planning, navigation, trip recording tech

i build a lot of technology into everything i do but i suspect my ex-students think i'm a Luddite because i disdain "the screen" as the go-to solution for all problems. tech should enhance experience, and i don't privilege LCDs over physical stuff.

i lurve GPS nav as much as anyone, but on the road, it's paper maps and printed sheets. the roadster has a decent rally computer (multiple hundredths of a mile odometers, upcoming-event early warning, etc) but only paper survives the onslaught without a fuss. on a clipboard bolted to the instrument panel above the shifter below the windshield.

i did two long trips explicitly exploring and "feeling" the affordances of combinations of GPS on the instrument panel, paper maps, atlases, notebooks, etc, working out a solid flow scheme.

situation matters (wabi tek sabi). in-town, even familiar routes get Google Maps treatment due to traffic, distractions, etc. on the open road, non-TT/tour/rally, GPS electronics is all wrong; it exerts the primordial optic-nerve-attention pull of tiny motions. i find my eyes drawn to the tiny screen inside the car, all the while, outside, vast and amazing vistas, weather and sun... i found myself mentally asking 'where am i?' as i glance at the tinyscreen... I AM RIGHT HERE DAMMIT.

on the open road (which excludes routine interstate bombing runs) /the purpose is the drive is the purpose/, and a route decision involves pulling over, often time for a pee break, spreading the map on the hood and saying, more or less explicitly, "where, next?". i'll pull out the phone if that's appropriate for the answer (find restaurant in a new town), but the choice on the road is an aesthetic one, not a logical one.

on a TT it's route sheets, rally computer, done and done. the map is folded up somewhere. clipboard, buzzer/flashing light, button press, re-set odo maybe, move marker clip on clipboard maybe, hands on wheel and foot on gas. often there's another TTer in front of me and one behind, it's a group drive/dance, no time to mess around.

in none of this is symbolic interface appropriate. especially one that requires a data connection. if you can't navigate on a static, unchanging map you probably shouldn't be on the open road. but seriously, it's not hard at all.

that said, here's the tech i do use in the car on the road.

photography

i usually took some photos on road trips, but until computerized photography became routine this usually meant chemical prints. a few of those trips have been scanned, the rest await me sending them out for scanning. (too lazy to do it myself).

i remember taking photographs on my first long trip (Massachusetts to Washington) but they seem to be physically lost. no idea what that camera was, most likely the Kodac Disc camera (paper discs with film attached to the edges) but it was cheap. i took a lot of photos in Kenosha Wisconsin (home of AMC) and drove through neighborhoods and took photos of ordinary cars in front of (probably workers) houses; a vast number of Hudsons, Nashes, Ramblers, AMCs, lined up end to end along streets, like some sort of permanent car show. (i distinctly recall one photo of a gaudy Hudson Hollywood parked in front of an equally bizarro late 50's full-sized Rambler with all it's baroque chromed grille teeth.) wish i had those photos now.

the earliest electronic cameras ii had were awful; terrible battery life (like not long-lived enough to fill the paltry internal memory (before SDcards), image quality was awful and getting them out of the device usually slow through a serial cable. it wasn't til usable cameras became common in phones (hence attention was paid to reliability, quality, battery life) that they were suitable for demanding, minimal-resource environments, such as road trips. now that's common as dirt and images aren't so hard-won as they were.

trips to NH, VT, CT, NY, ME (when i lived in MA) all unrecorded, but while those seemed like long trips at the time, they might have been 100 miles.

it wasn't til i moved to San Francisco in 1984 that i started road-tripping earnestly. the first i recall, 1985? Highway 50 in Nevada ("Lonelinest Highway", really was; there were still ruins at Frenchman Flats), april, a snowstorm caught me by surprise (complete novice to desert driving then) in my 1970 Hornet (first one). i may have taken photos; maybe i'll find them.

