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How to Get More from Your Satnav
by R.T. Scanlon
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Reviewed by: John Walsh

This short book (it runs to 133 pages in the pdf version I was sent for review) is packed full of information about, as the title suggests, how to get more from a satnav. For those who may not know, a satnav is one of the computerized systems that sits on the dashboard of a car (or some other location - Mr. Scanlon several times recommends finding a location that does not interfere with the driver's vision - good advice which people where I live in Bangkok would do well to observe, since so many have TVs mounted on their dashboards) or else as an application on an advanced technology mobile phone and which will provide information on the best way to reach a destination entered into the software interface. The author is a professional driver of many years' standing and this book is clearly the product of a logical and ordered mind - he provides a great deal of advice on how to use a satnav, its good and points and how it might be developed in the future.

Mr Scanlon begins with a consideration of why it is that so many satnav users have reported disaster or near-disaster when using one of the systems - they had been distracted by the system while driving, they had been taken to the wrong address, they had been drawn into an accident or a near-collision and so forth. The author then explains what can be done to minimize these risks and avoid problems. The solutions derive from many years of driving and using the system (he focuses on the TomTom Go Live 1000 system which is described in considerable detail and which I am assuming the author uses in his own work). Some of these things seem to be basic common sense: look before you follow what satnav instructs you to do and then you might avoid some of the 'turning into a farm track' problem that some people have suffered. Similarly, look at the whole journey before beginning and try to become familiar with the contours of the route so that it will not come as a surprise. Do not play with the system while driving otherwise your attention will be compromised - and so forth. This seems, as I mentioned, sometimes self-evident but watching the way people actually use the roads on which I travel I am forced to conclude that these are lessons which would deeply benefit the people who might learn from them. People who rely unthinkingly on technology are likely to come a cropper sooner or later - we are all familiar with the young people who struggle to do the mental arithmetic those of us older (and perhaps more curmudgeonly) were taught to do unless they have in their hands the calculators on which they rely to do such work - this is a comparatively trivial thing when compared to the person driving a modern motor car which can be compared to a fast-moving deadly weapon. Perhaps, then, this advice could be stressed in the packaging or instructions that accompany such systems - I always look to regulation to make the world a safer and better place and not everyone agrees with that position. If you disagree, as is your right, come with me on a journey through Bangkok and you will see exactly what I mean - we have our satnavs here and the coverage of the actual conditions is in many cases sporadic. Yet some users will follow the instructions without thought, often being too busy with their important telephone calls to think about where they are actually going and the presence of any other road user. It was the French philosopher Michel Foucault who first wrote about the Panopticon - the all-seeing eye used by the state to monitor everything that is going on or, perhaps more accurately, to convince the citizens that the state is watching them whatever they do. As Mr Scanlon demonstrates in the case of the satnav, the contemporary Panopticon is flawed by inaccuracies and the inability of its users to question its parameters or use and its results where this is appropriate.

Additional issues addressed by the author include the possibilities of real-time updating of potential routes to show traffic buildups and any other delays and the predictive map-building of roads that would be possible by predicting the conditions half an hour or a couple of hours ahead, thereby alerting in the first case the commuter and in the second case the professional driver. There are some really fascinating possibilities here - it is, after all, much safer already to allow the autopilot to fly any plane, given that the most common cause of disaster is the so-called Controlled Flight into Terrain - and the day cannot be far-off when the same thing will be true of automobiles. Quite how many people will be willing to cede this level of control over their daily rituals remains to be seen - I'd be perfectly happy to do so but then I am increasingly aware that I am in the minority on many such day-to-day issues.

Anyone interested in using a satnav or who already uses one will certainly be likely to learn a great deal from this slim but well-organised volume. I do not have a physical version but I imagine it would fit well into a glove compartment or similar place.

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