Autonomous Pods, The Black Mirror Version

Something I read today: “[He] spoke at length about the future he imagines for the automobile industry: autonomous pods that consumers hail on demand rather than owning, networked together in ways that render such familiar 21st-century headaches as traffic jams and car accidents largely (perhaps entirely) a thing of the past.”

Oh, really? Call me a skeptic. Or maybe it’s just that I can imagine some of the new inconveniences, or worse, of such “autonomous pods.”

Hail a pod? Maybe that would work well in a dense city. Here in the suburbs? I don’t have to wait for my car at all. It’s here. It’s now. How can pods possibly match that?

Every trip you take will be monitored. Some system somewhere will know everywhere you go. That kind of thing is bad enough already, this will make it worse.

There will be advertisements in the pods, based on where it thinks you might go. Or just advertising. Maybe it will be loud. It isn’t your car, so you can’t turn it off. Or maybe you can, for a price.

Will pods refuse you service if you want to pay in cash (assuming there is such a thing)?

What happens if you’re mistakenly put on a terrorist watch list, and the pods refuse to pick you up?

Impulse destinations will be, sadly, a thing of the past.

Demand pricing for the pods, just like Uber. That’ll be terrific.

Of course the systems will be privately owned. This is the USA. What happens when cities start granting local monopolies for pods and price increases far outstrip the rate of inflation every year?

Taking items with you will be no extra charge. For a while. Then items will become revenue streams for the autonomous pod companies.

No eating or drinking allowed in the pods. Except for food and drink purchased from the glove compartment minibar.

Your pod will pick you up in 10 minutes. Except, there’s a system failure on a road nearby, so it doesn’t come for two hours. Your alternative? Not that car in your garage.

If you’re late for work, I imagine “the pod was late” will be no excuse.

What happens when two autonomous pods run into each other? Impossible, say the engineers. Ha, ha, say I. Of course it’s going to happen.

One reason for traffic jams is that too many people want to go the same place at the same time. So will a pod ever say, sorry, you can’t go there because there’s too much traffic already?

Thursday Tidbits

Last night Northern Illinois dropped below freezing, and it wasn’t a lot warmer during the day. A taste of winter, dressed like fall.
Fall colors, ChicagoI didn’t know until recently that Lotte Lenya, who can be heard here singing “Mack the Knife,” or maybe more properly “Die Moritat von Mackie Messer,” played Rosa Klebb, the SPECTRE operative who tries to off James Bond with her poison-tipped shoe in From Russia With Love.

Not an important thing to know. Just another one of those interesting tidbits to chance upon.

A rare thing: a YouTube comment that’s actually funny. It’s at a posting featuring “Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit Bag and Smile, Smile, Smile!” sung by Oscar Seagle and the Columbia Stellar Quartette, recorded January 25, 1918.

Someone calling himself Xander Magne said: ” ‘Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition’ ain’t got s–t on this, sonny. Damn 30s kids with their jazz and their swing and their big band and their ‘World War 2.’ We used to have a Great War and it was Great and you liked it!”

One more thing I saw at the International Museum of Surgical Science, a polemic cartoon by Edward Kemble that was part of a display about patent medicine, the Pure Food & Drug Act, etc.

International Museum of Surgical Science, Chicago“Palatable Poison for the Poor.” Whew. Good thing that’s not possible in the 21st century, eh?

Again, too melancholy a note on which to end. Here’s something I saw just before Halloween. Pumpkin π.

Pumpkin π

A bit o’ pumpkin whimsy.

The Frozen World of Bob

This from a recent NASA press release: “On New Year’s Day 2019, the New Horizons spacecraft will fly past a small, frozen world in the Kuiper Belt, at the outer edge of our solar system. The target Kuiper Belt object (KBO) currently goes by the official designation (486958) 2014 MU69. NASA and the New Horizons team are asking the public for help in giving “MU69” a nickname to use for this exploration target…

“After the flyby, NASA and the New Horizons project plan to choose a formal name to submit to the International Astronomical Union, based in part on whether MU69 is found to be a single body, a binary pair, or perhaps a system of multiple objects. The chosen nickname will be used in the interim.”

Well, well. The space agency directs interested parties here to suggest a name, or see what’s already been suggested. Such as Mjölnir and Camalor and Z’ha’dum. I might well suggest “Bob.” If it’s good enough for the cold, forbidding Northwest Territories, it’s good enough for space rock(s) in the cold, forbidding Kuiper Belt. I will not suggest some variation on Boaty McBoatface.

Mr. Hall is Gone, But the Monty Hall Problem Lives On

There needs to be a verb to describe reading an obiturary, or hearing about a recent death, with the reaction: He was still alive? Or she, to be complete. Happens a lot. Example I read about not long ago: Monty Hall.

I can’t deny that I spent some hours of my young life watching him preside over eager costumed contestants vying for a new car! etc. But I didn’t know until a few years ago about the Monty Hall problem.

