Saturday, October 15, 2011

Topographic Map Software

Update 10/15/11.--I upgraded to OS-X 10.7.2 and surprisingly National Geographic's TOPO! works with no visible problems from the few test I've run, meaning it loads, open and works for a few tests. So my final recommendation still applies, it's the better of three if you want USGS topo maps and other tools

I've used National Geographic's (NG's) TOPO! software for Washington for several years now, even buying new version when they decide to create new versions instead of simple developing upgrades or updates. And now they have said the current version is not compatible with Apple's OS-X 10.7 (Lion) and just now decided to consider to plan an upgrade for it.

Go figure they want to lose all the customers who, like me, have it on their Mac with plans to upgrade to Lion or others who already have Lion and find the software doesn't work. So much for customer service, especially since it's a good software package, and probably the better of all of them. And like which?

I will be upgrading to Lion soon (in a week or two waiting the last updates for Lion for other software and hardware) so I went out and got MacGPS Pro along with the maps for Washington state, and I got Garmin's Topo US 24K West which has software and maps.

Well, after doing some initial work setting them up and using them, I'm not overly impressed with either. This is in part I because I focused on the use for the work I do, which is really using USGS topographic maps for location information (latitude, longitude, elevation, etc.) for sites I use with Google maps, for deteriming routes and for identifying and locating landmarks and geographic features.

Ok, so what's my initial assessment of each of the two new ones?

Let's start with the MacGPS Pro. For one, it uses the full range of USGS topographic maps and you can pick the scale and maps you want for the state(s) you buy. That's cool, but the downside it that is load each quadrant (map) when you start it so it can be excruciatingly slow while it loads.

I use the 20 which include Mt. Rainier NP and the adjacent area. In addition the auto-open folder doesn't have a user selection if you're working in more than one area or working with two different map scales. I have more to learn how it deals with this folder but user-selected folders would be handy.

Also, in selected the maps quadrants is difficult at best and almost impossible at worst as they don't provide an separate or ready index to help you. You have to guess at the quadrant name or the maps identification system which are latitidue-longitude and alphanumeric sequence based files.

But what is really aggrevating is that it doesn't save your last window settings. It always uses a default which is both stupid and irritating as the list window opens along the bottom covers the dock and you have to move and resize it or remove it, but you don't have the choice not to display it at startup. The map window is worse as it uses full window size, and with my 27" LED Apple monitor it's just stupid on their part.

Any good application will have save user settings for starting and they have none. And it only displays the map(s) in the window and navigate outside the window requires it to reload the maps in the new display. They're in cache but they can't seem to get it to scroll or resize quickly. On the plus side, better than the NG maps, they will display well at scale less than 1:24K to see details.

This is something the NG software does automatically, quickly and easily. I don't like the NG not remember you last location and scale to fill the window, but all the maps are there and resizing and scrolling is almost invisible. The MacGPS could and should do that with initial user settings.

When I use it for location, which I like they use USGS maps, you have to click a location to show a window of information than simply using the mouse over. Both the NG and Garmin Basecamp software does that. The MacGPS does display a higher resolution of the location information (latitude and longitude, elevation, etc.) than the Garmin software and similar to NG's.

Accuracy is something that hard to assess because of the map scale isn't good enough to be even close to exact, but it's within acceptable accuracy as most of them are accurate. Elevation, however is easier to be faulty as it's not what the map reads but what the software calculates from the point data in the digital file. I'm only interested it that it's in reasonably correct between the contour lines.

Ok, the Garmin Basecamp software? Well, Initially it has some good features, like remember user settings for the window and map. But the maps are Garmin's version of USGS-like topographic maps and there is no way to remove some display features, like shading, and lacks improved contour lines, which are more straight lines at some scales.

And they fill the maps with a lot of distracting markers you can remove most but not all. The maps are more for hikers and show and tell than real use for landscape and geographic features which USGS maps excel at. They should have the option to use or import USGS maps instead of theirs.

What bothers, and somewhat angers, me is that the software recognized my hard drives (Mac's Time Machine and Apple's iDisk) as "GPS devices" and there is no way to remove them. So every few minutes a popup window interfers with your work to remind you the device is busy. Neither are a GPS device and the software should recognize that or allow the user to remove it. Really dumb on their part.

Another point is the hand for location information. It's a hand you don't exactly know where it's at because it covers the point inofmation of the mouse over. The mouse over is good and click to get more information. But I found the elevation data often to be inaccurate as it shows differences with the contour lines.

Again the road and trail features are more lines than reality. It's obviously the point data for the maps but at some scales it's obvious, something scanned and digitized USGS topo maps don't have the problem. In addition the labels aren't representatives as they make a point represent a feature, like a ridge or a valley.

Anyway, that's my initial impression. The Garmin Basecamp for the West is $160+ with tax and shipping and the MacGPS Pro for one state is $130+ with tax and shipping. The NG by comparison is $80 per state. In the end, if NG's produces a Lion-compatible version of the topographic map software, it's the better buy and the better of the three.

The other software packages have some advantages over the NG software, such as the MacGPS Pro will allow you to import raster maps and convert images of maps if you have some information about it (have maps to test). But for the most part for my use, needing accurate USGS maps and basic location tools, the NG is still the better choice. It's more user intuitive and friendly, but I'll get better at the other two.

Now if NG will get their head out of their ass to produce a Lion-compatible version. I'd buy it and park the other two except on occasion for some of their features and tools not in the NG software.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Mental Vacation

I have to apologize to all the visitors of this blog and my Mt. Rainier photo guide. I've been on a free fall mental vacation for much of this year and especially since August, barely keeping anything updated and especially not the monthly guides and maps.

At this point in time, the September updates have been ready to upload for weeks and the October ones in preparation, but I just haven't done the final work to get them on-line, and that is my failure of late. After working on the photo guide for five years and the monthly reports for over three years now, I've kinda' run out of steam for a short while.

I expect it will come back soon and everything updated to current status and information, once I get over the depression I'm in right now, see a description. This has happened a number of times in my life going back to my teens.

It's called genetic, or lifelong, Dysthymia, and double depression when normal depression is added to the current one. It's the old feeling we often get being overwhelmed with life and everything we're doing and being. Sometimes it tires me out mentally and physically, which is what has happened this last year.

That said, I thank for your patronize to the Website and photo guide, and everything will be current soon, probably this month for the start of winter in Mt. Rainier NP.