One thing they all have in common is that none have set the world on fire. I think there are two reasons for this limited success, and both are about to change.
Reason one is that the economics of solo driving have always been relatively reasonable in the U.S. That could change as the economy continues its downward spiral. People will be looking to cut costs anywhere they can, and they will give up flexibility to do it. That's new, or potentially new. And in developing countries the economics of single passenger autos is less favorable. People will have iPhones long before they have their own cars.
The second obstacle to ridesharing is a sense of control. Imagine finding a ride match on your computer then walking to the sidewalk and hoping it actually shows up on time. Or imagine walking to some central pickup location and hoping there are enough drivers for the number of riders. You would feel you had no control. That's a stopper. But I can imagine a certain type of iPhone-like application that could give you back the feeling of control. I will explain.
First, it would help a lot if you could easily negotiate a ride from the iPhone as opposed to needing a computer. That helps if you need to make a quick change in plans. That's the first part of giving you a sense of control.
Next, the application should use GPS to draw a map of your location, with blips for the cars available for ridesharing. You select the nearest blip and a bio comes up telling you something about the driver, including his primary profession, age, a photo, and a picture of the car. If you don't like something about that potential ride, move on to the next nearest blip. Again, you have a sense of control. Likewise, the driver could reject you as a passenger after seeing your bio.
After you select your driver, and he accepts, you can monitor his progress toward your location by the moving blip on your iPhone. As with the progress bar on your computer, the feedback will give you a sense of control. And with an iPhone you can stay entertained while you wait. That helps make the time go by, and again gives you a sense of control.
I also imagine that all drivers would have to pass some sort of "friend of a friend" test, in the Facebook sense. In other words, you can only be a registered rideshare driver if other registered drivers have recommended you. Drivers would be rated by passengers after each ride, again by iPhone, so every network of friends would carry a combined rating. That would keep the good drivers from recommending bad drivers because the bad rating would be included in their own network of friends average. That system needs more thought, but you can see where I'm going on that. And the same system could be applied to potential passengers. As the system grew, you could often find a ride with a friend of a friend. And that automatically gives you something to talk about too.
The big fear people might have is that strangers would commit crimes against them. But remember that the system would have a record of every ride matched, including the identities of the participants, and a GPS record of where they were and when. A rideshare car would become the very worst place for a criminal to commit a crime.
Apple could make it happen just by good design and of course the coolness factor. The profit potential is huge, for both the system operator and drivers, so that imparts some inevitability to this idea. The U.S. will have too many legal barriers to be the leader in this sort of thing, so I expect it to catch on in other countries first. Once proven elsewhere, the U.S. might take a look.
The thing that most interested me is the ability to borrow features from one species and embed them in another. I can't wait to get my tail and wings. Flying monkeys got a bad reputation from The Wizard of Oz, but I can't think of a cooler way to go. Obviously I wouldn't wear the bell hop costume, or even pants. But that's okay because I would be covered with fur, everywhere except for my genetically enhanced giraffe-style genitalia. I'd be giving up something in terms of aerodynamics, but you have to make tradeoffs.
I think most people would want to have wings if they had the option. But it would be a mistake to choose the form factor of a bird. You want to go with the monkey design for your fuselage so you get the gripping hands and feet. You don't want to have giraffe-style genitalia and nothing but two scratchy feet and a beak. That's just asking for trouble.
The most exciting part of this wonderful future is that when you can fly, the whole world is your toilet. You might want to avoid any homes that have anti-winged-monkey artillery, and there might be a lot of that in the future, but everywhere else is fair game.
Some people might manipulate their genes to become smarter. I think that's a mistake, especially after you become a winged monkey. The smarter you are, the more easily bored you will be. I want to be happy all the time so I'd trim 40% off my IQ and get some new hobbies such as collecting rocks that are roundish, or running for Congress.
Well, I can dream.
It's a good start, but a better format would allow the moderator to pick the topics, state them in the affirmative as in "The government should do X" and then let the best pro and con arguments get voted to the top. The current design is a bit too scattered.
Next, as I wrote several times in this blog, the universe is starting to look more like a hologram every day. Now there is physical evidence, which I find delightfully creepy:
If you read my book God's Debris, you might find an interesting analogy between what I called God dust and the holographic "pixels" of the universe that have been discovered.
Last, after blogging about the next financial bubble being in water, a commenter recommended an index fund of companies in the water supply business, ticker symbol PHO. So I loaded up on that stock yesterday morning after noticing it was way off its historical high, and the topic is out of the headlines because of bigger news. As luck would have it I caught the bottom of the overall market before it climbed back and made a 4.4% gain in a few hours
Yesterday a US Airways jet lost both engines in a freak collision with a bunch of geese. Amazingly, the pilot made an emergency landing in the Hudson River and no one was injured. The jet is an analogy to the economy. This is how the hologram tells us we hit bottom and survived. Mark yesterday on your calendar; it's the day the economy started to turn around.
Disclaimer: Don't take advice from cartoonists on investing, religion or politics. Even a blind squirrel can find three nuts in a week.
Water has it all, except for the existence of futures contracts, as far as I can tell. Once you see a market for water futures forming, bend over. That's when the manipulation will begin. Crooks prefer manipulating financial markets over building reservoirs.
The plausible explanation for the worldwide shortage is that the population is growing faster than the supply of clean water. Add global warming to the mix and you have plausible explanations for worldwide droughts. That's the cover story. It's true enough to mask the artificial shortages that will be caused by the speculators and hedge funds.
So how can you invest and make money in water now, before the bubble tops?
1. Someone you have told a secret.
2. Someone who has accepted a favor from you.
Notice that I have cleverly defined a friend in terms of things you give and not things you receive. If you are evaluating your potential friends in terms of what they can give you, or how they can entertain you, you probably don't have many friends.
