February 24, 2008

GPS Visualizer

Last time we talked about viewing geocache locations in Google Earth before heading out on your cache excursions. You can also use Google Earth, and other mapping display programs, to view your GPS data (GPS tracks and waypoints) overlaid upon street maps and satellite imagery after you return from your geocaching excursion.

There are a number of applications available that will read your GPS track data and convert it into a format you can use to plot on a map or aerial image. One of my favorites is a free, web-based tool called GPS Visualizer. After you upload your GPS track and/or waypoint data from your GPS device to your computer (using a program like EasyGPS), go to the GPS Visualizer web site. There, you can import your GPX, LOC, or other GPS formatted file, choose your output file (Google Earth (KML), Google Maps, or a flat image file like .JPG), and press "GO!". When the conversion is finished, you'll have a map of your entire hike or ride. You can also modify the output options to view, for example, the elevation or speed profiles of your trek.

There are many other GPS file conversion and visualization tools contained on this web site. GPS Visualizer makes playing with your GPS data fun and easy.

February 16, 2008

Geocaching In Google Earth

One of my all-time favorite programs to ever come along is Google Earth. This little gem of an application is essentially a virtual globe with tools allowing you to zoom in/out, pan, and tilt, giving you a virtual 3D rendering of any spot on earth. Oh, and did I mention it's free?! It also provides search capabilities, just like any web-based mapping application like Mapquest or Yahoo Maps.

But it's especially great for (you know where this is going) helping us geocachers scout out the terrain of our next geocaching hunt. You can simply enter the coordinates of your favorite cache in the search box, and it'll zoom right in to the location for you:

Google Earth also includes a vast array of data layers, such as roads, borders, and places of interest, that you can turn on and off to suit your needs. It even allows you to create your own layers, or placemarks, as specially formatted files for Google Earth, called KML files.

If you get tired of entering all of your cache coordinates into the search box, Geocaching.com offers a nifty little Google Earth data layer tool that will automatically display all of the geocaches in any Google Earth window that you have opened or are zoomed in to. The data from Geocaching.com that is displayed in Google Earth includes the type of listing (Traditional, Multi-cache, etc.) and other data to help you browse caches in a dynamic mapping interface.

To use this tool, first you need to download and install Google Earth on your computer. You can get a copy from the Google Earth web site. Then, download the geocaching add-on tool from the "My Account" page in Geocaching.com (you must be a premium member). On the right side of the page you will see a link to "Download Geocache Browser in Google Earth". After you save the GeocachingNetworkKML.kml file to your PC, either double-click it, or open it from within Google Earth. In a few seconds, you should see all the geocaches located within the area framed in your Google Earth window:

Happy Cachin'!

February 10, 2008

First To Find (FTF)

Does it seem like whenever a new cache becomes available in your neighborhood, that somebody has already found it, before you even knew it existed? And does it seem like it's always the same people that are the "first to find" these caches? Well, more likely than not, these people are using a little tool available to premium members on Geocaching.com called, "Instant Notification Service". This feature allows you to monitor a specific area for certain types of cache logs that are posted to the geocaching.com web site, including newly published cache postings near you. You can set up the service to notify you by email whenever a new geocache goes "live" in your neighborhood.

To get started, go to the "My Account" section of Geocaching.com, then click on the link to "Set Up Notifications", and finally, click on "Create a new Notification". Here, you'll be presented with various subscription options to choose from, starting with the type of cache to watch. Let's choose "Traditional Cache" to start with, as an example:

Next, you need to choose what type of cache log you wish to monitor. For new cahces, select "Publish Listing":

Finally, enter the latitude and longitude coordinates, or the zip code, of the area you wish to monitor for new caches (presumably, your neighborhood), and the radius in miles from that point you wish to monitor. By default, the service will send you an email notification to the email account on record, but if you want to use a different email address, you can enter it here. Click on the "Create Notification" button, and you're done.

At this point, you may want to go back and create additional notifications for other cache types, such as multi-cache, webcam cache, earthcache, etc., to make sure you get notified any time a new cache, of any type, is hidden in your neighborhood. I am not aware of any limit on the number of notifications you can create.

Now, all you have to do is monitor your email, and before you know it, you'll be the one logging an "FTF"!

February 3, 2008

It's Not About The Numbers

Well, okay, maybe it is a little bit. While nothing beats a great day out on the trails, or finding that one urban cache that's been eluding you for so long, it's also hard not to set milestone goals like a 100th find, or averaging one find per day per month, etc.

If you're just the slightest bit curious about your caching statistics, then you owe it to yourself to visit the "It's Not About The Numbers" web site. Here's a sample of some of the detailed stats this site will produce for you:
  • Average Finds per Day
  • Most Finds in One Day
  • Average Log Size (in number of words)
  • Caching Milestones
  • Finds by Container Type / Terrain Rating / Difficulty Rating
  • Cache by Location
The site will also provide various maps of your finds. I particularly like the Completed Counties map, which looks like this:

This is convenient if you aspire to someday conquer a geocache such as, Discovering & Logging California's 58 Counties.

To generate your own stats, you first need to be a Premium Member at geocaching.com. Go to the Pocket Query generation page, scroll down and click the button that says "Add to Queue" to get a Pocket Query containing all your finds, ever. Upload the zip file that you'll get in your email into the form on the "It's Not About The Numbers" web site, and check out your stats!