Self-driving Busses

Google has been all over the news this past week when they revealed the design for their self-driving cars.  This week, Muni is broke.  Which begs the question, why is Google working on self-driving cars?!  What we really need is self-driving busses!

I understand the problem that Google is trying to solve.  People are terrible drivers, and yet we still insist on driving everywhere.  It’s bad for our minds, bad for our bodies, and yet there is no alternative.  The problem is, Google just solves that one problem with driving by giving us an alternative driver.  They do not take into account the BIG problem with single person driven vehicles; they don’t scale.

Everyone who commutes knows they should carpool or take mass transit, but for some excuse or another, do not.  Tens of thousands of people driving cars meant to carry anywhere from four to seven people, only carry one 80% of the time.  While Google’s design is smaller, it’s still bigger than what it needs to be for only one person.  Which means Google will give you the freedom to work from your car–while you’re still stuck in traffic.

This week Muni once again reminded us that the biggest cost of running a public transportation system is paying it’s employees.  Which is as it should be, this post is not about fair or unfair wages.  Lets pretend that all Muni employees are happily compensated.  The facts still remain that: one, being a bus driver is more often that not a terrible job; and two, Muni does a horrible job of running a municipal transit system.

When was the last time you heard someone proclaim with glee “I’ll just hop on the N and be there fifteen minutes!”  (Trick question, never, because that has never happened in the history of Muni… ever.)  Trains are late, busses are unreliable, everything is covered in a fine layer of filth like only San Francisco can accumulate.  Creating a reliable public transportation system–which should be one of a big city’s top responsibilities, right behind keeping us safe and making sure everything doesn’t burn to the ground–is the worse experience you’ll have at any point in your day in SF.

The worse thing is, I feel like Muni is relegated to the city’s most vulnerable: the poor, the elderly and the homeless.  The rental market is already doing a decent job of dispatching the first two, so really Muni will just become a means of ferrying around the homeless while every else flees to ride-sharing private cars.  Maybe they’ll take over the busses and finally have a place to live…  They’ll become roaming RV’s carrying bands of homeless people!  Maybe there will even be rival busses, and they’ll have gang wars and fight like pirates when enemy busses cross paths!!

I digress…

While I think it should be a top priority for cities to have well managed pub-trans for the sake of the most vulnerable populations, that does not mean it should be the third class form of transportation.  Not only is that unfair, but because we ALL pay for it.  Everyone should feel like they want to use Muni.

Which isn’t cheap.  Up until now, the only way to bridge the gap between how much Muni costs, and how much Muni makes, is by raising the fare.  Which only works for so long before people get fed up and decide that their homeless camper commute is not worth five bucks.  Kudos on the valiant effort the SFMTA made by introducing Sunday meters; which was wildly successful, so of course, they stopped it.  (If you actually do read that article, you’ll learn that continuing Sunday meters was voted down because a “charitable donation” from Google will fill the expected gap instead, paving the road for corporations to directly supplement city income.  Red flags should be going off in your brain now.)

I say to you Google, instead of buying influence, develop the technology for Muni to cut it’s costs in half or more, by making driverless busses!  I realize this cuts jobs, which is a cardinal sin of politics, but who actually wants to be a bus driver?  I mean other than two-year-olds.  Even they snap out of that phase pretty quick.  Plus, if you wanted to be all ethical, you can always give people who would loose their job as a bus driver another city job–for which they will thank you–then wait until they retire and then never have to worry about hiring another bus driver ever again.

Step into my transportation utopia: With the money saved from no longer funding driver salaries and pensions, Muni is able to buy hundreds of shiny new vehicles!  They have a support staff (of ex-drivers?) that will actually keep them clean.  ALL lines run every five minutes, because the only thing stopping that would be the size of the fleet–which I just fixed in afore mentioned sentence.  Rides cost one buck, unless you’re really old, really young, really poor or really don’t have a place to live.  MUNI RUNS ALL NIGHT LONG.  All lines, all night.  Let’s just take a moment to let that sink in.  I really want you to appreciate that last bit.  Finally, Elon Musk is so impressed with new Muni, (Newmi? Nuni… never-mind) he makes sleek new Tesla busses that don’t need wires to run!

But no.  Sadly, we do not live in the make-believe future world in my head.  All I’m asking for is to have a little vision when inventing your awesome new technology, Google.  Yes, I’m calling you short-sighted.

