Product Review – Garmin Tactix Bravo

If we were playing baseball, the new Garmin Tactix Bravo GPS Watch would be scored as a hit and an error.

dsc_2009The unit is a solid triple (just danged near a home run) when compared to the disappointing original Tactix. It’s much more intuitive to operate and customize, and the various screens are much easier to read in all light. For those of us with aging eyes, the extra contrast means you don’t always have to dig the reading glasses out of your pack.

The Time-To-Firstdsc_2002-Fix is awesome, meaning you won’t be standing around the parking lot waiting for the unit to figure out your starting point. The sensitivity also seems greatly enhanced, as the unit quickly determined my location inside my house. I would expect far fewer cases of lost lock even in the thickest of western Washington’s trees.

So that’s the hit- now here’s the error. (This one would make the nightly highlight reel.) Unlike its predecessor, the Bravo will not save tracks as .GPX files, which is the universal language of GPS units. For a device that purports to have a “Tactical Mode” this is a major omission.

connectWhen I’m going for a trail run, Garmin’s proprietary “.FIT” file format is just fine. It works with the online “Connect” service, and gives me great stats about heart rate, pace, etc. But on a Search and Rescue mission our GPS files need to be saved and offered to the local sheriff in the universal .GPX file format. We never know what mapping program the local sheriff will have. The only way to provide a .GPX file now is take my own computer, and use Garmin Basecamp to convert the .FIT file to a .GPX.

Ideally, Garmin should have the file format determined by the profile in use. In Trail Run Mode the user could set the Bravo to save the file as a .FIT. In Tactical Mode the user should be able to set the file output as a .GPX.

This is still a terrific watch/GPS/training tool, and I hope that developers at Garmin will be able to fix this huge omission in a future software update.

I give the Garmin Tactix Bravo a rating of: Four Satellites.

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What is SAR, really?

160817 River Rescue Glenn Farley of KING TV overlayed the Louisiana flood area on a map of Washington State. It covers an area from Seattle to Grand Coulee Dam, and from Everett south to Tacoma.

s we look at the world of search and rescue, we need to admit that SAR is really a collection of disciplines and skills, and we are bonded to many more brothers and sisters than might be obvious.

Who among us would be prepared for a SAR mission in which an enemy was trying to kill both our subject and ourselves? Yet that is a given in the world of military search and rescue.

If you’re in the Coast Guard, the ocean is usually trying to kill everyone involved, and that’s a much different dynamic than looking for a lost mushroom picker in a old-growth forest.

In Louisiana there are currently many search and rescue missions which involve anyone with a boat.  We wish them Godspeed as they work to save people from massive flooding.

Even firefighters at routine house fires do search-and-rescue, by circling the interior of burning buildings while keeping one hand on a wall.

Within our world of search and rescue we have trailing, air scent, cadaver, water search. We have counterparts in mantracking, 4×4, snow machine, mountain rescue and much more.

If you’re in SAR you’re part of a much larger fraternity than you might have known. All of us working together to save lives, one subject at a time. So take heart and be proud of your accomplishments. You’ve earned that.

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GoodReads Giveaway

Hi All-160516 Cover 2D

I’m going a GoodReads Giveaway starting Aug. 3. Three lucky contestants will win copies of Digger– Sierra and the Case of the Chimera Killer.

If you like to read, you should be on GoodReads. It’s much more complicated than Twitter, FB or Instagram, but well worth your time in finding the right book for you.


Goodreads Book Giveaway

Digger by Robert Calkins


by Robert Calkins

Giveaway ends August 30, 2016.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway


Maine’s Geraldine Largay Search – An Analysis


MESARD Map of Largay search
GPS tracks of searchers and dogs during the effort to find Geraldine Largay along the Appalachian Trail. (From the Bangor Daily News.)

Many of us have been wondering about the search for 66-year old Geraldine Lorgay who went missing along a section of the Appalachian Trail in Maine in the summer of 2013. Two years would pass before her body was found, and searchers learned she lived for 26 days before succumbing to the elements.

I yield this week’s blog entry to an excellent story about the case from the Bangor Daily News.

I also offer my personal condolences to the Largay family, and especially to the searchers who worked so diligently to bring her home.

Unicorns and GPSs

I’d heard of such a thing, but I didn’t really believe it existed. A couple weeks ago I saw one for myself and was flabbergasted. No, it wasn’t a unicorn, they’re a dime a dozen.

It was an actual Garmin 60Cs GPS unit.  Not the 60Csx that is the grandfather of all modern GPS units. It was during production of the 60Cs that Garmin changed the game, and put new technology into later versions. They made significant upgrades that allowed the units to work effectively in heavy Western Washington tree cover. To differentiate, they added an “x” to the model number of the improved versions.

A friend in SAR was complaining that his GPS didn’t work in the trees. “What model do you have?” I inquired. “A 60, just like everybody else,” was the response.

“Bring it to me.” He did and there it was: a 60Cs logo without the “x.” I was holding it in my hand. Indiana Jones would have been proud, though this wasn’t the holy grail. In fact, it’s a very expensive paperweight unless you’re using it in a boat.

That said, if you can find a 60Csx somewhere online, and the seller assures you it’s in good working order, buy it. It’s not only all the GPS you’ll ever really need, but it might have collector value someday. It’s that good. Just be careful to look for the “x.”

