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February 2, 2007

Set up your home map

Filed under: General MTBGuru stuff,Howtos / tips / tricks — mtbguru @ 1:10 am

It’s really cool to see people posting trips from all corners of the world: for instance Australia, Croatia, Taiwan, besides numerous states in the US.

When someone arrives on the site, be it a registered user or not, we use services like HostIP and GeoIP to try to figure out where she or he is coming from, in order to center the home page’s map this visitor will see on this location. These services essentially consist of databases relating IP addresses to geographic locations.

Instead of some default location the main map will initially zoom in and center on an area which is most likely the area of interest to this person. Unfortunately, the databases are not 100% accurate; also, there are cases where you’ll be using a different IP address that may alter this location – for instance when you’re using public WiFi or when you’re traveling.

To overcome these issues, we’ve now implemented a feature that allows you to control and set your home map’s initial location. Look for the two buttons on the right top corner of the map, just below the ‘Hybrid’ button (screenshot below):

  • Set Home: click on this button to set your home location to the current view of the map.
  • To Home: click on this button and the map will move back from wherever you’re at to the home location you’ve set.

Homemapbuttons

So in case you’re not happy with the map you see when you log in or land on the site, you can now navigate (zoom/pan) to an area that you’d like to have as your home map and use the ‘Set Home’ button to save this view. This setting overrules the GeoIP detection.

We use cookies to do this, so you’ll need to have these enabled in your browser – the only thing they’ll do is store a map coordinate on your computer so your browser knows where to point your home map. And of course, we’re not sharing any of this information with anyone, we are strongly committed to ensure the privacy of our users, as we state in our privacy policy.

January 23, 2007

Comments and comment notification

Filed under: Howtos / tips / tricks — mtbguru @ 9:12 pm

When you create a trip on MTBGuru, you can enable other users to add comments by adjusting the ‘Trip Settings’ in the sidebar (see screenshot below):


Commentsscreenshot2

Click ‘Change’, then switch the ‘Allow Comments’ field to ‘Everybody’.
By default, comments are enabled but only registered users of MTBGuru can leave comments, in order to avoid comment spam.

If a trip is public, also its comments will be visible for anyone visiting the site.

You can get notified by e-mail when someone left a comment on one of your trips by our ‘Comment Notification’ feature. Go to ‘User Settings’ (sidebar), and you’ll find the ‘New Comments Notification’ field (screenshot below):


Commentsscreenshot

There are three settings. ‘Never’, in case you don’t ever want to receive a notification e-mail, ‘Immediately’, so you’ll receive an e-mail for every new comment that gets posted on one of your trips, and ‘Max. once per day’, then you’ll receive at most one notification e-mail per day. The latter is the default setting.

Leaving comments works pretty much like leaving comments on blogs – you can use html tags to insert hyperlinks etc. Moreover, we also support Textile, a very simple and elegant text markup language. More about that in a later blog post.
Finally, trip owners have of course the ability to delete comments on their trip.

Update 6/19/07: There seems to be a bug at work preventing deletion of comments – we’ll try to fix this asap.

January 10, 2007

Uploading trip data to your GPS

Filed under: GPS,Howtos / tips / tricks — mtbguru @ 10:51 pm

In a previous article we talked about some tools to download data from your GPS unit and save into GPX files. Now we’d like to outline what you can do with GPX files you’ll find on MTBGuru (which aren’t necessarily yours).

For each public trip on MTBGuru that has GPS data, you can download the associated GPX file (using the ‘Download GPX file’ link in the sidebar) as well as a Google Earth (KML) file. By browsing around the map, using the search box or by clicking the ‘Recently Added Trips‘ link you may find a trip or ride that catches your interest. Say you want to do this ride yourself: the trip summary gives you an idea of what to expect in terms of distance and elevation gain and if there’s timing info you’ll know even better what you’re up for. You can now use the GPX file to send the data to your GPS unit, so you’ll be able to retrace the given route.

Some units allow a straight upload of the entire GPX file with its waypoints and tracks. In some cases though, there are complications:

  • For instance, on some Garmin units (e.g. the Etrex family) the size of tracks you can upload is limited to 500 points (even though they can *record* tracks of much larger size) – larger tracks will be truncated
  • Some units don’t allow upload of tracks, only waypoints and/or routes

A quick GPS terminology 101 may be in place here:
A ‘route’ is a sequence of waypoints that indicates a certain route. A ‘waypoint’ is basically a set of three numbers (latitude, longitude, elevation) indicating a point in space, usually on the surface of the planet ;) . A track is a sequence of (recorded) waypoints but generally also contains time information.

