My Apps — Chapter 10
Garmin BaseCamp

It looks like Garmin BaseCamp first appeared in 2008. I don’t recall when I first downloaded it but I do recall that it sucked. I use Garmin hardware and Garmin software is required to communicate with it. BaseCamp was the intended replacement for their MapSource program and, while I was hardly a fan of MapSource, at least it didn’t crash or hangup too often. Early BaseCamp did both somewhat regularly and its user interface was no more intuitive to me than MapSource’s. I put off switching as long as I could but the day came when I was forced to replace a program I didn’t like at all with one I disliked even more.

We’ve come a long way, BaseCamp and I. It has added some features that I suspect were initially put there to distract me from the frequent blowups and it quit blowing up as much. For my part, I’ve become more familiar with the interface and more tolerant of its oddities. I’m fairly comfortable with the arrangement of lists and folders that once mystified me and I’ve even plotted a few short trips entirely within BaseCamp. In fact, I’m pretty much ready to concede that my preference for creating routes in DeLorme’s Street Atlas now comes mostly from familiarity and not from any real superiority. BaseCamp’s ability to geotag photos using recorded tracks is quite convenient and the display of geotagged photos is very usable although I remain irritated by thumbnails hiding map details like town and road names.

Of course, personal preferences and peeves will soon be meaningless. Garmin acquired DeLorme in 2016 and Street Atlas development has already ceased. The 2015 edition is the final one and it is no longer available from DeLorme although a downloadable version is currently still available from Amazon. Necessity is the mother of many things but I am glad that it didn’t become necessary to rely on BaseCamp much earlier. BaseCamp has grown into a capable product and the necessity of becoming more familiar with it will eventually be a good thing. Other good things could come from the acquisition if DeLorme developers move to Garmin and bring some of those things I like with them. I’m not counting on it but it could happen.

My Apps – Chapter 9 — DeLorme Street Atlas

My Apps — Chapter 9
DeLorme Street Atlas

DeLorme Street Atlas is one of my oldest tools. I started using it in 2001. I’ve talked about it in a few posts but was surprised to see that it has never been the primary focus of a post. The reason, I suppose, is the old story of taking something for granted until you lose it. The first version I used was 9.0. There were a few more numbered revisions and a misstep into a Road Warrior version before the numeric year was used in the product name and a string of annual releases began. I didn’t grab every one. I more or less fell into biennial mode and upgraded just every other year. 2016 was to be my next planned update but plans changed. In early 2016 Garmin closed a deal to acquire DeLorme and all Street Atlas development was stopped. 2015 was the final version produced. This first post with DeLorme in the title will also be the last.

I did an earlier than planned update and purchased the 2015 version so I could have the latest possible. As I’ve written before, there is considerable overlap between Street Atlas and Garmin’s BaseCamp and it would make no sense for one company to maintain both products. BaseCamp can communicate with Garmin devices while Street Atlas cannot so the choice of which to keep is obvious.

However, even though I don’t believe that Street Atlas can do anything BaseCamp can not, I do believe there are things that Street Atlas does better or more conveniently. In some cases this really is simply my belief. When I purchased the latest version I looked through some of the customer comments and noticed that most of the negative comments were aimed at the user interface, the very thing that has kept me hooked.

For the immediate future, I expect to continue using Street Atlas for.a couple of tasks while admitting that the primary reason is nothing more than the fact that “old habits die hard”. I’m basically talking about routing and things related. Garmin seems to have eliminated all of the real problems that BaseCamp once had in this area and I accept that BaseCamp’s methods are probably just as easy as Street Atlas’s. But I have years of experience with Street Atlas and I sometimes struggle to do something in BaseCamp that I can accomplish in an instant with Street Atlas. I have plotted a few short routes directly in BaseCamp and I realize I need to switch over to it completely at some point but I’m going to continue living in the past just a little longer.

I will also continue using Street Atlas to produce the locator map posted for each documented trip. The “old habits” thing is certainly at work here but the truth is I have yet to seriously attempt to produce an equivalent map with BaseCamp so I have no idea what is hard and what is easy. I may eventually find that making my little maps is easier and quicker with BaseCamp but for the near term I’ll be posting maps that look just like they always have because they’re made the same way with the same tools.

Street Atlas is almost certainly not the only DeLorme offering that will be vanishing. It is pretty much accepted that Garmin bought DeLorme for its InReach satellite communication technology and that all other products, including maps, gazetteers, and GPS receivers are candidates for elimination. The Yarmouth, Maine, headquarters remains although the map store has been closed. Reportedly one of the conditions founder David DeLorme put on the sale was that Eartha, the World’s Largest Rotating, Revolving Globe, remain accessible to the public and so it is. The photo at left is from my 2015 visit.

The inevitable isn’t always easy to accept and sometimes we can even hold it off for a little bit. It may even be appropriate that, for at least a short while, I’ll be following decommissioned routes to abandoned buildings and ghost signs in bypassed towns with orphaned software.

My Apps — Chapter 8 FastStone Image Viewer

Road Trip Essentials Redux
A My Gear Extra

This post first appeared on June 8, 2014. It was done at the request/suggestion of a company called RelayRides. The company has changed its name to Turo and recently contacted me to request an update in the 2014 post. I made the name and URL changes then decided to reuse the post as well. Turo is a peer-to-peer car rental company. I still have not used the service so can no more rate or endorse it now than I could in 2014. What I can say is that the company seemed to honestly appreciate a mention in that original post and, unlike some other outfits, have not pounded me with additional requests since then. The current request is not only reasonable but helpful. I appreciate being given an opportunity to fix things. I will also compliment them on some very good timing.

