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May 29, 2015

Velcro finds new life in car-computing

Eric's Car Computer

Having just spent about $400 to have my touchscreen mated to my center console, I have to wince a little when I see this. Now, dont make that face, I'm not being mean, I just hvae to point out the obvious. He could have spent a LITTLE more time integrating the components into his car. I will say that putting the little cam up front gave me an idea about placing a small USB cam in my rear window for backing up.

He gets props for putting a PC in a car, I'll give people credit for that all day long. He does get a "Needs Improvement" on his report card for integration, which by all accounts involved a roll of Velcro and a roll of 16 guage wire. [Positive Spin Note = He wins the award for most frugal install]

Posted by Lionel Felix at 11:37 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The impact of low power CPUs is not to be misunderestimated


Weather they know it or not, technology advance like this one, aimed at laptops will end up being a boon to in-car PC makers. There are only a few hurdles that in-car computer hardware makers still face. Vibration hurts drives and heat hurts everything. Power needs are not critical but the more power a chip uses, the hotter it gets and you're back to the heat issue.

My Yukon sits in an uncovered parking lot in Texas for a few hours while we ponder which set of towels defines us as a family. As it sits in the afternoon sun, the interior temperature of the vehicle rounds 110 degrees and keeps going. By mid summer, cars in parking lots may achieve 130+ interior air temperatures with surfaces exceeding that by a fair margin. That all leads to heat failure. PC's were designed for the indignity of cube life at 30-40% humidity and 76 degrees. The chipmakers and drive makers are going to see their products put to the test in vehicles which get dustier, more humid, vibrate more and get hotter than anything they accounted for.

Via does not know it today but there will be a time in the near future when they are tapped by in-car PC makers for their low power chips.

Posted by Lionel Felix at 11:27 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 28, 2015

Broadband In-Car Internet Access - The Dope

Getting a PC or Mac installed in your car requires a few hurdles, but no more than a mildly custom stereo install. But before we endeavor to add a PC to a car, we must ask, what is it going to do for ME? The basics are playing DVDs, encoded movies, MP3s, GPS and TV. Ok, but that™s not strictly the domain of computers, Alpine and the rest of the mobile audio pack have been offering that for a while. It's the Internet we want. We want mobile access to traffic maps, email, and our blogs and of course, Google. The pioneers in this space were Wardrivers and they were able to get access through the simple recipe of laptops, WiFi cards, highly sensitive external antennas and people not securing their access points. It worked a treat for those who wanted to hunt down a signal, stop the car, check email, download something from Consumption Junction and move on. Being the needy humans we are, that was just not enough. Ok, it was fine for 5 minutes but we got over the shiny shiny of just having it there and now we demand it to be available like a utility.

Wireless providers have been offering up "broadband" access through connection cards and phones over GPRS / EDGE for a few years now. Broadband has been defined by these telcos as pretty much anything faster than dial-up. For the road warrior that doesn™t ever see a phone bill, the people who read Robb Report because they are actually shopping and VPs who ask and get what they want, the price never factored. For the rest of us schlubs, we scratched our heads when our wireless providers got us all frothy over "new broadband through your phone" only to have sales people who know nothing about the technology and prices per KB that sound like 1986 CompuServe pricing.

I recently went out to the local providers, spoke to sales people, investigated technology and came up with some interesting facts about what it takes to get connectivity to a "tethered" device.

The AT&T / Cingular story
My wife and I have had AT&T phones for eons now. I've never had much of an issue with their pricing other than its randomness and inexplicable but consistently priced bills. When they started offering WAP access through their phones to get things like movie listings and browsing of WAP type pages, I thought it was cool and sometimes useful. I checked email on my phone and didn™t hate the predictive typing. One day my old boss offers me a toy to try out for the execs. The perk of being an IT exec is that I got lots of toys to œtry out. The Sierra Wireless card was very nice. I put my SIM in the card and got some slow Internet on my laptop. In an airport, I prefer slow Internet to nothing at all. The downside was the $110 extra dollars AT&T charged me for my little trickle. They informed me that their charges were standard and my 11MB was in fact $110. From then on I used the company SIM for wireless connectivity.

