New Cars

Cars have changed. Back in the day you could “pop the clutch” to start a car by letting it roll down hill, putting it in first gear with your foot on the (manual) clutch, let the clutch out (“popping the clutch”) and often the car would start. Handy if you had a car with a dead battery at the top of a hill.

Cars are full of electronics now, and that can be good, and it can be very bad…

The only electronics on cars back in the day were the battery, the spark plugs, fired by an alternator, the starter motor, the lights, the radio, the heater fan (OK, there are were a lot of electronics…)

But now, cars are Internet connected computers integrated with everybody’s favorite obsession, the smart phone. The computers in the car can physically steer, apply breaks, accelerate, decelerate, monitor your alertness, turn the car off, call 911 if you crash, etc. These are all usually good, or at least well intentioned when they work as designed in the conditions they were designed for.

But there are potential downsides. Pretty sure it would be technically trivial for you to get a speeding ticket every time you went 26 in a 25 zone. And Siri, Android Auto, Alexa and friends can listen to your conversations, do speech to text, feed them to machine learning trained programs to pick out anything, not just your selection of music or driving direction. Have you ever ranted to a friend in a car about social, political or religious topics … or maybe the suspected paternal lineage of the driver who just cut you off? It might all be on record.

And I’ve worked with computers for too long to believe in bug free code or code with no design defects. Things break. In this case, it could cost me my life.

Then there are security issues. If the car can do the right thing with properly functioning software and in road and weather conditions, it could do the wrong thing as well if someone messes with the software, sensors (radar, camera), or operating environment. With a cell phone or other radio connection, cars are now, in once sense, computer systems with constant Internet connections.

This has been a topic in hacker circles for several years now:, and industry is acknowledging the problem We don’t need to envision any cloak-and-dagger-middle-of-the-night car mods in a futuristic James Bond film to see what could go wrong.

So I’m pretty sure we’re not going back. I considered buying a refurbished 1970s VW beetle to get away from all this, but for now I’m going to accept risks, cited above and completely ignored by car salesmen on the theory that it’s more likely the car will keep me from making a fatal lane change than that Dr. No (or random functionaries at the TSA, local police or a kid in his basement) will hack my car.

There was a time when driving was the symbol of autonomy, independence, personal responsibly, individualism and adventure. You see bit’s of that in Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” and Nat King Cole’s “Route 66”. Those days are, I think, gone. Now, how do I connect Android Auto and setup Waze? …

#21 of #100DaysToOffload take 2,