November 30, 2008

Geocaching Hodge Podge

For this week, thought I'd post links to recent posts from other sites that I've found helpful:

How to Load Maps on Garmin GPS Units
Nice, brief tutorial (with pictures) from GPS File Depot.

Batch and Reverse Geocoding
For those of you always looking for free and simple geocoding tools, here's a nice choice as described by our friends at the Free Geography Tools blog.

Downloading USGS Topo Maps in GeoPDF Format
Another great post from the Free Geography Tools blog. This is especially handy for nabbing quad challenge caches. Note: there is a new USGS link which is different than what was listed in the above post.

Norad Tracks Santa
The Santa tracking web site opens Dec. 1. Read all about it, and some interesting history, in this Google Earth Blog.

Driver Follows GPS Into Lake
Don't try this at home.

Finally, I'll leave you with a Bay Area Backroads TV segment from many years ago featuring some local geocaching icons. A bit dated, as TeamAlamo has recently eclipsed the 30,000 mark; well beyond the 4,800 finds he had way back when. Nonetheless, still fun to watch:

November 22, 2008

Holiday Geocaching

With the holidays coming up, many of us will be doing a fair amount of traveling. If you're headed out of state, this may be a good opportunity to pick up some caches in states where you haven't found any geocaches yet. Or, if you're like me, and will be doing a lot of intrastate traveling, then you no doubt will be making sure you map out a route that takes you through counties, USGS Quadrangles, and DeLorme Gazetteer pages containing un-found caches. Of course, I'm referring to some of the Challenge Caches described in a previous post here.

If you'll be driving through different counties over the holidays, you might want to utilize the services of the web site called, "It's Not About The Numbers". All you have to do is download a pocket query of your finds from (click on the "Add to queue" button at the bottom of the page):

Then, after you receive your pocket query file, upload it on Now go to the Other Stats/Maps/US Individual State Maps with Completed Counties and check out the map showing the counties you have finds in already, and those that are still waiting for you to conquer:

Now I can see which counties we need to drive through to get to grandma's house!

There are some other tools I like to use to help me figure out which USGS Quadrangles and DeLorme pages where I'm still lacking cache finds. These applications require the use of the geocaching and waypoint management program, GSAK. Some very kind and talented people have written GSAK macros that will calculate this information for you. All the GSAK macros are available on the macro forum, free for your downloading pleasure. One of my favorites is the Challenge Cache Analyzer macro, written by hynr.

This powerful little macro can analyze your cache find data and determine which quadrangles and DeLorme pages you have, and have not, found caches. And, it can do this for just about any U.S. State that has challenge caches of these types. Not only does it report the results, but it can display the results in Google Earth:

Whoa, that's a lot of un-found DeLorme pages. Wish I had relatives in Humboldt County.

At least this Quad challenge looks a little more managable.

There are many other great macros available for GSAK users. If you don't already own a copy of GSAK, you can download a trial version and use it for 21 days. After that, if you like it, you can pay the $25 fee and it's yours. A good investment, IMHO.

Cache On and Happy Holidays!

November 15, 2008

Geocaching Meets Twitter

It was only a matter of time before the two worlds of web 2.0 social networking and the geek-leaning geocaching communities collided. Wikipedia describes social networking as, "a service that focuses on building online communities of people who share interests and activities, or who are interested in exploring the interests and activities of others. Most social network services are web based and provide a variety of ways for users to interact, such as e-mail and instant messaging services."

There are literally hundreds of social networking websites, and more coming online all the time. One of my favorites right now is Twitter, all thanks to this recent blog post by Northwoods GeoCats. Rather than repeat the same information here, I encourage you to take a minute to read that blog post, which provides an excellent introduction to the service.

The beauty of Twitter is its simplicity. You create a list of people to "follow", and others add you to their "following" list. There are a number of geocachers currently using twitter, and by adding them to your following list, you get to see what they're up to every time they post an update, or "tweet". These short text blasts are as varied as the cachers who post them:
  • found bkip's 101st hide, that's a lotta hides.
  • Downloading the rest of the valley on my PN40, 5.4gb. My 8gb card is groaning.
  • taking a 12 mile hike today!
  • final tally for the day: 3 finds, 1 DNF
  • archiving a cache because the building it was on has disappeared
You can also include links to other sites in your tweets to let other cachers know that you found a cache-related news item, or you just uploaded photos on flikr, or published a new blog post.

