Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Future Car Is Literally Just Around The Corner

We've previously stated that it's only a matter of time before we humans stop the activity known as driving a car.  Cars will drive themselves--doing a better job than most humans--while humans use their time in their metal exoskeletons for other purposes.

Well, Volkswagen has announced that it will make it's "follow me" technology available on certain delivery vans in Europe shortly.  This technology allows a vehicle to literally follow its driver as he/she walks down the street, or to come pick up the driver from about a block away.

This is the next logical step from automated cruise control and cars that can park themselves.  Of course, it's only a few more steps to fully automated vehicles.  We can think of some immediate good uses for such, even as many drivers cringe at the thought.  One is for blind people--what a blessing an automated car would be for them!  Likewise for others with handicaps (permanent or temporary) that prevent them from driving.

Another group is very old people who can no longer safely drive.  Just think, Florida could be the capital of automated driving.  (Come to think of it, no one in Florida drives very well.)

There's also folks who have lost their driving privileges, either temporarily or permanently.  They're a good market for the new technology because they usually have lost their right to drive due to BAD DRIVING.

Looking further down the road, so to speak, we foresee a whole new car concept.  A driverless car can be configured completely differently from today's cars.  There is no need for a steering wheel, brake pedal, accelerator and dashboard in such a car--those are for humans.  Likewise, there is no need for fixed seats that face forward.  Instead, you can have seats that swivel so a group can have a discussion while riding.  Or, seats like those in first class on international flights that can lie flat so you can go to sleep.  Leave for grandma's at midnight, take an Ambien and wake up a few hours later at your destination.

Indeed, there's no need for windows on such a car, although most people will want them.  But the windows could also be darkened, or better yet, turned into computer screens.  You could surf the web and play video games; of course, there will be those who watch porn as well.  Which leads to other things you could do while riding in an automated car with someone you love.

If all cars were automated, you could also make them a lot lighter and smaller.  Little women wouldn't insist on SUV's so they can see over traffic, and we wouldn't have to engineer massive cars of sheet metal to survive collisions with idiotic drivers of other massive piles of sheet metal.

And if all the cars are automated, they can go a lot faster, getting you to your destination more quickly.  That's because automated cars would not need, for example, the staggered start that humans take at a stop light--they could all start at the same time and pace.  You might not even need stoplights--just a system by which the vehicles yield to each other, as they could know exactly where all the cars around them are going.

You can also drink and ride--at least up to a point.

The way people interact with cars would be quite different as well.  No need to look all over for a parking spot--you'd get dropped off where you want to go, and then the car would go find it's own remote parking spot.  When you're ready to go, you just ask the latest version of the Siri app on your smart phone to have you picked up.  Like an instant cab without the smelly driver.

Furthermore, if you can summon a car to pick you up, anytime, why own a car?  Why not sign up for a car sharing service and get whatever type of vehicle you need at the time.  Driving into the office?  Order up a nifty electric one-seater.  Taking the family to the beach?  Get something more akin to an SUV, but without having to OWN one and drive it on the daily commute.

There will still be problems to work out--that smelly person who had the car before you; the people who leave their trash behind; the people who try to override whatever safety systems are in place, etc.  You can always count on a few people to do their best to ruin a good thing, but most of these obstacles will be overcome.

It'll be a good while before everything's automated--there will always be a few diehards crying out about "freedom" to drive themselves (at least until they try one of those porn trips).  But, the day is coming.  Just look down the street.

Soccer Ridiculousness--Part 1

In a belated effort to restore some semblance of balance to collegiate athletics, the NCAA is considering some significant changes to off-season training for a number of sports, including soccer.  Currently, collegiate athletes in soccer pretty much face year-round training and competition, including international tours in the off-season.

The NCAA's Resource Allocation Workgroup is proposing to ban off-season competition and international tours, and to reduce the number of games in the season by about 10 percent.  These are rational steps to reign in a sport--that like many others on college campuses--has gotten out of control.

Yet to hear the college soccer coaches yowl, you'd think the NCAA was proposing to shut soccer down.  These coaches--many of them foreigners--need to realize that college soccer is NOT PRO SOCCER, even though it may appear that way at times.

An article in last week's Potomac Soccer Wire illustrates the hysteria.  “The spring [off-season] games are critical,” noted University of Utah women’s soccer coach Rich Manning on his twitter feed. “Who would want to run, lift and train for 6 months a year with no games. And when you consider the NCAA doesn't allow players to play on outside teams, it's almost a death sentence to anyone getting better from ages 18-22."

A death sentence?  Coach, most of these players are going to have to go on to something other than soccer, or at least they should (although coaching apparently is always an option).  They ought to have some time to do something else in their lives.  They don't need to train all year either.  Yes, they need to maintain their conditioning, but that's not the same.

As for getting better (or playing all the time), if they want to go pro, go pro. 

Anyway, other sports also have only one season.  Football, basketball, baseball, to name a few.  Although it is true that some of these teams--notably basketball--do tour around the world in the off-season (remember Georgetown's brawl with a semi-pro team in China this past summer?), so we hope the rules will be enforced equitably.

