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Finding out where a picture was taken using EXIF info

Posted in Blog, Random, Tech, Tutorial on August 18th, 2010 by Matt – 13 Comments

Alternate title: How to creepily stalk people using their pictures.

Since I've gotten an iPhone 4 I've stopped carrying a normal camera with me on outings. I find the iPhone's camera more than sufficient for most of my photo needs. Many other people are also doing the same. The fun thing about most camera phones now, is that they tag image information with GPS coordinates. Thanks to some easy online tools, you can now track people only by their pictures.

Lets get an example. I did a Google Search for "shots taken with my iPhone" and the first result is a blog with "9 Cracking Shots Taken With My iPhone". The second picture posted is a pic taken on a road supposedly in Death Valley. Lets see if it is.

A test image for GPS EXIF inforation

We can download a program to view where the photo was taken via its EXIF information. Programs like "Simple EXIF Viewer for Mac OSX" work well. Or you could install a FireFox extension like "EXIF Viewer", it's a very nice way to quickly view information for any image embedded on a web page. But both of these seem silly to install when you probably only need to view EXIF info once in a blue moon.

My new favorite way to view where photos were taken is to use online tools like "Jeffery's EXIF Viewer" or the "Find EXIF" website. So, using our example, we would: Right click the image, Copy Image Location, Paste the image location into one of the online tools. In this example I've used Jeffery's EXIF viewer that embeds a nice little Google Maps pin of where the image says it was taken. Results from the EXIF GPS information

And if you follow the links over to Google Maps, and drop a street view pin as close to GPS data as possible, you get this:

Results from the iPhone's GPS EXIF info

You can view the actual Google Street view location here. Pretty cool.

Alien Swarm - A Casual Gamer's Game

Posted in Blog, Gaming, Random on July 28th, 2010 by Matt – 1 Comment

Originally released as a mod for Unreal Tournament 2004, Alien Swarm has been bought, refreshed and released by Valve as a free mod for their Source Engine. Being free, there's absolutely no reason to not download this game and give it a shot. According to my Steam profile, I've managed to put in 12 hours of play into Alien Swarm since it's release 10 days ago. That's a lot for someone like me who only manages an hour or two after work. I love this game and would gladly pay for it. Let me tell you why.

The long description: Alien Swarm is a four player, co-op, online game, that's played in the top-down perspective. The goal is to travel through various levels with four companions played by other players and complete various tasks to try to rescue a colony on another planet that's been over-run by alien creatures. There are four roles to choose from that can give each player a boost in various abilities.  Included among the many abilities: shooting, explosions, hacking and healing. A large selection of weapons are available with each person carrying two to allow for some flexibility. Tactics can be discussed over the games integrated voice chat or drawn on the in-game level map, similar to football plans (though often with much more penis drawing).

The short description: Kill massive quantities of aliens with three buddies.

For a free game, the quality is outstanding. Alien Swarm can be compared to games that many other companies wouldn't flinch at charging $50 for. However, being free, there are some downfalls: There isn't a single player campaign or an offline campaign (there is an offline practice mode). You can only play with three other real people, no bots. There's only one official campaign available, but with the modding tools freely available I expect many community developed campaigns swiftly appearing.

Here's why I really love this game: The average level requires about 8 minutes to complete. That means, even if you only have about 10 minutes to spare, you can drop in, play a level and pop out. Unlike many other online games, Alien Swarm doesn't require time for you to "warm up" and get into the game. Most levels start slow and build up to a crescendo at the end.

Alien Swarm is the definition of a casual gamers game. It's the antithesis to StarCraft 2. If you know my opinion on StarCraft 2, you know that's a good thing. Where StarCraft2 is a frustrating grind that requires a significant time investment to get anywhere, Alien Swarm is a relaxing walk through fields of mindless slaughter. That's not to say Alien Swarm isn't intense. The finales to the levels are often finished on the brink of death, with much yelling and laughing over the voice chat.

Once the mod community release a few more campaigns, Alien Swarm will really hit it's stride. Go download it now if you haven't. There's no reason not to. It's the best game for its price, bar none.

Optimizing Window Layouts in a Widescreen World

Posted in Blog, Random, Tech on May 27th, 2010 by Matt – 5 Comments

Slashdot posted this link to a preview of the next KDE release. Its a nice upgrade from previous versions. Looks great.

KDE 4.5's upcoming look

Functionally this is the same window design that's been around for ages. Specifically the title bars at the top of the windows.

Title bars have been there doing nothing since since the first versions of Mac and Windows. Their original use was to help get the idea of a "windowed" interface across to early use. It's an idea that no longer needs these vestigial appendages.

Their location obviously works, as every popular operating system currently uses this layout. But in a world where 90% of monitors sold are in the 16:9, 16:10 or other wide-screen layout, its a terrible inefficient use of space. Why do we need a bar that spans the complete width of the window dedicated to (usually) just 5 words and 4 buttons? It's absurd. Some programs are taking it upon themselves to remedy this issue. Apple's Safari browser tested the idea in their beta versions, but abandoned it for the full release. It was a brilliant implementation, and I'm not sure why they didn't go with it. Just look at the efficient use of screen real estate.

