Thursday, July 14, 2005

Map Calibrator

This free utility is provided by the maker of another GPS package for PocketPC's: GPS Tuner. The version currently available at http://www.gpstuner.com/ won't work with GPSDash 2.

The idea is to have a Topo map with grid and the corresponding latitude and longitude information. With Map Calibrator you can load the .jpg image and with the mouse pointed at a given location, right click the mouse and select the option to enter the coordinates for that point. You can select two points for calibration.

GPSDash

[If you are looking for a more complete review of the current version of GpsDash check this post.] I found GPSDash [www.gpsdash.com] at Handago.com. This site is a good point to look for software for PocketPC's. GPSDash (2.1f) provides a moving map, among a slew of dashboard combinations thus its name. What attracted me to it was the fact that I could upload my own maps as .jpg files and calibrate them.

In fact you can provide .gmi files with location information associated to a .jpg as a way to load your own maps. MapCalibrator available at http://gpsdash.com/downloads/MapCalib_Setup.exe will allow you create your own compatible .gmi files.

Otherwise you will have to physically locate your position in a map at two distinct points to calibrate a map loaded to the PDA.

This way you can use images from Topo State series on the PDA. Remember that Pocket Topo! handles .tpo type files generated by its host PC companion.

Installing

GPSDash2 uses the CompactFramework from MS, and this will get installed to your PDA if you don't already have it. GPSDash uses a purchase key (or registration id), obtained from the site where you purchased it (like Handago) and a registration key obtained from GPSDash's website.

Make sure that you provide your name as stated in the Info box from your PDA otherwise you might have a hard time registering your software.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

GeoTIFF

XPort exports GeoTIFF format files. These are raster maps following an "accepted interchange format for georeferenced raster imagery, supported by all major GIS, cartographic, and CAD applications. These rasters can be referenced to either latitude/longitude or UTM map projections, in either the Nad83/WGS84 or NAD27 map datum." says its brochure.

Now according to GeoTIFF's website: "GeoTIFF represents an effort by over 160 different remote sensing, GIS, cartographic, and surveying related companies and organizations to establish a TIFF based interchange format for georeferenced raster imagery."

LIBGEOTIFF is a Public Domain GeoTIFF library available through FTP. The idea is that you can develop code making use of GeoTiff formatted data.

National Geographic Topo! Offers

I tried to imagine what power the Topo! division has inside the National Geographic space. It would be good if they keep a good amount of it because they do have a great product line.

The more I look into it the more impressed I become. Last time I decided to look over Topo XPort Pro. It opens quite a few more doors than I could work for one post.

I was checking its current price because somehow a $99 price tag stuck with me, maybe from the billboard of an old installer version of the State series. In reality, today it sells for $199. The good news is that I now realize that this is the best entry to their product line.

Why? Because it includes

  • One State Level of your choice (99$),
  • Complete Level 4 maps of all USA also known as U.S. 100k data set(69$),
  • Pocket Topo! (29$)
  • and updated street and road GDT’s (Geographic Data Technology) information.
So, same difference as buying those packages separately (but I cheat here, because Backroad Explorer which includes the U.S. 100k data set already comes with a license for Pocket Topo!)

But it also includes an export utility, thus its name. One of the exporting formats supported is GeoTIFF. A standard that seems to combine images and its corresponding metadata.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Pocket Topo!

I decided to build my own dedicated Pocket PC GPS. There are a couple of good choices regarding software and hardware for PDA's out there. But National Geographic Pocket Topo! was my first choice among quality image handling and precision.

If you get Backroad Explorer, a package that includes Pocket Topo, you can select an area from say a State Series map and transfer to a PDA as a .tpo file.

After getting all worked up about a silly and devious bug (lack of support for NMEA GPPLL sentences) finally got a hang on the combination of a Holux GPS CF Card (GM270 Ultra), a Toshiba e755 and Pocket Topo! from National Geographic.

NG published digital maps based on scans of USGS Level 5 topographical data. Same as the 7.5 minutes, printed versions. The scale is 1:24,000.


