Technology wants to be friends!

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Hit the road Jack and don’t you come back
No more, no more, no more, no more
Hit the road Jack and don’t you come back
No more

 

Ray Charles

 

Generally, technology provides certain expected benefits. Other benefits appear totally unexpected.  As an early adopter of technology, I tried using an automotive navigation system a couple of times. Driving in a large unknown city can be intimidating, so I like to have some gentle guidance on where to go. Anything more than this level of guidance causes my frontal cortex to freeze up. As you know, numerous people ended up in rivers, lakes and oceans simply following navigation system directions with no further frontal cortex involvement of their own.

 

For example the WAZE application allows you to avoid traffic tie-ups, but it expects you to think about what you are doing. Their terms of reference includes the following exclusion;

You agree and acknowledge that you assume full, exclusive and sole responsibility for the use of and reliance on the Service, and you further agree and acknowledge that your use of or reliance on the Service is made entirely at your own risk. You further acknowledge that it is your responsibility to comply with all applicable laws (including traffic laws) while using the Service.

 

I rented a car in Toronto along with a nurturing navigation unit without even a cursory review of the terms and conditions. I find the street layouts somewhat intimidating. Where I come from, whenever you have a street, with an overpass on top, iced with a further freeway on top of that, I believe myself in a futuristic metropolis.

 

The rental agency gently explained how the global positioning system (GPS: godforsaken poor sap) worked. I later sat in the car while the system accessed the satellites. I believed that they could have been talking, planning or eventually scheming about how they intended to take over the world, starting with me.

 

My propensity to allow an authority figure to tell me what to do becomes a factor here. I expressed a bit of free will and left the parking lot before the GPS managed to access its cabal of satellites. The cement parking lot seemed to block access. I will remember that for when the machine apocalypse finally comes.

 

The unit gave me a choice of a nurturing female voice or a big brother type of male voice. I went with the female voice thinking that I would need more understanding while driving in the big city. The GPS “Gennie” located its conspirator satellites and told me to continue driving forward. Any sort of takeover requires complicity in the subject, so I started to relax. Gennie’s female voice softly directed me to drive downtown and gave me fair warning of upcoming exits, merging highways and veering lefts or rights. She comforted me and appeared to be on my side.

I followed her directions to the letter and found myself between a series of pylons and within an area exclusively for trains. She continue to console me by saying how close I was to my destination. I eventually found an exit to this apparent train trap.   The machines showed their cleverness. But just not clever enough.

 

Time heals all wounds apparently. Rather, stupid never learns. I rented another Gennie when I flew to the west coast. The Victoria airport is at the tip of a peninsula and you have to travel south for 20 miles before you can eventually travel north up the island. I thought with no rail lines around and no stacked concrete freeways, I would be relatively safe.

 

I wanted to find a slightly shorter route that would hug the coastline and allow me to shoot up north faster. The Victoria rental agency parks its cars outside and the new Gennie found its conspirator satellites easily. Too easily.

 

I followed the traditional highways down the peninsula, and as I hoped, Gennie got me off the highway quickly. We turned, I say ‘we’ since I thought Gennie and I were off on an adventure of sorts. A safe adventure. More of a Walt Disney type of adventure with guardrails, standard safety features and no lines.

 

The new route turned out to be far quainter than the traditional highway route. The maximum road speeds became lower than highway speeds. However, one must slow down to appreciate the beauty of the area.

 

We made another turn down another street. Even quainter, more suburban and slower. However, one must slow down to a crawl in order to read the various historical site signs. Life goes too quickly not to absorb the local flavor.

 

We made another turn down a gravel road. This area now epitomized quaintness, and at complete stop now, I could even get out and smell the roses without fear of drive-by rose thorn scratches.

 

The very short line of stopped cars ahead of me had people inside that appeared to be waiting. Looking ahead, I could now see that the road actually ended up into the ocean. Another car stopped behind me. They cut off my escape route. I admonished myself for being so gullible for falling into another GPS trap. Although this one seemed to be a fairly low speed trap. A quick mind should be able to figure out an escape.

