The Green Elk Challenge

Today we are introducing the inaugural Green Elk Challenge. The TL:DR version: Go on social outdoors activity with as many different people as possible between now and 1 March 2016 and you could win an experience for two to go kayaking in the Finnish archipelago!

The Challenge

In the northern hemisphere, Summer has ended and Winter is coming, this is usually a time when outdoors activities lessen. At Green Elk, we’ve always been about the non-competitive aspect of simply going outdoors. And we know from talking to you all that going outdoors with people is what makes you a Green Elk. So let’s give you a challenge with a carrot so fun at the end that we hope more than the winners will eventually take advantage of it. The Challenge is simple

  1. Go outdoors with someone, document it with photos, tracking
  2. Post this activity / trip into Green Elk via web site or iOS app
  3. You score a point for each different person listed as a participant across all your trips between now and 01 March 2016
  4. Score a minimum of 5 to be entered to win the grand prize. A score of more than 5 will increase your chances of winning the grand prize!

The important thing: You need to document the trip/activity on Green Elk. The people you go on trips with must be on Green Elk as well (they get credit for the trip as well!). Trips must must be entered between now and 01 March  2016 but they can reflect trips done at anytime including from years ago. Solo trips will not count.  To be precise, if you post a trip with 12 different people and they are all on Green Elk, you will score 12, if you post 12 trips with a different person each time, you will also score 12. The maximum score is unlimited!

Tracking the Challenge

We’ve updated both the App and the Web Site to focus on tracking this challenge! As you post your trips your Challenge score will go up. You can track how you and your friends on Green Elk are doing. Also between now and 01 March 2016, we’ll be posting blogs that you can follow about the Challenge and its prizes which you can track directly from Green Elk.

The Grand Prize

Today we are only announcing the Grand Prize. We will invite two people from anywhere in the world to Nagu, Finland from wherever Finnair and its partners fly. But it’s not just airfare, we want you to have an experience from the moment you land in Finland. Kaj our CEO will meet you at the airport and because we are all about sustainability, we will navigate you to the Finnish archipelago through the Finnish countryside by bus. From there, you will stay with Kaj at his well-known Furuvik house in Nagu for a week from where you will kayak and traverse the Finnish archipelago, learning about its history, camping and discovering the culture, sights, sounds and food. From smoked fish from Börjes fisk on the beach to enjoying a traditional sauna, we will introduce you to the local people, take in the local culture and truly discover a part of the world few get to experience. And we will do it together, because the outdoors is more fun together.

Ready, Set, Go!

So start the Challenge. Go outdoors. Meet People. Grab your friends. Post on Green Elk. Win an experience in Finland!

Looking for official rules? You can go here!

 

At Green Elk, we want to give some order to the personal geodata that adventurers collect. When we at Green Elk created our adventure mapping software, our design decisions depended on our understanding of the underlying concepts. And even the mere usage of our software is facilitated by straightening out some ideas and terms. If you read through this reasoning, you’ll be well equipped not just to use kajgps.py, but any tracking software and gadget. Less confusion and frustration, and proper expectations of what’s doable.

Let’s start by some definitions.

Core concepts

Three core concepts: Point, Trackpoint, Track

  • Point: Pure coordinates. Latitude, longitude, perhaps altitude and a name. Example: 60.19531, 21.91017, 0, Nagu Marina. I have started many kayaking adventures from a the dinghy ramp at one of Finland’s largest marinas, in the island of Nagu. Its location can also be displayed as 60°11′43″N 21°54′37″E.
  • Trackpoint: A point with a time stamp. Example: 2015-05-01, 11:20:01, 60.19531, 21.91017, 0. That refers to starting from the dinghy ramp on first of May at 11:20:01 UTC (corresponding to 14:20:01 local time).
  • Track: A collection of trackpoints describing an adventure.

Supportive concepts

Three supportive concepts: Placemark, Placetype, Activity

  • Placemark: A point of interest, of persistent value, with additional characteristics. The additional characteristics may associate the point with a particular placetype (say, a marina), a prominence (priority, importance) or a particular subheader in a list of placetypes.
  • Placetype: Properties of a category of placemark, such as an icon (example: an anchor for a marina) stored either online (as an URL) or locally (say, a marina.svg file).
  • Activity: Sports type, or supportive activity. Kayaking, cycling, running, or logistic movement by ferry or car to get to and from the location. The activity is associated with characteristics of how to display the track (icons, colours) or how to analyse the track (parameters for identifying breaks and movements).

