Modern Car Feedback and Reckless Driving

The standard human driver is just…bad. There’s unintentional bad (not a day goes by that the local news doesn’t report that some old fuck drove into a building!) There’s negligent bad (always cellphone-related.) And of course there’s always been asshole bad (the college kids are starting to show up for the summer.)

I fully admit, too, that my driving edges into the unsafe, but only when I’m driving my wife’s vehicle. It’s easy to drive, but I think it’s too easy, and this presents a problem. In it, I speed much more and give less thought to smooth velocity changes. It’s not intentional.

So recently, as I was driving my 2003 Honda Accord home, stopped at a stop sign, then turned left towards an oncoming and very new-looking KIA Pinchoff or whatever, whose driver communicated their objection to my maneuver with a long series of horn blasts, I had a moment of self-reflection and pondered the state of modern driving.

This isn’t you

Well, first I yelled “Fuck you!” and flashed the birdie, as is the only proper response. Then I admit that I felt a little sheepish…at first. I’ll take blame for an honest mistake, but then I considered that the KIA had been moving so fast that it wasn’t there when I first checked. In the time between when I looked in that direction (for a second time after looking to the right), and then shifted my gaze back towards my front, it had cleared the bend in the road and closed the 50 yard distance to the intersection I had since creeped into – a feat not possible at 25mph, which is why speed limits exist. (They’re not just there to be annoying. It’s a calculated velocity which, when followed, is the fastest one should be driving in order to avoid losing control of the vehicle or hitting someone else on the road who wouldn’t have been able to react in time. Going faster increases the risk. Of course we all push the boundaries, but a residential street that winds around probably isn’t the best place to play Dominic Toretto. (Also not when you bought a lame-ass KIA Pinchoff).)

Anyway, between this encounter and my own self-reflection on my different driving styles between the two vehicles I drive, I’ve come to a conclusion: Modern vehicles encourage bad driving by making driving too easy and seemingly less dangerous. And it comes down to vehicular feedback. Modern vehicles overly disconnect the driver from the act of driving. Here’s some examples:

  • My car uses older hydraulic-assisted power steering. It requires more effort to turn the wheel than the Ascent, and so feels like a heavier machine in comparison. This nudges me to treat it as bigger, more dangerous, and unwieldy when it’s objectively less so compared to the Ascent. The Ascent uses drive-by-wire electric motors to transfer user input to the steering system, and takes very little effort. Consequently, I’m tricked into believing the Ascent is lighter and more sporty than it really is, and it doesn’t transfer the feel of the road conditions to my hands, and so my steering becomes more aggressive. (It also necessitates a much smaller steering wheel, so in further mockery of Mr. Pinchoff above, you can’t possible feel saturated with testosterone when also maneuvering your Pinchoff with a bagel.)
  • My car uses an antilock breaking system. When I lose traction, this kicks in and provides me tactile and audible feedback, which is somewhat unnerving especially when at high speed. This prompts me to drive slower and more cautiously in adverse weather conditions. The Ascent uses all-wheel-drive electronic breaking stabilization. If I lose traction, this system automatically adjusts breaking and torque for each wheel. There’s very little chance of spinning out. In fact, I don’t know if I ever really have lost traction when driving it. And so, the complete lack of feedback gives me no prompt to drive more cautiously. (I think the dashboard makes a small ding, maybe?)
  • My car uses a classic automatic transmission. When I tax the engine, the shift points and their timing in my acceleration give me a clear indication of how much torque, and therefore how much tire grip, I’m experiencing. The Ascent uses a constant variable transmission which lacks definitive gears, so apart from the tachometer, I don’t feel the engine strain. Ergo, I’ll less inclined to let off the gas with the Ascent since I don’t know that I might be compromising the engine and vehicle control.

In short, my Accord gives me a very visceral driving experience, and through this greater connectedness, I have a greater respect for its power and, more importantly, a heightened fear of what might go wrong if I get too aggressive.

The Ascent gives me very little of this feedback. Much of the time, I only really feel the size and weight of the vehicle when trying to stop it from a high speed.

THIS is you

My conclusion is that maybe people aren’t intentionally driving worse, but instead it just seems that way because they’ve lost a material connection to the danger associated with piloting a motor vehicle, as a result of vehicle design seeking to enhance comfort and ease of use. Modern vehicles disconnect us from the potential consequences of driving.

But ultimately, no amount of safety feature enhancements will prevent all forms of the ultimate tactile driving experience: when your driving brings you to a sudden and complete standstill–violently. If there’s any PSA I’ll preach here at the end of my post, it’s just to remember that however disconnected you become from your driving experience, your body is still traveling at velocities that far exceed anything that evolution ever designed you for.

