The Angry Corrie 59: Oct-Dec 2003

tSK, tSK: GPS the Easy Way (March, 2003), by David Brawn

Discovery Walking Guides, 80pp. ISBN 1 899554 46 7, 4.99, available from Discovery Walking Guides Ltd, 10 Tennyson Close, Northampton, NN5 7HJ

Review: Grant Hutchison

There's a very clear agenda to this slim volume. David Brawn wants you to buy some of Discovery Walking Guides' other products, in particular the Personal Navigator Files - stored track logs intended for use by GPS owners who are following some of the walking-guide routes. That's fine - everyone has an agenda, and this one is at least presented without dissimulation. But there's a tacit trade required in this sort of thing; in order to put up with an advertising pitch, the reader must be rewarded with some interesting or informative content. In this case, Brawn is morally obliged to make GPS use easy - or, at the very least, easier. And I'm not at all convinced that he has come up with the goods in this respect.

Start with the positive - what did I learn from this book? I learned some interesting things about importing, orientating and scaling scanned maps in a shareware package called OziExplorer (not Oziexplorer, as Brawn renders it). This stuff lets you generate waypoints on your PC, which can be exported to your GPS receiver through a suitable cable, and it is quite rightly billed as "advanced use" in the book. I also found out a pitfall of powering your GPS receiver from the cigarette lighter in a diesel Land Rover - if you hit a steep slope in too high a gear, the 12V supply drops out and the GPS unit shuts down. And there were some other things I was pleased to see presented in a beginners' guide - emphasis on the importance of setting your receiver to the correct map datum (though no real explanation of what a "map datum" is); some reasons GPS receivers may fail or behave inaccurately; and a discussion of how to choose a suitable unit in the first place.

On other matters I was less impressed. Brawn adopts a jokey tone that verges on patronising - after having been told to "first tidy up the wrapping paper" and then to make sure the batteries are in the right way round, I confess I felt the urge to bin this book at page 12. The run-though of GPS functions is based on only one unit by one manufacturer, albeit a popular one - the Garmin 12. So it seems unlikely that the detailed "press-this-then-that" instructions will be universally applicable; Brawn finally has to admit defeat and advise that for many menu options: "this is one aspect where you do need to read the manual for your own GPS." No shame there, except that the foreword and the "Getting Started with your GPS" section clearly imply that this book is an alternative for people who won't read, or can't understand, the manual.

image from TAC59

And he fails on the nitty gritty - GPS navigation is poorly taught, using overly specific examples. Brawn navigates his way around North Luffenham airfield in Rutland, and describes in detail how he inputs the necessary grid references on his Garmin 12. The relevant snippet of OS Landranger 141 is shown, but no grid-line numbering is visible. A novice equipped with a non-Garmin unit and limited knowledge of grid references would be left floundering. Brawn briskly advises: "Familiarise yourself with the 'How to give grid reference [sic] (British National Grid)' section of the map legend, not forgetting those SK letters identifying the 100,000 metre square." But this really isn't good enough for a book describing itself as "the Easy Way." And what are "those SK letters" anyway? It transpires that Brawn's example lies in 100km square SK, and he doesn't seem to realise that the reader is likely to have a map from a different area, using different letters in its legend's worked example. And it gets worse - the listed grid references are wrong. When I entered them into my own Garmin 12 and uploaded to Anquet Maps, I found myself at the Ratcliffe on Soar power station, 50 kilometres from North Luffenham. The coordinates Brawn gives are in fact a meaningless hybrid of full national grid numbers and the grid lettering system. This implies a serious lack of understanding of basic grid referencing, and it's difficult to understand how he could have walked the route he describes without noticing a problem.

The book is self-published, and it stumbles into many self-publishing pitfalls - overuse of uninformative clipart, inadequate proof-reading, and a variety of stylistic tics that a good editor would have fixed. All this makes it a very choppy read, littered with Unexpected Capital letters and unnecessary "quotation" marks. Such things are barely excusable. But there's no excuse at all for failing to run your text through a spellchecker: two n's in "millennium", Mr Brawn; and two r's in "embarrassment".

TAC 59 Index