Roger McKinlay on Navigation

The personal musings of the Immediate Past President of the Royal Institute of Navigation


February 2016

Eee Loran.

thin copy

There is an old joke about a Yorkshireman asking a stone mason to inscribe his wife’s headstone with “Lord she was thine”.  He returns to find the completed stone bearing the inscription “Lord she was thin”.   “You’ve missed the e off”, he tells the mason. To this day the stone reads, “Eee Lord, she was thin”.

One cannot help thinking that a similar breakdown in communication led to the creation of eLoran, the planned terrestrial back-up to satellite navigation.

A brief discussion around the table at a recent INC16 planning meeting exposed the heart of the matter. In this age of innovation and the sharing economy there is a wide held view that if there is a real demand for a service someone will invent a way of delivering it and collecting the revenue. Good ideas emerge; it is the job of governments to encourage them.

Although most people would agree that some things can only be run by the state – defence, healthcare and transport infrastructure fall into this camp – such things are not popular. If the process involves negotiating international standards and spectrum the popularity falls further.

To those who think this way, the old Loran system represents the old economy. New navaids need new names. So why use Loran with or without the e? Officials have been putting the red pen through the word for years.

Invent a new word. Make it a misspelling of a real name and the dot-com domain will be cheap. Names like Lorane, Arleno or Elanor have a good ring to them.

But Loran will not win many new-economy friends. If eLoran finds itself Loaner it might all be in a name.

Now, remind me what the technical issues are?


The Internet of Twits


I am Being Followed

For the past few months I have been followed by a pair of navy suede boots. Wherever I go they seem to turn up. A few days go by without any sightings and then suddenly – there they are again.

Luckily this only appears to happen on-line (on sites which carry advertising). I say luckily. A few weeks ago I became disoriented in a tangle of back streets in Covent Garden and really hoped they would show up and guide the way. No such luck.

Ooh It’s You Again

The boots have joined a growing crowd of idiotic things which pretend to know my every movement. All they do is hang out in the same places I hang out and irritate me by shouting “Ooh it’s you again”.  My Oyster Card is the main culprit. It knows when I have entered a tube station and then loses interest. No help in navigation at all. And then when I “swipe out” it shouts “Ooh it’s you again” and charges me £4.50. The average speed cameras on the M4 are just as bad. If I broke down between cameras would they call for assistance? I think not. But the second camera is all too keen to shout “Ooh hello again and – my – haven’t you been tanking it.”

The Internet of Twits

This “internet of twits” is now being joined by the “internet of bluffers” – things which are lost but persuade you to tell them where they are. Top of the list is my phone which wants me to confirm I really was in the Pig and Whistle last Friday in order to provide me with a better location service. My satnav is a close second, asking me to turn left into Goggins Avenue in order to find its own location through map-matching.

Like some grand Turing Test, we are increasingly surrounded by deceptive technology which gives the impression of knowing much more than it actually does. The “Ooh it’s you again” effect may make the big wide world feel like the global village but it reflects our mastery of connectivity, not navigation. The business of knowing where things are in real xyz coordinates is much more difficult.

The Blind Hermit Vacuum Cleaner Mower

The final deception is in the form of autonomous vehicles. The robot vacuum cleaner may look smart but in information terms is little more than a blind hermit bumbling around the woods with a white stick. The ability to avoid bumping in to things is impressive but on its own does little good for the rest of mankind.

Where Navigation meets Connectivity

The muddling of information, navigation and communication is a recurring theme in this blog.  The magic happens when high integrity navigation meets high availability connectivity. Find out more at the Royal Institute of Navigation’s INC16 Conference, 8 to 11 November 2016, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow.  You may even be greeted by a “Ooh it’s you again!”.

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