Stitched Photos

I have over 50 panorama photos taken over the last few years. In my regular photo album, photos are downsized to ensure I don’t run out of disk space with my provider. However, for panorama photos this means the size becomes too small to admire all the detail inside. So I have created a separate album where each panorama photo can have a maximum height or width of 3000 pixels. In quite a few cases that is still much smaller than the original resolution (in some cases more than 10000 pixels width) but it is better than nothing.

Your browser will probably zoom the photos to fit your screen width so you will have to click on them to zoom in and use the scrollbars to pan left to right. Some of the photos actually are not traditional panorama photos but high resolution views stitched together from several photos organized in e.g. a 4×4 grid. This creates a nice effect where you get a very wide angle view of something that would otherwise have required an extremely large telelense + rediculous distance to subject to achieve.

For stitching, I have used various tools over the years. For the past two years the tool of choice for me has been Hugin which is an excellent but difficult to use tool for this purpose.

I also took the opportunity to add a bit of text to the front page of my photosite.

Photos

While updating my photosite I noticed I had accidentally broken it with some .htaccess rule that was redirecting index.html to www.jillesvangurp/index.php. Anyway, problem solved.

I also took the opportunity to upload photos from:

  • A trip to Madrid in April for the EU Sensei project I’m in.
  • Another Sensei trip to Guildford (UK) last week.
  • A visit from my friend Mark last weekend. We rented a car and did some serious driving to Nuuksio, Hanko (with a stop at Raseborg’s castle) and Naantali. Also we celebrated midsummer together with a lot of wet Fins in Seurasari, just behind my house.

Given that I’m traveling to Madrid again next wednesday (vacation), it was about time too.

Me on Plaza Mayor in Madrid.

My friend Mark admiring the boats in Hanko.

Security

Knowing slightly more than average about computers, I am regularly assumed to be an expert by family or friends. A returning question is which virus scanner to use. This one always causes me some trouble because I know the right answer is to spend some money on e.g. Norton or McAfee or to experiment with one of the free solutions.

However, I don’t really know anything about the subject because I don’t use virus scanners at all. I don’t need them. But this is hardly something to recommend to somebody who has no clue what to do here. At work we have Norton Antivirus wasting a lot of my time on my slow laptop disk. Each time it boots, it insists on re-examining the same crap it hasn’t found a virus in before, ever. It so happens that this is a particularly bad time to access the disk since a dozen processes are trying to start. So, I usually kill the process to make my laptop boot in a reasonable time frame (< 10 minutes). I think over the past few years, Norton easily wasted several working days of my time by making me wait. Arguably the economic damage of such products is worse than the problems they supposedly prevent.

Installing virus scanners is not a security measure but merely a form of deniability for system administrators. If the shit hits the fan, they can point to Norton and Norton can point to the fine print in their license (which says good luck if the shit hits the fan). Norton’s businessmodel is to provide deniability to companies. The price is in dollars and productivity lost. Norton will easily transform any laptop in a dead slow machine, especially if configured for maximum deniability (scan everything, always, every time, all the time).

I know I’m OK because I know how not to get infected, which is why I don’t run any security products at home. A little bit of hygiene goes a long way. Most virus infections are ignorant users clicking on stuff they shouldn’t be clicking. Drive by infections are also common with risky things such as active x and internet explorer exposed and not updated. That’s no concern for me because I A)  use firefox, B) don’t visit suspicious sites and only use up to date, mainstream plugins, C) have adaware filter out a lot of crap, and D) keep my shit up to date. Sure, that still leaves some room for something to slip by but I’ve never been infected by anything since I stopped accepting floppy’s from strangers (long time ago).

A few days ago, some download included Norton Security Scan which is a free scanning tool designed to make you buy the full version. Since this computer has been exposed to the nasty internet for a few years now, I thought lets see what it comes up with.

Well:

  • A tracking cookie in my browser of some ad site. Tedious but not really a risk. Also shows how crappy this tool is because I have way more advertisment related cookies that I probably should remove. However, I’m too lazy to keep track of all my cookies. Once in a while I clean them up by deleting cookies for any domain I don’t know or care about.
  • Two infected mails in thunderbird’s trashcan (w32.netsky.p@mm!enc worm). That’s risky, if you open the attachment. Using Thunderbird prevents that from happening automatically. Besides, all my mail is handled by Google these days which uses serverside malware and virus filters. So no reason for me to install a virus scanner. These two mails probably predate me starting to use gmail. This was in 2005.

