Traced Botanical tour

I grabbed my camera and my GPS handheld yesterday to get some test data for application development. The recorded track isn’t the best, primarily because the containing field was small, and the terrain was flat. I also realized from the track that I tend to meander when walking around, taking photos.

screenshot from Google Earth

I can assure you, though, that I didn’t actually go through the lily pond.

Garmin provides it’s own export format, MPS, but I used g7towin on the PC to export the data directly from the device into GPX, another popular format. I also loaded the same track from my device using Ascent on my Mac. All these formats are XML-based–GPX, GML, MPS, KML, and geoRSS. Not to mention the embedded photo info contained in the EXIF data section, which is formatted as RDF/XML. In the debate between JSON and XML, when it comes to the geoweb, JSON has no where to go.

I converted the GPX files into KML files using GPS Visualizer. I also generated a topographic map of the area. With the GPX and KML, I can use any number of GPS applications and utilities, including Google Earth, and the GPSPhotoLinker, which provides the capability to upload a GPS track and any number of photos and geotags the photos, either individually or as a batch. Works in the Mac, too, which is unusual, as most GPS applications are Windows-based.

I can do any number of things with the GPS data since all of it is standard XML and accessible by any number of XML-based APIs and applications. I can generate SVG to draw out the track, as well as create an application to determine from the variance in slope between waypoints or tackpoints, whether the hike is arduous or not. I can use ‘geotagging’ in the images to incorporate photographs into mapping. Or mapping into photography.

Lastly, I can display or otherwise use the EXIF data, though using ImageMagick to generate thumbnails can also strip this information. Eventually even update my old photo/RDF work into something not dependent on a content management tool.

water lilies

Dragonfly on purple

Statue of Woman

Legal, Laws, and Regs

Breaking the mandatory arbitration back

People over Profits has a campaign under way to encourage Congress to support this bill. It’s important to let your Congressional representative know you support the Arbitration Act of 2007.

Ars Technica and Tortdeform both write on the recent, and important, decision of Douglas v. Talk Ameria in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. In the decision, the court ruled that companies may not change terms of service arbitrarily, forcing people into having to check for such changes in online agreements; then denied the motion to compel arbitration–one of the changes actually added to the terms of service that initiated the class action lawsuit.

This is important because it challenges the concept that a person has to be forced into visiting terms of service on some periodic basis in order to ascertain changes–a onerous task, indeed.

This is also an interesting case as regards mandatory arbitration clauses. I’ve written on this issue before, and the fact that online services are now slipping in mandatory arbitration clauses–joining the banks, plumbers, credit card companies, house builders, computer manufacturers (Dell being one of the most prominant), realtors, your employer, car dealers, hospitals and others who slip such clauses in, usually in small print, and buried among dozens of other changes, worded in confusing legalese–should help drive out that this isn’t ‘just’ a problem with deadbeats looking to skip out on debt or fakes wanting to sue the poor drug companies, as the pro-mandatory arbitration supporters insist.

I bet I can safely say right now, you’re covered under a mandatory arbitration clause right now that abrogates your class action and other civil and legal rights, and you don’t even know it.

What perfect timing, then, to segue into drawing your attention to the Feingold-Johnson billThe Fair Arbitration Act of 2007, just introduced into Congress last week that would block mandatory arbitration clauses.

The issue has never been about whether arbitration is or is not a good thing. Arbitration entered into willingly by two equal parties, both of whom can argue the case without paying thousands in exorbitant fees in front of competent and truly unbiased arbitrator, is a good thing. Arbitration purely for profit, as a way of skirting the laws of the land and a form of bastardized tort reform, is not.

What the Feingold-Johnson bill is about is that people should be given a choice. This wholesale movement of companies forcing mandatory arbitration clauses, using for profit arbitration companies where cases are processed in assembly like fashion–six to an hour being typical–for fees far in excess of what courts charge, and typically favoring corporations over the individual (and disregarding many laws of the land, including the civil rights) is not a good choice.

I’d suggest contacting your congressional representatives and tell them you support this bill. After all, if arbitration is the good thing these companies say it is, then why do they need to add these mandatory arbitration clauses in the first place?

From American Homeowners Resource Center

In 1995, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote: “over the past decade, the [Supreme] Court has abandoned all pretense of ascertaining congressional intent with respect to the Federal Arbitration Act, building instead, case by case, an edifice of its own creation.” Justice O’Connor was absolutely right.

