Sunday, August 30, 2009

"Turn Right...TURN RIGHT...Recalculating."

"Turn right...TURN RIGHT...recalculating."

I hear this a lot from my GPS system. In the old days, when you got lost, you stopped at a gas station for directions. (At least women did...men prefer to believe they are just taking an alternate route, and that somehow, they will blunder onto their destination.) Now days, our snazzy Global Positioning System is all we need to make our way around anywhere in the world. Or is it? OK, I'll grant you, this is a technological marvel; the first time I saw it work I felt like Cro-Magnon man when he first encountered fire. I was in awe of it, although I do not profess to understand it.


According to my research, here's how GPS works in five logical steps:


1) The basis of GPS is "triangulation" from satellites. 2) To "triangulate," a GPS receiver measures distance using the travel time of radio signals. 3) To measure travel time, GPS needs very accurate timing which it achieves with some tricks. 4) Along with distance, you need to know exactly where the satellites are in space. 5) Finally you must correct for any delays the signal experiences as it travels through the atmosphere.


Got it? Me neither. I look at a GPS the way my mother looked at a VCR.

Despite its wonderfulness, there are some flaws in this baby. For example, if I can see the names of all the streets visually on my little screen, why can't the voice say "Turn right on Main Street?" Instead, it says: "In two tenths of a mile, turn right". Then, as you approach the street, it says: "Turn right. " Now in a crowded city like New York, often there are two streets in close proximity at a busy intersection. Which street do I turn right on if there is more than one? If you make the wrong turn, the edgy female voice says (in a tone that to me sounds like it came from "The Wife's 'I Told You So' Handbook" ) "Recalculating." The word "idiot" is never spoken, but it is understood.

I guess another thing I don't like is that the GPS is good, but not infallible. It sometimes gets you to your destination, but through back roads instead of more direct routes. It is vulnerable to changes in road configurations, for example, detours. We just returned from a wedding in Philadelphia, and there was a temporary detour on Route 41 South in New Jersey. Since GPS can't know this it blithely directs you to a road that is no longer there. You frantically thrash around trying to find another way until you get the annoying: "Recalculating" (idiot).


When we got to the vicinity of our hotel in Philadelphia, it seems they were doing major construction work on the Convention Center, and the block our hotel was on was closed off on both sides by police cars (unoccupied, doughnut break). Access to the hotel was impossible, but the GPS did not know this. As we circled the block, every time I passed the closed-off street, my GPS would say urgently" Turn right, turn right", and then, as I cruised by the block helplessly, "Recalculating." I came very close to hurling it out the window.

A street map may be a pain in the ass to re-fold, buy at least it doesn't talk down to you.


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3 comments:

The Whiner said...

Oh that thing would have been out the window! One of Ava's Disney shows has a kid pretending to be a GPS and it's pretty funny.

p.s. Next time you need a nap ask my husband to explain how the GPS works...

Jim Pantaleno said...

Er, no thanks.

Joseph Del Broccolo said...

TLW has a great dislike with the lady in my GPS! She actually argues in the car with it!