Sunday, June 3, 2018

Make It Stop

So, Cadillac is offering what it calls the “world’s first true hands-free driving system for the freeway”. It’s called Super Cruise and is offered on CT6 model vehicles. I saw the commercial recently and, I must say, no friggin’ thank-you!

I seriously do not like where this trend is going. Do you think that in their haste to be the first automaker to offer self-driving technology, competing car companies have accounted for all possible situational contingencies? There’s just no way! Other drivers, other vehicles, mechanical issues, confounding weather, road conditions, construction, not to mention variables I haven’t even thought of - there are an infinite number of unsafe scenarios that can unfold on the road in a matter of a millisecond.

Do ice and snow interfere with sensors? Does intense cold affect computer circuitry? If wind blows a lawn chair or air mattress across a highway, will a self-driving car screech to a stop, causing other vehicles to pile up behind it? How does a self-driving vehicle respond to a mammoth pothole? Would it plow through a family of ducks crossing a highway? I’ve got a million questions!
Photo Courtesy Flickr
If you don’t want to drive, why in tarnation would you buy a car? Hire a chauffeur! Automakers are spending millions of dollars to develop road vehicles we can just sit in. Donate the money instead, to scientists working to find cures for disease. There are already plenty of vehicles we can just sit in and they go by any number of names, including “taxi”, “limo”, “bus”, “streetcar”, “rickshaw” and many more.

Is buying a self-driving vehicle about the misguided prestige of being the first to own a new gadget? I have yet to meet a consumer who yearns for a self-driving vehicle.

Hey stupid, you’re drifting out of your lane! Hey stupid, I’ll parallel park for you! Hey stupid, I’ll stop the car for you before you hit that cyclist! Hey stupid, you’re about to back into a brick wall! Hey stupid, I’ll send an electric current through your seat to get you to stop texting! Soon, the morons who are driving on our roads with IC permits (see February 3, 2018 blog, "What's In Your Wallet") won’t even be required to pass a driver’s license; they’ll only be required to have enough money to buy a self-driving vehicle.

For impaired drivers and people who can’t think and drive at the same time, this technology is ideal, but if you can’t think and drive, or if you drive impaired, you should not have a driver’s permit in the first place.

If this is about making roads safer, enforce laws, toughen laws, or, better still, stop letting stupid people drive; make driver’s tests more difficult in order to weed out the morons. Not everyone should be driving. Not everyone is suited to operating a motor vehicle.

I don’t dispute that recent advances have made cars safer. Seatbelts, anti-lock brakes, airbags, rearview cameras; I like them and rely on them. Other technological advances, I have not tried. My wife’s car has auto-park. She’s never used it and neither have I; I can park, plus, I don’t trust it. What if it bangs into another vehicle, or an obstacle? How do I explain that?

I imagine some self-indulgent types will use their self-driving vehicles to send their children to school, or their aging parents to medical appointments, in safety and comfort.

I don’t want to be driven by a machine – I wholeheartedly subscribe to the antiquated notion that says - I drive the machine. I want to make the decisions that steer and propel my car.

Former US Highway Traffic Safety Administrator Dr. Mark Rosekind, speaking on BBC Radio, warns there will inevitably be lives lost as driverless cars are introduced, but he believes that, eventually, streets will be safer. Already, safety groups are concerned that ads, press releases, and statements by Elon Musk, mislead and deceive Tesla customers into believing the vehicle’s Autopilot feature is safer and more capable than it really is.

If I pledge to buy vehicles I can actually drive for as long as I can drive, will automakers pledge to provide drivers who choose to drive with vehicles we can actually drive?

Automakers, please continue to provide drivers who choose to drive, with vehicles we can drive. Mazda’s slogan gives me hope for the future – “driving matters”.

When I can no longer drive, I’ll mooch a ride with anyone who cares, or I’ll take the damnable self-driving bus.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Beware Video Dodo

A few years ago, I can remember talking to my former morning show co-host about my weekend and, at one point, she stopped me and asked me to explain the concept of a video store. She had never heard of a video store! 

One of my current colleagues just about fell off his chair when he heard me say recently, I had been to the video store to pick up a movie. “Who goes to a video store?” he demanded with a snort of indignation. 

