Tango software Install

Adventures Are Not On Any Map (but a good GPS doesn’t hurt)

map and compassI like maps!  I’ll spend hours in map stores, looking, touching, smelling maps, planning off-road adventures.  Maps are great!

I like maps… But I love technology.  Now before you scream about technology on an off-road adventure failing, breaking, getting dusty and wet or  how the battery can die off, I always carry hard copies of maps stored water tight with a compass…  and I know how to use them.

In order to get a technology fix we decided to build our own mobile satellite GPS tracking command center that can be loaded up with high quality maps of areas we want to explore.  Sure we have Brenda our Garmin GPS (or a close facsimile of her following the 2009 abduction incident), but we wanted something we could load trail routes into, create tracks, pin point ourselves on multiple maps and display higher resolution of 4×4 trails.  Turns out it is not that hard to take an old lap top, some open source software along with a few bits and turn it into GPS Central.

When we set out to build our GPS system we had a few requirements for this build:

  1. has to be cheap or better yet… free
  2. must work with maps from several sources
  3. maps must be free and unencumbered by copyrights
  4. needs to be capable of working on-line or off line (sure the internet is in Chicken, AK. but some of these places are still passing messages by carrier pigeons)
  5. easy to use, easy to read, easy to zoom in tight, easy to zoom out big, easy, easy, easy

With our requirements in hand the first thing to do was decide how to make it all happen.  This is where we insert a big thank you to Jeff Baker from the NWFJCC.  We rode his technical coattails all the way on this mod.

Following Jeff’s lead we made a list of needed stuff:

  • old laptop
  • Operating system
  • GPS software
  • Waterproof GPS Receiver

The old laptop:  You would be surprised at how easy it is to scrounge an old laptop. Now you’re not going to end up with a 3.4 GHz Hyper-Threading quad proc, quad core, with 32 Gigs of ram, dual 10,000 rpm raid five disk set, HD graphics advanced video engine, or 7.1-channel Dolby audio but check with your techie friends.  You don’t need much for this build and tech guys are always cycling through the latest and greatest, discarding leftovers in their path.  We ended up with an old HP Pavilion.

ubuntu linux osOperating system: the open source movement really began with Linux, a Unix like operating system that came into the world in 1991 and spread through the Internet faster than a leveraged buyout rumor on Wall Street’s trading floor.  While Linux will fly on butch hardware it was designed to run on more modest equipment and is perfect for use on an old recycled laptop. There are several Linux flavors available: RedHat, SUSE, Debian, Fedora, Ubuntu…  you get the picture.  All the distributions use the same basic Linux kernel and than add their own set of libraries, tools and software, packaging it all up under their brand name.  Some of the distributions are commercial but many are free.  In a past life as a software developer, I’ve used many of the different distributions and it is amazing how far they have come with ease of installation, rock solid updates, intuitive desktops, do anything software and geeky cool factor.  Today there are really good distributions that are community supported and free.  Remember requirement number one.

The Ubuntu distribution is simple and quick to install with a desktop that is intuitive.  The interweb (that is for all our Corner Gas Canadian friends) is full of helpful forums and instructions on installing and using Ubuntu so answers to questions are everywhere.  Installing software packages like web browsers, games, DVD players, email, word processing, spreadsheets, picture editors or instant messaging chat,  is just as easy.  Ubuntu is the distribution I always suggest to non-technical folks looking to try Linux.

tango trip mapUbuntu took about 30 minutes to install. Really that was it.  Next task, the gps software that would be the cornerstone of the operations.

GPS software: there are a number of free mapping software packages available out there.  We decided to go with tangoGPS since it was one of the easier ones to work with.  It wont do everything some of the other packages will but it does all the stuff on our list.  A big selling point for us was the ability to work with open source maps (OSM) as well as Google Maps, Opencyclemap and others.  As new map sources become available you can configure tangGPS to use them.  Jeff found one source that takes OSM maps and layers them over GIS Topo maps.  Simply add a new map type in the tangoGPS configuration tab and point to its URI (uniform resource identifier).  In this case it was: “http://mobilemap.petschge.de/topomirror.php?z=%d&x=%d&y=%d”

Each mapping project tends to focus on different aspects when creating their maps such as roads, businesses, trails or what not.  With the ability to use multiple maps you can see your location from different perspectives and verify the information across multiple sources.

When you are connected to the Internet, tangoGPS can automatically down load map tiles (fancy term for little picture) as needed.  These same cached map tiles are than available to you when you are off line.  If you’re not sure of exactly where you will be exploring in a particular area you can zoom out and down load all the tiles of that area.  We downloaded all the map tiles for the Olympia Mountains (about a 1,000 square mile area)…  it took 22 hours and we have a fast connection!  There is are several levels of detail and you can choose to down load some or all of them.

Tango software InstalltangoGPS is one of the applications in the Ubuntu App Manager which means installation is simply clicking on the install button, making it extremely easy to install or remove.  Navigation within and Configuration of tangoGPS are straightforward as well.

There is even a “Friends” option which, if you have an Internet connection, will allow you to publish your location and leave a message to a website letting friends know you’re OK.

When you install tangoGPS, the App Manager also downloads the GPS demon (Unix speak for program) known appropriately as gpsd.  This little demon allows you to hook up and integrate a GPS satellite receiver with tangoGPS.  By integrate I mean plug-in, tangoGPS takes it from there.  With a GPS satellite receiver (or two) tangoGPS locates you on the maps, allowing you to track your movements, create bread crumb trails (record way-points) and view information such as your longitude, latitude, heading, elevation and speed.

