Ricoh Theta, Google photospheres and Pannellum

I have a new Gadget a Ricoh Theta it is capable of taking full 360 degree panorama with one shot. It does this by have two lenses pointing in opposite directions, each one with a slightly more than 180 degrees view. The camera then stitches the two pictures together in the camera. The resolution is not great at 3584 x 1792 but they are good enough to publish on web pages as you can see from the example below. The camera have been out for over a year but have they are quite a niche thing and not that easy to get hold of. You can get them new on Amazon and eBay for about £320, they come from Japan, but I spotted a second hand one of eBay I put in a bid for just over half the new price and forgot about it. Next thing I know I have won the auction and a proud owner of a Ricoh Theta. I checked out the images on the camera when I got it and get the impression that the person that had it before had not used it much there were a dozen photos on it starting with some test ones I’m guessing it probably only ever took the 12.

I have been carrying it about for a few weeks now in an attempt to get get a feel for what pictures work and what does not. You need to be a bit careful with which way you point it because you can end up with side dark and one light, so I try to keep the sun to the side so that each camera get the same amount of light. Another issue is that it is impossible to take a picture that does not include your arm, hand and thumb on the camera button, but there are a couple of solutions to these issues, the first is to get a selfie camara holder basically a telescopic stick with a tripod mount on the end, this puts you further away from the camera so taking up less room in the picture, the other method is to use the phone app to take pictures remotely using wifi.

I have an Android phone and there is an app in the Play store for the Theta, which appears to be pretty robust. The Ricoh Theta has built in wifo and acts as an access point, which you pair with your phone then you can access the theta to download and share your photo’s. You can also take pictures remotely, and have a choice of Auto mode, Shutter priority and ISO priority and you can adjust the exposure -2.0 to +2.0EV in 1/3EV Steps. You can also do interval shooting which would be useful for timelapse or hyperlapse sequences. As I said the resolution is not great especially when you view the images full screen but it is really convenient and I and sure to have some fun with it, and the price was good.

I also create panorama pictures by stitching together photo’s using a product called PTGui, my strategy is to take three sets of photos, 6 around at 60 degree intervals and then one up (the zenith shot) and one down (the nadir shot), the sets are at different exposures -2.0EV 0EV and +2.0EV then the software stitches them and uses the exposures to produce an HDR image. The best way is to take the pictures using a tripod and a special bracket which allows the lens to be rotated around the Nodal point of the lens, which avoids parallax issues. However carrying around a tripod is a pain so I also carry a plumb bob and use that to get as close as possible. I have the Pro version of the software so I am able to make corrections for the view point of the camera, which is needed for the plumb bob method as well as the  Nadir shot of the tripod method if you want to avoid having the tripod in shot. The brackets can be expensive circa £250 but I managed to make a reasonable one from an ABS pipe coupling, and a tripod and a quick release adapter.

Finally I needed a way to be able to easily display the panorama in all their glory on my site. You may have noticed that in a previous post http://neilbaldwin.nettarka-trail-bike-ride/ I had embedded some photospheres from Google which had contributed to Google Street view, I did not like the way that they were presented and they don’t always work on iPads etc. I have been looking for a pure HTML 5 solution for a while now. There are quite a few commercial packages with lots of features but I just wanted a simple solution, and the other day I found one it is called Pannellum it is open source and free of charge and does the job nicely. It took me a while to get it sorted working out what should go where and the best size for the images. One thing that threw me was that images on flickr threw an error but it turns out that Flickr is the one at fault because they return a strange thing in the get requests which makes the browser complain about a cross site scripting error. Anyway it turns out that images on Google work fine and I publish  my photospheres there any how.

My next project will be to create a PHP function to use the code so that I can publish my collection of Church photospheres on a dedicated website. I want to store the the details in a searchable database so that people can search for churches and then see the inside of them. you will need to watch this space for news of that project, but in the mean time you can see the waiting images on my Google plus site here enjoy.

My week commuting to London

Euston Station with Learning Tree building

This week I am commuting to London for four straight days to attend a course in London a at the Learning Tree training centre just outside Euston, which means the travel should be really easy. I purchased 4 return tickets but latest wondered if it might have been cheaper to get a 7 day season ticket, which I’d what I did for the parking. Registration for the course on the first day was between 0800 and 0845 so I aimed for the 0728 train from Tring which takes 37 minutes. There were plenty of parking spaces, I was unsure what to do about displaying a parking ticket, the booking said they recognised.number plates but to be on the safe side I left the receipt on the dash board. I was disappointed I could not get a paper at the station, there’s an opportunity of someone there. The train arrived on time and pretty empty, I find my style a window seat. What is the course you ask? The title is something like SQL server business intelligence, it covers the use of SQL in a BI and the user of all the things that come worth it that have confusing acronyms, such as SSAS, MDX, SSRS etc etc.

The train arrived on time I bought a paper and took the short walk to the training centre. Registration was easy I was given a name tag and a folded cards with my name on it for the desk. Next stop was the code lounge for a leisurely coffee. They have fancy machines capable of doing most things a barista could dream up, I chose the latte machiato.

The course stayed slowly by explaining all the usual house keeping stiff and a summary of what the whole course would be about, then we got into the nitty gritty, which for me was covering some old ground but it was a good importantly to cover all the terms involved. Later on there were practical exercises convert the stuff we had covered. Breaks and lunch we followed by more of the same. Timing was very precise and I was able to get away at the scheduled 1630, my train was at 1654, so I hung around and dealt with some emails. I got a window on the train and selected in once it left on time.

Speedtest at train station

I was home before 1800 and had found the commute quite relaxing. OK it was a longer than normal day (2hrs longer) but I had had an opportunity to read the paper, and listened to some podcasts. So first impressions are I would much rather have a local job but if it came to it it would not be the end of the world. Lets see what tomorrow has to bring.

