Arguing With Sheila

On the road…again!

Afghanistan to Zambia

Chronicles of a Footloose Forester

By Dick Pellek


Arguing With Sheila


It took a long, 5,500 mile trip with GPS guidance to finally convince us that it is not a good idea to trust the GPS for all the answers.  Although our superior GPS unit quickly maps out a route to our destination and tosses in logos for banks, gas stations and places to eat along the route, not all of the information is accurate because the data is only as good as the database on which it was designed.

Brand new sectors of roads and newly erected buildings may not appear on the GPS monitor because they may not yet be in the database.  Likewise, restaurants and gas stations that have gone out of business may still appear on the monitor but not really exist as functioning enterprises.


Typical GPS screen shot with lots of information and navigation advice


Sheila, the name we gave to our Garmin GPS, gets mostly everything right but insists on having her way even when we know better. Sheila has a pleasant speaking voice and doesn’t argue back when we argue with her about taking certain routes, but we sometimes have to literally turn her off when she insists that we take a dirt road to reach our destination between two major cities.  It isn’t Sheila arguing about the choice of routes, she is only doing what she was programmed to do, get us to our destination by taking shortcuts that chop off miles.  Most times we disagree about leaving a perfectly smooth state or federal highway in favor of an unpaved road that pops up on the map but is the one that Sheila announces by name and advises us when to turn. Sheila is clever, articulate, and mostly reassuring but we have learned when to ignore her advice.  But not before arguing with her as she calmly announces one unpaved road after another between Thermopolis and Rock Springs, Wyoming.  Poor Sheila, it’s not that we lack confidence in you knowing that a back road here and there might just get us through to Rock Springs as advertised, it is more about worrying about getting stranded on a desolate stretch of country road or getting bogged down in a washed out arroyo.

Sheila knows more details about local geography, in graphic terms, than we ever will and we have learned to trust her word most of the time; but we have finally learned not to take her advice each and every time she speaks up. 

The technology of GPS has been improved, updated, and packaged into smaller and smaller devices.  In the early days of GPS use, the receivers had to be mounted in the back of a pick-up truck; and later on fitted into back packs for mobility.  Nowadays, top of the line cell phones have GPS as one of the app selections.  But although our larger GPS has a wider screen, the GPS in our smartphone is so good that we have all but abandoned mounting our Garmin on the windshield when we take a long trip. The much smaller GPS system in our smartphone is great, but it is not without faults.

Sheila is the name we gave to the GPS in our smartphone.  The older Sheila in our Garmin unit was her mother, but as a tribute to her Mom's cleverness, we also named her daughter Sheila. We listen to her for advice and instructions, but we also ignore her when we sometimes know better.

Sheila, mom or daughter, will plot out alternative routes on the long trips for which GPS is most useful.  She will dutifully program, 1) the most direct route; 2) the most scenic route, or  3) the route without tolls.  Some systems may also have other program options.  So, before you set out and put your complete trust in the infallibility of the highlighted route chosen, be aware that young Sheila does not know everything.  She makes the same kinds of poor choices as her mother.




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