Category Archives: Culture

Geek culture

Cheap passport photos using The Gimp and 10c printing

Australian Passport requirements are specified by Border Force.  The step that’s most avoidably expensive is the generation of compliant photographic representation of the individual (at $17-$20 per person).

The fun part is that the published instructions talk about “face size” (the skin-visible bit of your head, so from your hairline down to your chin) needs to be between 32mm and 36mm; to allow for the vagueries of conversion we’re going to shoot for exactly 34mm.  The passport application form talks about “chin to crown measurement” being in this range, and the bit where you stick the photo on implies that the chin-to-hairtop has to fit in the image; which one will be enforced is up to the interviewing officer and may lead you to tears.  I ended up taking two scaled images and let the officer choose.  The top we’ll measure to I’ll call “head top”.

Take your appropriately posed and positioned photograph. Don’t crop too aggressively: there’s plenty of pixels in modern photographs, and you can’t add “more person” if you got the ratios wrong.

Load the photo into the Gimp.

Find out how many pixels there are from the chin to headtop by picking Tools | Measure and measuring as close to vertically as you can between these two features. I got 1573 on my image.

Whip out your calculator and divide this by 68% (34mm face height/50mm image height), getting you the number of pixels high your image needs to be to make 50mm – 2313 in my case. The width is 80% (40mm image width/50mm image height) of this number – I get 1850.  Photographs nowadays typically use square pixels.

Now for the image we’re going to paste into. Standard photographs are 6″x4″, or about 152mm x 101mm – let’s call it 150×100. So select File | New, with a size double the height of the cutout, and a width of triple the height of the cutout – mine was 4626 x 6939.

Now we’ll put some guidelines on to help us place accurately. Select Image | Print Size... and put in 6″x4″ (Once you put in the 6″, the 4 should magically fill itself in). Pick View | Show Grid and View | Snap to Grid. Select Image | Configure Grid... and set up a 5mm x 5mm grid. There should be a lot of 5mm boxes on your image now.

Switch to your photograph.

Now check Windows | Dockable Dialogs | Tools Options has got a dialog up, and pick Tools | Selection Tools | Rectangular Select. On the options dialog (which may need resizing so you can see all the options), check Fixed and pick Size from the accompanying drop-down. Enter the dimensions you’ve calculated.

Now select your face, and copy it. Switch to the new image, and paste you image. Position it, and paste in your face. You ought to fit three across, and two down. Six passport photos for 10c! Yay!

Suppose you’re doing two different faces on the one photograph (or more!). Once you’ve gotten as far as doing the calculations for the second image (what are the chances you’ll get the same framing of the face?) and then copying the face, stop. Instead of pasting it into the printable image, pick Edit | Paste As | New Image. Pick Image | Scale Image, ensure Width and Height are locked with a chain symbol, then enter the Height of your original face (2313 in my case). If everything is going hunky-dory, the calculated width will match the new width in the dialog. Press the Scale button, Select | All, copy the image and paste it into your printable image, then position appropriately.

Now, to print out you’ll need a JPEG. Select File | Export, type in a filename ending in .jpg and you’re set. Take to your local Officeworks/Harvey Norman, and 10c later you’ve got your Australian passport photos.

Streaming TV and Chromecast – Stan won’t support iPad HDMI

I was in contact with Stan (streaming TV) support over the weekend. The iPad wouldn’t play, whether connected via an HDMI cable or the Chromecast. It would play zero to a few frames, then freeze up.

They suggested doing a factory reset on the Chromecast and removing and re-installing the Stan app.

It sounded unlikely (it’s the real-life version of the IT Crowd’s “Have you tried turning it off then on again”), but to my surprise, it actually worked.

HDMI was still a problem though. They said it wasn’t supported.

So why doesn’t Stan support HDMI? An interesting answer came back:

“We are unlikely to support this method of streaming in the future due to DRM (Digital Rights Management) contractual agreements we have with the studios we licence our content off of. If anything changes, we will be sure to let you know.”

