Google news favouring stories about driverless cars?

+Andy Glew speculates about Google news favouring stories about driverless cars. All it takes is watching one of the car crash compilations on youtube to make you wonder why we even let people drive cars.

One interesting aspect to me is that there are situations where the laws of physics mean an accident is definitely going to happen - the kinetic energy has to go somewhere when you are less than the stopping distance away from other vehicles. What should the driverless cars do in that situation? For example it could try to keep the minimum number of vehicles involved, or the minimum number of people. Is it better to have fewer people hurt worse than more people hurt lighter? Full width of the vehicle collisions are better than partial width because there is more in the way to absorb the energy. Given the choice between hitting two vehicles should the one with better safety features/rating be the target?

Will cars start having something like TCAS as they do in aviation? When multiple cars have to move out the way to prevent an accident it provides a negotiation model. Will cars with drivers also have it?

It will become in everyone's interest to have cameras as black boxes (pretty much standard in Russia due to insurance fraud which is why so many videos come from there). In any crash where a driverless car is involved that car will need them to prove it wasn't at fault. And of course the 90% of drivers who think they are above average will want them to prove the driverless cars or other drivers were at fault.

Google Chrome To Phone extension

I've used the Google Chrome To Phone extension for two years now. In theory it is very simple - while on a page (or selected text) in desktop Chrome, press the button and the page/text show up instantly on your Android device. Behind the scenes it is using c2dm gcm and serves as a useful demo including source code.

In practise it isn't as good. The "instant" is sometimes instant, and sometimes never, and sometimes a random time period inbetween. Rebooting a device can result in over a month's worth of content all showing up at once. I also have more than one Android device (perils of being a developer) and in theory the url should be sent to all of them. Again it is very unreliable.

Today I finally got rid of the extension from Chrome and the app from my devices, switching to Pocket based on the recommendation of +Stephane Verdy . Looking good so far ...

My opinion matters (not)

A month ago Nielsen sent me a card explaining how they would call me on my landline in order to talk about TV ratings. Since I don't have any phone plugged in, I thought that would be the last I'd hear from them.

Much to my surprise a thick envelope came in the mail today. The next surprise was seeing 5 one dollar bills inside. Since mass marketers pull stunts with fake cheques all the time I expected them to be fake too, but they are real.

There is a diary they expect me to fill out for one week. It soon becomes clear that it isn't aimed at anyone who cut the cord and watches TV on DVD and the Internet. And really drilling down it finally dawned on me that they don't actually care what TV shows you watch - they are really trying to find out which TV adverts you watch. The answer to that is none, but there is no way to communicate that to them. At least I get 5 bucks. And sadly I won't be spending that week watching Firefly and Futurama.

My opinion matters


This arrived in the mail the other day. Finally they are going to include someone like me in extrapolating what people really watch. For a change Firefly and Futurama and did I mention Firefly will matter. The joke is on them as my "community" is far more Reddit and Hacker News than the people geographically around me.

But of course the joke is really on me and viewers of stuff I like. There is no phone on the line they will call. And I don't even have TV service, instead relying on DVDs I bought, Netflix sometimes, Hulu sometimes, links to Daily Show clips and anything I may accidentally see (on planes, hotel rooms, Youtube etc). Of course Nielsen don't measure anything remotely like this.

(It is a separate rant about how in this land of "free" competition I am forced to pay for a phone line I don't even use.)

How to be unpleasant to your customers

My local #honda dealer is a case study in how to make life unpleasant for customers. I'm talking about having to get your vehicle periodically serviced, a downside of owning a car. Throughout the years they have changed how you go about scheduling the service and have never made it easy.

The most obvious way of doing this is a form on the web site where you could give your details and pick an available time window. For several years they did have a non-interactive form but cleverly ignored the submissions - you would get no response. When telling them about it the response was that they knew that, but never fixed it. Eventually they replaced it with just sending email. That worked well, although you would get responses in ALL CAPS.

Now they have moved onto their next generation. Ignoring current best practise there is an amazingly unusable Flash app. All the (many) issues with Flash aside, it requires you to pick your vehicle model but leaves out many popular ones including mine! It also looks like it forces you to make yet another username and password and not reuse one of the many you already have (Facebook, Google etc)

There is an email address listed at the side of the service page under "contact us" so I ended up emailing that. The first response took over 3 days, and didn't give me a date and it is now 4 days waiting for the second response. This makes setting up an appointment virtually impossible since your availability windows will have passed.

In a final desperate measure I used the main "contact us" form on the website. That turned out to go to the sales department (despite there being a separate contact for them) who responded with a form letter confirming my interest "in buying a new" (sic) plus daily follow ups about my "research into" (sic). (Yes the sentences end abruptly where some model is presumably supposed to be inserted.) Then some salesman ignored my email address provided, and my customer records, and somehow figured out the unpublished cell phone number of one of my colleagues! (Of course the voicemail he left was bizarre and implied he was one of our customers. When I was able to call back he said he would fix things and would email me when done. That was several days ago and I have heard nothing.)

The lessons for me are obvious. Buy a different car make next time.

The lessons for everyone with a business are simple. Only list ways to contact you that you can actually be contacted by. If your customers persevere and tell you something is broken, fix it or remove it. If you provide email addresses, actually respond in a timely manner. If you have forms then actually try them out. Actually have humans read what customers have submitted - daily automated irrelevant responses will just annoy them further. Simple is fine - the more complicated and convoluted you make something the less likely it is to work, which doesn't benefit anyone except your competitors. If you use Flash you have failed.

I won't detail how unpleasant it can be once you are there for your service, other than it matches the expectations from the above.

Call them phones


Positioning Lumia The US has reached 50% smartphone penetration. comScore data shows July penetration at 48.8% and a monthly growth in penetration of nearly 2 percentage points. Given ... (more)

In the US we have now reached the point where we can stop calling them smartphones and just use phones. That does leave what to call the minority of phones with words like dumb-phone and feature-phone having being used, but not particularly accurate. Hopefully we won't end up with the nonsense the carriers did ("4G" anyone?) in order to distinguish amongst "smart" phones.