Monday, January 30, 2012

Offline mapping with Android - App Reviews - part 1

For the last few years, if I am going anywhere where roaming data is expensive, or unavailable, I've used my venerable Nokia N73 and Bluetooth GPS. Its a solution that generally 'just works'. In the last couple of years Nokia have released and improved the previously Windows only versions to include new OSX versions of the Multimedia Transfer and Map Loader applications. In fact in the current Map Loader they event got rid of my one annoyance which was you didn't know what was already on the phone, so if in doubt you would delete what was on there and re-download. Must have consumed loads of Nokia bandwidth.

Anyway, with a forthcoming trip to a place where roaming data would be stupidly expensive or unavailable, I decided to look at offline mapping applications, and my first point of call was for my Nexus S.

First I looked at the Google Maps Android and its pre-cache feature. Its not immediately obvious how to use it. Eventually I worked out that its best to either find on just move the map to get to to general area, then long press. It should find something interesting where you just pressed, and then you can press the right arrow thingy and scroll down till you get to cache . The problem is that it can only cache 10 miles, which is you are going to, say Death Valley, just doesn't cut it. You can cache more than 1 area, but its tedious to do a lot. It does kind of work so it survives the first cut.

Maverick: I didn't really 'get' Maverick. There's no 'my location' button. You need an external app, Mobile Atlas Creator to get download maps in advance. Sorry, doesn't survive the first cut, and get deleted.

BackCountry Navigator I never got this to even load properly. Nope, doesn't survive the first cut, and is deleted.

Maps  (-).  I just don't know if I'm using this app correctly. It seems like it has a straight forward interface. I press the menu button and then cache area, and then click on zoom levels. Ahh but which ones did I select? I don't know. The main screen spends a lot of time being blank, in fact at one point I even saw maps disappear from the screen, wrong way I would have thought - as the caching continues, the display clears. I can't even give you a link to this because the name doesn't allow searching. 

MapDroyd I really thought I would like MapDroyd. It has a nice method of downloading maps

but it has a serious flaw: it has very poor detail control. What I mean by that is that if I zoom out I expect to see something, but often you don't - here's the screenshots:

On the left, looking OK, the slightest zoom out on the right, and gone! By the skin of its teeth it survives the first cut but only because it has the minimum promise.

OSMAnd was actually the first Android Offline mapper I tried, and to be honest I thought I would have to look no further. The map download method works OK, its vector maps so they aren't very big, and the map display is OK. So why did I end up looking at other solutions? Well the version in the Market initially, did not retrieve tiles correctly from cache. Then just days ago, it got an update, and the cache issue seems resolved.

It still has other small-ish quirks, such as showing a black screen, when map data should be available. In the example below I downloaded California, so why go black at zoom 6?

Shows promise, so survives the first cut.

So, at the end of round one, in no particular order we have:

    Google Maps


    Nokia N73 released towards the end of 2006 ie over 5 years ago.

Next round: field test.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Fuji W3 Camera Review

I've gone 3D by firstly buying a 3D TV and then buying a 3D camera, the Fuji Film Real 3d W3.

The TV is fantastic. The camera is also great. Some observations.


 - technically this isn't 3D of course, I cannot walk behind the photo: its stereography
 - subjects that are not in focus will not fuse
 - subjects closer than about 1.5m / 4ft will not fuse
 - to get the best 3D effect best to have elements that step into the background, not continuous
 - due to parallax decreasing with distance, you won't get much stereoscopic effect on objects further away than about 200m
 - the above means you won't need the zoom much

Camera features - the good:
 - the auto-stereoscopic screen is really very good, much better than I expected
 - I like having some scene modes
 - 10 megapixel is plenty
 - the image guides are useful to aide composition

Camera features - some minor nits:
 - it eats battery, probably I'll need a spare for a day's shooting
 - for some reason turning off the sounds (shutter, button presses etc) turns the flash off
 - it doesn't come with a mini-HDMI lead, shame when they are like $5 on Ebay
 - when it goes to sleep it starts from fresh, even with the lens cover open
 - its very easy to get your fingers in the frame of view
 - the 35-105 equivalent lens is not wide enough for cityscapes
 - it uses a non-standard USB connector

See if you can get these example pictures working:

Because the first two are quite busy, it may be hard to allow your eyes to get to the required position, so I've added a visual cue, the stub pointing out of the top.

One challenge with free viewing is that the for most folks, the set of the eyes gives an optical base of 65mm to 70mm, which means that the corresponding image points cannot be any further apart than 65mm to 70mm. So the examples above should fuse fairly easily. Here's one I've resized in Photoshop, such that with my laptop on my lap, it just fuses:

It should just fit in my blogger layout. If it doesn't, click the image and view at 100%.

