Techno Files...with Riley Gay
Keep your Valentine on track — with a GPS navigational system

Love can be a real adventure. Sometimes it’s an emotional thrill ride, sending you soaring through the stratosphere or sailing on the wind. But it just as easily could leave you feeling a bit disoriented, maybe even completely lost.

It sure would be nice, wouldn’t it, if you had some help to get your bearings, and get headed in the right direction.

Sadly, when it comes to love, you’re kind of on your own.

Even so, while a GPS receiver may not help you find the way to your true love’s heart, it could at least help you to find your sweetheart’s house, or get to just about anyplace else you might want to go.

GPS (Global Positioning System) has been used in military and maritime operations for many years, but has lately started showing up in the hands--and the cars--of consumers around the world.

If you’re the adventurous type, having access to satellite positioning technology can make finding your way off the beaten path, or just to your Aunt Hilda’s house in Heber, a much simpler exercise.

And, once you’ve bought the receiver, GPS is completely free of charge.

Relying on a network of orbiting satellites positioned around the globe, GPS works by triangulating time and position data broadcast by each satellite to determine your receiver’s exact position (within a few feet, anyway) on the ground.

How that data is displayed depends on the device you’re using, whether it’s a car navigation system, marine GPS device or handheld unit for hikers.

A basic handheld unit, such as the Garmin eTrex Venture ($140), enables you to navigate to a distant destination, or “waypoint”, and get you back again, yet it’s small and lightweight enough to easily tote in a pocket or backpack.

Many units are capable of storing and displaying topographical maps, as well, which could come in handy when you’re out trekking in the wilderness.

The worldwide popularity of handheld GPS devices has even spawned its own adventure game. Called “geocaching,” it’s an activity that is sure to entertain fans of Indiana Jones-type adventures.

In the game, individuals or organizations place “caches” around the world, giving location information and other clues on the Internet. When GPS users find the hidden treasure, they take a small “reward” and are asked to leave something of their own in the cache, along with an entry in the logbook, for the next would-be treasure hunter.

Kyrene Corridor resident Laine Schoneberger has found geocaching to be a great activity to share with his kids.

“It’s a lot of fun,” says Schoneberger. “The kids love the treasure-hunt aspect of it. You can be standing right next to a cache and not even know it’s there. That’s part of the challenge.”

If you’d like to find out more about geocaching, check out www.geocaching.com.                              

Vehicle installation

These days, new-car buyers are more likely than ever to be offered the option of having GPS navigation systems pre-installed on their vehicles. These integrated units come equipped with full-color maps and enough street-level detail to allow for door-to-door navigation, as well as providing information about places along the way.

If a new car is not in your immediate future, though, there are a number of devices available that will do the job in your current vehicle of choice.

A good example is the Navman iCN510 ($499) GPS. About the size of a PDA and outfitted with a clear, bright, color display, the iCN510 provides spoken, turn-by-turn directions to get you where you want to go.

Weighing in at just 5.8 oz., the iCN510 can function as a handheld device as well, something the pre-installed systems can’t claim. Its rechargeable battery provides power for up to four hours and it has a power-saving feature to conserve battery power when not in use.

It also comes complete with map data for the entire U.S. and Canada, car mounting and power accessories, along with software and cables to connect the unit to your home computer.

The good news is that prices on GPS units have been falling on an almost daily basis. Fry’s Electronics recently had the iCN510 on sale for $349, which included a free SD memory card, so it might be worth your while to look around for similar deals.

Also, there are several different manufacturers of GPS units, each with their own set of strong points, so you’ll want to do a little homework before you settle on a particular one. A good place to start is at http://gpsinformation.net/, where you’ll find a bounty of information related to GPS, and links to plenty of other GPS-related sites.

And while it may not be able to help in matters of the heart, if you like a good adventure, or would just like to know where you are or where you’re going, a GPS unit can give you all the help you need to find your way.

Riley Gay is director of technical services for Wrangler News.