Farewell Garmin GPSMAP 60CSx

Back in July, after a day out walking in the Wye Valley I had got home, dumped my gear and soaked in a nice hot bath. I thought about transferring my route from the GPSr and my photos to the camera as usual, but the GPSr wasn’t there. I thought nothing more about it. The next morning I felt it was time to sort out the track, so went looking in the usual places for my GPSr, but no luck. Then there was a mild panic. My wife had the washing machine on and I could hear a thumping sound being emitted from its drum. The cycle had just finished and there in the pocket of my shorts was my beloved CSx. The battery compartment had been pulled off, two of the screws which held front to back were missing and the thing was waterlogged. It was dead, or so I thought.

I placed it lovingly on a sunny windowsill and then set about the difficult task of replacing it, as this model had recently been discontinued. I had never had any interest in the newer Garmin products, as I had researched them from release and always felt they were inferior to the CSx, but now I would be forced to chose one. I went for the Oregon 450 with the Discoverer 1:50K OS maps of Great Britain. The best price was £315 at Wiggle, who are also an authorized dealer of Garmin products, so I went ahead and bought it.

I used the product over the next 10 weeks, taking it hiking, Geocaching and even up Ben Nevis, so it had a good work out. Read the next post to find out what I thought of it.

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Moving ISP (AOL to Sky)

I live in a remote location with a basic telephone exchange which is nearly three miles from my house. My first ISP (Euronet) sadly went bust in 2006 and there were no LLUs in my exchange, so I had a very limited choice when it came to getting a replacement, which wasn’t helped by needing unlimited downloads. The only choice I had was between Tiscali and AOL. Now everybody knows how bad AOL are, but Tiscali make them look like saints, so Hobson made the choice for me. At £8/month things weren’t too bad, though time has helped heal the wounds of having to speak to their help desk. They were a totally clueless bunch. I recall that they told me I could never have had a connection without installing the AOL software. They clearly have no idea of what they are talking about. About two years ago they tried to double their fee. I fought it off conceeding a small rise, but last year the monthly charge rose to £20. This is because they have no LLU in my exchange, so in other words, I have to pay double to get the worst service they provide because they haven’t invested in my exchange. Sounds nearly as fair as having to pay for the support calls when they have screwed up my connection again. Anyway, apathy and an increase in download speed to 2Mb/s meant I left things the way they were, but when speeds slowed to 1Mb/s I decided I could take no more and looked for a better deal. It certainly wasn’t the first time either.

Talk Talk were now listed as having an LLU here so I decided to give them a go though I quickly backed out of that when it became clear just how useless they were. A pushy helpdesk person with little or no knowledge tried to force me to take limited downloads against my wishes. Her explanation of why I couldn’t have the unlimited downloads promised until the point of payment were infantile. An indicator of what would come later was enough to end any ideas of using this ISP.

I then discovered that Sky had just put their equipment in my exchange too. I decided that their unlimited broadband and phone usage package was worth a try and signed up on line. I signed up in mid December, so due to the holidays my go-live date was 3rd Jan 2012. The modem/router (Sagem wireless N) arrived a few days before. It’s a bit annoying that I must use it (otherwise infringing Ts&Cs), but it doesn’t look terrible, unlike the AOL junk. My Netgear may find it’s way onto eBay.

On the agreed go-live date I returned to my desk from lunch to find my broadband disconnected and the phone line working. I nervously plugged in the Sky modem/router and away we went without the slightest hitch. The first 10 days are a tuning period, but the initial 2.1Mb/s where as good as I could hope for. Over the next couple of days the upload speed has increased to about 0.7Mb/s, so I’m pretty happy at the moment. Downloads are (apparently) truley unlimited and unlike AOL I can also download during peak times (evenings). I’ve downloaded several GB already and it’s all good. The router appears to compare adequately with my DGN 2000. This includes the wireless N signal.

Costs are :
Line rental £12.25 – a slight saving of BT line rental
Unlimited phone calls £5 – practically all calls apart from those to mobile phones
Unlimited Broadband £10 – uncludes £2.50 suppliment as I don’t have Sky TV
Withhold number and caller display are free

Total price is £27.25/month though it will only be £20 for the first six months. This is considerably cheaper that AOL (£33.50 including line renal) and additionally includes free calls at any time and a much faster Internet connection.

The final joke is that AOL emailed me 8 hours after the switch (and wrote a few days later) to say that they were aware I was leaving and it wasn’t too late to change my mind. Just the level of service I’ve come to expect from them. Good riddance to bad rubbish I say.

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Garmin BaseCamp… Am I missing something?

I’ve been using Garmin’s Mapsource application as my main means of managing tracks from my GPSr. It’s not perfect (the mapping window is annoyingly small due to OS license restrictions), but it is intuitive and simple to use. A couple of years ago I discovered that Garmin were phasing the product out in favour of BaseCamp. Great news I thought. A new product must be an improvement. How wrong I was. We’ve still got the same small viewing window, but all of the intuitive elements have disappeared. It’s nigh on impossible to use. Take a simple task that I would do all the time: View the track that I walked last Sunday on the map. In Mapsource I would click the tracks tab, find the one with the desired date on it, right click, then show on map. Simples. So I try the same in BaseCamp. Hang on, where are the tabs with tracks, waypoints, routes? They’ve merged them into a single list. Only a madman would do that. I eventually find the tracks at the end of the list. OK, so now I want the tracks for last Sunday, but all I see is Active Log 002 etc. Where’s the date and time (not to mention all the other data). I have no way to determine the correct track logs without clicking on each one, and there are often a lot of them. So I pick one that may be what I want (though I don’t really know). I right click. Hang on, where’s the show on map! I did subsequently update to the latest version (3.2.1) and show on map is now available, but little else has changed.

