Self Driving Cars Are Going Nowhere

Great article on how little progress has been made in self-driving cars.

I have always thought most self driving systems were too ambitious. There are so many variables, and you can’t account for all of them. I have for years thought that they should set their sights a bit lower.

Here in Colorado we have various HOV/toll lanes on many of our highways. Why don’t we start out with self driving in those lanes? I, as a driver, can handle the city driving, the accelerating to highway speeds, and the changing lanes. But after that? Let the computer do most of the work from there on out.

All the adaptive cruise control shows most of the work is ready for highway driving. And on a highway there are far fewer corner cases to consider, no turns, no bicycles, no pedestrians. If you encounter a cone zone, you hand it over to the human driver. If there’s inclement weather, sorry, you’re driving yourself.

Sure. It won’t “revolutionize” travel. But as a car owner, it would make a lot of difference on road trips. And if I still commuted, it would help probably for about 30% of my commuting.

But then no idiot is going to pay Musk or anyone else thousands and thousands of dollars for a system that just helps on the highways. And the billionaires can’t commoditize all the Uber/taxi/bus/truck drivers and suck out billions of dollars in profit for themselves. And that’s the main reason self driving needs to be complete. If there’s a driver involved, they can’t print money by hijacking a major part of day to day life.

Engineering in Plain Sight

I’ve been following the Practical Engineering channel for the past year or two, and it’s got tons of great civil engineering information. Now, there’s a book: Engineering in Plain Sight. I pre-ordered it months ago and it arrived last night and I love it. Lots of accessible descriptions, and wonderful drawings. I got lost in it last night.

I highly recommend it, especially if you have any kids (or adults) on your Christmas list who like legos and building things, I think they’ll love it.

Recent Photos

I keep meaning to post some photos from my new camera. I would write about how much I love it, and how motivated I have been recently to go out and take pictures. But enough of the yippy yappy, here’s some of my recent favorite pictures. (I hate editing, and I don’t bother with RAW. All these jpegs are straight out of the camera.)

Car Shopping

We’re looking at electric vehicles and just the thought of dealing with a car dealer is draining me.

I think Tesla is on the right track for going direct to consumer, but I would never buy a Tesla for a few reasons:

  • Elon Musk. There was a time I liked and even admired him. How cringe. That changed quite a bit when he called one of the rescue cave divers a pedophile.
  • I have read too many accounts of poor service from Tesla. Add to it poor quality control.
  • Tesla’s base model is approaching $50k, which is more than I really want to pay for a car that will just get me from point A to point B.

I might consider a used Tesla which solves, mostly, the first and third issues, if push came to shove, but I’d rather get a different car anyway

I emailed a few dealers and, even over email, I hate dealing with dealers. Most of them are up-charging $5k-$10k above MSRP, and none of the cars I’m looking at are worth as much as 25% more. I’ve found one dealer that isn’t doing that, and has been relatively responsive, and isn’t trying to push me into a phone call to pressure me into buying a car, so that’s probably the dealer I’ll use. But it shouldn’t be this hard to buy a car.

72ish Hours with the Apple Watch

Now that I’ve had the S8 a bit longer, it has really grown on me. A few things I really like:

Fast charging. It actually does charge plenty fast, if you have a 20 watt or higher brick. (Which I do, I think from my iPad. This should have been included with the Apple Watch, however)

Beautiful screen. The OLED screen really is spectacular. Most of my watch faces have color back grounds and they look amazing.

Fast switching of Watch faces. I never did this on the S3 because it was just slow, but on the new watch it’s really fast to switch different watch faces. I have one that I use that’s more activity focused, showing my heart rate throughout the day and my rings progress. The next one shows me all the location data from the compass. The live altimeter is really cool (I live at about 5,360 feet). I have about 5 other faces I use to mix things up and they all switch and load quickly enough I do find myself switching throughout the day.

Always on display. Sure, it dims when you’re not actively using it, but being able to glance down and see the time is so important in a watch. I know some people turn off the always on display to increase battery life but this feature alone is why I went S8 instead of SE2.

24 Hours with Apple Watch Series 8

Just got the new Series 8 Apple Watch and have had it for 24 hours. There are plenty of reviews online, so go check those out.

I’m coming from the Series 3 Apple Watch which Apple unceremoniously dropped support for in the newest WatchOS.

