GPS Missteps

June 25, 2012

Think Hiking with a Smartphone is Enough? Think Again


With the explosion of smartphone apps that take advantage of the GPS capability, it can be tempting to rely on a smartphone to guide you on your backcountry trek, or even a quick day hike in the mountains. The trouble is that people don't plan on trouble, and a lost signal or low battery can mean a night in the wilderness leaving you wanting for that equipment you left at home because it was too heavy.

A few things I always bring on a day hike when I am relying on my GPS - a handheld, not my smartphone:

  1. A backup map & compass - always useful if the electronics bite the dust
  2. Second Set of Batteries - they are small, and will get you through day two with that GPS
  3. Water - obvious, and variable depending on climate
  4. Rain Gear with warmth layer - we hike in the White Mountains, and a quick rain shower, with a drop in temps when you are wearing a cotton T-shirt could mean disaster
  5. First Aid Kit - I have a small one, that includes enough for a few people out for a few days. I took a NOLS Wilderness First Aid class recently, and it opened my eyes to what I needed.
  6. Headlamp - Even on a day hike. We recently went out on a day hike, someone got injured and we found ourselves arriving at the trailhead at last light. We had one headlamp in a pretty big group. I am packing one from now on.
  7. Knife - a wondertool in the hands of a survivalist, and not too bad for us normal folk.
  8. A Smartphone with extra battery - Hey, let's face it, it's cool to be able to take pics, upload your GPS tracks instantly once the successful hike is done. Just make sure it's not your sole direction finding device. You probably don't go anywhere without it anyway.

Here's a related article that appeared in the Boston Globe today that talked about people relying on their smartphone and having a reality check when they do. Cellphones are changing how people experience the outdoors, sometimes for good, sometimes not.

ReadMore at the Boston Globe

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July 27, 2011

Death Valley GPS Blunders

If you are reading this site, you probably have a GPS or want one, and while my GPS has gotten me to so many places and out of so many jams, I have lost count, the GPS and its imperfect maps have led a few astray, badly astray. I heard this story on NPR yesterday and thought I would pass it along.

The story details GPS woes in Death Valley, where old forgotten roads make their way into current day GPS mapsets and then lead their users into trouble on roads that really aren't passable. Luckily, someone is doing something about it, and Ranger Charlie Callagan is working with TomTom (TeleAtlas Maps) and NAVTEQ to fix mapsets so that only real roads are shown, and old forgotten unpassable roads are deleted.

Read the Full Story at NPR - GPS: A Fatally Misleading Travel Companion, or listen to the audio version - the link is at the top of the story.

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January 16, 2011

Staples Deal - TomTom looks like a Garmin


So this caught my eye this morning as I was flipping through the Staples circular for GPS Deals. The TomTom XL 340TM is on sale for $149 - a pretty steep price for a 4.3-inch screen TomTom with lifetime maps and traffic. (Amazon has the TomTom XL 340TM for $110 at this writing.)

The problem is that they showed a Garmin Nuvi 1350 image along with the promotion. Click on the Nuvi 1350 link to go to Amazon and see the very same promotional image used there.


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August 22, 2010

Trouble with Electronics in the Wild

It's hard to keep in mind that all of these gadgets can get you into trouble as well as getting you out of trouble. Having a GPS in hand while traveling the backcountry isn't so bad, but being able to use it is better. What's even better than that? Having a map and compass as a back-up.

In an article today, the Boston Globe details a few mishaps due to over-use or over-reliance on technology. Some of it is just plain stupidity. while not all of their anecdotes point to a GPS, it is a good reminder to keep a good head on your shoulders, respect nature and use back-up systems when electronics sit between you and difficult consequences.

