GPS and GARtrip and me.

My first GPS receiver was a Garmin GPS 45. I bought it in May 1996, and I was happy with it at first. I was very impressed about its functionality, compared to its price. First I played with it just for my technical interest, then I found it very useful for my hiking tours. From now on I did no hiking tour without detailed preparation. Spontaneous trips became impossible, though.

After some time it was obvious that entering waypoint names and descriptions with up/down keys is a pain. I looked for PC software. Thanks to the Internet I knew there was more than Garmin's PCX5. At the same time I felt that a true-to-scale printout of my track log would be nice, to be printed on transparent paper and put in face of a map. And none of the programs available did that. So I decided to write such a program myself. I had some experience with Visual Basic 3.0, and I collected much knowledge about coordinate systems on the Internet, see the acknowledgements below. I did not know before what UTM is.

It took me four months to get it working basically. Then I decided to publish it, but it took incredibly one more year to get it working well for everyone. This fits to a general experience with development: When the first prototype is working, 10 percent of the total work has been done, not more. I received the first registration for version 108 on 29-July-1997.

In the mean time, beginning of 1997, I bought a GPS12XL with GA27 antenna. This was a real big jump in performance, compared to the old 45. Now it works well under trees, the "no coverage" alert is seen rarely. When hiking, I leave the GPS on all the time, in order to record the track log. Sometimes I just put it into a pocket without GA27, facing upward as possible, but the reception is sometimes critical then. Most times I fix the antenna on top of my backpack. Then I may stow the receiver in any pocket without taking care on its orientation. And how to fix the antenna? I glued a small piece of flat iron inside the top cover of the backpack. Now I can put the magnetic antenna outside, and it holds well and is easily removed.

GPS is a very useful aid for orientation. I learned reading a map much more thoroughly than before. But there are restrictions in practical use: for short walks, the track log is not accurate enough. Sometimes it is not obvious which way is the correct one on a branching. Then I have to take one way for some hundred meters watching the moving map, and it takes a while to see that I'm wrong - not easy to explain to friends who expected a miracle. Once I had a problem searching a ruin in a forest. My GPS said I was close to it, but I could not find it. Later on I realized that I was 300 m above. I learned that I have to use my barometric altimeter in addition when walking in steep terrain. In addition I use a cheap compass, mostly in order to identify a visible mountain whose position I had stored before. And finally, the trip odometer of the 12XL is of no use when hiking. It suppresses slow movements, coming up with a much too small readout. For distance measurement, I always use the track log analysed by GARtrip.

Later on, in the year 2001, I upgraded to a Garmin Etrex Vista. I hesitated very long because these funny new Garmins are not better in every aspect. No external antenna connection, no beeper, no waypoint description with time stamp. But I found that the Vista is so small and lightweight that I can carry it in a small holster on top of my shoulder while hiking. And for my car I made my own reradiating antenna out of the GA27. Works very well. What I still miss is the waypoint description and the easiness of the menu control of the good old 12XL. Anyway, I won't go back to it. The Vista is far better in many aspects.

My next upgrade was early in 2004, to the new GPSmap60CS. It has all good features of the old 12XL and the Vista in one unit, and in addition its display is really outstanding; even the GPS reception is better. Then, early in 2006, I went to the GPSmap60CSx - once again a tremendous increase in GPS reception stability. Reception problems occur extremely seldom now, but they are not impossible. This is a question of probability which never will go to zero.I still use this Garmin device today (April 2013) but for navigation I use the Nüvi 2595LM.

Acknowledgement:

The very first and comprehensive collection of information on Garmin GPS was done by Peter Bennett.

The best information about GPS and coordinate systems was found at Peter Dana's sites.

For Grid Systems, the best publication is "Map Projections - a working manual" by John P. Snyder and "GPS in der Praxis" by Hofmann-Wellenhof, Kienast, and Lichtenegger (in German).

For the French Lambert grid, I got much help from people at ign, Paris, France.

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