NY Times: La Vita Is Dolce, but Where Am I?
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Addicted
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Tue Nov 29, 2005 9:26 am quote
The NY Times has an interesting article about riding a scooter in Rome with a GPS. The writer addresses whether technology diminishes the romance and sense of adventure of scootering in Rome.

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To mark my 40th birthday, I did something I am told has never been done in the history of Italy: I bought a Global Positioning System navigator and mounted it on my scooter, with the intention of actually finding my way around the streets of Rome.

This is exactly the ridiculous sort of thing Italians expect foreigners to get up to. We seem to think there are sure answers in life, especially electronic ones. We have the idea that Rome is supposed to be navigated efficiently. Our sense of form and function is tragically off.

Entire article:
http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/27/weekinreview/27fisher.html



Kevin
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Tue Nov 29, 2005 12:13 pm quote
funny... i wonder if "via sbagliata" really exists (it literally means "wrong way") or if he used it to illustrate a point....
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Tue Nov 29, 2005 12:22 pm quote
ok - so i just told a friend of mine about this article and he told me there is a gps unit made specifically for two-wheel vehicles..... so if anyone is inclined to recreate the "gps in rome" experiment:

http://tomtom.com/products/product.php?ID=146&Language=4

pretty cool but quite spendy....
Technical Moderator
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Tue Nov 29, 2005 3:10 pm quote
When in Italy, do as the natives do...
I prefer to use the "old method" when I'm scootering through the old country. I leave a trail of bread crumbs.
Addicted
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Tue Nov 29, 2005 3:43 pm quote
Re: When in Italy, do as the natives do...
addicted wrote:
I prefer to use the "old method" when I'm scootering through the old country. I leave a trail of bread crumbs.
Yeah, me, too. I really can't say I see the need for it. I'm a gadget lover and if I can't come up with a way to justify it you know it's not even close to being a necessity!

Still, it's an interesting story -- in a modern-tech-meets-the-old-world kind of way.

Kevin
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Tue Nov 29, 2005 4:39 pm quote
Okay, I've got my own take on this, considering that I often ride with my GPS mounted squarely in front of me on my scooter.

The GPS is not really there to tell me where I'm going. It's there to help me get home. I can pretty much blissfully wander through the countryside, more or less unconcerned with specifics of where I might happen to be, exploring side roads and new directions -- while completely safe in the knowledge that I'll be able to find my way home again, since my GPS is recording my trail the whole time.

In fact, I almost never look at the GPS until it's time to head home, and then I only look at it when the road seems unfamiliar to me from the reverse direction and I need reassurance that I am, in fact, on the right road. Even if I take a different route home, sometimes it's nice to know you're at least headed in the right direction, especially when it starts getting dark.

I really genuinely believe that the GPS actually helps me become even more care-free than I would be if I were riding without it. Not having to think or worry about the way home is a fairly liberating experience.

An important point to consider is that there's a big difference between street-oriented GPS units and trail-oriented GPS units, and in fact it's a trail GPS that I use. A street-oriented GPS is very much concerned with turn-by-turn driving instructions, getting you from point A to point B in the most efficient manner possible. This is what many people think of when they think of GPS, and it sounds like what the author of the article is referring to.

A trail GPS, by contrast, is more about telling you where you've been, and maybe where you are in relation to other key points. You generally are responsible for choosing how to get from point A to point B, though, and that's exactly how I use it. I think my adventures are significantly better for it. Try it sometime. You might like it.

Just my $0.02.
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Tue Nov 29, 2005 4:52 pm quote
GPS?
Heck i did not even know 2 types were out. Around here it is all smaller towns with lots of back country roads. I have only once ridden out and gotten directionally challenged, LOL. When that happened I turned around and went back the way I had come.
I do like the idea of the "trail" style let me choose how, just point me in the general direction. How much cash are we talking about for one of these, and how hard was it to mount? Thanks in advance, beale.
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Tue Nov 29, 2005 4:54 pm quote
To GPS or not to GPS. Is that the question?
For the record, I couldn't read the referenced article, because I didn't want to register there. I didn't realize this was a serious discussion about GPS either. I was only making a light-hearted attempt to joke. I wasn't making any statement, pro or con, on the use of GPS. I'm just clarifying my post. I realize that comments are not necessarily being directed at me.

Bread crumbs are good for Italian cooking, and for leaving a "trail of bread crumbs", and that's my story and I'm sticking to it.
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Tue Nov 29, 2005 5:00 pm quote
Gary - the comments weren't directed at you or anyone, just my perspective on GPS and how it can be a positive thing.

