Kitchen cupboards; or how I learned to love USB GPS

Submitted: Tuesday, Jun 20, 2006 at 14:08
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My moving map software was working well with a Garmin GPS12XL and an old Dell notebook computer via it’s RS232 port until I decided to buy an IBM notebook with no RS232 port but a couple of USBs instead. No problem, I thought, I’ll buy one of those RS232 to USB adaptor thingies. Heed my warning: do NOT repeat my error for this way madness doth lie.

Finally, after spending one hour sitting in the vehicle in Mansfield (again!) trying to get the stupid USB drivers to work _reliably_ and not just until it rained or I turned the steering wheel 36 degrees to the right or a few cosmic particles hit the vehicle and caused the driver to refuse to operate at all, even after a reboot!! I realised something had to be done before I hurled computer, GPS and that bloody adaptor out of the window and dug out the paper maps.

I decided the time had come to act on Mad Dog’s suggestion and purchase a GPS Mouse. From E-bay I secured an Altina GGM-309U device for A$68 total and it’s bloody wonderful! :) It’s a 20 channel receiver encased in a block of epoxy the size of a matchbox. Even when located inside a kitchen cupboard (on the lower floor of a two storey house) it can still see five satellites most of the time and obtain a full fix (I always wanted to know the exact location of that cupboard) so I suspect tree cover won’t prove much of a challenge for it.

Even better it doesn’t stop working whenever it feels like it and it’s ability to get a fix when on the road is excellent. Thanks Mad Dog – you may have saved my sanity, what little there is left of it :)

Mike Harding

mike_harding@fastmail.fm
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Reply By: TerraFirma - Tuesday, Jun 20, 2006 at 14:28

Tuesday, Jun 20, 2006 at 14:28
So the moral of the story Mike is that Mad Dog is really a Smart Dog..! I'll be saving my purchase for an all in one unit, the guys at the office have Imate Jams with Tom Tom software, but I think I'll wait.
AnswerID: 179471

Reply By: Gramps (NSW) - Tuesday, Jun 20, 2006 at 17:01

Tuesday, Jun 20, 2006 at 17:01
Mike,

Cruise missile launched and on it's way to supplied co-ordinates. I hope you emptied the cupboard :))))))
AnswerID: 179487

Reply By: Mad Dog (Australia) - Tuesday, Jun 20, 2006 at 17:37

Tuesday, Jun 20, 2006 at 17:37
Pleased it worked out well for you Mike. It's amazing what good can come out of a day sitting around the camp fire eh.
AnswerID: 179493

Reply By: Travelling Pixie - Tuesday, Jun 20, 2006 at 18:53

Tuesday, Jun 20, 2006 at 18:53
So is it something like this?



How does it work?

Is it just a simple GPS receiver that relies on a computer to do all the fancy stuff? Sounds like a cheap alternative to a full GPS (if you always intend on using a laptop).

What software would you need?
AnswerID: 179503

Follow Up By: Mike Harding - Wednesday, Jun 21, 2006 at 08:34

Wednesday, Jun 21, 2006 at 08:34
Exactly as you mention above, just a receiver (and a good one!) which requires a computer to do all the interface and display stuff.

Software:
The most popular programme, by far, is Oziexplorer www.oziexplorer.com/

For Victoria only there is also TumAus www.tumaus.com.au/ which has a built in vector map of Victoria and a few bugs and less good support than it should.

Also see:
www.ja-gps.com.au/software_index.html

If you have a notebook computer and don't require a GPS for bushwalking etc the GPS mouse may be a good solution.

Mike Harding
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FollowupID: 435817

Reply By: Sand Man (SA) - Tuesday, Jun 20, 2006 at 19:58

Tuesday, Jun 20, 2006 at 19:58
Mike,

I know just how you feel. I have experienced an almost identical problem to you.

My old Laptop was an IBM Thinkpad, running Windows 98, had a proper 9 pin Com port which the Magellan communicated through without any hassle.
My problem with "old faithful" was that it didn't have a great deal of capacity left on the hard drive and didn't have a DVD drive, so the loading of a Natmap raster map was a one at a time affair.

So, I lashed out and bought a Dell Inspiron 6000, s h i t h o t machine with a huge amount of disk capacity and all the bells and whistles, EXCEPT a bloody Com port.

Experienced the same problem as you. Checked everything was working before my recent trip, where I was intending to create an alternate Treknote for the Breakaways/Painted Desert. Stopped at the desired start point, fired up the laptop, plugged in the USB/Serial adapter and before I could even turn on the GPS, the equipment performed a weird dance with multiple applications opening and closing all over the screen and generally p i s s i n g me off.

So before I caused myself irreparable damage and spoiled the holiday, I turned the laptop off and shoved it back into the cargo drawers, along with the adapter.
What a totally inadequate solution.

So thanks Mike, for the reference re the GPS mouse. It may well be a better choice than a GPS card that fits into the card slot. Just one little problem though.
It plugs in to the USB port does it not?

Bill


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AnswerID: 179515

Follow Up By: Mike Harding - Wednesday, Jun 21, 2006 at 08:25

Wednesday, Jun 21, 2006 at 08:25
>Just one little problem though. It plugs in to the USB port does it not?

It does, but, I assume, because it's designed from the start as a USB device it operates quite happily with the computer. For the money (buy now = A$93 but I won mine by bidding for $68) I would recommend you give it a go.

They should _NEVER_ have removed RS232 ports from computers - they enable simple interfacing for lots of devices USB does not.

