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Old 01-21-2016, 05:23 PM   #1
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Simpler way to describe locations at sea?

I just learned about a London-based startup company called what3words that has devised a new way to describe geographical locations. They've divided the globe into 3mx3m squares (57 trillion of them!) and assigned a unique 3-word address to each one.

For example, my location as I type this is delight.obey.theoretical. The tippy-top of the Empire State Building appears to be at chats.ruler.dark -- or maybe it's in the 3-meter square right next to it, tinsel.wishes.pack.

The company has created a "geocoder" algorithm that converts lat/long coordinates into 3 simple words (in 9 languages so far). They call it "a human interface for latitude and longitude." They have a free app.

The system appears to be designed mainly on land, providing an unambiguous physical address for the 4 billion people in the world who lack a proper address (so they claim). Plus, there are 8 different Lonsdale Roads around London, and many buildings don't have numbers. What's an Uber driver to do?

But it works on the water, too. Seems to me that in a mayday situation, it would be a lot easier to say "catacombs, hula, shampoos" over the radio, as opposed to "4921'35.3"N 12352'22.2"W" (unless you have your VHF radio hooked up to your GPS system so transmission of the coordinates is automated when you push the red button -- but many boaters haven't got this wired).

Will be interesting to see if Garmin and other GPS companies eventually incorporate what3words into their devices.

More info at what3words.com. Interesting stuff.
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Old 01-21-2016, 05:43 PM   #2
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Problem is the USCG or whoever will have to convert "catacombs, hula, shampoos" to lat/long anyway as that's what all the instrumentation on the planet uses. So why not simply read the actual lat/long off one's instrumentation in the first place? It's really not that hard--- I've done it a bunch of times.

Because you're going to have to find out what the three words are first, so you'll need to look them up or have a separate piece of electronics to convert lat/long from GPS or whatever into the three words, which you will then say over the radio to someone who's going to have to convert the three words back into lat/long so they can use the location to actually do something.

And what about the folks on the planet who don't speak, and sometimes can't even pronounce, English words? Okay, great, so there's a separate set of global word combinations for each language. What happens when the fellow from Sri Lanka or China is trying to tell an English speaking person his three-word location?

What's the person taking the call going to do with the Chinese pronunciations of "Nin Hao , Xie xie, Meiyou"? I know what those words mean and I use them when I'm in China and their pronunciations aren't anything like the way they are spelled in our alphabet.

The person taking the call isn't going to have a clue how to spell or pronounce it so how's he even going to enter it in something to get the coordinates all his equipment requires?

From the maritime perspective it not only sounds like a solution in search of a problem but a bad solution in search of a problem.

I can see it maybe working in places like London to find physical locations although with their multi-national population they're still going to have the pronunciation/comprehension/spelling problem.
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Old 01-21-2016, 05:51 PM   #3
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Greetings,
Mr. E. Sounds like someone has WAAAYYY too much time on their hands. Nope, sorry, lat and long for me.
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Old 01-21-2016, 06:55 PM   #4
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I'm not here to argue in favor of the 3-words system. I do think it's interesting and potentially useful in some emergency situations, especially those involving people who are far less conversant with lat/long coordinates than you are -- such as the 70-year-old woman who was somewhere in the middle of the Strait of Georgia whose husband (the skipper) had just keeled over, unconscious. Let's say there was a nice, big chartplotter screen that showed the vessel's location in two formats, lat/long and 3 words. She could say the words on the radio, the US or Canadian Coast Guard operator could type the three words into a computer -- arguably just as easily, if not more easily and with fewer chances for error, than s/he could type the 16 digits, 2 characters (+/-/N/S/E/W), 2 decimal points, and a space/comma/new line that it takes to specify a location to an accuracy of 3 meters using GPS co-ordinates.

I have never heard a native Tamil speaker try to recite a set of coordinates in English (in U.S. or Canadian waters), but I think I'd rather take my chances on trying to understand that person say three words than recite those 16 digits, etc.

Translation and understanding various accents presents challenges no matter what system you're using. But if you had the what3words app on your phone and entered your location in your native language and pressed the button for "share your location," then I could see it on my phone, translated into the corresponding three words in my language.

Seems a bit premature to declare something unequivocally bad unless you've bothered to learn a bit about it and/or imagined how it could possibly be useful to people who haven't had the lat/long system ingrained in their experience to the extent you have.

