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GeoBuddy Overview June 8, 2009

Posted by kinzuakid in For the Newbies, Geocaching, Geocaching.com, Software.
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Tip ‘o’ the hat to Calipers for requesting I take a look at GeoBuddy!

Not A Software Review

First off, this is NOT a proper review of TopoGrafix’s GeoBuddy software.  A proper review has all sorts of feature/functionality testing and the like I did not do here.  This post is a high level impression of the kit from my own unique perspective.  If you know me and my habits you should use that intelligence to color what you take away from my notes here.  If not, you should visit TopoGrafix and the GeoBuddy forums for more detailed information.

How I Use Geocaching Software

When I plan a Geocaching outing or just want to head out and grab a couple while I am out I have the same basic steps.  It is by these activities I judge the usefulness of any hardware/software tools for my caching fun.  These steps have been refined to accommodate my erratic travel schedule and the fact that on any given day I might be in 3 different states or countries.  My emphasis is on speed in getting to a quality set of Geocaching waypoints so I can get out the door and on the trail.  I like to explore and I don’t mind a little “now how do I get up THERE?!” while on the road.  A little sweat never hurt a caching trip.  I also don’t like to read the description and logs until I am at GZ unless I see the difficulty is a 4 or 5.  Finally, I might print a high level street map with waypoints just so I can plan my point-to-point wanderings efficiently.

All of this boils down to four basic steps which influence my overall impression of GeoBuddy.  Let’s take a peek, below the fold.

My Routine

  1. Run a Pocket Query
    Well duh, right?  I have 3 stock PQs I run on a rotating basis to insure the most recent results are delivered quickly, but otherwise what I do is nothing different from your average newbie.  This strategy allows me to run the same exact query three days in a row and get the results back within minutes.  Whether I tell Geocaching.com to give me specific cache types, difficulties and so forth is mainly dependent on whether I’ve got an agenda or just want to be armed for local traditional caches where I happen to be.  In comes the GPX file, unzipped to my GPX “holding pen” folder.
  2. Open and Filter the GPX
    This is my “secret sauce” to maximizing fun and minimizing DNFs.  As soon as I open the GPX I filter it with either Watcher or GSAK.  My goal here is to remove GPX entries that have shown 2+ DNFs in the most recent attempts.  If the last two find attempts were DNFs I probably don’t want to waste a long trip up a mountain to check on a cache the last two seekers couldn’t locate.  That’s the owner’s problem.  In addition, if I only want to look for Unknown or Virtual caches (or whatever) I will further filter the query down to the right stuff, assuming my Pocket Query wasn’t setup to do that in advance.  On a large cache hunt I might merge 2 GPX files together and filter from there.  With 500-1000 caches to run through a good, automated tool is key.  When done, save the GPX and…
  3. Open the Filtered GPX in my Map Software
    I use Garmin’s MapSource to manage my waypoints because the street level and topographic maps, plus the waypoint icons are a perfect match to what I will see on my GPS in the field.  This is just me being retentive, and prepared.  I could use any number of tools to upload to my GPS; the Garmin software just lets me see it as it will be “on the trail”.  From here I might pick off the one or two Geocaches that simply make no sense for my outing, so as not to clutter the map.  If I think I need it, I might print out an area map or two to aid in navigation.  Again, this view is a perfect match to my GPS, so getting a bearing is easy.
  4. Upload the WPTs to my GPS and my PDA
    I have a separate tool on my PDA for looking at the GPX file with descriptions, hints and logs, so I don’t print any of those before I depart.  Again: there are scads of tools for that purpose; I simply choose to use the Garmin package because it is foolproof and gives me a consistent look at the world.

What’s Important to Me

As you can surmise, Step 2 is where I look for the most help from software and hardware.  Geocaching.com and my waypoint management software can operate independently without much intervention and if I really need to look at the overhead photos for a single waypoint I can drop the coordinates in Google Earth/Maps.  If I am going deep off-road for a lengthy hike, the odds are a single aerial shot will do the trick.  Mainly, I hike in from the trailhead and see where it takes me.  I’m not too concerned about bushwhacking.  It happens.  Get over it and wear long pants.

In short: tools that give me the ability to rapidly manipulate 500-1000 GPX records against a preset series of rules are king.  Everything else is a solution without a problem.  Don’t know the trailhead coordinates?  Ask the owner.  Need detailed trail maps?  Call a lifeline or Google Earth.  Want a hint?  Nevermind.  You get the idea.  The task of performing reconnaissance on a single troublesome cache is trivial.  I need help managing a large number of them.  I never know where I will be in 24 hours.  If I do, such as when planning a “Crush” event, I am already executing a lot more heavy duty processing on my own.

How Does GeoBuddy Stack Up for Me?

Three features stand out for me as interesting:

  1. The Track Tool
    When you select a map area to view or a single Geocache to examine using the overhead photo map, the track tool allows you to paint your desired path to the cache.  This is useful for mapping out trails and trailheads from parking or other caches.  These tracks can be converted to routes for upload to your GPS (or keep them as Tracks, either way).  Ostensibly, then, you could park and start the route on your GPS, never getting off the trail all the way to GZ!  This is cool, particularly for longish (1mi+) hikes into a cache site in rough country.
  2. The Moving Map
    This is a feature I longed for in GPS when I started Geocaching.  With your GPS plugged into your laptop, you can view your relative position on the map as you move around.  This is nice if you happen to have all the necessary maps cached on your laptop (assuming this is even possible), otherwise, you need wireless Internet access to download the ever updating stream of map data coming across.  So while the feature is cool, it’s utterly useless to me in the field for a number of reasons:

    1. I don’t bring my laptop while caching/hiking in the hills.
    2. Where I cache, cell reception tends to be spotty, blocking map updates if needed
    3. I have a moving map in all of my cars and on my handheld GPS (but no nice overhead aerial photos)
  3. Find Logging
    This is another feature I long for in even the simplest toolkits. After running through a 20-cache day (let alone 100) is it a painful task to log the finds, DNFs and maintenance notes in the right order, let alone with the right level of detail.  This is a great option.  Geocaching.com’s find logging is a hurtful process, but frankly I don’t see any other way to do it without automated software (I think Geocaching.com has found the least painful way to do it, but it still involves some work).

In the end, though, GeoBuddy falls short for me.  I can open GPX files just fine and browse the contents, but the apparent lack of an automatic filtering function out of the box is a problem for me.  I already have maps on my GPS and there are dozens of FREE packages for perusing the GPX file’s contents.  GeoBuddy doesn’t even have maps, per se, just overhead photos.  You can get them, but out of the box GeoBuddy doesn’t offer anything that is compelling for my needs.  Is it slick?  You betcha.  Does it have some neat time saving functions for the super aggressive planner?  Oh yes.

Is it going in my tool bag?  Nope.  But don’t let that stop you.  Go check it out for yourself.

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