So far, so good. And we’d like to keep things simple. But there are some facts of life that complicate the above easy picture, when making use of tracks.

Complications involving tracks

  • Time zones. Nearly all tracks come in the UTC timezone. Nearly all users think in local time. Conversion is necessary! And conversions depend both on location and on time of year. Our current way of solving this is to allow user input of time difference by date. For 2015-05-01, I would enter a time difference of 180 minutes to be added to UTC in order to get local time. Should I have another adventure during the same day in another timezone, I have a problem, but that scenario is yet to occur.
  • One adventure may have several tracks. Sometimes the user records one kayak adventure split into several track files (one for the morning, one for the afternoon), either by coincidence or due to battery issues. At other times, one track is one adventure. When analysing and reporting adventures, such random inconsistencies distract. Our current way of solving this involves the Tracklist and TrackCache concepts (see below).
  • One track can have many activities. Sometimes one track file consists of several different activities. Hiking up a hill on a remote island is not kayaking. Neither is getting to the starting point by car or ferry. During the adventure, there are better things to do than fiddling with a tracker or a tracking app, so adjustments should happen afterwards. The Tracklist and TrackCache concepts solve this, together with the Segment concept.
  • Tracks can have lots of idle time. The recording of the track may have started well before the adventure started. Or the tracker may have been stopped well after the adventure stopped. And the tracking may either be left on during breaks in the middle of the adventure, or stopped and started again after the break. These inconcistencies have to be taken care of in order to make comparisons of adventure durations and speeds sensible. In particular, the Segment concept helps solving this.
  • Tracks can have multiple recordings. You may not trust your tracker or app, and have two of them. Or your co-elk may have a recording. This type of redundancy is hard to manage and usually involves you selecting which one of the track recordings you want to use.
  • Tracks can lack crucial parts. Sometimes, one forgets to start recording a track from the start. Batteries fail. Or apps for recording tracks have low usability, resulting in part of the track never being recorded. Reconstructing lost data isn’t trivial, but photos with coordinates and times help, as does manual input of coordinates.
  • Tracks can have GPS measurement errors. In particular at the beginning of a track, there may be “movements” which aren’t real but due to bad GPS reception. The software should make these errors easy to find, and easy to mark as errors.

In addition to the complications resulting from the above inconsistencies in track measurements, Green Elk has also introduced some concepts to simplify usability, in particular to help manage large data volumes. The collections we call Places and Tracklist are fairly self-evident. The concepts of Segment and TrackCache require more explanations.

Collections

Two collections of entities: Places and Tracklist

  • Places: A collection of Placemarks. All placemarks entered by the user, or in a particular location, or involving a particular activity. These places can best be managed in a spreadsheet. The software then converts the placemark collections into various formats, for display and computation (CSV, GPX, KML, SVG, HTML etc.).
  • Tracklist: A collection of Tracks. Specifically, a collection of track source files in a directory structure on a hard disk. The software can analyse and display these tracks, and output them into various formats (CSV, GPX, KML, SVG, HTML etc.)

Deduced data

Segment: A stretch of a track, with a single activity

  • A segment is an active part of a track. It refers to a stretch of the track where the user perceives there to have been movement.
  • A segment has exactly one activity. A track may have recordings of carrying kayaks, of going on a ferry, or taking a ski lift. A segment has one activity only, be it downhill skiing, kayaking, or car transport.
  • A segment may be of little interest. The car drive after a kayaking adventure ended may have been recorded just because the kayaker forgot to turn off the tracking. If the segment is marked “Car”, it is easier to disregard from comparisons with other adventures.
  • A segment doesn’t have to end in a break. While a segment usually ends in a break of some duration, it may also be followed directly by another segment with a different activity. Perhaps you ski downhill immediately after disembarking the lift, without a second’s break. You may run or cycle immediately after disembarking a little ferry, with a scarcely noticeable break of four seconds. Or you want to split a cycling segment into “uphill” and “downhill” parts, even if you don’t take a break at the peak.
  • The borders of the segment are up to judgement. Should kayaking around the marina while waiting for co-elks to get ready count as a segment or not? What is the limit (in time, in distance) for a stretch to count as a segment? This is up to your judgement. At the same time, few people want to spend time describing their trips up to the minute (or second). Our solution is to have sensible defaults (for break durations, for minimum movements) when splitting tracks into segments, and to allow manual user adjustments to the outcome, when mapping times onto activities.
  • Identifying the activity of a segment is non-trivial. Green Elk wants to avoid putting the burden on the user to enter the activity of each and every segment. Hence, we have coded some heuristics that re-allocates impossible activities. Going for over 200 km/h for over 100 km is likely by plane. Going for over 90 km/h for over 5 km is likely by car, not kayaking, not even cycling. The guesses of the program can then be fine tuned in the next parsing of the source tracks, if, say, the user should wish to make a distinction between “car” and “bus”.

