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.

https://www.marketwatch.com/story/walmart-could-run-into-privacy-issues-in-its-efforts-to-get-personal-with-consumers-analysts-say-2020-02-19?mod=home-page

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

Space: SpaceX, OneWeb and Amazon may be ruining night sky

SpaceX may launch 30,000 more low altitude satellites added to the 12,000 it already plans to launch. OneWeb is launching 900 satellites  and Amazon is planning  over 3,000 satellites. There are predictions that any given moment, over 100 satellites will be visible crossing overhead, no matter where you may live.

Source: SpaceX and Starlink are changing the night sky, and fast – CNET

Energy: Utilities experiment with automatically adjusting your thermostat to throttle demand

Utility companies want to be able to make the demand go up and down just as much as the supply fluctuates.

Source: How utility companies lower electricity use by controlling your thermostat | kgw.com

This concept works with “smart” thermostats. When electricity demand is high, such as during a hot summer day, the utility can remotely adjust your thermostat’s air conditioning settings to raise the interior temperature setting by a degree or two – thereby reducing power demand.

Individuals can still reset it back down, if they wish.

The power utility has also experimented with a voluntary system where consumers without smart thermostats subscribe to email or text alerts asking them to adjust their electricity usage.

Electricity has to be created, in real time, as it is demanded by customers. Traditionally, this meant coal and natural gas fired production plants which can ramp up and down quickly (hydro dams are not adjustable in real time). In the new model, the power companies are looking at altering the demand – not just the supply – in real time.

Transportation: Apparently EPA range figures for EVs are useless, suggests Car & Driver

The vast difference in EPA figures didn’t amount to much in the real world.

When the  Porsche Taycan‘s first EPA range figure exposed itself to the public, the outcry was  swift and decisive. Even those not strong in math might realize that a paltry 192-mile rating for the Taycan Turbo S is a huge miss compared with the 326- or 348-mile figures that the  Tesla Model S Performance gets.

Source: In Our Testing, Porsche Taycan Range Nearly Equaled Tesla Model S

But in a real world test, the two vehicles range measure are almost identical. Hmmmm.

Transportation: Tesla deletes car features via software update, after cars are sold, used

Should Tesla be allowed to remove features from a vehicle that’s bought secondhand?

Source: Tesla yanks Autopilot features from used car because ‘they weren’t paid for’ | ZDNet

This is a troubling issue where we rely on software for every feature of consumer products. Software that can be updated to add features can also be downgraded to remove features.

Years ago, Amazon deleted e-book copies of George Orwell’s novel, 1984. Apparently Amazon did not have the distribution rights signed up correctly and customers who had bought the e-book addition discovered Amazon remotely deleted their copy of the book. (Amazon did refund the purchase price). That this was a giant corporation removing, of all things, 1984, was a bit of a shock to many.

Meanwhile, the FAA has proposed a massive, Rube Goldberg-like regulatory scheme for small unmanned aerial systems (SUAS), also known as remote control model aircraft. The FAA envisions a world where all model aircraft regulations are enforced by software, logging their position with government designated Internet databases, once every second during flight – rather than the traditional trust and enforcement mechanisms of all other laws. There are multiple issues with the FAA’s proposal, but one side effect of their attempt to enforce the law via software is they’ve managed to eliminate essentially all indoor flight by model airplanes and quadcopter – because a one-size fits all rule does not work. They’ve also created a monster that would enable automated  drone fleets – and consumer drones – to be enlisted by foreign adversaries in international espionage, permitting – indeed, encouraging – all drones to collect aerial imagery and other data as they fly over our homes and cities.

Business, Tech, Energy, Transporation, Thinking