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November 6, 2008

Surgery on the Garmin Edge 305

Filed under: Google Earth,GPS,Howtos / tips / tricks,Tech Corner — mtbguru @ 8:23 am

I’ve been using my Garmin Edge 305 for over two years and am pretty happy with it. Unfortunately though, it seems just like with many other electronic gadgets these days, two years is about the time at which things start to fail. One doesn’t have to be entirely paranoid to assume that they may be just designed that way. Anyways, the first symptom was the device randomly shutting off during bumpy sections on my road bike – looked like a case of ‘battery bounce’. This got gradually worse and worse, to the point at which the slightest bump on my (suspended) mountain bike would kill it; it just wasn’t usable anymore. The thing was long past warranty and I didn’t feel like forking out Garmin’s $100 flat rate for repair – so it was time for some surgery. It’s always fun to try fix things yourself.

A quick round of Googling showed that I wasn’t the only one with this problem, and soon I ran into this helpful thread on one of the Motionbased forums, from which I came up with this plan of attack:

Open up the device; the case consists of two halves which are glued together. You basically have to pry open the rear black section from the front section. Important: a rubber strip runs along the side of the device and covers the switches; it has been molded onto the gray front part and is to be permanently attached to it. The seam which has to be pried open is between the rubber strip and the black rear part, NOT between the rubber and the gray front part. You can use your nails or a spatula, see the picture below (all the photos below are linked to higher resolution images btw, click on them to see these).

Garmin Edge fix1
The adhesive will slowly come off (and make a bit of a mess), a gap will open up and at some point you’ll be able to lift the black cover off. As usual with these things, don’t force it or you may break stuff.

With some patience, you’ll be able to separate the two halves.
Edge fix2
The random shutdown problem is most likely caused by the spring connector (the 8 gold coated pins on the bottom left of the top part, which contact gold coated pads on the bottom part, see image below). When the device is closed up, the leads of the battery (in the top half) run through this connector to the GPS board in the bottom half; the other contacts of the connector contact the mini USB port. The little springs (see pic below) only create a good electrical contact if they’re sufficiently compressed. Edge fix10
And that’s the heart of the problem: the compression of the springs is determined by the gap between the two halfs. The contact pads on the bottom half sit on a small piece of PCB, onto which the external USB port is directly mounted (see pic).
Edge fix3
A spacer underneath the small PCB defines the gap (see the profile shot below) and it is the adhesive force of the glue that holds the two parts together.
Edge fix4
So, after numerous cycles of plugging in and out a USB cable and applying significant forces on this piece of PCB, it is not hard to imagine that it can get somewhat wedged loose over time and as a result the compression of the springs decreases or fluctuates, something which only will be aggravated when you have the device mounted on your handlebar during a bumpy ride. The intermittent contact then leads to the device shutting down.
Basically, it’s a design error with respect to strain relief and could have been avoided by not having the USB port directly mounted onto the piece with the contact pads for the springs.

In order to fix the problem and make the connector more robust for a hopefully long future use I decided to combine two fixes mentioned in the Motionbased forum thread: hardwire the battery leads to the GPS board, and add a spacer to the small PCB with the USB port.
First though, you want to properly clean all contacting surfaces to make sure there’s no dirt or other contamination creating trouble – you can use for instance DeoxIT contact cleaner for this – check out the macro-photo I took of the connector tips: it’s easy to see that some dirt on those tips can become an issue.
Detach the small PCB to expose the battery leads – it’s kept in place by two screws on the sides.
Next, solder a wire from each battery lead to the GPS board – this requires some care and a steady hand, but it isn’t that hard. A good type of wire to use here is magnet wire – thin, plastically deformable wire that has an insulating coating on it (and is typically used for coil spools). Because it keeps its shape when you deform it and the thin wire is very light, it won’t move around too much inside the device during use after you’ve closed it up again, and the solder joints shouldn’t come under any significant stress.
The picture below shows where I soldered the wires at the battery/USB connector side (and is also a testament of my sub-par but in this case sufficient soldering skills).

Soldering a wire from the battery leads to the board will pretty much eliminate the battery bounce effect during rides. But to ensure the contacts to the USB port (which you need to download data or recharge the battery) remain in good shape, the additional spacer comes in – this will basically compress the little springs a bit more and create a more robust electrical contact. I took a thin piece of rubber with adhesive on one side (the type you can buy to cut out for instance rubber feet to glue on small furniture or equipment) and cut out a piece that is pretty much identical in shape to the original spacer, then placed it on top of it.

Then put both spacers on the small PCB and screw it back in place. The picture below shows how it goes together. It also shows the contacts on the GPS board where you need to solder the other ends of the battery wires to (as always, be careful when doing this – you don’t want to smolder components or splash solder all over the place).
The trick then is to nicely wrap the extra wires you’ve put in there alongside the board in such way that you avoid them touching the spring connector or getting squeezed when you flip the two halves of the device back together. Practice this a few times, because in the final step you’ll need to do it with glue on the case.