So two old and obvious malware mails I deleted (or thunderbird filtered them) and a tracking cookie. No worms, no rootkits, no spyware, no adware. Just a failed attempt to make me open some shitty attachment and a cookie. Thanks for confirming what I already knew Norton. I uninstalled it.

This doesn’t prove anything of course. There’s no perfect security. But so far so good. I don’t have a firewall since I have a NAT router which stops any incoming request except the ones that it shouldn’t be stopping because I told it to. I know everything outgoing is OK because I know what software I install. My router doesn’t do UPNP configuration so I control everything manually. I don’t have a virus scanner active since all my mail goes to google which already scans my mails. All my downloads are of course a risk, so I take care to only download from respectable sources. I actually have clamwin antivirus installed to manually scan files if I don’t trust the source but I rarely have a need for it and it has never found anything. Firefox 3 should warn me against malware sites in so far they are able to keep their filters up to date. Arguably if they screw up, Norton isn’t doing much better probably.

So in short, I’m keeping my money and will take my chances. If something goes wrong, I’ll only have myself to blame and will be back online in no time because I do have backups of all my important files. The last time this happened was when a particularly nasty piece of malware struck me: windows activation failed on a fully legal version of windows XP pro after installing a new usb hard disk.

X-Plane 9 review

Last weekend I ordered X-plane version 9. I bought version 8 early 2006 and since then I haven’t looked back. Sure, MS Flight Simulator looks great but the flying sucks. Laminar consistently delivers with new features and bug fixes. Version 8 got its last major update (8.64) about half a year ago and since then they have been beta testing version 9. While I could have bought it earlier, I waited until they released it.

A few days ago the package with 6 double layer DVDs was delivered. Installation was not so smooth as I complained about here. But I managed to sort it out and have a working X-plane 9 now. I installed the European and US scenery. The 6 DVDs of world wide scenery is really nice and detailed but consists only of automatically computed landscapes from various databases. Europe now also includes the part I live in (Finland) which was too far north for version 8. However, I prefer to fly southern Europe, where the landscape is a bit more varied.

There are cities, forests, roads, airports, coastlines, etc. where they should be (and in surprising amount of detail) but the simulator lacks custom content like the massive amount of content that comes with Microsoft Flight simulator. To fix that, I installed the excellent Corsica scenery, which is one of the many third party scenery packages available and one of the first ones to be upgraded for version 9. This adds a nice level of realism. Flying in from Nice (another scenery package, warning horrible HTML layout) with the new Cirrus jet was pretty cool and surprisingly easy given that the Cirrus was new to me. According to the product announcement, this plane was actually created by Cirrus themselves and presumably tuned to their specifications and needs. Also, the 3D cockpit is pretty cool and much more user friendly on a PC than the average very complicated panel coming with a X-plane jet.

Technically, version 9 includes lots of improvements to the scenery rendering and simulation. The changes are outlined in great detail in the product announcement page by Laminar owner and founder, Austin Meyer. I have little to add here except to say that it mostly works and delivers as advertised. Don’t expect to max out any of the rendering settings, they have been designed such that this is not possible with any hardware available now. In fact they just raised the bar for future hardware. If you can get your hands on a NVIdia with a few GB of video ram, X-plane will probably find a use for every byte of it. The good news is that it still looks pretty good with object detail not set to “TOTALLY INSANE” (Austin Meyer loves his capitals). In case you are wondering, I have a three year old AMD 4400+ with 2GB and a NVidia 7800 GT. Anything similar or better will run X-plane just fine.

Part of the attraction of X-plane is that it is a niche product build by some dedicated people who know what they are doing and are totally focused on doing it. Considering that they have a very small programmer team and not much other people working for them, it is pretty amazing what they manage to deliver. They have to be smart and efficient about a lot of things. So their UI is totally custom and a bit wacky. But it works. The included planes are so so but there are plenty of free ones available to fix that (and some better ones for a small fee). With all these nice freeware planes out there (e.g. on x-plane.org), you have to wonder why the selection bundled with X-plane is so weak. Most of the planes don’t have 3D cockpits and quite a few even lack textures.

However, at the core of X-plane is an excellent and extremely detailed simulation of just about anything that flies and everything that makes it fly. I mean, they are worrying about the accuracy of the voltage in electrical systems here and how that behaves under different failure scenarios. The attention to detail is just amazing. This is a simulator made by absolute flight sim geeks for flight sim geeks. It has lots of rough edges but it does its core job extremely well and is arguably the best all round flight simulator available today.