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I'd prefer "turn where the circuit city used to be, and then turn again once you pass the old linen'n'things"

But seriously, feet and meters are pretty useless to be when in a car. Its hard to count 500 feet when you're moving at 30mph.


For some reason, this reminds me of the "driving to college" scene at the beginning of that quintessential 80s teenage sex romp, Revenge of the Nerds. (While the film, like most of its ilk, ain't fine moviemaking, it had its moments...)

Navigation systems--at least the one I have--specify both fixed points as well as distance; i.e "go one mile and turn right on SE Powell Boulevard", with the distance decreasing as one approaches Powell. The purpose of citing the distance is not so the person can measure that distance and know when to turn, but simply to prepare them to turn. One problems with directions such as "turn left on SE Powell" is that if you happen to MISS is (and don't know where it is), you may go a long way before deciding to backtrack.

The best landmarks are those which are permanent and highly visible. Street signs have the advantage of being relatively permanent (assuming local nitwits don't have the habit of stealing them); though not always visible, especially when its for a minor street. Landmarks such as private businesses, homes, trees, and the like may be more prominent than a small sign, but are likely to change. But often times, a landmark which is both permanent and prominent is not available at a given location.

A bigger problem: Inaudible stop announcements on transit. :)

Angus Grieve-Smith

Following up on J's post, when I lived in North Carolina, there were a bunch of interesting landmarks. One was "the old Lowe's": the Lowe's chain of home improvement stores had built a store in every large town in the area, and several years later abandoned them and built larger ones further out, so every town had a "Lowe's" and an "old Lowe's."

The other was "Hastings Ford," which was near a bridge over the river. When she first heard it, one of my wife's colleagues thought it referred to an old place where the river had been forded, and was a bit disappointed to find out it was a car dealership.


@ J

Yes, feet are hard to count from a car, but meters are easy!

Paul C

One more reason while I will never want to get a navigational system. When I get directions from someone which usually happens when pigs fly. :) I don't want to here about how I should turn at the corner with this store or that store.

The best directions for me would be something akin to this "Go east on 41st ave, turn right at Knight street, Cross the bridge, You should then see a sign for Seattle. Follow the directions on the sign" Those are the kinds of directions that I love. It gives me street names and direction as well as what to look for on a directional sign. It is how I read a map when I'm looking to go somewhere that I've never been.

Of course we have to dumb down the system to the dumbest person in society. :(

Ted King

I'm a mixed-mode navigator. Give a person major landmarks (for San Francisco that would be Sutro Tower, Coit Tower and the bridges), street signs, and some waypoints (parks, tracks, gas stations, etc.). I've found people don't think in feet / meters / li / stadia / miles / klicks unless they're carrying a GPS or INS. The only unit people seem to be comfortable with is blocks. The trouble with blocks is their variability - short or long in San Francisco and extreme in suburbs like Walnut Creek or Pleasant Hill.

P.S. @ Jarrett - Feet ? Meters ? How unfathomable. :-)


I'm a big fan of the furlong-firkin-fortnight system myself.... :)


Navigation aid companies could always start offering a small payment to landmark owners/managers to either NOT change the landmark or to send updates to the company as necessary for updates to customers over the air, couldn't they?

Much less expensive and still effective would be a streetnames-and-blocks notation like "turn right at the corner of Jefferson St. East, which is the next major road." Or "turn left onto Bank St. in 5 blocks." I don't notice feet or meters in a car or on foot, but I notice intersections.


Paul , google maps sort of gives you directions like that.

It'll say "take highway 1 towards hayward/pleasantville" so you know what to look for on the sign.

And I was thinking about my gps, and when it comes to rotaries and roundabouts it does say "take 3rd exit" instead of "travel 30 feet around the rotary"

Ted King

@ Engineer Scotty - Stone the crows if you want to pound your point home fourteen times.

cubit [Egyptian] = 18" = half a yard
chain [Brit./Amer.] = 66 feet
furlong [Brit./Amer.] = 220 yards = ten chains
li [Chinese] = one third (1760 ft.) of a statute mile (5280 ft.)
stadia [Roman] = 600 feet = roughly one tenth of a naut. mile
klick [slang] = one kilometer

Paul C


Ya I've noticed that as well. Although when I have used google maps or any other mapping program to get directions. I've never read or printed off the directions.

All I do is look at the map and visualize where everything is. I'll look for some point on the map that I already know about and on how to get there. Of course if I'm in a city I've never been to. Then I might use things like maybe a freeway as a marker point. Just reading directions or listening to directions does not give me a visual overview of where I'm starting from and how I'm getting to my destination. Which is probably why I never ask for directions. I'd rather look at a map or google maps and get the visual view with my own eyes.

As for giving directions by stating distances it isn't good as people don't have an accurate sense of distance. A bad direction would be something like this "After getting onto I-5 rive 2 miles then exit" A better direction would be something like this "After getting onto I-5 drive drive 2 miles then exit onto 140st exit #120" It gives a distance you will be travelling. So at the 1 mile mark you won't be looking for the exit. It also gives the exit street name/number.

Alon Levy

Ted: in modern times, 1 li = 500 meters. In Imperial China, each dynasty standardized it to a different value.

Ted King

@ Alon - I found the Wikipedia article in question :
. My source was Webster's [Seventh] NCD (1967, 1974) :
"any of various Chinese units of distance; esp ; one equal to 1/3 mile". That dictionary is small enough to be easily handled (unlike the Oxford Blue or the OED). It looks like the li I'm used to will have to be noted as "li (trad.)". Thanks for the tip on the metric truncation.


I'm with you on the feet and meters, Jarrett.



Reminds me of what my girlfriend and I joke about the directions her relatives back home give her: "turn left where the barn used to be that burned down before you were born" and that sort of landmark.


Of course, there's always this XKCD cartoon:

(Attempts to embed it in the comment failed, so you'll have to go click...)

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