18 August 2020
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Elon Musk and His Flying Car

Q: Sigh. Aren't You Ever Going to Stop Pestering Elon Musk?

A: Of course not. Elon Musk is a pilot. I discovered this with a small amount of research and no surprise by looking in the FAA Airman's Registry. He doesn't seem to be active as a pilot at the moment, but I do believe he's been busy. It's well known that the busier one is, the more is demanded of him. Although the pandemic has prevented me from driving much—there's no place to go—it hasn't stopped me from improving the Tesla vehicle, at least in my alleged mind. So, without further babble, I hereby belabor Musk with some suggested improvements, from trivial to perhaps a bit difficult, even for him. Since most have to do with airplane stuff, perhaps he'll be enthusiastic.

The Really Really Easy One

I know, or at least should know, that making software changes that seem simple are often difficult, absorbing many programmer-years to realize. This isn't one of them. It's a simple change to a tiny part of the big display. There's an area on the upper-right of the display that shows direction of travel.

The arrow represents the car, and you can determine from the lettering that it is heading (or at least pointing) a little bit east of south. On a standard compass, south is 180 degrees and east is 90, so if you wanted to represent the direction numerically, you could replace the letters on the Tesla display with numbers. It looks like about "177" would do it.

If we were flying the car and disregarding the annoying restrictions caused by paving and curbs, we could steer to the exact heading of our destination. Aircraft compasses and other heading instruments offer numerical headings, and probably a large percentage of Tesla customers are pilots. Why not give us some eye candy?

No, I'm not suggesting that they disappear the N/E/S/W display. But you can already toggle from heading-up to north-up and back with a click, and this third selection would offer a proper, aeronautical compass.

Of Course I'm Not Stopping With Compass Heading

I'm often curious about elevation. When you're driving on a mountain road, aren't you interested in how high the summit you just passed is? Or how fast you're going uphill or downhill? Although it's generally idle curiosity since you're still stuck on a road, wouldn't it be nice to have an altimeter in the car? Well you do, possibly more than one since modern vehicles often have pressure sensors for various reasons. But the Tesla GPS, which I have found to be remarkably accurate, surely has a numerical output for altitude. Would it be a big challenge to display it? No, it wouldn't. Let's add that to the map display. And if you know your current altitude and your previous altitude, you also have what in an aircraft would be a rate-of-climb indicator. Please, Sir, may I have one of those, too?

I Could Go On

You see where this is heading (or tracking—there's a difference). Real airplanes have any number of instruments. Those mentioned above are required, as are airspeed, rate-of-turn, and artificial horizon. And the Tesla GPS could easily display latitude and longitude. Most of your driving time, or almost all of it if you are a commuter, is spent tracing the same route. Why not provide some fun aircraft instruments instead of the boring old moving map* that tells you what you already know?

Further Pestering

All the display "instruments" can easily be implemented with varying amounts of software and no new hardware or modifications. There are two more things I'd like to see, one easy, one maybe impossible. The easy one is fixing what I believe is a new bug in the cruise control, and deleting a misfeature.

Please Give Us a Stupid Cruise Control

I love the Tesla cruise control. Most of the time. Even disregarding its automatic steering, the great feature is that you can follow the car in front of you in stop-and-go traffic and let the car do all the work. But sometimes it's too smart. It will see a car that's not a potential hazard and inappropriately brake. And there's a new issue, possibly a bug. My house fronts a road on which the speed limit is 25mph. It's a nice two-lane, paved road, and one could most times drive much faster if he cared to. Tesla allows one to set an automatic increment to the cruise control, so that when it's turned on, it will add your setting to the local speed limit. (This daring blogger has set it at "3" so that I will be going at 3mph above the speed limit. It's rumored that others are even more adventurous.) After a recent software update, I've noticed that sometimes the car slows down for no reason, not just to below 28, but even below 25. It seems to be due to twists and turns on the road but, as I said, no human driver would slow down for them unless there's ice on the pavement. We don't get much of that here, and I'm sure the car knows the temperature better than I do.

So, my request: Eliminate the braking misfeature and fix the slow-down bug with a selectable cruise control mode where you set the speed and the car ignores everything except the driver. A mode just like that is in my gone and slightly lamented Plug-in Prius and also in pretty much every other car I've had in the past few decades. Thanks!

Here's the "Impossible" One, Unless it's Really Easy

How often have you heard something on the radio that you love or wish you had recorded or want to play again? The Tesla already has a continuous video recorder, and a very simple way of saving a video clip from the "dashcam." Why not have a "radiocam" as well? Press an icon on the touchscreen to save the previous few minutes and the following, say, ten minutes of whatever happens to be playing on the radio to the same USB stick that records the video? Simple idea, simple to implement in software. Won't you love it?

Yes, unless there's no way to do it. My Tesla manual unaccountably didn't include full-car schematic diagrams, and I have no idea if the audio signal from the radio can be digitized and deposited in the USB memory. But wouldn't that be a great feature if it can?

Tomorrow: The Pandemic and Me

Q: HEY! We're more interested in Elon Musk and His Flying Car than you and your pandemic. Why haven't you mentioned that yet despite the title?
A: Because this blogitem is long enough! OK, I'll maybe save the pandemic for a while. It isn't going anywhere.

Bad Taste

I should probably leave poor Alexei Navalny alone; he has enough problems already. The situation with his health is ongoing and one is hopeful for his recovery. But reading the evolving story of his probable poisoning, I couldn't help noticing that after drinking tea at the Tomsk airport, he fell ill on the airplane and it was diverted to...


* If you know my personal history, you'll recognize that the asterisked sentence above is possibly the most ironic one I've ever written.

Richard Factor


"It's Never Too Late"





Finally, a shirt that needs no introduction.

I never liked Fleetwood Mac 'til Stevie Nicks and Lindsay Buckingham joined them. I have an original copy of the Buckingham-Nicks album from before their Fleetwood Mac days, but when it was reissued, there were no visible changes, so I guess it's not a "collector's item."

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