Saturday, July 21, 2007

Strange GPS/Satellite Behaviour in Thunder Bay

Update: Sep 27, 2007 - Our Stratus radio died when we got to DC. After talking to customer service, I bought a new radio from Circuit City. I went with the Starmate 4 because of some additional features I wanted. I also bought a new dash pad to mount it--which I love. It's working great now.

We've been in Thunder Bay, Ontario for almost two weeks now and I've been noticing some really strange things happening with our Honda GPS navigation system and our Sirius satellite radio.

Thunder Bay is near the boundary of the Eastern Daylight Time Zone in Canada, even though it's hundreds of kilometers west of the EDT boundary in the USA. So when you go across the border from Minnesota to Ontario, you change immediately from Central Daylight Time to Eastern Daylight Time. You can see what I mean on this time zone map of North America. I feel like because we are so close to the boundary between two time zones, our satellite dependent devices like the GPS and radio are going bonkers. I just don't know why that's happening....

The first problem we noticed was with our Sirius satellite radio. As soon as we crossed into Canada, the radio was completely reset--everything was erased and it was if the radio had never been activated at all. It switched to the Weather Station and displayed a message to call Sirius to activate the radio--just like the first time I hooked it up. It wasn't until we had been driving for a while into Canada that the radio re-activated and began receiving all the channels again. I can't understand the behavior though because since the radio is a receiver, there's no way for it to know where on the continent. Plus, we never had that problem when we crossed into the USA from BC.

Now while driving around in Thunder Bay, the radio will simply stop receiving channels, but not like it's lost the signal or anything. Usually, when you lose the satellite signal because of something blocking the antenna, you get a message on the screen that says "Acquiring Signal." But in our case, all it says is "Sirius Satellite Radio" and other than the "Power" button, it is unresponsive. After a few minutes, the radio will beep like it's been turned on and then continue to receive channels. Sometimes the presets are cleared, sometimes they're not. This usually happens after we stop and restart. The antenna has not been repositioned. We are not surrounded by tall structures/trees. We never experienced any problems like this anywhere our travels from the west coast.

Our GPS navigation system is acting strangely, too. This is most noticeable with the vehicle clock since it is controlled by the GPS. I have the system set to use the GPS/Time Zone information adjust the clock. The system knows that we are in Thunder Bay and the Eastern Time Zone. But for some reason, the time is set 1 hour slow--like it thinks were in Central time. So I have to manually change it so that it's one hour faster--and hence, shows the correct Eastern time. That's NOT the strange part....

Sometimes, the clock displays the correct time--i.e. it's one hour faster because of my manual adjustment. That caused me to reset the GPS back to default. But then the clock looses the correct time and I have make the manual adjustment again. Now I don't bother to adjust it because it seems to do that very often--again always after a restart. When the clock displays the wrong time, it's as if the GPS is NOT receiving any satellite signals and navigating purly through dead-reckoning. I notice this because our position on the map is not displayed very accurately until the clock displays the correct (manually adjusted) time. And overall accuracy seems measurably poorer even when it does get a satellite signal.

At first, I thought maybe the ceramic tint we put on the front windows was affecting the GPS signal even though the ceramic tint was advertised not to. However, we never had the clock problem or noticed the poor accuracy until we reached Thunder Bay. While we were navigating in other new towns trying to find our hotels, the accuracy seemed spot on.

Are the problems with our Sirius radio and the navigation system related? Is Thunder Bay in some sort of satellite signal "vortex" where a mish-mash of signals are getting mixed up or lost and somehow otherwise confusing our devices?

I don't know enough about the way satellites broadcast their signals to understand what's happening. I thought that satellites broadcast the same signal over the entire continent. Although, I'm starting to think that I'm wrong because I noticed that with our satellite radio, I was getting different signals on the "jump" button (that allows you to tune into local weather/traffic) in different parts of the country. If our radio is not broadcasting it's location, how would it receive different signals unless the satellites were pointing different information at different parts of the continent?

Does anyone know?

1 comment:

  1. UPDATE:

    I just checked the 2006 Honda Navigation owner's manual and it does state that if you are in between two time zones, the clock time will fluctuate. So I guess it's a case of SNAFU!

    ReplyDelete

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