Technology is as Flawless as People

>> Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Well, we did it. We finally broke down and replaced the GPS that the Borrowers ran off with months ago. Actually, to be fair, we didn't replace it, some good soul decided to spot me one as an early birthday present. (Whew!) We had just managed to borrow one ourselves (the legal kind of borrow, where the owner knows about it and you intend to give it back). Toddler has a doctor's appointment tomorrow at the medical facility in the middle of downtown where I can NEVER find it without making at least one wrong turn along the way. If I ever want to make it on time, I need some mechanical device telling me when I screwed up and how to fix it.

My dear aunt bought me the same brand of GPS we used to have, so that was a relief. Every one of those things works differently. Some tell you what street name you are supposed to turn on and leave it up to you to figure out how far ahead it is. Some of them tell you how many yards away your turn is. (Can you estimate your travelling yardage at 35 MPH?) Ours never told us the name of the street (unless we looked at it), but it did "ding" every time we were supposed to turn. (Well, to be candid, it dings almost every time.) So the good news is I don't have to learn a new way of interacting with my GPS-crutch. I can smoothly progess into yelling at this one as easily as I did the last one. Whew! (Well, there will probably be one difference. My mom named the last one Jane. I don't think I'll do that this time.)

For some reason, things went downhill quickly, though. Part of the problems were my fault, and part were the machine's fault. I took the contraption to the car and ran the startup sequence. One of the first questions it asked me was a question I can never answer with any certainty. "Are you in a time zone currently operating on Daylight Savings Time?" Now, don't get me wrong. I know that we change the clocks, and I know that we "spring ahead" and "fall back". I get it. What I don't get is which one is called Daylight Savings Time and which one is called Standard Time. I don't know if anyone else has this problem, or if I'm the only silly one out here in time zone land. Eventually I get the answer, and I've been right so far, but I have to logic it through every time. I keep telling myself things could be a whole lot worse. My mom can't tell her left from her right. She gives me directions all the time saying, "turn left" while she points to the right. We've long since learned to follow the gesture and ignore the words if we want to arrive on time. I guess we all have our odd quirks that challenge us.

The second GPS hitch still puzzles me. I was trying to find a location in Washington, DC. I had a choice of entering a previous destination (that doesn't help, the machine is brand new), entering a zip code (which I didn't know), entering an intersection (which didn't help) or entering a city. So, I chose city. Logical, right? Now, in a computer, is the city "Washington" or "DC"? Usually the answer is Washington, so I start with that. I type "Washington". Now for those of you who have never looked at a GPS, when you start typing, it limits your letter choices to keep you within a set of parameters it understands. For example, if you want to go to "Cooper Street" and it doesn't have any street by that name in its database, it won't let you spell it. It will only give you the options for the next letter that correspond with streets it does know. When I typed in "Washington," by the time I got to the "n" it was only offering me one letter choice at a time. In other words, the only word the GPS knew that started out "Washi" was "Washington". Nonetheless, I kept spelling it out until the end. I might have put a space at the end of it to see if it would let me keep going to spell "DC" but even if I did, the result was silly.

After I hit "done" the machine showed me all the options for "Washington". They included things like, Washington District, Washington Heights, Washington Navy Yards (Washington DC) but no plain Washington, DC. This was not a choice. Hmm, I think. This is odd. Well, I put it aside, and by the time we got to the store, Toddler was asleep, so I tried again. This time I typed "Washi" and hit "Done". The machine then gave me a whole set of choices I never saw the first time around. It gave me the option to pick Washington, PA, Washington NE, Washington, TX, and on and on in no apparent order, including, thankfully, Washington DC. Whew. At least I would be able to get to the doctor tomorrow, unless it did something silly like not know where the hospital was or the street it was on.

So tell me, what happened? How can the machine show me only cities with "Washington" as part of the name when I spell it out, but if I stop part way, it shows me all the cities called "Washington"? I mean, is that one of the dumbest things you have ever heard, or what?

On the other hand, the GPS we had borrowed told me a major cross street in Alexandria, Virginia didn't exist. I didn't believe the machine because I was driving on the street, but that is what you get when you listen to technology. I guess the saying is true, technology is about as flawless as people.


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