When the Sony EDGE card came out, they changed their pricing somewhat but it was still too high for non-business users. They were asking $80 for unlimited access. I thought it would pass and soon it would be something included in the plan. Instead they kept the same rates AND started charging for SMS. If it were only that I would not have made faces but the fact that in LA, on a main freeway I got 2 bars and lost lots of calls, I found the service to be wanting. I was biding my time, looking for greener pastures. Soon that day would come.

That day didn™t come quite as soon as I had hoped. Wife and I decided recently that since we live in Austin, we should get Austin phone numbers. While changing numbers, we would also go from AT&T and join the Cingular Mothership with new phones and data plans. It was going to be a bold new world.

I stayed up late surfing the Cingular site for pricing. My first discovery was that they decided to name things their own way. Nothing was clearly saying WAP access, Internet access, or anything remotely close to descriptive language. Just flowery marketing speak regaling the reader with the glorious imagery of some sort of connectivity they want to sell you, œMedia Net brings Web sites, e-mail, messaging, downloads, and more to your wireless phone. Is printed on their website. No pricing on that page, just vague wording about email and that other stuff. On a brochure I found at one of their undermanned stores I found the œUnlimited Media Net for $25 per line.

The next day I headed over to my local Cingular store and laid it all out. œHi, we are here to transfer from AT&T, get Austin numbers, 2 new phones that are EDGE enabled and we want a data plan for each phone that lets us use the phone for broadband EDGE access to the Internet. I didn™t think I could be any clearer. It is very apparent that Cingular does not properly train people, their people do not absorb new product information and that they do not hire well. After much calling around, our rep found the plan we needed; the Media Net unlimited Internet for $25. After 2 hours of paperwork, calling AT&T (Their systems are still not connected so Cingular sales reps have to call AT&T support for migrations) we had new Moto V551 phones at a cost of $365 for the two, a œfamily plan and data connectivity. They were unable to provide us with the connection manager software as they didn™t know exactly what I was asking for.

The short version is that we got it the phones home and were greeted with a PPP error. I was amused; I had not seen a PPP error since my dialup line in 1998 wasn™t working right. I found a back alley Cingular live support chat page that you cannot get to from their main site. Thanks to Google again. A support rep helped me out and within 20 minutes deduced that I had a Media Net account and that was not what I needed. I needed the $80 Internet account. This is exactly what my sales rep told me was not the case.

I called the store in the morning and after 3 hours got through to a human. Coincidentally it was the same human that sold us the phones. He was very contrite and said we could return them. We brought back the phones and asked for our phones, the old ones to remain on. 20 minutes later AT&T shut off our phones. 1 hour later and a sore throat from yelling they were back on. Square one.

Verizon “

I am not sure they are going to continue to be a major player in the wireless space with their pricing being exactly the same as Cingular and having less impressive phone selection. The upside to our visit to the Verizon store was that the rep knew exactly what we were asking for. He informed us that the card would be $200 and service would be $80 a month. Rats rats rats. He then went on to tell us how much Verizon rocks all worlds with their massively broad broadband and all others pale in comparison. We blew that popsicle stand leaving them to their slow descent into impending œfinancial restructuring.

I visited the SprintPCS site. I have to say that the œCan you hear me now ad campaign has guaranteed that I never spend a cent with Sprint. I find their ads insulting and vague. I did however peep their site for pricing. Data plans with them are simple; $40 gets you 20MB $80 gets you 300MB. I give them credit for having very simple pricing. I give them no credit for gouging customers on data plans. It™s just not a value. How can a company offer 20MB at $40 with a straight face?

My last stop was at T-Mobile. The Catherine Zeta Jones ad campaign doesn™t make much sense to me but then again I never understood celeb endorsed products. I lived in LA; I never wanted an actor™s opinion on anything other than the house special that day. Their website navigation is on par with the other providers, difficult to find actual data, too much marketing speak, not enough actual, useful product facts for phones or plans. Still, I gleaned the info I needed. We were ready to take the offensive.

