Tuesday, April 19, 2011

There’s No App For This!

Over the last eight months, I have been completing my Education Degree in a city two counties over. I commute each day – 250 km per day, 1000 km each week for a grand total of 32 000 km by the time I am finished this summer. I spend a lot of time in my car. So as a result I tend to watch car commercials. I find new vehicles interesting. New gadgets, new models, new designs all peak my interest. But I think we have perhaps passed the zenith of human growth and are on the way back down.

Over the last eight months I have seen some fairly dumb stuff while driving. There are the people who text and drive. The ones who eat their breakfast on the way to wherever it is they are going. There is the woman who always seems to be doing her makeup when I see her at the stop light each morning. I even saw a guy shaving a few weeks ago. There was the car that passed me during a snow storm and the driver, who was talking on his phone, blew his horn at me for going too slow. (I guess driving 50kph in a snow storm where visibility was less than 100m was too slow!) All of these people need to budget some more time for themselves. By doing so, they will have more time to pay more attention to their driving. It seems that almost everyone behind the wheel of a car these days is doing something that would be more safely done somewhere else. I guess that's why the commercial I just saw hit close to home.

The ad in question was for a car that has proximity sensors that warn the driver when objects are too close to the car. This car also apparently parallel parks itself. You can see the reason for my assertion that we have reached as high as we can go. We have given up on creating good drivers. It has become too hard to teach people how to drive safely. We have apparently decided that it is easier to invest untold hundreds of thousands of dollars to invent, design and manufacture cars which do all of the things I was taught to do for myself in driver training. That proximity sensing when objects are too close feature—I've got that for free. It's called eyes which are imbedded in a head which swivels on the top of my neck. It works best when my ear is not attached to a cell phone! Parallel parking I learned through practice and using my built in proximity sensors.

If we spent less time with eating, chatting on the phone, personal grooming and actually paid attention to what we are doing, I predict that we wouldn't need this stuff at all. We would actually be able to drive.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Change of Attitude

Why is it that some attitudes and behaviours change fairly quickly and others hang on like stink on a skunk? With the coming of the spring and warmer temperatures, our attention will turn more and more to outdoor activities. With the coming of summer we will begin to see the UV index getting more press and we will all begin to slather ourselves with sunscreen. It wasn't so long ago that sunscreen was unknown and people more commonly used that wonderful old standby, suntan lotion.

When I speak of 'quickly' I don't mean over night or even several months. As with most things in our world, real change takes years. But in the vast scheme of things I'd say 15 years is pretty quick. In the late 1980s and early '90s I spent my summers working at a summer camp and people using suntan lotion while at the pool. In the three summers that I worked at camp, this use of suntan lotion turned into the use of sunscreen. That's fast. Granted, some people were probably using sunscreen earlier than that, but still… We changed our collective attitude in a matter of a few short years when it came to something that directly affected out health. When the damaging effects of UV radiation on the skin became known, everyone jumped on the sunscreen bandwagon.

Why then, when it comes to pollution, do we not have the same attitude? It affects not only our own lives, but all life on the planet. Just recently in the news we have had reports of oil spills, the debate over hydro fracturing, concerns over fresh water, tar sands debates – the list goes on and on. All of these things will directly affect our health. Have attitudes changed? Do we drive smaller cars and use less gasoline? Nope. In the case of the tar sands, the oil and gas industry has undertaken a re-branding campaign to rename the tar sands the oil sands. I guess it sounds better.

I think the problem becomes one of scale when it comes to the big pollution problems. What can we, as individuals, do to effect change on a large scale? Where do we start? How about on the small scale first? With the coming of spring and the anticipation of slathering ourselves with sunscreen, comes the melting of the snow that has accumulated over the long months of winter. As that snow melts we get to see the detritus that people have tossed out the window of their cars over the preceding months. What if we started by placing refuse in the proper receptacle? Recyclables in the blue bag, compost in the compost bin, and the remaining garbage in the garbage bag instead of along the side of the road. If we start to look after the little things, the attitude will eventually move up to the larger problems. If we're lucky it will happen just as quickly as the change from suntan lotion to sunscreen.

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Machines Have Won

First there was the cell phone. For millions and millions of people, a first line of communication and interaction between themselves and others. Then there was the internet with all kinds of social networking and virtual worlds in which people can lose themselves. Then Watson came along and won Jeopardy, beating the famed Ken Jennings. It seems that machines are taking over.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not a Luddite. I like technology as much as the next guy. I've got a computer, iPod, GPS, and any other number of gadgets. They all do their job extremely well. The one thing they can't do is think. All of these devices are only as good as the developers and programmers who put them together. Why is it then that we are slowly allowing them to take over our lives? I've seen people walk into light posts while texting and walking down the sidewalk. I've seen people get into accidents because they were talking on the phone. Now someone has spent three days in the woods because of a GPS device.

Here's what I don't understand – Was this person not driving the car? Who was making the decisions about where the car was going? Does this person have no common sense? As near as I can tell the person in question was travelling from point A to point B and relying on an in car GPS to get there. The road from this point A to point B is really straight forward. I've been on it. Basically follow the road signs and you will get where you are going. This person however allowed the GPS to take a route that led from a main highway to a secondary road to an unpaved and unplowed logging road where the car became stuck and where it remained for 3 days.

Here are my questions: Did you not notice the road signs directing you to your destination? Were you paying attention as each successive road became less and less passable? When did you let the machine take over activities (like thinking) better left to your brain?

I like machines and gadgets. They make my life easier and more enjoyable. I do not let them run my life though. They are tools which are only as good as the user and developer can make them. I use my own common sense and intuition to make my decisions. Apparently common sense is becoming less and less common.