On hearing the NTSB’s recommendation to ban drivers from using electronic devices, Dutch Mandel of Autoweek kicks off what’s sure to be the first in a flurry of misguided editorials:
Is it possible to canonize a member of the federal government for coming out on the correct side of what is good and right?
That’s how I feel following news on Dec. 13 that Deborah Hersman, chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board, came out loud and proud recommending a ban on driver use of portable electronic devices. Yep, she wants to do away with mobile phones and smartphones so drivers can’t talk and drive or text and drive.
Hallelujah! There is sanity in Washington, D.C.
Naturally, Mandel – and I predict the rest of the soon-to-be editorialists – gets it wrong. First, this doesn’t just apply to mobile phones with voice and text capabilities: it applies to every electronic device in the vehicle. The wording of the recommendation is so broad that it stands to include any and all personal electronics and could extend to infotainment, navigation and other connected devices.
To Mandel’s credit, he’s been a huge supporter of advanced and continuing driver education for years. It’s one of the few things he and I agree on, and he even went so far as to highlight one of my mentors – the late Gordon Booth of Drivetrain – in Autoweek nearly a decade ago. But any mention of driver responsibility or adapting technology for in-car use is completely missing from his hastily-penned editorial. Yes, distracted driving is an issue. Yes, there needs to be a thoughtful, enforceable set of guidelines to prevent certain communications behind the wheel. But what the NTSB is recommending is too broad, too vague and too ambitious to be feasible. And as everyone with half a mind has already pointed out, the group can’t pass laws; it can only recommend action.
Mandel goes on to cite Hersman’s supposed bonafides, from a commercial driver’s license to a basic motorcycle training course and hazardous waste response training. That’s all well and good, but where’s the psychology degree? The masters in UI design? How about any driver training safety experience beyond enacting commercial, railway and pipeline guidelines for the feds? None of it exists as far as I can tell.
That’s not to say that Hersman isn’t qualified for something, but it isn’t driver safety in the 21st century.
The boom in smartphone use still isn’t understood on any meaningful level, including its affect on drivers. The oft-cited 10% of road fatalities attributable to driver distraction isn’t broken down into individual causes. That means it could be anything from eating to drinking to pacifying an infant.
So until we’ve got some real stats and some hard evidence, let’s avoid the hyperbole and premature canonization. And no, “St. Debbie” doesn’t have a nice ring to it. This isn’t a religious war, no matter how hot and bothered the old guard gets.
Devs, here’s what I want: Snag hour-by-hour tracks from here (or any other station) and port them directly into a Spotify playlist. A custom-built, professionally-curated music experience that’s always updating and perpetually fresh. Legal hurdles be damned.
Ask any of my friends or family and they’ll confirm I’m an unconsolable watch nerd. Between nine and ten, I amassed a handful of Swatches, and when we made a trek to Mexico when I was 11, I dropped a month’s allowance on a fake Rolex in Tijuana because every pre-teen should be rocking a Datejust. The Roller met an early - and predictable - demise and I begged and pleaded for a Casio Databank (the first of three), which lasted me through most of my middle school years before I turned neo-hippie and anti-electro.
My watch fetish faded of the better part of a decade until I began noticing colleagues wearing beautiful, ornate Swiss pieces well outside my price range. That lead to a (sadly misguided) rep or two, before ponying up the cash for a Hamilton Khaki. It had everything I wanted at the time: A slick automatic Swiss movement (ETA 2893), dual-time, 24-hour subs and a case that didn’t make me look like an entrant in the douchecapades. And while I know it’s just a tarted up Swatch (isn’t everything nowadays?), the price and style were right.
Two years in and it’s still my go-to watch. But as someone that values form, function and technology, it’s missing something - that last bit. And every watch is.
Trying to find an attractive, functional and tech-rich watch is an exercise in futility. They simply don’t exist. My friend Jonny’s Casio G-Shock Aviator has all the kit you could ever want: Solar power, world time, auto-receive, time-swapping, calendar, stopwatch and alarm. It’s also ugly as sin, 50mm wide and 16mm thick. It’s like strapping Flava Flav to your wrist.
Head over to Watchismo and you’re met with hundreds of styles, yet barely any substance. A piece that displays time in binary is fine for an extroverted geek, but what about functionality? Please, bring on the new display technology, but what’s the point when it can’t convey even the most basic information at a glance? And things get worse and even more convoluted when a manufacturer attempts to tether a smartphone.
So with watches finally making a comeback, it’s time for an industrious, forward-thinking entrepreneur to up the game. Make it light, make it thin, cram it full of the latest and greatest technology, then price it accordingly. If you keep the gimmicks to a minimum and put a premium on build quality, they’ll pay. I’ll pay. And you’ll disrupt one of the oldest industries in the world.
“There’s no turning back,” says Guy Story, chief technology officer and chief scientist at Audible. “The cloud is part of the user experience in much of what people do these days. The ship has left the dock.”—
A solid breakdown of the opportunity and challenges facing content providers porting their wares into cars. The line about telematics and The Cloud is particularly important, but the one thing that’s lacking is discussion about modularity and hardware upgrades. Without that, your 2014 model is going to have serious electro-horsepower issues within a few years.
The Overlords assigned me a corporate Blackberry a few years back for my trips abroad, but it just wasn’t worth the expense for a half dozen events a year, particularly when I was primarily using data. So for this most recent trip to Germany I decided to try a different tact: Rent a mobile hotspot.
