360 degree panoramic photography

When QTVR came out in the mid 90’s I was really into it. I took many cylindrical panoramas in my free time and also for clients of the web development company I worked for at the time. The technology has changed only a little since then, but the big advancement is that it’s now possible to see not only 360 degrees horizontally, but also vertically as well. I want to acquire the equipment, software and know-how to take panoramas like this one, and hopefully use it at work too.

Here’s the information I’ve collected so far:

  • Best lenses: Sigma 8mm or Penleg 8mm if I can find it in Japan. Another low-budget choice is the Fisheye MC Zenitar-M 16mm f/2.8 Lens made in Russia.
  • Panorama tripod mount: I already ordered a Panosarus. It’s the least expensive model I could find that lets you do multi-row panoramic shots, meaning you tilt the camera up to take one series of shots all the way around, then tilt it down to take another, then stitch them all together into a single full 360 degree spherical scene.
  • Panorama stitching software: For free there’s Panorama Tools, then PTAssembler for $40, or what’s considered the best out there, PTGui, which is $130 for the regular version or $245 for the pro version. The latter two are GUIs built on top of Panorama Tools. Another way to go is the combination of Hugin and Emblend, both open source.
  • Viewers: There are a number of ways to go: Java, Quicktime, Shockwave, proprietary browser plugin or Flash. Obviously, these days Flash is the best choice, and the most popular Flash viewer is the Flash Panorama Player, which costs $70 for a site license, but there are many interesting free or open source plugins available for it. Another group has developed an open source version recently, and I might look into that one instead.

Flickr user Simon S. has a set of equirectangular photos from Japan with a link to the interactive viewer under each photo.

The reason why I want to get into panoramic photography is because it’s getting harder for me to bare my soul in public through podcasts and videos. If I were independently wealthy, I could talk about whatever I want and not worry about what people think, but I’m not and I can’t. But still, I want to act as peoples’ window into the real Japan, and show you places you might not see even if you were to take a trip here. I’m also hoping I’ll be able to use the technology at work to show off schools’ facilities on the new version of the Global Daigaku website. Our current site is really showing its age.

Bimoji Training for Nintendo DS

Finally a new “game” has come out for the Nintendo DS that will make me start using it again. Last night I was surfing the Nintendo channel of our Wii while putting off going to bed and came across an advertisement for 美文字トレーニング, a program that helps you improve your handwriting in Japanese. I downloaded the trial version from our Wii to my DS and was instantly hooked.

Penmanship means a lot to Japanese. From kindergarten through high school, children spend countless hours in class learning and practicing how to write properly, and even as adults people still take courses in penmanship and calligraphy. Although I’m not Japanese and never will be, I still compare myself to those around me, and everyone–including my kids–have better handwriting than I do, and it bugs me. Every time I have to put pen to paper, I’m ashamed of my chicken scratch that looks like that of a four year old stroke victim with cerebral palsy.

Here’s how it works. The program shows you a character on one of the DS’s two screens and prompts you to trace it on the other screen in the correct stroke order. When you’re done it gives you grades for balance, detail and stroke width along with praise or advice on how to improve, just like a calligraphy instructor. It covers 3,119 characters including kanji, hiragana and katakana and up to six people can keep track of their progress on one DS.

For 3,800 yen it seems well worth the price and I’m going to stop off and buy it on the way home tonight.

For some reason, Google loves me.

There are a number of search terms for which my blog ranks very, very highly:

  • Used Panty Machine: #3 and 4 out of 1,850,000. I have to say I’m very proud of this. (P.S. There are NO used panty vending machines in Japan.)
  • Used panty: #21 in Yahoo (Welcome, all you sick wankers!)
  • Chikan: #3 in Google Images, the photo of the guy I caught (SERVES YOU RIGHT, FU*KER!!), #8 in Google
  • Mouthcam: #4, 5, and 6! Take THAT, porno industry!
  • Groping Women: #2, the podcast about the guy who groped my wife who I nearly beat to death (OK, well, actually I only bitchslapped him) then had thrown in jail
  • Herro: #2 Why the hell are people searching for herro, and why are there over a quarter of a million pages with the word?
  • Japan podcast: #5
  • Bleach blonde: #6
  • How to become a Japanese Citizen: #6 (I’m still American, but I’m kinda sorta thinking about it…)
  • Conveyor belt sushi: #5
  • Burma Myanmar: #1 at blogsearch.google.com …Huh?