And for the record, I think we actually agree completely -- I just use an electronic device to leave my breadcrumbs for me.
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Tue Nov 29, 2005 5:07 pm quote
Re: GPS?
Beale wrote:
I do like the idea of the "trail" style let me choose how, just point me in the general direction. How much cash are we talking about for one of these, and how hard was it to mount?
A decent trail-based GPS unit can be had for under $100. I have one that has very basic roads (i.e. major surface streets and highways, plus train tracks and bodies of water) but it does not do turn-by-turn on the roads. They go as high as maybe $300 or $400, significantly cheaper than street-oriented ones.

Mounting was pretty easy, I've been meaning to do a step-by-step post on the subject but haven't gotten around to it. The mounting accessories were probably well under $100, but I can't remember exactly. It's actually very similar to this setup on vespagt.com, but maybe a bit simpler even.
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Tue Nov 29, 2005 5:09 pm quote
Understood Jess.

I have a Garmin Etrex myself. I've used it to backpack in Alaska, outside of Anchorage. I've also found it handy to monitor my speed and trajectory in the ocean kayak. I've used it both with ATB and road bicycling. I've also mounted it on the motorcycle to compare the speedometer's speed with the GPS indicated speed.

What GPS are you using, and how are you mounting it to the GT200?
Petty Tyrant
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Tue Nov 29, 2005 5:11 pm quote
I have the Garmin eTrex as well, the Vista model from a few years back. There's a specific mount designed to cradle the GPS in plastic and it makes it quick to pop it out of the mount when you need to stick it under your seat.

I'll post some pictures later tonight.
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Tue Nov 29, 2005 6:24 pm quote


That was when I did the speedo check. Since then I got a set-up as described in Jess' link above. I don't use it around town. More like Jess said: sort of a "How do I get over there?" accessory, and for checking speed.

Last edited by Smorris on Tue Nov 29, 2005 7:11 pm; edited 1 time in total
Ossessionato
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Tue Nov 29, 2005 7:06 pm quote
I've got the topo gps software for that Magellan Meridian series. Shoot me an email with your addy and I would send you a copy. Just for like a trial(cough, cough), you know just like for a trial, yea, thats the ticket........
Addicted
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Tue Nov 29, 2005 8:20 pm quote
Re: To GPS or not to GPS. Is that the question?
addicted wrote:
For the record, I couldn't read the referenced article, because I didn't want to register there.
Gary and Everyone,

I thought that when given a direct URL that non-registered users could see an article on nytimes.com. Since that is obviously not the case, here is the article (sorry for the long post).

Jess - I've never actually used a GPS, so I probably shouldn't speak to their usefulness. Of course, maybe I really don't want to think it's useful because then I'll have to get one!

Kevin

------------------

La Vita Is Dolce, but Where Am I?
The New York Times
November 27, 2005
By IAN FISHER


TO mark my 40th birthday, I did something I am told has never been done in the history of Italy: I bought a Global Positioning System navigator and mounted it on my scooter, with the intention of actually finding my way around the streets of Rome.

This is exactly the ridiculous sort of thing Italians expect foreigners to get up to. We seem to think there are sure answers in life, especially electronic ones. We have the idea that Rome is supposed to be navigated efficiently. Our sense of form and function is tragically off.

"It's like putting a seatbelt on a motorino!" Gianluca Nicoletti, a popular radio personality, told me, using the common word here for scooter. "It's like having a spare tire on a motorino!"

"The motorino is a vehicle outside the rules," he added. "You can go up sidewalks, in pedestrian zones, down one-way streets. What do you need G.P.S. for?"

I had tried to explain this very need to the scooter repairman, who had to fix everything I broke on my scooter trying to install G.P.S. - which locks onto navigational satellite signals, plots a route and even tells you in a little robotic voice where to go - in the first place.

"I know it looks stupid to you," I said. "But for a stranger, it is really useful." I don't know if it was my bad Italian, or the thing itself, but he made no vocal acknowledgment, which in my experience is rare here. His face was blank, too.

If my Italian were better, and on the off chance he wanted to hear it, this is what I would have told him: I live in Rome and need to get from place to place, preferably faster than jammed traffic and iffy public transport allow. The scooter may be the choice of wimps in America, but here it means speed, often too much, and freedom.

But I have no sense of direction. You can't hold a map on a scooter. (In a year living here, I have seen it attempted only a few times; safety-wise, you might as well pour a highball on the back of your Vespa.) And Rome, a multimillennial mix of grand urban planning and complete anarchy, is impossible to the outsider without some guide - these days, most sensibly, G.P.S.

Take the system of street numbering: On major streets in the city center, the odd numbered addresses are on the left and the even ones on the right - with left and right determined by facing the biggest cross street, however that might be defined. Except for the exceptions, like the large Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, in which left and right are reversed. The smaller streets in the center have their own system, in which the numbers start on one side at one end, work their way up sequentially on that side, then hop across the street and continue down the other side.

