End of Year Review Year — Looking Forward to 2018

Happy New Year to you all!

Kate and I have just returned from Worcestershire where we spent a lovely New Years Eve with Bob and Rose Cartwright, of the Outdoors Stationed Backpackinglight.co.uk. 2017 was a strange year for all of us. Deaths in the family wiped out our TGO Challenge and Bob and Rose have spent much of the year settling into their new base.

All of us had better plans for 2018 and you’ll be able to hear many of them on the podcast that Bob and I made this morning which reflected on the likely industry trends next year and on how we saw the social media world changing. Knowing Bob this podcast will be up shortly. Some of this subject mater I want to write a bit about but the nice thing about the podcast is that we have now covered much of this ground.

So, the end of year review!


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More Chaos at the Ordnance Survey

It gives me no pleasure to return to this topic but this week the Ordnance Survey if facing further, dramatic, problems with their consumer online services.

During the summer many customers of the Get-a-Map service found that they lost access to the service for much of August, the busiest month of the year for those working in the outdoors. Now the problems are back and this time they are even more fundamental.

Over the last few days the OS has been forced to pull its Mapfinder App from Apple’s iTunes store due to ‘unreliability issues’. This is not the first time that the OS has had to pull the App from the store. It looks as if these problems are going to persist for a while yet. There also seem to be problems with the main website and the Get-a-Map service, a commercial service for which people pay.

These failures — and the consistency of them — are quite remarkable and throw the light back on the OS’s policy to ‘compete’ in mainstream markets with existing companies who are in effect their partners.

I’ve pointed out before that (to my knowledge) no other national mapping agency in Wester Europe has decided to compete in the consumer market, in direct competition to the small and innovative companies who have pioneered desktop and mobile mapping applications. They seem to be happy to work hand-in-glove with innovative SME’s to provide new services to their users.

All of the companies that we know who work with OS have license and partnership agreements with them I’m thinking of Viewranger, Routebuddy, Anquet, Memory Map and so on. Since the summer, OS reps have made it quite clear to these companies that they survey will be competing directly with them. For me, this is represents a typical abuse of a commercial monopoly. Computer and mobile mapping has been pioneered by these small companies who are always looking to push the boundaries in terms of features and who are committed, as you would expect, to high standards of customer service. Competition from the OS will have an impact on the health of these innovative companies that have served us well.

I have no idea why the OS are having these continuing problems. Are they working with new contractors? Has internal line management changed? Are they simply bad at project planning?

Surely it is time for the OS to rethink its ITC strategies. The OS would be better placed in serving commercial and specialist markets and letting their ‘partners’ innovate in the consumer section.

If you are thinking of investing in a mapping service this year, either a mobile or a desktop service, you would — quite frankly — be mad to purchase that service from the Ordnance Survey.

Support those who have bought the services to you and who can afford to keep the lights on!

Meltdown at the Ordnance Survey?

I know Twitter has its problems at the moment but at its most basic it is a fascinating tool for letting you know al kinds of things, quite simply you learn things that would have simply passed you by in the past. And so it has been that Twitter has brought to my attention some serious problems with the Ordnance Survey’s online map offering, Getamap.

On Monday 5th August the OS announced on Twitter that the OS Shop and the OS Getamap service would be temporarily down as they prepared for the launch of they new shop.  My impression was that ‘temporarily down’ meant the next day. Users were advised to place orders and print maps before everything went offline. There’s nothing unusual about this of course as all kinds of systems go down for maintenance, but these services were offline for al of the next working week. It was still down on the following Monday, the 12th.

Now I don’t use Getamap ad just assumed that the problems would have been fixed, despite not being very impressed. However, OS admitted yesterday (Friday 16th August) that there were still problems for customer trying to access there accounts. So, one day of planned maintenance has turned into 10 days of technical problems.

Twitter also allows you to follow queries to OS of course. A steady stream of users have been complaining over Twitter. One outdoor activity coordinator complained that he couldn’t access his premium account and was told to use the more basic and free version instead. The Coordinator responded that he needed to print out maps for his trips with young people and that the basic wouldn’t allow this; there seemed to be nothing that Ordnance Survey could do for him.

Now, before sitting down to write this I had a good look at the OS website. I can see no warning of there being continued difficulties. I guess I might not have seen a notice buried deep in the system but I think this is quid revealing. Users who have complained to Twitter have been invited to contact OS privately so that they might understand what is going on. This gives the impression that there might simply be a problem with individual accounts.

All of this is very disturbing. Can you imagine what would have happened if — say — Viewranger had been off-line for that long? The internet would be full of it. However, I suspect many OS users are not of the geeky kind who spend more time than is good for them online!

