Follow Sendero travelers on their adventures using accessible GPS.
In summary of my May 2006 trip to Spain and the UK, here are some places worth mentioning.
I stayed for the first time at the Hotel Universal in Barcelona and I highly recommend it for its central location, excellent breakfast, descent room and free Internet.
I have stayed many times at the Hotel Prado in Madrid. It is in a great location with Plaza Santa Ana nearby with lots of activity and food. It is not as nice as the Universal but just fine. The wireless Internet is intermittent. I am sure this depends upon your room location. The breakfast is adequate.
The Cumberland Hotel in London has a fantastic location, right on Oxford Street for shopping, next to Hyde Park for strolling and near the Marble Arch underground. It has the largest lobby I have ever seen. Our room was small but elegant. The Internet was expensive but easy to access.
As guests of Dr. Richard Gregory, we had the honor of visiting and having a drink in the most esteemed club of England, the Athenaeum Club. Many major historical meetings and decisions took place at the Athenaeum Club. An entire book showing the Nobel prize winners who were members is on display. To see photos, go to http://www.victorianweb.org/art/architecture/athenaeum/index.html
The oldest restaurant in London is the Veeraswamy Indian restaurant
. It was excellent.
Some of the best Lebanese food in London can be had at 85 Picadilly Street, the Fakhreldine, overlooking Green Park.
Another highlight was visiting the movie set of Eragon at Pinewood Studios in Iver Heath outside London. This movie of the very popular book is due out in October. It is being produced by Fox 2000, the same studio that plans to produce a movie about me.
For future mobility reference, the British use the term, "a turning" where we would say, "a cross street."
I flew Easy Jet for the first time, from Madrid to London Gatwick. From Gatwick, I took an express train to Victoria Station in London. Very convenient and inexpensive way to travel.
I am in London for various meetings including a conference today called PhoneAbility. The presenters were mostly university researchers from Europe talking about their projects for wayfinding. One project for example is funded at a level of 16 million dollars. What struck me was how stuck they are in the theoretical ideal as opposed to practical reality. Is it better to wait forever to have perfect accuracy, perfect maps, including sidewalks, or should we be taking advantage of what is possible today to get 50% of wayfinding right? Obviously, Sendero opts for the latter.
As the researchers were talking about their ideal scenarios and how bad current systems were, I was thinking to myself, I just spent 4 days in Barcelona and Madrid, finding my way around independently. I directed my driver to the meeting in London today through circuitous streets. What the heck are they talking about?
Yes, the POI data is not great and yes, the GPS accuracy throws off the streets sometimes. However, what we have today is light years beyond what we had in 2000 when we launched our laptop version and the accuracy and content will continue to improve. Many blind people are getting around independently using the current technologies.
Because the BrailleNote English synthesizer clobbers the Spanish street names, I have relied less on automatic route following and more on the old fashioned getting warmer method here in Madrid. This has worked pretty well as there seem to be a labyrinth of streets that eventually connect with another street going in the direction you desire.
I am very impressed how well the Holux is picking up satellites among these tall buildings, very close together, with a very poor view of the sky. The down side of this is that there is a lot of multiple path as the weak signals bounce around among the buildings. This means I am getting a position fix but my heading is not at all reliable.
No worries, I just focus on a decreasing destination distance. So, even if I hear that my destination is at 9 o'clock one second and 5 o'clock the next, I am paying attention to the distance to my destination getting less. This is what matters. Eventually the heading straightens out but I don't count on it. If the destination distance is decreasing, all is well.
In this fashion, I have found my way to numerous restaurants, museums and back to my hotel without ever asking for help. My Spanish is mediocre and still if I do ask for help, it is like sighted people anywhere, they don't give very good directions. So, I might as well not ask.
I did get a little worried tonight when my battery announced it was at a critical low level and I was among the maize of small streets in central Madrid. I realized that the power to the plug in my hotel room last night must have been turned off. Having used the BrailleNote PK for a good 10 plus hours yesterday and again today, I was close to losing power. I kept switching it off until I really needed it and managed to make it back without having to resort to a cab or questionable sighted help.
Remember, when traveling in an urban canyon or when first learning the GPS program, the one thing you want to pay attention to is the decreasing destination distance.