse of the Soviet Union. Most of the more significant events are told accurately. One of the things I enjoy about historical fiction is that it drives me to find out what actually happened. Some times only in a lightweight fashion (look it up on Wikipedia). A few events are handled with more drama than accuracy. The character of James Angleton being the most evident.

In the course of the story we meet three presidents; John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan and George Bush Sr. Kennedy is presented as an overbearing, egotistical man. Ronald Reagan is presented as almost senile and bumbling. Bush is presented in a rather flat light. All of which I found interesting.

It was interesting to look up each character’s name to find out if they were real or fictional. James Angleton, a major character in the book, was a real person. William J. Donovan makes an appearance. Allen Dulles is there, of course. Kim Philby has a major part in the book while the rest of the Cambridge Five make only cameo appearances. Harvey Torriti, one of the main characters through whom much of the story is told, appears to be a fictional character.

All in all, a good book. I enjoyed it though I must admit I was glad to finally reach the end today.


[posted with ecto]

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I always check out the new albums on iTunes 25 New Releases. I am often introduced to artists or albums this way. So, today I was cruising through the list of 25 new releases. An album piqued my curiosity because it was a group called The 5 Browns. The album cover looked like a release by some pop group but the category said classical. Hum?

I clicked on the album, popped over into iTunes, and looked at the album. Yep, still the same pop looking group. I listened to the 10 second sample iTunes offers. Yep, they really are a classical group. Now I was really curious. Google ‘The 5 Browns’. There’s their web site.

I’ll let you head over to The 5 Browns and check them out. Very worth looking into even if you think you don’t like classical music. These guys are hella cool. This video is an absolute must see. Check ’em out.


[posted with ecto]

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This book and the subsequent movie reminds me of “Rising Sun” (Michael Crichton). I had lived in Japan and was an Asian Studies major at Cal State Long Beach at the time the book was published.

Crichton sought to capitalize on the popular notion that Japan was bent on ‘conquering’ the United States by buying it. There was a lot of talk about how Crichton had done huge amounts of research. The book included a several pages long bibliography of scholarly works on Japan. Sharon Sievers, my Japanese History professor at the time, told me that Japan Scholars all over the country were searching the book to see if they had been quoted or listed in the bibliography. Those who had not were heaving sighs of relief.

There was plenty of allusion to the notion that Rising Sun was in fact prophesying the future if America did not do something about the new Yellow Peril. Probably most comical of all was the fact that Japan’s economic bubble had burst in 1989 and by 1992 when Crichton’s book was published Japan’s economy was entering a recession from which it has yet to recover.

“The Da Vinci Code” (Dan Brown) strikes me a very similar. Dan Brown plays on popular notions in a time when it is popular to poke holes in and fun at Christianity. Dan Brown grabs a handful of sexy alternative theories about Christ and Christianity and weaves them together in a fictional story that covers two thousand years. The Da Vinci Code was never intended as an academic work. It was intended to entertain and, given its success in the marketplace, I would venture a sizable bet that it is a very entertaining story.

I read Rising Sun when it came out. I thought it was a good story. The Japan in Crichton’s Rising Sun bore about as much resemblance to the real Japan as Crichton’s America did to real America. They were fictional places in a work of fiction. The point of both books is to entertain. I haven’t read The Da Vinci Code but I can say that Rising Sun was/is very entertaining. Best not to take either book too seriously. Neither the movies.


[posted with ecto]

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