The Bad Data Shutdown

I’m a car guy. I like cars, I like driving, and I’ve spent a lot of time and money over the years on vehicles. I’ve swapped and enjoyed a few dozen automobiles as part of my life. If you are on Twitter, you might occasionally see @BrentO and myself go back and forth on some car topic, usually Porsche related. This usually results in an hour or so of life wasted on dreaming of a new car (including getting distracted while writing this piece and pasting that last link in, where I spent quite some time drooling over the Macan).

Recently there was an issue with the navigation system in Lexus vehicles. Apparently bad data was sent during a software update, which is not exactly what you want to happen in a car. I’ve had a few modern vehicles, some of which would be quite handicapped if they onboard computer were frozen or rebooting. In my current vehicle, this would cause issues with climate, navigation, entertainment, and potentially other systems. After all, I suspect many things from door locks to speed control are all integrated together. Certainly the drivetrain is as an open door will automatically shift my car from drive to park, at least at low speeds.

As we move to more drive by wire, bad data or bad software that disrupts the computer systems could be very dangerous. It’s not just updates, but this could even be some internal Denial of Service issue from a USB device or bluetooth connection. In this case,  Lexus acknowledged the problem, which I’m glad to see. The Internet ensures that problems can be reported from many users quickly and very publicly. That makes it hard to deny a widespread problem.

Delivering updates across wireless links is great. It’s cheaper for everyone, saves time, and owners appreciate convenience. However, moving to this model often requires some sort of continuous delivery (CD) process, which should also allow for rolling forward, and releasing fixes for problems. However, if the updates you deliver cause the system to cease functioning, then this doesn’t help. At the last, your QA system needs work and you don’t have a well designed software delivery process.

Various companies are getting better at delivering updates to our systems without downtime, but there’s still work to be done. The smaller your domain of clients, the easier this is. For many of us that work on small systems, an application server or two and a database, we can certainly get much better at ensuring our updates are tested, and more importantly, that we can quickly deploy a second patch if we find an issue. That requires engineering a process that is known and stable, with the ability to respond quickly. For larger systems, with many clients, you need a really solid engineering and deployment process.

Above all, however, no matter what your deployment mechanism for updates, you need to be sure that any data you include is at the quality level you’d expect would be delivered to you.

Steve Jones

The Voice of the DBA Podcast

Listen to the MP3 Audio ( 4.7MB) podcast or subscribe to the feed at iTunes and LibSyn.

First Look at Apple Car Play

I rented a Buick recently, and when I plugged my phone into the USB port to charge, I was surprised to see the CarPlay icon come on. At first I was a little confused, using my phone to navigate to a hotel, but when I could only see written directions, and not a map, I suspected the CarPlay integration had taken over.

At first I was a bit annoyed, after all, I could see the radio on the car screen, but no map on my phone and navigating was tricky. However once I realized how to change to CarPlay on the car screen, I could access the map there, which was much easier to see than my phone.

Over a couple days, I experimented with CarPlay, getting and sending texts in the car with Siri, which was much easier than accessing it on my phone, especially for having messages read. Accessing music (native or Spotify) worked well, though there were some limitations with Spotify, such as not being able to easily pick a particular song in a playlist.

Very few apps were integrated, mostly the native ones with Spotify and Pandora for me. I wish Google Maps were integrated as I like that one better than Apple Maps, but it wasn’t a big issue for me. I suspect that will change over time, especially as more companies put CarPlay in vehicles and developers incorporate the APIs.

The ergonomics are good, overall, however having to reach and access a touch screen on the dash is a bit cumbersome when you’re driving. Especially when there isn’t tactile feedback. It’s too easy on a touch screen to hit the wrong icon and then have your attention leave the road. I really think that CarPlay will need some hard button integration to really be useful for drivers. The voice access is OK, but I’ve found with road noise and sometimes needing a stiff pronunciation from me, it’s not a great system.

Overall I’m impressed. I didn’t think much of the idea when it was announced, but having used it, I like what I see. There’s work to be done, but this is one of the best car/phone integrations I’ve seen in terms of working well and also removing temptations for the driver to focus on their phone. I’m hoping that Android Auto works just as well and we find ways to remove some phone distractions in the car.

The 2015 Car Update

I love cars. I don’t love commuting, but I enjoy driving. A little over a year ago, I left the Albuquerque SQL Saturday with a few fellow SQL Server pros at 8pm. I drove the 6+ hours home to arrive at 2:30am in time to get some sleep and then be up early for a family event.

It was hard, but I enjoyed the drive. I like the road trips.

