Category Archives: travel

Make a Google Earth Fly-Over Video!

I organize a stage rally in Ridgecrest, California called the High Desert Trails. For the last three years we have run on a six mile road on private property. In order to grow the event we needed to find more roads. Stepping up to public roads means more insurance, permits, and logistics (more stuff). None of which we can afford if competitors think it’s still a small rally. Competitors (like myself) are often skeptical of new roads. It usually takes a couple of years before ‘everyone’ in the rally community knows what the roads are like at [rally name here]. How do you get rally drivers excited about an event with new roads today?

Google Earth! Imagine what it was like 10 years ago, before publicly available satellite imagery was a mouse click away. Rally Masters would spend hours driving around looking for roads. Even with updated topographic maps, you still have to get out there and check out what it actually looks like. Early in 2003 I spent some time looking for roads in New Hampshire and the topo maps don’t tell you about the flooded marsh, the rocky boulder filled road, or the intersection that home owners just piled dirt and brush on, so that neighborhood kids would stop using the route.

With Google Earth we were able to see what shape the roads were in, and we got an idea of how wide they were and if they were blocked, gated, etc. This reduced the number of ‘road scouting trips’ to a handful. We were even able to scout the route we had decided on when we got back to check for anything we had missed. The ability to see this kind of road detail is a game changer. “I’ve seen it from space.” is now a part of my vernacular.

It was only natural that I wanted my competitors to see it from space as well. I actually prefer this to coordinates, as I don’t want to reveal the exact route until the day of the event. For those rally folks reading this, I’m sure my methods can be re-produced and you could ‘discover’ the area outside of Ridgecrest that we’ll be using for the event. You are also aware of the pre-event testing rules, and the jeopardy to the event should you decide to do any pre-running. 🙂

How was it done?
* You’ll need a copy of Google Earth.
* You’ll need a screen capture program called CamStudio.
* Both of these programs are free!

Setup your view under Google Earth Options: Tools – Options – 3D View. Click ‘Show Terrain’ under ‘Terrain Quality’ and crank the slider to the max for detail. You’ll also need to edit the options for ‘Touring’ under Google Earth Options. Some of these options for recording refer to the Pro version of Google Earth which will make these videos in much higher res. A full version of Google Earth Pro is around $300. Highly recommended for a business or commercial venture. (but you can do just about the same thing for free with Cam Studio *cough) A good place to start is by setting the options to match what I have below. You’ll want to tweak your angles and heights continually to get the shot your looking for.

Go to the area of the map you want to make a movie of. Start by creating a path. A new window will pop up called ‘Google Earth New Path’. I suggest you change the name from ‘Untitled’. When you LEFT click on the map a point will appear. RIGHT click if you made a mistake. Use the controls in the top right to move around to your next point. Hit OK on the ‘Google Earth New Path’ window when you’re done. You can click on the path to add more later as well as changing the color and thickness of the line. You’ll want to hide this when you actually record your movie. This interface took me some time to get used to (especially in 3 dimensions) so be patient with it.

In CamStudio you’ll want to setup the video options to capture a ‘Fixed Region’ (I used 320 X 240). When you hit record a window will appear, place it over the Google Earth window as shown. Start the tour by clicking the “Start Tour” button: Record your shot and hit ‘Stop’ on CamStudio. You will be prompted to save your video.

For the rest of it I edited a group of videos and different shots with plain old Windows Movie Maker. Added a little royalty free music and uploaded to YouTube. As far a the rally is concerned, my first reactions were something like: “Woah! Helicopter? Oh Wait… this is awesome!” It will no doubt get peoples attention and hopefully we’ll get tons of competitors out to the High Desert Trails Rally on April 9th, 2011.

Day trip to San Diego

AutocrossLast week my buddy KC (from Rhode Island) asked me if I lived close to San Diego. “Very close. Why?” “SCCA Autocross National Tour San Diego!” Christine and I have been wanting to take a trip down there, so we planned to make a stop at Qualcomm Stadium and visit with KC and the rest of the crazy autocross guys for the day.

Besides the traffic on the I-5 after a tour bus got crushed, it was a fun trip. We spent about 5 hours in the parking lot of the stadium watching some fast drivers fight for hundreths of a second. I’ve been to an SCCA National Tour event before in Massachusetts and you don’t get to see cars like the Lotus Elise, or Caterham 7’s. “Lot’s of fair weather cars out here.” KC remarked.

