Here's a little test that life might throw at you:
You're driving in a strange city, and you have absolutely no idea where you are. Fortunately, you have two navigators: a computer system running on your iPaq, plugged into a GPS antenna that's sitting on the dash, and your wife, who's following your progress on a paper map. You come to an intersection, and the nav system says out loud, "Go straight." Your wife says, "Turn left." What do you do?
I've learned the hard way that there's only one correct answer, and it's pretty obvious: Listen to your spouse. Because no matter how lost you might ultimately get, guess who you're going home with?
Even based solely on the accuracy of directions, giving your beloved the benefit of the doubt is again the smart choice. Sure, my charming wife is occasionally wrong about a turn, but so is her electronic nemesis, which once, on a moonless night in a small town in Washington State's Olympic Peninsula, strongly insisted that we "go straight," which would have taken us directly into a ravine.
Still, I'm a giant fan of navigation systems and mapping software because they're mostly time-savers and stress reducers, and the systems I've used are wrong only enough to keep me on my toes.
There's more to navigation than just maneuvering the grid in a strange city, though. Here are some of the ways I've been integrating navigation technologies into my work and my life.
Like most people, I started using navigation technology through a Web mapping program, MapQuest. Before I had a portable navigation system for my car, I would plot trips on the PC, then print the directions and maps so that I could take them with me. I graduated to Microsoft Streets & Trips, which is faster to use than any online mapping product and prints much better maps. (Note: Avoid the version that comes with its own GPS receiver.)
On a recent trip to run multiple errands, I also tried a new feature in Streets & Trips that lets you optimize the order of your stops. I'm not sure it came up with the absolute best sequence for me, but it was one fewer decision I had to worry about.
Which brings me to one of the coolest geographic applications I've ever seen: Keyhole's 2 LT Earth viewer. This program gives you an interactive globe made up of satellite imagery. You can type in any address or location and see what it looks like from the air, then zoom in and out to get the lay of the land. Some locations have better satellite snapshots available than others, but for the most part, in big cities there's enough resolution to scope out the layout of your neighbor's yard. It's a great tool for orienting yourself before you head out, for learning about world geography, and for just exploring. And if you happen to be in the market for property, there is no better tool for checking out neighborhoods. (Worth noting: Google acquired Keyhole in October.)
Other navigation favorites: When it's time to pull my head out of the virtual clouds and head to work, I use the NextBus system on my cell phone to find out when the streetcar is going to be at my stop. It's accurate to within a minute. And when my wife is traveling, I go with CheapTickets' FlightTracker to see where her airplane is while she's on it and, practically, to tell me if I need to head the airport early or late to pick her up.
Not all geo-locating software is for me, though. I'm thankful that my cell phone is not a GPS-equipped Nextel model connected to the Xora system, with which employers can keep track of workers. It's a useful service that can help companies efficiently route service employees, such as repair technicians. But if your phone has the service and you forget to it turn off before you step into a bar during a break, your boss will know about it. The family version of Xora is the kid-tracking Wherify system.
The next big step in geographic-based service is live traffic information that you can get while you drive. XM Radio has started to broadcast traffic data, in addition to talking traffic reports. So far, the only system I know of that can receive the info is the 2005 Acura RL, and even then, it will only show you traffic slowdowns but won't route you around them. It's just a matter of time until this technology becomes more automated or even available in aftermarket navigation systems such as those made by Garmin, Magellan, or TomTom.
These navigation technologies can do a great job of keeping you or me on time, reduce the frustration inherent in traveling, and help you keep tabs on people you are responsible for. Using all of these tools at once, of course, would overload anybody's patience and would greatly annoy your spouse/copilot. But applied judiciously, these cool technologies and items should make being late a remnant of the past and could potentially give you one fewer thing to argue about.
Do you use navigation tools? Have they saved you time or helped you land a client or a job? Or did you try one of these tools and deem it not ready for prime time? Share your take in TalkBack!