My backup nav system (primary is the wonderful ClearNav system) is an IPAQ 3955 running WinPilot PRO V9. IMHO, WinPilot PRO has the best 'breadcrumb' feature of all the nav systems I have tried (ClearNav, GNII, XCSoar, LK8000, SoarPilot), as each breadcrumb 'dot' is sized proportionally to the instantaneous vario value at that point. Most other nav systems have a constant-width breadcrumb trail and use color to distinguish between values of lift and sink. In bright sunlight, colors often wash out, and colors can also be hard to distinguish when using polarized or blue-blocker sunglasses. However WinPilot's dot size variation trick always works. When I'm flying, I normally leave WinPilot set up on the 2000 ft or 1000 ft scale so I can use it for thermal centering. In a regular round thermal it becomes obvious in a turn or two where the 'hot' and 'cold' sides are, and it is even more helpful when down low, trying to corral that raggedy-assed piece-of-junk themal to avoid a landout.
Unfortunately, the IPAQ 3955 screen has become too hard to see in direct sunlight. I find myself repeatedly moving the device around on its stalk, trying to find an angle that won't glare out on me, while still trying to thermal. Either the IPAQ display is getting dimmer, or my eyes are getting worse, but the end result is bad, bad, bad.
Last October at the Fairfield, Pa contest I finally got fed up with the situation, and vowed to do something about it. I had been hearing good things about alternative displays like the Dell Streak and the GliderGuider Vertica 2, and then a few weeks ago I saw this blog post (http://711reporting.blogspot.com/) by Tom Kelley (711) where he demonstrated that he could run WinPilot PRO on a Vertica 2 PNA and get it to handshake with and control a Cambridge CAI 302 via one of its two built-in serial ports. This was great news for me, as that is exactly the configuration I have in my Ventus 2bx, and so I decided that was to be my path out of glare purgatory. As a side benefit, I thought I might be able to get the Vertica 2/WinPilot combination to interface to Condor for training and familiarization purposes (In previous tries at this, I didn't have very good luck getting the IPAQ/WP combination to work with Condor for some reason).
Anyway, after some web research, and leaning heavily on Tom's blog posts, I ordered a Vertica 2 (on the W&W website is called a 'Avier 5" display - its a Vertica 2 with a different brand name) from Wings And Wheels (http://www.wingsandwheels.com/seeyou_oudie_flywithce_pdapna.htm), and the required interface cable from GliderGuider (www.gliderguider.net) Allan Arthurs at GliderGuider answered all my stupid questions, and even offered to shorten the standard 1 meter cable. I think the guy was reading my mind, as I was just getting ready to ask for a 60 cm (about 24") length. In addition, when I experienced a minor wiring issue later on during installation, Allan responded quickly and accurately to my email SOS and got me going again - thanks Allan!
When the Vertica 2 (V2) arrived, the first thing I noticed was the beautiful display - it is big and BRIGHT! The second thing I noticed was that the PNA arrived with LK8000 (the free open-source version of XCSoar) installed, and there was a small USB stick in the box with LK8000 on that, too. Now I have been watching the evolution of the various free soaring nav systems, and had sort of come to the conclusion that they have become so complex and feature rich that you need a PhD just to run the things, and there is no way you can become familiar/proficient with one of these monsters without LOTS of practice. Then I started thinking.... Hmm, well I have a PhD, and I have lots of time to practice, and if could get the V2/LK8000 setup connected to Condor it would be really cool .... hmm....
