Friday, November 25, 2005

Street Map Software

So far I have been avoiding to cover street maps software. But I guess the time has come. Yesterday going to a friend's house I realized that I didn't remember how to get there. My wife asks then, why don't you use your GPS to go there? Don't you love those questions?

Well, for that trip to Fremont I grabbed the AAA map for the area, found their street name and refreshed my memory about the way to get there. But it was obvious that after looking to all the topographic related packages for the PocketPC I had to start getting down to the vector-based, street map packages.

PC Pro, a UK-based magazine published a review of several hardware/software solutions on its October '05 issue. Most of these products were packaged with maps geared towards the European market including the Mitac Mio 168, Navman, Garmin iQue models, and PDA's from Acer and HP.

I started this blog looking at DeLorme Street Atlas USA 2005 for Windows. DeLorme also produces a PocketPC version that can be used with the Windows counterpart (but is in fact a standalone product which includes a CD with maps of the whole U.S.). It currently sells for about $35 US$. You can download a small Flash demo that shows how you can select an area from a map on the PC and transfer it to the PDA.

That's one thing I would like to avoid: to have to prepare a map for a given route beforehand. Microsoft Streets & Trips also works in a similar fashion, but according to reviews from users that got it at Amazon, the PocketPC version is a joke. But for 25$ after rebates with free shipping (both PC and PocketPC versions) the price is almost worth just to take a look at it.

PaPaGo USA 5

Browsing at GPS related packages at PocketGear I had made a note to myself about PaPaGo. My guess it that they probably use this name mostly for its onomatopoeic characteristics than any real meaning. But in any case here is a link to the Papago Tribe that used to live in Southern Arizona.

HiNav lists as the company behind the develoment of this product. Maction shows up in the splash screen, but there are also quite a few other brands involved, including MatlasTech and Mobuy. Check this link for a description of the product in English.

PaPaGo 5 USA includes a Windows PC product, the PocketPC version and one map. Follow the directions from PocketGear which basically tell you to download the PocketPC installer, the Windows Installer and a map from While there get also the PDF of a good User's Guide in English.

The installer for the Windows version is a self-executable RAR file and will display a dialog in Mandarin Chinese. Just hit Enter to select OK.

You can try their product for 3-days (and not 15 days as mentioned in the installer dialog). You can get a registration code for US$ 29.95. That's for one map. For extra maps you will need to fork another 30 bucks. The actual name of the installed product is KingMap 2 USA (Version 2.2, Build 217).

As you already noticed the one drawback about this product is that you have to buy maps per region in order to use it. The map for Northern California [60MBytes] covers from Monterey (35 degrees 47 minutes North) to San Francisco Bay Area, all the way up to Eureka (42 degrees North) including Sacramento and Central Valley. It is all there. Its map data is provided by TeleAtlas with layers covering roads, streets, points-of-interst (POI's) and landmarks.


In my case that would suffice for the trip to my friend's house. You can start by finding your location by street name, position (lat/long), area or place. After finding it you can hit the Go button to have the area on the map for that location displayed. Right click the point, select Route | Start Route.

Now do the same for the destination point. Find it in the list, hit the Go button, right-click it on the map and select Route | End Route. You are done. Connect your GPS card, select GPS | Enable GPS and you will starting hearing the directions from a female voice in perfect English. You can also add stops along the way.

Both versions also provide a simulation mode where you review a track. Hit the play button on the Track Bar on the PocketPC (or the play button on the Windows version) and you will see a little green car driving along the desired route.

You select between miles and kilometers in the PocketPC version, but the Windows version only shows distances in kilometers. At least I couldn't find a way to select miles.

If you happen to miss a turn, it will let you know that you are off the originally planned route and offer the newly designed turns to go back to it. The volume from the PDA isn't that loud so you will need to check the screen often times to make sure you are taking the right turns.

You can also plan a route by GPS, which will take your current location as a starting point and you then only need to provide the destination for the route. After a trip you can save a log (in binary format) and/or track (in text format) and replay it later with the PC or PocketPC version. You can also import waypoints into a My Places database for use with the Route Planner.

What I like about PaPaGo/KingMap is its simplicity. No overload of features, easy to grasp menus, install & go. Plus, it just looks nice.

