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John Stewart

Price for USGS Topo Maps Rise

The price of the popular USGS 1:24,000 scale topographic quadrangle map - often called a "topo" or a "quad" - will go up $2 per sheet to $8 beginning today March 16, 2009. Larger format ("poster") maps will go up $3 per sheet to $10. These prices were last increased 7 years ago.  

"The USGS takes this action reluctantly," said Kevin Gallagher, Associate Director of the Geospatial Information Office. "However, recent studies indicated that previous map prices did not allow us to sufficiently recover the actual costs of reproduction and distribution as we are charged to do by longstanding Office of Management and Budget guidance under Circular A-130." 

The U.S. Geological Survey began a systematic program of topographic mapping in 1884 as an aid to scientific studies in geology and hydrology. Since then, the maps have become a signature product of USGS because the public has found them to be a valuable tool for accurately depicting the land surface.

"Even at the new prices, these maps are still a great bargain considering the wealth of geographic information they provide," Gallagher added. 

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John Stewart

Stop that Clanking!

SoftRide Locking Hitch Pin

Does your hitch rattle? Are you wondering if those strange noises are a warning of problems to come while towing your 4x4?

Well, there is an answer for stopping (or at least reducing) the noise from the "toad" behind you.

From the folks at SoftRide comes a product that is touted as quieting the noises associated with towing.

In real life, when you start with a 2 inch receiver and plug in a hitch to begin towing, you have a lot of play (loose fitting) in the connection.  That leads to a lot of movement and rattle in the hitch.  The locking hitch pin from SoftRide does a good job of quieting the noise from the 'toad" behind you.  

Starting with a classic 2 inch receiver and hitch, the locking hitch pin has an internal locking nut that is used to clamp the hitch insert tight to the receiver tube.  I have been using one for a couple of months and find it does as advertised.  The clanking (or clunking) sound while towing is eliminated.

That is the good news.  It does work as stated to reduce excessive movement in the hitch connection.  If you are using the hollow tubing, this process works.  For the heavy duty rated hitches that use solid bar rather than tube stock, this will not eliminate unwanted hitch movement.

Overall, the SoftRide Tightening Hitch Pin is a great product that is well worth the investment.
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John Stewart

USGS Map Prices to Increase

The U.S. Geological Survey has announced a price increase for their various map products effective March 1, 2009.  The increase come after their annual review to determine if all costs are being fully recovered.

The basic price changes are noted below.  For additional information, visit the USGS Store.


    * The price for the USGS primary series topographic quadrangle maps (7.5 minute - 1:24,000, 1:25,000, and 1:20,000 scales; 7.5 x 15 minute - 1:25,000 scale; and Alaska 1:63,360 scale) will increase from $6 to $8 per sheet.
    * The price for most other USGS map titles and scales (including 1:100,000-scale series, 1:250,000-scale series, and smaller scale topographic maps as well as thematic maps) will increase from $7 to $9 per sheet.
    * The price for National Earthquake Information Center (NEIC) maps will increase from $10 to $12 per sheet.
    * Prices for select large format maps will vary by map size.
    * Prices for geologic quadrangles and thematic maps will vary from $9 to $80/title depending on the number of sheets and/or whether the product is produced by print-on-demand. Print-on-demand thematic products may be priced at $5/sq. ft.
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John Stewart

SPOT - for the offroad emergency

SPOTTechnology is making significant improvements to treks off the paved road.  One area that has seen rapid improvement is in communications.  In the good old days, CB radio was (and still is) standard fare for communications during the off road trail ride.  Over time, the CB has yielded its top sport to a succession of new comers: 2-meter amateur radio, cell phone, and GPS.

Each has benefits and drawbacks.  None provide true emergency location finding.  That is changing with SPOT.  SPOT is a combination of GPS and Satellite phone technology providing a beacon transponder that can send a 911 distress signal or a simple check-in message.

SPOT takes your GPS location and sends it to others back at home over a commercial satellite network in real time so they know exactly where your are and how you’re doing. SPOT works virtually around the world regardless of cell phone coverage.  SPOT provides four functions: Ask for help, Check-in, Track Progress, or Alert 911.
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John Stewart

Light in the darkness

Personal Lights

Frequent wheeling trips extend past the daylight hours and present a few challenges.  Technology and LEDs are now easing the task of lighting the way.  For personal use, two products standout - LED headlamp by Petzl and an LED micro-light from Gerber.

The Petzl headlamp provides 40 lumens of light with four selectable power ranges.  Powered by three AAA batteries, the headlamp is rated for 60 to 120 hours of operation, depending on the power range. 

The four ranges are selected by push button switch that cycles through a high, medium and low range followed by a strobe of one second on and one second off.  A momentary  contact switch will select a boost mode that provides a light beam reaching out to 50 meters or slightly over 150 feet.  The light angle can be tilted to provide light coverage close to distant.

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