I got to use my new lenses to their limit. I received a telephoto and wide angle lens for Christmas. (thanks mom & dad) I personally love the “close up / giant wide lens” look. I had the tripod and it was fairly sunny out – so my 6X shots are pretty crisp. Check them out in the gallery!

In the afternoon Tine and I went out to Coronado. Spent a nice relaxing evening walking around the island. Then we drove around downtown. It reminds me a lot of Portland, Maine… On a sunny summer day in June. :)

Road Trip USA II or (I hate Texas)

So much has happened in the last two weeks that it would be impossible and tiring to document all that has happened. So I will focus on the “highlights” and let you piece it together. The trip looked like this: Went East for Christmas. Picked up the rallycar and drove it to Maine. Stopped for tires and tax free shopping in New Hampster. Spent a few days in Maine then drove back to Jersey. Celebrated Christmas. Packed up and left for Irvine with the rallycar. Cape May ferry. Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel. Stop in South Carolina. Stop in Mississippi. Stop in Texas (twice). Six Flags over Texas. New years in Tucson, AZ. New years day we got home to Irvine, CA.

Don’t take a ferry when there is a 40 knot crosswind and 8 foot seas. Halfway to Delaware we start lashing port and starboard. I want to say 30 degrees but I’m not sure if that would be too much or too little exaggeration. When we hit a big wave the tables and chairs that they have setup all slid left. At that moment I could see nothing but sky from the windows on the right and nothing but Atlantic to my left. Little kids puking. Gift shop destroyed. Christine and I were doing okay. Having rode the T in Boston for most of my life I have my “sea” legs. I crossed the deck and grabbed a fistful of napkins for the father of the little girl that hoarked all over him. “I’ve never seen it this bad” mumbled one of the ferry operators. The rocking started to subside and soon we were protected by the breakers and then the jetty. First ferry ride for me… Check.

I think I know why Texas is so wide. Louisiana is mostly flat. Very fertile. That fertile earth dies off when you get into Texas. Arid petroleum wastelands. Once the elevation changes and you begin to see mountains, you are in New Mexico. There is almost nothing in between. Just about every town on I-10 is there because of oil. Just the following would not constitute hating it. No, I would need a better reason than that – and a diagram.

texas.jpgWhy I hate Texas: Here is every intersection off every highway in Texas. You’ll notice that they took time to build an over pass but not the exit ramps. When you exit the interstate you are greeted by on-coming traffic. You are then hit with a two or four way stop roughly 30 yards later. An intersection where stopping is optional – apparently. Then to get back onto the highway you must swerve into on-coming traffic again. Wind your way to the on ramp that tightens right at the end. This slows you down to about 22MPH. A good speed to merge onto a highway with a daytime speed limit of 75 don’t you think?

The Neon was not happy above 2,000 feet. It would cruise fine, but when we stopped for refueling she would stutter and run really rich. Crappy Texas gas didn’t help this. I still don’t understand why the one place in the US where refineries and oil wells outnumber people they have 85 octane gas. So I bought 87 which is “mid-grade” gas in Texas and “swamp gas” everywhere else. Then dumped a bottle of octane booster in.

Six Flags Over Texas was an added downer. They had literally like 4 rides open. The thing that sucks is they post this big board outside stating that A LOT of the rides will be closed during the Christmas season. Yet no mention of it on the website. We were able to ride Titan and the train that goes around the park… I have never spent only 3 hours at a Six Flags.

We celebrated the new year in Tucson. We lucked out with a room that had a hot tub. Filled the tub, pressed the button, and nothing happened. I picked up the phone to try and get some help with the lack of water jets. “Did you press the button on the back of the tub?” “Yes.” I explained that the only reason we upgraded was because of the hot tub. They took the $119 room off the bill. :) Drinking bad pre-mixed Long Island Ice Tea in a huge bathtub is rather anti-romantic. Taking the complimentary soda, popcorn and bath items from our free room was the next order of business.

Saturday we made the dash from Tucson to Irvine. I was excited to be home. Felt good to have the Neon in Cali. I have a lot of projects ahead of me and taking Sunday to do nothing was just what the doctor ordered. It could have been better. It also could have been a lot worse. Drive across the country again – check.