Staring At The GPS

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Helaine and I took a drive this afternoon. Bad traffic while transitioning from the 91 to the 5 (as we Californians say). I slowed down and stared at the GPS.

Seriously?

UPDATE

Now that I’ve had Google show it to me from the air I understand. This state was built for cars.

Google Maps 2

Google Maps

Technology Moving Too Quickly

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Helaine is driving to Santa Monica this weekend. That posed a problem. The power outlet in her car, what in less enlightened times was the cigarette lighter, stopped working. Using her iPhone for navigation would be fine but somewhere along the way she’d run out of juice!

Time to fix the outlet. It wasn’t too hard. An old plug must have shed parts in the outlet, shorting it. A pair of needle nose pliers to pluck the old pieces and a spare fuse fixed it.

While doing my stint as tech support I cleared out the car’s center console and came across a Garmin Nuvi 260W standalone GPS receiver. It’s at least five years old, maybe older.

There are two roads within a mile or two of here which might appear on the GPS. Everything else is newer.

It’s possible to buy new maps, I suppose. But why? What this box did is now done faster, cheaper and better by Helaine’s phone.

I guess I should throw it out, but it kills me. Five years, that’s it.

What’s Left Unsaid With MH370

Malaysia_Airlines_Boeing_777-2H6ER;_9M-MRG@ZRH;07.08.1998_(4794758296)Today’s news concerning Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 is sad, but expected. The plane’s course and probable last location have been narrowed further by Inmarsat and the British equivalent of the NTSB using “groundbreaking maths.” This means the passengers are dead and the plane might someday be found in the vast expanse of the Southern Indian Ocean.

Like I said, sad but expected.

However, there is a new tantalizing thread being dangled today. The Guardian quotes Chris McLaughlin, an Inmarsat senior vice president.

Ships have to log in every six hours; with aircraft travelling at 500 knots they would have to log in every 15 minutes. That could be done tomorrow but the mandate is not there globally.”

The operative word is, “tomorrow.” McLaughlin seems to be verifying a piece of this puzzle I suspected right away.

Let’s say you buy a new car. Today, most come with a satellite radio. If you don’t pay for a subscription the satellite radio won’t work.

I think it’s similar with this Malaysian Airlines 777. It came equipped with terrestrial (ground based) and satellite ACARS. Malaysian Airlines didn’t buy the satellite ACARS package.

Once an hour the plane would tell Inmarsat, “Hey, I’ve got data.” Inmarsat would answer back, “You’re not a subscriber,” and the conversation would end. It was logged and noted, but assumed to be worthless.

This is why in the first days of this tragedy when satellite reception of MH 370’s signal was mentioned Malaysian officials seemed surprised. They had no idea this unused, unpurchased functionality was even in the plane.

If I understand correctly, what McLaughlin’s saying is, why isn’t this data link required to be active as a matter of course? Even if only GPS coordinates were sent it would mean a lot.

There are a few ‘big rig’ pilots who read my blog. I hope you’ll take a moment to correct me where I’m wrong.

Meanwhile, will this data spigot be turned on tomorrow for planes still flying? I hope so. I fear not.

Too Much Technology Run Amok

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I bought a new car a few months ago. Traded my SLK230 for an SLK250. Higher number. Smaller engine. Well played Mercedes.

It’s been 15 years since my last new car. Lots has changed.

I like having Bluetooth. I like satellite radio. This car feels more substantial… and it’s a lot less noisy.

And then there’s the GPS. It uses traffic reports from the satellite radio for route planning. It even checks for faster routes while in motion.

I got the car and gave it free reign, clicking the button that made the GPS boss. All of a sudden my routes looked like I was trying to avoid being tailed! Exits. Side streets. Crazy detours. I’m learning the area. Sometimes there’s no choice but to follow.

Reconfiguration time.

This time I clicked the ‘ask me first’ button. Now the weirdness made sense. The GPS has a hair trigger. If it could shave seconds, it would try.

Problem is the information it receives is full of little errors that momentarily make slow roads look fast. So, I get messages like this:

Traffic Jam On Your Route
Recommended Detour:
approx. 1 min Faster
Approx. 200 ft Longer

I’m sure this feature is great, but someone’s got to turn the sensitivity down. Right now it’s too much technology run amok!

GPS And Blind Faith

Google Location history

Jacob Wycoff is in town. I’m not sure if I’m allowed to say what he’s doing, but it’s a cool assignment. We got together for dinner tonight. First time in five years.

Jacob is staying in Rosemead. He might as well have told me Mars. I’m clueless.

The new car has GPS, so I programmed in the address and set out. Locals always know better shortcuts, but for a territory virgin, GPS is an amazing tool.

This nav is hooked into satellite radio. It gets live traffic updates. It was very chatty tonight.

First it enumerated all the slowdowns on the 5. Then it told me it was changing the route.

Was I consulted?

I was not.

My rule with GPS is you believe or don’t. You don’t change your mind mid-route. For safety’s sake, the ability to preview the route isn’t available while you’re in motion. So, when the GPS changes the route, you must accept it on blind faith.

Down Irvine Blvd instead of the 5. Through Irvine and Tustin, I rejoined the Interstate in Santa Ana.

The GPS wasn’t done yet. It changed its mind once more, taking me back off the 5 and onto city streets… miles and miles and miles of city streets.

During the early evening hours freeways here are everything you’ve been led to believe. I-5 has four through lanes plus an HOV lane in each direction. Traffic’s still stop-and-go. This major change seemed plausible.

It’s certainly a route no human would formulate. Too awkward. Too disjointed. Too anti-intuitive.

Did the GPS save me time? Clueless again. Maybe all the GPS units are sitting around tonight having a laugh on me?

It was 1:40 to get there. The ride back, down the 5, thirty five minutes.

Nearing Six Months In SoCal

We’re coming up on six months in SoCal. This six months has gone much faster than the six that preceded it. Living with one foot out the door, unable to make long term commitments, knowing we were going, was difficult.

People say moving is stressful. It is. No one does this for fun. There are advantages living in one place an extended length of time. Reestablishing a routine is tough.

I had to go to Santa Ana this afternoon. About 20 minutes away.

It was someplace new, but landmarks looked familiar. Some, like the Orange County Register’s building, I’d only seen from the freeway. I hardly needed the GPS on the way back.

So many things to learn. Where are the light switches in the dark? Who’s got good pizza (not easy here)? We must find a dentist.

We have no wired telephone. Contemporaries ask about that, wondering if it’s a switch they should make. Probably.

Does AT&T have a cell plan where I could add a second number to my HTC One? That would be great. I don’t want to give up my 203 number.

Do I need 949?

Does anyone care anymore?