we use our first ride hailing experience to ponder the future downfall of the human brain

I took my first car app ride a few weeks ago. Most of you will probably wonder what took so long. You must understand, part of me wishes for the return of the stone age. I could probably do without the tetanus, lack of running water, or everpresent ancient angry demon gods, but otherwise a lot of that simplicity appeals to me. If it wasn’t for my dogs, I’d spend most of my evenings at home lit only by candles. Because night should be night and day, well, day.

So when on travel, and for whatever reason I don’t have a rental car, I’ll typically either walk or just call for a traditional cab. If I have a rental and can’t or don’t want to drive because alcohol is the cause of and solution to all of life’s problems, then regular cabs or walking work then too.

But a few weeks ago I just figured I’d try ride hailing apps. I’m moving overseas for work in a few weeks and the country has ride hailing there. Which I figured would be vastly superior to some of my prior international cab experiences I’ve had where I threaten to debark the cab while in motion because the crook in the front seat refuses to run the meter.

Work is sending me out the door so my colleagues (who I actually like) want to do a farewell party downtown. I’m in a hotel in the suburbs that’s an hour away by train. The hotel is three miles from the train station. Usually if the weather is decent and the walk is safe, I’m walking those three miles. In this case, the weather was rainy, chilly and it was most certainly not a safe walk.

Ironically I could’ve just driven to the train station. We all had to work very early next morning and so we hardly drank at all. My need for a ride from the hotel to train station and back later in the evening turned out to be entirely unnecessary. But I can’t see through time, so I used the app. I won’t tell you which app I used because that’s not really the point of the post.

The driver ends up at the hotel in less than 15 minutes. I found this timely and easy to arrange, so far so good. I’ve been driving around this area a long time so I know my way around. The driver clearly has no idea where he is. I offer to guide him but he refuses and says he’ll follow ‘her’ directions. The app takes us the wrong way, and then down an industrial access road that adds about five minutes to what is otherwise a short three mile drive.

But then the app starts to tell him to go the wrong way. At the intersection the train station is right. The app tells him to go left. He has no idea where he’s going and so is in the left lane to obey the app. I tell him the app is wrong and he should turn right. He refuses. I have to tell him three times that the app is wrong. He keeps saying he has to obey ‘her’, like he’s the app’s mind slave or whatever.

Eventually I talk him to the train station. The entire time the app is telling him to turn around blaring in the car. I get out and the driver mentions to me that he’s going to have to drive back to where the app tells him to. I ask him if the app can’t just be told he dropped me off where I wanted to be, that the app is wrong? He says no and drives off.

While I’m waiting for my train out of curiosity I observe his movements on the app. He does indeed drive the wrong way for ten more minutes arriving at the ‘destination’ of the train station. Even though I’m sure what the app thought was the train station was just a parking lot. Only after he arrived at this mythical area did my ride close out and I was prompted to tip him. Total cost $10 with tip.

Following the evening’s abbreviated festivities I’m back at the same station off the train. Now I need a ride back to the hotel. I use the app to hail a ride and it refuses to work. It keeps telling me that where I am, where the train station is, is at the mythical parking lot to the north. I can’t find a way to fix this.

This goes on for ten minutes until I finally just decide to acquire the ride and then call the driver once he’s chosen, or whatever. Again, this is my first ride app experience, what the hell do I know? The driver agrees and I see his car is a mile down the road. Awesome. I call him and let him know the app says I’m way up north, but I’m actually at the train station. Please come to the train station and get me here.

The driver says he doesn’t know where the train station is. I’m at the only train station within five miles. He’s one mile away, on the same road as the station, he doesn’t know. I offer to talk him to me, but he refuses, gets frustrated and starts to run his mouth against me. I immediately hang up.

I then call a regular traditional cab company. I tell them where I am on the phone to the dispatcher. A cab arrives in about 90 seconds. When I get into the cab, I tell the driver my hotel name and the street it’s on. He agrees and we’re off. That’s it. He needed no additional information, he needed no directions, he knew exactly where to go.

I ended up talking with him for the whole ride back. He was a bit of an older guy, been driving cabs for a long time and knew the whole area. We talked about my brief ride hailing experience, which amused him, as if a master wood craftsman saw a child trying to build a chair with a hand grenade. He also told me where all the cop speed traps were. He then made various belligerent comments about fellow members of the human race, which we won’t get into, but had me laughing my ass off in the car. He was a well thought out guy. He drops me off at the hotel. Total cost $15 with tip.

