Jach's personal blog

(Largely containing a mind-dump to myselves: past, present, and future)
Current favorite quote: "Supposedly smart people are weirdly ignorant of Bayes' Rule." William B Vogt, 2010

Why you'll never see real government-mandated safety or public automation for cars

I've got an idea that I'll share that I'd like to try and bring to the market sometime in the next few months. Basically, it's a series of IR sensors you attach to the exterior of your car (via magnetism or something sticky) and they wirelessly send a signal to a controller inside that will make a buzzer go off if a sensor detects something too close. I hate backing out of parking stalls and not being sure how much room I have left behind me, and I don't want to wait until I hit someone's car before I find out, so I often find myself doing a few reverse-forward-reverse-forward cycles before being on my way. Rear-view cameras solve this problem too but are expensive.

Anyway, I was thinking "The government already mandates basic safety and pollution requirements for cars, why don't they mandate real safety like forcing a max speed through the radio?" Almost every car has an antenna, it seems like through the use of cell blocks or radio waves or something the government could easily send out a signal to cars in a certain area that they cannot exceed speed X and force manufacturers to install the limiting device. After a few years of improvements that can even lead to fully automated cars. For older cars, do the same they did with the recent digital shift in television: give out free vouchers for the mechanism to limit your car's speed.

What about people that disable the mechanism? If you catch them speeding, you criminalize them with some high punishment (more than current speeding tickets do). Problem solved. This also helps the police by enabling them with tools to override a radio signal and stop a car they're after, since most runners aren't hardened criminals that would have previously disabled the device.

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My rule for getting help

Fairly often I'll run across a problem that doesn't stump me, per se, but is challenging enough that I can't solve it very quickly and my usual approaches to solving problems are failing me. When even descending into the dreaded shotgun testing method (the last resort of a desperate man...) fails, I know it's time to get help. But I have a rule for getting help before then: did I think it would take me less than thirty minutes, and has it taken me longer than 45 minutes? If so, I implement a two-step process: post a help message somewhere (Stack Overflow, a mailing list, an email, a bug case), but then the most important step: keep working on the problem. When others are helping you with the problem too, that doesn't mean you sit on your hands and wait for them. (I've seen this happen a lot.) At the very least pretend the problem is solved and move on to the next step.

The second step is so important because very frequently I find myself solving the problem quite soon after posting my help message.

I have a simple theory for why this is so: writing out the help message lets you focus your mind on what you already know about the problem, plus when writing the message (if you've done it more than once anyway) you know it's good etiquette and you're more likely to get an answer if you generalize the problem to a less-specific case. A potential helper doesn't need to know your login checking query if your problem is handling a failed login on the client side, so you leave that out of your summary. In addition, you're taking a break from actively attempting to solve the problem, but not letting the problem escape your brain's local cache like it might if you go take a walk.

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