November 03, 2010

¡Perdito! Or; ¿GPS? We don' need no steenkeeng GPS


I actually planned to get lost on this trip, and unlike most plans, this one worked exceptionally well.

I know a bit about planning, planning was one of the things I used to have to do for earning my daily crust. One thing I learned is that the more planning you do, the more likely your plan will fail. This appears so obvious now I write it down, but somehow it has totally escaped the notice of Mrs. Gant, Mr. Critical-Path and everybody's favorite, Ms. Microsoft Project.

I determined that for this trip I was not going to repeat that failure prone exercise of having a detailed plan. I had goals and objectives. One needs to have goals and objectives before one can plan.  The good thing about goals and objectives, unlike planning, it is possible to come up with goals and objectives in a few minutes, freeing the rest of the afternoon for other things, like beverages.

My goal was to have a good time, my objectives, to ride my motorcycle through the entire (Canadian) winter, maybe as far as South America, and to see what there is to see along the way.  That was easy! No route planning required, any reasonably bright sixth grader can tell you South America is south. (That is why it is called South America.)  All I needed to do was to put the sun side of the horizon on the clutch lever in the morning and keep going.

That was the plan.

It  eliminated spending hours and hours poring over maps, highlighting routes, and plugging way points into my tiny GPS.  Planning taught me that setting measurable targets greatly increases the likelihood of missing them.

I did have a Garmin hiker style GPS that I thought was cool when I first got it, I love gadgets, but for my style of traveling I found that nothing beats the old school gas station road map. There is a reason that a roadmap unfolds large enough to half cover the bed in a 20 dollar a night motel room, something that no amount of zooming in and out on a GPS screen can match. A GPS is great if you need to know exactly where to go, and when you will arrive. “In 250 meters turn left,,,,  In 100 meters turn left...” When I have a map I am in control (or lost, the one thing a GPS is good for is telling you exactly where you are).

I was taking one pocket gadget, my Blackberry had GPS and Google and Blackberry maps,  as well as the ability to email, browse and talk to people.   The Garmin was benched and traded, one less thing to have to keep track of.

The phone GPS turned out to be worse than useless once I left Canada, no fault of RIM, the makers, the problem is service providers. I got my 'world edition' Blackberry from Bell Canada, supposed to work almost anywhere.  Until  Bell locks the phone so that it only works on Bell networks and their partners in crime. With an unlocked phone you can switch providers by changing the SIM card. Bell's world is a great deal smaller than the one I was in.  Once you are off the Bell network and you are unlucky enough to find another network that actually lets you use your phone, you are roaming, a license for predatory cell phone networks to rob you blind, which you don't find out until you get your monthly bill.  Even worse, an unwatched 'smart' phone will also try to hook into a data network unless you turn this 'feature' off. When you are roaming on a data network you are going to get billed for data even if you do not use the phone, and 9 times out of ten, the effin data network does not work, which does not prevent them from billing you for it anyway. No working data network means the GPS mapping application does not work either, so no usable GPS when you need it. This all became moot when someone did me a big favor and stole my Blackberry.  Add cell phone providers to the list of those who will be lined up against the wall after the revolution.

About the only times I regretted not having a GPS was leaving cities and a couple of times in the Andes . Letting myself get lost in Mexico almost always landed me in a great spot. It was difficult to get lost in Central America, where North America funnels down to a narrow strip of land. Once I reached South America I did more route planning, and spent a lot more time trying find the route I planned to take, proving my hypotheses, planning increases the likelihood for plans to come to grief.

Oh but, NEXT time, the GPS goes in my pocket and cell stays home :-)

 Lost again.