i took a lot of road trip photos with my Canon Elph APS. it was a near-ideal device: it took quality photos, and that was it. power on, take a photo, off. no excessive feetch. chemical film of course but operationally it was great. tiny, pocketable, solid, reliable. i still wish i had an equiv. digital device today.

electronic maps

here's the thing about paper vs. electronic maps: most electronic maps just don't contain much useful information outside of urban, populated areas. there's no money in it (even if you pay). a one-lane desert road is not an opportunity for a targeted ad. "most" maps require a data connection; it's not simply that i probably don't have one, it's that that is not what i want to be doing out on the road. i want to be driving, or not driving, but definitely not farting around with my phone.

even fully-downloaded map systems (eg. Locus Maps) can be problematic -- without rigorous testing and checking before every trip (every trip, believe me), you can't know that you don't have a map you need until you attempt to invoke it. paper maps, each map has large letters printed on it. chances are that the contents match the name, and if it's out of date, at least it won't ask for an update. i usually grab adjacent-state maps forthehellofit. i can write notes on paper maps, corellate the notes when i get home. or not. AAA has excellent maps, i go there and fellow car nuts hand me "free" maps (to members).

GPS turn by turn is great when driving to the airport. it's stupid on a small rural highway with side roads that probably aren't on the map in the first place, or are wrongly marked (there's no money to be made in correcting map data that's not making money).

paper and computer are available tools. fluidly use the appropriate tool for the job.

also you can start a fire with a map or with a phone. one smells worse than the other.

Xiaomi Yi Action! camera

they're $75, and the bag of accessories necessary to operate it hands-off in the car another $10 or so and that includes the waterproof case, mount, and bluetooth remote. the bad news is that it requires a smartphone as interface. the good news is that it only needs it when you first power it on. the bad news is that you have to turn off Roaming Data to connect wifi to the camera.

i've overcome nearly all of this annoyance with the car phone, next item below.

i use the Yi as a set-and-forget recorder. i default to timelapse, one frame/second. with 64 GB microSD cards an entire trip fits on one card. i often dump/wipe the card once a day for post-trip logistics, or if a two-day, just swap to the "other" microSD. if i want to take a brief video i'll just use my phone.

the Yi camera has two major modes; video or still camera, and of course each mode has excessive choices of resolution, frame rate, normal still or timelapse, photos/second (for timelapse) absolutely none of which i want to mess with while driving. luckily it remembers settings, so the external controls select mode (video or still), power on/off, etc. my particular preferences are fairly high-res video v. one frame per second timelapse stills. nearly always i want time lapse.

mode indication is via a single, small, hard to see red LED: it blinks long, short, etc to indicate video vs. timelapse, and idle vs. recording. this sounds truly terrible but other than the tiny LED it's close to ideal: the bluetooth remote (next) has two buttons: MODE and START/STOP. so once set up with the car computer/phone, in the morning i just power on the Yi, and press START/STOP (peer at LED to ensure that it's blinking) then drive. end of the day, press START/STOP again. that's it.

in timelapse mode, with a 64GB microSD, it's truly set and forget.

the dedicated bluetooth remote cost $3 from Aliexpress. it actually works great. it has a funny little silicone case that just happened to squeeze into a stamped hole in the windshield frame.

Xiaomi Yi Action camera hacks and adjustments

overview from DIY photo site here. and some git bug repository for scripts

car phone/car computer

i resisted this for some time but i now have a dedicated "car computer", an old Moto G smartphone. it's got a data-only SIM (Google Fi customer) but that's not necessary -- the Moto G is the Xiaomi Yi camera controller, via wifi, and doesn't need network. the screen is too puny for maps.

(i also keep music on the car computer. sometimes i bring closed headphones to block out freeway wind noise and now i can play music in the car. how advanced!)

the car computer normally lives in a locked steel box, and has it's own USB power socket. it velcros to the top of the box when needed while driving.

yup, it doesn't look like much at all. not very impressive indeed! but that's the whole point. it's brutally simple (for phone-based computer), so far reliable, and absolutely non-invasive.




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