Wow. I haven’t felt this much anxiety for quite some time. Two people close to me are exhibiting mild symptoms that could be COVID-19. One of them is older, so that’s more dangerous. The other is much closer to me, so that’s much more worrying.

My kids’ school was just cancelled for a month straight. A month. I’ve never heard of anything like that in my life. It could be that two months from now we’ll mostly be back to normal. But more likely is we’ll be four months from now and two million Americans will have died from this shit and I’ll know several of them. There’s almost certainly going to be a recession as a result if not a depression. My feeling right now is to not go anywhere. Don’t go out to eat, don’t go to the gym. Maybe other people aren’t there yet with this same feeling but they will be within a few days probably. Lots of people aren’t going to be able to pay their bills, they’re not going to be able to be paid.

I can’t shake the feeling that this is going to be a life altering moment. Nothing will be as it was supposed to be after this. I can’t shake the feeling that this is just becoming a pattern of one fucked up thing after another. For years now here we’ve been dealing with nearby wildfire, our town covered in smoke for days at a time, whole towns in the region wiped off the map. Just a few months ago our power went out for days at a time. Living by candle light, working for a technology company by battery backup and Internet by cell phone hot spot. Whole refrigerators of food thrown away.

Now this COVID-19. And what’s after this? Probably the depression or recession that I mentioned. After that? I can foresee civil unrest, food shortages, more wildfire. I want to think that I am just worrying unnecessarily but I really don’t think I am.

One thing I need to take away from this assuming I get to the other side of this crisis as an unbroken man is to live up to the full potential of my intellect. I am disappointed in myself that it wasn’t until just about two days ago that I really understood the full gravity of this situation. I didn’t understand the severity of this disease as far as its fatality rate, the rapidity of its spreading, the effects of it on the economy, and its effect on everyday life. I could, if I chose, put a large amount of blame for this on the inadequacy of messaging on the subject. I saw a dearth of messaging answering the question of “why is this a big deal?” But the real blame should be on myself for not proactively researching this issue to really understand it. I won’t be so unprepared in the future. Yesterday I felt lucky that there was no shortage of rice and beans at the co-op. They had been stacking them by the front door for a week. And I didn’t wonder to think what would cause them to put such a display by the front door. It could have just as easily been empty by the time I looked, and my unpreparedness would have been the cause of that failure for my family.

The second takeaway from this is that life is short. I’m not going to waste my time on inconsequential shit. I’m going to accomplish important things in life, like making a real difference on issues of justice, and being an effective leader in these areas. I’m going to make real progress in becoming the man I want to be and treating myself and my family right. Because life is too short to do otherwise.

I have noticed that over the past few years, perhaps since we moved to Nevada City, that I have had certain themes in my thought. I think that maybe having a stable place that we are living, in contrast to our vagabond lifestyle in 2012, allows me to be more introspective.

One of my favorite times of day is often laying in bed before I go to sleep. I am usually a belly sleeper, and I find that if I lay on my back at bed time that I do a lot more thinking for some reason. During these times I tend to think of whatever theme has been dominating my thoughts for the past few months.

My themes tend to last for months at a time.

For a while, after reading Kurzweil’s The Singularity Is Near, my thoughts have been on the radical artificial intelligence future. In my view (to steal a Bernie-ism), Kurzweil is far too optimistic. It may be that his Utopian future does come to pass. However, I am cautious about putting so much optimism in our AI overlords. We have very real problems to worry about before artificial super intelligence arrives to save us all. Relying so much on AI to save us seems to be a gamble. What if we screw ourselves over with climate change before AI has reached its full potential? This concern is completely separate from the existential threats that Nick Bostrom raises in his book, Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies. Bostrom’s example of a paperclip optimizing AI turning the entire Earth, all of its life, and beyond, into a massive amount of paperclips reads like something out ofร‚ย The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, but in my mind it is an entirely plausible example.

Mostly as I lay in bed at night thinking about these things, I am thinking in the context of imagining what my own life will be like in certain scenarios. In the case of an intelligence explosion, it is hard to imagine what my life might be like in 50 years. In that time, we might have uploaded our brains onto a digital medium. In Kurzweil’s examples,ร‚ย the entire universe could be one big computer. How could I possibly conceive of what life might be like in this situation? Rather, I think more in the shorter term. I think about driverless cars and how that would affect daily life. But more importantly I think about how it would affect my profession of farmer. AI will probably take over the thousands-of-acres commodity farms first. The wheat and soybean farms will be largely automated. Eventually, however, AI will come for the small vegetable farms as well. What will it do to my sense of self when machines exist to the degree that I show up one day and find that all there is for me to do is sit in a lawn chair and drink a beer? An AI-powered machine will be planting, weeding, watering, harvesting, washing, packing, and delivering my produce all more efficiently than I could ever dream of doing myself. That first day of sitting in a lawn chair, drinking a beer, and watching the machines do all the work on the farm might indeed be glorious. But I doubt the 50th day will be glorious.

