The Impact of Self-Driving Cars


Copyright Ed and Eddie (Creative Commons)

While many of us would like self-driving cars to relieve us of the hassles and complaints about driving, have you thought about what impact self-driving cars would have on society?

Here are just a few of the things that could theoretically come out of wide spread adoption of self-driving cars:

  • Loss of city revenue.  Many larger cities rely upon traffic tickets to bolster city coffers.  There is a small town in the US where over 90% of its revenue is as a result of traffic tickets for people that speed through its jurisdiction.  Self-driving cars could drive at the speed limit and take away that revenue.
  • Fewer automotive repair shops.  If self-driving cars are safer, and there is no reason to think that they wouldn’t be, there would be fewer accidents.  With fewer accidents there would be fewer repair shops around to fix the accidents.
  • Fewer large automobile manufacturers.  If self-driving cars don’t get into accidents there would be fewer reasons to buy a new car.  You thought the automotive manufacturers were having a problem a number of years ago?  Just wait as boutique car manufacturers become all the rage.  If you are going to own a single car for a decade you want it to be what you want so the mass produced car will fade away as boutique manufacturers build custom ordered cars.
  • Automobile cooperatives.  Uber, but for families and other groups.  If my car will self-drive, it could drop me off at work and go home to take my wife shopping.  Or perhaps a group of people share the expense of a car and they book time with their own vehicle using a tool like Uber.
  • Taxi companies go under.  If you have a self-driving car, why not just add it to the CarPool and other people can use it while you are at work, or sleeping.  Much like Uber, but completely automated.
  • Long haul truckers go under. The companies that do long haul trucking will not go under, but who needs a human that has to rest every ten hours when you can automate the driving and get goods delivered faster and cheaper.

If you think about it a self-driving car is just more than an automobile that doesn’t require a human to go from point A to point B, it is a fundamental shift in how North American society has oriented itself around the car.  It is theoretically, one of the biggest shifts in society that we have ever experienced, or will ever experience.

What is a browser?

web browsers

Copyright Sean MacEntee (Creative Commons)

Ask yourself this question:  what is a browser?

And now watch this video from April 30, 2009 where very few people understood the difference between a browser and a search engine.  Do you think that this would change if the same question was asked today?  Another video from 2009 answers the question of what is a browser.

To be honest, while I think the number of people who could answer that question properly would probably go up, I’m not sure that it is as high as it should be.  (OK, the guy that uses AOL is never going to get it so let’s not go there.)

As a society there is a tendency for us to use technology without actually understanding technology.  And, I guess in some respects that isn’t all that bad.  People don’t know how a car actually works, but they can drive one.  They may not know how an FM radio works, but they can still listen to music / sports / talk.  At some point the technology becomes so familiar and commonplace that how it works fades into the background.

People photocopy things all the time but probably never realize the technology that goes into the end product.  A smartphone contains technology which would have cost millions 25 years ago and yet people carry it around in their pocket, or purse on their belt.  They don’t need to know how the technology works, just how to use it.

Unfortunately, I think that is a detriment in the IT business.  The people who know to build things the best have a deep understanding of the technology so that they know the ramifications of their decisions.  They know the trade offs that need to be made in order for the correct decision to rise to the top.

When I went to school we learned how a mainframe worked so that when we developed applications for the mainframe we knew the impact of our choices.  Developing for the PC?  I built a number of computers from the ground up, understanding what pieces were required for each task so that I knew how my choices would affect the overall system.  Based upon that knowledge I knew how different application designs would behave.  Building for the web?  The same deal.  If you know how things work you can build better applications.

Subscription or Purchase?

Copyright epSos .de (Creative Commons)

Software vendors want you to subscribe to their software rather than buy it.  It’s purely a money grab on their part, but is it a good deal on your part?

Adobe was the first large company to switch from a purchase orientation to a rental orientation.  (OK, people can argue that Oracle switched before that and IBM has always been that way, but that’s not the point of this rant, so hang on to those thoughts.  Thank you.)

