Geocaching and Maps

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Pointing the Way in Concrete

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Aerial Beacon-002

Ghost towns, odd bits of masonry, abandoned towers, derelict schools, old cemeteries, old dirt roads – this are items that speak of a hidden history. These are the things you may pass many times daily and never give any thought. However, if they are brought to your attention, you never look at that area the same way. Just recently my Geocaching friend Larry Easler (aka HockeyHick) made me aware of a whole new genre of interesting historical remnants – Airway Beacon Markers.

Larry found one of these things fairly close to us and did the initial research and background history. He has since placed a geocache at the location as part of his “Hidden History” series of geocaches. On a cold morning after the recent snowfall, Tommy Thompson and I decided to check it out. (more…)

MaKey MaKey and Google Earth

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Makey Makey and Google Earth-001

MaKey MaKey – Front Side

Before Christmas I got an Amazon gift card for my birthday, and I used it to buy a MaKey MaKey. It arrived just before the hectic Christmas rush and our traveling, so I didn’t really get a chance to play with it. These past few very cold days have been the perfect opportunity to see what this thing can do.

So, what is this thing?

A MaKey MaKey is an Arduino-based computer interface that allows any conductive material to be substituted for a key on the computer keyboard. The name is a contraction of “Make Anything a Key,” or “MaKey.”

The kit comes with alligator clips and jumper wires to attach to…just about anything. The board is connected to the computer via USB. You connect the clip to some conductive material such as aluminum foil, liquid, or even a piece of fruit. Another clip is attached to the ground on the board, the held in one hand. Touching the fruit-foil-liquid will complete the circuit through your body and trigger the key, depending on where the first clip is attached on the board. (more…)

Florida Geocaching and Caching Recollections

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Indrio Savannahs-001

Indrio Savannahs near Fort Pierce, Florida

Recollections

I was a pioneer in the geocaching craze. Well, really an early adopter. I got my first GPS in 1998, long before anyone realized how these might revolutionize the world. My plan at the time was to use it to mark locations for genealogy – home places, grave sites, etc. However, I wanted to do more, perhaps something fun with the GPS.

I had competed in several orienteering events, and had taught lessons on map reading and orienteering to my GT students. It seemed like the GPS was a perfect match. Then, in 2000 Dave Ulmer and Jeremy Irish came up with the perfect solution – Geocaching. It was the perfect match, and I became a charter member of the fledgling website. I placed one of the first geocaches in our town, and received several newspaper write-ups.

Yes, I was a pioneer, but now, thirteen years later, I only have 150 finds to my name. I’ve conducted many, many workshops on Geocaching, and have gotten friends started in the hobby who now have thousands of finds. But, for some reason, I’ve just not reached those numbers.

I think one of the reasons I don’t have many finds is that I don’t like frustration.  When I can’t find a cache, I get frustrated that I’m wasting time.  I started to feel that I could spend that time better kayaking, exploring, or doing photography.  I love it when I DO find a cache, but the frustrations seemed to be outweighing the fun.  The funny thing was that when I was out geocaching with someone else it seemed much more enjoyable.  Most of the finds that I do have were found with someone else.

I’m still an advocate for Geocaching.  I enjoy when I get out on a hunt and I try to participate in our local Geocaching organizations.  However, my stats don’t reflect my long association with the sport.

Geocaching in Florida

Amy is one of those with whom I enjoy geocaching.  We’ve been out on several hunts, and this Christmas decided to see how many we could find on our brief visit.

Our Christmas Day outing actually started as a non-Geocaching trip. Laura, Amy and I headed over to Indrio Savannahs to walk Amy’s dog, Luna. The trails wind through wetlands and scrub forests typical for this area. We started with a bit of bird watching. A family of sandhill cranes were making a racket as another crane came in as an interloper.

Indrio Savannahs
Sandhill Cranes-004
Sandhill Cranes-009

On a whim I checked the Geocaching app on my iPhone. It turned out that there were bunches of caches very close along the trails. We set out in pursuit. In short order we knocked out two of them. It seemed that there were Geocaches at every trail intersection.

At one intersection we encountered a weird sort of memorial. Amy said that the first time she saw it she thought it was a Geocache. It seems it was a strange shrine started by some hiker. Other hikers have added to it over the years. Amy even brought a little token to add to it. It was almost a compulsion. A suspended dream catcher watched over everything.

Weird Memorial

We found one more cache before deciding that the turkey dinner needed our attention. Just around the corner we encountered a group of very friendly scrub jays. One landed on Laura’s hand, then, to her surprise, hopped over to her head.

