Friday, July 17, 2009

Answers to a couple blog questions

Unlike some of my other blogging friends (Wendi), I'm really bad at answering quetions people ask me in the comment section here on the blog.

Here are a few that I can remember from the past week:

Regarding the picture of me "sleeping" in the van on the way here. Yes, I took it myself with the camera on a timer. However, it wasn't really a "fake" shot, because I really Did look just like that minutes later when I fell asleep!

The weather - It's been wonderful! Not Nearly as hot or muggy as at home. Great for being out to take walks and spend time at the park. A little bit of rain a couple times, but nothing to "dampen" our plans. =)

Regarding the cleaning lady eating her lunch in our kitchen. I'm pretty sure she used the microwave, as I could smell her (hot) food that she was eating out of a Tupperware container. And yes, while I doubt there is a "staff room" here, there are plenty of common areas around here that she could have used for her lunch break.

GPS - I actually don't have a whole lot of advice about this, since Philip did the research and made the purchase. He did say that if he was just buying it for himself, he would have bought a TomTom, instead of a Garmin. I think the TomTom had some features that he liked better, but wasn't quite as "user friendly", and he really wanted me to be able to use it without a day of teaching first. Another draw was that this Garmin included Canadian maps. Sorry I can't be of any more help!

Philip was going to post the following as a comment so I added it here for anyone who is interested.

Garmin was on sale at Best Buy and I couldn't find a TomTom with the same size screen (4.3" widescreen) and Canadian maps at close to the same price. This model was also highly rated by Consumer Reports. Garmin is certainly the more popular one in the US and, as Joia said, has a more intuitive user interface. The importance of this really can’t be taken for granted as my technophobe wife was able to start using it with very little instruction. Kind of like how she has learned to use iPhoto on our Mac with zero help but wants to kill me when I try to show her how to use the picture editing software on the PC laptop.

TomTom has a feature called “IQ Routes” that uses the collective information from end users on how long it actually took to drive a particular route to plan future routes. With that information it will actually give you different routes based on the time of day you are driving and historical congestion patterns. If you're really willing to pay a lot more you can get a traffic enabled model that uses live traffic information to plan your route (both brands have this option). Lastly, TomTom has an option that is supposed to show you which lane to be in when going through complex interchanges (there a couple of those around DC believe it or not). I read in some reviews that this feature currently works better in Europe than in North America but it would be helpful at times when you have 6 lanes to choose from that go in four different directions.

Yesterday, to try and compensate for Garmy’s lack of knowledge about local traffic patterns, I used the traffic feature of Google maps to see which (main) roads were congested before leaving and when Garmy told us to drive on them I had it come up with a detour. I can't figure out how to make it avoid a particular road in advance which you can do on a TomTom. It does do a good job knowing local traffic rules (like when roads are one way at some times and not others) but has tried to make us do a few illegal left turns. It also comes up with new routes pretty quickly if you miss a turn or decide to not follow the recommended route.

As for route planning, you can pick from different things to avoid such as u-turns, interstates, toll roads, etc. And it does have other fun features that I think Joia really likes such as the custom icons so she can drive a pink roadster or a little pair of shoes when we put it into pedestrian mode. Lastly (and this is not Garmin specific, but a generally very helpful GPS feature), it will let you search for “points of interest” either where you are, along your route, at your destination or in another city. These include gas stations, hotels, restaurants, attractions, police stations, etc. You can save locations as favorites or load others on your own. Using some online resources that had already created the database files, I added Sonic, Tim Horton’s and Dairy Queen before we left. (woohoo from Joia) But, it does not know when things are open or closed.

One of the funniest parts was Joia using it around our local area before we got on the road and realizing that not all roads are laid out in a grid with 90 degree angles between them all. She has previously told me that’s how she sees the roads in her head when trying to explain why she took a particular route that was out of the way rather than a more direct route. The best result so far has been Joia not calling me after getting lost with crying kids in the very confusing urban jungle we have found ourselves for the month, and that is really the true marker of success.

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