I originally got the Apple Watch because I wanted to try out Apple Fitness Plus and until recently, you had to have an Apple Watch to use it.

The Apple Watch is one Apple product I really don’t love. I laughed when I looked at the apps list and saw Mail. Mail on my watch? Not sure I have ever needed or wanted that. Everything that makes an Apple Watch “better” compared to a Garmin seems unnecessary, and it creates too much of a battery drain.

That said, the thing the Apple watch does better than anything, I think, are the rings. There are three of them: stand, activity, and move. (you can customize each of these goals) Stand I don’t really care about and it encourages you to stand for at least 2 minutes out of every hour. People talk about sitting being the new smoking, but I’m not sure 2 minutes is really enough to move the needle. I could lose this ring and not care in the least, it’s really more annoying than helpful.

But I think Apple got the next two rings right: move and activity. Activity minutes counts how many minutes throughout the day that you have an elevated heart rate. The move ring counts how many active calories you burn throughout the day.

Compared to the FitBit I used to have which was obsessed with hitting 10,000 steps a day (a goal I eventually lowered to 7,500) — I like these metrics way more. I can fill these moments with any exercise of my choosing and the Watch will monitor my heart rate and approximate my active calories burned and move my rings accordingly. I often go for 20-30 minute walks, but sometimes I want to go for a hike, or a bike ride, or lift weights, or play gagaball. It doesn’t matter. My watch is… watching (sorry I had to) and tallying up my points accordingly.

I definitely feel like I’m a lot more likely to hit my (self-set) activity and move goals because I can fill my day up with activity that counts towards them, but I can choose whatever activity feels right for me. It was always discouraging to me with my FitBit to hop in bed and realize I had 9,800 steps and would somehow have to find 200 more steps to go. When I’m similarly close on my rings it makes way more sense for me to go for a five minute row on my rowing machine to get those last few activities.

So, Apple really hit the gamification on the head for me. I’m definitely more encouraged to be active with my rings than with anything I’ve had with Garmin or FitBit.

That said, if you gave me an Apple Watch with a simple LCD/e-paper/whatever screen like most of Garmin’s line up, and it only had the sensors necessary to count calories and heart rate, but had a week battery life and (pretty pretty please) made it round instead of square, I would buy it instantly.

All the other features and bright beautiful color screen are fine, but most of the time it just gets in the way. All I care about is a long battery life. I could charge my Garmin once a week and wear it 24/7, and it would track all of my activities and sleep and … that’s all I really wanted to use it for.

That said, the Apple Watch S8 hardware is nice. It’s got a beautiful screen. I still think square watches look dumb, but this one looks less dumb than the S3 because it is just a bit bigger (going from 38mm case to 41mm) which I think allowed them to “flatten” it a bit. I haven’t measured but the S8 on my wrist appears thinner which makes it look slightly less dumb.

There’s an array of new sensors in the S8 that my S3 didn’t have. I have a complication that shows a live view of decibels. As I type this with a house fan running, it says we’re at about 47dB. I was in a quiet room and I farted while looking at my watch and … well let’s just say I have an idea for a new competition in the future.

The sleep tracking is a new feature in WatchOS 9. I didn’t get much sleep last night. I’m not sure what to do with this information. We will see if I keep wearing the watch while I sleep as this information seems like the same thing I used to get with my FitBit and it was never that actionable or terribly interesting, and with the poor battery life, waking up with less than 100% battery means I need to think about it the next day. I will need to experiment and see if charging it while I’m in the shower will be enough to power throughout the day.

I do appreciate the always on display. Apple’s wrist raising detection is way better than FitBit’s, but it’s nice to not have to move my wrist to just glance at the time. It feels ridiculous to write a sentence like that about a watch.

I guess the bottom line of my review: the Watch is great for gamifying fitness, but you could literally leave out every other feature except telling time and as long as that improved the battery life, I would be so much happier. I’m not really sure what to think about having paid $399 for this thing. It certainly delivers a lot of features, but I’d take 10% of the features for 50% of the price and 700% the battery life any day.

iOS 16 Focus Modes

I installed the new iOS 16 and finally set up my work calendar account to sync with my phone, mostly so I could take advantage of viewing all my calendar events (personal and professional) in the calendar widget on my Home Screen.

