Tax My Ride (Sharing Service)

Massachusetts to tax ride-hailing apps, give the money to taxis
This is an interesting choice by MA legislature.
This can be framed as Uber/Lyft found a loophole and took over a market, and so we need to subsidize the old monopoly to keep jobs alive and at least decrease the rate of decline of taxis.
A pragmatic and cynical view is this is just a cash grab by Massachusetts since more fare money stays in state by people using taxis instead of Uber/Lyft. The fact the ridesharing services can’t make the fee transparent to the customer hints at this.
The simplest interpretation is that a winning set of companies has to prop up a losing set of companies. This happens (see Microsoft propping up Apple to avoid anti-trust issues). But taxis had a monopoly for decades and service quality barely improved because they lacked the incentives to. It’s too big to fail, taxi edition. 
I don’t see the temporary nature of the tax relevant, since there are temporary taxes that are now decades old.
The job loss problem won’t end here, software is coming for more jobs. Policy makers have a tough road ahead and will have to be careful about what exactly they are incentivizing.

The Job Myth Needs to End

Jobs are not coming back. By “jobs” I mean the jobs that most men had from 1940-1990. We need to get over this, and the sooner this myth is resolved, the better, because we’ve got plenty of work to do to make up for this. Politicians promising a return of these jobs are pandering in the worst way.

A corollary to this is that fighting automation is a waste of time. If anything, we should support increased automation and move up the stack to harder problems. If we were not so busy fighting intellectualism and instead learning new skills this gap would not be so hard to bridge.

(Note: This applies primarily to America)

Topics of Interest: February 2016

I find it worthwhile to periodically assess what areas I find interesting. I do this in hopes this comes across people who are smarter than I in these areas who want to collaborate, or at least tell me my interpretations are wrong. Here’s the latest:

Disruption of university research and possibly the Ph.D

Some data and perceptions on university research:

  • Only 16% of university technology transfer departments make enough money from licensing to be self sufficient. Licensing income across universities exhibits a power law distribution.
  • Graduate students spend more time grant writing, teaching, fulfilling research for their PI etc. and less time working on their primary topic, the thing that is intrinsically motivating.
  • Top researchers are more actively seeking funding from private organizations to supplement stagnant and increasingly more competitive government grants.
  • Many Ph.D programs still lack any formal training on how to run a research lab.

Corporate research is still the driving force of innovation from a spending perspective. However, new organizational models that make technology development and transfer more efficient and remove burdens from researchers might prove more valuable to society.

Body senses 6 through 10 provided by augmented reality

Modern interfaces are heavily reliant on sight, sound, and touch. Cheap sensors enable us to capture and overlay more information – infrared light, magnetic fields, ultra violet levels, air pollutants and more (in 50 years, gravitational waves?). The advances in augmented reality (with VR as a subset) will enable us to superimpose this information on our vision. In the medium term, that information may wire into our nervous system directly.

Media and political self reflection and correction post November 2016

As the mainstream media and political parties try to understand why and how Donald Trump became so popular, they might realize they only have themselves to blame. If Donald Trump wins the presidency, a substantial correction will be due – either to regain trust of the populace through greater substance and less distraction, or to concede and double down on the tactics Trump used to win. The road to the White House is still long for Trump, so he may well lose along the way and we’ll likely learn little from this year’s election cycle.

Next popular wearable sensor location

It seems the wrist is going to tap out of useful sensors fairly soon. PPG and GSR might well be as good as it gets. The next best location for wearables is where the most successful wearable technologies were before they were called “wearable”: the ear. There’s much to learn from hearing aids and cochlear implants that can be translated to consumer devices in the near future. Wearables embedded into clothing (and then our bodies) will be the endgame, but we’re still a few product cycles away from that taking off.

The next sub $1,000 portable brain monitoring technology

EEG is cheap and works. But good mainstream EEG form factors are evasive due to the need for direct contact. Technologies like conductive foam are making EEG headsets more comfortable, but it is hard to be bullish on a generalizable form factor being figured out (however, if everyone is wearing a bulky virtual reality headset, EEG fits in quite well). So what brain monitoring technology will be next? fNIRS? Neural dust? Most methods seem completely impractical (fMRI) or quite far away from any consumer or even human testing.

