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Lifestyles

September 24, 2007

Tech, GP: GPS better than pocket-sized engineer

Way back, almost in another life, I worked for the D&H Railway.

I was what was known as a "fireman." In other words, sometimes I ran the trains over the railroad between the Capital District and Binghamton.

If I had worked there many more years, I would have probably become an engineer, but I traveled another track down a newspaper career instead.

Not being a full-fledged engineer, I always had a real engineer, usually old and with a lot of experience, with me to guide me. I paid attention to him (they were all "hims" in those days). Train wrecks are an awful thing to be responsible for.

Something that always amazed me was the way that all the engineers quite literally knew every inch of rail between here and there. Here was usually a couple hundred miles from there.

Every hill and hump, every sag, and every siding. The location of every signal light and whistle post was ingrained in their memories, to say nothing of the kids who lived along the track and needed a special little "toot-toot" of the horn.

That measure of knowledge of physical terrain was simply astounding to me.

It still is.

But now, I’ve got a new toy, which puts them to shame.

It’s a portable GPS device, or "portable navigator."

It’s small enough to fit into a shirt pocket, yet it knows all the roads, and places along them, in the U.S. and Canada.

It has a display that shows you as a little pointer, which moves along the roads as you drive. Watching the screen is OK, but I wouldn’t recommend trying to do that and drive at the same time.

Which brings me to the best part.

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