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December 3, 2008

Comment feeds

Filed under: General MTBGuru stuff,Howtos / tips / tricks — mtbguru @ 8:28 am

We’ve recently added comment feeds so that you can more easily keep track of comment threads posted on your (public) trips, using the tool of your choice (e.g. Reader, Bloglines or desktop RSS readers like Newsgator).

To access the feed, go to your ‘My Trips’ page (using the sidebar link) and you’ll find a blue feed icon and link to the feed, see screenshot below:

Comment feed link

Use this link to subscribe to the feed in your reader of choice. Firefox or Safar render feeds pretty well too (see screenshot below), so you can alternatively just stick with the browser. The feed (Atom / RSS) contains all comments left on your public trip pages.

Feed screenshot

November 19, 2008

View or print (large) maps

Filed under: General MTBGuru stuff,Howtos / tips / tricks — mtbguru @ 11:28 pm

We’ve added a section on the trip page containing a set of links that will lead you to separate pages showing only the map, in a number of different screen resolutions and map types (see screenshot below). This allows you to ‘set your map free’; useful in cases where you’d like to have more screen real estate to zoom in and view your track in greater detail, or when you want to print* out a map with the track on, but without all the other stuff on the page in your way.


An example:


*Note that the track won’t print properly when using Firefox – it does so however with Internet Explorer and Safari – I won’t bore you with the obscure technical reasons for this, but let me point out that even Google itself applies a rather ugly hack/workaround for this issue (printing tracks/polylines overlayed on maps in Firefox): they run a server that converts everything into bitmaps and serve up the latter when a print request is made. If you do use Firefox and want to print, my best advice is to use the Prtscr button or other screen capture utility, copy and paste the result in an application from which you can print (e.g. Powerpoint or OpenOffice)

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.

May 31, 2007

Customize your map

Filed under: Howtos / tips / tricks — mtbguru @ 7:06 pm

Embedding a trip map on your own website or blog has become a quite popular feature. To do this, you insert a snippet of HTML code (an ‘iframe’), which is listed on each trip page, onto your own site.

By default, the size of the embedded map is 500 pixels wide by 500 pixels long, giving you a street map view with zoom level chosen such to contain the entire track.

From now you will be able to change these settings and customize the way your map looks.

Let’s take a look at the code:


At the end of the iframe’s URL, appended right after the question mark, you see attributes ‘width’ and ‘height’ (which are bold faced here). To get a different map size, just change the numbers of pixels listed – make sure though to also change the corresponding “width=” and “height=” properties following this: add 10 pixels to width, and 65 pixels to height, to avoid ugly scroll bars. for instance, this code creates a 600 pixels wide by 300 pixels tall map:


You can also add new attributes to change the appearance of the map:

  • fit: default = 1. When set to 0, the map won’t scale to fit the track any longer, and you’ll have to provide your own zoom parameter (see next item).
  • zoom: Google maps zoom level. A higher number increases the zoom level and will show more detail (if available).
  • type: default = 0. When 0 -> show street map. When 1 -> show satellite view. When 2 -> show hybrid satellite + street map view
  • first: default = 1. When 1 -> show a marker on the first point of the track.
  • last: default = 0. When 1 -> add an additional marker to indicate the last point of the track and center the map around this marker.

You can append these to the iframe’s URL while separating them with ampersands; you can specify the options in any order you want and you can omit them if you’re happy with the default value.

This may all sound a bit complicated but it is very simple, just take a look at this example:


The changes with respect to our original code are indicated in bold: the map size has been changed, a zoom level of 12 is set (the map doesn’t simply just fit the track any longer) and a hybrid satellite/street view is shown.

If you’re using embedded maps or are planning to do so, make sure to play around with this, and give your map the look you prefer.

