Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Off-topic: The perils of GPS

In the absence of Boston College sports, and not wanting to comment yet on potential conference expansion outcomes (since my fellow BC bloggers seems to be covering it well themselves and it's all speculation at this point anyway), indulge me on a rant. When something breaks in BC news, I will, of course, give it my full attention.

Anyone with any common sense would know that a GPS device is good at telling you where you are (for the most part) but not necessarily reliable in telling you where you need to go. I learned this lesson yet again yesterday as I drove through New Haven, Connecticut - a town I have visited briefly before but the roads of which are still highly unfamiliar to me. I had suction-cupped to my windshield the Magellan GPS that I had been given for Christmas several years ago.

As I got in my car across the street from my brother's apartment in the city, I punched in "Home" which, presumably, would plot me a course home. I start driving down his street and am going merrily along, driving for about a mile and then taking a left turn where it indicated for me to do so. After that was completed, I noticed a rather curious request from the GPS: it wanted me to go on I-95 North towards New London. Keep in mind that I currently live in the Hudson Valley region of New York which is to the west of New Haven, but going north on I-95 in Connecticut is essentially an eastbound route.

As has happened in the past, I decided to turn off of that route and begin heading back west, figuring that it would eventually snap out of it so to speak and recalcuate me the direct route back home that I had taken there. Nope. It still tried to get me onto I-95, and then conspired to put me on I-91 heading to Hartford. I resisted the GPS for roughly half an hour until, somehow, after driving through towns I can't recall and on roads I've never before traveled, I ended up on the Wilbur Cross Parkway and, after even more traveling, I finally ended up on the route on which I needed to be. In sum, I drove around for close to 40 minutes before landing on the highway which would get me back home to New York. It should have taken no more than a few minutes for someone, like my brother, who is familiar with the layout of New Haven. The route the GPS had planned for me would have taken me even further out of the way for the sake of "maximum time on highways."

This was regrettably not the first time my GPS has given me the finger. In 2008, shortly after graduating from Boston College, a friend from New York and I went to Boston to visit friends and tour the city. I had never seen the USS Constitution and Bunker Hill Monument in Charlestown, nor had my friend, so we shuffled up there and took our tour. When it came time to leave, I got out onto the road that I knew I would have to take to get back to the highway. I had reviewed a map of Charlestown previously and was aware of this. The only problem is that, in order to make the next turn I would have to make, I would have had to get off the road onto its service road (which I did not know existed), and that would then enable me to make the left turn and head back west towards my destination (Cleveland Circle). The GPS totally missed this fact and I kept going, and going, and going. Its route recalcuation took me as far north as Medford before it finally started taking me back south, letting me snake back through Somerville and Cambridge before finally getting back into Boston about half an hour later. Once I managed to find my way onto Beacon Street, I had my friend shut the damn thing off. Finally, this thing has also tried to get me to go the wrong way on one way streets, though I believe this happened only once or twice (in Boston, of course).

As I'm sure you're already well aware, these devices aren't infallible, and just because they have a soothing female voice giving you instructions, that doesn't mean you should listen. The best advice is to pick up a map and learn a thing or two about the area in which you'll be driving, though the bigger the city, the harder that is to do. Claims that with a GPS you'll never get lost again are a load of crap, as they are plenty capable of missing routes and creating trips that are highly indirect. The next time you stick one of those up above your dashboard, remember that it might not always have the best idea of how to get you where you need to go.

1 comment:

  1. Hahahha....I feel your pain.

    My GPS, "Estelle" (so named by my Nephew for her British accent) will periodically go to sleep if you digress from her initial map, causing a CPR like on/off clicking attempting to bring her back to life, waiting for her to chide me with her taunts of "recalculating, recalculating, recalculating..."