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My GPS at ATL: OMG!

Holy shit.

I just had a major super-geek-out moment and am compelled by the rule of nerd law (Article IV, Section 2) to document it in my blog.

I’ve been at my new job in Jacksonville, FL now for about two months and today I was sent on a trip to Sacramento, CA to do a little troubleshooting for a new customer who just had our system installed in their facility.

Naturally, I packed all of the essentials in my carry-on bag: laptop, PSP, DS Lite, tablet PC (Nokia 770 which I just got from Woot.com last week), GPS navigator, cell phone, underwear, etc.

So after getting up before the birds and making it to JAX by 5am for my 6am flight, I found myself sitting at Hartsfield-Jackson airport in Atlanta awaiting my connecting flight on to Cali and digging through my bag looking for the latest issue of Xbox magazine I had tossed in for some meaningful reading at some point during my trip. In addition to my video game periodical, though, I also found the soft glow of an LCD screen illuminating the interior of my bag. Argh. I felt the gentle aggravation that only comes from knowing a well-charged device has been burning precious battery minutes without me there.

I pulled it from the bag with a soft, under-my-breath “damn it” and was about to turn it off when I noticed that it had updated for Atlanta. Cool.

Mio at the airportI zoomed out and saw that even though the airport wasn’t an actual road, the map had a pretty thorough and accurate layout of the Atlanta airport tarmac & runways. Then I took a picture with my camera phone because I’m a dork.

“That’s interesting trivia,” I first thought, “that if for any reason I had to drive around the tarmac of the Atlanta airport my GPS could handle it.”

“My little $200 GPS is pretty sweet,” I then pondered, “that it has this kind of detail.”

Then it hit me. I can only imagine the slightly geeky grin that must’ve spread across my face when the neurons started firing.

“If it knows the layout of the airport, I wonder what it would look like if I had it on during takeoff?”

Heh, heh, heh. I’ll bet that would be sweet. “But wait, aren’t all personal electronic devices supposed to be turned off during takeoff because of possible interference with delicate aircraft instrumentation?” I mentally paraphrased from the pre-flight video with fiercely crappy production values. Damn you, Homeland Security. You’re trying to thwart my plans to have fun.

Yes, but I know better. Adam Savage & Jamie Hyneman have proven to my satisfaction that that’s all bunk. So my mind was made up; in the interest of dweeby curiosity I was going to be a wild maverick, throwing caution to the wind like the time I risked national security by removing that label from my new mattress.

The next thirty minutes were an artful combination of eating some mediocre airport eggs and crafting my subterfuge. I’d need to have the GPS on and in view without anyone knowing. Surely if I just had it sitting there in my hand I’d be ratted out by the uninformed narcs in neighboring seats who had missed that particular episode of Mythbusters and think I might be crippling the plane’s instrumentation with my little handheld gizmo. In my shirt pocket? Hidden in a book or magazine? Under a blanket pretending to sleep?

Fast-forward to me sitting on the plane. I’m the only one in my row, sitting by the window and two empty seats between me and the aisle. All of that scheming gone to waste, giving way to the ideal scenario. I have no neighbors, and once we started rolling in line to take off, even the flight attendants have to put their seats in the upright position and secure their seat belts by pulling on the strap, demonstrated by Ashley at the front of your cabin. Home free.

I click my GPS on and it acquires a strong signal. Perfect. The plane rolls leisurely along at around 2-7mph while in queue, occasionally stopping entirely. It’s reading just as expected.

We’re fifth in line.

In average every-day operation this device has never had to register more than about 85mph at an altitude of just around sea-level, so I really don’t know how it will behave.

We’re third now.

Will it be able to keep up with higher speeds? Can its programming accommodate being several thousand feet in the air, or will it just error-out and give up?

We’re turning around now because we’re next in line. With nobody even noticing (or at least caring) what I’m doing, I’ve now given up any pretense of secrecy. I’m holding my GPS right down in front of me in my lap, but I did not lower my tray table or recline my chair — I’m wild but I’m no madman.

Whooooshhhhhh. The engines power up and we start to roll. It appears to be working: on the screen my little arrow (which is usually my car) is rolling along the runway and picking up speed. 12mph. 22mph. 41. 47. 80. 102. My spidey-sense starts tingling. 123. 174. I briefly but audibly chuckle out loud as if I’d just read a good Penny Arcade strip. We’re about to leave the ground. 184. 197mph! Zero.

What? Zero? Yep, zero. After ripping along the runway at ground level at nearly 200mph, once we left the ground my poor GPS appeared to freak out.

That was okay, though, I thought. I’d still bucked the system and got to see what it looked like on my readout to be tearing ass at such a ridiculous speed.

Mio press photoMaybe now, I thought, would be a good time to conform to the rules. After all, my rationale for breaking them was no longer necessary, so the rules were now convenient. I turned my unit off and basked in the afterglow of my nerdy accomplishment.

But the most pleasant surprise came just a few minutes later when the captain gave the all-clear to turn on portable electronic devices. Naturally I turned the unit back on to see how much it was freaking out now that we were so high.

My digital buddy had regained his faculties. And now, to my delight, I’m to the part of my story that echoes the first sentence: Holy shit.

Not only were we not going zero miles-per-hour any more, but we were booking it across the west Georgia countryside! It would seem that it only needed a little time to adapt, because now the satellite status page showed a solid lock on eight signals, we were 4700+ meters up and blazing at nearly 500mph! Of course, on the display this all appeared to be at ground level, so the view I was treated to was one of roads, rivers & highways flying past under my little location arrow at ten times the speed I would normally go, but with no regard for where the roads were!

It was a moment of nerd-vana, and I’m smiling again just thinking about it. My GPS and I shared a magical moment over the skies of Georgia this morning, and those bullies from Homeland Security will never be able to take that away from us.

One Comment
  1. PamT July 6, 2007

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