Adobe did some research on the topic before they entered the rental market and what their research told them was that people did not always upgrade their Adobe products in a timely manner.  Indeed, most people skipped at least one version and many skipped two versions before upgrading.  With releases every two years that meant that Adobe would see money from a customer in one year and then not again until four or even six years later.  If you depend on people giving you money then model kind of sucks.

Enter in the Adobe Creative Cloud.  Instead of paying $2500 for a suite of Adobe tools you can pay $30 per month (existing customers) and get the entire Adobe lineup.  $20 a month gets you a single app whereas you would normally pay $700 for Photoshop.  So who benefits?

Well, Adobe gets a more consistent income.  They can come out with versions faster, incrementally improving the product instead of trying the big bang approach.

Users have a much smaller price tag to pay all at once.  While it is cheaper in the short term it works out to be more expensive in the long term.  The more Adobe tools you use, however, the more advantageous it is for you so that if you are an Adobe fan boy … it is most definitely cheaper.

And, let’s not forget, if you start using more tools and become an Adobe evangelist then more people will take a look at Adobe (wow, look at that low price of entry!) and perhaps get a subscription themselves.  I have to admire Adobe as I believe with their current plans they have hit the right price point with the market.

So, who else is doing this?  Darn near everyone wants the rental market.  Software as a service is the rental market, but many of these companies never really sold their software in the first place, so they don’t have the same marketing power and customer base to capitalize on.  Of the big players many have realized that a little bit of money from a lot of people is the key to success.  Microsoft’s Visual Studio online is an example of a change from Microsoft.  For $45 per month you can get Visual Studio Online Professional, essentially the Professional version of the VS toolset with TFS in the backend, or you can pay $667 to buy it outright.  If you only need it for a couple of months, you rent the tools.  Microsoft is willing to bet that you will want to stick with the tools once you try them.

The ability to add/remove subscription licenses makes things much more flexible for an organization that fluctuates in size or fluctuates in technology use.  And, while it makes some things easier, that ease of use does come with a cost.

So, is it better to subscribe or buy?  For me personally, it all depends on how mad my wife would be if I bought it versus rented it.  (By the way, Adobe has an excellent Education program.  Thank goodness my daughter is going to be in school for at least another five years!!!!)

Why does my phone run out of power?

Low battery

Copyright Tom Raftery (Creative Commons)

One of the most common complaints from people is why their <insert electronic device here> runs out of power so fast.  If we are building faster computers, higher density displays, better 3G/4G/LTE devices, why can’t my battery last longer?

For comparison purposes, let’s take a look at the battery on an Apple iPhone.  When the iPhone was originally introduced it packed 1400 mAh of power into it’s little case.  The iPhone 6 has 1810 mAh of power.  The power increase isn’t that large, considering that there are six years between models, but the most notable thing is what that power has to do.

The biggest consumer of power is probably going to be the screen.  The touchscreen on an iPhone has gone from 320×480 pixels (153,600 pixels or 460,800 subpixels) to 1334×750 (1,000,500 pixels or 3,001,500 subpixels).  There are over six times the number of pixels that need to be powered and yet Apple has managed to increase the battery life of the iPhone.  Originally introduced with “8 hours of talking” it has gone up to “14 hours of talking”.

The processor on the iPhone has gone from a single Samsung RISC chip running at 620MHz to phone with a dual core ARM 1.4GHz and a quad core GPU.  Six processors in the phone.

So, the number of processors has gone up by a factor of six.  The number of pixels on the screen has gone up by a factor of six.  Power density of the battery?  It has gone up 80%.  Yup, it hasn’t even doubled while everything else on the iPhone has gone up by a factor of six.

It appears that the biggest problem is the fact that power is stored and released through a series of chemical reactions.  While we have optimized our use of the existing king of chemical reactions (Lithium-ion) we need to step beyond Li-ion to find our successor.  Li-imide technology, which can use silicon anodes instead of graphite anodes, looks like a good contender for an evolutionary step as it greatly increases capacity and decreases recharge time.  (As an aside, did you know that Li-ion cells, when exposed to heat, decompose into hydroflouric acid?  Never store Li-ion batteries in the oven.)

So, while we may be able to charge cell phones from 5 meters away until we change the battery from Li-ion to something else – Li-imide? – we are limited in how long we can use our smartphones before we need to recharge.