I had already decided to queue up a “Trip Peek” for this week’s post but after rereading the original “…Essentials” post decided to reuse it instead. I like the post and everything is basically the same now as it was then. So, with only minor corrections, here it is again.


rtecolI recently received a request/suggestion for a post on “must have” road trip items. I initially blew it off but returned to it a week or so later. Since I am about to actually head out on a road trip, I need to stockpile some “dateless” (“timeless” almost, but not quite, fits) articles for posting while I travel. You know, the “Trip Peek” or “My Wheels” sort of things that have no connection to what I’m actually doing but can be posted at anytime to meet the blog’s every Sunday schedule. In the middle of generating a couple of “Trip Peeks”, I remembered the email and realized that the suggested “Road Trip Essentials” was as good a topic as any. Of course, it would take more time than a “Trip Peek” but it could be sort of a consolidated “My Gear” and it might be fun. If it also made somebody (the requester) happy, even better.

The request came from RelayRides (now Turo), a peer-to-peer car rental outfit. I’d never heard of them and naming them is not meant to endorse them but I could see that continued references to “the requester” were going to get old. Though the services offered are different, the contact from RelayRides (Turo) reminded me of a recent conversation with some friends about Uber, a person-to-person taxi service. After using Uber on several occasions in a couple of different cities, they were singing its praises. These person-to-person/peer-to-peer businesses are certainly worth keeping an eye on. The RelayRides (Turo) call was for blog posts that could tie into an upcoming “Road Trip Essentials” campaign. There is absolutely nothing in it for me except the possibility of an extra visitor or two but neither are there any restrictions or guidelines. The friendly and conversational request used playlists, caffeine, and frozen grapes as possible essentials so my list may be a little more serious than what they’re thinking. I believe everyone knows, however, that, while I take my road trips seriously, they are rarely serious trips. There was no actual suggestion that I include a collage but the word was used twice and I figured making a small one might be fun. It was.

The camera needs little explanation. If I’m on a full tilt road trip, I need pictures for the daily updates and there are other trips taken with the clear intent of using all or part of the outing in a blog entry. In addition to pictures that, if they’re not too crappy, might appear in a journal or blog entry, I use a camera to take notes. Snapping a photo of a sign or menu is a lot easier and less error prone than trying to write down what I think I might want to know later. Even when there is no advance thought of documenting any part of a trip, l want a camera near by in case some Martians land along the road or Bruce Springsteen’s car breaks down and he needs a ride.

I imagine that almost everyone now considers a GPS unit at least useful on a trip. It can keep you from reaching Tijuana instead of Vancouver and can be a great help in finding gas, food, or lodging. I do use mine to find motels and restaurants and such but I also use it in a manner that makes it truly essential. Many of my trips are on historic (i.e., imaginary) highways. They probably don’t appear on any current map or atlas and there are few, if any, signs to follow. Even if there were, I typically travel alone with no one to constantly read maps or watch for signs. What I do is plot the exact route I want to follow and load it into the GPS unit which then verbally directs me along my chosen path. Yes, it does require a fair amount of advance work and a more capable than average GPS unit.

Even with every turn programmed into the GPS, I pack guide books and maps. The GPS can fail, the situation on the ground might not match the plotted course, or my intentions might simply change. Plus, guidebooks like those in the picture provide valuable information when putting together a journal or blog entry.

The last item pictured, the cell phone, is the electronic Swiss army knife of our age. It is almost essential to everybody everyday just to talk, text, search, and email. In my case, in the context of road trips, it is also essential as a backup camera and as a voice recorder. Not too long ago, I would have included a small voice recorder in my essentials but the phone now serves to make quick notes especially while driving. I still carry a digital recorder for use when appropriate but it no longer rides on the seat beside me.

rtecabOf course, all of those accessories have their own accessories. For many years, I only bought gear that used AA batteries on the theory that I could always buy power at the corner drug store if required. I believe that happened once. I carried around a bag of nicads and the chargers to fill them in either car or motel. I eventually had to abandon that position but I still cling to the ability to recharge everything whether stopped or on the go. I now carry spare proprietary batteries and AC/DC chargers for two different cameras and a cell phone. I do not carry a spare for the GPS since I seldom operate it on battery power.

I’ll also almost always have my laptop along and some music/podcasts, and maybe, depending on departure time and length of trip, a thermos of coffee and a cooler. The cooler will have water or Gatorade and possibly a beer or two. There will probably be some carrots, or apple slices, or grapes in there, too. Next time, the grapes might even be frozen.

Road Trip Essentials
A My Gear Extra

rtecolI recently received a request/suggestion for a post on “must have” road trip items. I initially blew it off but returned to it a week or so later. Since I am about to actually head out on a road trip, I need to stockpile some “dateless” (“timeless” almost, but not quite, fits) articles for posting while I travel. You know, the “Trip Peek” or “My Wheels” sort of things that have no connection to what I’m actually doing but can be posted at anytime to meet the blog’s every Sunday schedule. In the middle of generating a couple of “Trip Peeks”, I remembered the email and realized that the suggested “Road Trip Essentials” was as good a topic as any. Of course, it would take more time than a “Trip Peek” but it could be sort of a consolidated “My Gear” and it might be fun. If it also made somebody (the requester) happy, even better.

