A Suggestion for an In-Flight GPS Data Logger

Foreflight on an iPad is all you need.

The other day, I got an email from a blog visitor who’d apparently read my 2009 post titled “My Geotagging Workflow.” This post discusses the rather convoluted process I used to add GPS coordinates to photos using a GPS data logger and some software on my Mac. (That was six years ago; I have a different process now.)

But the email I got the other day wasn’t about photography. It was about in-flight GPS logging:

Hey. I came across your post on data loggers.

What have you found in your search. I am looking for a great option as well– but something that does alt. Speed. Position. Specifically downloadable in 3D in google earth through kml. I am looking for something that we can use for training stabalized approaches. Set it up to record during flight. And then download and make points or a line that showed speed and altitude. Showing later students speed and altitude errors that they might now have noticed during actuall approaches distracted by actual flight.

Have you came across anything like this?

My answer: Yeah. Foreflight.

Foreflight is my application of choice for flight planning and navigation. I run it on an iPad Air and have it mounted securely beside the instrument panel in my helicopter. Not only has the FAA approved my mounting of this device, but it has also approved Foreflight as an electronic flight bag (EFB). Indeed, it has been added to my Part 135 OpSpecs and it is not legal for me to conduct a Part 135 flight without it onboard.

I cannot say enough positive things about Foreflight. Not only does it do everything I need it to do — and more — for the VFR flights I’m limited to, but it has a wealth of features designed for IFR flights, including the instrument approaches the reader is referring to. With the right subscription, it can even place a marker for an aircraft in flight on an instrument procedure chart. Who could ask for more?

As far as GPS data logging is concerned, Foreflight has him covered, too. You can set up Foreflight to create a track log of any flight. Once saved, you can access it on the Foreflight website, where you can view it on a map and download it in KML, GPX, and CSV formats. That’s exactly what the reader is looking for.

Example Track Log on a Map
I remember this pleasure flight. I’d gone up the Columbia and Methow to check out the fire damage and then came straight back.

Frankly, I’m surprised that this CFI hadn’t thought of Foreflight. In this day and age, I’m surprised that any professional pilot doesn’t have Foreflight or a competing product on a tablet in the cockpit. For a relatively low investment — $500 or so for the tablet (which can be used for a host of other things and will last at least 5 years) plus $75/year for Foreflight Basic, it’s a must-have tool for any professional pilot who is serious about his career.

Do you fly? Are you using Foreflight or a competitor? Either way, how about sharing some of your experiences in the comments on this post? I’m sure other pilots can learn from them.

My New Weather Station

Getting the hyper-local weather information I crave.

I’ve always been interested in weather. Yes, I’m the kind of person who’d leave The Weather Channel on all day as background noise — in the days when they actually broadcast live weather information all day. And always know the most up-to-date weather sources. And have multiple weather apps on my mobile devices so I could check one against the other.

My Thirst for Weather Data

Not long after moving into my Arizona home in the late 1990s, I bought a solar powered wireless weather station. My future wasband mounted it on the roof of the shed near the horse corral and it beamed back weather information to a panel at my desk. For a while, I had it connected to a Windows PC I had — the software wasn’t Mac compatible in those days — and put live weather information on a Wickenburg website I ran. In 2003, when I got the fuel manager contract at Wickenburg airport, we moved the weather station there — it was far more reliable than the ancient setup in use. (Wickenburg now — finally — has an AWOS.) When I sold the contract, I included the weather station among the assets of the business. For all I know, it’s still there.

Although I didn’t miss the weather station much as life dragged on in Wickenburg, I definitely wished I had weather stations in Washington where I spent my summers starting in 2008. I get seriously tuned into the weather during cherry season, checking radar throughout the day and always knowing the forecast — from multiple sources — for the next three days. I dreamed of having portable, Internet-connected weather stations with accurate rain gauges and webcams so I could place them at each orchard when it was under contract. You see, I fly when it rains and knowing exactly when and how hard it was raining would benefit not only me, but also my clients. Trouble is, orchards aren’t usually in places where Internet access is available and the cost of a 3G/4G/LTE connection for each station was prohibitive.

Fast-forward to the late summer of 2013. I moved to a 10-acre lot I’d bought at the base of the basalt cliffs in Malaga, WA — a place I like to call Malaga Heights. From my aerie, I could see the weather coming and going from the southwest to northeast. With a new home base, I started thinking seriously about a weather station again.