One final note: parallax (which is being used here) is but one of a range of techniques used by the brain to calculate depth. It also uses size and shape, lighting and other cues.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Fun in 3D: Samsung 3D TV and 3D Photos using the PlayStation 3

As we know, the PS3 can display MPO files with the PS3 3.70 firmware update.

However, actually getting the PS3 to display the MPO files was not as easy as it should have been.

  1. via DNLA box - nope, the the PS3 simply didn't see the MPO files

  2. MPO files on a USB stick. Nope. I tried reformatting the stick, no go.
  3. Then I tried the web browser, not obvious I know.
    Turn on the built in Mac OSX web server, in sharing - web sharing

    Navigate to ~/Sites and rename "
    index.html" to "index.html.old". This will cause the web server to show the files and folders in the web servers home folder. After you get this going you can always rename it back, or create a mini web site
    Create a folder in the Sites folder called "3D", and put the sample .PMO files in there

    Using the PS3's web browser go to the IP of your Mac and apply the "~/user" at the end , eg

    Then click on the "3D" link, and I see my MPO files. Select one and it loads! I can then save it to the HD and I can then view them using the Gallery application.

I'll try reformatting the USB stick on an actual PC to see if there is a problem with how the Mac formats it.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

ST-99 Bluetooth Headphones review

I don't do many reviews, so here's an exception: ST-99 Bluetooth Headset review.

Picked up one very cheap at about $15 to try with my iPhone, iPad and various Android devices.

The good:

    very good audio quality
    all features work with my Galaxy Nexus ie calling, answering, next track, volume
    easy to pair with iOS devices, not quite so easy with Android Ice Cream Sandwich
    very good battery life, and uses standard mini-USB charging port

The OK:

    to pair with my Galaxy Nexus I had to make the GN discoverable, which wasn't immediately obvious
    on occasion the audio stream pauses on my GN, for some reason while I'm walking. If the phone is in my pocket, then it can only be 3 feet mac from the BT99s, so don't know why this should be

    with my iphone 3GS and Bluetooth tethering the audio pauses now and then, I reckon this is more the fault of the iPhone than the BT99s though

The brilliant:

    Yes, its not really a feature of the headphones, but the combination of the BT99s with my iPad and the iOS TED app is simply fabulous!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Fun in 3D: Samsung 3D TV and 3D photographs

I recently acquired a Samsung 3D Plasma TV (51"PS51D550 since you ask) and very nice it is too. We watched Avatar and it was still a tour de force of visual brilliance.

I've got the PS3 connected to it, and with the PS3's mid-2011 firmware update to PS3 3.70 it can output 3D over HDMI 1.3 at 1080i. So I wonder what about photos?

Well a bit of Googling tells me that the emerging standard for 3D photos is MPO (Multiple Picture Object), which in essence is dual JPGs wrapped into the one file. And the Sammy plasma has USB input, so lets see if I can get USB input working.

By way of background, you can get 3D photographs in MPO format from 3 sources:

  1. directly from a camera such as the FujiFilm FinePix REAL 3D camera. I'll try to acquire one of these. Having a dual lens dual sensor synchronised shutter release is the best method

  2. you can manually take 2 photos to mimic the distance between your eyes, and then use software to create the MPO. This is tricky because either you have to move the camera yourself so that means its hard to get consistent results, and what if a subject moves? Or you can use two cameras, which I've tried, and that also hard because again synchronising the shutter release

  3. and of course download some samples from the Internet, which is what I did to get this working.

Then there are 4 methods methods of displaying 3D images:

  1. the red green stereo anaglyph method which is the old school red/green multi-image method, you know, where you have red and green lenses in cardboard glasses. I've _never_ been able to get these images to fuse. Anyway, you can get software which takes the image pair and makes them red and green

  2. 3D stereogram, which is where you have the image pair right next to each other and you go stare at them and allow the two to fuse. I've always been able to do this. You can get software that takes a PMO pair and converts to stereograms and other formats

  3. Auto-stereoscopic screens. You find these on cameras such as the Fuji and on handheld devices like the Nintendo 3DS. In essence the screen uses small lenses to direct the lefthand image to the left and same for the right eye. They are limited in viewing angle and distance, however subject to this they can be very good

  4. Phase or polarised screen and glasses. With this method you show both images together or in very quick succession and use glasse to make sure each eye gets the correct image. Cinemas use polarised projectors and glasses, TVs use flicker and phased locked glasses. If watching on a TV you should not do so for long periods since it'll give you headaches firstly from the extra work the eyes and brain have to do, and also you can get foveal flicker in the periphery of your field of view

So back to the TV. I placed some MPO 3D files on a USB stick, plugged it into the first top-most USB port on the back. Straight away the USB was recognised, and I used the remote to navigate to the correct folder for photos. Turned on the 3D glasses, and there it was!

