Too bad Fisker didn’t use Kickstarter

So a longish time ago I got all excited about the “Fisker Karma”: and put a $1000 deposit down.

Then the car was super late. And the interior was very tight. And the performance wasn’t that outstanding. And I loved my Audi. And I couldn’t justify the expense.

To my surprise they called me last month and offered me my deposit back, I figured that money was long gone.

The Design of Car Audio Alerts

I am fortunate to own two very nice cars, a Porsche Cayenne and an Audi S6. They are both great pieces of engineering, they drive well, they are comfortable, I get a great amount of utility out of them. I have been just as happy with less expensive cars, but these are great cars.

The Audi has a beast of a powertrain, handles very well, and the interior controls and layout are very good. Out of the many OEM and aftermarket GPS systems I have used, it is in the top quartile of usability, tho a touch screen would be nice. The iPod integration is reasonably well done though could make better use of the screen in the dash. The seats are awesome. Overall a super nice car.

The Cayenne also drives well, the interior finish levels are very nice. The interior control layout is a bit of a disaster, clearly the A-Team engineers work on powertrain and suspension, and leave controls to summer interns or MBAs (I’ve been both so I’m allowed some latitude…). But still a very nice car.

Both the cars have interior audio alerts to make the driver aware of important conditions and faults. What would you imagine the shrillest, loudest alarm is for? I could imagine a lot of things that demand my immediate attention. An imminent collision. Backing into an object. Brake system failure. Maybe even the traction control system engaging, indicating unsafe driving surfaces or unsafe driving. Maybe even driving at night without headlights on. All these conditions are unsafe and could result in injury to myself or others. I could make a case for all of them to result in the loudest, shrillest interior alarm.

The Audi has excellent interior controls so of course the loudest, shrillest interior alarm is used to indicate that a rear light has failed. Not necessarily the rear brakelight, but any rear light — turn signal, operating light, brakelight. And the alarm sounds every time you start the car and cannot be silenced. And I am not sure exactly what the “shrill” scale is, but this sound is 3x shriller than any other alarm in the car.

The Cayenne is not to be outdone though! The shrillest alarm by far is used to let you know, after you turn off the car, that you have left your turn signal on. Not that the light is actually lit or visible, but the control arm on the steering wheel stalk is in the “on” position and damn it, that is just wrong. Of course, given the general goofiness of the Cayenne interior (the worst GPS ever, cup holders the size of thimbles, two control screens with functions randomly split between), this is to be expected.

OK, no one should feel sorry for me, these are two great cars, but Audi and Porsche — if you are going to spend this much care designing these cars, can’t you spend a few minutes getting this right?

My thoughts turned to the importance of design this morning on the news of Steve Jobs’ leave of absence, here is hoping he is well soon, the world needs more people who care obsessively about the details of design.

Year end link clean up

* “Poor Halo play prompts stabbing threat”: Doesn’t seem unreasonable. I’ve heard campers threatened with worse.
* “How Secure Is My Password”: No idea how accurate, but fun. 17 thousand years for my typical password.
* “Rich on photobooks”: I just always use the default in Aperture but perhaps I should branch out.
* “AR.Drone”: Why don’t I have one of these yet.
* “Declining energy quality as recession cause”: An interesting way to look at things. Not sure it actually makes sense tho.
* “Now you can swap useless Amex reward points for useless Zynga crap.”:
* “Snoopy themed Windows tablet”: Take that, Apple.
* “Spiders on Drugs”: We are asking for some serious payback from spider nation some day.
* “Umpteenth article on the death of cable TV”:, yawn. Until I can watch HD live sports without stuttering I am captive to cable/dish. Going to be a while.
* “Charles on breaking up MSFT”: Good as always.
* “Habitable planet found?”:
* “Languages you’ve never heard of”: In the future, we will all have our very own programming language.
* “Topologist suggests new form of matter”: For most of our history we’ve used the forms of matter that nature gave us. It is interesting to observe and think about what we can create as we gain mastery over atomic organization.
* “One man’s indictment of iTunes”: The thing is a giant hairball of software.
* “Exercise and aging”: Crap I need to get after it.
* “Show Me What’s Wrong”: Super useful.
* “User experience of F1 telemetry”: Always impressed with the amount of money spent on racing.
* “MacPaint and MacDraw source code”: Nostalgia.