3D & more

The latest version of PaPaGo 9 (not available in English at this time) offers vector-based maps in 3D, like TomTom Navigator 5. In fact, TomTom includes maps for the whole country and you can find it for about US$129.

Here you can read a feature comparison of some of the packages mentioned on this post and PocketGPSWorld covered PaPaGo in a lengthy review a little more than a year ago.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Early April of 2010

With fear spreading like asian flu it is not surprising that ideas like these from Jakob Boeskov would touch a nerve. His Empire North enterprise promotes a Sniper ID software and its hardware counterpart to solve the safety issues of the 21st Century.

Don't forget to check the review of his work by

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Mobile phones: Location service x GPS

I borrowed a Sprint PocketPC 6600 to try JGUI's PI & W.A.I.T. (We Are In Touch). The Sprint 6600 comes with a sliding keyboard, runs Pocket PC 2003 Phone Edition, and includes BlueTooth, a camera and 128Mbytes of RAM. The newer version Sprint 6700 is currently for sale.

After a hard reset due to battery power loss, the initial setup included several installs of pre-packaged applications. Among them a "Location On" item displayed at the Today screen. The PC 6600 also includes a SD card slot through which I run the .cab files to install trial versions of both packages (available at PocketGear).

JGUI products call GPS Rx a connection to the GPS receiver. I selected each available COM port looking for the receiver. COM6 launched the BlueTooth Manager, but no device was available. Then I started to wonder, how is this location obtained then? Is there a GPS chip somewhere in this phone? Didn't I know that these questions would take a while to get an answer.

AGPS: Assisted GPS

The Sprint 6600 doesn't include a GPS receiver. To have one it would require something like the DeLorme BlueLogger to make it work, but I'm not getting one right now.

So how exactly can JGUI obtain NMEA 0183 data from this phone? Short answer is: it can't. The position from a cell phone like this is not obtained thru signals from GPS satellites but from triangulation of the cell signal by the closest towers.

What this and other phones have is a chip that will help implement the FCC mandate to offer the E911 emergency location services where available. According to Sprint: "Sprint employs multiple location technologies such as Global Positioning System (GPS), Advanced Forward Link Triangulation (AFLT), Cell Sector, Aided GPS, and a blend of AFLT and Assisted GPS technologies to determine location. Each technology has its own strengths."

A PDF from OpenWave helps understand the technologies involved here. And then you realize that things got a bit more complicated. So the location data isn't readily available to applications like JGUI PI/WAIT to use.

True GPS Phones

Motorola produces phones with true GPS receivers. Check the i88s for example. Phones like this one depend on GPS satellites to obtain location information and require a clear view of the sky to do so, unlike those with provider location data. In that case, you depend on the availability of signal from your phone service.

These phones also run Java (J2ME) and support the J2ME Location API which gives you access to:

  • latitude
  • longitude
  • altitude
  • time stamp
  • travel direction
  • speed
  • altitude uncertainty and
  • speed uncertainty
At the Motorola Developer site you can find a White Paper describing the recommended use of this API (registration required).

Location Services

What you can make use of are tracking services that use a mix of these technologies. But for that you will have to pay extra for data service from your provider.

For example, AccuTracking which used to provide free location services, is now a fee-based tracking service. You also pay for data usage to Nextel (or other provider). Its midlets uses the GPS data from the embedded receiver of the Motorola models. Xora supports similar models to make use of their Java-based apps in a Motorola/Nextel phone. TeleNav offers directions with turn-by-turn information based on true GPS positioning, not from an assisted type technology. In fact, Motorola has its own service ViaMoto to provide turn-by-turn directions.

For WAP-based phones you can try the free, Open Source project Mobile GMaps "that displays Google Maps, Yahoo! Maps and MSN Virtual Earth maps and satellite imagery on Java J2ME-enabled mobile phones, PDAs and other devices."

Where are you

The interesting feature provided by both JGUI PI and W.A.I.T. is the ability to send SMS (Short Message Service) messages to someone's phone with your location information. This is also the main idea behind Needle GPS (which looks like a defection from the company that produces and distributes Loc8 NMEA Listener, the product after which Needle is modeled).

Needle says that it can only be installed in PDA's with ARM 1100 processors, but I was able to run it on the Toshiba e755 which has the Intel StrongArm processor without a hitch.

