Geotagging your travels: why you should, and how to do it

geotagging your travels

Even casual travelers know the wonders of GPS. It’s hard to imagine how we functioned on the road just a few years back without a satnav at our disposal, and now that our smartphones are also well equipped to guide us from point A to point Z (and everywhere in between), having a true sense of direction isn’t quite as necessary as it once was. But GPS satellites are useful for quite a bit more than just routing us. In the photography world, geotagging is becoming an increasingly attractive way to effectively track ones travels in a unique, refreshing visual fashion.

If you aren’t familiar with the term, geotagging refers to embedded GPS data on each image, which can then be read by various photo applications and mapping software. When you take a photo using any existing DSLR, a great deal of “metadata” is embedded onto each image; this data enables individuals to see what aperture, shutter speed, white balance setting and focal length (among other things) were used when a particular shot was composed. These pieces of information are remarkably useful when comparing shots after the fact, and geotagging adds one more vital bit of data to the mix: coordinates. Read on to find out how you can start adding GPS data to your images, and why you should make the effort to do so.

%Gallery-115291%The easiest way to make this happen is to buy a camera with a GPS or Hybrid GPS module built-in. A number of newly introduced compact models include this. Fujifilm’s FinePix XP30 has inbuilt geotagging support (not to mention a rugged, waterproof casing), and Casio’s Exilim EX-H20G is a non-rugged alternative with integrated geotagging. It’s an easy feature to find — either a camera has it built-in or it doesn’t, and manufacturers will generally go out of their way to ensure you know if a particular model does.

geotagging your travels

If you aren’t in the market for a new point-and-shoot, existing DSLR owners can upgrade their camera to support geotagging. Nikon makes a module of their own that fits certain models (GP-1), and if your camera doesn’t have a first-party add-on, Gisteq offers a (mostly) universal solution that connects via Bluetooth (PhotoTrackr Plus and PhotoTrackr Mini).

geotagging your travels

Once your camera is equipped to embed geotagging data, all you need is a program that’ll read that data. Apple’s iPhoto (displayed throughout this post) is a great example; any image that you load into iPhoto can be sorted by ‘Places.’ If you have an Internet connection, you’ll see pins populate the map (as shown here) in order to represent all of the locales where photos were taken. Google’s Picasa is another solid option, as is the popular Flickr.

geotagging your travels

What you’re left with is an incredibly visual way to look at a trip you recently took, all by way of photographs. In a way, these specific location points tell a story in an of themselves. Rather than simply telling friends and family that a certain group of photos were taken in Montana (for example), geotagging allows them to see exactly what routes you took on a road trip and precisely which trails you skied at Whitefish Mountain Resort. If you took multiple images at a certain place, you can easily sort those by selecting a single pin. The images throughout this article show (most) of the photos I took on my Casio Exilim EX-H20G while in northwestern Montana, including a number of shots while on Big Mountain itself.

geotagging your travels

On a grander scale, geotagging all of your images for the foreseeable future would enable you to create a lifetime travel map that visually shows where you’ve been in the world. It’s certainly a lot easier than trying to remember every off-the-wall stop you made, and it’s most definitely more satisfying than some Bucket List you’ve generated in Microsoft Word. On a smaller scale, sending your child off to camp with a geotagging camera would allow you to see where all the counselors shuttled your young one around — after all, kids have a thing for not keeping a very detailed journal, and this would make their job of explaining what all they did a lot easier.

geotagging your travels

Interested in getting started with geotagging? Listed below are a few recommended GPS-enabled cameras, geotagging add-on dongles and photo applications that work well with geotagged images.

GPS-enabled point-and-shoot cameras:

Geotagging add-on dongles:

Geotagging applications:

Travel Photo Tips: Taking photos while skiing / snowmobiling, and keeping your camera dry

photos while skiing

I recently embarked on a trip to Montana’s northwestern corner, primarily concerned with a couple of things: enjoying a few days of skiing and snowmobiling, and keeping my shutter going all the while. Truth be told, it’s harder than you might think. Managing to capture photos — let alone ones that you’d be proud to show off — in wintry conditions is certainly a challenge, but it’s not completely impossible if you prepare well and allow a bit of extra composing time out on the hill.