The request came from RelayRides (now Turo), a peer-to-peer car rental outfit. I’d never heard of them and naming them is not meant to endorse them but I could see that continued references to “the requester” were going to get old. Though the services offered are different, the contact from RelayRides (now Turo) reminded me of a recent conversation with some friends about Uber, a person-to-person taxi service. After using Uber on several occasions in a couple of different cities, they were singing its praises. These person-to-person/peer-to-peer businesses are certainly worth keeping an eye on. The RelayRides (now Turo) call was for blog posts that could tie into an upcoming “Road Trip Essentials” campaign. There is absolutely nothing in it for me except the possibility of an extra visitor or two but neither are there any restrictions or guidelines. The friendly and conversational request used playlists, caffeine, and frozen grapes as possible essentials so my list may be a little more serious than what they’re thinking. I believe everyone knows, however, that, while I take my road trips seriously, they are rarely serious trips. There was no actual suggestion that I include a collage but the word was used twice and I figured making a small one might be fun. It was.

The camera needs little explanation. If I’m on a full tilt road trip, I need pictures for the daily updates and there are other trips taken with the clear intent of using all or part of the outing in a blog entry. In addition to pictures that, if they’re not too crappy, might appear in a journal or blog entry, I use a camera to take notes. Snapping a photo of a sign or menu is a lot easier and less error prone than trying to write down what I think I might want to know later. Even when there is no advance thought of documenting any part of a trip, l want a camera near by in case some Martians land along the road or Bruce Springsteen’s car breaks down and he needs a ride.

I imagine that almost everyone now considers a GPS unit at least useful on a trip. It can keep you from reaching Tijuana instead of Vancouver and can be a great help in finding gas, food, or lodging. I do use mine to find motels and restaurants and such but I also use it in a manner that makes it truly essential. Many of my trips are on historic (i.e., imaginary) highways. They probably don’t appear on any current map or atlas and there are few, if any, signs to follow. Even if there were, I typically travel alone with no one to constantly read maps or watch for signs. What I do is plot the exact route I want to follow and load it into the GPS unit which then verbally directs me along my chosen path. Yes, it does require a fair amount of advance work and a more capable than average GPS unit.

Even with every turn programmed into the GPS, I pack guide books and maps. The GPS can fail, the situation on the ground might not match the plotted course, or my intentions might simply change. Plus, guidebooks like those in the picture provide valuable information when putting together a journal or blog entry.

The last item pictured, the cell phone, is the electronic Swiss army knife of our age. It is almost essential to everybody everyday just to talk, text, search, and email. In my case, in the context of road trips, it is also essential as a backup camera and as a voice recorder. Not too long ago, I would have included a small voice recorder in my essentials but the phone now serves to make quick notes especially while driving. I still carry a digital recorder for use when appropriate but it no longer rides on the seat beside me.

rtecabOf course, all of those accessories have their own accessories. For many years, I only bought gear that used AA batteries on the theory that I could always buy power at the corner drug store if required. I believe that happened once. I carried around a bag of nicads and the chargers to fill them in either car or motel. I eventually had to abandon that position but I still cling to the ability to recharge everything whether stopped or on the go. I now carry spare proprietary batteries and AC/DC chargers for two different cameras and a cell phone. I do not carry a spare for the GPS since I seldom operate it on battery power.

I’ll also almost always have my laptop along and some music/podcasts, and maybe, depending on departure time and length of trip, a thermos of coffee and a cooler. The cooler will have water or Gatorade and possibly a beer or two. There will probably be some carrots, or apple slices, or grapes in there, too. Next time, the grapes might even be frozen.

ADDENDUM 24-Nov-2015: This post has been edited to reflect a name change from RelayRides to Turo.

My Gear – Chapter 17
Garmin zūmo 220

Garmin Zūmo® 220About eleven months and a couple of My Gear chapters ago, I described my frustrating experience with a Garmin nüvi®. When the chapter ended, I had just discovered that Garmin did still produce a line of GPS units that handled routing the way I wanted which the nüvi® line most definitely did not. I explained, to a small degree, what I meant and I’ll give an even briefer explanation here. The more capable routing of Garmin’s zūmo® line accurately follows a predefined path to a destination. The simpler nüvi® style routing provides guidance to a destination along whatever path it thinks best. Once I understood the difference, I sold (at considerable loss) the nüvi® 2460LMT and bought a zūmo®. In January of 2012, the bottom of the line zūmo® 220 cost not quite $140 more than the top of the line nüvi® 2460LMT had in April of 2011 ($447 vs. $308).

As I’ve said before, “just get me there” routing is perfectly fine for most people and most uses. It is what the majority of stand-alone GPS units provide and I believe it is what most or all units built into vehicles do although I have no experience with them. The software is simpler for a number of reasons but perhaps the most apparent is that only two points need to be dealt with at any instant rather than an entire route. Reduced complexity makes the software easier to develop or cheaper to buy which makes this the right choice for most manufacturers.

