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?

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.

Things You See in Mount Carroll

Somewhere or other at some time, I read that Mount Carroll, Illinois, had enough things to see to recommend a short visit (how’s that for source amnesia?). Wherever I got it, I can pass along that recommendation. It’s a small place, with only about 1,800 people, but it has a sizable concentration of historic structures. We took a look at a few of them on the afternoon of June 20.

That includes a fine courthouse, the Greek Revival part of which dates back to before the Civil War. Elsewhere on the courthouse grounds are a few monuments – but not quite as many as some courthouses I’ve seen – including a tall one dedicated to Union veterans. Turns out that Lorado Taft sculpted the cavalryman at the top of the monument, which is formally called the Carroll County Civil War Soldiers And Sailors Monument.

Mount Carroll, June 20, 2014

Writing in the short-lived blog Larado Taft: The Prairie State Sculptor, Carl Volkmann says, “Lorado Taft was a member of a team of artists who was commissioned to create the Carroll County Civil War Soldiers And Sailors Monument. George H. Mitchell designed the monument, and Josiah Schamel constructed the foundation. John C. Hall designed the annex that was added later when county officials determined that there were many names missing from the original honor roll list.

Mount Carroll, June 20, 2014“The monument consists of a fifty-foot vertical shaft with a Lorado Taft-sculpted soldier holding a flag at the top. Lewis H. Sprecher of Lanark posed for the statue and made several trips to Taft’s Chicago studio to model for it. Two additional statues are attached to the base of the monument, one an infantryman and the other a cavalryman.”

Not far from the town square is a genuine, honest-to-God Carnegie Library that is, in fact, still a library. We went in for a look around. It seemed like a nice facility for a town the size of Mount Carroll. We were the only ones in the library except the librarian – it was about 30 minutes ahead of closing time on a Friday afternoon – and I spoke briefly to her, telling her that I wanted to show my daughters what a Carnegie Library was. I also wanted to come in because they aren’t exactly common sites.

Later, I checked, and my feeling wasn’t quite right. At least according to this Wiki list, some 60-odd Carnegies are still functioning libraries in Illinois alone, out of more than 100 originally built. Seems like most of them are in small towns away from metro Chicago, so unless you frequent that kind of small town, you won’t see them much.

Just before we left town, we came across something that’s presumably not always near the courthouse in Mount Carroll: this unusual car.

Mount Carroll, June 20, 2014Unusual for American roads, that is. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Morris Minor in this country. It’s so unusual that besides it being a Morris, I didn’t know anything else about it.

Naturally, I had to look it up. Through the marvel of Google images, I was able to pin it down to a Morris Minor 1000 Traveller. In its pages on Morris Minor history, Charles Ware’s Morris Minor Centre Ltd. in Brislington, Bristol, says “there is only one other car on British roads today which is as familiar as the Morris Minor, and that’s the Mini. That both were designed by the same man is no coincidence, and indeed Sir Alec Issigonis is one of the very few car designers whose name is recognised by the man or woman in the street and not just by enthusiasts or fellow engineers. [This might be true in the UK, but I have no way to judge that.]

“The products of Sir Alec’s genius have had a profound and highly beneficial influence on the British motor industry, so it is hardly surprising that it is his first car, the Morris Minor of 1948, which has become the subject of this proposal for a long-life car.” Morris Minor 1000 Traveller, Mount Carroll, Illinois, June 2014

More about Sir Alec here. I’m not sure I’d want to own a Morris Minor myself, but it’s a distinctive design. Good to see one loose on the roads of North America. I’m glad there are enthusiasts in this country. Any fool with money can buy a snazzy new sports car or a Lexis or the like, but it takes some imagination to invest in a Morris Minor.

Dodging a Few Maintenance Bullets

Earlier this week my ancient Sienna started shaking like an old wino, and I imagined that a wheel was coming off. A visit to my trustworthy mechanic — glad to have found him — revealed it sounded and felt worse than it was. Repairs came in at only a couple of hundred bucks. Annoying, but passable.

If it had been a more expensive job, that would have been the end of the line for the car. It’s reached that point. Going to have get another car soon. Some people seem to enjoy acquiring cars, but not me. I once worked with a fellow who bought a car every other year or so, trading the old one in each time. I never understood that psychology. When you have a car the object of the game is to keep it as long as possible.

Also this week, a large amount of vile water collected in our dishwasher, which we seldom use, and refused to drain. Meaning that water from the kitchen sink drain had diverted into the dishwasher because of some blockage somewhere. Would Power Plumber fix this?

First, though, I had to get the nasty gray water out of the dishwasher. I considered various ways to do that before I remembered, having stupidly forgotten, that I have a small Craftsman wet/dry vac out in the garage. The water responded to its suction, and then I applied Power Plumber to the underlying problem. It worked. How often do I get to dodge two potentially expensive problems on the same day? Not often.

That’s what we need nanobots for. To make things that fix themselves. Of course, self-repairing machines would upend a lot of the service economy, but then again the economy’s been continuously upended since the Industrial Revolution. Not that I expect to live to see such things, but it’s a nice techno-pipe dream.