So… It’s time to find out what everyone is raving about and give GSAK another go! I perhaps wrongly dismissed it a few weeks ago when it just kept crashing everytime I tried to do something. I think this could have been due to using a slightly older version on Windows 7. I’m now armed with version 7.7.1 on Windows 7 64-bit with on a Dell XPS M1330 laptop with 4GB of RAM…
After launching GSAK for the first time my initial impression is, “Eek! Did I install Windows 98 instead of 7?”. This is just a personal thing and I’m sure that it doesn’t bother a lot of people, but I stopped designing software like this when I turned 16 when I finished using Visual Basic 6. I’m a fickle creature. My laptop is a gorgeous deep read, my portable hard drive is a nice matching deep red, my iPhone cover has pink lightening bolts on it, and quite often I will pay extra for something just because I like the colour. You can see where this is going! It’s all about the aesthetics with me! Suddenly I don’t feel like I’m on my gorgeous Dell XPS, I feel like I’m back on my old Fujitsu 133MHz processor system, with 128mb of RAM and a 1.2GB hard disk. The only thing missing is I don’t have “Sid Meyer’s Civilization”, “The Secret of Monkey Island” and “Xcom: Terror from the deep” occupying the majority of my drive (Remember the days when you could only really have one or two games installed? If you wanted to play a new one you’d have to uninstall the old, ensure you kept you saved game data, and then install the new! Still, better than having to load up cassettes into the C64 for all of your games. Sorry, I digress…) OK, but on a more serious note the most important thing about a piece of software is functionality. It can be easily tarted up another time. Let’s concentrate on the features…
Inital Impressions Part 2
(Stop being so damn fickle, woman!)
Aesthetics aside, let’s concentrate on the interface and the layout. We have some nice shortcut buttons that should lead me to the most important areas of the software. I notice quite a big menu along the top. Scrolling my mouse over the options unveals an impressive set of advanced features. I can see from this that this software must have a fair bit of power hidden behind that wall of grey! I get a sneaky peek at a cell in the top left hand corner of the main pane. I think of Excel and suddenly feel like I may feel quite comfortable with a Spreadsheet-type interface.
So, where do I start?
I’m not really your typical IT worker. I’m afraid I do worship at the church of RTFM (Read The F* Manual) so that’s where I’m going to start without taking a step too far and missing out on loads of features that I will kick myself for not knowing about a year down the line!
Top marks for the Help System. In the software we can access a .chm help file from the ‘Help’ –> ‘Contents’ menu. Also, there is a GSAK 101 Getting Started guide available here (This is a fair bit out of date, but still quite handy). It’s a .doc file so you will need M$ Office, or Open Office, or Word Viewer installed. Just to split hairs, a .PDF file would probably be better. There is also a GSAK 102 (Configuration) and GSAK 103 (Macros) document.
Some important points from 101 and 102 are:
- .GPX files are more useful in GSAK than .LOC files. I will get more details that way.
- To take real advantage of GSAK I need to be a Premium Member of Geocaching.com so that I can use Pocket Queries (I do encourage everyone to sign up for Premium Membership. PQ’s are so useful!)
- I can load single caches or PQ’s into GSAK.
- To load my caches into GSAK I simply have to go to File –> Load
- The Spreadsheet-style section in GSAK is called the “Grid View” and the lower section is the “Split Screen View”
- Caches can be sorted or listed as ‘Distance from a locaton’ e.g. my home co-ords. I can input these in Tools –> Options –> Locations Tab and can have multiple locations listed. The distance shown with be in km, but go to Tools –> Options –> General Tab and select ‘Miles’ in the top right hand corner.
- In the ‘Grid View’ each row contains one cache, with details about it along the columns. Click the cache row and you will see it’s details in the ‘Split Screen View’. You can even see the cache on online maps by choosing the ‘Custom URL’ option for that row.
- Like Excel, you can sort cache columns by clicking their header.