Another example: Tom Paley of the New Lost City Ramblers, the other musical Tom P who died recently. How many people recorded songs about the war with Spain in the late 1950s?

For an even more obscure version, here’s “The Battleship of Maine” by Red Patterson’s Piedmont Log Rollers. Recorded in 1927, when the war was very much in living memory. It’s a little hard to (easily) scare up information about Red, but it’s possible.

What Kind of Dog Days Are These?

Time to knock off for a little while. Back to posting around August 22. Got stories to file, things to plan, maybe a marvel or two to see.

These ought to be the dog days, when Sirius returns and dogs lie around. Of course dogs lie around all the time. The swelter ought to be enough to make us all want to lie around. Hasn’t happened this summer, at least here in northern Illinois. We haven’t been oppressed by much heat this August, even by local standards (anything around 90 F. or more).

It’s also supposed to be the silly season. You know, when there isn’t much serious news. Maybe that’s an old-fashioned concept in our time, when information of all kinds and quality oozes from every medium. Even so, lately there’s been entirely too much serious news, too much for any time, much less August.

Got reading to do, too. Always that. Four or five books at a time. Always that, who would do it any differently?

Lately read the following passage by Jack Kerouac in The Dharma Bums, one that runs on yet holds together, as he had a talent for. The woods don’t quite have this effect on me. Too bad.

“I felt like lying down by the side of the trail and remembering it all. The woods do that to you, they always look familiar, long lost, like the face of a long-dead relative, like an old dream, like a piece of forgotten song drifting across the water, most of all like golden eternities of past childhood or past manhood and all the living and the dying and the heartbreak that went on a million years ago and the clouds as they pass overhead seem to testify (by their own lonesome familiarity) to this feeling.”

March for Science, Chicago

I figured the March for Science, which happened on Saturday, was something I could support. Not just because of some vague notion that science is mostly a good thing. Rather, that spending by the U.S. government supporting scientific inquiry is mostly a good thing.

Speaking only as someone who does his little part to support such spending, I think there ought to be more of it, not less. It gets results. Examples are numerous, but my own favorite is the exploration of each and every planet in the Solar System and other celestial objects as well over the last 50 years or so.

According to various reports, the March for Science was held in over 600 locations worldwide — the main one being in DC — and included a “march” by sympathetic scientists in Antarctica, who must be facing the beginning of a long, awful winter about now (and what other kind would there be?). In Chicago, the day was cool, in the 60s F., with thin clouds overhead.

The Tribune tallied the Chicago march as one of the larger ones, with about 40,000 participants. I don’t know how the crowd was counted, but I believe it. When Ann and I arrived, at the intersection of S. Columbus Dr. and E. Congress Dr. — just west of Buckingham Fountain — the crowd looked like this.

March for Science, Chicago

The event stage was north of that point, on E. Jackson, but we didn’t bother trying to move toward it, because the crowd in that direction was thick.
March for Science, ChicagoPretty soon, the crowd filled in around us. As crowds go, it was good-natured and patient. The speakers were difficult to hear, since the event’s loudspeakers weren’t working that well. I caught some of a Field Museum employee’s speech, which was essentially about her cool science job at the museum.

I also spent time reading the signs.

March for Science, Chicago

March for Science, ChicagoI have to like a reference to Nineteen Eighty-Four.
March for Science, ChicagoThis one got to the heart of the matter: Science Serves Our Nation.
March for Science, ChicagoOr, to put it in more negative terms, something that even the dimmer lights in Congress might respond to: If We Don’t, The Chinese Will.

Anti-Trump signage was common, as you’d expect —

March for Science, ChicagoMarch for Science, Chicago— along with a sprinkling of other causes, such as straight-up socialism and vegan advocacy.

At about 11, word spread that the march itself was starting. So everyone headed south along Columbus. The crowd had to move around a group of women in costume, dancing on stilts. Ann got a short video of it.


I’m not sure how that was a pro-science message, but it was fun to watch.

Along the way, chants broke out sometimes. The most common one was:

What do we want?
Evidence-based research!
When do we want it?
After peer review!

Nothing Mark Slackmeyer would have ever said, but it caught the spirit of the march. Ann got a video of that, too.

It was a slow march, because ultimately everyone had to funnel into the narrow path that leads to the Field Museum campus, through an underpass below Lake Shore Drive. (Closing Columbus was one thing, but Lake Shore Drive generally remains open.)

Afterwards, participants sat around on the Field Museum lawn and elsewhere.

March for Science, ChicagoThere were booths on the other side of the museum, but we’d had enough for the day and soon caught a bus back into the heart of the Loop. Some other marchers were on the bus, too, along with their signs. Not something you see all the time on mass transit.

Maunday Thursday Misc.

A good Easter to all. Back on Easter Monday, which is a holiday in a fair number of countries, so why not here? Or at least something like in Buffalo, which seems to celebrate a thing called Dyngus Day.

The other day I noticed that I’ve nearly made 1,000 postings here. Not quite, but getting there. WordPress helpfully tells me the Top 10 Categories (out of 15, not counting Uncategorized) among all those posts.