I do believe that humans have a need to feel needed in this world. If I feel that there is no work that I could do that is truly useful, that no one in my town is expecting anything of me, that no one will notice if I don’t show up for work, I can say personally that that will be a huge blow to my sense of self-worth. I imagine the same will be true for many other people, and I think that AI is coming for other people’s jobs a lot sooner than mine. What will happen to the tens of millions of truck drivers, accountants, lawyers, journalists, and others, who will be put out of work by AI? I think we could be facing a huge mental health crisis in this country.

I do think that will adequate planning we can mitigate the problems that might arise as AI gets more and more powerful. But given the current state of politics in this country, I don’t have high hopes that we will tackle this problem proactively.

Next time on my blog, we can talk about Buddhism!

It is time to start writing on this blog again. All of my blogging energy has gone into, and now that Mags and I have decided to settle down in Nevada City, California, it is time to do more writing, which is more what this blog is about.

Lately, I have been thinking more and more about the coming advances in robot and artificial intelligence technologies, and how much change these advances will bring about in our economy, transportation systems, and personal lives. My thinking has been stimulated and prompted by a piece by 60 Minutes on robots in the workplace, and a series of articles in Forbes about the Google Driverless Cars.

I think it is most clear what the impacts of the Google Driverless Cars will be, and that is the subject of this first post. Very quickly, this new technology will turn every part of our transportation system on its head.

First and foremost, in most respects driverless cars will be a huge boon to street safety for all users. Collisions between two driverless cars will be virtually non-existent, as the cars will be in constant communication with each other. The algorithms and sensors controlling the cars will have much quicker reaction times and much lower error rate than any human driver.

These algorithms will be required to follow all traffic laws. This will be a huge plus for all sorts of streets, but especially in cities. As a cyclist, I look forward to the days when cars will properly yield and merge, and not double park.

Even for the clueless, iPhone-wielding pedestrian will driverless cars be a great advance in safety. Even the best algorithms and sensors can’t bring a car to a dead stop in no time, but a driverless car could begin perfect evasive and slowing maneuvers the second a pedestrian steps into the road. This extra half second and use of perfect technique will avoid many collisions with all road users, no matter who is at fault, and when collisions do occur they will be much less likely to be fatal.

Perhaps the greatest advance in street safety will be the elimination of drunk driving. There will still be plenty of dolts who decide to drive themselves home when they have a driverless car option, but most drunks will opt to let the car drive them home. Drunk driving is a huge problem, as we all know, and I think it is a problem that will eventually be close to eliminated.

The entire car ownership model will be turned on its head. Many people will choose out of habit or pride to still own their own car, driverless or not, but more and more people will realize the great economic benefit of simply renting a driverless car on demand, paid hourly and/or by the mile. If you live in a city or suburb, you will be able to request a car to pick you up, and a car without anyone in it will drive itself to your front door within minutes. Most people will opt for this option over owning their own car, especially young people and city dwellers.

With near perfect utilization of a fleet of driverless cars, many fewer cars will need to be produced. This will be a giant shock wave to the auto industry. The vehicle fleet will eventually fall to 10% of what it is today, since cars will rarely be vacant, save for the times like 3am when most people don’t want to go anywhere anyway. This change alone will be disruptive to many economies, especially the United States, Japan, and Germany. A smart auto maker will realize this change is inevitable and get out ahead of the change. Half or more of current auto makers will fold within the next few decades as demand vanishes.

With far fewer cars sitting idle, giant parking lots will become a thing of the past, as will many areas of street parking. This will be a great thing for bicycle infrastructure, sidewalk widening, and using old parking lots for things like parks and public gardens. This will also cause business real estate prices to drop, as many huge parking lots will now be open to development for business use. Indeed, even streets themselves will be able to be significantly narrowed as driverless cars will be able to follow each other with just inches to spare. This narrowing and removal of car travel lanes will present even more opportunities for more sidewalks and bicycle infrastructure.