Being the family photographer while out on the slopes (or on the trails) requires extra effort, but I’ve got a few tips to make things as painless as possible. If you’ve splurged on a winter vacation, you won’t want to return home without any images to prove it. Read on to see how I pulled off a few clutch shots while skiing at Whitefish Mountain Resort and covering the trails in nearby Olney, MT.

%Gallery-114795%First, let’s start with the slopes. There’s a reason that many ski resorts offer professional packages costing hundreds of dollars to have someone follow you down the slopes snapping shots. It’s not exactly easy. But even if you don’t have a DSLR, it’s possible to capture key moments while keeping your precious camera dry and your loved ones back home in the know.

Here are a few tips for selecting a camera that’s fit for use on the mountain:

  • Choose a waterproof camera if at all possible. Canon’s PowerShot D10, Casio’s Exilim G EX-G1 and Fujifilm’s FinePix XP20 (or XP30 if you want integrated geotagging) all are great options. I’ll cover how to avoid drops in the snow, but accidents can happen.
  • Don’t lug a DSLR onto the slopes. Unless you’re shooting professionally, I’d highly recommend sticking with a point-and-shoot. DSLRs are too heavy, too bulky and too difficult to operate with gloves hands or frigid fingers.
  • Choose the smallest compact you can find. Ever tried to wrangle something large out of a ski jacket pocket with thick, stiff gloves on? It’s not easy. Keep things slim and you won’t grow frustrated with pulling your camera in and out.
  • Keep a spare battery handy. Frigid temperatures can zap a battery in no time. If you plan on taking more than a hundred or so shots, it may be wise to invest in a second battery.
  • Aim for a camera with a large shutter button. It sounds weird now, but the more surface area on that shutter button, the easier it is for a gloved hand to operate.
  • Avoid touchscreen-based cameras. Touching is good in normal circumstances, but covered fingers need physical buttons to wade through menus and selections.
  • Disable the flash. You won’t need it in broad daylight, and the reflections look terrible off of the snow.

photos while skiing

Now, a few tips on keeping your camera safe and dry:

  • Use a long, rugged strap. This is vital — you’ll want your camera to easily wrap around your wrist while using it, so you’ll need a long leash.
  • Zip your camera within an internal jacket pocket. Keeping a camera closer to your chest makes it less susceptible to breaking if you fall (the horror!), and the added warmth is a boon to battery life.
  • Never grab your camera with a snow-soaked gloved. It should go without saying, but mixing water — even cold water — with electronics is never a good idea.
  • Leave the strap dangling out as you zip the camera into your jacket pocket. Leaving that tether hanging out makes accessing your camera a breeze; if the entire unit falls into your pocket, it’s nearly impossible to drag out with a gloved hand.
  • Always handle the camera with an ungloved hand if you can. Don’t get frostbite, but on balmy days, using skin gives you more control and makes you less likely to lose grip on your camera.

Onto snowmobiling. I’d always recommend carrying a pack while hitting the trails, if only to lug around a first air kit, a SPOT GPS Messenger and a collapsable shovel. But there’s another reason: it’s perfect for holding your DSLR and a couple of your favorite lenses. Riding on a sled enables you to carry a lot more gear, and given the amazing sights you’re apt to see while riding in the backcountry of northern Montana or in Grand Teton National Park (just examples, of course), you’ll probably want to capture some of these landscapes with a bit more style. For this, I’d highly recommend a DSLR (and a pair of hand warmers to keep the feeling in your mitts).

photos while skiing

Here are a few basic pointers when hauling a rig via snowmobile:

  • Pack padding around your camera, and always keep it near the top of your pack in a separate compartment if possible. Less time digging means more time shooting.
  • If you own a wide-angle or fisheye lens, this is the time to pack it. Vast landscapes and pristine mountain shots are likely to find you, so be ready to capture all of it (or as much as possible) in a single frame.
  • If you’d prefer to go bagless, invest in a waterproof case to keep it dry from falling snow as it’s strapped around your back.
  • In most cases, you should be able to compose shots with your gloves on. Learning shortcuts to adjust settings within ‘Manual’ mode would probably be beneficial before heading out.
  • Watch the aperture. If you’re looking to capture vast landscapes, you’ll want a higher-than-average f/stop figure. On a bright, clear day, it’s not unusual to shoot between f/14 and f/22 or higher.
  • Watch your exposure. Snowy landscapes can confuse Matrix metering modes, and if you’re noticing that your shots are constantly turning out darker than you’d prefer, feel free to bump the exposure up a few steps to compensate.

