User Input

User Input: Competing With Technology

Also known as Red Deer, Alberta.

I just completed a lengthy road-trip with CaffeineFuelled, which once again brought to the forefront our differing views on technology. I, for my own view, love GPS units. I have one built into my car, and I use it all the time. Just to find an address in town, I will punch it in and let the GPS guide me. Frequently its advice seems counter-intuitive, but more often than not, just when I’m doubting its ability, that wonderful little computer spits me out somewhere I least expected, and I find my destination within a few meters of my location. If I don’t have my GPS, I find that I stick only to major routes so I don’t get lost.

CaffeineFuelled, on the other hand, prefers her own navigation. She’ll read a map beforehand, or rely on routes that people have told her are faster. Frequently this seems to work, but there have been times when we’re following her route, with GPS as a backup, and I’ve watched forlornly as the “Estimated Arrival” time keeps getting later and later. I can’t put too much faith in that measurement, as I know that even when following its route, that time is never accurate, but it always keeps me wondering whether her route or mine would actually prove faster. This is, of course, compounded by the fact that in our part of the world, there are always dozens of possible routes to our destination, so it’s also possible that there is another route, still faster, that neither of us knows about because a map error keeps us from trying it. Sometimes ducking across a parking lot — something neither of our techniques factor in — can shave ten minutes off a trip, but you won’t know that unless you live there.

What is your tried-and-true technique that you swear by? Do you trust colloquial knowledge, or leave your faith in the powers of Skynet?

  • fodder650

    I use a mix myself. I start by going to and doing the route that way. Then I go to the streetview so I can see what's around the area. That way I know the landmarks to look for at the end.
    If it's a truly new route I will pull out the GPS and use it. Otherwise I go by past knowledge or as my daughter calls it "Time to turn Daddy GPS on".
    My wife and I also have an odd habit where we will go over the drive once we get started. Making sure that each other knows where we are going and that we are right or wrong. It's a great double check. This happens even if we use a GPS. For fourteen years Mrs Fodder's made a great navigator.
    Since we do a weekly family day out somewhere we get to do this a lot. Plus I'm hoping the kids are picking up on the roads in our town by doing this. So when it's there turn to drive they don't rely on technology.

  • Doesn't everyone just use a stopwatch, an odometer, a set of speed tables, and the appropriate tulip diagram?

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    • The Professor

      I did when I was younger, but the wife gets a little excitable when I try it nowadays.

  • P161911

    If I really don't know the area or where I am going, then a combination of GPS, printed online directions, a map/atlas, and a phone number for the destination (if possible).

    I have been mis-lead by both GPS and online directions, oddly enough, both times in Orlando, FL.. The first time Mapquest thought the route to Diseyworld from Daytona Beach should go through a gated community. I think it was trying to get me to a back employee entrance. The second time the GPS thought the hotel we were staying at (one of the larger ones on International Drive) was in the back parking lot of a warehouse a few miles away. That one MIGHT have been user error on the GPS input.

  • Give me a map over GPS. My wife trusts the GPS without question and it has caused her, and me, stress.

    NO NO NO, it says to turn here.


    NO, turn here.


    So I go ahead and turn and we end up not going the direction that I knew was right. Meh. Give me the map over the GPS but I will still have both with if possible along with pre-trip route planning and expected times to do each. It has always worked for me, why change it now? Just supplement my current way with the new technology when it comes and all is well.

  • domino_vitali

    i prefer a map and compass, along with a few bits of knowledge from Ray Mears. after an orienteering course when i was 11, i realized how useful the skills can be. after we were dropped off in a truck with no windows, i was the only one in our group who knew exactly where to go, including two teachers. i understand the usefulness of GPS for people who drive for a living, but i'm not sure i'll ever try it. one of my favorite things about family road trips was following our path on the map.

  • $kaycog

    I'd use a GPS, if I had one, but I'd still map it out myself just to make sure the GPS was correct.

  • The Professor

    Bah, GPS! I get in trouble every time I fool around with it, so I just leave them alone, now. I once had the clever idea of making them do double-duty as MP3 players, each satellite with a different playlist, and the ground receivers able to pick out which ones to listen to. I thought that it would be great for the troops in the field, listening to some ZZ Top as they dialed in artillery co-ordinates. I started to futz around with one, just to test the idea, and I had the bloody DOD on my ass again. Christ, don't those pencil pushers have anything better to do with the Marines than to continually hassle me every other freaking day?

  • SSurfer321

    I always keep an up-to-date Atlas in the vehicles as it is my go to navigation device. These are great for navigating around road blocks/traffic jams/etc. on highways but I still utilize the GPS when navigating in town.

    But mostly I just listen and do what the wife tells me to. She's usually right and seldom leads us astray.

  • I really prefer maps. I like to look at the whole picture, see possible alternate routes, get a better feel for things. I had Mapsco books for Dallas and Ft. Worth when I lived there and did a brief stint as a courier, and those things are awesome.

    Mostly now I take a look at the Google maps before I go somewhere, and I have it on the phone. I don't really like the way I can't see more than a little window on the world, and if you zoom out all the road names disappear. I use an atlas whenever I can, mine is getting pretty out of date though.

    At work I use some occasion GPS navigation, but it is always a nice warm fuzzy to have something else there to back it up and make sure the box hasn't gone wonky.