The demo doesn't allow you to do much else besides connecting to a GPS receiver, but the full product will act as a moving map and allow you to send SMS messages with your current and stored locations. Needle also produces an add-on module Neddle Plus 1.0 (US$ 49.95) but there is no demo or trial version available.

Maybe instead of a Garmin unit I could try one of these Motorola phones, that would save the money for the BlueTooth receiver but add on the service subscription fee. Or maybe just wait a couple of years to see how these things will end up.

PS: What do you want to read about? Let me know (ascardoso at yahoo dot com).

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Maps: topographical, historical, free

It doesn't take much to realize that maps are the bread and butter behind the GPS adventure. Products usually lock customers behind proprietary formats to get a regular supply of sales. Nothing new there.

Most of these maps are based on the work of the United States Geological Survey (USGS) which either makes them available for download for free or charge a fee for large size requests.

There you can obtain topographical maps in paper, or their scanned counterparts in Digital Raster Graphics (DRG) format. Digital Elevation Models (DEM) can be used with DRG's to produce 3D maps as described in this great tutorial (check the toolbox and the list of freeware tools available to do this job).

In the vector based domain you can find Digital Line Graphs (DLG's), plus Geographic Names Information System (GNIS) gives you access to names of locations covered by these maps.

You can use public available tools to visualize maps with these type of data, like DLGV32 Pro which is a limited version of the commercially available Global Mapper.

Satellite Photos

USAPhotoMaps provides a fast and easy way to access satellite photos as Digital Ortho Quarter Quadrants (DOQQ) from USGS and the Microsoft TerraServer. It requires the download of a client software that runs on Windows. With it you can save .jpg image files and then transfer to a PDA. But be sure to push the contrast of these images, otherwise they won't look sharp enough in the small screen.

If you have a dedicated GPS like the Garmin models, you can upload data directly to it. Digital Data is another provider of satellite photos and BLM maps.

Not so free maps

But there are also companies that provide maps compatible with formats required by specific applications. That is the case of Chartiff, which sells maps for Fugawi, Memory Map and MapTrails among others.

In fact, the Bureau of Public Lands sells maps produced and distributed by Chartiff, including South California with its MapTrails software package.

TopoZone is another provider that will charge for shaded relief, satellite and street maps. Their service is built on top of the OpenSource MapServer project.

Historical Maps

MapTech which provides maps for OutdoorNavigator also hosts a series of historical maps from the turn of the 1900's mostly of areas in the East Coast. These maps seem to cover the same quadrants of today's topographical maps (at least that's the case for the Central Park map in New York City). You can select maps by cities, counties or an interactive map.

MapTech doesn't sell printed copies of these maps but refer you to Map Express which also sells printed copied of custom versions of topographical maps.

Books on Mapping and Maps

O'Reilly published two map related books that provide a great deal of tips and information about how to access, create and produce maps from freely available resources. If you use Linux both "Mapping Hacks" and "Web Mapping Illustrated" which covers MapServer usage in particular will give you lots to explore.

Pocket Earth 3.4

Pocket Earth from Blue Point Studio's is exactly that. A geography lesson in your PDA. Grab the demo at PocketGear and notice that you can try it 15 times, not days. So, get it when you feel like taking a Geography class.

The package is extremely well done and carefully designed. You can use it with a GPS card in their latest version, but that doesn't really make it any better than it already is. With a GPS connection you get a compass that you can place anywhere in the screen with your velocity, bearing and your location is marked in a shaded 3D map of the Earth.

You can choose between a handle tool to position the Earth (and the Moon, Sun) and a Point tool that let you connect two or more cities. Doing that you will know how far apart those places are and their bearing.

You can also select a flat Earth map, remove the shadow from the Earth, add grids, make the Earth move or not, zoom in and out and so on, lots of control over what and how things get displayed. If you have a wireless connection you can download weather information for selected cities.

A search tool allows you to find cities by country, name or population. After you make a selection the Earth moves gradually to take you to the chosen location. Really neat. For $19.95 it is definitely worth the price.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

PathAway 3

PathAway is developed by Muskoka Tech based in Ontario, Canada. Originally developed for Palm the PocketPC release is about a year old. Specially while transferring files you might see some error messages still referring to HotSync, the Palm way of synching files. It also seems that there are quite a few more Palm users in the recently created message forums on its website.