# # #


Sir….Your Autograph?

I’m spending the week in toasty Las Vegas at a conference of  mystery writers. I am getting great information and taking lots of File Jul 15, 2 53 36 PMnotes. But as I was catching up my notes on a break I sensed someone standing beside me.

Then, I noticed a copy of my book on the table near me. I didn’t recall getting it from my supply at the back of the room, but I figured I needed to get it back with the others.

Finally, it clicked for my aging brain! The person had purchased my book at the conference “bookstore” and was seeking an autograph. They were quietly standing at my elbow, saying nothing, while I typed. I ’bout broke my arm getting it signed for them!

Family and friends have been very gracious about asking for autographs, but this was the first complete stranger. I gotta admit, that was a rush. I made sure to note that we’d met at a conference so he’d later have some memory of our interaction. And then, I looked at the stacks of books at the “bookstore” table. My stack’s getting smaller.

This author stuff is fun.

# # #

Contest – Spy vs. Spy

Super-secret spies have a procedure, called “sign/countersign” for identifying each other in the dark and dangerous world of an enemy’s capitol city. It’s a scripted conversation that, upon completion, lets both parties know they’ve met the right person.

Spy #1: I like a moonless night.160701 SpyvSpy

Spy #2: So do the fireflies.

Hugs follow, or at least they don’t kill each other with silenced Lugers.

We dog handlers need a secret code to identify real handlers from the wannabes. So here’s what I propose:

Sign: “What’s the only thing two dog handlers can agree on?”

Countersign: …wait a minute, this is a spy story. You have to figure out the countersign.

Pop on over to my web site at Look around and find the countersign. It’s on one of the pages. Once you’ve found it, head back to the Sierra the Search Dog Facebook page and post it in the comments. The first person to do so will win a Sierra the Search Dog ballcap.

160701 BallcapGot it? Head off to the web site, find the secret phrase, post it on the FB page, win a ballcap.

It couldn’t be simpler. And if you’re a dog handler, I think you’ll get a laugh out of the countersign.

# # #


It’s hip to be square

Ahh…technology. And, like the mortgage commercial says, a little competition between banks.

In the 1990’s I tried doing some freelance media training, and the banks were hor169701 Squarerified at the thought of me taking credit cards for tuition. I wasn’t selling a physical product and hadn’t been in business for 20 years. “Not possible,” was the response. The fact that I hadn’t bounced a check since I was 17 and had a very good credit rating didn’t matter.

FF to 2016, and it’s time to start selling some books. And what to my wondering eyes should appear but “The Square.” A little gizmo that plugs into my iPhone to let me take credit cards for books. Best of all, they’re frothing at the mouth to get me to use it.

The device works as advertised and couldn’t be simpler to set up. If you’re in any kind of business, even a hobby that you try to justify with a few sales, it’s worth getting.

# # #

It’s not just about the noise!

It’s been 21 years since I hung up my tape recorder and ended my career as a broadcast journalist. I’ve been to a couple of war zones, covered a serial killer or two and responded to countless disasters both large and small. Most stories have faded from my memory.

But there is one that comes back to me every Independence day. It’s about a call I received early one  July 5th from the saddest woman I’ve ever talked to. Through her tears she was imploring me to tell her son’s story so that others wouldn’t make the same mistak160701 GSDe.

Her son had gotten some admittedly illegal fireworks and was planning to spend the evening setting them off. It was fine, as his beloved German Shepherd wasn’t the least bit skittish about loud noises. The son had set off a few, taken a break, and then went back to it.

But this time, he changed his M.O. He lit the big M-80, and then threw it across the yard. The Shepherd thought they were playing fetch, and tried to retrieve the explosive. The results were horrifying and resulted in euthanasia of the beloved dog.

This was not some irresponsible dog owner who left his dog in a hot car, or chained to a tree. This young man loved and cared for that dog every day of its life. The fellow simply didn’t realize his little buddy couldn’t know the difference between a tennis ball and an M-80.

So…as you think about your K9 friend this holiday weekend, please remember that it’s not just about the noise. Never, ever throw fireworks in the presence of a dog. Bottle rockets blow up high in the air, safe from doggie jaws. But throwing a firework or other explosive that will blow up on the ground looks way too much like playing fetch.

I still hear the mother’s voice.

# # #


Mommy Blogs?

As (sadly) traditional media are diluted by their own numbers, syndicated programming, and various sources on the internet, I’m getting out of my comfort zone. I know how to pitch a radio news director for a story or interview that would incidentally promote my book. But I’m still feeling my way with bloggers. Unlike broadcasters, some bloggers don’t have the strict firewall between sales and news. The ethical ones at least identify sponsored posts but it’s been interesting. One blog wanted $600 to post a story that would benefit them, and incidentally promote my book. Um, no.

Planning a day hike this summer with your family? Check out five things you need to stay safe while hiking, from a SAR expert!Others have been incredibly gracious. Such was the case with Nikki at She told me what fit her genre, I produced it, and she published it. I’m looking forward to hearing that it worked for her as well as for me. I provided (I hope) good information, and in return she let me publicize my book. That works for both of us.

It’s a nice blog all around, and especially for Moms with kids. I’d encourage a visit.