Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Turn left now.

While I was waiting on the car to get tires and an oil change, I wandered across the street for lunch and a browse through the Mart-Mart.

It was there that I noticed that you can get a talking color touch-screen map robot for, like, a hundred bucks these days. A hundred bucks, for a talking computer that knows where you are by decoding signals from space. If it was any cheaper, it would come in a box of Cheerios.

So I went ahead and bought one.

Little did I know that I was buying Electronic Death In A Box!

Now, I'm one of those people who has a pretty decent sense of direction. I bought the GPS on a lark; I mean, I don't have maps in my car. Interstate highways have big green signs that tell you where they're going, and if you didn't fail geography, you should know if that's the direction you want to go or not. (You're in Atlanta and you want to go to Dallas: Do you follow the big green sign that says Birmingham or the one that says Chattanooga? Ready? Go!)

I tend to set off on cross-country roadtrips with about twenty words worth of final approach instructions scribbled on the back of an envelope, so the concept of blindly following Robby the Robot over a cliff is kinda foreign to me, but apparently it's the latest hazard, perhaps even worse than texting while driving.


Bram said...

Ha! Driving with a GPS is an acquired skill. I take its instructions with a grain of salt - as if they came from my wife. It isn't a substitute for situational awareness or reading road signs.

Jake (formerly Riposte3) said...

"if you didn't fail geography, you should know if that's the direction you want to go or not"

Generally, yes. But it can be a little confusing the first time you're driving down I-81 in Virginia and see the signs for Lebanon.

We actually have the in-dash GPS gizmos in our ambulances. They're pretty handy for finding some of the more obscure roads in our response area, or for when we're assisting a neighboring rescue squad and aren't familiar with the area. You just have to remember that as good as they are, they're not perfect.

DaveFla said...

Saw that post yesterday. Read far enough to see that the author was quoting a newspaper, and stopped wasting my time...

Anonymous said...

And I thought Allstate was being farcical with their "RECALCULATING...TURN RIGHT NOW!"....CRASH! teevee ads.


Nathan said...

I have one that insists that to reach Woodfield Mall from Roselawn, IL, you have to drive through the Motorola plant.

It was quite useful a few years ago, though, in Florida when the brush fires dictated that we take a long detour off of Alligator Alley into the Everglades to get from Naples to Fort Lauderdale. (Yes, banjos were heard.)

That being said, as Bram notes, you really do have to take their directions with a grain of salt.

Anonymous said...

It is imperative to take your cybernetic back-seat driver is a grain of salt about a mile on a side. That said mine made my drive across the country much simpler than a heap of maps, and it is convenient having distance to go from it vs. fuel remaining from the car.


Matt said...

You should get the R. Lee Ermey voice package from his website. "YOUR OTHER LEFT, MAGGOT!"

Joseph said...

Welcome to 2005.

aczarnowski said...

$100 talking computers that know where they are is pretty amazing.

But there's a witty remark about eloi outsourcing to morloks somewhere in here. It's not coming together for me just now. I'm hoping the coffee starts helping soon.

Tam said...


"Welcome to 2005."

Goes to show how much attention I pay to GPS. FWIW, I don't know the going rate for a pair of crutches, either. ;)

Johnnyreb™ said...

As Bram said, I find it to be a useful tool ... like a map with a brain!

This Allstate GPS commercial cracks me up every time I see it :-D

Robert said...

I call our GPS "Jasmine". It's just that kind of voice.

Once she lead me right through the middle of the University of Indiana, claiming that the road went directly through a solid brick building.

However, it is usefull when on business trips and I want to find the nearest sushi bar.

Fred said...

Simply Darwin catching up to technology.

I've had one for a couple years, more often than not I use it more as a real-time scrolling map than simply listening to the girl. I do love the little thing though.

New Jovian Thunderbolt said...

I have a good sense of direction too, but I'm glad I brought along MBtGE and his GPS to the Northcoast Blogger shoot. I'd have had a hell of a time without it.

Gewehr98 said...


perlhaqr said...

Mine is generally trying to tell me to turn anywhere from 5 to 500 feet early, depending on how fast I'm going.

"Turn right, now."

"There's a wall there. How about if I wait until I get to the intersection?"

Though I've never had the routing issues people are talking about here. I generally have to coerce my GPS pretty hard to get it to take the dirt roads in the middle of nowhere. Though, I have to say, the '10 Jetta wagon isn't as much fun off road as the '04 Jetta sedan was. Active stability control means when I'm about halfway through a corner with my tail hanging out, the car takes over and straightens everything back up again. Damnit, if I wanted to be driving in a straight line, I'd have just taken the freeway!

