Losing Our Way (Without An E-Trex)

Just as we suspected, we have more trouble navigating as we age. Getting lost is one of the first symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. According to this Internet report, the deterioration of our ability to navigate starts in our teens.

(If you want to see this report, do it soon. A problem becoming more and more common on the Internet is references that have been deleted. The belief that information stays on the Internet forever is a myth. Somebody has to pay the on-going storage fees, and when the money goes, so does the information.)

The researchers at the University College London cleverly used a game app to gather massive amounts of data. The game, Sea Hero Quest, is a nautical adventure that has been downloaded 2.4 million times.  The opening screen explains its purpose and that it will ask for information about you.  It shows you how to opt out of this part if you want.

The game requires the players to navigate around a series of islands and fire a flare back toward home. Another chore is to memorize a sequence of buoys, then sail around them. The flare part was the first to be analyzed.  The key was to make the game fun on its own.

Players aged 19 were 74% accurate at firing the flare, but accuracy fell year by year until it reached 46% at age 75. The data also suggests men have a slight better sense of direction than women and that the Nordic nations outperform the rest in the world, although it is not yet known why. Good health, common in Nordic countries seems to have an effect in retaining our abilities.

The moral of the story is if you are driving aimlessly around without a GPS, ask the youngest person available. (When I was playing mixed doubles tennis about 20 years ago, we often forgot the score. Our rule was to accept the memory of the youngest person.)

An early eTrex

An early e-Trex

Which brings me to my early kayaking experiences about 20 years ago. I would take the kayak down to Florida and paddle around a myriad of mangrove islands. (Search the term “kayak” on this blog for the many postings.) Finding my way back to my parked car was a common problem. All of the islands looked pretty much the same and I then I approached a long stretch of uniform-looking coastline. Where did I leave my car? The problem was solved by an early, handheld GPS, a Garmin e-Trex for under $100. It was simple by today’s standards, but just what I needed. There was no map, just the track of where I had been. But I could set the start point and any waypoint I wanted. When I was ready to go back, I could simply click on “backtrack” and a large arrow on the screen would tell me the direction of the start point.

(I was amazed, and still am, that all of this detection of satellites and triangulation calculations could be packed into a handheld device that sold for under $100.)

I also used the e-Trex for hiking in the woods, but the problem was that water in the leaves blocked the signal, and I would have to find a clearing to get a reading. Winter was no problem with the leaves down, but then I could see where I was and did not need a GPS.

I also used it to find my car in a mall parking lot, but I found just setting it focused my attention and I could easily find my car without it.

(I have to end now. I want to play Sea Hero Quest on my tablet, I kid you not.  They probably need data for my age group.  Besides, the game is fun.)


About Roger Walck

My reasons for writing this blog are spelled out in the posting of 10/1/2012, Montaigne's Essays. They are probably not what you think.
This entry was posted in Aging, Popular culture and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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