Coming Soon To A Parking Lot Near You

The ideas-unconstrained-by-reality people are busy imagining the future in a world of self-driving cars. After all, the technicians need to know what to build, and the technology is moving forward at an amazing clip.

People at the design firm IDEO came up with three possible expressions of autonomous car technology.

Pretty impressive, and they even gave one of the vehicles a friendly-sounding name.

But why not name them all?

And while you’re at it, leave a few brain cells unoccupied to do the important work of imagining the worst that could happen.

Notion #1 is Marge, a family car that looks at your e-mail and your calendar and already knows where you want to go when you get into it.

How could this fail? A car with access to your e-mail might know where you ought to go and where you’re supposed to be, but one that looks at your Internet browsing history may fully understand where you’d rather be instead. When you get in your autonomous car you might not know who’s driving – is it your Id or your Super-Ego?

I guess we’ll find out when we get there.

Notion #2 is Cody, a delivery truck that is a nimble, see-through tube reminiscent of the Oscar Meyer Weinermobile, except it knows where you are and what you want. Combined with Amazon’s purchase-prediction software, these babies may be orbiting your neighborhood already stocked with what the algorithm says you are going to order.

How could this fail? Salespeople will ruin this for everybody by flooding neighborhoods with delivery vehicles that are cruising advertisements for the stuff inside. Imagine the narrow snowy streets of December clogged with gift-laden vehicles, each one jockeying to catch your eye.

Notion #3 is Dante’, a roving work station that is your portable office. Let it take you and your co-workers anywhere – for inspiration or collaboration.

How could this fail? Fights over the beach vs. the scenic overlook vs. the blank downtown brickscape where I can concentrate on this damn report I have to finish! Could we turn the office around so I can have the sun coming in on MY side for once? Do we really have to co-work with them in OUR parking lot today? Why don’t they ever invite us over to their place? Is there something wrong with it?

So many idea clouds, so many gun-metal gray linings. And there are so many notions the IDEO people didn’t suggest …

Notion #4 – is Sherlock, an autonomous chase vehicle that will follow you on that blind date you dread, and provide you with a quick getaway if it’s as awful as you fear it will be.

How could this fail? Hey, it looks like someone is following us. Hang on! My last girlfriend said I’m almost good enough to be a Hollywood stunt driver!

Notion #5 – is Budge, a Parking Space Holder. If we’re going to the Ordway Saturday night I’ll send Budge over there around 4pm to orbit Rice Park looking for one of those handy metered street parking spots to open up when the matinee crowd leaves. Twenty minutes before the curtain rises we’ll head over there in the second car (“Diva”) to trade places and claim our spot while Budge ambles home.

Notion #6 – is Flash Fleet, not a single autonomous car but rather a bit of software developed by highway hackers to commandeer large numbers of autonomous vehicles to “flood the zone”, creating targeted slowdowns and traffic jams at pre-arranged times in carefully selected places. The goal – anarchy.

How could this fail? Actually, this one is a no-brainer. It’s definitely going to happen, and it will be a terrific headache.

What else could happen?

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A Sure, Steady Hand

Today is the anniversary of the day in 1307 when William Tell famously shot an apple off his son’s head at the command of a brutal overlord,  Albrecht Gessler.

I know in the story this was all was done under duress and that Tell and the boy had no opportunity to object. But I still think that as the target of a foolish stunt, no 21st century child would stand idly by (literally) while dad lifts the crossbow.

An unquestioned faith in ol’ pops’ abilities is rare these days, at least in terms of modern popular culture.  There are very few father figures on TV who are reliable and/or competent in any area. Doofuses and failures, most of them.

So if the William Tell story unfolded today, I suspect there would be some push back from the offspring. And as long as we’re totally making things up, I am also quite certain the argument, if it happened, would be framed in a lame verse.

My son, stand straight with posture firm.
Don’t slouch or wriggle, lurch or squirm.
I’m widely known as quite the shot
and if you stay upon your spot
I’ll cleave the apple quick and clean
where it is balanced on your bean.

My father dear, though you mean well
this plan of yours, I think, doth smell.
It’s hubris, pure. And pride to boot
that makes you think that you can shoot
a fruit that’s perched upon my gourd.
One flinch by you – I’m with the Lord!

Hold very still, with eyes tight shut,
Before you can say “Hey, dad, what …?”,
I’ll put an arrow to my bow
and aim the missile, then let go
and through the apple it will flit
Before you can say “Holy split!”

I don’t think mom would be too pleased
if, as you let that go, you sneezed.
I know you sometimes scratch an itch.
I’ve seen you sleeping, dad. You twitch!
You blurt, you fart, it’s all abrupt.
Am I to die if you erupt?

Don’t worry, son. I’m cool and calm.
My mind’s at peace. My soul’s a psalm.
I’ll shoot it straight and true, I know.
We shouldn’t over talk it, though.
Just know that I’m not known to fail
When fruit, with arrows, I impale.

Are you a good shot?

Pester Fest

Today’s post comes from perennial sophomore Bubby Spamden of Wendell Willkie High School.

Hey, Mr. C.,

In Mrs. Hecubensen’s “Modern Living” class we’ve been talking about time management skills and staying on-task, which is pretty much the same stuff we covered back in kindergarten but it feels like I have a lot harder time paying attention to it today.

Mrs. H is a real hard-liner when it comes to staying focused. She’s all about schedules and lists, which is why we’re always trying to steal the lesson plan off her desk. If we can get it, it’s like unplugging a machine! She literally slumps down in her chair. Pretty amazing!

Anyway, last week we covered to-do lists and one of the assignments was to ask an older person for some detailed advice on how they keep track of all their tasks, and then write a short report about what they said.

Since you’re old, I’m asking you!

But don’t answer right away, because Mrs. H said “If anybody takes time right then to go into detail with you about time management, listen politely but ignore everything they say because only a poor time manager will accept such a distraction. The right answer is to say – ‘Let’s schedule a meeting to talk about it.'”

So why don’t you think about it and get back to me! I don’t want to have to listen and ignore what you say! I want to be able to write my report and THEN ignore what you say!

Also, I had a business idea about this – there’s this study where parents were sent text messages to remind them that they are supposed to read to their children. I guess people are so busy they don’t remember to do the things they already decided to do until somebody tells them they meant to do it.

I got to thinking, that would be a good line of work for me. I’m already an expert in being nagged about stuff that’s not done. Maybe I could use all that experience to bother other people about things they’ve blown off!

Then my job could be messaging people constantly, which is all I do anyway! I’m thinking I could call it “Pestertext.com!”

What do you think?

Your pal,
Bubby

I told Bubby “Pestertext” is a great idea – so great that I want him to take me on as his first customer and send me a text to remind me to put him on my schedule so we can talk about how I manage my time. He said he would do it, but that was a couple of days ago and there’s been nothing so far. So I think I might be off the hook!

How do you manage your time?

Lightning Strikes (Almost) Twice (As Much)!

Today’s post comes from professional alarmist Bathtub Safety Officer Rafferty.

At ease civillians!

Relax but keep an eye on the sky, because I know we have had words in the past about my nemesis, lightning.

This past week, we received some hair-raising news – climate change may well hike the frequency of lightning strikes on our planet.

I know you are thinking several things right now that might disarm my urgent message. Let’s take them in order:

  • “Lightning isn’t a big threat to me right now. Two times zero is still zero.” 

Shame on you for using math to diminish a safety problem! That’s like saying there’s little chance you’ll get Ebola if you don’t come in contact with someone who has it. That’s the kind of reasoning that suppresses fear, which is the only tool nature gives us in the never-ending battle against unlikely calamities. If I did that, I’d be out of work today. And don’t forget The Human Lightning Rod, Roy Sullivan! If we apply math to his story, the number of personal strikes goes from 7 to more than 10!

  • The research says lightning will increase 50% by the year 2100. I’ll be dead by then, so who cares? 

Your “dead by then” argument is simply wishful thinking. Scientists are constantly finding ways to extend life spans. And if you make it to the year 2100, you’ll likely be in a wheelchair, which is made out of metal – a conductor! And … if you DON’T make it to 2100, you’ll most likely be in the ground, which is where lightning hits! Frankenstein’s monster thought he was safe on a “being dead” exemption – until lightning struck!

  • Lightning is troubling, but I have more immediate concerns. 

That’s what lightning WANTS you to think.

  • Lightning has no thoughts or desires. 

That means you can’t reason or bargain with it. You find THAT comforting?

Friends, there is no doubt in my mind we will experience more lightning in our future.

My advice:

  1. Buy a sturdy pair of rubber-soled shoes.
  2. Sell your golf clubs.
  3. Keep doors and windows closed in a rainstorm.
  4. Learn to bathe away from pipes and all plumbing.
  5. Yours in Safety, B.S.O.R.

What are you doing to prepare for the future?

Use Other Exit

I loved the post from Clyde yesterday, along with the conversation that ensued.   I was especially tickled by this comment from Renee in North Dakota.

Screen Shot 2014-11-12 at 4.46.35 PM

That is a beguiling image  – a would-be farmer, forsaking his chores for art.   It got me to thinking about old fiddle tunes, including Stephen Foster’s “Camptown Races”.

 

Uncle Albert had a barn,
Doo-dah, Doo-dah.
Often he’d relate this yarn,
Oh, do doo-dah day.

All them cows produced for sure,
Doo-dah, Doo-dah
Tons and tons of ripe manure
Oh, de doo-dah day.

Piling up all night.
Piling up all day.
When the cattle tried to leave
Guess what was blocking the way?

Albert got his fiddle strung
Doo dah, doo dah
On a hillock made of dung.
Oh, de doo-dah day.

Never did a bloomin’ chore,
Doo Dah, Doo Dah.
Sat beside a fragrant door,
Oh de doo-dah day.

While he played he never frowned,
Doo Dah, Doo Dah,
Watching bovines turn around
All de doo-dah day.

He would just recline,
Looking at the birds.
Now and then Albert would say,
“Man, what a mountain of turds!”

When have you let something pile up?

Rotten to the Core

Today’s guest post comes from Clyde in Mankato.

I sit at my comPhoto #1puter and look out my apartment window into the woods at the top of a ravine in Mankato and see this.

Look at that mess. Nature is just untidy, disorderly. It needs a correcting human hand. No, you say? But then you are not the son of a man who was a pioneer born a century too late.

Photo #2

This is my father having fun. You cannot recognize it, I suspect, but I know he is smiling. It is one of only two or three pictures of my father smiling. Was I born with the same urge or did I learn it at our tractor’s knee? Nurture/nature? Is it a male thing?

Earlier this week just to get outdoors, I stepped into the snarled pile. I pushed at one of the upright pieces of tree trunk in a desultory way. It toppled to the ground. The itch was in my palms. With a back nearly as decayed as the trunk I just toppled, it would have been wise to walk away. I pushed at three more with my foot and found them as badly rotted. The itch was in my palms. Beside me was a deep ravine, already full of rotted trunks and dead brush.

I suspect from watching my father that many of the pioneers had a lust to reduce nature to human terms. Many of the first pioneers just kept moving on and doing it over and over again. This is a topic on which I have read extensively. I am sure you can see why.

Forty years ago I took a class on literature of the North Woods, which is not a large body of work, not much of it very good. The best piece we read was Robert Treuer’s The Tree Farm, which is a book well worth a read. Here is a part of a paper I wrote for that class.

On his tree farm Treuer must walk the edge between nature wild and nature cultured; he must keep the wilder aspects of nature at bay without destroying nature or allowing nature to destroy or reduce him. The dangers of the North Woods are survived if the necessary precautions are taken. It is not a nature that threatens to rise up and destroy us with alarming ease. If we dress and build appropriately, the cold can be kept out. With some care the storms can be withstood, the rapids can be run, and the bears will not eat us. Nevertheless, past history and current news tells us that lives can be lost or ruined if one forgets the rules or tempts nature too much. We live in this region to live with nature and survive it while keeping it as natural as we can.

So too in our day-by-day lives we want that nature within the right bounds. We move to the country but we cultivate a lawn. We mow that lawn right up to the edge of the woods, always feeling the urge to push out a little more and tame another few square feet. One summer’ neglect, however, will find the weeds back at our door. Two summers will return it all to brush. It takes constant effort to keep nature within the bounds we prescribe without losing the nearness to nature we reached out for when we moved here.”

Photo #3

I scratched my itchy palms. Today the snarl looks like this, all accomplished without using a single tool.

 

When done with the deed, I felt as my father did in this Photo #4photograph of him going home after a day of clearing land, pipe in mouth, satisfaction on his face. (Don’t miss the dog riding on the tractor platform.) My son’s photographer friends find this image iconic, say that it represents a larger moment in time than 1957 (ca.) and more than just my father.

 

What makes your palms itch?

Comet Softly To Me

Early tomorrow (Wednesday) morning the European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft currently orbiting Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko will deploy a lander called Philae. This one-chance-only attempt will be the culmination of a ten year mission to do something that has never been done or even attempted before – to put a piece of human-made machinery on the face of a speeding comet as it hurtles towards the sun.

There is so much that intrigues me about this – not the least of which is the method of landing – described in this New York Times article..

Because Comet 67P is so small, its gravitational pull is slight and the familiar mechanics of landing on a moon or a distant planet are turned upside down. Mission planners didn’t have to worry so much about breaking the lander’s fall because Philae will be released and will drift towards 67P, pulled in gently at what is described as “a walking pace.”

How fast is that? I’m not sure, but I’ll bet it could comfortably approximate the pace of this classic 1959 song by the Fleetwoods.

As the lander meanders towards the comet, planners will watch nervously to see if they are able to connect in a sympathetic and constructive way, or if a stray boulder causes the lander to flip over or a spot of shade renders its solar collectors useless.

Not to indulge in too much space-vehicle anthropomorphism here, but if Philae is able to kiss the surface of this elusive, enigmatic space traveler, it will be a brief, unlikely, and historic romance. The lander will run out of battery power in 62 hours and will fall silent, but not until it has had enough close contact to send back a treasure trove of data.

And what is in this for 67P? Perhaps nothing, though one must wonder if even a lonely, speeding comet has an innate desire to be known. And yes, this Earthling may bring just the sort of longed-for intimacy that has been missing during all the years that 67P has been orbiting the sun.

But in case The Fleetwoods have you thinking of this rendezvous as a perfect extraterrestrial romance, consider this one additional aspect – shortly after Philae and 67P gently touch, the lander will cement their new relationship by shooting a harpoon into the comets surface.

Charming. And such an Earthling thing to do.

Ever been stung?

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