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Should a robot decide who lives or dies?

A recent survey asked the following hypothetical question. If a driverless car is headed on a collision course with a group of pedestrians, and it is impossible for the car to stop. Should the car be programed to plough into the pedestrians, killing many of them, or swerve off the road to avoid collision and possible kill the passengers in the car?

People answering the survey no doubt thought this way: “I am not a sociopath therefore I don’t want my car to kill people, but on the other hand I don’t want it to kill me and my family, so I won’t buy one.”

But shouldn’t this question have been asked long before now when buying an SUV that is as big as a small house, and built like an armored truck. People buy these vehicles to protect themselves and their families. Protect themselves from the other driver, that is.

The fact that these larger, heavier vehicles are then a greater hazard to every other road user, pedestrians and cyclist especially, and even smaller compact cars. The question doesn’t even arise because each individual SUV buyer sees himself as a good and safe driver, it is always the other driver that is the problem.

Isn’t the whole purpose behind the driverless car to eliminate driver error? The cause of the majority of collisions ever since the automobile was invented. You notice I said “Collision” and not “Accident.” This is deliberate.

When human error is a factor it is easy to say “Whoops-a-Daisy” it was just an accident. As I previously pointed out most people are not sociopaths they don’t intend to kill people. But drive in a reckless and dangerous fashion and someone’s death is a likely outcome.

But what will happen when the robots take over and all cars are driverless? Without the human error factor you can no longer call it an accident when someone dies, either inside or outside the car. Who gets sued? Not the driver, because there isn’t one.  The robotic system will have failed, so the car manufacturer will be responsible.

And can a corporation even program a computer controlled car to decide who lives or dies? I can see that one going all the way to the Supreme Court.

If cars become driverless, speeds will have to come down dramatically. A pedestrian hit at 30 mph. or less has a good chance of survival. Above that speed the odds become less, and above 50 mph. death is almost certain.

Robotics does not overcome physics. A vehicle traveling at 50 mph. still needs 125 feet to stop. That doesn’t include human driver reaction time, I am assuming a computer will react faster.

Another factor to consider. Cars may be robotic, but not pedestrians and cyclists. Will pedestrians learn that if you step out in front of an approaching driverless car, it will stop? Will cyclists realize that by riding in the middle of the lane, a car on auto pilot will not pass unless safe to do so? How will that go over on a morning commute? Following a cyclist at 10 or 15 mph.

I think fully driverless cars are a long way off. The delay will not be a technical issue, it will be one of, “Will it be accepted by the general populous, is this what people want, and will they buy it?”

A more sensible approach would be to concentrate on reliable and low cost public transport. (Possibly driverless to cut costs.) Another way robotics could come into play is to restrict speeds in heavily congested areas. The current system of everyone driving at least 5 mph. over the limit is ludicrous.

Maybe put a few slow moving driverless cars into the traffic system just to slow everyone down. You can honk and cuss at a robot as much as you like, it won’t do you any good. Speed is the culprit, if everyone was forced to drive at 20 or 25 mph. there is time to react and avoid collisions even when the other driver makes a mistake or does something stupid.


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Today being Fathers’ Day gave me occasion to think not only about my own father, but fathers in general.

As I see it fathers come in four categories. Good, bad, and indifferent, or missing completely.

Those missing complexly may either have left at some point, and whereabouts either known or unknown.

Or just plain not knowing who the father is.

I once knew someone who was conceived during a drunken one night stand. His mother not only didn’t know who the father was, she didn’t even have a name to trace him. All she could remember was that he was one of the most handsome men she had ever met.

This particular young man was absolutely obsessed with the fact that he didn’t know who his father was. Obsessed to the point that he allowed it to ruin his life. He blamed his mother, which spoiled that relationship. His mother could have just as easily aborted the pregnancy, or put him up for adoption, but instead raised him as a single parent. She was a loving mother as far as I could tell.

One day after growing tired of listening to him complain about his missing father, I told him to concentrate on what he did know instead of constantly complaining about what he didn’t know. He had good features and a fine physique, no doubt inherited from his father, whoever he was. He had a good brain in his head, and was well educated.

I told him about my own father who was not a particularly good one. He had abused my mother and me, physically, verbally, mentally, leaving scars that took years to heal. Until one day I realized we none of us get to choose our parents, we all have to make do with what we are given.

My father was one of the first to be drafted when WWII broke out in September 1939. I was only three and a half years old so don’t remember him before he left. He fought in the North Africa Campaign for almost five years, then came home briefly in 1944 when I was nine years old.

He then went over to France in the follow up to D-Day and was gone another year. He came through all this unscathed, physically that is, I am sure it affected him mentally. I often wonder, what if he had been killed.

All I would have is pictures like the one above, taken 1940 somewhere in the Sahara Desert. My mother would have no doubt told me wonderful stories about him. I often wonder would I have then spent the rest of my life trying to live up to this image of my father. Not a real image but a perceived one.

Would I be any less screwed up or emotionally scarred in later life? We all have fathers whether they are known to us or not. If we have a good one then we should consider ourselves lucky. Because the odds are greater that we have one who is bad, indifferent, or just plain unknown or missing.

We are all a product of where we came from and what we did along the way. No matter how hard I try my past will never get any better. So what would be the use of continuing to blame my father for problems I have now? This was the point I tried to make to the young man who didn’t know his father.