Weather Station Options

Technology had moved forward in the ten years since I last owned a weather station. The main thing I wanted was the ability to monitor weather from anywhere in the world on my cell phone. I had some practical applications for this, but it was mostly just a desire to get hyperlocal weather information, live, anytime, from anywhere.

I did some research. I discovered that weather stations fell into four categories:

  • Basic home weather stations. These are the ones that put a panel in your house and one or more sensors outside that can broadcast data to the panel. I already had one of these — heck, I’ve had these forever. In 2013, when I was still living in my RV, it became extremely valuable for me to monitor temperatures during the winter at my water source and RV basement. But systems like these are extremely limited, not only in range but also in the available instruments. It’s usually just temperature, humidity, and barometric pressure.
  • Weather stations with limited connectivity. These are weather stations that have a full set of instruments for temperature, humidity, wind speed/direction, and rainfall, but they just send that information to nearby information panel. That’s what I had back in the early 2000s.
  • Weather stations with Internet connectivity. These are weather stations that have a full set of instruments for temperature, humidity, wind speed/direction, and rainfall, and they transmit data via the Internet, through wifi or a direct connection to a router. They often also transmit to a panel where the user can view data locally.
  • Weather stations with Internet connectivity and direct smartphone access. These are weather stations that have a full set of instruments for temperature, humidity, wind speed/direction, and rainfall, and can transmit data directly to the Internet as well as to a smartphone app. Again, they also often transmit to a panel where the user can view data locally.

My main goal was to be able to view current weather conditions for my home on my iPhone. This would make it possible for me to assess conditions for landing my helicopter, which lives in my garage. When I fly home and put it away, I need to land on a 9×9 platform parked on my driveway on the east side of my home. With very strong winds in the area, landing there is difficult — so difficult that I prefer to land at a secondary landing zone on the north side of my home. I can then wait until the wind dies down, fire the helicopter back up, and move it to the platform. I don’t have to do this often — I think I did it just twice in all of 2015 — but it’s nice to know what to expect at home before I arrive. What’s interesting is that when the wind is howling at the airport across the river, it’s often quite calm at my driveway. This is likely because of my home being sheltered on two sides by terrain. That’s one of the reasons I built it where I did.

So at first it looked as if I’d need that last type of weather station — the kind with an app to get the data on my phone. Unfortunately, the stations I found that met that criteria were quite expensive — in the $250+ range. And I really couldn’t justify the expense, especially when I seldom have a real need for that weather data. After all, I only take the helicopter out about 50 times a year and the streamers on poles on my deck offer a decent indication of wind conditions when I get here. (I also have an airport-style windsock, but I positioned it too far from my landing zone to be of any real use to me. Long story there.) Maybe I was just trying to use flying as excuse for a new weather station? Probably.

More research showed me that Internet-compatible weather stations could usually be set up with The Weather Underground website. I started exploring stations already online there. I found one down at Crescent Bar, not far from one of the orchards I provide cherry drying services to. I clicked a link to get more information about the Weather station there and learned that it was an Ambient Weather WS-1400-IP.

WunderMap of my area
The WunderMap of my area shows the personal weather stations (PWSs) in the area. I’ve marked the one in Quincy and mine as well as the official weather station at the airport.

I did some more research and found that two Ambient Weather stations would meet my needs if I went with the Weather Underground: that one and the Ambient Weather WS-1001-WIFI. The difference: the more expensive ($299) WS-1001 had a panel to monitor the weather inside the house and did not require an ethernet connection to my router while the less expensive WE-1400-IP ($159) could only be viewed from a Web page or app and required an ethernet connection to my router. Both had the same basic set of instruments and were equally easy to mount. Both also had a solar panel to keep the station’s batteries charged.

WS-1400-IP
The Ambient Weather WS-1400-IP includes outdoor weather instruments mounted together in one cluster; an indoor temperature, humidity, and pressure sensor; and an ObserverIP receiver that must be connected to a router. The iPad and iPhone in this marketing photo apparently indicate that data can be seen on mobile devices after registering the station with the Weather Underground.

I was fortunate in that I planned to mount the station at my shed, which was about 100 feet from my building. The line-of-sight receiver would go in the window overlooking the shed by my desk, which was less than two feet from my router. So as far as the connection went, requiring an ethernet cable was not an inconvenience. So the question was: Is the viewing panel worth the extra $140? My answer was no. I bought the WS-1400-IP.

Setting It Up

Mast Kit
This mounting kit is perfect for mounting on the side of a building.