Mike Harding
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Follow Up By: Member - MrBitchi (QLD) - Wednesday, Jun 21, 2006 at 08:48

Wednesday, Jun 21, 2006 at 08:48
Get over it Mike. Serial has had it's day. USB is a far superior technolgy. I've wasted too many hours trying to get serial devices working to ever mourn it's passing.
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Follow Up By: Mike Harding - Wednesday, Jun 21, 2006 at 09:10

Wednesday, Jun 21, 2006 at 09:10
Depends what you want to do with it? If all you want to do is plug a camera or USB stick into a computer then it is certainly better but if you wish to interface a more esoteric piece of equipment then making a USB interface is next to impossible.

And what about cost? I can make an RS232 interface from 3 transistors and a few resistors you won't do USB like that.

Additionally isn't USB a proprietary Microsoft protocol and each devices requires some sort of ID number? Anyway I thought Firewire was supposed to be a better protocol than USB but was blocked by Microsoft because they didn’t own it?

RS232 isn't dead by a long, long way yet - that's why they had to produce RS232 to USB adaptors.

Mike Harding
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Follow Up By: Member - MrBitchi (QLD) - Wednesday, Jun 21, 2006 at 09:17

Wednesday, Jun 21, 2006 at 09:17
Besides, there's no way you can do this with a serial port.....

RS232/USB adapters were made to cater for legacy devices. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don't. Eventually they'll all go, just like the 3.5 inch floppy disc is now virtually obsolete.

A serial interface can be made from one IC. So can a USB interface. No harder, just different.

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Follow Up By: Leroy - Wednesday, Jun 21, 2006 at 09:28

Wednesday, Jun 21, 2006 at 09:28
RS232 won't be dying for a long time. Used in industry to communicate to all sorts of equipment and is still used as an interface on new equip. Actually I was using the RS232 port to do some config changes on our PABX.

I have a new IBM Thinkpad and no com ports. IBM have a USB to serial/parallel adapter which I use frequently for work and play and don't have any issues with. You could use this with any USB laptop.

Leroy
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Follow Up By: Pajman Pete (SA) - Wednesday, Jun 21, 2006 at 13:22

Wednesday, Jun 21, 2006 at 13:22
MrBitchi that is gold ROFL!

I particularly liked the following two comments:

"this doesn’t just take the cake, it takes the entire bakery and then burns it down for the insurance money."

and:

"It even plugs into the cigarette lighter in your car—because it’s such a great idea hooking up your body to your car’s electrical system."

Where can I get one.

Pete
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Reply By: Raymond from Wanderin 4 Wheelers - Wednesday, Jun 21, 2006 at 08:29

Wednesday, Jun 21, 2006 at 08:29
I have a Garmin 3+ and use a thinkpad with USB pluds so have to use the serial to usb adapter. On reading the instructions (after many failed attempts) learnt that you have to plug in the USB adapter to the computer with the GPS off, after Windows has loaded then turn of GPS. Have just completed trip Melb to WA and back with no problems.

Ray
AnswerID: 179611

Follow Up By: Mike Harding - Wednesday, Jun 21, 2006 at 08:42

Wednesday, Jun 21, 2006 at 08:42
I tried every combination of GPS, computer and software in their respective on/off, before/afterwards states and it made no difference.

Comms with the GPS simply failed at random times (once when I zoomed the map) and activating a terminal programme for the relevant com port showed nothing was getting through. The GPS was working well and the mapping software was OK, the problem lay either in the hardware/firmware of the RS232 to USB adaptor or in the supplied drivers, which I had updated via the net. USB is a complex protocol intended for high speed comms and it may be there are timing issues when trying to interface it to a slow asynchronous protocol such as RS232 - dunno... anyone out there done any hardware/firmware design on USB?

Mike Harding
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Follow Up By: Sand Man (SA) - Wednesday, Jun 21, 2006 at 20:55

Wednesday, Jun 21, 2006 at 20:55
Yes,

Agree Mike.

There is just no consistency and when you need to connect the GPS to the Laptop in a hurry, that's when Murphy enters the picture. Everything that can go wrong WILL.

I will still run the Magellan Platinum as a standalone unit as it doesn't take up much room, but I will definitely get a mouse for the laptop.

I reakon $100 or so = piece of mind.
Bill


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Reply By: Michael Carey - Wednesday, Jun 21, 2006 at 11:30

Wednesday, Jun 21, 2006 at 11:30
You can still buy laptops with serial ports, you just have to do a little searching.... Toshiba have started to re-introduce them in their Tecra range, my wife bought me a new Toshiba Tecra A3X laptop for Christmas and it has a serial port, some of the higher end Dell machines have them.
The biggest problem I find with the USB-serial adapters is that you have to plug them into the same USB port each time, otherwise Windows will assign a new com port number and you will then have to re-configure your mapping software. This is also common to some of the USB GPS receivers that use a virtual com port.
AnswerID: 179639

Follow Up By: Mike Harding - Wednesday, Jun 21, 2006 at 12:22

Wednesday, Jun 21, 2006 at 12:22
Can I marry your wife please? :)
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Follow Up By: Leroy - Wednesday, Jun 21, 2006 at 12:41

Wednesday, Jun 21, 2006 at 12:41
'you have to plug them into the same USB port each time, otherwise Windows will assign a new com port num'

you just have to be aware of this and know where to chnge this in Ozi or what ever you use.

Leroy
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Follow Up By: Pajman Pete (SA) - Wednesday, Jun 21, 2006 at 13:23

Wednesday, Jun 21, 2006 at 13:23
My new work dell 620 has a serial port.
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