The Garmin Drivesmart 66 Keeps Disappointing

Published at 21:26 on 11 August 2023

The suckiness that is the GPS I mistakenly purchased just keeps on coming.

Last week, I tried to use the device to count down the miles to the unmarked turnoff for where I was going camping east of Chinook Pass. Knowing how generally useless it is for navigating urban traffic, I used a smartphone and Google Maps until I reached Enumclaw, then shifted to the Garmin as I was about to leave cell coverage.

And the piece of junk directs me to go literally hundreds of miles out of my way and get there via Snoqualmie Pass. Yes, from Enumclaw. To get some idea of just how staggeringly bad that routing is, here is a map showing the route Google Maps recommends to the same general area (i.e., the obvious route, the one any sane person would take). It is necessary to zoom out a bit to see the route via I-90 and I-82 that it wanted me to take.

I mean, sure, it’s harmless in this case because I knew better, but what if I didn’t? What if I was using the thing to navigate in unfamiliar territory instead of using it to count down the miles to a turnoff that it had been a few years since I last took?

The Drivestupid 666 only realized the obvious routing once I had travelled most of the way to Chinook Pass, after spending nearly an hour recommending I turn around.

Garmin Drivesmart 66: Pure Crap

Published at 17:25 on 24 June 2023

Last year, I decided to treat myself to a new automotive GPS system for my truck. You see, I sometimes like to explore forest service roads in backcountry areas that lack cell coverage, making smartphone maps mostly useless. I decided to buy a Garmin unit, since that is a name brand, and I have one of their hiking GPS units and it works just fine. So I assumed that Garmin’s automotive GPS units would also be well-designed. Boy, was I wrong! To reiterate the subject of this post: the thing is pure crap. It cannot honestly be described any other way.

Let me enumerate the ways in which it is crap:

  1. Crap software design. If you pair the GPS with your smartphone (which you must, if you want to receive real-time traffic updates for driving in the city), it turns on this cheesy key-click feature, in which the GPS speaker will make a loud click for each keystroke you enter on the smart phone. The rub is, the click will be randomly delayed due to the use of Bluetooth pairing by anywhere from 100 ms to a full second. Just try typing with such a misfeature, I dare you. It is extremely disorienting, and makes accurate typing virtually impossible. And there is no way to disable this crap misfeature. I spent several hours trying to, reading the manual, exploring all the settings, doing web searches. There is no escape. The only way to turn it off seems to be to unpair your phone.
  2. Crap real-time traffic information. Speaking of the real-time traffic updates, they are crap. In my experience they report less than half of significant delays. Because the device is unaware of so many instances of traffic congestion, its navigation advice in the city is also crap. Plus the chosen way Garmin indicates traffic congestion on its map is subtle and easy to miss.
  3. Crap software quality. The GPS often hangs or crashes at random times. When this happens, it takes about five minutes to recover. Typically this happens when I am running late and most need everything to work properly.
  4. Crap backup camera. I decided to spring for the optional backup camera, because my truck is old enough not to have one from the factory. About as much of a mistake as buying the GPS itself. It’s crap, too. The camera takes up to a full minute to turn on when requested. Video is frequently laggy and erratic. My old cheapo analog wired backup camera was vastly better.
  5. Crap maps. First, the maps are a good two years or more out of date from the moment you download them. A new road opened two years ago near my property in Bellingham. Its presence changed the optimal way to get there from I-5. Two years on, and the new stretch of road is still not in the latest update from Garmin. Second, the maps are woefully incomplete. The device is essentially useless for its intended purpose of navigating on remote forest service roads; most of them are not in its database.
  6. Crap hardware design. The Drivesmart 66 spews radio noise like mad on the lower radio frequencies. Use it while listening to an AM radio station? Forget it! This is extremely annoying, as the same remote areas without cell coverage (i.e. the areas that prompted me to get this unit) also tend to lack FM radio coverage, while stronger AM stations still manage to cover such areas, due to how the longer radio waves used in the AM broadcast band propagate. So even if it was useful in the backwoods (and it is not) I would still have to choose between being able to listen to the radio and having GPS guidance.