Laura with Scrub Jay
Laura with Scrub Jay-003
Laura with Scrub Jay-006

We hiked back along the lake to the car.

Indrio Savannahs-023
Indrio Savannahs-025

The next day, Boxing Day, we decided to make it a Geocaching day. We had looked at the map, and Amy and I were both amazed at how many geocaches were in the area. We decided to head up US 1 toward Vero, and to the Indian River Aquatic Reserve. Here we found a very nice series of trails along the banks of the Indian River. We were able to knock out five caches along the way.

Florida Geocaching-3
Florida Geocaching-5
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Florida Geocaching-15

We hiked back to the car then drove through Vero and on up to Wabasso. We got some fast food for lunch and had a picnic overlooking the Indian River on the Wabasso Causeway. From there we continued on to North Hutchinson Island, then turned south onto the old Jungle Trail Road.

Jungle Trail was one of the earliest roads along the island. It’s a dirt road that now runs between the river and some very expensive housing developments. Along the way is one stretch of woodlands set aside as an environmental study area. The Forrester Woods area had several Geocaches listed, so we decided to stop. The trails were narrow, and quite lovely.

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Florida Geocaching-18
Florida Geocaching-19

We attempted a multi-part cache. We found the first two with moderate difficulty, but just could not find the final stage. We also struck out on the other two caches in the area. The frustration was starting to set in.

We headed home, but we had a couple more caches to find. Just across the channel from Amy’s there was supposed to be a couple of them, so we decided to walk over there. Again, we struck out on both accounts. The area had seen some illegal dumping since the last time I was there, and it was getting to be a bit scary.

Even with the DNFs (Did not find), it was a great day out geocaching and it inspired me to do more. With that in mind, I’ve decided on a New Year’s goal. By this time next year I’m going to try to hit 500 finds. We’ll see if that happens.

Google Maps Screws Up

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I’m not one of those people that mounts protests every time Facebook changes their layout, or when GMail makes some slight change. I even like the new updates to Flickr, even though some users are threatening to abandon it for Ipernity. So, when I say that Google Maps has really screwed up with their latest updates, I really mean it.

Initially the update looked promising, so I signed up for the Beta version. The 3D views and integration with Google Earth look very slick. However, right away I started to seeing some problems. The “My Places” section was hidden – de-emphasized as if Google may be doing away with it. When you click on the map you get links to (surprise, surprise) businesses with potential advertising. For users like me, I now had several steps instead of one or two to get to what I wanted, and it looked like one of my primary tools was being threatened.

However, the real clincher came as I was trying to geotag some photos from my last paddling trip to Lake Marion. For this past trip I had photos from three cameras – GoPro, Panasonic Lumix LX-5, and a Fuji WP33. I had GPS tracks from a Garmin Venture HC and an iGotU 120 tracker. I use the GPSPhotoLinker software on my Mac to match the photos with the GPS tracks.

I can check individual photos by clicking on “Show on map” in GPSPhotoLinker. By default, this brings up a Google Map with the latitude/longitude coordinates for the photo. If it’s not where I expect it to be, I can tweak either the timing or some other variable to get it where I want it.

Unfortunately, this morning I couldn’t get any of my photos to show up correctly on Google Maps. I assumed that the either the GPS clock or the internal camera clock must be off. However, it didn’t matter which camera or which GPS track, the photos showed up on the same road as shown below:

New Google Maps

After an hour and a half of trying to get this to work (and even downloading a trial version of a new geocoding program), it dawned on me to try something else. I started by popping the photos into Lightroom and using the mapping program there to check geocoding. Using the same images and GPS tracks, it showed the photos where they are supposed to be. However, the Lightroom geotagging function is useless because it doesn’t write the location data to the image’s EXIF data when the picture is exported.

Since the images and GPS tracks seemed to be synced OK, I decided to try something else. I went back to GPSPhotoLinker and set the default so that it would display on MapQuest instead of Google Maps. Worked like a charm. Now my images were showing up where they were supposed to be. Since that worked I decided to switch back to the Google Maps “Classic View” for the default view, and that cleared up the problem. The images appeared once again were geocoded correctly, in the middle of the lake instead of a lakeside neighborhood.

Classic Google Maps

As far as I can tell, what the new version of Google Maps is doing is when a set of coordinates is input into the service, it returns the location for the nearest street address – always. That doesn’t help if your coordinates are in the middle of a lake, or if you’re hiking in the middle of nowhere. it seems that Google Maps is now only useful for people driving or people on streets. I can’t find anywhere to turn off that “feature.”

