Welcome to CarolinaCacher

Welcome to my CarolinaCacher site. I'm Randy Hefner. My caching screen name on GPSgames, Geocaching, and TerraCaching, is RanHefner. I have been caching since June 24, 2005.

You may be asking, "What is caching?" You would probably know it as Geocaching. Geocaching is the combination of technology, outdoor activities, and treasure hunting. You use a GPSr (Global Positioning System receiver) to locate hidden containers of different sizes and shapes. All cache containers will contain a log (piece of paper, notepad, or notebook) to document your finding of the cache. Some containers are large enough to contain trinkets for trading. The rule is that you take somthing and leave something.

There are many handheld GPS receivers on the market ranging from around $75 to over $400! All of them will get you started with geocaching. The more expensive ones are good for geocaching and road navigation. The two most popular companies offering GPS receivers are Garmin and Magellan.

Garmin offers a GPS Guide For Beginners. It is a little "technical", but does offer a lot of great information about how the Global Positioning System works.

The online "How To" manual, wikiHow, offers a very good guide to geocaching. This is a good article for beginners. This article takes you step-by-step from selecting a GPS receiver and how to log your find.

A good place to start is to join a local caching club. There are several in the Carolinas. If you live in North Carolina, you should join the North Carolina Geocachers Organization. This "club" is for everyone in North Carolina or anyone interested in caching in NC.

If you live in the foothills area of North Carolina, there is a group for you! The NC Foothills Geocachers is affiliated with the NCGO above, but is targeted towards the members living in the foothills.

If you live in the Asheville area of North Carolina there is a Yahoo! Group called Western NC Geocaching.

If you live in the upstate of South Carolina, there is an organization for you. The Upstate South Carolina Geocachers Association covers the 10 counties in the northwest portion of South Carolina.

There are two South Carolina state-wide geocaching organizations. South Carolina Geocachers Association and South Carolina Society of Geocaching.

Join the organization that best fits your needs and participate in their events. You will get more out of geocaching by making new geocaching friends!
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Thursday, July 8, 2010

Garmin technical support. As good as the hype?


I have heard many say that the Garmin technical support is the best in the GPS industry.  You really don’t know whether this is hype or truth until you can see for yourself.  I had an opportunity to test this belief.

I use GSAK (Geocaching Swiss Army Knife) along with my Garmin GPSmap 60CSx for geocaching.  In addition to loading waypoints, I use the GarminCsvPoiExport-v2 macro to load POI’s (points of interest).  Why POI’s?  Because you are limited to the number of waypoints that can be loaded.  POI’s are virtually unlimited to the number you can load to your GPSr (GPS receiver).   It is only limited by the memory space on your memory card.  Other60CSx-map-view features of the POI’s way of loading geocaches to your GPSr is you can have custom icons matching the ones on Geocaching.com and you can have information from the geocache page like the hint and description as well as notes you make…All available from your GPSr.

I have been doing this without a hiccup for years.  A few days ago  this changed!  While using Garmin’s POI loader, I received an error message.  The message said, “invalid string position”.  No matter what I did, I could not get rid of the message.  I tried only loading one POI thinking it may be some errant characters in a recent waypoint added.  The same error message was displayed.  I tried restoring my computer to a date that I knew the POI loader worked.  Still, the same problem appeared.

After doing as much as I could do, I called Garmin’s technical  support.  The wait time to talk to a real person was pretty short!  Usually, you have to wait a half hour or better for some technical support calls.  I spoke to a person and explained the problem.  I emailed them the entire error message to see if this would tell them anything.  After about seven minutes, I was basically told to reinstall the POI loader software and if that didn’t work quit using the POI feature of my Garmin GPSr. 

This is just unacceptable.  They were just admitting they either didn’t have the time to help me with the problem or they were unable to help me with the problem.  This didn’t match the hype.  Reality had just set in pertaining to my experience with the legendary Garmin technical support staff.

Unwilling to just give up, I searched the internet to see if anyone else had a similar problem.  Mr. Google is a fantastic tool.  After a few minutes of searching, I had a theory of what the problem was.  And this would explain why Garmin either wouldn’t or couldn’t help me.

I found another person having the same problem using another Garmin device.  When he was loading POI’s he got the exact same error I did.  The current version of Garmin POI loader is 2.5.4.  That is the version I have been using.  Apparently, there is a string of characters that this not recognized by the loader.  I also read an upgrade document for Garmin’s MapSource program version 4.13. One fix says, “Fixed an issue where MapSource would crash if the garmin-gpsmap-60csxregistry value that stored the user preference for distance units, which was set by MapSource 4.09 and older, contained an invalid value. Now, if an invalid string is encountered for this preference, MapSource will replace it with the default value.”  I think that the latest version of Garmin’s POI loader does not handle this error well.  It should basically ignore it or replace it with the “default value” and go along it’s merry way!  The fix the other person had was to install an older version of the POI loader.

I called Garmin’s technical support again and spoke to a different person.  He was a little more helpful and didn’t seem anxious to just finish the call.  I explained the “fix” I had discovered and asked him if he could send me a link to an older version of the POI loader.  I was surprised that he did.  Most companies don’t want to give you older software!  He sent me a link where I could download version 2.4.2.  I installed that version and it worked great!  Now I can load thousands of geocaching POI’s without a hiccup.

My conclusion based on my experience with Garmin’s technical support staff is it depends on who you get.  The first person I spoke with and the person helping him seemed to just want me gone.  Maybe it was because I had a problem they couldn’t solve or maybe they was busy on something else.  Either way, they should have spent more time with someone who has spent several hundred dollars with them.  The second person seemed clueless on how to solve my problem, too, but, at least he did help me with the fix I discovered.  I sent the technical service staff an email documenting the problem I had and the solution I discovered.  Maybe they can include it in their fix database.

I hope someone from Garmin reads this and will let their technical support staff they need to work with those who call.  Most geocachers are pretty electronics savvy.  Don’t assume they are just dumb users of their devices.  Listen to them.  Try fixes outside your database “box”.  Use internet search engines to see if anyone has had and solved this problem on their own!  It’s ok to admit that you don’t know how to fix it right now, but, at least assure the caller that you will work on the problem.  Telling us to just quit using the feature is totally unacceptable. 

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