My wife and I marched down to the local T-Mobile store rather than enduring the heinous types that man the cellular stands at the mall. We walked right in and up to a rep that was very helpful. We knew that phones we wanted and talked turkey about data plans. Their data service is 115Kb, somewhat quicker than dialup but now something you could use for BitTorrent sessions. I made sure I was crystal clear on what we needed and he assured us that it was in fact the right plan. At $20 per phone per month, unlimited access and impending EDGE upgrade, it makes the numbers attractive.

We got a stellar deal on a pair of V330 Moto™s, Bluetooth headsets and data cables. Went home and set them up that afternoon. My only complaint is with Motorola or their software vendor that makes their connectivity tools. They are very slow, don™t work consistently and even crashed quite a bit on my laptop. My wife™s laptop was unphased and took the new software in like a champ. About an hour later, contacts were synced and best of all, Internet was achieved.

T-Mobile is hands down the best deal for low cost, unlimited mobile internet. With one of their phones you can use Bluetooth connectivity in your car to have always-on internet. That is assuming you added a Bluetooth card / dongle to your car PC. If not, their data-cable is $40. The upside to having the phone rather than the connection card (PCMCIA) is that you can use it for your laptop and car via Bluetooth. The cost is $30/mo for the card because they anticipate higher usage.

In the end, data connectivity will become a high priority to anyone with a laptop and the carrier with the best / simplest plan will win over all of the non-corporate users. Good rates, sales people who know their products and customer service is the key to success in the fight for wireless customers. Neat phones don™t hurt either.

Posted by Lionel Felix at 12:39 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 27, 2015

Ye Olde Car Stereo Custom Shoppe

It's not that I don't like working with fiberglass. Ok, actually, it is that. I"can" make things from fiberglass but it ends up needing so much work that in the end, it should have been left in more capable hands. One day I'll go take a proper fiberglass fabrication class. Until then, I'll use the custom shop down the road. Alpha Audio here in good old Austin, TX currently has my 8" touch screen and a portion of my center console. Yeah, that photospread on my neato mount? It was screaming "steal this car, or at least break in and gut it".

I should have the re-fitted center console back on Sat which means the bulk of the install will be done. Ok, I copped out and asked the installer where the 12V switched wire was too. Hey, I dont have time or desire to risk my car's logic unit playing the voltmeter game with every wire.

The more I look at the strapping tape I used to keep the CPU in place the more I dont want to show you pictures of it. Ok, need to get that sorted before sat...

Posted by Lionel Felix at 09:22 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 25, 2015

MS TBox - $300 OBO


I cant WAIT to get my hot little hands on the MS TBox. If it does everything they promise, I might pass out. If my but it right, I think Dell will be the market leader in the after-market TBoxes. See, there have to be 2 TBoxes, the OEM and the aftermarket versions. Do the automakers want there to be an aftermarket version? No, of course not, part of their willingness to integrate the new technology is to drive new car buying. The other 350 million of us might just want something to plug into our cars. The tyranny of retail GPS makers is about to fall. With in-car computers costing less than a stand alone vehicle-GPS, the market is about to erode in a way no one should ignore. It's a bit of a racket and with Microsoft's Streets and Trips, the $100 package replaces much of what you might spend $1500 on. Sure, its not BULIT for voice directions etc, but at a tiny fraction of the cost, it does far more that most need.

If Microsoft can package the TBox in a similar way as they did with MediaCenter, it can be a great success. What are the ingredients? Well, I think the heavy lifting is always integrating it into the car audio system but thats not critical as it can carry its own speakers. It needs simply to connect to power, and have a pigtail to place the GPS somewhere nice and open. The aftermarket piece is important and they would be remis to ignore it. Perhaps they want to see a first generation model in cars to proof it. That said, being able to upgrade the TBox will demonstrate just where they are, on the side of the consumer or on the side of the automaker. It's not like a car stereo, computers are shorter lives. Lets hope they get that concept early on.

The TBox holds promise in the way that those wraped packages do under the tree. Until I actually tear into them, they could be anything. lets hope its not like Christmas day '82 where all I got were sweaters. I'm still mad about that.