TrackCache: A Tracklist parsed into Segments, with faster response time

  • A TrackCache is redundant. The data in a TrackCache is based on data in the Tracklist source files, paired with user data from the configuration files. It can be reconstructed from that input, and re-computing a TrackCache is something a user may wish to do when improving upon the quality of the configuration files (as the user learns which track file has which activity).
  • A TrackCache is more compact. Tracklists refer to Tracks in formats where data is verbose. TrackCaches are in an internal CSV format, stripping away wordy GPX tags and other unnecessary information.
  • A TrackCache is near-complete. When compressing the data from a Tracklist ot a TrackCache, only such data is lost that the user deems to be unnecessary, according to the user settings. The positions during breaks aren’t recorded, nor before the start or after the end of a trip. But that’s by choice. Green Elk recommends not to delete the source data, for it to be available later, should the user need the complete original data beyond what was deemed of interest when the TrackCache was created.
  • A TrackCache is significantly faster to use than a Tracklist. It is partitioned by Activity, and it has a “header” like structure by which tracks in a particular geographic area can be quickly identified.
  • A TrackCache uses local time. When Tracklists are parsed into TrackCaches, the UTC time stamps are converted into local time. That conversion is thus the only step at which the dates and times of Trackpoints need interpretation.
  • A TrackCache has tracks separated into segments. When Tracklists are parsed into TrackCaches, the segment splitting logic is applied, and each segment is saved in a different file. Those files are later on reused as if they were tracks. Thus, the individual files of a TrackCache fulfil the criteria of both Segments and Tracks at the same time. Mainly, this means any Track of a TrackCache has only one Activity. Also, it means that one day of adventuring corresponds to many internal Track files, which for display and conversion purposes can be merged into one output file (CSV, SVG, GPX, KML, HTML etc.).

kajgps Concepts

A lot of the insight in designing kajgps resides in the above concepts. We at Green Elk would argue that all of the above concepts are universal to any adventure geodata software, with one exception. The TrackCache is specific to our implementation, and is our answer to the issue of making a collection of Track files easily accessible with high usability and quick response times.

Provided our insights are the right ones, we have created a fundament upon which to attach any functionality related to analysis and visualisation of GPS tracks of outdoor activities.

Releasing adventure mapping software

At Green Elk, we’re dedicated to finding suitable co-elks for you. A co-elk is somebody you go out to explore and enjoy the great outdoors with. We do this to scratch our own itch, because we think outdoors is more fun together.

We also have another itch to scratch: We love to learn from our past adventures!  Where exactly were we? How far did we go? How long did it take?

Answering seemingly trivial questions about past trips not only satisfies our curiosity, but helps us plan our next adventures. What’s a good day-trip distance? When and where should we have lunch? What’s a good speed to keep, given that enjoying life means both exploration and regeneration?

This is why we created kajgps.py, our adventure mapping software. It’s a piece of software to analyse GPS tracks and visualise them. Personally, I have collected GPS tracks on and off for nearly ten years, with various pieces of hardware (Polar and Garmin sports watches, GPS trackers) and various software apps (on a number of phones). Each device or service comes with proprietary software for showing tracks recorded using technology from that vendor only. Data is collected in various formats, some of which are de-facto encrypted, others of which are written in text form. Usually some form of GPX export is supported. What I missed is a cross-device, cross-platform repository of tracks, that makes it as easy as possible to use track data.

