September 30, 2013

Global positioning for The Common Good


According to translations of Plato’s Republic, the proverb, “Necessity is the Mother of Invention,” may well be ascribed to the philosopher.  Plato observed that under normal conditions, a problem will pre-exist a solution.  For instance, why would a person need a ladder if they did not need to perform a task that was too high to reach from the ground?  His reasoning makes perfect sense.  Fortunately, Plato never saw all of the “solutions looking for problems” proposed by the Oklahoma House of Representatives.

However, there is at least one perpetually recurring problem that through the ages has threatened the very fabric of the institution of marriage. Since time immemorial, wives have suggested to their husbands that driving directions can easily be obtained by stopping to ask and for those same eons, husbands have resisted and avoided compliance.

As generations of my ancestors migrated first to the U.S. and later into Indiana, Iowa, Kansas and ultimately Oklahoma, I cannot imagine the number of times that it was suggested that a stop be made to ask directions.  It is even likely that during August 1901 en route to El Reno for the land lottery opening the Kiowa-Comanche-Apache that great-grandmother Ethel suggested more than once to great-grandfather Ed that it would be a good idea to stop for directions.

Therefore, in 1978, true to Plato’s adage, the United States federal government undertook the task of launching its first satellite global positioning satellite.  Ultimately in 1994, our government completed the full constellation of twenty-four satellites (4 in each of 6 orbits).  The system was designed to allow authorized Global Positioning System (GPS) devices to communicate with no fewer than 6 and no more than 12 from any location on the face of the earth.

On May 1, 2000, when President Clinton authorized the American public to have access to the same accurate positioning satellite signal provided to the United States military, men everywhere rejoiced over their renewed independence.  Never again would they be compelled to stop for directions.  Within a short time, voice technology allowed the GPS devices to speak directions.

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