Up until now, I’ve just had my personal events in iCloud in the native calendar app and work events in the Google Calendar app. Annoying to check two calendars when making dentist appointments? Oh absolutely. Still an improvement from when I worked at Verizon and they gave us a separate phone! Anyway. At least this way I only looked at my work calendar when I was in work mode.

I thought the new focus mode feature would be my savior. I logged into my work account through settings, only enabled calendars (I really don’t want commingled mail thank you very much!), clicked through a bunch of calendar notifications (including a coworker’s vacation from April. Thanks Apple.) and — focus modes filters work by hiding things only!?!?!

Like you’re telling me I have to see my work and personal calendar events all commingled together. But then I can turn on my “work” focus and hide my personal calendars? Thanks, I guess? This is the opposite of what I want! I want to hide my work calendars until I’m, you know, working. I don’t need my damn 9am Monday meeting showing up on my Lock Screen all weekend long thank you very much.

No problem, I thought, I could just create a shortcut to hide work calendars when the work focus mode turns off. Noooope! You can’t change calendar visibility from shortcuts, so far as I can see.

So should I just leave my phone in a “personal“ focus mode 100% of the time I’m not working? I guess I could do that, and then set the notification/text to allow all notifications — oh this isn’t supported on my SE3 watch that’s not going to get anymore updates.

Ugh. Maybe I should just go back to two phones.

AJ’s Favorite Things: Insulated Water Bottles

There’s always so much whining and complaining about things online, I’m going to try to change that with my own little ray of sunshine on my little corner of the internets. These posts will sound like I’m trying to sell you something and I’m not. No affiliate links here. Just a few of AJ’s favorite things.

You see them everywhere, so I’m hardly unique when I write about insulated water bottles. There’s MIIR, and we have some Yeti tumblers, and Hydroflasks, and some S’wells, but my favorite are the Hydroflasks.

I’m a fan of the 32oz wide mouth. Alissa got one for me for my birthday with custom colors of gray and orange, and when I accidentally left it behind in a rental truck, she ordered me a second one.

It’s the little details that I like about this. The lid’s inner seal is depressed just a little bit, enough that if you drop it on the ground, the part that goes in the bottle isn’t going to make contact with the dirt or ground. I also like that it comes with a little rubber “boot” that acts like a built in coaster.

I’ve relegated all my old uninsulated Nalgene bottles (the ones that don’t cause cancer) to the refrigerator. I love cold water, and keeping them in the fridge lets them cool the water off before filling my Hydroflasks.


We spent the spring and summer trying to get clover to grow in the front yard and it just didn’t quite take the way we had hoped. Tired of having a yard full of weeds and mud, we decided to take a different path and we called a local tree company and they delivered 20 yards of mulch.

I think we might need another 20-35 yards to really get the depth we need to keep weeds at bay, but it’s a start. Last weekend we got some new plants through a friend of ours that is able to order at wholesale prices. We selected native plants that are drought resistant and will hopefully be both beautiful and low maintenance.

I went to Home Depot and got a starter drip irrigation “system” and additional parts and … that’s a lot easier than I really imagined. Now we have each new plant with its own drip water source. Each plant gets 1 gallon per hour, and we just run it a few times a week for a couple hours to ensure the plants have enough moisture to grow and thrive in this crazy September heat.

I’m kicking myself that we didn’t do this sooner. The drip system was shockingly easy to set up, and I just buried all the lines under the mulch so very little digging is required.

Meet Oto

This was one of those things I saw on Instagram that looks cool but not sure if it’s going to work out to be practical. 😅 I originally had it set up in the front yard but I was concerned someone would just steal it, and it didn’t quite have the reach that I was hoping for.

Oto is a wifi watering robot. It comes with an app that lets you customize your watering any way you would like. We are using it in the backyard with our trees to make sure they get established with enough consistent water, but it will water lawns as well and also has support for adding fertilizer and other treatments to the water. It’s a neat thing, but I am always nervous about expensive devices that require a cloud service from the manufacturer. We’ll see if Oto sunsets this service eventually but for now it’s nice to get the trees some consistent water and take at least some things off our todo list.

In the future I think I’d like a few additional fruit trees in the back yard, and we can move Oto to water those.