After installing the package on Windows you will get a set of quite good manuals (with Palm references here and there) and a MapManager utility. If you want to try it out, be sure to get a good hang of the map calibration step and go fast, the trial only lasts 10-days. After that you will need to purchase a $49.95 license.

You can load a .jpeg image with the map utility or load pre-calibrated files in JPR calibration file format developed by Fugawi, or PathAway’s PWM and CAL formats. For me the map calibration required the use of d even though I had degrees, minutes and seconds selected.

After some struggle I finally got a moving map working. But I could not transfer maps thru MapManager I had to copy files manually from its temporary location. The utility would give me an error message or go away after starting a transfer. I didn't compare the saved .prc file and the one from the temporary storage to see if they were the same, but I only got the PPC package to work with the version from the temporary storage (/Documents and Settings/[username]/Local Settings/temp on XP) plus a .pwp text file with empty coordinates.


The moving map shows a pretty good precision after all. Default screen provides bearing, coordinates, average, max and current speed and is highly configurable as most aspects of this package. The user interface shows its Palm origins.

You mark (way) points along a trail, track and PA3 will display the distance from the closest point you have stored, including the trigger of an audible alarm. You can save track, points and split the display with a moving map and a list of saved points or tracks.

You can download a command-line tool to convert database entries to text format and vice-versa. There you will also find a library for batch map conversions, and a DLL with its published API for use from within your own application.

Touratech QV

PA3 supports map files generated with Touratech QV, a PC desktop tool developed in Europe, in this case you won't need to use PathAway tools. Some of their website is translated to English but if you know German you will feel home. published a pretty extensive "review" of PathAway by the time of its release.

Vito SmartMap 3.16 Freeware Version

Vito Technologies offers quite a broad range of PocketPC based apps including some GPS Navigation titles. Among them AstroNavigator mentioned in an earlier post.

If you look at the website you won't realize that there is a freeware version of SmartMap available. Vito gives away for free the PC application, MapManager required to create maps in the .vtm format used by their PocketPC charting product: SmartMap version 3.21.4. The full version of SmartMap can be tried for 15-days before purchasing a license for US$29.95.

To obtain the freeware version, go to PocketGear and download version 3.16. According to the nag screen you can track up to 500 points, have GPS positioning only with tracking map and up to 10 pushpins (waypoints).

After downloading and installing MapManager you can create a new map by selecting Layer | Add layer. You can select raster images in .jpeg format or vector-based ESRI Shapefiles. You can overlay shapefiles, but I'm not sure if you can combine different types like place a .shp file on top of a .jpeg. I got a a warning message while trying that.

Then you add up to 3 entries in a foothold list (Tools | Foothold List). Notice that you need to provide coordinates in dd format. Also make sure you click the E button to indicate West if that's the case. After that you 'snap' the image (Tools | Snap) probably with the idea that if you have several layers, they would all be snapped together to form a single georeferenced image.

BTW, if you reopen the saved map, don't expect to see the marks in the map for the reference points or the "foothold" list with their corresponding positions. After a map is saved, those points are gone. You can move the mouse over the image and verify their coordinates in the status bar. After that, copy the .vtm file to the PDA and you are done. This page describes the process of map creation with MapManager.


During installation SmartMap replaces some of the original .wav files which looked intriguing but harmless. SmartMap requires a live connection to the GPS receiver. Only after it obtains one, the main screen you come up. Load your map by selecting Map | Load Map.

A green arrow indicates a fix. You can notice that the image is redraw in sync with the GPS receiver blinking led. You can't zoom on a raster image, but that is enabled on a vector-based one. You can save points and tracks and export them as .shp files. It would be interesting to overlay them on top of the .jpeg images in the MapManager utility, but I'm not sure that's doable in the freeware version (or fully licensed one).

For a freeware package you get the basics, but I wasn't particularly impressed by it. It doesn't hurt, but doesn't heal either.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

MemoryMap Navigator

From all the packages that I've been looking at recently MemoryMap Navigator 5.02 seems like the most promising. Beware that Google will list its British website first mainly because they are based in UK, partnering in the United States with MapTech, maker of OutdoorNavigator. So, most of what is covered in this post refers to their American website.

