Saturday, December 28, 2013

CARS THAT DRIVE PEOPLE




  Lately, the news has been full of stories about "automatic cars." Supposedly, these are the cars of the not so distant future. Basically, they will be able to drive themselves, freeing us humans to do other things. On the way to work, car owners will be able to make phone calls, go over the presentations that they are going to give that afternoon, send emails, or even take a nap. Actually, it doesn't sound all that different from the way some people drive today.

To me, the most amazing thing about these cars is that the predicted release date for them is not that far away. "Forbes" predicts that these cars will go on sale by the end of this decade. In other words, if you order one of these cars now, it will probably show up at your house before the cable guy  you called this morning.

"Do we really need more technology and less human involvement?" Apparently, car manufactures would say, "Yes." The way these vehicles work is that you program the computer in the car to go where you want it to go and when. If you go shopping at a busy time, you could have your car drop you off at the store's front door and then go find a parking space by itself. When you're finished shopping, the car will pick you up in front of the store. 

The automatic or "autonomous" car will also have some of the other new gadgets and technologies that are due soon. Volvo says that it wants to have a fleet of cars by 2020 that are impossible to crash. Some cars already beep or stop when there is an obstacle in the way. The autonomous car of the future with "anti-crash technology," will not just react to emergency situations, it will predict them.

Automatic or "driverless" technology will get rid of road rage – unless the cars will be programmed to flip off other cars. (Memo to car manufacturers: the cars flipping each other off was my idea). Soon after they are on the road, it can't be that far off when cars will make up their own "minds" about things. I know a little bit about Artificial Intelligence. I actually stayed awake during parts of the movie, "Her." So I won't be surprised if someday soon, an automatic car decides to play pranks on its owner, like switching garages with another car. On a hot, romantic summer night, one of these cars is bound to sneak off with another car down to the charging station to get a few extra jolts of electricity. They'll probably stay out till all hours of the night, and won't even call their owners to tell them that they're okay.

There will be no reason to have minimum ages for drivers. If the car can drive just as safely regardless of who is in it, why couldn't kids "drive" them, too? Preschoolers wouldn't need parents to drive the car pools. They could do it themselves. Think of how much time that would free up for parents. What a great idea, right? Well, I know it would probably be just as safe, but there's something weird about people being allowed to drive a car before they can spell "car."

Those who are excited about these vehicles point out how much safer the driving experience would be. After all, they will have eliminated the "human factor." They will be guided by computers who don't get tired, angry, or drunk. These new vehicles will be commanded by algorithms rather than emotional beings. What could possibly go wrong? It's a computer.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

A WHOLE NEW BALL GAME



 I went to a Major League baseball game recently, and it wasn't what I was used to. Pitchers didn't try to hit batters in the head with a 90 mile per hour pitch. Fans didn't fight in the stands or pummel each other for wearing the other team's hats in front of the stadium. Players didn't play selfishly. Amazingly, all they seemed to care about was the team. Was everybody on good behavior because it was a playoff game? No. Was it a Little League game? Of course not. I said nobody fought in the stands. No, the game was in Tokyo, Japan.


The stadium was different from every Major League stadium that I've ever been to. There was absolutely no litter. Before walking into the Men's Room, I didn't feel the need for wearing surgeons' booties, latex gloves, and a gas mask.

The game was between the Yomiuri Giants and the visiting Chunichi Dragons. I had heard of the Giants, primarily because of its most famous player: Sadaharu Oh. He played Major League baseball from 1959 to 1980 and hit more home runs than any Major Leaguer in the world – 868. You can be sure that there was never an allegation that Oh used any performance enhancing drugs. He was never even accused of using too much dipping sauce with his noodles.

 There is basically no street crime in Japan, and the ballpark was no different. The only theft during the game was when someone stole second base. When a woman who sat in my row got up to get something to eat, she just left her purse on her chair. Nobody blinked. Except for me.

