Saturday, May 21, 2016

Where are All the New CarPlay Receivers?

Back in late February, I was a bit miffed to hear that the JBL Legend CP100 CarPlay receiver was going to be released while I was visiting relatives in China;  I'd have to order one when I got back. But by the time I got back, it had been delayed until late May. So, I pre-ordered one on Crutchfield and went about wishing for time to pass. Then it was delayed till early July according to the JBL website. Then it was delayed till early August.  I became concerned for my own mortality over wishing for so much time to pass. (Could be worse, I could be waiting for Amazon to start showing Grand Tour episodes, oh wait I am. Curse you time for being both slow and fast in the wrong ways.)

I have now started looking for a different receiver. But few of the 2016 CarPlay receivers announced in January have seen the light of day. Crutchfield has a note like the following on several pre-orderable CarPlay receivers:
Crutchfield first offered this item for pre-order in January of 2016 and we regret that we are still awaiting our first shipment. There have been delays getting the necessary certification from Apple for the CarPlay feature. As soon as we have firm shipping information, we will post an official Estimated Time of Arrival (ETA) for this radio. Thank you for your patience and understanding.
The JVC Arsenal KW-V820BT, and a bunch of Kenwoods are also awaiting pre-order.

That leaves Pioneers: the AVIC-8200NEX and its siblings (7200, 6200, 5200), which are all navigation/DVD playing receivers, and the AVH-4200NEX which is a DVD receiver. Since this is slated for the front of my Civic and Apple invented a thing called the iPad, I don't have much use for DVD playback. I have a hard time imagining the use case where I'm stopped, with my parking brake on, watching DVDs. My kids tend to watch YouTube videos in the back seat over the cell network when I'm driving.  CDs? What is this 1999? As for navigation, I like the constantly updated Apple maps, so the advantage of a navigation receiver is for when I'm out of range of a T-Mobile tower. This does happen when I take the kids up into the White Mountains north of where I live in New Hampshire. Also, apparently, the external GPS antenna can supplement the GPS in my phone, making location services more accurate while driving.  At the moment, Amazon has the AVIC-5200NEX for $575, and the AVH-4200NEX for $520. The 4200 has more media options: HD Radio, an SD reader, HDMI input, and more important for a lot of people: Android Auto support. To get everything in one package, you have to move all the way up to the AVIC-7200NEX, which Amazon sells for $822.  I tend to think the only feature I'd ever use is the external GPS antenna, and possibly the maps which might be worth the $55 premium.

It seems like every receiver has 1.0A USB charging. It'd be nice if it had 2A charging for an iPad or to fast charge an iPhone 6 Plus.

I'm not looking at older CarPlay receivers because I'm hopeful the newer models will be zippier and have the earlier generation kinks fixed. The reason I waited so long on the JBL was because their demonstration videos showed it to be quite fast and allow for pinch to zoom on maps instead of pressing zoom in-zoom out buttons.  So, I'm ignoring older models like the Alpine iLX-007 or the Pioneer AppRadio series.

There is the whole resistive versus capacitive screen debate, and given my druthers, I'd prefer capacitive for its responsiveness, but I don't want to pay a premium for it. And I'd prefer a big volume knob and an easy to hit Siri button, but that doesn't appear to be a choice. Therefore, if I were to buy a receiver today based on specs, price, and availability, I'd buy the AVIC-5200NEX. But I'd be really unhappy about paying about $120 extra for a DVD player I literally will never use after reviewing it. 

I wonder why Apple is delaying so many of the other receivers, they don't seem to have appreciably different specs from the Pioneers they approved. It has the same USB amperage and screen resolutions. In the hopes that something they announce at WWDC in a few weeks will make this make sense, I'm going to hold off ordering the AVIC, but it is weird. 

