- Category: Tech Soup
- Published: Thursday, 30 June 2005 00:00
Robots just aren't that good at giving directions. They don't know what's going on in the neighborhood. Is there construction or an event in town that might clog up the streets' What about different times of day and driving with or without the commute' Robots don't have the qualitative skills to add value to the vast amount of data on the streets, roads and highways in the country.
Mapquest, Mapblast and other online map sites are like dumb robots. You can almost here the drone ala Marvin from the Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy, "Please enter your destination please." These automated map makers and direction givers don't offer any insight or landmarks to look for. Arbitrary descriptions like make a "slight left" versus a regular left are about as personal as it gets. What the hell is a slight left anyway' Is it 10 degrees, 15, 20' C'mon.
I use these computerized maps nearly everyday. Not because I like them but because most people don't want to go through the trouble of providing good directions. It forces them to think about what truly is the best way to get somewhere and, well, that takes time and effort. Computers don't think they just regurgitate. So sites like Mapquest are pretty good at getting you in the general vicinity but often times, as in the telecom business, the last mile is the real trick.
Lately, it seems every time I go out I get asked for directions. I would say in the last year I've been stopped by locals or tourists about 25 times. I'm not kidding. I don't know what the national average for "direction giving" is but I have a feeling I'm an anomaly.
Whether I'm on foot or in the car it seems I'm constantly getting stopped. It's gotten to the point where I've started to enjoy it. It gives you that 'good deed for the day' kind of feeling, especially when it's a tourist who's completely lost. You don't think of your hometown as a tourist attraction until you start getting asked for directions to places that you take for granted. When I'm having a bad day I'm tempted to send them in the complete opposite direction but I never do. Well there was this one time. I'm kidding!
A few weeks ago some folks from the UK wanted to find the Winchester Mystery House. Just last week it was a couple of Japanese business men looking for the Tech Museum. Yesterday, a young lady in a minivan full of kids was miles away from Poland and the nearest Target.
When I first moved to Silicon Valley I found myself getting lost all the time. Here's the problem. The streets change names constantly. You can be cruising along and the next thing you know you're on a different street. The changes happen as you drive through different cities. For example, in just a few miles, one stretch changes names from Montague to San Thomas to Camden. With the twist and turns it's easy to think you've missed an exit or something.
Perhaps the most disconcerting "name" change in the Silicon Valley is when traveling on interstate 280 or 680. These parallel freeways meet and form a half circle around the southern portion of downtown San Jose. So let's say you are traveling south on 680. Well, miss your downtown exit and the next thing you know you're on north-bound 280 headed towards San Francisco. Different direction, different freeway, different destination just like that. That could throw you for a loop, no pun intended.
I take pride in giving good directions. I try to give approximate distances, landmarks and anything else that might make it easier for a visitor to find their destination. I even escorted these two girls from Brazil to a Cost Plus in the neighborhood. I had to pick up something next to the Circuit City next door anyway. Seriously, I did.
I never say things like, 'travel northeast, travel 1.2 miles, take a slight left on, continue for .7 miles and end at>' That just sounds so ridiculous. No, it's pretty much, take a left at the 76 station and it's right across the street from the Falafel drive-in. That's how people give directions. Just ask any robot.
Keep it Funky -- Rick