I used to include some thoughts on cars and technology as an editorial piece every few months. Some people like it, some didn’t, some hated it, so I stopped. However I’ve been meaning to include a few notes here, so if you don’t like cars, stop reading.

The End of an Era

At the end of last year, I sold my 911. That was the dream car I wanted since I was 11 or 12 and finally bought. It was the second Porsche I owned (I had a 914) and it was a little sad to let it go.

However it stayed in the SQL Family, going to Merrill Aldrich. Here we were one morning in December before he drove away.

Photo Dec 19, 7 26 20 AM

This was the first time I hadn’t had a Porsche in over a decade, and I thought I might get another one soon. However I was looking for something that was larger and more comfortable to me.

Looking Forward

As I’ve aged, and since I’ve been driving my 2001 Suburban for a few years, I’ve wanted to have a bit more room in the car. With a bad knee (surgery last year) and again joints, I dislike getting down into cars these days. I don’t like driving our Prius and I try to rent SUVs when I’m traveling.

As a result, I’m looking for a mid-sized SUV. The Suburban has been great, but it has 180k miles on it, things are breaking, and I’d like to have a slightly smaller SUV with better gas mileage. I am looking for a truck that would easily get 3 of us skiing with gear. I’ll still have the Suburban for a bit of time, so if we need to take 5 people, we can. I considered (briefly) some of the AWD cars, but at the ranch we have snow drifts at times and the low clearance of cars becomes an issue.

I also want to be pampered. Things I think are important:

  • heated seats (must)
  • heated steering wheel (nice)
  • sunroof
  • smooth drive
  • leg room in the rear (I have kids starting to drive, who are large and sometimes put me in the back seat)

That’s about it. Navigation, cruise control, most of the other items are optional for me. I was looking for a 2012-ish used truck, maybe newer, depending on model. With this in mind, I started a search with these cars:

  • Chevy/GMC Tahoe/Yukon
  • Porsche Cayenne
  • VW Toureg
  • Audi Q7
  • Lexus RX350/450h
  • Hyundai Santa Fe
  • BMW X5
  • Volvo XC90
  • Lincoln MKX
  • Toyota Highlander
  • Acura MDX
  • Mazda CX-9

I drove quite a few of these, but not all. However they seemed to fall into a few classes and I could relate some to others. For example, the Cayenne, Q7 and Toureg all fall on the same frame. The Porsche is the smallest inside, and was underwhelming in terms of power. The Toureg was really nice, but it didn’t have any advantages over the X5, so I discarded it. I didn’t drive the Q7, but it’s a more expensive car, with no real advantages. To some extent, the Lincoln and Chevy fall into the same class. Expensive with no advantages.

The Highlander, CX-9, and Santa Fe don’t feel as polished or comfortable. Thinner seats, not as enjoyable, just not luxurious. The Lincoln was a bit underpowered, and also smaller.

I settled on the X5 and the RX350 pretty quickly. The Acura was essentially the RX350, but since there are fewer of them, why go that way? The Lexus is amazingly built, with so many older models with high mileage for sale. I even drove one with 325k miles and was tempted to get it for my son.

Ultimately the large sunroof and my wife’s affinity for Beemers have me choosing the X5 as the truck. It has rear seat heaters, which the kids like. A third row, which is really unusable for my family (everyone is 5′ 9" or taller) but it’s there in a pinch. The sunroof is huge, which I love. It’s comfortable and luxurious, and while it’s a touch heavy, the diesel has decent gas mileage.

All that’s left to do is find one. I’m on the search now, and we’ll see what I find in the next month.

Energy news that caught my eye

I’ve been a big fan of nuclear energy ever since I worked at a power plant. Before that I was terrified and didn’t think it was a good idea, but I learned quite a bit about how it works and while there are issues, I think it’s a good source to consider.

If we redesign the reactors. Right now we use old designs, old technology, and we could make them more efficient and much more safe.

I ran across this piece on Small Nuclear reactors. These are in the 200-300MW range, as opposed to the 1,000-2,000MW reactors that we use today. Those large ones cost $10b, as opposed to a $1-2b investment, a much more manageable cost for many power companies. I could see smaller companies putting these up, with much lower operating costs and potentially giving us true energy independence.

I have a fascination with wind power. I’ve wanted to get a vertical axis wind turbine (VAWT), but few companies make them, and there are mixed views on whether or not these are efficient. I caught a piece on a field of VAWT. These are much less noisy, and potentially the wakes from them don’t interfere with the other turbines, resulting in more density. I hope these work, and become affordable enough for me to get one.

Barring the VAWT, the HAWTs now can come with batteries, to keep power flowing more consistently. This isn’t really for residential users, but for large commercial users, giving power vendors the chance to ramp up more expensive (and dirty) alternatives if the load is growing.