Starting in the mid-1980s, the Supreme Court dusted off the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”) – an obscure procedural statute that had been the subject of only half a dozen or so Supreme Court decisions in 60 years – and transformed it into something bearing little relation to the law considered and enacted by Congress in 1925. Concerned with the workload of the federal courts, the Supreme Court discovered that the FAA could be used as an extensive docket-clearing device to move large numbers of cases out of the court system and into a system of private dispute resolution. The cases cleared out of the court system under the judicially re-tooled FAA have been disproportionately the claims of consumers, employees and small-business owners.

The real winners under the modern system of FAA arbitration are large companies who decide to write arbitration clauses into their “take-it-or-leave-it” contracts. Also benefitting from the modern FAA are the arbitration-providers and individual arbitrators who find a huge increase in demand for their services. What is, for the courts, a system of “do-it-yourself court reform” has increasingly become a system of “do-it-yourself tort reform” for regulated business entities seeking to avoid liability for wrongs done to consumers, employees and small-business franchise owners.

Excerpt from the testimony of David S. Schwartz, Associate Professor of Law at the University of Wisconsin Law School, before a congressional hearing on mandatory arbitration clauses held in June. The article also includes a link to the PDF for the complete testimony. The link in this paragraph is to the recordings from the event, including others testimony.

Photography Technology

Image Magic

I’ve been experimenting around with software tools and utilities, and for this batch I used ImageMagick’s command line tools to create the thumbnails and add a signature.

The shell script to add the signature is:

for name in *jpg
echo $name
convert $name -font AvantGuarde-Demi -pointsize 24 \
-gravity SouthEast \
-fill maroon -draw "text 27,27 'Shelley'" \
-fill white -draw "text 25,25 'Shelley'" \

Puts a signature on every JPEG in a subdirectory.

I also found a lovely little online photo editor that does everything most people need, and has one of the few truly intuitive interfaces I’ve seen among these tools. It’s called Picnik and it doesn’t cost anything to give it a try, as far as I can see.

I won’t use the WordPress upload software, nor the software I had been developing. These require the ability to have global write to a directory, and this has been hacked now and I don’t consider it safe. Instead, I FTP images to a working directory, run my ImageMagick scripts to do my global changes, and then push them over to the my photos subdirectory. All in all, it’s actually as fast or more than uploading one photo at a time, though it doesn’t ‘hide’ you from the environment as much.

I think that’s a mistake myself: protecting the users from the environment. All we’ve done is help them/you to open their/your environment to hacking. Not particularly responsible of us.



Fish from hell

Cephalopodcast has found a couple of terrific old films on the ‘fish from hell’ from the Prelinger Archives. As the Cephalopodcast mentions, it’s not the footage so much as it is the accompanying voiceover. It’s also an interesting study in our earlier ‘science’ investigations, and the fact that in these old ‘science’ films, the scientists tend to kill everything they meet.

We actually have come a long way when it comes to scientific investigation, but not when it comes to mixing science and entertainment. Last week, Cephalopodcast also posted about the letter to Discovery about Shark Week, and the fact that this series has degenerated into nothing more than a “Jaws 101” rather than an exploration of more unknown but perhaps less dramatic shark species.

Then there’s the Japanese ‘scientific study’ of whales, where many of the whales killed are pregnant. Of course, the whaling industry says this is a good thing. Whalers are about the only hunters I know of who would claim that killing pregnant females is a ‘good thing’. Perhaps the whaling industry would like to expand into killing baby fur seals, too?

But then, perhaps I’m just being overly emotive. (via Cobbers)


How I got my Harry Potter book

It was late Friday night and I had just gone down to feed the cat before getting ready for bed when I noticed the light that shines through the front window had gone out. Moments later, there was a smart tap tap tap at the door. Somewhat nervously, I looked out through the peephole to see who it was and was met with an astonishing sight.

Standing at the door was a man, not particularly young but not especially old, either, wearing the strangest outfit. He had on a UPS shirt and shorts, which in itself wouldn’t be odd except for the lateness of the hour. However, over it he wore a long black robe, which would catch in the breeze and billow out around him, like a dark cloud before a storm.

