Technology

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Everytrail app for iphone

I have been spending a fair bit of time in the Golden area and seem to have misplaced/lost my Garmin gps. I had already biked the Canyon Creek trail which is part of the Moonraker trail system outside Golden. This provided an opportunity and a good reason to test out the Everytrail app for my iphone.

Turns out that the iphone produced the same track as my Garmin and if you want to share your trail and are happy with the quality of the pictures from an iphone you get to produce your track (including waypoints), geotagged photos in no time and with minimal effort. Adding captions and descriptions as you hike is simple.

In any event, here is my track for the day along the Cedar Creek trail, up an unmarked road, down Canyon Creek trail and back on a series of trails including Devil's Slide.

Moonraker Trails Golden BC



Plan your trips with EveryTrail Mobile Travel Guides

BackCountry Emergency Assistance from Spot

Spot has released and been gracious enough to send me a unit to test that will communicate to your friends and family from the backcountry permitting you to check in and indicate that you are either alright or that you need help to drag yourself out of the bush. If your friends will not suffice and you are faced with a serious emergency the Spot call center will also alert emergency services that you need assistance and provide emergency services with your location.

The advantage of Spot is that it sends messages to satellites which are then relayed to the Spot Center or your contacts via email or text message. By using satellites to communicate you are able to keep in contact in locations where there is no cellular signal. In Alberta, this includes almost every location in which you want to hike.

I have been testing Spot for a few weeks now and so far I am pretty impressed. The Spot has four functions. Spot will allow you to:

1) Send a emergency 911 message to Spot which will result in the notification of all of your contacts and emergency services of your location.
2) Send a message that you have preprogrammed into the Spot site requesting help from your contacts when you press the help button.
3) Send a message of your choice indicating that you are okay to alleviate worrying spouses that otherwise may not let you venture into the backcountry either alone or with what they view as your untrustworthy friends.
4) Allow your contacts to track in real time your progress on your hike. Again I can see this being advantageous to help alleviate worrying but would also be convenient to coordinate pick ups on a long hike. If you have ever spent three or four hours waiting in a parking lot either for a pickup or to pickup some friends after a excursion into the bush you can understand the benefit of this feature.

I have not finished my review of Spot yet and I will update this post when I am finished. I am still playing with the tracking feature and the feature that permits you to create a shared web page that lets people see your messages anytime by viewing a web page as opposed to following a link to google maps via email or text message.

Over the weekend I saw a couple of trail runners a few kilometers into the backcountry. They had no gear other than a water bottle and a small fanny pack. In the summer I have come across other trail runners and hikers with no emergency equipment. Coming across these trail runners I thought that Spot is the perfect product for them. I would not and I expect that Spot would not encourage you to think that their product is a substitute for proper planning and equipment. After all, if the weather or conditions are poor your would be rescuers may not be able to get to you, but should you sprain your ankle, blow a knee or startle an angry bear, it might be nice to get a message out. As spring approaches, consider whether Spot might be a product that will give you some peace of mind and added security.

For more information or to purchase Spot check out the Spot site. The price is $169 for the unit, $99 per year for emergency service, and the OK and help features. In order to use the tracking feature the cost is an additional $69 per year. Chances are if you use it once, you will think the cost is well worth it.

Spot Backcountry Emergency Satellite Locator

Google adds Contour Lines to Maps

Google has announced that it has improved its maps and made them much more valuable for planning hikes and backpacking trips. Below is a Google Map with the contour lines for my hike across Centennial Ridge and up Mount Allen.


View Larger Map

For more information check out the Google Blog.

Geotagging Photos with Photolinker

I recently spent a couple of weeks in Hawaii. As I planned for the trip I decided that one of the things I wanted to do was geotag my photos. Several weeks before I left ATP indicated that they would send me a ATP Photofinder to review. The weeks went buy a couple of emails were exchanged but no test unit arrived. After giving up on ATP I went to a local store and attempted to order a unit but was told that there would be a six week delay for delivery. I am not sure where the unit was being shipped from but the last time I waited 6 weeks for delivery of any product was the mid-80s. Eventually I resolved myself to the fact that I would have to mark the locations on my Garmin unit as waypoints and manually enter the coordinates. Not a lot of fun.

A week or two after I returned home, the endurance junky sent me a link to the GPS Photolinker. According to the site the

GPSPhotoLinker can be used to save location and GPS position data to a photo. The latitude and longitude recorded by your GPS unit while you were taking photos can be linked, and saved, to the photos. GPSPhotoLinker automatically enters the city, state, and country annotations into the metadata.