I have seen the future. It goes like this.

As soon as five or ten years from now all my frustrating moments with ride hailing won’t exist. Using voice recognition, I’ll tell my phone simply, “Need a ride back to the hotel.” Within five minutes a car will arrive and take me there. That’s it. No problems with directions, or location finding, or drivers who are angry or incompetent. In fact, within a few decades I think the car that shows up will be driven by a computer. But, because tech freaks are the new robber barons of the Giant Octopus, the ride will cost $20. And something will have been lost to the human race.

Ponder if you will, that on one hand I had two app drivers, who were so utterly unaware of their surroundings that they were entirely reliant upon the app to tell them how to get from point A to B. Otherwise they couldn’t do the most basic aspect of their job. It’s like a nurse who can’t treat a patient without a computer telling them the commands step by step.

But hold on a minute, why can’t nurses be told exactly what to do on command by a computer in say 20 years? Why not? And why when I’m driving do I need to know where I’m going anymore? Why can’t I just always follow the map app’s directions? Why do I have to think or do things that can be done by an app for me?

Let’s leave aside the horrific privacy, security, financial, and ethical arguments of this brave new world for the moment. What I’m most interested in is what this does to the human brain. On one hand you have two dudes who can’t do their jobs, at all, without machine assistance. On the other hand I had a cabbie who could recall in his brain the entire map of a city on command. Without machine assistance. Without error.

We’re turning more and more of our most basic and timeless brain functions over to machines. What happens to the human race, to the human brain if say 50 years from now most people can’t get from point A to B without machines. What if 100 years from now there are no people, cabbies or otherwise, who can recall in their brain the entire map of a city on command?

Tech freaks will convince you their future world is going to be a swell place for us. Where technology can and will make all our lives easier.

At what cost? Technology is just a tool. The human brain, human thought, human knowledge are supposed to be timeless and eternal. I’m not sure what happens next.

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retail stores are doomed

I didn’t choose my doggies’ brand of kibble (aka kibs).  Their kibs was chosen by another human who I no longer talk to.  But, it’s what they’ve always eaten.  They love it.

When I wake up in the morning they bounce off the walls because they know after a few short minutes in the backyard they get to eat.  The countdown towards dinnertime is when they’re most active and excited throughout the day.

So you better believe when I heard the retail store (Pet Valu) would no longer carry the brand on site I went into a bit of a mini panic mode.  Said retail store gave no valid explanation for why they were no longer carrying the brand.  They claimed that the company no longer makes it, which was untrue.

Anyways, I ended up trying to find another retail store but eventually gave up and went online to buy it.  How does one buy 30 pound bags of kibble online?  The thought never really crossed my mind.  Bags of dog food are large and heavy.  It’d be like buying huge bags of mulch online.

And yet, I found the brand online and for a decent and cheaper price.  I bought two bags.  What was my cost to ship 60 pounds of kibble to my front door?  $0.  Nothing.  It took me three minutes to make my purchase.  I did it from my cubicle.  I didn’t have to drive to a store.

Retail stores are doomed.  Doomed.  If they can’t compete on price, on saving you time, the only card they have left to play is that shipping things online can cost money.  But if online retailers just front the shipping costs?  It’s over.  There’s nothing else retail can offer you.

I’ll always buy my food in person because I want to handle my own produce and inspect it.  Other than that, I don’t really know what I wouldn’t have shipped to my front door.  Eventually we’ll all find out.

so every company wants to dance with sriracha

I guess you know a food ingredient has become all powerful when McDonalds starts to hock the stuff as part of their latest harebrained scheme to forestall irrelevance. They got Ronald McDonald to descend into the Thai jungle to pick up some ideas.

Given the danger he brought a large number of his posse. McDonald got the map and compass. Grimace essentially functioned as a pack mule. The Hamburglar got the grease gun. Birdie carried the radio, and Officer Big Mac, wait, wait, who the hell are all these other mascots?

Anyways, but seeing as only Ronald McDonald emerged from the jungle alive and without product, they just came up with this thing called Sriracha Mac Sauce. Which they trademarked. Seriously.

Sriracha is everywhere. Almost any restaurant chain or potato chip maker is all over this. I guess it’s trendy? Everybody loves spice and Asian so folks think they can mint money on this. But what really is sriracha? It depends.

