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GPS: Learn More
by John Cardiff
Last updated: 21 Jun 2010
Two brands own the lion's share of today's handheld GPS market: Garmin and Magellan. Their products are available at Wal-Mart, Radio Shack, Canadian Tire and other retail outlets. (For a wider selection, drop by a boating supply store. Boaters, hunters and campers have been big on GPS for years.)

Prices start at less than $200. But you can spend twice that (or more) if you go deluxe and spring for all the accessories, so watch your wallet. GPS receiver accuracy is not a fuction of cost. The cheapest are accurate enough. GPS receivers are a 1990s technology: better models will cost less tomorrow. 

One word of caution: GSP receivers display their data on tiny screens -- too tiny for some people with less than 20/20 vision to read. Check out the quality and size of the display in the store before buying. And while you're at it, ensure the store's returns policy meets your needs. More expensive models tend have better displays. (Tiny displays are easily defeated by a magnifying glass -- if you want to carry one on cemetery jaunts.)

The most popular models are compatible with a variety of GPS programs for your personal computer  that can read the coordinates for you. Some of these programs download maps to your GPS, although there are darn few GSP maps for Canada available, and virtually none cover Norfolk County. Other programs build databases (lists) of coordinates that you can send either way between the receiver and PC.

Satellite signal use is free. Just turn the receiver on, and wait a few seconds for the receiver to automatically gather satellite data. Most handheld models run all day or longer on just two or four AA batteries.

For centuries Latitude and Longitude has been measured in degrees, minutes and seconds. Recently other position formats have gained in popularity. Don't worry about which one you need. Today's models change position format at the touch of a button.

The format we use most on this site is dd mm.mmm -- degrees followed by minutes to three decimal places. After entering our coordinates into your GPS, you can if you wish change the "units" setting -- typically found under "setup" or "settings" to display our coordinates in any of many formats supported by your GPS received.

Want to learn more? You can read Dick Eastman's GSP article, or check out these other web sites, or use your favorite Search Engine to find other sites.:

PBS Nova: Secrets of Ancient Navigation (with GPS introduction segment)
Iowa State's Global Positioning System (GPS) Resources
GPS compatible software for your PC: G7toWin 

Copyright 2002-2010 John Cardiff