By far, most people who land here from Google are looking for used panties or videos or stories about groping women. In other words, one-handed typists wearing only one sock, and it’s not on their foot. (Here, let me help you out: “Lunch Lady.” “Ann Coulter.” “Condoleezza Rice.” “Janet Reno in a thong.” “Your grandmother is watching you from heaven right now.” Finished yet?)

The First Law of Troubleshooting

I’m going to tell you a story that might not be very interesting, but who knows, it might come in handy someday.

Here’s the short version first: Whenever there’s a technical problem, check the wiring before you do anything else. Even if your intuition tells you otherwise, ignore it. They actually teach you this in networking courses. Really.

OK, here’s the story. On Saturday, our home Internet connection went out. (or “went off” or however you say it. Couldn’t connect to the Internet.) This happens every so often, so I waited for it to fix itself and kept checking the router syslogs for any good news. (About 100 times in eight hours.) In the meantime, I configured my laptop to leech off the neighbor’s wireless. (Don’t worry, it’s OK, I scanned their network first and found out they didn’t have any PCs using it at the time.)

Day two: still no joy. I can see in the syslogs that the router is dialing out over and over but the other end of the line isn’t picking up.

Day three: Tony’s going through some serious Counter Strike withdrawal and Andy’s whining because he can’t play Gary’s Mod. Not to even mention what it’s doing to my sex life. (Ha ha, just kidding. Well, OK. Not just kidding. But yeah, anyway.) So I decided to check the wiring. First, I checked the phone line that we use for ADSL. Well whaddaya know, no frikkin’ dial tone! Just for kicks I unplugged the splitter (the little box that splits the incoming phone line into two: one that goes to the phone and the other that plugs into the ADSL modem) then plugged the phone directly into the wall. Voila, we have dial tone!

At this point I’m guessing the splitter is broken, although I can’t imagine how some stupid little box with no moving parts or power supply could break. It just sits behind the desk collecting dust bunnies and splits the incoming frequencies (or is it bandwidth?) into to separate streams. But whatever, so I hop in the car, buy a new splitter at the local home electronics store, bring it home and plug it in. So now the phone works when it’s plugged into the new splitter.

But still no Internet, dammit. However, since my laptop still works thanks to the involuntary generosity of my neighbor, I give up for the night.

Fast forward to this morning. I want to update my podcasts, but I have to do it on my desktop PC, not the laptop, so I check the wiring again and discover that last night when I plugged the phone into the new splitter, I forgot to plug in the $%$# modem!

Moral of the story: Check the wiring first. And then, check it again.

P.S. The only reason I’m telling this story is because I haven’t written in a while, but nothing interesting has happened lately. Truth is, I spent most the three-day weekend just studying Java, pulling weeds, doing laundry and horsing around with the kids. For excitement, I installed Ubuntu on my laptop via Wubi. Hey, what can I say, I’m a real fun guy.

[tags]anecdote, geek stuff[/tags]

Bits and Pieces: A random update

About that video I posted last Friday. I had an epiphany while watching his God-awful performance. If a guy can stand up in front of a crowd and not only sing the world’s most horrible song (even the lyrics were atrocious) but also revel in the attention and attract at least one fan (the adulator with the uchiwa in the video), then there’s a whole lot more I could be doing with my life if I just let go of my fear. Maria is my new hero. He’s probably completely insane, but he’s living his life with the right attitude.

There are so many things I scare myself out of doing. He accomplished something in that performance that struck a chord with me. (Har har.) I want to be more like him, minus the makeup and the head thrashing.

Next subject. I added gravatars to my blog’s comment pages. If you register your own gravatar, it’ll show up on any other blog plugged into the same system. I like being able to see who I’m interacting with. Thanks to everyone who showed their faces a week or two back. Now every post can be like that!

Next subject. Tony, our 10 year old, is reluctantly learning to read in English. While he sits in my lap and plays Counter Strike on the PC, I make him earn the privilege by having him sound out new words and correcting him when his swears are grammatically incorrect. (BTW, thanks Oliver for teaching him “Aaah shit!” He never said that until he pwned you at Red Steel on the WII.) Yesterday Tony read “Downloading Map” off the screen and really surprised me. Before bedtime we read One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish together. It practically killed him to engage his brain that for that long, but he stayed with me through whole book. Barely.