So, Google, if you’re truly wanting feedback about your beta product, you need to make your maps once again useful to those of us that tend to stray off of the roads.

Thus endeth the rant. Selah.

Goodale Geocaching

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N. R. Goodale State Park

On Saturday I attended an event cache put on by the Upstate South Carolina Geocaching Association (USCGA). The plan was to head down to N. R. Goodale State Park and find the Lost in the Swamp III geocache, which requires a bit of paddling to reach. The weather forecast was iffy, as it always is this time of year. When Saturday rolled around, it looked like it was going to be a nice day for paddling, so I loaded up the boat and headed down to Camden.

Traffic was crazy busy on the way down. This is the weekend of the Carolina Cup in Camden, so I wasn’t sure what to expect as far as congestion near the park. Just on the other side of Columbia on I-20 I came across a couple of other vehicles with kayaks on top. I recognized Hockey Hick’s van right away with all of the Geocaching stickers, so I knew there would be company.

We found the park with no problem, and the traffic through Camden wasn’t bad. There were already several people getting ready to launch. I couldn’t tell if they were with our group or not. Soon, though, our group came together, and we were exchanging tales of previous Geocaching adventures.

Goodale State Park Geocaching (7 of 10)
Goodale State Park Geocaching (4 of 10) (more…)

Street View Time Lapse

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Screen Shot 2013-02-02 at 6.42.00 AM

I’ve been enjoying creating time-lapse videos while driving. Unfortunately, I’ve just been driving back and forth to work or rehearsal, so the scenery doesn’t change much.

So while I was looking at Google Earth the other day it occurred to me – I could use the images from Street View to create the same type of time-lapse. (more…)

LCU vs Manchester, Part 3

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Poinsett Park Millrace 2

So far our crew from Lowcountry Unfiltered had breakfast at Battens in Wedgefield, visited the cemetery of a deranged governor, hiked part of the Palmetto trail and discovered an old railroad junction, and we were just getting started.

Manchester and Melrose

We got back to our vehicles and headed to the location of the ghost town of Manchester. The town died out with the demise of the Wilmington and Manchester railroad. All that remains are a few rural houses. We paused briefly, and left in search of a more interesting section of Manchester.

Nearby is a marking indicating the location of Melrose Plantation. Built in the late 1700s, the plantation was owned by Matthew Singleton, whose cemetery we had visited earlier in the day. We stopped at the marker and took a look around. There were a few foundation stones, and the twisted remains of a metal bed. Unfortunately the bed appeared to be more of modern than pre-Civil War origin.

Melrose Plantation Marker
Melrose Plantation Remains
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LCU vs Manchester, Part 2

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LCU Swamp Stomp 2013-026

We had loaded up with breakfast at Battens in Wedgefield, and now it was time to go exploring. There were eleven us, divided over three vehicles. Luckily, I had three FRS radios so we could coordinate our travels. So, we set off.

We got off the main highway, and as we entered Manchester State Forest the pavement just kind of gave out. We road on a fairly fast clip, past forested areas and farmland, most of it with “Posted. No Tresspassing” signs.

LCU Swamp Stomp 2013-047
LCU Swamp Stomp 2013-026 (more…)

How Many Greenvilles?

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Greenville_Sanborn_Map_Cover

Perhaps it was the fact that I’ve crossed several state lines recently. More likely it was because I’ve spent several late nights wide awake and coughing. Being sick can make you think weird things, but for some reason the following aphorism popped into my head…

There is a town called “Greenville” in every state. However, Tennessee is the only only one that spells it as “Greeneville.”

I don’t even remember where I heard that the first time. My first intent was to take this at face value and create a Google Earth KML file showing the location of each town called Greenville. (Did I mention that I’ve been sick lately?) That turned into a challenge to test the validity of this statement, and learn a bit more about Greenville, where ever it might be found. (more…)

Jocassee Falls – A Preview

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Houston at Whitewater Falls

My brother, Houston, recently informed me that he starts feeling anxious when I don’t update this blog often enough. I’m afraid I’ve given him ample reason to be irritated over the last week or so. I just haven’t had much about which to write. The usual excuses apply – work has been nightmarish, Laura’s sister and mother have been visiting, and a massive heat wave have combined to keep me away from any explorations this week. OK, so maybe those aren’t so usual.

Regardless, I’ve still got several projects in the works. So, to allay Houston’s anxiety I’ll provide a sneak preview… (more…)

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