GPS and a Laptop Addendum

Since I wrote the original articles about using a GPS I have been experimenting with using my GPS connected to my laptop for real time navigation. In other words, I have my GPS plugged into my laptop and have Microsoft's Streets and Trips program running where I can see my actual progress move along the map.

I had to work a few bugs out first to make it happen. The first thing I did was buy a power inverter. A device which plugs into your lighter and converts the 12 volt output to the standard 120 volts. I then plug my laptop into this so I avoid using the laptop's batteries and, in addition, I can run the laptop indefinitely while I cruise on down the road.

The second thing that bugged the hell out of me was that every time I plugged the GPS into my laptop, my mouse cursor would go flying all over the place making the setup unusable. This drove me nuts for a long time. I couldn't figure out why it wasn't working. Then, it dawned on me. The start-up sequence. Drawing from my computer background I know that in order to get things to work right sometimes you have to start them up in a certain order. So, I first turned on the GPS, plugged it into the laptop, plugged my laptop into the power inverter, and the turned on the laptop, started Streets and Trips, and SHAZAM! Everything was working right. I turned on the GPS task Pane in Streets and Trips and I could see my position on the map. One other technical thing I had to do on my Garmin Legend was to change the "interface" mode from Garmin to Nema in/out, otherwise it doesn't work. The point being that Nema is a generic interface so many different brands and models of GPS's can be used with Streets and Trips.

So here I am on the map. As I drive along I can see myself move along the map. Very cool. There are some features you can turn on in the GPS Task Pane in Streets and Trips. One is leave a trail, a line will be drawn in blue of where you been. Another is keep your car centered on the map, and the third is orient the map in the direction you are driving. All of which I turn on.

All what I wrote earlier about using a GPS may have just been rendered useless. Why? Because if you are non-technical this maybe the way to go. There is nothing you have to do but get the real time navigation working. Let's say you took a wrong turn somewhere and you don't know where you are. Just whip out the laptop, plug in the GPS, and you will see exactly where you are on the map. And if you were savvy enough to pre-plan your trip and have your destination marked on the map, you just wind your way through the streets on the map until you get where you are going. Or, better yet, use the "route planner" feature in Streets and trips, and the program will make a green trail right to your destination from where you are. Just make your little car on the map follow the green line to your destination. Pretty dang neat!

Downside and upside of this setup:
First, and most important is cost. You have to have a laptop and a power inverter along with your GPS. That's money, honey. The other downside is clutter, wires all over the place and a place to set your laptop. You got wires from the GPS to the Laptop and wire from your laptop to your cigarette lighter. Plus, if your traveling alone, you got the seat next to you to set your laptop, if not alone, your partner has to sit with the laptop on his/her lap (tough if they are sleeping). Compare that to using your GPS alone, the size of a cigarette pack sitting on your dashboard with no wires running to it.
The upside, no waypoints, or pre-programming anything. You plug everything in and bang! There you are on the map. And the last upside, it is very visual, everyone knows how to read a map. You're here, and you want to go there. Easy.

As for myself? I'm going to use my GPS alone for most of my trip. I don't need all that clutter around for the major portion of a trip. I always preplan my trips anyway. Plus, any coffee or food around isn't going to spill on my laptop. However, I will use the laptop setup at night, it is perfect for that, much better than the trying to see the GPS alone. With the laptop and GPS, it almost makes no difference if you are traveling at night or in the day. And, I will use the laptop setup for exploring, I see someplace on the map I want to go, I just drive until I get there. And there is always a trail of how to get back!

Editor's Note: Last year at campouts and events I had folks look me up with questions about using their GPS. I had the feeling that they were embarrassed and intimidated in having troubles using their GPS. They shouldn't be. This is new stuff. It is satellite technology, still under development. Not easy for a lot of folks. The only reason I got good at it was because I love maps, always have. When I was a kid I thought it would be the greatest thing on earth if I could see myself move along a map as I drove somewhere. Little did I know in my lifetime that this would actually be possible. So, naturally, I took to this stuff like a duck takes to water. So, hang in there. Keep trying, you'll get it. And pretty soon you will be teaching me tricks and tips. Any questions? Write me at