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Why I Hate Cars (Part 1)

2010/04/07 3 comments

My passionate dislike of automobiles and their effect on modern society is poised to become a treatise, hence the “Part 1” annotation in the title. This initial entry was spurred by startling transportation scenarios (one for me and one for a complete stranger friend), that occurred today while I was not riding in a car.

The most dangerous part about cars is how safe they have become.

Dwell on that for a moment before pointing out how obviously counterintuitive this statement is. You might notice a similarity to Parkinson’s Law, which states that Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. Similarly, humans push their level of risk to the upper limits of their perceived level of safety. Why is texting while driving a problem? Because the perceived risk is so low. If drivers truly perceived that their risk of an injury crash increases four-fold when using a mobile device, would they continue that activity?

A few statistics for you to enjoy:

  • 4 out of every 5 accidents (80%) are attributed to distracted drivers. In contrast, drunk drivers account for roughly 1 out of 3 (33%) of all accidents nationally.
  • Texting while driving is about 6 times more likely to result in an accident than driving while intoxicated.

Before I digress too far from the reason for this post, I want to discuss the two transportation safety wake-up calls I experienced today.

Those of you who know me know that a bicycle is by far my preferred form of transportation. I have been commuting for the last five years on a pair of $25 10-speed bikes. There is no other form of wheeled transportation that invigorates me and reminds me of my fragility as much as a bicycle. Today, while enjoying a 20-mile jaunt down Old Frankfort Pike, I was reminded just how insignificant I am on a bicycle when compared to a dump truck. I’ve traveled today’s cycling route several times (challenging hills and only 5-miles-to-horsefarm beauty), but just now experienced the difference in industrial traffic on a weekday vs. a weekend. As I was passed a 35mph by the seventh behemoth Mack truck on the pothole-infested, 2-lane, shoulder-less thoroughfare, I began to wonder if the truck drivers would even feel me if we were to collide. I found myself hoping to at least be the princess’s pea. Finally breaking out of the industrial park inside of Lexington’s New Circle Rd, Old Frankfort Pike becomes a 55-mph scenic byway with rolling hills steep enough to conceal oncoming traffic. Although the verdant landscape provides breathtaking views, the stream of near-misses from passing traffic aptly reminds me to breathe. My first close call of the day came when a pickup truck driver approached from the rear as my riding buddy and I were about to crest a hill. Instead of following good driving practice, the driver chose to display a flagrant disregard for the fragility of his own life by swerving into the opposing lane to pass us. Little did he know, a box truck occupied that other lane barely 50 yards downhill. The idiot driver fortunately avoided a collision, but nearly side-swiped my fellow rider in the process. That could easily have been a whole lot worse.

I typically follow S. Upper St. home from work, but today noticed that it was blocked off by a police cruiser. Curious, I took a detour, only to find more blocked roads in the area surrounding the Pedal Power bike shop. As I wound through a maze of alleys to see what had attracted the authorities, I was startled to see a long, solitary skid mark that was punctuated by a motorcycle. Shuddering, my averted glance quickly noticed a nearby sedan with a chopper-sized indentation in the hood, and the truth of the scenario unfolded before me. As I retreated down the alley to reflect and avoid being a nuisance to the rescue personnel, I was beckoned by a man sitting on a bench at nearby Mellow Mushroom. “Get off that bike!” he screamed, somewhat hilariously. Curious, I approached this man, whose name I discovered was Joseph. Out for an evening walk on the warm Spring night, Joseph had been the sole uninvolved witness to the collision, but he was far from unaffected. He shared with me the string of challenges brought on by poor decisions in his personal life, but he was totally shaken up by the accident that he had just witnessed. Weary of the fate of the injured motorcyclist, Joseph urged me to reconsider my mode of transportation, or to at least ride on the sidewalk away from the dangerous cars (even though I shared these stats). As I rode off wearing my neon yellow jacket (thanks, Mom), I turned on the three flashing lights on my bike and thought about how easily a 2000lb automobile could pulverize my sub-200lb pedaled amalgamation of human and steel. Realizing that transportation laws require us to travel on the same roads, I quickly remembered why I don’t like cars. Update: Driver of car was charged with DUI, motorcyclist is Sam Mullins, a friend and UK Engineering Alum.

At some point, I’ll hit on my other reasons for strongly opposing the automobile as the dominant form of human transportation, including:

  • Inadequacies in driver training and certification
  • Social impact
  • Environmental impact
  • Economic impact
  • City planning
  • Exercise and health

Please say a prayer for the motorcyclist who was in the collision mentioned above. It’s entirely possible that sending that last e-mail of the night is the only difference between he and I.

Being Friendly to the Environment

2010/03/23 Leave a comment

Some things don’t make sense:

Organic banana excess labelingOn a shopping trip to Meijer yesterday, I stumbled upon an ironic sight: Why do the “Certified Organic” bananas (left) have more than double the disposable plastic packaging of the chemically-enhanced bananas? Does that really cater to the Green crowd? Labeling aside, I have been impressed with the variety and quality of Meijer’s fresh produce section.