Sunday, May 08, 2016

Note to self, UINavigationController's setToolbarHidden does something different than setNavigationBarHidden

I spent a very long time thinking that I could somehow not put a UINavigationController in a container view (despite having done so before) because I was autocompleting to setToolbarHidden instead of setNavigationBarHidden. A very, very long time. guard let myNavController = self.navigationController else { return } myNavController.setToolbarHidden(true, animated: true) // is different than myNavController.setNavigationBarHidden(true, animated: true)

Friday, April 01, 2016

Mazda Had Best Start Supporting CarPlay

Recently, I've had two passions in my life as a consumer. I've been dreaming of finally moving on from my 2003 Honda Civic, and buying the hatchback version of the Mazda 3. And, I've been eagerly awaiting delivery of a pre-ordered JBL Legend CP100 CarPlay aftermarket stereo for my Civic; a wait that keeps on getting stretched.

The air conditioning might not work, but my old Civic is going to have a nice looking dash (in early June).

You might ask what's keeping me from just buying the lovely and fun to drive 2016 Mazda 3. One, I've been listening to a lot of Dave Ramsey, so I'm intending to do the mature thing and save cash to buy a used one coming off a lease (or a flease as Dave would call it). And two, the current firmware for the infotainment system in Mazdas doesn't support CarPlay. Worse, unlike my Civic, my wife's 2009 Civic, and even the 2012 Mazda 3 my little sister just bought, you can't just pop the factory one out and put in a standard double-DIN receiver along with some cheaply bought custom trim. Crutchfield doesn't list any CarPlay receivers that fit and if there was such a receiver, what would you do with the screen bolted to the top of the dash? Putting CarPlay into a modern Mazda 3 without Mazda's help would take some doing.  

If this situation doesn't change in the next couple years, I'll be happily purchasing the well reviewed 2016 Civic, which does support CarPlay.  

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

My 2003 Civic Fuel Door Stopped Opening

So, one day, out of the blue, I could not open the little hatch to get gas into my 2003 Honda Civic. Going online, I found this is a fairly common problem wherein part of the cable just rusts out so that the trunk will open (a pull) but the fuel door will not (a push). I also found some guy in Canada who sells a $20 bit of plastic that snaps over the existing cable and makes it work again without ripping out half  your car. Instead you have to rip up only the trim in the driver side door bottom—which is tough enough and I don't want to do that again. Seems to work, I'll edit this post if it fails anytime soon.

Anyway, this seems like exactly the sort of thing that could be a plan you download and make yourself in 5 minutes on a 3D printer. It would certainly save on the first class mail from Canada.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

New Open Source Library for Extracting Schedule Data from Digital TV ATSCgh

I decided to release as open source (MIT license) my collection of Objective-C classes that can parse out the schedule information from ATSC broadcasts. These are just the classes for that narrow purpose and anyone using them will have to make their own TV tuner class to interface with the actual hardware. So, there isn't even an Xcode project included.

If 2 people can actually use this code I will be happily surprised. Regardless, here it is on Github.

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Goodbye to a Colleague

Yesterday, my former coworker Alan Gorman died of cancer at 51.

Alan and I were hired a month apart at the then CambridgeSoft to work on ChemDraw. He was the PC guy, and I was the Mac guy. For 7 years, we'd chat over cube walls or sat back to back. I've been in more meetings and exchanged more Emails and had more, cordial, arguments with Alan than any other human being. 

Given the stress of keeping ChemDraw's old codebase moving thus paying the salaries of 150 CambridgeSoft employees, plus my own ego and snippiness, it is remarkable that we got along. He was an amazingly dogged debugger, and would follow the trail of a bug for days. It was to him that new document features were assigned, so if you are a chemist who makes use of the Stoichiometry Grid, or need to do an R-group analysis, or if you are a biologist composing biopolymers, thank him.

He was better suited for management, and much more organized, than I, so to him fell the horrible task of eking out productivity from our outsource developers. I certainly didn't envy him that but he took the burden with characteristic stoicism and, mostly, contained temper.

Being the Mac programmer, I fancied myself an artist of sorts, but it was Alan who shamed me with his constant flow of lovely vectored templates for BioDraw such as this one displaying the organelles of an animal's cell.

While commuting by train, he'd draw these out with ChemDraw's own spline tools, making him the absolute master of using ChemDraw to draw. Who knows into how many PowerPoint presentations Alan's bright and joyous vectors have found themselves. 