I wanted to mount the weather station on the side of my shed, preferably with all instruments above the sprinkler head I’d put up there for fire season protection. That meant I needed some mounting hardware. Rather than trying to rig up my own mount — and likely being frustrated every step of the way — I spent another $44 (with shipping) on the Ambient Weather EZ-30-12 Mounting Kit with Mast.

Assembling the weather station was pretty easy. All I had to do was attach the wind vane at the top and one of the two short mounting poles on the bottom. The crimped pole fit snugly into the top of the mast that came with the mounting kit. I added two batteries to the indoor sensor and set it on a shelf near my desk. I then connected the receiver’s DC adapter to an outlet and ethernet cable to one of the four LAN ports on my router. Done.

The next step was to register my PWS on the Weather Underground. The weather station’s manual provides the URL. I had to create an account and then provide some information about my location and the weather station. At the end of the process, I received a weather station identifier.

Next, I had to use the IPTOOL application on my Mac (a Windows version is also available, of course) to locate the weather station’s receiver on my network and connect. That opened a configuration page in my Web browser. I used that to enter the station ID provided by the Weather Underground, as well as my password on that system. I could use other settings pages to provide the station model number, time zone settings, and units of measure. The Live Data page showed a rather user-unfriendly table of data collected from the station.

Configuration
The Weather Network configuration screen for my weather station lets me put in my Weather Underground ID.

Of course, since the weather station was still inside as I did all this, it registered inside temperatures and wacky wind readings as I moved it around. It was time to install it. I certainly didn’t want bad data going out on the network.

Installed Weather Station
The weather station is positioned just slightly above my fire season sprinkler head. I’ll need to raise it (or lower the sprinkler head) before next fire season.

My timing was good and bad: it had turned kind of nasty and was about to rain. That was good if I wanted to record rain information (which I did) but bad if I didn’t want to be on a ladder in the rain (which I didn’t). Still, I went out to the shed and climbed on the orchard ladder with a drill and impact driver and all the parts I needed. Within 15 minutes it was installed, level and pointed the right way. It’s not quite as tall as I’d hoped; in the future, I’ll likely add a second mast pole to raise it another three feet.

The rain started before I was done. I admit I was tickled to see it registering in the Live Data screen when I got inside. (I am such a weather geek.)

There was one more thing I needed to do — although I didn’t realize it until the next day. I thought the weather station would automatically adjust the pressure reading for my elevation of approximately 1550 feet above sea level. But when I realized that the readings were significantly lower than what they should have been, I did some additional research to see how I could fix it. The answer was to enter a relative pressure offset amount in the Calibration page of the weather stations settings. To do this, I needed an accurate pressure reading. I waited until the automated weather observation system at the airport just three miles away across the river updated and calculated the amount of offset to enter. I plugged that figure into the right box, updated the settings, and was good to go.

Viewing Weather Data

Weather Station Data
Here’s a snapshot of the display for my weather station as I wrote this blog post.

Although the Weather Underground claims it can take up to 24 hours to display a PWS on its site, mine was visible within an hour. It’s got its own page, which can be viewed by anyone at any time; I called it Malaga Heights. Here’s a screenshot of what you might see if you go to that link.

As you can see, there’s a lot of data, including current conditions pulled right from my PWS, sunrise and sunset times, moon information, and a radar map of my area. The current conditions are updated regularly; if you keep watching, you’ll see it change, especially if the wind is variable.

The weather history section summaries and graphs weather information for the day or a period you choose. As you can see, the temperature has been pretty steady on this overcast day, the wind really kicked up a few hours ago, and the pressure is falling. Solar radiation is likely measured for the solar cells on the station; it always rises after sunrise and drops back to zero by sunset.

WunderStation App on iPad
The WunderStation app on my iPad.

All of this information is also available in the various Weather Underground apps you can install on smartphones and tablets. For example, the WunderStation app on my iPad displays rearrangeable tiles of data that update automatically. I can even set up multiple PWSes in the app and switch from one to another with a swipe. Similarly, the Wunderground app on my iPhone displays information about any PWS, including my own. Both apps are free, and if you’re a Weather Underground member — a bargain at only $10/year — they’re also ad-free. (I hate ads).

But wait! There’s more! You can also install a “sticker” or widget on your website or blog. You can see the style I prefer at the top of this blog post; one that fits better in the sidebar appears at the bottom of the sidebar on every page.

What’s Next

Of course, all this is not enough for a true weather geek like me. The Weather Underground supports a PWS webcam.