In Thailand it’s basically just a random chili sauce with vinegar and spices. But in America what folks know as sriracha is just the Huy Fong Foods bottle. It’s just one kind of sriracha. But to most people I suppose it’s the sriracha.

Huy Fong’s story is actually pretty awesome. David Tran fled recently conquered South Vietnam in 1978 and was eventually granted asylum in America. He named the company after his refugee ship Huey Fong.

To me, the look of the bottle is pure genius. The contrast between the green and red, the unique rooster logo, the various languages and styling, it’s just great. It’s what made them successful, that and the unique taste.

But because Tran either cannot or will not trademark the word sriracha, basically everybody else can do what they want. So folks might think that McDonalds is partnering with Huy Fong to make their sauce, but they’re not. McDonald just made it on their own. Hence McDonald’s own trademark on their version of the sauce.

Hey I want to expand the planet’s variety of food choices too, but not at the expense of silly fads driven by faceless corporate goons in suits. Sriracha is basically just Thai ketchup. It’s not the emperor of all Asian hot sauces. I wonder how many folks have ever heard of Korean gochujang paste? It’s mind bogglingly awesome in its own right.

Want sriracha in America? Go ahead and buy the Huy Fong bottle. Or, go get a unique version from an Asian grocery. Don’t give Ronald McDonald more cash to file his next cutthroat trademark.

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Based designed sauce bottle in human history.

on Russians, sharks, bears, swimming, and who to trust

You, the average normal human, require a new hammer. You use it to fix up your house, apartment, hovel, or yurt. You have several options to choose from. But recommendations tell you that you can have the hammer made by a partially competent American maker at a reasonable price, or the cheap one made by a former KGB assassin. Which do you choose?

Well, I suppose if you lived in Russia you would pick the KGB guy. Or be made to pick the KGB guy. But if you’re not Russian why would you, or anybody else, choose the KGB guy? This question has always been on my brain as folks and organizations have chosen Kaspersky Labs to handle their internet security to the tune of half-a-billion active users.

I mean I somewhat get it, Norton, McAfee, and the many other generic Western firms are only above average at best. But what do you expect when the Internets sandbox is an inherently flawed security nightmare. That doesn’t mean you go running for help with Ivan, aka the guys who are directly responsible for much of the security nightmare. Unless you desire to make the counterargument that because Kaspersky is KGB, that it’s good business to ask the devil to guard your church because he knows how to mix it up, barstool style. But I don’t buy that argument. Eventually the devil will rob you and use your pilfered cash to buy cinnamon whiskey, his drink of choice.

Kaspersky is somehow considered respectable, which further proves the marketing goons of the planet can put a shine on anything and twist people’s brains with glorious abandon. Kaspersky advertises on NPR! So he must be legit, right? And since the beginning Kaspersky has tried to always prove they have an independent hand. Their claim is that Russian they are, doesn’t mean you can’t trust them. They’re separate and distinct from the functioning arms of the Russian state, honest. Eh, if they say so.

As far as my take, I think this Washington Post article sums it up pretty nicely. In particular:

“James Lewis, a cybersecurity expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said ‘it’s difficult, if not impossible’ for a company like Kaspersky to be headquartered in Moscow ‘if you don’t cooperate with the government and the intelligence services.’”

Yeah, no kidding. So if you or your business has put your trust in Kaspersky, well, you deserve what you get.

Hey speaking of failed trust, apparently a whole bunch of people actually thought Discovery Channel was going to get Michael Phelps to race a shark. Instead they just computer simulated it and Phelps lost. Because Phelps is a human, as in, a creature not meant to inherently swim in the water. Kind of like how a shark is. But I digress.

Did folks actually think they’d put Phelps in the water alongside a shark and race them in lanes? Do folks understand that humans can’t order sharks around like that? Gee I sure hope so. How did people logistically think this would occur? Why are they angry with Discovery Channel? How did they trust that this would actually happen?

The only thing I can think of is they’d capture the shark and chain it up like some kind of angry Star Wars arena beast. They’d have him in a lane in the ocean contained by two sheets of transparent aluminum. And Phelps would be on the other side. Then they’d fire the gun and release the shark. Only, but what if the shark didn’t swim forward and instead tried to turn around and attack the folks behind him? As in, the folks who’d just chained him up. Or what if the shark swam for a bit and then stopped? Or what if the shark busted through the transparent aluminum and swallowed Michael Phelps whole in an orgy of chum related violence? Or what if we get Kaspersky to race a 700 pound grizzly bear? Maybe his KGB training, Russian bear familiarity, and Vlad inspired judo can save him? But I doubt it.

