Friday, August 24, 2012

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Android Apps for your Road Trip Adventure


I've been a big fan of Android's app's for many years. Lots of great free applications out there that help you do whatever - better. Couple that app environment with a smartphone, car mount, data plan, and you can have an amazing array of information to make you car trip more fun and less stressful. Here's my setup for family road trips:

My Road Trip Hardware:

I currently own an Motorola Droid Razr Maxx (http://www.motorola.com/us/consumers/DROID-MAXX/better-battery/96406,en_US,pd.html) and use their windshield mount (http://www.motorola.com/us/consumers/Vehicle-Navigation-Dock-for-DROID-RAZR-MAXX/100141,en_US,pd.html) with one slight modification.

The current windshield mount stalk is a bit too short, so I use the old stalk from my original Droid (http://www.amazon.com/Motorola-89396N-Window-Mount-Droid/dp/B002WC7RKU). The extended length makes it possible to use the camera and easily keep the suction cup mount out of the pictures. The new Droid Maxx has fantastic battery life and the Motorola charger easily keeps up with the demands of having it always on when driving (my original Droid couldn't).

My Road Trip Apps: 

Waze - I originally started using waze for my daily commute to work. I found it took me ways that I didn't think were possible and so far hasn't led me astray. I soon found it's ability to share in real time traffic, hazards, construction, and police speed traps almost invaluable when on a road trip. The application uses the community of reporters like me to get real time information. The maps have and directions have been very good. Waze also has an easy integration with Foursquare (https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.joelapenna.foursquared) to keep track of all the great places you visited and learn from other people tips.

As more people use the service, the information it provides will just get better. If driving late at night or in less populated ares, there won't be many "wazers" around you, so there may not be as much real time information available.

I have had issues with the application force quitting when moving to other applications. Waze does not really notify you of this. When you select it, the app does realize that it quit and quickly asks if you want to resume your route. I get the impression that the developers know this and are working on something better. (https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.waze)

Route Based Information:

I have been looking for some better idea of what's coming up along my route. iExit and RoadNinja are two application that are attempting to do this. Both are limited to interstate exit information. They still seem to have some maturity issues, but seem to be a step in the right direction.


iExit - iExit seems to be fairly mature application for giving you information on upcoming exits. It's great to know that there isn't another exit with a McDonald for 50 miles. I found the information be mostly complete and laid out in a way that helped me as a car traveler.

The application itself seems to be a bit buggy, slow, and would quit from time to time. That said I still think it's the best on out there. (https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.metrocket.iexit)




RoadNinja - I saw this application advertised on a billboard and decided to try it on a recent trip to Cincinnati. It tries to do the similar thing as iExit, but I did find spots along the interstate where information seems to be missing.

The application felt quicker and more stable than iExit, but sometimes it just didn't have the information for the route I was on. I got the impression that this was a brand new product that was just being developed, so it's probably a product to watch. (https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.lamar.roadninjaapp)




FoxFi - Wonderful application to create a mobile hotspot in the vehicle. That way my kids can have all their devices plugged into the internet while traveling (tablets, laptop, netbook, and iPods). I've also used it to laptop VPN into the office to pick up a document or make a minor modification to a server while on the road. (https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.foxfi)







WeatherBug - Okay any weather application with animated radar would do here, but it's nice to know if the upcoming storm is short lived, or it's going to last for a few hours. I'm used to WeatherBug, and it seems to have reasonable usability and stability. (https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.aws.android)








GasBuddy - great application for finding and reporting the best gas prices out there. I always find it a personal challenges to find the best gas prices along our route. Although GasBuddy doesn't (yet) understand the idea of routes, I have found their community based price information to be the most complete and up to date, so I still recommend it on trips, though many of the other applications are integrating gas prices. (https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=gbis.gbandroid)






Google Navigation - Good old Google maps and navigation. This application keeps getting better with real time traffic (on some of the smaller roads), walk around directions and it's just rock solid and dependable. I've switched to using Waze for primary car navigation because of it's community aspect, but for almost everything else it's Google maps and navigation. (https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.google.android.apps.maps)

Let me know what you favorite apps for driving and road trips are. Always looking for a way to use Android to make my trips a little more fun or interesting. Perhaps I should create that license plate game app I've always been thinking of?