Check “Survive car fire” off the bucket list

So cruising up I-5 from LA yesterday, in southern Oregon just beyond Grants Pass, and we notice this incredibly acrid smell. 10 seconds later, white smoke is coming out vents. We pull over, pop the hood, and see flames in the rear of the engine compartment. We look underneath and see flames underneath the car. A quick call to 911, who want to know exactly what mile marker we are at, who knows? By the time the 911 call has ended, flames have broken through to the passenger footwell.

We grabbed a few very critical things and stepped back, not knowing really what to do. HUGE kudos to the trucker who stopped with a fire extinguisher and put the flames out, and huge thanks to the second trucker who stopped, and huge thanks to all the truckers who passed word about the event via radio. In another two minutes the entire interior would have likely been in flames and the car would have been a total loss, the trucking community saved us. As it was the damage appears very minor, the exhaust pipe dropped off and hot exhaust gas straight out of the catalytic converter likely started the fire, missing almost all vital parts.

The fire crew showed up in another 10 minutes out of Grants Pass and cooled down everything, making sure nothing could flare back up. And Audi Roadside Assist got a tow out to us in half an hour, so that was good. Grants Pass Towing took us all the way to Beaverton to the nearest Audi dealer. And we negotiated an extra fee to just keep going to Seattle, so we ended up getting home albeit a few hours late, but huge thanks to Grants Pass Towing.

I won’t name the aftermarket exhaust installer who installed our exhaust, but it seems highly likely that this was the source of the problem, raspberries to you guys.

Finally, all the crap we carry in our car and no fire extinguisher? Lesson learned. If you don’t carry a jack and spare and you get a flat, your car doesn’t explode or burn to the ground or kill you, you are just inconvenienced. Probably would be wise to carry accessories that actually save lives and/or prevent catastrophic loss, instead of accessories that just enhance convenience.

Next on the bucket list — something involving poisonous snakes. Or maybe killer bees.

Electric ATV choices

Looking at choices for an electric for use around our property. Basically I think the choice comes down to these:

* “Cunningham”: Lacks a certain spirit, but comes in well under the price of most the others. Basically a golf cart manufacturer, I’d be concerned about torque on crappy surfaces and inclines.
* “X-Treme”: Plenty of attitude but doesn’t really exist yet.
* “Bad Boy Buggies”: Perhaps too much attitude — Camo the only paint option. And I think they will come to regret that name.
* “Polaris Ranger EV”: Not the cheapest, might be the way to go tho, you can actually find these at dealers around here.

Lots of other regional choices. A concern I’ve heard is battery life in our moist climate, will be interesting to see how that works out.

Stuff I Want But Don't Need — grab bag

* Clickjacking. Pretty ugly form of attack.
* Self-powered wireless light switches. Pretty cool, instead of running line voltage to every lightswitch, they harness ambient power and send wireless signals to outlets. Now if you just combine this with…
* …Dirt-powered lamps! Or bacteria powered lamps. Way cool
* Rich’s guide to your basic canon lens set, if you are willing to spend $4-5K on lenses
* Charging station designs to hide cables. Hate dangling cables.
* Combo phone/keyfob. Damn I wish this problem would get solved for real.
* Probably too little too late, but a nice home phone base station with web/wifi functionality.

Energy reads

* bcurtisBLOG » People are talking about water… — nice chart on where all our water goes. Only 13% for household use. A huge amount to thermoelectric power generation.
* Tom Evslin on energy policy. Great points — we need a country-wide BHAG with respect to energy — an Apollo-type program. And the government can lead through its own purchasing policies.
* Small scalable wind turbines — pretty cool looking.
* One man’s experience with solar thermal here in Seattle — the numbers look good.
* Ten fastest green cars on the planet — Karl’s car looks awesome
* REI trialing solar — I wonder if Fat Spaniel is part of the setup
* Solar shingles — love this idea, embedding green technology right into structural materials