Who not to trust? Well for starters Russians who say they’re here to help. And folks who claim a human can race a shark. Along with all other kinds of lunacy that just don’t seem to make sense. Kind of like most of the nonsense written on this degenerate blog.

You could adopt the tact of: trust no one. But instead, just use your common sense. We’ve all got it. It’s pretty neat. Go with that.

fun time

four creatures enter; one creature leaves

Stone Liberty Station – the descent into another dimension

After all these years of searching I finally did it.  I met an alien.  Whilst seated at the bar (one that you could argue might be in the top ten in the country) a middle aged white guy walks up and orders a white wine.  Alien.

I don’t know what planet this thing hails from, or what they look like when not in disguise, but clearly this alien doesn’t understand that when you’re at Stone Liberty Station you drink really tasty beer.  It’s inhuman to order wine.

Or, maybe this older chap is so confident in his ways & his preferences for life, that he just doesn’t care.  Dude knows what he wants.  Period.  Like if you were so comfortable with who you were that you walked into a vegan restaurant and demanded pork without shame.  In a way, it’s kind of admirable.  But, he should have still ordered beer.

But wait, there’s more!  For reference, I was seated at the closest seat in the corner.

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After the alien departed, two guys (a Cali Korean and Cali Chicano) and a gal (Cali Pilipino) [God Bless America] took up the area to the right without actually sitting down.  Somebody had left an empty beer glass and a partially full glass of rosé.  While continuing to order more beers, the Chicano began to dare the Korean to drink the rest of the rosé.  This went on for about twelve minutes.  I kept waiting for things to escalate, for table dagger fingers to appear, but sadly this didn’t occur.

Off to the left another pair of Southern California template bros were activity hitting upon a gal clearly wearing a wedding ring visible to the whole planet.  She did her best to not look uncomfortable and smiled a lot, but this continued until the husband showed up.  It probably helped that her husband looked like the guy who dead lifts kegs for Stone in the back.  The difference in audible volume of voice for these two guys pre and post husband appearance was stereotypically comical.

Back to my right our Korean friend had decided to take the dare and began sipping the rosé.  Our Chicano chap began aggressively texting with another guy not present with happiness and made a repeated comment along the lines of, “I love ‘Rique man, I love him, I love that bro!”  At which point his girlfriend accused him of being a homosexual.

Other bar regulars begin to discuss a forthcoming special event where Wil Wheaton and two other men I’ve never heard of are famous for an annual stout that’s brewed, then debuted during some kind of video game symposium they hold inside the bar [furrows brow] and folks drink the beer, but play games, but there’s some kind of limit on time or whatever.

In other news, Wil Wheaton did not turn out to be a coked out sex fiend and is in fact a normal person.  The Traveler probably got his head right during their dimensional journey so Wheaton didn’t get child actor syndrome.

Of to the right, our bros killed off the last of the rosé with other friends who had arrived by lying to them about whose said rosé it originally was.  Then they all left and I felt a great absence in my life as I was no longer entertained by casually observing other members of the human race who sat two feet away without acknowledging that I existed.

Luckily a family of Japanese took their place.  We had the Mom and Dad, their son, daughter, and their son’s wife or finance.  The son and wife spoke English, the rest of the family did not.  It was neat to hear solid Japanese again for the first time in a long time.  I’m reduced to near zero skills, so I caught only a word or two here and there.

The son was forced to simplify Stone’s extensive beer list by describing a number of beers as “IPA Gaijin”.  The Father understood the situation better and discussed a number of IPA Gaijin options for selection but ultimately he settled upon the Wheaton stout.

The bartender felt the need to card the young ones.  The son and wife have their Cali licenses.  The sister pulls out her Japanese passport.  The bartender is clearly put off balance because the whole darn thing is in Kanji.  He takes the passport, looks at it briefly, nods once, and hands it back to her without comment.  She gets beer, all without the bartender ever knowing they sell beer in vending machines in Japan.

Father tastes the Wheaton stout and suddenly realizes he’s got something high octane shit in his hands.  He asks his son, who clarifies that Wheaton’s Klingon brew cranks in at 13%.  Father grins, grunts, and growls with pleasure like Mifune over a good sake.  He then proceeds to truck said beer in only a few minutes.  Mother, sister, and wife all get beer flights.  They’re all still there when I leave.

