Category Archives: Road

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

Let the Texans have their truck. Leave the rest of us alone. Sedans are also authentic.

-{Originally Appeared on Ordinary Times}-


Category: Road

We flew down from DC to Colosse today. There was a layover in RL Nashville. Funny thing about the Nashville airport… it seems like everybody there has a guitar.

Anyhow, it was a very exhausting day. Traveling with a little one usually is. She was extremely well-behaved, but we were all just really tired when we finally got to Colosse.

As is our tradition, Dad drove us to Happy Burger (our favorite regional chain) on the way home for the airport. The thing is, neither Clancy nor I were hungry. We were also both tired and just ready to go home. But tradition is tradition. Besides, for all I knew they had been waiting to eat out and we didn’t want to deny them that. But man… we were just tired. In every sense. And we found out that Mom and Dad weren’t actually particularly hungry anyway.

While leaving the parking lot, Dad took a wrong turn and we found ourselves in the drive-through lane. Which was long. But we got a bit of a laugh at it. But because of that, we spent an additional twenty minutes at an intersection because while we were in the drive-through line a team of mobile home delivery trucks were going through. So big were these mobile tricks that they were accompanied by city employees who had to disconnect the traffic lights, let the caravan through, then reconnect them.

At every intersection.

The moral of the story is that the amount of time everything takes rises with your level of exhaustion. If not because you are moving slower, then because of a mobile home delivery fleet.

Category: Road

New York’s yellow-cab drivers no longer required to pass English test (The Guardian)

A new law that streamlines licensing requirements for different kinds of drivers has done away with the longstanding English proficiency test for taxi drivers, which supporters say will eliminate a barrier to the profession for immigrants, who make up 96% of the 144,000 cabbies in the city.

Drivers must still pass tests on such details as driving rules and where they can pick up passengers.

The end of the English test is also a recognition of how technology has transformed the business. Many drivers now rely on computer navigation programs rather than verbal directions to reach a destination. For-hire drivers for app-based services such as Uber have never had to take an English test.

Critics of the change, including some drivers, say a good command of English is a basic requirement for a job that involves communicating with passengers and reading street signs.

“If you’re going to work in this country serving the population which is majority made up of American citizens that speak English, you probably should learn how to speak English,” said Tanya Crespo, a tourist visiting Manhattan from Newport, North Carolina.

I don’t get irate about Pressing 1 for English. I am not worried that immigrants aren’t going to assimilate. I don’t get mad if I’m in line and the people in front of me are speaking a language I don’t understand. I only complain about Indian customer support when it actually makes customer support more difficult.

But on this? I agree with Crespo. I could favor getting rid of the requirement if it’s determined to be a waste of time and money. But to lower the barrier of entry? For New York Taxis? Because if they’re really interested in lowering barriers, I have some suggestions.

Back in reality, though, the taxi market is very constricted in New York. This may be right or this may be wrong, but it is what it is. We limit the number of taxis we allow on the streets for a variety of reasons, including preventing the oversaturation of the market. In other words, barriers for the sake of barriers. We only want a limited number of suppliers and, by extension, drivers. And if we’re going to limit the number of drivers, after things like bad criminal records and knows the rules of the road, language is a pretty decent requirement.

Most of the time you may not need to be able to communicate with the driver, but sometimes you do. And since the number of drivers on the road is limited anyway, it seems more than reasonable to require for that contingency. “What about markets” simply doesn’t apply here, and an argument about “Would you rather have a driver who can’t speak English or no driver at all?” doesn’t work, when we’re limiting the number of drivers anyway. (As an aside, this also raises questions about immigrants doing “jobs Americans don’t do”… but that’s pretty tangential.

Along these lines, I don’t care about Uber or Lyft. There we are talking about a tradeoff between the number of drivers and the ability to communicate with them easily. A language requirement might lead to less supply, which might be a tradeoff not worth considering. So I’d leave it to them to decide. If enough people get angry about non-English speaking Uber drivers picking them up, then they can revise. If nobody does and they will simply take the availability, then the people have spoken. (Provided, of course, that language requirements don’t transition into a legal zone of “unlawful discrimination.”)Photo by robnguyen01

Category: Road

Expecting a lot of hassle on the flight down to Deltona and back, we decided to take the unusual step of getting a leash for our child. There is a picture to the right, but even without it you can imagine what it is. I can’t remember whether Clancy brought it up first or I did, but when it was brought up the other person was already thinking about it. It made a lot of sense to do it this particular trip since I would be coming home with the little one separately from her.

