Make the World a Better Place

These are just little things I happen to think of along the way. World peace, eliminating hunger, and curing cancer I leave to better minds. I'm thinking more along the lines of what would make my own narrow little life a little more pleasant and a little more efficient. These things are emminently attainable, but because they lack the glamor of a high-concept quest like World Peace, they'll probably never happen.

Sigh.

Select an essay on making the world a better place:

  Making the Highways More Efficient

  Airport Efficiency

  Air Travel

  National Broadband Initiative

  Spam

  Atomic Clocks Everywhere

  Little Computer Things that Bug Me

  Why Can't Countries Merge Like Companies Do?


Making the Highways More Efficient

Sometimes, there are simple changes in our behavior that could drastically improve the efficiency and convenience of the world for those around us. The way we drive our cars is one such.

Every driver needs to learn and follow a few simple rules:

- If you are ever passed on the right, move to the right from the lane you were in when passed.

- If you are not travelling faster than the cars in the right lane, move to the right.

- If you aren't within one lane of where you need to be to make your turn, go around the block, don't cut across multiple lanes of traffic.

- You must drive at no less than the speed limit in the rightmost lane, no less than 5 mph over in the middle lane, and no less than 10 mph over in the leftmost lane. If you are unable or unwilling to operate your vehicle at these speeds, switch to a road with lower limits and try again.

- If you are found to have been the cause of an accident, you must pay all the costs of the other driver. If you cannot pay and are uninsured, your car is impounded and auctioned off, with the proceeds donated to the local school system. If this happens enough times you will eventually get a clue and either learn to drive better, get insurance, or be reduced to a homeless person because you can no longer afford to buy a car let alone a home. Whichever the outcome, we all win because you are not causing accidents you cannot afford to pay for. The same happens if you are found driving without a license.

- If you are driving an SUV or truck, you must stop 5 feet short of where everyone else stops at an intersection so that others may see around you.

- DUI counts under the three strikes rule. In other words, when you receive your third DUI you are imprisoned for a significant number of years.

- If your car emits enough fumes that other drivers can smell it, you receive a ticket. If you get a second ticket without having fixed the car, it is impounded and auctioned off.

- Except in dire emergencies, requiring a written endorsement by the state governor, road crews may not make a road impassible due to work during rush hour traffic times.

- The Highway Patrol's first priority in an accident is removing all of the involved vehicles from the scene as soon as possible so that rubberneckers will not hold up traffic. A portion of the funds from impounding cars for other offenses will be used to purchase black helicopters that may be used to rapidly remove wrecked automobiles from the scene of the accident using big electromagnets. The CIA will be compelled to sell the helicopters to the Highway Patrol at reduced prices or face criminal prosection for operating within the United States against its citizens, a clear violation of its charter.


Airport Efficiency

Airports are notoriously congested bottlenecks and timewasters. The worst offender in my opinion is the baggage carousel. To improve on this situation, we need to do at least two things. First, the air carrier needs to commit to unloading the aircraft fast enough that some bags are starting to appear on the carousel by the time the first passenger has walked there. This can't be that hard to do. Look how far you have to walk in most airports to get to a carousel.

Second, each group of travellers needs to put only one designated luggage grabber at the carousel. Kids must be kept at least 50 feet from the carousel at all times. How many times have we seen a guy standing there with his 3 kids taking up valuable frontline carousel space doing nothing but being yelled at not to play on the carousel?


Air Travel

The hub and spoke air travel system being used in this country is a disaster, and its getting worse every day. I for one, am going to do my part to try to leave the system altogether by becoming a private pilot. Meanwhile, for those who can't or won't fly their own planes, a few changes need to be made.

I've been kicked out of prepaid first class seats and bumped back to coach. I've had my family scattered all over the plane and unable to sit together despite arriving an hour early to check in. The most important is to clean up the seat reservation system. When you make a reservation, you should get a seat assignment that can't be changed by the airline. Your credit card should be immediately charged the agreed upon fare, and airlines should be prohibited from overbooking. At the least, you should have the option of a guaranteed seat at a slightly higher price.