Been There (526)
History (227)
Entertainment (160)
Over the Transom (152)
Public Art (105)
Food & Beverage (102)
Weather (100)
Family (83)
Holidays (66)
News (65)

I guess it’s fitting that Been There is first. It’s in the title, after all. Over the Transom is a little tricky: that’s any fool thing that comes my way without any plan, so it covers a lot of ground. Otherwise, I won’t put much stock in the ranking. For instance, I’ve posted more about weather than my family, but that hardly means I care more about the weather than them.

This made me laugh. Jonah Goldberg on the Trump administration: “I feel like I’m watching a Fellini movie without subtitles: I have no idea what’s going on.”

Here are some things young women get up to in Brooklyn. Or did in 2011.

Something to see in Denver. For the colorful art work, of course.

And maybe there is something new under the sun.

First Thursday in February Misc.

The only good thing about the beginning of February is that January is over.

A picture from this moment in history.

Ann was with me, and I had take this shot with her phone. The car was in a northwest suburban parking lot.

Speaking of cars in parking lots, as I was walking the dog the other day, I passed through the parking lot in front of Lilly and Ann’s former elementary school, and saw a Tesla parked there. As if were any other car. Which I guess it is. Still, I can’t remember seeing one around here before. New, they’ll set you back at least $68,000. So you don’t see too many.

I had no idea the French used the suffix -gate as we do. Headline from today’s La Parisien about the hot water that François Fillon, candidate for the presidency, is in: Penelope Gate: toutes les fois où l’épouse de Fillon disait ne pas travailler pour lui. Are there Frenchmen who think the real scandal is that obvious anglicisme being used to describe it? A silly objection. English has borrowed plenty of French; time to give something back.

One more item out at St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Monastery, near the church: a memorial to Gen. Dragoljug Mihailovich, the Chetnik commander whom Tito ultimately had shot after the war.

Gen. Dragoljug Mihailovich memorial

Whatever else you can say about him — and apparently that’s quite a lot, for good and ill — President Truman did award him a Legion of Merit (Chief Commander) posthumously in 1948, the text of which is on the memorial in English and Serbian. It cites his efforts in rescuing U.S. airmen downed over Yugoslavia.

The Ambassador in His Salad Days

Today was about as foul a day as can be, marked by cold rain that varied unpredictably from drizzle to downpours. Strong winds blew nearly all the time. As much as 60 MPH, the National Weather Service said. At least it was warm for January, above freezing, or it might have been a blizzard.

Did a short item about Bill Hagerty recently, who will probably be the next U.S. ambassador to Japan. A little research told me that he went to Vanderbilt. A little more research told me he was Class of ’81, or two years ahead of me. I didn’t know him, and he certainly didn’t know me, unless it was as one of those characters who wrote for the student magazine Versus. Which he wouldn’t have, because no one pays attention to bylines, even if they read the articles.

I hauled out my copy of the ’81 VU yearbook, The Commodore. The spine cracked a little. Grumble. Anyway, Bill Hagerty’s with the other SAEs on p. 301 and his senior picture is on p. 396, which lists him as William Francis Hagerty IV, econ.

Bill Hagerty at Vanderbilt 1981

The girl immediately to his left — who presumably had nothing to do with him except for alphabetical placement — is a sad story I don’t know, and didn’t know then. Her caption reads, “Haberman, Harriett Susan, elem ed. May 20, 1959 — January 23, 1981.”

Godspeed, John Glenn

project_mercury_astronauts_-_gpn-2000-000651Occasionally, a public domain picture from NASA is just the thing. I opened up Google News at about 3 this afternoon to take a look at the latest outrages worldwide, and the page informed me of John Glenn’s passing. I knew he was still alive, but I wasn’t sure whether any of the other Mercury 7 astronauts were, so I checked.

The answer is no. He was the last one.

I don’t remember any of their flights, of course. I barely remember any of the Gemini missions. It wasn’t until Apollo that I started paying attention, but when I did, I made a point of learning about Mercury and Gemini too. I well remember my excitement at finding the July 1962 edition of National Geographic, which covered Glenn’s flight, about 10 years after it came out (because we saved them, like everyone). I read every word of the article. Early space flight was covered in other editions, too, and I read them as well.

Like all editions of NG, it was well illustrated. One in particular stuck with me: how John Glenn might have died in 1962 and not 2016. Reading that also meant that I knew how the dramatization of his flight in The Right Stuff movie would turn out (also, I’d read the book). Astronaut not incinerated.

The news set me wondering about how many of the Moon walkers are still around. Seven of 12, as it turns out, but every jack man of them are in their 80s. Buzz Aldrin’s the oldest, nearly 87, while Charles Duke is the youngest, at 81. Wonder if Aldrin would even have the energy these days to offer up a punch to a Moon landing denier who clearly deserved one (officialdom agreed; Aldrin wasn’t charged).