Arrived in Urbana-Champaign for Reflections|Projections 2009

Today was a long travel day.

I left my office at 9:30am to catch the bus from Redmond to downtown Seattle, then took the train to the Tukwila station, then took the shuttle bus to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (because Airport Station doesn't open until later this year), then flew to Chicago O'Hare airport, and then drove to Urbana-Champaign, with a stop at the Bourbonnais Steak and Shake on the recommendation of a friend as a good stopping point—about halfway—and an introduction to classic Midwest road food, arriving (after several wrong turns) at my hotel at midnight.

If only there were a way I could have worked a ferry into that itinerary.

This is only my second visit to the Midwest, and my first venture outside of the Chicago area. Things I had trouble with:

  • Being in the correct lane for the exit I want to take.
  • Getting into the cash lane for the toll booths.

It was a bit eerie driving along the highway and seeing names of cities that up until now were merely locations of legend (or product code names). Places like Chicago, St. Louis, Memphis, Des Moines, Indiana, Iowa.

But now I'm in Urbana working the Job Fair and wondering whether I'm prepared for my talk tomorrow.

Bonus weird sign: From the train, I saw a shop called Best Cake Teriyaki. I didn't know you could make cake teriyaki, and I'm not sure I ever want to see one.

Online mapping showdown:

  • Google Maps says to take I-80 towards "Lowa" (should be "Iowa") and then take exit I-57S towards "Memohis" (should be "Memphis"). It also has that street view thing so you can familiarize yourself with the intersections ahead of time.
  • Bing Maps spells the geographic names correctly and also tells you whether the ramp is on the left or right. It also gives the streets between which the destination can be found, which is good when you're not familiar with the area. No street view, though.
  • Mapquest also gets the spelling right and calls out the left ramps. (Otherwise, a right ramp is implied.) Also no street view.

As it happens, I used the Google directions as my primary reference and got lost multiple times because I more than once found myself in the wrong lane with no time to get into the correct lane before the exit was past, and then had to get off the highway, turn around, and try to recover. I didn't show it above, but Google also sent me down some back roads to get to my hotel instead of sticking to the main roads. I missed the tiny side street and didn't realize my mistake until I was two and a half miles past where I should've turned.

Next time, I'm going to use Bing as my primary reference and supplement with Google street view. (I'm sorry, Bing folks, for doubting you!)

Comments (38)
  1. P Baughman says:

    I too have found Bing to be more reliable than Google maps especially when dealing with place names.  For instance, there’s a store located in the (fake name) "Applewood Mall" that Google maps incorrectly places over 15 miles away on "Applewood St."  It also puts my apartment over 5 miles away from it’s actual location (on Pine Wood St. instead of the Pine Wood Building).

  2. Wyatt says:

    Iowa and Indiana are states and not cities

  3. someone else says:

    Last time I was in an unfamiliar area, I learned an important lesson: Buy a map. Because once you stray from the instructions, it’s hard to get back on track.

    And if Bing Maps worked properly in Opera, that would be great …

  4. keith says:

    Regional burger chains rule.  Steak ‘N Shake and In-N-Out Burger are both worth a side excursion from a trip to their regions.  

  5. Neil (SM) says:

    Monk 1:"Hey, have you ever noticed this? On page 375 it says ‘Jebus’!"

    Monk 2:"It’s supposed to be ‘Jesus’, right?"

  6. Steve says:

    For some reason the highways around Chicago feature exit signs shortly after the ramp you needed to use. As a foreigner living here I’d assumed it was this way everywhere until I drove in Michigan. Obey the GPS and your instincts, and ignore the directions on signs…

  7. "Obey the GPS and your instincts, and ignore the directions on signs…"  

    You know… like the ones that list a maximum clearance.  Because a GPS would NEVER guide you wrong and cause you to destroy a bridge.

  8. Dave says:

    I never go anywhere unfamiliar without bringing printouts of regular Google maps so I can see the area surrounding the destination address.  Written directions can be helpful, but too often are missing something important.