It did trick me for a while, but watching "Finding Neverland" it happened.
The bug is that if you select NMEA GPGLL (Geographic Position, Latitude, Longitude) you will have the cursor repainting the same position in the screen forever in a infinite loop while trying to obtain data from the receiver without actually printing anything.

It will work for NMEA GPGGA sentences (for Global Positioning System Fix Data which includes Time, Position, Elevation). And it was a relief to see the little yellow breadcrumb left behind while moving in a 7.5 degree map of Santa Cruz, CA.

Transfering Maps to SD Card

Pocket Topo didn't recognize the SD Card while looking for storage options in the PDA. I had to use File Explorer to create a new folder and transfer the .tpo files to it.

But I have to say that Topo, as a package is just the ticket: get a State Series CD collection ($70), add Pocket Topo! (notice the NMEA GPGLL bug), a PDA like the Toshiba e750 series and a good, low-consumption Sirf-based GPS CF card.

The battery life is the main factor about how you would go about using such device. eBay has several battery expanders for the e750 for about 50U$S including around $7 S&H.

The nominal value of its charge is 3,000mA (miliamps).

Pocket Topo! on Palm

I haven't tested myself, but everything said about the PocketPC version of Pocket Topo! applies to it. Check the NG site for a patch for HotSync at http://maps.nationalgeographic.com/topo/upgrades.cfm

Sunday, July 03, 2005

USGS Map Offers

The best and cheapest way of obtaining topographical maps is by ordering 1:24,000 scale paper maps at http://store.usgs.gov/.

You can select the Map Locator and drill down to the area you are intested in. Notice the bottom of the map screen showing the surrounding areas.

The maps' names most of the time won't say much unless you know the area well enough. Paper maps cost $6.00 a piece with an extra $5 for S&H.

The maps come in cardboard tubes or triangles and you will need to make sure they get to a size smaller than the tube's diameter while you take them out, otherwise they won't come out flat.

National Geographic Topo!

Topo! Streets & 3-D Views
Expansion Pack

This package is in fact an upgrade to Topo! main engine.
Previous update available at http://maps.nationalgeographic.com is version 3.4.3

After installing 3D Views, which includes a revamped installer and will create its own directory (instead of overwriting existing files from previous versions) you get an updated version of its engine: 4.0.0

For $19.95 you are getting a major update with this package.

The main reason to upgrade to this version might be the support for USB-based GPS devices and the new 3D view.

3D Views

The idea with this package is that you already own a Topo! State Series set, so during install you will be asked about it. Down to level 5 provided by the series, you can draw a route in a 2D view. Select from the Tool menu the Route option. Click and release the left mouse button at the starting point and begin to draw your route. Click again at the end and a dialog pops up.



Select "3D Fly-Over" and you will be taken to a 3D view. You can control the speed, tilt and elevation of the observer. That is what your trip will look like.

Elevation Profile

You can also build a profile of the same route showing its elevation. To do that move the mouse over the red route line and right click over it to invoke the Route dialog. Select Build Profile. The bottom of your screen will show the Elevation profile.

USB support

DeLorme provides a Serial Emulator that allows you to use serial ports (COM 0~99 virtual ports on Windows) for USB connections, and obtain raw data and/or sentences, based on NMEA 0184 standard type data.

Delorme LT-20 isn't available in the list of supported devices in the GPS Settings dialog of Topo! 4.0. Select NMEA ($GPGGA) but not NMEA ($GPGLL). But as the GPS Settings dialog warns you, even though no connection was possible the device might still work which was the case with the DeLorme.

Bug on Topo! support for NMEA Sentences

The thing about non-proprietary support from the Topo Engine is that there is a bug on the support for NMEA Sentences of type GPGLL (Geographic Position, Latitude/Longitude). Topo's engine doesn't recognize it.

It should work with GPGGA, at least I could get it working in its current engine version (3.4.3, 4.0.0). The same issue occurs with the Pocket Topo! version.

Installation

Requires DirectX9
Free toolfree tech support.
LiveMap Updates over the net.

