Tuesday, May 31, 2011

How occupations change

In the 1970 Census Occupational Codes:

Code #264: Hucksters and Peddlers

Monday, May 30, 2011

Count me in for driver-less cars

In a WaPo column entitled, Self-absorbed D.C. drivers are worst in the nation, again:

The latest report, by GMAC Insurance, measured knowledge of driving rules. A quiz included questions such as: Does a flashing red signal mean yield or stop? Does tailgating frustrate other drivers or help reduce traffic congestion? (Since many of you evidently need help with the subject, the correct answers are “stop” and “frustrates other drivers.”)

The District placed last in the study, which ranked it and the 50 states. Maryland was almost as bad, at 49th, while Virginia was in the middle at 25th.

A one-time thing, you say? District drivers did just as poorly in a separate survey last year by Allstate that measured likelihood of being in a collision. For the second straight year, Washington motorists were most likely to have an accident among those in the nation’s 193 largest cities — by a considerable margin. Baltimore drivers were right behind, at 192nd.

In fact, I think our wealth and influence, and above all our sense of self-importance, are to blame.

We think it’s so critical to finish that vital budget memo, or reach that key diplomat or lobbyist, or nail down that juicy federal contract, that we feel justified in cutting off someone when we merge. “Of course it’s okay to turn right from a left-hand lane,” we tell ourselves. After all, we neglected to slide over earlier only because we were so preoccupied with holding down health-care costs.

“People are just always in a hurry,” said Matt Berger, 27, a federal worker from Northwest. “I’m from Indianapolis. There, there’s a lot more waving, a lot more people helping out.”

Although he was skeptical of the surveys, saying complaints about driving are common everywhere, Berger acknowledged that his own habits have deteriorated since he moved here.

“I don’t help people out as much, now that I live here,” he said. “I have places to be, too.”

Thurman Matthiesen, 45, a screenwriter and playwright who moved here from Los Angeles 13 months ago, said the problem wasn’t ignorance but indifference.

“I don’t think it’s so much lack of knowledge of the rules. It’s not caring about the rules,” Matthiesen said. “We’ve become such an aggressive, disrespectful society.”

Driving in DC has me so frazzled that I would indeed welcome driver-less cars:

The benefits of driverless cars are potentially significant. The typical American spends an average of roughly 100 hours a year in traffic; imagine using that time in better ways — by working or just having fun. The irksome burden of commuting might be lessened considerably.

The driverless car is illegal in all 50 states. Google, which has been at the forefront of this particular technology, is asking the Nevada legislature to relax restrictions on the cars so it can test some of them on roads there. Unfortunately, the very necessity for this lobbying is a sign of our ambivalence toward change. Ideally, politicians should be calling for accelerated safety trials and promising to pass liability caps if the cars meet acceptable standards, whether that be sooner or later. Yet no major public figure has taken up this cause.

Further points by Tyler Cowen:

… it is an interesting question why there is no popular movement to encourage driverless cars. Commuting costs are very high and borne by many people. (Here is Annie Lowery on just how bad commutes can be.) You can get people to hate plastic bags, or worry about a birth certificate, but they won’t send a “pro-driverless car” postcard to their representatives. The political movement has many potential beneficiaries but few natural constituencies. (Why? Does it fail to connect to an us vs. them struggle?) This is an underrated source of bias in political outcomes.

… This isn’t a column about driverless cars at all. It’s about our ambivalent attitudes toward major innovations. It’s also about how the true costs of regulation are often hidden. A lot of potentially good innovations never even reach our eyes and ears as concepts, much less realities. They don’t have tags comparable to that of the driverless car.

Thursday, May 26, 2011


It is strange how the mind ascribes more relevance to certain events than it perhaps should. A few weeks ago, we narrowly avoided a crash on the way to school. A car travelling at perhaps 30 or 40 miles an hour ran through a red light and out of the corner of my eye I saw it and stopped just in time (as did the car in the lane next to me) only to see it T-bone into a car two lanes away. We were on our way to school and it was relatively early in the morning and K1 and K2 seemed to be unaffected by it. (They talked about it for about 5 minutes and K2 laughed because the sudden stop sent her breakfast to the floor of the car.)

Amazingly, this happened again yesterday at a different intersection. Only K2 was with me on the way home from school and all she said was 'Woah!' A Honda CRV blew threw a red light at perhaps 35-40 mph and hit a Prius that was in front of us. The driver of the Prius saw the CRV and tried to stop but not before he was hit on the front end. The force of the collision knocked his front bumper off and spun the CRV around. This happened right in front of a DCPD police cruiser which was stopped at the light. In both cases, neither driver attempted to stop or slow down - it looked as though they weren’t even aware that the light was red or that there was an intersection.

These events made me wonder if I should take this as a sign that it is time to move on - that these close shaves were too close for comfort. Realistically, this is not an option because of M’s job. But why should I even see these as signs? Is this the age old desire to try to make sense of events around us, to impose order on chaos? The other way to see these events as a sign is that perhaps someone is looking out for us, and that I should just sit back and enjoy the ride.

Monday, May 16, 2011

What does an organization in disarray mean?

The BBC reported the following today:

The arrest of Dominique Strauss-Kahn over charges of sexual assault has thrown the International Monetary Fund (IMF) into disarray.

What does it mean for an organization to be in disarray? Or in turmoil? If I were to walk by the IMF today would I see the signs of disarray? Or turmoil (or whatever word the press chooses to describe)? Disarray means disorder or confusion, which in an organizational setting would mean that the IMF does not really know how to act or acts erratically.

If the press describes an organization as being in turmoil or in disarray can an employee of that organization also make the same claim? “Geez, boss I can’t really work today because our company is in disarray.”

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The future of book retailing?

The demise of our neighborhood Borders made me wonder if there was any future for bricks and mortar bookstores, and if there were a future what does it look like? I lament its demise - I enjoy bookstores because it allows me to browse. Somehow, it is not quite the same as browsing on Amazon. Yet, my enjoyment has been significantly curtailed of late as I lack the time to browse and perhaps the decline of bookstores has less to do with the Internet than the lack of time in our hurried lives.

The future of bricks and mortar bookstores is not in the big cities where we are in a hurry to find what we want and get the heck out of there, when we lack the patience of standing in lines and finding a book serendipitously or to chat with those in line with us. The future of bookstores is when we find ourselves in places where we do have time to do all these things - browse, enjoy the company of strangers or of those who share our interest in the same book genre, sipping coffee while flipping through pages. It is summer again (or perhaps winter or fall) when we find ourselves in a vacation spot. The future of book retailing is in vacation towns and is seasonal just like our lives and is perhaps just a hobby. Or, then again, perhaps not. (It’s been awhile since we’ve been back to MDI and the Port in a Storm bookstore and now we won’t be able to do that again.)