  • jeepjeff

    GPS, like any technology, has limitations. The satellites are in MEO, and well below the Geosynchronous altitude, so which satellites are overhead changes continuously. In fact, sometimes there are only 3 or so satellites all near the horizon and in the same direction (this is surprisingly common). This has two effects, the ones out near the horizon (IIRC) will have more error in their signals and they are more easily blocked by hills and large buildings. I've had both happen to me. For instance, avoid relying on a GPS unit in downtown San Francisco.

    I tend to use the GPS nav systems as a fancy atlas that knows where I am. I'll use the directions if I'm in an unfamiliar city. If I'm on home turf, well, I spent too many years honing my land navigation skills to hand that duty over to a, a, Computer. If I am off the beaten track, I just stick to good ol' paper maps, as they don't require batteries. All these technologies have their place, and I'll use all of them as I need.

    Don't get me wrong, I love GPS, it's a stunning, world changing technology. For instance, I plan to use it to finally track how fast I can go when I'm downhill skiing (that is, if it deigns to snow on us poor Californians any time this winter). It's a quick way to calibrate your car's speedo, retrofit guidance systems onto gravity bombs, and the list goes on.

  • name_too_long

    My preference is for a set of paper maps and someone in the passenger seat who knows how to read them (yes, I know how to read maps myself but it's not really the best idea to do so while simultaneously driving in heavy traffic).

    Barring that; I tend to use a combination of preemptive Google street view to find landmarks, dead reckoning, and blind dumb luck to get where I'm going. It works surprisingly well. Though I do occasionally end up in some "interesting" places.

    If I actually need to get somewhere in a reasonable amount of time, and I'm driving solo; then I will resort to using GPS Navigation.

  • craigsu

    I really dislike using landmarks as route guides since these can change over time. I encourage my family to use road names instead of landmarks to give directions but the women in the family seem to rely on them. I once took my daughter to a volleyball tournament in a part of western NC that I was totally unfamiliar with and I had to rely on the directions given by the tournament. It was full of landmark references, the last of which stated that I should turn left immediately after the Citgo station with the blue building. The school that was hosting the tournament was down in a vale and couldn't be seen from the road in the direction we were traveling. After we began to climb up the ridge I realized we must have gone too far so I turned around. Coming from the other direction I not only saw the school down the slope but also saw the sign pointing to the school. Glancing across the street I saw the previously referenced landmark, now a BP station and painted green. I later found out that every single team that wasn't local failed to find the school on the first pass, thus delaying the start of the tournament.

    • The Professor

      In situations like that where you're unfamiliar with the area, I use MapQuest for a basic route, then try to refine it from that. It usually works pretty well, but not always.

    • domino_vitali

      when women give me directions using landmarks rather than street names, i usually give them a look and excuse myself. then i buy a map and find the nearest intersection. the only exception is in poor or ignorant cities that refuse to install street signs.

      i once had a guy give me directions by restaurants only (mainly fast food), which was logical to him since i was overweight. i had to explain that i needed street names because i'm vegan and don't eat in regular restaurants. stay classy, Michigan.

      • texlenin

        It's not just women, DV. I also did courier duty like HycoSpeed up above, in the MetroMess.
        I picked up real quick that everybody has an
        internal landmark map, but that no two were
        really the same.
        I bought a Mapsco book, and stopped anybody
        who started to lay out directions. "Just give me the
        street address, that's all I need" 'Cause listening to
        them would get you completely goneburger…

  • ademrudin

    I strongly prefer "knowing where the hell I'm going". If I have a picture in my head of a general direction I'm supposed to be going, the names of some streets in the area, and a compass (for if I get turned around), I'm golden. Google Maps and streetview is great for getting an idea beforehand, and my car is stocked with a supply of AAA maps for longer trips.

    I'll admit that sometimes this simply isn't adequate when traveling to multiple destinations in an unfamiliar city, GPS is really convenient sometimes.

    However, I'm really fond of Microsoft MapPoint on my laptop (especially on long trips with a co-driver) – it's basically a full-fledged road atlas, without all of the bulk. It'll give me route directions like google maps, but I don't need an internet connection to use it (Or try to read a teeny phone screen). Unlike teeny touch-screen GPS units, it's actually easy to use with the big screen, mouse, and keyboard. It has a massive database of hotels, gas stations, and restaurants, complete with phone numbers, and again, no need for an internet connection. I can hook up a USB or serial GPS unit to the laptop for full-fledged navigation, too.

  • tonyola

    I've spent my life and engineering career navigating myself around strange and unknown places without the benefit of GPS. I've traversed swamps, open land, and undeveloped areas armed with topo maps and aerials, being able to pick out my exact location from landmarks, landforms, and vegetation. I do use Google maps and StreetView is one of the greatest 'net timewasters around, but as yet I have no compelling reason to get a GPS.

  • navelboxaren

    I usually have the gps navigator on when driving long distances, just on silent mode. Won't nececcarily drive according to it's instructions as i check the route beforehand. Mostly i use it in unfamiliar city centres. And i like looking at the ETA dropping lower 😉

    I still have a road map(from 1999) should i need it. Do kids nowadays even learn to use a map? I've had irate people call me at work because their holiday is ruined because the navigation system stopped working. They have absolutely no idea where they are when the navigation system fails.

    • FЯeeMan

      I use GPS on my phone, and have an older one rattling around in my trunk. My kids, however, are learning to read maps to get where they're going, just to avoid that situation.

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