A guest blog post by GIS student Alex Hindle


Robert Park

Robert Park

I met my friend Rob Park long ago and while we bonded for years over our mutual love of photography, Rob has gone astray in recent years, embarking on the dark road of computer programming.

However, he managed to redeem himself by using his self-taught Python skills to build a photo geotagging program when unable to find an extant program that met his needs. Here is a brief interview between myself and Rob, conducted in the hot tub at Halfway River Hot Springs on October 6, 2013.

Alex:     What is GottenGeography?

Rob:       GottenGeography is an application for the GNOME desktop that allows you to geotag your photographs.

A:            What is the significance of the name GottenGeography?

R:            The name was chosen because it’s an anagram of Python geotagger.

A:            Well obviously you’re very witty; how difficult was it to make this program?

R:            The program took about two years of effort in the evenings and weekends.

A:            Did you find you were able to write the program fairly handily or did you have to improve your knowledge of python a lot as you worked?

R:            I certainly learned a lot as I went. But Python is one of the easiest languages

A:            Ha ha! Whatever you say… So it geotags photos.  Can you outline how that works?

R:            Well the way it works…Well first of all, it’s specifically aimed at people whose cameras don’t have a built in GPS. Because if you have a GPS built into your camera such as in a camera phone the photos can all be geotagged as they’re taken and my application does nothing for you.  So specifically this is aimed at people who have cameras and GPS units that are separate and don’t communicate with one another.

So the way it works is when you take pictures you would bring a GPS unit with you and you’d record your location. Of course you must be very careful to make sure the clock on your camera is set accurately because then what happens is after you’ve taken the pictures and you get back to your computer you load the pictures and the GPS data into the computer and my program will cross reference the time stamps between the photos and GPS trace and it will interpolate…. Because quite often what happens is the track points in the GPS trace will not correspond perfectly to the time stamps on the photos so some interpolation is necessary. So it does that and places the photos onto a map and the program then displays a map with the photos directly on it and saves the data into the actual photo metadata and that uses a standard EXIF (Exchangeable Image File Format) format so if you then uploaded those photos to something like Flickr it would recognize the geotag and it would display the photos on the map and display it to your friends as well.

A:           And what maps are used by the GottenGeography program?

R:           Open Street Maps.

A:            Tell me more.

R:           Well OSM is a collaborative mapping effort. The best way to think of it is Wikipedia for maps. Because it’s all user contributed mapping data.

A:            What was your motivation in making GottenGeography?

R:           Well the motivation was that I had some exposure to a similar program called PhotoLinker, which is a mac application, and I wanted to switch to GNOME because I was a bit sick of some of the limitations of the mac OS. But I investigated the market and I could not find any comparable apps for GNOME.  Of course, there were geotagging apps but many of them were very low quality.  For example, there was one of them written in java that was a very archaic unmaintained version of java that was difficult to run.  Then there was one that, although it could cross reference your GPS data with your photos it didn’t actually display a map so you had no idea if it was doing an accurate job. So there were all these limitations I saw and instead of messing around with someone else’s code I thought a fresh start was appropriate.  And thus is just started from scratch using thetools I knew which were Python and GTK.

A:            This is a big undertaking that took a lot of effort. Did you not mind doing it for free; was it a labour of love?

R:            Definitely a labour of love.  I did it out of my own needs for such a tool.  Ironically, I don’t even use my own program anymore because now I’m just using my phone which has a built in GPS. So it’s obsolete in my own eyes.  But I still maintain it; there are still others out there who use it.

A:            Do you know how many use it or have downloaded it?

R:            I don’t have any hard stats on that. I’ve had two people actually contribute code. And I’ve had a few dozen people report bugs.  And as rule of thumb for every one person who reports a bug there’s supposedly a thousand people who used it and didn’t bother to report the bug.  So by that highly unscientific assumption we can approximate that I have about 12,000 users.

A:            Does it bother you that smartphones have minimized the need for such a program?

R:            No, I don’t mind at all. I think that smartphones are really interesting. I think they’ll continue to innovate. I mean, it’s somewhat lamentable that the quality of the camera is a bit lower, but as many photographers have said, the best camera is the one you have with you. A low quality camera phone is more useful than an SLR you have in the closet.

A:            Yes, amen.

GottenGeography website: http://gottengeography.ca

Robert Park’s photography website: Exolucere


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