Saturday, February 21, 2009

UCF (University of Central Florida) Panoramas

With the wife being out of town this weekend I decided to hit the streets. I had a field day with my Kodak P850 around the UCF campus. The goal; to make a bunch of panoramas. My camera has been giving me all sorts of headaches and i'm convinced it is nearing the end of its life. I'm disappointed because the camera seemed to be good at first. I had to take it to Best Buy once during the first year because it started turning off by itself. Now a days, both the evf and lcd displays flake out randomly, and by flake out I mean go completely black or white depending on the amount of brightness in the field of view. Every few minutes I have to play with the zoom in order to get the displays to even show up. It's a pain and I haven't even had the camera more than two years. Amidst all the fighting with it, I ended up taking some reasonably good shots around campus. An added bonus was the absolutely amazing weather we have today! Oh, for the record, all the photos here were taken with the camera mounted on my tripod.

I started off entering campus and driving through the parking garage closest to the education building. I went all the way to the top and thought I would start by taking some shots around the outside edge of the parking garage. If I were to start, I would have had to go all the way around (since i'm ambitious)... but since i'm lazy I decided to just take one of the garage itself as it looks from the interior. All together there was a total of 19 shots.

This was my first experience using a tripod to create a panorama. I learned a few lessons along the way. For the other panoramas i've taken I simply held the camera in my hands and used myself as the tripod. All in all the tripod was a great idea, just a pain to carry it around everywhere, not to mention my tiny camera doesn't really Look right on such a large tripod. Seeing that it was roughly 50 degrees outside here in Florida, the next stop was appropriately Starbucks. Of course, I was too excited about taking more shots, so I didn't grab any caffein. Although, just typing about it makes me Crraavveee one. Total shots here was 13.

I then took a stroll to the UCF Student Union, looking for good spots. It looks like they are having elections coming up, so there were banners and tents all over the place outside the front. There were also quite a few people walking by. It didn't seem like a good spot, so I decided to take a stroll behind the union, where there were less people and other things. This series was made up of 14 shots.

Campus is huge and I wanted to take a shot or two near the towers, so I started walking back to my car. I made a quick stop between the administration and education buildings and centered my shot on the Teaching Academy building.

Then I hit decided to hit the car and drive to the towers side of campus. That was a pain, since I left my car on the top of the parking garage (dumb idea). So, drive I went to the other side of campus with the windows down. The towers side of campus is full of parking meters and I wasn't sure if I had to pay or not on the weekends. I asked a lady in an SUV and she said 'probably'. I decided to park in a visible spot and not pay, just in case I didn't have to :-) There's this flat median-like area in the street that is most likely meant for students to gather on when trying to make the leap of faith across the street during busy days. It was an excellent spot to set up camera and start snapping, so I did; all 14 shots worth.

All together it was a reasonably productive outing. I learned a bit more about my camera, using a tripod in different places and enjoying the great out doors. Before leaving campus, I had to make one last stop, Lake Claire. There was a family out in the picnic area on the west side of the lot, so I decided not to point my camera in that direction. They were playing some game where you throw these colored balls into the sand... it was strange, i'd never seen anyone playing it before. I should have asked what it was all about but I didn't. Instead I took 17 shots of good ole nature.

There were two other groups of images that I did not show here; one set on the first floor of the library and one of a line of vending machines near the starbucks. Both were failed attempts in stitching but were definitely good learning experiences.

If you're interested in obtaining higher resolution versions of any of these images go to my homepage joevial and click on panoramas. Blogspot has a limit on the amount of data that can be uploaded per blog, so I host them up separately.


Sunday, February 8, 2009

STS-119 Discovery Panorama

I took a trip to the Kennedy Space Center today with some family and friends. It's been years since i'd been to "The Cape" (as it's known to Floridians) and it's still really fun! I was like a kid at the fair the entire time. I didn't know which way to look or what to take a picture of next. Since I live in Orlando, I decided to purchase a year pass. I'm definitely going again soon, in fact i'm going to try to take a trip next weekend (or in the next couple of weeks) to make some more panoramas. I took several photos off the LC-39 Observation Gantry in an attempt to create some panoramas from them. For those of you not familiar with this observation deck, I took a nice shot for you.