But what about Garmin? Since they are supporting the more complex multi-point routing in one line of processors, why not us it in all their products? That’s a purely rhetorical question since there are any number of reasons for maintaining two different lines of software and everyone reading this has probably already thought of half a dozen. One of the most plausible is hardware cost and, though I have no way of knowing, I’m thinking there’s a pretty good chance that the hardware required to run the more complex software is more expensive and it doesn’t take much of a cost difference in high volume components to justify some additional work.

Hardware is certainly the reason that zūmo®s cost more than nüvi®s. zūmo®s are intended for use on motorcycles and, while there may or may not be increased cost associated with more powerful processors to run the software, there is certainly increased cost associated with ruggedized components and waterproof construction. Then there is the additional hardware not shipped with automotive units. Clamps for handlebar mounting and cables for hardwiring power are packaged with every zūmo®.

So zūmo®s are more expensive, zūmo®s are what’s required to do multi-point routing, and the 220 is the least expensive of the line. Is it any good? Yes it is.

The screen is considerably smaller than the nüvi® it replaced and the unit is thicker and less pocketable. But it does exactly what I want in terms of routing. It accepts pre-planned routes from the free Garmin Basecamp program and it tracks them as they were intended to be tracked. While I really don’t feel like heaping praise on a product for doing its job in a manner that I consider proper, since this seems to be the only line of GPS receivers which do that, maybe praise is deserved.

The 220 has not been entirely trouble free. Many Garmin units come bundled with “lifetime maps”. The 220 is not one of them but I added this option when I bought mine. On about the third or fourth update, I received a message telling me that there was not enough memory in the unit to hold the latest maps. That problem was fairly easily solved by installing a microSD memory card and installing the maps on it. It wasn’t long, however, before another problem appeared.

Part way through the power up sequence, the unit would, on occasion, shut itself off and it took repeated restarts to get it up and running. At least initially, the problem seemed to occur when restarting after a normal power off but there have been occasions when the thing just shuts down after being on and running for quite some time. Because of when it first appeared and the fact that it often, but not always, happens during the “loading maps” stage, I’ve attributed the problem to bad behavior following an error reading from the microSD card. Like a hole in the roof that’s only a problem when it’s too wet to fix it, I rarely even think of the problem when I’m at home with time to research it. Maybe writing this will prompt me to do something.

I’ve spent a goodly amount of space justifying the higher prices of Garmin’s zūmo®s and it may seem like I’m resigned to paying more for “proper” routing. I am. to a certain degree, but I still feel like I’m being gouged when I’m forced to pay for handlebar mounts and the like just to get a routing function that meets my needs. It’s a fact that I know of no one in the old road crowds I’ve mingled with who uses a GPS the way I do. In fact, they’re more likely to deride the whole concept of GPS in favor of paper maps. I don’t doubt that Luddite tendencies account for a certain amount of this but I’m also confident that having someone in the passenger seat to hold and read those maps and guide books affect much of their thinking and rightly so.

If the market for proper multi-point routing in four wheeled vehicles truly is infinitesimal, then Garmin is right to ignore it. However, I find it hard to believe that I’m the only person in the country who would welcome a zūmo® that was a hundred bucks cheaper because it omitted handlebar clamps and direct wire power cabling or maybe two or three hundred bucks cheaper because its housing was not water proof.

Of course, in order to appreciate better routing at a better price, they would need to know what better routing is and Garmin’s not going to tell them. I have found nothing on Garmin’s website or in their literature that explains the difference between zūmo® routing and other routing and not much that even acknowledges it. My impression is that very few Garmin employees, and none in marketing or sales, know the difference. It falls on vendors like River Pilot Tours and MAD Maps to at least hint at a difference by pointing out that some of their products are only compatible with specific GPS models.

ALERT: At the time of writing, Spot It Out, who both River Pilot Tours and Mad Maps had partnered with to deliver their GPS based products, has ceased operation. River Pilot Tours has taken over delivery of their products although purchase of the turn-by-turn product is not directly offered through the website. Zūmo® style routing is required and the company is asking customers to contact it by email or telephone to make sure they have hardware capable of running the product before purchasing it. It is not yet known how or if MAD Maps’ turn-by-turn products can be obtained.

My Gear – Chapter 16 — Nikon D5100

My Gear – Chapter 15
Garmin nüvi® 2460LMT

Garmin 2460This product took me to within one U-turn of abandoning Garmin completely. It replaced a Garmin Quest which was, in my opinion and for my purposes, nearly perfect. I talk about that here. I could plot routes on my computer then transfer them to the Quest where they were used to guide me along the route just as desired. I would still be using a Quest today if Garmin hadn’t stopped providing map updates around 2005. It wasn’t the roads as much as the POI (Points of Interest). A rerouted expressway or a new exit probably won’t affect any of my routes which tend to follow old roads that haven’t moved in years. But I was using the Quest to find places to eat and sleep and, as time went on, more and more of the mom ‘n’ pop establishments in its data base closed down while the Quest continued to believe them very much alive.

The wild goose chases were aggravating and not being able to depend on there being a functioning motel where the GPS reported one was even more troublesome. With a west coast trip planned for 2011, I decided early in the year to update my guidance system. I did not feel tied to Garmin but some internet searching and forum combing indicated it was still probably my best choice.

