*SOLD* Buy My Car… (2005 Mazda 3)

We’ve got some life changes afoot here in the Coleman household which means my current commuter vehicle of choice – a Mazda 3 – isn’t going to cut it anymore.

As much as I love it, we’ve got to part company – so my 2005 Mazda 3 is on the block. If you’re looking for a new(ish) car, or know someone who is take a look. It’s got an extended warranty that goes with the car (4yr/100,000km) and a full set of Bridgestone Blizzaks (on steel rims) that I’ll throw in as well – more details below.

If you’re interested drop me an email or check out either the Facebook or Craigslist postings (contact methods there too).

front_quarter

The highlights:

  • Indigo blue exterior, Black interior both in excellent shape
  • Power Windows, Doors & Mirrors (w/Remote Keyless Entry)
  • Power Sunroof
  • 16” Alloy Wheels
  • 2.0L – Auto with 4-speed sport mode transmission
  • Cruise Control
  • AM/FM/CD
  • Air Conditioning
  • Low Kms (~32,000)
  • Dealer Maintained

BONUS:

  • Extended FACTORY warranty – car has warranty through four years (Sept 2009) or 100,000km
  • Full set of lightly used Bridgestone Blizzak Tires mounted on Steel Rims ($1000 new) (1.5 Seasons ~5,000km on tires – Good for many more seasons to come)

Asking: $18,975 o.b.o

When did Critical Thinking fall by the wayside?

A while back I did a “tongue-in-cheek” post about how the computers will eventually take us (humans) out. The underlying idea though is my serious concern of the apparant lack of critical thinking skills within the population in general.

James Woods (the geek not the actor) passed me over another “Driver blindly follows GPS” story this morning.

…when a U.K. woman sent her £96k Mercedes SL500 flying into a river, trusting the car’s optimistic GPS guidance instead of the road signs warning of impending doom.

The sad thing is this has gotten to be a weekly, if not daily occurance at this point. If anyone knows this woman, or someone who’s done something equally as ridiculous, can you please ask them on my behalf “At what point did you realize something was wrong?” or even better “Did you even hit the brakes?”

I see it every day as well where people step out into a crosswalk, without looking, simply because the “walking man” is lit.

This is very much in the same vein of the increasingly ridiculous use of common sense warnings, on signs and products – Like the fast food coffee cups that now all carry “This beverage is hot, please enjoy carefully” (or something thereabouts). It scares me that people who deliberately order coffee have to then be told “It’s hot”.

Scarier still is the fact I always assume that if it was important enough to put on a label then someone has probably tried it – seriously do people think at all before they do something? At the end of the day I feel pretty strongly that one of the biggest problems in society today is a total lack of personal responsibility – there is always someone, or usually something, else to blame for your misfortune.

In the case of the woman above many will probably blame the GPS device because it told her to turn left, but in the end there’s only one person who is holding the wheel and pushing the pedals. I guess it’s only a matter of time until car manufacturers decide that the simple disclaimer that appears when you start the car is no longer sufficient:

“Attention. If there is no oncoming traffic and the road ahead of you is not blocked, partially submerged, under construction or gone entirely you should turn left in 10 metres. Please be advised though that the temperature is around freezing and ice may be present. Under inflation of tires may also cause for slight understeer, please compensate accordingly accordingly. I also sense that the cell phone is in operation and you only have one hand on the wheel, it is reccomended that one have both hands on the wheel at all times while operating a motor vehicle. XYZ Autocorp is not responsible for any accidents that may occur as a result of this direction, please honk your horn before turning to indicate acceptance of these turns.”

Toot. toot.

Photo: Grant Mitchell

Maintaining User Experience Across your Brand

Gradually I think a lot of companies are coming around to the notion of user experience as being a vital part of creating a valuable, usable and desirable product. Looking at this data posted over at Adaptive Path yesterday and you can see that it certainly has become top of mind.

The one place though I often see User Experience fall down though is when it comes to maintaining consistency across an organizations various products. Microsoft is a bad for this at times – looking at their new office suite most of the products got the new “Ribbon” menu system but Visio got left out and Outlook seems to only insert it into certain environments. The challenge is a user is forced to continually adjust their frame of reference and methods of interaction with their computer as they move through their day to day work.