Again, driving will be much more efficient, and I mean an improvement by leaps and bounds. Gone will be the days of constant traffic jams due to irrational driving behavior, collisions, and inefficient use of road surfaces. Because driverless cars will be in constant communication with each other, they can follow each other within inches, braking instantly as needed, and gaining a huge boost in wind drag efficiency due to drafting. This huge increase in efficiency will make our current freeways look downright silly as most of the road surface will be completely empty while other parts will be crammed with cars safely going 100 miles per hour. Rather than our current ridiculous trend of widening freeways, we’ll actually contract them and save bundles on maintenance costs.

As you will be able to instantly get a personal vehicle sent to your location at any time, equipped with a computerized chauffeur, public transit will go through a huge change. Many public bus lines will be eliminated, and where they are kept the drivers will be replaced by computers and sensors. Some people will have their driverless car memberships subsidized by local government so the costs to them will be comparable to their current subsidized transit passes.

Other types of transit will show resiliency as they offer speed advantages over cars with rubber tires on asphalt and cement. Airplanes and eventually high-speed rail will be used when you need to get somewhere more quickly or more comfortably than a driverless car can get you there. However, routes like San Francisco to Los Angeles will greatly shrink as people can do the route in 3.5 hours using a driverless car at 100 miles per hour, without having to deal with the indignities and delays of airports. Air travel and high-speed rail will mostly be used for trips of 500 miles and more, and of course trips across the oceans. I don’t see good local trains and subways going away any time soon, as in many cases they are already such a fast and efficient way to travel.

Even many of our errands will be turned on their heads. You’ll be able to place an order on the web to the grocery store, and a car with no one in it will arrive at your house at the appointed time with your order. Your package deliveries will also arrive in a driverless vehicle at appointed times. A driverless car will arrive to take kids to school.

Taxi drivers will of course resist this entire endeavor, and of course I feel for them. But, honestly, resistance is futile. It is not a matter of if the taxi driver profession will be almost entirely wiped out, but simply a question of when.

Unfortunately, with the increases in efficiency, cost, speed, and convenience, many people will actually increase the amount of time they spend in cars. People won’t mind living two hours away from their job as much when they can work, read, eat, and drink from their moving car. Unfortunately this all equates to more time people will spend sitting on their asses, increasing incidences of diabetes, obesity, and heart disease.

Driverless cars will be the push that electric cars needed. When it is a computer rather than a human worrying about how, when, and where to charge, many companies will make the switch. Gasoline combustion engines will still have a significant role for longer trips, but for shorter trips electric cars will rule the day. This will be a significant advance in air quality and engine noise.

However, another form of noise will surely increase: that of cars moving at 100 miles per hour regardless of any engine noise. This background “wooshing” noise can travel for many miles, and I think it will increase as there are more cars moving at a faster speed at any given time.

Google already has working prototypes of the driverless car, and I think within three to five years we will start seeing them on the roads. In that time frame they may still be out of reach for most private owners, but they will start to be used for car sharing, where people can share the costs of these expensive cars, currently estimated to cost $300,000. The car sharing model will be the one that eventually comes to dominate, anyway. Costs for these cars will rapidly fall until they start to approach the price of current human-operated cars, and as the prices fall these things will really start to take off. I feel that most people have no idea what huge changes in transportation are on the horizon but soon enough everyone will know about it.

Despite this lengthy blog post detailing the many changes I expect to see, I am not necessarily a full advocate of driverless cars; I just think that these changes are inevitable. Overall, I think the changes will be a net positive over our current transportation system, mostly due to the huge advances in street safety for all users. However, we need to be aware of the significant drawbacks, some of which I have addressed above.

The biggest downside I see to driverless cars is that it will make it much more tempting to not engage in active transportation. Cycling, walking, and combining these modes with public transportation are currently attractive to many people because of the cost and convenience compared to private automobile ownership, especially in cities. As using driverless cars becomes inexpensive enough, many people will start to use the service and miss out on the significant health benefits that active transportation provides. In fact, I think cyclists and walkers will increasingly be seen as quaint and behind the times. The social and economic pressures to travel by driverless car will be great.

People who choose to not own a cell phone will probably be left in the dust, as they will be needed to get picked up anywhere you don’t have access to a computer.

As people are no longer in control of their own motion, they will lose touch with their sense of direction, even more than they already have with smart phones and GPS. People will lose the sense of connectedness of places as they will pay less attention to the geography between points A and B.

As active transportation decreases and public transportation shrinks, we will become more atomized as individuals than we already are. When you get picked up and dropped off door-to-door in an encapsulated vehicle, you interact less with people. The driverless deliveries will have the same effect as you no longer interact with people at the grocery store. However, you may be able to easily choose to carpool in a driverless car which would increase your interaction with people.