    My wife ridicules me for this practice, but I never get lost and she does.  Once I got us to a hotel on hidden driveway in a pitch black torrential downpour, and she volunteered that she wouldn’t have been able to do that.

    Ultimately, this approach makes travel days shorter at the end of the journey, which is when you’re the most tired, most impatient, and least able to deal with confusion in unfamiliar settings.

  9. tsrblke says:

    @Michael Dwyer,

    I think he means "directional signs" like "Exit now to Chicago" rather than posted road warnings like "Low Clearance."

  10. Boris says:

    I once decided to fly to Florida from Atlantic City rather than a more traditional airport due to lower prices. My brother was driving, and we did not take any maps with us on the assumptions that "The GPS is all we need" and "it’s the airport, it’ll be prominently signed". Well, the GPS lead us to a dead end, everyone we asked for directions gave conflicting instructions, and the airport wasn’t signed until we were practically on top of it. I made it 10 minutes before departure. Good thing they didn’t hold me up on security.

  11. Philip says:

    Google recently – late last week – switched from Tele Atlas data to their own homegrown street dataset. While they have some very interesting new features like parcel data, the overall quality of their street network seems to have dropped markedly compared to the Tele Atlas data they used before. E.g. in my local area their new dataset reintroduces errors and changes that Tele Atlas fixed or updated multiple years ago (and thus were correct on Google Maps until this change).

    I’m sure it’s just a matter of time for them to get their new dataset cleaned up, but for now I’d be wary of using Google Maps for driving directions.

  12. Tom says:

    Indeed, Google Maps dumped Tele Atlas a few days ago.  But this is actually the second time that they downgraded the quality of their maps.  Just a year ago, they switched from Navteq to Tele Atlas.

    Microsoft and AOL both use Navteq data.  Navteq is far better than Tele Atlas in every metric that counts: coverage, error rate, POIs, annotations.

  13. Francis says:

    Why is your post always 7:00AM?

  14. arnshea says:

    I switched to Bing (formerly Live Search) on Windows Mobile a while ago because it offered turn by turn directions while google maps didn’t.

    I have only ever had a problem with directions from Bing once; while trying to find a Walmart in a rural area.

  15. David J says:

    @Francis – Probably the same reason there are so many 29 year old bloggers

  16. configurator says:

    "This is only my second visit to the Midwest"

    I don’t understand the tendency of Americans not to travel. I’ve been everywhere – Middle East, Middle Europe, West Europe, East Europe, West USA, East USA, Middle USA (where is Nevada anyway?), Western Canada and probably some other places I can’t remember right now – and I’m only 23 years old. I actually left my country because it was too small and I had nowhere to go. For some reason, something in the "average" American way of life causes them to tend to stay near their homes all their lives. Perhaps it’s because you have so much to do that you’re overwhelmed with options?


    That said, when I travel, I also take 2 GPS’s – one my own, and one built-in to the rental car.

  17. Jim Brain says:

    I am curious on your thoughts on Steak -n- Shake now that you’ve tried it.  SnS disappears not too far beyond the Mississippi. Saturday night’s Papa Del feast is another Chambana favorite, though possibly not as unique.  

    ACM@UIUC’s influence has increased many times in the years since I was involved (SigARCH, 1991-1993).  I remember going to the National ACM Conference in Indy in 1992/93 and amazing the attendees by noting UIUC not only had a student chapter, but 8-12 SIGs as well, each with 8-20 members.

    [Steak-and-Shake was interesting. I liked the thin-cut fries, and I noticed the crispy edges of the patties but that didn’t do anything for me. The diner-style service is a niche you don’t see much of in the Seattle area. I’d say it’s worth a visit for the experience, but I probably won’t go back. -Raymond]
  18. Dave says:

    Don’t forget to visit HAL while you’re there.