Safari's Tabs on Top in the Beta.

The Windows OS can't break away from title bars. Too many corporate users with too much reliance on the old ways. However, Window's programs can ditch the bar. Paint.net recently updated their UI, but they didn't displace the title bar. Their design lends itself to ditching the title bar, and I think they should. Here's my horrible mock-up.

A Paint.net mock-up without the title bar.

KDE has a great opportunity to break the standard. It's users are generally technically savvy. They understand the concept of a window. They don't memorize button locations and blindly rely on them. The programs in the Linux environment adapt quickly to  change. Go for it KDE, innovate. You've got my support.

Keyboard Volume Control Without Multimedia Keys

Posted in Blog, Random, Tech on May 19th, 2010 by Matt – 7 Comments

Here at the office we have the privilege pain of using the most basic Dell keyboards. We're also allowed to listen to the radio at a reasonable volume from nine to five while we collate. The problem is, I want to be able to control the volume of my computer quickly to turn down those annoying web-ads. Having to click over to the sound icon in the task bar and adjust the volume down is not acceptable.

The culprit. No media keys.

Under Windows XP I used a nice little program called VolumeTouch (looks like the original is gone, thats the only link I can find) that allowed me to hold down the ctrl+shift keys on my keyboard then scroll my mouse wheel to adjust the volume. I recently updated to Windows 7 and discovered the program has not been updated to work with any Windows system newer than XP.  After some Googling I found a better program.

3RVX Skinnable Volume Control and Display

What the program lacks in name it makes up for in functionality. As well as supporting XP, Vista and windows 7, 3RVX lets you set any mouse or keyboard combination for hot keys to control the volume. Which is a big improvement over VolumeTouch's limited list of options. I've currently set my Windows Key + Mouse Wheel up or down to control the volume level.

3RVX includes some beautiful skinning options for the on-screen volume display that fade in and out appropriately.With options that mimic the Mac on screen volume display and others that have a more Windows feel.

3RVX includes a plethora of settings like dual monitor support, where to display the volume OSD and fade in and out settings.

It's a beautiful little program that makes life without a multi-media keyboard much more reasonable.

Four Official Themes for Windows XP

Posted in Random, Tech on May 7th, 2010 by Matt – Be the first to comment

Staring at the same computer screen at work day after day can drive a person batty. Unfortunately, we're stuck in XP land where I work, so theme options are limited.

Here are the 4 extra official Microsoft Windows XP themes I've been able to dig up. I've included them all in a single zip file to at the bottom of this post. Simply download the zip, extract everything to c:\windows\resources\themes then double-click on the first .theme file, Display Properties will open, hit OK, double-click on the second, hit OK, then the third, hit OK. Now under Display Properties > Appearance > Windows and buttons, you'll now have three more options. Zune, Embedded and Royale with two sub color schemes.

Royale Noir Theme:

Royale Theme:

Embedded Theme:

Zune Theme:

I'm currently running the Zune theme with Office 2007's theme set to black and Google Chrome's theme set to Grayscale:

You can download all four themes in the following zip file, installation instructions are included in the readme.txt file:

Download Royale XP Theme
Download Royale Noir XP Theme
Download Zune XP Theme
Download Embedded XP Theme

A Young Lady's Illustrated Guide to the Galaxy?

Posted in Blog, Random on May 6th, 2010 by Matt – Be the first to comment

Right now I'm reading Neal Stephenson's "The Diamond Age". Last night a thought struck me: With the advent of the iPad, we now have the technology to construct the Primer from Diamond Age and the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy from Douglas Adam's book of the same name.

Creating the Hitchhiker's Guide would probably be the easiest. Take all the content from Wikipedia and throw a nice interface similar to The Elements application for iPad:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kdiIaIUTBEc]

Almost all the content creation work is done. Someone with some massive CSS skills could probably whip up a Guide in a few weeks. Sell it for 99 cents and you're a millionaire.

Creating a "Young Lady's Illustrated Primer" for the iPad would be much more complicated, a massive undertaking. If you haven't read "The Diamond Age", the Primer in the story consists of a book whose pages are basically screens, think flexible color e-ink. But putting the format on something like that iPad wouldn't detract from the concept. It's a story book that builds the main character based upon the reader. As the story progresses the reader can comment on any part and request more information. The effect is similar to what I do while reading any book; when I stumble across a subject I don't fully grok, I hit Wikipedia or Google.

The part of the Primer that makes it more "future" than what we have now is the seamless ability to research any topic in the story more deeply. The book makes learning more easy. An example from the book: At one point the main character comes across a talking, karate-master mouse, think Splinter from the Ninja Turtles. Later, after reading past the chapter, she chooses to go back and expand upon the character. She ends up learning some karate.

Did I mention the book can read to the reader? I'm not sure current text-to-speech is advanced enough, but it's getting close:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wFAPPOE1fDs]

Even if someone doesn't create something similar to one of those books now... it can't be much longer. The technology is there just waiting to be fully utilized. Sometimes it's fun to live in interesting times.