Steve said...

I've found that they're great for interstates, highways and residential neighborhoods at least a couple of years old, but less so for looking up a business and navigating to it.

As Fred sed, they make great entertainment on a long trip by yourself.

John Peddie (Toronto) said...

They may have a use as a backup for real knowledge, but can have "unintended consequences".

Lady here recently followed one blindly, at night, and when it said "turn left", she did.

Right off an end-of-the-road boat ramp and into a lake. Emerged safe, but damp, cold and feeling stupid.

I love it when this stuff happens.

ViolentIndifference said...

Tam - I would love if you came to visit. Drive northwest. Turn left at the tree. I'll wave.

Exodus said...

Not only do they decode signals from space, but they work on nanosecond differences caused by general AND special relativity!

That's one fancy ro-but!

Frank W. James said...

Yeah, wait till it gets to be about 4 years old and you haven't updated the software. It's kind of fun to watch the screen go nuts as you are according to it driving off a cliff or across the middle of a lake and it can't figure out how you're doing it?

At least that was my experience on a recent drive to North Carolina. Made for an interesting distraction when the audio book ended...

All The Best,
Frank W. James

Ed Rasimus said...

"Trust but verify" works very well for GPS navigation. I learned the hard way that if you choose "shortest route" through town it stair steps you left/right diagonally across the city blocks.

Could have used on many years ago when in German. I picked up my car at the port in Bremerhaven than took off for Ramstein taking full advantage of the autobahns lack of speed limits.

What should have been about a four hour drive took closer to nine as I roared back and forth across W. Germany bouncing off places like Belgium and Luxembourg along the way. Never let the speed get below 110 though!

Sometimes going faster takes a lot longer.

og said...

The Tiger Directs of the world often have the Nuvi on sale for 69 and sometimes as low as 40 bucks. As long as you buy one that can be updated, they're a decent deal.

I've been travelling North and South America for a very very long time, and maps have always worked OK for me, and with Google maps on my phone, the talk-down to landing has become much simpler. If the magical day ever comes that I can throw my phone out the window, I will buy a GPS to do that job for me.

Standard Mischief said...

yea, I bought a $99 refurb unit a few years ago. Aside from the fact that a years worth of map "updates" (i.e. NOT corrections) cost the same as the device, and that I had some surgery with a torx to replace a $14 battery, I love it.

It's more than paid for itself in gas. I particularly love the auto route recalculate, just in case you take a detour.

You may still want to have your strange destination address written down, as it can be a few hundred feet off. Also, it's wise to google map your destination (with street view if possible), just so you know what to look for at the end.

Tango Juliet said...

I still 1911's are better.

WV: Tordepoo - A Swedish brandy made from lutefisk squeezins'.

ViolentIndifference said...

Tam: I'd be very disappointed if you didn't install this:


I'd contribute a few bucks for this for Tam if we all want to make it a gift from your readers.

Sebastian said...

Clearly this is true:

Weer'd Beard said...

Love mine, its done wonders for my marriage, now the wife and I don’t fight when we get lost or turned around.

Also I like that I can relax on long stretches of highway where the exits are miles appart. I don’t have to read every damn sign as it passes me by, I know the bot will tell me when to stop watching the blacktop, cars, and scenery, and when to look for my exit.

Of course common sense trumps all, I shut mine off when I'm close to home because I still know best.

Anonymous said...

"Turn left now."

What Obama's GPS always says.

Robin said...

It is all media hype. The people who die from bad GPS directions would probably die from a fatal self inflicted wound with a plastic spork.

Rob Reed said...

We rock "redneck GPS" in both our cars: State and city maps in the driver's door pockets and a Boy Scout compass in the center console.

You'd be amazed how often we pull out the compass and when we're in a strange city we'll often pocket it if we're going to be on foot for any length of time.

The Raving Prophet said...

If you're stupid enough for a $100 GPS device to kill you, you're so bereft of thought and competence that refolding a paper map would likely have resulted in multiple slashes to your carotid and femoral arteries.

There's just no helping people who refuse to think.

Stretch said...


Geo-caching: Orienteering for those who can't read a compass or topo map.

Anonymous said...

I travel a fair bit.

LOVE mine.

I love being able to arrive at Atlanta airport at 11:30pm, inthe rain,(I've never been to Atlanta before) have it guide me across the damn city to the north end, and then find WHICH "Peach Tree X" where X = blvd, road, square, mews, lane, hwy, birdhouse, outhouse, etc... my lovely client is located at.

I could get across the city on my own, but that last 10 miles is HELL alone in the dark with no good maps, where you can't read the street names if you can find them at all, and where anyway they aren't helpful.

