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Gadgets

OBDII Trip Reports

OBDII is the standard for the diagnostics plug that is somewhere around the drivers side footwell of your car. For many years I’ve enjoyed having a ScanGauge in my car, and then for my birthday this year, Tyla got me an Automatic OBDII reader. That has been plugged into my truck for a few months, happily uploading data to the cloud.

I finally got around to playing with their API. I wrote an app that runs twice a day on my computer. It calls their API and pulls down any recent trips that I’ve made. It looks for a few places that I’ve labeled (Home, Work, Safeway, etc) and looks for trips that start and end in a named place. If it finds one, it looks how that trip ranks in terms of fuel usage and time. Then I get an email showing me my “score”. It’s a fun way to see if my fast trip to work really was my fastest trip ever, or how that extra bad stop and go traffic affected my fuel usage.

The email is pretty simple right now. I keep thinking that I’ll make it fancier with some charts, additional stats, etc but so far this has been good enough. I think the next thing that I will add as I get more data is a breakdown to show the score for all time, the current month, the day of the week, etc.

IsoTunes Pro Review

I enjoy using my shop time to catch up on podcasts, YouTube and Netflix. But obviously when I’m running loud equipment, I have hearing protection in and I can’t hear the show. I finally splurged and got the IsoTunes Pro bluetooth earplug headphones. They connect wireless to either my phone or a bluetooth transmitter hooked to my TV.

They do a good job of canceling out shop noise and I can easily hear whatever audio source I have selected. The downside is that I’ve been spoiled with the custom ear plugs I got back when Tyla worked at the hearing clinic. They just slide right into my ear and I don’t have to mess with squishing foam and getting it fit into my ears. That’s not a huge drawback though and I still use the IsoTunes a lot.

XFinity For Roku

Earlier this year, Comcast launched an app for Roku, but I only just got around to installing it. It’s still in beta so you won’t get a full feature set, but it’s still an interesting move for the company.

Previously, if you have Comcast service and you want to add another TV in your house, you had to pony up $10/month or more for another box that sits with that TV. Ouch. Now they are offering you alternatives to that extra monthly bill.

For quite a while they’ve allowed you to stream to a browser window or a phone app. The main limitation there is that you have to be on your home network for it to work, but this has still given me a way to have football on out in the shop. I just connect my laptop to the TV and I’m good to go.

The Roku app makes this even easier. You can pick up a basic Roku for ~$30-40 if you don’t have one already. The XFinity app is free and voila, now you’ve got live TV via the Roku without an extra monthly fee. If you have their Cloud DVR service then  you can access those shows through the Roku interface. (Note that I haven’t tested that since we don’t have the Cloud DVR service.) The only downer for me right now is that I only get standard definition on most of the channels. That doesn’t happen for everyone and it should change when the app is out of beta.

This feels like a direct response to the rise in popularity of non-traditional TV services like DirectTV Now, YouTube TV, Sling TV, Playstation Vue, etc. Compared to those services, Comcast is coming at it from the other side (moving from traditional cable to internet) but it’s good to see them making moves in that direction.

Samsung Gear VR

My first experience with virtual reality was probably playing with a Nintendo Virtual Boy in a store in the 90s. It has progressed a wee bit since then and now the phone that you carry in your pocket can provide a pretty impressive virtual reality experience.

Thanks to Don and Megan for getting me a Samsung Gear VR for my birthday! I had a Google Cardboard set up from last year and that was enough to convince me that it could be really cool but not good enough to really scratch the itch. The Gear VR is a very nice experience.

Setup was pretty easy but required a lot of app installs on my phone. But once that was done, I plugged the phone into the goggles, adjusted the straps, and entered the world of virtual reality. I’m still learning my way around, but so far the coolest thing I’ve done is take a flight with the Blue Angels. 2D videos are great, but being able to move your head around while watching the video really takes it to another level. It’s an awesome experience!

I can’t see using this for long periods of time on a regular basis, but it’s really neat to see how far the technology has come. It makes me want to experience a full-blown setup with dedicated goggles driven by a beefy computer (but not nearly enough to pay for all that myself!) I feel like we’re getting closer and closer to my dream video game: Forza Motorsport VR Edition. It has to be coming some day. RIght? Pleeeeeeeeease?

Automatic OBDII Reader

I first learned about OBDII back in 2003. It’s the on board diagnostics system in your car that lets you get all kinds of live data while your car is running. I bought all the electronics to make my own reader and then… nothing. Eventually in 2008 I realized that I was never going to build it and bought a ScanGauge. I happily used that little device in my Subaru and later in my F150. It worked flawlessly, but now it’s sitting in the garage because I got an upgrade.

For my birthday, Tyla and Elijah gave me an Automatic. It’s an OBDII reader with a built in GPS and 3g modem. While you drive, it automatically records a bunch of you car data along with your current position and it uploads it all to their cloud service. You can also connect to the device via Bluetooth to get live data displayed on your phone. Setup was a breeze and so far it has worked flawlessly.

I think the target audience for the device is someone who drives for business and needs an easy way to track their business trips. You can easily flag a drive and it gets added to a report. Personally I’m more interested in downloading my data and doing my own analysis on it. There are some nifty apps that work right out of the box as well. For example, one app shows you your min, max and average commute times to and from work. Another builds a heat map of the places you have visited. Another one draws one of those maps where every county that you have visited is colored in.

Do I need this? Nope! But I love having gadgets that collect data about random stuff in my life so this fits right in. Time to crack open their API and see how to pull my data out of their cloud.