This is puzzling, given their main competitors Netflix and Presto seem to support it.

It’s worth noting that Stan (and I believe the others) don’t support my 2011-model Samsung smart TV either. Thank goodness for the Chromecast. It’s not as easy as being able to play directly just on the TV (with no other devices required), but at least it works — and navigating menus is far easier on a tablet than a TV remote control.

As one observer (I forget who) noted — there’s little point paying extra for a smart TV (over a dumb one) when an A$49 device like a Chromecast is less likely to become obsolete — or if it does, it can be cheaply and easily replaced.

Flickr’s new HTML code embedding – how to remove the header and footer

Flickr has altered its default embed HTML to include a header and footer, which includes Flickr branding and the title of the picture.

PT in the Sense8 titles 01

Sometimes I suppose this is okay, but sometimes I just want the picture.

Fortunately it seems to be relatively easy to get rid of. In the example above:

<a data-flickr-embed="true" data-header="true" data-footer="true" href="" title="PT in the Sense8 titles 01"><img src="" width="500" height="282" alt="PT in the Sense8 titles 01"></a><script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script>

…remove the data-flickr-embed, data-header, and data-footer attributes of the a href, and remove the script tags, like this:

<a href="" title="PT in the Sense8 titles 01"><img src="" width="500" height="282" alt="PT in the Sense8 titles 01"></a>

The result should be just the photo, with the usual linking back to Flickr.

PT in the Sense8 titles 01

It’d be nice if they made this a built-in option when generating the HTML code.

Of course, it also makes me ponder if I should be finding another photo host.

Update 2015-07-20: They seem to have modified their default embedding code a bit so the branding and picture details now only appear over the photo when you mouse over it. Not so objectionable.

PT in the Sense8 titles 01

Flickr’s modified code now excludes data-header="true" data-footer="true" which presumably added the header and footer.

Turn off Twitter’s autoplay videos

I don’t know how much bandwidth Twitter’s new autoplay videos are burning up, but fortunately it can be turned off.

Unhelpful web help

Just… just… wrong. So wrong.

Firstly, note the error message “Enter a valid email addresss”. Where, pray tell, ought I do this?  Why do I need to upload any attachment again?  Why do I have to prove I’m a human time-after-time, when all I’m doing is wrestling with your completely broken attempt at a web form?

Have they noticed that no-one is submitting help requests via this form, what with its refusal to accept said requests?

Dear Flickr: stop sucking balls.

iTunes free U2 album: How to make it appear

So you don’t want to splash out on a new iWatch or iPhone, but you do want that new U2 album that’s free on iTunes until 14th October?

The instructions (for Mac or PC itunes) say:

On your Mac or PC, open iTunes, then select the Albums tab. Select Songs of Innocence. Select a track to listen or click the iCloud icon to download.

What they don’t tell you is what to do if it’s not showing there. In my case, it wasn’t. It also wasn’t in Purchased, and although I could see it in the iTunes Store (and play previews), the iCloud icon wasn’t appearing.

Screen Shot 2014-09-10 at 10.58.33 am

The answer is you need to switch on the option to see iCloud purchases:

Preferences / Store / Show iTunes in the Cloud purchases

Then it should appear in the Albums tab.

With thanks to Sam Wilkinson on Twitter

Update 2014-09-16: For those who aren’t as keen on U2, Apple has now published an article on how to remove the album from your iTunes:

Remove iTunes gift album “Songs of Innocence” from your iTunes music library and purchases

Innocent civillians

Can anyone think of circumstance where the media’s fixation on this term isn’t tautological?

Medion MD 86162 Media Player remote codes

I’ve got a Medion MD 86162 Media Player (AKA e85015, or MD86162) and I couldn’t find the remote codes anywhere on the Internet. I cobbled up some hardware and discovered that it uses the NEC protocol when I coaxed these codes out of my dying infrared remote control, and I got the following IR codes for it:

Continue reading

The poor are failed by the loss of obsolete medical procedures

The following rant comes courtesy of a speaker to a group of volunteer developers working on OpenMRS, who recounted her experiences of volunteering as a doctor in India.