I was able to load my GPS tracks, including waypoints and scroll through each picture manually adding the latitude and longitude to the EXIF metadata. I was able to geotag almost 200 photos in 15 minutes which would have taken hours manually. When the photos are uploaded to sites like flickr and Everytrail, the photos automatically appear in their proper location. While the level of detail in parts of Alberta is poor on Google Earth, it is fantastic in Hawaii. Below is a screenshot of some photos from a hike on the Pololu Valley Trail in Hawaii. The waves breaking on the beach are visible, in other photos you can see the waterfalls.

Pololu Valley Trail Hawaii

The Photolinker also allows the automatic batch geotagging of photos by comparing the time on the active GPS track to the time recorded by your camera. To simplify the process, set the time on your camera and computer to match the time on your GPS. To test the Batch tag, I went for a walk through Bowness Park snapped some photos, used the Photolinker and uploaded the results to Everytrail. Drag your mouse across the track to see the uploaded photos.

Each photo, in only seconds, was accurately geotagged. The downside, Photolinker is designed for the Mac. I have not found a similar program that works with the PC. Bottom line, if you have a Mac, a camera, and a GPS device already you do not need a device similar to the ATP Photofinder. Remember, devices like that from ATP and Sony will not help you find your way out of the bush.

The Photolinker is currently under development and free to download (but donations are appreciated and recommended). The only issue that I had using the program was that sometimes I had to drag and drop the photos and track as using the upload buttons sometimes caused the program to shut down, but it is after all under development. If you are looking for more information on geotagging, see my post Automatically Geotag Photos.

Automatically Geotag Photos

If you have not heard of geotagging, it is the addition of geographical data, largely latitude and longitude to a photo. The location at which the photo was taken can then be conveniently displayed through several websites. Flickr, Google Earth and Picaso all feature the possibility to geotag and display photos. A good review of some of the advantages and disadvantages of some of the sites can be found in an article posted on c/net news.

I have been geotagging photos for some time, the problem is that it is very labour intensive. I have heard that there are some cameras that will automatically geotag photos but they are expensive. The websites geotag photos by allowing you to manually select the photo and then select a location from a map. Because the maps of the backcountry on these sites are either not very accurate or detailed it is difficult to accurately geotag a photo with this method. Generally, I have to record the location of a photo from my handheld GPS and enter the data manually. Creating Google Maps with this method is both accurate and relatively easy but time consuming. The result, I only geotag a small portion of my photos.

Sony created the Sony GPS-CS1 which was designed to automatically geotag photos. The product was announced in August 2006 but is no longer available from Sony. Not exactly sure why but some sites seem to suggest that it was not very accurate in relation to location. Sony then launched the Sony GPS CS1KA.

Sony GPS CS1KA Automatically Geotag Photos

This device, also approximately $100 is now promoted as being compatible with most digital, as opposed to just Sony, digital cameras. The device works by recording time and date information along with actual position wherever GPS satellite coverage is available. The GPS Image Tracker software matches this position data with time and date information corresponding with each JPEG camera image. The images can then be uploaded to the websites. It appears that Sony planned to have the Sony CS1KA in stores in December 2007. I could not find it at Sony.ca and it does not appear to be widely available. If you have a US address you can purchase it through Amazon.

Another option is the GISTEQ DPL700 PhotoTrackr. There is a good review of this product at Richard's Tech Reviews but as you will see, the software associated with this device sounds complex or at least complex enough that I would not experiment with it unless I could buy and return it locally.

The new product that led to this post is not yet available in North America. The ATP Photo FInder was released only recently and is depicted below.

ATP Photo finder geotag photos

I sent an email to the company but have not yet heard from them. Like the Sony CS1KA, the ATP Photo Finder calculates and records GPS position data and allows you to precisely track the exact location at which and time that your pictures were taken. According to the ATP website, the photo finder works as follows:

Actvate the Photo Finder. After you finish taking pictures, simply insert your SD, Memory Stick or MMC memory card into the Photo Finder's built-in card slot and the GPS data will be synchronized and added to all pictures on the card. Even more convenient is the fact that this is all performed “on the go” without a PC. All you need to carry with you is your digital camera to take the pictures and the ATP Photo Finder to log your location.

Photos GPS tagged by the ATP Photo Finger can be used with any GPS compatible photo software. For example, when used with the Google supplied software “Picasa2”, “Google Earth”, or “Google Maps”, your photos will be shown on an online map, giving you a whole new way to organize, enjoy and share your pictures. Share your pictures and trip route with your friends and family. More importantly, never forget where you took a picture again. You can also use your GPS tagged photos in a compatible GPS navigation system, allowing for features such as choosing your destination and landmarks visually.