The best analysis is often very simple statistics: How far did we go before the first break? What was our speed in each of the stretches? How long was our lunch break? The answers to those questions can be visualised in various ways:

  • as texts (in HTML pages or PDF files)
  • graphically (in SVG files, with an annotated track)
  • as input for existing map visualisation software (through KML and GPX files).
Adventure mapping software on Github

Adventure mapping software on Github

The goal when creating kajgps.py was to distil the core of the information from the GPS track and package the result in an open, easily digestible structure, for usage in browsers and map visualisation software on mobile devices and in the web. We wanted to be independent of hardware and software vendors, and concentrate on the most common and most open formats.

In fact, we wanted to take openness as far as we knew how to take it. That means releasing the software on GitHub under the GPLv3 license. We chose this license not just because we believe it’s a great FOSS license, but as I personally share the pride in being part of creating it, as a former co-chair of the Discussion Committee B, back nearly ten years ago when Eben Moglen coordinated the creation of the GPLv3 for the Free Software Foundation and I was VP Community Relations of MySQL AB.

Expect to see another blog entry soon, with pointers to our GitHub page, and with elementary documentation.

Social outdoors startup Green Elk announces angel investment to enable more outdoors social connections

Munich and Helsinki, 23 June 2015: Want to go outdoors more often? Startup Green Elk says that it’s all about having people to discover the outdoors with. With that in mind Green Elk has launched iPhone and Web Apps to enable social connections between outdoors people. Or, as their tagline says, “Meet Outdoors People”.

Today, Green Elk announced an Angel investment led by Larry Stefonic, CEO of WolfSSL and former EVP Sales at MySQL AB, who also joins Green Elk as an advisor.

“Green Elk is about helping create lasting social relationships through outdoors experiences. Survey after survey and our own personal experiences show that we’d go out more often and try new outdoors sports if we had the right company. And that’s the problem we want to solve: To find local people to go outdoors with, where you live or where you’re going. To enable this, you need a sense of who these outdoors people are and what they can do” said Kaj Arnö, CEO of Green Elk.

With the new investment, Green Elk intends on growing the user base and launching the app in specific markets and sports based on the team’s own personal experiences and knowledge.

Larry Stefonic joins Green Elk as Angel Investor

In leading the investment in Green Elk, Larry Stefonic said “I recognized in Green Elk a passionate team that was committed on bringing their vision to life. Knowing and having worked with Kaj at MySQL AB and Sun Microsystems, I know that Kaj will bring Green Elk to all parts of the world.”

The iPhone app is now available on the iTunes App Store. You can also create a free account and use Green Elk on the Web at http://green-elk.com in four languages, English, German, Swedish and Finnish.

About Green Elk

Green Elk is a chat and social discovery app to help you meet outdoors people. Find outdoors people in your area for your sports, chat, upload past trips or plan future trips, and share experiences through photos and social chat. Green Elk is founded by Kaj Arnö, Sampsa Vainio and Duleepa “Dups” Wijayawardhana. Try out the iPhone app or check out the web site at http://green-elk.com

About Larry Stefonic

Larry Stefonic is the CEO of WolfSSL, a leading provider of SSL security for Applications, Devices, IoT, and the Cloud. Before taking WolfSSL to some of the worlds most recognised brands, Larry was the EVP of Sales for MySQL AB, the world’s most popular open source database, which was acquired by Sun Microsystems Inc., in turn later acquired by Oracle. https://wolfssl.com

5 beginner road cycling lessons I had to learn the hard way.

This week I completed my first ever 60km ride on my road bike. While my butt was sore from from being in the saddle for a few hours (2 hours and 48 mins to be exact), it was nowhere near the level of pain I experienced after I went on my first few one-hour rides. Come with me on a quick journey of the many lessons I learned by experiencing road cycling as a first timer.

There is one fundamental lesson before we get started for any beginner, anywhere: Ask questions. A lot. If it wasn’t for my friend Ed McNally who helped me choose the bike and then walked me through it all, I do not think I would ever have started. Everything I write is likely incredibly, mind-bogglingly obvious. I am not ashamed to admit that, apparently, I cannot master the incredibly, mind-bogglingly obvious.

Lesson #1: Save your butt. Get cycling shorts.