My father died in 1996, I wrote this some years later:

When I finally forgave you I had to reach beyond the grave, I didn’t choose the hand you dealt, but chose the game I played.

I stepped into a time and place where I’d stop blaming you, and take responsibility for everything I do.

I wouldn’t trade what I have now to change one yesterday, that goes for you, you were my dad, that’s all there is to say.

I swore I’d never cry for you when I was just a kid, but the day I heard you’d passed on, cryin’ was the first thing that I did.


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Looking back at the Classic Rendezvous Weekend

I got back late on Monday from the Classic Rendezvous weekend in Greensboro, North Carolina. I met so many old friends, and saw a lot of new faces. Many introduced themselves as readers of this blog. I didn’t take notes of names to go with all the faces, which would have been a chore.

One name and face I didn’t need to note was that of Dale Brown, (Left in above picture.) owner of Cycles d’Oro Bike store, who organized the whole show. Dale was one of my early bike dealers when I first opened my own California frameshop in 1983. We have remained friends ever since.

Picture right: With Bill Russell from Atlanta, Georgia. With Bill's #002 Fuso.

Organizing shows like the Classic Rendezvous is a huge amount of work, all done as a break even proposition.

Break even money-wise that is, if you are lucky. The many hours of work entailed I’m pretty sure is unpaid for.

We are none of us getting any younger and Dale expressed this would be the last he would be organizing.

Hopefully, some other vintage bike enthusiast will step up and fill the void.

These types of events are a joy to attend, a whole lot of fun, and cement together a community of like-minded bike enthusiasts.

However, they are an expense for the organizers and those attending. Travel expenses, hotels, and the cost of shipping bikes adds up.

I was privileged to be invited as a guest speaker on Saturday afternoon. I spoke more about my past experiences than bike tech stuff. In between talking I played and sang a few of my original songs.

It is what I do now, but this was the first time I have done this in front of a group of bike enthusiasts. (Picture left.)

I did not know what to expect, or how it would go over. I believe there were 80 or 100 people in the room.

The sound system was not the best for a musical performance, but they were a gracious audience.

Many expressed after that they enjoyed it, and I greatly appreciated that.

Once again I came away with the feeling that I am indeed a lucky man. Lucky to have had the opportunity to have actually built frames in the 1970s and 1980s, the vintage era. And now that I have been out of the business longer than I was in it, I find it satisfying that people still remember me and my past work.

Many show attendees bought copies of my book and tee shirts, which more than offset my expenses for the weekend. Plus my wife Kathy and I had a great time, a mini-vacation.

So many approached me at the show, saying they were long time readers of this blog. Some named specific articles that had particularly touched them. That means a lot to me as a writer. I sincerely thank you all.


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Classic Rendezvous Weekend

I am looking forward to next weekend June 10 – 12, I will be at the Classic Rendezvous Vintage Bike Show, in Greensboro, North Carolina. As usual it will be an opportunity to meet with old friends and hopefully make new ones.

I am fortunate to be one of the guest speakers. (Sat 11th. 4 pm.) I say fortunate because I am just that, a very lucky man. Blessed, not only to have the ability to build a few good bicycle frames over the years, but to have been around in a time when it was possible to make a good living doing it. Of course I speak of the 1980s.

It is a safe bet to say that the majority of bikes at the Classic Rendezvous Show will be from the 1980s, there will also be earlier ones of course, but the 1980s really marked the end of hand brazed, lugged steel. And possibly marked the end of an era when bicycles will become collectables in the future. In much the same way than modern cars will not be collected either.

I will do my best to make my presentation both entertaining and informative. One of the topics I plan to touch on is positioning. I plan to talk about it in a way that I have not written about here, for the simple reason it needs to be demonstrated rather than written about.

There was a nice article by Matthew Butterman in the Handbuilt Bicycle News. Matt pulled a picture from my archives and it happened to be from 2009 when I was at my heaviest (See below.) So I took a current picture to illustrate this article, otherwise you may not recognise me, or think I am wasting away or something. (See skinny Dave. top. 150 lbs.)

I hope to see some of you at the event. If you are attending please introduce yourself. 

Above Fat Dave February 2009, 178 lbs. 

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The Newspaper Boy

What did Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John Wayne, and Martin Luther King all have in common?

They were all former paper boys.

Long before the newspaper industry went into decline, the newspaper delivery boy disappeared, and that is a shame.

Not only from a nostalgic perspective, but a newspaper route gave a kid a certain amount of independence, and above all it taught the importance of taking responsibility.

Once a youngster had taken on the job, a commitment had been made and there were a great many individuals relying on this young bicycle courier for their daily paper.

There were many reasons the newspaper boy disappeared. Fear by parents for the youngster’s safety, changing child labor laws, school classes starting earlier, etc., etc.

There was hardly a Hollywood movie made up until the 1970s, set in suburban America, that didn’t include a scene where a newspaper boy is riding his bike, and throwing newspapers somewhere in the approximation of the front porch.

Strange thing is, I occasionally see a newspaper boy depicted in a TV commercial, are there still any out there, has anyone seen a real one lately?

It occurred to me that a lot of readers that visit here are ex-newspaper boys or girls, and maybe for some that’s how interest in cycling began.

I thought it would be interesting to hear some of your experiences, and to know how long ago that was. Kind of like a survey to find when and why the newspaper boy went into decline. 


Footnote: I would like to thank all those who contributed their personal stories in the comments section below. It adds a great deal to the original piece. Dave

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