Friday, 12 June 2009

Messing around with unnecessary technology

I was interested in nb Willawaw’s recent posts about GPS and navigation as it is something that I have also been experimenting with. When I got the boat it was sensible to use the Garmin GPSIII+ that I already had to see how fast I was travelling and have rudimentary routes to follow, the routes being little more than waypoints at junctions and locks. I could also look back at the track logs from trips on Memory Map as I have had this since it was released. I get round to using the moving map feature of Memory Map on the boat until very recently, partly as I didn’t want a collection of cables littering the roof, although I had been using it for other purposes for a while, so the GPS used to sit on the roof on its own.


Things have moved on a lot in the decade since I started playing with this technology. In a package little larger than a box of matches I now have a GPS, camera, music player etc, in the form of a Nokia N95 – it even makes phone calls! My other new toy is a netbook computer.

Screenshot0009Adding Nokia Sports Tracker to the N95 gave me a way of displaying GPS data and logging trip details. The log from this program can be exported to display in other software including Google Earth or uploaded to the Sports Tracker site. The speed log of the day we cruised to Braunston does show the limitations of GPS receivers, I’m certain that I didn’t manage to get a narrowboat up to 40mph.

Digressing slightly, photos taken on the N95 can have location data written to them automatically. I wish that I was able to do this before as I have many pictures that I only have a vague idea where they were taken. With the data recorded with Sports Tracker it is also possible to Geotag pictures taken with other cameras.


I wanted to be able to use the live GPS data with Memory Map which meant that I needed to be able to export via Bluetooth. This is done using ExtGPS. I did have to force some changes in com port numbering on the netbook as Bluetooth ports are numbered, by default, outside the range that Memory Map uses. mm2This might not be necessary with current versions of MM, but I have never seen much point in upgrading from the original release that I have as licensing limitations would require me to purchase new map data. Forcing the changes in numbering doesn’t seem to have caused me any problems with the computer. Memory Map gives a good overview of the area and is useful to identify possible walk routes.

ge2 The latest version of Google Earth will accept GPS data but an internet connection is needed. I have a reasonable data allowance as I only have mobile internet, so I’m not too worried about the amount of data that Google Earth will be transferring. There is a lot of information available through Google Earth to identify interesting places to visit, but I have found a couple of additions that make it more appealing. Firstly the route of the canal can be overlaid by downloading kmz files from Tony Blews’s Google Earth Canal Maps site, which also shows routes of disused sections of canal. The other kmz that I have added is from which shows and links to details of caches. I haven’t started seeking caches yet, but plan on doing so, so can’t really say how useful this would be yet. It’s not the easiest file to find as it doesn’t seem to be linked directly from their site anymore, but there are instructions for how to find it in the comments on the blog post here.

I like my gadgets, and it’s been interesting getting all of this working, but I’m not convinced that any of it is particularly necessary. There are times that I wouldn’t consider using any of it, locking through an urban area or when it’s raining spring to mind, and even when I do have it all working I still have my Nicholson’s guide next to the computer. Maybe it will prove more useful once I start cruising unfamiliar waters, at the moment I tend to have some idea as to where I’ll end up.

I haven’t tried out either Water Explorer or Google Latitude yet, I’m not sure if I want to move forward to broadcasting my location rather than just using GPS to provide information whilst cruising, but I suppose I’m tagging posts with my mooring location anyway so this wouldn’t be a huge leap.

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