…And Toretto isn’t actually real. You can’t drive down the side of a dam, out-racing its collapse and ensuing tidal wave. Especially not in a KIA Pinchoff. (Also you’re a douche.)

–Simon

Is It Reading?

As I often quip, I’ve received much accusation that I was never a reader, by my mother, owner of a library of double-stacked bookshelves containing romance novels, which totally isn’t pornography, unlike, apparently, my father’s collection of annual Sport’s Illustrated: Swimsuit Edition magazines (she HATED those). I guess if it isn’t visual stimulation then it doesn’t count, which is good news considering my personal enjoyment of all those Literottica stories from the good ol’ days of the Internet. Had I stopped there, I might have been able to go to heaven after all.

And I’m not so arrogantly boastful that I’ll post my résumé as evidence of a contrarian opinion, but I don’t exactly maintain my socioeconomic position from my original read-free occupations: bagging dirt at a greenhouse and bussing tables; so normally I shrug off this odd perception of illiteracy. But naturally success, however moderate, will attract hate. Haters gonna hate hate hate, right? So it is that my Family of Origin* must find merit negations.

*(I discovered this term recently. It’s used to differentiate one’s family they spent childhood with from their current one. I like it, because I don’t consider the former group to be my family anymore, as it’s essentially been disbanded, and I’ve since started my own. Oh, and I found the term through reading, incidentally.)

So it was that my father joked about my presumed lack of mathematical skills. Or he did, until he caught on that I was taking a tally and timestamp every time he brought it up. Pity. I was going to use that in a Quantitative Philosophy post: Time to Math. Oh well.

And so it is that certain other members of my FOO bring up the reading bit, and it’s not just my mother. I overheard a snide comment from a phone conversation recently that made just this particular snipe at me again (it’s not wonder my daughter hesitates to answer calls when the caller inevitably insults her own father). But unlike the math bit, which has a base in actual personal struggles, I never quite got the illiteracy dig. Surely my FOO knows that I read to some extent or I wouldn’t be able to function in my daily occupation, but apparently that doesn’t qualify as reading? I was therefore determined to build a logic tree that determines what is considered reading, which in their minds I’m not doing, based upon all the reading they’re apparently doing that actually counts as reading. Here goes:

  1. Is the medium paper? If yes, then proceed to question 2. If no, proceed to question 4.
  2. Is the content in novel form (printouts/PDFs don’t count)? If yes, then proceed to question 3. If no, then proceed to question 6.
  3. Is the content technical in nature? If no, then this counts as reading. If yes, then this does not count as reading.
  4. Was the content in its original form paper (e.g. now in ebook format)? If no (e.g. news articles, blogs), proceed to question 5. If yes, then go to question 2.
  5. Is the content related to your occupation? If no, then this does not count as reading. If yes then go to question 6.
  6. Is your job academia or are you working a job based on an advanced STEM degree? If yes, then this counts as reading. If no, then this does not count as reading.

After thinking it through, I found it’s easily distilled down to 2 scenarios. Reading is only reading if the text is:

  • On paper in novel form, but the content cannot be related to knowledge gain unless your job is in academia or are you working a job based on an advanced STEM degree. Or…
  • In any other form of media besides paper, but only if the original text was in novel form or if your job is in academia or you are working a job based on an advanced STEM degree.

Observant readers will have noticed some implications. Here’s my psychological take on how my FOO defines reading:

  • My job is more important than yours and more difficult, I’m sure, so any reading I do is important, unlike yours, and therefore qualifies as reading while whatever it is that you “read” doesn’t.
  • I have an insecurity and when I can’t justify the importance of my own existence I turn a leisure activity into an intellectual one in my own mind.
  • Either or both of the above.

So what’s the answer? Well, in my case, it’s to have fewer conversations with my FOO and answer the phone less. But in a broader sense, it does raise some societal questions. Intellectual snobbery aside, what is “reading” in that the consumed content is literature or “higher” information? That’s a question that warrants significant debate beyond individual opinion. It’s a question that needs the involvement of educators and policy-makers alike.

As a final outtake, here’s a related article I stumbled upon after writing this. I wanted to know how others have thought this through. Excluding the personal irritations with family, I’m certainly not alone in the pursuit of discovering what true reading actually is (even though reading this article isn’t true reading as per the above outlined criteria):

https://medium.com/@bbayless15/what-counts-as-literacy-and-for-whom-510b073a402e

(I know, it’s Medium. But that also betrays my own prejudice against defining sources whose content consumption qualifies as reading.)

Myself, I’ll just talk to family less.

