Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Does buying a Prius make you stupid, or do stupid people buy Priuses? (Prii?)

The Toyota Prius has become the bestselling car in California [LA Times]. It makes a bold fashion statement that the owner is eco-friendly.

Of course, it also makes the statement that the owner is not facile with basic ROI math. Even at the currently outrageous gas prices, it will take more than 6 years to make up for the approximately $5,000 up front premium over an equivalent non-hybrid vehicle [Edmunds].

But this rant is about driving skills, not math.

Even now, the Prius is less than 4% of new car registrations, and so much less than 4% of cars on the road. And yet, about 20% of my experiences with bad driving involve a Prius, whether in my car or on my bicycle.

Incidents include drifting into the bike lane, turning without signaling, driving ridiculously slowly, being overly cowed by speed bumps, and generally driving like a turd.

Doesn't anyone notice this!? I feel like I am taking crazy pills!

On the plus side, Prius owners park well.

Now, the Prius demographic does trend toward the ancient citizen. Old people, in addition to smelling funny and wearing diapers, are not renowned for good driving. As if to give a wrinkly finger to youngsters, they periodically drive into a crowd of children while claiming they stomped on the brake pedal.

Prius owners may suffer from "moral licensing", where feeling like they are saving the planet causes them to act less altruistically in other ways [source]. The same phenomenon is observed of people who buy organic foods. In a recent study, hybrid drivers were less likely than most to yield to pedestrians in a crosswalk.

Prius owners (and hybrid drivers in general) get more tickets [I can't seem to find the original source, but it is referenced often].

But, the original question still stands. Does buying a Prius make you stupid, or do stupid people buy Priuses.

Friday, October 19, 2012

The dearth of innovative ideas

I get to see a lot of startup ideas these days, mostly thanks to AngelList and the conferences I attend.  I have noticed a significant trend that is understandable but troubling.  We seem to be running low on truly original ideas.

Almost every startup describes themselves as the "[Hot Company] for [Big Market]", or "like [Hot Company 1] meets [Hot Company 2] and [Hot Company 3]".  This is, of course, somewhat natural, as it helps your audience understand what you are doing if you can "anchor" it to known concepts.

But I can't help but wonder how Twitter described themselves.  Of course, they did not have to go out and raise money in their early days, since it was built out of the ashes of Odeo.

I am a big fan of things that take an offline process and put in online, adding efficiency and utility to the process.  So I like to hear comparisons to brick and mortar companies or processes. This also makes it more likely that you are not asking the carbon-based windbags who you hope will eventually give you money to materially change their behavior.

Automobile nav systems

This is another one of my random rants, triggered by this article on the proposed NHTSA guidelines on distracted driving.

I have decided that the nav systems in cars have little to do with navigation and everything to do with padding margins for automakers.

To sum up, the built-in nav systems are expensive and crappy. The "non-deletable option" costs upwards of $2,000 while providing less functionality than a $100 Garmin Nuvi.

I am particularly annoyed by the system in my Lexus, which does not allow input while the vehicle is moving. The lawyers clearly got to the engineers before the customers did. Ever heard of a passenger? Sure, it handles voice input, but not from my voice or anyone else who has ever tried it. Maybe you have to speak in Japanese.

To add to the insult, Lexus recently offered to sell me an updated map data DVD for $150. Gee, thanks guys, or maybe I will just buy 2 Garmins that work better anyway.

Some of the latest systems seem to at least have better interfaces.

I generally use Waze instead of the built in system in my truck. In addition to navigation, Waze shows me traffic and hazards along the way using crowdsourced data. If I need to go to a hotel, I can just put in the hotel name and search instead of having to know the address. If the car is moving, it will tell me to have a passenger do the input, which is sensible, and a better option than just crippling the system.

Of course, Waze has a minor problem--the navigation sucks, but that is definitely improving. Android users can use Google Maps for turn by turn directions. iOS users can use Apple Maps, but who knows where you will end up.

The ideal solution would seem to be to just have a relatively future-proof interface in the car for the owner to connect to their tablet or smartphone. I just got a decked out new iPad for less than half of what the in-car nav options cost. Ford and others are moving in this direction, but they seem loathe to give up the fat margins of yesterday's technology.