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photos while skiing

I’ll close this one out by recommending a helmet cam if you’re the daredevil type. The ContourGPS, GoPro HD Hero and Drift Innovation HD170 can all be strapped around your helmet in order to record your wildest rides in high-definition. All without you lifting a finger while riding. These are certainly niche products, but there’s hardly a better excuse to buy one than to record your day on the trails.

Columbia Omni-Heat Circuit Breaker Softshell electric / heated ski jacket review

columbia circuit breaker

It’s a mouthful of a name, but Columbia’s new Circuit Breaker Softshell heated jacket is exactly the kind of hardware that avid winter adventurists and residents of frigid locales have been clamoring for. Heated gear has been around for awhile, but older implementations have generally been prohibitively expensive, extremely bulky and short on life. Reviews have generally been mixed, and the cold weather world at large has really been waiting for battery and charging technologies to advance to a point where a heated jacket could be taken seriously. The Omni-Heat Circuit Breaker is it.

This coat is one of three new launches from Columbia for next ski season (it’s slated to go on sale to the public on October of 2011), accompanied by a pair of Omni-Heat electric boots and a set of electric gloves. For this review, we’re going to focus on the most sophisticated of the three: the Circuit Breaker Softshell jacket, albeit a pre-production version that may be altered ever-so-slightly prior to October. Was a jacket filled with heating elements able to keep our core satisfactorily warm during a frigid snowmobile trip through northwestern Montana and during a near-blizzard at Whitefish Mountain Resort? Read on to find out.
%Gallery-114914%The design of the Circuit Breaker Softshell is what really sets it apart, and why it’s likely to be very appealing to travelers looking to keep their load light as they engage in winter travel. The jacket is essentially the same size as any other non-heated ski jacket, but it’s actually thinner, lighter and more flexible than bulky coats which rely on thick layers to insulate you and keep you warm. This jacket is able to trim down on materials thanks to the heating system that runs throughout the fabric; the electric nature more than compensates for the thickness that’s lost. The other incredible part about this system is that you can’t actually feel it while wearing the coat. If there are hundreds of heating tubes ran throughout, you won’t ever notice them until you feel your body warming up. If you’re concerned about tubes or wires inhibiting your motion while wearing it, don’t be — it feels like wearing any other jacket save for one thing.

columbia circuit breaker

That “thing” is weight. On the inner side of each chest section, there’s a clear pocket where a battery pack is stored. The Circuit Breaker can run off of just one, but the battery life suffers. With both packs installed, the coat is definitely heavier than your average non-electric jacket, but once you’ve put on the rest of your winter gear, you’ll forget about the added weight. In our opinion, the added weight is worth carrying around for the benefit of having heat. This is still lighter than some of the older heated solutions on the market.

columbia circuit breaker

Continuing with design, the outer layer of the jacket repelled sleet and heavy snow with ease, and the hood was always easy to find and flip up onto one’s head. There are two waist-level pockets on the exterior, an external chest pocket, and a handy arm pocket that is perfect for storing loose change, lip balm, etc. Turning the heat on and off couldn’t be simpler; just press the button on the front of the coat for three seconds, and it’s flipped on and set for maximum output. Another gentle press turns it down to Medium heat, and another lowers it to Minimum heat. You can disable to light if you wish by holding it for ten seconds (that’ll force the coat to enter “Stealth Mode”). In practice, the button worked great, even when mashed with a gloved finger.

