I'm in the market for a GPS device. It would be nice if it told me how to get from one place to another when I'm in the car, but that's not required - Google Maps is more than adequate for that. After all, when going from one place to another, what I really need is three things: 1) how to get to the appropriate Big Road from where I am (probably Glasgow, which I know about); 2) where to go on said Big Road(s) to cover 95% of the overall distance; and 3) which directions to take when it gets fiddly and I need to find the strange foreign place. The only thing that can really go wrong on an epic scale is number 3; if I know that I'm in Glasgow and I need to go South, say, it doesn't really matter whether I take the optimum turn-off onto the M8 or a sub-optimum turn-off. Similar, to miss the M8 / M74 / whatever entirely takes major skill, and if you can fail at that while looking at road maps and street signs, you've got problems that GPS can't solve. So a GPS receiver is only really designed to solve problem number 3; and that's not a real problem if you've taken the time to look at a map of the local area, worked out what the major roads are in the neighbourhood, what they look like (so if you're going round a funny-shaped curve in the road, you can remember roughly where on the map it probably was) etc.
No, what I need a GPS for is to work out what I own. Or rather, all going according to plan and my not finding out a mysterious long-lost twin brother, will own once all the lawyers' paperwork is done and dusted.
Part of my mother's succession are a number of plots of land. The old maps I've found in box files in France have wildly different numbers from the numbers referred to on my father's succession documents, which differ in turn from what the local farm authority thinks we own. This shouldn't be a problem - when we left in November, the major thing I charged our notaire with was sorting out what the hell was going on, and getting updated maps - and in any case, he was happy that the land was comparatively worthless, so all we needed to do was drive around and eyeball it from the car.
Still, I want to know where it is that my woods start and end, and while all the locals know this - mostly because the land has been in their family for ages, except when they bought a bunch of land from this guy down the road who was their sister in law's step-cousin - I have no idea. So I want a GPS, that I can upload the lawyer's maps to.
I had a cunning plan. "I'll search for GPS and cadastre", I thought - cadastre being the name for the French authority that deals with legal ownership of land at the very low level. Zilch.
Similarly when I searched for GPS, cadastre and "randonnée" (being the general term for hill-walking). A whole range of shopping comparison sites, none of which were anything other than glorified link farms, none of which gave any useful comparisons or explanations of what any of the terms or features mean.
I did discover, though, that many GPS systems are built upon Windows CE or whatever it's called these days, i.e. they probably suck as much as most PDAs, and that they all want to be iPods, so if you want a larger screen, you have to also pay for uploading music and films.
Finally, I searched for "cadastre" on its own - and found the French government's site cadastre.gouv.fr, which promises direct access to the low-level maps, but is late (it says "Coming soon - January 2008") and probably won't allow direct downloads by the end of February, which is when we're heading over to France.
So I can now ignore comparison sites and instead find a place in Périgueux that sells GPS devices, find a salesman, buy the cheapest one I think I can get away with, swear at it for a while when I use it in the wild, follow things like cadastre.gouv.fr and then buy the model I actually want in the summer or whatever, when I'm next over.
Thanks a lot, Internet.
Incidentally, this tip works for things like plane tickets as well. If you're trying to fly to somewhere, and you're looking for a budget airline, don't use the travel agent or price comparison sites - they take a cut, and the budget airlines can't afford / aren't interested in that. Instead, find out what the nearby airports are in the region (Wikipedia can be useful for this), and then go to each of their websites, and find out who flies there. (Even if the site is bare-bones, they'll have a list of airlines, even if they don't have e.g. a live arrivals and departures page.) Then you can go through each of these airlines' websites and find fares that way. I wouldn't have known about Airtran or Southwest if I'd just stuck to Travelocity when booking my in-laws flights to our wedding.