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    Re: Dependence on GPS
    From: Frank Reed
    Date: 2009 Oct 31, 21:53 -0700

    John, you wrote:
    "There is this notion of risk homeostasis.   Mountain climbers are often 
    accused of this.   It goes something like this:  "I got away with X last 
    time, therefore I can get away with it next time."   And then, they get 
    nailed by putting themselves in some precarious situation."
    And it's not just mountain climbers, a largely amateur group. Large 
    professional bureaucracies are also subject to this creeping acceptance of 
    risk based on previous good luck. The destruction of the space shuttle 
    Challenger back in 1986 is generally blamed on this.
    You wrote:
    "The main gripe about GPS'es for me is in the vein of the Charlie Brown comic 
    story about Lucy and the Football.   Lucy convinces Charlie Brown, against 
    all experience, to once again charge and try to kick the football, and she 
    yanks it away as usual.   Last year, I found myself again shelling out $200 
    for a spiffy GPS unit.  Now my third -  thinking to myself "you're throwing 
    away money...". "
    Ha! Too funny. Yes, I understand what you're saying. I think we've all had 
    this experience with some sort of electronic device. But you realize, I am 
    sure, that this is an irrational aversion. It's in our "brain wiring" to 
    believe that a streak of bad luck will continue (which makes the character of 
    Charlie Brown so charming since he does not have that normal brain wiring 
    --and therefore he's a lovable sucker). 
    You wrote:
    "This fall I'd given my students an exercise to walk from the chapel of the 
    college to a tall building about a mile away and try to estimate the height 
    of the steeple using the distance walked and the angular height.   I wanted 
    to check the accuracy of my dead reckoning and brought out the $200 GPS unit 
    to the college yard, and lo-and-behold - no signal. Lucy pulled the football 
    away again."
    Ouch, that is awful. Fate is cruel sometimes! But didn't any of your students 
    have smartphones?? My cell phone (a two-year-old HTC Touch) could have done 
    filled in easily.
    And you concluded:
    "This is not a Luddite statement, I will certainly carry a VHF any time I'm 
    out on a kayak, but my experience is that these tend to be more reliable and 
    a much more valuable piece of equipment than a GPS unit in terms of safety."
    Communication is key, I agree. But if you're lost in pea soup fog in a kayak, 
    and you've exhausted your options and have to call for help, the best thing 
    you can provide to your rescuers is a position accurate to 20 meters. Get an 
    old GPS, one with minimal computing capabilities, one known for its 
    survivability in severe conditions (like the ones favored by racing wind 
    surfers, perhaps), and keep it inside your clothes in a dry bag. You don't 
    have to, but now that I have said this, the gods of fate have been tempted. 
    PS: I will keyboard a few more messages tonight, and then it's out to 
    Halloween --VERY BIG in Chicago. I am going as the Chairman of the Federal 
    Reserve. Mwahahahahaaaa....
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