Posted by Lionel Felix at 11:40 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

The Future of EVDO

Economic Times

EVDO may not mean much to you right now but it will soon. The need for mobile high speed Internet connections is a reality. Traffic prediction, mobile email and web, streaming media, and everything else we take for granted in our stationay houses needs to make the leap to our cars. that includes you people in trailer parks.

We first had the ability to analog dial with our cell phones and that was neat. Then we could use GPRS, then EDGE, now with the promise of EVDO, there is a light at the end of the narrow spectrum. The FCC, relics in their own time, are still making things difficult for progress. If we as a people cannot rid this government of the FCC's shackles, we will surely be left behind. How do you like that for doom and gloom? I have to stop writing or I'll say something mean and get a visit by people in dark glasses and cheap suits.

Posted by Lionel Felix at 11:30 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Icepack melts boot time

Karputer Icepack

Ok, you can smack me for that New York Post headline. Karputer a UK in-car computer maker has a 1DIN looking PC head unit that might be a very nice solution for those of you without a spare car cavity. SUV's may have lots of room but its at the expense of all that useless, wasted space in American Sedans of old. My poor Yukon has a modified kitchen shelf screwed over a fenderwell to support its PC. Yes, I know, more pictures today...

Karputer is using the PlayNow BIOS, allowing for faster boot times. I have to say that it's been a long time coming. Why did we suffer with Windows2000 45 minute boot times for 4 years. I felt like a Russian waiting in line for toilet paper.

Posted by Lionel Felix at 11:22 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Problem Solved - Powered USB in your car

USB Convert

I have been banging my head against my Yukon trying to figure out how to get all the USB dinguses in my car. Some need power, some do not. Some are hard to decide on. Overall I knew that I had to figure it out. Ok, well, "I" didn't have to figure it out, I needed to use Google to find someone with mad IEEE skills that already did the work for me. See, that's the years of management experience making my job easier.

The low down is (and I didn't test this yet so I could be making a false claim) use a car charger that charges a USB cell phone. The premise is you can wire the 12v end into your power supply by removing the shroud and hard-wiring it to 12V switched (good luck finding that). The USB end goes into a powered USB hub (that takes power through the USB port. What's the alternative? Well Radio Shack has a 12V lighter plug adapter that lets you change the power connector and voltage. I've always felt these to be a little hackey but if you buy a USB hub that matches the power that the RS one puts out, it should be good to go. I suggest having a 24 hour burn-in on a work bench before putting that in your car.

Posted by Lionel Felix at 10:15 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Burt Reynolds, Where are you?

The cannonball run was one of those movies that had everything a 12 year old boy could ever want, exotic cars, women driving exotic cars, and Dom Deloiuse on the back of a motorcycle doing a 2500 mile wheelie. There was something very rat-pack about the ensemble cast of that film that let those of us born in the 70s and 60s get a feel for something great and genuine that would never return to the movies. The studios rely on staid formulas in order to make sure shareholders are happy with their quarterly dividends. In today's marketplace, Former Paramount head Robert Evans couldn't make risky movies that didnt have an automatic appeal to the "target" audience, instead we get formulaic schlock. Nearly as formulaic as the rants written about the current state of Hollywood by people like me.

Even though times have changed, people still keep that spirit alive. The Gumball Rally is one of those races that keeps us young, even if we only read about it. This year the Rally careens with my world by having an entrant who has managed to wedge a Karputer into a Range Rover. Does Karputer have this Kraftwerk feel or am I just having a Dennis Miller (when he was funny) moment. Having had one of those terribly overpriced symbols of conspicuous consumption, I know the challenge of getting electronics into the very few and small spaces inside.

The whole look of the vehicle kicks ass though it's hard to make a Range Rover look bad. Well, spinners are a start. I did forget to mention that this Gumball race is actually in Europe, so don't expect Beuford the Kansas State Trooper to be featured in any of their road notes. I'm also a little skeptical of their claim to be the first, perhaps they dont read the UK CarPC blogs. No worries, anything to make more people aware of the technology.

