Tuesday, July 26, 2005

A new toy

Ever played with GPS? You know, Global Positioning System. You can now buy a little hand-held device that will tell you exactly where you are within a few yards.

This is fine if you also know where you want to go. The GPS device will tell you how far your destination is, which direction to travel, how fast you are traveling, and thus how long it will take you to get there.

Pretty slick. Unless there’s a canyon, or a large body of water between you and your destination, and you happen to be walking.

Enter the laptop computer with a database of maps of the entire North American continent. And your car, with a power adapter to keep the laptop running.

We’ve all used MapQuest to find places we’ve never been to before. That can be pretty handy, except sometimes they’ll plot your destination on the north side of the interstate when it’s actually on the south side. Not usually a big problem; unless the next exit is 8 miles down the road.

But MapQuest is internet based, meaning you have to be online to use its interactive features (like zoom in or out, or move the map around.

Carol and I have been playing with Microsoft MapPoint software and a GPS antenna that plugs into the USB port on the laptop. No more internet connection needed! Now we can drive around and the map will move with the vehicle always in the center. We’ll never get lost again!

Well, actually ONE of us can drive around while the other one operates the laptop and offers directions. There’s no way someone could both drive and use this tool toy without either running off the road, or crossing the centerline and having a close encounter of the worst kind with an oncoming 18-wheeler.

(I guess if you ran off the road and had your cell phone, you could call the tow truck or the ambulance and tell them exactly where you were. Well, within a few yards. Close enough that you could hear their siren and direct them in from there.)

We just got this new toy (laptop with software and a GPS antenna) and haven’t tried it out yet. I’m anxious to do so. Up till now all we’ve done is plot our position in our back yard. If you zoom all the way in and walk around it actually shows you moving!

I envision a day soon when Carol and I are driving to a new destination, like our daughter Joy’s new apartment in Florida. I’ll be driving, and she’ll navigate.

Me: “So how far till I turn off the interstate?”
Her: “I can’t get the software to link up with the GPS signal.”

Me: “Why not?”
Her: “The computer is looking for it in Com Port 3 and it’s installed in Com Port 4.”

Me: “Try unplugging the antenna connection and plugging it back in again.”
Her: “I DID that. It didn’t work.”

Me: “Let me see the screen. Oh, OK. Try—“

Me: “OK, I’ll drive. You figure out the computer.”
Her: “THANK you! Ah, now it’s working. Let’s see… OK, take the next exit and turn left.”

Me: “No problem. OK, I’ve turned left. Now what?”
Her: “Wait a minute. This thing shows the time to destination increasing. OH! You turned the wrong way. I meant right.”

Me: “OK, I’ll turn around.”
Her: “No. Keep going. I see another way to get there up ahead. You’re going to turn right this time.”

Me: “Are you sure?”
Her: Scowl.

Me: “The sign up ahead says ‘Road Construction, Next 10 Miles.’ Are you sure this is the best way?”
Her: “Yes. OH!! You were supposed to turn back there! I didn’t know it was so close.”

Me: “Well, I can’t turn around here. How far to the next intersection?”
Her: “A long way. You HAVE to turn around.”

Me: “Well, I can’t. I think this road takes us to Orlando.”
Her: “Fine. We’re supposed to be going to Tampa.”

Me: “Why don’t you call Joy and ask for directions?”
Her: Extra-dirty look.

Like I said, we’ll never get lost again. We may not get to our destination, but we’ll always know right where we are!


VikiBabbles said...


But seriously. Where did you get one of those GPS antenna thingies? I want to get one. Radio Shack?

Hale McKay said...

I know what you mean re: Mapquest. It's not necessarily (oops- ly) good for on the local level either. I was looking for an address and it sent through half of the civilized world. I found it on my own, by accident, because i took a left instead of a right. So I later put in a street I knew not far away as start and waiting for its directions. (BTW, I was on the next sreet over.) I'll be darned if it didn't send me five miles in the other direction just so it send me up another street with four lefts and three rights. It was still wrong because one of the rights s/b a left. Oh well - so much for technology.

Duke_of_Earle said...

Uh... Hale? I had a hard time following that comment, let alone MapQuest's directions. Maybe the problem isn't with the technology after all, but with my cognitive abilities. Hmmmm.

I recently sold an item on eBay and listed my address in Victoria, TX. At least 8 people emailed me asking which Victoria, TX. Well, there's only one! But MapQuest displays two; one is a little "community" (housing development) near Waco that doesn't show on any map, has no post office, etc. Anyway, I had to tell them that I'm in the county seat of Victoria County. Sometimes too much info is as bad as not enough.

the many Bs said...

Wow. You'll never get lost again. I have GPS on my cell phone, but that's just some someone can find me after I'm lost.

Karyn Lyndon said...

Now if you can just get a GPS thingy that can tell you where your golf ball is...

Duke_of_Earle said...

Karyn: WHICH golf ball? Oh, you mean the one I just hit? That probably wouldn't help much, since most of the ones I lose are at the bottom of that large body of water I mentioned. Some golf courses already have GPS units in their golf carts to tell you exactly how many yards you are from the hole, or a hazard, or the bar!

Anonymous said...

I desperately needed a laugh. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

The GPS on the phone and in the car is sort of freaky to me - what if I don't want to be found?

GPS IS fantastic!!! So glad that the government shares it w/ civilians. We use it on the boats all the time. We have quite a variety: TacTik for racing, a map one that shows our position on a chart as we travel (helpful for diving), and a hand-held that also serves as our knot meter on the sailboat. We also use GPS with a student educational program, GLOBE. The kids input GSP points when collecting enviro data and then upload the info to a database that is utilized by various scientific communities.

Thanks for a fun read.