James Mackenzie

Stop Wasting Time and Use Twitter to Stay Informed

Twitter, Productivity

Jan 8, 2017

Perhaps, like me, you spend far too much time reading news, blogs, journals. And you don’t like it.

Content doesn’t just arrive once a day anymore — it rains down continually. It’s easy to fill every spare moment with this shallow pursuit. Refreshing web pages and checking for updates. Moments that could be much better spent.

Going cold turkey might work for some, but I don’t want to disengage from news completely. I enjoy keeping up with current affairs. I just want to reduce my dependency. Minimize my reading time. Get the most bang for my buck.

It turned out the answer had been staring me in the face all along. Hiding in plain sight. Twitter.

No, I don’t mean Twitter the endless time sink, the bottomless scrolling list of doom. I mean Twitter the bountiful source of curated, low-noise news. This is what I mean:

Combining these into a Twitter List gives me my own personalized news feed. My cost of staying informed has shrunk to 5–10 minutes, twice per day — freeing up the rest of my time for deeper pursuits. I’m much happier with the new balance.

I hope this inspires you to reclaim your time too!

Raspberry Pi Headless Install

Raspberry Pi, How To, IoT

Jan 2, 2017

Don’t have an extra keyboard or HDMI cable? Here’s how to do a headless Raspbian install on your Pi.

Step 1. Download Raspbian image

Head on over here to grab a copy of the Raspbian image. The “Lite” version will do.

Download Rasbian

Step 2. Write image to SD card

Write the image to SD card. You can find detailed instructions here.

Write the Rasbian image using Win32DiskImager

Step 3. Add “ssh” file to the SD card root

Enable SSH by placing a file named “ssh” (without any extension) onto the boot partition of the SD card.

ssh file

Step 4. Boot your Pi

Pop your prepared SD card, power and a network cable into the Pi.

Raspberry Pi, powered up and ready to go

Step 5. Find your Pi’s IP address

To configure your Pi, you need the IP address. You can find this in your Router’s DHCP lease allocation table:

DHCP lease allocation table

Step 6. SSH into your Pi

Use your favourite SSH client (I prefer PuTTY) to access the Pi. The default credentials are:

username: pi
password: raspberry

SSH into your Pi

Step 7. Configure your Pi

That’s it! You can now configure your Pi via sudo raspi-config

Invoke raspi-config

raspi-config

All You Need to Know about 360 VR Photos

Photography, 360 Photo, VR Panorama, How To

Nov 2, 2016

Whether it’s a view from the highest holiday vista or showing off your new bathroom, no photo recreates the feeling of actually being there like a 360 VR panorama. Pan left, right, up, down, or even swivel right around to take in the whole view.

With loads of choices out there, what are your best options for shooting, storing and sharing your inspiring pano’s?

Shooting

The best camera is the one you already have - and for most of us that’s our smartphone. Modern smartphones are already equipped with all everything they need to take VR panoramas - namely accelerometer, gyroscope and CCD. The only remaining question is what software to use.

After some trial and error I settled on Google Street View. Intended as a data entry point for Google Maps, it also renders beautiful panoramas to your phone’s Camera Roll in JPEG format. The experience is super simple. Simply point your phone at a series of orange dots and Street View will snap the panorama for you:

VR shooting via Google Street View app (iOS and Android)

If you need better results, Street View is also compatible with the following 360 degree cameras.:

  • Ricoh Theta S
  • Samsung Gear 360
  • NCTech iris360
  • LG 360 CAM

If you want more control, you can shoot panoramas the old way:

  1. Use your camera or DSLR to shoot lots of overlapping photos. Make sure you always shoot from the same point. A tripod helps here.
  2. Stitch them in post-processing. Some good free options are Hugin and Microsoft ICE.

Storing

Stay away from the proprietary “walled garden” services out there. You want to store your panoramas in a plain, portable, future-proofed format.

My recommendation: stick with JPEG images in equirectangular (or sometimes, “spherical”) projection:

  • Google’s Street View already exports in this format
  • Supported by most photo-stitching software
  • Accepted as input by most panorama-sharing sites and apps too

Take these and store them with your preferred photo backup service.

A 360 VR photo in Equirectangular projection

If you spend lots of time in the Windows ecosystem, also consider the .pano file format. The Desktop, Tablet, Phone and OneDrive have built in support for it. Just double click to get panning:

The 360 VR experience - check out the ceiling!

Viewing

Aside from the Windows support mentioned above, there’s no native OS capability out there. You’ll need custom apps (or “Players”) to tilt and pan through your 360 VR photos.

In addition to the Google Street View app, the free VR Camera app for iOS is worth a look. Most of the other iOS options are either paid, walled gardens or total junk.

For other platforms, check out this comprehensive list.

Sharing

With no convergence around a popular, cross-platform Player, your best option is to share panoramas via the web.

With this in mind, Photosynth and Facebook are great options. Both feature slick viewers in the browser and allow easy sharing with your friends. To get started, see:

If you shoot (or convert to) .pano files, your best option is definitely OneDrive. Simply upload the .pano and the share the link:

OneDrive 360 VR viewer. Click and drag to pan around the scene

Happy shooting!