I’ve had webcams on and off for years and would really like to have one here. After all, not only do I have an amazing view to share, but my view of the sky would clearly show weather conditions that would interest other weather geeks.

AmbientCamHD
There’s always something new to add to a system, isn’t there?

The one that I know will be compatible with the system is the AmbientCamHD Outdoor WiFi WeatherCam. It has a few features I think I could use to create time-lapses. I’ve added it to my Amazon wish list, but I suspect I’ll likely break down and just buy it for myself before Christmas.

Some things I just can’t resist.

The Spam Source Experiment

Let’s see who’s selling me out.

I get a lot of email and much of it is spam. That’s why I have a special email account I use for anything that’s not important. It’s a disposable account. Every few years, I simply stop using it and create a new disposable account. Then I slowly but surely update my records where I need to. The spam virtually stops.

For a while.

Eventually, it builds up again and I’m back to the point where I need to delete that account and create a new one.

And don’t talk to me about spam filters. Yes, I have one in my email client. Yes, it does work. But no, it doesn’t catch it all and, unfortunately, it misidentifies too much as spam. So I can’t trust it.

The other day, while drivinge, I came up with a novel idea. Instead of creating one disposable email account, why not create one for each organization that asks for an email address? Then use that account for just that organization. And then, when the spam starts coming, I can easily identify its source — it’ll match the name of the account.

I own multiple domain names, each of which can have as many email addresses as I like. So there’s no limit to the number of addresses I can create. And I don’t even have to set them up in my email client software! I can simply check for mail on the web if I’m expecting something. And let it accumulate on a distant server if I’m not.

Verify Address
Sure, this email address is mine. But don’t expect me to monitor it for your junk.

I started this today. I decided to use Microsoft Excel for iPad to maintain my helicopter Hobbs book (a record of hours flown) and Due List (a record of when various maintenance items were last done and next due). In order to access an Excel file stored in Dropbox from my iPad — and be able to edit it — I had to create a Microsoft account. That account needed a valid email address. So I logged onto my server and created one named microsoft @ one of my many domain names. And I used that email address to create the account for Microsoft Excel. I checked the email on the web, got the code I needed to complete the account setup, and am done.

And I never have to see any junk from that account again.

But I can always look if I need to.

Let’s see how far I can take this. I’ll report back, maybe next year.

Monitoring Resolution Progress

Maintaining a checklist may seem a bit over-the-top, but it does help.

Yes, I’m a geek. And yes, I’m somewhat compulsive about some things. But I really think it helps to stay on track with goals and objectives. Here’s what I mean.

The Weight Tracking Table

Back in 2012, when I finally got serious about losing weight and lost 45 pounds in four months, one of the things I did that I believe helped me to succeed was to create a weight monitoring chart. It was a simple list of dates with spaces to record a daily weight reading and body measurements.

Weight Loss ChartHere’s the first three months of my chart. I stopped tracking my weight on paper when I moved home to Arizona, but got all the way down to 149 pounds (from 196) by the middle of October.

Although most diet plans tell you not to weigh yourself daily, I did. And as the weight ticked down day after day, with minor upticks along the way, my success — clearly indicated on the chart I kept on the back of my medicine cabinet door — positively reinforced my efforts. Not only that, but I when I fed those numbers into an Excel spreadsheet, I wound up with a cool chart that showed my progress. (I told you I was a geek.)

I didn’t take body measurements daily. It was a pain in the ass to do. But the few measurements I did record show my progress and also helped reinforce my efforts.

My point is this: when you set a measurable goal, it might be a good idea to track it on paper (or in some other recording tool). This gives you evidence that you’re on target. And as you get closer to achieving your goal, you can feel good about it, not just when you reach that goal but at various points along the way.

Note that my weight chart shows upticks. Whenever a weigh-in showed me to weigh more than the previous day, that made me think about what I’d done that might have given me this setback. It made me work harder to stay on track. After all, with a goal like losing weight, the longer it takes, the longer you have to make sacrifices to reach your goal. It’s in your best interest to stick with it so you can minimize the time you’re making that big change in your life.

(And please don’t think that once you’ve reached a weight goal you can go back to your old ways. You can’t. Those old ways got you where you were. Just keep in mind that it’s harder to lose weight than to maintain a healthy weight once you’ve taken off the extra pounds. The main sacrifices come in the losing weight stage. After that, the “sacrifices” are fewer and must become part of your lifestyle. With me, that meant portion control. It wasn’t until I went back to my huge portions that my weight began creeping up again. I’m nipping that in the bud now.)

