Thursday July 19, 2007

Hold On a Minute...

I've rented a car this week while I'm down in Stanford between to back-to-back weekend conferences, and it has one of those GPS mapping systems.  I hadn't planned to use it, but when I made a wrong turn on a trip to the Central Valley, I figured it couldn't hurt to try it out.  It worked more or less as I expected, although it has what might be the worst text entry system I've ever seen (and that's saying something).  Still, the mapping and direction features are pretty nice...at least they seemed that way until I noticed something sinister.

When the system is providing directions, it does a good job of providing fair warning for what's coming up down the road.  It doesn't just say, "Turn right...NOW!".  Instead, it gives very clear directions like, "Off-ramp coming up on the right.  Take the ramp, but keep left." or "Right turn coming up, followed by a sharp left."  What's more, it warns you well in advance of turns, especially on the highway where you're traveling fast.

That's where the story gets creepy.  I noticed that, when I approached turns on the highway, the system consistently said, "Right turn in 1.2 miles," and then, "Right turn in .6 miles".  A chill ran down my spine when I realized it was actually giving me distances in kilometers, but attempting to conceal that fact by converting the distances into honest American measurements!

Dude, what the hell?  Had I stumbled upon some kind of crypto-European metric brainwashing plot?  And if so, what's their next step?  Cloth by the meter?  Calorie counting in joules?  I'm afraid to find out.

I am The Tensor, and I approve this post.
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Comments

Good job you weren't going to Mars.

Posted by: Pete Bleackley at Jul 19, 2007 1:25:05 AM

Wait, are you at LSA too? I'm having lunch with Noncompositional today. You should come.

Posted by: polyglot conspiracy at Jul 19, 2007 8:02:49 AM

Nope, it'll be calorie-counting in BTUs, but square (trapezoidal? jagged? anyway, not round) numbers of BTUs, just for consistency.

Posted by: Doug Sundseth at Jul 19, 2007 8:30:08 AM

I realized it was actually giving me distances in kilometers, but attempting to conceal that fact by converting the distances into honest American measurements!

Huh? If it was converting the distances into "honest American measurements", then in what sense was it giving them to you in kilometers? A kilometer converted into a mile is a mile. Or at least part of a mile.

Or did you mean that it was giving you kilometers, and merely reporting them (erroneously) as if they were miles?

Posted by: JS Bangs at Jul 19, 2007 4:51:12 PM

Or did you mean that it was giving you kilometers, and merely reporting them (erroneously) as if they were miles?

Yes, you have it exactly!

Posted by: The Tensor at Jul 19, 2007 5:04:08 PM

Yes, you have it exactly!

Well that's just weird.

Posted by: JS Bangs at Jul 19, 2007 5:04:48 PM

Tensor: I think you were mistaken in your reply to JSB. He was asking if it was saying "1.2 miles" when it really meant "1.2 km", and I don't think that's the case.

I think what the Tensor meant was that it was using increments of km. The reason it was saying "1.2 miles" and "0.6 miles" instead of the more logical "1.0 miles" and "0.5 miles" was that it was internally using "2 km" and "1 km", and then converting for the benefit of the English-system-using driver.

Posted by: Marcos at Jul 20, 2007 1:29:01 PM

Tensor: I think you were mistaken in your reply to JSB.

Ah, I see now what he was getting at. In my defense, I'd like to point out that I was, in fact, kidding about the whole thing. I meant to suggest that calculating in kilometers and then converting to miles was erroneous because you shouldn't be calculating in kilometers.

But I see I've fallen into the trap of explaining a joke. Sigh.

Posted by: The Tensor at Jul 20, 2007 2:32:16 PM

As Dalziel once remarked to Pascoe: If they come over funny, pretend you didn't hear, and then pretend you didn't understand. Nothing's funny if it has to be repeated and explained.

Posted by: The Ridger at Jul 20, 2007 7:18:24 PM

Embrace the metric. The metric is your friend.

Posted by: Kivi Shapiro at Jul 23, 2007 1:27:40 PM

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