Car Tech

Car Tech

I got a new car last week - I wanted all the modern safety / driver assist features. My previous  car was from 2012. The new car is a Mazda 3 (couldn't find a hybrid that I liked, gave up on getting options that I wanted), but I suspect that it is representative of most new cars.

The safety and driver assist features -

The back up camera is great (these were available in 2012 but my car didn't have one).

The heads up display is great - it displays speed, blind spot, lane change information about eight feet in front of me. My eyes don't refocus quickly (getting old) so this is very useful.

Blind spot warning is great, especially with the heads up display.

Radar cruise control is great - this uses your set speed as the maximum but slows you down to follow a car in front of you. It should think a bit further ahead so it doesn't do so much braking. Also the following distance seems to be constant. It would be better to adjust it with speed so that cars behind you know that you are keeping up with traffic, for example  a 2 second gap rather that a constant distance gap.

Lane assist is annoying - I don't always want to drive down the center of the lane.

Smart braking - stopping for things in front of you,  I have no idea. How do I test this safely? Same for driver alert monitor.

The electric parking brake is easy to use, doesn't tax my aging left knee, takes almost no space, and sets and releases automatically - wonderful.

Auto hold - holds the brake when you are stopped so you can relax your right leg, releases when you hit the gas. Great.

Automatic windshield wipers (had this long ago on one car), great. Or they could just adjust the wiper speed based on car speed.

Automatic headlights - on/off and automatic high beams, good but why don't they turn on in the rain?

But all of this came with the hazards of getting a modern car -

The option packages are terrible. I do not want a sunroof, leather (or plastic) seats, black (or white) interior, shark fin antenna (ugly, don't need it). I was forced to get all of these to get other options that I wanted.

Starting the car turns on the radio, regardless of its on/off state when shutting down - I find this to be beyond annoying.

The automatic headlights should turn on whenever the windshield wipers are on. So we have automatic headlights for when it's dark/light, but not for when it's rainy/dry.

The daytime running lights only light the front of the car. I would like people to see the back of the car also.

Bass and treble, which need a lot of adjustment to handle the changing, noisy environment in a car are done by menu - horrible ergonomics.

You can't program the key - I prefer to open all the locks with one button press and I prefer to disable the trunk release.

Monster size key - they used to make cell phones almost this small. (The "key" is just a transmitter - you never have to take it out of your pocket.)

Well, I guess I should feel lucky to be able to buy a sedan.


More Miscellaneous Thoughts

More Miscellaneous Thoughts

This is my first post since August. It's hard to find good topics that don't step into politics (which I have carefully avoided).

I discovered a new Android "feature" yesterday. I don't know when it was added, but looking through the Settings - Sound menu I found "Shortcut to prevent ringing". This shortcut is turned on by default. The shortcut is to press the power and volume up button together. So now I understand why my ringer kept getting turned off - when fumbling to get my phone into my belt case, I often accidentally hit the buttons. It's easy to hit power and volume up together, they are right beside each other. More stupidity from the Android developers.

News feeds - why can't I screen for garbage news? Avenati, Kardashian, Bieber - I want to never see these names again. But they show up in my news feeds constantly. It's mind numbing.

I like the concept of electric power for my daily transportation, but it would to be a terrible inconvenience for long trips. A plug-in hybrid car would seem to be the answer. So I was about ready to buy a Chevrolet Volt, despite its faults. But GM just said no more Volts - they aren't selling enough. Perhaps people aren't buying them because they made a bunch of poor design choices - poor gas mileage in gas mode (too much styling over aerodynamics?), the gas tank is too small, and the ground clearance is too low for pot holed and speed bumped roads and nasty driveway to road contours.

I haven't used Windows for several years so I get to just laugh at the disastrous October 2018 release that has so many bugs. I offer three important concepts for Microsoft and the other tech companies -

  • Bug free code is far more important that new features.
  • A stable user interface is more important than new features.
  • Most new features are just useless changes or worse.


Google News for Android

Google News for Android

I used the Google news app for many years on my Android phones. It is
okay, but when you choose a story from the previewed stories, it opens
the story in your web browser. When you finish the story you have to
back out of the browser and restart the app.

The app kept bothering me to try the new and improved version, so I
finally submitted. The only significant difference that I saw was huge
photos that reduced the information content on the small phone screen.

I suddenly wondered what news.google.com would look like on a web
browser - easy enough to try. I use Dolphin browser. It has couple of
nice features - the home screen is just a bunch of user selected links,
so I added news.google.com. And the tabs are just like most desktop
browser tabs - visible - not hidden like Android Chrome and Firefox. When
you open news.google.com on a phone it gives you a list of story previews.
Press on a preview and it opens a new tab with the whole story. When you
are done, press X on the tab - you are back on the preview list. This is
vastly superior to either of the apps.

And the news sources that I have hidden on my desktop computer, due to
requiring a subscription, are automatically hidden on the phone.

Google - what is the point of the app?


Solving Problems with a 3D Printer

Solving Problems with a 3D Printer

A couple of years ago I purchased a 3D printer (Lulzbot Mini) to allow me to develop and produce a violin shoulder rest. Here is the second generation - I think it's great. See www.vsr.ravitz.us for more information. In addition to its primary usage, the printer has helped me solve some of the world's biggest problems. Here are four of the most important solutions.

Of course you need a 3D printer to implement these solutions - they can be purchased for a few hundred dollars or, I'm told, libraries have them. And you've got be able to design useful parts - I use a free program call OpenSCAD but you have to design the parts via programming language rather than visually.

Button Magnet

I like to use a magnet to hold my name tag button to my shirt at dances - easy to move, no holes in my shirt. I don't like using a single magnet that has a widely dispersed magnetic field and is difficult to remove (I keep short fingernails to make playing the fiddle easier). So I obtained 3/8 diameter by 1/8 height magnets and 1 inch steel washers (I could not find magnetic stainless steel washers). The magnets sit on the washer, separated slightly, with one oriented north up and the other south up. The shape makes it easy to remove. The button, washer, and magnet orientation encloses the magnetic field for a very strong bond and greatly reduced stray field. This works very well, but -

The early versions required glue to keep the magnets in place and the washers rusted. When I got the 3D printer, I designed a snap together case that holds the magnets in place without glue and prevents washer corrosion. Problems solved.

Heel Wedges

The white heel wedge in the photo is a four degree lateral wedge that helps rotate your ankles slightly, improving your step. I like this - I don't know how many others it would help.

But the wedge won't stay in place. I found a flexible, but not spongy, filament (the plastic that the printer prints with) and designed a wedge with a rim that holds it where it belongs.

Automobile Phone Holder

A good phone holder for your automobile is really useful, especially with navigator apps. But finding a good phone holder for my car was not easy. There is the questionable attachment to the car. Suction cups inevitably fall off and mounting on the windshield blocks vision. Vent vane attachments block ventilation and heat the phone when the heater is running. Cup holder mounts use up a cup holder. And there is the questionable attachment to the phone as the holders need to work with many different phone sizes.

I bought one of the cup holder devices - my car has four front cup holders so it seemed reasonable. The cup holder attachment worked well. But the phone holder was hopeless.

I designed a simple drop-in box and added leather padding (I had sticky back leather from experiments with dance shoe soles. It's handy for other things too.) It's easy to drop the phone in and take it out, with or without the charging plug. It holds the phone securely as long as the car doesn't roll over. I can press the on/off, volume, and fingerprint controls easily (only the bottom third of the phone is inside the box). Of course it only works for a small range of phone sizes, but I can print a new one if I get a new phone.

Pocket Watch

I don't like having a watch on my wrist. And pocket watches are inexplicably large. But it's easy enough to take the band off of a wristwatch and keep it in your pocket. Except that digital watches have buttons that are easily accidentally pressed by stresses in pockets. I used a nice model of watch with recessed buttons for many years. But it is no longer available.

I found a nice digital watch and designed a holder for it that protects the buttons from accidental presses. It makes the watch larger than it should be, but it works well.


Miscellaneous Thoughts

Miscellaneous Thoughts

Galaxy S9 vs. Pixel 2: Which Android phone should you buy?

This is about a published comparison of two phones -

"Galaxy S9 vs. Pixel 2: Which Android phone should you buy?
the Pixel 2 doesn't look sleek.
Its (Pixel 2) thick bezels and the matte finish on the (aluminum) back feel dated and cheap, especially in contrast to the Galaxy S9's edge-to-edge curved screen and glossy (albeit fingerprint-collecting) glass casing."

The matte finish aluminum (Pixel 2) is easy to hold, does not show fingerprints, and does not crack when dropped (although the paint is readily scratched down to the aluminum). The glass back (S9) is slick and easy to drop, shows a mess of greasy fingerprints after a little usage, and cracks easily when dropped (despite its being made of Gorilla Glass). And the reviewer prefers the glass.

And of course Google wanted to add some class to the Pixel so they added an easily cracked glass area to the back, encompassing the top two corners to break the fall when dropped.

What's wrong with plastic?

Why does the reviewer prefer sleek to sturdy? Is there some need for good aerodynamics in a phone?

Ad Nauseum

Q*** electric toothbrushes has one ad on the radio. Not too offensive the first five times that you hear it. It repeats about four times per hour, whenever I am listening. If they can't afford to make another ad, how about just running it through a frequency shifter to make different versions. How about just having different people read the script? Of course the script is meant to be read by the inventor, but that doesn't stop KFC from having multiple people play Colonel Sanders in their ads.

I finally resorted to turning off the radio when the ad starts.

More Mind Numbing Radio Ads - Distilled

For all of the following ads - "Alexa pause" (I listen to the radio on an Alexa device because I don't get good radio reception at home).

"I'm an idiot and I can adopt kids" (to paraphrase).

Why doesn't my baby smile? (Autism if you haven't heard.)

"I haven't been sick since I've been on Texas Superfoods." Well how long is that - one week?

"My dog looked and smelled like he had been dead for six months, but these vitamins fixed him right up" (to paraphrase).

Stifel stock market reports - death by numbing the brain.

Verizon Wireless

I purchased Google wireless earbuds at Verizon a while ago. They were useless. Verizon traded them for Apple Airpods (no additional cost). One of the earpieces wouldn't charge. I couldn't tell if it was the case or earpiece. Verizon replaced everything. The new hardware works great. Thank you Verizon.


More Good Stuff

More Good Stuff

"Always on" displays on smartphones are great. These are referred to as ...LED (different technologies of active LED screens - AMOLED for example). They have no backlight, just an array of LEDs. Power is only consumed by LEDs that are turned on. This allows them to be used to display the time (for example) whenever the screen is exposed (no need if it's in a case). Even if the phone has been sitting, untouched, for an hour, you can glance at it to see the time. My Pixel 2 lock screen also displays notifications - email, text, etc. Older phones blinked a separate LED to let you know that there was email, etc. But you had to look at the phone for a few seconds to see the blink. With the Pixel 2 the notifications do not blink, so a quick glance lets you see any notifications. This is a huge improvement in usability. Note that many phones now have always on displays - iPhone X, Samsung S9 (and some of Samsung's older models), others. This feature is worth searching for.

Apple AirPods - wireless smartphone earphones. I covered these in a previous post. They are great.

Einsky Wide Brim Sun Hat - UPF 50+, 3.7 inch stiff brim, ventilated top. Unlike the last time I looked for a good sunhat (many years ago) there are many nice sunhats listed on Amazon. This one fits my requirements and works well.

While looking at sunhats, Amazon "also viewed" (or maybe "also bought") showed sunblock t-shirts - Hanes Men's Long Sleeve Cool Dri T-Shirt - UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) 50+ (>98% blocked). Many years ago, I got some long sleeve t-shirts for a trip to Florida. I made the mistake of getting my usual medium, cotton. These are useful in bright sun, but almost impossible to take off after sweating, and the style that I got had tight wrist cuffs. And I don't know the UPF as it isn't advertised for cotton shirts. This time I chose large, better ventilation and easier to get off. These are nice. The polyester feels nice. The wrists cuffs do not squeeze. A big improvement for a walk in the sun. And I can remove it after the walk.

Speaking of "also viewed", Amazon's product search often fails to find what I am looking for, but the "also viewed" section has it. Why didn't the original search find it? Regardless, "also viewed" is very useful.

Nimbus Microfine Toothbrush regular size (extra soft). These are great. Better than the Dr. Collins Perio Toothbrush that I was using. Look for them on Amazon.


Basics vs Features

Basics vs Features

I have repeatedly screamed at software designers to get the basics right before adding features. So let's go over what's wrong with Android.

Screen brightness control - you have two choices - set the screen brightness or turn over control to Android. If you set the brightness then you have to keep resetting it depending on the ambient light - that's a pain. So you can turn over control to Android, but then it's too bright in dark places (this obviously depends on the phone and user). And the brightness makes large steps with small changes in screen angle - very annoying when reading, especially with a white background.

How about a screen brightness versus ambient light function that lets you set a baseline at typical room light and adjusts the entire curve based on this point. Then reduce the step level and average ambient light readings over a longer time.

I use Lux to control the screen brightness, which doesn't have these issues, but it has its own problems.

Audio equalizer - this is important for music enjoyability and speech recognition. Android has a built in equalizer that can be accessed by apps, but there is no built in access for users. This would be okay, there are many apps for adjusting it, but many apps don't send their audio through the equalizer. Many music players access it, but I Heart Radio doesn't. Why can't I force all audio output to go through the equalizer?

Accessibility of navigation icons and notification bar - why are apps allowed to cover the notification bar and navigation icons? Maybe that's okay for some people. Not me. Why not make it a setting?

Pointless icons on the lock screen - the lock screen with always on displays includes notifications. Good idea. But all that counts here is missed phone call, voice messages, text messages, and email. The others just clutter the screen and make the others less noticeable.

Pause in Maps - I often pause when taking a road trip, food, rest, gas, bathroom. I would bet that most people do. Why doesn't Google Maps have a pause button? The moment I leave the highway my phone starts chattering at me how to get back on my route. Grr. Maybe, on a car based route, automatically pause when I'm going less that five miles per hour.

Meanwhile (June 6, 2018) a Yahoo Technology headline reads "Android P Beta 2 brings updated system images and 157 new emojis". I don't know - maybe the new emojis will solve the world's problems. Meanwhile my head has been boggled.