For now I’ll just suck it up and ride this wave while I’m on it.  I am, after all, an Uber/Sidecar driver.  I currently profit from both a poorly run public transit system and lack of other options to get around.  That being said, I do not want to be what amounts to a glorified cab driver for the rest of my life.  (Please, click on all the ads…)  I believe taxis provide a premium service and should be treated as such.  I couldn’t be more happy if one day I was put out of business.  But not before being able to support myself otherwise, of course.  Now get clicking!

Support Open Source through non-profit bundling

A week after Heartbleed wreaks havoc on the internet, I read this article that says unless Open SSL is properly funded, it could happen again.

Open source software is probably the greatest use of the internet; a utopian idea many were shooting for in the first years of it’s existence: the ability to bring bright minds together for the advancement of society.  Their contributions have benefited most everyone–as the wide swath of people affected by heartbleed will attest to–and yet none of these people have ever contributed a dime.  If they had, heartbleed might never have been an issue.

Utopian ideas are well and good, but the fact of the matter is we live staunchly entrenched in a capitalist society.  I’m not saying that it’s a better solution, I’m saying that is reality.  If you give something away for free, you cannot expect people to do the right thing.  People will use your product and be ever so grateful it existed; then feel a little bad when they don’t contribute anything toward your product, but still have many excuses, or just avoid you altogether, when asked to put a little money in the pot.  *cough*wikipedia*cough*

I am one of those people.  My excuse?  I’m poor.  All my friends will attest to that.  In fact, if there’s one thing in my life that has been consistent, it is my dismal financial situation.  I write a blog no one reads for heaven’s sake.  But, in reality, I could probably spare $20 a year.  The problem is, after living hand-to-mouth for so long, thinking about that $20 as a lump sum always makes me nervous.

What I propose is a way to tack on non-profit donations to my internet bill.  I don’t want to think about donating any lump sum, much less to more than one organization.  But if my internet bill were five dollars more a month, I probably wouldn’t notice.  That extra five dollars could be divided up between Open SSL, Wikipedia or whatever else I chose to support!  And since it’s bundled with the internet I already pay for, it doesn’t feel like another burden on my meager income.

You could take this concept and run with it, and make a whole business out of bundling non-profit donations.  That way instead of having twenty bucks here and thirty-five dollars there taken out piecemeal, you could enroll in a program that will auto-deduct a certain amount every month.  Then you can support your NPR, PBS, ASPCA and whatever else feel you need to.  You won’t be surprised when your membership comes due at random times during the year, it will just automatically renew if you’re enrolled.  And you’ll be able to plan for it every month, since it will be a regularly recurring transaction, like other bills.  You can feel good about yourself and forget about it!

On Demand Dinners

The “Everything On Demand” culture that’s currently en vogue is rubbing me the wrong way a bit.  If you can afford it, there is an app that will send someone grocery shopping for you; there’s an app that will send someone to pick up and drop off your dry cleaning for you; someone who will clean your house for you, someone who will cook and deliver it for you, someone who will deliver you for you…  It’s all a bit too much.  I know it’s supposed to make our lives convenient, but I can’t help but think it just makes us lazy.  Let’s be honest with ourselves, are you really spending ALL that time working?

I don’t think I could use some of these services out of principle.  20 years ago delivery people were usually high school or college students making a little cash on the side.  Today, they’re more likely to be heads of families doing whatever they can to make ends meet.  It’s hard for me to use a service that employs modern day servitude.  But this wasn’t meant to be a lecture.

I’m sure the problem is also my perspective.  Having worked as a delivery person for Caviar I know what it means to hustle for tips, and then freak out the second you’re not insanely busy.  It’s a lot of mental wear and tear for the deliverer all because someone was too lazy to put on a pair of pants and venture forth into the world.

In this case, I’m only going to pick on the meals-on-demand companies that cook a balanced healthy meal for you that day, usually only two options: veggie or meaty; then deliver them to you within minutes of your ordering via a delivery person who has a hot box in their car stocked full, trolling the neighborhood, waiting for someone to bite.

Some people are legitimately busy; and I understand that home cooked meals are sometimes a luxury.  You’ve worked a ten hour day, get home, and are too starving or exhausted to spend another 30 minutes or so trying to whip up a meal of the meager contents in your pantry.  It’s too late to actually go out and eat, or you’re too tired.  Instead, you call SpoonRocket or Sprig or one of the other home-cooked meals-on-demand services that will whisk a piping hot healthy meal to your doorstep in 10 minutes or less.  Pretty amazing, right?