He knocked again, more impatiently this time. I called out through the door, asking him who he was and what he wanted.

“UPS, ma’am”, he replied. “I have a delivery for you.”


“It’s a little late for a UPS delivery, isn’t it?”

He responded, words mechanically delivered, as if memorized by rote (or forced by curse), “This is a special delivery created for this very special occasion, as a courtesy for you, our beloved customer, by both Amazon and UPS.”

He then held something up, a dark shape too close for me to get a good look through the tiny hole.

“I have your copy of the new Harry Potter book, Deathly Hollows.”

A book? The man was bringing me a book?

“You did order the new Harry Potter book for same day delivery from Amazon, didn’t you?” he said, with some exasperation.

I had at that, and whether it was the mad outfit or the strangeness of the event, I felt reassured by his words and opened the door. He looked relieved and handed me the box. On the outside were words, white stamped on red, something about ‘…Muggle delivery…’ and not delivering the book until 12:01, July 21st.

He smiled perfunctorily at me, and started to walk away. “Wait,” I called out. “You came this late at night, knocked on my door and for all you know woke me from a sound sleep in order to deliver a book?”

He stopped, frowning slightly. “You did order same day service, did you not?”

“Well, yes, but…”

“If we had been late, you would have been angry, wouldn’t you have?”

“Possibly, but…”

“Then I don’t see what the problem is,” he finished, and again started to walk away.

“Yes, but it’s not the 21st yet.”

He stopped. Slowly he turned around toward me, all traces of smile gone. His face had paled, and it was only at that moment that I noticed he had a really bad black wig on his head, slightly askew. And…were those glasses painted around his eyes?

“I think you are mistaken,” he said, voice so low I had to strain to hear him.

“No, no, I don’t think so,” I held up the cellphone I had in my hand when I had gone to the door, ready to call the police depending on what I found on the other side. “I grabbed this when you knocked. The time in the phone is maintained by the cellphone company and is accurate to the second.”

I beckoned him closer to look for himself. When he bent his head down to peer more closely, I pushed the button to illuminate the phone face, casting a greenish light over his now tautly drawn features, light reflecting redly in his eyes.

“See?” I said. “It’s only 11:01. It’s still the 20th of July.”

He backed away from the phone, his movements fearful, as if the phone had suddenly come alive and hissed at him. He held his watch up to his face, looked at it, shook his arm a couple of times, tapped the face and looked once more.

His arm fell to his side, and his head twisted partially away from me. I could hear sounds that sent chills down my spine. He let out a low  anguished moan, and though I couldn’t see his face well, what I could see showed a man who looked to be in a state of pain. Or, perhaps, a man suddenly gone mad.

“Well, uh, thanks for the book,” I called out, as I drew back into the house and moved to shut the door, feeling suddenly afraid, of what, I had no idea.

Before I could finish shutting the door, the delivery man (moving supernaturally fast) was in the doorway, shoving the door open with his shoulder. He grabbed the book from my hand and though I fought him as best as I could, I was no match for his strength and determination. I let him have the book.

“SosorrydeliveredthisatthewrongtimeandifyoullexcusemetheressomethingImustdo”, he panted out, words sounding like gibberish in the rush. He then took off–across my lawn, bounding over the sidewalk, and sprinting through the lawn of our neighbor across the way. He pounded on my neighbor’s door, pounding with all his might, until my neighbor, a nice older guy who works in insurance I think, came out, wearing a gray robe and looking more than a little peeved.

“I must have the book!” the now seemingly insane delivery man screamed–voice high pitched, frantic, inhuman sounding. My neighbor blinked at him and started to bluster, “Now see here…” but was pushed violently aside, as the delivery person dashed into his home. I heard a faint scream from within the apartment, and the delivery man returned a moment later, another Harry Potter book in his hands.

“Sorry!” he shouted and with a feral grin, raced down the walk to the next apartment, this one rented by a young woman who is a hair dresser, and whose mother is a truck driver (she and I having had a comfortable chat in the laundry room one winter day). The young lady, hearing the commotion and not having much sense (as her mother confided to me), had already opened her door.

She had something in her hand. It was a book. It was another copy of the Harry Potter book. Oh, no.

She froze in terror as he approached her, but when he made to grab the book (perhaps being a bigger fan than I), she held on for dear life. Abandoning the other two books he held, he grasped hers with both his hands and they formed an oddly graceful ballet as they struggled for possession, dancing about in a circle, neither willing to let go.