Posted by Lionel Felix at 09:47 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 17, 2015

Pioneer releases "PC-Link" enabled nav headunit

Pioneer Press Release

Yes, yet another post without an image. My excuse this time is that it's all new and junk.

I've always liked Pioneer equipment. Their mobile audio stuff has been in at least 5 of my cars. Sure, all of my cars were crappy and that same stereo was in all five cars but thats not the point.

"he new Brain Unit employs PC Link function, which enables users to connect the Brain Unit to their PC and transfer the stored music tracks or location data found on the website to the Brain Unit at home, further enhancing home-use convwith the the new systems."

Posted by Lionel Felix at 05:53 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Microsoft - "All your cars are belong to us"

I dont know how Joel at Gizmodo does it, he has a graphic for EVERY article. One more text only entry, but this time, try this with me " I see it in my head and its just as good as seeing a JPG of it". That worked great, right?


Although people are still creamy over iPods, Microsoft will use that momentum to ride the wave of technology right into your car.

The MSDN site has a very cool video demo of the TBox rocking some sweet voice direction action.
Ch 9 - MSDN

The part that makes me nervous is how much and what data the systems will select to send back to the automakers. What will it do to warrantees when data gets sent back to the mothership that you like to smoke the clutch at every intersection? The upside to the video is they have pre-programmed locations to every Starbucks into each unit.

Forrester Research has already called the race before one single unit hits the US roads. I love Forrester, they know everything. Ever.

Posted by Lionel Felix at 05:38 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

More EVDO and how it's going to cure Polio

What? There is a vaccine? Ok, well if it ever needed curing again, EVDO will be there. The strides being made now are going to see to it that if you need connectivity somewhere, there will be a device that does it. I have a strange concept, how about mini-Ethernet jacks. Every wireless phone should have a little jack (I™ll leave Leviton the job of designing that) that you can just plug into a broadband router, direct to a laptop or somewhere on a network. Hey, people would use that!

Posted by Lionel Felix at 05:33 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Car-PCs are nice but getting on line is key

As I ponder mounting brackets for my in-car PC, one thing dogs me. What combo of SW and HW will let me get and stay on-line while driving. It seems insane to put a computer in a car that doesn™t have Internet access all the time. There are a few options. The PCMCIA cards available from most wireless providers, tethering your broadband enabled phone (Cingular™s EDGE phones are a nice way to go) and now, a USB dongle that can take your SIM card. Taking the card in and out between phone and dongle may be irritating if you don™t have a dedicated card for the service but it™s a very positive step for laptop and mobile PC users.

Posted by Lionel Felix at 05:25 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 11, 2015

More on the MS TBox

Microsoft once again hits us with with a different version of their interface. Engadget wrote a thing on it a few days ago. I know I'm slow on the uptake but I'm trying to find that 12V Key-On wire here people!

Posted by Lionel Felix at 06:10 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The Impending In-Car Conputer Virus Outbreak - Still Not Here

Courtesy of Terran

Automakers are so scared of a virus outbreak they are even testing systems that cant get infected. Toyota gave their Bluetooth enabled LC a shot of hot virus action only to be turned away. Thats all fine and nice but the virus was not programmed for their OS. Anyhoo, still safe and everyone playing the duck duck goose game of putting computers in cars are safe. Today.

I have to think there is some sweedish hacker kid sitting in a darkened room, writing worm code that will infect OnStar and XM. What a terrible thought. Then again I think Trend and Symantec write all the viruses anyway.

Posted by Lionel Felix at 05:59 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Day 2 - Carbot PC Install - False Start

So Day 2 is a bust. Finding a good Key 12V+ wire is nto as trivial as it was on my old GTI. I went on-line and asked the almighty google and it failed me. Rather than poking around like a blind lepper in search of hot ignition goodness, I decided to actually find a witing diagram or at least someone who knows exactly the best place in the dash to splice into. Tomorrow we head off to Houston for some humid golf nirvana so Day 2 will actually be day 5. Ok too much math. Back to Google.

