EEF33646-832E-47C7-9329-A006153AD436 Techno-Babble | Baghdad By The Bay

Why Self Driving Cars Won’t Work For Ridesharing

Driverless CarsSan Francisco is where ridesharing started. Uber, Lyft and the defunct Sidecar as well as smaller players have all started here in the City and they all seem to think they can get rid of drivers now.

This is one of the strangest ideas I have heard in a long time and these companies need to look at Muni in San Francisco to understand what will happen if you remove drivers from cars. Our Muni and BART trains have tried to be autonomous in the tunnels and that didn’t work very well now did it. Many of you may not know this, but there was a time when Muni tried [for a very short time] to have the drivers step out of the compartment when trains entered West Portal Station and let the trains, on tracks, be controlled by a computer. That didn’t work and now a driver has to sit there and make sure the computer is working right and doesn’t crash when the train begins to pass 60 mpg in the tunnel.

I know what some of you are saying, but Google/Uber/some other tech company wasn’t controlling them. OK, fine, but even with a driver riding along on a Muni or BART train have you seen what happens on one of those trains? How would a driverless car picking people up and taking them to their destination on city streets be any different?

There is already the reported problem of lots of these cars getting into accidents. Most of the time it isn’t the fault of the car’s computer, but the humans that are driving around them.  You can write that off if you want, but I don’t think everyone is going to jump onboard from day one when a driverless car becomes available.

Then there are the other problems that people don’t think about. I’m one of those guys that do and here’s something to think about. A driverless car is like the set of Home Alone. People won’t have an overseer to keep them in check. I’ve given rides to young people who even with me behind the wheel have gotten into a fight in the back of my car. I stopped and threw them out, but think about what the first thing that dominates a new technology is…PORN.

VHS, DVDS, the Internet all become intrenched because of the porn industry. I would not be surprised if some of the first people who grab a driverless car will shoot a porn film in it that will be on the internet within a couple of days. The second or third will be someone who pukes and after that will probably be some kid who thinks it would be cool to take a dump in a driverless car.

Imagine if you will for a moment the amount of human body fluids that will be flooding, soaking into and dripping from the insides of a driverless car. No one has talked about safety features in these cars because that of course would be an invasion of someone personal privacy.

Will these cars be equipped with cameras that can see all over the car? Will these cars be equipped with fluid sensors to notify home base if someone barfs or pees in the car? NOTE: I have heard from lots of drivers who have had riders not just puke, but also pee in their cars. This usually happens after midnight and the person is pretty drunk and well, it seems like a good idea at the time… Maybe the companies that are on the bandwagon will make these cars self cleaning so that after a person or porn film crew leaves the car it will sanitize and sterilize the interior for the next rider’s safety.

Then there is the drunken factor that I barely touched on. People like the current ridesharing services because they don’t have to drive home drunk, but their faculties are not at their best. I’ve been asked to pull over so someone could jump out and vomit. I’ve also had a large number of people who put in the wrong address or wanted to go to Safeway, but Google’s Maps which every system uses for some reason chose not the Safeway that was closest to them, but one in the East Bay or North Bay [seriously, try it]. How will the computer controlling the vehicle know whether the customer is right? Will the car electrically zap the riders who have passed out after drinking too much to rouse them to get out because the car has hopefully arrived at the correct location?

In the end the public has been sold a science fiction novel that has been poorly written. This isn’t the taxis of Blade Runner or even Total Recall for that matter. Driverless cars for the masses are a long way off and the idea of driverless transport vehicles are an even longer way off.




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A New Way To Support My Site

PatreonHi all,

I don’t like doing this, but I have been doing this for close to 10 years now and while my original idea was just to have fun writing about San Francisco it’s become a little difficult to have time to write when I have to focus so much on my freelance work. I wish there was a way to make my freelance work coincide with my writing, but that’s not the case at the moment.

