Sunday, June 6, 2010

Sometimes Old-Fashioned Methods are More Reliable

Glitch shows how much US military relies on GPS

DENVER (AP) - A problem that rendered as many as 10,000 U.S. military GPS receivers useless for days is a warning to safeguard a system that enemies would love to disrupt, a defense expert says.

The Air Force has not said how many weapons, planes or other systems were affected or whether any were in use in Iraq or Afghanistan. But the problem, blamed on incompatible software, highlights the military's reliance on the Global Positioning System and the need to protect technology that has become essential for protecting troops, tracking vehicles and targeting weapons.

"Everything that moves uses it," said John Pike, director of, which tracks military and homeland security news. "It is so central to the American style of war that you just couldn't leave home without it."

GPS, whether hand-held or in the car, is a wonderful tool. However, as the quote from the article above illustrates, GPS is technology dependent and can fail when you need it the most. The ability to read a map and use a compass are skills that everyone needs to learn.

I am blessed with a good sense of direction as well as geographic memory (I remember places where I've been). That said, the skills I learned in the Boy Scouts on how to read a map and how to integrate a compass with that map have been invaluable.

Books such as Bjorn Kellstrom's Be Expert with Map and Compass: The Complete Orienteering Handbook and David Seidman's The Essential Wilderness Navigator: How to Find Your Way in the Great Outdoors, Second Edition are good starting points on how to learn to use a map and compass.

Among the compasses that I own include a Suunto M-2 and a Brunton 15-DCL. However, virtually any compass from Suunto, Brunton, or Silva is good. I don't have experience with the military lensatic compasses so I can't speak to them.

So for under $10 for a compass and a trip to your public library, you can get started learning how to reduce your dependence on technology that can fail when you need it the most.

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