February 1st, 2015

Still more foolishness involving driverless cars

To be clear: I'm not talking about autonomous cars -- cars with drivers in them ready to take over and attentive, but which do a lot more than old skool cruise control. Those cars are real. Those cars are getting more sophisticated every model year. I know, because we've got a couple of them in our household, and the lane departure warning on my husband's minivan bugs the fuck out of me when there's too much snow to the right of the car to properly stay in lane. Also, when snow gets on one of the sensors on my car, and I slow down, it freaks the fuck out and whines at me -- there is no better description for that tone. I know how to turn it off, but oh boy is that a negative. However annoying we all found "The Door is A Jar" warnings of the past, lidar and other sensors are going to bring that annoyance to new heights.

I'm talking about the jetpack fantasy of stick-your-kid-in-it-and-it-takes-kid-to-school. (Question: who is going to safely get the kid out on the other end? We should build the car around their school desk chair, and the car can just peel itself off and the chair can finish the trip right to the appropriate desk. Think redrawing seating charts is bad now, teachers? Just imagine!) The Jetsons fantasy of staggering out to a warm, waiting pod outside the bar, lying down and it delivering one to one's abode. (Question: who is going to clean up the vomit? Because in this fantasy for sure -- and, honestly, probably the first one, too, there is going to be vomit.)

Here is an article about how the fantasy, driver-free vehicle with smooth starts and smooth stops so your work isn't interrupted by jerking on start up and stops at intersections. In this analysis, that fantasy vehicle decreases intersection capacity and increases congestion.


It's sort of an interesting idea. It is _also_ an argument against all the safety advocates and hypermilers who also are opposed to jackrabbit starts and sudden stops. Do _THEY ALSO_ increase congestion and decrease capacity? Does it mean we should just all start as fast as we possibly can at an intersection and stop as suddenly short as we might want? Or should that mindless aggression be limited to heavily urbanized areas? But aren't those the areas where safety is most important?

Let's say that we decided that safety was important enough (and improved gas mileage, decreased wear and tear on cars, comfort for passengers, etc.) to really accept this hypothetical capacity decrease/congestion increase. One way to counterbalance that in the driver-free universe would be to entirely get rid of curbside parking. Think of the extra capacity that would be freed up!


Perhaps 30% of traffic in a driver-full scenario, in NYC, is composed of people cruising for parking. Shoup thinks we should charge more for curbside parking (I agree, but I think there are some other options too which we are currently exploring, such as smarter meters with apps to tell us where the available openings are). But if we got rid of curbside parking and most of the attendant cruising for cheap slots, we'd have plenty of extra space to compensate for the much more sedate driving experience.

And in a fantasy with driver-free cars, cars don't need to park, per se, right? They just head off for their next passenger. Because, you know, capacity utilization is going to be level around the clock and throughout the calendar. And if it wasn't -- if the fleet really knew those cars weren't going to be needed for some period of time, they could take themselves off to ... where, exactly?

We had a financial crash because a bunch of incredibly smart people convinced themselves that with the right math they could make risk disappear. The driverless car fantasy feels like securitization. Should we work towards driverless cars? Oh, fuck yeah. But along the way, it would be nice if we could quit convincing ourselves that this is going to fix longstanding problems like dead peds, congestion, finding a place to put the vehicle when it is not needed, etc. We should especially not believe that we are going to be happy with any scenario that involves human-free sharing of vehicles. If nothing else, we need to start pricing in the cost of cleaning that thing real regular.


ETA: The rhetoric of driverless cars -- from both sides!


The headline gives you one side. The content gives you the rest:

Stop building roads because we'll need less capacity. Start converting existing ones to bike lanes etc. Reduce/eliminate parking (requirements/minimums). Promote carshare. Curbside parking only for carshare. And then this gem of a paragraph:

"If someone buys a car a decade from now it might have to be junked five years later, once driverless cars take over and become mandatory. We don’t want people to waste their money on such a poor investment, so we should probably just ban cars entirely until scientists get the autonomous vehicle technology locked down. Everyone will have saved so much money that they’ll be able to buy new cars as fast as the factories can churn them out."

Not Happy About Firefox

It has gotten very aggressive about managing passwords. I just updated and it reset all the preferences and started grabbing passwords to everything. I noticed today and freaked out because it had remembered a password I don't store _anywhere_. So I dug around to find the preferences and turn it all BACK OFF which I had done in an earlier version of firefox, but which got turned BACK ON when I updated.

Bad Firefox. What the fuck else are you doing?

Driverless cars and roomba

We have a roomba. It is not the first roomba we have owned. Probably the biggest impact the roomba has (other than the obvious one, of sucking up a bunch of crap, some of it small plastic toys which need to then be rescued) is its steady destruction of the fringe on area carpets. The second biggest impact the roomba has is the amount of noise it produces. The kids don't like it, so it is programmed to run when the kids and R. are not around, and I find that it often runs when I am on the phone, which is incredibly annoying.

You might think, well, why even keep it? Well, actually vacuuming is even more annoying, and as disruptive as roomba can be, hiring a human to come vacuum is (a) a lot more expensive and (b) much more disruptive.

In theory, it should be possible to just press a couple buttons when roomba launches to have roomba smartly return to base. In practice, for a variety of reasons (probably again involving area rugs), roomba tends to miss, and then it roams around until turned off, picked up, and carefully lined up with base to be returned. Sometimes you just have to manually line roomba up with base, because roomba keeps cocking it up.

And this is by no means v1 of roomba. Seriously.

I have this vision of a driverless car future in which cars have dropped off their riders and have been notified that their next ride isn't for a few hours. In theory, they should take themselves off to base and park, maybe recharge their electric batteries or whatever, until that next ride. But instead of actually returning to base, they wander the streets for hours until their charge runs completely down, and then they stop wherever they are and wait for a rescue.

That's kind of what I think of, whenever I think about driverless cars. Roadways randomly blocked by dead battery electric, driveless cars, waiting for someone to come along and get them back where they belong so they can recharge.

ETA: I completely left out roomba's rapacious appetite for laptop charging cords. It is rapacious. Or its propensity for beaching itself on lamp bases, or nosing under couches and getting stuck.

ETAYA: Maybe I'd feel better about driverless cars if I had a Neato BotVac.


A second person convinced that they know better than me who I am

This one is from a non profit that helps women get better clothing so they can have a more successful job search.

"Hi there! I hope that all is well with you. Since you have received professional apparel from WHW, I would just like to check in with you to see if you have secured employment. We like to check in with all of our clients to see how everything is going. If you have a job and you are working- congratulations! We would love for you to participate in our Incentive Program! May I ask you to provide your placement information confidentially? ..." and more in the same vein.

I replied, as I always do:

"Someone gave you my email in error. I have no idea who you are. Please remove me from your list."

Which would seem very clear! But no, Ms. Lopez knows better than me who I am.

"You came to WHW for apparel services through ResCare on September 24th. I am not sure if your personal shopper told you about our incentive program, but we like to check in with our clients and see how they are doing in their job search; if they have found employment we invite them to part take in our incentive program where we celebrate you for getting a job.

If you are not interested, it’s okay. I just was checking in with you, because we are here to help and I just like to check in with our clients. I apologize for the inconvenience."

I have to say, that's a degree of insensitivity to feedback and Let's Shove Everyone Into the Same Shape and Sized Hole that is a little breathtaking, previously met only by an idiot school teacher in the UK.

Because I am fundamentally an aggressive person just waiting for an attractive target, here was my reply:

"I do not live in California, nor have I ever. I do not need to be empowered for employment success, because I have been retired for over a decade. I told you CLEARLY that someone gave you this email in error, and yet you feel compelled to tell me I don't know who I am or who you are, or that we don't know each other.

[Her first name], how can you help other people, when you have such a low opinion of them, that you think they don't have any idea who you are or what program you run? Or are you unable to hear a clear statement of personal identity, such as the one I made in my previous email to you? If so, you are far too insensitive to effectively help anyone!

I DO NOT KNOW YOU. Take me off your list."

I eagerly anticipate Ms. Lopez' reply. Will she be that rara avis, the person who persists past the second assertion that her email has been misdirected? I haven't heard from such a person yet, but I live for that day, because that's the day I start making phone calls and finding out who they report to, so I can politely suggest that maybe they could use a few pointers on email etiquette and an explanation that in fact, there is more than one person out there with almost every firstname lastname combination, and a gmail with firstname.lastname isn't a sure bet to be the person they were trying to reach.

If you ever get a reply from someone who says they don't know you, trust them. No one is that confused; you just managed to somehow get the wrong email address.


Ms. Lopez has come through for me!

"It was a simple mistake. We just like to keep in touch with our clients. I apologize for upsetting you and am really taken aback by your response of stating I having low opinion of our clients, as I was simply checking in with a person I thought may have just come through our program.

I will take you off the list [my first name]. I am sorry once again and yes, I do not know you, but I wish you happiness [my first name]."

That is a really interesting blame-non-apology (not an apology for the action but rather an apology for my reaction, and then further justification for why she didn't immediately take me off her list as I had requested). Also, while the original email _was_ a simple mistake, the follow up asserting that I really was a client (which I was not) was not a simple mistake at all.

I'm working on a theory about these extremely rare people who argue with my assertion that I don't know them and refuse to immediately remove me from their list. It's gotta be some kind of personality disorder, but the details as yet elude me. I need more of this kind of person to figure it out -- I'm sure I will be supplied over time.

"Are you soliciting?"

On Friday afternoon, I got my daughter all dressed up in her snow gear and let her play outside, because she asked to do so and we had a few minutes before her brother was due home, at which point we were all going to go to the pool for swimming lessons. As is typical these days, A. went to the neighbor's house and played in their back yard (I believe the rope swing is the current primary appeal). The neighbor kids were not yet home. I called my neighbor, to check in on my daughter and also to chat, because J. and I have not had a few minutes to chat in a while. J. said A. wasn't there, so I walked over and we continued our chat face to face. She was inside her front door in sock feet and I was outside all geared up in snow. A., meanwhile, was in the side yard on the far side of J.'s house, hence tricky for J. to spot.

I didn't want to go in (because my son was due home at any minute). J. didn't want to come out (in sock feet, no jacket, etc.) so we just wasted J.'s heat for a few minutes while we discussed our lives (which are good, but have had some changes that we hadn't caught up on). A cop drives slowly past my house, then past J.'s house, then reverses and drives into J.'s driveway. We watch as the cop rolls his window and asks, "Are you soliciting?" We look at him blankly, because, wha - ? "Are you a solicitor?" Ah! I get it. He thinks I'm trying to sell something to J., and I am supposed to pay for a license or whatever for that from Town Hall and probably someone has called in because someone else has been seen (or, who knows! Maybe a particularly oblivious neighbor thought I was soliciting from J.? Unlikely! Because at this point, I know all the neighbors and they all know me) and the cop is looking for that person.

So I go over and lean down and tell the cop that I live in that house over there (think about reaching into my coat pocket to pull out my phone to show him my driver's license; conclude that that is just way too complicated and I don't want to freak him out) and J. and I are neighbors and my daughter is playing in the snow and I am waiting for my son to get home and that's why we are talking on the porch. I can see his eyes glaze over in that way that middle aged men's eyes glaze over when a wife or wife-type-peer is really just going on and on and on and decide I can terminate the story at any time now and just let him go on about his business. J. and I wait until he is a few houses down the road and then start cracking jokes about the _other_ possible interpretation of solicitation.

Because, funny.