So why have Garmin shunned a useful and popular tool in favour of developing a piece of junk? My guess is to gain revenue from their BirdsEye imagery, though I don’t know anyone that has it and I’m certainly not interested. They want to sell more product and that’s fine, but don’t regress our existing resources.
I also found it amusing that you can select an option to view your logs in Google Earth. This seems a very strange option from someone providing a mapping solution. A quick glance shows that they are integrating to Garmin’s new Opencaching.com geocaching site, which might be useful if they actually had any geocaches in the UK.

Personally I use Memory Map to plan routes and Mapsource to manage log data and that’s the way it’s going to stay for me. If you feel BaseCamp has merits over Mapsource please feel free to leave a comment. If you are of the same opinion as me, then I’d also like confirmation that I’m not missing something huge.

: Stop press : Late addition : Hold the front page :
I have just started calculating Total Ascent and as bikehike.co.uk doesn’t appear to be available any more I have found that I can calculate this with BaseCamp. This was a poor omission from Mapsource. Now I finally have a reason to keep it installed.

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Walking with the Welsh language

When I started walking in Wales I felt very daunted by the Welsh names I came across everywhere. It spoiled the experience when I couldn’t pronounce the names of the places I’d been. “So where’ve you been today then?”, my wife would ask.
“Uh, somewhere near Talybont, by the Usk and the canal. You know, that place I can’t pronounce”, I would reply. Llangynidr was always an impossibility for me. I now know it’s very simply Llan-gun-i-der. Fortunately for me my wife is Welsh so I got some pointers. I bought a couple of books and learned the basics of pronunciation and a few dozen simple words, if little else yet. There are a few key rules that will make you sound a little more like you know what you’re talking about. A simple example is that the letter F is pronounced as a V, though an FF is pronounced as an F. Explaining LL is a minefield I’ll leave for others.

The same old words crop up time and time again whilst walking. Words like Pen (head of), Cwm (valley), Coed (wood), Capel (chapel), Allt (hillside), Mawr (big), Mynydd (mountain), Ddu (black) etc. These words appear in various combinations and understanding them makes walking in Wales much more enjoyable. A village near me is called Penallt (a common name), so I know it means head of the hillside. In fact I know what sort of landscape to expect before I even get there. Another example is that Cwmbran means valley of the crows/ravens. It all made sense to me as I had walked nearby at Pen y Fan (not the famous one) some time ago and was staggered at the number of crows there.

There are loads of on-line translators these days, but I recently found What’s in a name? at the BBC. I had already built up my own list, so I wish I had found this earlier.

One thing that bugs me is where a combination of English and Welsh is used. I’ve seen this so many times, but one example is the noticeboard that tell you about Mynydd Llangattock. Why would you use the Welsh word for mountain and the English word for Llangatwg? Surely it should be either Mynydd Llangatwg or Llangattock Mountain.

Terrible spelling is another thing. The toposcope in the Malverns points at Skyrid Vawr. It should be Ysgyryd Fawr or (Big) Skirrid.

Finally, an amusing log from two English geocachers I know during a trip to Wales from across the Wye. In case you’re wondering, Sir Fynwy means Monmouthshire!

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Today I installed WordPress – the guts behind this page. I guess I have already developed  my own WordPress for most of my other pages, as they are rendered from a database. If I could get my OS maps and some CGI stuff to work in the app I would consider using it to manage the entire site, but there’s nothing quite as flexible as your own hand written code. Seems very nice all the same.

This post was made from an email sent to my WordPress email account. Nice!

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Web host renewal at eHostPros

My web hosting contract was up for renewal, so with a paltry 200MB of disk space I started to look around at other options. In the past eHostPros has been the only host that could provide the long list of services I needed for the price I could justify for a hobby site, but things have changed out there and I quickly found a few hosts that could offer something comparable for a similar price, along with the all important unlimited disk space. Just as it started to look good for a change a little research showed thing weren’t as rosy with these hosts as I had initially been lead to believe.

After a rocky start with eHostPros back in 2006 I have had a pretty smooth time of it. In fact I hadn’t raised a support ticket since 2007. Maybe the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. I’ve always been told that if you don’t ask you don’t get, so I fired a quick support ticket requesting the 5GB disk space that new starters get, but also requesting to keep my ability to host multiple domains, which new users don’t get. There was an immediate reply that it had already been implemented. I wonder if I would have had the same response if my contract wasn’t up for renewal.

I’ve raised a few support tickets in the last few days. Most have been dealt with professionally and quickly. I was rather disappointed that they couldn’t get the Advanced Guestbook working, despite offering it from cPanel. It’s not a biggie though, and I knocked up a very simple one using PHP in a couple of hours.

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