–Simon

Calvin and Hobbes – Publication Edits, 1

Every couple years I like to read through my copy of The Complete Calvin and Hobbes series. As a 90s kid, it has nostalgic appeal. And as an adult now, re-reads always offer little bits of sophistication that I missed before. Good times all around.

But on my last read, I noticed subtle variances in the dialog handwriting occasionally. I never really gave it much thought, but I couldn’t let it go. So I decided to do a cross-reference with internet publications and sure enough, I noticed a dialog change. As I’m in the midst of another re-read, I’ll document these as I go. Here’s the first one I found:

January 7, 1987

From The Complete Calvin and Hobbes collection. I took this photo.

(As this site is not monetized, I consider posting these to qualify under the Fair use doctrine of copyright law. The website in reference also indicates their own reprint was with the publisher’s permission.)

A common “insult” I remember at this time was indeed telling siblings that they were adopted, so period-wise, this wouldn’t have raised an eyebrow. I suppose that for sensitivity’s sake, the publisher made an edit. Personally, I can’t say that I like this. For one, it’s changing history, and that practice creates cultural lies. And two, I didn’t see anywhere in the introduction that these edits were disclosed, which makes this a borderline falsely-advertised product.

Also, “genetically engineered”? That wasn’t really so ubiquitous in public knowledge back then. And the human genome wasn’t fully sequenced until the 2000s. The text substitution isn’t a good choice.

At least the mystery of the handwriting has be solved. I’ll post more if I find them. I recall there being more than one instance.

–Simon

Hot Dogs

Humor is how we deal with the horrific.

We went to see the traveling Pompeii exhibit which made its way to the Cincinnati Union Terminal museum. I had seen many of the statues before in magazines and documentaries, but it was certainly more powerful to experience firsthand. Some of the victims had definitely died under varying degrees of agony. Baked and suffocated. Doesn’t sound pleasant. I didn’t find it appropriate to take photos.

But I did still take one of the dog.

And then I thought: this looks an awful lot like a whippet. And whippets are perpetually cold. My own whippet in fact recently cooked herself in front of the fireplace until patches of fur fell out. That’s some desperation.

So if there’s one shred of happiness from this tragic event, it’s that a whippet finally managed to get warm enough. It’s how Poppy would have chosen to go.

–Simon

Pedestrianism

I live in the suburbs, yes. I admit this. I prefer the concept of a townhouse. Well, actually I fantasize about a square house containing a courtyard, like a small castle, with limited exterior windows and minimal property line setback. Within, I could maintain a garden devoid of deer and neighbor pets’ defecations.

But Americans’ infatuation with the lawn prohibits such designs. And let us be clear: the lawn has nothing to do with public aesthetics. The American lawn is a public display of affluence. Feast thine eyes on my biological wasteland – flawlessly maintained with unsustainable irrigation and carcinogenic compounds. And don’t you dare walk on it! I will cut your bitch-ass! Look at it and feel sad at your pathetic existence, devoid of the opportunity to take pressurized public water that’s been sanitized for human consumption and spray it haphazardly upon a carpet of plants that offers nothing in return aside from smugness and some erosion control.

Alas but I cannot humble myself to your financial superiority, for if I’m required to traverse your neighborhood, I must also abide by the American infatuation with cars, for you have denied me the option needed to worship you: the ability to safely walk past your stupid fucking lawn – sidewalks.

Why did we go so far as to worship private greenspace but stop short of letting the proletariat masses see it? I’m guessing for the same reasons that we have gated communities, and that reason is: “Fuck you!” I’ll unzip my pants to allow you the privilege of pleasuring me, but first you have to beg me for the opportunity.

Vulgarities aside, I think this is pretty close to the American public ethos. We’d rather risk the lives of loved ones than allow an undesirable to conveniently walk through our neighborhoods.

And in this country, public transportation doesn’t count. If you’re riding the bus, you’re of the same social class.

So I ask: Why do we hate pedestrians so much?

Obviously, it’s because we love a hierarchical system when we’re on the top of that hierarchy. Punching down is universally human – not solely an American concept. But as Americans, this is one way we love to do so.

Think I’m exaggerating?