GPX files you download from public trips on MTBGuru contain tracks. The time info in this file is stripped but all spatial information (long,lat,ele) from the trip is available. Only trip owners have access to the time info in the GPX – using the ‘My GPS Files’ link in the sidebar they can always retrieve the original uploaded data.

As mentioned before, uploading these files directly to your unit can sometimes result in truncated data and other problems. However, you generally don’t need that many points to navigate and retrace a given trip. You can use a host of software tools (e.g. Garmin’s MapSource on PC, Routebuddy on Mac OS X) to create routes with a limited number of points from tracks and upload these instead.


GPSBabel filter

Our favorite tool, GPSBabel, has a very neat and simple way to achieve the same: by using its ‘filters’ you can automatically reduce the amount of points in a GPX file. Select your GPX file as input file and set up your filter as shown in the screenshot (using distance between the points as filter); the output file will be a GPX file with a reduced number of points. You can change the amount of points by changing the merge distance between points.

January 7, 2007

Trip name, tags, photo titles

Filed under: Howtos / tips / tricks — mtbguru @ 11:24 pm

These three items on your trip page have in common that you can edit and change them on the fly, by hovering your mouse over them, clicking and typing.

What makes this possible is a technique called ‘Ajax inline editing’. Most people will associate the word ‘Ajax’ with the cleaning product, the Dutch soccer team or the Greek hero – but in web development circles it’s the name of a cool and hip set of techniques (acronym for ‘Asynchronous Javascript and XML’) to make web sites more responsive, interactive, intuitive and usable. The word is almost continuously being dropped by Web 2.0 marketing types, in buzzword-bingo worthy fashion, but it can truly make a difference.

For instance, let’s see how you can edit trip names. On the trip page, hover with your mouse over the trip name field – you’ll see it light up in yellow; and after a second or two, a tooltip appears (the ‘Click to edit’ box):


Ajaxeditscreenshot1

Then, if you do click, you’ll see this edit box appear, together with ‘ok’ and ‘cancel’ buttons:


Ajaxeditscreenshot2-1

You can now simply type in or edit the trip name and press enter or click ‘ok’.

The same works for the tags, as well as for the photo titles; the latter can be used to add some lines of commentary underneath the photo thumbnails, as shown below:


Ajaxeditscreenshot3

The stuff that lights up in yellow is material that you can edit right away by a single click.

Without Ajax, you’d have to work with links or click buttons that reload the entire page, with forms and other clunky remains of the earlier days of the web. One drawback of the Ajax approach though is that web site visitors are generally not yet anticipating this kind of interactivity and may overlook it – hence this post.

January 6, 2007

GPS download survival guide

Filed under: GPS,Howtos / tips / tricks — mtbguru @ 12:37 pm

GPX, used by MTBGuru, is a great and open standard format for GPS data – not all GPS manufacturers make it easy to download your data in this format though, so we thought a brief GPS download survival guide was on its place. If the software that came with your unit doesn’t support saving in GPX, this post is for you – and even if it does you may discover some interesting new tools here.

If you don’t feel like reading the whole post, one word: GPSBabel – Robert Lipe’s tool runs on about every OS, is free and totally awesome, use it and donate to support the project.

GPSBabel can be used to read, write and convert GPS data in an entire range of formats that are in existence. It can directly interface Garmin and Magellan units using the USB or serial port on your computer. It also understands TomTom and Suunto file formats. And so on and on, check here for a list of supported formats.

It’s a console mode tool but has nice graphical front-ends in both Windows and Mac OS X. Below is a screenshot of the front-end for OS X called GPSBabel+, written by Karl Smith (and can be downloaded here). I use it to download data from my Garmin Edge straight into GPX files on my Mac iBook.


GPSBabel+
GPSBabel+ (for OS X)

Hook up the GPS to the USB port, set up the input and output options as shown in the screenshot, and press ‘Save File’, and you get all data on your unit in a GPX file.
The GUI front-end on Windows works similarly.