Identifying what is information in the brain

A trend in neuroscience is to go beyond simple matching of stimulus X leads to response Y in the brain, and to start considering how information is passed within the brain – and what that information is. This is worth expanding on in a later post, but for now check this out. It is commonly mentioned that understanding how a single neuron functions does not explain how a group of neurons interact, and we see that currently. This fundamental, deeper level of understanding may unlock answers to numerous other biological systems.

Is there any shortcut to space, and what else can we learn about the universe?

Recent consumption: The Martian (book), Seveneves (book), Interstellar (movie), and a lot of articles on space and the detection of gravitational waves. Overall, the combination of what exists, and how our consciousness enables us to recognize what exists, need to be reconciled. Thinking about anything beyond Earth makes most our differences seem trivial. However, as Seveneves nails, humans still have egos and make terrible, horrible, decisions, even if in space.

Leaving Earth is still too hard, and limited. No propulsion method beats the speed of light, and so visiting anything beyond our immediate solar system neighbors isn’t happening soon. That is, unless we learn more about how to traverse spacetime :-). So it is not likely that we’ll gain much knowledge soon by running experiments on other atmospheres

Whatever else I’m missing

There are interesting trends happening everywhere. Send me a note with what else I should be looking forward to! Referrals/intros welcome as well.

New52 Week 5: Super Bowl City, Eating Bugs, Going to a Live Debate

This week’s new activity was actually three separate items! I considered holding one back for a later week, but found that counter to the spirit of the New52 project.

Bugs – It’s what’s for dinner.

I’m not really picky about food, if it tastes good and won’t kill me I’ll try it. I’m forever grateful to not have any food allergies, because it allows me to experiment with foods without caution.

So I randomly looked into eating bugs, and searched for restaurants that serve them. I’ve long been sold on how bugs are way more sustainable than most sources of animal protein, so I welcomed the experience.

I found a few places near my in Oakland – a Korean place that serves silk worm soup, and an upscale Mexican place that allows a side of crickets with an order of guacamole. However, by chance I went to the Ferry Building, where I knew that Don Bugito packaged bugs were sold. The kind lady at the stand let me try about 5 different varieties, from chocolate covered ones where it might as well be a grain of rice inside to spicy flavors where there is no hiding that you are eating a worm, or cricket.

I found the bug varieties to be serviceable, but nothing spectacular. If the only food I had was a bit of roasted bugs, I’d have no hesitation in getting some protein. But I’m not going out of my way for any entomophagy anytime soon – especially not until the cost comes down.

Super Bowl City

It’s Super Bowl Week in San Francisco and downtown San Francisco is a zoo. Market St. is closed down and the corporate flea market known as Super Bowl City has arrived. As someone who played football through college, I like the sport of football for the strategy. I could do without all of the media noise, faux gang affiliations (Cowboys Nation, etc.) and profiteering. So suffice it to say I was underwhelmed by walking through the festival.

A Debate in a Humanist Church

The East Bay Transhumanist group held an event where they held Oxford-style debates on basic living income, open borders (for all immigrants). The event ended with a panel on the timing of the Singularity.

The humanist church itself was just and interesting venue. A large old wooden building with a purple interior with yellow trim all around.

I went hoping to be exposed to some new ideas and ideally have my mind changed on some positions. But that didn’t really happen.

This week there was no hit, that is part of the risk of doing something like New52. On to next week!

Note: New52 is a series where I try something new every week. Read about the reasons and join the fun.

New52 Week 4: Developed a Chatbot


Enter /gn to get positive news on any topic. There are a few easter eggs in their too.

Chatbots are interesting to me for a number of reasons – most important is that they get to the point (I like text UIs). I had a few ideas in mind for one to develop and settled on Posibot, which is available on Telegram. This bot is very simple – You ask it for good news on a given topic, and it responds with a related article. I wanted something I could do in a weekend, and this was it. I had greater ambitions for the bot, and time permitting I’ll add some more commands and features in the future.

At work we use Heroku in our development stack, and it saves a ton of time. I never really got Heroku’s utility until I joined ApplePie, and now I don’t want to start projects without it.  I immediately looked to use that (instead of a self hosted virtual machine) to host the app. Environment variable management aside, things went fairly smoothly.

The next step with Posibot would be to add a more fluid conversational interface. Fully conversational chat interfaces still require humans, and that’s not something I can keep up with while at work during the day or pay any other people to do. If you would like to volunteering to have positive conversations with people, let me know.