This is, no doubt, charming. But with my little G.P.S., the Garmin Quest, loaded up with maps of all of Italy, other adjectives do not interfere. I can punch in any street number, and I arrive.

Around Italy, as many as a third of all streets signs do not conform to laws meant to ensure basic comprehensibility - they are the nation's "black hole," according to Guido Venturini, director-general of the respected Italian Touring Club.

It is common here to choose a route because of a sign, then mysteriously never see another one announcing the same place again. Streets at intersections are often unmarked. So even if you know to turn right on, say, Via Sbagliata, you can have no idea when you are there. It is not only confusing, but dangerous because you squint, swerve, then slam on the brakes.

"The risk of an accident is a real risk," Mr. Venturini said. "If you have lost your direction, you are in trouble."

With my G.P.S., I can - and do - navigate blindly, simply turning when the reassuring voice tells me, in English, over the geeky get-up of earphones that snakes out of my helmet, to "Turn right in 400 meters." I do not need to see street signs. I trust the satellites overhead. It is a faith the Vatican, which I whiz by often, might respect for its strength, if not its source.

As a result, you can't really get lost, which is also an argument against someone like me having G.P.S. in Italy.

Mr. Venturini talks about the enchantment of the "surprise" in Italy, a wine-glass-half-full way of saying that when you get lost, and you will, you can still enjoy yourself.

The G.P.S. is also a technological subversion of Italian culture: Knowing full well that even they will get lost, Italians are always asking each other for directions, and giving them with great pleasure.

"With a G.P.S. you see things perfectly," Mr. Nicoletti, the radio personality, said. "But it's like a sphere that isolates you from the world. You take your world with you. If that's your aim, it's perfect. But the G.P.S., like all technical instruments, detaches you from human contact."

It is true that Italy is one of the major backers of Europe's Galileo navigational satellite system - an alternative to the existing American one that is expected to be completed in a few years - and that Italians are finally warming up to G.P.S.'s in their cars. But I have never seen one on a scooter or a motorcycle. In a city with half a million scooters, I could not find a single store in Rome that sold a motorcycle mount for the G.P.S. Maybe because it grafts a soulless technological certainty onto something quintessentially Italian - romantic, retro, a little dangerous.

But the truth is, not even G.P.S. can drain Rome of its chaotic soul.

I used it the other day to get to an interview at the courthouse on Piazzale Clodio. My Quest drew a decent route, but I still overshot an exit. To get back, I turned the scooter against traffic, hopped a curb onto the sidewalk, then onto the right route. This is all illegal, but completely normal for scooters.

Ten uneventful minutes later, a little checkered flag went up on my G.P.S. signaling that I had successfully reached Piazzale Clodio.

Now where the heck was the courthouse? I didn't see anything that looked remotely like one. I had to ask someone.



----------------------------------------------
Ossessionato
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Tue Nov 29, 2005 8:40 pm quote
Here is my installation

http://www.vespagt.com/gps.html
Petty Tyrant
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Tue Nov 29, 2005 8:57 pm quote
cfargo wrote:
Here is my installation
http://www.vespagt.com/gps.html
Heh. I just finished writing this up in another thread, but you get all the credit for figuring it out first.

Curt rules.
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Wed Nov 30, 2005 6:58 am quote
Smorris wrote:
That was when I did the speedo check. Since then I got a set-up as described in Jess' link above. I don't use it around town. More like Jess said: sort of a "How do I get over there?" accessory, and for checking speed.
That's why I'm wondering if the speedo check was inaccurate. Now that I know there is a GPS specifically designed for two-wheeled vehicles, I would like to see a speedo check with that instrument before I assume that the Vespa speedo is wrong.

It makes sense that a GPS for a two-wheeled vehicle would be more accurate because of the particular way they accellerate.
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Wed Nov 30, 2005 7:16 am quote
scooterboi wrote:
That's why I'm wondering if the speedo check was inaccurate. Now that I know there is a GPS specifically designed for two-wheeled vehicles, I would like to see a speedo check with that instrument before I assume that the Vespa speedo is wrong.

It makes sense that a GPS for a two-wheeled vehicle would be more accurate because of the particular way they accellerate.
The two-wheel-specific GPS won't make a difference here. In this respect, all GPS units are the same, tracking your position via subtle timing changes in the signals from satellites. All GPS units can do a pretty much identical job of gauging speed.

The two-wheel specific unit from TomTom has a visor to block the sun and a BlueTooth headset system that mounts to your helmet. That's about the only thing that makes it two-wheel specific.
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