Sometimes I just leave mine on so it tells me which street up next.

Oh, and the "find me a gas station"/ hospital /walmart/ food features have made my life easier too.

It is AMAZING how far you can drive in some places looking for a gas station at night if you don't know where to look.

I also love the , "you missed your turn, try again" nothing like having good directions, missing the critical exit and ending up 6 miles away with no earthly idea on how to make the instructions you were given make sense again, becauseyou have no clue when you drove off the side of the map.

Anonymous said...

One thing I'd like to see is an option to minimize left turns, with variable aggressiveness. Often enough it is faster to make three rights than one left.


Hummmmmm said...

"Death Valley wilderness coordinator"

has to be the job title of the week.

Billy Sparks said...

Map quest was just as bad in the days before GPS's were affordable. It once tried to tell me my motel in a city was a row of crack houses. I also think anyone that would blindly follow a GPS are the same ones that would try to read a full size folding map while driving.

Hunter said...

Our "Demon" (thank-you Sir Terry) told us to take a road that was shown in the current atlas. Unfortunately for us, both were wrong, seriously wrong. Smoking brakes on the descent and coasting in on fumes for what the Demon said would be a two-hour drive. Took four-and-a-half and a brake job. The GPS, I should have known. The atlas, the atlas is what really got me mad. That was truly a road not as advertised.
Ketchikan, AK

Homer said...

Nifty as GPSes are, they're no substitute for common sense, aided by either a compass or a reasonable sense of direction.

All maps have "trap streets" in them, and it seems the GPS software mavens attempt to incorporate said trap streets from everyone's paper maps, leading to much hilarity as the SW tries to reconcile where it is.

I'm pretty anal about directions, and i haven't found a GPS yet that I'm comfortable trusting over a paper map and the little round north-south arrow thingie.

Keep us posted on how it works out for you.

Eric said...

Google maps must also like to use those trap streets too. It tried to direct me over a bridge that had been out for three years. It also seems to like class six logging roads.

libertyman said...

Okay, what did you get for tires?

Anonymous said...

One: GPS is good to 5 - 10 meters in the very best of circumstances. All it takes is a few trees or a building in the wrong place to jump that by a factor of ten.
Two: All maps are wrong; the only question is how wrong. They are made by projecting the round surface of the Earth onto a plane, then back calculating the coordinates. The origin of the coordinates isn't known nearly as well as it seems, either. The difference between 1927 "datum" and 1983 in my area is several hundred feet.
Three: The streets database was produced by minimum-wage or less drones peering at a video screen (or, long ago, a stereo eyepiece), and if they set the system up wrong can easily have large errors -- and, in any case, the drones don't know anything about the area.
Four: Things on the ground change much faster than databases. The brand spankin' new GPS I used in Florida not long ago had me driving across farmers' fields for several miles of new roads, and insisted that I drive off into a ditch to avoid it.
Five: "Trap streets", mentioned above. All map-database providers include them -- streets that don't exist or are routed wrong -- because they can prove plagiarism if somebody copies the data.

It will be a long, log time, if it ever happens, before everything in the US, let alone the world, is located accurately enough to make GPS really reliable.

Meanwhile, I'm with Tam, at least for cross-country. I still remember a long-ago Reader's Digest amusement, daughter's instructions to parents in Houston for how to find their new house in New Jersey: "Go east on I-10, go left at Lake City, take the XX street exit, right at the stop sign, third house on the left."


Anonymous said...

Ms. Tam, Is it simple enough for a many starred Gun Broker member to operate. Kevin

GreatBlueWhale said...

Well, the first time I used mine, a gift from my parents, I stopped and bought a map.
"Grain of salt" does not begin to cover the way I pay attention to mine.

Mark said...

For long trips I'll use mine to back up my atlas and maps. Once I get within 10 or so miles of where I am going though, I rely on a printed map and a compass. If I can get one I prefer a standard street guide. After several years as a courier and special process server I prefer the gas department street guides as they break down by the actual address of the gas mains. Finding one for where you are going though can be a pain especially if you are going to a place that doesn't have natural gas lines, such as Moko Arkansas, but I grew up around Moko so I know my way pretty well.

W/V logicake

Anonymous said...

Lets be honest. The people killed by their GPS were always going to die in some spectacular fit of stupidity. It is unfair to blame the GPS for this.

Kevin said...

I use mine every day on my daily commute. I have the sound off, but use it as an ETA calculator, so I know how stupid I have to drive to get to work on time.

Any other driving, I just have it in the 3d view, scrolling map mode.
The roads in the Hill country of West PA are not laid out with anything approaching rational thought, and most of the time "you can't git there from here"

Steve Skubinna said...