I read somewhere that telling a secret makes the recipient of the secret automatically bond to you. It puts the giver of the secret in a vulnerable position and it changes the receiver into a protector. That's halfway to being friends.
The second rule is simple but powerful. We accept favors from strangers all the time, without any expectation of becoming friends. But we don't also share secrets with those strangers. It is the combination of the secret and the favor that nudges an acquaintance into a friend.
Most people are wired to reciprocate. So if you go first with your secret and your favor, the recipient will be primed to do the same. It is the willingness to reciprocate that matters.
Obviously you don't want to give a dangerous or important secret to an acquaintance in hopes it will lead to friendship. You want to hold back the good stuff and start with something small. For example, lets say you are both at a dinner party and your host served duck. At the dinner table you told the host the food was wonderful, but later and privately to your would-be friend you jokingly confess that you hate duck. That's a secret, but a tiny one. You don't want to start out with your deepest secrets. Work into that over time.
Likewise with the favors, keep them tiny at first. You might have some special knowledge to share that costs you nothing but a few minutes of your time. Or perhaps you had a conversation about a vacation spot and you forwarded an e-mail with a link that your potential friend might find useful. It's a tiny favor and will be accepted. You don't want to start right off offering to drive someone to the airport at 4 AM.
This partly explains why people who work together, or play sports together, naturally become friends. You have lots of opportunities to share small secrets and perform minor favors. And of course you have lots of things to talk about. That helps.
The secret and the favor are necessary but not sufficient for making a friend. You still need some basic chemistry and common interests. But chemistry and common interests aren't things you can easily change. So if you find a candidate for a friend with whom you have some chemistry and common interests, work on the secret and the favor. Those you can control.
As an adult, I realized my dream of getting a nice pool table. Thanks to my many hours of childhood practice, I don't often lose. The exception is when I run into someone who also grew up in a cold climate and had a pool table.
Pool is a game in which there is a nearly perfect correlation between how much you have played during your life and how good you are. I sometimes joke that instead of playing actual games I could just compare my number of hours of lifetime practice to my opponent's and declare a winner. Research shows this is essentially true for all sorts of skills.
So you would think that the secret to success is to practice more than your competition. But it's never that simple. In order to put in that much practice you need the opportunity, such as having a pool table in your basement*. But you also need some sort of passion, or drive, or OCD to put in the time. Where does that come from?
Personally, I have felt the compulsion to practice particular skills dozens of times in my life. It happened with ping pong, drawing comics, tennis, computer programming, and other things. Practicing these skills always felt like something I couldn't stop if I wanted to. The attraction was so strong that it felt like OCD. The only reason I wasn't treated for my afflictions is that the activities to which I was drawn (no pun) were socially acceptable.
It makes me wonder if the passion part of our brains will ever be manipulated by drugs so that passionless people get just enough OCD to obsessively practice something until they get good at it.
* Malcolm Gladwell's book, Outliers, talks about the importance of opportunity. It's a great read.
Worse yet, now I have to worry that, for the benefit of the world, Warren Buffett will send his goons to kill me. As long as I'm a dead man walking, I might as well make things worse before I go. Here now, more of my opinions about the economy.
I wonder what people mean when they say the economy will recover in 2010. The only way that can happen is if another irrational bubble forms thus creating an illusion of wealth similar to our previous illusions. If you take illusions out of the equation, there isn't anything to get "back" to. The wealth was never there in the first place.
I said before that I think we're on the cusp of a change as fundamental as the industrial revolution. But this time the change will be on the consumption side, not the production side. As a society we have dabbled with recycling and such, but it has always been fairly optional. There was no real penalty for waste.
The coming consumption revolution won't be strictly for the benefit of the environment. It will be an economic necessity, driven largely by the huge numbers of retired poor. There simply won't be enough stuff for everyone if waste is allowed.
The Internet will make this revolution possible. I've already written about the concept of ride sharing becoming widespread if the Internet and smart phones allow you to easily find rides going your way. That's just one example of how society could adapt to having less money without losing much in terms of happiness. Here's another example:
In California we're facing a severe budget deficit, and this will demand cuts in education among other things. I can imagine a future economy where everyone is home schooled over the Internet, and the average result is an improvement. With the Internet you could leverage the best teaching methods to the entire country. No one gets the bad teacher or the disruptive class. There are no bullies and no cliques.
Obviously you can see lots of problems with this approach. We assume that kids gain a lot from the social interaction of being in school. And of course personal attention from a teacher is important. But we have enough home schooled kids in the world to test that theory. My guess is that as long as home schooled kids have friends in the neighborhood, and siblings, they socialize just fine. The social skills can be learned on sports teams and at Girl Scouts. And I suspect a parent can give better personal attention than a teacher with 20 students.
Poor kids don't have computers and Internet connections. But subsidizing them would be far cheaper in taxes than sending them to school. And suddenly everyone would get the same quality of education.
I'm reading an excellent book called Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell. One of the topics involves the huge academic disadvantage absorbed by kids who are the younger ones in a given class. Eleven months is a huge difference in maturity when you are in second grade. Home schoolers could start grades on their birthdays, and always be at the same maturity level as their peers. That change alone can buy you a big gain in average academic achievement.
Gladwell also discusses the disadvantage of having no school in the summer. It's a legacy of our farming past, with no current utility. Every summer the American kids lose ground to the Japanese kids who school year round. Home schooling would have no long breaks. Another problem solved.
This is the sort of change that could never happen if the economy was in a happy bubble and it seemed that money was abundant. But as the reality of our economic situation settles in, unthinkable options become thinkable. The good news is that the unthinkable options will have lots of advantages.