What a great idea
Submitted by brad on Mon, 2013-05-20 13:12.
There are a growing number of apps designed to help people find parking, and even reserve and pay for parking in advance. Some know the state of lots. These apps are good for the user but also can produce a public good by reducing the number of people circling looking for parking. Studies suggest in certain circumstances a large fraction of the cars on the road are doing that.
This weekend, I attended the Maker Faire. I’ve been to almost every Make Faire, including the first, and now it’s grown to be far too successful — you can hardly walk down the aisles at the busy times. They need more space and a way to put more of it outside so thin out the crowds. Still, it is one of those places that makes you feel very clearly you are in the 21st century.
Early on Maker Faire realized it had a parking problem. The lot at the fairgrounds fills up now even before the event opens, and they manage various satellite lots and run shuttle buses to them.
This year they tried something interesting, a twitter feed with parking updates. They tweeted when lots filled up or re-opened, and suggested where to go. They took some limited feedback about lack of shuttles. I think that it by and large worked and reduced traffic around the event.
However, my judgment is that they were not entirely honest in their tweets. This year, and in prior years, they strongly encouraged people to go to one of the most remote lots, regularly telling people it was the fastest route to the event. This was not true. I don’t want to ascribe any particular malice here, but there is a suspicion that there is a temptation to make reports in the interest of the event rather than the user. This does have positives, in that cars diverted from near the event reduce traffic which makes the shuttle buses run much faster, but if you give wrong information (deliberately or by accident) this means people stop trusting it and you get the traffic back as more people ignore it.
For example, we stopped at a remote lot, and saw a very long shuttle line. We drove on to a closer lot (also reported as having spaces, but not reported as clearly a better choice) to find lots of spaces, no shuttle line, frequent shuttles and also a walk that was only slightly longer than the shuttle trip. read more »
Submitted by brad on Mon, 2012-03-26 22:33.
Sometimes when I travel I see a great idea that hasn’t yet spread everywhere yet. A parking garage I parked at in Tel Aviv had LEDs visible on the roof above every stall. These were red and green if the stall was full or empty. So it was quick to find an empty stall. This probably makes the garage more efficient because people don’t have to circle hunting for a spot, and this justifies the cost. (The main cost of these is probably wiring the power for them.)
I’ve seen studies claiming that in busy areas, up to 30% of the traffic is cars circling looking for parking. Mostly they are looking for free parking or convenient on-street parking, since parking garages, though expensive can usually be found and entered quickly. Indeed, while on-street parking is often much more convenient, in many cases this is an artifact of parking being subsidized (because it’s free, or free to people who live in an area) or cheaper than commercial parking markets. But we don’t seem ready to fix that, though many cities put restrictions on street and metered parking, limiting the number of hours so that it is in theory only for visitors rather than all-day parkers.
There are many companies trying to see if they can improve parking using mobile devices and the internet. There are companies with sensors that manage parking spaces, companies that let you find spaces on a mobile device and even enter a garage with your mobile device. In some cases you can even extend your parking (if you prepaid) over the phone. Cities have been moving away from traditional meters to things like block meters (where you get a ticket and then put it on your dash) or fancy enforcement vehicles with licence plate cameras that spot not only if you are in a spot too long, but if you move within the busy zone to another spot.
As a user of parking, I would like to know I’ve got a good spot lined up before I get to my destination, and just pull right into it. I want a competitive market but I don’t want to waste time and gas hunting. There are companies trying to address this, though mostly in commercial lots. It’s mostly pretty basic right now — it’s considered fancy to even have sites like parkopedia or bestparking with a database of the parking in a city with the prices so you can comparison shop the parking lots.
So now for some rambling on what might be done on street. read more »
Submitted by brad on Tue, 2008-09-16 16:55.
I have invented a fictional scientific institute, funded by men, that keeps producing studies which, at least on the surface, seem to be good news for guys.