As it stands now, the easiest way to limit the adverse effects of car culture for yourself is to simply not own a car. It is a big, expensive decision to own a car and therefore you can easily stick with your original decision to not do so. However, when a car lifestyle is a simple web form and $50 membership fee away, it will be much more difficult to remain true to your decision to not own a car.

There will be impediments to the widespread adoption of the driverless car. These impediments will come in the form of cultural resistance, mostly from conservatives, resistance from the auto industry, and from lawmakers scared of change. These impediments are real, but at most they will slow but not stop the driverless car. Resistance is futile, for better or for worse.

I have learned a lot over these past few years. And I have also changed. Some of the changes are typical. I got married, so one would expect that I am not as interested in partying or staying up late. This is true.

I want my future home to be located in an area with very low noise and light pollution. I want to live in a community with other responsible, loving adults. I have come to value responsible, trustworthy people more and more.

I want to be able to walk outside my door to nature and beauty, not a street with cars. I want to see more than civilization when I look from my window.

Basically, I want peace, health, love, and beauty to be in my life in abundance. I need an environment that supports my growth as a person. I have a wonderful partner who also greatly values these things. Together, we will find and create a home that allows us to prosper and be happy.

A while ago I tweeted that Mags and I would be quitting our jobs in October. Some people were confused as to what was going on, and I promised a full blog post. Here it is!

Our last day of work will be October 21. For about two months following that, we will focus on organizing our stuff and also relaxing in San Francisco. I’ve lived here for six years and haven’t had much non-job time to just experience the city. I’m very much looking forward to this ๐Ÿ™‚

In late December, we will go by train to Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia to visit family for the holidays. Around New Years we will go by train and bus to Las Vegas. Mags will be teaching for about a week while I’ll be holed up a few hours away getting my exercise and meditation on for a few weeks. Mags will join me when she is done with her teaching gig.

After this is when the real adventure starts. What follows is not set in stone, but it is the general plan. It is inevitable that we will add some things, shift some things, and subtract some things.

After Vegas, we will go to Haiti to volunteer at a refugee camp for about a month. We’ll both use our professional skills and also probably do some grunt work. They’re still suffering a lot down there over a year after the earthquake.

From there we want to go to other parts of Latin America: Venezuela, Bolivia, Peru, Brazil. Probably not all of those. And we don’t really know yet what we’ll do in those places.

Then we will go to Taiwan to learn Mandarin from Mags’s aunt and visit family for two-three months, followed by a couple of weeks vacation in Japan.

In the fall we will go bike touring, with camping and couch surfing, in the Northeast US for about a month. At an undetermined time of the year, we will travel the US by train, bus, hitchhiking, etc, to explore where we want to set down roots.

There will also be a couple months of unplanned time to allow for some degree of spontaneity.

What comes next, you ask? Well, we want to have a baby or babies. We want to move somewhere that we can afford some land (read: not San Francisco proper). We want to live with others in some fashion. I want to work with my hands and not often in an office. That’ll probably take the form of farming or bicycle mechanics. We want to start a home business centered around healing and well-being – physical therapy, massage, exercise, etc.

So, lots of plans. We’ve been thinking about all of this for a long time and we’re excited to get started. The nice thing is that we’re close enough now that we can actually begin to make concrete plans, buy tickets, decide things, etc.

And, just another reminder, all of the above isn’t set in stone ๐Ÿ™‚ For about 75% of it I wanted to preface it with probably or possibly. But I thought reading that over and over would get tiresome ๐Ÿ™‚

Sometimes Twitter just doesn’t cut it… it’s not worth it to try to fit everything in 140 characters.

Mags and I have date morning this morning. We are going to start it off by going to Mission Dolores, which is the oldest building in San Francisco, built in 1776. It also contains the only cemetery in San Francisco, where even many native Ohlone people are buried. Almost everyone else that dies in San Francisco is buried in Colma. Mission Dolores is a Catholic church.

After that we are going to local restaurant Pomelo for brunch. Yum yum!

I hope everyone has been having a fun weekend!

I was feeling a bit restless and needing to get out of the office today, so I took the afternoon off.

After picking up a book from the library and doing some reading while eating lunch outside in front of Canyon Market, I headed home. It was a beautiful day today.

I brought the book into my bedroom and continued reading. And while I’ve been looking forward to reading this book for a while, there were two problems: The book was a little bit depressing (I’d be surprised if it wasn’t) and I wasn’t outside. I knew I’d kick myself if I finished the day without getting outside for a significant amount of time. I walked out to the living room and sat by the open window. I looked outside and felt a mild sense of melancholy wash over me as all I saw outside were houses, and houses, and more houses. I needed to see something other then civilization.