As an analogous comparison, graphic user interfaces seemed silly and absurd to programmers who thought command-line interfaces were all anyone should ever want or need. But they were wrong. GUIs are not silly or absurd. They are simply better for most humans.
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Old 01-21-2016, 06:55 PM   #5
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Isn't that how autopilots of aircraft designate the beacons and skyways? Dredging up ancient memories, they have codes to join a specific skyway headed in a particular direction at a particular altitude? Been too long.

The problem is find your location, and then dyslexically shuffle the words and see where you land?

If you log in, you can change the keywords to some other words that mean something to you, but won't change it for anyone else. I think the memory requirements for geocoding all the locations would be immense, and GPS's often don't have a ton of space.

I shuffled my location and wound up in the heart of Australia..
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Old 01-21-2016, 07:26 PM   #6
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Waypoints that are used to designate air traffic routes, approaches, departures and holding patterns are given a five-letter name. In the beginning they generally spelled out an actual word--- PEARL, for example. Today there are so many that sometimes the five letter word is just gibberish.
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Old 01-21-2016, 07:37 PM   #7
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It would make more sense to standardize the GPS output to 44.567N 135.899W rather than degrees minutes seconds. Numbers are universal throughout the world. I run all my GPS displays in that format so the uninitiated don't have to comprehend minutes and seconds. Plus it's much easier to put those coordinates in a search field in Google or Coastal Explorer. I wonder if database engines can keep track of 57 trillion data points and if it will fit in a chart plotter.

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Old 01-21-2016, 07:40 PM   #8
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You don't have to install data for all 57 trillion data points. You just need to install their algorithm, which takes less than 10MB.
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Old 01-21-2016, 07:54 PM   #9
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Sounds like a solution in search of a problem.
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Old 01-21-2016, 08:05 PM   #10
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Does nothing for me. I do agree with going more to what tpbrady says. If I wanted a grid system, I don't want words that don't tell me anything without translation. I'd want to lay the planet out in some type grid and then use numbers assigned in an orderly way. But then doesn't the current system do that? For just general communication it's fine to use whole numbers.

Where are you?

45N 136W

Simple. Now I'll add decimals if needed, but that tells you so much in a simple grid system.
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Old 01-21-2016, 08:17 PM   #11
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Greetings,
Mr. BB. 45N 136W? Are you about 500 miles off the coast of Oregon? What the hell are you doing way out there?

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Old 01-21-2016, 08:23 PM   #12
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Correction. The entire 3words system is 5MB, which is negligible by today's memory-storage standards. And it works offline, i.e., you don't need to have a data connection to use it.

As for "someone has WAAAYYY too much time on their hands" (Mr. RT) and "it's a solution in search of a problem" (Mr. Marin) -- you may be right. But, for your consideration, here is the rationale for the system that the company offers on its website:

"Around 75% of the world (135 countries) suffers from inconsistent, complicated or inadequate addressing systems.
This means that around 4 billion people are invisible; unable to report crime; unable to get deliveries or receive aid; and unable to exercise many of their rights as citizens because they simply have no way to communicate where they live.
For example, it means that in remote locations water facilities can’t be found, monitored and fixed; and schools, refugee camps and informal settlements remain unaddressed.


Even in countries with advanced address systems, people get lost, packages aren’t delivered, and businesses and tourist attractions don’t get found.
Poor addressing might seem no more than annoying in some countries, but around the world it hampers the growth and development of nations, ultimately costing lives.
We want to give everyone in the world the ability to talk about a precise location as easily as possible.
Everyone and everywhere now has an address."



Believe me, I've heard countless pitches for technology "solutions" to far less interesting, far more trivial problems.
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Old 01-21-2016, 08:29 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by RT Firefly View Post
Greetings,
Mr. BB. 45N 136W? Are you about 500 miles off the coast of Oregon? What the hell are you doing way out there?
No, I was just using Tom's example.

We are: 23 N 75 W using round numbers. Now just from what you said above, we're obviously well south and well east. In fact, split the difference between the Oregon location and the equator and we're about there. Then we're not quite half way from Oregon to the Prime Meridian. The system quickly gives you a general location and a map gives you specific.

It just works. Without more detail you know within 5 miles where we are.

I think we have a very good system and I can't imagine a system that gives one no idea until they translate it.
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Old 01-21-2016, 08:33 PM   #14
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Originally Posted by Eastsounder View Post
We want to give everyone in the world the ability to talk about a precise location as easily as possible.
Everyone and everywhere now has an address."
.
Everyone and everywhere already has an address. The current system gives that. 45N 75W is as easy as Spaghetti, Ninja, Nightmare and it has meaning with no translation.