Day two I left a little later before leaving the house, through Tring a passed a fellow commuter on his Brompton folding bicycle. I had noticed him the day before on the platform folding his bike like he had done it a thousand times before, today I thought maybe he was leaving it a bit too late. He arrived on the station platform 5 with coffee in hand about 30 seconds before the train, just enough time to do the folding routine. I am actually surprised at the number of people turning up on the train in bicycle gear sometimes with and sometimes without a bike. Clearly many of them park a bike at Euston and use it for the transit from the station to the office.

I thought I would try out the wifi hot spot features of my HTC Desire X, and was pleasantly surprised. You just select the program set the SSID name and a password then start the hotspot. As I write I have uploaded this post to the server. A speedtest from the moving train revealed 1.23Mb down but 0 up i will do some more testing throughout the day and share the results. I will need to keep an eye on the battery usage, as yesterday I had run out of batteries by the time I got to Tring. Last night I uninstalled a data monitor program that had used 20% of the battery power that day, I want to check my data usage but not at the price of battery, had it been in the 1-2% range then fair enough. I also invested in one of those battery packs that allow you to charge your phone a few times, I think it will come in really useful. It is a far better idea to get one of those than extended batteries to fit a phone because one they will charge any device and two they hold far more juice Han an extended battery the one I chose was an 8000mAh which is over four times the power of my phones battery.

Arrived in London on time and headed over to the training centre. I was there by 0810 which gave me plenety of time to sit around and drink coffee and chat with the other students on the course.

Day three weather much warmer the snow that had been lying around is melting. Got the usual 0728 from Tring my timing was better this morning only a five minute wait, I guess you get better the more you do it. I imagine that it is quite a popular rain as it is quick 37 minutes, and it is not crowded, I have only seen the odd individual having to stand, that is odd as in number not odd as in peculiar. The course got far more difficult today we were doing MDX queries and KPIs which involve more than just dragging and dropping stuff about, it is a bit like SQL queries but different and it takes a while to get your head round it all.

Japanese Ramen Neil style

I have learnt the hard way that when you commute you need to have everything you need with you when you leave the house, this morning I had a flat phone because the charger has failed, so I put a USB lead in my bag an would grab the charger bit on the way out, but forgot. I had to buy a charger at Euston at £14.99, and charge when I could out in the coffee area. I also managed to forget half my lunch, if it was at the office I could have just popped home and sorted it out but today I will just have to have more biscuits to keep me going!

I managed to get on the 1634 again, the course usually finishes with a practical exercise and if you get it right first time you can get away a couple of minutes before 1630, then you have about 6 minutes to get to platform 7, for the train. I must say that the trains are as smooth as you would want, but the seats are a bit squashed up, if you have someone sat next to you, but the journey is at most 40 minutes so not such a hardship.

I have been inspired by our trip to Japan, and have regularly been making bowls of Japanese noodles. They are really quick to make, just boil some water and chop up some vegetables. Then fry the vegetables as you cook the noodles (5 minutes one noodle wrap per person) add in some Japanese sauces and some chilli. I optionally add reconstituted mushrooms and some prawns. Once the noodles are cooked add some Miso to the water and pour into the bowls, top off with the vegetables, mushrooms, prawns, and some sliced spring onions. It takes all of 15 minutes to make, but is a bit messy as you have to do it all quick, so the clearing out takes a bit longer than normal.

Day four and final day, got up a little later and left the house just a smidgen later, but still had a 10 minute wait before the train arrived. I think the ideal would be to get there after the 0722 and before the 0728. Today we finish the course by covering off odd topics that do not fit in to the other main topics so far covered, such as data mining forecasting, tabular models, etc. At 1500 we review and then there is an opportunity to take a multiple choice question exam, they call it free but you essentially pay for it when you pay for the course. With any luck I will be away early enough to get the train before the 1634.

The course was all done by 1500 a couple who were not taking the exam left, we had a quick break before the exam. There were three different exams handed out to stop cheating, and the answers were filled in on a sheet, which had blobs to fill in like on a lottery card. It is a very American thing I believe, when I was at a school with a American curriculum I remember having to fill out similar forms for what. I think they we’re describes as SAT tests, and when we got the results they were compared to the whole of the USA, I would love to know how I faired, perhaps my parents still have the results in a box in the attic?

The exam was quite tough, because it expected to answer quite a few questions asking for very specific technical terms, rather than testing your judgement about what we had learnt. Back in the office if i did not know the technical name for something I would just google it, does to matter that I don’t know the name for something the important thing is that I know that a feature exists and that I can use it. I got through the 40 questions fairly quickly, but not as fast as some I guess I was average. There was then nothing else to do than get the train, I managed to get the 1524 to Milton Keynes, which was a fairly fast one calling at no stations before Watford junction, so I would be home before 1700, which would be a bonus as I have some more travelling to do later.

Google reader


Google reader is an RSS feed reader. It is a great way to keep track of multiple websites. The real benefit is that you don;t actually have to visit the websites themselves, and you can keep track of what you have read and what is new. To use it goto signup with your gmail account and add some feeds.

Simple Tags

Not sure how tags work so I have installed “Simple Tags” plugin to see if I can make sense of them. I should then end up with a useful tag cloud. It has features that allow you to add tage words and then auto-tag the whole content of your blog.

Windows 7 (32bit)


Got it working. Windows 7 (32bit) works with Juniper network connect.

However it does not seem to work well with Norton 360, Network connect connects but the whole machine locks up when you sign-out. Uninstalling Norton 360 fixes the issue.
I will have to look for some other anti-virus solution.