This has been an absolute crazy few weeks and I can hardly keep my eyes open, but I can’t go to sleep without putting up something resembling a Friday News Digest since it has been way too long since the last one. Same with the podcast. Ugh.
One great thing about having Jim Kumon on the team (and there are many) is that he makes really good use of my time on the road. When I planned my own trips, they were about 25% productive with a lot of down time. With Jim, I’m going continuously now. This means I’m meeting a lot more people, sharing our message with more and larger audiences and really maximizing the time I’m on the road, but it also means that I’m dead beat at the end of each day, not to mention the brief times I’ve been home over the past five weeks.
Today I’m in Texas doing a brief presentation in Frisco before heading to Garland tomorrow, getting caught up with my friends at Verdunity in between. When I get home late Saturday, that will be it for traveling for a week and a half. So, I’m promising to unleash a lot of thoughts I’ve not been able to write about – seriously, I have a long list – and I have a number of podcasts scheduled to be recorded, so we’ll get back on schedule there. Thanks for the patience.
And now some brief news.
- This week I was in Washington DC taking part in a forum by the Washington Post called America Answers. The Post’s version of “America” and mine are a little different, but I’ll talk about that more thoroughly in an upcoming podcast. For those of you that emailed or messaged me kind words after my (frustrating) presentation, thank you. The clicker they gave me just before I went on stage did not advance my slides but instead activated a light that was supposed to cue someone in to advance my slides, something I didn’t know until just before I went on. Since my slides were so tightly timed and I was only given five minutes, the entire thing was messed up from the start. What a mess. I’m going to give you the highlights on an upcoming podcast, but if you’d like to watch it for yourself, you can do that here.
- The piece I wrote last week on the American Conservative (The Conservative Case Against the Suburbs) blew up and was shared thousands of times around the interwebs. Again, thanks for all the kind feedback and especially for those that shared it. Just yesterday I received a rebuttal, of sorts, and found it depressingly lacking in substance. See if you agree.
Both Bess and Marohn appear to be geeked-up about urbanism because it gives more latitude for the bureaucrat and the meddler to conform the world to their conceptions of the good. We already have an American political tradition that stands for that proposition; do we really need another?
- One of the more interesting things from the America Answers was the guy working on the Google car. He seemed like a really nice, very smart man and obviously the technology is fascinating, but I’m a long ways from being convinced – like many of you seem to want to be – that this is anything more than a wishful thought. The complexity of human thought, intuition and perception is so incredibly difficult to replicate. Maybe will we someday, but I don’t see it happening in the next five years as the Google car people suggesting it will. Incidentally, Slate weighed in with similar thoughts this week.
The Google car doesn’t know much about parking: It can’t currently find a space in a supermarket lot or multilevel garage. It can't consistently handle coned-off road construction sites, and its video cameras can sometimes be blinded by the sun when trying to detect the color of a traffic signal. Because it can't tell the difference between a big rock and a crumbled-up piece of newspaper, it will try to drive around both if it encounters either sitting in the middle of the road. (Google specifically confirmed these present shortcomings to me for the MIT Technology Review article.) Can the car currently "see" another vehicle's turn signals or brake lights? Can it tell the difference between the flashing lights on top of a tow truck and those on top of an ambulance? If it's driving past a school playground, and a ball rolls out into the street, will it know to be on special alert? (Google declined to respond to these additional questions when I posed them.)
Every unfinished piece of technology—every prototype, which is what the Google car is—has plenty of items to check off on its to-do list. But the biggest issue with the Google car is one that has bedeviled computer researchers for as long as computers have been around: how to endow the machines with the sort of everyday knowledge that humans acquire and use from childhood on. Because Google is promising the world a totally driverless car, it will need an in-vehicle computer that can deal not only with all the obvious tasks of driving but anything else the world throws at it, whether on a congested city street or a highway with an 85 mph speed limit.
- We are years into a stock market boom and people have been trying to convince us for some time that housing is back as strong as ever, yet there is this little persistent problem of equity that still seems way out of whack.
According to a report released Thursday by RealtyTrac, 15% of U.S. properties (representing 8.1 million properties) with a mortgage are seriously underwater — meaning the homeowner owes at least 25% more than the estimated market value of the property. This is down from 17% of mortgaged properties in the second quarter of this year and the lowest rate since the company began tracking negative equity in the first quarter of 2012. The highest percentage of homes that are seriously underwater were those bought during the housing bubble in 2006 (40% of homes bought in 2006 are still seriously underwater), 2007 (35%) and 2005 (32%) in particular.
- If you have not read Jared Diamond’s book Collapse (or really, all of his books), now is the right time. You’ll understand that what is going on today in drought stricken California is not only predictable, but has happened time and again for thousands of years. It won’t happen to us….said every society where this happened throughout history.
Donna Johnson's tap went dry in June. Since then she's been trying to help neighbors connect with help from the county and the state. She began making door-to-door deliveries of water donated by charities and such supplies as hand sanitizer – often in withering 100-degree heat.
“I saw all these people who couldn’t take a shower: kids, pregnant women,” the 72-year-old said.
- Finally, if you haven’t read Collapse, put that on the top of your list. One of the best ever. If you have, there are a couple of other books I’ve read recently that I want to pass along. Zero Night is the true story of a massive breakout from a German POW camp in World War II. It is particularly interesting since it highlights the heroic efforts of Jock Hamilton-Baillie, the father of our friend, the shared-space expert, Ben Hamilton-Baillie. I’d also recommend The Map that Changed the World by Simon Winchester which is a really compelling story of William Smith and how he changed the course of history by essentially founding the entire study of geology.
Take care, everyone. Have a fun weekend. I’ll be back here on Monday and we’ll hit it hard.