First, a story:
One of the fondest memories of my life started off badly. I need to give you a little background so you'll better understand...
He barely made it into High School, but my Dad was one of the smartest people on earth.
Give him something that didn't work and he generally could figure out why it wouldn't function.
Most frequently, if it was fixable he could fix it.
But if you looked in the dictionary under MACHO, you'd see a picture of my Dad. There was nothing he hated worse than being embarrassed. He'd do ANYTHING to avoid being thrust into a situation where he might be embarrassed.
Dad flew airplanes, and was fascinated by helicopters. When the guy that was supposed to come home from California with me in an R22 canceled out, Dad jumped at my offer to fill the seat.
I was delighted with the idea of spending three days flying cross-country with my Old Man.
I borrowed a Garmin 296 GPS from a friend for the trip. To my Dad I said, "Getting out of the L.A. basin, unfamiliar with the area, with all that controlled airspace and all the student pilot traffic is always stressful. I need your help to stay out of trouble."
So I put the unit in "simulation mode" and handed it to him-
"You can't hurt it Dad. Play around with it until you're comfortable. Let me know if you have any questions." And I walked away figuring he'd be busy for an hour or so.
Fifteen minutes later I check on him and find the unit turned off, sitting next to him on the end table. I disguise the fact that I'm furious as I ask, "So, you know how that thing works now?"
"I'm afraid I'm gonna break it."
I know him well enough to know it's hopeless. I'm stuck with flying, navigating, communicating, and avoiding other traffic safely out of L.A. with a live bag of potatoes in the co-pilot seat.
And with the necessary planning I did fine. I had Dad hold the 296 where I could refer to it, and he watched as I pushed buttons to get the information I needed. He watched as the moving map on the unit unfolded. He shook his head in amazement as he'd look at the airplane on the 296 fly over a railroad track, then look below the helicopter to see we were EXACTLY over a railroad track.
When we got home he asked, "How much do these things cost?"
Then he went and bought a Garmin Streetpilot III.
It wasn't cheap. At the time, I think he paid $1,300 for the thing. For three years he enjoyed showing it off to all his friends and family. A few days before he died, he gave it to me, and five years later it still works great.
But time marches on, and I've been exposed to newer GPS units. You've probably seen them or seen them advertised...
These machines talk to you.
They prompt you to enter an address and then guide you to your destination.
Push the "home" button, and they will guide you home when you are hopelessly lost in a scary neighborhood.
Two weeks ago, Sara Jean bought this unit for me.
For a little over $200 we got the GPS and a bean-bag mount that sits securely on the dash to keep the unit in place. I'll be able to program it and be confident Sara Jean won't drive into that dangerous neighborhood. Many of you probably have a GPS already. Those of you that don't, for whatever reason, need to look into buying one. And cost shouldn't be an issue...
We've seen some good ones selling for as little as $100 on EBay. Big Bubba bought one and is more than satisfied with it.
Pilots, have you ever used these?
Yeah, I know... Yikes! A thousand dollars?
We have two of them in the R22, and I think they're worth the cost. It's difficult to describe the amount of noise they cancel out. If you've never used them, find someone that has a set and have them demonstrate them to you. You'll be amazed.
In certain frequency ranges I'm nearly deaf. I believe a pilot starting her/his career today using an active-noise-canceling headset may not suffer my fate at career's end.
Here too, perfectly good substitutes are available for a lot less than $1,000.
There are several models of noise canceling headphones intended for use in non-aviation environments that are reasonably priced. I'll assume they're as effective as the aviation headsets at reducing noise levels, and I'd recommend buying one if your work exposes you to a lot of noise.
Sometimes gadgets seem like toys...
Until you start using them and get accustomed to 'em.
Then, (remember your first microwave oven?), you wonder "How did I ever get along without that?"