Global Positioning System

The fascinating world of GPS was opened up to me early in 2001 when my son David gave me one for my 60th birthday. He had, I suspect, only a slight idea of how incredibly sophisticated these things are.


Dave gave me a Garmin Etrex Venture. See a picture further down (it came complete with a cable for downloading data to my computer).

I use this device in the woods, when I am searching for Diamond Willow. Often I'll see a terrific stick but for one reason or another, won't be able to take it out. Now I can get a location for it on my GPS and find it back at a later date.

The whole idea of using it became much more exciting when George F. contacted me to buy some sticks. He and his wife want to use them when they go GEOCACHING. More about that later. George was kind enough to point me in the direction of a website no GPS user can do without: The owner has written a FREE program, "TrackMaker" which allows me to download all the data from my GPS to my computer AND PRINT OUT a map!! (I d/l version 11.8 on Feb. 23, 2003) The author is Odilon Ferreira Junior in Brazil.

GeoCaching: a new, fun, outdoors activity. Read all about it at

One aspect of GeoCaching is the use of Travel Bugs; for details visit:

George F. is, clearly, very well informed about this technology. He offered me these suggestions:

"I do not have direct knowledge of the Garmin. I have a Magellan 315 myself. However, I am familiar with landmark, route, and track downloading and map overlaying. The first essential is to have a cable for your Garmin. If you don't have one, I think you can probably get a good deal on ebay. The next thing you need is software to plot the points. See Track Maker mentioned above. (This assumes you have a MS Windows computer of some flavor.) The third thing you need a a source of maps or aerial-photographs. I get both online at (also free). However, just as you were thinking I would solve all your problems, be advised that currently, they only offer U.S. of A. maps and photos. However, look up the site, and give them an e-mail. I think I read in the geocaching forums that they were thinking of adding Canadian maps."

Note: I downloaded TrackMaker and immediately it ran beautifully with no difficulties. Next day I tried to show it off to a friend but the 'puter and Garmin would not shake hands. I contacted the author, Odilon Ferreira and he told me what to do. Here is what I did with my Garmin Extrex Venture to make it shake hands with my PC: in the Garmin, Setup, Interface, and on the dropdown menu, chose "GARMIN." All done. It worked 100%. THANKS, Odilon!!

The fact that GPS is becoming VERY popular is proven, I think, by the fact that on a newsgroup which I visited there were 38,000+ messages.

NOTE with the Garmin, how you put the batteries in; the spring on my Etrex Venture is at the negative end for one battery and at the positive end for the other battery. Be Careful!

Backing-up the data in the GPS: when you upgrade the software in the GPS, the data is lost. I have not tried, but it would appear that you can get free software to back up the data, and more, at and another from

Making your own map

If you have a Garmin Etrex Venture, and are not sure how to record a track of the hikes you take and show them on the map in the unit, here are my notes:

Here is mine:



In the "Trip Computer" window:

Now take your hike

Now, in the "Map" window, all your tracks should show. You can use "TrackMaker" to make a printout.


The Garmin GPS:

  1. plug GPS into your computer
  2. turn on the GPS ("use with GPS off")
  3. click the Setup menu and then "Interface" and under Serial Data Format, make sure it shows "GARMIN"

Run GP TrackMaker (in Start\Programs)

  1. in TrackMaker, click "Interface" and then "Garmin Interface"
  2. click Serial Port 1 and the "Product ID" button
  3. click "All" and "Request from GPS"
  4. click on the map
  5. You can use the right-mouse button to move the map
  6. A scale of 1:100 is probably best
  7. hold the mouse cursor over a track to show date/direction of that track
  8. right-click a track to see the name etc. of that track

It was a big thrill for me to find TrackMaker and be able to make a printout of my hiking trip. Now I use it in my Diamond Willow stick hunting and in hunting. It got even better when I remembered that I had some old aerial photographs of the area where my land is, here in Northern Alberta, Canada. I believe this pic was taken from an altitude of some 28,000 feet and the area shown here is prox 6 miles from west to east. I sent George F. a small scan of such a photograph and he told me how it could be used with TrackMaker. Here is the small version of the scanned aerial photograph followed by George's comments:


"Ken, once again, you're in luck. If those map images are already computer files, you should be able to read them directly into GPS TM. I know that the program will read .bmp, .gif. and .jpg files. Go to the help menu, click on contents, and then click on "Inserting a Map Image as Background" That will give you all the information on how to bring in an image and, more importantly, how to configure the map. You do that by specifying with the mouse on the map, (or photo) two different points for which you know the lat and longitude. Once you do that, the map is then configured to the right scale and properly positioned on the lat/long grid. From the map segment you sent me, It looks like it would be a relatively simple matter to find two points that you could measure the coordinates with your GPS. When you take readings to configure the aerial, try to get a point in the SW portion of the map, and one in the NE. You have to enter them in that order, also. That will give you the best resolution between the map and the world.

WHO uses a GPS?

  1. those who have been introduced to their incredible potential
  2. Law-enforcement*
  3. Fishermen (and women!) who want to mark a spot on a lake where the fishing was really great and they found that marking an "X" on the side of the boat just did not cut it.
  4. Hikers; to retrace their hike
  5. hunters to find a downed animal after going for help
  6. anyone who might get lost in the bush as I have done
  7. those who have discovered the fun of GeoCaching
  8. taxis/cabs, couriers, delivery services
  9. people such as I, who search all over the woods for Diamond Willow hiking sticks

* Recently I saw a documentary on TV where a guy had taken another man on a boat trip 6 km off the coast of England and there murdered his passenger, stuck an anchor in the victim's pants and dumped him overboard. The police were pretty sure of the horrible events but had to prove that the boat had been at that location. They found the boat's GPS and had proof!!

WHO does NOT use a GPS?

1. those who have not yet learned how much fun and use they can be


HOW I Carry my GPS: Before I did this, I frequently lost satellite contact; not now; it hangs on my shoulder like this:

Updating your software: I don't know about other brands, but it was *very* easy to update my Garmin Etrex Venture software; it came with version 2.25 installed and I downloaded and installed version 2.29 in less than five minutes. The Venture and "Mariner" are the same; I was not sure about that, so asked Garmin and got a quick reply. Full instructions for downloading and installing the new software were on the Garmin website. There was no cost for this.

Air travel and your GPS:

When I was about to fly to Vancouver in March, 2002, I asked my airline, WestJet, if I could take my GPS; their reply:

"Yes, you are able to take your GPS on board with you however, unfortunately, you will not be able to have it turned on while in-flight as these devices can interfere with the operation of the flight." I asked Odilon Ferreira about this and he replied:

"The GPS device has a internal oscillator that can generate some interference in VHF and UHF radios, but that is not confirmed. Certainly, the airline companies prohibit the use of GPS devices in the same way that they prohibit computers and other electronic devices. But, there is a special reason: if you turn on your GPS while in flight, probably other passengers can feel it as a threat. About this theme, take a look in sci.geo.satellite-nav group. This week, I saw a message posted by "Frank Hollis - Another airline approves GPS usage" about the use of GPS devices in airplanes. To access sci.geo.satellite-nav, visit"

For Transport Canada's info about GPS, search for "GPS" at It was also suggested to me that interference with specific devices in the cockpit can be caused by GPS devices, and therefore the airlines have legitimate concerns. The real problem is not caused by a single device way back in the plane but instead by numerous devices used all over the plane. As an example, LCD screens do give off a short range interference that can cause a poor com reception for the pilot. Different airlines deal with it differently. There are also concerns from the Sept 11th incident and how the passengers could have navigated the plane. Your best bet is to take the unit with you and just ask; some will allow it others will not, but if you do use it, remember that it might upset some passengers. Plus, unless you hold it against the window, it probably won't work unless you use an external antenna held against the window.