From the get-go, our entire attitude towards it has been different. Though we both thought it was a good idea, she was very worried about judgmental strangers from the outset while I wasn’t worried about it at all. Some of my lack of worry is “Why would anybody object?” Here is an example:

What kind of people have we turned into the put our children in leashes? I mean…that’s like treating them no better than your dogs!! I don’t care how restless and uncontrolable they might get.

There’s a thing called a stroller! Or even better…don’ take them out. That way…they learn. They think ‘oh wow…when i act up i don’t get to go out and have fun. Let me behave so I don’t get strapped into the stroller or taken home.

And that, boys and girls, is called parenting.

But it mostly seems like a non-issue, for the most part. Most of the people responding to that little lecture said they approved of the leash. The author of this pro-harness piece said that she gets looks of disapproval, but most of the responses in the comment section are supportive.

Here’s an article:

For the general population of kids, a firm stance as a parent should be enough to keep a child from scooting off, said Susan Newman, a New York social psychologist and parenting expert who is a critic of the harnesses.

“To me, it’s like treating a child like a dog or an animal when in fact as a parent your job is to make the rules,” Newman said.

“The perception is, this is a parent who can’t control her toddler.”

Yeah, well, I can’t. At least not with 100% reliability. The vast majority of the time I can let her down and if I want to go somewhere she will take my hand when I ask her to. And that’s all good and fine. However, the airport isn’t a great place to test that theory. Nor is hanging around busy traffic. Because, you know, the one time you lose track of them…

It’s… a no-brainer, at least in some circumstances like a busy airport or walking around the street. Lain objected at first, but took to it pretty well when she realized that meant that she was more likely to be able to walk around (at least within a radius). And it’s so imminently practical on what basis is there really room for objection? Especially when dealing with a three year old or anyone at the age where it is something that they still have to learn. And, of course, if there were glaring eyes, I could care less.

That’s where gender plays a bit of a role. As a father, far less is expected of me. In fact, if someone did look disapprovingly at me at the airport, they were as likely to think my wife is negligent (for not being the one taking care of the little one) than I am.

There is also the more general way that Clancy and I look at the world differently. She expects a degree of confrontation with the world than I do. So an ambiguous response is more likely to be assumed as negative by her while positive by myself. And I’m probably less likely to notice other parents looking anyway. I didn’t notice any furrowed brows at all. There were a couple of people who thought it was funny. The lady behind the counter at the gate desk said she wishes those things had been around when her kids were little because they were always darting out in the middle of nowhere.

On the flight back, Lain mostly took to walking right behind me and holding on to the wheel of her stroller, which was over my shoulder. Which was fine except that she was in my blind spot, and periodically she would decide she wanted to sit down.

But no disapproving stairs noticed. And if any were missed, screw’em. This is the future, people.

Category: Road

For the first time in a really long time, we’re going back to visit the family over Christmas. I won’t be absent, but I came to the determination that there is simply no way to keep posting up and enjoy the limited time with the family. Also, I have an insane backlog of Linkluster links. So Linkluster is going to be a daily affair for the rest of the year. There will be other posts here and there, and I very much invite my cobloggers to pitch in.

I will take care to note that the links through this period will disproportionately be those that will have not appeared on Ordinary Times yet or will not appear on Ordinary Times (the latter set more likely than not to be at the top of Linkluster on any given day. Also, Monday’s Linkluster will be a Star Wars edition full of links that won’t be on Ordinary Times.

We’re leaving on Tuesday (though will be pretty busy getting ready between now and then), and I’m getting back on the 31st. Hopefully, I will be rested and re-energized and ready to go on my return.

Category: Road

For the most part, I don’t miss smoking. There are things that I do miss about it, but over time I have come to appreciate vaping more for the most part. I have a wider variety of flavors. There’s no lingering odor. Also, I’m not killing myself nearly as quickly. Probably.

There have been only a few times that I have longingly imagined a cigarette in my hand and my mouth. One of which was last Thanksgiving. It was a family gathering on Clancy’s mother’s side. As it happens, she lives a few hours inland of us, so we were able to make the trip. Dork that I am, I packed everything to be able to puff… except the eliquid. I didn’t realize it until it was way too late, though.

The prospect of several days, surrounded by people, without the ability to puff was really quite daunting. I didn’t think I would be able to do it. I pondered going to a convenience store and getting some disposables. The problem is that the stuff they sell in convenience stores is really not very good. At all. Though it’s the same basic mechanism that I did successfully use to quit, I had a hard time imagining going back.

I had an easier time imagining smoking. Just for a couple of days, you understand. Just until I got back. I’d recently passed the one year mark, though. And “just one” is a pretty bad policy to anyone who has been addicted. Yeah, some people can do that. More can’t.