While the design is stellar in most aspects, we did find a few gripes. For starters, there are no extended zipper pulls on the waist-level pockets nor on the arm pocket. For whatever reason, the only extended pull is on the outer chest-level pocket. Columbia should’ve included extended zipper pulls on all external pockets; any skier will understand the difficulty in operating a zipper with a gloved hand, and having no extended pull really made these particular pockets difficult to access. Moreover, the internal clear pockets that hold the battery packs need to be larger; once the jack to each battery is inserted, it’s a tricky process to wiggle the packs into their holsters. A bit more room on the Velcro pockets would have been appreciated. There’s always the slight possibility that the company would add these prior to a full-scale launch, but at worse, you could add your own pulls if you end up sharing our problem.

columbia circuit breaker

Speaking of the battery packs, each one can be recharged via microUSB, and Columbia (thankfully) includes two microUSB charging cables and a single AC adapter that accepts two cables at once. That means a single AC plug can charge up both packs at once — nice! What really impressed us was the extra adapters that were included; anticipating that some buyers may take this jacket to international ski resorts, a number of internal AC plug adapters are included so that you can recharge your coat regardless of where your travels may take you (Swiss Alps, anyone?). This may be an under-appreciated extra by many, but here at Gadling, we’re huge fans of any company that includes support for worldwide power plugs.

columbia circuit breaker

We heard early on that Columbia expected the Circuit Breaker to provide around six hours of heat with both packs fully charged. When we broke out on the snowmobile trails near Olney, Montana, we placed the heat setting on ‘High’ and never backed it down. The wind chill was quite severe, and we needed any extra heat we could find. Within seconds, we felt a rush of warmth all throughout our core region, and it didn’t stop until right around five hours later. We had briefly used the jacket’s heating functions earlier in the day for around a half-hour, so all told, we managed ~5.5 hours of battery life. That’s pretty close to the stated six hours, and it’s even more impressive when you realize that bitter cold temperatures have a tendency to drain batteries.

columbia circuit breaker

Would we recommend the $850 Circuit Breaker? If you live in a location where temperatures routinely drop into the teens, or you’re a frequently traveler to frosty destinations, it may be a worthwhile investment. Non-heated jackets of similar quality can easily reach $500 or so, so the price premium for having five to six hours of heat may be worth it if you’re tired of freezing whenever you step outside. The good news is that the jacket really does do an exceptional job of keeping the wearer warm, and it’s about as elegant an implementation as we have seen. The biggest problem with this coat isn’t in the coat itself — it’s that you’ll probably be itching to splurge on Columbia’s Omni-Heat boots and gloves after you get one. For instructions on how to connect the battery packs, check out the video below.

As a side note, Columbia is planning an entire range of these heated jackets to launch in the fall of 2011. While this specific model has an $850 MSRP, there will be nine electric styles in total ranging from $750 to $1,200.


Ubiquisys Attocell could enable roaming-free international cellphone calls

cheap international calls

Femtocells aren’t new. For the past few years, they have trickled out onto Verizon Wireless, AT&T and Sprint using various names, and while they’re perfect for those who have subpar cellphone coverage in their own home, they aren’t great for avid travelers dealing with international roaming. If you’re unfamiliar with the technology, it works as such: a femtocell is a miniature cell tower, of sorts, which connects to your home broadband Internet connection. This basically creates a cell tower in your home, and it routes your calls out through the Internet instead of via the nearest “real” tower.

Unfortunately, all of the US carriers have locked their femtocells to work only in America, and even when you change locations domestically, most require you to update your address in your online profile before it can work elsewhere. There’s a GPS beacon attached to all of them, which works as the ball-and-chain for travelers. The ultimate femtocell would be the one that you could take anywhere, and plug into any Internet connection, in order to have five bars of local cell service anywhere in the world. It would all but eliminate roaming fees while you were chatting in your overseas office or hotel room. But wouldn’t it be even nicer if you could take that idea, and make it mobile? That’s exactly what Ubiquisys is doing with its newest product, the Attocell. Read on for more details.This USB dongle is considered a “personal femtocell,” cramming the technology that’s usually found in a router-sized box into a single USB adapter. The setup couldn’t be simpler: plug the Attocell into a laptop that has an Internet connection (for example, this would work through a laptop out in a French coffee shop with Wi-Fi freely available), and then use the connection it creates to make a phone call via the web. It’s sort of like Skype, except you’re using your actual phone number, which is far more convenient.

The company hasn’t coughed up pricing or availability details yet, but should do so next month with a formal unveiling at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. We’re told that a number of carrier talks are already in progress, but we have to worry about what fees (if any) will be tacked on. The ultimate goal would be to buy this adapter and then use it without limits for free, but it’s unclear if the carriers involved would let that fly. If they charge too much, it will end up simpler to just make a call while roaming, but we’re crossing our fingers that it won’t go down like that. This could very well be the answer to a lot of prayers from those who travel overseas routinely and have to swallow massive roaming bills each time they return.