Since being able to accept and play back a pre-plotted route is critical for me, I did my best to assure that I got a unit capable of that. It turned out that my best wasn’t good enough though it was awhile before I realized that. Through internet searches, GPS forum exchanges, and email conversations with vendors and Garmin employees I came to believe the 2460LMT would do the job. This unit was at or near the top of Garmin’s line of “automotive” products and, before too long, at or near the top of the “Most Irritating Things I’ve Ever Owned” list.

I ordered directly from Garmin and soon the 2460 was in my hands. After a little playing I tried downloading one of my pre-planned routes. The unit “froze”. Cycling power brought it back and I tried again. In time I realized that the freeze would eventually end on its own and tried various sequences of power, connect, and download but none produced a route on the nüvi. Through a series of emails and phone calls I reached someone at Garmin who seemed to really care. She tried her best. She ran experiments and asked questions and passed information back and forth with untouchable engineering personnel. Her best wasn’t quite good enough either. I did manage to get a tiny test route to appear but my real routes seemed to disappear. In what I took as a lame brushoff but which turned out to be a sorry truth, the engineering folks passed along that “some routes take a really long time.” I’ll skip the rest of the gorey details and let it be known that I did eventually get all of my routes loaded but it was always hours and sometimes days before a route was processed and usable on the nüvi.

Not surprisingly, my opinion of Garmin products was pretty low at this point but it got lower. The unit seemed to work fairly well as I traveled around the area and I even used it to successfully follow a couple of short test routes. I acquired the unit at the beginning of May. In early June I set out for a Lincoln Highway Association conference near Lake Tahoe. The nüvi contained routes intended to guide me along some of the Lincoln Highway’s historic alignments. That the nüvi had flaws became apparent rather quickly but it took awhile to understand them.

The two most onerous nüvi shortcomings are the inability to turn off automatic recalculation and its treatment of each segment as an independent route. A route is a start and end point and some number of intermediate waypoints. At least that’s the way the Quest and I and most routing software sees them. nüvis, however, see routes as nothing more than a list of start and end point pairs. When one point is reached, the nüvi then calculates a path to the next. Since it is always ready to recalculate a route, it does this, not from the point just reached, but from the current position. Here is the sort of real world problem this creates:

Your pre-plotted route contains a right turn just beyond a waypoint. The nüvi guides you to the waypoint and begins calculating a path to the next one. This is hardly instantaneous and you’ve passed that planned turn before it is done. The nüvi is automatically recalculating from your current position so it simply tells you to turn right on some other road then guides you to that next point along a completely different route than the one intended.

If all you want to do is reach the nearest Starbucks as quickly as possible, this behavior is just fine. It is far from fine if you want to reach that Starbucks along a particular road — like the Lincoln Highway or Historic Route 66.

The nüvi 2460LMT is not a bad product. It and all the other members of the nüvi line do what they are intended to do quite well. They are, in fact, the right device for the vast majority of GPS users. The problem is the way Garmin classifies its products. There is a line of products that does routing properly; The way the Quest does and the way I want. But it (zūmo®) is marketed as a motorcycle line and it took someone outside of Garmin to set me straight. I replaced the nüvi® 2460LMT in less than a year. When I tell of that replacement in a future My Gear installment, I may also tell you what I really think of those silly names.

My Gear – Chapter 14 — Lenovo T400

My Apps – Chapter 3
Garmin MapSource

MapSourceI started using Garmin’s MapSource when I got that first GPS back in 1999. That Garmin GPS III did not support routing in any meaningful sense so I don’t know if contemporary versions of MapSource did or not. For me and the GPS III, MapSource served only to load the unit with maps and points-of-interest covering my immediate needs. The limited capacity of the GPS III meant I had to do this every day or so. Occasionally less, Occasionally more. With the acquisition of the Garmin Quest in 2006, I started using MapSource to download routes.

I also used it — briefly — to create routes. As I admitted in My Apps Chapter 2, exactly when and why DeLorme’s Street Atlas became my router of choice is lost to history. It seems I first used it sometime in 2001 but I can’t say whether or not it was an instant hit.  Whatever the history, by 2006 I was a pretty solid fan of Street Atlas’ user interface. But I needed to use MapSource to get data to and from the Quest and, since it apparently contained some very capable route management features, I tried dumping DeLorme and switching completely to Garmin. It didn’t work.

I’ve gone through enough software updates in my life to understand that there is always some resistance to change and that learning something new requires some effort. I tried telling myself that I disliked the MapSource interface only because it was different. This was certainly true to a certain extent. Some things only seemed more difficult with MapSource because I was unfamiliar with it. But some things, such as moving a route’s endpoints, I believe really were more difficult. And there were a few things that simply couldn’t be done with MapSource. An example of this is the simultaneous display of multiple routes which I’d grown used to with Street Atlas and which just wasn’t possible with MapSource. So I went back to plotting routes with Street Atlas then exporting them to a GPX file which was easily imported to MapSource for transfer to the Quest. The exporting and importing was very simple and quick. It was also hazardous.

The map data used by the two products was not identical. A plotted point that was right in the center of a DeLorme road might miss the Garmin version of that road by several feet. That wasn’t a big deal most of the time but sometimes it was a real disaster. The clearest example is a point in the west bound lane of a divided highway for DeLorme that shows up in the east bound lane for Garmin. When Garmin GPS receivers announce the next action, they usually provide a hint of the following one as well. Taking a route directly from DeLorme to Garmin once caused the Quest to tell me “In 500 feet make a U-turn then make a U-turn.” Around cloverleaves and other complex interchanges, a route could really get mangled.