I got a handheld GPS some years ago specifically to map the trails behind my house. Got the Garmin map software too, but the big deal was I bought a huge small scale map of the county from a timber company, to redraw the logged trails on to.

So I guess I simply reverse engineered a paper map. It was still a fun project, and now I have a hard copy trail map which serves no real purpose because I already know all the trails anyway.

Borepatch said...

Everything's amazing and nobody's happy.

The article is a hoot. "Too many" die? How many? Dunno.

I guess that the (Greenie) journalist's motto is "I type, therefore I am."

Anonymous said...

Can I really be the first to mention this? My $60 cell phone has voice turn-by-turn directions and a readout identical to many GPS units, and it uses Google Maps, which updates constantly for free. It also shows you the google maps street view when you get close.

Ian Argent said...

I've been satellite-targeted since, um, 2006 or so. Using a PDA, first with offboard receiver and lately with an on-board. Prefer on-board maps to cloud-based maps, though the latter may get updated more rapidly (depends on your vendor); at the cost of additional battery and requiring packet data... Traffic updates are nice, but only marginally more reliable than the radio - the advantage is the breadth, not the depth. (Though Google is pretty deep now too, using crowd-sourced reports back to the mothership to estimate traffic).

Anyway, one piece of advice I have: always have it running with your destination targeted. Two reasons.

First, you want to be familiar with it's pointy-headed routing logic, so that you know WHEN to ignore it, and when to listen. Best way to get this is to compare its judgement to yours on known routes.

Second, the unexpected happens. You're unlikely to not to know how to divert in neighborhood, but on medium-length trips where you may not know the neighborhood like the back of your hand, and the traffic suddenly snarls because someone in a Geo Metro decided to argue right of way with a deer at a speed that would make the peanut farmer cry, it's handy to be able to say "I'ma take the next exit and figure out where to go from there," without having to wonder if you can find someplace safe to laager while you figure out alternate routes.

The advantages of running Bitching Betty all the time have to be counterbalanced against learning to ignore her when you aren't on familiar ground. I've missed a turn or two that way; but generally it hasn't been a big issue.

WV: below - where you end up if you pay attention to the GPS first.

Ed Skinner said...

Just remember, "Recalculating" is not something to be avoided. If you wanna turn right and see what's over there then, by golly, turn right and have a good look.
You're in charge, not the GPS.

Tip: GPSes do not know good Thai food. Don't even try.

Sport Pilot said...

A good GPS in your car can be a very useful piece of technology when all goes well with the world. Still a good map and a compass find a place in all of my vehicles. One lesser known aspect of GPS devices is that their signal can be blocked or disrupted just as easily as cell phones. Sometimes this may be due to geographical or environmental disruptions, other times due to a willful act of another.
Being aloft in a small plane tooling about in the sky and keeping up with your route with a GPS is an open invitation for an unpleasant surprise at the most unlikely of times. The same can be said for someone boating on open water or trekking in the wilderness. If you’re not keeping up with your location on a map then you will get lost.
Tam has articulated her situational awareness and observational skills on numerous occasions and is also more than a bit street savvy. She also exhibits a high degree of self confidence and ability to take care of herself to a level beyond most others. At a guess she’d find a way to freestyle her way through a maze and be puzzled by how easily she figured it out.

Ian Argent said...

@Sport Pilot: A map and compass is very well and good - I had land nav by same hammered into me by the nation's most famous religious paramilitary organization.

GPS signal is much easier to disrupt than cellular signal - you generally have to have clear LOS to the sky to acquire satellite lock, and I have seen the CEP get pretty large in a heavy rain. GPS was designed with several assumptions, one of which being "if you are under a roof, you know where that roof is; if you don't, step outside."

Deliberate jamming is less likely - esp since the gave up on it around the millenium; and the FCC will catch up with a freelance broadspectral emitter and make them stop by application of graduated threats. But I digress

Use of map and compass by driver while the car is in motion is contraindicated, however. Entering a non-preset destination is just as contraindicated, but only has to be done once. And the imps in the box are learning the english language, too. What a wonderful future we live in where what was once considered an intractably hard problem in AI (voice recognition) has succumbed to Moore's Law.

Paper maps and iron compass are complementary to a GPS nav system. They are not equivalent to a single-occupancy vehicle at highway speed, though.

CGHill said...

I've done all my World Tours (2001-05, 2007-08, aggregate 25,000 miles or so) with a bound Rand McNally and an open mind.

At times, it's arguable which was worth more.

wv: "laysin". I need to quit laysin around and hit the road.

wolfwalker said...