[Via Engadget]

NHL All-Star Game travel advice: what to do in Raleigh, NC

nhl raleigh

It’s shaping up to be a busy, busy weekend for sports. The NFL’s Pro Bowl is set to take place Sunday night, and a few hours prior, the NHL’s All-Star Game will kick off in North Carolina’s capital city. This weekend will be the first that Raleigh has hosted the All-Star Game, with the Carolina Hurricanes being the host team and their RBC Center being the host facility. Those living here (like me!) will be quick to point out that Raleigh brought home a major national championship before the more populated Charlotte, with the Stanley Cup coming to NC during the 2005 – 2006 season.

The city has been doing an awful lot of planning since it found out it would be this year’s host in April of 2010, including the finalization of RDU’s sophisticated Terminal 2 this past week. We’re still no closer to having a legitimate public transportation system (outside of a few sporadic bus routes), but there’s plenty of southern hospitality to go around for those coming to town. If you’re planning a trip down below the Mason–Dixon Line in order to attend this year’s NHL All-Star Game, read on to discover five can’t-miss places to visit (and eat at) while in Raleigh.

nhl raleigh

The Pit. Yes, this is the same Pit featured on Travel Channel’s “Man v. Food,” and if you’re looking for a real taste of the south, you’ll need to grab a reservation here. The vibe is authentic, the “y’alls” are easy to come by, and the food is simply delicious. Don’t be scared to try a few local favorites: fried catfish, cheesy bacon grits, sweet potato fries and fried okra.

nhl raleigh

Cook-Out. Don’t bother searching for an official website — there isn’t one. Cook-Out is a mysterious fast food eatery that only has stores in the state of North Carolina, and while the grub itself is delightful, it’s the expansive milkshake menu that’ll have you returning nightly. You’ll find well over 30 options, with each shake costing just $2.19. Feel free to mix and match flavors (Oreo Cheesecake is a popular custom flavor), and grab a “Huge” sweet tea if you want to really know what a southern beverage tastes like. Here’s a secret: order a Cook-Out tray at the Cook-Out on Western Blvd. near NC State’s campus, and you can take home a Cook-Out visor or t-shirt for just $1.99!

nhl raleigh

Wolfpack vs. Tar Heels basketball. UNC alums will swear up and down that Duke is their only rival in The Triangle, but if NC State pulls the upset at the Dean Dome this weekend, you’ll never find a more sour group of fans. NC State vs. UNC games are always rowdy, and if you can score a ticket for this Saturday’s matchup (1/29) in Chapel Hill, it’s most certainly worth going to. Just getting inside of the Smith Center is a magical experience for devout college basketball fans.

nhl raleigh

Velocity VeloCAB ride. Downtown Raleigh may not be the biggest downtown you’ve ever seen, but it’s still full of life, parks and history. It’ll be chilly in late January, but if you’ve got a beefy coat and a significant other to cuddle up with, a ride in a rickshaw (dubbed a VeloCAB) is a great way to learn about Raleigh from an expert that lives here. And hey, you may just pass by somewhere you’ll want to return to afterwards.

nhl raleigh

Second Empire Restaurant and Tavern. If you leave Raleigh without dining here, you’re doing yourself a huge disservice. This restaurant is a Four Diamond award winner, and their menu changes on a regular basis. They go out of their way to procure ingredients from right here in North Carolina, and every single dish is a winner. Head to the tavern if you aren’t looking to dress up, or reserve a table in the main dining room if you bring your formal wear to town.

nhl raleigh

Raleigh — along with all of North Carolina — is a fine place to visit, and while there are quite a few hotels to choose from, the out-of-the-box travelers would do themselves a favor by heading up to Durham. There, you’ll find The Arrowhead B&B, a gorgeous inn (circa 1775) ran by two of the nicest, sweetest individuals (Phil and Gloria Teber) you’ll ever meet. The breakfasts you’ll find here are to die for, and if you’re into splurging, the Carolina Log Cabin or Garden Cottage are the ones to book.

nhl raleigh

If you’re a local, feel free to add your own must-do suggestions in comments below. For the full schedule of events during the 2011 NHL All-Star weekend, click here. Enjoy NC, y’all!