The “solution” was to  tweak the route in MapSource to match Garmin’s maps before transferring it to the GPS unit. Yes, it’s a pain but it’s a small pain and one I’ve decided I’m willing to endure in order to use Street Atlas for route creation. I know that not everyone would agree.

Regarding the maps themselves, I’ve discovered plenty of errors in both DeLorme and Garmin. Same with Google Maps which are starting to find their way into my life. I am not an authority and have no opinion on which has the most or worst errors. The bottom line is that I’ll be dealing with Garmin Maps and their support software as long as I’m dealing with Garmin GPS hardware and I’ll be doing that until something better for solo road-tripping comes along.

My Apps – Chapter 2 — First Routing Programs

My Gear – Chapter 11
Garmin Quest

My relationship with GPS receivers took a whole new direction when I got my a Garmin Quest. Some may recall that Garmin described my previous unit, the GPS III Plus, as having “cartographic capabilities”. It did not do routing of any sort. Before buying the Quest in June of 2006, I “test drove” a friend’s GPS V which Garmin called a “versatile navigator”. I believe it was. It did routing and may have served my purpose but it had been discontinued in January and getting current maps for it was already a bit of a problem. That could only get worse. At the end of the day, I opted to spend $345 for a new Quest.

The Quest had appeared in late 2004 and there was already a Quest 2 model when I made my purchase. The difference was memory. The Quest 2 had enough of it to hold the detail map for the whole USA. In fact, that detail map, City Select North America, was preloaded onto the Quest 2. The Quest came with a CD and enough memory to hold something on the order of Ohio or Indiana, or a strip crossing two or three states. The Quest was noticeably cheaper and I wanted the CD for off-GPS routing anyway. It seemed the obvious choice.

The Quest did require feeding when on a long trip and it was possible to overdrive whatever maps were loaded but it was otherwise ideal. It had a small color screen and a speaker. Its push-button controls were very similar to the familiar ones of the GPS III Plus. I could “Find” something with it then request that it “Route to” what I’d found. It would then guide me to my destination with visual and spoken directions. It did not speak street names, as some units were doing at the time, but street names were displayed. The voice (female and always calm no matter how many times I ignored her) might say “Turn right in 500 feet” and a glance at the screen would show the street name along with the zoomed in map. Even better than the Quest telling me how to get somewhere was me telling it how I wanted to get somewhere and it telling me how to do that in real-time.

I typically don’t merely want to get somewhere. I want to get there along a specific, perhaps historic, route. I don’t want the “quickest” or “shortest” route. I want “my” route. The one I carefully plotted on my PC. In this, the Quest was a willing and capable partner. There were some issues in getting my chosen path to the unit in a form that matched its maps but the complications came from the way I chose to do things and not from any Quest shortcomings. Once a route was properly tweaked and downloaded, the Quest would visually and verbally guide me along. As a more-often-than-not solo traveler. I appreciate this deeply.

Popping the Quest from its cradle was extremely easy and sliding it into a pocket just as easy. Its twenty hours of battery meant you really could do a serious walkabout and not lose your car. Even though I eventually bought an external antenna to boost reception on rainy days, the built in one was generally more than enough. In short, the Garmin Quest was as close to perfection as any GPS receiver I’ve had contact with.

It was maps that prompted me to replace it. In 2008 I bought a factory refurbished Quest because it came bundled with the latest detail map and was priced below buying just the map from Garmin. As it turned out, not only was this the latest City Select Map; It was the last. Current model Garmin GPS receivers use a map product called City Navigator. To an outside and somewhat casual observer, Garmin appears to abandon one line of development for another more often than seems necessary or wise. Since the Quest was so close to perfect, I assumed that newer models would be evolutionary and even closer. I was shocked and a little angered to discover that current models seem to be totally new developments that in some areas are much less capable than the 2004 model Quest. In my heart I know it’s doomed to fail but if anyone wants to start a “Bring Back the Quest” petition, I’ll sign.

My Gear — Chapter 10 — Toshiba Satellite A105

 

Product Review
Route 66 Attractions
with Ready2Go Tours

Route 66 Attractions with Ready2Go ToursMy relationship with Garmin GPS receivers goes back to my first documented road trip in 1999. I haven’t owned a lot of different models and I’m definitely no expert but I’ve used and liked Garmin products for quite awhile. Then, as I traveled with a new unit I bought last April, I began to think that Garmin had completely abandoned me. It took several email exchanges with a fellow named River Pilot to convince me that Garmin still makes products capable of following turn-by-turn routes. Garmin, however, insists on aiming those products at motorcycles. I drive a car.

River Pilot doesn’t work for Garmin. He owns River Pilot Tours, a company offering, among other thing, motorcycle tours of Route 66. They developed the subject of this review. Since River was so helpful in explaining the, in my opinion, warped Garmin product line, I really wanted to like his product but feared I wouldn’t.