I am particularly interested in this as I wrote, sceptically, about the OS’s internet offerings a month or so ago:

Ordnance Survey: Biting the Hands that Feed?

The Strange Case of M & C Saatchi and Computer Mapping

To recap, OS have launched their own IOS app and soon to follow an Android Map. This was very similar in features to Viewranger. Viewranger is, of course, an official partner of the Ordnance Survey and have to a large extent pioneered computer mapping in this country.  I was somewhat bemused by this as Viewranger and others have been happily selling OS maps for some time. I was concerned because I thought the marketing muscle and brand of the OS would, over time, take away much of the everyday market of their commercial partners.  What I was absolutely clear about what that it is these partners that are the innovators in this area. If the OS offering effected their commercial bottom line then ultimately we the consumer would be worse off. Finally, I was a little worried that the OS internet offerings were being designed by an offshoot of a major marketing company; I suspected this would see customers being deluged by unwanted advertising,

I must admit to being slightly agnostic as to whether government agencies should be trading or not but was fascinated enough to continue my investigations, including the examination of the accounts of the OS trading wing — some future article may follow.  Things get very interesting the more you delve into them.

A few years ago the UK government issued guidance to trading government agencies that they should work with the private sector rather than against them and this alone makes the OS’s activities a little odd to me.

Other national mapping agencies across Europe have been in the same position. Nearly all of them now sell their maps — in computer versions — through a range small and innovative companies just as the OS do. However, all of the nations — except Switzerland I think — have not gone down the OS route of setting up computer mapping operations themselves.  My enquiries suggest that this has been a deliberate choice to protect private sector innovators. So, the OS seems to be out of line with its international counterparts.

This is a subject I shall be coming back to. The more I delve into this the unhappier I become. However, I hope the OS can solve its technical problems soon as it is outdoor enthusiasts, including those running Duke of Edinburgh and other outdoors schemes, who are suffering.

I have to say that if you are considering using computer mapping, or online mapping solutions, to plan routes and print maps you are probably best advised to stay away from the OS and buy from one of their commercial partners.

As outdoor enthusiasts and IT users we should be supporting the innovators and those who have a proven record in producing stable technological base for their products.

I have approached the Ordnance Survey direct to ask for them to provide a comment on these problems and have also asked that they provide a statement that can reassure customers as to the integrity of their ongoing service. I shall let you know when they reply.

Finally, I should point out that I have no commercial relationship with either Viewranger or any of the other computer mapping companies that resale Ordnance Survey products.

Bonjour Routebuddy 4.2 & Routebuddy Atlas 2.0

Routebuddy’s upgrade trail continues this week with the release of new versions of both the desktop version of Routebuddy and the IOS Atlas application.

The big step up here — and it is a big step up — is the adoption of Apple’s Bonjour technology which makes the synchronisation of maps, routes and waypoints between computers and IOS devices an absolute breeze.

Simply put, Bonjour creates a simple network between devices using wifi cards  there is no need for the various devices to even be logged on the same wifi network. Using bonjour networking our main computer really does act as a planning hub that can easily shift data around in every direction.

On opening up the new version of Routebuddy I immediately noticed that the devices section of the information window was now listing both my IOS devices — an iPhone and an iPad.

Click on one of these devices and I am presented with a simple synch window. I can synch data in both directions, i.e. from the computer to the device or from the device to the computer. I have two synch options. The first option allows me to sync waypoints, tracks and routes. Once I have selected the direction that I want to travel I am presented with a list of all of my routes and waypoints organised in a list that exactly matches my directory structure in Routebuddy. One click on my directory of choice and the data is on its way.

The second synch option is a biggie as it involves synching maps. A scrollable window lists all of the maps that I have installed on my Routebuddy desktop hub — the list indicates which of these is already loaded onto my IOS device. A simple click to install the map soon sends any maps that need adding to the IOS device on their way. So long as the map is properly installed on your desktop machine (with the license codes installed) then you get a full and clean installation. There is no need to addd in license codes. This technology also works the other way if yo have a map installed on your IOS device but not yet on your desktop computer.

There are other enhancements to Routebuddy that I have not yet explored but the introduction of this bonjour technology is a massive step forward. Life has suddenly become much easier.

Review: The Cairngorms in Winter with Chris Townsend

Watching a full length feature film these days is quite a hazardous experience; you are likely to spend 90 minutes watching a never ending car chase, loads of gushing blood and much gratuitous violence. It’s all very exhausting. However, I’ve just spent an absolutely wonderful 90 minutes watching one of the most memorable films that I’ve seen in years. It was 90 minutes of pure relaxation or chill out. This may well be the best 90 minutes that I’ve spent in years!

