Tag Archives: technology

Why Car Sensors Make Me Jumpy

When I bought my car, it was with the intention of finding a new vehicle that wouldn’t be any trouble for my last couple of years of working and commuting.

My previous car was 7 years old, with just over 100,000 km on the odometer and starting to get to that point where it might need significant maintenance or even replacement. The problem is that with car issues, you’re never really sure when or where that will happen, often with little or no advance notice.

I didn’t want to be “that guy” stuck on the side of the highway, blocking traffic during rush hour traffic, annoying people and being on the receiving end of people showing me their middle fingers. For my own peace of mind, a newer car was the solution.

However, as much as I love the smooth ride and the peace of mind from knowing that the car is not likely to need fixing anytime soon, my car’s dashboard has seen the sight of my own middle finger (but not when I’m driving, of course).

The reason: the sensitive car sensors.

In the short time I have had the car, I have had the experience of several dashboard warning lights coming on, beeping loudly, to announce “issues”.

When a warning light comes on and beeps, I get an instant surge of adrenaline in my stomach and an “Oh crap!” refrain plays in my head. Until I can get the car to a safe stop, my mind starts to race: “What is it? Is it minor/major? Is it dangerous? Will I have to take time off work? How much will this cost me?”

I’m not a car mechanic nor a computer programmer, so the fear of the unknown can get pretty overwhelming.

To reclaim control, I routinely pull into the nearest parking lot and haul the car’s user manual out of the glove compartment to look up the interpretation. I have sometimes even resorted to Google when the book didn’t answer my question. And when that didn’t work, I have resorted to calling the dealer, sometimes resulting in a precautionary visit to check it out.

But this is the seriousness of my warnings so far:

One warning light was to tell me the radar wasn’t working properly, which actually turned out to mean that the windshield was dirty. The radar couldn’t see through the grimy window of the car, travelling in Ottawa in February, when road salt and winter dirt are at their peak.

Another loud warning came from a symbol to tell me that scheduled maintenance was coming up.

The tire pressure symbol that came on at a time when I was very busy. I bought a tire pressure monitor and noted a minute difference in pressure in one tire. A visit to the dealer dismissed it as a false alarm. Fortunately, that light hasn’t come back since.

For someone who has been prone to anxiety, these warnings have not been fully appreciated. They have made me jumpy. And this isn’t the first time.

With the car before, one warning was to tell me the gas cap wasn’t on properly, when in fact it was. It was just that the sensor had issues when outdoor temperatures were in the -20s or lower. I’m sorry, but that’s a typical winter day here.

Another occasion that had me running to the mechanic was the check engine light that came on and off at random intervals. The interpretation I was given from a diagnostics test was that it needed a software update because one line of code was out of date.

The bright side to car sensors is that friends and family have shared with me stories of legitimate warnings about actual problems, and their thankfulness for the advance warning from a sensor. I am grateful for them that they were able to deal with an issue when it was small and manageable, and therefore helpful for them to maintain their road safety.

I am sure one day I will be in the same position and greatly relieved that a sensor was there to warn me ahead of time of a more serious issue, something that older cars haven’t traditionally been able to do.

As much as I appreciate the peace of mind that a sensor can bring, I challenge car manufacturers to make the next generation of sensors and warning symbols a little smarter. Can we distinguish warnings as high priority/low priority? Can we turn off the scary beep for a low priority issue? Can we give a little more information on the panel? Can the car tell me clearly what is wrong rather than having me jump out of my skin and worrying about it?

It’s not in my nature to become Penny from “The Big Bang Theory” and drive around with a flashing check engine light. I take the warnings very seriously (as Sheldon did) and inevitably, I will look into it. I just wish the warnings didn’t scare the crap out of me every time.

Did you enjoy this post? If you haven’t already, please check out the rest of my blog at andrebegin.blog. From there, you can click on the “Follow” button to receive future posts directly in your inbox. Also, don’t be shy, feel free to tell a friend or to share the link.
Sincere thanks for reading!
Have a great day,
André

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A Writer’s Nightmare: Losing Data

Last Saturday, when the weather outside was frightful due to the never-ending winter of 2019, I was overjoyed at the prospect of staying in for the morning and completing a few blog posts.

After two amazing hours where ideas flowed like a river, I stepped away from my desk to take care of a few things around the house.
When I returned to my desk, something strange had happened. The flash drive I was using just an hour prior, wasn’t being read by my computer. I tried inserting the flash drive into a different USB port. “Not recognized.” I tried another port. “Not recognized.” O-o-o-oh darn!

I tried inserting the flash drive into my laptop and still “Not recognized”. I checked my stash of flash drives for another one that was purchased in the same batch. Fortunately, the computer could read that one. I concluded that it was not a problem with that batch of keys, just the one I used for the blog.

I then took to YouTube to find videos on how to try to get the flash drive working again, or at a minimum, to try to recover the data on it and store it elsewhere. After an hour and three different technical recipes, the flash drive was still not recognized by my PC.

Moderately defeated, I said to myself that I should not be surprised. I have been using this particular flash drive every week for almost 6 years. If that’s the life expectancy of a flash drive, it’s a lesson learned for me. Continue reading

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How I Miss Music Video Programs

Ever since music video programs took to the airwaves in the 1980s, I have always been a huge fan of the art form. Whether it was “Friday Night Videos”, “Video Hits”, “Good Rockin’ Tonite”, “MuchMusic” or “MusiquePlus”, I was glued to the set. Hour after hour I would watch, mesmerized by this cool art form combining music, film and storytelling in a tight package with a run time of about four minutes.