But beware; Twitter can be very addictive. Remember how exciting it was to get messages on your telephone answering machine (25 years ago), or to hear your computer say, "You've Got Mail" (15 years ago). Well, Twitter's kinda like that, but on steroids. If you use the TwitterFox add-on for Firefox (for which there are many), you'll find yourself constantly glancing at the bottom-right corner of your screen for new tweets:

The best way to get started on Twitter, once you've set up an account, is to just start following people. Then you can check their profiles to see who they're following, and find more people to follow. For example, if you open my profile, you'll see a list of the people I'm following on the bottom-right part of the screen:

Click on any of these icons to see if you share similar interests, and if so, add them to your following list. Before you know it, your list will grow and you'll be getting more tweets than you can handle.

Note that the Twitter "Find People" tool doesn't appear to be working at the moment. But there are other options, such as the Twitter Grader search engine. Type in a name or a term, like "geocacher" and see who pops up. Twitter Grader is also a good site to check out the profiles of the "Twitter Elite".

Another great site for newbie tweeterers is, TwiTip. In particular, this post is perfect for beginners. It's worth noting that I learned about this site in a recent "tweet" from EMC of Northridge.

Of course, not just geocachers are using Twitter. Even people like Al Gore, John Cleese, and Leo LaPorte tweet. And you can follow them too (even though they may not follow you back). And there are tons of Twitter Tools out there for the taking, including applications for your desktop, your browser, and your mobile phone and iPhone (Twitterrific is a nice one).

So go ahead and jump in. I hope to see you on Twitter soon.

Cache and Tweet On!

November 8, 2008

So What is a GPX File Anyway?

You know those Pocket Query files you get from, or the files you can download directly from a cache page when you click on the "GPS eXchange File" button? Did you ever wonder what they are exactly? Well, we'll try to solve that little mystery here.

These GPS exchange files, or GPX files for short, are designed specifically for describing and transferring GPS data between software applications. They can be used to describe waypoint, tracks, and routes. Its tags store location, elevation, and time and can in this way be used to interchange data between GPS devices and software packages. Such computer programs allow you, for example, to view your track, project your track on satellite images (e.g. Google Earth), annotate maps, and tag photographs with the geolocation. The minimum properties for a GPX file are latitude and longitude for a single waypoint. All other variables are optional.

Go ahead and download a waypoint from a cache web site on by clicking on the "GPS eXchange File" button:

Now open up the file in a text editor, such as Notepad. You should see various tags describing all the different aspects of the cache, including cache name, owner, date placed, type, terrain, and most importantly, latitude and longitude. Basically, the file contains all the information you would find on the cache page itself, but in a format that allows you to transfer that information to your GPS or to other software and web applications that can consume that information.

In these previous posts, we discussed some of the many things you can do with your GPX files, beyond just copying them to and from your GPS device. For example, you can open them in Google Earth for viewing waypoint locations, you can upload them to web sites such as GPS Visualizer and AnalyzeMyTrack to view your data in different ways. The possibilities are endless.

For more detailed information, see the this discussion on the Topografix web site.

Cache On!

November 1, 2008

Election Mapping

I hope all of you take time out from your busy geocaching schedules on Tuesday to vote in this year's historic election. While I'm struggling to find any solid connection between caching and voting to discuss in this post (other than ballot measures that expand access to new open space areas, which of course means more geocaching opportunities), there is definitely no shortage of mapping tools available this year to help you monitor election activity on Nov. 4th. Here are just a few examples:

  1. Historical Elections Results. See how each presidential candidate fared, state by state, in every election since 1980.
  2. Predict the Results. Use this map to see how the electoral votes of each state can make or break the election. Follow along with this map on election night.
  3. Electoral Vote. This map currently shows predicted results based on polling data, and is updated daily. Presumably, this map will reflect the actual electoral voting on election day. It's also monitoring house and senate races as well.
  4. 2008 Interactive Electoral Vote Map. Another good map to follow the election results on November 4th.
So as you can see, there are many election mapping options available to help you follow the activity on November 4th. Just don't get so wrapped up in monitoring the returns that you forget to "cache" your vote.

Cache Early and Cache Often!