My assumption is that these misfeatures are also present in most or all newer Garmin automotive models. Because why wouldn’t they be? It’s only logical to use a common software base in all products, and a manufacturer inclined to cut corners when it comes to RF noise shielding in one device is probably going to cut them in all their devices.

Bottom line is that I cannot recommend any currently-manufactured Garmin automotive GPS units. Avoid them all.

Third Party Camera Apps for iPhone

Published at 17:27 on 12 March 2023

To begin, three points:

  1. You probably don’t need one. Go here for why. In many cases, a third party app can easily lead to worse photos, if one does not know how to make good use of its extra features, or if those extra features keep getting in the way and messing things up.
  2. This is one of those things that Android does better. The standard Android camera app allows for more creative controls and manual overrides than does the standard iPhone one, while being more intuitive and less packed with gratuitous features than most third party apps. If the built in camera is really important to you, consider a high end Android phone. (Note that Android doesn’t do everything better, just some things. More than likely, a tradeoff will be involved. I am just saying that you should seriously consider a leading-model Android phone if using a phone camera is important to you.)
  3. Third, sometimes such an app makes sense, if you understand how to use manual overrides. The inability to manually focus was ruining lots of macro (close up) shots for me.

So what I’m doing is giving Halide a try for a year, and using it in those situations where the limitations of the standard Apple camera app are really getting in the way. For situations where the standard app’s limitations don’t get in the way (and this is most photographs), I use the standard app, because it is simpler and easier to use. (Thankfully, it is easy enough to make the two store their photos in the same place, which makes managing them easier and simpler.)

Note that this is only for those situations where for some reason I do not have my interchangeable-lens camera, with my dedicated macro lens that I can focus with a focus ring and a proper viewfinder, along with me. It’s a fallback for macro photography, nothing more. The main reason I have an iPhone because it works better as a phone; performance as a camera is secondary to me.

Finally, it is still annoying, because Android does it significantly better. Much nicer to have just one camera app that once can use in all situations than having to bounce between a limited app and a feature-bloated one.

Agile: A Crap Process for Making Crap Software

Published at 17:36 on 15 December 2022

Take a look here. The very first principle listed is:

Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.

By virtue of being made the first principle, a serious hint is being dropped that this principle is the most important one of all. Any lingering doubt is cleared up by the phrase “highest priority.”

This is, quite frankly, crap. It is predicated on the premise that what customers want most of all is continuous updates and change.

Continuous updates and change are one of the chief reasons why my industry’s products suck so much.

Gone are the days of physical tools like hammers, drills, saws, or even more complex ones like bicycles and motor vehicles, physical devices in a physical world whose limitations binds form to function. Instead, we have user interfaces driven more by fashion trends amongst the UI design crowd than anything else.

Learn to ride a bicycle and you have learned to ride a bicycle for life. Learn to use a mechanical typewriter and you have learned how to type for life. Learn how to use the most recent version of Microsoft Word and what you just learned will be obsolete within a few years.

Lack of stability, plus a near-absolute decoupling of form from function, are two of the very worst things about software.

And the agile manifesto actively mandates one of these two evils. As its highest priority.

It’s not all evil, of course. There is this one in there:

Simplicity — the art of maximizing the amount of work not done — is essential.

Well, gold star. “A” for effort. You got one dead right.

The trouble is, this is the tenth of twelve principles. It appears way down on the list, below a first principle that is unambiguously proclaimed the highest priority.

A first principle based upon a monstrously wrong premise.

And this is the most popular software development methodology within my field today.

No wonder most software tends to be crap.

The Recent Fusion “Breakthrough”

Published at 19:48 on 14 December 2022

There’s a lot of very bad takes like this out there about the recent so-called “breakthrough” in controlled nuclear fusion.

First, I put “breakthrough” in quotes to emphasize that what’s just been achieved is a lot less impressive than what many have been led to believe by the news stories. “Milestone” would be a much better description for what has been achieved. It’s important, but far from a big breakthrough.

For openers, any claims of “net energy gain” rest on an extremely deceptive definition of what “net energy gain” is. All that has been achieved is a net gain over the output power of the lasers used to initiate the reaction. Those lasers are themselves monstrously inefficient devices; the vast majority of the energy fed into them is wasted as heat.