To be fair, the bike shop owner (Graham at Frontenac Cycle in Kingston, Ontario) and my friend Ed, both mentioned the shorts. What was obvious to them and was not obvious to me: cycling shorts are padded — if you only had seen my face when I found this factoid out. My first three trips on the bike, I was seriously concerned about how anyone expected my butt to get so calloused the discomfort would be numb. Getting those shorts was like discovering nirvana. Here’s a link to Outdoor Gear Labs Reviews.

Lesson #2: Get a proper bike pump. And use it.

Now this really is mind-bogglingly obvious. I hadn’t cycled since I was 10 years old and here I was several decades later. Car tires after all don’t need to be pumped too often. Apparently road bikes do. I now pump my bike before every ride and I am consistently surprised at how much pressure is lost during a ride. This also took me about 3 rides.

Lesson #3: Learn how to re-attach your chain.

I know there are great YouTube videos on all this, but I tend to learn from doing and watching and asking questions (“Really? I hadn’t guessed…” cries the reader). Having a friend show me how the chain detaches and then can be re-attached was wonderful. My very first, third and every few rides since, my chain has fallen off the gears. Now, this, maybe because I am still learning and practicing how to change gears properly. For that, as this article suggests, practice does make perfect.

Lesson #4: The gears… how the heck do I change them

Now, this… this I truly felt like a dumb-ass. I bought the bike, Graham fit it for me and off I went. I was one block down when I braked (yes I did know how those worked) and walked the bike back. “Umm, Graham, how do I change my gears?” I asked sheepishly. The answer, my friends, is that your gear handles go sideways, left side for big cog and small cog and the right for the intermediate steps in each. “Ah right, of course” I said… realizing pretty quick that I was completely out of my depth… Little did my butt know how much at that time…

Lesson #5: Get cycling gloves.

Kind of similar to the butt chafing was the eventual hand chafing. Another cycling friend, Albert, suggested cycling gloves and now I won’t leave home without them. They definitely help with comfort during a ride. Plus, as Kaj has noted, if you fall, you’d rather waste your gloves than your palms.

Learning the hard way

You might note, lots of these lessons I learned had to do with accessorizing. My assumption, and a silly one, was that with a bike it was “off you go, how complicated could two wheels a few gears and brakes be?”

In the end, just like owning a car or getting a computer, it wasn’t about buying something and turning on the ignition or power button. There are fundamentals that I needed to understand and learn:

  • how to sit
  • what part of my foot to pedal with (the front, if you are curious)
  • how to gear up and down before a hill
  • how to lean into the wind when flying downhill
  • avoiding gravel and punctures

For such a long time, I had simply been content to do the sports I was knowledgeable about rather than exploring and learning something new. These days, every ride I see something fascinating or learn something interesting. On this past weekend’s ride to Gananoque, I was surprised by the number of dead birds on the side of the road. The mind queries, did they hit cars? Captured by squirrels? Chased by Aliens? I suspect I will never know.

Tomorrow, I add something else to the bike that will likely push me all the way back to square one. I will add clip in pedals and cycling cleats. Ed swears it will change my cycling. I’m anticipating falling. Lots.

What are the lessons you learned? Any great resources that can help another person go from zero to a bike nerd?

(Photo by Steve Meurett)

Green Elk News Roundup Wednesday March 11. 

**Check out the Usain Bolt of Rock Climbing**

All about Danyil Boldyrev and the sport of speed climbing. Boldyrev climbs at an amazing 6.0 miles per hour or the equivalent of a 10 minute mile. This Ukrainian now holds the world-record for this sport. This article asks the question if this sport will become a new televised popular sport. Green Elk is not about competition, but certainly we do appreciate this man’s ability!

**Don’t ignore the Cross Country Skiers**

Did you know that the oldest skis found were in Sweden from 4000BC? Well, Josh Christie has written a column encouraging those alpine skiers to take up this noble (and much less expensive) sport. View the full article about skiing in Maine here!

**Exploring Wedges Creek on Snowshoes**

We at Green Elk encourage exploration as close to home as possible. There’s just so much to see. Steve Meurett a columnist for WisconsinOutdoorFun has this column about taming the cold by snowshoeing with his dog. Read the column here.