I don't remember seeing this when I was a kid but it was completely amazing to me. I'd like to say Thank You to NASA all the taxpayers and for making this available. This platform provides an excellent view of a large portion of the cape. In addition, on each deck, they have observation guides that give you details as to what you're looking at out in the distance. If you look near the center of the picture, you see something that looks like an engine. Don't doubt yourself, that's exactly what it is! It's a main engine from the shuttle. Read the brief about it below.

What's really neat about the way they set it up is that you can get a view of every angle of it; top, sides and bottom, all up close. Here's a quick shot of what it looks like from the side.

I took a circle of pictures all the way around, looking down from the top and around the sides. On the ground, I laid my camera on the floor and put the ten second timer on to capture the whole thing. Ok ok, I got sidetracked, so back to the panoramas. Of course, without software like Photoshop, it's rather difficult to touch up the pictures in Windows. So, I went ahead and did what I could to clean them up in Paint .NET since i'm on a Vista box at the moment (I know, I know... GAG ME). Off to the east, I caught a glimpse of Discovery out on launchpad 39A and thought this would be an excellent snippet to share with the world. For those of you that did now know, the Discovery vehicle is preparing to launch at the end of this month. To learn more about the crew and mission, read more here.

If you look out to the south east, you can see the LC-41 Atlas V launchpad, which is still active.

If you're interested in viewing some of the high-res photos, you can obtain them here: Atlas V Launchpad Panorama Discovery STS-119 Panorama.

I have a set of photos that cover the view of the Observation Gantry full circle. Unfortunately, I was unable to completely 'panoramorize' (?) them. I have TONS of other photos of just about everything you could possibly see. Before leaving the park, we were fortunate enough to sit in on a presentation given by an astronaut namely Roger Crouch. Before this presentation, i'd never heard of him before. He gave us details on his background and how he came to be an astronaut. He also provided a rather gory look into some of the things they do while preparing astronauts for the launch, such as:
  • tagging your body parts (for identification purposes if necessary)
  • giving you an Oxygen tank (in case you go unconscious for whatever reason)
  • placing shark repellent in your suite (to keep those away if you become dismembered)
Sign me up! I'd be too busy jumping with excitement to be worried about anything. That being said, this guy was full of interesting information and experiences. He spoke for about an hour (approximately, I failed to note the time). One fact that he focused on was his color-blindedness and how it affected him throughout his life. For starters, he wanted to be a pilot and the services had to turn him away because of this. He spent years writing letters to NASA in an effort to become an astronaut and was turned down over and over. Finally after years of trying, he was recruited as a Payload Specialist (which he seemed to portray as his "work-around" to becoming an astronaut). Around halfway throughout his speech, I saw a few groups of people just walk out. One was a group of three people and the other a group of four. I was burning with anger. I have no concept of why people would just get up and walk out like that. I mean, how many astronauts have you been able to ask questions to and take pictures with? There were maybe 20 people in the room total, such a great opportunity! So, enough rant... The one idea that he stressed throughout his presentation was that you should Never Give Up. It took him years to become an astronaut and if he wasn't persistent it probably wouldn't have happened. All in all, I feel honored to have had the opportunity to sit down and listen to what he had to say. I'm proud to say I know who Roger Crouch is and he is definitely an inspiration to me. After all was said and done, my wife and I took a picture with him :-)

All and all, today was an excellent day. I'm definitely going back soon. Two thumbs up NASA!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

joevial - The Return

Joevial is back online and smaller than ever! Due to the cost, I had to abandon my rental server from LayeredTech. That was quite a few months ago and since that time, my web presence has been minimal (except for this blog). In order to maintain my web presence I have resorted to taking extreme measures:

The website is currently powered using a 500MHz AMD Geode. I have 8Gb of compact flash onboard but nowhere near that quantity of content. Don't forget to check it out:

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Technicians License - Finally

Yeah, yeah, I know... I have no excuse for not doing this long ago... Some of the guys at work were talking about some radio stuffs this week and I had to jump into the conversation all excited. I went home and decided I was going to quit being lazy and become a Ham. I called up the OARC and scheduled to take my technicians exam. I left work 30 minutes early yesterday to ensure that I would arrive on time. It was 36 questions all centered around electronics, radio and regulations. There were quite a few hams there and they had this really neat presentation on DSTARS. I look forward to having my operators license and getting involved in the community.