Here’s a summary of some of the research:
- Semen is an anti-depressent. Yes ladies, women with regular exposure to our special product have seriously lower incidence of depression. They compared couples who use condoms and those who don’t.
- Coffee is good for you. Ok, this isn’t just guys but in stereotypes, they are the coffee drinkers.
- Beer is good for you.
- Wine and alcohol is good for you.
- Men with two wives live much longer. Come on honey, do you want me to die young?
- Chocolate is good for you. Ok, so the women eat just as much as we do.
- You live longer if you’re fat and fit than thin and unfit.
- High heels no worse on your knees than ordinary shoes.
- Staring at breasts increases lifespan in men. Ok, so this one was a false study but it could still be true.
- Short skirts cause fewer skirt-related injuries than long skirts. (Ok, this one is just self-evident.)
- Sex every day will strengthen your marriage. OK, not yet studied with full rigour, but, duh!
Submitted by brad on Mon, 2007-10-29 17:37.
Bistromathics was Douglas Adams’ term for the crazy difficulty of dividing up l’addition at a restaurant properly. The very rules of math seem to go wrong, which is why they were able to make a stardrive as long as the ship had a bistro in it.
When groups go out to dinner, many people feel that “Div N” is the safest way to go. Namely divide the total bill with tip by the number of folks and everybody pays that. It has the advantage of great simplicity, avoiding the bistromathics. And it is close to a must with shared dishes and the norm for Chinese/Indian.
For many people, Div-N balances out over time, but many people resent Div-N for various reasons:
- For non-drinkers, they are bothered at paying a bar tab that often is as big as the food tab. Sometimes two totals are given because of this.
- For vegetarians, not only are their dishes usually cheaper, but many have an ethical problem with paying for other’s meat.
- Dieters are as they are due to lack of self-control. Many have a compulsion that bothers them if they pay for food but don’t eat it. (Larger restaurant portions are blamed by some for the obesity epidemic.)
- Women tend to eat less than men, causing a sex-bias.
- Some are just plain poor, and can’t handle the high Div-N bill. Because Div-N encourages liberal ordering of expensive dishes and apetizers, it tends to raise the overall price.
Often there will be somebody (frequently of low income) who wants to break the Div-N rule and pay just for what they ordered. My rule for this now is to hand them the bill and say they are responsible for calculating and collecting the bill for everybody. I do this because there have been times when I have been the banker that people have announced they will only put in for what they ordered after much of the div-N payment has been done. While one can sympathise if they only ordered $10 of food and div-N is $25, what they are asking is that the banker now take the loss. This is why they should become the banker.
I was told last year of a new system which is gaining popularity in Europe. It works as follows. One diner is indeed the banker. The bill is passed around and each is told to put in “what they think they owe.” The banker takes the pile of money and does not count it. It is made very clear that the banker will not be counting, at least not at the table. The banker then pays the bill out of their own wallet, usually by credit card, though sometimes with cash. To avoid counting, paying with cash should typically be done by just taking out a modest number of the large bills from the stack if the banker is short. read more »
Submitted by brad on Sat, 2007-07-28 19:29.
I’m quite impressed with Google’s mobile maps application for smartphones. It works nicely on the iPhone but is great on other phones too.
Among other things, it will display live traffic on your map. And I recently saw, when asking it for directions, that it told me that there would be “7 minutes of traffic delay” along my route. That’s great.
But they missed the obvious extension from that. Due to the delay, 101 is no longer my fastest route. They should use the traffic delay data to re-plot my route, and in this case, suggest 280. (Now it turns out that 280 is always better anyway, because aside from the fact it has less traffic, people drive at a higher average speed on it than 101, and the software doesn’t know that. Normally it’s a win except when it’s raining in the hills and not down by the shore.)
Now I’ve been wanting mapping and routing software to get a better understanding of real road speeds for a while. It could easily get that by taking GPS tracklogs from cabs, trucks and other vehicles willing to give them. It could know the real average speed of travel on every road, in every direction, at any given hour of the day. And then it could amend that with live traffic data. (Among other things, such data would quickly notice map errors, like one-way streets, missing streets, streets you can’t drive etc.)