As an involuntary pedestrian myself for 22 years, I’ll cite some examples to prove my point. And as a bonus, rate their perceived level of asocial behavior:

  • Lack of sidewalks. Doing some internet sleuthing, I was surprised to discover that this wasn’t simply a cost-saving measure. The government, despite the general contempt for it, is actually looking out for the public’s safety in most cases. In this instance, I discovered that housing developers actually pay exemption fees to avoid installing sidewalks in their communities. I’m sure this varies by locality and various ordinances, but that it happens at all is very telling. And I think we’re all aware that in the American goods economy, costs are just passed to the consumer, so either way, the developer would either charge for the sidewalk or for the fee. But they choose the fee because it’s easier and no one moving into the community apparently sees the lack of sidewalks as a dealbreaker. The government is trying to help us and instead we collectively say no. And as a result, there’s almost nowhere safe to walk. Verdict: passive-aggressive indifference.
  • Hellstrip use. You know that strip of grass between the sidewalk and the street, assuming your neighborhood actually has sidewalks? I always wondered where the term came from, and it may be an archaic word, but some internet searching seems to agree that a plant nerd coined the phrase sometime in the 90s to denote a piece of land on which it’s difficult to grow things. I call bullshit on the definition, because I’ve never not seen one fully planted up, except by intent. In fact, I’ve often seen them planted with rather unfriendly botanical barriers – anywhere from yucca and cacti to blackberries. I should also note that the hellstrip isn’t actually owned by the adjacent house. The city owns it, but there’s a social contract that the homeowner maintain it. The homeowner seems to resent this arrangement, having to maintain public property that in their mind is technically their own property, all so that losers without cars can comfortably walk through. And god forbid the city decide to put a bus stop there. Could the homeowner be courteous enough to plant a shade tree? The bus stop by where I lived in highschool employed a slash-and-burn approach. And this was Ohio, so it’s not like plants couldn’t grow there. But no – the hellstrip by the sign was stripped of anything that could offer shade, and the ground was ripped up and replaced with gravel, interspersed with black volcanic rock to better absorb the heat and make walking hazardous. Even better, the homeowner would come out of his house if he saw me, and awkwardly tend to the “landscaping” next to me until the bus came. Jackass. Verdict: low intimidation, low aggression
  • But at least presumed property ownership is understandable, if not excusable. Sidewalk availability notwithstanding, I’ve been on the receiving end of more direct pedestrian-hating actions. At the more benign end of the spectrum, there’s the practice of honking horns while passing pedestrians. There’s also yelling, I guess to mix things up, after regular pedestrians learned to generally ignore car horns. Eventually, all forms of auditory aggressions fell into obsolescence with the ubiquitous adoption of iPods. Then I could just crank the volume until all I could hear was the soothing sounds of Metallica. Following this trend, hand-wringing evening news soundbites emerged claiming that iPods were a hazard and distraction, ignoring the fact that cars have radios with chronically-blasting music, not to mention that pedestrians are “surprisingly” very aware of their surroundings because the human animal has an innate survival instinct. But I doubt Peter Jennings ever had to walk anywhere. Verdict: low intimidation, medium aggression
  • Higher on the aggression scale is stalking. This is when a motorist follows you at the pace you’re walking. It’s an obvious intimidation tactic, because anyone actually trying to follow someone home would be more discreet. It does depend on context though. Walking home alone at night evokes a different level of caution as a simple afternoon stroll. Casually altering course to where a car can’t follow is the easiest fix, because that takes away their advantage: the car itself. Or just making an abrupt 180 and walking back, because then they have to awkwardly turn around. Or you can do what I did a couple times and confront the person directly, politely asking if they’re lost and need directions. That might not be the best idea now that everyone has a gun, but it worked for me in the past. Verdict: high intimidation, low aggression
  • Next up – feinting. If a motorist feels your presence in or next to a road is an offense, they may feint a collision. Being disadvantaged in the physical barrier department, the pedestrian is compelled to leap to safety, followed by much jeering on the motorist’s part. Sort of like a cowboy movie where the outlaw yells “Dance boy!” and begins shooting at their target’s feet. I find this to be one of the most common forms of motorist aggression, maybe because it’s easy and carries with it plausible deniability (“I was tired and drifted to the curb, officer. I swear.”) The pedestrian, meanwhile, had an adrenal dump and twisted an ankle. Verdict: high intimidation, medium aggression
  • And lastly, there’s the also common throwing things from a moving vehicle person. Paper wads, beer cans, gum, and spit are the more common projectiles, but there’s endless potential. In my sister’s case once, it was a bucket of water. The potential is endless, and with it carries a gauntlet of outcomes: discomfort to death. This is the only pedestrian-hating act that the news every reports on, because it has dramatic and measurably violent results. Verdict: low intimidation (since it’s a surprise attack), high aggression

Americans hate pedestrians and actively seek to marginalize, intimidate, and physically harm them, (and deny them options for safe non-vehicle transportation).

So for those who never had to walk further than your car, I’d ask for some more mindfulness. I know waiting an extra 20 seconds when someone trips the crosswalk signal is the worst experience imaginable, but maybe asocial aggression isn’t the best remedy for your temper.

Plus, you’re not the only one carrying a gun now. Something else to consider.

–Simon