Naturally, when you go under the knife for a surgical procedure, you’d want the surgeon using the latest, most advanced techniques, as demonstrated by empirical evidence.  Health systems want the surgeons to use the most efficient technique, expressed in positive outcomes per money spent.  You’d expect that in today’s world, you’d get one of the two, or perhaps somewhere in between.

Say that the latest technique uses robo-surgeons. Let’s call that technique Z.  It was pioneered in a university teaching hospital at enormous cost, because they’d never built one before; there’s no commercial provider of the equipment yet, so technique Z hasn’t percolated to wider practice.  Most other hospitals use techniques X or Y, one requiring more, highly trained staff, and the other requiring fewer staff but a couple of expensive pieces of equipment. Techniques X and Y are variations on T, U, V and W, some of which date back to the early sixties, and stem off from technique S.  If you look at textbooks, S is mentioned by name, and T, U, V and W have one- or two-sentence descriptions because while major leaps forward at the time, they’re now obsolete in the era of X and Y.  The medical textbooks describe how to do X and Y in detail.

In developing countries, you don’t have either the many staff, the highly trained staff or the expensive pieces of equipment.  U, V and W are all unavailable because of this. T uses equipment that can’t even be procured any more and certainly isn’t lying around waiting to assist with surgery now.

The developing world needs medical and surgical texts that don’t demand powerful diagnostic tools, expensive equipment or highly specialized staff.  A competent surgeon can do their work without any of these; they’ll get worse expected outcomes, but those outcomes will be better than inaction.  There are no textbooks currently available to instruct a surgeon with limited resources.  Even battlefield surgeons expect to stabilize their patient and ship them off to much better hospitals.

The ongoing progress in medicine is leaving behind the poorest and most vulnerable on our planet; our indifference to the preservation of these old methods are affecting us now, in ways I would never have guessed at.

Diablo I (yes, Diablo 1) LAN play on Vista or Windows 7

– and presumably 8.

There’s various convoluted steps to get LAN play working on more recent versions of Windows.

Mount the ISO on your hard drive, and use the somewhat unstable Microsoft supplied ISO mounting program to fool the program into thinking you CD is in a CD drive.  Install Diablo from here.  This step is not strictly necessary, but it’s so much quicker and cleaner than the alternatives.

Fetch and apply the patch to bring Diablo 1.00 up to version 1.09.  It may also be helpful to pull up the properties of the .exe and enable compatibility mode with WinXP Service Pack x. When fetching patch, get it for the version you’re installing – much confusion is caused if you get the spawned Diablo patch and apply it to the full version.

Go and get IPXWrapper, and per the instructions drop the DLL files into your Diablo directory. If you have a heterogeneous environment, all machines need to use this wrapper – IPXWrapper is a translation layer than transforms IPX into UDP, and without it IPX aware OSes like WinXP won’t see the network traffic of the IPX unaware OSes like Vista.  Punch a hole in your Windows Firewall to allow UDP port 54792.

To fix the palette issue, you might want to wrap the exe in a batch script to kill Windows Explorer whilst you’re playing Diablo.  However a better idea is to download the registry patch, which seems to work under Vista as well:

32-bit Windows 7 –
64-bit Windows 7 –

See?  Easy.  Doesn’t take more than a few hours if you don’t know what you’re doing.

Where did I take that photo?

I couldn’t find anyone extracting out the geolocation geotagging EXIF data from their photographs so they could pull it up on something like Google Maps.  There are stand-alone programs with embedded maps, but the bits and bobs lying around on the average system ought to be enough to just generate a URL to a mapping website.  The following bash script echoes the  URL that geolocates your JPEG.  Because my camera doesn’t emit it, I couldn’t be bothered dealing with the seconds part of a location, but I did detect that you don’t have a camera the same as mine.  Drop a line if you’ve used this and fixed it.