 

Perhaps Gennie thought I would be driven by peer pressure to drive my vehicle into the water to drown. I scope out alternate escape routes.

 

The best place to start seemed to be the corner store beside me where they sold coffee. And ferry tickets. I realize that Gennie wanted me to take the ferry and not to drive my car into the water. Although this has been known to happen.

 

I bought a coffee and a ferry ticket while making nonchalant conversation as to the timing of the next ferry. I then squeezed in a further question as to what the weather might be like where we were going with the hope I would find out where we were going. One of the more helpful quaint inhabitants gestured to a far point on the other side of the channel and suggested that whatever I saw across the way would likely be what the weather would be like. His mouth smiled, but I could sense that his eyes suggested ‘dumb-ass’. I went back to the car.

 

The ferry ride turned out to be very pleasant, uneventful and short. This gave me a good chance to get out of the car, watch the sea and feel the wind. Having seen the sights, read the historical markers and smelled the roses, I appreciated the new experience. Technology provided these unexpected benefits.

 

I took the ferry less travelled.

 

 

Gary Goodwin

garywgoodwin@gmail.com

204 232 3916

Mogul Moral Hazard

cold-cool-man-47356 (1)Moral Hazard describes a situation in which one party becomes more inclined to enter into risky behaviors knowing that they are protected against the risk and the other party will incur the cost.

This came to mind when I finally went downhill skiing after a twenty year hiatus. Back in my high school and university days, my life revolved around skiing and planning to ski. Not that I have ever been seriously injured while skiing, but the possibility came top of mind recently.

Skiing has changed. I went to the rental shop and they pulled out these new innovations. The skis now have this parabolic shape. I remember reading about them years ago, but I was not aware of what they looked like up close. Bodacious comes to mind. The boots weren’t much different, thankfully.

There was an entire rack of helmets, so I picked up one these things also. Amazingly, back on the ski hill everything worked out. No one got hurt. This new equipment did make it far easier to ski and I was likely way more aggressive wearing the helmet.

I was quite ready to admit at the beginning of the day that I was a less than average skier considering all of the time that had passed, but after a couple of runs all of that confidence came back. Perhaps false confidence, but confidence all the same.

But this is where behavioral economics comes in. When it comes to activities such as driving for example, about 90% of people feel that they are better than the average driver. Almost no one wants to place themselves in the bottom half of drivers by suggesting that “yep, I’m far worse than the average driver.’ This suggests that people are far more confident in their abilities than statistics and the Darwin Awards actually show.

This raises the question of whether insurance induces people to engage in risker behavior than they would if they didn’t have insurance. For myself, I have perhaps an excessive amount life insurance at eight time’s annual salary in the case of accidental death along with some great long and short term disability. I don’t think having this insurance modified my behavior. I certainly wasn’t skiing eight times faster knowing that I would leave a very nice estate.

Moral hazard arises from asymmetric knowledge. One party knows more than the other party. In this instance, the insurer may not completely understand that I intend to engage in risk taking behaviours since mentally I still feel 20 years old. Emotionally, perhaps a bit younger. Physically, perhaps 3 times that. How can the insurer foresee that I might undertake some ‘dumbass’ skiing behaviours while my mental, emotional and physical ages are several decades apart? Perhaps that is already worked into their mathematical models.

This represents a type of ex ante moral hazard, or before the event. I am not a major fan of using an opaque terms of describing a vague concept. But this generally means that I change my behaviours based on the fact that I am now insured. Perhaps ex dumbass ante moral hazard captures the concept.

This compares nicely to the ex post moral hazard. After the insured event has occurred, you are more prone to claim insurance benefits exactly because they are available. Admittedly I use our health care spending account for this purpose. I spend a bit more to get the compressed lens for my glasses to avoid the coke bottle effect I would otherwise need to see what I am doing. I feel enabled.