Others are a bit more logical:

Zero Waste discussion at SXSWPanelists from the Zero Waste discussion at SXSWi 2010 congregating around the Austin Convention Center’s innovative refuse bins. Labels: “Recyclable Paper”, “Recyclable Metal/Plastic”, “Landfill“. Sure makes the destination of your waste a bit more clear.

LexTran's new COLT TrolleyLexTran’s new COLT Trolley, servicing Downtown Lexington and the UK Campus area. Oh yeah, rides are FREE. Seems like a good way to attract ridership and reduce downtown parking issues.

UK Solar Car's new garage bannerFinally, just wanted to brag that my friends at the UK Solar Car Team finally installed a permanent banner. Quite an improvement over the electrical tape hack-job I did in a pinch last year. If you want to talk to a group of students who understand energy efficiency and won’t bloat the facts, catch a meeting on a Monday night at 7pm at the DV Terrell Building.

SXSW Download (in brief)

2010/03/18 4 comments

My $500 name tag @DaveMc9ee and @balanon are famous ReWork talk by David Heinemeier Hansson

I’d like to expand on this eventually, but likely it will remain short. We packed a lot into one week in Austin.

I greatly enjoyed SXSWi 2010. No better place to make connections in the tech startup scene, while chatting with touchscreen UI designers, eating Rudy’s BBQ, catching up with old friends and making new ones, and wishing that AplusK would get out of the way so we could extract a nugget of wisdom from Paul Graham.

My favorite sessions

Ok, so I liked most of the sessions I attended. These are the ones for which I took notes worth sharing:

Hung out with some cool people

Closing Thoughts

  • Time to relearn web development. I was so cool writing HTML back in 1996, but the world has come a long way. Some UI/UX design insight will help for touch screen apps, too.
  • Crowdsourcing some answers for this one: What is more valuable: go through a seed combinator program (get paid, network, create) or MBA (pay them, network, learn)?
  • Creativity WILL drive the future. I want to be at the wheel, not just along for the ride.
  • HUGE opportunity to bridge the Digital Divide (see above). It will take simplicity on the far side of complexity.

See you at SXSW 2010!

My Three E’s

2009/10/02 Leave a comment

I am passionate about the 3 E’s (I know, Jack Welch has 4, but that’s an unlucky number in Japan, so I’ll stick with 3).
Engineering
Entrepreneurship
Environment
Each of these have a deeper than surface meaning.
Engineering is all about problem solving. In the popular sense, engineering is about understanding the laws by which the physical world operates and using that knowledge to create structures, devices, chemicals, and software. In a more human sense, it is about learning from our life experiences. It is about rewarding intelligence over laziness. It is about being open-minded, observational, and retaining a life-long thirst for knowledge. It is about knowing that you don’t know everything. It is about believing that facts are more convincing than opinions. It is about knowing your expertise, and trusting others on their expertise.
Entrepreneurship is literally undertaking an endeavor. It is popularly used to describe those who start their own business ventures. It also describes my favorite definition of leader: “Not necessarily he who strives to be first, but he who is first to strive.” Being an entrepreneur is about ignoring antiquated social norms and being your own person. It is about taking a step back, looking at the big picture, and seeing what others are missing. It is about rallying the pimps (ie your coolest friends) and getting them to collaboratively do something awesome. It is about not settling for the old and proven, but venturing out into the uncertain unknown. Entrepreneurship is about sacrificing good now for great later. It is about following the vision of Gordon B Hinckley, who at age 92 stated, “I am no longer a young man filled with energy and vitality. I’m given to meditation and prayer. I would enjoy sitting in a rocker, swallowing prescriptions, listening to soft music, and contemplating the things of the universe. But such activity offers no challenge and makes no contribution. I wish to be up and doing. I wish to face each day with resolution and purpose. I wish to use every waking hour to give encouragement, to bless those whose burdens are heavy, to build faith and strength of testimony. It is the presence of wonderful people which stimulates the adrenaline. It is the look of love in their eyes which gives me energy.”
Environment, in the green movement of the new millennium, is about stepping back from a myopic view of the consequences of human activity on this planet. What one of us does today effects everyone tomorrow. Therefore, environment is about solidarity. It is about never being alone on this journey. Environment is about service and sacrifice. It is about not separating the end and the means. It is about Stephen R. Covey’s “Third Alternatives”. It is about consensus, equality, liberty, unity, and teamwork.
These are deep-rooted beliefs. I will never think it is dumb to be smart. I will always hope you dance, instead of sitting on the sidelines. I will respect the earth and all people who live here.
What is unanswered is this: how will I make progress on all 3 of these when I wake up tomorrow morning?