Other neighbors now appeared, attracted to the noise and the movement. We watched the delivery man and the hair dresser struggle up and down the sidewalk, into trees, and through bushes. I could see both were scratched and bleeding, but neither was willing to give an inch. The two college students down the way from us started laying odds with each other as to who would triumph in the end.

“Well, obviously he’s mad, but that should make him stronger.”

“Yeah, but that cloak can’t be helping.”

“Oooo! That must have hurt!”

“Wow, remind me to never grab anything from a hair dresser.”

“Yeah, not without a protective cup.”

It was the shrub near the sidewalk that was her undoing. The young woman backed into it and tripped. Trying to recover her balance, she flailed about with her arms, letting go of the book. The delivery man–wig now half knocked off, cape torn with UPS uniform showing through, blood dripping down his hairy calves–held the book aloft in triumph.

At that moment, out of the darkness came a light, a blinding white light.

“This is the police,” came a disembodied voice. “Put down the book, put your hands behind you head, and lay down on the ground.”

The scene held together, like a picture on a wall. Everyone froze. Everyone but the delivery man. Slowly, oh so slowly, he began to lower the arm holding the book. When the arm was straight out from his body, he pointed the book at the light, at the police man who held it, and his partner who stood by him, weapon in hand.

“Let me go,” the delivery man said.

“I can’t do that,” said the cop holding the gun.

“Let me go, or I’ll shout out the ending.”

We all sucked in our breaths and released them in unison, in a sort of collective gasp at the implied threat. A woman two doors down from the hair dresser cried out softly, “No! No! Think of the children”, as she moved to put her hands over her daughter’s ears. The child was crying softly, words bubbling out through the tears. “Want book. Want book.”

Emboldened, the delivery man started to move towards the two policemen, slowly stopping to pick up the other two books he had dropped.

“I’ve read the book, you know,” he said, voice calm. “We weren’t supposed to, but I couldn’t stand it, I couldn’t stand the not knowing.” He had reclaimed one book.

“Last night I broke into the warehouse where the books were being kept. There was no one around. No one around at all.”

He had now picked up the second dropped book.

“I grabbed one of the book boxes and oh so carefully slit it open.”

He was now standing between the insurance man and myself, both of us transfixed at the drama unfolding in front of us (such not happening all that often when one lives in the suburbs of St. Louis).

“I then read it, read it right there, sitting on the cement in a storage room filled with treasures.”

He continued to creep forward, coming closer and closer to the police.

“I’ll do it, ” he said, determination shining through the madness. “I’ll tell everyone here whether Harry Potter lives or dies if you don’t let me go.”

The hair dresser raised her arm in supplication. “No”, she whimpered. “Please, please don’t.”

“I’m afraid I can’t let you do it,” the policeman said again, tightening his grip on his gun.

The delivery man stopped. He must have found some inner strength because he seemed to stand taller. He calmly put two of the books under one arm and used his newly freed hand to straighten the wig on his head. “So,” he said, bringing the arm holding the one book closer to his chest. “You refuse to consider my offer, is that it?”

Without warning, he flung his arm back out again, pointing the book directly at the policeman holding the gun.

“Be it on your head then,” he screamed. “In the book Harry Potter…GACK! gAck!”

The ends of the taser stuck out of the delivery man’s chest like horns from some mythical beast. He jerked about and fell to the ground, the books in his arms flying wide into the bushes around him. He twitched and twitched and twitched on the ground before finally lying still.

It was all over. Disaster prevented. Spoiler narrowly averted.

More police came, helping the now docile delivery man to his feet where he was unceremoniously stripped of wig and cloak, but thankfully allowed to keep his brown UPS shirt and shorts. Then he was gone, the police were gone, and most of the neighbors had returned to their homes.

All but three of us: the insurance man across the way, the hair dresser, and myself.

Without speaking we left our homes and each moved to a different section of the bushes. The insurance man bent down, hand reaching out, but I called out to wait.

I looked at my cellphone.

It was 11:59.

It was 12:00.

It was 12:00 and thirty seconds.

It was 12:01.

“OK,” I called softly, and we all reached down and picked up our Harry Potter books and without saying another word, returned to our homes.