Insurance companies do take steps to address this increase in use of insurance benefits by adding deductibles and co-insurance. Again behavioral economics tells us that people are twice as adverse to losses as they are to gains. Here we can see that insurance companies do recognize that the rationale person that traditional economic models rely upon does not exist except perhaps only the in the earlier fairy tale type of economic texts. But insureds would still be prone to take care to avoid incurring a loss since there is the frustration factor.

This frustration factor becomes apparent when claiming travel health insurance. My wife and I made plans for a bike trip in Asia. Being the prudent people we are, we purchased the complete trip cancellation insurance. This may be similar to purchasing the extended warranty which turns out to be a costly insurance premium for a low probable event. But buying trip cancellation is the easiest thing in the world. You put in the length of your trip, your age, price of the trip, your credit card number and off you go. You get a nice little brochure almost instanteously.

Unfortunately, my wife got ill just before the trip and had to cancel. Now, there is no way to fill in a claim form on-line. You have to download the policy and figure out how to fill in a claim. This necessitated printing out the form, photocopying receipts and physically mailing the entire package. The number of doctors visits increased since now we also had to provide written reports on why she couldn’t travel and how this was not a pre-existing illness.

Admittedly, this acts as a type of disincentive. Even as a lawyer, I found the amount of paperwork, and I mean actual paper, excessive. The 10 month time and effort to claim under the insurance exceeded the 10 minute time and effort to arrange the insurance. One would hope that the arrangement time and the claim time would be comparable. Fortunately, my wife are completely hung up on this completion thing and made this a personal project to complete.

Research seems to show that insurance does not increase the ex dumbass ante behavior. Insurance does seem to negate some preventative behavior that’s difficult to maintain. It seems to be easier to take drugs to alleviate diabetes than it is to avoid those sugary laced slushy drinks. Insurance does increase use of health benefits, but this may reduce even more costly medical intervention later.

Mark Twain in his speech on accident insurance had this to say.

“I have seen an entire family lifted out of poverty and into affluence by the simple boon of a broken leg. I have had people come to me on crutches, with tears in their eyes, to bless this beneficent institution. In all my experiences of life, I have seen nothing so seraphic as the look that comes into a freshly mutilated man’s face when he feels in his vest pocket with his remaining hand and finds his accident ticket all right.”

So insurance companies, and lawyers, face a discerning public. I am sure I should apologize to one group for placing those two groups together. But like anything, once you really need insurance, or a lawyer, you’re glad it’s there.

Pixabay

+Source: pixabay.com

Nature Deficit Disorder and the Cottage Preseason Opener

pexels-photo-42240Nature deficit disorder appears to be a real thing and spending time at the cottage provides a great fix. As part of this, my family and I have been unintentionally creating additional habitat for various invasive species for almost 17 years.

We purchased an A-frame cottage on Lake Winnipeg to get closer to nature.The two-story cottage and the open design allow everyone in the family their own personal space. The metal roof and cedar siding keeps out the elements, but not the rodents, which need their own personal space.

Opening the cottage after a long winter became a joyous occasion for the family. The main reason for this joy includes my travelling to the cottage by myself beforehand and conducting a cottage preseason opener. Like baseball spring training, I do some preliminary cleaning to work out the bugs. And of course by bugs, I do mean insects and other things that would drive away family members till the incident was forgotten.

In the first year, the flat roof over the sunroom leaked. The good news was that the vapor barrier captured all the water. The bad news was that these bags of tarry water hanging from the ceiling pushed out the ceiling tiles and made the room reminiscent of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.  Making an incision in the hanging cocoon and draining the water remedied the situation.

We recently installed a small outdoor hot tub that we can plug-in for the summer. When lifting the lid for the first time of the season, I ask please don’t let me find a dead small mammal inside. This is only exceeded by the triple please of don’t let me find a terrified, alive and wanting to escape small mammal inside. So far, we have been good.