  19. Sven says:

    Sounds almost as bad as what I have to do to get to the airport in Tokyo:

    • Bus from my house to Seijogakuen-mae
    • Train from Seijogakuen-mae to Shinjuku (Odakyu line)

    • Train from Shinjuku to Nishi-Nippori (JR Yamanote line)

    • Train from Nishi-Nippori to Narita Airport (Keisei line).

    Note that this whole journey takes about 3 hours. That’s the main problem with an airport that isn’t even in the same prefecture as the city it’s supposed to be for.

    (Note it is possible to cut this journey short by taking the JR Narita Express from Shinjuku; maybe 20 minutes quicker and about 3 times more expensive).

  20. Worf says:

    @Michael Dwyer:

    That’s what happens when the driver goes to Best Buy and buys the GPS on sale, instead of the more specialized truck GPS units. The difference? Truck GPSes have height information, and entering the truck height means it will route around low clearance objects.

    Of course, they are pricier because (I don’t know if it’s fixed now) Navteq et al didn’t record clearances, so those manufacturers had to map it out themselves.

    As for map data, I guess Tele Atlas wsnted way more money, and since Google already had its own maps made up (for street view), I guess that serves as the base.

    GPS maps aren’t cheap – Navteq charges anywhere from $30-50+ for US/Canada, per unit. So that $100 unit means a good chunk went to the map data license…

    Also, Raymond, next time also spring for the GPS nav (if you don’t have your own). Can be a nice backup to the paper maps.

  21. Michael says:

    While Google Maps doesn’t print out ramp positions on the directions, you can zoom in on interchanges and very clearly see which side the ramp is on. A tad bit extra effort, but the data is there.

    [But first you have to know that this extra effort is necessary. -Raymond]
  22. Nish says:

    Wow, seems the conf location is near enough for me to attend. I’ll probably be attending your talk Raymond (unless it’s full and I can’t get in).

  23. Morten says:

    Apropos trusting the GPS: a Darwin Award might just be a possibility then:

  24. someone else says:

    I’m looking forward to seeing the videos. Hopefully, these are of adequate quality.

  25. IM says:

    @ Arrived in Urbana-Champaign for Reflections|Projections 2009 :

    GoogleMap’s inaccuracies and Bing with StreetView..

    I absolutely agree Bing with Streetview seems to be the best Option available.. I have found out the hard way the Google Maps, even ignoring the spelling mistakes, is too flaky to trust. Apart from struggling to make up it’s mind on which side of the road the destination is, it also, and not necessarily as a consequence of the first error,gets the directions wrong. I remember there was a case where my Dr’s Office complex was straight across the road from a (T-)intersection and it actually made me make aRight, then a U, followed by a Left turn into the complex. It also seems to be slower in terms of updating new images for roads under construction.

    I don;tknow if this is geographical.. I am around Orlando/FL .. maybe it’s better around CA :)

    Bing is much more accurate !

    Of only there was a Mashup using the Bing maps engine with real turn and destination "Preview" images pulled from Google streetview :)

  26. Matt B. says:

    Don’t miss a visit to Papa Del’s (pizza) while you’re in UC.  I make it a point to stop by every time I’m within 60 miles or so :-).

    [I made a stop at Papa Del’s on my way home, but they told me they didn’t sell single slices for takeout, and I didn’t feel like eating a whole pizza by myself. -Raymond]
  27. Nish says:

    Ok, here’s an update. I just got back from Raymond’s excellent talk. It wasn’t about customizing the scrollbars (his words) or on using some little known flag in some little used API, but it was *very* interesting and delivered in his typically sarcastic humorous style :-)

    It was great to finally meet a guy whose blog I’ve been reading for years.

    The one thing I have as a negative comment is that the audience did not fully utilize the opportunity. During question time, they ran out of things to ask Raymond with more than 5 minutes left in the clock. Kids didn’t realize that there are folks who’d kill for that chance. What an absolute waste of opportunity there – of course in their defense, they are in grad or under-grad school, so they probably didn’t realize the full relevance of the situation.

