A while back I wrote something about distracted driving and attempts to tech around the issue:

Many applicable mobile apps aren’t even trying. One of the better navigation apps out there is HERE We Go. It has offline maps, up-to-date maps, decent time estimates, and good speed limit alerts. However, if you’re wanting to put in a destination that’s already in your address book, you’re looking at a minimum of six button presses and usually seven. The good news for them and other drivers is that I’m not going to even attempt that on the road (Google Maps has reasonable good voice direction), but it doesn’t appear to be designed with actual use in mind. Due to this, I often just end up not using it to begin with.

Others, meanwhile, may be trying too hard. I can’t speak to Apple’s efforts, but I’ve test-driven Android Auto and found that the biggest problem I had with it was that it was way too conservative. I simply can’t do the things I want to do with it. Rather than meekly accepting this, I end up bypassing it entirely and using my own setup. I think my setup has a similar risk profile as using a dash-top GPS device and the car stereo; it could be a lot safer. But Google has its own concerns, the biggest of which is they have strong liability incentives to err on the side of caution. If I’m not using their system and I get into an accident, that’s not their problem. If I’m using their system, plaintiff’s attorneys may start asking, “Why did you allow this feature that took people’s eyes off the road?” The end result is more overall risk.

We might like to think that we can convince people not to do dangerous things, but that’s not going to work. We’re at that uncomfortable phase where we have the ability to do more things than ever, but we haven’t figured out how to make it easy, non-distracting, and seamless. All the while, we are arguably discouraging further innovation that will help us get there faster. The long term solution is going to be cars that scan for pedestrians and whatnot. But in the meantime, suggesting that we should keep these things shelved until they’re really safe is ultimately going to be encouraging people to text with one eye and one hand while trying to keep the other one of each on the road.

My general thought is that even if the technology doesn’t completely mitigate the dangers of distracted drivers, every little bit helps.

Sometimes, though, it’s quite worse than nothing. There are aspects of Android that may fall into that category, unfortunately. Specifically, their voice system needs a lot of work and in some cases may actually be worse than nothing.

There are two ways I listen to music when I’m driving, one of which is an app called Poweramp and another is the Google Play Music app. In the former case, if you’re looking for a particular song or artist you have to navigate your way to it. That’s eyes off the road and that’s not good. The latter works with voice very well! I say “Play Gary Allan Smoke Rings In the Dark” and it plays “Smoke Rings In The Dark” by Gary Allan and if I say “Play Gary Allan Smoke Rings In the Dark album” it will play the album by the same name. When it works, it’s a much, much safer alternative.

Except that when it doesn’t work, it’s worse than going through menus. And the problem is that it works about 75% of the time. The main way to know whether it’s working or not is to actually watch it. Which means taking your eyes off the road. Worse yet, with Poweramp you can at least choose *when* to take your eyes off the road. You can find some point where there are no cars around you, then tap tap tap. Not good, but not the worst. Meanwhile, with GPM the tendency is to watch and see what it’s doing right then and there regardless of what’s going on around you.

Now, you can actually avoid this by only doing the voice system at a point in driving where you would be comfortable with tap-tap-tap, but it’s not as intuitively obvious that you should and so it’s easier not to.

So the long and short of it is… Android has a lot of work to do. Lives probably depend on it.


Category: Road

There was great alarm in media and on Twitter as a poll suggested 51% of Republicans consider the media to be “enemies of the people.”

{Gasp} That’s terrible. Probably Trump’s fault.

Except it was mostly the poll’s fault. You can get different answers to the same question depending on how you phrase the question and phrase the answer. This one was a doozy. What, you may ask, were the alternatives to the media being “enemy of the people” and “important part of democracy”?

There were none.

Now, as far as I am concerned, the media is an important tool for democracy and is not an enemy of the people, but the way this question is set up most people are going to read it as “Do you like the media? Yes or no?” And a little over half said no. Maybe that’s not optimal, and maybe Trump takes some of the blame for that or that takes the blame for Trump. But those are different questions than the alarmist one about whether or not they are enemies of the people. And polls like this don’t really help.

I’m not really going to bat for the GOP and their voters’ relationship with the media. I’m willing to believe that they are overly hostile to the media. But you’re going to need a better poll than this to demonstrate it.


Category: Elsewhere

Why catastrophising is my idea of a good time

My pet problem is human population. I think those demographers were right. Because I’m so fiercely attached to my own version of the world — even more so than to the future prosperity of humanity, apparently — you should distrust anything I say about population. In kind, left-wing westerners are mightily attached to a gaping gulf between developed and developing countries that doesn’t exactly exist anymore, the better for progressives to feel as guilty as possible, because, gloriously, it’s all their fault. Tell them that poverty is on the wane, most of the world lives in a medium-income bracket, and the gap between rich and poor has narrowed, and they will get annoyed. They also won’t believe you.

The idea that the end of the world is nigh is invigorating. A dark horizon makes the foreground more vivid, and life seems more precious when it’s imperilled. Complacency about how delightfully matters are puttering along feels passive and soporific. For those of us addicted to shooting up gloom and collapsing in an ecstasy of inexorable Armageddon, optimism appears pallid, nay, repulsive — not an opiate, but a disgusting mug of warm milk.

I am pretty much the opposite. Even the things I know how the potential to be catastrophic in ways that my brain can comprehend (such as antiobiotic resistance), I yearn to push them out of my mind. And succeed, for the most part. All of this is not good when we can do something about (as many believe about climate change), but most of the time I can’t.

And here’s a (very) country song that you’ve never heard on the subject:


Category: Newsroom

A few weeks ago I wrote about corporations and politics, using the NRA boycott as an example of how the left is learning to make peace with using economic muscle to get what it wants. They’ve also done a good job of framing it as markets at work. I would argue that maybe this is one of those cases that capitalism and markets diverge, and that this may be more of the former than the later. At the least, I think there was something else going on:

A lot of people made it seem like capitalism and markets, and while there was some of that there was something else going on: The people who made those decisions were sympathetic. Delta didn’t run thorough cost-benefit analyses. They didn’t do market research on which paths would have helped and hurt them. They made their decisions quickly. Corporations are made of people, and people make the decisions. Delta and FedEx had pretty similar sets of incentives. One made one decision, one made the other. Increasingly, though, the people in important corporate positions are sympathetic to the social causes of the left. As they have burned all of the bridges from their island to the mainland, this is going to be an increasing problem for the right. But for the left, it’s a windfall.

The pushback I get from this is that corporations make decisions based on money and therefore if they made this choice, it was about money. What that misses is situation likes this, where you’re dealing with a lot of ambiguity. You don’t have time for market-testing. It’s hard to even say what appropriate market testing would even look like. What’s the A-B test here? So in the absence of a clear indication of what to do, decisionmakers are going to follow their instincts. Their instincts are colored by their worldview and their social environments.

In other words, I think the decisionmaking looked like this:

Peter Harding doesn’t look like the bad guy. He doesn’t resemble the villain who is responsible for putting mountains of sugar into fizzy drinks and turning the country’s youngsters into a generation of fatties.

But that’s how Harding, who runs Lucozade Ribena Suntory – the UK soft drinks business owned by Japan’s drinks giant, Suntory – was made to feel by everybody from Jamie Oliver to health campaigners and the media.

“I was being stared at, at the school gates by other parents. Jamie Oliver was beating me up, so were other celebrities, NGOs and the media. They were demonising me as though sugar were the new tobacco. The criticism was not nice for anyone, including our employees.”

Photo by KidMoxie

You have to work really, really hard to try to fit the CEO complaining about getting the stinkeye into the “markets at work” paradigm. Further, this is where cultural influence matters a great deal. Whose criticism is Harding worried about? What do those people think? Assuming no successful boycott, one of them is probably worth ten of the kinds of people he doesn’t otherwise associate with.

When conservatives retreated to Fox News and away from the media (entertainment and news) and act as renegades against academia, this is what they gave up. Going forward, the people who make the decisions are likely not to be in their corner, from a social or instinct standpoint. That matters a lot! When there were clear business considerations, a number of companies actually didn’t cut ties with the NRA. Google, Roku, Apple, and Amazon all stopped short of letting it interfere with their actual business plans, and Dick’s Sporting Goods appears to be the only one willing to pay a price. It was only when a decision favored dropping the NRA or it was ambiguous. And given how quickly everything moved, it was usually ambiguous.

In this case I strongly suspect that this was not a good business decision. To argue that it is requires more heavy lifting than can be done. To me, whether this was the right decision or the wrong one depends on how it tastes, but it was clearly a decision based on the moral intuitions and social circumstances of the decision-makers. And in that, it wasn’t alone.


Category: Market

Last week I had to let my subscriptions to both Hulu and Netflix lapse. Knowing this day was coming, I have been stocking up on all of the original programming on each service. I had the subscription just long enough to see Hard Sun. Which I am kind of glad I did.

I knew nothing of the series going into it. Looked like a cop show. It came out of the gate feeling like one, too. It set up the IAB detective watching her partner while solving crimes with him. Her boss/partner is accused of killing his former partner, with whose wife he was and is presently sleeping. The IAB cop even has the traditional pinboard.

Then we find out that the world is about to end. They run across some evidence that the government is preparing for Armageddon. The government knows that they know, threaten their families. And back and forth, back and forth.

Except that all the while they continue to go about solving crimes. Much of it related to end of the world cultism. Word has gotten out, but it’s still considered crackpottery. So the story bounces around between the mystery of the day, internal affairs, and Armageddon. Solve a mystery. Get closer to revealing your partner is a murderer. Try to either expose the end of the world or stop your partner from exposing it (they’re coming from different places on this issue). I can’t tell whether it is impressive focus on the part of the cops that third one doesn’t eclipse the other two, or indicative of sloppy writing and unrealistic characterization.

I’m glad I watched it mostly because it’s unique. The show it seems to be at first, the cop drama – isn’t actually great. The characters are unoriginal and the plot has been done a hundred times. It seems like it’s going to be serviceable and forgettable.

Instead, it’s memorable if only for the weirdness of the end of the world being a subplot.


Category: Elsewhere

There are four places around here to go grocery shopping. Each of them have something that the others lack, in terms of it either being there or being better or cheaper than the others, and things they don’t have. Where I go is dictated by what I need and which list it’s on. Martin’s is missing next to nothing, and Walmart is only missing things like lowfat cheese and bulk nuts. Weis has diet birch beer, and Food Lion has good house brands but lack a number of things that are staples, most notably 647 bread.

But Food Lion is very conveniently located. It’s a two minute drive from Lain’s preschool.

But it seems like I never get to go there. There is almost always something on the list that they don’t have. But even when there isn’t, something happens. I kind of need to go there now for some of their house brand stuff, but twice this week I have been thwarted. The first case my wife called and said that I needed to pick up some prescriptions at Martin’s. Then the today I couldn’t dump recycling in the morning, so I will have to do it this afternoon, which means I can’t have food sitting in the car that whole time. So… once again, it will be either Walmart or Martin’s.

I have been trying to improve various things in my life through systems and organization. One thing I would love to do is have my lists set up so that I am not having to pick which thing I’m not going to have because it’s at one of the other places. The fates, however, really don’t want me ever going to the most convenient option conveniently.


Category: Elsewhere

We have a lot of snow coming down right now. We’re going to be stuck in the house for a couple days or maybe more. We have plenty of milk and eggs.

That never happens.

It’s almost always the case that these things strike when there is weak stock. And in both cases, there almost was. I was at the market and couldn’t remember the milk situation and wasn’t sure if I really needed to get more eggs or whether it could wait until the next trip to the market. In both cases I decided to get it anyway. Thank goodness. We may run out of half-and-half, though.

Money is somewhat tight right now, so we’re likely going to have to shovel our own substantial driveway (did I mention that it’s at an incline?). I might actually go there today and make an effort of out it, to cut down on the height tomorrow. When we had the 36″ a couple years back, we realized it would have been helpful not to entirely wait for it to pass. It’s just psychologically difficult clearing a driveway as the weather continues to un-clear it.

Otherwise, we’re just riding it out.


Category: Elsewhere

Audacious Epigone has a(n anti-semitic) post but with a really interesting datapoint:

His point is on the Jewish topline, but their numbers are only moderately higher than Japan and Canada, neither of which we especially consider a threat. China and Russia… have a lot going against them and those who came here from there are adversely selected in a way that Japanese are less likely to be. The only real surprise is England (my ancestral homeland). If I were more ambitious, I’d track down the numbers for more countries because it’s really interesting. Specifically I’d be interested in Mexico, India, Vietnam, Nordica, Germany, Italy, and Ireland. Then, for good measure, theck out Texans who live elsewhere in the US.

Anyway, my guess is that the numbers for Ireland and Italy would be high and Germany would probably be somewhere in between those two and England. While I am sort of puzzled by the England number, I am also not too surprised about it. There’s something non-de-rigueur about being high on Britain and the UK, even though no other non-neighboring country has a more persistent hold on our national attention. So we pay attention to it but maybe can’t quite love it.

One alternative to that is a watering-down. Very few people are of strictly English heritage. And the two countries are so similar that we just don’t think of things in those terms, the way that others do. If you are of Russian or Japanese ancestry you are more likely to be of distinct Russian or Japanese ancestry than if you’re English. Italy and Ireland used to be more like Russia, but now are more like England. So Russia’s numbers are low and Japan’s numbers are relatively high because opinions run more strongly one way or the other due to a stronger connection. England, meanwhile, elicits a shrug. Maybe Germany, too.

I really need to learn how to use the GSS thing.

In any event, I am skeptical that the 8% that separates Jews from Canadians warrants the amount of attention directed to each.


Category: Elsewhere

You can probably skip this post if you haven’t seen or read The Expanse and have no interest in doing so. And if you have any interest in doing so, my advice is to watch it and/or read it, whatever is your pleasure. Then you can come back, though this isn’t a deep post or anything.

I needed something to watch recently, and The Expanse was recommended to me. I really enjoyed it and recommend it to space ship sci fi people. Which I am not even, really. My main frustration is that it butted right up against some ideas that I had (Earth vs Mars with Ceres as a very important place).

I enjoyed it so much that afterwards I immediately went to the novels, which so far I like even more. The show is pretty faithful to the novels, with some rather big exceptions:

  1. The James Holden character is actually a leader in the books. On the TV show, he is basically the leader because he’s the protagonist and the protagonist needed to be a leader. In the books, he’s a leader and he’s the protagonist because he’s the leader. It seems like a subtle difference, maybe, but it’s abundantly clear how he became the second in command of the Canterbury.
  2. The Amos character is way better on the TV show. He may be the only character that is. On the TV show he’s just a mechanically skilled oaf, for the most part. On the show he has this weird intensity.
  3. The Holden/Naomi affair is so much better in the book. The pro forma feel of the TV show is kind of annoying. He’s the leader, she’s the #2, so of course they have to get it on. In the book it’s much more organic and I find myself actually caring about them.
  4. I get a kick out of the fact that Martians have a Texas drawl, even when they’re of South Asian descent. I don’t know why, but it’s cool. It was kind of nondescript on the show.
  5. There is a gaping hole in the first book where I kept expecting Chrisjen Avasarala to be. She was our window into what Earth was doing and why. Without that, their actions were just as mysterious as Mars. I’m on the second book now and am glad she is making an appearance.
  6. I really liked the mole character from the TV show and was disappointed that he didn’t appear in the book. Without Chrisjen he had no place in the book, but maybe now with Chrisjen there will be an equivalent character.
  7. I found it interesting that Mormons were pretty much the only remaining religion. Though the book makes a reference to Buddha, I guess.
  8. It’s really interesting the characters that were recast as white in the TV show. Interesting in part because was not an especially white cast on the whole. I guess they felt like for commercial reason there had to be limits.
  9. In both: The ability of the writers to make the Belters objectively sympathetic but kind of obnoxious is cool. There must have been a temptation to give them all hearts of gold or whatever. But there’s a “they are what they are, and they deserve rights like anyone else” that really works.

Anyway, that’s all I have. Maybe I’ll add more later. I’m looking forward to getting to know Mars more, which I expect will come. And seeing what happens on Venus (Earth and Mars vs Venus, maybe?). Looking forward to trucking through the books. Unless it gets too stupid.


Category: Theater

A while back I watched an episode of the new Netflix version of Voltron.

Voltron was one of my favorite cartoons as a kid. I remember that we used to play it on the playground. We were all boys, so we did this thing where we pretended that the original blue lion was actually a guy. At least, I thought we were making that up so that we could get someone to be the blue lion, but it actually appears to be true. Another thing I remember from back in the day was that I thought they switched from Lion Voltron to Car Voltron so that they could sell new toys (and not because, it turns out, they were using existing footage). In both of these cases I was in elementary school and had cynical ideas way ahead of my time. I didn’t have any taste, though, because it turns out that the show is just really bad.

The Netflix one is actually good! It is, in fact, as good a version of Voltron as I can possibly imagine existing.

And yet… I have no interest in watching anymore. It was gorgeous. They made the mythology make as much sense as possible. They gave the characters life. They did everything I could ask of them. Yet, instead of making the story more compelling, the relative realism elsewhere just drew attention to the fact that it’s the story of five robotic lions creating a giant mecha warrior. There’s just no getting around that.

I am not sure why it is that I can accept superheroes but have a problem with this. It’s not conditioning because I was exposed to Voltron as early as I was exposed to anything. It could be a technical plausibility thing. Superheroes are inherently mythical. Robots are machines are real, even if they are sentient like the lions. Not I find myself wishing that, instead of a story about robotic lions, all of that imagination had been dedicated to something else.

Of course, if it had, I probably wouldn’t have watched it.


Category: Theater
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Greetings from Stonebridge a fictitious city in a fictitious state located in a tri-state area in the interior Mid-Atlantic region. We're in western Queenland, which is really a state unto itself, and not to be confused with Queensland in Australia.

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