I’ve always found video stores to be very convenient, not to mention a great excuse to go for a walk. Movieland, International, Super Club Videotron; they’re all video stores that make up part of my fairly rich movie viewing history. As soon as a movie is available for purchase, we rent it, watch it and bring it back.

Over the weekend, we stopped at the video store to return “Paddington 2”, which I quite enjoyed. I told you it was fairly rich. There was a notice on the door explaining that the store would be closing permanently. Now we’re wondering what we’ll do to watch movies in the comfort of our home. 

Frankly, Netflix sucks. We occasionally watch movies on the service but they are certainly not the latest releases. We rarely find the movies or television shows we want to watch. Often, we end up watching stuff because it’s there, not because it’s our choice. 

I’m already wistful about record stores. I miss records and buying CD’s. There’s something exciting about having a physical copy of an artist’s record, or CD, in your hand, as opposed to blended into some infinite and impersonal list of 1’s and 0’s on an iPod or, worse, somewhere in cyberspace. 

I don’t miss videocassettes, but I will miss DVD’s.

My son does not watch movies, but suggested iTunes as a possible solution to our movie viewing problem. Another possibility is Amazon. Do we stream or download? It seems everyone has a questionable website to suggest. “Why pay?” they scoff. Piracy schmiracy. Great.

A DVD just seems so much simpler. I know; in a year I’ll be asking indignantly, “Who goes to a video store?” Like the dodo bird, they and all their members will be extinct. Until then, I feel like, yet again, we’re being forcibly funneled into the flow of choiceless fools.

I’m pressing rewind, but no such luck.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Save It

The house next to us is being torn down. The developer has already cut down several trees on the lot. We are hoping to keep the two trees that stand smack dab in the middle of our property and the lot being developed. Our backyard fence actually goes around the two trees in question!

The developer wants all the trees to come down and, last fall, was hastily cutting branches off the two shared trees before I went out to speak to him.

I contacted the city in hopes someone there would be able to help us protect the two disputed trees from destruction. The pair of trees provide our yard with shade, a bit of privacy and they serve as a perfect perching place for birds eating at our busy feeders. 

A city urban planner agreed to meet me at our home during lunch hour Monday April 23rd so that the situation could be assessed firsthand.

On the date of the scheduled meeting, I was running late. My punctuality could potentially be called into question! I was supposed to meet the urban planner at 12:10. Driving to our house, I was caught behind a slow motorist who, annoyingly, preferred doing 40 in a 50 zone. I tailgated, to get the driver to go faster, so I wouldn’t be late for my appointment.

Finally, the driver turned on their left turn signal. Since I was going straight at that corner, I pulled alongside the slowpoke. I looked at the woman who was driving and before she made her turn, she made a face at me.  She made the turn. I kept going and turned left at the next corner.

I got out of my vehicle in the driveway at home, on time, and a minute or two later, lo and behold the slow-driving woman pulled up at our house. If she recognized me and/or my vehicle, she graciously never showed it.

I’m sure there’s a lesson in there somewhere, but I’m just as sure I don’t want to hear it.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

I'll Take A Mile

ICMYI - the Parti Quebecois last month was pushing the Liberal government to boost speed limits on Quebec highways to 120 km/hr. The PQ says, if that happened, police would be required to strictly enforce the raised limit. They argue that to leave current limits at 100 km/hr is “hypocrisy” because that speed limit is not enforced by police.

The PQ insists it’s widely known that Quebec motorists can routinely drive at 115 to 120 without worry of getting a speeding ticket.

I’m fine with that. In fact, I’m great with that!

When I drive at 115 or 120, which I have been known to do, I feel like I am one reckless renegade, pushing the limits of the law to their breaking point. I suddenly have wind in my thinning hair, dark sunglasses, a black leather jacket, with Steppenwolf blaring from the radio as I scoff, grittily, in the direction of authority.

I know full well that if the posted speed limit were 120 km/hr, I’d stupidly, and inevitably, go faster than that. That’s just the kind of idiot I am.

I know me.