The upshot of this is that, overall, the fusion reactor that just achieved this supposed “breakthrough” of “net energy gain” actually consumes roughly 100 times as much energy as it produces. (And that’s without even taking all the other energy costs involved in manufacturing and operating the fusion reactor into the picture.)

Next, we come to whoppers like the following claim (source: first link in this entry): “[W]hat if we didn’t have to economize? What could humanity do for ourselves and our planet? … Bring the whole world up to a Western standard of living — and beyond — without worrying about the environmental cost?”

I mean, really now: it’s hardly as if consumption of energy at First World levels is the only unsustainable thing about modern industrial civilization. There’s all the other non-energy natural resources, many of them nonrenewable ones, that are being eaten through at an ever-increasing pace. That’s before one gets to inconvenient matters such as how shifting to fusion to power cars and trucks means shifting to electric vehicles, which are significantly more resource-intensive to manufacture than fossil-fuel powered ones (compare the resource footprint of a lithium battery bank to that of an empty steel fuel tank and it’s not exactly a pretty picture).

Suppose all goes better than planned and we get to actual net energy gain from fusion. That’s going to take a while. Then it will take a while longer for such reactors to make the journey from laboratory curiosity to a practical industrial technology. All the while that goes on, fusion will not be available as an energy source.

Mark my words, if fusion ever does become practical, it will definitely be a huge help. But that’s all it will be: a help. It won’t be a magic bullet. It won’t be a get out of jail free card from having to confront our unsustainable ways and downshift.

iPhone First Impressions

Published at 07:44 on 13 September 2022

It’s Small

Not quite as small as a candy bar phone, but pretty small nonetheless. About as small as I’d want to use for looking at web sites and reviewing emails. Small enough to make previewing PDF’s quite painful. (Thankfully the latter is not as important as small size to me.) That is, of course, one of the reasons I got it.

Sadly, “masses” are 5/6 “asses,” so overall small phones do not sell well, and as such the “mini” phones are being phased out by Apple. Now, even the regular-sized iPhones are smaller than most Android devices, but I’m glad I got the opportunity to minimize size, and glad that I waited for the iPhone 14 so that I could get a 13 mini at a discounted price.

It’s Surprisingly Hard to Integrate with iCloud

It literally took hours to complete this task, which was not easy or simple. Part of this, I think, is that my iCloud account is something of a mess, as a result of being one of the earliest such accounts (I got its predecessor about 20 years ago, when I purchased my first Mac.) As such, it has been grandfathered from a account to a Mobile Me account to an iCloud account, and apparently there has been some accumulated cruft along the way.

I now have two Apple accounts, one named with my full original email address, and one named with just the username part of that address. The accounts are subtly connected in various ways I still do not fully comprehend. Everything I do is as a result something of a pain, made all the worse by how some of the prompts and diagnostics on are not very clear. For example, when it wanted a non-iCloud email address out of me for account recovery purposes, it simply asked me for an “email address,” no further explanation. So of course I entered my iCloud address, which had a “problem” and was rejected. Neither prompt nor error message mentioned the requirement that the address be external.

While this is not an iPhone problem per se, it is still an Apple problem, and integration with Macs and iCloud is supposed to be a selling point of iOS devices and Apple products in general.

It’s Both Oddly Familiar and Gratuitously Different

A lot of its user interface is so dead-on identical (or nearly so) to what Android does that it’s positively uncanny. At the same time, one is continually running into things that are strangely different, to the extent that I’ve had to do a number of web searches on how to do things.

I Can Kill the Touch Screen!

This feature is “Guided Access” and is buried under the “Accessibility” settings. It is a big deal for me, and is one of the reasons I got an iPhone. I could not put my Android phone in a shirt pocket with the headset connected and walk around the house doing chores while talking, because the touch screen would get randomly triggered, activating features like randomly putting the caller on hold, muting me, or hanging up. Actually, the touch screen itself seems a tad less sensitive, which might reduce the need to do this, but I still would not want a smartphone without this feature.

