Today I decided to give the new walking sat nav, Navigon, its first real test. But where to go? Well it so happens that geocaching.com are running a challenge to all geocachers to try and find a cache on every day of August and whilst I don’t think I will be able to do it every day I thought why not start out with all good intentions and see what happens. There are still a number of caches within walking distance of home although the closest is just over a kilometre away so the distance needed to travel is slowly getting bigger. In the hope that this walk might have proven fruitful and that it might lead to others I have coined a “series name ” of Washknight Walks in true cheesey literary hogwash sort of way.
So let’s start at the beginning and see if we can do this from start to finish without outside assistance… at least that was the plan. Well step one was to identify the cache to go hunting for. Using the geocaching.com app on the iPhone I did a search for nearby caches and came up with a few possibles nearby. A couple of them are part of a series which we are still to finish so I discounted those ones and looked down the list. There was one called Reeds Crescent No.1 (GC4734Z) which I have had my eye on (lol well so to speak) for a while now. I was worried that as it had not been found in a while that might indicate to me that it would be difficult for me to find solo or that it had gone missing. Looking at the listing though I discovered that it had been found recently, on the 25th of July) so I decided to give it a try.
Stage one complete it was now time to get Navigon to take me there. With a bit of cunning techie stuff I managed to copy the coordinates from the geocaching.com app and paste them into Navigon and bingo, it knew where I wanted to go. For anyone who is interested the process was as follows. In the geocaching.com app view the cache and from the “more options 3 dots” button top right choose the view on geocaching.com item. When Safari opens swipe to find the coordinates then 2 finger double tap and hold to bring up the custom label dialog. Using the rotor chose the edit mode, select all and copy the cords. Then open Navigon and select the more tab at the bottom right and choose the free text entry option for the coordinates. Delete whatever is already in there and paste in the copied cords. You then have to move the N and the W to the end of the latitude and longitude rather than at the beginning as this is the way Navigon likes it. Then you are done. Did you get all that? There may be a short test at the end, so pay attention!
Before leaving the house I made sure I had printed out a calling card note as before as I would not be able to sign the log if I found the cache. Seeing as it was stinking hot today I grabbed my hat, put on a layer of sun block on neck and arms, grabbed a water and headed out into the street. I brought up Navigon and set the route in motion and Serena, the name of the female voice used by Navigon, was kind enough to tell me where to go; in completely the opposite direction that I thought it would take me. Now being blind doesn’t stop you from thinking you know better than the sat nav like everyone else does so I concluded that she was taking me the quickest route but I wanted to go a slightly different way because the quickest route would be right down St. Albans road, a busy and noisy street and I wanted a bit more peace on my walk. So off I set in the opposite direction, iPhone on my belt and one ear bud in my ear to hear the directions as I walked with my cane.
Reaching the bottom of the road Serena had recalculated and told me to turn right and then right again… she was trying to take me back to St. Albans Road, but I wasn’t having any of it, so I turned right and then left. One more time she tried to take me back her way and then she finally came round to my way of thinking and took me the scenic route. I knew roughly where this place was but beyond the next turn I was really in the hands of Navigon as that is where my actual knowledge of the roads ended. It is a little disconcerting at times just walking and waiting for her to say something, sometimes I think she is not going to say anything as a turn approaches but then she pipes up, usually. I can see why people say that they combine this app with something that reports your location or the streets that you are crossing at regular intervals as I find the more information I get the better. Navigon tends to leave you alone for hundreds of metres at a time which doesn’t sound like a lot, but when you are walking it is quite a way.
I knew she was going to take me right at the next junction onto Radlett Road so I chose to cross at a set of pedestrian lights that I knew where there so I would be on the right side of the road for turning right. Beyond the next turn I would not have the luxury of knowing the best place to cross this to some extent is the most worrying bit. Radlett road turned out to be quite a nice road to walk along, the pathway being quite well defined, shame the road is quite a busy one, but still better than walking along St. Albans Road with all its shops and crowds of people. Serena took me straight on and at a roundabout told me to take the second exit which is a little strange for a pedestrian but I kinda got what she meant. This meant crossing a road and there was no crossing. I could just make out bollards half way across the road so waited for a quiet moment and then dashed to the half-way point. Again listening for a break in the traffic, I crossed the last part of the road and on we went. This highlights my desire for the slightly quieter routes were possible as it allows me to be more sure about the traffic and which direction it is travelling.
Along the way I occasionally stopped and switched to the Ariadne app as this is very good at reporting where I am at regular intervals. It will tell you what number on the road you are, or at least a range of numbers… for example it might say 105 – 109 Radlett road as I pass the approximate area. I tried to work out if you could have both Navigon and Ariadne reporting at the same time. Navigon will work if you have it focussed and then lock the screen but it doesn’t work if you switch out of the app and load something else… or at least I couldn’t get it to work that way. Ariadne won’t work when you lock the screen as Apple won’t let apps directly use voiceover in the lock screen without using a notification, so apps that want to work when the screen is lock have to be self-voicing and not rely on the built-in voiceover. Navigon is self-voicing which allows it to work with the screen locked. I will do some research and see if I can make it work but I am not sure it will. I have heard a podcast of someone using Blindsquare which is an app that reports your location and nearby points of interest as you pass them at the same time as using Google maps to navigate you so it is possible with certain combinations of apps.