Now to get really smart, the software should also have a formula for “aging” traffic congestion based on history and day of the week. For example, while there may be slow traffic on a stretch of highway at 6:30 pm, if I won’t get there until 7:30 it should be expected to speed up. As I get closer it can recalculate, though of course some alternate roads (like 101 vs. 280) must be chosen well in advance.
And hey, Google Mobile maps, while your at it, could you add bookmarks? For example, I would like to make a bookmark that generates my standard traffic view, and remember areas I need maps of frequently. And of course since traffic data can make them different, bookmark routes such as one’s standard commute. For this, it might make sense to let people bookmark the routes in full google maps, where you can drag the route to your taste, and save it for use in the mobile product, even comparing the route times under traffic. One could also have the device learn real data about how fast I drive on various routes, though for privacy reasons this should not be store unencrypted on servers. (We would not want our devices betraying us and getting us speeding tickets or liability in accidents due to speeding, so only averages rather than specific superlimit speeds should be stored.)
Also — there are other places in a PDA/phone with an address, most notably events in the calendar. It would be nice while looking at an event in the calendar (or to-do list) to be able to click “locate on the map.”
Submitted by brad on Thu, 2007-07-12 19:58.
This idea came to me via Al Chang. I’m shopping for a new smartphone, and I have been dismayed at how hard it is to get just what I want and not pay a huge fee for it. Right now I’m leaning towards the new HTC Mogul, in part because the Sprint SERO offer is just too good to pass up.
However, in the GSM world, one thing that’s frustrating is that carriers only provide a limited number of phones, and in some cases, such as the Nokia E62, they actually rip useful features out of the phones before offering them. (The E61 has Wifi, the E62 removes it!) But the subsidy, which can be $200 to $300 is also too rich to pass up if you’re signing up for new service. If they are going to force you into a 2 year contract — which they do for anything, even just a change of plan — you are foolish not to take this subsidy.
So here’s Al’s plan. Go out and buy the phone you want, unlocked (or locked to the carrier you plan to use) from whatever source you like, including cell dealers, Amazon, Dell or eBay.
Next go to your carrier’s web site and find the most subsidized phone they sell which works with the plan you intend to use. Find the most subsidized phone by looking at the subsidy price, and comparing it to the typical “completed auction” price on eBay for a no-contract (locked or unlocked) phone. It is often the case, by the way, that there are eBay sellers who will sell you phones that cost $200 after subsidy in the carrier’s store for $1 because they kick back to you the kickback they get from the carrier for selling you a fancy phone on a fancy plan. (I have not tried these sellers but they generally have top reputations and lots of happy comments from phone buyers so I presume it works. It does not, however, work with SERO.) read more »
Submitted by brad on Sat, 2006-04-15 12:07.
I’ve been writing a bunch about transportation of late, and I got the chance to have lunch with Robin Chase, founder of Zipcar, and talk about the economics.
She proposes that we really need to make the true cost of our transportation visible to solve many of our problems (congestion, pollution, etc.) It’s often been described just how much of a subsidy the U.S. and in particular California gives to the car driver, but to most people it’s not too visible.
She’s particularly interested in changing the rules on parking. We subsidize parking a lot. Most people are aware of the use of roadsides for free or cheap parking on public land. Robin proposes getting rid of the requirements that force building developers to provide adequate parking for their building. Most people think these are a good idea, because otherwise developers would not provide parking, and the cars coming to the building would suck up all available parking in the area and there would quickly not be any. read more »
Submitted by brad on Tue, 2005-11-01 15:59.
You may have heard of the idea of pollution credit trading. I’ve been pointed to two firms that are selling CO2 credits on the retail level for individuals, to offset the output from driving a car, heating a house etc.
