Lava is Nifty, but Magellan Sucks

A dead Magellan brand handheld GPS unitHere’s a “fun” situation: take a Magellan-brand handheld GPS unit with a fresh set of batteries on a 10.2 mile hike over very rough terrain, having it record a track so that all the nifty pictures along the hike can be geolocated and the course of the hike can be mapped later. After a gruelling 8 hour trek, tell the unit to save the track. Watch in annoyance as it starts to save to the SD card but then complains “EXTREME LOW BATTERY – SHUTTING DOWN”. Just annoyance though – previously when it has done this, it merely loses the last few minutes of track, and you can replace the batteries and re-do the save when it comes back up. Except this time, when instead of actually shutting down it seems to restart itself, complain of “Low Battery”. Then throw a fit when I try to get the fool thing to actually shut down, watching in horror as it restarts itself a few times for no good reason before finally fading out. Then replacing the batteries and screaming with rage when the unit comes up with the same messages it did the very first time it was turned on…despite somehow keeping a copy of the “Points of Interest” I’d put in before, it has eaten not only all of my settings but also the entire friggin’ 10.2 mile track that I was trying to save!

Moral of the story: Magellan=BAD. Between bad hardware and the newer participant-hostile “consume-only” business model they’ve gone to with the new “Triton” line, I wouldn’t recommend them to anyone (unless I secretly hated them.)

So, I decided to cool off by hacking into NASA’s feed to one of the Mars Rovers to have it take a picture for me:

You don’t believe that I really hacked NASA, do you…well, read on:

Continue reading Lava is Nifty, but Magellan Sucks

“Geomicroblogging”? “Microgeoblogging”?

I don’t know what it should be called…but anyway, I put up a page where I can try to organize my allegedly spiffy idea . After my little “Proof of concept” experiment with audio geomicroblogging during the holidays, I’ve decided that the concept is indeed at least fun to play with. Since I’m still too poor to buy myself any really expensive toys or take a long luxury vacation, I figure I can amuse myself by trying to turn my experiment into a “real” system that someone might actually want to use. I’ve posted my current idea and plans for the first release at the link up there. I figure getting to the first basic implementation will take a few days to a few weeks, mainly depending on whether anyone but me likes the idea (if it seems interesting to anyone else, there’s a lot more reason to focus on getting it done than if it’s just a crazy idea that everyone else hates…)

Very brief post…

Sorry about having another brief bout of blogstipation. We’ve finally managed to close on a house and now we’re probationary Texans (y’all). I’ve been spending the last week+ driving back to SE Idaho (by way of Best Friends, since we now have room to hire a second dog to hopefully keep Cornelia the Laser Dog company. I’ve got to lug 3 cats (and one goldfish in a small fish tank) a distance of 1600 miles or so starting in about 6-8 hours. Wish me (good) luck.

After the weekend, I should have some time to get back to the real posts. The Mountain Dew Wine was virtually unfermented when I returned, even after sitting there 10 days, but since I’ve gotten back it’s started going. Still slowly – the bubbler spits out 3-5 bubbles ever 40 seconds or so – but it’s going. It’ll be interesting to see what I end up with. I wanted to do 2-3 posts on the effects of benzoic acid on yeasts (that’s the preservative in Mountain Dew®), and I would swear I had one or two others in mind. Oh, yes, and an update on getting a Magellan GPS replacement that can actually be used – they seem to have located a slightly lower-end model eXplorist that they can send me. I sent them back their “walled garden”-based Triton 500, so the replacement unit ought to show up next week, I think. Their service has been pretty good, at least.

Was it a mistake to buy Magellan GPS? Stay tuned…

A dead Magellan eXplorist 600 GPS unitWell, the good news is that after calling their support line and trying the three-button-reset ritual that I hadn’t known about, my Magellan eXplorist 600 is still completely dead. They did not give me any hassle about replacing the unit, they just gave me an RMA number. My dead eXplorist was sent to their “Repair” center in Fort Worth, TX this afternoon. A replacement should arrive in about a week to a week-and-a-half.

The bad news is that Magellan has discontinued the $350 eXplorist 600 (and the rest of the eXplorist line) and insists that they can only offer their newer $250 Triton 500 as a replacement. I’ll withhold judgement on whether to be ticked off at the $100 of retail value that is being lost here until I see the specifications. It looks at first glance that the basic capabilities really are pretty much the same, so it may turn out okay…except for the most important feature by far, which I originally chose the eXplorist for in the first place: documented data formats.

The Triton series GPS’s appear to use a bizarre, undocumented file format, completely different from the documented format of the Meridian and eXplorist models. This means that as of right now, a Magellan Triton owner is not permitted to work with their OWN DATA without going through a proprietary, Microsoft-Windows-only GUI package, which ironically apparently uses GPSBabel to do file conversion. GPSBabel doesn’t support the Triton formats since there is no information available on how to read and write them yet. Since I have no Microsoft Windows machines anywhere, this means the shiny new Triton 500 (which I – seriously – can’t stop thinking of now as the “Magellan Vista”) will be nothing more than a highway map that requires batteries unless their proprietary “VantagePoint” software will run under WINE.

I’m hoping that they’ve merely been busy and will soon get around to adding this units specifications to their “Interface Solutions” information. This is where the openly-published file format (and communication protocol) specifications which were highly (and rightfully) praised by the GPSBabel project are made available for the now-abandoned Meridian and eXplorist units. If the GPS data I work so hard to obtain remains locked inside the proprietary format, only accessible at the whims of Magellan and Microsoft, I’m going to be extremely peeved. If, on the other hand, GPSBabel soon gets the information necessary to add support for the Magellan Triton line, the only serious complaint I have with all this will go away. Honestly, if I can at least get enough documentation to write my own simple waypoint, track, and route reader for their Triton files I’ll be happy.

I think a real, old-fashioned letter, printed on dead tree and everything, mailed to their corporate HQ is called for…

Anybody out there have any experience dealing with Magellan corporation? I’d like to think they want to do the right thing…

I guess now I find out how good or bad Magellan, inc. is.

A couple of months ago I traded up from my Garmen etrex Legend to a Magellan eXplorist 600. I wanted to get away from Garmin due to a couple of irritating limitations that they seem to cling to (like losing your timestamps if you save an individual track, lack of SD card support, and dropping NMEA data support “to support [their] software” [see the review in Make #1]). So far, I’ve been pretty pleased with the shiny new Magellan. Though their software (as usual) only works on Microsoft Windows, I didn’t buy it for the software, and GPSBabel handles the data conversion of the files just fine.

So, naturally, now that I’ve just started blogging with the track data I’ve been recording with it, it has died on me. Yesterday – worked fine. Today – won’t turn on or respond in any way.

The good news is that I DID register the thing online at Magellan corporation’s website, and it’s supposed to have a 1-year warranty. Support’s only available Monday-Friday, though, so I’ll have to wait until Monday to see a response to my support query. Wish me luck. I’ll post updates in case anyone is interested in how Magellan responds.

In other news, “BigC” followed up on my previous queries about digital microscopes and Linux, saying that the manufacturer is now offering a Linux-compatible version of their AM311S model (the Linux-compatible one is the “AMU311S”) by special-order. Only goes up to 200X magnification, though, so it’s not real useful for my microbiological purposes. I can’t say the manufacturer of these digital scopes is impressing me much, but BigC certainly seems to be going out of their way to give good service.

There’ll be at least one other post later today – I wanted to get some more “classic” microbiology papers blogged before the day was up. Kirby-Bauer or Schaeffer-Fulton?…