Updating your Garmin GPS:

From time to time Garmin updates the "firmware" which is inside your GPS unit. My Garmin eTrex Venture was, in March of 2011, running on version 2.50 of that software. "Jason" at Garmin was good enough to spend some time with me via e-mail and sent me to to download the installer to my computer and after I did that and ran it, it updated my Venture to version 5.20; VERY easy. The only difficulty might be in doing this, is the hookup. The cable which came with my Venture needed a "9-pin Serial port" on my computer and the newer computers don't have those; they have USB ports instead. I still had an OLD computer here so was able to do this update. If you have that problem too, you might have to buy a cable/adapter such as these two (I have NOT tried them so can not guarantee that):


The GPS in your Vehicle:

In 2010, I got a Garmin Nuvi 255W unit to use in my van. I had several disappointments and cannot in all fairness, recommend this. First, I was unable to register the unit online until I went out and also bought a USB Cable! Then, in only two short trips, I found enough mistakes to fill a small book. The Garmin website gives a URL for the mapping company so you can report errors in the maps; the URL was wrong! I finally found them at and I emailed them this:

I have the Garmin nuvi 255w GPS unit. I've taken two short trips with it now, here in northern Alberta (Grande Prairie area) and found so many errors that it would take a tremendous amount of time to record and report them. To top it off, to get an updated map, I have PAY for it. This does not impress me and I must make comments to this effect on my website.

One that struck me funny but sad, was as I was going north of Grande Prairie, on Hwy 2, I was nearing the town of Rycroft, at which point I was required to turn left/west onto HIGHWAY 49. The voice in the GPS told me to turn left onto "49 AVENUE."

Other errors were more serious like telling me to turn left instead of right etc etc.

Garmin's reply:

Thank you for contacting Garmin Cartography and thanks for the feedback. I will pass this on to our data vendor. You can check your map product by going to the settings page then choose "map" and "map info." Garmin used to offer map updates one time per year for $69.99. Recently we announced our NuMaps Lifetime service which offers lifetime map updates for your nuvi. With the new lifetime map update you can update the maps on your unit up to 4 times per year. This marks the first time that Garmin has offered more than one map update per year. The cost of the update is a one time fee of $119. We will also continue to offer a single map update for $69.99. The single update is called nuMaps Onetime and it allows you to download the latest version of mapping we offer at the present time. Both the one time and the lifetime map update services are now available to purchase and I have included a link below so you can read more about them. If you plan to keep your device for a while the lifetime update is by far the best map update option we offer. I might also mention that many on-line dealers are now offering the nuMaps Lifetime gift card for under $100 so it may be worth your while to shop around on-line for the best price.

And there ends my love affair with Garmin.


No doubt you'll want to check out other websites on this subject; here are some links, but NOTE: I've tried many but TrackMaker mentioned above is, IMHO, the VERY BEST you'll find anywhere.

If you are in western Europe, you'll enjoy this site, owned by my friend Ronald: (in the Dutch language) for Canadian maps (Ziefried Kritzinger's site; see his son's also, and African waypoints!) free program to back-up waypoints and routes on any Garmin, Magellan & Lowrance

Fred Langa's article: Garmin International 1-800-800-1020 fax: 913-397-0836 for Mac only Waypoint Plus has a neat Utility program for GPS

The competition:

I don't have much experience with other units but was given a Magellan. I was able to enter my name and the date and time but it would not log onto any satellite so I contacted Magellan. Their reply made it clear to me that I would not buy a Magellan under any circumstances; here is the reply:

Hi Ken, Thank you for contacting Magellan Technical Support. As I understand, you would like to know if we can still repair your GPS 320 unit.

We are sorry to tell you that we cannot repair the GPS 320 unit anymore. The GPS 320 unit is already a legacy product of Magellan and all of its internal parts and accessories are already obsolete. We discontinued manufacturing the GPS 320 unit since December of 2003.

What we can offer you is our Customer loyalty program, where you have an option to trade-in your GPS 320 unit for a brand new and better Magellan unit at a discounted price. It is just like buying a brand new and a better unit at a lower price compared to its original price on the Magellan website. In this case, your old GPS unit would not go to waste and you can still use it for you to have a discount on a new Magellan GPS unit.

If you are interested in trading in your GPS unit, please contact out Technical Support department at 800-707-9971 then press option 4.

Should you require further assistance about this or any other concerns with your Magellan unit please visit our website and review our extensive Self Help knowledgebase (

Yours truly;

A tip from LaFarr Stuart: "I always plug in my GPS lighter adapter after I have started the car." (to prevent possible voltage spikes from cooking his GPS)

Share and find answers to GPS information at this newsgroup: news:sci.geo.satellite-nav

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