Thursday, August 20, 2009

Final Score: Kyle -1, Technology - 0

The journey of a thousand miles starts with one step, but not if it’s in the wrong direction.

I, more than anyone I know, have always had a strong faith in technology and where it will lead us. Until now.

Before I proceed with this chaotic tale, I need to give you some background info. My buddy Jeff and I have been carpooling to our new job together for the last six months. Its about a 45 minute drive, thus giving us plenty of time to discuss current events, sports, economics, and other pertinent topics. We actually don’t use the time to discuss these things, instead the topic of conversation usually steers toward more ridiculous subjects. For those of you who are on Facebook, this is where the monkeys with jetpacks idea came from.

On this particular day, we had to drive even further than usual due to training at another facility. On the way home, we noticed some inclement weather was brewing. Instinctively, we turned on a local AM station to get the scoop on the situation. The radio man gave a brief synopsis of the weather status, then directed our attention to the audio feed they were getting from the television weather man.

The TV Weather Guy gave us a thorough explanation of the storm. Well, it would have been thorough if we had been able to see the graph he kept referring to. He continuously made comments like, “If you are over here in this area, look out.” Obviously, he was pointing to it on the map, the map that we could not see because radio just doesn’t work that way. You would think that the radio people would have enough sense to either explain what the TV guy is saying, or not to use an audio feed from a source that requires map visualization to explain the event. Either way, we just laughed at our inability to get valid information from the TV/radio info and drudged on.

We also learned a few new weather related terms. Apparently, there is such a thing as a “wall cloud,” and they can quickly turn into a funnel cloud. Sometimes you’ll just get a “hook echo” which means that a funnel cloud could form around the “wall cloud.” It amazes me that every time a big weather event happens, the news people throw out new terms at us to make themselves sound smarter than we originally thought they were. Its almost as if they feel the need to remind us that this is hard stuff, and their technical knowledge is all that will save us from certain doom. Whether it’s a wall cloud or a hook echo, high wind and rain equals possible tornado. Any idiot knows that.

So getting back to our journey. We saw that our normal highway route was clogged beyond repair, and decided to fire up the good old GPS unit and find an alternate route. It got us off the highway and we trekked through side roads and bypasses, into the great unknown.

According to the GPS, we would get home about 20 minutes later than we normally would. That seems a valid tradeoff considering how long we would have waited in traffic. Also, it’s a GPS, a highly accurate and seemingly flawless piece of technology. Why question what we know to be true?

Well, the GPS was wrong. Dead wrong. What we didn’t realize it that by disabling the highway routes from its menu, it took us on roads that had traffic lights and stop signs. It also didn’t account for the fact that there is no such thing as constant speed on roads with 35 MPH speed limits. It ended up directing us into a pit of despair and taking three times as long as it originally told us. At each light, the time readjusted from its original prediction as if the number had no true meaning at all. Every minute we drove added two minutes to the destination time. We were livid.

We eventually yanked the GPS off the window and through it into the back seat. We made logical decisions on our own and ended up getting to Jeff’s house 30 minutes earlier than the GPS predicted.

The conclusion that we had from this whole debacle was that even though the GPS device is a result of millions of dollars in military satellites, decades of research and development, and a technologically advanced interface, it cannot make logical decisions or give accurate predictions on travel time. These are the two main reasons people purchase these devices. This is a piece of technology that just failed its sole purpose at a time when I needed it the most.

From now on, if I’m stuck in traffic and need an alternate route, I ‘ll just rely on the resource that was always available to me before I had my GPS, I’ll just call my dad.