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Upgrade buggy Kubuntu 12.04 Nvdia driver 295.40 to use KDE Desktop Effects


When I upgraded the machine from 11.10 Kubuntu 64-bit to 12.04, my machine essentially became unusable until I turned desktop effects off (ALT-SHIFT-F12). The story was well documented on the internet (http://www.phoronix.com/scan.php?page=news_item&px=MTA4ODQ - Good story on the failings of the 295.40 Nvidia driver that shipped with 12.04 LTS Kubuntu). I suffered along not wanting to custom a version of Kubuntu expecting Canonical to relatively quickly update the version in the repositories - after all this is an LTS version.

After 3 months of running my video on Kubuntu 12.04 by running desktop effects under the compositing type "xrender" for my Quadro NVS 210S/GeForce 6150LE graphics card instead of "OpenGL", I was fed up. Running under xrender was just as good as turning them off. I wasn't up to downgrading my drivers to the previous version or suffering through the continued development on the Nouveau drivers.  I even contemplated getting a new video card, but decided to do more digging.

I finally realized how bad it was when I did some benchmarks.
grep VGA /proc/pci || lspci | grep VGA | colrm 1 4 ; egrep "model name|MHz" /proc/cpuinfo ; xdpyinfo | egrep "version:|dimensions|depth of" ; glxinfo | egrep -A2 "direct rendering|OpenGL vendor" ; uname -sr ; vblank_mode=0 glxgears & sleep 30 ; killall glxgears
I was getting 5 FPS (frames per second) using the a Google gears script (Google Gears is not a perfect benchmark from what I read, but fine for a quick test):

I decided to take the plunge an install a third party Nvidia PPA repository, since I have had issues with direct installs of the proprietary drivers from Nvidia in the past conflicting with Ubuntu upgrades. I chose to install the x-swat repository that seemed to have a good reputation after numerous Google searches on the subject (https://launchpad.net/~ubuntu-x-swat/+archive/x-updates/). The PPA had a good reputation had been there awhile, was not on the bleeding edge, and was receiving regular updates.

You can update your drivers with x-swat ppa and to install Nvidia card latest drivers use this PPA.

To install/Update Nvidia card drivers open Terminal (Press Alt+F2 and type: konsole) and copy the following commands in the terminal:
  sudo apt-add-repository ppa:ubuntu-x-swat/x-updates
  sudo apt-get update
  sudo apt-get install nvidia-current
When the driver installation completed I restart KDE (or just restart your PC). To check that things were better, I reran the script above and I'm getting ~1200 FPS with my Quadro NVS 210S / GeForce 6150LE using the 302.17 Nvidia driver.

My machine once again feels "snappy". No need to buy hardware that I don't really need, that may come with it's own set of new challenges, plus I can re-enable all the eye candy desktop effects that I'd come to appreciate in Kubuntu.

Now I just need to be careful when the next version of Kubuntu comes out. I'll be using some fine PPA purge routine to remove the XSWAT PPA (http://hackedbellini.org/applications/ppa-purge-the-best-friend-for-people-who-lives-on-bleeding-edge/).

References used to pull this together:
http://www.phoronix.com/scan.php?page=news_item&px=MTA4ODQ - Good story on the failings of the 295.40 Nvidia driver that shipped with 12.04 LTS Kubuntu
https://launchpad.net/~ubuntu-x-swat/+archive/x-updates/ - Direct link to PPA an limited information there
http://www.noobslab.com/2011/09/nvidia-drivers-for-ubuntu-1110-oneiric.html - Basic information on how to add the PPA to you list of repositories and update
http://hackedbellini.org/applications/ppa-purge-the-best-friend-for-people-who-lives-on-bleeding-edge/ - PPA purge suggestion