Archives for San Francisco



Would a Computer-Driven Vehicle Make This Kind of Error?

Reading about the horrific train crash in Spain that killed at least 80, and thinking back to the (rare) fatal airplane crash in San Francisco brought to mind the ride I took in a driverless car a few months back at Carnegie Mellon University. Many people still distrust a computer to get them from Point A to B. How long will it be before our thinking changes and we distrust humans to do the same? The train and plane crashes both appear to be due to human error, as are the vast majority of automobile crashes (which kill more than 1 million people worldwide each year).

I haven’t spent all that much time in Spain but one of the most striking observations from a recent visit was how hard it is to buy a train ticket from a machine. In many cases, you have to wait in (long) line for a human ticket-seller. Whenever I asked why, I was told this was simply done to protect jobs — an understandable, if unsatisfying, defense in a country with 27% unemployment.

It does make me wonder how much a country or culture with a strong sense of job protection will be resistant to technological changes purely on employment grounds, even if they might produce large gains for the greater good.



In Some Elections, Second Best Might Be Good Enough

On Tuesday, Nov. 8, Portland, Maine will hold its first mayoral election in 88 years. (The mayorship previously rotated between city council members.) But it’s going to be unusual for another reason: voters will use a ranked choice system, which means they have to list the 15 candidates in order of preference. An image of the ballot appears below. Here’s the AP’s David Sharp reporting on the complexities:

The ballot is too complicated to be understood by the city’s voting machines, so only first-place votes will be announced on the night of the election, said Caleb Kleppner, vice president of TrueBallot Inc. The final outcome of the race won’t be known until the following day when the ballots are scanned and all of voters’ rankings are extrapolated, Kleppner said.

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Do We Overvalue Our Desire to Live Among People of Our Own Race?

A new working paper from a quartet of economists proposes a new method of estimating how we value the “non-marketed amenities” of neighborhood choices such as avoiding pollution and living among people of our own race. The old static method, they say, underestimates our willingness to pay to avoid air pollution and crime, but overstates how much we value living near neighbors of our own race. Here’s the abstract: Read More »



San Francisco, City of Bans, Edition No. 3

First came a de facto ban of Happy Meals; then a proposal for a ban on circumcisions; now comes a proposal to ban the sale of just about every living animal, including goldfish. From the L.A. Times:

Yes, goldfish. And guppies, gobies, gouramies, glowlight tetras, German blue rams. No fish, no fowl, no reptiles, no amphibians, no cats, no dogs, no gerbils, no rats. If it flies, crawls, runs, swims or slithers, you would not be able to buy it in the city named for the patron saint of animals.

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What Will San Francisco Ban Next? How About Circumcisions

Last November, when San Francisco effectively banned McDonald’s Happy Meals, we wondered what it would try to ban next. The answer? Circumcisions. From the AP:

A group seeking to ban the circumcision of male children in San Francisco has succeeded in getting their controversial measure on the November ballot, meaning voters will be asked to weigh in on what until now has been a private family matter.
City elections officials confirmed Wednesday that the initiative had received enough signatures to appear on the ballot, getting more than 7,700 valid signatures from city residents. Initiatives must receive at least 7,168 signatures to qualify.
If the measure passes, circumcision would be prohibited among males under the age of 18. The practice would become a misdemeanor offense punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 or up to one year in jail. There would be no religious exemptions.



What Will San Francisco Ban Next?

I keep thinking the headlines are from The Onion but they are not. First we read that San Francisco has effectively banned the Happy Meal. Then we learn of a new law that bans people from sitting or lying on city sidewalks from 7 a.m. until 11 p.m. (known, naturally, as the “sit/lie law”). Some months ago, the city’s Commission of Animal Control and Welfare proposed banning the sale of any pets other than fish, but that measure has apparently been tabled. Read More »



Vegans Thwart FBI’s Anti-Terror Program

Of all places, San Francisco must be one of the worst in which to try a “following the falafel” strategy for catching terrorists. Still, I like the creativity. (Hat tip: Alon Nir.) Read More »



Seth Roberts, Guest Blogger (Part III)

Here’s a third post from our guest blogger, Seth Roberts, a psychology professor at Berkeley and, apparently, the next American diet guru. If you need to get up to speed on Seth’s unorthodox research with weight-loss, mood, and sleep, click here (our N.Y. Times article about him), here (research extras and pix), here (the first […] Read More »