When you feel comfortable with this, it’s time to put new adhesive on (of course, you’ve already scraped the old one off as well as you could). I used some ‘Black Max’ Loctite (see picture) that I applied on the edges of the black rear cover – this adhesive works well with rubber and plastic.

Move both parts now gently together, making sure the wires sit nicely in place and out of the way and being extra careful with the area that contains the spring connector. When the two parts are locked back together, put a weight on the device (see picture) and let the adhesive cure. You want to use this weight and apply a uniform force in order to minimize any gap between the two parts (remember this affects the spring compression and also the operation of the Start/Stop and Lap buttons).
Fifteen minutes later, take off the weight and power on the GPS! Check whether the USB port works as well (you could also do this before applying the adhesive by clamping the halves together and gently plugging in the USB cable in the port.
If all went well, it will stay on, including during the roughest bumpiest rides you can find. (If it doesn’t power on, not all is lost: go back to start – the Loctite adhesive is removable just like the original adhesive). I’ve done this fix a few months ago, and my Edge was working almost like new again – and as to date, it still is.

December 25, 2007

Virtual Earth / Live Maps

Filed under: General MTBGuru stuff,Google Earth,Mapping — mtbguru @ 1:04 am

Google is of course not the only game in town – Microsoft’s Live Maps and Virtual Earth have made a lot of progress. The latter will even run in 3D from within your browser; only on Windows PC’s though.

Virtual Earth features some nice 3D models (for instance, the Golden Gate bridge, see the example and comparison with GE below) and the fact that it runs in the browser (IE and Firefox) is compelling, though I still prefer the user experience and overall feel of Google Earth (and the vast amount of content available in the latter).

Thanks to the fact that Live Maps/Virtual Earth have recently started to support the KML format, we’ve implemented a way to view your MTBGuru trips in them: look for the links to Virtual Earth right underneath the trip map and in the ‘Share your trip’ section.

VE Golden Gate
Golden Gate bridge and Marin Headlands in Virtual Earth

GE Golden Gate
Golden Gate bridge and Marin Headlands in Google Earth
April 5, 2007

Google’s My Maps

Filed under: General MTBGuru stuff,Google Earth,Mapping — mtbguru @ 1:56 pm

Lots of buzz today about the release of a new feature on Google Maps, called My Maps, allowing users to annotate and save maps with their own content: placemarks that may contain links, photos or text (any html really), lines, routes and shapes. GigaOM even talks about the ‘smashing of maps mashups’ and the impending doom it may bring to existing third party web apps, as Google’s own offering now seems to take away the wind out of the sails of many of these mashups and mapping startups.

We don’t worry about this but are actually rather excited about it: Google uses the KML format to save the data and feed it back into the Web. This makes for a nice and closer alignment between Google Maps and Google Earth (potentially leading one to become even more philosophical about the future of the Web and the advent of geobrowsers) – for us it means in particular that all KML files generated on MTBGuru are now also available on Google Maps.

As an example, let’s assume we’re interested in bike rides at Skeggs point near Woodside (one of our own local favorites). When we go to Google Maps and type in ‘Skeggs, Woodside CA’ in the main search box, we get the following result (screenshot below, click the image for a larger version):


The content in the left sidebar consists of Google’s featured links (typically these are local businesses that paid to be listed here). Below these, you can see a link titled ‘See user-created content’ (encircled in red). Clicking on this will now lead to a web search for KML files, relevant to this location and search, with the following result (see screenshot):


As MTBGuru creates and publishes KML files on the Web for each public trip and geotagged picture, you may find MTBGuru links appear in the sidebar, with corresponding placemarks on the map, as is the case here.

Click now for instance on the first placemark (‘Skeggs Point – Manzanita Overview’) – this points to an ‘overview’ KML file that contains the route, see the next screenshot below:


You can now save these routes and placemarks in Google’s My Maps – click on the placemarks and you’ll see a link appear titled ‘Save to My Maps’ (two examples below):



This basically enables anyone to save and catalog public data on MTBGuru in My Maps, and annotate it with their own content (overlayed routes, additional commentary or pictures), and we’re all in favor of that!

It would become even nicer if Google could give the ‘User-created content’ link a more prominent position in the sidebar upon a search, so it would be easier for people to browse the rich KML content out there on the Web.

March 20, 2007

Mars on Earth

Filed under: Google Earth,GPS — mtbguru @ 2:42 pm

Shall we call this “In-flight Aerial Photo Geotagging”?
Or, how to make your boring ten hour transatlantic flight (slightly) more entertaining, using your GPS and camera.

Devon island

I was lucky to get a window seat on flight KL605 from Amsterdam to San Francisco, and that the weather over the Arctic was fairly clear that day. I had switched on my Garmin Edge 305 early on during the flight but didn’t get reception – two satellites and a reluctant third was all the GPS was seeing.

I tried again hours later, when I saw majestic glaciated fjords and cliffs tens of thousands of feet below me, and yes, this time I got decent reception, so I started tracking and taking photos.

