GPS Tracking

I thought this was going to be simple.

Initially, I thought that I would be able to use an iPhone with IOS4, which gives some level of multitasking. However, this is not good enough. I tried a number of tracking aps, but all of them drop all data if they are interrupted, by, say, a phone call. It is possible to run both TomTom and a GPS tracking application, but only if TomTom runs in the background, which of course is entirely useless.

The only solution was to buy one of the myriad small GPS loggers available.

I could have used a more expensive device such as a Garmin, but they are not designed for this purpose, are larger than I want and are much more expensive.

But here was the next problem. While in my humble opinion a Mac is a superior computer for virtually any use, very few of these devices come with Mac software. Mostly, such software is oriented to geotagging, that is, being able to locate a photo on a map. At this stage, all I want is to be able to record the route we take. Geotagging may come later.

I tried a Gisteq device. It was the right size, that is, small, used an internal Li-ion battery so I could charge it through a computer and came with Mac software. It didn’t work and even the guy I bought it from said he was going to give up distributing the devices. He said this particular device worked fine under Windows, but not on his Mac either.

So I swapped it for a Qstarz BT-1300ST, on the advice from the dealer. This device had the virtue of using a fairly common chipset, and so there were a number of relevant programs available. The term “chipset” refers to a particular combination od silicon chips that are tightly integrated for a particular purpose.

Manufacturers of devices such as this do not develop the electronics themselves. Mostly they just package existing silicon designs, arranging such peripheral components such as batteries, the outer case and perhaps communications.

In the case of the BT-1300ST, the chipset was the MTK 2, also commonly used in the industry.

Because of this commonality, software manufacturers design their product to work with a particular chipset rather than the device brand per se. There were a number of choices. HoudahGeo didn’t work reliably for me. It should have, but didn’t. BT747 also didn’t work reliably. Mac Travel Recorder does exactly what I want, but only sort of works.

Mac Travel recorder seems to work well on my Mac Air Book, which I will have with me on our trip, but crashes on my Imac. I have contacted the guy who wrote the program, but while he responded promptly, he was unable to help.

The rest of this page is devoted to how you can get this device to work with this particular software. I am going to go through this in some detail, as the information on the web is either sparse, or unbelievably arcane and technical. While this information is related to the specific products I mention, the process is basically similar whatever device you are using. Note that the BT-1300ST is a Bluetooth device as are many of its competitors.

  1. The first step is to get a Bluetooth connection. Bluetooth is a short range radio communications protocol. To do this, open System Preferences in the Apple menu. Turn on the device and make sure you have the right combination of flashing LEDs. At this stage, the Bluetooth blue LED will not be flashing.
  2. Go to Bluetooth in the System Preferences panel and click on the little + sign at the bottom left of the left hand panel. Another window will now open and your computer will search for Bluetooth devices close to your computer. You may notice that the blue LED on your Qstarz starts to flash.
  3. From here all you have to do is to follow the logical instructions. Your device will be recognised by your computer, and you will be asked if you want to “pair” the device. Accept the offer. Your Qstarz should now appear in the Bluetooth window, but probably listed as not connected. Don’t worry yet.
  4. Now start MacTravelRecorder for the first time. If you have started it before to have a look you may have to change some things, or it will give an error message. If this happens, open it’s folder in finder. This is an option in the Mac Travel Recorder application folder. Delete the folder “LogFiles” and attempt to restart the program. I find this part of the program flakey. This process is not necessary on my Air Book, but it is on my Imac. Most of the time it will work OK, but occasionally you may need to restart your computer and try again. The MacTravelRecorder people tell me that this is because the Qstarz Bt-1300ST is not a supported device, even though other devices by the same manufacturer using the same electronics are supported devices.
  5. When you open Mac Travel Recorder, the first thing you have to do is to select your device from a drop-down menu. It appears as Qstarz1300ST-SPPslave. If this is not the name offered in the drop down menu, then you have a problem. If the program is going to work, when you select “Connect” there will be a pause for a few seconds and then a progress bar labeled “Initialising”, and it will then take a minute to do this. When this progress bar has disappeared you can the select the Data Log List panel and download the data.
  6. What I do from there is to select the GPX option in the left hand panel of this window. This will write a file to the GPX folder of the LogData folder of the TravelRecorder folder in your Applications folder , that is, (\Applications\TravelRecorder\LogData\GPX).
  7. Next, open up this folder, and change the name of the file. You will notice that Travel Recorder makes up file names with no intrinsic meaning. Call it what you want but do not change the .GPX part of the file name.
  8. Now open up Google Maps, and select My Maps. If you do not have a Google maps account it is worthwhile creating one. When you have done that, select the option “Create new map” and select “Import”. You are going to import the GPX file you renamed. Don’t worry that Google suggests a KML file, it will import GPX file perfectly. Navigate to your GPX folder and select the file you want and import it.
  9. Assuming this all works, you will have a track shown on a map. Double click on the strange name given to this map in the left hand panel in Google maps and change it to something sensible. That would be a name that looks like the one you gave to the GPX file, although it doesn’t have to be.
  10. If this has all worked, you can now go back to Travel Recorder and erase the log file from your GPS device. You have the data on your computer and it all works.
  11. Google maps has no facility to show an elevation profile, something of interest to bike riders and other people who travel under their own energy. At the top right of the Google map page there is an option to show in Google Earth. Select this option. Note that you must have Google Earth installed on your computer. It is a program, not a web page. It is free and easy to download and set up.
  12. When you have done this, you can show the elevation profile. Expand all the subfolders in Google Earth, and right click on any of the files. You will see an option to show the elevation profile.

Believe it or not, that is about it. It actually gets to be very straightforward after a few goes. It is well worth while.