Secondly, if a flight is late for any reason, you should be compensated. You contracted with the airline to be delivered to a particular location at a particular time. You did not contract to wait in a far away hub all afternoon because the airline screwed up and made you miss your connection. At the least, the airline should be required to give you a voucher for air travel that relates to what fraction of the original flight time you are late. If it was supposed to take 4 hours to get somewhere and it took 6, you get a voucher for half the value of the flight. To be fair, you would never get a voucher for more than the value of the flight.

The last time I went to Santa Fe, New Mexico, it took so long that I could've flown there in a Cessna 182, stopping for a 2 hour lunch in Las Vegas, and still beaten the 500 mph commercial jet we flew on. Ridiculous!

See my article on air travel efficiency for the details of how this could be true.


National Broadband Initiative

We need to make broadband internet access a national initiative like Kennedy did with putting a man on the moon. It's ridiculous that the rest of the world is doing a better job of this than we have in the good old US of A.

I'm living not far from Silicon Valley, and often commute there, and yet, near the very heart of our nation's technological advantage, I can't get broadband internet connectivity! Its clear that despite breaking up AT&T, there are still a substantial number of monopolists running things. It looks like all the would-be competitors will be bankrupt shortly, so all that will remain standing are the RBOCs and a few strong fiber owners like Qwest. Cable TV isn't much better. In exchange for being granted this monopoly, these firms should be required to put through the needed technology to make broadband a reality for everyone. There should be a realistic deadline and serious penalties if they don't get everyone who wants access connected within that timeline. My vote would be that they should have to provide free satellite internet access until such time as I can get a real cable modem or DSL line. The phone and cable companies should have to bear that cost jointly.

Vastly expanding broadband access will greatly stimulate the whole technology economy with attendant huge benefits. People used to talk about the great technology spin-offs from the space program. Hogwash! They didn't invent the microprocessor or the integrated circuit chip for NASA. A bunch of entrepreneurial types did it on their own. This broadband stuff would get us to the next level and be great for the economy.


Spam

Why are we all still wading through email boxes full of junk, snail mail boxes full of junk, and getting sales solicitation calls at dinner time?

What's up with this? It is so fixable!

Maybe we need another national initiative. There needs to be an opt-out database somewhere that anyone can access. The database tells solicitors that they can't send you unsolicited material. You get to choose whether to block phone, email, snail mail, or all three. Solicitors would have to refer to this database and honor your wishes by law or face stiff penalties.

This would not be hard to implement, wouldn't cost that much, and would save enormous energy, not to mention being good for reduction of greenhouses gases because it would slow deforestation.

Alternatively, let's at least put a tax on unsolicited email. If it cost a nickle to send an email to anyone unsolicited, vendors would work harder to make sure the message mattered. In fact, we can use these nickels to pay for the broadband proposal given above.


Atomic Clocks Everywhere

There are now single chip solutions that will link any clock to the atomic clocks in Ft Collins, Colorado, guaranteeing that the linked clock always has the correct time. So far, they need to be told which time zone they are in, but with single chip GPS, it can't be far off until we can have a timekeeping system that requires no external adjustment.

Why is it then, that I am forever having to worry about whether clocks are set correctly? My PC loses time due to a well-known windows bug. Why can't it access the atomic clock? It could even do this in software whenever I log onto the internet. Yes, I know, somebody makes a download to do this, but why isn't it just built into windows? Why can't we eliminate the need henceforward for humankind to have to set timepieces?

Why do clocks have to blink?

Why do VCR clocks have to blink? Why does the clock on my kitchen oven and microwave blink? Why does my car have a clock in the stereo and another in the dash, both of which have to be reset whenever the battery dies or we change daylight savings time?

A tiny change in the electronics of how these things are built would completely eliminate this wasted effort. Of course, just as calculators were bemoaned because people would forget how to do long division, I'm sure this development would mysteriously cause people to forget how to set a clock. Oh well.


Little Computer Things that Bug Me

Why are there so many little computer things that stink? Things that ought to work, and usually work, but sometimes, they don't quite work.

Why does my ISP hang up on me? Shouldn't it be the other way around? What possible good reason can they have to justify doing this periodically?