Once home, I created this MTBGuru trip and started finding out what my photos were showing me, using the Google Earth file. Fascinating, the stuff you can learn this way: most of the photos below are of the south shore of Devon Island, Earth’s largest uninhabited island. Its coastline is characterized by steep glaciated cliffs, deep fjords and valleys. The main geographic feature of the island is the Haughton impact crater, in the west part of the island.

And, as the rocky polar desert around the Haughton crater is the closest thing on Earth to what most of the planet Mars looks like, it is also known as Mars on Earth and home of the Mars-Haughton scientific project…

Unfortunately I lost signal again, high above Canada’s Northwest Territories, but I did end up getting about a thousand miles worth of arctic GPS data!

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March 15, 2007

Track your ski trips

Filed under: General MTBGuru stuff,Google Earth — mtbguru @ 5:56 pm

When winter attacks, we head to the hills – to ski or ride them!
Skiing and snowboarding seem like a natural fit for mountain bikers and cyclists. Muscle groups are kept in shape and similar adrenaline rushes are generated – and you can throw in backcountry and cross country skiing or snowshoeing to obtain the equivalent of endorphin inducing climbs.

Trip Type Ski
You may have noticed the new trip icon on MTBGuru. Tracking your ski or snowboard days with a GPS can have entertaining results: you can count your runs and calculate how much a run costed you (hint: more than a beer), keep track of your vertical, check your top speed etcetera.


And I’ve been told some backcountry skiers seem to really love Google Earth to scout new runs or areas they plan to ski.

An example of what you can do with the MTBGuru/Google Earth combo: a ski trip in Sierra-at-Tahoe uploaded to MTBGuru and a Google Earth screenshot of it using the resulting KML file.

Earth ski

February 27, 2007

Google Earth’s ‘Web Results’

Filed under: General MTBGuru stuff,Google Earth — mtbguru @ 12:45 am

As a web application, MTBGuru.com obviously lives and works in your web browser, be it FireFox, Internet Explorer, Safari or any other browser of your choice.

Meanwhile, Google Earth is increasingly evolving into a ‘geobrowser‘ of its own. While web browsers offer a window on a world of interlinked HTML files, Google Earth does a similar thing with KML files. More and more content is added in the form of KML files and can be accessed through ‘layers’. And recently, a new search capability has been added.

When you type something in the Search box of Google Earth, besides the usual ‘Local business results’ (orange placemarks) you will now also see ‘Web Results’ (green placemarks, see screenshot); based on your current view in Google Earth these ‘Web results’ are populated by placemarks in KML files found on the Internet as search results.

Also KLM files originating from public MTBGuru trips are indexed, as you can see in the example below: when you type in ‘Skeggs Point’ while looking at the San Francisco Peninsula, the picture placemarks of a Skeggs trip appear. If you zoom you’ll see the (red) track as well. In the sidebar you’lll notice the placemarks listed next to green placemark icons as Web Results, below the local business results.
So now you can effectively also search and browse for MTBGuru trips in Google Earth!

Earth web results

January 12, 2007

Mapping at Macworld

Filed under: Google Earth,Mapping — mtbguru @ 12:21 am


Steve and friends were in town again, and they made sure everyone, in particular those attending CES in Vegas, would hear of it – we went for a quick visit to the Moscone Center to see if any interesting things are happening in the Mac world related to GPS and mapping.

Garmin of course announced the OS X version of Training Center, which was being showcased at their booth.
Garmin booth
Unfortunately, Training Center is the only thing available on OS X, for the much more useful MapSource there is still a wait.

Google had a pretty large booth, entirely focused on Google Earth and 3D drawing tool Sketchup:
Google booth
The Mac version of Google Earth was celebrating its first birthday here.

In pre-Google Earth times, 3D Weather Globe & Atlas by MacKiev Software was the ruling 3D mapping software – they’re still around, and offer for a yearly subscription a real-time data stream that contains for instance current weather information.

Garmin competitor Globalsat was showcasing a number of soon-to-be-released devices, one of which looked very much like Garmin’s Forerunner 301/305 model, a wrist watch GPS device targeting outdoor sports and fitness folks. They were teaming up with software makers Routebuddy, who’ve created a nice mapping tool for OS X – it would even be nicer if it would support a standard output format such as GPX; they promised me that was coming soon.

There was of course only one star on this show:

iPhoneiPhone demo 2
The iPhone’s excellent screen looks perfectly fit to display maps. In fact, it looks so good that I’m quite disappointed that the thing doesn’t have a GPS built in – as I was getting a bit carried away imagining this:

iPhone on bar

Endo’s could become expensive though…

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December 5, 2006

MTBGuru + Google Earth + YouTube = MTBGeoTube?

Filed under: General MTBGuru stuff,Google Earth — mtbguru @ 11:44 am

We had the opportunity to play a bit with Google Earth Pro and create 3D flyover animations of MTBGuru trips – below is an example that we’ve uploaded to YouTube – the quality of the original .avi file is of course much higher, but this gives you a nice idea of what you can do. We may do more in this area in the future so stay tuned.

The ascent of Mount Tyndall: