May 17, 2010

Technology gripes from my trip (, , )

by fluffy at 9:54 AM
As great as technology was for my road trip (giving me a lot of flexibility and ad-hoc decision making without a lot of preparation), where my road tech of choice fell flat, it caused a lot of aggravation which seems like it would be pretty easy to make better.

Most of these are related to the Google Nexus One, but I have a couple of iPod issues too.

Nexus One

In GPS navigation mode, the Nexus One takes a bit more power than the car dock can provide. As a result, the battery was nearly dead when I needed it the most (when I finally got to the LA area). It would probably help if the GPS weren't polled as frequently when the next turn isn't for a while (there's no reason to get 20-foot precision when you're looking to turn in 240 miles!).

Calendar notifications take the phone into a calendar overlay screen, which allows the phone to sleep, even though it's overlaid over a navigation screen, which does not. Unlocking the phone after it goes to sleep is not a very driving-safe operation, but it's necessary in order to go back to the GPS view.

Google Maps navigation is pretty good, but the way it gives directions is a bit annoying, in that it repeats its verbal cues several times for each direction (once when it's coming up, once when it's close, and once when there), and this ends up feeling like nagging. Toyota/Lexus's in-dash GPS has a better approach, where it gives you the full direction when it's coming up ("Turn right onto the exit for CA-85 East"), a condensed version when it's close ("Turn right"), and a simple "ding" when there. At any time you can press a soft button on the screen to repeat the direction in full.

Since Google Maps is using live Internet-streamed data, it would be nice if it were more up-to-date. In Long Beach, a large portion of Shoreline was closed down due to construction. It kept on trying to direct me to take Shoreline, and when I failed to take that turn, it would rereoute me in silly ways, like telling me to take a U-turn. Even without up-to-date closure information, it would be nice if it would assume that the failure to take a turn was because the turn was hard/impossible to make, and give it a lower scoring when rerouting.

Similarly, my understanding is that they get traffic data from a combination of sources, including aggregate statistics from other people using Google Maps for navigation. So why is it that it had no idea about several long segments of very slow traffic due to ongoing county fairs, major traffic accidents, and so on?

There's also a lot of outright deceptive or incorrect data in the navigation database. For example, when I got to Long Beach, there was a bit where it told me "exit on the left and follow the signs for [foo]." When I got there, the highway was actually forking, and the signs for [foo] were on the right, not the left. I assumed that the destination indicator was the important thing, so I followed the signs rather than the direction of the fork. This sent me on a path that required going about 3 miles out of my way and a lot of bizarre backtracking (and with said backtracking it tried to have me take U turns where it was illegal).

It would be really nice if there were an easy way to get to the screen brightness settings when it's in the car dock. As it is, you have to press the home hard button, then a different home soft button, then either find your brightness widget (if enabled) or tunnel through a very convoluted menu path if not. None of these actions are safe or easy to do while driving. Better yet, it would be nice if the dock would automatically change your brightness settings when connected; this is obviously possible, since connecting the dock changes your bluetooth, GPS, and home screen profile.

On that note, it doesn't always detect when it's put into the car dock. I couldn't figure out any rhyme or reason for this, but the end result was that the home button went to app home instead of car home, and the dock's speaker wasn't active, making navigation prompts quiet and muffled. Even when the dock wasn't detected, it was charging, so maybe it had to do with whether it was docked with the car power off or on, but fiddling with that didn't help any.

It would be nice if you could search businesses near the existing route. I wanted to go to In-N-Out for lunch, as I hadn't been to one in years. In order to find one near my route I had to search for all nearby locations and then manually find the next one near where I was going.

Finally, it would be really nice if the Android navigation stuff could have a "via" option like on the web version. Being able to set a waypoint without having to make it a destination would be nice. For that matter, the UI implies that there's a way to set a list of multiple destinations but I couldn't find one.

iPod Classic

I can't believe that the iPod has gone through so many major hardware and software revisions and it still doesn't understand that two albums with the same album name but different artist names aren't the same album! Yes, various-artist compilations make it difficult, but it really should assume that if something isn't marked as a compilation, that they are separate albums. The particular issue I ran into was "All Rise" by Inara George (1 disc, 11 tracks) vs. "All Rise" by Wynton Marsalis (2 discs, 12 tracks). There are so many things they could use for heuristics to determine that they're separate and should not be mixed, even without good tag information (which I provided). For now I've tried a workaround of giving them different "grouping" tags, but I also know from experience that simply doing something like "All Rise [Marsalis]" and "All Rise [Inara George]" doesn't work, because it assumes that things inside []s are disc indicators, because CDDB doesn't provide good disc number metadata.

