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July 21, 2009

Where's Your GPS?

I've had a GPS receiver for many years which I primarily obtained to participate in Geocaching but which I've been using more and more for directions.

It's purely amazing how easy it is to navigate in a foreign location you've never been too. It's almost the same as navigating in your own home location. I have no second thoughts about traveling to some distant location and being able to find my way around. The GPS even contains Points Of Interest (POI) such as gas stations, restaurants and hotels that make it easy to find destinations. You simply pick an end point, whether it be a city, a geocache, a POI, etc. and hit route and the GPS will find a path to get you there. It may not pick the best route, but it will pick a reasonably good route to get you there and if you mess up and miss a turn, encounter construction or just find an alternative route the GPS will calculate a new route to get you there from your current position. This also applies when you are traveling off road in the bush, on iced over lakes or other remote locations. While the GPS can only route you as the crows flies, it leaves a nice bread crumb trail on the map of your travels. So not only can you determine your location and direction, but you can see how you got there and follow the trail back out.

These features of GPS would seem to make them indispensable for anyone traveling in new areas. With the fairly low cost and ease of use of a unit these days I wonder why more people don't have one. There have been several stories on the news lately of people who got lost traveling to a new area with disastrous outcomes, it would seem that having a GPS would have helped these people. On the corollary side there is often news of people following GPS directions very literally and ignoring common sense. While the GPS is a precision technology and the maps are very detailed and accurate, they aren't perfect or totally up to date with current road conditions. You still need to be on the one in charge and making logical decisions with the aid of the GPS navigation.

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