Links Harvested On May 29th, 2015

The Quirks of Apple CarPlay and the Pioneer AVH-NEX4000 Head Unit

I’ve recently gone from working mostly out of my house to working daily at an office anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour away depending on traffic. Shortly after that transition, I decided to upgrade my in-car experience. I’m a huge Sirius/XM fan, and a Waze user, a needer of bluetooth, and an Apple user, and I also figured it was time to see what Apple CarPlay was all about. After a bunch of research, it looked like no one really handles Waze integration well yet. There are middleware platforms that will display it on your head unit but not let you control it, and that sucks. Pioneer has a car app experience (AppRadio) that includes Waze, but everything I read about it says it’s laggy and buggy enough to be unfun and, again, you’re not entirely controlling it from the head unit. So I figured I’d do pass-through audio on the Waze and go with what looked like the best CarPlay head unit for my price range – the Pioneer AVH-NEX4000. I’ve been using it for several months now, and given the current state of the industry I’m happy with it on balance. But I’m ready to start rounding up my observations on its quirks, whether they’re specific to CarPlay or just to the Pioneer tech. This will be fun to read in a couple of years, I hope, after CarPlay becomes a much more supported and evolved platform.

  • Unintentional source switching: The scenario is that I have my iPhone connected via CarPlay, and for whatever reason decide to look at Facebook on my phone. Well any time I switch the phone to an app that the head unit probably interprets as having audio, the head unit switches out of whatever it’s doing (playing Sirius XM, for example) and goes in to iPhone audio mode. This immediately takes me out of whatever I’m enjoying and harshes the multitasking mellow. What’s more, sometimes it happens without actually switching the source control on the head unit, so it says “Sirius XM” but no sound is coming out. When that happens I have to manually switch to some other input source and then switch back.
  • Using Waze with audio alerts kills the ability to do anything else simultaneously: Similar problem to the above, but not identical. If I choose to use Waze on my phone and have the audio come through the system via Bluetooth, any time an audio alert or direction comes through, it immediately switches the head unit away from Sirius XM, the FM tuner, or the DVD player in to Bluetooth audio mode. This makes it impossible to use navigation and listen to music, reasonably, at the same time. And that’s not cool, especially when I have Vlade Divac chosen in Waze so his droll voice kills my music.
  • Relative and absolute volume quirks: This probably isn’t all that specific to this head unit – it’s a real UX challenge. Audio levels for the various sources is controlled in a nested menu as increased or decreased relative to the level of the terrestrial radio receiver. So if I want the Sirius to be “louder,” in this menu I dial it up +2 over the loudness of the radio, and that’s how it’s expressed, as a relative number like “+2” or “-1.” Now when I’m in any particular input source, it has its own audio level control, but there’s no global audio control, so I’m constantly fiddling with levels, especially as I go from city to highway and then pull in to work. I’ve developed a tic where every time I exit the car, I dial down the audio level significantly to make sure my ears aren’t blasted out next time I get in.
  • Apple Maps Fights Your Rerouting: This one is specific to Apple Maps, not CarPlay or Pioneer. It seems like Apple Maps is really stubborn about its chosen route, and will often fight hard to continue to route me back “on track” even though I’m obviously making progress towards my destination and have chosen to go a different way. Since car nav is completely impressive and awesome to me, I hesitate to say “obviously” – I have no idea how it’s obvious to the GPS in other cases – but dynamic rerouting is a feature Waze has down cold so it’s always jarring when I decide to go with the CarPlay preferred Apple Maps app and it lets me down like this.
  • No Wifi Capability, Hence No Wireless CarPlay: I guess in its most recent update Apple unlocked the ability for CarPlay to work wirelessly instead of through a lightning cable. But since the Pioneer deck doesn’t have a Wifi card (or so I’ve read) this isn’t a feature that’s now available to me. The lightning cable is not a huge deal, but that’s still a bummer.

There will be more quirk reporting as I remember/think about more quirks.

Linkblog 5-10-15

Back in the day, many of us would share slightly annotated lists of useful or thoughtful links we’d found. Then came along and made a community out of that. Then got swallowed up and disappeared. There were others for a while. is fantastic, but deliberately not social like Delicious was. I’ve always hoped that Tumblr would evolve into something that could be a visual and persistent (and well structured) archive of finds, but that doesn’t look like it’s in the cards. The closest thing around today is Pinterest, but that’s really not about well structured archives of useful information – the ever growing Costanza wallet. So until I figure out how to get that in 2015, I’m going back to sharing lists of links with some annotation around them. If I can get this going, maybe I’ll also go back to my curated “heh” lists.

All I’ll say about the type and selection and curation sensibility here is: if you’re in to some of the same things I’m in to, professionally and personally, then you’ll find some value here from time to time.

  • Why Paying For Social Is Better Than Doing Social – A provocative take (and accompanying thought experiment) on what the social media tactical landscape looks like for brands in 2015, and why amassing organic followers by playing the day-to-day game should not be taken as the de facto baseline strategy. Here’s a healthy snippet to think about:

    For businesses that want social media clicks: At current rates, a brand that has fewer than 1 million followers on Facebook or Twitter is better off paying to promote its best content via sponsored updates than it is paying someone to post social content all day long. And it probably won’t pay off the cost of acquiring followers it already sunk, versus paying just for clicks. As organic reach continues to decline, it will soon be unprofitable for brands with more than a million followers to feed their followings.

