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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Headed North

I have always appreciated the fact that most Kansas towns build roads on a grid. You have the roads that run north/south and the roads that run east west. There are very few winding roads that go here and there and, aside from a by-pass now and then, nothing circular. Kansans generally don't do those wagon wheel layouts.

Today my son bought a compass at the store, however, and for a few minutes (as long as it took to drive home) my confidence in the lay of the land was shaken. As we trotted through the parking lot to our car, he took delight in telling me which way was north, south, east... and "what's that direction that starts with a W?"

When we got in the car, he promptly told me which direction we were going, which was mostly correct -- north. We turned the corner to head home -- north. Now admittedly, the road we were on probably angles a bit more that I was giving it credit for, but we were still... going north.

I didn't want to criticize my son's compass reading ability, so I kept gently explaining to him that we couldn't possibly be going north since we most certainly live south (and a bit east) of the store.

We turned again -- north. And again -- north. By the time we reached the driveway I was having visions of my world literally turning inside out. No wonder people can't ever follow my directions! I obviously don't know one north from another one.

"I think our compass is broken," my son was staring at the thing, disappointment written all over his face. "It doesn't really matter what direction we turn -- we're always going north."

Parked in the driveway, I asked him to hand the thing over. It immediately pointed to my left, which is exactly where I would expect north to be. I handed it back to him, once again explaining how to read the thing.

The arrow swung around.

"So when I hold the compass, north is that direction," he said, "And when you hold the compass, north is that direction."

Sure enough, north was in a different direction, depending on where you were sitting in the car. We began searching for a source of interference. My son theorized that we had magnets hidden somewhere, but I couldn't imagine where or in what. We turned the engine on and off to see if it made a difference.

Finally, he came across our K-Tag (the device for registering our entrances and exits from the toll roads we frequent). It was definitely interfering with our compass.

So the lesson is -- if you are a K-Tag user -- don't rely on your compass to point you in the right direction. No matter how you turn it, you are always headed north.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Cute story! I have learned the hardway that the north-south, east-west rule doesn't apply in the northeastern part of the state. Navigating the country roads by quarters or until you find the correction line doesn't work! Good detective work finding the K-tag. That makes a lot of sense!