It didn’t take a half-an-hour before a rather obvious thought occurred to me: Vape shops. I’d never been in a vape shop before. I got my equipment and always got my ejuice online. Desperate times called for desperate measures, however, and it turned out that there was a vape shop in town. It cost about $1.08 a milliliter, which is between 2-5x what I usually pay, but I was happy to pay it.


Besides that, the only times when I’ve missed smoking have involved equipment problems with my devices. The first-generation stuff I got was very easy, albeit unsatisfying. The second generation was much more satisfying, and cheaper in the overall, but required a lot more work. There were tanks to clean, tanks to keep full, coils to replace, batteries to make sure they were charged. It was kind of a pain. It was made all the moreso by the difficulties I had with the wicks and coils, which were a real pain to install and you had to do it just right or you wouldn’t get a good vape at all. The second generation was also wildly inconsistent, which may be related to the wick problems but were also an issue that the wicks would burn out quickly and I never knew whether it was just a temporary thing or if I needed to replace the darn thing.

In any event, when I would have really bad vape days, when I was nearing the end of most of my wicks and the new wicks I installed weren’t working right, it was hard not to think of what was needed to smoke a cigarette: You buy a cigarette and you light it on fire and breathe in the smoke. That’s pretty much it.

I’m on the third generation now, which has some of the maintenance of the second generation, but is on the whole much easier. It is a lot more satisfying, so even if the coils aren’t perfect it’s better on its bad day than a second-generation is on a good day. And replacing the coil is a snap and I don’t have to do it as often and it’s harder to screw up.

I’m back to the point where I don’t even unseriously fantasize about smoking a cigarette.

All of which is a way of saying that the technology matters. And as the FDA and EU ramp up regulations, they’re doing so with a disregard for the vaping experience. I think they might think that making it a bit of a pain is a good thing. I obviously disagree. These thoughts will be further explored in a coming post on OT. But for now I will just say that we really do want vaping to be easy. Because smoking will always be easier.

Category: Road

A conversation in the football post Over There, the size of Texas came up. Said Glyph:

When I was driving cross-country, I tried to stay off Interstates as much as possible, and some long Texas highways were the only ones where I kind of got scared, like, “if my car breaks down, I could DIE out here before I ever see another human being!”

When moving across the country, it seems natural to measure progress by states. the problem with doing this is that it can make Texas a very dispiriting experience. Especially when you go the route we go.

There are two ways to get from the Southeast to the northern Mountain West. The most obvious way involves the Great Plains. It’s also the fastest way, but it’s also very, very boring (no offense, Mr Cain). On the other hand, if you go through Texas and the northeastern tip of New Mexico, you get to drive along the Front Range. The problem is this:


It’s like the route is designed to keep you in Texas as long as humanly possible. And not, sadly, the more interesting parts like the Hill Country or the Mountains in the west of the coast. It’s the flat, dry, and treeless portion.

And if you’re making your progress by state lines, can be a very long 2-3 days.

Anywhere, he’s a music video of a Robert Earl Keen song about a (proverbially) long road:

Here’s another REK video about Corpus Christi, which is not on the aforementioned route (audio only):

Category: Road

[This is a multi-part series. See parts I and II.

Note: This entry in the series immediately follows the previous entry. I strongly recommend a quick review of part II to re-establish the mood and setting.]


“Don’t pick up any black people, especially if there’s more than one of them,” the experienced cabbie told me. “Stay out of Third Street, and Bayview/Hunter’s Point. Don’t stop for anybody there”

I’d stopped after midnight for a passenger on Market Street, who’d turned out to be a young black male, and then two young black males, and they’d taken me down Third Street to Bayview/Hunter’s Point, into a deserted warehouse district, where I expected to die, only to drop them off at the San Francisco Naval Shipyard: two sailors who’d thanked me and tipped me well.

Chagrined, but still shaking off the stress of believing I was about to be shot point blank in the back of the head, I was headed back up Third Street to familiar territory.

“Stay out of Third Street, and Bayview/Hunter’s Point. Don’t stop for anybody there”

I’m not going to.

Stopped at a traffic light, I see a guy wave at me from across the intersection. Black, middle-aged, wearing a Muni uniform, a bus or streetcar driver, maybe the cable cars.

I’m not going to be that guy, and a middle aged bus driver surely can’t be a threat, unless he’s behind the wheel and I’m on my bike. The light changes, I roll forward and stop in front of him.

He’s in a good mood, relaxed, smiling and friendly. He gives me directions, and I recognize the hill we’re going up. It’s the route toward my friend’s home in the feudalistic white enclave above the poor black peasants.