Note: New52 is a series where I try something new every week. Read about the reasons and join the fun.

New52 Week 3: Nightlife at California Academy of Sciences

This was my first time going to a San Francisco museum. Each Thursday the California Academy of Science, in Golden Gate Park, has a young adult themed night with discounted tickets and pop-up bars set up liberally throughout the museum. There’s even a DJ.

The theme for the evening was “Brain and Body”, which was right up my alley. I had some exciting conversations with a UCSF professor and his grad students. They were working some of the demo tables containing real brains, foods to show physiological response to spicy foods and herbs, and more. The insights into their research were as much fun as touring the museum itself. Example tidbit: when you eat spicy food, your body’s physiological response is the same as how it reacts to you going outside in hot sun. The same effect happens with consuming (lots of) mint and being cold.

There was a brief lecture by a researcher who is using extracts from other animals to help develop tools to make cancerous cells illuminate, making it easier for brain cancer surgeons to excise the correct tissue. There’s some really cool stuff going on in research, and it only makes me want to be more involved in some way.

The museum itself is an example of how to integrate modernity into nature – the solar panels and living roof are stunning. I did not take many photos, but you can see plenty at their website.

Note: New52 is a series where I try something new every week. Read about the reasons and join the fun.

New52 Week 2: Visiting Ensenada, Mexico

I used to live in San Diego, and an MLK Weekend wedding caused a return to the old stomping grounds. The wedding covered the full weekend, but we (Dr. Missus and I) skipped the Friday night festivities to go to Ensenada, Mexico, which is about 90 minutes south of the border.

There were are few firsts on this trip, besides simply arriving at Ensenada:

  • Rode a bus into Mexico and between Mexican cities
  • Visited a mescaleria & tequileria
  • Used Uber internationally
  • Ate food from cool one man booths
  • Learned how to properly pronounce Oaxaca, despite my years of Spanish classes (wa-ha-ka)

Overall, it was a good time. The town is fairly sleepy by the port when there’s not a cruise ship (but there seems to be one daily). Delicious food – particularly the ceviche, and great drinks. Learned a lot about mezcal, the trendy liquor that is native to Mexico, well at least Oaxaca.

And it isn’t Mexico without the cheap prescription drugs, which are peddled everywhere. When I visited Tijuana last year, our favorite ad was for “Viagra Soup”. This time the Super Viagra mascot outside of a drug store took the crown.

There was a lot more to do in Ensenada that we had time to cover. I’d go back, particularly to return to region gastronomica, a hidden gem where we had an outstanding local dinner.

Note: New52 is a series where I try something new every week. Read about the reasons and join the fun.

Week 1: Indoor Rock Climbing

To start off the series, I received a gift from Dr. Missus: an intro indoor climbing class that included an all-day pass for afterward. It was really fun!

I enjoyed the combination of physical and mental challenge. Rock climbing is also a pretty clear incentive to lose weight – it is much easier to get up a wall when there’s less of me to lug around. 🙂 All in all it was a good time. The people there commented on how I stuck around much longer than most people who take the intro class – I took it as a compliment, it was just so much fun. It was a welcome change of pace from the daily workouts I do – it was totally worth my forearms being sore for days afterward.

A while later I watched a few YouTube videos on technique. I clearly have a lot to learn about climbing, but it’s definitely something I would do again!

Note: New52 is a series where I try something new every week. Read about the reasons and join the fun.

A 2016 Project: New52

In 2015, I moved to a new city (Oakland) and took a new job (Product Manager at ApplePie Capital). One of my biggest fears is becoming too static, too caught in my ways, and not broadening both my ideas and my network. So I tried to think of a way to break the mold, and came up with this:

Do something new every week for the next year.

The rules are very simple – something new means the first time doing a class of item, so going out at a new Italian restaurant doesn’t count since I’ve had Italian food plenty of times; but eating shark does, because I’ve never had that before.

Before announcing this challenge I wanted to see how I would do through January. It went great – you can see the results in the following posts. But getting to Week 52 on my own will be challenging, and the objective is to make this a social project, which brings us to the purpose of this post: I need more new things to do, and would love to do them with others, including you. If you are up for the challenge, share your ideas with me via email, Facebook or Twitter. (I’ll be using the hashtag #New52)

Each week I’ll write a post about what I did that week. If you want to get those updates via email, subscribe here.


Image credit: Nicolas Raymond