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Babel Fish Translation

How to create a magnalog

Nice, but where to start?

I am describing here in detail the steps required to create your first magnalog.

The description below may appear a bit lengthy, the real procedure is not. It is quick and simple, that's why I like it. Creating a basic magnalog does not take more than two minutes.

You can spend of course a lot more time on writing texts, editing photos and creating images for a rich and exciting report. But that's up to you.

Before you start

Requisites

What you
need:
  1. a GPS-logfile (.nmea, .igc, .hst or .gpx) to be reported about
  2. an account on magnalox.
Thats all.
Optional:
  1. Photos from the activity in .jpg format, preferably taken with a digital camera that saved a timestamp in the images' EXIF-fields (most cameras do). If you have printed photos, they can be scanned and time-stamped manually.
  2. Software, that lets you create the background map. If it supports layers, you can use the track-image later created by magnalox as a locked background layer and then draw information about specific points on the foreground layer. Just omit the track layer when exporting the image. Simple an efficient.
    magnalox aditionally offers convenient satellite images as backgrounds, created on a simple mouseclick.
  3. to produce your own GPS-logs:
    A GPS-device that can record positions and transfer the recording to a PC lateron. Almost all GPS-devices can do that nowadays.
    You may need software, that convert's the GPS logfile into a format that can be uploaded on magnalox. There are many tools freely available. Formats currently supported (the list may grow in the future): .gpx »tools , .igc (FAI flight documentation) and .nmea »Wikipedia, which is just a file of the NMEA telegrams received on the serial port that even very old devices generate.

The equipment I am using

GPS-device: I use a »RoyalTek RBT-3000 (»review). It is a "GPS Bluetooth Mouse", what means it is just a receiver, which can do wireless transmissions of position-data to a PDA, PC or Notebook using the Bluetooth standard. It has no display and no buttons, just 3 LEDs and an on/off switch. The LEDs tell me a) that it has GPS reception, b) the battery state, c) whether it has a bluetooth connection set up. I can tell very quickly what the thing is doing without fumbling. It has the size of a cigarette box and weights less than 110 grams. It has an external 5V power connector and a connector for an external antenna. Its battery lasts up to 11 hours while continuously recording every 30 seconds. It came with a 12V adapter-cable that allows non-stop operation and charging in a car or boat. It was sold in November 2004 for around 200 €.

The feature I choose it for, the ability to record 30.000 positions in its internal memory. That makes it possible to use it without any other hardware. In fact, I usually turn it on, put it in a pocket, in my backpack or behind my windshield and forget about it for the rest of the day. It can log while it is transmitting NMEA over Bluetooh like any other GPS mouse. I can configure it to save a sample after a certain time or after a certain distance, whatever comes first.

I like simple solutions, that is why I took this device.
I also had a Garmin GPS 60CS, which worked without any problems. Frequent hikers might prefer a all-in-one device like this with a display and a map built in. They are usually more robust, waterproof and have replaceable batteries.
Call me oldfashioned, but I always have a printed map with me.

There are also some issues about my device that could be improved:

  1. replaceable battery with a longer lifetime
  2. a 3-way switch to turn the device on but disable the Bluetooth feature to save power
  3. the software and documentation bundled (XP and PPC) is not appropriate, but (just) sufficient

One last remark on GPS in general just to clarify a common misunderstanding:
GPS-receivers are not transmitting positions to satellites. You can't be located because you are carrying a GPS-device. They are just receivers, not senders.

Camera: I'm using a Fuji FinePix S602 Zoom, any other model will do. Just make sure that its internal clock is accurately set, because the timestamps can lateron be used to assign a photo to a location.
If I had to buy a new one, I would focus on: quick power on, quick and reliable autofocus, small size, easy to operate, standard batteries, fixed lenses (no push out optics) because they are slow, consume battery and their fine mechanics are subject to failure.
PDA: After using the bare GPS-mouse for almost a year, Santa Claus brought me a Bluetooth enabled PDA (Loox 720). With that thing I can additionally
  1. use it for navigational purposes with additional software (moving maps, street naviagtion etc)
  2. reconfigure and check the GPS while underway
  3. load the logs onto the PDA to free up memory in the device. I have a 1GB CF card for the camera, that can be used in the PDA as well. It provides enough space for the photos, the logs and some music for quite a trip. And I can exchange data with the PC very quickly using a cheap USB2 cardreader (very recommended).
  4. sort out images taken with the camera, the display quality (VGA resolution) comes close to printed paper.
  5. take photos with the megapixel camera built in, but the results are just lousy, even worse than those taken with a Nokia 3660.
  6. use its power supply to recharge my GPS. Same jack, same voltage.
Let me make clear that you don't need a PDA to create a magnalog. Most of my existing logs were made without one.

Recording the trip

GPS
recording
parameters:
Usually I set my device to record a sample every 30 meters or once a minute. It actually depends on the speed of the object you are recording. This is meant for a pedestrian, for a plane every 30 meters is way too often. In fact, I often have too many samples, not too few.

Assume the GPS accuracy to be at roughly 20 meters under regular conditions, thus it doesn't make much sense to record twice within that range.

Depending on the accuracy you need, place the device so that it "sees" the satellites. When walking, I usually have it in a pocket or in the hood of my jacket, which still is sufficient in most cases, but leads to little weaker signals and thus less precision.