Basically, media tags are still a gigantic mess when they shouldn't be this hard.

It would also be nice if there were an easy way to skip an album during shuffle-by-album, especially one that worked with hands-free operation.

Honda Fit

Not really a problem, per se, just an observation that the automatic transmission is smart enough that the paddle shifters are just kind of pointless. The only times I really wanted to override the automatic transmission, what I wanted to do went outside the rev limits anyway. I guess the one thing I'd like is holding down the + paddle should prevent it from downshifting when I floor it - sometimes I just want a gentle slow acceleration. That's probably a big waste of gas anyway, though.

Oh, and getting over 36MPG on the highway is pretty darn good. Modern automatic transmissions seem to be at least as good as a human when it comes to making shift decisions.

Overall I'm very pleased with the Fit, although there's still a few things I miss about the Matrix (although on the whole I think the Fit provides a better balance). The main thing is the Matrix had better little storage nooks and crannies, and a storage area with a second power adapter between the front seats, as well as an in-dash power inverter. Basically the Fit has much better stuff built-in, while the Matrix was more flexible about what you could add on. In retrospect I probably shouldn't have been so quick to sell the Matrix, and when I did I could have probably gotten much more for it than I did, but that's just my own damn fault for not learning more about the used car market around here.

(Although I did just get my DMV renewal bill for the Fit. $273/year? Jeeze! That's even worse than it was in Seattle. Sometimes I miss New Mexico, where $35/year seemed excessive.)


#13099 ucblockhead 05/17/2010 12:36 pm DMV
    The fees drop dramatically as your car ages.
    #13101 Neillparatzo 05/17/2010 01:44 pm
      Lower RPM doesn't always mean better mileage; there's a sweet spot that I think varies from engine to engine. There's probably a DSP in your Fit that is figuring all this out.
      #13102 fluffy 05/17/2010 01:52 pm
        Yeah, exactly. Back when I drove stick I always thought I had a good feel for fuel-consumption micro-optimization, but of course that's just through several layers of abstraction.

        The main reason I was interested in paddle shifters was with the idea that I could have the same stickshift driving experience without having to clutch, but the Fit's automatic transmission seems to always shift when I'd be shifting anyway, with the bonus that it can go up steep hills with no problem. Interestingly enough, the EPA estimate for mileage isn't much higher for manual than automatic on the Fit, when even a few years ago when I bought the Matrix there was still a huge mileage difference between the two - apparently it's 28/34 for manual and 27/34 for automatic. And so far I've been getting 30/36, and that's with a fully-loaded vehicle.

        Basically, stuff like this is why I crack up when on Star Trek they do a manual override of the computer for anything particularly fiddly, because apparently laggy and slow humans are somehow superior to automated software that can do billions of actual computations per second. (Also why it's hilarious how some people still religiously cling onto hand-optimized assembly code.)
        #13103 Neillparatzo 05/17/2010 02:10 pm
          There's still a few uses for hand-optimized assembly code...
          #13104 fluffy 05/17/2010 02:20 pm
            Sure, but they're rare. I was thinking more along the lines of this (read the responses, especially the "hello I'm a compiler one").
            #13108 dusk 05/17/2010 09:00 pm
              Only 36 mpg? $housemate has gotten 50 in his Fit. (Only under ideal circumstances, of course, but it's totally doable for highway stretches.)
              #13109 fluffy 05/17/2010 09:14 pm
                Well, I was driving it like a normal person, and over a lot of hills and in city traffic and so on, and I never did get around to checking my final mileage. I was also hauling a lot of cargo (musical instruments, amps, recording gear, etc.).
                #13110 dusk 05/17/2010 10:28 pm
                  Oh, if there was city driving in there that'd account for it I suppose. This 50 mpg was on a pure highway stretch, and at least half of it was spent drafting behind a semi. (Which really does make a significant difference!)
                  #13111 fluffy 05/17/2010 10:30 pm
                    Like I said, driving like a normal person. Drafting is scary.