Tuesday, January 29, 2008


Last week, when we took our Long Weekend in Destin, our friends Gary and JoAnn provided the wheels. They have a sweet Lexus SUV that gets reasonably good mileage and is plenty comfortable.

And they also have that latest in Technological Marvels: a Garmin GPS navigation device.

There’s something almost magical about having a little box in your car that, somehow, knows exactly where you are. (It’s also a little scary. Because if the little box can figure out where you are, then so can the people who program the little box.)

You can use the thing to help you locate a restaurant on the highway...or to warn you of traffic issues before you’re right on top of them. It’ll even reroute you around trouble spots based on real-time traffic data.

Alas, no Technological Marvel is perfect. The Garmin (I use the term generically here) can get you out of a tight spot if you make a wrong turn in an unfamiliar neighborhood, but sometimes it recommends routes that just don’t make real-world sense. You can avoid a lot of grief if you know how the thing decides how to route you a particular way.

And if the map files are not up-to-date, hilarity can ensue.

Submitted for your entertainment, a story about a Garminesque Techno-Snafu. There’s a stretch of US Highway 431 between Phenix City and Eufaula, Alabama - a particularly horrible stretch of road that I’ve written about before - that is being modernized: the old two-lane deathtrap now has been supplemented by another set of lanes running more-or-less parallel to it. As a four-lane divided highway, it’s not quite so horrible now.

Only trouble is, the Garmin’s map files are based on older data. They don’t have that extra set of lanes in there.

So here we are, tooling down the road...

Garmin 1

...when suddenly the Garmin starts shouting, “Return to the highlighted route! Return to the highlighted route! Return to the highlighted route! Danger! Danger, Will Robinson!”

Garmin 2

By which, of course, it means to say, “Get back on the fucking road, you crazy douche!” Or something equally pungent.

It was obvious what had happened. We were driving on the new set of lanes - the ones that had not yet been added to the Garmin’s map database. It must’ve thought we had lost our cheese completely. Take a wrong turn, and the Garmin will recalculate a new route. Drive off the pavement and it’ll blow a gasket.

The Missus was driving when this happened. It got her to laughing so hard, she could barely see to drive.

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