Bought a new car

Drove up to North Carolina this weekend for the Durham Beer Festival. Somewhere along the way, the transmission in my 2001 Impala decided that it was time to destroy itself, presumably in a fit of angry rage. I presume that it was rage and it was angry from the sounds that came out from the thing about 80% of the way here. I would have honestly never believed that the cruise control could actually cause it to redline the thing, but the proof speaks for itself. Regardless, it was dead-on-my-arrival.

So after some thinking, and talking it over with my dad, I decided that enough was enough. I did love the Impala, but all good things must come to an end. So after 9 years and 74000 miles (I don’t drive much), I traded it in. Got a really good value for it too, especially considering that it probably had negative value given the blown transmission.

Put that money down toward a 2010 Ford Fusion. Used, but only 19000 miles on it, and in excellent condition.

Obligatory pictures:

I like it. The Sync isn’t playing well with the iPhone, but I’ve learned that this may be an iPhone software problem. Maybe I’ll upgrade it soon to solve the issue. Notably: Plugging in the iPhone kills the USB connection on the Sync system entirely. I had to pull and re-insert a fuse to reset the damn thing. No worries though, automotive hacking is one of my older and less-used hobbies. Never had to actually upgrade software in a production car before, but it worked without too much effort. Anyway, the thing works with Bluetooth for now, so as long as I don’t connect it via USB, it’s fine. Bluetooth audio streaming works perfectly well.

So I’ll be driving back to Memphis tomorrow. The triangle is fun, but not really that much fun. I’ll be glad to get back to Memphis. ;)

Twitter Geolocation

Heard of geotagged tweets yet? Not surprised, a lot of my friends seem to have not caught on to it, so I’m writing this in a possibly futile attempt to get them to try it out.

How to add your location to your tweets

1. Turn on Geotagging. To do this, go to your Twitter settings page. Down under the “Location” section is an option to enable geotagging. Turn it on.

Twitter Settings

2. Get a Twitter client that supports Geotagging. These are generally mobile applications. Tweetie 2 for the iPhone added support for it in 2.1. Several other clients support it as well. Find one.

3. Turn it on in your client. How you do this depends on the client, but it can usually be enabled on a per-tweet basis.

Here’s an example of how it works and looks in Tweetie 2 for the iPhone.

First, you type in a new tweet, and pull open the drop down.

Next, you enable the geotag feature, and you'll see a little red pin appear.

You'll see little maps on tweets with locations attached to them.

Click on the map icon for greater detail.

You can do more with your Twitter location too. For example, this website will read your twitter feed and get your latest location, then send it over to Fire Eagle, which is Yahoo’s location service. Fire Eagle can do all sorts of things, but basically it’s just a service that stores your location for other programs to use. So if you want to display your location on your blog, or on Facebook for your friends to see, or anything else you can think of, you can do that, using nothing more than your already existing tweets.

Waze – Free iPhone Directions Application

Playing around this weekend, I discovered a neat and fun little app for the iPhone.

A lot of new apps have came out for the iPhone lately that are based around driving directions. TomTom came out with theirs for $100, and Navigon is another popular one that runs $90. But, if you want to try out something a little different, this one is free.

iPhone image

Waze is a free driving directions app, with a twist. Basically, the maps on it are “incomplete”. That is, they’ve got the map data, but like all maps, the data is inaccurate. So, to get the data to be better, they’re enlisting your help.

How do you help? Simple. You use the app in the car, then drive around. As you do so, the GPS will be reading your location and noting that there is indeed a street there. It makes it kinda fun to confirm streets in this way since a little Pac-Man like figure appears, eating dots on the map where you are driving, and giving you “points”. The points aren’t useful for much, except a ranking system with everybody else using the app, but it’s fun nevertheless.

So what else? Well, obviously it’ll do driving directions. However, when I tried it to get to my friend’s place at Cooper-Young fest this last weekend, it was laughably wrong. It suggested an 8 mile trek through ridiculous parts of town for no reason. I drove there the normal route instead, letting it complain that I was “off route” all the way and listening to the Waze-pacman gathering up the points as he munched his way down the road. However, something odd happened then. On the way back, when I turned it on, it knew that route. Investigating today, I’ve found that it really doesn’t like to route people on routes that haven’t been “confirmed” yet very much. So, since I’d confirmed that route already, it picked it for my way home.

But there’s a bonus to all that. By confirming the route, it’s getting more than street maps. It’s also getting average speeds. So it can use that information to give optimal routes, knowing how fast each street tends to be.

iPhone Event Reporting

You can even more than that though. Along the way, you can report events too.

An event is like an auto accident, or a speed trap. Whenever you see one of these, you can touch the report button and report one quickly. If you’re totally stopped in traffic, then you can also type in a short message (it won’t let you do that while moving), and the message will instantly be sent, where other drivers (and their iPhone’s) can see it. Those drivers will then get routed a different way, possibly saving them some time.

Or, even better, somebody else reports a problem, and you get to save some time.

Downsides to the app: Battery life. Like any other GPS app, it sucks the battery right down. You’ll need a car charger to run the thing. Probably a quality iPhone mount too. It does do landscape mode as well, and hidden down in the options is a “3D mode”, which makes the map lay back and look like the more expensive iPhone driving apps, if you prefer that sort of thing. The 2D map is easier to read, to me.

From what I’m reading, Waze has only been around a month or so, and not many people are using it. As far as I can tell, almost nobody in Memphis is using it, since almost all the roads are unconfirmed. But it would be pretty neat if everybody driving around was sharing data like this, what with Memphis traffic being what it is. I sure wouldn’t mind getting routed around half the crap I see on the streets around here.

If you’ve wanted to try out a driving directions app without spending $100 or so, then you cannot beat free. So I highly recommend it. I’m using it all the time now.

Google Maps traffic… it needs work.

I always wondered how Google Maps knew traffic conditions. Today, there’s a blog post where they explain it a bit better.

That ain't on an iPhone...
That ain't on an iPhone...

Basically, they simply have all the phones running Google Maps with GPS send back data as to a) where they are and b) how fast they’re moving. Both of which GPS gives you more or less by default.

It’s a clever idea, and I like it, but it fails in a couple of major ways, IMO.

Firstly, when I use Google Maps on my phone, I tend to not leave it open. Google Maps is fine, but it’s not a very good navigation system. It’s just a map. A real navigation app is worlds better. I recently got Navigon Mobile Navigator on the new iPhone, and it’s pretty slick. Thinking about a dashboard mount for it now, actually.

Secondly, this system relies on a lot of people having Google Maps open and running and sending back data. If nobody with Google Maps running has been on your street recently, you get no information.

What Google really needs to do is to open it up as an API. Let other navigation system manufacturers both send and receive traffic data from the Google Maps system. It doesn’t have to be complex.

Any good navigation app knows your location and speed, so a simple way to send that info could be made easily enough. The problem, of course, is allowing third parties to use the data.

Google Maps works in layers of images, which is one of its major shortcomings, IMO. The street views are images. The terrain are images. Just big sets of tiles that get displayed next to each other. And I’m almost certain that this traffic thing is just another set of images they’re generating or updating. For navigation providers that use 3d views and such, they don’t need that stuff in the form of images, they need it in the form of data. What streets are busy? How can that information be used to improve the navigation? Etc.

Google is generally pretty good at opening up their APIs to third parties. However, they’re generally not good at providing data in different forms. Most of their APIs are “this is what we use, if you need something else we don’t have it” sort of thing. Hopefully, the Google Maps team will see the light here and realize that to get good data, you have to give good data, and start pushing in that direction. Because open traffic data would be pretty cool for everybody.