Also, some auto news. Finally I see something on fuel cell vehicles. I had high hopes for these years ago, with thin platforms. This is similar to what the Tesla has, and the idea would be that you could actually purchase multiple bodies (sports car, truck, sedan) and change them out on demand.


With hybrids and fuel becoming cheaper (after two wars), this idea dropped off the radar.

Perhaps it’s back. I know the hydrogen infrastructure is an issue, but the same thing holds true for natural gas vehicles, and I have friends buying those now. There are only a few stations in Denver, but they make them work, especially for commuting.

I like the Tesla, and I loved the 90s battery change. The economics don’t make sense, but the idea is great. I would love to see this for fuel cells as well. Rather than fueling to start, what about changing out jerry-can sized “fuel” cells at a station. The station and refill them as needed, and drivers wouldn’t spend too much time filling their cars.

Car Data

I don't know if I like this layout, but I like more data being available from my car usage.
I don’t know if I like this layout, but I like more data being available from my car usage.

I really like cars. In my lifetime I have owned more than my share of vehicles, and I always look forward to renting new makes and models when I travel, just to drive something different. As cars have evolved over the last few decades, there are some things about the changes I love, and some things I dislike. Personally I like the idea of a key fob that enables me to unlock the car and start the engine with a button without pulling the keys out of my pocket. However, as someone that’s lost my share of keys, I’d prefer a real key as a backup mechanism. Unfortunately that doesn’t seem to be an option many manufacturers want to provide. I dread having to replace a $200 “smart key” at some point in order to drive my car.

Cars have implemented a wide array of technology over time, some of which drivers are not even aware. These days cars gather an impressive amount of data, though probably not quite at the scale of the new Dreamliner. Or maybe they do. According to this article, cars can produce “hundreds of MB/s” in data acquisition. I would guess most of that data is thrown away, but some may not. I was quite impressed with the amount of data Tesla logged during the recent test drive controversy with one of their vehicles.

All this data, and the potential need to manage it, mine it, and perhaps make it available to other applications, is another sign of just how important our jobs as data professionals may be in the future. More and more of the things we encounter on a daily basis are creating data that we may turn into information for business decisions through creative uses of software. While some parts of our database systems may become easier to use, I suspect there are no shortage of new skills we will need to learn in the future to make sense of our data.

Mobile technology, whether with cell phones or transportation (planes, trains, and automobiles), will become more prevalent in our lives in the next decade. I suspect this will mean many more opportunities for data professionals. Especially as I’m sure there will be new regulations and requirements that will keep software developers and database professionals busy modifying applications as legislation tries to catch up with the creativity of technologists.

Steve Jones

The Voice of the DBA Podcasts

We publish three versions of the podcast each day for you to enjoy.

The Auto OS

Will we see more integration of computers and cars in the future?
Will we see more integration of computers and cars in the future?

Those of you who have followed SQLServerCentral for a long time know that I like cars. I used to do car updates periodically, and still get in car debates on times over Twitter. I love my cars, and despite the age of a few of them, they’re all doing well. My Prius still gets 47-50 mpg (depending on weather) and it’s proven itself to be a great investment. It’s even paid off, and as gas prices rise, I use it more and more.

For much of automotive history, the advancements have taken place under the hood or in the mechanical systems of the car. Computers have been a part of design and even operation for a long time, but primarily to keep the mechanical systems operating at a high efficiency. The interactions with drivers have mostly  come from entertainment or climate systems.

That changed a little with the introduction of navigation systems, that allow a driver to spend less time finding destinations and concentrate on driving. I know that hybrids that surface efficiency information to the driver have changed the way I drive, even when I’m in another car. I suspect the same is true for many people that purchased cars with the idea they would save money on fuel. I suspect in the future we will get more interactions with cars in new ways, perhaps even in ways we hadn’t considered before.

Cars are becoming more complex, and many have their own OSes inside. This might be the next OS war, after the mobile phone competitions that are ongoing between iOS, Android, and Window Phone. I suspect that these two are closely intertwined as I think integration between a mobile vehicle and a mobile phone is essential and I hope there are good APIs and standards that allow any phone to work with any car.

Data integrity and security will become more important in the mobile platforms as we use them for more services. I hope that companies are paying attention to these issues, and ensuring they not only hire great developers and software engineers, but also good data professionals to help them build their systems. I suspect that isn’t the case, but perhaps a few of you will find jobs in the automotive industry and become strong advocates for data security.

Steve Jones

The Voice of the DBA Podcasts

We publish three versions of the podcast each day for you to enjoy.