Another very cool software tool on Mac OS X is LoadMyTracks (screenshot below), which is available as a free beta version. It simply does what its name says, and you can save into GPX or Google Earth’s KML format. Besides Garmin and Magellan, also TomTom devices can be hooked up directly.



LoadMyTracks (for OS X)

On Windows, a very nice and free program is Sporttracks – you can use it to download data directly from GPS and save into GPX.

A good web application to convert GPS data is GPSVisualizer. It uses GPSBabel as its conversion engine.

Undoubtedly, there are many other software tools and programs out there that can do the job – I focused here on a few free or inexpensive tools that I think work very well. If you know of other and/or better tools, feel free to mention it in the comments.

Let me wrap up by saying that I’m a bit bummed about what Garmin is doing in this area: MapSource on one hand (that comes a.o. with the Etrex series of GPS units) allows you to export your data into GPX without any trouble but in Training Center (that comes with the Edge and Forerunner series) it’s a real headache to get your data out. Granted, .hst and .crs are open xml formats, containing additional information such as heart rate etc, and with some effort it’s not too hard to convert these, but why make us go through the trouble?

January 4, 2007

Multiple tracks in GPX files

Filed under: GPS,Howtos / tips / tricks — mtbguru @ 1:59 am

When a GPX file is uploaded to MTBGuru, the file is examined and probed for GPS tracks. GPX files may contain single or multiple tracks.

When you look at the file in a text (or xml) editor you can identify the tracks as content delimited by <trk> and </trk> tags. And tracks themselves may consist of a number of ‘track segments’; segments are identified by the <trkseg> and </trkseg> tags.

So how does MTBGuru interpret these files? Our goal was to make it as easy as possible to fetch the data for your trip, and hence we needed to be quite flexible, as different GPS units will store their data differently. Even using a single device there are many different ways or tools to download the data, each potentially resulting in differently structured GPX files.

In the simplest case, the GPX file contains only a single track – nothing special is going on then, the trip is created using the data in this single track. Track segments are concatenated and displayed as a single trace on the map.

But what happens when multiple tracks are present? When data is downloaded from the GPS, often times it will come as a single file containing all the tracklogs stored in the memory of the device, converted into a single GPX file. This GPX file will typically contain a number of different tracks representing the various tracklogs you’ve recorded over time.

ScreenshotUploadGPS.jpg

As you may have found out, there are two ways to create a trip from GPS data in MTBGuru (see figure):

  • By Upload GPS Data: after you upload a GPX file, you are presented a screen displaying all tracks in the file (see screenshot 1 below), as well as information such as the number of points and date and time. You can then select an individual track and base a trip on it by clicking Create trip.
  • By Add a Trip: here you start by creating the trip first, and then attach a GPX file to it using Upload GPX file. If your GPX file has multiple tracks, you’ll be shown a different screen now, that allows you to select and combine multiple tracks (using checkboxes) for this one trip (see screenshot 2 below).

The second option is very useful in cases where the GPS unit was for instance suffering intermittent reception during a trip. What typically happens then is that the tracklog in the memory of the device is broken up into different tracks, with ‘gaps’ in between them. You can now easily stitch everything back together by selecting the relevant tracks using the checkboxes – the time and distance gaps between the different tracks are indicated and help you decide whether the tracks belong together. The combined set of tracks is displayed as a single trace on the map – the gaps may or may not show up as visible artifacts, depending on the amount of reception loss.

The first option is preferable if your GPX file contains data from various trips or rides, from which you’d like to select and create individual trips.

P.S. GPX files may also contain other data types such as waypoints and we do anticipate support for the latter – currently all waypoints in GPX uploads are stored in our database, such that they can be accessed and used in the future.

Screenshot 1, after uploading a multitrack GPX using Upload GPS Data
Gpstracks-Screenshot1


Screenshot 2, after uploading another multitrack GPX file using Add a Trip
GPS tracks screenshot2


December 14, 2006

Publish your own map

Filed under: General MTBGuru stuff,Howtos / tips / tricks — mtbguru @ 2:04 am

A new feature, and we like to think it’s a real cool one: you can now easily publish maps on your own website or blog. It just takes a second or two and a copy and paste operation.

If you have a trip on MTBGuru that you’d like to share using your own website or blog, insert a snippet of code and tadaa – the map, including the GPS track and clickable picture thumbnails magically appears on your site!

