A New Toy

April 18th, 2010

By Tom Carter

As the old saying goes, “The difference between men and boys … is the price of their toys!”  OK, fine.  So I finally got a new toy that I’ve had on my mind for quite a while — a GPS navigation system for my car.

After some comparison shopping, I settled on a Mio M400. It’s made in Taiwan and has fairly good reviews.  It isn’t the top of the line, but you don’t have to take out a second mortgage to buy it, either.  The display is 4.3 inches diagonal, which isn’t the biggest you can get, but it’s big enough.

This GPS came with European maps installed, which you have to pay to have updated, naturally.  But if you’re not careful, you can get one that doesn’t have maps or only partial maps, and the additional cost of buying the map software can be significant.

My GPS came with two English voices installed, both of them Brits.  The woman we named Prudence, or Pru, because of her rather self-satisfied manner and school-marmish instructions (apologies to real-life Prudences out there).  The man fairly quickly became Jeffrey, named after the character in the British TV series Coupling because he’s something of a doofus.

We auditioned both Pru and Jeffrey and finally settled on Pru, mainly because she gets less frustrated and dictatorial when you don’t do what she tells you to do.  Who wants to get pushed around and upbraided in their own car?

I’m hoping to find some more voices, like James Earl Jones and Melanie Griffith, if they’ve sold out-out their voices for GPS.  Who wouldn’t listen to Darth Vader when he says, “Turn right!”?  And who wouldn’t be soothed by the voice of Melanie Griffith?

We just took the GPS on its maiden voyage, a trip from Belgrade, Serbia to Zagreb, Croatia.  It’s a route we’ve driven a number of times in the past, and it’s a pretty simple straight shot with four-lane divided highways all the way.

How did it go?  Not so great — a few problems.  Going from the start point to the destination worked OK.  But I added a couple of “via points” along the way, and that seemed to confuse Pru immensely.  For example, the first via point was the Serbia-Croatia border.  It was pin-pointed with longitude-latitude data from Google Earth, which worked well on a number of other locations.  But not this one.

Not only did Pru not know where the border was, but after crossing into Croatia she kept trying to make us turn left and head toward the Bosnian border, which we weren’t much inclined to do.  She finally gave up, re-calculated the route on her own, and took us to the destination (a specific building in Zagreb).  But she wasn’t happy about it.

She did a better job on the way back, at least in the beginning.  She found the border, but after that she got confused and went a little bonkers.  Then she settled down and did a good job after we re-programmed her.  Maybe she was just having first-trip jitters.

Like every new electronic toy I get, I spend hours or even days trying to figure out how to make the darned thing work.  The manuals, of course, are not much use, and neither is the Mio desktop browser you have to install on your computer.  I still have work to do on this new toy, and as my traveling companion observed, Pru’s problems may have been caused by the age-old problem of GIGO — my fault, of course.  Maybe so; we’ll see.

Meanwhile, I’m a bit concerned that the GPS may join my PDA, near the back of a desk drawer, never used after several frustrating days figuring out how it worked.  O tempora o mores!

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3 Responses to “A New Toy”

  1. larry |

    What the heck Tom!!
    You and I are from a different era. Having lived before GPS, we old people tend to forge onward relying on dead reckoning and moss growing on the north side of a tree trunk. Little gadgets that beep and display ghostly images don’t exactly instill a great deal of confidence in us. On the other hand, if you’ve never known life without computers and Game Boy, there’s little chance you would have noticed the failure of the GPS unit.
    I too have a drawer reserved for expensive gadgets that failed to measure up. My grand kids are amazed at the perfectly good electronic gadgets that I have stashed away in said drawer.

  2. Andrea |

    Boy toy with Pru’s voice – what else would a man want? It was fun to listen to her complain about the border crossing 🙂

  3. Tom |

    Andrea, I see what you mean. But honestly, don’t you think Pru is kind of a pain in the posterior? I’d prefer Melanie Griffith, Mae West, or Lauren Bacall. Maybe Greta Garbo, but she’d probably refuse to say anything except “I vant to be alone!”

    Larry, the first thing we learned in pilot training, as I’m sure you remember, was dead-reckoning navigation. Also, one useful technique was going down to check the name of a small town on its water tower. But as I became exposed to more and better electronic nav systems, I got hooked. I love the technology, but it needs to be useful and it really ought to work. When the GPS couldn’t find a border crossing after being told where it was down to a gnat’s rear, I was disappointed. Probably operator error, I’ll admit….

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