One of the worst culprits for this though is automotive companies. They spend millions, if not billions of dollars establishing and common look, feel or design sensibility across their product line. Take Jeep for example:


Looking at the front of any Jeep product, you know it’s a jeep. Mazda’s are the same way – I’ve got two of them, a Mazda3 and a Mazda6. Even the interiors are very similar to each other, you know you’re sitting in a Mazda.

Similar is the Problem
But there’s the crux of the issue – “similar” is the problem. Esthetically similar is just fine – like the Jeeps above – they’re like a family, no one is identical but when viewed they all bear similar features etc.. A Jeep looks like a Jeep, A Mazda looks like a Mazda and so on. But at an interaction level “similar” starts to go down some very bad paths.

We got the Mazda6 first and later bought the Mazda3 so the 6 is what we’ve “imprinted” on, our interactions with both cars are based on how we interacted with the six for the 12 months we had it before the 3.

The photo above is pretty much what my 6’s dash looks like. The 3’s is actually pretty similar, display, vents, radio, 3 dial climate control. Perfect right?

Not so, inexplicable things such as the 3 Climate Control dials – on the 6 the dials go Heat/Cool | Fan Speed | Direction. IN the 3? Direction | Fan Speed | Heat/Cool. So every time we switch form car to car (it’s quite often I’ll drive home in my commuter 3 and hop right into the 6 to take the family out) we’re constantly changing the wrong dials – at best a pain in the butt, at worst another unnecessary look away form the road/distraction.

The radio is another peeve, the two dials are reversed and the 3 introduces a third dial which controls the volume – so I’m always tuning to another station when I’m really trying to reach for the volume.

Lastly the cars also have some very strange differences in behavior.

What brought this all together was my experience this morning with my Mazda3. Our Mazda6 has the great “feature” that it automatically turns off the car’s headlights about 30 seconds to a minute after you lock the car doors, even if the “lights” dial is in the on position. I’ve always believed that all lights on, all the time is the safest way to drive so we just leave the lights on and they turn off on their own.

My 3 on the other hand has an automatic headlights option, which is nice – but for some reason
they decided that because there was the automatic lights feature they probably didn’t need ANY sort of timer on the headlights if they were left in the on (but not auto) position (unlike just about every car on the market these days).

Yesterday afternoon I was checking that a light was still working – it was bright out so the automatic option wasn’t turning them on – I flicked the switch to lights “on” and checked, then drove home and put the car in the garage for the night.

Come out this morning, remote locks don’t work – open the door and get in, no interior lights, nothing. Not even a whimper as I turn the key.

My experience with the 6 turning off the lights quickly had basically trained my head to ignore the “Your light’s are on” tone that both cars emit. So when I hopped out of the 3 I didn’t even acknowledge it. My car sat there all night slowly draining the battery.

At the end of the day I’m all about personal responsibility – but corporations also need to consider how consistent the user experience is across their brand. Had both my Mazda’s had reasonably consistent ways of functioning, beyond simply “looking” similar I wouldn’t have been cursing up a blue streak in their honour while waiting for roadside assistance to arrive (turns out the transmission lock is electric – so I couldn’t even get it in neutral to roll it out of the garage and boost it with my other car).

We’ve worked pretty hard internally to get all of our products working on one common interface, I won’t suggest that it’s perfect but we’re constantly working on improving it (including a new interface revision in the works right now).

Advice for any company: Keep it simple, Keep it useful, Keep it consistent.

(As an aside: I will give Mazda’s Roadside Assistance credit where it’s due. They had someone at my house within 15 minutes at rush hour. The nice operator even showed my how to manually unlock my transmission in the future should the need arise.)

Photos: Jeeps – ~anuradha | Mazda Dash – prettywar-stl

Where are Nav Systems Headed?

PHOTO BY killrbeez on Flickr - click to accessGPS & Navigation Systems are technologies that fascinate me – and now, with the capability of hooking them onto the cellular network I think it’s only going to get more and more interesting.

Traffic Flow / Patterns
First off, adding cellular to the mix starts to create the prospect of two-way communication. Up until now GPS has largely been a fixed base of information, from a specific moment in time, on a DVD in your car or a flash drive in the unit itself. The problem with this of course is that route problems, construction & traffic etc couldn’t be factored in. Errors were a problem too – I’ve seen some whacky stuff spit out by route generating systems but the problem is there was no easy way to let the manufacturer know. Between that and the relatively small penetration in the market getting the bugs out of the system was pretty difficult.

