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      Posting these cat-cartoons-without-the-cartoon was a long journey that I don’t know if I’ll repeat soon again. A daily blog is tough … even when you have your material handed to you! But, I couldn’t have done it without the artwork … Continue reading →
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Still exercising that demon: SPOT

Posted by joeabbott on July 3, 2017

I was sure I was done with complaining about the SPOT. Hard to feel like you’re rational when you carp about an inanimate object, but as I’ve said before, the promise of how great this device could be has me frustrated.

imageAs I was putting away my gear from last weekend, I noticed the SPOT was still on; earlier I’d reported that it had turned itself off or drained the batteries. So, I figured I had just missed the “on” light and decided to try it with the batteries it has. SPOILER: the machine just doesn’t appear to like alkaline batteries. On my outing yesterday, I saw the same behavior: the unit didn’t send many messages, it appeared off when I got done with the bike ride, but the batteries appear to have juice. My solution was to order lithium batteries from Amazon when I got home … they’ll be here before next weekend.

Also, I was worried that I hadn’t oriented the SPOT correctly. It has an antenna in the body and works best when it’s face is up, pointing toward the sky. I don’t intend on wearing it on the top of my bike helmet, so I have a cord around it that I lash to the haul strap of my pack, and I adjust the body under some lashing cords on the back of the pack to ensure it doesn’t turn and face into my pack. It seems like a good setup, but I’m still not getting good results.

imageIn prior years when I wore it on a arm band, the unit worked much better. Again, those were days when I was mountaineering more and my trails were all above tree line, but whether on my arm and facing to the side, or on my back facing behind me, I’d expect similar results.

What were the results? Well, yesterday’s bike ride was a bit over 40 miles on old railroad grade beds, with a lot of it under trees but I passed through several towns in open parks and along roadways. The tracks captured by SPOT are in the map to the right.

It did a bit better. I managed to get a dozen tracks laid in and a single OK response. That’s 12 blips over 20 miles (it only seemed to capture blips in one direction) and a couple hours. Not great.

From the map, it appears that all locations are sequential from Duvall to Snoqualmie … as we’d done a round trip, this says that I didn’t get a single blip on our northward leg (we left from Snoqualmie, hit Duvall, and returned). Odd. I didn’t send a lot of “I’m OK” blips but I probably launched 5 of them and I did those while off the bike in some part of open land.

The end result is pretty modest in terms of a reliable, emergency response device. I’ll continue to play around with how I orient it and will be using lithium batteries going forward but this is downright disappointing in terms of value for the dollars I spend on the service.

I know a SPOT has the challenge of pushing data to the satellites for my location; a GPS merely has to pull in the signal from the satellites and do a bit of math (well, the SPOT does this, too, but it has to register or signal the satellites with “I’m OK” and to capture my progress for real-time display). How much easier does this make the job for the GPS? Well, here is the track my GPS captured:

image   image

Each tiny dot is a separate instance recorded where the GPS was talking to at least three satellites and the figuring out my exact location.

The elevation profile on the right has us starting in Snoqualmie at ~725’ in elevation, dropping to ~300’ at Duvall, and then returning on the same trail. News flash: it’s way harder to send information to satellites than read the data they’re transmitting.

So, while I look like Inspector Gadget as I head down the trail with my SPOT, my GPS, and often a dedicated camera attached to various straps, it appears I need (or desperately want) this sort of redundancy in functionality. Expect that I’ll continue to play with my SPOT to get the best results … the promise of it working well really is worth it … and I’ll keep my GPS so I will reliably know where I’ve been.

And thank you for finding your way to this site and the end of this post. I hope your trails are less ambiguous!

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