- Filtering is a powerful GSAK feature. With it you can select a subset of caches to perform actions on. By clicking the User Flag column (Little black stick man icon) you can select multiple caches.
- You can also filter caches by performing a Search where you can edit your filter criteria.
- GSAK allows you to export caches directly to your GPS. This involves telling the software what device you have, filtering what you want to upload, and then doing a ‘Send Waypoints’.
- You can export to so many different formats! TXT, CSV, Memory Map, HTML, TomTom POI… There are 20 different output choices including ‘Custom’.
- Column order can be adjusted by dragging and dropping their heading to where you want the column positioned.
- There are lots of other columns that can be added to the grid view. To add or remove a column, go to View>Add/Delete Columns
- Views containing different columns can be saved via View –> Save Current View. You can then easily switch between views depending on what you’re doing. If you are in a view and make column changes you can then save the view again to overwrite it.
- The shortcut bar (Called the “Speedbar”) can also be customized so if there’s something you do frequently you can add a button for it. To do this, right click an area in the Speedbar and choose ‘Customize Tool Buttons’. You can then drag and drop new ones on and drag old ones off. You can also add macros to your SpeedBar.
- The ‘Search Bar’ is the area below the ‘SpeedBar’. This can also be customized by right clicking an empty space and choosing ‘Customize Search Bar’
- Other Options can be customized via the Tools –> Options Menu (I shall go into detail on the options later in the post as I think they deserve a dedicated section)
Loading Pocket Queries
I have .zip files downloaded of my pocket queries of caches around Chelmsford, Caches around Harlow, and my finds. When I choose to load them in it immediately asks me to input either my Geocaching username, or ID. It tells me ID is better. To get the ID, go toyour account details here and you will see your member ID. Copy and paste that into the box.
After doing this I loaded my 3 PQ’s into GSAK and they displayed in the grid view. Here comes the big “WOW!” moment. You’ve now got the power! So where do I start?
More Useful PQ’s
Now for something a little more practical. I will be going away soon and would like to know about all the caches near to the place that I am staying. I used a couple of pocket queries to generate 2000 caches around the post code of the place that I am staying. In GSAK click the Database menu, then ‘Delete All Waypoints’ and everything is gone. Next I loaded my PQs in, like before.
I needed to input the co-ords of the place I am going, but only know the post code. My immediate thought was to navigate to the co-ord converter tool on the GPSVisualizer website to grab the co-ords of the postcode, but after a little poke around in the GSAK Centre-Point menu system I found the ‘Postcode’ option. I opened it up and selected my country as United Kingdom. It immediately asked to download UK postcodes.
I enterred the first part of the postcode, then scrolled to the area it is near and selected ‘Set Centre’.
The ‘Miles’ column now shows the distance from my chosen location. The caches now range from 0.22 to 20 miles from where I am staying. One of the great things is that GSAK strips out the duplicate entries, so instead of 2000 caches I have 1551, nice that I won’t be bogging down my GPSr with duplicate data from it to sort out.
GSAK Newbie – Filter, Sorting, and Customizing Results
Remove disabled caches
I have 1551 caches in my list and would like to sort, filter and customize my results. First I notice that there are 27 disabled caches in my results list. I don’t want to see these on the GPS so I need to create a filter to scrap them.
Creating a filter
On the top menu bar, click ‘Search’ and then ‘Filter’. This is a nice, easy filter and all you need to do is un-tick the ‘Available’ checkbox under the ‘Available Status’ section.
You can also save the filter so that it appears in the Search Bar along the top for easy access in the future.
To apply the filter, click ‘Go’ or access it from the drop-down box along the speed-bar.
Removing Filter Results
To remove any caches shown in the results window, right-click any waypoint in the gridview, and then choose ‘Delete Waypoint…’ In the prompt, choose ‘All Waypoints In Filter’ to remove all of the disabled caches from your results.