DataPack includes City layer for State level 5 image data.
Support for USB connection to GPS units. Includes support for
Garmin, Eagle/Lowrance, Magellan

You will need to provide driver from your GPS manufacturer.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

USGS + NG = Topo!

Not any time too soon you will come across National Geographic Topo Maps. A trustworthy distribution of USGS 7.5° Topographic maps.

Your local library might open that door for you.
And you can find on the web for $69 apiece.

With the LT-20 drawing your path over a California State level 5 map you will see your route thru the raster image of your neighborhood. Topo! 3.4.3 engine will show in its best precision a free drawing in between (configurable) GPS obtained location points (waypoints).

Lack of interpolation might show interesting effects, like when I was driving across a private farm (without realizing it) and Topo! zipped through a whole degree and landed its red drawn line miles across the screen while misreading the Receiver.

From Topo Installer Billboard:

GeoTiff support, Professional Topo! Xport Pro, geo-referenced raster images based on Topo maps for use with CAD, cartographic or GIS software, references by lat/long or UTM maps projections, NAD 83/WGS84 or NAD27. Price 199$

[Regarding UTM: above it is used to identify a type of projection, but it also refer to a grid zone.]

Good Deal @ Fry's

You start to learn that you will have to pick among certain market categories: nautical, car-based, outdoors.

I went for my obvious choice: outdoors, hicking, walk around.
Not in a boat, and not in a car, enough distractions already.

My previous experience with PocketPC's made the decision easier.
But first I had a great first close encounter with GPS thru a notebook.

Sometime in April those full page ads on the Mercury had the offer
of a nice starter bundle: $70 for the DeLorme Streets & City 2005 and a GPS Receiver.

The original $50 package now included the LT-20, a yellow round-shaped plastic piece attached to a 5 feet cable that you can connect to a laptop thru an USB port. A flashing red led signals that the unit is trying to obtain a lock.

Its rubber covered base hangs easily to a car's dashboard. And you will definitely need a clear view of the sky so the LT-20 can obtain a lock and "fix" the position of at least 3 satellites visible in the sky.

A fourth one will give you altitude information.

Cloudy skys and some leaves won't make it fail, but mountains and hills will most likely cause it to loose a fix.

The nicest feature for me was the GPS log: you record the movement your car makes, including speed, altitude, and direction. Later on, you can play it back and even imagine the red light that took all that long to open. You can select among 2~5 & 20 times the normal speed for playback.

Disclaimer: I had someone else "driving" the notebook while using DeLorme's and Topo!, please don't risk accidents while driving your vehicle.

Bugs: City maps need update. Poor accuracy due to vector-based maps. New avenues non-existing, some hand changes in San Francisco.

[Which year street database, who provides them?]

Start

Campbel, CA
Parking lot at Bascon Ave.


Latitude: N37° 17.2728'
Longitude: W121° 55.9533'
Elevation: 190 Feet

If you decided that you want to get into GPS you will certainly be overwhelmed by the amount of choices and possibilties.

First stop: the choice between a (flexible) handheld, and dedicated GPS devices.

Look thru Garmin, Magellan and Lowrance websites. Magellan has a table comparing the features of all its models and they do look cool in their rugged plastic covers.

But I gave up pretty soon to the dedicated GPS devices. It happened while touching them at Fry's and seeing their 16-bit based gray scale LED's combined with poorly designed fonts and a whole new set of menus to understand and buttons to learn.

Ok, I'm misguided and prejudiced... (Yes, and you will eat your words...) But like matricial printers, 16-bit gray LED's are just too much for my old brain to deal with. I could see that UI becoming outdated right there and realized that it probably would take a little bit longer to get started with Global Positional Systems.

PocketPC oriented

For GPS and GIS software available on Linux check "Mapping Hacks" and "Web Mapping Illustrated", both published by O'Reilly.

GPS

© 2005 Copyright by
A. Sergio Cardoso
Santa Cruz, CA

Rainy Spring &
Foggy Summer of '05

No reproduction, distribution, or transmission of the copyrighted materials at this site is permitted without the prior written permission of the author.