Tuesday, 2009-12-29 08:41 MST

Screwtape would approve.

Apparently a Nevada couple wandering about in the wilds of eastern Oregon were stranded for three days. While there was human stupidity at play in the stranding, this article is about another bit of human stupidity. The part of the headline that says, "GPS leads them astray".

No, gentle reader, their GPS did not lead them astray. They lead themselves astray.

Nor did their GPS "sen[d] them down a remote forest road." They sent themselves down it.

What the editor who wrote the headline and Jeff Barnard, the alleged journalist who wrote the story, missed is that they chose to follow the route the GPS receiver's navigation software selected.

I sailed for years and did my own coast piloting (and asked someone else to check my work). I not only carried responsibility for my own life, I carried responsibility for the lives of others. And for yachts worth hundreds of thousands of (1960s) dollars.

I've driven through eastern Oregon and northwestern Nevada, enough to know the country a bit.

I've been using GPSware like Roadnav and Tangogps for years. Of course I've also used Google Maps. Many of these programs will create a route for you; Roadnav will do it in real time as you drive, like many commercial GPS receivers. All of them are quite capable of producing bogus routes.

Rule 1: A navigation tool, any navigation tool, is no substitute for your native intelligence. If you plotted a course from Fishers Island to Block Island, and you came up with a course of 300 degrees, would you sail it? Not very far, you wouldn't, one way or another. If the GPS software says, "Take this Forest Service road", you can refuse to do so. They aren't paved, you know, and can get very rugged. You do have free will, you know.

That's bad enough. But what irks me most about this story is the author of the article and the headline writer both giving the Rhoads a pass by blaming the GPS, not them, for the error. No prize for guessing what the writers' excuse for such insipid moral failure would be. Screwtape would approve.

Posted by Charles Curley | Permanent link | File under: miscellany