Ten things to keep in mind when going on a hike with a GPS

  1. Make sure you know how to use the GPS and how to return to your starting point. Mark your starting point, lodge, ranger station and car with waypoints that are named correctly. It will make navigating back to them easier.
  2. Make sure everyone knows how to navigate using the GPS. Don't be the only one.
  3. Bring extra batteries for all of the electronics.
  4. Bring a map and compass - and better yet, know how to use them. If needed bring a tour book/ trail book - they can summarize the trail system and offer tips on local shelters if needed.
  5. Plan your hike and hike your plan. (Ripped that off from when I took SCUBA classes) When planning, it's important to know what you are getting into; trail types, weather exposure, vertical ascent, overall distance, water crossings are all things to consider when matching the hike to the group's capabilities.
  6. Leave that hike plan with someone. If you don't show back up, they will know where to start looking.... because you hiked that plan right? Leave a copy of the plan in your car at the trailhead if not with another person.
  7. Bring the right clothing, water and food; and then some extra. When we hike the White Mountains, I am reminded to be humble when I recall the book "Not Without Peril " which details how under-prepared, and/or over-egoed trekers got into trouble in the Presidential Range and died. I can't tell you how many people I see walking up Mt Washington in shorts and a T-Shirt swinging a 20 ounce bottle as they hike.... wait a minute, I think that's also a chapter in the book.
  8. Know when to turn back - just because you planned to summit, doesn't mean that you have to when there are people in your party who clearly can't make it or the weather turns bad.
  9. Bring a first aid kit; they can be small enough to fit in a Day Pack pocket and still be of good use on a hike.
  10. Have fun - GPS units can make hiking a lot more reliable and accessible when used smartly. It's made hiking a lot more enjoyable and safe for us. As a result we are out hiking even more.

More on that article at the Boston Globe

Some of my favorite Handheld GPS units are: The Garmin eTrex Legend HCx, The Garmin Dakota 20, The Garmin Oregon 400t, the new Garmin GPSMap 62St, the Delorme PN-40 and the new Delorme PN-60W
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March 29, 2010

Pilots on Russian Plane Used Handheld GPS Before Crash

Reportedly, the pilots of the Russian plane that crashed earlier this week were using a handheld GPS as they approached the airport, and not the onboard GPS system. It is not known why they turned off the system, as they were making their approach in fog and cloud conditions. The plane was en route from Egypt to Moscow's Domodedovo airport.

More at SpaceDaily

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January 18, 2010

GPS Phone Nightmare Scenario

It appears that Rogers of Canada has worked themselves into a pickle with a few software glitches that is making their phones unable to dial 91 emergency services with the GPS on. Of course the original intent for the GPS in the phone was to help get emergency responders to the location of the phone (and person in need of help).

The issue is specifically with an Android based phone that for now needs to have its GPS shut off in order to avoid any potentially nightmare-like scenarios.

ReadMore at eCanada Now

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December 8, 2009

GPS + Remote Garage Opener = Break-in

Sure you lost the GPS because you left it on the windshield and someone broke in to steal it, but then you notice, "Hey the remote control garage door opener is gone too?!"

Well apparently the thieves would take both, use the "Home" button on the GPS and then the garage door opener to break into the houses. Not a bad gig until you get caught, which they did and are being held.

More at

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June 21, 2009

NJ Bill Would Ban GPS Programming While Driving

Wow, this one seems like another step on the slippery slope of over-legislation. From the state that doesn't want you to pump your own gas comes the new idea to protect you; no programming your GPS while driving. While I admit, digging through a Point of Interest menu for something that is buried deep down there is a foolish thing to do, I can't argue that a 100% hands off approach is the right way to go either.

The bill is proposing a $100 fine for anyone caught manually programming a GPS while driving. This follows on the heels of the texting and non-hands free cell phone ban that carries the same fine.

What's next? Anything goes that can slip past the legislature, one can imagine. I would like to see the No Mascara or Eye Shadow application ban go ahead of the GPS programming ban - maybe fewer of those on the road, but have you ever ridden behind someone doing that? Scary.


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March 6, 2009

Pirated iGo Software Nabbed at CeBit

Whoops; go to a trade show and get arrested or software piracy by the German officials? Ouch. iGo used to power the Mio line of units, and still powers a lot of second tier GPS brands with an operating system that I think is reasonably good compared to a lot of others out there.

Who knows where this went off the tracks, but it seems to me that the folks in the booth probably didn't know that they were showing off pirated software from the company a few booths away.

Press Release Below......
German authorities take action over pirated iGO My way software at three different booths at CeBIT 2009. The regional prosecutor's office issued an order for regulatory measures after representatives from IPR Consulting reported the fraud and submitted evidence to the authorities.