I crept up on it. An important thing I learned from River is that there are at least two different types of software inside Garmin GPS units. That inside zūmo®s handles turn-by-turn routing properly; That inside nüvi®s (and other models) does not. By “properly”, I mean the device will not only guide you from point A to point B but will do it along a specific pre-plotted path. The unit I got in April was a nüvi®. I recently bought a zūmo® 220. After a few experiments in the neighborhood, I used it on a trip to Florida and convinced myself that it would indeed follow my routes. Then I bought Route 66 Attractions with Ready2Go Tours.

There are two different River Pilot Tours products available to mate up with the two types of Garmin products. Route 66 Attractions contains more than 800 points of interest (POIs) along Historic Route 66. Each has a description, a photo, and contact information. Almost any current Garmin street product is capable of guiding you to any of the attractions. Then, just as the name implies, Route 66 Attractions with Ready2Go Tours adds turn-by-turn instructions for both east and westbound tours of the route. Both products are published by SpotItOut and both are available for purchase and download at their website. Prices are $30 “with” and $10 “without” although the “with” version is currently on sale for $25.

UPDATE 4-JAN-2014: SpotItOut ceased operation sometime back and River Pilot Tours now sells its products directly on SD cards. The “regular” Route 66 GPS Attractions Guide can be purchased through the online store but the version with Ready2Go Tours cannot. Because not all Garmin GPS units are capable of running the turn-by-turn software, River Pilot Tours requests that potential Ready2Go Tours customers call (307 222 6347) or email (tours@riverspilot.com) so that compatibility can be determined before money is spent.

UPDATE 6-JUL-2014: Both versions of the Route 66 GPS Attractions Guide can now be purchased through the online store. If there is any doubt about compatibility or if there are other questions, just call (307 222 6347) or email (tours@riverspilot.com) for some friendly help. To remove any question of compatibility and avoid the purchase of a high end GPS for one time use, a pre-loaded unit can be rented from River Pilot Tours. Call or email for details.

Purchase, download, and installation were straight forward. The addition to my GPS looked good throughout a bit of playing but it’s really tough to judge a product’s Route 66 turn-by-turn capabilities in a living room in Cincinnati. Last Saturday’s cruise in Illinois provided an opportunity to get a better look.

I was purely a follower on the cruise which meant no one was depending on me and I wasn’t depending on the GPS. At our starting point in Mitchell, I selected the Illinois eastbound tour. I was given a chance to preview the route on a map or read a brief description. When I pressed “GO”, the unit spent a few moments calculating then asked if I would “like to navigate to the start of the Custom Route”. When I pressed “No”, it sat there quietly with a magenta line showing the route on the screen.

Route 66 Attractions with Ready2Go Tours screen shotAs we cruised northeast through Edwardsville and Hamel, the voice from the GPS essentially described the actions of the cars in front of me. It allowed me to anticipate turns just a bit so I might have even looked like I knew where I was going. The unit beeped when we approached Sixty-Six attractions such as Weezy’s and Decamp Junction. Each of these was identified and I could have pulled up a description if I’d wanted.

Things were going along swimmingly when the caravan made a turn to the right and the voice in the box said nothing. Was this a flaw in the GPS guided tour? Nope. Not at all. It was just a simple fact of life and roads. Over time roads get rerouted and from just south of Staunton to inside the city of Springfield US 66 had two major alignments. The caravan turned right on the newer, post-1930, alignment while the GPS tour continued on the older, 1926-1930, alignment.

The primary purpose of the Ready2Go tour is to guide a traveler from one end of Route 66 to the other. It does just that and it keeps the traveler on some alignment of Route 66 all the way. It will not take you over every mile of every alignment that the route ever followed. For that you will need some maps, some books, perhaps some input from an expert, and a readiness to backtrack and explore. River Pilot Tours had to select one of the two Staunton-Springfield alignments to be part of the “grand tour” and they chose wisely. The older alignment is the more interesting of the two and we would be returning on it later in the day. We chose to do the newer one first purely for timing reasons.

I’m fairly confident that River Pilot Tours also chose wisely in the many other instances of multiple alignments. They operate their own guided tours and they know quite a bit about others. They also consult with some of the route’s best authorities. All of this helps select the route that goes, as River says, “where folks are actually driving”.

Route 66 Attractions with Ready2Go Tours screen shotBut the Ready2Go Tour doesn’t just ignore alternate alignments. For one thing, it is built on top of that extensive database of Route 66 attractions and not all those attractions are right along the tour path. At any time a traveler can push “Where To?” to see what attractions are near by. Click here for a screen shot of the list of attractions near the point where the alignments separate south of Staunton. Some, including Henry’s Rabbit Ranch, are not on the tour route. Selecting an attraction accesses an overview of a drive there. A description is also available and the location of the attraction can be seen on a map as pictured above. Note the tour route in magenta and the blue triangle showing current position. Even without those maps and books, a traveler can visit an “off route” attraction then head back to continue the tour.

Route 66 Attractions with Ready2Go Tours screen shotOne alternate alignment actually appears in the product today. The pre-1937 alignment that passed through Santa Fe, New Mexico, can be selected and followed just like the main tour route through the state. In the future, other major alternates, such as the one between Staunton and Springfield, will be added.

Without detailing every turn, I can say that the Ready2Go Tour seemed to follow its chosen alignment quite well. In general, after we reached Springfield and started down the 1926-1930 route, the voice in the box and the car in front of me were in agreement. Exceptions were when the caravan occasionally headed off on some obscure and possibly dead-ended section. But then the caravan did have books, maps, and experts and a readiness to get lost explore. Both the path and the location of attractions presented by the Ready2Go tour seemed right. I’m happy to report, as I’m sure some are wondering, that it nailed the Nilwood turkey tracks perfectly.