So I’ve discovered a new site that offers a different option. Patreon will allow you to become a patron of my work. It’s kind of like micro-investing in that the creator [me] sets up goals they would like to meet and you as a patron can make a small or large monthly donation to help that come to fruition. There will also be rewards at the various levels of donation that you’ll see when you click on the link.

I won’t say anything more about it other than let you know my link is http://patreon.com/baghdad and if you like you can patronize my work…no wait, maybe that isn’t the correct wording. I’ll start working harder to bring more stories from my perspective to you since there’s a lot of things happening in San Francisco now.

P.S. Big shout out to Dana Galloway who was my first Patreon!

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WWDC Nerd Fest

Darth Trash CanWell Apple is in town this week for the World Wide Developer Conference and along with that comes the requisite keynote address. I’ve watched it a couple of times before writing this to let it sink in.

Not a single product was released. That means that there wasn’t a throng of Apple fans rushing to update their software right after the Apple love fest in an attempt to bring down the internet for the rest of the world. On the upside I think this keynote was Apple’s answer to everyone saying that Apple just isn’t as cool without Steve Jobs. Sure they had to pull out several people to cover for the missing omnipotent Steve, but I think they did a pretty good job. Here’s my breakdown of the speakers:

Tim Cook: He’s been seen as a bit milquetoast-like. He doesn’t offer the wow factor Jobs did, but he was always the voice of reason to come back to. I noticed a bit lispy precision in his voice making him sound a bit like a gay account as he was rattling off the numbers to us of how popular Apple has been in the past year.

Craig Federighi: This was the wow factor guy. He played the audience of balding 20 year old nerds quite well in such a way that he also made those who were watching that weren’t of the nerdish variety go weird. You know the type. Those people who think plugging in an appliance makes them technologically advanced. Craig played to the hecklers who tried to interrupt him without breaking a sweat and even through in a bit of self deprecation which always goes over well in my book.

Phil Schiller: He’s Phil. He’s always there and he’s got a sort of low brow, I’m not going to throw numbers at you, but big words that sound cool. Can’t innovate my ass was his best line of the show. Phil is the type of guy that you place a shot of 50 year old single malt scotch in front of and start to explain all the care and forethought that went into making it and when you turn your eyes back to him from the glass he’s downed it and ordered another couple of shots while pulling out his corporate card to pay for it. Phil to me represents the end user that just wants the box he sunk his money down on to do the job.

Eddy Cue: METALLICA! I was waiting for him to scream that out during his presentation of iRadio, but he went a little more subtle and chose Whole Lotta Love by Led Zeppelin with a couple of required head bangs during the start of the song. Eddy Cue is like comedian Jim Breuer in that he took the stage looking like he had just finished off a few too many beers and can’t pronounce the big words Phil was throwing out. Oddly enough he did a pretty good job explaining iRadio. I’m going to use it when it’s available. Something tells me he has Nickelback on his playlist though.

All in all it was a pretty well thought out presentation. So much so that it wasn’t until afterwards that all the people who use Apple at home finally realized, They didn’t release a single product today!!!! The various people talking about how great Apple is was interspersed with shots of the audience to include Al Gore, Woz and Jony Ive just to add to the cool factor of the day.

From what they showed of  iOS7 looks like it was created by someone who watches far too much 80’s Japanese Anime, but after all the talk about flat, simple icons I could finally understand why when Craig started tilting an iPhone running iOS7 — the wallpaper looks like it sits about 6″ below the icons. I’m sure there’s someone at Apple who gets paid a lot of money who said the line during a meeting that 6” is enough for anyone. That was probably Jony Ive who used to be Jonathan Ive, but I guess that was a bit stuffy sounding for Apple. Then there was Darth Vader’s trash can™ or the new Mac Pro. It had a very slick look to it and it’s sleek black is something I welcome back. I’ve missed Apple’s black laptops because black will always be the new black. Black has always been cool and will always remain cool. Kind of like why we call the Yakuza the Japanese mafia and not the mafia the Italian Yakuza, because it was the first to come up with a cooler name for organized crime.

