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Can We Level Set? June 6, 2017

Posted by Peter Varhol in Uncategorized.
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I am reading some incredible things about self-driving cars, machine learning (which I know something about), and a broad variety of other fanciful technologies.  To be fair, self-driving cars are a ways away, for a variety of reasons, Uber self-flying aircraft are a pipe dream, and intelligent machines taking over jobs are largely still off in an indeterminate future.

So, just where is the world on technology?  I am not entirely sure, but I would like to offer some opinions.  First, I am fairly technology savvy, although I am rarely a first adopter.  I am certainly not a last adopter.

My Subaru is going on 19 years old, and still starts reliably.  It will be replaced this year, I promise.  But I will not have a self-driving car in my lifetime.  And if you are middle age or beyond, neither will you, despite what we are fed for what passes for news these days.

My new Dell, all four cores and 8GB of RAM, still hangs on web browsing.  If you think your car is going to seamlessly communicate with the Internet and other cars in real time (do you even know what real time means?), you are very wrong.  Your NetFlix movie streaming probably doesn’t even give you a high-def video reliably.  Be honest here.  I am told I get 30Mbps, and it is slow because of what we are sending.

Speaking of which, I have a TV that is about 20 years old.  It has a tube; does anyone remember what that is?  But I get the stuff I need from Xfinity.

We are constantly fed a farce of new and even better.  A few of us buy the latest and greatest, and think that is where the world is.  If you are a constant first adopter, more power to you.  You spend money on things that you don’t need, and probably don’t even use to their potential.  But hey, it’s your money.

My point is that what you spend on being a first adopter today is pretty much wasted.  In 30 years, we may see a completely controlled highway system filled with self-driving cars.  It won’t happen tomorrow in a way that will alleviate the pain of driving or the traffic issues of today.  Personal aircraft won’t happen in anyone’s lifetime, despite Uber’s big conference on the topic.  Facebook will not dominate our lives.

If we think otherwise, we are deluding ourselves.  I am a big believer in technology.  I think we are making the world better.  And I think that many of the things that are going on are really great.

But they are not right around the corner.


Uber Must Die June 6, 2017

Posted by Peter Varhol in Technology and Culture.
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I dislike saying that, and I will get there in an indirect way.  I have a friend whose father recently passed, and as the executor she is required to bring his financial affairs to a conclusion.  She is dealing with utilities, banks, and a variety of other contact points, increasingly frustrated at the difficulty of closing, cancelling, or transferring accounts.  Her own company actually shut off the electricity to his condo, where she was now living.

The only exception is Fidelity, for retirement accounts.  She called Fidelity, expecting more of the same.  She got actionable advice, and the names and direct phone numbers of people who were willing to help her still further.  As a result, she wants to move not only his but all of her retirement assets into Fidelity accounts.

I would like to think that we tend to gravitate to companies that have good reputations, and provide good customer service.  Uber seems to be different, in that its users are able to divorce their use from the service from their understanding of the underlying company.

This is very wrong, of course.  I simply lack the fundamental understanding of why people frequent a company whose founder and CEO talked of starting an Uber-based dating service called “Boober.”

If you stand for anything at all, you must rail against this.  Yet people who use Uber don’t, oddly.

In fairness, Uber has done some things right.  It has provided a way to hail a taxi (even though that is still not what they claim to be) without knowing the local number of a taxi company.  People, oddly, don’t want to actually contact someone to get their ride.  But if you are a Uber user, you must know that your ride is subsidized, at around 60 percent, and someday they will have to significantly increase their prices.  Are you still onboard?

The problem is that the VCs are so financially invested that they can’t let it die, and will do anything to take it to an exit strategy.  So the VCs can’t get out.  Guess what?  You can.  Delete the app.  Take the additional friction of finding a cab.  You will grow as a human being.

But Uber is poison.  Beyond an initial goal to upend the taxi industry, it has no redeeming value.  Most of us care about the companies we do business with.  If you don’t care about Uber, you are very wrong.