I’ll get into the details on how it works a bit below, but if you have a car like mine that is putting out 5 metric tons of CO2 each year, you can for a low price (about $50, which includes a whopping markup) pay a factory somewhere to cut their own output by 5 tons, meaning that net, you are causing zero emissions. Which means you are reducing total emissions by a lot more than you would by switching to a Prius, and you are doing it at a vastly lower cost. (This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t drive a Prius, it just means this is a lot more effective.)
Normally pollution credits are traded only by the big boys, trading contracts with hundreds or thousands of tonnes of emissions. The retail firms are letting small players get in the game.
This is a fabulous idea, in theory at least, and also a great, if sneaky gift idea. After all, if you buy the gift of not polluting for your loved one all they get is a bumper sticker and a good feeling. At least it’s better than giving to The Human Fund in their name.
Here’s the catch. I went and priced the credits, and while www.certifiedcleancar.com wanted $50 to credit my car, the actual price of credits on the Chicago Climate Exchange is about $2.16 per tonne of CO2, or about $8 for my actual output as they calculated it. One expects some markup, of course, and even some profit for the company selling the retail credits, but this is nuts. I called the other company, Terrapass and got reasonably frank answers. First of all, they claim they invest more in wind power and other truly non-polluting forms of energy more than they just buy carbon credits. Secondly, this is still a small volume thing, and most of the costs are not the credits, but the $20,000 or so to become a member of the exchange, or so I was told. And of course, in small volumes, administrative costs can swamp the real costs.
Another outfit I found is carbonfund.org which is non-profit and cheaper. In some sense since people buy these out of guilt rather than compulsion (they were meant to be forced on polluters to give money to non polluters and make a market) non-profit might make sense, but they are also supposed to be a real market.
Still, if I pay $50, I would love for my $50 to mostly go to reducing pollution, not mostly to administration. Usually when exchanges are expensive there are members who will trade for you at much more modest markups. The folks at Terrapass said they were not yet profitable at the current prices.
And it is such a good idea. Read below for more on pollution credits. read more »
Submitted by brad on Mon, 2005-10-24 15:52.
When I visit a foreign place, it’s interesting to note what everyday things are done differently there, what’s caught on and what hasn’t. (P.S. I now have my panoramas up.)
In Australia, almost every toilet has two flush buttons, one for a “half flush” (often really a 2/3) for #1 and a full flush for #2. This is presumably mandated by law, and one hopes it saves a lot of water. I’ve often thought that homes should install cheaper urinals to save water as well. In public toilets, all lower-end gent’s rooms have a stainless steel “wall” urinal which feels less private to people used to independent units. More disquieting are the ones with a grate in front of the wall that you stand on, so your “wee” flows under you. I’ve seen these wall urinals in many other places of course, not just Australia.
Almost every Aussie motel room has a toaster in it. No bread, just a toaster. The toast marketing board has done their job well in Australia, though some Aussies insisted it was for British tourists. And of course, always milk, meaning they often provide a fridge even in cheaper rooms. The minibar milk is free, too. Of course at 240v, the kettles are super-fast for that morning cuppa.
Urban hotels have that annoying “insert your room key” slot to turn on power and heating/AC in the room. I’ve seen that around Asia and other places as well. In some hotels one plug is still on with the card out so you can charge your computer. In others no plug is online, however everybody knows you can stick any plastic card in the slot, so you leave a card in to recharge your devices.
In Victoria and South Australia, there was a massive campaign on the highways against sleepy driving, with signs literally every few miles asking sleepy drivers to pull over, and free coffee for drivers at most roadside stops.
In the Northern Territory, you will often see “Road Trains” which are trucks trailing 3 trailers at once. Sounds hard to turn around… With a new railway in place from Darwin to Alice, this has probably cut back on these. Are they not legal in the USA for safety reasons? Seems more efficient. (Pictures to come.)
There seems to be less free wireless in urban Australia, though I didn’t actually wardrive much.