When the elevation is important (like when paragliding), this may be a crucial point. The vertical GPS accuracy is usually worse than the horizontal accuracy, but in open sky the reception is usually better. Especially when circling around the satellites (paraglider pilots know what I mean ;).

My device can use EGNOS, what should further enhance accuracy, but I haven't seen a noticeable difference having it turned on.

Taking
Pictures
Since I have lots of memory and it isn't expensive anymore, I do not hesitate but take a picture. Taking photos of signs and crossroads can make a magnalog even more useful, landmarks etc can also be of interest when repeating a route from a magnalog.

The resolution of images on the internet is very low for contemporary cameras, even VGA resolution is sufficient. If you also want printouts, just use your normal quality settings and scale down the images to be used in a magnalog, preserving the EXIF information (Picasa2 or IrfanView do that). Some cameras allow speech annotations, which may serve as an inspiration for the story to be written on magnalox lateron.

Hints:

  • Landscapes are way better recognized on printouts than on stamp-sized internet images. Close-ups can also give a good impression of what you experienced. Yes, I'm thinking about allowing larger images, but currently my webspace is just not big enough for free terabytes of images and data.
  • Focus on a single subject. A small image with a cow, a horse, a person and a squirrel is hard to recognize. Rather take multiple images with a single subject.

I am usually creating a new working directory for each magnalog on my desktop and drop (copies of) all related files (logfiles, images, emails, URLs etc) there. Later, when all is done and uploaded, I archive it.

What matters is not thinking, but making

The practical steps required to create a basic magnalog

The chapters above were of more general purpose and not especially related to the magnalox website. Now I'll cover the steps required on magnalox.net. I assume you have an account on magnalox and you are already logged-in using the "log in"-page.

For the first steps, I recommend that you use a GPS-log having less than 1000 samples, because it speeds up the whole procedure. Consider your first magnalog as a testcase and start over after deleting it.

Just to explain the wordgame:

  • "magnalox" = the website
  • "magnalog" = an enriched GPS log you will create here
  • "magnalogs" = plural of magnalog

Step 1:
create an
empty magnalog
Open the log overview page by clicking on "my magnalox", "my magnalogs".
In the section "Add a new log" at the bottom, enter then name of the magnalog you whish to create. Take a descriptive name you recognize, it will be the log's caption from now on. You can change it later. Then click "add".
You just created a new (but empty) magnalog.
Step 2:
upload the GPS
logfile
You will be taken to the page "edit" automagically.
This page is divided into a sequence of steps, most of them are optional. For now we will do only the required steps.
In the caption, you will find a "Log ID". This is magnalox' identifier (key) for each magnalog. It is unique and assigned automatically. It can't be changed once the magnalog is created.
  1. Define the log's general parameters.

    Fill out all fields in this section, each field has a short explanation. These fields can be used as a filter to find specific magnalogs in the "search", "find" page. You can modify the settings here at any time.

    View the states and regions already in use, before you fill out these fields to remain consistent with the already existing magnalogs. Otherwise we will end up with many different names for the same location.

    If your activity is not in the list of possible activites, set it to "not in the list" and suggest a new activity to the administrator using the "home" "email" page. Don't forget to mention the log ID.

    Make sure, that the checkmark "log is accessible" is set when you are finished, otherwise the log won't be found by others. You can view and edit it, but others won't find it using magnalox' search functions.

    Remember: sharing logs is what magnalox is all about.

    Finally click the "save"-button at the end of the section to send your entries to the server.

  2. Upload the GPS-logfile

    Enter your GPS-logfile's name with path in the field of the next section. Or browse for it using the button next to it.

    The GPS is based on »UTC time, which is probably not the local time zone where the log was recorded. If you want the times later displayed in local time, you may need to apply an offset here. The default value is derived from your account settings ("my magnalox", "my account), what should be OK if you didn't leave your home time zone.

    Don't forget to adjust this setting when you enter or leave daylight-saving time.
    If the times displayed later in a magnalog don't match the actual times, it is most likely that this setting was wrong. You can shift time later in the edit function, but it is very recommended that you adjust this field to your needs.

    magnalox imposes currently limitations on file size and the number of samples per log. I had to do this in order to distribute the limited resources amongst all users.

    I highly recommend to split huge logs into digestible chunks. Otherwise the magnalogs become very large, the download time becomes long, visitors don't read it anymore, and the server becomes slow.

    So please prepare the logs on your PC before uploading them. Remove "outliers", redundancy, and truncate them to the timewindow required. In many cases even a text editor is sufficient for this job. Cover not more than a single day in a single magnalog. You can embed links to the next magnalog in the final story of each magnalog and thus create a logical chain of magnalogs, which the visitor can easily follow.

That's it! If you made it up to here, you now have your first magnalog finished.

Click on "display magnalog" at the bottom of this page and there it is. Still not really "rich" of content and features, but already amazing, displaying how, where and when the log was recorded. Now is the right time to lean back and watch the cursor wandering for a while.

Click on the flashing cursor, and you will find links to more information (streetmaps etc) related to the momentary position. In the browser's status bar, you will find the exact date and time, on the right side. You will see the green line marking the current height, horizontal and vertical speed. Play with the buttons below the map, you can step for- and backward. Click into the graphs, and the time will be set to that moment.

If you want your magnalog to become a top performer in magnalox' charts, you need to add a background map, photos and a story. All that can be done with the other steps on the "edit magnalog" page you just used. They all open a new browser window. Thus when you accomplished the task, you can easily close that window and proceed with the next step.

And now it's your turn to amaze me...