Through my late high school years and university years, music videos formed the soundtrack of my life, featuring artists like Duran Duran, Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, Bananarama, Depeche Mode, the Pet Shop Boys and the Jackson family. Music videos welcomed me home from school, were the focal point of some parties, helped keep me awake through late-night essays and helped me pace myself in studying for final exams.

When I got into the career years, priorities changed a little as did my ability to watch 12 consecutive hours of music videos. But I remained a fan nonetheless, often keeping the music channels on for background music while I cleaned my apartment or worked in the kitchen.

A few nights ago, I realized how much I missed music videos as a source of background music. I decided to try to recreate that feeling.

Since I got the iTunes app almost a decade ago, I have purchased a few music videos that were particularly special to me, but not enough to make a playlist as diverse as what a music video channel offered back in the day. Plus, iTunes doesn’t carry all of my old favourites.

YouTube on the other hand, carries almost everything I could possibly want, with only a few exceptions. Sadly, some treasured videos are hanging by a thread in cyberspace with only a couple of grainy versions to be found. Continue reading

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Where Have All the TV Theme Songs Gone?

This season, the American television network “The CW” launched a reboot of the favourite 1980’s prime time soap “Dynasty”. In watching the very first episode, I was delighted to see several nods to its original series, including having kept its great orchestral theme song. The only thing was that it was a much shorter version of it.

Similarly, Netflix has recently rebooted “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.” Again, a really unique theme song, but chopped down to just a few bars of its original.

Have you noticed how the opening themes for many American TV shows have gotten shorter and shorter over the years? Now, some shows don’t even have them at all.

If I mentioned the names of program like “All in the Family“, “Golden Girls”, “Three’s Company”, “The Brady Bunch” or “Gilligan’s Island”, even if you weren’t a huge fan, I’m sure many of you would be able to recite a few words if not the whole theme song.

These theme songs became deeply entrenched in our pop culture, and some have become synonymous with the decades when the shows originally aired. In doing so, they also became entrenched in our hearts and minds.

As young kids, we couldn’t play “Batman” without singing few rounds of the famous “Na na na na na na na…” theme.

What would have become of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” with a theme song about a messy breakup instead of the inspiring words about making it after all? Continue reading

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When Things Are Oversealed for Your Protection

A couple of months ago, I was home from work with a bad case of bronchitis. Not only was my breathing affected, but the body aches and the rapid swings between feeling hot and cold had me running through wardrobe changes faster than Cher at her Farewell Tour.

At one point, I was feeling so crummy, I was taking the maximum daily dosage of pain reliever. In doing so, I quickly depleted my supply and needed to open a new bottle. Little did I know the ordeal that was lying ahead:

The box was “sealed for my protection”. I understood why. I believe many of us can remember the events of 1982 that led to the reason why medication packages are designed and secured in the way that they are.
Check out this link for a refresher: https://www.pbs.org/newshour/health/tylenol-murders-1982

But despite the multiple attempts, with the “brute force” I was putting into it – maybe it was my weakened state – I just couldn’t tear through the simple plastic seal on the cardboard box, no matter how hard I tried. The packaging was visibly mangled, but I just couldn’t break in. Continue reading

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The Rewards of Vending Machines

vending-machinesOn a recent visit to the mall, I noticed a little girl was carefully perusing the contents of the row of gum ball and toy vending machines, with the same intensity I demonstrated when I was shopping for new appliances. She was contorting herself around the machines, checking out all of the contents and trying to predict which items were to come out next.

I understood that this was a major purchase and she was looking for the best value for her hard earned allowance money. That was me 40+ years ago!

After much scrutiny and analysis, she pointed to a machine, put in her coin, turned the crank, opened the plastic bubble and voilà! Pure joy and a huge smile! I could only assume that she got what she was looking for as she was visibly delighted with her prize.

I was reminded of my own childhood and my borderline addiction to those machines. I remember my sock drawer was proudly filled with little gum-ball-machine toys I had collected from trips to the grocery store or the department store.

I don’t think my experience was all that unusual though. With those machines at eye level for a kid, it was so easy to beg parents and relatives for coins, to get something I “positively need, and promise I won’t ask for anything again”… until the next visit.

But what is it about those machines that ignites our curiosity? If common sense prevails, one would think that being able to hold, feel and inspect a product up close to make an informed decision would the more balanced way to go. However the separation of human and product by a plastic window seems to appeal to our sense of adventure.

Or is it because we have become the product of our own life-long Pavlovian experiment since a very young age: put in a coin, get a treat? Continue reading

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Technology 3, Andre 0

Window ControlsNot that long ago, I used to be that guy that people went to when they needed help with their computers, printers, cell phones and FAX machines.

Hmm… if FAX machines are in the equation, maybe it was two decades ago, but in the grand scheme of things it feels like it was just yesterday.

Back in those days, it was a delight to be able to play with the faulty object in question, push a few buttons, pretend that I knew that I was doing, and before you could say “control-alt-delete”, I seemed able to fix things without even breaking a sweat, to the delight of family, friends and co-workers.

Even though I never really had any formal training, I seemed to have a knack for fixing small appliances too without setting fire to anything or ending up with a handful of leftover parts after reassembling. I don’t know where it came from, but I am certainly grateful.

Sadly, the only thing I wasn’t able to figure out and explain to my Grandmother was my Granddad’s universal remote after he passed away. That one remains a mystery to this day.

But over time, something happened. As technology evolved and became smarter (with fewer moving and serviceable parts) it seems my superpower in fixing appliances suddenly needed fixing itself.

And then you have weeks like this one, where I waved the white flag in defeat as technology in its infinite simplicity beat me into submission. Continue reading

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