Speaking of community, I spent this evening over at a LMARS meeting. They had some high school students give a presentation on a robot they competed with. It was a pretty neat little bot that had to pick up hockey pucks from one location and drop them in another.

In other news, i've been doing more testing with my XTend-PKG modules. Below, you can see my base unit (top) and the portable unit (bottom).

I wanted to do some testing, except I can only be in one place at a time :-) I could have used the X-CTU but I didn't want to lug my laptop around. Soooo.... I wrote some quick code to send/receive the packets and test them for completeness. The code would validate the packets then it would text my phone the good/received reading every 2 seconds. For the record, I used C# for this code, so System.IO.Ports to the rescue! This way, all I had in the car with me was the portable unit and my cell phone (which I would have with me anyway). At 500mw, I was able to get just over a half mile out of it. That's with an apartment building in the way too, so it wasn't too shabby. I'll probably do some testing at UCF this weekend using the parking garage to place the base a bit higher up....

While putting together this blog, i've been shaking at my desk... not to mention my nose is cold to the touch. I just looked at my AccuWeather powered receiver and it's 38 degrees!

Well, I need to warm up... For now, i'm off to bed.

Oh, Call sign coming soon!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

New Flight of the Conchords Season

Season two is here. Thanks for the reminder Dan!

Learn more about em here:

Looking forward to their concert in April!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Log4Net - Configure at Runtime to Log to Textfile

I spent a few minutes hacking at log4net today. It's been a very long time since I used it and i've always used it along with an app.config. Today however, I attempted to use it for other purposes that required specifying the log4net configuration parameters at runtime so that output could be directed to a text file. I'm not a log4net expert, nor do I claim any expertise in this area. That being said, this seemed to work for me.

I created a FileStream and TextWriter to start things off. The LOGFILEPATH is a string that indicates the full path to where the log file will be stored:

FileStream filestream = new FileStream(LOGFILEPATH, FileMode.Append, FileAccess.Write, FileShare.ReadWrite);
System.IO.TextWriter textwriter= new StreamWriter(filestream);
Next, I looked into the PatternLayout class for an example pattern to use for log output. I found a good reference online here.

log4net.Layout.PatternLayout patternlayout = new log4net.Layout.PatternLayout();
pattern.ConversionPattern = "%timestamp [%thread] %level %logger %ndc - %message%newline";

I then created an associated TextWriterAppender. This is where we will associate the TextWriter and PatternaLayout together into a bundle. I also set the ImmediateFlush option to true.

log4net.Appender.TextWriterAppender textwriterappender = new log4net.Appender.TextWriterAppender();
textwriterappender.Writer = textwriter;
textwriterappender.Layout = patternlayout ;
textwriterappender.ImmediateFlush = true;

Unfortunately for me, I first started this endeavor by creating my own Appender... which wasn't too bad but after browsing through the source tree and checking out src\Appender, I figured i'd just use theirs. So I did ! To finish it all up, I simply initialized the BasicConfigurator with the created textwriterappender.

I also needed to set the debug level. After some mild google-ing, I did this:

((log4net.Repository.Hierarchy.Hierarchy)log4net.LogManager.GetRepository()).Root.Level = log4net.Core.Level.Debug;
So, there you have it. After this, you simply use log4net as you normally would in your code. For me, it was as simple as:

log4net.ILog log = log4net.LogManager.GetLogger(typof(MYCLASS));

Where, MYCLASS is the class I was interested in logging. I'm not sure if this is the correct way to go about doing this but it appeared to work for me. I'll need to spend a bit more time reading through the source and learning the 'right way' around the library. It's interesting to note that within log4net-1.2.10/src/Appender, there are several other types of Appender classes defined for use, including AdoNet, Console, Telnet, Udp, etc.... Good to know in case you ever are interested in heading down that road.

If you know of a better way to perform this type of runtime configuration, please let me know. If not, hopefully this works for you!