This week I’m going to start learning Java (finally) with the O’Reilly Java Bookin their excellent Head First series. Previously I read the book on HTML and CSSand liked it a lot. I’m also trying to learn JavaScriptthese days. Life is too short, and I feel like I’ve wasted too much of it already.

Last item on the agenda. I posted some photos of Tony and Andy’s undokai, which was last Saturday. It’s the first in a series of “interesting but boring” photos I plan to take of just daily stuff that won’t be good enough to throw up on Flickr. At least take a look at the panorama of the school grounds.

[tags]geek stuff, Tony, fear, Java, JavaScript[/tags]

I’m thinking of moving…

Dreamhost offers a ridiculously insane amount of services for a very low price, but continuous problems with their infrastructure (network outages, failures caused by a lack of redundant hardware) are making me seriously consider moving to another host. Are there any other hosts out there who offer:

  • unlimited subdomains, or at least more than I could ever use
  • bandwidth and disk space out the wazoo
  • shell access
  • phpMyAdmin
  • great customer service
  • few, if any, outages caused by backhoes, someone tripping over a power cord, or hardware failures

Obon and other stuff

This week is Obon, the yearly holiday season similar to Dia de los muertos in Mexico, when people go back to their hometowns to visit living relatives and spruce up the graves of dead ones. It’s believed that the spirits of your dead relatives come back to visit, which is a nice thing to believe–you never feel too distant from the ones you’ve lost. There are many local “bon odori” festivals that involve dancing, taiko drumming, eating, drinking, etc. People take off work en masse, and many banks, city halls, supermarkets and small stores are closed. This is also the time of year when traffic jams miles and miles long make the news.

I don’t have off today, but my wife does, and she’s is taking our kids to see the new Harry Potter movie, which means I’ll have to download watch it by myself later.

Last Friday Oliver dragged took me to a live house to listen to a singer/songwriter he met during his travels. Let me say this–although I do like some music loud, to which my father will attest, there’s a point where “loud” becomes “way too loud.” When the venue is in the basement of a building behind two sets of vacuum-sealed soundproof doors, it’s a good sign that your eardrums are in for some serious punishment. I used my sound isolating earbuds for earplugs and it was still too loud. It was sparking my “fight or flight” response, and I spent half the time in retreat on the opposite, quiet side of the double doors and the other half wanting to pick a fight with an innocent bystander. On the bright side, I took full advantage of the “all you can drink” deal that was included in the entrance fee and spend the night curled up in a dumpster outside Koga station. (I nicknamed one rat “Fifi” and the other one “Cuddles.”)

So here I am at work today, having no luck finding a function in JavaScript for converting HTML entities like & and ” back into their proper characters. It looks like you have to roll your own. Stupid language.

Oliver and I almost recorded a podcast, but I was too inebriated and in a pretty foul mood. We started one before the gig, but it wasn’t turning out all that well so I’ll throw it in the chumbucket later.

[tags]music, Oliver, anecdote, podcasting, geek stuff, work, family, holidays[/tags]

A happy news chaser, to clear your palate.

  • I bought a 30GB iPod yesterday to replace the one I lost. I also bought a new pair of Sennheiser CX 300 earbuds ($40 and they’re the best I’ve ever owned). With the store points I collected from that purchase, I picked up an expensive and beautifully crafted and designed leather case for a mere 45 yen.
  • For the first time in ages, tonight I’m having dinner with my best friend and her cousin. That might not make you happy, but it sure makes me happy.
  • The book publisher for whom we’re going to produce a podcast is mere centimeters away from approving the budget. Boy, will you be surprised when I can finally announce the company’s name.
  • As previously mentioned, my home computer is fixed, and I didn’t lose any data.
  • I’m going to take the kids to the International Tokyo Toy Show over the weekend, and the above-mentioned best friend and her daughter might come along. I think I’ll be able to bribe the kids into helping with a videocast, on the condition that I let them do it in Japanese.
  • Life is boring, repetitive, lonely, soul-draining and tedious for me lately, but it won’t be that way forever, and things could be a whole lot worse. I just need to make an effort to crawl out from under this rock.