To start, download and install Memory Map 10-day trial which includes a free PC Host map utility and the PocketPC package. With the map utility you can import DRG's (Digital Raster Graphics).

For California you can download DRG's and their corresponding .tif and .tfw files with NAD83 or NAD27 georeference at UC Davis. Please notice the flashing link on the download page to a survey. Make sure to respond. This way you can prove the need for this service and help obtain support to keep this service online.

To import a DRG, download the corresponding .tif and .tfw files, select Map | Map List and hit the Refresh Map List... button. There select the directory where you saved the files by hitting Add Folder. Press Ok, and you now should be able to see the DRG listed in the Map List dialog. The same dialog allows you to send the map to the PDA.

DRG name details

DRG names have a funny look. They start with a "o" for Ohio-code. In my case I had the file o36121h8 where 36 corresponds to the latitude, 121 to the longitude, h which corresponds to 8th row within that latitude/longitude square or the one on top (a in the southmost row) and 8 is the column in the lat/lon square where columns are numbered from 1 to 8 from east to west).

But back to the map utility, with that you just created a .qct file (QuickChart) compressing the original 8Mbyte file down to five. For more on importing, scanning and calibrating maps check the PowerPoint presentation on MapCalibration in the install directory (viewer included).

It is quite impressive the speed with which MemoryMap displays images, zooming in and out in a snap. That's quite an accomplishiment considering the original image size and the processing power of a PDA.

If you interested in obtain maps of Canada, you can also purchase eTopo digital maps compatible with MM at MM also supports MrSid file format which stands for "Multi Resolution Seamless Image Database". These files can be converted into .tiff format with utilities available at LizardTech, the creator and owner of the MrSid format.

Transfering the map to the PDA can be accomplished from the same map utility. Somehow the utility informs that the version of the PDA package just installed is outdated. Just choose to re-install/update it. You can pick where you want the map copied to, like Main memory or SD/CF card storage. But be aware that MM trial won't plot your position with a GPS connection, for that you will need a full license ($99).

MemoryMap 3D

Another feature available in the map utility is MemoryMap 3D, which also requires a full license and from the looks of the videos available on their website, it seems quite a ways better than what is offered by Topo! Streets & 3-D Views from National Geographic. In order to display a 3D map you need to obtain the corresponding QuickChart Elevation Data (.qed). For that you can fork another $120: $95 for the California State Memory Map Discover DVD (or any other state) and $25 for the corresponding elevation data.

But you can try it with an old map with elevation data from Mountain Desert Island (.qct & .qed). Probably the least populated area in the planet. And quite flat. Not that exciting. But the fact that you can control the intensity and positioning of the light is pretty cool. You can also sync both views either vertically or horizontally. The free viewer also lacks printing, GPS programming, real time plotting and all Pro features.

Map Server

If you select the menu option "Web | Download Maps from the Internet" it will load your default browser (Mozilla Firefox in my case) and you might get a "requires Internet Explorer 5.5 or greater" message but even if you use IE 6.0 it will still complain about it.

So, open your IE browser and go to
there you will be able to buy DRG's directly from MemoryMap for $1 buck a piece.

Memory Map website also points you to a USGS website where you can download aerial photos [DOQQ] and to USA Photo Maps at which "downloads USGS aerial photo and topo map data from Microsoft's free TerraServer Web site, saves it on your hard drive, and creates maps with GPS accuracy."

NOAA Marine raster navigation charters can be downloaded for free from MapTech's website. Everything else requires you to fork some cash.

Bottom line

Memory Map Navigator costs 99$ including the PC version and the PocketPC package. In the professional version ($225) you can import ERSI Shape files for overlays, use night colors in the PocketPC and perform large-format map printing plus remote tracking thru the MemoryTrack addon that connects to a proprietary server to provide information on multiple parties.

MemoryMap offers a compreensive set of features that require a good chunk of exploration for someone make full use of it. To me so far this might be the most significant competition offered to the Topo! packages from National Geographic.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

PocketPC Survival Kit II

One side-effect of installing GPSIdea is that it adds itself to the Start menu, which I consider a bit annoying. The number of items on the Start up menu is limited and not every program is that vital to be included there.