Bad as the Utah coach's comments are, they pale in comparison to the utterly ridiculous statements of Rob Kehoe, Collegiate Programs Director at the National Soccer Coaches Association of America.  He's quoted in Potomac Soccer Wire thusly:  “If you have players that have eight months without competition opportunities, what happens to their discipline? In a campus situation, they’re going to be bored and involved with the scourge of the college campus, which is substance abuse and relationship abuse issues. The sport serves as a deterrent from being involved in things that are irresponsible, illegal activities that are very prevalent on college campuses."

Whoa!  We had no idea that colleges were such cesspools, with soccer literally being the only thing saving these poor young men and women from a life of destitution and ruin.

Soccer is a good sport, but it's only a sport.  There are plenty of good ways of allowing college soccer athletes to maintain (and even improve) their skills without subjecting them to year-round competition.  They need an occasional break from soccer, and time to focus on what the rest of their lives will bring.

Soccer COACHES, of course, have nothing better to do, but that's exactly why they shouldn't be the ones determining what limits should be placed on the sport within colleges.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

VA GOP Takes First Step Toward Self Destruction

We knew they couldn't resist.

With its new dominance of all of Virginia's government, what's the first bill pre-filed by a GOP legislator?  Why, of course, a bill to define human life as starting at conception.

Even Mississipians rejected this really bad idea.

The question is whether Virginia's Republican legislators, needing to play to their base, will have the good sense to say "no" to this bill.  If not, they'll put Governor McDonnell in an awkward position, one that will dash any aspirations he has for higher office (Senate, GOP VP nominee)--if he vetoes such a bill, he loses the religious right; if he signs it, his moderate image (the basis for his success so far) is shattered.

Moreover, if this bill goes into law (and believe us, this one is just the tip of the iceberg--you can bet there are plenty of other religiously inspired bills to come from the same group), Republicans can kiss their majority goodbye in short order.

VA voters are concerned about the economy.  They didn't elect Republicans to institute a Taliban of state-controlled religion in the Commonwealth.

Friday, November 04, 2011

First World Problems Versus Third Word Problems

This morning my older son reminded me how trivial some of our utter frustrations can be. 

It wasn't a great morning.  The Curmudgeon is a single parent for most of this week, and it's the first hour and a half of each school day morning that is the real challenge.  The last two days were great, though, with everything running like clockwork.

Yesterday, however, unbeknownst to me, our housekeeper apparently unplugged my clock radio, then plugged it in and reset the time, but she conveniently had me "fall back" an hour just a little too soon for the switch to standard time this weekend.  As a result, my alarm would have gone off an hour late this morning, but for one of the kid's alarms waking me up only a half hour late (and quite confused as to why his alarm was going off at what seemed like 5:35 a.m.).

So this morning was a big rush, with dad grumbling quite a bit about our housekeeper's negligence.

Then older son lightens the mood on our trip to school by saying this a good example of "first world" problems and how they compare to third world problems.

First world problem:  alarm clock reset to wrong time;
Third world problem:  no electricity

First world problem:  this steak is medium, not medium rare
Third world problem:  we have no food

First world problem:  she said something mean about me on Facebook
Third world problem:  a militia group raped all the girls in our village

You get the picture.  So next time you're angry about something that has happened to you, play the first world/third world game.  You'll feel better.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Why VA Independents Should Vote Dem In State Senate Races

If you're one of Virginia's many independent voters, next Tuesday's elections--especially for state Senate races--should be of great interest to you. 

Virginia has a large group of mostly moderate independent voters.  They tend to be fiscally conservative and socially libertarian, i.e., they don't want the government telling them what to do in their bedrooms or with their guns.  Their primary interest is in getting good government services as efficiently as possible.  Not surprisingly, these sensible folks are disgusted with both major parties.

For those of you who fall into this large category of independent voters, Tuesday's election is important because if the Virginia state senate swings to a Republican majority, the Commonwealth will be--for the first time in many years--a single party state, with the GOP controlling both houses of the legislature as well as all the major constitutional offices (governor, lt. gov., AG, etc.)

That will, in turn, unleash social conservatives to push--and enact--a flurry of regulations on conduct, as well as to turn on the spigots for spending on conservative programs.  No, it turns out that Republicans are not against regulation, nor are they against welfare spending--it's just a matter of who/what they want to regulate (sexual mores) and who they want to reward (businesses, churches).

As long as Democrats continue to control the state senate, neither party can go too far off the rails with its agenda.  The current stalemate is not ideal--on some issues, particularly transportation funding, the legislature has gotten nowhere for years.  Virginians increasingly pay a higher and higher price each year for the lack of investment in transportation infrastructure.  But it's not like Gov. McDonnell's solution of sticking a tollbooth every few miles and pretending its not a tax is going to solve the problem.

In any event, independent voters have an important stake in how this election goes.  Republicans bill the election as a "referendum on Pres. Obama," but Obama's got nothing to do with it.  The real issue is whether Virginia is going to retain the balance that has served it so well over recent years.