Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Dude, where's my UI?

CalTopo just gained a redesigned user interface.  Normally I hate invasive UI rewrites, and I'm sure this one won't please everyone.  However, over time it's become apparent that CalTopo's previous long-standing UI had too many obscure and confusing features.  It was painful watching people struggle with the same issues over and over, and while I may not have solved all of them, I felt that I had to at least try.

The most obvious change is a transition to pull-down menus across the top of the screen, grouping features from the left bar, top right and context menu into a single location:

Some of the context menu options proved particularly hard for people to find, like view from here and terrain analysis,.  While they still exist in the context menu, they've also been pushed out to a Measure pulldown menu:

Layer selection is largely unchanged, but has been moved into a more obvious standalone control that mimics the de facto standard look for a number of programs these days:

Mousing over the control, layer addition and removal should look familiar:

One big change is that clicking on a marker or shape will now bring up an info window with distance (lines), coordinates (points), and several edit and analysis options.  Clicking an object in the left bar still centers the map on that object, but will also bring up the info window:

Account and map management options in the left bar have also been consolidated and should hopefully be a little more obvious.

The "Share this map" option now only gives you the URL for sharing, while "Manage this map" lets you set both general map information and read/write access for other users.  The account link leads to an updated and hopefully more straightforward one-stop account dialog.

There are numerous small changes as well - as just one example that's hard to screenshot, the new marker dialog is now accompanied by a draggable on-screen marker rather than being in a fixed location.  As you drag the marker the coordinates dialog will update, and vice versa.

While I've done my best to test the new code, I'm not delusional enough to think it's error free.  If something looks off, let me know.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Printable Peak Views

The view from here feature has been around for a while, but you've never been able to print the results and take them into the field, except perhaps for making a screenshot.  I'm happy to announce that has now changed.

There's now a print link to the right of the share link:

Instead of launching a separate print page the way that the map viewer does, this simply brings up a couple print options at the top of the left bar.  You can choose page size, whether to show labels, and whether to show a custom selection or a 360 degree view.  A red draggable rectangle appears for the custom selection option.

The generated PDF has as many peak labels as possible, in diagonal orientation:

The 360 degree view has 3 rows, each covering 120 degrees.  Although they're not yet labeled, the first row covers NW-NE, the second row covers NE-S and the third row covers S-NW.

There are a few finishing touches that need to get added, like marking compass directions, but I don't want to wait for those to get finished up before announcing it.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Support CalTopo: GPS Maps

There are still some environments where a smartphone won't do, and you need the battery life and weather resistance of a dedicated GPS.  SAR is one of those environments, but it's also one that demands accurate, high-quality maps.  Once you've gotten used to tracking your location on a satellite image, or dodging cliffs on a steep descent using slope angle shading, it's hard to go back to a confusing mess of blocky contour lines rendered in 160x240 resolution.

Enter custom GPS maps from CalTopo, available with large-area coverage on 32GB MicroSD cards.  Preload the same high-quality maps that power onto your GPS and never worry about having to download imagery or deal with inadequate maps again.  Before I get too deep into the cheerleading, bad news first.

Garmin doesn't want to just sell you a GPS, they want to sell you a pure-gravy BirdsEye subscription as well.  The only way that works is if they're the only game in town when it comes to GPS imagery, which they accomplish by "locking" their units to only work with official Garmin maps.  In order to use CalTopo's custom GPS maps, you need to unlock your GPS as described here.  I'd be willing to pay a licensing fee to Garmin in order to get my maps officially sanctioned, since that would allow me to sell trouble-free cards through major retailers, but I've asked and they're not interested.

So on to the good news.  You live in California, Oregon or Washington and are in the market for some maps that will work with a newer Garmin GPS that you have unlocked.  As an added bonus, you'd like those maps to match your printed CalTopo maps 1:1.  You're in luck!  The following are real screenshots taken from my 62s.


Yosemite Valley, Rodeo Beach and Mt Shasta.

The three layers available are:

  • Scanned USGS Topo Maps, to an equivalent zoom of 15.
  • 2 meter per pixel aerial imagery, to an equivalent zoom of 16.  NAIP Aerial layer used for California, US Topo Imagery layer used elsewhere.
  • Slope angle shading with Forest Service maps replacing USGS topos where available. 
Some additional screenshots, of Mt Rainier and the San Juan Islands:

Check out the CalTopo Store today!