The GliderGuider cable hadn't arrived yet, so I decided to tackle the Condor connection problem first. I knew about connecting Condor to a PDA via Bluetooth (BT) because I have been using it for years with my venerable Palm Tungsten T running SoarPilot (by the way, this particular hardware/software combination, though long in the tooth, is one of the most capable and robust systems around. It was my primary nav system for quite a few years until ClearNav came along, and with my Windows XP laptop, it all just worked). However, after days of fooling around and trying every combination I could think of, I still couldn't get the V2/LK8000 combination to connect to Condor via BT - it was driving me completely (well, more completely) batshit crazy.. For better or worse, I am basically unable to give up on a problem until I have solved it, so I kept plugging away, trying various configuration changes to either the V2's BT configuration, or the LK8000's COM port selection, or both, and doing Internet research on BT and LK8000. I even downloaded and installed a cool utility called 'Pocket PuTTY' (http://www.pocketputty.net/) onto the V2 so I could separate the V2 BT configuration problem from the LK8000 COM port selection problem. Eventually I got the combination to work, and thought I should document the setup for other unfortunates out there.
BlueTooth Serial Connections 101:
Bluetooth (BT) is the name given to a set of specifications that defines a short-range radio link protocol. Once a BT link between two devices has been established, then the two ends can transfer information back and forth using any one of a number of higher-level data transmission protocols, including the 'serial port emulation' protocol used to connect Condor to PDA/PNA-based nav systems. The device that initiates a BT connection (in this case, my V2) is called the 'client', and the device that responds to the connection (my Windows XP laptop) is called the 'server'. When the connection is first set up, the server tells the client what 'services' it offers, and in the case of BT-enabled Condor operation, one of these services must be a 'serial port emulation' service. If the server doesn't offer the service, then no amount of configuration magic on the part of the client will make a serial connection over BT - just ain't gonna happen. Figure 1 below shows the overall signal flow, and Figures 2-5 show how each block in the flow is implemented for my Condor-to-LK8000 setup
As shown below in Figure 6, the result of all this was a working (and apparently stable) BT connection from the Vertica 2/LK8000 combination to my laptop running Condor. The figure shows me on the Bald Eagle ridge south of Keystone Gliderport, heading for the Kettle Reservoir turnpoint.
Now that this is all working, it's a little hard to understand why it took me sooooooo long to get it running in the first place, but there were a number of 'gotchas' on the way
- The two critical Win Mobile 6 BT connection screen are more than a little confusing. The BT connection dialog starts out pretty understandably, but then it places the new, just-made BT connection to my laptop under the 'Disconnected' section instead of the 'Connected' section. This is completely (and somewhat unbelievably) misleading. In fact, I was so convinced that no GUI designer could possibly make that bad of a mistake that I simply refused to believe it for quite a while (believe it - somebody was that stupid!). Secondly, it is necessary to connect to the 'Serial Port Emulation' service provided by the laptop, and configure the connection to appear on an unused/available COM port that can be accessed by the LK8000 software. To do this using the WM6 GUI, you must create an outgoing serial port - again completely opposite from what you actually want. Apparently though, the act of creating the outgoing port (and specifying the incoming port number) invokes the required magic. Maybe the same GUI guy who screwed up the 'Connected/Disconnected' stuff also worked on the 'incoming/outgoing' stuff, or maybe this is a real case where two wrongs actually do make a right!
- I had to figure out that the laptop has to offer the serial port emulation service on the COM port selected for NMEA output in the Condor program. This wasn't obvious (to me, at least) until after I had done some web research on serial communication over BT.
Another cautionary note in all this is that while I was eventually able to get everything working with Condor on my Win XP system, the magic I described above may or may not work with a Windows 7 system. For instance, I was able to easily get an Oudie to connect up to my XP/Condor system via BT some time ago (and documented the setup in a Condor Corner article), but I don't know of anyone who has gotten it working successfully over BT to a Win 7 PC; most stories I have heard end with the frustrated user getting a serial-to-Oudie cable from Cumulus Soaring (and apparently the cable connection works like a champ).
Now that I have the V2/LK8000 running with Condor, I plan to spend some quality time with the 300-odd page LK8000 user manual, and try to figure out if it is actually worth the candle to learn. The graphics, especially on the beautiful V2 screen, are absolutely stunning, but that sort of eye candy is just that - eye candy. IMHO, the real test of a soaring nav system is how well it supports task creation and edit, how well complex TAT tasks are handled, and whether or not the software helps the pilot avoid common XC task-management mistakes.