Transportation: You can’t start a Gig Car Share rental car unless you have cell phone service

A tourist who rented an app-powered car says she was stranded on a rural road along the Northern California coast after she lost cell phone service.

Source: Weekend trip turns into ordeal after app-rental car loses cell service – SFGate

This is what happens when city-based entrepreneurs have never ventured outside big metro areas. They incorrectly assume cellular service is available everywhere. And design a car rental service whose cars won’t re-start if stopped in a place lacking cell service. Face palm moment. (Technically, you can order a separate “GigCard” which will be delivered in up to two weeks and use it to start your car with cell phone service. Hmmmm.)

This is a problem of relying on automation for everything – something Boeing has perhaps discovered with their automated MCAS control system failure.

The FAA, of course, has learned nothing. The FAA has proposed that all drones have a mandatory connection to cell service – and that they be unable to take off if there is no GPS signal (and for many, an Internet connection). This effectively bans flying model aircraft in buildings, homes, exhibit halls, businesses, warehouses, movie sets. It also de facto shuts down flight in numerous parts of the country.

Far too many tech people believe in fantasies that are not ready yet – while automation can do much, it also has failure points that have not been accounted for, leading to killing people (Boeing, Uber’s self driving car experiments).

Finance: “Coronavirus fallout could be worse than the financial crisis”

Central banks are likely planning to cut interest rates or provide stimulus.

Source: Coronavirus fallout could be worse than the financial crisis

It’s a supply side issue, not a demand side issue (mostly). With businesses, manufacturing, transport and distribution systems closing, its a supply side problem, not so much a demand side problem. Lowering interest rates can spur some demand but if the supply cannot be increased, economic activity will remain subdued.

Also, travel is getting pummeled due to event cancellations and closure of public events and venues. Lower interest rates will not solve this.

Finance: Candidates propose housing tax credits

Housing hasn’t traditionally been a hot topic in presidential elections, but with homeownership financially out of reach for many Americans, the candidates vying for the Democratic nomination have been eager to discuss the issue.

Source: Joe Biden wants a first-time homeowner tax credit, Amy Klobuchar would clear public-housing backlog — where the Democratic candidates stand on affordable housing – MarketWatch

A perennial, permanent complaint is that housing costs too much – unlike the good-old-days when housing was far more affordable. Of course.

When we first bought a house, a 30 year mortgage interest rate was 16.8%. Today, the 30 year mortgage interest rate is 3.73%.

We bought a junked home – literally – because that is what we could afford. We had to come up with a 20% down payment and assume loans with a combined interest rate of 11%.

The home had been a rental for 8 years and owned by 8 out of state landlords. The property had been vacant for 9 months. The yard was overgrown – about 8 feet thick of plant growth. It was not possible to walk from the front yard to the back yard along the side yards as they were solidly filled with overgrowth. The fence was falling down due to the weight of plants growing over it. To buy this, we assumed the two existing loans on the property, a 1st and a 2nd mortgage. The combined mortgage rate was 11%, and the 2nd loan was a huge interest-only balloon payment loan. That meant within 5 years we had to refinance to pay off the entire 2nd loan. Our eventual refinance bought us an 8% 30 year fixed rate loan. Yeah, 8%.

We spent 3 years working weekends and nights, after our day jobs, repairing and fixing the place and then hired a contractor to add 2 rooms.

As you can see, back in the good-old-days, buying a first home was really easy and interest rates were super low. Right.

Health: “Swiss government bans all events over 1,000 people”

Source: Swiss government bans all events over 1,000 people – MarketWatch

Numerous tech industry conferences have been canceled in the U.S. already. Flights to and from Asia have been slashed or eliminated.

The modern world has no effective way to deal with a spreading virus except to shut down the entire economy – potentially destroying entire economic systems and causing additional harm to populations.

Transportation: NTSB critical of automatic driving systems

Seems like they must require a “keep alive” (dead man’s switch) to ensure driver’s remain alert.

Among other things, the office wants Tesla to improve its driver engagement monitoring systems. Tesla relies on sensing a driver’s hands on the steering wheel to know if they are attentive enough to the road while using Autopilot features. Other auto makers use cameras to ascertain whether a driver’s eyes are on the road.

Source: NTSB calls out Tesla and Apple for neglecting driver safety

I understand train locomotives require that the engineer make at least one control input every 25 seconds. If that doesn’t happen, the train will begin braking. Seems like pseudo-self driving cars must use a similar approach – if the driver does not manipulate the controls, then alerts must be activated and/or the car needs to get off the highway and stop.

Disease: Good summary of coronavirus COVID-19 situation

Summarizes possible impacts to the U.S. and economic issues. CDC is planning for possible school and business closure mandates, summer Olympics could be canceled, and hoping the disease, like many, subsides during warm summer conditions.