Stupid people will be stupid people, no matter what technology you give them.

GPS = computer. Computers are stupid. They do exactly what they're told. Tell 'em wrong, they'll get screwed up.

That said, I have a 'Swiss Army Knife' of GPS's -- will do car, boat, or foot navigation well enough, but not great at any of 'em. What it does have that most don't is the ability to track where it's been and transfer that data to a map running on my PC. Oh, and it runs on AA batteries, which are available pretty much anywhere.

Ian Argent said...

Standalone GPS is one of the product categories that a PDA with a 'net connection is going to kill.

And, if Congress actually passes the requirement that all cars have a rear-facing camera, all cars will come with onboard screens; they'll be looking for something to show on them. (It's apparently for the children or some such nonsense)

Anonymous said...

It gets even better, Tam. The new G4 Broadband networks that all the fancy new iphones et al use could put paid to the GPS signals they need! Garmin has concerns that the new G4 transmitters could mask or jam GPS frequencies for their aircraft and ground-based navigation systems: (scroll about 1/3 down for the story)

Ian Argent said...

I advise looking up some band plans. The incumbent cellular carriers use frequencies nowhere near the GPS bands. The referenced article is talking about a new operator, in a new band, planning an entirely different business model.

That article is FUD, pure and simple. It isn't like that spectrum was sitting unused until it fell into this company's hands. Nor is it likely the FCC is going to ignore interference with GPS. I don't know what Garmin's game is here other than trying to spike the wheels of an existential threat to their business (cloud gps), but if they were serious, they should have filed a complaint with the FCC. Everyone uses GPS, for much more than simple navigation.

Jake said...

the GPS is just part of my arsenal. I never leave home without my GPS, 2011 Rand McNally USA, 1942 Rand McNally USA, and detailed roads-and-recreation atlases for any states I may conceivably visit.

the '42 is mainly for historical value (I like taking pictures of old signs, bridges, etc) but the other day it came in quite handy when apparently every freeway in LA was wedged up, so I drove the old arterials all the way across town.

Other than whiffing on Sunset, which apparently got renamed to Cesar Chavez as recently as 1965, I managed to get to my destination likely three or four times as fast as anyone stuck on the freeway.

I never have the voice on for GPS - its routing is just one of many suggestions that I will choose from.

I've noticed that Garmin GPSes tend to overestimate one's capacity for speed, while Tomtoms greatly underestimate. A friend of mine has a Garmin and he brought it along as we drove the Alaska highway. It told us 29 hours for the 2360 mile drive from Seattle to Anchorage, while my Tomtom claimed something like 56.

actual travel time was 31 hours. We were flooring it on the sparsely occupied taiga sections of the Alcan and barely making up the minutes on the Garmin - minutes that we promptly lost as we crossed mountain range after mountain range, somehow not managing to keep up 80mph on the winding passes.

Anonymous said...

@Ian Argent - Here's an article that goes into much more detail and history regarding the GPS situation. It'd be interesting to hear your thoughts after you read it....

WV: "ponywo" - what you say if you're going too fast.

Anonymous said...

Let me try that again...

Sorry 'bout that.

David said...

A couple decades ago I drove from Cheyenne WY to Phoeniz AZ. The only directions I had were:
- Go south
- take a right at Albequerque
- take a left at Flagstaff
- you can't miss it.

I didn't.

Two summers ago I was in San Diego with a large group who wanted to go to a Claim Jumper for dinner. They all got out their GPS systems and figured out a route, jumped into their cars and took off - evey one of them turning right out of the parking lot. Me, without a GPS, went left. two more lefts, and a drive along a long twisty street that wound through a residential neighborhood I arrived at the Claim Jumper restaurant. We had put in our table request and were waiting by the front door when all the other cars showed up, from the opposite direction. The guy I was traveling with asked how I knew to get here the way we did? I told him "I asked the desk clerk at the motel."

Ian Argent said...

My response to GPS FUD can be found here

Anonymous said...

We love our Navigons (we have two, since I work out of state a lot). Navigon has been making the in dash navigation units for all the German cars (Audi, BMW, etc) for years, and a few years ago came out with their own stand alone units. My favorite feature is their "reality view" at interchanges. They give a good warning about what lanes go where at an interchange. Yes, I know interstates have this in signage, but not all of them do it well, and not all roads are "signed" as well as interstates.

Navigon no longer sells stand alone units, they sell their software for loading on smart phones with GPS receivers (iPhone is one, I don't recall the others).

One final note, if you're looking for better accuracy from your GPS receiver, look for one with a WAAS (Wide Area Augmentation System) receiver. WAAS produces accuracy of about 3 meters.