Give me an inch and I will take a mile, please. Here is a case in point; even the 75 mph speed limit in Montana wasn’t good enough for me. I was cruising along at 94 mph when the state trooper pulled me over. Even now, as Montana debates raising the speed limit on its interstates to 80, I know when I visit that state, I will be compelled to drive just a little faster.

Here in Quebec, it’s perfect the way it is; the 100 km/hr speed limit has reasonable discretion built-in for police and I get to wallow in the illusion of being a rebel of the most rebellious sort, a non-conformist conforming.

Driving at 120 in a 100 km/hr zone, I am living on the edge with virtually no uncontrollable itch to drive at 130. Change the speed limit to 120, however, and my neatly stacked pile of speeding tickets is liable to get bigger.

Far better to leave well enough alone.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Neanderthal Knuckles

I can’t do the keyboard that came with my Apple computer. The touch is too soft. I tend to hammer keys when I type and the corresponding clatter acts as confirmation that I’ve clobbered the targeted letter! I’m fairly certain I would batter the slim little Apple keyboard into oblivion, which is why, in my home office, I keep my more cumbersome keyboard connected.

I type with two fingers at breakneck speed. If you require reams of news copy written, I’m good to go! I can handle stacks of television scripts, mounds of commentaries and piles of email correspondence. If I need to write editorials, speeches, releases, statements, stories, articles, memos, notices, columns, posts, blogs or lyrics, rest assured, my Neanderthal knuckles can make it happen.

Whenever I arrive at a new workplace, there is a “peer amazement period” during which people gasp and gawk at the speed of my two-finger typing. In newspaper, television and radio newsrooms, my uncouth technique does the trick. I get the copy written by deadline, without breaking a sweat.

I learned to type on clunkers and plunkers; manual typewriters with ink ribbons on spools. They were no luxury! In fact, I can remember in one newsroom, watching a manual typewriter fly through the air behind me, as an exasperated colleague cursed loudly. The typewriter landed with a rattling thud on the linoleum floor, leaving a fairly impressive gash. I promised I would not reveal the name of the woman, man, or cyborg responsible, so that’s all I have to say about that.

Electric typewriters were impressive when they arrived on the scene and word processors were something out of the distant future, seemingly developed and perfected on the deck of the USS Enterprise.  

Where I am currently working, the “peer amazement period” apparently continues, with people still making comments almost every day about the speed of my two-finger typing. Even the painter on hand to finish office renovations came over to my desk to remark on the speed of my typing. 

Normally, colleagues get used to the speed and the noise. My latest workplace has proven to be the exception. Newsrooms are generally busy places with considerable bustle. My current workplace tends to be much quieter which, unfortunately, draws more attention to my loud typing. I came into work Monday to discover my keyboard had been changed. Apparently, colleagues working nearby had complained about the volume of my typing. I asked that the original keyboard be put back.

What do you want from me? I am a child of typing’s Mesozoic period, when the typing of words necessitated serious plunking on serious clunkers. In the newsroom where I worked, journalists had to type hard enough on manual typewriters that the copy was legible on three sheets of paper with two sheets of carbon paper in between. Neanderthal typing skills were required.

The pad that could save the day
Today, from where I sit, the manipulation of graphemes and words on devices is in its glorious phase. In the future, people will need only think words to have them appear on paper or, even eerier, minds will be linked telepathically. I’m not sure I want to go there.

For the time being, I have my keyboard back. The IT people at my current workplace searched high and low for some kind of foam, rubber, or sponge cushion to put underneath my keyboard. They found one, and now the hope is that this pad between the underside of the keyboard and the surface of the desk will reduce noise resonation.

I will fervently object to any suggestion that I modify my typing style on the grounds it would seriously compromise my productivity and, in all likelihood, my mental health! I couldn’t possibly keep reminding myself to tread lightly. It’s inescapable; when it comes to typing, I’m a Type A typer.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Convection Sucks

In 2014, the Library of Congress deemed it “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”. For me, its significance was established long before that! “Luxo Jr.” came out in 1986. I vaguely remember seeing the two-minute animated film in a movie theatre. What I remember most was being surprised that a desk lamp could convey emotions and stir them in me! I’m not sure whether it disturbed or fascinated me, but, either way, I never forgot it.

