The overly polite navigator
I’d only been in the car a few minutes and had just started telling a story to Don when our GPS navigator interrupted.
“Stay in the left two lanes,” she said.
I thought she was finished, so restarted my story. She immediately interrupted again.
“In 1,000 feet, turn left onto Johnson Ferry Road.”
“Oh, sorry,” I said.
“Did you just apologize to Siri?”
Don asked, laughing. “Seemed like it was her talking over you. If anyone should be apologizing, it’s her.”
There are times I probably take my politeness too far, but continuing to talk when Siri is talking seems rude. I mean, she’s simply doing her job, trying to get us to our destination — which WE asked HER to do. And sure, that might mean she has to interrupt more than a toddler, but that’s only so she can make us aware of police cars lurking and potential road hazards and scout ahead in case we end up needing rerouted.
And, truth be told, even though I know she’s not actually a person who is listening, I won’t take any chance at offending my beloved navigator because without her, I would be lost. Literally.
I’ve always had a good sense of direction, but what I don’t have is a huge amount of patience with traffic, meaning the commute I did daily for so many years, between Teays Valley and Charleston, was routinely snail hell.
What that daily drive also was (although I didn’t know it at the time) was training for life in Atlanta. Where traffic moves at a crawl on even the best of days.
I initially envisioned I’d be dodging constantly about in 10 lanes of traffic, cars rushing around me like water around a rock in a river. In reality, it seldom moves fast, day or night. I can handle navigating 10 lanes of molasses, especially with Siri warning me well in advance that I’ll need to exit right in a mile.
I’m not sure whether I’d ever have been brave enough to take on this move if not for GPS, but after using it for several years, my confidence grew.
I fought having a cell phone for years, but once I learned I could have a portable navigator at my beck and call, I couldn’t resist.
“Have you ever wondered how it works?” my daughter asked recently when Siri answered a question I’d barely even started to ask. “It seems impossible, how all these cars are using it right now and it’s telling each of them something different.”
While I understood the basics involved satellites, that was about the limit of what I knew. I went online, to Physics.org, which offered a nicely simplistic explanation.
“The Global Positioning System (GPS) is a network of about 30 satellites orbiting the Earth at an altitude of 20,000 km,” the site said. “The system was originally developed by the U.S. government for military navigation, but now anyone with a GPS device, be it a SatNav, mobile phone or handheld GPS unit, can receive the radio signals that the satellites broadcast.”
Basically, there are at least four GPS satellites visible at any time no matter where you are on the planet. If I’m understanding it correctly, each satellite transmits information about its position and the current time, and those signals are intercepted by your GPS receiver. It then calculates how far away each satellite is, based on how long it took for those signals to arrive.
“Once it has information on how far away at least three satellites are, your GPS receiver can pinpoint your location using a process called trilateration,” says Physics.org.
You’d think with technology like this, we’d be flying about with jetpacks by now.
Or perhaps GPS navigators who start their directions off with a few extra words. “Excuse me for interrupting, but...”
Karin Fuller can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.