Looking cool seemed to be the focus of this keynote. Gone is the skeuomorphic design, replaced by flat icons that every designer has now redesigned in 15 minutes. Sure the new OSX Mavericks does some cool things, but it’s doing things it should have been doing a few years ago. Speed and functionality took a back seat in the presentation to showing off how tilting the screen lets you see more of the wallpaper or that animated thunderbolts accompany your weather prediction. It’s kind of like a new coat of paint on a old car with a few tricks thrown in. Yes Apple can still innovate, but at the same time they’re adding on features that other apps have been doing for awhile, so while they innovate they are also coming up to speed. San Francisco will be changed this week and hopefully the city can suck every last penny out of all the techies who’ve come to San Francisco and not live off the outside sponsored hipster buffets™ that no doubt will be going on all over the place.

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Amazon? For Groceries?

Amazon Fresh?Apparently Amazon didn’t get the memo and is planning to start grocery delivery in San Francisco this fall. With one exception every company that’s tried to do this before has failed. Something tells me that for San Francisco Amazon will fail like the others, but at least it has a another side of it’s business to fall back on.

Few people remember back in the 90’s when there was a company called PeaPod that operated in San Francisco delivering groceries. They actually were buying their groceries from Andronico’s which meant you were getting top shelf fresh produce and meats, but it was a bit higher. Granted if you wanted top quality food delivered to your house it would cost you a bit more, but overall it really was maybe around $5 on a $100 order of groceries. Wife and I used to use them a lot because my family stopped going grocery shopping and just told us to pick it up for them when we went shopping.

This caused a few problems as we would now have to lug around two shopping carts and confuse the checkers as to why we would be paying for two carts separately which for some reason seemed strange to them. PeaPod changed this since we could order my family’s food online and have it delivered to them all paid in full. This worked out fine until one of the deliveries refused to bring the delivery up the stairs so my Mother assumed that they would never do this again which led us to have to go back to shopping for them.

It wasn’t too bad since PeaPod decided to close up shop around the same time, but a new company called Webvan had started up just a little before. Webvan wasn’t as good as PeaPod. I don’t know where they were getting their groceries from, but the couple of times we used them they would substitute something we ordered that they didn’t have with something that wasn’t even close to the same. Like you order six apples, but they’re out so they send over a watermelon. I’m not sure who did the thinking on the substitutions there, but they also didn’t last long.

Safeway is the only store that delivers groceries for a flat fee, but at this point it’s just as easy to go to the store for them since both of us aren’t working 40 hour weeks anymore. There’s no word yet on where Amazon is getting their supplies of groceries from or where they’re planning on stockpiling them, but the idea of bring back a Web 1.0 concept that didn’t work figuring you’re so big that you won’t have a problem is, well, a problem. I have a love for some of the old Web 1.0 companies. I used to use Kozmo all the time to rent DVD’s and then started added other stuff like ice cream and snacks in with the DVD. I especially loved that all I had to do was walk down to the corner from my house to return the DVD. That’s kind of like what Amazon is planning on doing, but with groceries as the main item and then you can supposedly add in some of their other products as well. Keep in mind that Amazon invested over $60 million dollars that it lost in Kozmo.

Good luck to you Amazon. No wait, not good luck to you. Amazon makes it’s employees wear ankle monitors like prisoners released to house arrest so that they can track them and data mine their workers to make them more efficient and fire them if they aren’t. That is not the kind of thinking that San Francisco has ever liked unless your home was Alcatraz.

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The New Way To Pay Just Got Interesting

SquareThe tech edge that San Francisco holds currently has people jumping with joy or frustration. There are new things developing that could be wonderful or that could screw who the status quo of how we live. I had an interesting experience last week that I’m going to share with you.

Now you’ve heard me talk about San Francisco based Square as being a good ecommerce company. They don’t charge you anything up front. They send you a credit card reader for free and their software for the iPhone and Android is also free. The company even sends you business cards to pass out to get people to understand how Square works and they charge you only 2.75% per transaction with no transaction fee.