It is at this point we hit the wall with free.

usb gps recieverGPS Receiver: Obtaining a GPS receiver required us to crack the piggy bank. If we were going to get the most out of our system this was a must have item.  Fortunately for the little piggy a GlobalSat BU-353 Waterproof USB GPS Receiver was only $37.50.   Certainly there are more expensive receivers, but this little unit worked great.  And with it’s USB connector, integrating it with our laptop couldn’t be simpler.

The GlobalSat receiver came with a little suction cup and has a magnet in its base so you can attach it just about anywhere.

xgps screensAfter plugging in the GPS receiver and starting up tangoGPS everything should just work.  Last great software lie right.  Well it did for us.  If you run into any problems with your receiver or want a view of what is going on with it you can peer into the black hole and eaily test it.  Plug in the GPS receiver and start the GPS demon with the following command: gpsd /dev/ttyUSB0 Than start up the simple viewer called xgps.  You may need to add this program using the Ubuntu app manager if you did not add it when installing the tangoGPS package.  To start the viewer type xgps on the command line.  xgps will display a window showing the satellites available to the receiver, their signal strength and location.  It will also show you the information that gpsd is parsing out.

Getting this all to work sitting on the back deck is one thing, having it work while driving 70 mph down the highway is another.  To put our new GPS system through its paces we decided to drag it with us on a recent off-road camping and fishing adventure .  We loaded the maps from Seattle, WA to Eugene, OR and the areas surrounding the north fork of the Willamette River. The system worked better than expected.  In our test we stuck the lap top in the passenger’s seat with the GPS receiver tossed up on the dash.  The system tracked our every movement, keeping our position centered in the screen, clearly showing details that are lost on the smaller GPS units.  The GPS and maps lined up exactly and with a single mouse click we could zoom in or out without missing a beat.

There is one small issue to get used to with a system like this.  Driving at night, a 17 monitor will illuminate everything around it and more often than not as we passed others on the highway, heads turned as they noticed the glow emanating from the passengers seat.  At the rest stops, several folks would wonder over to get a better look at the system, ask about it and inquire where we were heading.  But this is a small price to pay for a GPS system that can do so much and cost so little.  Now to try it out on a worthy adventure.

man sleeping camp chair morning sun

River of Change

man fly fishing riverThe second universal truth of the Buddha is that everything is continuously changing. Life is like a river flowing, ever-changing. It flows slowly and sometimes swiftly. It is smooth and gentle in some places, it snags on rock crops out of nowhere. As soon as you think you are safe, something unexpected happens.

Pain finds men no matter where they are, no matter how good they are, how hard they try. Struggling to make ends meet, make relationships connect, make life work out. Men live on a piece of rock that makes us weak.man sitting by camp fire

Some, find a friend, a brother, to lean on. A brother in arms to help in the struggle, to stand shoulder to shoulder in the battle for life. A brother who, without question will lay down his life for another. A man who will walk the road of hell because someone is needed to point to the light, calm trembling eyes and show the way out.

These are not just words rolling out to the world. These are echoes of hope heard among the trees, on the river, soaring among the stars in the night. Men struggle at birth, through sickness, with old age and death. The world changes, life flows.

Thank you Lord for another day. Help my brother along his way, please; bring peace, to the soul. Grant us all peace, serenity and the courage to change.

west texas dog days

A Picture’s Worth A 1,000 Words

silver fj cruiser flexed out black bear ouray coloradoThose of you who have read through our stories here know that pictures are a big part of the last great road trip. And like boho chic runway models you will find one or two of our images that are better than average. But most of the time I rely on point shoot… shoot a lot and hope something interesting comes out.

But when I see someone with an eye for composition and an editing flare I realize I just hack at it…

You know who they are. Artist who tell their stories with a single image. William Shafer (Raggler on Flickr) is one of those guys who tells his stories with pixels. Stories that convey moods and transmits an energy without ever writing a single word. When I look at these images my soul changes.

white sand desert blue skyFor me there are hundreds of stories in each of these images. I don’t necessarily see only Raggler’s story… I see mine. I look into these images and I feel my past adventures and I imagine adventures still to come, I take his story and make it my own.

When I first came across Raggler’s images I felt the need to travel… around the block, around the world, it didn’t matter I just needed to travel. I see these images and sense the energy of the road, I hear the road calling to me, I feel its pull on my life.

silver fj cruiser sandy desert roadMy life has been dragged across blacktop and dirt around the world. I’ve encircled the globe four times, seen 17,504 sun rises and loved deeply.  I’ve driven to places I shouldn’t have and met people who surprised me in so many wonderful ways. My life stories are spread across the Internet and tattooed in flesh. But it is images like these that humble me. I see these images and know I have to keep moving.

Until the other day I didn’t know Raggler but now he’s inspired me to create better stories in life, words and images.

fj cruiser bikini woman…Ok this photo, just screams Hula Betty to me! What do you think?

Off road adventures and sharing the experience through the lens of a camera is something we all reach for but only a few like Raggler will grasp.

Thank you Raggler for sharing your images and allowing us to post them here.

trd fj cruiser naches wagon trail stump

Naches 4×4 Adventure Video

When we go on a 4×4 off-road adventure the video camera is always on…  After three days with the NWFJCC in the Naches Area we had hours of video.  One of the great things is that we get to see all the fun times and relive the off-road adventure.  And even though we watched all the hours,  we know you don’t want to…  come on be honest… you can only watch rigs and listen to us babble so long before the drone of engines and voice overs puts you into a catatonic, schizophrenia, give me a gun suicidal state of mind.

So here is ten minutes, of three days in the Naches Area…  be sure to check out breakfast and see some of the cast of players on this adventure.

Some off-road adventures are worth reliving.