I’ll write more about this later, but I noticed that mobile phone packages there are all sold with a “cap” system. The mobile calling rate is very high — 40 to 80 cents/minute for local calls to landlines — but you typically end up buying $50 of airtime or more and getting $230 more “free”, at least that was the plan on Vodaphone, the SIM I bought. So if you only wanted a little airtime you paid through the nose, but if you used a lot, the price worked out OK. Like Europe, the caller pays for your airtime when they phone you, incoming calls to your cell are free. Some carriers are rebating some of the money paid by the caller back to the recipient. That will have interesting consequences.
Australia uses 240v (highest in the world) and all plugs must have a tiny switch on the socket (called a powerpoint, probably to the dismay of Microsoft) to disable it to avoid sparks when plugging things in and out. Other high-voltage countries also have the mini-switch. Their 2-prong plug, though now rarely used, is inherently polarized and different from everywhere else in the world except NZ. However, their new standards for grounded plugs with shielding against touching the live conductor produce giant bulky plugs and power cords. We could all use a smart power system like the universal DC (&AC) system I have propsed elsewhere in the blog. Australian switches are to us, upside-down, just like Australians.
And of course, Australia has the Timtam. However, the pleasure of that is countered by the their yukky favourite spread, Kraft Vegemite.
Updated Notes: A commenter asked about tipping. Indeed, at first you get “sticker shock” in Aussie restaurants. There you might easily see a main course at $30, but that’s really $22.50 and then the tax and tip are included so you can more properly treat it as $18 in California. Australians differed to me on whether you don’t tip at all, tip only with superb service, tip only in cheaper places or tip 5% on capable service. Cabs you don’t tip but round up to the nearest dollar. Australia wisely got rid of the penny several years ago.
As to which method is better? Well, optional tipping does give you the ability to control how much you pay for service, and do it after you’ve been able to judge it. On the surface that sounds good for the customer, but we also seem to like seeing the real price in advance. For example, I feel that visible taxes are better (as in Canada and USA) but the GST is always included in Australia now, by law, so you pay the price cited. The latter is more convenient, the former makes it more clear what’s going on.
Note that while I found Aussie servers and clerks to be exceptionally friendly, at several meals, including at very expensive places, I got decidedly slow service that would have rated a punative tip. Too anecdotal to come to a conclusion though.
More notes: Fish and chips are the Australian national meal, but they don’t serve them with vinegar as in the UK and Canada. No worries, mate, (The Australian national catchphrase) they’ll bring some.
They usually mistake a Canadian for an American. (Horror of horrors.) Can’t blame them, my own accent sounds like neither, but you can tell I’m from North America so it’s not an inappropriate guess.
Australian airport security was a breath of fresh air after so much travel in North America. “No worries, mate.”
Check in with luggage recently increased to 30 minutes before takeoff. Keep your shoes on. One hour in advance for a flight from Cairns to Sydney which used the international terminal. (It’s a plane from Japan that continues on and the pax clear custons in Sydney so the domestic customers join an international flight with a special sticker which lets them bypass customs. Turns out to be a giant security hole — a foreign tourist could carry on or check a bag of contraband and the domestic passenger could take it through customs. I presume they have random checks to deter this.)
On the other hand domestic flights on Qantas allow only one checked bag (32kg) and one 7kg carry-on. A mess for the international traveller who came in possibly with 2 checked bags due to the 22kg limit of most airlines and a heavy
carry-on. Fortuantely they only enforced the carry-on rule on me once and just let me split it into two bags.
Oh yeah, they got rid of the penny years ago. Very nice. Took me quite a while to notice I wasn’t getting any pennies in change.
More to come on Australia.
Submitted by brad on Tue, 2005-09-27 21:42.
Klein Gilhousen, one of the founders of Qualcomm, proposed this evening at Gilder’s Telecosm that cell phones be modified, if an emergency shuts down the towers, to do some basic mesh networking, not so much for voice, but for text messaging and perhaps pust-to-talk voice packets, as well as location information from their internal GPS if present.