This Year’s Chart

Because I have five New Year’s resolutions this year, my chart is a bit more complex. It has multiple columns since some of my resolutions have multiple parts. Some columns get simple check marks. Others get numbers.

I created the chart in Excel, since it’s a grid, but I don’t expect to record the data in an actual spreadsheet. (I’m not quite that much of a geek.) Instead, I printed it out and put it on my bulletin board. Each morning, after writing in my journal about the previous day, I record the previous day’s results. As I look at the chart I have a concrete, in print record of how I’m doing.

Resolution Progress Chart
My New Year’s Resolution Progress Chart. I suspect that this will keep me on track — at least as long as I keep printing new charts and recording my progress on them.

Over-the-Top?

Is this approach over-the-top? Super anal-retentive? Evidence of an obsessive compulsive personality disorder?

Maybe.

But I think the reason many people don’t succeed with New Year’s Resolution goals — or any other goals, for that matter — is because they don’t have a daily reminder of what that goal is. It’s not in their face. There’s no one looking over their shoulder to make sure they stay on track.

This is my solution. The chart is in my face and I’m looking over my own shoulder, making sure I stay on track.

And, as always, I’m the only one that can ensure my own success.

Grammar Nazis Rejoice!

Microphone iconThere’s a new kind of typo in town.

Do you use dictation to enter text? Here are my thoughts.

Dictated Corrected
First, there were the typos and legitimate spelling and grammar errors that we made when using keyboard. First, there were the typos and legitimate spelling and grammar errors that we made when using a keyboard.
Then there were the typos common Austin “aided” but auto correct, to deliver often hilarious text messages when we attempted to key in text on our phones and mobile devices. Then there were the typos common , Austin often “aided” but by auto correct AutoCorrect, to deliver often hilarious text messages when we attempted to key in text on our phones and mobile devices.
And now, there are the typos and other Errors generated buy are growing use of dictation on our mobile devices and our computers. And now, there are the typos and other Errors errors generated buy are by our growing use of dictation on our mobile devices and our computers.
Are used dictation quite frequently on my iPhone and iPad. Sometimes, the device clearly understands what I’m saying and in exactly what I would’ve typed. Other times, it gets things completely screwed up to the point where it’s impossible two even imagine what I might’ve been trying To say. I’m trying, more and more, to use dictation on my computer. I find that I don’t type quite as well as I used to and I’m not sure why. It seems to me that using technology to get the job done should be a good idea. But every once in a while, I let some text go without proofreading it. The results could be something like what you’re seeing on the left side of the stage–raw, Dictated text. I found it necessary to provide a translation in the right column. Are used I use dictation quite frequently on my iPhone and iPad. Sometimes, the device clearly understands what I’m saying and in enters exactly what I would’ve typed. Other times, it gets things completely screwed up to the pointwhere it’s impossible two to even imagine what I might’ve been trying To to say. I’m trying, more and more, to use dictation on my computer. I find that I don’t type quite as well as I used to and I’m not sure why. It seems to me that using technology to get the job done should be a good idea. But every once in a while, I let some text go without proofreading it. The results could be something like what you’re seeing on the left side of the stage page–raw, Dictated dictated text. I found it necessary to provide a translation in the right column.
Of course, sometimes the errors are so minor that they really do resemble typos. For example, this morning I dictated a text message to a friend of mine and I used the word to. The version of the word to that I meant was T00, but my phone typed in TW oh. If I hadn’t caught and fix that and if my friend or a grammar Nazi I give him ammunition to rip me. Of course, sometimes the errors are so minor that they really do resemble typos. For example, this morning I dictated a text message to a friend of mine and I used the word to too. The version of the word to that I meant was T00 TOO, but my phone typed in TW oh TWO. If I hadn’t caught and fix fixed that and if my friend or were a grammar Nazi, I I’d give him ammunition to rip rib me.
So I guess what I’m trying to say is this: when you see a grammar error on screen, consider that it might not have been the person entering the text who made the error. Instead, it may have been the machine taking down his or her dictation. So I guess what I’m trying to say is this: when you see a grammar error on screen, consider that it might not have been the person entering the text who made the error. Instead, it may have been the machine taking down his or her dictation.
This column was dictated on an iMac running OS 10 Yosemite using the built-in microphone. This column was dictated on an iMac running OS 10 X Yosemite using the built-in microphone.

Thoughts?