Car PC Hacks: Tips and Tools for Geeking Your Ride

by Damien Stolarz

Published by O'Reilly

316 pages, 2005





Carputing for... Anyone?

Reviewed by Lincoln Cho


The morning commute to the office. It's always the same. When you open the door of your car, you hear a vague hum as your onboard computer starts its boot sequence. As you back out of your parking space, you flick a glance at your rearview mirror screen to see if the camera is picking up anything behind you. It's not, so you pull out and onto the road. By the time you do that, of course, the computer's boot sequence is completed. You know you could input your destination on the GPS, but what's the point? You're going to work: you know the way.

Now traffic data? That's a different matter. Before you pull onto the 405, you hit the touchscreen to check your real time traffic feed. You spot an accident a few miles up the road. Relieved that you know about it, you take an alternate route.

Now happily tootling along the most traffic-free route available this morning, you hit the touchscreen again to download your e-mail. May as well get ready for the work day by listening to your messages. There's not much of interest this morning -- certainly nothing that requires an instant response -- so you listen to your RSS feeds and check the headlines on CNN, which gets you all the way to work this morning.

Though it all sounds a bit sci-fi, you've probably already figured that it's not. More: if Damien Stolarz, author of Car PC Hacks, is right, all of these things -- and so much more -- are just the teensiet tip of the iceberg and fully integrated wireless "carputing" is just around the corner for everyone.

Right now though, and realistically, it's all pretty much still in the realm of the geeks. Do-able but not as easily as, say, installing a really great stereo system. And with that stereo, it's possible to pop down to your local mobile audio experts, flash a bit of plastic and leave with a trunkfull of very noisy gear.

While I would expect we're not that far from being able to do all of that with car computers is not that far in the future, we're certainly not there now. At least, not if you want it custom built for you. But if you have the temperament and the inclination to do it yourself, Stolarz shows you how. In the Preface to Car PC Hacks, Stolarz explains:

The time for in-car computing has arrived. There are strong signs in every direction that personal computing technology will soon take over the car. It started with satellite radio, bringing streaming digital audio to the car. Then the iPod captured the digital audio player market and suddenly became the defacto standard car audio component. MP3 players, in-car navigation systems, and touchscreens are now standard in many vehicles -- and it won't stop there.

In case that all sounds a little too easy, you might be right. While Stolarz' book is lucid and as simple as current technology will allow, it's not as simple as all that. As Stolarz says, "Since this book is aimed at both "car guys" and "computer guys," it includes a lot of material for both audiences. If, however, you're neither, you're likely to find yourself at least a little out to sea with some of this material.

On the other hand, if you do fall into one -- or both -- of those categories and carputing is a thought that's ever occurred to you at all, then Car PC Hacks is the book for you. It's the very best of an incredibly small -- but growing -- field. | October 2005


Lincoln Cho is a freelance writer and contributing editor to Blue Coupe magazine.