When cleaning outside, I use the gas-powered leaf blower to man-dust the decks. I do walk through the cottage, engine off, to clean the upper deck. Only a few times has it passed my mind to quickly man-dust the interior. Who would really know? But there are the gas fumes. So next year I am so going electric leaf blower. The gas blower works very well in the garage, especially if no one is watching.

Inside the cottage, checking all of the furniture, particular the beds, for mouse droppings, comes next. We keep the cottage warm during the winter, so finding a soft fluffy mouse nest in one of the beds is not beyond consideration. A mouse nest would require a cathartic cleansing of the linens. And by cleansing, I mean burning.

Cleaning inside causes a bit less stress. The freezer has to be cleaned out to make room for the coming summer. Sometimes this means tossing everything. Sometimes this means not letting things go to waste. This spring I had to dispose of a half container of crystalized ice cream, and by dispose of I mean eat. It tasted liked solidified sugar. And regret.

The main event involves crawling beneath the cottage. We have this area closed in, insulated and covered in plastic. Dark, dusty, bit mildewy, no one could hear you scream, if you even had the chance.

One late fall, some mid-sized mammals had moved in underneath the cottage. The tunnel they dug underneath the wall enclosing the bottom of the cottage allowed the cold winter air to directly hit the pipe coming up out of the ground from the well pump. This resulted in no well water for the rest of the winter and no working toilets. So during the summer, I closed off their hole and installed more furnace venting to direct heat towards the corner to prevent the pipes from freezing. The following winter, the hole was redug, and the venting was ripped apart. Apparently they didn’t like the air flow. They continued to show their displeasure by scat throughout the level beneath the cottage. Mid-size mammal droppings are a general sign to be careful, but I would swear that the droppings were arranged into an actual sign that said ‘stay away’. It may have been the darkness.

The forested property provides a tremendous view of the lake, which with the waves can look more like the ocean. Lake Winnipeg suffers from some eutrophication. Surface runoff from the extensive watershed and fertilizer use creates algae blooms. These blooms create green waves with the consistency of green paint. Waves glurp when hitting the shore. And waves should never glurp. Not a sound you want to have alongside your morning coffee.

At some point during the summer the sun brings out the flowers and butterflies. When the family comes to the cottage, the BBQ comes out, along with the home-made beer, bicycles and kayaks. This sooths the nature deficit disorder somewhat, and we continue to get inoculated as often as possible. There remains a difference between watching nature, and nature watching you. Nature normally comes at night, with many pairs of eyes that appear to glow in the dark. But, we are intervening into nature’s arena and we should be respectful. And watchful. Always watchful.

 

 

Photo by mali maeder from Pexels https://www.pexels.com/photo/snow-wood-forest-winter-42240/

Biking Cambodia-Hanoi stopover

Brent and I managed to snag a couple of free coupons for egg coffee. Yes, raw egg dropped into your coffee like cream apparently. Quite tasty.

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The restaurant is actually on the second floor and there is only a small alley to access it. Something that no one would head down without someone with you.

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In Hanoi, I tried to capture the amazing dance of the scooters. How they manage to mingle about is amazing.

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In the evening, people gather around the lake. A central spot for socialization.

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A couple were having their photos taken for their upcoming celebrations. So  I couldn’t resist.

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Biking Cambodia-Hanoi Stopover

Brent and I are just in the process of looking over the courtyard to the entrance of the National University.

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We grab one more photo at the entrance to the University.IMG_3762

We leave the grounds and start walking back to our hotel. You can see that the University is completely enclosed by stone walls. We must have looked like we knew what we were doing since we were stopped by other tourists looking for a way in to the University.

Scooter transporst is really the way the majority of people get around in Hanoi. Don’t forget. Don’t show any fear.

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Here is an interior shot of the mall I had described earlier. There are numerous car dealerships inside. The pockets of wealth are amazing considering the poverty you see everywhere else.

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