Brilliant, and thank you Samsung for making it so easy!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

What did you get from the Android Market?

A handy place to check what you bought / downloaded is visit it while logged into Google with the main account on your Android.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Boot Animation of Android

I recently learned how to change it, but first I learned how to extract it. Here it is

and below is a 'still' - actually the whole movie is just a sequence of jpg files - this is no 57 in the sequence

Next step is to change it. For that I will get out the trusty Sapphire because as my stunt phone it doesn't matter if I break it. Coming soon.

Monday, January 9, 2012

OSX Lion - the missing Apps

With the release of OSX Lion, Apple left out some things from Snow Leopard that folks really like. So far I've found 4:

  1. Front Row

    Good news here is that you can copy what you need from a SnowLeopard install.

    Get Front Row from /applications, and the following files install into the same place on Lion. Probably need to do a restart.

  2. iSync

    Again, good news, you can copy over iSync:

  3. Java

    You need to download Java from Apple, assuming you need it.
  4. Rosetta

    Well, bad news. No can do. Rosetta has gone the way of the ancient Egyptians... dead.

    The realistic (supported) alternative is to look to run SnowLeopard in a dual boot environment, or keep a machine on Snow Leopard and use VNS / ScreenShare to it. Here's how.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Howto: VNC full screen on OSX Snow Leopard using Chicken of the VNC

In Apple OSX 10.5 Leopard there were some hacks to allow ScreenSharing to have more options, specifically a Bonjour Browser and fit to window. Basically they used Apple Remote Desktop.

In 10.6 Snow Leopard these options are gone.

Why do I need VNC? Well I have a single PPC only application that I cannot get rid of yet. I considered running 10.6 under VirtualBox but of course this is not allowed by the licence, and it seems it also has performance issues.

I used CotVNC back in the day, before Apple's own Screen Sharing became useable. I'm back on CotVNC Chicken (successor to CotVNC) now because I can full screen VNC into a machine running 10.6.

So thats my problem solved: I leave one machine on SnowLeopard and use VNC in full screen mode. No need to upgrade at $$$.

One very minor nit: the keyboard commands to go full screen / windowed on the current beta aren't sticky. But thats very minor.

If you do use CotVNC instead of ScreenSharing don't forget you need to put a VNC password into the ScreenSharing Preference pane on the host machine.

Update: Mikael corrects me that Chicken of the VNC is now more, now superseded by Chicken, and its Chicken that gives me VNC fullscreen capability..

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Insynch Google Docs and Encryption

Now that Insynch has launched we can see it does a really good job of allowing access to your Google Docs locally from your desktop.

Their web site does talk about encryption and who has the keys, and also says that if you want to be sure nobody can access your data you need to have your own keys.

This is a tutorial on how to do just that.

Firstly you need to install MacFuse and EncFS. You can follow the similar tutorial I did for Dropbox.

As always, a caveat: if you forget your password, you lose your data. ITS THAT SIMPLE.

  1. Download and install MacFuse (file system in user space) 
  2. Download and install encFS for Leopard (works great with Snow Leopard). If this link doesn't work try Google Code - look for "EncFS for Leopard" 
  3. run the command "encfs ~/Insync/user\ ~/Documents/GDocs_Secure
Accept the defaults, and put in your password. Remember,  if you forget your password, you lose your data.

The first part of this command is the location of your GDocs folder, and the second is where you get decrypted access. I use the defaults as mentioned above.

The command creates a folder (if required) in your Insync folder called "encfs", and its where the encrypted documents are be stored, and a symbolic link in your Documents folder, into which you put the documents you want to be encrypted. It also makes a mount point on the desktop, for easy access.

Here's some screen shots

  1. First you see the unencrypted file

  2. Then the encrypted versions

  3. Then what Google sees

Remember,  if you forget your password, you lose your data

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Galaxy Nexus Wallpaper Template

The Samsung / Google Galaxy Nexus has a rather huge 4.65-inch screen with a resolution of 720 x 1280, giving a ppi of 316.

The wallpaper template needs to follow the usual Android template of needing to be twice the width at the same height ie 1440 x 1280.

Here's a template, with a nice background. Here's the Photoshop file you can use