Oh by the way, the food is pretty good.  The beer is astonishingly awesome.  At least a dozen drafts are brewed directly on site.  You are to be challenged to find a fresher sip with such variety.

Built from the remains a former Navy mess hall Stone’s turned it into a satellite station to hold events, beer different beers, and generally create something more than your typical restaurant, bar, or micro brewery.  I truly applaud them for doing something different, something unique that goes beyond the standard all too faceless Bar Americana #728b.

The descent into another dimension is entertaining, to see all the wide variety of humanity.  But really, the only reason to go to Stone Liberty Station is to drink incredible beer.  It’s more than enough.  Such good beer.

an ode to flight

In the last three weeks I’ve been all over the map.  I have no idea how many individual flights it was.  I literally can’t remember.  Was it 8, 13, 17, who knows?  All I know is where I ended up.

But the thought occurred to me just how darn routine air travel is.  You show up, you fly, you get to where you need to go.  Sure there are delays and occasional customer service nightmares, but it’s statistically about 700 times safer than your drive to the airport.

We take it all for granted.  The last major Western carrier to lose a plane was Air France Flight 447, an Airbus A330 which fell into the Atlantic on June 1, 2009 killing 228 aboard.

In other words, for nearly eight years the airlines have a crash record of 100%.  This is insane.  Given the complexities involved you’d think bad things would happen all the time.  Nothing ever works 100% of the time.  I think even washing machines hurt more people each year.

When you really think about it, it’s pretty cool.  It shows that when we’re serious, humanity can do some real awesome stuff.  It’s mind boggling that it’s this way.  Yet it happens.  Take a moment to relish it.

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safer than locking yourself in your own closet

oh, no

I’ve connected through Houston Bush before, but that was years ago.  So I deplane and as soon as I get out the gate I notice there’s a bunch of small screens everywhere.  The normal waiting areas with rows of chairs were apparently replaced with tables.  Each individual seat had a tablet in front of it.

I didn’t think much of it at first.  I had a quick hour to grab food before the next flight.  I ended up at a place called Bam Bam for Vietnamese.  I sit down at the bar, and I’m face-to-face with another tablet.

Oh, no.

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It’s the future.  Today!

It took me about five minutes to realize no bartender was coming to see me.  I figured out on my own that to get a beer or order food I had to use the tablet.  Then I had to swipe my credit card right on the spot.

Even after you’re done ordering, there’s this still that evil screen right in front of you.  They continuously bombard you with ads, proposed money games, and whatever else.  You can’t turn the damn thing off, at least not that I could figure out.

The beer was local Texas good, they had a great banh-mi, and a so-so salad.  But I couldn’t get over the darn screen.  I want a quiet beer and meal.  And maybe to watch sports behind the bar.  Not get ads shoved in my face.  Note the company logos on the shot above from the many, many usual suspects of the Giant Octopi.  I should have put a napkin over the thing.

I’m an introvert.  So you better believe it’s a legit problem when I say I actually genuinely missed ordering my food and drink from a real live person.  To actually engage in conversation with a fellow human.

I eventually figured out the screen thing, but almost nobody else did.  Other folks coming in were exasperated with trying to work it out.  And they got frustrated as the one poor waiter had to walk them through it.

Business consultants told Bam Bam and Houston Bush that there would be friction during the “initiation period”.  But that eventually customers will get used to using this technology on a regular basis to order.  Then they can save 47% on restaurant personnel costs once all orders are handled in this electronic manner.

This is the future.  Every single moment of your time is one giant opportunity for somebody to shove ads in your face.  Everyone notice the new gas pumps?  Where they throw ads at you in the 49 seconds it takes to pump your gas?

Machines probably won’t totally take over every job.  You won’t see a full blown robot bartender.  Instead you’ll see various aspects of humanity removed from the equation.  Technology will destroy jobs on the margins.  Instead of six waiters a restaurant will have two.  What are the other four newly unemployed humans supposed to do?

If you believe the wizards of the future, technology will free those four people to go become artists, or learn a new trade like plumbing, or whatever.  What I suspect will happen instead is that society will generally continue to become poorer and more unequal.

When traveling, I don’t think I’ll do this again.  If I see a screen like this again, I’m walking away.  I’ll take my cash to a business that employs humans.  And if every bar stool on the planet has a screen one day?  I don’t know what I’ll do, but that’ll be a sad, sad day.

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The future can kiss my ass.