Why does my modem connect and report a full speed connection, but then the modem lights are so seldom on that the effective speed is way lower? I mean aren't modem users penalized enough already? What are they doing, trying to make 1000 modems share a single DSL line or something? And while we're at it, why does my ISP accept the connection, report everything is a-okay, and then steadfastly refuse to communicate further with my computer? It just sits there until I manually log off and then reconnect. If you think Microsoft makes buggy software, just consider how buggy the whole Internet experience typically is.

Why must my computer take so long to boot? I've got the much-vaunted Windows XP. Yes, it does boot faster than my copy of Windows 98, but nowhere's near as much faster as this new hot rod pc's specifications indicate. Why is so much of the boot-up sequence constructed around arbitrary timing delays irrespective of how fast the underlying PC is?

Why must I install device drivers? Windows has been out there for about 10 million years now. Yes, it is possible someone will want to plug their new piece of hardware into some other operating system, so we want some flexibility. But why don't the other operating systems need to load the device drivers. Why can't my device respond to some universal api and download it's own driver right off the card? My fricken' digital camera has 128MB flash ram cards for cryin' out loud. That much memory will hold a device driver.

Why does networking continue to be so painful? I understand if you have a DHCP server everything just works better. Why doesn't Windows just build one in? Instead, it becomes one more factor that slows down my boot time while it waits in vain for the DHCP server to respond and assign an IP address. Why can't Windows do this once on install, pick an IP address, and stick with it. It can do a DHCP search in the background instead of making the whole boot process wait on it.

What were all of the idiots at hardware companies thinking when they didn't have device drivers ready to go for Windows XP? As my 7-year old son says, "Duh!".

Why is it so hard to migrate to a new computer? I mean it's no wonder the upgrade cycle has really tapered off. You have to go through the Chinese torture of a thousand software reinstalls to get a new machine going. In the old days, you could just copy directories, set the path variable in your autoexec, and everything would just work. Now we have the registry, because that will make everything simple. Not! Now I have to reinstall everything. Copying won't work. And by the way, I get to re-enter all those serial numbers just to be sure I'm not an evil software pirate. And lately, I get to endure Microsoft's wonderful new activation regime, where I will spend time on the phone for each piece of software convincing Microsoft I really have moved on to a new machine and would they please activate their stinking software that I've already paid for. Clearly some strategically minded dufus somewhere decided it was good for software to be hard to move onto a new machine. That reduces piracy. Well Mr Dufus, is it good that people have quit upgrading their machines as fast as they used to?


Why Can't Countries Merge Like Companies Do?

How many countries have problems because they are just too darned small to be self-sufficient? When a country's government fails, why can't the country be acquired by a white knight the way bankrupt companies are? If we look around at the troubled spots in the world, the really small countries have it bad. How many are truly self-sufficient and have a high standard of living? None in the third world. Come to that, why can't third world countries "merge" with more well-to-do players and get modernized? This sort of thing is incredibly rare. The reunification of Germany is about the only example I can remember.

Small countries seem doomed to mediocrity and poverty because they haven't the resources to lift themselves out of the muck. They trade one corrupt totalitarian regime for another. Each new regime focuses attention on some outward devil that is the source of internal problems while they plunder the country for all they can.

Heck, we've seen companies that are the worst of rivals merge to be the best of friends and everyone is the better for it. What if Israel could successfully merge with the Arab countries surrounding it? Wouldn't that be a powerhouse? Aren't there a ton of African and South American countries that would be better off merged? What if Afghanistan just merged with the more moderate Pakistan? Wouldn't this be better than the bloody fighting we see right now? Doesn't this lead to less terrorism? If the people of a country could choose a merger with a neighbor that has better leadership, wouldn't there be fewer terrorists and border skirmishes?

The trouble is that the governments are highly incented to protect their fiefdoms. In the corporate case, you wind up with one management team instead of two and the losers are paid off so they are not disincented to merge when it is in the shareholder's best interests (or even when its not!). There is no analog. When two governments merge, the assumption is one loses utterly. So, it is in the best interest of every one of these regimes to fan the flames of nationalism or even war, and to keep the ancient hatreds and rivalries going. This is a fundamental flaw in the geopolitical fabric of our time.

 
All material 2001-2006, Robert W. Warfield.