Screen Shot 2015-03-10 at 11.25.33

Green Elk News Round Up for Tuesday March 10. Today’s news round up involves fitness wearables. On Monday March 9, 2015, Tim Cook unveiled more news, pricing and well all the missing details on the Apple Watch. Apple defined what it is for us to carry a portable computer. Our phones are now sensors for everything around us and yet, as much as we are now comfortable with technology being carried as we do our phone, taking a phone or running/biking/climbing with a phone is darn right annoying.

Enter the fitness wearable industry which has been growing by leaps and bounds every year and enter Apple to the party with a watch.

However, unfortunately while you can buy all sorts of devices, they are not a panacea for actually getting you fit. That is our third article today and brings it all back to Green Elk!

So today’s round up is all about fitness wearables and the Apple Watch

The Apple Watch

From Outside Online: Why the Apple Watch could become the ultimate wearable.

Pros:

  •  The watch opens up the amazing App ecosystem that exists on the App Store.
  • The watch itself is nice to look at and we’re more likely to wear something not klunky.
  • A complete device ecosystem that does not suffer from fragmentation. App Developers are lining up to get on board: Strava has annoucned a version designed for the watch. Much safer than a phone.

Cons:

  • Battery Life
  • Price
  • It will take time to get apps developed for the watch

View full article here

Christy Turlington launches Apple Watch Fitness Initiative

As part of the Apple Watch launch Christy Turlington was launching a fitness health initialtive “Every Mother Counts”. Watch and read about it here.

Do Fitness Wearables actually make you fit?

We at Green Elk will be exploring this much more over the coming months. Just getting and spending money on a Fitness Wearable will not make you fit, just like getting a gym membership does not ensure you will use said gym. This article from the Globe and Mail in Canada explores that. Interestingly one comment I’d like to highlight is:

“People have always understood that physical activity is important, but some need help in getting from knowing this to actually doing something, and I think apps and devices have a little bit to do with achieving that, because physical activity can be a social thing as well, and [apps and devices] allow people to join a like-minded community,”

And that is the premise of Green Elk, be social, be active, you will eventually become fit, beautiful, happy, and healthy.

View the full article here

Ice Climbing, it’s still not too late!

As winter starts waning in North America, it’s still cold enough to go do some ice climbing. This blog post from Eric Lemke on Gear Junkie has some amazing shots and thoughts about America’s Least-Known Climbing Mecca.

View Article Here

Kayaking in Papua New Guinea

Another great Guardian travel article about Kayaking, this time from Papua New Guinea. I spent a bit of my early childhood in PNG and so I have a soft spot for this remote part of the world. This adventure makes me want to go back there. Not your typical Green Elk adventure!

View Article Here

Rock and Road

Inspired by a new event to hit Sydney, Australia, this article explores the idea of setting up/fitting both your road and mountain bikes together. If you are curious the event is the “Wild Horizons Rock and Road” with 80km on road and 36 km on mountain bike.

View Article Here

1. Kayaking Around the World in 14 places

We at Green Elk are big fans of Kayaking. The Guardian (UK) this week has posted readers tips on the best places in the world to Kayak, they include The Soca in Slovenia, Vienne River, France, Bowron Lakes in Canada, and River Wye, UK.

Also in this list are places that we Green Elks have been as well and can attest to the beauty and fun of exploring there: St. Lawrence River, Canada and Koh Chang, Thailand. Itching to get outdoors kayaking? Check Green Elk for Kayaking friends and start planning a trip today.

In the mean time, do check out the amazing pictures and stories in this Guardian article

View the article here

Guardian UK

(Picture from Guardian UK)

2. Cycling the Donauradweb from Passau to Vienna

The spring and summer cycling season is about to start and Maarten Heilbron has a special article in the Toronto Star with the details of cycling an Austrian cycling adventure.

View the article here

Photo of the Day: Around Athabasca

Mount Athabasca is located in the Columbia Icefield of Jasper National Park in Canada. This photo is taken on the slopes below where we were training for ice-preparedness on mountains. The mountain itself was named in 1898 by J. Norman Collie, who made the first ascent on August 18 of that year.[1] Athabasca is the Cree Indian name for “where there are reeds” which originally referred to Lake Athabasca.

Athabasca
– Elevation: 3,491 m (11,453 ft)
– Location: Alberta, Canada
– Range: Canadian Rockies
– Coordinates: 52°10′48″N 117°11′42″W
– First ascent 1898 by J. Norman Collie and Herman Woolley

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