May 15, 2007

Sharing your trip

Filed under: General MTBGuru stuff,Howtos / tips / tricks — mtbguru @ 6:28 pm

When you’re creating or editing a trip, your browser shows you an ‘edit view’ of the trip page – its URL is reflecting this. Obviously only you (the trip owner) can see such ‘edit view’ and edit your trip, and this presented a bit of a problem: when people wanting to share their trip with others just copied and pasted the URL (of the ‘edit view’) from their browser’s address bar, the page that URL directed to wasn’t visible to others. The rather clunky solution we had for this was the ‘View Trip’ link in the sidebar, that toggles the page to a ‘view mode’ which is visible to others.

Simpler is better though, so we added a snippet at the bottom of the trip page (shown in both edit and view mode) which makes sharing the trip and trip page URL obvious (screenshot below). It also includes a link to post to your del.icio.us bookmarks (we may add other bookmarking services later). Thanks midtoad for the suggestion! Other suggestions are always welcome, at mtbguru@mtbguru.com.


April 28, 2007

Setting trips public or private: update

Filed under: General MTBGuru stuff,Howtos / tips / tricks — mtbguru @ 2:32 pm

Up until now, when you created a trip on MTBGuru, there were two different default privacy settings in use:

  • When you had created the trip using ‘Add a Trip‘ in the sidepanel, the trip was by default ‘Public’, with comments disabled.

  • When you had created the trip using ‘Upload GPS Data‘, or out of one of your GPS files in ‘My GPS Files’, the trip was by default ‘Private’.

The thinking behind this was that when uploading straight GPS files, the user’s privacy would be better served by keeping the default setting of the resulting trip and the data private; this as opposed to ‘Add a trip’ where by default the user would ‘publish’ or add the trip to the public MTBGuru trip base.

On the other hand this was all quite confusing, so we just implemented a new and better way of tackling this:

  • When you now create a trip using ‘Upload GPS Data’, instead of the ‘Create Trip’ button after the upload you will be presented with two ‘Create Trip’ choices: [Public] or [Private] (see screenshot below). As you need to select one of either to create the trip, there is no need anymore for a ‘default setting’.

  • Createtripexample2

  • Creating a trip using ‘Add a Trip’ remains unchanged and still results in a default ‘Public’ setting; comments are enabled by default now as well (screenshot below).

  • Create trip example

Of course, afterwards you can still change trip settings on the fly, as before.

And if you want to switch a whole set of your trips at once from Private to Public or vice versa, you can make use of the ‘Choose Action’ feature and the checkboxes on ‘My Trips’, as was previously possible as well (screenshot below).

Convert settings

March 6, 2007

GPX file Howtos

Filed under: GPS,Howtos / tips / tricks — mtbguru @ 1:36 am

A quick recap and list of useful links related to uploading and using GPX files on MTBGuru:

When you create trips on MTBGuru based on GPX files you’ve uploaded, the resulting trip pages may not always look the same:

  • We’re scanning the GPX file for tracks – lists of waypoints or routes are currently not supported. If the GPX file doesn’t contain at least one track, you won’t see a map on your trip page. Read more here

  • Most GPX files that originate from GPS units will contain elevation data, but this is not necessarily true – some GPS devices or software tools won’t save the elevation data in the file. Unless the latter is the case, you’ll see an elevation profile (elevation versus distance) on your trip page.

  • Not all GPX files will contain timing information – timing info is needed for the automatic photo geotagging to work, as well as to create the distance versus time and elevation versus time graphs. Most GPS units and loggers do allow you to save the timing info though, check your unit’s manual for more information or experiment with the settings.

More information and details on downloading GPX files from your GPS device are given in this blog post.

Alternatively, read this if you want to use GPX files you find on the site and upload them to your GPS to retrace the given trip.

Finally, here we describe how we treat multiple tracks in GPX files.

February 17, 2007

Add video and audio to your trip page

Filed under: General MTBGuru stuff,Howtos / tips / tricks — mtbguru @ 1:26 am

Did you know you can add video and audio clips to your trip page?

Check out for instance this trip, a hike to the summit of Mount Tyndall in California’s Sierra Nevada, where a Google Earth flyover movie was added to the trip description field (screenshot below).


