Why Doesn’t My Car Run Android?

A lot of cars are putting a big touchscreen LCD into cars, hooked up to a mediocre GPS system. And then they integrate it into some proprietary system. Not necessary proprietary as in “icky and closed-source,” though it’s that, too. But I suspect every car manufacturer has their own interface, each reinventing the wheel, and poorly.

At my apartment, I have a weather station that shows a 7-day forecast. On my desktop, I have a weather app that shows the weather. So sometimes when I’m getting out of my car, I glance at the center console to see if I need to bring an umbrella. But every time, I’m disappointed: my car doesn’t know the weather. At all. I could pull out my iPhone and look, but by the time I’ve realized that the oversized AC button doesn’t tell me the weather, I’ve lost interest.

Or there’s the radio. Six stations and rarely a good song. When I was in Raleigh earlier this month, I rented a car with Sirius (and a terrific sound system). But with ~150 stations, I still found myself aimlessly turning the dial, rarely finding anything that was even tolerable. I have a CD player, but one CD gets old very quickly. I can play my iPod through an FM transmitter, but the signal is weak and since my MP3 player is also my cell phone, I get horrible noises through my speakers whenever my phone transmits data back to the network, so it’s not really workable. You know what I really want? Pandora. Pandora never disappoints me.

I just had to update the maps on my GPS. They were years out of date, and it was a hassle. It’d be nice if my GPS could get updates automatically, a la Google Maps. (But a Google Maps with aggressive caching.)

My clock isn’t all that precise, either. If you have a GPS signal, you have an extremely accurate clock. (The GPS satellites carry atomic clocks and transmit this data, as precision timing is fundamental to how GPS works. One microsecond of deviation from atomic time in a GPS receiver implies almost 1,000 feet of error.) And then you could apply DST shifts automatically, too.

Oh, speaking of GPS. Some higher-end models apparently include gimmicky dead reckoning to try to estimate your position if you go into a tunnel and lose reception. But it’s based on an accelerometer inside the GPS, along with a digital compass. I can’t imagine an accelerometer inside a GPS is terribly accurate, which is probably why GPS dead reckoning isn’t held to be that accurate. But you know what has exacting information on precisely how far you’ve traveled, at precisely what speed? Your car’s onboard computer. So make that data available to the GPS as well, along with a high-quality digital compass, and you ought to be able to keep a very accurate fix on your location even when losing GPS entirely.

Plus, imagine the graphs you could make!

The only downside with an open platform like Android is that you couldn’t practically keep people from installing Angry Birds on their car, which would lead to mass casualties.

Back Up

We should be back in business now, though I’m not sure for how long. The server this is hosted on seems to be having some hardware issues; I’m not sure yet whether it’s a bad disk or a bad RAID controller. (BTW, the extra cost for RAID and iLo lights-out management are suddenly well worth it!)

I’m making some backups now in case things go down again.

GPS Updates

My GPS is complaining that the maps are old. Last time it did this, I realized I got one free upgrade and that the maps were, in fact, several years old, so I took my free update. Now they’re a couple years out of date again.

So here are the options I see:

  • Illegally download the maps from BitTorrent or similar. They’re out there. But besides being illegal, this would really be a huge pain, as I’d need to juggle other programs to crack the copy-protection. Even discounting my ethics, this is just too much of a bother for me.
  • Buy the update from Garmin. Looks like it’s $49.99 and delivered online. (They also offer a download.) But my GPS is at least three years old at this point.
  • Buy a new GPS. The linked one is $130 — only $80 more than the map update for my current GPS — and has a bigger screen and free traffic, which could actually be really helpful. (Hmm… It’s almost like Garmin is steering me down this path!)
  • Buy a new smartphone. I’m going to do this soon anyway. The downside to a GPS is that, being a high-theft device, I never keep it in my car, which means I only bring it with me when I think I’m going to need it. I bring my cell phone with me whenever I leave the house. Plus GPSs have the hassle of downloading map updates as I’m going through now. Plus there’s the hassle that it doesn’t have the Internet. A new smartphone would bring turn-by-turn directions and just use Google Maps, so the only updates would be when the app itself decided to request an update, and that would be free and quick.

In conclusion, I wouldn’t buy stock in Garmin or other GPS makers. They work great right now, but I don’t see how they can compete when devices people already carry with them everywhere are starting to — without really trying — best the products they’re making.

Interviews

I was just reading this news article about a former political aide found dead in a Delaware landfill. The news is terrible, of course, but the quotes really bother me.

For one, “He was just not the sort of person who would wind up in a landfill” seems to imply that there are some people who you would expect to find dead in a landfill without anyone really caring. I think I know what he meant — that he was a nice guy that got along well with everyone — but it certainly didn’t come out that way. Even if it was a heroin-dealing rapist who crossed the Mafia that was found, I’m not sure anyone would really say, “I always expected that he’d end up in a landfill.”

The same guy later says, “He was a very humble kind of guy, actually…” Again, I know what he means: in spite of all the really impressive things he’s accomplished, he was very humble. But to me, the “actually” dangling on the end is akin to saying, “Believe it or not, he wasn’t a jerk!”

How about ditching both sentences, and just saying, “He was such a nice guy. This is such a great shock” or something to that effect?

Normally, I wouldn’t critique the quotes of a grieving relative of someone who died in a horrible manner. But see, I’m not critiquing the quotes of a grieving relative, or even a relative at all. What I’m really wondering is why the Associated Press chose to use the quotes of the lawyer representing him and his wife in a zoning dispute for the news article about his tragic death. He served during multiple Presidents’ administrations, was the first executive in Mothers Against Drunk Driving, had a lead role in building the Vietnam Vet’s Memorial, and the best person the Associated Press can find to give a quote is “an attorney who was representing Wheeler in a dispute over a couple’s plans to build a new home”? And when he said, “He was a very humble kind of guy, actually,” the reporter didn’t think of omitting the quote or finding a better one?