Representatives from IPR Consulting carried out targeted monitoring at CeBIT 2009 in Hanover, as risk analyses had indicated that several companies would be offering pirated software.

German authorities took action over pirated iGO My way navigation software in three cases at this year's CeBIT exhibition. Only a few meters away from the booth of NNG Global Services, a company of Chinese origin was promoting itself as well as its products as iGO My way, which later proved to be cracked software copies. The Chinese citizens, upon the customers' request, pulled the cracked iGO My way software out of their pockets. "The vendors will have to take responsibility not only for selling pirated software, but also for infringement of NNG Global Services trademarks," explains András Fazakas, Chief Operating Officer at NNG Global Services.

In two other booths, the vendors were speaking very convincingly about their strong relationships with NNG Global Services. They were found to be using pirated iGO My way navigation software on their navigation devices. One company quoted a special price for the software - which, they claimed, was the result of an agreement with NNG Global Services. In both cases the Hungarian software development company, however, has never heard of the companies in question.

The above actions are part of a series of raids conducted internationally by a trademark protection company, commissioned by NNG Global Services to curb illegal software use.

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January 21, 2008

Tip: Don't Steal an ATM with GPS Tracking

It seems that in Georgia a thief used a forklift to steal an ATM, and when bank officials informed the Police that the GPS tracking device was turned on, and working, the tracking device led them to a pick-up truck driving down I-85. The pick-up wouldn't pull over, and eventually took one corner too quickly, resulting in the heavy ATM shifting in the bed of the truck, and the truck turning over. The driver was not hurt and taken into custody.

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December 30, 2007

"Home" Button Foils GPS Thief

By now, most GPS units have a "Home" button, which you can set to quickly navigate to your house from where ever you are. It's a nice innovation that can make life very easy. It can apparently also snag a thief.

In Amityville NY, police stopped a man on a bike and questioned him about the several items he was carrying, including a GPS. After giving evasive answers, the police checked the GPS and the address that was filed under the "Home" button. The man on the bike didn't live there, but the man at the "Home" address indicated that the GPS was his.... busted.

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October 25, 2007

Police Nab GPS Mobile Phone Toting Crook

Apparently after trying to kidnap his girlfriend this gentleman fled the scene with his mobile phone. Police got his mobile phone number from his girlfriend, the alleged victim, and tracked the man to a tree where he has climbed up into the branches and hid. Took an hour to talk him down, and police arrested him.


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May 25, 2007

Another Geocache, another Bomb Squad

This chapter of the same book takes place in North Carolina where a geocache was attached to a Starbucks sign. The cache was being hidden at the time when some "Muggles" came by and noticed the activity, got nervous and called the police. After the police learned that there were no explosives, they logged into and recorded their visit...... well maybe they did everything right up until that last part.


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February 6, 2007

Cops Jump on Another Geocache

policelights.jpgThis time it’s in New Hampshire. Apparently a tiny Altoids box, affixed magnetically to the underside of an electrical box outside a Shaw’s supermarket sparked some concern and Police at looking to talk to the owner of the cache. The cache was put on private property, which is not recommended by Geocaching in their guidelines without the permission of the property owner: by placing a Geocache “you have adequate permission to hide your cache in the selected location.” As more people get into Geocaching, and more people get uptight about finding bomb-like mysterious boxes in strange places (maybe rightfully so), we’ll continue to see this kind of stuff. Geocaching goes on to say that another stipulation is: “Caches near or under public structures deemed potential or possible targets for terrorist attacks. These include but are not limited to highway bridges, dams, government buildings, elementary and secondary schools, and airports.”

Recently in Boston, the whole city was nearly paralyzed after some light boards, which were part of a gorilla marketing campaign for Turner Broadcasting, were thought to be bombs. After several were found around the city, the bomb squad had their hands full, and traffic was snarled for hours. Apparently after 9/11, a law was passed essentially saying that you can’t cause panic associated with placing something like this if its interpreted as a dangerous item…sounds like Geocaches are in a similar position. Put in the wrong place, and interpreted as dangerous by a reasonable person (i.e. the bomb squad and a judge), you’d be in trouble.


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