February 26, 2011

More Cache Location Visualization Tools

There are plenty of ways to map and view the locations of geocaches, including the mapping tools available on geocaching.com, the software that comes with your GPSr, Google Earth, and other online tools. But lately I've been playing around with a data table mapping and visualization tool from Google called Fusion Tables. The application lets you upload data tables from spreadsheets, CSV files or KML files. Then you can easily visualize your data in graphs, charts and even maps (provided your data includes location information, such as lat/long coordinates). It's all done online, and you can even post the results on your website. All you need is a Google account. Here are some great examples.

Unfortunately, you cannot upload GPX files directly into Fusion Tables, but you can easily convert your GPX formatted files (pocket queries) to KML format using Google Earth, GSAK macros, or many other online tools. In the example below, I ran a pocket query for new caches (less than one week old) in my part of the world. I then took the GPX file from the downloaded pocket query, opened it in Google Earth, then saved it as a KML file, called "New.kml", which I then imported directly into Fusion Tables:

All the data from the pocket query file is retained, including the geometry (lat/long coordinates), which the application recognizes and uses to generate a map. You can then edit the map to your liking. Here I've color-coded the points based on the cache difficulty rating. I then copied the embeddable link and inserted it below:

Lots of potential here. If you use Fusion Tables for caching purposes, I'd love to hear about it.

Cache On!

February 19, 2011

Too Many Maps?

While I’m certainly in the camp where the motto is, “You can never have too many maps”, I have to admit I’m a bit overwhelmed by all the different mapping software products offered by Garmin. And I’m just talking about the software that’s of interest to geocachers, not other products such as those for vehicle navigation systems.

When I bought my GPSmap60CSx (or was it my “TOPO U.S. 24K West DVD?, I can’t remember), it came with “MapSource, a nice little program that allows you to load different types of background maps on to your GPS receiver, including non-Garmin maps available from sources such as GPS File Depot.  I also use it to extract my GPSr data after a cache outing in order to view my tracks overlaid on a map, along with the trip statistics such as total length, time, and elevation gain. It also has a feature that allows you to export your track and waypoint data into Google Earth.

But as I was perusing the Garmin website (as I often do), I ran across another similar product called BaseCamp. O.K, what’s the deal, Garmin? It looks like BaseCamp is just a slightly souped-up version of MapSource, in that it supports 3D views, rotated maps, and geo-tagged photos (sort of like Google Earth), and, most importantly, allows you to import data from geocaching.com (presumably, in the form of a GPX file).

I only just started playing around with it, so I can’t provide a detailed compare and contrast analysis with MapSource. But if it truly does everything MapSource can do and more, then I might make the permanent switch to BaseCamp. Until such time, of course, that Garmin offers up yet another mapping tool...

Cache On!

February 12, 2011

Bookmarking Maps

Every time I visit geocaching.com, I inevitably end up using the map tool to scout out my next caching adventure. And I'm really liking the new Maps Beta page. So many different map choices including the standard Google Maps backgrounds (road, terrain and satellite), along with Bing Maps, My Topo, Open Streetmap and Open Cycle Map. Of course, the infinite number of caches that can be displayed, along with the quick screen redraw and refresh feature, make it much better than the standard geocaching.com map.

I like and use the new map tool so much, I've added it as a bookmark. In a previous post, I explained how to add your favorite pocket query cache searches as bookmarks. You can do the same with the maps page. Just zoom in to your favorite location on the map (your neighborhood, most likely). Then drag the little globe icon from your browser's address bar to your bookmark bar:

That's it! You're all set. Although you may want to rename the bookmark to something like "Cache Map", as I've done here. Now, every time you click on that link, you'll see a map with all the latest caches in your favorite area.

Note too that the site contains a box in the bottom left-hand corner of the screen with a "Link to this page", in case you want to copy and paste different map locations into a list of links/bookmarks of your favorite locations:

Enjoy the new maps, and Cache On!

February 5, 2011

Getting There Is Half The Fun

Anytime you make plans to go geocaching, whether it be a quick grab down the street, or a long day of hiking and caching in a state/regional park area, or an urban caching adventure, one of the first things you have to figure out is how you are going to get there. The nice thing about living in the San Francisco Bay Area, is you don't necessarily need to rely on a car to get around. In fact, sometimes you are better off without one.

SAN FRANCISCO - AUGUST 14:  Bay Area Rapid Tra...Image by Getty Images via @daylife
Case in point: a caching buddy of mine was working on completing the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) series of caches, and I decided to come along with him to grab a few new caches of my own. So we hopped on our bikes, rode to the closest BART station, loaded our bikes on the next westbound BART train, and headed off to the Berekely / El Cerrito area along the eastern edge of the San Francisco Bay.

Every BART station has a cache hidden in it, so we were immediately greeted with a cache-finding opportunity upon exiting the train at the North Berkeley station. From there, we rode our bikes north along the Ohlone Greenway, a wonderful class 1 bike trail that follows the BART right of way up to El Cerrito. The trail itself is home to numerous caches, making the bike ride that much the better.

All in all, we covered about 50 miles out and back (see GPSr track below) and found 10 caches in just a few hours. You would be hard pressed to find these same caches as efficiently, and have as much fun, by automobile.

So the next time you head out on that caching adventure, consider your transportation options carefully, as the right mode of travel can make your outing that much more enjoyable.

Cache On!

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