To put this in perspective a bit, Wife and I used to own a home based business. We had clients all over the country so credit cards were necessary for use to take. We were charged $800 for the software, then $35/month plus 35¢ per transaction fee, plus 3.5% on every transaction. We didn’t have a lot of business and our corporate clients worked off of invoices so if we only had one sale of $100 in a month it would cost us $38.85 just to get that $100 [or I would only get $61.15 out of every $100 sold]. With Square it would cost us only $2.75. If I didn’t have the credit card handy Square would charge me 3.5% of the total or $3.50 out of $100. Still a deal.

Looking through the app last week I noticed a large increase in the number of small businesses who were using Square and after downloading the new update it’s even easier to run on my iPhone since I can put in the individual items and they now show up on my iPhone, not just on the iPad.

I aslo received a phone call last week from someone at PayPal who was trying to sell me on PayPal‘s new PayPal Here service. I was kind of surprised as the phone number they called me on was linked to an old account I had made a mistake on. I had used it for donations for a website I used to run and as a joke I listed a donation as something that it turns out PayPal doesn’t want you to sell. It doesn’t matter whether or not there are large companies selling the same product I wasn’t, but I apparently broke their rules so I was banned for life from ever using PayPal again.

The guy on the phone told me it works, just like Square, but is cheaper. Well it’s only 2.7% vs. 2.75% and I’m not big enough that I’m going to complain over losing 50¢ on $100. PayPal is so much like Square that they made their card reader look like a triangle to keep with the geometric primitives angle. I told the guy that it was nice of him to offer this to me, but I had been banned for life from ever using PayPal again so I would have to pass.

Now when you are told that you are banned for life from using PayPal ever again you would think that this would mean that you just couldn’t use it to accept money. Well, you’re wrong. I had tried using PayPal in the past to purchase things from small companies on the internet and discovered that my bank account that was tied into PayPal‘s system was also banned from buying stuff from PayPal online. I happened to meet up with a friend I was telling this story to and he had the PayPal Here service so I told him I’d give him a buck if he let me try something. He pulled out his phone and plugged in the reader and I entered $1 and swiped my card. Guess what? My card was declined even though I had well more than $1 in my account. Why? Because I have been banned for life from ever using PayPal for anything [which they don’t tell you]. I would have to open a new bank account to get it hooked up with PayPal so that I could use the system. I don’t want to be bothered with that and I was told that if PayPal identified me as the same person that I would be banned again. It doesn’t matter if they really hire people to search for previously banned users of PayPal who want to be able to use it to pay for items. It’s fare too draconian an attitude for me to want to deal with.

Jack Dorsey, the founder of Twitter who started Square is a genius in my opinion. While they do have a few areas they don’t like to venture into sales wise they are pretty much an ecommerce company first that wants to make taking money from people for goods and services more affordable. If you’re a tech geek you can pull out your smart phone and run their Square Wallet app place your order while in line and just pick up your stuff at the counter or if you’re one of those people who doesn’t like this new technology because in my day they didn’t have smart phones and you had to tie two soup cans together with twine to call someone, you can use a regular old credit card. This is something that gives small businesses the edge. In looking around the USA I see that most metropolitan areas have quite a few places that accept Square. Not as many places as in the San Francisco Bay Area, but still a good amount. I can see this taking off in the near future even bigger and Square has a very big edge over PayPal in that it doesn’t shut out potential users from the system. PayPal has messed up big and if you do a quick search in google you’ll find lots of people complaining about being banned for life from PayPal. Square is the future and the way to go for small businesses.

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Triangle vs. Square

So I’m sure you all know by now that I hate PayPal, I hate them a lot. Yesterday they unveiled their new product for mobile merchants: Triangle umm PayPal Here. I’m not buying into it for a number of reasons and yes, I’m about to pretty much tell you all of them.

First thing that was kind of funny to me was that they’re undercutting Square by .05%. What that means is that if you charge someone $100 you’ll be giving Square 5¢ more of your money. 5¢ out of $100 isn’t going to hurt me too much.