Now, you just said "we want to give" so just what is your involvement with this company?
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Old 01-21-2016, 08:53 PM   #15
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"A rose by any other name would smell as sweet" NOT.
Spaghetti, Ninja, Nightmare is all well and good but what if you lived at toilet, vomit, cesspool?

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Old 01-21-2016, 09:00 PM   #16
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Using 3 words to describe a location from a random dictionary of 40000 words does not communicate effectively that an incorrectly delivered package actually is for your neighbor's brother in law who is visiting. Without the decoder it is not very useful. Kind of like the output we got from a piece of software dealing with collision avoidance for satellites. It was based on the difference between the predicted collision event and a starting time in 1970. The output of the software when originally written gave the results in minutes to the nearest thousandth since this date in 1970. You weren't sure if it was today, tomorrow, or next year. I know that 61.17N 149.88W is very close to me and I know 61.17S and 149.88E is not in the same hemisphere without having to look it up.
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Old 01-21-2016, 09:01 PM   #17
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Where are you?

45N 136W
Okay, BandB, you've told me where you are plus or minus 60 NM latitude and 43 NM longitude. That's a nice 2,500 square-mile grid. Want me to rescue you in my helicopter? How much time do you have?

Sure, you can add more precision with degrees and seconds.

But that's not really the point. What I think may be lost on many highly experienced boaters (high correlation with technically oriented, engineering-type brain wiring?) is that, for a large percentage of the world's population, "gleeful, stopping, steakhouses" is almost infinitely more comprehensible and easier to cope with when your boat is sinking (or your husband has just keeled over) than "Forty seven degrees, 26 minutes, 13 seconds north by 135 degrees, 36 minutes, 41 point 7 seconds west."

Hard to fathom, I know.
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Old 01-21-2016, 09:10 PM   #18
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So if I told you I was at paused.hurls.determines, you would come rescue me?
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Old 01-21-2016, 09:19 PM   #19
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"Around 75% of the world (135 countries) suffers from inconsistent, complicated or inadequate addressing systems."
I think the desire to devise a solution to this situation is totally valid. But I don't think words are the way to do it. Language, pronunciation and spelling introduce individually or in combination too many variables to make the system viable. It opens the door to confusion and time delays in communications.

Numbers, however, are for the most part consistent worldwide. Even driving through remote Chinese farming towns in the hills in China we see signs bearing Arabic numerals everywhere. No letters or words we recognize, but the numbers are no problem.

So whatever system is devised for providing addresses or locations that can be used by anyone anywhere, I believe basing it on Arabic numerals stands the best chance of having it universally understood and communicated.

PS-- Forty seven degrees, twenty six minutes, thirteen seconds are words, too. Just a few more of them than three. So if you can teach someone to figure out and convey that their position is "sandwich, poodle, antidisestabishmentarianism" you can also teach that person how to figure out and convey their position is "Forty seven degrees, twenty six minutes, thirteen seconds north" and so on. Because all they really have to figure out is the numbers themselves. The "degrees," "minutes", "seconds" "north," "south," "east," and "west" are constants.
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Old 01-21-2016, 09:38 PM   #20
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Okay, BandB, you've told me where you are plus or minus 60 NM latitude and 43 NM longitude. That's a nice 2,500 square-mile grid. Want me to rescue you in my helicopter? How much time do you have?

Sure, you can add more precision with degrees and seconds.

But that's not really the point. What I think may be lost on many highly experienced boaters (high correlation with technically oriented, engineering-type brain wiring?) is that, for a large percentage of the world's population, "gleeful, stopping, steakhouses" is almost infinitely more comprehensible and easier to cope with when your boat is sinking (or your husband has just keeled over) than "Forty seven degrees, 26 minutes, 13 seconds north by 135 degrees, 36 minutes, 41 point 7 seconds west."

Hard to fathom, I know.
I wasn't intending to tell you exactly where I was. I could have gone xx.xxx N and xx.xxx W if I'd wanted to or could have used minutes and seconds. I was just giving a friend on the phone a general idea. Not looking for a rescue. That information would go out automatically.

You didn't answer my question about your involvement with the company. You're here to push your company and act as if you just ran across this or something. Basically advertising without paying for it, it seems to me. Then if any of us don't like the product or concept you are going to argue about your incredible system. If I'm wrong about your involvement, I'll apologize, but if I'm correct then I'll criticize your promotion without disclosure further. Regardless, I think a decimal system could be a far better solution than yours. I also think the current system works.
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