Plugged In: Taking A Digital Drive
Cocooned as we are in our homes and offices with our high-tech capabilities, consumer electronics are also turning our automobiles into digital centers of entertainment and support. And why not? Anything that breaks up the trip or helps us along can be a mollifying salve. Hereís some hardware to take your mind off the highway mayhem.

It hasnít taken off quite like we imagined back in early 2002, but satellite radio could yet prove to be the audio revolution weíve been looking for.

Sirius orbits three satellites that broadcast 100 streams of music and entertainment coast-to-coast, 60 of them commercial-free, with a wide array of musical categories. The other 40 channels cover an even broader spectrum of sports, news, talk, comedy, weather and more.

As with anything that deals with atmosphere, radio waves and digital technology, itís not perfect. We heard lots of dead air and signals that cut in and out.

When the signal does arrive, itís strong, clear and crisp, thanks to S>Plex technology, a system that reallocates bandwidth among channels as content demands. Sirius says the difference in sound from the greater bandwidth is akin to the difference between music on cassette tape and CDs, and weíd have to agree.; $12.95/month for service

No more printed-out directions or scribbled notes.

Garmin has released the next generation of portable GPS auto navigation, with the StreetPilot 2610 and StreetPilot 2650. Both are leading-edge systems that feature ultra-fast map drawing and routing and voice prompt technology. The StreetPilot 2650 also includes a built-in solid state gyro and an interface to a vehicle odometer system, allowing it to function seamlessly in areas where GPS signals are obscured.

We routed ourselves around the Northwest with the 2610. It responded with voice directions, as well as clear, color onscreen directions.; $799

Ever wonder what your mechanic sees when he connects your car to his diagnostic computer? Now you can. And we did, with the Davis Car-Chip. This compact device, about the size of two 9-volt batteries, connects directly to your 1996-or-later autoís OBDII (second-generation onboard diagnostics) port, just under the hood. Then the fun begins.

The CarChip E/X can troubleshoot your engine, log your carís performance and monitor driver performance (parents of teens take note).

The E/X can log 300 hours of trip details and can measure up to four engine parameters every 5 to 60 seconds, including RPM, throttle position, coolant temperature, timing advance and 19 others. Itís easy, and weíre by no means a motorhead. Now, if we can just cut back on those jackrabbit starts.; $179

Technophile Don Campbell lives and writes in the Pacific Northwest.
Photo by Renata Kosina