I suppose it’s fairly obvious that this is a good fit for someone heading off on all or part of Route 66 for the first time. Then what? As a solo traveler, I basically require voice-in-a-box guidance on a road trip and getting it usually involves plenty of pre-trip plotting. I’m not throwing away any books and I’ll still be plotting routes including some involving Route 66 but there’s a big chunk of that that River Pilot Tours has done for me. Having the big catalog of attractions always at my fingertips is pretty cool, too.

I said I feared that, even after finding the company owner extremely helpful and likable, I wouldn’t like the product. I think my biggest fear was that it would be fragile or that Garmin would mishandle the routing. But Route 66 Attractions with Ready2Go Tours seems to do exactly as it claims and I do like it. Shouldn’t have worried.

UPDATE 05-SEP-2012: I recently completed an end-to-end east-to-west drive of Historic Route 66 using Route 66 Attractions with Ready2Go Tours as my primary guide. I deviated from the suggested route on several occasions but the deviations were to visit some attraction or follow some alignment of which I was aware and not because of a Ready2Go error. As near as I could tell, the suggested route always followed some Route 66 alignment even though it wasn’t always the one I wanted to follow. In many cases, Ready2Go helped me find those off route attractions or other alignments.

As I explained in the original review, the product contains information on lots of Route 66 attractions and can be used to find those attractions even when they are not on the tour route. I was well aware of that but was a little surprised to find that some alternate alignments showed up as well. They did not appear as a route with turn-by-turn directions but the end points appeared as attractions which made finding them easy. Prime examples are the two “sidewalk highway” segments south of Miami, Oklahoma. The segments themselves are perhaps a bit rough to be included in the main tour but all four points where one of them intersects the main tour were marked so they could be located and driven if desired.

My deviations were due to personal preferences that came from previous trips, reading, and talking with other travelers. I’ve little doubt that just following the main line Ready2Go tour would provide a full and satisfying Route 66 adventure for the first-timer and I’ve just proven that it provides a pretty good foundation for the more seasoned roadies (i.e., old farts) among us.

My Gear – Chapter 3
Garmin GPS III Plus

The Garmin GPS III Plus was pretty high-end for a personal GPS in 1999. In July of that year, this baby set me back a whopping $355. Some rather detailed maps could be downloaded to it and it could tell you where things were relative to where you were but it couldn’t tell you how to get there. I’m fairly certain that there was a GPS IV that offered routing but I can find nothing online about it. Today’s web claims that the earliest GPS of this style that did routing was the GPS V. The GPS V was described as a “versatile navigator”. The III Plus merely had “cartographic capabilities”. I always thought of it as an automatically scrolling map.

I added a cable that allowed me to simultaneously connect it to the car’s 12 VDC cigarette lighter and to a computer’s RS-232 port. It was another one of those “computer in the car” things that rarely got used. I used the 12 VDC power almost constantly and I used the computer connection frequently but seldom at the same time. The frequent use of the computer connection was because the unit really wouldn’t hold much more than a day’s worth of maps and my end of day tasks often included refreshing the maps in the Garmin. Throw in a little expressway travel and it was entirely possible to “over drive” the loaded maps in a day. I did not buy an optional mount for the unit and got by quite nicely with a bit of velcro on the console.

You could select cities and other points of interest and the III Plus would point toward them and tell you how far away they were. If you chose one to “Go To” it would continuously report the remaining distance and time. Since the distance was “as the crow flies”, it and the time to go were only meaningful if the road between here and there was a straight one. I’m not really sure what it used to calculate that time to go; A rolling average speed is my guess. You could string together multiple way-points in what the III Plus called routes and it would provide total distance and time numbers based on straight lines between the way-points. This was essentially a fancy hiker’s handheld unit with the aforementioned “cartographic capabilities”.

The GPS III Plus led me to a style of navigating I called “jagging”. When I wasn’t following a specific route, like Historic Route 66, I would plug in a destination then head toward it. At each intersection, I’d make the decision of which way to go based on the direction of the destination from that point. You might think that would result in the shortest path but real roads are neither particularly straight or aligned squarely with others. “Jagging” put me on some interesting roads I might never have traveled otherwise.

My Gear – Chapter 2 — Toshiba Libretto


The three items at the heart of my road trip tool kit are a digital camera, a portable computer, and a GPS receiver. My first such set, the one used on that 1999 Route 66 road trip, consisted of this Garmin receiver along with the Agfa camera and Toshiba sub-notebook described earlier. Future purchases would be upgrades or replacements.


The blog post about the 100th trip pointed to a collage of 100 thumbnails representing them all. Just looking at that collage would bring a smile to my face for the first dozen times or so. But then I got questions about what the subjects were or what trip they represented. I knew all the answers but I quickly realized that the collage could really be improved. When an individual image appears on the home page, the subject and the trip it is from are identified beneath it. Clicking on the picture goes to the associated trip report. I decided that it would be cool if the collage did the same thing so now it does. Hovering over a section of the collage will reveal trip number and name and the identity of the subject. Clicking will take you to the trip report. Try it out here.