Smartphones ready to save dumb drivers from hefty fines

By Jayson Jacoby April 13, 2012 09:01 am

I’ve never been so glad that my teenage years happened well before anybody thought to put “smart” in front of “phone.”

Back in the ’80s a lot of phones were sort of stupid, frankly, what with waiting for the rotary dial to plod back to its stop so you could put in the next number.

Calling someone who was encumbered with a lot of 8’s and 9’s could induce carpal tunnel syndrome.

And those extra seconds were pure torture when you were already engaged in the mentally exhausting, and ego-destroying, exercise of phoning a girl to see if she’d go with you to the homecoming dance.

(And knowing, with the certainty of the hormone-addled, that not only would she decline, but the last sound you’d hear before the connection ended was hysterical laughter.)

Yet for all its faults, as a surveillance device the hoary analog phone, with its Bakelite case heavy enough to pound nails, posed no great threat to any halfway clever teen.

Even if a nosy parent tried to listen in, the clunk that went down the line when the bulky receiver was lifted, releasing the pair of plastic tabs that looked like Lite-Brite pegs, was as stealthy as a monster truck.

(What a great toy the Lite-Brite was. A choking hazard that also could electrocute you. Plus Hasbro spelled both words wrong.)

Today’s smartphones, by contrast, would give Orwell the willies.

Not to mention 17-year-olds.

I received a disturbing email the other day from a company, Iconosys, peddling its My Max Speed 2.0.

In common with nine of every 10 new products these days, this is a smartphone app.

(Our lives, it seems, have become so hectic that we simply can’t deal with multisyllabic words such as application. Or multisyllabic, come to that.)

The function that this app’s name suggests is so wildly different from its actual purpose, though, that the discrepancy has to be the sinister work of a marketer aiming to mislead.

My Max Speed sounds like something I would have been interested in trying when I was a teenager.

I used to ponder, with all the wonder of a philosopher, what would happen if the speedometer needle on my parents’ ’77 Nova reached the 80 mph mark.

(As an indication of how pathetic vehicle performance was during that era, the 80 mph threshold was the apex of the instrument. This seems to me now an apt symbol for the milquetoast and apologetic aura which attended Carter’s presidency.)

Would the needle stick there, a sort of eyewitness that would, quite literally, point to me as the law-breaker the next time my dad got behind the wheel?

Or would it break loose, plummet down through the instrument panel like a pinball, and lodge against the high-beam footswitch?

I dearly wished to know.

Probably this was a moot point, as I’m not certain the Nova’s asthmatic straight-6 could propel the vehicle clear to 80.

At least not without the advantage of a steep downgrade.

What I do know is that My Max Speed, never mind its name, is intended not to encourage high-velocity hooliganism but rather to ensure that any teen who engages in such behavior will be caught.

The app, you see, monitors your driving speed and records the result every five seconds.

I don’t know how it accomplishes this, exactly.

But I’m certain it’s devilishly accurate.

Accurate enough, anyway, to demolish any excuse you could invent when your dad thrusts in your face the smartphone, its high-def screen betraying your every dalliance with extra-legal speeds.

The people who make My Max Speed are sharp, though, I’ll give them that.

Lest anyone chastise them for profiting from the immaturity of adolescents — not that you hear, say, Stephenie Meyer apologizing — the bosses at Iconosys emphasize that their app can do much more than tattle on teens.

It protects your civil rights, for instance.

Let’s say a cop stops you on the pretense that you were speeding, even though you’re convinced you were right at the legal limit.

(Or maybe, you know, 1 mph over.)

But then the friendly officer cites you not just for that offense, but also for another violation, such as failing to wear a seatbelt, that isn’t a legal reason for a traffic stop.

You direct the officer’s attention to your phone, which shows, quite clearly, that he was in error as regards your speed.

A minute later you’re driving away — and with no new blemishes on your record.

That scenario is plausible, I suppose.

But I’ll wager that My Max Speed will earn its keep not by thwarting speeding tickets, but by dissuading boys from seeing what the speedometer needle looks like pegged all the way over.


. . .


My grandpa was a pretty fair artist.

No Rembrandt, to be sure.

Nor a Rockwell, to name a painter who, unlike the Dutch master, was a contemporary.

But grandpa’s landscapes are pleasing to the eye — to my eye, anyway. He was particularly fond of snowy mountains.

Also, he injected interest into his work by painting not only on the standard canvas, but also on slabs of wood and old crosscut and circular saw blades.

Grandpa’s specialty, or so it seems to me, was horses. I know nothing of art, but certain of his equine portraits convey a glimpse of that unique combination of grace, majesty and intelligence that distinguishes the species.

He died almost a decade ago. I have, and cherish, several of his paintings.

Yet it was a short stroke from his pencil — a mark utterly lacking in artistic intent or result — that recently invoked in me an especially vivid memory of the man.

I was reading William L. Sullivan’s “Listening For Coyote.” It’s an early edition of Sullivan’s account of his solo hike across Oregon in 1985. I’ve owned the book for more than 20 years and it has the threadbare appearance of a well-loved volume which has been read often.

I turned a page and there, in the left margin next to the first word of a new paragraph, was the dim line left by a pencil. It had a little crook at the end facing the outside edge of the page, rather like a shepherd’s hook.

This, I suddenly remembered, was grandpa’s way of marking where he’d left off.

I had forgotten not only that habit, but that I had ever lent him the book.

Yet right then, thanks to that minor pencil scratch, I could see grandpa, and with rare clarity, stretched out on the narrow sofa in his dining room where he preferred to read, the pages illuminated by the light of a single old lamp.

It occurred to me that, when I look at one of grandpa’s paintings, I don’t envision him in his studio, dabbing at his palette.

Yet a careless scrawl from a pencil managed to stimulate my memory in a way that true art, the product of many hours of intense toil, could not.

Just another way, I suppose, that whatever true magic exists in this world is found, often as not, in books.


Jayson Jacoby is editor of the Baker City Herald.