The total number of COVID-19 cases climbed above 80,200 as of Tuesday with deaths climbing to at least 2,704.

Source: Coronavirus live updates: US confirms 53 cases, CDC outlines pandemic planning

U.S. firms discouraging or prohibiting travel by employees to affected areas now including China, Italy, South Korea and southeast Asia including Australia.

Quality Control: “Boeing finds debris in wing fuel tanks of undelivered 737 MAXs”

It’s also unknown if anyone will be willing to fly on a Boeing 737 MAX:

Regarding the additional 385 MAXs that were delivered to customers but have been grounded for almost a year and are parked at airfields around the world, company spokesman Bernard Choi said Boeing is recommending inspections for those airplanes that have been in storage for more than a year. “It’s still undecided if we will inspect the rest” of the delivered MAX fleet, he added. “Obviously, we’ll do what’s right for safety.”

Source: Boeing finds debris in wing fuel tanks of undelivered 737 MAXs, orders inspections | The Seattle Times

No idea what someone was thinking with that last quote – “it’s still undecided if we will inspect the rest“. When you are in a hole, stop digging. That decision ought to be obvious.

Economics: When there is no scarcity

This is a though provoking video: Economics theory is based on the idea that wants (demand) exceeds supply. Stated another way, we tend to want more than we can afford – we do not have the resources to acquire everything we may desire. But today we are, for a great many, and for many of life’s necessities, living in a post scarcity world. Once we have fulfilled our basic “wants” we have the luxury of being tricked by marketing into wanting even more (basically, a fake want designed to increase demand).

Maslov’s Hierarchy of Needs tries to explain human motivation in terms of fulfilling the basics, like food and water, first, at the bottom of his pyramid. Above that we seek shelter and safety, then peer support, self esteem and finally self actualization.

The reality of life today is that life is actually quite good – compared to the past. (Poverty is at a global low point, for example. Literacy is at a historical high point, and so on, in spite of the daily dose of fear mongering news media.) In effect, for most people, the goods and services of daily life are not scarce. We enter a world of post-scarcity economics for much of our daily needs.

Most people (yes, there are definitely exceptions) in modern economies have fulfilled the bottom 3 tiers of the Hierarchy of Needs. At this point, our wants become warped. Few people need digital watches (to quote Douglas Adam’s comments about the 1970s) – or for that matter smart phones or any number of other goods and services.

Since we do not really need a lot of “stuff”, marketing tricks us in to wanting things we don’t need. So we acquire more.[1] Because many of our basic wants are satisfied, we create new “wants”. Some “wants” are not goods or services – we have the luxury of time so we build ourselves up (top of the pyramid) by running marathons and ultramarathons or spending time at the gym or the hair salon to look good.

At some point, many people are persuaded to want things they cannot afford today – so lenders step into loan money to acquire stuff (you probably don’t really need). This can be loans for cars, homes, or consumer loans for vacations and home improvement, or accumulation of credit card debt to acquire “stuff” we believe improves our self-esteem (catching up or exceeding those in our peer group). As satirist JP Sears says, “Tesla – pretend to save the environment while looking rich” 🙂

Eventually, our loan payments cause us to cut back on spending on other things. As collective debt loads become too high, economic activity slows down and we enter a recession.

Post scarcity economics means we have the means to be persuaded (by marketing) to acquire stuff we probably don’t need and a ready supply of lenders to enable us to buy it today (versus saving our money).

A small observation: When we choose to purchase an item X, it is not so much a decision to buy X as it is a decision that we are not going to buy Y (and A, B and C too!) Few people think of purchase decisions this way though. But we should be asking ourselves, if I buy X, what product Y am I choosing not to buy? If we did this, we’d balance our spending – and wants – a lot better.

We see this effect at work in government spending. Legislators are constantly asked to spend more money on government programs (let’s call them X). But seldom is anyone simultaneously suggesting what projects (call them Y) we should not be funding in order to fund X. The solution is to buy X – and Y – and just borrow more money.

Keep this in mind the next time you “want” something (X) and ask yourself, what will I give up (Y) to buy X? Most people never ask this question and buy stuff they probably cannot afford. Spending decisions are about choosing between things X and Y, but most people view spending decisions as deciding whether to buy X1, X2 and X3.

[1] Getting tricked in to wanting and buying more is made possible by intense surveillance of our lives both on and offline. As Walmart says

“[W]e have a lot of data and we can gather even more data. [I]f you win their most frequently purchased items, you get the opportunity to serve impulse items online and in-store, and our focus is in driving that sweet spot,” he said.

Businesses are using multiple tricks to manipulate you in to wanting more than you need.