Thus, in New Orleans, everybody would have been able to text in and out, at a battery cost to those who relay the messages to the working cell towers. Texting doesn’t require continuous connectivity. In time, of course, towers would be repaired or they could be flow in on blimps or choppers.
I suggested that in fact this could be a commercially viable service, allowing people to text who are beyond the range of cell towers, possibly quite a bit beyond the range. Operators could still charge for this. (Others, more cynical, felt operators would never want stuff in phones that made them usable without the carrier.)
He also suggested some simple improvements. During Katrina, people who did get their cell phones out of town could not make calls because the databases that let them roam were “under water.” The databases need to be backed up, or more simply during an emergency, switch so that unknown phones are allowed to make calls if their home system does not respond, rather than blocking them.
This requires hardware mods, unfortunately (phones today can’t transmit and receive on the same bands) but otherwise is easy and could keep comms up in an emergency. A number of other cheap devices can keep power to phones.
Another person suggested phones have an ELT-like mode, where a person can enter a text message of the SOS form. Messages might indicate if the person is just advertising their location, or needs urgent help. Helicopters flying overhead could identify the phones, triangulate on them and locate all mobile owners who need rescue.
Submitted by brad on Sun, 2005-08-21 02:05.
Just back from a day at Bar Camp which was quickly put together as a tongue-in-cheek response to Tim O’Reilly’s Foo Camp and folks who had not been invited. Foo Camp is great fun, and Tim does it all for free, so it’s not suprising he has to turn people away — even me :-) — but Bar Camp was surprisingly good for something thrown together at the last minute with no costs.
It makes you wonder why some conferences have to cost so much. In Foo Camp, Tim provides his campus of course, which he already owns, and some rental facilities and most expensively, food, and lets people come free. Programming is ad-hoc, in recognition that at so many conferences, people come not because of the program but because of their fellow attendees. I haven’t asked Tim what it costs him per attendee but I suspect it’s much more modest than the fees at comparable conferences. People literally camp in empty cubicles and offices, though those not up for that can get hotel rooms or bring RVs.
Bar camp was even cheaper. Socialtext provided the office space in downtown Palo Alto. In just a short time, sponsors such as Technoratti and others provided all the food people could want, and attendees brought snacks and drinks. Fewer folks camped because it was in Silicon Valley, but some of the younger set did. Talks were quickly put together, but interesting, and covered whole ranges of new and interesting software developments. And as at Foo Camp and everywhere else, hallway conversation was the real action.
With the glut of office space in this valley, and in other places, such ad-hoc conferences should not be hard to set up. Nor should sponsors be hard to find for modest food and other needs. If people become interested in having a conference rather than a business, they can do for nothing what could cost $1000 per person and with less work.
Not that I wouldn’t enjoy going back to Foo Camp, but Bar was its own rewarding experience too.
Submitted by brad on Thu, 2005-08-04 15:50.
In this new category, “What a great idea” I will document interesting ideas I have seen in my travels. Things that make you go “why didn’t I think of that?” Some may be new, others just new to me.
At a recent symphony concert, I came out at intermission to see a table laid out with drinks and snacks, each with a little numbered placard. People had placed and prepaid orders before the show, and thus could get their drink without any line.
This made tremendous sense. We have this drink station that gets used for just 15 minutes a night which is terribly inefficient, and they found a way to spread out the work. This fits into one of my major themes these days, “Why should we ever have to wait in line?”
Of course, such an idea may only work with affluent symphony-goers, who are far less likely to try and steal somebody else’s drink order. You could have claim checks and that would still be faster than ordering, pouring and paying, if you didn’t trust the patrons. And, if they didn’t want you to turn off your cell phone during the show, you could even have people TXT in their orders (with keypress beep turned off of course.)
Texting in orders might make more sense in places like ballparks and amusement parks, with a message back when it’s ready. Why miss the game to stand in line for a hot dog?