Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Attentiveness & Survival

More than a few times I have said a silent thank you to my step-father. He was a very opinionated person more likely to snarl at you because he knew you were smart than if he thought you were stupid. If he knew you were smart, and you did something he thought of as stupid, clearly you weren't paying attention to the task at hand, at least, not at the level he believed you could and should. 

Driving was a case in point. When I had my learner's permit, he suggested I take him for a drive so he could see how I was doing. Driving along, suddenly, he reached up and turned the rear-view mirror so that I couldn't see behind me and simultaneously asked me to describe the car that was following us - how close it was and so forth. Luckily, I had just checked, figuring he might do such a thing. I passed his test, but his comment was that I didn't check my mirrors often enough and I must always know what was going on all around my car while I was in charge of it. "One never knows when an emergency will come up - the car in front might suddenly stop and you will need to know that you have room to swerve. You won't have time to check in that moment, so you have to always know that you are clear to manoeuvre."

What brought this back to my mind, you ask?  I have been reading a book by Hannah Fry called "Hello World: Being Human in the Age of Algorithms". In her chapter "Cars", she describes a not-so-distant future where cars can drive themselves - mostly. In this future, the driver will give over control to the car for long periods of time. The car will mostly be capable of decision-making. However, if the situation becomes overwhelming, or too complex, the car will sound a signal for the human driver to take over.  I can imagine the horrified look on the face of the driver as they realize that the situation is out of hand - a scary way to end one's life. 

My step-father would be appalled at the very idea of this situation. He didn't even like automatic transmissions, power steering, or power brakes because they would make one less attentive to driving. And because he would have been appalled by a self-driving car, and he taught me about attentiveness and preparedness, the idea appalls me too.

You can be sure the self-driving feature won't be something I will use when it becomes standard equipment on all automobiles. I don't want the ghost of my step-father to haunt me! 

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

No One is Alone

Sometimes a message you need comes from a chance encounter. So it is with this video. 

Here is Bernadette Peters singing No One is Alone from Into the Woods. Its composer, Stephen Sondheim, died two months ago, but he can never be truly gone when such music and words remain.