Apple’s Shipping Is Weird

For some reason they shipped the phone and the accessories (sold separately) that I ordered in two separate packages. The packages moved across Canada in tandem, leaving from the same address and arriving in Vancouver in the same day. So I was expecting the FedEx guy to have two packages when he knocked on my door. He only had one. He mentioned a rendezvous in an hour to collect more packages, and sure enough, I got to say “Hi!” to him again soon enough.

On the plus side, the order got to me yesterday (the 12th). Its estimated arrival date was the 16th. This is the first time since the pandemic that I have had an order arrive earlier than first estimated.

Getting an iPhone?

Published at 17:59 on 4 August 2022

I have long considered Apple’s phones to be ripoffs due to their high prices and lack of features (no 3.5 mm headphone jack, no FM radio, iOS can’t do something as simple as automatically sort apps by name, etc.).

But reviews like this are making me reconsider. Note that of the top-rated smartphones, the iPhone 13 mini is the smallest. (It’s still larger than desirable, of course.)

I have a non-top-rated smartphone. It’s OK, but there has been since Day One a most annoying misfeature with the audio. About 20% of the time, it is annoyingly loud, and cannot meaningfully be turned down (even turning the volume all the way down results in only a modest reduction). About 40% of the time the exact converse is true: volume too soft, cannot meaningfully be turned up. Only about 40% of the time is the volume reasonable. It’s truly annoying and I don’t want to experience such behaviour again.

A friend of mine has a nice, small, decently-sized smartphone. Since decently-sized smartphones are niche items in this world, it is not a top-rated device either. Its nemesis is positively awful battery life.

All the above strongly indicates sticking with top-rated devices.

Then I look at the prices. Yes, the Apple devices sell at a premium. But not much of one over the top-rated Android devices. Plus, Apple commits to supporting its current devices with software upgrades and patches for a minimum of six years. For Android that period of time is more like two years (my Android phone is already no longer being supported).

The rub is, I would still be giving up those features I mentioned above, and paying a premium to do so. So I’m still thinking it over. But not for too terribly much longer; the battery on my existing phone is slowly dying and I worry that if I procrastinate much longer, I will be left temporarily without a phone.

The Joys (Not!) of SonarQube

Published at 22:05 on 9 February 2022

Or maybe I should say, “The Joys (Not!) of SonarQube As Implemented by My Employer.”

SonarQube is a code-analysis system. It analyzes computer code and enforces coding standards. If it doesn’t pass the sanity checks, builds don’t properly complete.

I have nothing in general against coding standards, and I fully admit that the code I write is not 100% perfect. I also have nothing in general against tools to help uncover questionable coding practices.

The problem is the automatic mandatory implementation, with it being like pulling wisdom teeth from an elephant to get any exemptions from.

Consider my recent use of a random number generator. It was in a bit of performance-sensitive code, and the random numbers were not being used for any cryptological or other security-sensitive purpose. The default (crap quality radomizer) Java ThreadLocalRandom class was good enough, plus it had lots of convenience methods for doing things like generating a floating point number within an arbitrary range. So of course I used it.

Nuh-uh, no can do! SonarQube says that’s a security violation. I start inquiring about what can be done to get an exemption, and learn that it’s such a pain I’m better off recoding. So I do that, blowing a half day in the process (I have to implement a bunch of convenience routines missing from the SecureRandom class).

It’s made worse by SonarQube itself being of generally shoddy quality. Its metric for there being enough test coverage so unreliable that a commit can pass muster on a branch, yet get failed when merged to master, even when the result of the latter merge is exactly the same as what was on the branch. That’s right: you have no idea if a merge to master will succeed or fail. Every merge might well prompt last-minute frenetic test-writing.

So I decide to write a boatload more tests, just to err on the side of high test coverage and avoid triggering the wrath of SonarQube. Everything works just fine on the branch, so I merge.

The build then promptly fails, because get this, the new code has insufficient test coverage.

That’s right, SonarQube is refusing to accept my test classes… because they themselves don’t have tests! Can you say “Catch-22” boys and girls?

Again, this wouldn’t be so bad (it would be more humorous than anything), if SonarQube were implemented in an advisory capacity instead of a mandatory one.

