The 'lady' in Art's dashboard box

“Turn right on Santa Clara.” “Proceed two tenths of a mile to Prospect and turn right.” So says “The Lady in the Box” as she gives us driving directions.

For our anniversary I bought my wife a Garmin C340 StreetPilot portable car navigation system. This is one of those little black boxes that fit on the car dashboard and displays street maps and gives directions for reaching a destination.

I know a little bit about computers and have done some sophisticated computer programming, but I can only guess what is inside these things.

The heart of the unit is GPS or the Global Positioning System. This consists of 28 low orbiting satellites that continuously circle the earth. At any one time, anywhere on the earth, there should be three or more satellites that are able to communicate with any GPS unit. By receiving signals from these satellites, a GPS unit is able to pinpoint a unit’s location to within a few yards.

Wow, now I know where I am. But how does the Lady in the Box know for me to “turn right on Santa Clara?” Built into our unit is a set of electronic maps that apparently cover the entire United States. Once I enter our destination address and zoom in on the maps, I can follow the street directions as I drive along. I entered a local address and a female voice inside the little box told me which streets to take and named each one as I proceeded along. Amazing.

Next, my wife asked if the unit worked in Chicago. I punched in an address in Chicago and the unit routed us from Tustin, 2017 miles to the address in Chicago. I guess that answered her question.

I purchased this Garmin unit online from Amazon. It arrived two days later and the fun began. It has a suction cup attachment for mounting. Incidentally, there is a warning that California does not allow these units to be mounted on the windshield. It plugs into the cigarette lighter socket so can be moved from vehicle to vehicle. My wife can take it with her when she goes to Chicago and plug it into a rental car. It is initialized by a USB connection to my computer and an included compact disk. It can be updated over the Internet.

I did find out that the unit doesn’t like the heat. When it was near the windshield I got a message that it was too hot to operate. I had to move it out of the sun but still keep it so that it could see the sky and the orbiting satellites. Like a computer, this unit has local attractions. When I told it we were in Tustin, it told me preprogrammed directions to Ami Sushi, one of our favorite restaurants plus a whole lot of other destinations.

I hate mechanical things that are smarter than I am, but I have to give credit to these devices. They really appear smart and if I try to trick them, they simply say, “recalculating,” and give me new and updated information.

Many of the new cars have these units built in and I can see how they are habit forming, especially if one is prone to getting lost. I have a little handheld GPS unit on my boat. It doesn’t have maps but gives me position and directions to my destination. This is a great help in reduced visibility. I easily could be lost without it.

If you would like to hear more about GPS navigation systems or other computer topics, visit “Coffee and Computers” at the Tustin Area Senior Center, 200 S. ‘C’ Street, any Friday morning starting at 9 a.m. Bring your questions or just come in and visit.

In the mean time, keep the neurons happy, synapses snapping and enjoy computing.


Dr. Art Holub is a long time resident of Tustin and teaches computer and Internet courses at the Tustin Area Senior Center and the Tustin Adult School. Visit his web site at: This column is written to address the computer adventures and concerns of older adults. If you have comments, questions or suggestions for future columns, Email HIM at:

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