Want to know more?

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Climate Deniers Now Target Blog Spam!

An interesting, and annoying, development this weekend that I thought some of you would be interested in. I’d be interested to see if any of you have had similar experiences.

My blog automatically filters spam and as a result I only check comments for spam every now and them. Inevitably some get through. Last night I was reviewing the recent comments on the blog having not done so for a week — it has been pretty quiet around here recently.

I found two posts which seemed to be about the climate change debate. I noticed that although they were from different senders they were exactly the same post. These comets were also left on a very old post which, presumably, and some keywords in it that the spammers were targeting.

The messages were from anti climate change/anti global warming activists and invoked all kinds of pseudo science. i quickly marked them as spam and hopeful that will be the end of it.

But it does show how organised this movement is becoming now. A very different kind of spam than the usual stuff!

Outdoor World Tech: Innovative Software and Hardware Platforms

Every now and then this blog veers off path to talk about tech, not that surprising I guess as this is not only an outdoor community but a tech-savvy one.

A recent discussion on computer mapping has focused, once again, on the challenges faced by the kind of small but innovative companies who tend to produce the applications that are designed to support outdoor activities. I have been asked to create a new post to concentrate discussion and the challenges posed by competing hardware platforms, so as to keep the mapping discussion discreet. 

The problem with this is that it beings me to the dreaded discussion (amongst other things) of the Apple v. Android debate. I just hope I am not going to regret this! 

Here goes!

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Routebuddy Quietly Roll Out Harvey Maps

Routebuddy’s quiet development cycle continues with the addition of a first selection of Harvey Maps, basically including the popular UK National Parks.

Harvey Maps have been available on other platforms for a while now but running on Routebuddy they can stitch into and next to OS maps on the same screen — both shown together. This is not only exceptionally cool looking but very practical and useful.

Apparently a new major update of RB is coming soon. I’ll take a look at that when it comes and may get a chance to evaluate the Harvey Maps next week.

But first I’m off to do some walking in Cornwall! 

French Lightweight & Ultralight Backpackers — Great Site

I’ve often wondered about lightweight backpacking in France. On the face of it much of the country has exactly the right conditions for it and yet on the trail you meet people carrying extraordinary loads. However, Nayana has written to tell me about the Association of Lightweight and Ultralight Hikers, L’Association Randonner Leger.

The Association’s website is one of the best I have seen, in quality rather than quantity of members. The site is, of course, in French but it is quite easy to pick your way through it and, of course, Google Translation works well on it. There’s a lot here on trips, gear and everything else you would expect

While the French often appear to be very chaotic to us Northerners they are fact more often than not very organised. The association has membership fees, rules and a constitution!

The Association organises regular ‘base camps’ or outings as we would know them. These are real outings which put the rest of us to shame. It looks as if they offer great hiking, wonderful food (would keep even Phil Turner happy) and lots of activity for families and children. Here are some of their photos:

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 Photos courtesy of L’Association Randonner Leger


It looks all good fun. I wonder if they would accept an ambassadorial visit from the UK?

I’m particular struck by the groups ‘Wiki’ which provides all kinds of base information for those wanting to explore lightweight hiking. The pieces here tend to short but informative. There are feature and reviews on lightweight gear (including some international favourites) and there seems to be a fair smattering of home made designs (or new cottage manufacturers). There are some interesting pack and shelter designs here.

The groups annual meet this year is in the High Pyrenees towards the end of July. If you are in the area keep a look out for them


New Blog: Cantabrian Mountain —Walking and Landscape

Mario van Helningen emails to tell me about the new blog he has created about the Cantabrian mountains of Northern Spain:

“which will have a lot of information about walking and landscape, and also about wild flowers (orchids), animals and geology  which can be found in this region.

I think those mountains are a lovely place for walking.”

Mario’s blog (written in English) is a fine one and well worth checking out.

I really wish I knew more about wild flowers and wildlife in general. Mario’s blog features a lot of colour photographs of some amazing flowers. There is also, of course, a fair few photographs of the wider landscape of these mountains.

This is the kind of blog that you can follow to actually learn something new. A few years ago I published a photograph of some wild flowers that I had taken in the Pyrenees. An email came in from an enthusiast asking could I remember exactly where I had taken the photograph. This particularly flower (an orchid I think) has not been seen in that sea before. Though I had no idea about the flowers I was able to pinpoint more or less the exact spot where the photo was taken. I did feel rather happy at contributing to some kind of natural search.

I know from the reaction to my photos that there are a to of people who combine a love of high places with a love of mountain flora.

Give Mario a visit!