[Loadstone] How I'm using Loadstone (long)

Deborah Norling debee at jfcl.com
Mon Dec 11 05:23:32 GMT 2006


The below is a long and not very technical report on how I'm currently
finding Loadstone the most useful.

I work for a large community college. It has 36,000 enrolled students, it
covers 112 acres and has sixty-one buildings.

Up until this job, I thought I had a pretty good sense of orientation. As a
long-time guide dog user, I enjoyed getting out and going exploring. I was
one of the few people who actually liked the challenge of being dropped off
somewhere  unfamiliar and trying to figure out where I was.

That sort of changed when I got this job. The job requires that I run all
over the place helping students, fixing computers, meeting with faculty,
tracking down stuff. It would have been perfect except that for the past
five years working there, I feel like I spend most of my time lost.

Most colleges have sidewalks or paths, or corridors. This campus doesn't. It
has huge open spaces of asphalt dotted with buildings, surrounded by parking
lots. It is just a giant asphalt forest and the cars and pedestrians
intermingle. The campus is bordered by a perimeter road that completely
encloses it, but this road is for cars only; it has no sidewalk. This road
is separated by mounds of shrubbery from the campus proper and the
surrounding community, and all the parking lots open out on to it. I still
have difficulty telling the difference from when I'm wandering around one of
those huge parking lots or walking across a similarly paved "quad". It's all
very modern and automobile friendly and nearly all the students drive.

I have a small amount of vision but it is of absolutely no use. All the
buildings are gray with the same architecture. All I can see anywhere are
big green lawns, tall trees, gray buildings in the distance and wide sun
drenched black asphalt plazas. 
 
This is very typical for Silicon Valley business parks as well, and like
them, it's hard to walk right up close to the buildings because they are
surrounded by shrubs. even O&M instructors tell blind students to use the
shuttle service for the physically disabled to get to class. According to
the O&M pros I've consulted, since there is no grid pattern anywhere, it is
a very complex environment to navigate.

Well, I am not the sort of person who uses the shuttle for the wheel-chair
bound, but I was getting real tired of wandering round lost.

You'd think  a campus would have plenty of pedestrians to ask directions of,
but I have found though the students are plentiful, their knowledge is
terrible. It's a community college, so people are there at the most two
years. And typically, the students I meet when asking for help are more
transient than that. They'll say "Oh, you're in front of that big building
where they have the math classes" and I'll wonder which of the many
buildings that can be. And most buildings have many entrances, so which one
is considered the front? Or they'll read a sign like "readiness lab" which
is only one room in a larger building known as "Learning Center West" which
is also called the library annex. As I've worked several years here now,
I've come to learn the many different synonyms for each of the 61 buildings
but at first, passing students could help me very little because typically
they weren't sure where they were going either. So they'd vaguely tell me I
was in the S quad or behind the auto shop and it only told me within a mile
where I was located.

 Two other factors contributed to my problem. I was hired literally the day
I graduated with my current dog. This meant that the following day, I went
to a new job, at a new location with a brand-new and very young exuberant
guide who quickly learned to use his own initiative since I had no idea
where I was going. As a normally confident traveler, I found the whole
situation extremely frustrating but couldn't imagine not having the dog or
turning down any job simply because it was a bit challenging to navigate the
place.

Also, the campus is undergoing a renovation that started a year after I was
hired and will continue for the next ten years. Construction fences go up
and down every week, new buildings appear and old buildings are being
remodeled or completely removed. New parking lots have been built and I've
been moved several times because the buildings where I used to work were
turned in to more parking spaces. Besides all the dust, noise and confusion,
it it is hard to build a mental map of a place that is constantly changing.
We will head over to the science center only to discover a new fence that
wasn't there yesterday, for example, or in attempting to get me around a
humongous tent that's been installed to replace the cafeteria, my dog will
end up going the opposite direction from where I intended. 

So I've been cursing at the mess for the past five years and my normally
high self-esteem takes a nose-dive every time I have to cross the campus
wilderness!

Loadstone is actually the first thing that is changing the situation. Each
day, I go out and landmark a few more entrances. Now, standing in the middle
of some vast plaza with big gray buildings in the distance, I can learn that
the redwood grotto is 115 yards to 8 o'clock, that the building where I work
is straight ahead, but it's 500 yards away and that the tent that
temporarily has replaced our cafeteria is just a few yards behind me. Gosh,
suddenly I know exactly where I am! It is ever so exciting!

I have found that even In the biggest open spaces I can take my bearings if
I stop and immediately check. I haven't had any trouble with my heading
reported accurately. I've double-checked that with several compasses. I
think it is because with a dog I move along pretty fast. Of course after
standing still for a bit the GPS won't report heading accurately any longer
but I expected that.

I have been working to come up with a concise nomenclature to name my
points. Most of our buildings are pretty big, with a variety of entrances.
So I always name an entrance, not a building. Now if I am inside the
building and I decide to go out an unfamiliar door, I can at least quickly
see where I am in relation to other points I've saved. Later if I find that
door again by accident, the points and their distances and positions will be
reported again the same, so I will know which door it is, even if I don't
have a name for it yet.

I have found it is easy to export my data, clean it up in Excel and import
it again. This means I can give better names to points when I think about
them a bit longer. (To futz with the data inExcel, rename the text file to
CSV.) 

Taking buses with Loadstone is also pretty fun. Our larger routes have an
automatic device that announces major cross-streets. I've found that the
pointshare data for this area at least is accurate, Loadstones reports match
the automatic announcement system. My only problem is that I'd like to find
a way to filter out all those little streets.

My husband used to work for Etak (now teleAtlas) and he says that roads have
"classes". I need still to find out if this data is available free, or as
one of the fields in the csv files I manipulate. I guess I should download
and study the loadstone source code but haven't had the time, or the desire
to sit around at my computer when I could be out exploring!

Instead of emailing colleagues, I find myself rushing out of my office to go
find theirs. And though I've had Loadstone only a couple of weeks, I have
discovered something else with a tape measure; I've lost some of my gut. I
used to be slender and active. Perhaps we'll be able to say a year from now
that it was Loadstone that got me back to a size ten!

--Debee




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