    The good thing was that this gave me, and a couple of others, a chance to go down and chat with Raymond.

    Raymond, I hope your drive back to Chicago will be less adventurous and with simpler lane changes *grin*

    [Thanks, Nish, for the positive review. Your check is in the mail. -Raymond (P.S.: That was a joke.)]
  28. Marvin says:

    Google maps directions are a joke. Try to get directions from MS campus to SeaTac airport and pay attention to the last part. My offline car navigation system with 3 year old DVD does a better job than that.

    After a few encounters with Google maps nonsense I always get directions out of Mapquest then go to Google and familiarize myself with street views at key points.

    Never tried Bing maps and never will. After the MS Money fiasco, death of MS broadband routers, the fact that MS fingerprint reader doesn’t have Vista or Win7 drivers I will never again let myself get used to any non-core (i.e. Windows/Office/DevStudio) Microsoft products again.

  29. someone else says:

    I just remembered Google Maps’ "swim through the Atlantic ocean" (specifically, from the harbour of Le Havre to Boston wharf) when plotting a route from south England/northern France to New England. It wasn’t exactly wrong, just somewhat impractical.

    Sadly, it’s fixed these days. You can’t get from Le Havre to Boston now.

  30. Joe Dietz says:

    Bing is fine, but fundamentally competing check-box feature for check-box-feature.  I guess that means search is a commodity now.

    Speaking of Microspeak, I’ve caught a few msft folks attempting to use ‘bing’ as a verb. lol.

  31. Used to depend on my GPS to get me through or out of situations like that.

    Though there was the one time I was moving across the country, missed the exit (to another major highway) (I missed the prompt because the truck was so loud) and followed it to the next exit. Through downtown Indianapolis. Through some back streets and around a tight right-hand turn. In a 24-foot truck towing a car.

    With Dad driving.

    We missed the pole by about six inches, I think. I was watching in the mirror, gritting my teeth and holding my breath. But miss it we did, and the GPS DID get us to the right place.

    I don’t use it any more because it’s broken, as in "it doesn’t power up" broken, and my budget won’t stretch to fit a new one.

    Bonus: We drove right past the Speedway during a race. I couldn’t see much but it’s kind of cool just knowing I’ve been there.

  32. prb says:

    Just tried out Bing Maps for my route to work… it told me to drive through a shopping mall! (used to be a road about 20 years ago).

  33. Mike says:

    @ Joe Dietz: this was inspired shortly after launch by Qi Lu (at MS Online Services Division) in August stating "We are already seeing initial anecdotal evidence that people are using ‘Bing’ as a verb."

    This didn’t go down too well with readers of The Register in the UK… responses to that (and the Bing video) are here:

    (warning: not for those of a sensitive disposition….!)

  34. jefito says:

    @Joe Dietz: "Speaking of Microspeak, I’ve caught a few msft folks attempting to use ‘bing’ as a verb. lol."

    Just curious how an attempt to use ‘bing’ as a verb fail? If they put ‘bing’ in the correct location in the sentence (i.e., the same place you’d put ‘google’) then it is indubitably a verb.

  35. Joe Dietz says:

    Oh ‘bing’ could mechanically be a verb just as much as ‘google’ can be a verb.  It just sounds so forced to the ‘off-campus’ ear.  Akin to referring to ‘kleenex’* as ‘kirklands’.  A fine tissue, but not really worthy of supplanting the existing general cultural reference.  Mind you I still put in the redundant ‘look it up on…’ prefix to ‘google’ in my everyday speech.

  36. kbiel says:

    Here is a little taught trick to knowing whether an upcoming exit is on the left or right. The position of the exit number sign attached above the main sign corresponds to the exit’s position. So, if you see the sign that says "Main St. 3/4 miles" with an "Exit 123" above, flush with the left edge of the main sign you know it is a left exit.

  37. Daniel says:

    @kbiel: In Raymond’s home state, that trick wouldn’t work, although left exits are sometimes marked in other ways.  Pics here:

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