There is a short video on Youtube which seems to emphasize that this device is very user friendly. I would like to get my hands on one and test it out. Because the data required to geotag the photos is added to your memory card, it would seem that you could hike across Europe, fill media cards and geotag photos without a computer. That possibility is appealing.


Terrain Feature with Google Maps

Last week Google announced a new feature to its very popular maps. Billed as an attempt to highlight the beauty of an area, Google maps are intended to "focus on physical features such as mountains, valleys, and vegetation." Google states that the maps contain labels for even very small mountains and trails and are enhanced with subtle shading that can often give a better sense of elevation changes than a satellite image alone. Below is a map that I started building of some of the hiking destinations around Calgary. Hit the terrain button to use the new feature

Unfortunately the map does not permit the use of this tool to plan detailed hikes around Alberta but as the data improves it might prove to be a useful tool.

Using and Sharing GPS Data: Active vs. Saved Tracks

I received an email the other day from an avid hiker who had been using his GPS to record his routes only to discover that the data seemed to be unusable. When I first bought my unit I went out and did a couple of hikes and found myself facing the same frustration. The problem is that there is a difference between active tracks and saved tracks that are created when using the Garmin products.

Discover Alberta through Toporama

The federal Department of Natural Resources offers free topographical maps for Canada at Toporama. I will be adding this link to hikealberta.com The maps are of high quality and can be printed. They are also can be searched by latitude and longitude.

Here is a view of a topographical map of the Bow Valley Parkway at the 1:40,000 scale. The Edith Pass and Brewster Creek Trails are visible.

1:40,000 resolution

At maximum resolution 1:20,000 scale here is the view of the same area.

1:40,000 resolution

Unfortunately, trails for less popular areas like those in the Elbow Valley do not appear on the maps. Another interesting feature is that satellite imagery is available for the area you are interested in as well as information such as water saturated soil, vegetation and designated areas for everything from campgrounds to golf courses. Have a look at Toporama if you are looking for trail or other information about an area or looking to plan an extreme backcountry adventure.

Everytrail and Panoramio Rocks

I have used Everytrail with several posts of different hikes in Alberta. Its utility varies on the level of resolution of the satellite imagery from Google Earth. If you are not familiar with it, Everytrail allows users to upload both photos and their GPS track. The photos can then be dragged to the location at which the photo was taken. The trip can then be shared with others and viewers can see not only the path you took but what you saw along the way.

Panoramio adds a new element. Panoramio allows users to upload photos. Users are given up to 2Gb of storage for free. The photos can then be geotagged. When a trip is created with Everytrail, you have the option to allow photos taken by others and uploaded to Panoramio to be shown with your trip. The advantage is that you get to see the area during different seasons and areas of the trip that you did not photograph.

Here is an example from my snowshoe trip to Chester Lake. I uploaded a couple of pictures which you can view by clicking on the camera symbol. The other pictures from Panoramio are viewed by clicking on blue and white symbol. You will have to open the satellite image from Everytrail by clicking on it first.

Here is an example from a hike in Hawaii. It appears that the person that created this trip only took photos in one location. Add Panoramio and you get to see images from all along the trail.

Give it a try. A couple of disadvantages of Everytrail. I have not yet figured out how to search for a specific trip and while it offers the ability to download GPS Tracks sometimes when you try to use them with Mapsource or Motionbased the download ends up with an error that prevents its use. So far I have had about a 50% rate of success in using tracks I download.

How Accurate is Garmin MapSource?

About four months ago I bought a Garmin Legend Cx hand held GPS receiver and the Garmin Mapsource Canada Topo discs containing the topographical maps for all of Canada. I was surprised that most of the more popular trails in areas like Banff and Lake Louise appear on the topographical maps. For most of Kananaskis, which is where I prefer to hike, the trails are not included. Not a big deal because I did not expect that the maps would be included in the first place. As far as accuracy, mountain trails are not highways, depending on things like erosion, fallen trees, I would expect that the location of the trail would not be 100% accurate. Also, the sun, tree cover, cloud cover, and several other things interfere with the quality of the signal received by the GPS unit.

For this post I am only going to refer to hikes for which the quality of the satellite signal I was receiving was excellent.

Marsh Creek Trail near the Cave and Basin, which is a World Heritage site, should be a good example where one would expect a high degree of accuracy from Garmin.

The thin dotted line is the trail. It is tough to see in this post so I am sure you can imagine how hard it is to see on the 3x6 screen on the hand held. About 20 of the 140 recorded points are on the trail as reported by Garmin. The track is off the reported trail by up to 75 meters. Really not a big deal because the trail was easy to follow on the day I did the hike. Interestingly, the Bow River seems to have moved but then again, rivers do that.

Click on the title to read the entire post or go to Garmin MapSource.