It’s a beautiful day. Been dry for the last two months though. That dry spell has been combined with temperatures running at least 10 degrees higher than normal. But the days have been beautiful. Now that I’m back home it’s tempting to get out and work. Reality is that my body needs a break. So, I’ll sit, look out, listen and share. The listen involves an accidental find just now. Something I thought gone reappeared. Music can take you back. It can be many things to many people and it can add another sense into the beauty of the day. These songs take me back almost 30 years and have me thinking about paths taken and directions followed. Some memories good and some bad. Funny how things can do that to us, and for us, if we let it.
A casual comparison this morning gave me another reminder of the past. There was once discussion of a post to come. That discussion, in turn, took me back as well. I think that I shall sit a spell and share the story and some lessons from it now. Ready? It is a rambling tale but it’s a pretty day so let’s enjoy it.
Once upon a time, long ago, I embarked on a path that contained some amazing things. To be fair, I learned alot and had fun. It is fair to say that I never foresaw all the places it would take me. Simply being open and willing to enjoy the ride helped decrease the fear and increase the fun. Besides, giving a curious redneck toys constitutes a budding addiction! Some were intriguing, some useful and some life changing. One of those toys was the GPS unit.
Now I was educated enough to know the theory and, at that time, applications. It was a voodoo that few in the public had heard of and fewer still understood. It was just at the point of becoming a thing that could be used to do more than “guide planes, ships and missiles” but you didn’t have to squint hard to see its expansion into civilian life as technology permitted. Maybe a quick overview would be helpful for those who haven’t had one. Don’t worry, very small words are all I know.
Picture the Earth. Remember those Latitude and Longitude lines from school? Well imagine if there were more of them. There are. Using those big lines, you can get a general idea of where Florida is on a map. Subdivide with another set of numbers added and you now find southern Florida. Add another pair of numbers and you have Miami. Add another pair and you get a particular stretch of beach. Go one more pair and you have now pinpointed a tree on the beach. A person with that number string and a map can leave Kazakhstan and go to the tree and meet you. Kind of useful and kind of cool. They can pick their route to the tree though and that difference is why we are here.
(GROAN, WP just ate 20 minutes of typing.)
GPS is a boon to many. Think of (relatively) two dimensional movement. A ship leaving Miami wants to go to New York. The captain can input a series of way points into his GPS. These way points are positions chosen on the map that take the form of his intended route. Using left/right/forward/backward instructions, the unit will take him from point to point until the last way point is reached. Pretty cool isn’t it. Using triangulation from satellites, it works like a charm. For fun, throw in an altimeter and things (probably not ships) can add up/down movement to their path. All of a sudden planes and missiles cross continents much more easily and accurately. This was the intended “bread and butter” for GPS. The government made a huge investment and it worked beautifully.
This technology slowly but surely trickled down as satellites and technology continued their inexorable march. By the late nineties computers were common and the ‘net was growing. Sites such as MapQuest became the go to resource. That’s all good and well but we need to see what makes them tick and what the weakness is. How about a short story first?
Back in the early nineties I was blessed with an arrogant Yankee turd of a professor. His vast intellect was on display daily. At every opportunity he expressed exactly how backwards and ignorant we were. He took special delight in jabs taken at the “ignorant hicks” who went in the military because they weren’t good enough leave the area and become sophisticated. I listened quietly. No since in fighting stupid. Occasionally I would ask a question regarding lecture knowing that he would neither understand nor have an answer for it. Lacking both, he would simply walk out. (I was frequently asked by others to ask more questions.) One of his projects involved creating a hypothetical and writing a summary and so I did. As he returned them, he asked me to come to the front to receive mine. He showed me the “A” then turned and gave a speech on veracity and realism. I was berated for including “fiction” and not properly solving a problem. Further, I was told that I would better understand reality in 20 years. With a flair, my “A” was marked out and changed downward for my transgression. As I walked back, he explained to the class that I had “made up” something called “GPS” and that fictional flights of fancy were not proper in a reality based environment. It was indeed tempting to track him down for the 20th anniversary of his ignorance but I figured he had suffered enough living with himself all those years. Now, where were we?
Ah, yes, how all of this might apply to you. Well, you probably use it without thought to it’s origin, applications or foibles. Knowing a few of them wouldn’t hurt. See, there wasn’t an idea in the beginning to use it as we do. That appropriation of application is the issue. I will try to explain.
You live here but you wish to go to see Grandma’s new house. She now lives over the river and through the woods but that’s not a problem, you have GPS. You go out, hop in the ubiquitous SUV, load the address and hit go. The SUV is suddenly launched into a medium altitude arc and, after descent, crashes into Grandmother’s side yard killing all aboard and crushing her transplanted Petunias. Sounds familiar right? What do you mean it doesn’t? GPS takes you from here to there doesn’t it?
GPS sees a beginning and an end such as Kazakhstan and Miami. A program overlay then tries to find the shortest route between the two. This is by no means a true “best route” it’s the shortest. There is a huge difference. I will use GPS to initially locate a position. Beyond that I use knowledge (local) or a map (out of area) to determine a route much in the way the person leaving Kazakhstan would as they head to see a tree in Miami. Why? GPS is not, and should not, replace doing your own task as a driver. A map gives you a much better view of where you are going. Frequently you will see things not shown on GPS. You did know that routes can be (and are) made invisible to GPS by local authorities right? A map will reveal things and routes that might not appear without otherwise. A good example is near me. From A to B on GPS takes you over 40 miles of tight, crooked (but gorgeous) road over a mountain. A map shows an equally beautiful route over a saddle of the mountain on a four lane road. The former is 4 miles shorter but takes 30 minutes longer. Due to work and traffic on the latter, it simply no longer appears online or in an updated GPS.
I have talked to far to many people who drove hours on backroads going to “x”. After hearing the complaint I ask if they looked at a map. “No, why?” “You just drove 300 miles parallel to an interstate!” The GPS took them on the shortest route. Even if online, always consult a map before going somewhere unknown. Then, if you like GPS, cheat. Create way points on GPS. It will then take you on the path you pick. Be sure to confirm the track before departure.
In the end, it’s our journey through life. We are responsible for how we travel and where we go. There are many aids available to us today but we must use them wisely. Head for “B” in the way that best suits you but do so in a safe, wise and prepared fashion.
Questions or comments?