# emit a hyperlink to google maps for the location of a photograph
declare Seconds=""
Seconds=`exif -m --ifd=GPS --tag=0x02 $1 | grep -oP "[\d|\d\.]+$"`
if (( $Seconds=='0' ))
  Seconds=`exif -m --ifd=GPS --tag=0x04 $1 | grep -oP "[\d|\d\.]+$"`
if (( $Seconds!='0' ))
  echo "Script does not support seconds being specified"
echo -n ""
declare NorthSouth=`exif -m --ifd=GPS --tag=0x01 $1`
if [ "$NorthSouth" == "S" ] 
  echo -n "-"
echo -n `exif -m --ifd=GPS --tag=0x02 $1 | grep -oP "^[\d|\d\.]+"`
echo -n "%20"
echo -n `exif -m --ifd=GPS --tag=0x02 $1 | grep -oP "(?<= )[\d|\d\.]+,"`
declare EastWest=`exif -m --ifd=GPS --tag=0x03 $1`
if [ "$EastWest" == "W" ]
  echo -n "-"
echo -n `exif -m --ifd=GPS --tag=0x04 $1 | grep -oP "^[\d|\d\.]+"`
echo -n "%20"
echo -n `exif -m --ifd=GPS --tag=0x04 $1 | grep -oP "(?<= )[\d|\d\.]+(?=,)"`

Allow more JavaScript, maintain privacy

I’ve long regarded JavaScript in the browser to be one of the biggest security holes in web-browsing, and at the same time the Internet works less and less well without it. In 2008 Joel Spolsky made the observation that for some people the Internet is just broken:

Spolsky:   Does anybody really turn off JavaScript nowadays, and like successfully surf the Internets?

Atwood:   Yeah, I was going through my blog…

Spolsky:   It seems like half of all sites would be broken.

Which is not wrong.  Things have changed in the last five years, and now the Internet is even more broken if you’re not willing to do whatever random things the site you’re looking at tells you to, and whatever other random sites that site links off to tell you to, plus whatever their JavaScript in turn tells you to. This bugs me because it marginalizes the vulnerable (the visually impaired, specifically), and is also a gaping security hole.  And the performance drain!

Normally I rock with JavaScript disabling tools and part of my tin-foil-hat approach to the Internet, but I’m now seeing that the Internet is increasingly dependent on fat clients. I’ve seen blogging sites that come up empty, because they can’t lay out their content without client-side scripting and refuse to fall back gracefully.

So, I need finer granularity of control.  Part one is RequestPolicy for FireFox, similar to which (but not as fine-grained) is Cross-Domain Request Filter for Chrome.

The extensive tracking performed by Google, Facebook, Twitter et al gives me the willys. These particular organisations can be blocked by ShareMeNot, but the galling thing is that the ShareMeNot download page demands JavaScript to display a screenshot and a clickable graphical button – which could easily been implemented as an image with a href. What the hell is wrong with kids these days?

Anyway, here’s the base configuration for my browsers these days:

FireFox Chrome Reason
HTTPSEverywhere HTTPSEverywhere Avoid inadvertent privacy leakage
Self Destructing Cookies “Third party cookies and site data” is blocked via the browser’s Settings, manual approval of individual third party cookies. Avoid tracking; StackOverflow (for example) completely breaks without cookies
RequestPolicy Cross-Domain Request Filter for Chrome Browser security and performance, avoid tracking
NoScript NotScripts Browser security and performance, avoid tracking
AdBlock Edge Adblock Plus Ad blocking
DoNotTrackMe DoNotTrackMe Avoid tracking – use social media when you want, not all the time
Firegloves (no longer available), could replace with Blender or Blend In I’ve have had layout issues when using Firegloves and couldn’t turn it off site-by-site