April 25, 2009

Sharing Your Progress

I generally try to steer clear from rehashing my geocaching outings in my blog posts, and instead try to focus on geo-related technology and tools that will hopefully enhance your caching experiences. But every so often, there are occasions where describing a certain cache hunt also allows me an opportunity to share how I used certain geo-tools that you might find helpful and applicable. This is one of those times.

A few months back, a caching buddy of mine and I decided we wanted to tackle the "The "Lil" Devil Made Me Do It Challenge!", a 5-star difficulty and 5-star terrain cache that requires that you find and log all the caches within the boundaries of Mount Diablo State Park. This is one of the most scenic parks in the San Francisco Bay Area, and also one of the largest, covering about 20,000 total acres. It also contains some significant elevation changes, ranging from a few hundred feet at the base, up to 3,849 feet at the main summit.

Even though we knew this challenge would require multiple trips to the park to grab all the caches within, we decided we were up for it. When this cache was first published in 2007, there were only 43 total geocaches in the park. As of this writing, there are now 78; which means the longer this takes us, the tougher it gets to finish. Since our first visit back in January, we've found 28 caches on three separate outings (plus 3 others I found a couple years ago before this challenge came up). I use a pretty simple means of monitoring our progress, both in tabular and map form, which I'll describe below, step by step:

  1. The Lil Devil cache owner created, and updates, a bookmark list of all the caches in the park, and made the list available on the Lil Devil cache web page. I created a pocket query from the bookmark list, which you can do for any bookmark list
  2. I load the pocket query file into GSAK every time I receive a new one (2 or 3 times a week). I could create a separate database for these records in GSAK, but I like having all of my data in one main database. Then I use the powerful filtering feature to pull out the data I need.
  3.  In this case, I used the "UserData4" field and labeled all of the caches for this challenge "Diablo". Then, I created a filter that only displays "UserData4 = Diablo".
4. Then I run a great little macro, called myGoogleEarth Export, that exports all the caches from your current filter and loads them into Google Earth.
5. I then save that file from Google Earth to my desktop (using the "Save Place As..." command) as a KML file. Once you have your caches saved in a KML format, you can load them into Google Maps using the built in My Maps option. Click on My Maps, Create New Map, then Import. Find your KML file, and load it in.
    That's it. Then share the link to your new map with your friends and caching buddies. If you'd like to follow our progress on the Lil Devil challenge, here is a link to the map I created using these steps. I even color-coded the caches by found (green), need to find (blue), and DNF (red).

    Cache on!

    April 12, 2009

    Phoning It In

    If you use Google's Blogger application to generate and maintain your blog space, there is a feature available that you may not be aware of that allows you to create your blog posts from your mobile phone. It's called Blogger On The Go, and it's available from Blogger in Draft. Blogger in Draft offers more features than the standard Blogger, but it's a "beta", or, use-at-your-own-risk version of the program.

    Here's how easy Google claims it is to use Blogger On The Go:

    Blogger Mobile works with any device that can send texts via SMS, or email via MMS.

    I've tried it, and it seems to work great; in fact, a little too great. The problem is with my particular phone (a Palm Treo 700WX), and not with Blogger On The Go. My service provider, Sprint, adds a bunch of header and disclaimer information to the text and image that I send from the phone, and it all gets added to the blog post - which makes for one ugly looking post.

    It's nice to know I can blog from my mobile phone; however, I think I'll just stick to generating blog posts from text messages rather than trying to send photos.

    If you happen to have a decent phone that handles MMS well, and you use Blogger, this might be worth your while.

    Cache On!