    Nate Elliott, principal analyst at Forrester, writes:

    “It’s clear that Facebook and Twitter don’t offer the relationships that marketing leaders crave … Yet most brands still use these sites as the centerpiece of their social efforts—thereby wasting significant financial, technological, and human resources.”

  • Embracing Content, Intimacy and Collaboration – On the flipside, if feeding the daily beast and playing Facebook’s algorithm games isn’t the right approach, perhaps a better one could be thinking about the individuals and groups that matter to you and how you can earn their attention by doing things that are valuable to them.
  • Dog Trails Shoppers Around A Mall On Its Billboards, Hoping To Be Adopted – Just a major golf clap for this. It makes me happy to see simple, smart execution.
  • Machine Learning For Emoji Trends – The Instagram team devises some ways to look at the semantic patterns around Emoji.

From [The Listserve]: A Dream Deferred Works Out Better Sometimes

Note: This was originally published and sent out on The Listserve, on 10/8/2014, while I was off getting married. The response emails brought me a ton of joy. I’ve promised to share some more thoughts on the below, but haven’t found the time yet, so first I thought I’d publish that story again in its entirety as it ran. If you aren’t signed up to participate in The Listserve, do it now.

With all due respect to the brilliant Langston Hughes poem about racial and economic inequality, in other contexts a dream deferred isn’t always so bad. This is a story about bottling up something you are so passionate about that you might not be ready for in an earlier time in your life, only to revisit it years later to satisfying ends.

Throughout middle and high school, I studied flute. Most of the music I was interested in was composed and played on trumpets, pianos, saxophones, trombones, but not so much flutes. So I drew my ear training and inspiration from the greats that played other instruments. It’s the usual suspects for a teenage jazz fan – Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, Charlie Parker. I also listened to flute players like Herbie Mann and Yusef Lateef, but their recordings were few and far between.

When I got competent enough to improvise, I’d have all of these licks in my head that I’d memorize from the greats – Parker’s fluttery runs that would make your heart leap out of your chest, Monk’s inexplicably dissonant but melodic passages, dark, brassy riffs from Miles. But when I tried to replicate them on the flute, they’d sound incredibly corny. The notes were right, the feeling in my head was right, but what it sounded like coming out of the instrument was all wrong. Saccharine. It’s not what I wanted to sound like.

I don’t know why I stopped playing the flute in high school. In my back-narrative, it’s because I could never get it to sound like what I wanted to sound like, but it could have just has easily been because of the social stigma of a dude playing jazz flute in his mid-teens in a city and a school that’s not really about that kind of music. Or maybe I just got into girls and that was that. Whatever the reason, I stopped playing flute and didn’t pick up another instrument for over 20 years.

Then on my 39th birthday I remembered that I’d always wanted to play the trumpet, but was always worried I wouldn’t be able to pick it up. It had seemed like such a different instrument, and so hard to make so many notes out of just three keys. I can’t say that I’d consciously thought about it much in the intervening years, but for whatever reason I’d long since put it away as something I’d just never do.

On that day as the notion emerged in my mind, all of the worries and concerns suddenly evaporated. Who cares if I’ll never be good? Who cares if I try it and then decide that it’s really not for me? Why the fuck not? If I can just learn *how* to play enough so that I can decide if it’s something I enjoy doing, then it will have been worth it.

I bought myself a beautifully restored trumpet from 1947, and have been taking lessons for the past 4 months. And I love it. Just the ability to produce a clear, resonant tone is its own reward and continues to give me a thrill. With no pressure on myself to be great or even good, practicing is a pleasure. I now routinely pack for business trips differently so that I can bring my horn with me. Making small, incremental progress is incredibly rewarding. Whereas it once would have been tedious to spend long stretches of time just focused on exercises and sound production rather than playing songs, it now feels like a gift.

I’ve got more to say on this, but for now I’ll just leave you with these 600ish words and this thought: it’s totally fine to leave some passions alone until you’re really ready to take them on.

From LinkedIn: Facebook Breaks The Fourth Wall on Post Types

In a rare inversion of how I typically do things (usually it’s here first, syndicate elsewhere), I’m experimenting with LinkedIn’s publishing platform and posting a story there instead of here. It’s both because there are tumbleweeds here and because I want to take the LinkedIn* platform out for a bit of a spin. You can find the story here:

Let me know what you think, either here or there.

*LinkedIn is a Voce client, though this is purely personal exploration.

Writing Fundamentals from Fifth Grade

The fundamentals don’t change. This is a notebook I used in fifth grade to write an essay (monograph?) about photography.

This should be fun to explore.

Right there on page one, they set us up for success.

Writing tips from fifth grade

It’s all here, the outlines, the notes, the rough draft. I look forward to digging in to this, what might be the first time I followed a process like this from start to finish, something that eventually becomes second nature to anyone engaged in longer-form writing. It’ll also be fun to see my fifth grade predictions about photography.