So I headed to Glen Canyon Park on my bike, sans helmet, wind blowing through my hair. I packed light: just my keys, wallet, knife, and bike lock. I left the cell phone at home. Good choice!

My first general thoughts were: wow, beautiful day. It really was. It was the perfect temperature. I locked my bike to a pole along the main path and started hiking up the hill. It was about 3:30 and I wanted to see the sun on its way down from an optimal position. I was cheered by the folks that made eye contact and responded when I said “hello.” After a few short minutes, I got all the way to the top of the hill and found a nice bench to sit down on. I made myself comfortable and laid down.

Then I noticed the constant whir of cars driving along O’Shaughnessy Boulevard. I noticed the noise from the airplanes, and the really annoying noise from some sort of weed whacker in the distance. I was still glad I came, but it definitely soured the experience a bit. I thought, “why can’t we have a peaceful bit of nature right here?” There should be restrictions on noise if it means that one can’t find a bit of nature near their home to relax in.

And then a friend arrived. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a six-inch stalk with purple flowers attached to it disappear into the ground. My interest was piqued. After a couple of minutes I discovered that it was just what I thought it was – a little groundhog or other similar furry guy that lives in holes. Every so often, he would pop his head out of his hole to take another few nibbles of grass. While I was still conscious of the annoying noises of modern civilization, I stopped caring as much while I was observing the little creature just a few feet from me.

Overall, it was an excellent afternoon off of work. And I realized that this park might be even more enjoyable right around the time when the sun comes up – same park but less external noise.

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Yesterday, I was out with Mom near her place, returning with her groceries in a City Carshare car. We were waiting to turn left at Monterey and Foerster. All of a sudden, we hear several harried beeps coming from a car across the intersection to our left. We look, and there is a car flying around the corner, out of control. He swerves left, now going west on Monterey. Rather than coming to a stop, he stays on the accelerator, swerving back to the right and very soon runs into a tree.

I quickly pulled into a nearby parking lot, got out, and started running to see if they guy was OK. Unfortunately he had backed up and drove off, car smoking.

His car was smoking so much that I figured the first policeman that saw him would pull him over. I start on my way again, and only a block away I see him again, dirt and grass wedged in his car grill. This time I was able to get his license plate number. I pulled over and called 911. Halfway through my short conversation, I heard sirens.

I am guessing he was caught. It didn’t look like he did too much damage to the tree, but he certainly should be held accountable for reckless driving. Besides that, there was clearly something wrong with him that I am sure he could use help for. Hopefully the police were able to connect him with the help he needs.

I find myself getting more and more jaded about what goes on in our society. So I felt the need to share my feelings about recent goings on.

Juan Williams was fired from NPR for a bigoted remark about Muslims he made on the O’Reilly Factor. And, in the society we live in, we have people writing in to NPR – not just Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee, but actual listeners – to voice their displeasure at his firing.

If the remark had been made about African Americans instead of Muslims, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. All but the fringe would just say, “Yeah, OK, of course that makes sense. Dude’s gotta be fired. Why are we even talking about this?”

Usually I don’t like NPR; their reporting is often called “liberal” but unfortunately that is far from the truth. They parrot all of the establishment assumptions about things like the moral integrity of our political elites. But at least in this case they’ve done well.


I am really glad to see Meg Whitman down 8 points in the polls, according to KPFA morning news. It really gives a little bit of hope for our society. She has spent $141 million of her own money on this governor’s race, and it’s not going to buy her the election. Jerry Brown, by contrast, has spent about a tenth of that and is winning. Sure, he’s not perfect – he is likely far from it – but he is also far from being as bad as Meg Whitman.

Also, I heard today that there is a Tea Party movement in Europe. God help us…

And, I watched a few news reports about the French protests. I personally think the protests are the greatest thing since sliced bread. Interestingly enough, the things that I have heard about the protests have included people saying “Of course, everyone knows that the pension age must be raised. However, the unions have to save face.”

Really? They _must_ be raised? There is no other possible place in the budget that can be cut, or taxes can’t be raised?

This reminds me of what is going on right now in San Francisco. The MUNI workers (bus drivers, etc) are being scapegoated by local politicians for MUNI’s woes, saying that their salaries should be lowered and benefits cut. I’m not the biggest fan of MUNI workers, but we’re looking in the wrong place for the source of the problem. Almost no one is bringing up the possibility of greatly cutting the salaries of managers and politicians. For instance, MUNI head Nat Ford makes over $300,000/year. How is this not a problem?

That is all.