Monday, January 12, 2015

Elevation and Vegetation at a Glance

Long distance hiking leaves plenty of time for reflection, and an accelerated JMT trip I did this fall was no exception.  Despite being armed with maps and elevation profiles, I realized that I still wasn't aware whether a given day would be spent in shady forests or on barren, south-facing slopes.  I'd also been pondering a better way to size up search areas for SAR, and decided to solve both those problems with a new stats dialog.  It took a couple months to put the idea into production, but it's finally here.

Like with elevation profiles, there are two ways to bring up a stats dialog.  One is to right click on a line or polygon, and choose Stats.  The second is to right-click on the map background, choose Measure, and then either Line Stats or Area Stats.

Either option will probably involve a short delay as CalTopo pulls up the relevant elevation and vegetation data, followed by a dialog.  Unlike with elevation profiles, polygons will bring up data for the polygon's interior rather than just its perimeter.

The first two charts are elevation and slope histograms, along with min, max and average values; color-coding on the slope histogram matches CalTopo's slope shading layers.  The third chart is a circular histogram tracking aspect across 45 degree slices.  The pie slices are area-proportional rather than radius-proportional, i.e. if N aspects are 50% as frequent as W aspects, then the N pie slice will cover half the area of the W pie slice, with a radius that's 70% as large.

The tree cover histogram shows tree canopy coverage - 100% means that trees completely block all views of the sky.  Land cover shows land coverage as listed in the National Land Cover Dataset (NLCD).

In addition to other benefits, this provides another quick sanity check on planned routes for backcountry skiing.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Feature Week: Print to KMZ

I've received a few emails asking where the KMZ link in the left bar went.  It's been replaced by a print-to-KMZ option:

Why?  Because instead of just map layers, KMZ exports can now have markers and lines "printed" on them.  These are not traditional KML placemarks - for that, use the standard Export option.  Instead, they're rendered as graphics along with the map.  This can look a little fuzzy in Google Earth:

However, it really shines when used as a Garmin custom map.  You can draw far more lines on the map than most GPSs can handle as tracks or routes, and it allows you to create more colorfully marked up GPS maps.  Example screenshot below:

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Feature Week: Bulk Operations

If you've ever wanted to change the color on a number of lines at once, the new bulk operations feature will nicely complement folders.  The Markers and Shapes boxes, along with folders, now have a Bulk Ops link at the bottom.

Bulk operations can only be run on one object type at a time, so if you click Bulk Ops on a folder with both Markers and Shapes, you'll have to choose.

Once that's done, you'll see a full page dialog listing each object with some options at the bottom.  Click or shift-click to select a group of objects.

The Print Individual Maps option is only available for saved maps.  It will open a multipage PDF in a new browser window, with one page per object.  Each page is automatically centered on the object and scaled to fit, with a minimum scale as specified.  The default is 1:12k, which strikes a nice balance between capturing small map details and not losing context.

Change Attributes will bring up a second full page dialog, similar to the object's details dialog.  All fields start off blank, any changes made will be propagated to the selected objects.  Beyond setting marker and line styles, you can move objects between folders en masse.

Delete Objects will obviously delete the selected objects, although not without bringing up a confirmation window.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Feature Week: Folders and WYSIWYG Printing

Over the years I've had a number of users ask for a way to organize markers, lines and polygons within a map.  There have also been requests for a way to print only some objects, or to print markers with labels and shapes without, and so on.  Today's post covers a new way to do just that: folders.

Start by adding a folder to the map the same way you would any other object: right-click on the map background or click + Add New Object in the left bar.

The details dialog for markers, lines and polygons now has a folder dropdown.  Choose a folder at creation time, or move objects between folders the same way you would set any other property.

Individual folders will show up as boxes in the left bar alongside other object types.  Objects without folders will remain in their object type box, e.g. Markers.

As with the Markers and Shapes boxes, you can use the checkbox to show or hide all objects within a folder.  If you want to hide labels for a folder, perhaps because they're too noisy, the settings box now has a third, custom label option.

When set to "some", each folder gets a label toggle at the bottom.  Click on it and "Labels Shown" will change to "Labels Hidden".

Alongside these changes, printing has moved to a what-you-see-is-what-you-get (WYSIWYG) model: what you see on the screen is what you get when you print a map.   If an object is visible when you click print, it will show up on the print.  If it's hidden, it won't.  If it has a visible label, that label will show up on the print.  If the label is hidden, it won't.

Because this requires a form POST, I can now only offer the "share or save this configuration" link for a blank map, not one that has objects on it.  However I think the extra flexibility when printing is worth the cost.