One thing I have noticed is that Navigon will basically leave you alone until you are about 200m or less from your next turn. So if you turn onto a road where you have to walk 500m, it will not say anything until you are 200m from your next junction. I would find it much more useful if after making a turn it would tell me the distance to the next junction that I need to turn even if it is a long way, at least I would be confident that Navigon would be telling me something and roughly how far I would be walking before I would hear from it again. Having said that it is probably me just not quite trusting it as a new concept yet and after a while I will probably be happy to accept the silence and just walk, as this is the way it works when you are driving a car.
It wasn’t long before Serena was telling me to turn right onto Orphanage Road and this was accomplished easily enough. I did remember being on this road a couple of weeks ago when we were looking for another cache so I knew there was a crossing further up and wondered where Navigon was going to take me next and whether it would be wise to cross to the other side or not. I got my answer shortly as Serena told me I would need to turn left in 200m. I decided to go ahead and use the crossing to put me on the left side of the road. As I approached the crossing; I can notice the zig zag lines in the gutter and the railings that always flank a pedestrian crossing, I heard the familiar beep beeps and realised that it was safe to cross so scuttled over to the other side.
Once on the other side I continued on along the road but hit a problem right away. The footpath ended almost immediately and the only choices were to cross back over the road or to turn left down an alleyway. I tried to think out of the box and reckoned that if I went down the alleyway, I may be able to cut through to the right somewhere and end up in roughly the right area where Navigon would be able to pick me up and carry on. Well I got all the way to the other end of the alley, which must have been about 300m or so, and there was no cut through to the right. I had also just passed under a railway line and this concerned me as I knew the cache lay on the other side of the tracks and wondered if I carried on where I would again cross the train line. I decided to turn back towards Orphanage road and cross back over the road and continue up the way Navigon wanted me to, hoping there would be a suitable place to cross to the left later on.
Back on Orphanage Road and Serena was a lot happier and talking to me now, I don’t think she liked me darting off down alleyways… and it wasn’t even night time. When she told me I would be turning left in 100m I thought I would pause and take a look at Ariadne and see where it was telling me the cache actually was. Having downloaded all the local caches into this a while back as per a previous blog entry I quickly picked Reeds Crescent No. 1 as the favourite to track and found that I was only about 110m from the cache and it lay at 12 o’clock relative to my direction of travel. In other words it was pretty much in front of me, just over 100 metres away.
As I approached the end of the road Serena told me to turn left and take the first exit at the roundabout immediately. Not having passed any other suitable pedestrian crossing it was time to find somewhere else to cross to the left. At the end of the road was a set of bollards in the middle of the road and so I employed the same strategy as before; listening for a quiet bit in the traffic and taking it in two parts. Once over the road I headed round to the left and after a few more steps Serena told me I had reached my destination and that it was on the left. I stopped and brought up Ariadne and sure enough the cache was showing as being 13m away just in front of me. Having read the cache description and hint in the geocaching app before heading out I knew that I was looking for a small click and lock box hidden down the back of a green electrical box by the side of the road. I started to walk forward a bit and thought I could just make out a darkish blob up ahead that might fit the bill. Within a few more feet I heard the familiar sound of a fan trying hard to cool electrical equipment and knew I was approaching some sort of electrical or telecoms cabinet at the side of the road. Was it green…. I have no idea. Lol. I tapped along to it and then assuming the casual posture that all geocachers affect when they are trying to look natural about loitering around street furniture, I quickly squatted down and shoved my hand behind the metal box and… bingo… a plastic container. I whipped it out and stood up again to inspect it. The cache contained quite a few bits and bobs; small swappables, a pen, the log book and some note which was probably the information sheet explaining what a geocache is if found by a muggle. I couldn’t really make out the detail of any of these and certainly not read the log but I fished out my prepared note saying that I had visited this cache and asking the next person to write me in the log book, and popped it in. I also dropped off a Chip n’ Dale travel bug that I have been carrying round for a while.
So there you go, Washknight Walks number 1 was a complete success. Navigon got me there and Ariadne and me found the cache. LOL it sounds like a big team of us went looking for it; there was Serena, Ariadne and me.
Of course that was only half the journey for me as I was now about 2km from home and needed to get back too. I used Navigon for this of course and just to show my appreciation I let Serena take me the way she wanted to this time which was most likely the route she wanted to take me the first time. The route home took me over a rather convoluted roundabout crossing, past a stupidly open and busy bus and train station and then down by the side of the train tracks and onto St. Albans road and along a route home that I had walked many times. I only had one altercation with a lamp post which is quite good for me but of course it had to happen right next to the bus station where there were lots of people to see me do it. Ho hum, nevermind.
On the whole the experience was great, Navigon certainly made it possible where before it would have not been an option for me to get to this location on my own. Having the guidance using street names and the added info from Ariadne is certainly improving my road knowledge of the area which is good. It has been interesting as I really started losing my sight around the same time we moved to Watford and this meant that my ability to learn the area would have been much less than in previous years, especially as I no longer drove either.
Thanks again to my lovely Sis for enabling me to purchase this app as I can see it being of real benefit, helping me to go places previously not possible.