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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Lost on the GPS Highway


I flew in last night to a Dulles Airport near Washington, D.C. After picking up my rental car, I smugly plugged in my portable GPS system and hit the power button. I didn't need to depend on some crummy little rental car company map. I had a navigation system. Or so I thought. I waited and waited while the GPS display kept saying "Looking for Satellites". How long can it take to find a satellite? Well, as it turns out, a very long time. The system had somehow hung and it never did find the satellites. Grumbling, I rummaged for my rental car map. Analog. No batteries. No satellite signals required. I made it to my hotel, no thanks to my GPS system.

Thinking back on the experience, I found all sorts of reasons to excuse my GPS: maybe a satellite was off-line, maybe the storm that was blowing through last night caused a disruption in the signal. I think it is Occam's Razor that states that the simplest explanation is usually the correct one. My little system simply crashed. No big deal. When I pushed the reset button this morning everything worked great.

After years of being conditioned by computers that freeze, you would think that a system reset would have been the first thing I tried. But because I had never experienced the problem before, it just didn't pop into my mind that I needed to do a reset. Now to be fair to me, I did turn the power off and on when the problems were happening - to no avail. I needed a hard restart to get results.

Technology provides increased capabilities but with increased complexity and decreased reliability. But I want the features of the GPS so I am willing to put up with the occasional problems. It has most likely always been this way. Technology slides from the "nice to have" to "must have" with an eerie smoothness. Once we have it, it's hard to go back.

Next time some piece of my technology world has a hiccup I know the cure: hard restart. Occam would agree.

1 comment:

Kent McPherson said...

I had a very similar experience with my Garmin Nuvi GPS. In my case, the GPS antenna actually died. Garmin replaced the unit and I'm back on the road again!