I think this is why many of the systems like Google Maps & MapQuest exist – it allows them to have a much broader user-base push through a huge volume of route requests and allows two-way feedback for errors. I’ve sent Google Maps a few over the years each of which has been resolved surprisingly fast.

But now, with two way communication it becomes possible to actually start to use data from GPS enabled cars to create real-time traffic information.

Imagine that as you drive along your car is uploading stats on speed and the road your on to a central server, it’s also monitoring how Joe, a guy you don’t know, is fairing up ahead, further down the route it has suggested for you.

Suddenly Joe’s speed changes dramatically and he begins moving very slowly. The system checks with the regular traffic flows for that time of year and that weather. It can also look at information it is receiving from other cars on the same road. It can see that a few hundred metres down the road traffic is moving as fast, or faster than normal and understand that something is wrong somewhere in that area of the road between Joe & the other vehicle. (It will probably go one step forward and the systems will be rigged to the sensors within the car for the airbags. If the airbags in a car get tripped it can alert authorities as well as update the nav system servers that there is a crash).

This is where the real potential starts to kick in. Based on it’s knowledge of the traffic ahead of you it could now dynamically reroute your vehicle by polling vehicles moving on parallel routes and choosing the fastest route. This though brings us to an interesting challenge that I can’t wait to see how it gets solved (or is being solved).

Load Balancing
Take the situation I outlined above but multiply it by thousands. The reality is that over time most, if not all, cars will have some kind of GPS Navigation System. So what happens when these systems all start to react to travel troubles up ahead?

As they scan the possible alternates those routes should all generally be moving at or around normal speeds, oblivious to the accident because it has literally only just happened within the past few seconds. If all of the nav systems see the highest speed route they’re going to push all of the traffic seeking alternate routes in the direction of that road, causing a deluge of traffic which will cause another traffic jam – and probably making the problem worse.

People far smarter than me are going to have to come up with a method to ensure that not only are systems monitoring what is happening at the time but also looking ahead to see what kind of traffic is coming down the pipe. Working backwards from the accident it will need to start redirecting vehicles and balancing them out across all of the available alternate routes – up close it will be minor adjustments, exit & get back on the highway at the next exit and routes could get more drastically altered the further back people are.

Predicting Traffic
Above I’ve covered the notion of reactive navigation – i.e. something happens and the system reacts. Another area I’ve seen some blips of news about (and what sent me off down this path) is the area of predicting traffic. There are already companies like Inrix popping up that do predictive traffic modeling. What they do is collect all of the traffic data that is pouring in from these systems, the traffic flow monitors managed by the government etc. and then they can begin to understand how traffic reacts to specific events happening.

For example a baseball game lets out – in some cities this means 40,000+ people exiting from one specific building, many of them via cars. A predictive system models this and over time can build a pretty confident prediction about what will happen when the game ends. Now imagine you’re driving along, listening to the game on your favorite AM Radio station – in the background the predictive system is also “watching” the game, through News feeds etc. as the game ends it kicks into gear and begins to adjust your route to ensure you don’t get caught in the snarled mess that is about to emerge on the freeway surrounding the stadium.

Monetizing
So this rebalancing/rerouting brings up a few interesting ideas – Not the least of which is who gets priority. As the system starts balancing out traffic there may be some routes that are better then others. Perhaps there’s a business model in the quality of the traffic information and solutions you receive. Imagine taking this system and applying a freemium style model to it. Basic GPS systems will give you point A to Point B – with basic traffic information, no automated rerouting though. The next tier automatically reroutes you on a distance based model or only adjusts your route within a certain proximity of the issue ahead of you. Finally, the premium tier, not just handles your rerouting but also routes on roads that the system deliberately balances with a lighter load in the case of an issue.

I imagine too that this kind of data would be extremely valuable to municipalities when budgeting for road repairs and maintenance as well as doing traffic flow studies. If the same spots get jammed up everyday regardless of conditions they’ll know they’ve got a flow problem and can work to fix it.

In the End…
I think we’re getting a lot closer to this than many, even I, realize. I expect that most, if not all the points I raised here are in development or even being tested. I hope much of this plays out – I think it’ll be really neat to see in action.