Other useful filters
You can experiment with creating some useful filters and saving them so that you can re-use them on future data. e.g. Caches with high difficulty and terrain, caches that you have marked as FTF’s, caches by a certain owner, caches with a last log date of more than 6 months (You could also do ‘Last Found’ however if you do ‘Last Log’ at least you can see those with cache owner maintenance logs. It may be a very hard puzzle cache that doesn’t have regular finders, but at least if the cache owner is maintaining it you know it should be safe to find. You can be more specific using the ‘Logs’ tab and for example find caches with 4 or more DNF logs so that you know these may be trouble to find. Finally, you can burrow right down to fine details and filter using attributes.
Turn off filter
To clear the filter, click the ‘Search’ menu and the ‘Clear Filter’ option, or click the red cross on the shortcut bar.
A nice quick way of sorting data is by clicking on the column heading. Using this you could group all difficulty levels, terrain levels, order by placement date, etc.
Tools –> Options
I always like to have a good poke around Tools > Options in a new piece of software! I’m going to highlight some of the things that may be useful for configuration.
The General Tab
Default Action when you double click a waypoint
You can tell GSAK how to act when you double click a waypoint in the grid view.
The available options are:
Show Ozi Map
Show Offline in browser
Set as centre point
Microsoft Map Point
Multimap (Zoom in)
Multimap (Zoom out)
!Add cache to watch list
!Log your visit
You can also add your own options so that they appear on this list via the HTML tab. See my post on inserting Streetmap views into the list for an example.
Application Data/Database Folder
You may want to change the default folder that GSAK stores its data in. Make sure you regularly back up this folder!!!
The default is Km, I went straight here and changed mine to miles as I find them easier to visualize.
Here you can change the status indicatior colour of a cache. The available options are Found, Not Found, Disabled, and Placed.
Definitely a good idea to leave enabled! But remember to backup your backup folder!!! 🙂
Very handy. Here you can add your own custom URL’s for so that caches can be shown by GSAK in a particular map service. There are lots in there already, but you can add as many as you like!
Just one box to worry about on this page, but quite an important one. Here you can input important locations (e.g. Home, Work, Fred’s House, etc.) and see where caches are in relation.
Here you have a list of columns that can be added to your grid view. My best advice would be to have a good click around and find what works best for you. You can also format the co-ordinates to those that you are most comfortable with working with.
The thing I love most about this software (And subsequently the thing a lot of other people will hate) is the macros! How much other software can you download where the power is in your hands and you can do whatever you want to it by writing a bit of code? Very little! As a bit of a dev, I’m happy to write a bit of code to acheive what I want. I also think that although you’ll find the syntax a little limited compared to more established code (Java, C#, etc.) it’s a really nice language to use. New functions do keep getting added in updates as well.
All this coding does of course mean that quite a lot of users won’t be able to take advantage of its full potential. However, there are a load of macros that people have uploaded here. Chances are you will find something that does what you want it to here. I however, found something to do half what I wanted and built on it to create my own macro to add data to cache trails here. Don’t be scared of the macros, embrace them! 🙂 You don’t get the opportunity to code your software often!
Final thoughts on GSAK
Yes, I was being stupid and fickle when I initially decided “I’m not using this software because it’s not pretty enough”. Sure, it could use some sprucing up, however that really doesn’t matter because it’s so powerful it’ll blow your socks off (And if it doesn’t you can write a macro that will! ;)). I love it! You can upload your PQ’s, filter out those that are disabled or full of DNF logs and probably muggled, sort and filter until your heart’s content, write your own macros to make the software do exactly what you want, and so much more. I still have to check out GeoCaching Log, which may indeed be better. However, until then GSAK has won me over and I’m now using it to manage my GPX files. I can now understand why so many people use it. Sorry GSAK, I hope you will forgive my earlier comments!
9 out of 10 (Would be 10 out of 10 if it was prettier!)