Monday, March 01, 2010

GPS: A back seat driver with an Off button

For the last few days I have been testing out (read: playing around with) my Garmin Nuvi 265WT GPS that I recently purchased. The unit I purchased was a refurbished system that was available at well below the price listed on the Garmin site. My primary reason for purchasing this particular model was primarily due to the price since I was looking for something just to experiment with. I am more interested in getting the actual coordinates of where I have been on my road trips, and using those coordinates for my Google Maps projects, than having a device provide directions to those locations.

On my first time out with the Garmin Nuvi 265WT I decided to just go out blind without reading the manual. I packed the GPS along when I went on a work related trip, and used it on for the return trip home. This would not have been the smartest thing to do if I were relying solely on the GPS to get me home, but because I knew the way home this was not an issue. The first thing I immediately found annoying was the female voice that was selected by default and was constantly being drowned out by the road noise inside my truck. Even when the the noise was low, the voice was at a frequency where my tin ears could barely make it out. I decided that once I got home I would change the voice to something which I could hear (and which I have since done). Also the GPS was apparently configured for a destination point located near Tacoma, and the device kept trying to steer me back to Tacoma as I drove on to my home in Bellevue. Having this device constantly tell me to take a turn even when I didn't want to reminded me of having a really annoying back seat driver in the truck Fortunately for me this back seat driver has a volume control, and an Off button.

I read the manual prior to my second time out with the GPS, and this time I found the device (with the new voice) more useful. Having programmed the device with my home address I took off for a short trip to Snoqualmie Pass. Once I reached the pass I took an exit, and turned around to head home. Prior to getting back on the freeway I stopped and took a reading with the GPS and then set it to guide me back home. The device worked pretty well though at 70 MPH some points of reference seemed to come up a little too fast for it to alert me in time. The one major problem I encountered was when I decided not to take the exit the GPS had determined I should take and instead stayed on the freeway to an alternate exit. As it turns out the exit that the GPS originally selected for me runs parallel with the freeway for some distance, and because of the accuracy of the device it continued to provide me directions as if I had taken the exit even though I hadn't. It wasn't until I was passed the exit that the GPS determined I was still on the freeway and recalculated the new route.

As I said at the beginning of this post my primary reason for getting a GPS was to provide coordinates for locations I list on my Google Maps, and not for finding my way. I can see certain situations arising where I may have need of the GPS to provide a point of reference before I break out the maps, but for me at least I can never see a GPS replacing common sense, a good map, and the occasional getting out of the car and asking for directions which given the person you are asking can make road trips all the more interesting. I don't believe this line of thinking qualifies me as a Luddite because I do embrace technology; it's just I don't want technology smothering my sense of adventure and discovery by doing all my thinking for me.

One thing I need to do more research on is how can I readily transfer coordinates from the GPS to my computer. So far there doesn't appear to be a way to transfer the data via the USB cable that came with the GPS to my computer. Also I have yet to get an Flash card to store data with, and even if I do I am not sure I can sneakerware the data over to my computer. Maybe this can be a future project of mine?

Speaking of projects, I have decided that Python should be the language I should focus on learning at the moment. It appears to be relatively easy to learn, and I can use it to develop applications for many of my projects. I will also be starting up my studies in HTML and CSS again, and incorporate both in to my projects as well. Maybe I can use all three to build interfaces for my weather station, and robotics projects? I've been pricing equipment for the weather station, and also looking at how I can deploy it without brining down the wrath of my home-owners association. I don't expect to be moving as fast with the weather station project as I will with the robotics project. Speaking of the robotics project, it got a little sidetracked over the weekend due to my playing with the GPS, but I am hoping to have some more pictures of it in a week or two. If I can use my camera to take some video of it moving around, then I may finally have something to put on my YouTube channel.

Yes, I have a lot on my plate and I expect I won't get as much done as I want to, but I have to keep plugging at it and keep learning.

Cheers ~ Jim

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