If there was anything I learned from Alan, was something he didn't learn while I worked with him. He commuted 3 hours a day with some combination of train, bike, truck or car. He was known to sleep in his cubicle if he missed the last train. Whenever I think of getting one of the many available iOS jobs down in Boston, I remember Alan and say no. 

Being a transplanted Brit, he loved both kinds of football.  The only time he made it to my house was to watch the World Cup when England was playing and he couldn't get it at his home.  He was a Pats fan; I remember telling him the Pats had traded Randy Moss and him looking like those words made no sense in English.

I hadn't talked to him since February of 2014, I was regrettably miffed with him for two, in hindsight, trivial slights and hadn't even known he was fighting for his life this whole time. Alan was a good person, coder and father, and the world is a lesser place without him. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Amazon Vine and The Power to Tax is the Power to Destroy

For many years, I've been a happy member of Amazon Vine, taking frequent deliveries of random consumer items for review and then keeping them. I've reviewed 432 items over the years, and it has been sweet.

But, in today's eMail, came word that Amazon would now be reporting the "Fair Market Value" of my review items to the IRS so I could be taxed for the income. So instead of being free, items would now cost their value multiplied by my marginal tax rate. Since my marginal tax rate is 25%, it would be as if they were offering me a random assortment of stuff, most of which I have no particular need for 75% off. And, I can't sell the stuff, so there is no getting the money back.

Looking through a couple of pages of stuff I reviewed recently, I have to think that few are things I would have purchased for 75% off.

  • 6 Lightning cables (maybe I could have used 2)
  • Mattress. Like this mattress but at the time, I struggled to even justifying it for free, there's no way I would have taken it.
  • Kids bow and arrow set. Maybe.
  • Princess mechanical pencils. We've got plenty of pencils already.
  • Task chair. I didn't really want it when it was free. No way.
  • Skin cream. No.
  • Mango juice. No.
  • USB scanner. No, have too many already.
  • Children's book. Too young for my youngest. No.
  • Decoratable toy. Probably
  • Avenger's movie toy. Cheap looking junk. Nope.
  • Pencil sharpener. Already have some. No.
  • Expensive noise canceling headphones. On the one hand, I have headphones, on the other hand, very nice looking. Maybe.
  • Cheap headset. Nope.
  • Hammer. Probably.
  • Pack of children's scissors. Who needs an entire pack of scissors?
  • Mattress pad. Probably. 
  • Taco shells. Nope.
  • USB wall outlet. Too much trouble. Nope.
  • Air purifier. Already have fans in the house. 
Basically, I won't be able to justify the expense of much more than 1 item in 10 if I have to pay for it. 

And then there are books. Non-children's books take time to read. As an experienced iOS developer, my short term contract rate is around $110/hr. It might take literally thousands of dollars worth of my time to read a book. Even when they were free, I rarely reviewed real books. The fair market value for a book for me is a large negative number. I can't imagine ever reviewing a real book again for Amazon Vine.

I understand that somebody from the outside might see that I get a printer priced at $100 so I've made $100 worth of income. But that printer is worth much less than $100 to me, otherwise I would have gone out and bought one already. As it is, I have a bunch of perfectly good printers in the house waiting to be hauled to the electronics recycling center because they are out of ink. If Amazon were to offer me another free one, I might not take it. Now that the IRS will be charging me $25 for it, there is no way.  Fair market value has no meaning to me when I can't resell the item, and it's a random assortment of stuff that I'm not in the market for in the first place.

[Update: Well this has settled down and the situation is better than the initial reports. "Fair Market Value" ranges from 0% to over 100% of Amazon's price. Unfortunately you don't know it before you agree to the deal. Food, cosmetics and other disposables are generally 0%. And I guess you can now sell your items after 6 months. Sometimes I can't help myself, so yesterday I took in an expensive Android tablet with its 101% Fair Market Value, oops.

I've definitely scaled back my reviewing, and will not take items I perceive as low quality. Thus my average review rating has gone up and is now over 4. In the past, I'd have taken a try for something iffy and would give out my share of 2 and 3 star reviews.]