Actually, it’s still humorous. If they want to piss away their money on stupid policies that waste productivity, fine. I just make note of all the unnecessary busywork their policies cause and report as necessary when queried about why something takes so long. Their loss.

The Awfulness That Is Airbnb

Published at 16:01 on 27 October 2021

Executive summary: Avoid Airbnb like the plague. Pretty much everything about them sucks.

So, about a week and a half ago, I thought I wanted to reserve a room for a few nights in Vancouver, BC to do some apartment hunting. I decided to check out what was available on Airbnb.

The first thing that happened was the site was almost totally unusable. It is one of those piece of junk web sites that is crammed full of as much badly-written client-side Javascript as possible. I’m sure the site works fine on the high-end gigabit connection at the office where the testing is done. Problem is, not everyone has a high-speed, high-end connection, and the site is so heavy with hidden (and sometimes excruciatingly slow) requests to their servers, without any user feedback that this is happening, that the site is virtually useless on a slow connection.

So I wait half an hour and the site becomes barely usable. I manage to find what looks like a very attractive deal; apparently someone cancelled at the last minute and something desirable is available at a competitive price. I try to reserve it, and at one stage it drops back into two-factor authentication and asks for a cell number to text. I enter my number and receive no text. I try a few more times, then a message comes up that Airbnb is now blocking texts to that number for 24 hours.

So I wait 30 hours, and by some miracle the good deal is still there. I try again, only to discover my number is still blocked. So I borrow a friend’s phone and attempt to use it for two-factor authentication. The first text takes forever to get delivered, so long that I have given up and tried again. That second try causes Airbnb to proudly proclaim it is now blocking texts to my friend’s number as well.

At that point, I write off Airbnb entirely, and give up in disgust.

But Airbnb was not done imposing its suckiness on me. At one stage in that process, it did ask for a credit card number. It turns out that Airbnb, despite pestering me with two-factor authentication and refusing to complete my transaction, did nonetheless try to bill my credit card at that point… from the United Kingdom. Why a San Francisco-based company would instigate a charge from the UK for a sublet in Vancouver, BC is beyond me, but that is exactly what Airbnb did. Seeing a charge from the UK come within mere hours of a charge from Canada, my credit union then decided to cancel that credit card.

When I called my credit union to ask why charges were suddenly failing, they did some investigating, and their reaction was “Oh, Airbnb. They tried to charge you from the UK. We run into this sort of thing often with them. We advise our clients always call us before using Airbnb to stop their credit cards from being cancelled.”

So now I must wait for a new credit card to arrive before I make my next trip north. Fuck you very much, Airbnb.

Upgrading My Wire Strippers

Published at 13:33 on 11 May 2021

Adam Savage (of Mythbusters fame) came out with a video last year singing the praises of automatic wire strippers.

A little quick research uncovered that such strippers work poorly, if at all, on PTFE (Teflon) and THHN insulation. That pretty much killed the deal for me, as I semi-regularly deal with both such wire types. But it got me thinking: stripping wire is something of a headache, because I always chintzed out on wire strippers. I bought some cheapo strippers many decades ago and have used either them or a knife. Stripping wires has always been something of a fiddly process for me.

Conclusion: I could benefit from owning some better tools, and should spend some of my birthday gift money on them. I opted for the Klein No. 11055 and 11057 strippers (yes, both of them, since I routinely have need to strip wire in a wider gauge range than any one set of strippers can accommodate). And let me say, it has been very nice to finally have a proper set of quality tools to do a task I frequently need to do.

Initially, I had toyed with the idea of getting some European-style wire strippers like these, simply because I thought they might be better than the styles used in the USA, and the “not invented here” principle was stopping their adoption. If that were the case, it should be easy to find glowing reviews from the few Americans who had discovered this style of tool. Quite the contrary, however: no such reviews existed, while there were reviews from Europeans raving about the Klein strippers above.

The morals of the story:

  1. If a recurring task has been a continual annoyance (even a minor one) and there exist tool(s) to make it easier, it is probably best to just can the stinginess and buy the tool(s) already. I should have upgraded decades ago; it would have saved a fair amount of frustration.
  2. Do your research. If I had ordered automatic or European-style wire strippers, I would have ended up disappointed.