MTBGuru isn’t hosting the video files but you can use material you’ve stored or found on YouTube or any other video sharing site that allows you to embed movies on external sites. Just copy the snippet of code these sites point you to and paste it in the trip description box. Here’s what such code looks like (in ‘Edit Description’ mode):

Embed edit

The same works for audio. If you want to add a tune to your trip page, share some footage or perhaps an entire podcast in which you describe your adventures, you can use web apps such as Podomatic to create the podcast or upload mp3 audio files, and then embed them on your trip page. As an exampe, check out this trip of mine, with some FunkyLondon sounds for increased enjyoment…
Of course, make sure you respect the terms of use of these sites and any applicable copyrights.

February 11, 2007

How to undo stripped (disc brake rotor) bolts

Filed under: Howtos / tips / tricks — mtbguru @ 6:56 pm

Now for something completely different: last weekend I needed to perform a simple bike maintenance task: replace the worn out front rotor of the disc brake on my mountain bike. I’d done this before, and it’s one of the easiest things to do: take out wheel, undo the six bolts that keep the rotor on the hub, put new rotor on.

It becomes less straightforward however when you manage to strip one or more of the bolt heads. For obvious reasons, these bolts which go in the threads of the hub are treated with (blue) Loctite; they do tend to get stuck pretty well in there. The bolt heads are of the Torx type and I managed to undo all but one of them with the wimpy Torx tool I was using. Unfortunately, the last one turned out to be really stubborn, and my screwing around with it (no pun intended) resulted in this:

stripped torx head

Visions of taking drastic measures such as throwing a blow torch at the problem, buying an impact wrench or having to accept defeat and go to the shop arose… luckily however I needn’t fear, as there is a much simpler and quite efficient trick, which I’d like to share in this post.

I remembered to have read somewhere that a simple trick was to cut a slot in the bolt head and then use a regular screwdriver to undo the bolt. Time to try this out so I took off and got this mini-hacksaw ($6 in ACE Hardware):

hacksawhacksaw 2

It worked like a charm. The bolt material turned out to be relatively soft, and the finer blade that came with the saw was just right.

slotbolt undo

When the slot was deep enough so that I could apply some decent force with the regular screwdriver, the bolt went off fairly easily.

boltsnew rotor

Time then for new bolts and a new rotor. The blue Loctite was conveniently already applied on the bolts that came with the new rotor.

This is how the old rotor looked like:

old rotor

It was getting worn out significantly, notice the thinned down center area (where the pads grab). With the new rotor, braking power immediately felt much higher.

Note to myself: next time use a proper Torx tool to undo the bolts:

Torx tools
(Wimpy and Beefy tool)

February 5, 2007

Text markup using Textile

Filed under: Howtos / tips / tricks — mtbguru @ 10:11 pm

Trip descriptions and trip comments on MTBGuru are entered and edited using simple text boxes, into which you can type your lines just like you’d do in any regular text editor.

However, there’s much more you can do with it: we support Textile, a simple text markup language, or, as its creators describe it, a ‘Humane Web Text Generator’. It eliminates the need to know HTML or juggle around with HTML tags anytime you want to do simple things like insert a hyperlink. Instead, you have a very simple and elegant yet versatile and powerful way to achieve this, as well as perform a host of other text structuring and formatting tasks. It hardly takes effort to memorize the simple syntax, and this brief Textile reference nicely summarizes everything.

For instance, to create a hyperlink, put the word(s) that make up the link anchor in between double quotation marks, followed by a colon and the URL you want to make it point to (without spaces in between):

This is "a link":http://www.thispointstomywebsite.com to my web site.

This is parsed when you’re done editing and turned into a regular hyperlink in your description or comment box:

This is a link to my web site.

It’s also very easy to format your text. For instance, use h1. (or h2., h3. etc) as a prefix to create headers. Lists are generated by using the star (*) or pound (#) symbol as prefix. And so on. Check the Textile reference for many more examples. It’s vastly more convenient than using HTML to mark up or format your text (no need to worry about properly closing your tags etc).

And the nice thing is: Textile also understands regular HTML code – so you can mix up simple text, Textile syntax and HTML code in the same document if you wanted to.

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