April 26, 2008

A Friendly Reminder

Besides May being a prime geocaching month weather-wise, there's also a couple of key events worth putting on your calendars if you haven't already.

First, on May 10th, is the World Wide Flash Mob III Event, which will take place at 10:00 A.M. pacific standard time all over the globe, and will only last for 15 minutes (so don't be late). More information can be found in this previous post. Look for an event near you.

Then, the mother of all mega-events, GeoWoodstock VI is scheduled for May 24th in Wheatland, California. It's so big, it even has its own website.

This should make for one gigantic month of geocaching. Hopefully, I'll get to see/meet many of you at one, or both, of these major events.

Cache On!

April 18, 2008

Knowledge Through Geocaching

This recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle reminds readers that this is the 50th anniversary of the running of the last passenger train across the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. The column gives a brief account of the history of that service, known as the Key System (named after the layout of of rail lines, which resembled a gigantic key). I , unfortunately, was born too late to ride these electric trains; but I do remember how my parents and grandparents used to speak fondly of it.

Reading this article reminded me of one of my very first geocache finds: Eastport (GCD0CD). Inside the cache container was some information about the old railroad line that used to run through the very spot where the cache was hidden, along with some historic photos. The cache owner also included a link to his web site, Bay Area Rails: Then and Now, which contains a plethora of fascinating information, historic photos and maps, and old newspaper clippings on the subject. Here's a photo showing what the area looked like in 1957 (Photo courtesy of Donald Duke):

Even though I grew up in the Bay Area, I had never learned as much about its rail history as I did from finding that cache. Now every time I drive or ride by this spot, I try to imagine what it must have been like here nearly 100 years ago when trains used to rumble back and forth through this canyon.

So even though I never had an opportunity to ride the Bay Area's early railroad service, I was at least able to gain a much better appreciation of what it was like here during that time. Whether you're a long-time resident or a first-time visitor to an area, it's amazing how much history you can learn about a place from doing a little geocaching. Just another of the many benefits of our little hobby.

Keep On Cachin'

April 12, 2008

Syncing Photos With Your GPS Tracks

A couple of weeks ago we discussed how to display your GPS tracks in Google Earth. But wouldn't it be nice if we could also save the locations of the exact spots where we happened to have taken photographs when we were out geocaching? Well, guess what, you can. Actually, there are several ways to do this:
  1. You can create Placemarks in Google Earth or in Google Maps' My Maps, and add your own images to those Placemarks. You just have to know where you were when you took the picture.
  2. You can use online image hosting sites like flickr and Picasa that allow you to geotag your uploaded images with coordinate data. Again, you still need to estimate the location from which you took the picture to create the geotag.
  3. Or, you can use my new favorite program, GPicSync, which automates the entire process for you.
I discovered this program while reading one of Hick@Heart's recent posts, and decided I had to try it out for myself. Well, I'm glad I did, because it works great. All you have to do is download the track data from your GPSr and the photos from your digital camera. As long as the internal clocks on your two devices are synchronized, the program will match the coordinates from the GPX file with the time stamp on the image file, and then embed those coordinates into the image's header file. It can even go a step further and create a Google Earth KMZ file containing your geolocalized pictures and tracklog. Here's a screenshot of The Google Earth file GPicSync created for me:

You can see the thumbnail images it placed at the exact locations I took these photos along this bike ride/caching adventure. In Google Earth, you can click on the thumbnails to bring up larger versions of the images.

The program also lets you create a Google Maps file to publish your pictures and tracks on the web. Here's the same track and image data from above in Google Maps. Feel free to zoom in and click on the photo icons to see the thumbnails. Then click on the thumbnails for larger versions of the images.

Needless to say, I am really impressed with GPicSync, and can't wait to use it again. And the best part... it's free!

Keep on cachin'!

April 3, 2008

Google Maps, Now With Contour Lines

If you're a Topographic Map fanatic like me, then you'll appreciate this. Google Maps, which fairly recently added a terrain view option to go with the standard map and satellite views, has just added contour lines. There's a brief discussion, with samples, written by the intern who did the work in this blog post.

To see it for yourself, launch Google Maps, go to your favorite area, and click the Terrain button:

Then zoom in so the scale bar is within 1 mile or less, and the contour lines will magically appear:

This can come in very handy for planning your next geocaching outing. Just another tool for the tool box.

Happy Cachin'!