March 26th, 2018

How little is still too much?

5,736 pedestrians were killed in traffic crashes in USA in 2015. That is 15 people killed every day walking the roads.
37,461 people were killed in traffic crashes overall in USA in 2016. That is 102 people killed every day being on the roads. Additional (staggering) 2M+ were injured or permanently disabled.

There is nothing in the constitution, the bill of rights or the other amendments that guarantees an inalienable right for citizens, residents and other individuals to possess and operate a steel box at speeds that simply do not match our abilities to react in time to whatever may happen on the road at any given moment.

And yet, there is no public uproar. There are no petitions. There are no mass walkouts. There are no social media hashtags. There are no somber politicians sending thoughts and prayers. There is no government agency combing the aftermath of every single crash that resulted in a fatality to make sure that something like that won’t ever happen again.

Nobody gets in the car weighing their chances and deciding that yes, that trip to see their favorite team playing some other team is certainly worth the chance to die today.

Imagine getting on the plane knowing that there’s a decent chance that you’re not going to make it to your destination. Imagine a passenger plane crash happening every four days. Taking 400 lives. Twice a week or so. Because that is what is happening on the roads in this country. And every other country. More than 1.25 million people die every year world wide as a result of road traffic crashes.

And yet, there is no anger towards some kind of an organization that promotes the interests of big car manufacturers. Nobody is thinking to ostracize their friends for buying that shiny new car that can accelerate from 0 to 100 faster than ever before. There are no voices calling to raise the minimum driving age for bigger SUVs to, let’s say 21.

And here is where it gets really difficult. If self-driving / majorly-assisted technology could bring those numbers down, but not quite to zero, what would be deemed acceptable? Setting aside the juicy lawsuit targets and the initial wave of breathless headlines and rhetoric of the last few days, how little is still too much?

What happens when it’s no longer the weak excuse of “it’s fine because it was this frail human who lost their concentration for a second”? What happens when we are talking about machines of unimaginable complexity hurtling ever faster down our roads, as they take human lives on the monthly, weekly, daily or even hourly basis?

The advocates of fully self-driving future seem to never quite talk about this, pretending that somehow everything is going to be peachy and there are not going to be any human lives lost from some point going forward into eternity. This week is a rude wake-up call to regroup and start thinking about this ugly side of mass ground transportation.

September 2nd, 2017

DragonCon 2017 parade highlights

As usual, DragonCon comes to Atlanta over the Labor Day weekend. These are my personal highlights from the opening parade this year.

January 10th, 2017


Sometimes, as my laptop’s fans kick in during a particularly long build, I find myself gazing away from the screen, letting my eyes roam around my desk, losing their focus and slipping into daydreaming.

I find myself thinking about how, just twenty short years ago, one of the obviously expected cables sneaking their way into one of the oversized ports was the bulky Ethernet monstrosity. I think about how seamless and pervasive WiFi has become in my daily life, and how unremarkably smooth that transition has been. Unlike, say, a variety of clunkily unreliable wireless keyboards and mice that I’ve tried over the years. Every laptop that I’ve had in the last decade, at work and at home, always had a wonderfully ungainly cable snaking around, connected to my trusty companion, a two-button mouse. As unremarkable and as ever-present as its eponymous rodent friend.

Despite the soothingly persistent promises of all-day battery life, if I don’t plug my laptop into a nearby power outlet, it can barely plow through playing a two hour 1080p movie. Or doing about an hour of edit-compile-deploy-debug cycles. Or pretty much anything that is not browsing Craigslist. And sometimes, you have to use the right power adapter because some of them do not give you enough juice to even keep up with those long build breaks that happen every now and then. I don’t know if I should laugh or cry. Or maybe both at the same time. So there’s another, slightly less ungainly cable, snaking around. They say color white elevates any hardware design. So I guess it has to be not as ungainly.

I once lost about half a day trying to configure a wireless printer to actually behave as it so boldly promised on its box. To be wireless. It’s there now, in my basement. Snaking around yet another ungainly cable into my laptop. Actually strike that. There are not even enough ports in my laptop for that. So now there’s a box that sits right next to my laptop, with Tron-esque blue LED lights for each plugged cable that indicate that yes, everything that is connected is indeed that. Connected.

If Bluetooth were running in 2016 presidential elections in US, it might prove a very formidable post-truth opponent to our president elect. This time is for real, the working group promises me every time they release a new major version of their spec. This time is for real, whispers the little ghost that calls itself the desktop variant of Linux. Wait, is this for real, whispers Leonardo Di Caprio hearing his name at 2016 Oscars. So there goes another cable sneaking into my laptop, pumping the soothing melodies of Americana folk into my ears.

I watch yet another futuristic video from yet another company that decided to spend some money on exploring the wild. Every surface is screen. Every surface is input. People are congregating around tables, playing some kind of air hockey with rectangles of data. It looks like they are having fun. At work. How rude.

And I find myself daydreaming. That I come to work and I don’t need to wave my badge to tell the system that it’s me. Because when I come back home, my kids know that it’s me. Without me typing in my 20-character long password with at least three special characters in the middle and then telling them some random piece of secret information. So random that you would probably be able to find it in five minutes or so if you knew where to look on one of the social networks.

I daydream that anything I place on my desk gets charged without me having to put it in just the right spot and then do mental gymnastics on what’s the next piece of hardware that gets to be charged to make it through the day. I daydream that I don’t have a single cable on my desk. Around my desk. Or under my desk. I daydream that if the mythical they were able to do that to the network and make it almost as reliable as the slowly dying landline phone network, they can surely do that to the rest of the things that make a computer what it is today. This time is for real, whisper the shadow apparitions from the just-concluded CES.

I daydream of watching a sci-fi movie with an iPod, a phone and an Internet communicator that doesn’t show any signal strength indicator or any battery indicator. Because those are always on and at full value. Because it gets boring after a while to see that your signal is at five bars and your battery is at 100%. Wouldn’t that be something? When something becomes so ubiquitous that you tell these stories to your kids and they roll their eyes and say, sure pops, you stood in a line for two hours just to buy ten rolls of toilet paper. But wait, I tell them, that was actually a thing. Sometimes you joined a line and waited without knowing what was on the other side. Because that’s what you do. Sure pops, they say.

And then the silence settles in. The fans are not spinning anymore. The build is done. I should probably get back to work. I gaze at the cables. They have been my people for a long time now. I have boxes of them in my basement office. I never throw away a cable. You never know when you might need one. You never know.

September 19th, 2016

DragonCon 2016 parade highlights

As usual, DragonCon comes to Atlanta over the Labor Day weekend. These are my personal highlights from the opening parade this year.

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