Posted by Lionel Felix at 05:54 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

May 10, 2015

Day 1 - Carbot PC Install

Ok, this is the third time I am writing this article. Movable Type has "refreshed" the page twice on me and I've just about lost my mind. I don't know what just happened but at this point nothing is going to calm me down other than just telling the story. I've opted to write it in Outlook this time, we'll see how this one works out.

The project car, my 04 Yukon is no stranger to cosmetic surgery. I've replaced the grille with a Stull insert, had the grill bezel matched to the body paint, replaced the headlights and had all of the signal lights tinted. It has a sort of scary secret service look to it. After the external work was done (no dubs yet) I installed an AUX adapter to add 2 more inputs to the factory head unit. The install was simple, it plugged directly into the head unit from behind. I mounted my iPod to the dash using a Panavice dash mount made for Yukons and Suburbans. I hacked apart the Belkin iPod mount and screwed that to the panavice. It made a neat stand for the iPod but I knew that was not nearly the end of the line.

Since I received my shiny new CarbotPC last week I have been chomping at the bit to get it installed. The first thing I tackled was getting the monitor installed. I wanted to get dash hacking out of the way first so I could focus on the back of the car, where the majority of the work is. The monitor was relatively easy. The only complication was getting the monitor mount to mate up with the Panavice. After some sawing, sanding screwing and jiggling, it was standing proud.

Once the monitor was in place, I routed the cables back through the dash and down to the center console, one of the main cable intersections for this project. I ran an audio cable from the aux back to the rear wheel well area and left room for the remaining cables to follow the same route.

I removed the interior panels using a nifty body panel tool I purchased off the gods of EBay a few years back. There is nothing worse than having to pay $5 for a body panel fastener after you destroyed it using a screw driver. You know I'm talking to you.

After mounting the monitor, running audio cables, running monitor cables, getting the front of the car nearly finished I gazed rearwards at the daunting task of fabricating a mount to properly hold the CarbotPC. The mount, something I have not completely conceptualized yet will be something akin to a cantilevered engine mount. I plan to find some silicone rounds to use as anti-vibration mounting to keep the HD and components happy. The gaping hole in the rear of my car will taunt me until I figure out this little issue. Sure I can weld something together in an hour that will hold it but that's not me. I have to overcomplicate it. Once I spend $200 on mounting hardware I'll go back and re-mount the video screen in the center console. Weee! Cant wait for day 2.

It looks like I have outfoxed Movable Type this time. I think I've learned my lesson whatever that is.
-Lionel Felix

Posted by Lionel Felix at 11:48 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 05, 2015

Carhacks / Carbot Store Grand Opening

CarbotPC Store

The global guggernaut that is Carhacks.org is now conjoined with CarbotPC to offer up a a storefront. It's a one-stop-shop for in-car computing. What more could you ask for? No we dont have Starbucks...

Posted by Lionel Felix at 04:45 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

CarbotPC Install 3 minute warning

Damien Stolarz, grand poobah over at CarbotPC (which, by the way you can buy at Carhacks) just sent me a spanking new M2 CarbotPC. I'm so giddy I may have to get wifey to hit me with the trank dart again.

Over the next few weeks (gawd I hope it doesn't take me that long) I will be offering new photos and notes all culminating into one massive article. I'll be sure to include stats and even, if it gets racy in the garage, a centerfold pictorial. We don't mess around here, we show ALL the circuits. Wow that got geeky and weird. ok. awkward silence...

Posted by Lionel Felix at 04:31 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Travel Report

I dont know exactly when it happened but it did. I think when I noticed that Korea gets new cell phone technology 4 years before us and that you STILL cannot get BBC1 or BBC2 in the US. My wife still wants me to see if I can point a 3 meter dish over the horizon to pick up SKY. We'll see about that once the honey-do list gets down to a few hundred items.

Terran Brown from Lets Communicate Sent along this link about the progress happening over the pond.

Since we're on a UK note, its election day over there and polls close tonight at 10PM GMT. Go Blair! Woot.

Posted by Lionel Felix at 04:26 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack