Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Programmable ethics in your car



There was a really fascinating editorial at Wired about self-driving cars and liability.  I know, I know – that sounds like a pretty boring topic.  But read on.

One of the problems with self-driving cars is not the engineering but the liability.  If your self-driving car is about to hit five people who jumped out into the road, should it swerve and hit a single person instead?  You might think that hitting one person is better than hitting five.  But you also might think that swerving into someone is an intentional act and therefore worse.  This example is based on the famous trolley problem that I have written about before.  So which should the car do?  And could the person/people who get hit sue because someone consciously made the choice to program the car that way?

But this is where the editorial gets interesting.  You can imagine a whole bunch of options for the car.  Should it decide based on some characteristics of the people?  Maybe swerving into an adult is preferred to hitting the group of five, but swerving into a child is not?  But of course this gives us the slippery slope.  What if it swerves into males but not females?  Obese smokers but not healthy marathon runners?  What if it swerves into gas-guzzling SUVs, but not Priuses?

To offload these tough questions, what if the car lets you set your preferences yourself?  Would you allow each driver to decide?  Maybe Joe would choose to hit three obese female Muslims over five Christian disabled veterans, but not if they are undocumented immigrants.  And Mary would swerve into a Prius if the three passengers aren’t wearing seatbelts and two are texting over the SUV with five teenagers with a blood alcohol level of 0.07 but attending an Ivy League college.  But now who gets sued, you or the car maker?

But if you think that this is all ridiculous and that the car shouldn’t be making these decisions at all, you are still choosing.  If the car doesn’t swerve, then you have chosen to hit the group of five.  If the car does swerve than you have chosen to hit the one.  It’s still a choice. 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Satisfying the Jones



How do you decide whether to indulge in a high end/high price version of a product or service or whether to be responsible and stick to the low end/low price version?  Some people are very responsible and always take the low end.  This can work if you don’t know what you are missing by never experiencing the high end.  Some people always take the high end.  But I suspect that they end up on the government dole in retirement because they haven’t saved.  Remember the ant and the caterpillar fable.

The problem with the 95% of us who go back and forth is that you never know in advance which one is best for that situation.  You might settle for the low end and be satisfied.  Then you feel really good about the choice.  You also might feel slightly unsatisfied, but reconcile the choice because you were responsible.  That feeling can make up for the difference.  But what about those times you are totally unsatisfied?  Do you then go for the indulgence anyway?  If you do, do you feel guilty about it or forget about your previous mistake and just move on?

I had a small version of this yesterday.  I was choosing among the beers in my fridge.  I am moving, so I need to finish them all before I go.  I decided to go with the low end.  It was not satisfying.  But rather than have a second beer, I decided to go with the indulgent choice on the cheese I had later.  Extra sharp cheddar and extra aged parmigiano reggiano.  Made up for the beer.  But tonight I am having the IPA for sure.  So should I go for the American slices?

Studio Journal Episode 4 – Are my moving dates flexible?



OK, this one is real kick in the pants.  I got a call today from my future landlord asking me if my moving date is flexible.  They have several people moving in on September 1 and they need some to shift a day or two forward or back to accommodate the rush.

What makes this insane is that I was begging them to move the date a month ago when I signed the lease (story here).  But they would not budge.  I pleaded.  No luck.  I even asked/begged/pleaded to change the hour of my move earlier (from 5pm to early afternoon). They refused to give up even a day of rent and moving up the time was not possible either because they needed time for the paint to dry.  I wanted new paint didn’t I?

Now that I have locked in a move-out date from my current apartment and reserved the movers for the afternoon, all of a sudden they want me to be flexible.  I am guessing that everyone is in the same boat as me.  Movers get booked up and can’t move at a week’s notice.  Move out dates get locked in because a new tenant signs a lease to move in, so changing the date creates a chain of problems.  I experienced this the hard way when I signed my lease in the first place.  And they should know – they are landlords and have new tenants and departing tenants 100 times a year. 

Give me a break!!!

Saturday, August 16, 2014

A Telecommuting Model for Rural Communities



I have an idea, not completely original but with my own personal take, that I think might be successful.  There are many rural communities that need ideas for development.  One idea is to build the “mini Silicon Valley.” 

But I think this is too much and a smaller approach might work better.  After all, tech workers can work from pretty much anywhere these days and there is a pretty sizable population that would love to live in the mountains of Vermont or the forests of Appalachia.  But to achieve a Richard Florida type Creative City, you can’t just take a “build it and they will come” attitude.

So here is my idea.  Let’s say a community creates work/live/play spaces customized for the telecommuting tech worker instead of trying to attract the startup itself.  I am imagining small, cozy developments that have mixed housing types (to accommodate single, married, married with kids) and in the center there would be a co-working space complete with receptionist/secretarial support, cafĂ©, food trucks, and play area.  A town center in the middle of several developments there would have the larger retail and the fun stuff – movies, clubs, or whatever the market demands.  But smaller footprints because the community is not trying to attract a large population.  The downside would be it may be impossible to have the venues that require volume – concerts, sports teams, and that kind of thing.  And there would be no industrial, no office park-sized development, no high rise, nothing that would detract from the rural-ness. 

But the tech support would have to be high end.  A community-wide high bandwidth wi-fi and fiber to the home in all the developments.  The higher income residents should be able to support this. 

If they have spouses that are not also telecommuters, there would still be jobs in the retail, the outdoors (ski instructor, forest ranger), government (police), health care (perhaps specialist doctor offices in small buildings and a community hospital with heli-pad to transport the tough cases), and leisure (every brewpub needs a good brewmeister).  Perhaps artisanal farm businesses could fill the local farmers’ market.

It seems pretty self-contained – which means that it wouldn’t need to grow in order to thrive.  So it wouldn’t ruin the mystique of the rural, out of the way, idyll.  And the idea could be customized for each landscape.  Maybe a beach version.  A plains version.  A desert version.  There aren’t for everyone.  Some people would still want to live in Manhattan, San Francisco, or Boston.  But I would imagine a lot of people who would thrive here.

Studio Journal Episode 3 – Daily Packing Quirks



It has been a while since I posted to my studio journal.  It is only 2 weeks until moving day.  I have to admit feeling some anxiety about it, not because I am worried about the small space, but because of what happens between now and then. 

Getting rid of things is turning out to be harder than I thought.  In three ways actually.  First, I am having trouble giving away the heavy furniture for which I need a pickup.  Every organization that does pickups has a month-long lead time. I guess I waited too long to call.  Who would have thought?  I would have called months ago had I known!!!  So now I have to figure out what to do with my gorgeous white leather couch (hint hint if you live close) and my antique and also gorgeous dresser.  I can’t just throw them away!!!! Their original purchase prices were in the four digit range.

The second reason is my hoarding tendency.  I packed my shoes last night.  I have three pairs of almost identical black dress shoes.  I only need one.  But because these are the kind I like, I will eventually wear them out.  And my foot is not growing.  So I will eventually need all three pairs.  I can give them away and get something like a $5-10 tax break (35% of a $20 value – ish) or I can save all three and save myself future purchases of $100 or so.  But then I have to figure out where to put them in the meanwhile. I packed them, but didn’t seal the box so I can change my mind.

Then there is the silly category.  I used to collect baseball caps.  When I lived in Miami I had over 300 and they were all pretty cool.  When I moved to Boston I saved my 50 favorite and gave the rest to a homeless shelter.  They were much more popular than I expected, since the residents could pick one that actually resonated with them (some favorite sports team, brand logo, funny statement or whatever).  It would be nice to do that again with the 50 I have left.  But . . . .  I packed them, but didn’t seal the box so I can change my mind.  See a trend emerging here?

I found another Goodwill collection site (remember what happened to the old one) and brought over a load.  Today was kitchen goods.  Pots, pans, food containers and that kind of thing.  When I got back, I packed up a load for next time.  Foreman grill, steamer, books – even the solar powered and rechargeable lantern I got in Miami in case of power outages from hurricanes. Then for next weekend I have a color printer with a year’s worth of color toner cartridges and all kinds of office supplies.  


I got rid of some things too.  I tossed two old umbrellas.  I finished my good tequila and tossed the bottle (hey, that counts!!) and the jar from the salsa I had with it.  I also got rid of tons of old tax records.  1993-2003 went out the door, somewhat partially shredded because I was a little too lazy to do them all carefully.  I don’t have any of the associated bank accounts, jobs, utility accounts, blah blah blah any more so I think I am OK.