Let’s try it for instance here, using our ride in Annadel; this is the code:

<iframe src="http://www.mtbguru.com/trip/iframe/88?width=500px&height=500px" 
width="510px" height="565px" frameborder="0" marginwidth="0" 
marginheight="0"></iframe> 

and this is the result:


(doesn’t work yet in Safari but it does in most other browsers)

The map is fully zoomable, can be dragged etc like a regular Google map. And clicking the camera icons shows the picture thumbnails (if you then click on a thumbnail your browser will point you to a higher resolution version of the photo).

You can just copy and paste this code; it’s on the bottom of each trip page in MTBGuru, look for the item that says ‘Publish Map’. It even works for posts on forums, for instance see this thread on mtbr.

December 11, 2006

MTBGuru to Google Earth

Filed under: General MTBGuru stuff,Howtos / tips / tricks — mtbguru @ 12:27 pm

We love looking at our trips in Google Earth, it’s one of more entertaining things to do on the net after having gotten tired of watching Youtube video’s ;) . So we thought to write this post in an effort to share the love.

To enjoy this too, you’ll first need Google Earth on your computer, and the free version is all you need. It works on Windows, Mac OS X and Linux. ‘Using Google Earth‘, the blog of John Gardiner, author of the Google Earth user guide, will give you plenty of pointers and howtos that will help you get familiar with Earth, but everything works fairly intuitively.

Now if you’re looking at or have created a trip in MTBGuru, say a hike to the summit of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park, you’ll see on the Control Panel in the sidebar of the page a menu item saying ‘Download Google Earth File’. From your GPS data we have generated a .kml file (the native format of Google Earth) that contains both the track information as well as thumbnails and links to your geotagged photos, and clicking this menu item lets you download the .kml file and open it in Google Earth (you can also set up your browser to automatically open it in Earth).

In Earth you’ll then see something as shown by the screenshot below:

Google Earth Half Dome

Your MTBGuru trip is added as an item under ‘My Places’ in the ‘Places’ window, as indicated in the left sidebar (see blue arrow). A folder ‘mtbguru.com’ is created that has subfolders containing the track and picture information. Your track is displayed as a red solid line, and the various picture stops are indicated by the camera icon. Now the fun can begin – Half Dome is obviously an appropriate and willing victim for 3D manipulation – play a bit with the perspective and click the camera icon and you can compare the rendering in Earth with your photo:

Google Earth Half Dome

And if you click the photo thumbnail, you’ll be pointed to the picture in full resolution at MTBGuru in your browser.

December 7, 2006

Search

Filed under: General MTBGuru stuff,Howtos / tips / tricks — mtbguru @ 1:31 pm

You’ll notice a new box in the sidebar, right under the control panel: ‘Search MTBGuru’. Yes, this finally allows you to search our whole site and trip archive – a few notes though:

  • We’re using a custom Google search engine, set up for the www.mtbguru.com domain.
  • At present, our whole site may not have been indexed completely by the GoogleBot so search results may be incomplete for the time being.
  • We’re still looking at offering a search engine of our own that directly searches our database.

Thanks for your patience and hopefully this helps browsing and searching for trips and trails.

November 29, 2006

Get more out of your map

Filed under: Howtos / tips / tricks — mtbguru @ 10:32 am

The map on which your trip is displayed contains more information than just your route and photo stops: try for instance checking the ‘Miles’ or ‘KM’s’ checkboxes (see screenshot below).

  • You’ll notice a red ‘pushpin’ (the balloon marker) that marks your starting point – this can be for instance a convenient way to indicate a meeting place to your friends if you want to do this trip again.
  • Mile or KM markers: the green markers are your virtual milestones (blue for kilometers). Hover your mouse over them to display the mileage number at that point.
  • Directionality: you’ll notice that the mile or KM markers are displayed in varying shades of green and blue: they change from light – closest to the starting point – to dark – closer to the finish. Hereby you get a quick idea of the directions in which trails or track segments were done by just glimpsing at the map.
  • On the map we now also indicate any other existing public trips which are nearby the current trip – you’ll see these indicated by their activity marker icons shown on the map. If you don’t want to see these nearby trips, just uncheck the activity marker checkboxes below the map.

Finally, note that by default we are displaying Google maps’ street view, but you can always look at the satellite imagery and ‘hybrid’ view by clicking the buttons on the right top corner of the map.

map mile marker screenshot

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