The problem with this model is on the business side.  In order for you to get your piping hot healthy meal to you in no time at all, requires a fleet of folks just driving around in their cars, waiting for a call to come through.  This seems like a lot of wasted time and energy to me.  The company will spin it as something you can do in your off-time to make a little cash on the side, and who doesn’t like more cash?  But you know what?  I think I like my off-time as actual down time better.  My idea of spending my free time is not in a car driving around in circles and speeding to my destination once an order comes through.

On demand does not necessarily have to mean delivery.  In fact, I think there’s a better way to handle this problem.  What if the meal were waiting conveniently for you somewhere on your way home?  Say, in a large cooler in the metro station?  You could pick up dinner, hop on the train, pop it in the oven and by they time you’ve changed into your comfy clothes and poured a glass of wine, you’re dinner would be ready!  Meals would be even more inexpensive because the cost of delivery would be so much less.  You get a healthy, home-cooked meal, and no one’s time or gas is wasted.  If there are meals left over at the end of the day, they could be donated to homeless shelters!  Everybody wins!

Social Calendar for Dieting

Normally I’m pretty good about what I eat.  I recognize that I have a voracious sweet tooth and have learned to just avoid anything with sugar.  My nemesis in particular being cookies and ice cream.  For whatever reason these two foods disable my “you’re full now” button; I’m only able to stop stuffing sweets into my pie hole when my body is forced into emergency maneuvers and engages gag reflex before I get it through my skull to stop.  I learned long ago I have no willpower.  I can only make like Easwaran and run as fast as I can in the other direction.

However, every now and then my uterus will demand a sacrifice to my waistline, or I’ll need emotional comfort the likes of which can only be found at the bottom of a Ben and Jerry’s carton.  I find also that once I’ve “blown it” this gives me free license to eat like a big Fatty McFatterson for the rest of day, or sometimes number of days.

There are a lot of calorie counter and food diary apps out there, but as far as I can tell from the glancing google search I did, none of them do exactly what I want.  First of all, it’s hard enough to keep a food diary, much less an accurate one.  Not only do I have remember everything I ate that day, but I have to consider portion sizes as well?  What if I forget to document a day?  You can’t honestly expect me to remember anything that happened 24 hours ago.

Usually I’m told to “develop a new habit” or something equally as smug.  Which I get to a degree, if I really wanted to change the way I eat, I should commit to all habits that enable me to make better choices, of which, keeping a food diary has been proven to be the most successful.

However, if a picture is worth a thousand words, and if you’re already in the habit of whipping out your phone and snapping evidence of your meal everytime you eat out, why couldn’t you build on that habit?  To help develop this habit, the app could at first give you gentle reminders to take a photo of your meal before the time you normally eat.  This has the added benefit of helping to create good habits like eating breakfast (which I have no idea how people skip… seriously, I’m like a reverse gremlin) or eating smaller meals more often in the day.

This is where the social aspect comes in.  After you upload your photo of your meal, it’s rated by the community.  Not just your friends, but anyone who decides to follow you.  They will either give you a 🙂 🙁 or :/ (which apparently WP does not have an emoji for “meh”).  Nothing scientific, nothing too specific, just good, bad or okay.

Most people are able to look at a meal and accurately determine if it is overall healthy, could use some improvement, or not even close.  A picture of what you eat is more helpful in a lot of ways because you can see size and composition.  If what you think is a serving size is actually three, the community will correct you.  If you’re “chicken salad’ is actually five deep fried tenders garnished by a few bits of diced tomato and iceberg lettuce, you will mostly likely see 🙁 🙁 🙁  Ratings are accumulated for the day, averaged and added to your calendar.  If you had a good day, you’ll see 🙂 for that day.

Which is what I’m looking for.  Not so much the thoroughly detailed analyzation of what I put into my body, but an overall indication of how I did that day.  Something simple I could quickly compare against days.  When I pull up my calendar in the morning, I could feel proud of myself if the week looks like this: 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 or I can mentally prepare myself for the day if yesterday was 🙁

If you wanted to take this a step further, you could pay professionals to follow you.  That way you could have some assurance aside from herd mentality that what your eating is good.  They could also give you tips on what to do differently to improve each meal.

Sharing this information with your friends would be encouraging.  If you had a good week, your friends would congratulate you, or you them.  If you have a 🙁 day, the app would notify your friends, and they can reach out and offer support.  One of the most effective ways to lose weight and maintain weight loss is by using a support network.  A lot of old school weight loss solutions relied on this aspect, but as far as I’ve seen, it’s missing from the latest technology.  Which is ironic, considering it was the latest technology that spurred so much online social networking.