Fans cheered wildly for their team, but nobody ever booed the opposing team. The idea of a fight breaking out among fans was as unlikely as Wrigley Field selling eel sushi. Players also had a completely different relationship with the umpires. A Dragon made a mistake, and was called "out" at first. He looked confused, so an umpire walked over to him, put his arm around him and explained the situation. In America, if an umpire ever touched a player, it would probably start a riot. 


There was one big similarity between Japanese and American baseball. Beer. Beer was sold by attractive, young female vendors who walked around the stadium with a keg-like device on their backs. These young women were dressed in very short shorts. I had read in my guidebook that while cleavage was almost never seen in Japan, women's' legs were seen in public as much as ramen shops. The Japanese take the term "neckline" literally, as they do the term "shorts." 

The Giants won the game 8 to 6. I walked out without getting shoved once. My shoes weren't any stickier after the game than they were before. As I headed back to the hotel, I realized that I had just seen a Major League baseball game where there was not one gratuitous crotch scratch. No spitting. Nobody in the bleachers hurled insults or batteries at the players. No drunken fans threw up on the people in front of them. And they had the nerve to call that, "baseball?"






Friday, January 18, 2013

Hooray For Guns?





About ten days ago, a coalition of various gun enthusiast organizations announced that Saturday, January 10th would be a holiday:   Gun Appreciation Day. I'm not kidding. I guess the next logical step will be Hallmark issuing a card for the occasion saying something like, "Have More Fun. Get  A Gun."

This column is not a typical liberal gun-owner bashing. I'm not calling for a repeal of the Second Amendment. I'm barely going to mention that there are 300 million guns in America, making it easily the most heavily armed nation in the world. Others can discuss the fact that America has the highest homicide rate caused by gunshot than any "developed" nation. The main reason I was horrified when I heard about this new holiday was not because of my position on gun control. My dismay about Gun Appreciation Day has to do with bad taste and insensitivity.

It's only been a month since the horrific shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, and some people decided it would be appropriate to have a Gun Appreciation Day. One month! How thrilled all those parents of the murdered children must be. Can you imagine someone calling for a Hurricane and Flood Appreciation Day a month after Sandy hit New Jersey? I don't think they'd get a bear hug from Governor Christie, do you? October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. How do you think it would've gone over in November for people to celebrate "the positive things about cancer?"HHHcelebrating floods a month after

The NRA and other pro-gun groups wisely were silent immediately after the Sandy Hook School shootings. However, they just couldn't control themselves for more than a few days. Larry Ward, one of the organizers of their new holiday, explained the reason for getting back to vocally opposing gun control soon after the tragedy. "We had a week when it was just one side," those who want gun control. "People need to understand there's another side." After one week? Is that the length they feel the mourning period for murdered children should be?

As usual, there were declarations from some gun enthusiasts that there would have been no mass killing if only the teachers had been armed with guns. When I heard this, I thought about when I was in elementary school. I was a loudmouth kid who often got on my teachers' nerves. If they had been armed, I might never have made it to high school.

Guns are as American as apple pie. In fact, you can buy guns and apple pie at the same place. Walmart is the largest seller of firearms and ammunition in the nation. There's just a bit of inconsistency when it comes to their philosophy. Don't you think that if Walmart sold a new crib that ended up causing injuries to babies that they'd stop selling that crib immediately? However, guns and ammo are just too important to Walmart's profits for them to stop selling weapons for even a little while. On Tuesday, protestors demonstrated at a Walmart near Newtown, Connecticut, objecting to the assault weapons that Walmart sells. In response, a spokesman said the demonstrators were misinformed. Kory Lundberg said that Walmart sells assault-style weapons in less than a third of their stores. Oh, just a third. That comes to only about 1300 stores. No wonder we didn't find any Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq. They're all in Walmart.

Gun Appreciation Day isn't the only inappropriate response to Sandy Hook. A month to the day after the shooting, a new app from the NRA was released for use on the iPhone and iPad. It's called the "NRA: Practice Range." It allows players to shoot at targets with a variety of guns. One of these weapons is the Bushmaster AR-15, the gun used by the shooter in Newtown. But what am I complaining about? It's been a whole month since the shooting.






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