“Luxo Jr.” has been selected for preservation in the National Film Registry. With its hopping desk lamp, it revolutionized animation techniques and earned Pixar an Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Short Film. It managed to convey emotion in inanimate objects. I think experiencing that convection of emotion messed me up! I’m almost certain I did not have a tendency to attribute human characteristics to inanimate objects before watching that film!

Sure, I’m sentimental; I have always been sentimental. I was teary when I traded in my 1984 vehicle for a 1990 model car! The question is, was I teary because “Luxo Jr.” brought a desk lamp to life, prompting me to project human emotion onto objects in my own life, such as an exhausted Jamaica Blue Hyundai Pony?

Much as it sounds highly implausible to you, it sounds highly plausible to me.

On Saturday, we took delivery of a new stainless steel, convection range. That wasn’t really the problem. The problem was when the two delivery guys lifted our old oven from the spot in our kitchen where it had stood for 26 years, reliably cooking our favorite foods for our favorite people. The oven had shared in so much of our lives, and contributed so much to our lives as new homeowners, newlyweds, new parents, accomodating hosts and curious cooks.

There are plenty of objects in our lives that we associate with emotion. Even though they are objects and devoid of emotion themselves, there are times when I imagine they feel what I’m feeling. That’s convection. To complicate things, our oven was with us a long time and the food it created for us and our significant others, played such an important role in our lives. It conveyed love.

Our new range
Will our new convection range be able to convey love?

Using personification or anthropomorphization for the convection of emotion in inanimate objects is troublesome. Where does it end? Given that I have managed to get rid of old lawn mowers, smelly sponges and used tissues without getting sappy, I’m somewhat consoled that my sentimentality hasn’t taken me completely over the edge.

As he lifted our faithful oven, one of the delivery guys asked whether it was broken. Feeling guilty, I rather sheepishly answered, “no”.

They placed our old oven on the street as they took the new range from the truck. I held the door open as they carried the new convection range past me into our home, but I just stared out at our old oven alone in the street, unwanted and facing rejection. I know, that’s convection at work; my mind conveying emotion in our oven. Even writing about that moment of convection now, gives me the blubbers.
Our faithful previous oven
Am I a lunatic? Out to lunch? A couple of slices short of a full loaf? There’s enough sadness in the world that I don’t need to manufacture it in manufactured goods!

Maybe I should have asked what happens to our old oven. Perhaps it will go to a family somewhere, where it will continue to cook and create happy moments. Many of our discarded objects could do with recycling.

Yes, indeed, the name “Luxo Jr.” could very well come up in future therapy.

I can tell you that even though I loved the “Toy Story” films, I never watched the last one after people told me how sad it was. I know my limits.

Convection sucks.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Round and Round

The amount on our latest municipal tax bill included one penny. To illustrate, let’s say it was $1234.01. I prepared a check for $1234.00. My wife suggested I include the one cent. I scoffed outright, and with generous bluster, pointed out the rounding rule.

Off to city hall I went. I slid the check across the counter to the clerk, who began entering the name, address and amount into her computer. Very casually, she announced there would be an “amount due” of one cent in our account. Almost, but not quite incredulous, I pointed out, with generous bluster, the rounding rule.

When it ceased production of the penny in 2012, the Royal Canadian Mint explained the rounding rule to Canadians. The rounding rule, pointed out the city hall clerk, completely blusterless, applies to cash only.

Oh, fine.

I asked if I could pay the penny now. She said, yes. So I took out a nickel and slid it across the counter. She smiled and explained that because of the rounding rule, she was unable to give me four cents change. In a cash situation, four cents would be rounded to five cents, meaning we would have sat there all day, me handing her the nickel to cover my one-cent debt, and her, handing me back the same nickel after rounding off my four cents change!

I muttered, “Keep the nickel.” Would I get a credit of four cents in my account? Nope.


Normally, I do not practice penny pinching. Still, I prefer not to think of the moral of this story as “listen to your wife”, but, instead, “pay in cash next time and save the penny”. Either way, to me, it makes absolutely no cents.