Or maybe it’s not missing, but is so complex that normal people are turned off by it.  It seems like a lot of these apps are aimed at people who, if not already are crazed fitness buffs, are well on their way to becoming so.  Tracking everything our body does is interesting… but tedious.  Most people are interested to know they did or did not drink enough water that day.  Most people are not interested in what the percentage of water they drank went to making sweat, various enzymes, or waste.  Okay, I’m sure we would all check that once, but every day?  Especially if it’s means having to keep very detailed records of water intake, plus wearing some device at all times to monitor your body.  What is the point of knowing all that anyway?  Will it make you that much healthier?  Or happier?

Obviously (hopefully?) this scenario is made up, but I think most people would agree that knowing ALL of this information about your body is not going to add to the quality of your life or mental well being.  If anything, it might detract from it.  All I want, and what I think the average person wants is an overview.  As long as I see 🙂 for that day, I know I’m headed in the right direction.  That alone will make me feel better about myself and want to continue to expend the small amount of energy needed to continue going.

So there you have it.  I’ve basically invented Emoji Jenny Craig–minus the meal plans, of course.  EmoJenny Craig.  Emoji-nny Craig?  I’ll stop now.

Sky Scrapers that Direct Wind Up

From the title of this post you might have guessed that I am not an architect, or have too firm a grasp of physics for that matter.  What I do know is that tall buildings create wind tunnels, which sucks for the people on the ground.  Especially those of us in skirts and dresses…  (Pro-tip for city newbs, remember those cute shorts you never get to wear because it’s always “too cold”?  Here’s your chance!)

I’m sure people who do study physics know why this happen.  I know that skyscrapers are tested for wind load to make sure they can stand up to high winds, but why don’t we do anything about the resulting wind tunnels that are created?  Is this factor even taken into consideration when developing plans for a new building?  Or is there anything that can be done?

Without any substantial knowledge on this phenomenon, I’ve created a few mock ups:

skyscraper directs wind up
Skyscraper directs wind up

Or, in the case of buildings already in existence, perhaps something can be done to break up the wind?  Or, at the very least, take advantage it.  Just think if wind turbines were small enough to be attached to the outside of a building! They could be attached to light poles, sign poles, have their own designated poles installed.  We could paint them and call it art!

Skyscraper directs wind up, and converts to energy
Skyscraper directs wind up, and converts to energy

It’s the best of all possible worlds, we could be creating great green energy AND beautifying the city!  Nobody could argue that power would only be generated a faction of the time because it’s always windy.  Environmentalists might raise a stink because wind turbines kill birds.  And it’s true, the huge windmills you see on the Altamont pass are notorious for decapitating various birds, (some of them endangered, blah blah blah), but there’s a flaw in their argument.

Perhaps the happiest accident of all, these as-of-yet uninvented turbines will be small enough to kill the only birds that live downtown.  And I’m not talking about the Parrots, they generally stay away from tall buildings.  I’m talking about pigeons!  Filthy, stupid, inbred flying vermin.  They really are the worst animal on the face of the earth.  Even rats are better.  Rats at least eat actual food.  And if one of their own was as retarded as a pigeon they would kill him.  And then, probably eat him, because they are rats, and rats roll hard.  But their still not as bad as pigeons.

I once saw a pigeon that had a missing foot and then somehow managed to stick it’s stump into a turd ball of some sort.  Maybe it’s smarter than I give it credit for, and it did that on purpose because the turd ball created stability, but probably not.  It was the most wretched looking creature I’ve ever seen.  I’ve never wanted to put something out of its misery so bad in all my life.  And this was when I was living in the outer Richmond.  It’s supposed to be nice out there.

After that I lived in the Tenderloin, and I’d see these old crazy grandma’s feeding the pigeons and I just want to yell at them.  Of course, being old and crazy and living on the streets of the Tenderloin, I’ll either speak their language, or they’ll take their crazy to a whole new level I’m not willing to experience.

You know I used to think pigeons were cute?  Growing up, in the country, pigeons were just the poor man’s dove.  They made pretty cooing sounds and had shiny, iridescent feathers.  My cousins would actually shoot them and then eat them.  Like they were some foreign delicacy.  Yet city pigeons somehow go from being squab to flying poison bags.  The homeless don’t even touch city pigeons because they know it would be certain death.

Anyway… there might be a quick backlash because of all of the mangled pigeon corpses littering the ground, (I won’t mock that up), and the city might have to step up their street cleaning plans in the first months after the tiny turbines are installed.  But that will only last as long as pigeons remain.  Which, one would hope, will not be long.  Then San Francisco would be a pigeon free, manageably breezy, clean energy paradise!