Second, the PayPal app looks like it was a complete reverse engineer of the Square app. The only difference between the two is that you have to enter the CVV number after swiping the card which you don’t have to do with Square.

People are talking about the 2.7% fee vs. the 2.75% fee of Square and then following it up with, but you get a free debit card that any money you charge someone is immediately available on the card which gives you 1% cash back making the effective rate 1.7%. While I’m good at math I’m not so good at bait and switch economics and something just didn’t sit right with me on this one until I saw a comment made by someone using the name SounderJunkie on The Verge that said:

Umm, the 2.7% is charged to the merchant, the 1% cash back goes to the customer using the card. The only way this becomes an effective rate of 1.7% is if you are charging your own card. Interestingly, this is classified under US law as money laundering.

Money laundering? Interesting idea. So they give you a debit card that accumulates your charges without the need for a bank account. As a freelancer I’ve run into times where I have to prove to a company that I was employed by showing them bank statements verifying PayPal or Square deposits to my bank. From what they’ve said so far they won’t be issuing bank statements for you and I can only suppose that they will show up on your PayPal account which looks more and more like a bank statement every time I have to look at one and at one time in the past they were acting like a bank encouraging you to keep your money in your PayPal account and earning interest on it through their Market Rate program or spend it with your PayPal debit card [something that when they got that started years ago I applied for, but never got.]

Third, PayPal is an established online payment juggernaut. They are virtually the only form of online payment that online businesses will accept. I just happened to check their site and noticed that they’re previous fee of 2.5% + 15¢ transaction fee has now been raised to 2.9% + 30¢ transaction fee. So in order to offset the extra .05% they’re giving you to undercut Square they now have to raise their rates for normal online PayPal exchanges unless you can get approved as a non-profit or make more than $3000/month. They also have some policies that are a very draconian in nature. They’re already telling book sellers that if they want to sell ebooks and accept PayPal payments they cannot sell erotica. Yet there is on eBay an ahem Adults only section where you can buy also sorts of erotica as well as some other rather bizarre sexually fueled devices and pay with PayPal and that’s OK because, well eBay owns PayPal and they love their monopoly status.

If you make a mistake and accept a payment for something they they don’t like you to sell [online raffles are a big one that people get hit with] they will suspend your account and hold all funds for 180 days and not even let you refund any payments. At the end of 180 days you can remove the money, but your account while still existing cannot be used because you have been banned for life. As a matter of fact anyone living at your address is also banned for life. If you sell your house and someone moves in that uses your old address they may end up being banned for life as well [in a call to PayPal that one caught them off guard, but they did say it could possibly happen].

 

Now Square, a San Francisco based start up that has been getting rave reviews since it’s beginning has also become pretty well established for mobile payments. Most of the food trucks around the Bay Area use Square. Small coffee shops and bakeries are using it. Sure there are a few other options around, but they usually charge more to process credit cards than Square does and the .05% lower rate for PayPal Here won’t help them overcome PayPal’s hatred by those who have used it in the past. I don’t think Jack Dorsey at Square will be quaking in his boots anytime soon.

If you want to get away from PayPal for online payments that don’t require a card swipe I suggest you check out Venmo. There are no fees associated with it unless you’re making a lot of money through it which in the future they say they will be instating fees for businesses to use it, but keep it free for individuals.

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The New iPad, Yeah, I Want One

March 7th was the magical day where Apple surprised us by releasing the New iPad 3. Not much surprise there except for the missing 3. We had been hearing all the rumors for months and our friends down south in Cupertino gave the Moscone Center attendants the buzz they were craving.

The thing that impressed me the most was the beginning when Tim Cook came out. If you closed your eyes, he was definitely channeling Steve Jobs. I suspect he had been groomed and prepped to not be a jarring replacement to the wonder that was Steve Jobs. While the changes weren’t super revolutionary, they were as Apple is calling it, resolutionary. As predicted the New iPad has the retina display. It’s got the dual core A5x chip with quad-core graphics which for the non-geeks out there means it’s faster and the graphics have a big wow factor now.