XCom Global has a suitably SciFi name, seems to have the market sewn up, and for $14.99 a day with unlimited data (another couple bucks for an additional battery), it was worth a shot.
XCom ships the MiFi a few days before the trip and includes a pre-paid envelope to send it back when you return. I opted for the additional battery as a precaution, but it was almost a necessity two days in. With marginally heavy usage I was getting about three hours out of each battery, but the biggest issue was that the MiFi wouldn’t broadcast a signal when it was charging. Odd. And highly inconvenient. Just as annoying was the occasional inability to connect, but it was rare enough not to be an issue over the course of six days.
All in, the bill rang up to around $120, or just over a month’s worth of service for the Blackberry. A helluva deal when you consider international roaming and data rates – and even better when you can Skype and FaceTime over the wifi connection. Now let’s see if it’ll work for Tokyo…
I like Jeff Glucker. He’s a good guy, fun to be around and enthusiastic. He’s the kinda guy you want to take out for a beer. And after what went down tonight, he needs one.
Let’s get two things clear: First, shilling for an automaker on the side and posting a story without disclosing your conflict of interest is wrong. Secondly, I know very few automotive journalists writing for legitimate news organizations that haven’t taken on the odd PR job or two. By and large, we’re poor. And when an automaker shakes a bushel of money at you to pen an advertorial without a byline or rewrite a press release for U.S. consumption, it’s hard to turn down. I’ve done it. Twice. When I was freelancer. And felt scummy enough afterwards to never do it again.
But you know who else has done it? Mike Spinelli, the author of the story calling Glucker out for his misdeeds. He tapped me a few years back to help him write a special auto show section for Hyundai in the Wall Street Journal. I did it, collected a meager paycheck and haven’t done anything of the sort since. It wasn’t worth my time or credibility – even if no one knew about it.
But the Glucker situation is totally different. Not only did he foolishly send out a request to fellow journalists to pimp this Nissan spot, he wrote a story about it on Autoblog. Stupid. Squared. And he got what he deserved.
Neff canning him tonight wasn’t just the right thing to do, it was a moral imperative. And one of the best decisions I’ve seen him make.
Now, we take a fair amount of guff from the buffet-dwellers and holier-than-thou auto-tabloids, and maybe deservedly so. You can take shots at Autoblog for rewriting certain reports, publishing press releases and a fair amount of news regurgitation, but understand this: Advertising and editorial have never intermingled (seriously, I have no clue about our ad department) and while some might see some of our content as the milquetoast of the auto news world, we cover the stories that people care about and we’re independent. We also take what we do seriously.
But what’s rubbed me the wrong way (aside from Jeff’s lack of intelligence for an otherwise smart guy) is how it was handled outside the site. If you’re going to call out a fellow journalist about a conflict of interest, why not go out of your way – if you respect him, his peers or his outlet – to drop the editor a line, ask what’s up and then report on how the situation was handled? Was it necessary to publicly run Glucker’s name through the mud for this egregious infraction of journalistic ethics? Maybe. But bringing it to his editor’s attention would’ve been a more dignified tact. Then again, that doesn’t advance some kind of (mis)perceived war between auto outlets.
Smart partnership by Google. Inrix has some of the best traffic data collection methods in the business and the biggest gripe I’ve heard about Maps is Google’s decision to nix traffic data a few months back. And considering this won’t be an exclusive partnership, there should be some interesting crowd-sourcing models from Google in the near term. Now, when we’ll finally get our green, orange and red lines back is another question…
☆ Is Everyone Done Freaking Out About OnStar? Good. Now Let’s Face Facts.
Are you carrying a mobile phone? Do you own a GPS device? Does your mobile phone have GPS functionality? Then you can be tracked. Easily. And in most cases, legally.
But that’s not what the sensationalist headlines are about. OnStar’s terms of service have been amended and the gripe heard ‘round the Web is about customers unsubscribing from the service while the two-way connection remains intact. And this is a big deal because…?
The continued connection – which can be severed if you ask OnStar when you cancel your subscription – isn’t Big Brother. It’s data. Mainly data that’s being used by municipalities (nearly all and not being sold to private companies… yet) to improve traffic flow and keep that wonderful traffic information streaming to your devices.
Here’s a fun fact: the majority of traffic data is still being provided by companies like ClearChannel, using such high-tech data gathering devices as… helicopters. Freaking. Helicopters. In 2011.
If you really want really real-time traffic data – not the stale, 15-minute updates you’re getting now – you’re car, your phone, your GPS device, all of it needs to be transmitting data continuously. You want the future? Be willing to pay the price – anonymously.
Ah, anonymity. The battle cry of the ill-informed. Not that anyone could find out your home address, telephone number, credit score, wife’s maiden name, dog’s veterinarian and you’re preferred sushi place with a minor amount of digging. Use FourSquare? Stop reading.
But that isn’t stopping pundits and supposed “security experts” from crying foul. “Your data can’t be anonymized” they say. “You park at home so the system has to know where you live!” Not that your billing address is practically public record and most mailers have a return to sender label if you move. Ever try unsubscribing from the Frederick’s of Hollywood catalog? Good luck.
So what’s the real bitch about? Control. Control of data. Control of services. Control of anonymity. The latter of which is a pipe dream in the 21st century. But until we’re ready to have an honest conversation sans the knee-jerk hue and cry, we’re left with lazy reporting, bullshit “analysis” and clicky headlines that do nothing to inform or evolve the debate. First thing on the list should be to face facts; living in the modern world, you’re not anonymous anymore. Come to grips with that and then let’s have a chat.