Feb 20

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a “dude where’s my car?” moment. I chalk it up to a perfect storm of missing neurons – having zero sense of navigation coupled with a general absent mindedness for things my brain considers to be mundane details. Fortunately though technology is improving fast enough to cover for my mental deficiencies.

The latest firmware upgrade to the iPhone brought some neat features, one in particular I’ve found to be extremely valuable: the GPS-like ability to locate your current position on a map via cell tower triangulation. This was the killer app in my opinion for jailbreaking an iPhone before this upgrade to get the old Navizon app. I’m happy that Apple chose to include this feature in the core functionality of the iPhone so now I don’t have to futz with the jailbreaking headaches in order to use it.

The most obvious use of the new cell triangulation feature is to be able to pick a destination and say “get me there from here.” But there’s another less-obvious use case I’ve discovered that when coupled with a technique that my buddy Josh Knowles invented, becomes super useful when you’re on the road.

The problem: when you’re doing back-to-back trips to big cities and driving cookie-cutter yugo rental cars, things start to blur together. In the rush between meetings, the parking garages start to look the same and you forget what your current rental car looks like (let alone where you parked it). *An aside- the psychological explanation for this phenomenon is interference theory which basically says when things are similar enough yet slightly different, it completely confounds your short-term memory.

This very situation happened to me a month ago when I was at MacWorld. I was in SF driving from the hotel pursuing a navigationally-adept MacWorld attendee in my crappy rental car trying to keep up and entirely oblivious to where we were going. I ended up parking in a garage somewhere near the Moscone Center on an unknown floor and following this guy to the show. I never mentally snapshotted where I had parked though and all I remembered about the car I was driving was that it was blue and cramped with manual windows and a cheesy stereo.

The outcome of this frenzied cannonball run to MacWorld was that after the event I realized I was 3 blks away in some direction from a non-descript parking garage that had about 6-7 floors and a tiny blue car parked somewhere inside abutting one of the pylons. I was able to track down the right garage and the right floor and ultimately the car but not after first going through that desperation “crap i’ve lost my wallet” period and being thoroughly frustrated hunting for 45min.

The solution: When you park your P.O.S. car, you can hit the “current location” button on your iPhone and then the “more options” button to drop a pin to mark your position. Depending on how dense the cell coverage is, the location feature is very accurate (within 100 feet). Next snap a photo with the iPhone’s camera so you have a mug shot of your vehicle with some landmark or unique feature in the background. You now have all the key info necessary to find your car without using any of your short-term memory.

Now I realize this will seem like major nerd overkill to the ordinary person – and I don’t disagree. But for those of us who are missing those key neurons that enable navigation and remembering a series of similar-but-different details, this is a quick lifehack that can save some frustration.

But more importantly, I see this as part of that “mind like water” goal of freeing up mental RAM from storing trivial details and offloading them into trusted repositories so we’re able to do our thing and not sweat the small stuff.

9 Responses to “Useful iPhone trick to combat the “dude where’s my car” situation”

  1. Josh Knowles says:

    Way to take it to the next level, great idea!

  2. Jim Jeffers says:

    Yes, but will this help me find my car in the endless dirt lot that is called Westworld Parking when Barrett Jackson is in town? ;)

  3. sean says:

    @Josh- way to inspire the idea!

    @jim – not on its own but it will get you close. you’ll need to add a 3rd patented car-finding technique ->


  4. Sam says:

    Hi Sean,

    I use a similar technique with hotel rooms. I snap a pic of my hotel room number on the door and set it as my wallpaper. Comes in handy when the short-term memory thing happens…

  5. TOMAS says:

    This gives me an idea, I’m going to purposely forget where I parked my car and walk around for 45 minutes until I find it just to convince my fiancé that I need an iPhone to prevent this from happening. ;) She will probably just tell me to buy that message recorder shown on the infomercials.

  6. @Thomas – Too funny!

    I’ll bet in 5 years when / if one were to loose their cellphone / PDA / mobile device, any security or police personal will have to treat the person as a lost or missing child.

    Cop: “Can I see some ID”?
    Geek: “ah, it’s on my pda”

    Cop: “Is this your car”?
    Geek: “I donno, if there’s a picture on my pda, Yes”

    I was on a photo shoot this week and went to my camera bag for something, I put my blackberry in my camera bag, then went nuts 5 min later when I didn’t know where my phone is. :-)

    Adam N.

  7. Adam M says:


    Another good thing to do is take a picture of your parking spot # at the airport.

    Yet another, if you’re going to a strange city, is to program your points of interest before you go as bookmarks. It makes it very easy to get from one to another.

  8. Sam says:

    Hi Sean,

    I use a similar technique with hotel rooms. I snap a pic of my hotel room number on the door and set it as my wallpaper. Comes in handy when the short-term memory thing happens…

  9. Zied says:

    to combat brain laziness with more laziness. One should try to watch for background landmarks instead of taking a picture.
    if brain memory isn't stimulated then it's useless and will be less and less effective

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