I’m not going to focus on all the new whiz bang stuff that it does, but focus on how this device will change things a bit. One of the things that people aren’t really paying too much attention to is that the New iPad has more memory and graphics capabilities than an Xbox 360 or Playstation 3. To me this means that it now is not just going after the tablet market, but also after the game station market. Now it may cost more than both of those, but the games are cheaper, it does more than just games, is portable and gives you more resolution than a 42″ HD TV.

The new 5MP camera is pretty adequate. I know my iPhone’s is pretty good, but this one is a better 5MP camera than mine. Photographers will have to get used to holding a bigger camera in their hands, but I’m wondering how many of these people remember the old Polaroid instamatics. Because they now have a 5MP camera on the New iPad they had to bring iPhoto to the New iPad. This isn’t like your regular iPhoto, but adds in a lot more features making it act closer to photoshop. The ease in adjusting photographs is pretty slick and when you’re finished you can assemble them into a photo journal that you can share with your friends. That’s pretty slick and I think I will drop the $4.99 on it to try it out. They didn’t include a flash with the New iPad, but I actually never use the flash on my iPhone. If I’m a darker environment I usually turn on the HDR and get better pictures. If you click on the photo up above you’ll see that the retina display really makes your photos look like they’re popping out of a page of Architectural Digest. This might indeed be a game changer for the photo crowd since every photo you take is uploaded to the cloud which makes your pictures instantly saved and you can share them immediately through a variety of sources, FaceBook and Twitter of course being first on the list.

If you like video they’ve upgraded the camera to shoot 1080p and introduced an anti-shake video that in the Apple produced demo proved to do some good work. I’m sure they enlisted professional cameramen to make the demo, but you can still get pretty close I’m sure. Since they have a 1080p camera now they of course had to update iMovie. They’ve added in theatrical trailers now like the desktop version has which is fun and again might make a few new Cecil B. DeMille’s out of amateurs. Putting full HD recording into the hands of the masses is a real game changer to me in that we’ll expect more from professionals.

Garageband got an update as well and my daughter has been playing with it constantly since the update. The changes are so much a gee wow with the addition of smart strings so you can add orchestra strings to your music [which sound quite good actually], but there is a new feature called Jam Session which looks like a lot of fun. With these new virtual instruments there are people who are going to be learning how to make music without having formal training. I bet if I did a search I could find people who are now teaching people how to play music on an iPad. What’s cool about Jam Session is that you can have four iPads playing along together with one of them that’s playing recording all four iPads. That’s a pretty cool thing and I’m sure there will be lots of youtube videos coming out shortly after the New iPad is available March 16th.

They’ve also updated their iWork set of programs to take advantage of the retina display which makes sense so now people who are creating eBooks will be able to be on the same page so to speak as oh say, Architectural Digest. So what in my twisted mind does all this mean?

The game demo’s were impressive. The drawing demo was impressive, iPhoto and it’s editing were impressive. Overall I think that this will move some people away from gaming systems and to the iPad, but I think they’ll need to up the speaker system or come up with some good wireless speakers to send the sound to. The camera will give people who want to make videos an easier time of doing it, so expect to see more independent short films to start coming out. Then there’s the simple fact that what most people need to do on a desktop computer is read email, surf the web, watch a few videos and play a few games then they may actually not need a desktop computer as I said in an earlier article. When I’ve opened up a photo on my iMac that I’ve taken on my iPhone it is HUGE because my iPhone like the New iPad has 264 pixels per inch unlike my desktop that has 72 pixels per inch.

Yes, I want one, but I think I’ll wait a little while. Tim Cook ended his keynote by telling us to expect more improvements in 2012 so the fact that this is the New iPad and not an iPad 3 leads me to believe they are coming out with other models over the course of the year. I don’t want to be the guy that buys the New iPad a couple of days before something new comes out that does more. I think I’ll upgrade my Apple TV first. It’ll cost me less money.

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