As we skirt around the top of the hill we pass an open grassy area, on fire. Sometime past one o’clock in the morning, and there is a grass fire, and there is nobody around. Weird. We’re both silent.

We descend the hill, heading down toward the Bay, heading through the projects. I’d heard about these projects, World War II temporary housing for shipyard workers still in use a half century later. I make a sharp left, an acute angle, into a narrow dead-end street. There’s a trash dumpster, flames boiling from its depths into the dark sky, with people sitting around it in chairs, drinking and talking. It’s surreal, and coming so soon after I thought I was about to be shot point blank in the back of the head and after passing the grassy lot burning with no one around it’s too much for me to process.

They’re calling out to me. “Cabbie, hey, cabbie! Beautiful night, isn’t it?” The man pays me and gets out. The street is so narrow I have to back up and pull forward a couple of times to make the turnaround, a 5 point turn. All the while these strangers drinking deep into the night by the light of a burning dumpster are calling out to me. I’m freaked out. This doesn’t happen in small midwestern farm towns. This doesn’t happen in the small town where I want to the small conservative religious college. It doesn’t happen in my neighborhood in San Francisco. I wave, trying to seem friendly, trying not to seem rude…trying not to seem racist…and drive out as fast as I decently can.

“Don’t stop for anybody there”

Believe me, I’m not going to. The sailors turned out to be all right, the Muni driver was friendly and pleasant, but the circumstances were just too freaky. I’m getting out of there as fast as I can, back on Third Street charging north towards downtown, north of the speed limit.

An arm waving, a middle-aged lady, nicely dressed. I’m not going to be that guy. I’m not that guy. And I’m not going to leave a woman without a ride in the middle of the night.

First a stop at a nearby liquor store where I idle in the parking lot while she buys a bottle of wine, then then on to her home. No problem. She’s nice, chatty, friendly. The route home is familiar. I’d been there just minutes before.

We skirt the edge of the hill. The grassy lot is still burning, but thank you god firetrucks have just arrived, restoring some semblance of normalcy to this increasingly crazy night.

Back down the same street towards the Bay, the same acute left turn into the same narrow dead-end street of WWII temporary shipyard housing still occupied a half century later, past the same burning dumpster, past the same people sitting around it drinking.

It’s been 15 minutes, tops, since I was there before. They recognize me and they’re calling out to me again, “The cabbie’s back!” Hey, cabbie!

Deja vu, but it’s real, surreally real. I make my 5 point turn again, wave again, heart racing, drive off as fast as I decently can again, get to Third Street again, turn north toward downtown again, toward familiar territory, toward the cab shop because while I could have the cab a couple more hours I’ve made decent money for my first night, and I’m now so freaked out by the weirdness of the night to want to drive anymore at all.

I have tunnel vision. I don’t know if anybody is trying to flag me down or not. All I can see is pavement ahead of me. Every light I hit green or yellow and blow on through. I cross Mission Creek, back into the South of Market area, and head back to the shop.

Arriving home, I find my girlfriend has waited up for me, scared, expecting me home a couple of hours ago. I tell her I meant to drive until 4, for the full 12 hours I had the cab. Then I tell her about my night, my first night as a cab driver, and together we relive the craziness of it; a hell of a night, never to be equalled in the four months I drove.


Long after, I realized what an opportunity I missed. Had I gotten out of the cab, walked over, and shared a drink with them, I would have earned the respect of those folks sitting around the burning dumpster: a white guy, getting out of his cab in the projects, at nearly 2 a.m., to share drinks with black people living there. I imagine they laughed about me–I do, too, now.

What makes me kick myself is that inside, I knew it. I could tell their calls to me, while slightly mocking, were friendly, not threatening. They would have loved it if I hadn’t acted like the scared kid I was, but had joined them. I regret that moment.

Category: Road

Would you feel safer flying with the hiring and training of additional TSA officers/agents’/whatever they have to call themselves to feel important’, or would you rather they hire & train more air traffic controllers?

PS I object to the TSA as a whole as security theater, but for the most part, all of my interactions with TSA personnel has been professional, even if the rules they enforce are stupid, and even if they occasionally drink their own kool-aid (I don’t argue with them, I have a plane to catch).

PPS I suspect the reason ATC is hurting for people such that it has to use grinding schedules is because the training is tough, the work stressful, and the pay is high enough (median $122K/year) that management is not keen to staff centers fully if they can avoid it.  Add in that politically, TSA is something of a jobs program for the unskilled.  Still, for every 2-3 Blue shirts, we could have another ATC on the job.  Imaginary terrorist plots rank much lower to me than very real collisions.

Category: Road, Statehouse, Theater