Behind the scenes what is happening is the creation of a .lnk file added to the "/Windows/Start Menu" (not StartUp) directory. The .lnk file is a simple text that indicates the .lnk file size and the executable to be launched, plus parameters if any.

You can use a tool like TotalCommander to edit these files. This freeware tool will show the file extensions usually omitted by File Explorer, perform group copy, deletes plus lots of other handy features.

Looking up again

AstroNavigator from Vito Technologies can be tried for 15-days before you have to fork US$25 for a license. Vito produces several other packages including Vito Navigator and Vito Manager (soon to be reviewed).

Probably because of that, AstroNavigator can hook up to a GPS receiver and obtain location information plus time to display the stars and planets in your sky plus the current position of the NAVSTAR satellites.

AstroNavigator offers sliders to help position the sky, plus a circle-around-the-Sun type dial that you can control to display the sky at any location.

You can locate stars and constellations like Orionic and control the amount of clutter to be displayed (grids, labels, etc). Pinpointing a star or planet will provide a popup with all its related information and position.

Ideas: SMS tells me where you are

GPS Ideas website still doesn't display much info about how to make maps. But according to JGUI GPS page, that was the first product of this Polish group of PPC programmers. I tried the version 1.5 Pro and besides being surprised by the use of sound to announce the GPS fix and the long time it took to load a cool, unreferenced picture of the Earth, there wasn't much else that could be tried.

GPS PI is their latest entry and is said to work on several phones (only Mobile or Phone editions of Pocket PC) but not on the Pocket PC 2002 or 2003. So this one I will pass for now.

But the fact that GPS PI sends SMS messages with location information shows an interesting trend, and quite a few interesting possibilities. GPS W.A.I.T. is another package with similar capabilities but with map support, where you can see someone's location in a phone after exchanging some SMS between cells.

For the soon to be left behind PocketPC users they offer Follow Me and Where Am I.

Where Am I is a digital compass and Follow Me offers three types of views: a visual track and a table of positions and the same digital compass found in WAmI with satellite strength info. There is no moving map support.

You can save a track and load it later, but you can't export or import it. A line in the track file includes entry #, time, latitude, longitude, altitude, average km/h and probably the sum of the total distance covered:


Settings made to one package will be found by another. There is no option to keep the taskbar visible, you are required to use the minimize option from the Program menu. These products seem to go more towards the "coolness" factor. Follow me ($19.99) and Where Am I ($9.99) and the other packages mentioned here can be found at Handago or PocketGear.

GPS MeterPDA: How many feet in a minute

Wondering about how many feet there is in a second or minute of a degree I came across GPS MeterPDA, developed in Barcelona, Spain by Juan A Luna. For the actual answer go down on this post.

GPS MeterPDA is a neat commercial package with a 15-day trial period that can help you measure distances and areas in either meters/hectares or feet/yards. You can purchase a license for 32 euros, or US35$ at PocketGear.

I installed version 1.0.8 on a PPC 2003 (minimal version requirement) and it seemed to work just fine. I walked along the San Lorenzo River and start marking points along the way. The package will display the total distance covered and the distance from the last point.

If you closed an area, it will also display its current value. You can save a project in its binary format (.gtm) and export it as coordinates in text and .dxf (Drawing Interchange Format used in CAD):

Datum,WGS 84

Besides WGS84 you can select among up to 270 datums. You can also work with UTM coordinates. For precision you can obtain several readings from the GPS receiver for a given point and use its average. You can also verify the distance between saved points from a list view.

And the answer is...

And if you are still wondering about how many feet in a second, according to this USGS webpage here is the answer:

"How much distance does a degree, minute and second cover on your maps?

The distances vary. A degree, minute or second of latitude remains fairly constant from the equator to the poles; however a degree, minute, or second of longitude can vary greatly as one approaches the poles (because of the convergence of the meridians). At 38 degrees North latitude, one degree of latitude equals approximately 364,000 ft (69 miles), one minute equals 6068 ft (1.15 miles), one-second equals 101 ft; one-degree of longitude equals 288,200 ft (54.6 miles), one minute equals 4800 ft (0.91 mile), and one second equals 80 ft."