The demise of OpenSpace

Since its launch in 2008 by the Ordnance Survey, we have used OpenSpace mapping to display our walk routes on mapping at (optimally) 1:50000 scale, older routes had only a rough digital sketch map. The OpenSpace API (Application Programming Interface) was based on OpenLayers 2.12 and the OS need to remove this dependency and enable their map products to be used with any mapping library.

They recently emailed us to announce the withdrawal of their OpenSpace mapping in August 2021, to be replaced in our case by the OS Maps API available via the OS Data Hub. I saw the end coming quite a while ago when they declared that OpenSpace is no longer officially supported, though still available to existing users. They included links to their web pages to get us started on migration of our maps, but after creating a new account (mandatory) and obtaining a new API key, I immediately had a couple of very basic questions that I emailed to them.

It was far from clear which map type to use for our purposes: the choice was between WMTS and REST-ZXY, which meant little to me in our context. Their answer was that WMTS is better for GIS software and ZXY is better for web mapping (it requires less code).

Another choice was between layers: Leisure_27700 and Outdoor_27700 both sounded right. Leisure_27700 is the layer that gives access to 50k and 25k maps.

To get access to the 1:50000 and 1:25000 maps, the new account must be a premium account, but no financial details or commitment are necessary at this stage. Their web page shows their tile-based pricing structure with premium plan details to be supplied, but the first £1000 of access per month is free – that should be plenty for our site.

After the inevitable learning curve, I took the opportunity to make a big improvement to the way we create and show maps and the result is much better. Rather than a dedicated map page for each route, which requires changes to every one of them whenever a general change is needed, there is a single route-agnostic map page that is supplied with route-specific details for each trip via its PHP interface. The route map is now shown in a bigger window and the mapping will zoom in to 1:25000 if desired.

At the same time I went through the numerous older trips that previously had only sketch maps and they are now plotted on OS mapping.
Three solid weeks of effort, but CV lockdown is a good time to do it and I’m pleased with the result.

Granite Gear VC60 and Airbeam

Crown VC60 and Airbeam FrameA brief post to highlight a disappointing experience testing a new pack system.

My Golite Lightspeed 49l pack (original model) has given superb service for years, but recently it showed heavy signs of wear and a couple of stitching lines started to come apart. Its excellent load support and comfort relative to its weight would be very hard to match in a new pack and this was of primary importance to me (note: the new Lightspeed is a totally different animal: different design, lower capacity and higher weight, it should have a new name). I find nothing worse than significant pressure on the shoulders and I want at least 90% of the load held firmly on the hips.

I ordered a Granite Gear Crown VC60 pack for a home trial, rather more capacious than really needed but the roll-top closure and straps made it easy to compress down. Granite Gear don’t really believe in hipbelt pockets but they sell add-on pockets, I also ordered one of these to try. This was the first pack I’d tried with a removable back frame, and the selling points for me were the very low weight and the large padded hipbelt. I loaded it up with about 10kg of kit.

The hipbelt and back cushioning were comfortable as expected but the removable plastic sheet frame is thin and very bendy, I found that it offered little in the way of load support and the pack still felt ‘saggy’ with insufficient transmission of support from the belt to the pack. However Klymit offer an inflatable Airbeam Frame upgrade that reduces the total weight but improves the load support by stiffening the frame structure – I ordered one of these.

I inflated the Airbeam to a good firmness as recommended and slotted it into the frame pocket, this improved the load support considerably but I felt it wasn’t up to the overall standard of the Lightspeed. At this point I stopped for the evening and removed the Airbeam, leaving it on my desk overnight. Next morning it was severely deflated. I reinflated it, closed the valve firmly and left it again – it deflated badly after about 4 hours.
I returned it and requested a replacement but it was temporarily out of stock, I ordered one from a different retailer with stock and it arrived quickly. Same test, exactly the same result – bad deflation after a few hours, and an online search revealed that some other backpackers had found this problem. At this point I lost confidence in the product, the main pack support mechanism must be completely reliable in the field. The Airbeam seems to be tough and well made, I can only imagine that the problem lies in the valve. All were returned for refunds, and hence the Crown VC60 had to be returned too.

As it turned out I would have returned the VC60 anyway because of the add-on hipbelt pocket. It’s actually a rectangular pouch that attaches via webbing straps through loops on the belt, but it isn’t a firm connection, it juts out and jiggles about and feels horrible. It proves what I often say: an integrated solution is always better than a bolted-on one, in this case very much better.

I also trialled another couple of packs:

The Montane Grand Tour 55, a good pack that gave commendable load support via a T-shaped stay and ticked most boxes for me, but again it didn’t quite match the overall support and comfort of the Lightspeed – I think I’ve been spoilt by this old Golite!. The two mesh pockets on the back (yes the back, not the front as some people insist on calling it) are not as versatile as a single large mesh pocket.

The Lowe Alpine Eclipse 45:55, a decent attempt at a lightweight backpack whose load support is not as good as the Lightspeed or the Montane, and the back mesh pocket is tight, it won’t hold much. Lowe Alpine don’t believe in hipbelt pockets either, and one senses that their designers included them on the Eclipse with gritted teeth – these are a joke. Once the pack is on and the belt tightened, those tight small pockets are curved into a thin crescent shape and will hold hardly anything useful, maybe a chapstick (they won’t even hold a compass without undue stress on the material and zip).

Resurrection

After a long hiatus involving moving home and refurbishment, the blog is resurrected.
The old blog was based on ancient insecure code, some of it deprecated and causing problems with our web server. We abandoned it and started afresh with an up-to-date WordPress core and a new hand-carved theme.

I preserved the old blog archives that proved to be useless but in a moment of ruthlessness I deleted the old SQL database, removing the only record of my old Blogroll. I’ve partially reconstructed it manually from my RSS aggregator but a few are bound to be missing – let me know if yours is absent. I’ve tested the new blog with Firefox 29.0.1 (customized – see below), Internet Explorer 10 and Palemoon 24.6.1 and all seems fine, let me know of any strange behaviour.

Note: recent versions of Firefox have really screwed up default settings for ‘zoom’ behaviour with the result that photos are inflated and look crap. I’ll make a separate post about this.