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Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek.
I admit it’s been a year.
I’d avoided the airline a little on my travels, but it was time to try again.
Gingerly, then, I booked an Economy Class ticket from San Francisco to Miami and then paid another $ 90 for an exit row seat.
Because, well, it’s a relatively long flight and, for some odd reason, the airline claimed it was flying a Boeing 767.
Airlines are mostly sending these old beasts to the Arizona pastures — or, perhaps, to marginal billionaires who build tasteless castles in Arizona pastures.
These planes, though, used to offer something so lacking in the latest models: air.
They’re wide-bodied, so you can at least fool yourself into believing there’s more space.
I used to go out of my way to fly American to New York when they flew 767’s there.
Things have changed. Now you are the sardine and the airline is the can-I-make-a-bigger-profit.
Would this be a strange throwback to a forgotten time?
Waiting For Godot-ful Disaster.
Flying involves worrying. Before you do the actual flying, that is.
When it comes to American, one of the primary concerns is whether the flight will be delayed more or less than Brexit.
Yet, as the day and the hour approached, no message from American that the plane was out of action, I’d be reseated on a narrowbody bus and driven to Miami.
I arrived at San Francisco airport. The luggage tag machines were working, The man at the bag drop even smiled and made a joke about my name. (If you don’t make a joke about my name, what is wrong with you?)
Still, I wasn’t comfortable. This thing was going to go wrong. It was just a question of how, how badly and when.
The departure board didn’t twitch. It was as if it had smoked a decent brand of THC pot.
Boarding was announced on time. People didn’t even crowd the gate area to distraction. This bordered on the haunting.
Who, though, would I have sitting next to me? That can make a flight enjoyable or dip it into unbearable.
My seatmate was on his phone. He ran a tech company. He needed one of his employees to know just how much he sympathized with her problem.
His drippingly unctuous tone told me that he was unlikely to do anything about it.
I sat down in my window seat and the first shock hit me.
Waiting For Bad News To Bear.
Yes, the tray tables were as yellow as a smoker’s teeth. The seats, too, looked like they’d supported a thousand passengers and ten thousand hurried cleanings too many.
As I lounged tentatively, an announcement from the cabin crew.
Here it was, the bad news. It had to be bad news:
Welcome on board, ladies and gentlemen. This is NOT a full flight, so you should have plenty of room to store your bags and stretch out.
My mouth opened, my jaw seized up and my eyebrows began to vibrate.
I can’t remember the last time I heard such an announcement.
So many times I’ve been on flights that were patently not full, yet the cabin crew announced this was a full flight and please think about checking your carry-ons, before we confiscate them and sell them on eBay.
Yet here was American Airlines being honest?
Suddenly, we were pushing back. The tech type next to me was still bleating into his phone.
No one came to admonish him. I tried to give him a sly glare.
He finally got off the call and began to furiously type into his phone. Perhaps these were his self-help notes, I’ve no idea.
And then we were in the air.
Wait, we were on time? It seemed like it.
After a few minutes, it was the pilot’s turn to make an announcement:
There’s normally a lot of planes lining up for takeoff, but when we got to the runway, there was no one there. So we took off. Looks like we’ll be in Miami at least 30 minutes early.
This was beginning to feel like a parallel universe. I had descended into some weird time warp. Had I inadvertently inhaled some of that THC?
Now It Was Going To Be Ruined.
Oh, but then my seat-mate began to eat lunch. A vigorous eater of a carry-on salad, he was. And goodness did his elbow jab into my ribs with every jerk of his plastic knife.
Did he say sorry?
Did I mention he was a tech type?
This is where it would all go wrong. I felt sure that, once he’d finished his lunch, out would come the laptop and in would go his elbow to my ribs for the rest of the flight.
I was mostly right. His MacBook came out. What was surreal is that, unlike most self-important men I’ve sat next to on planes, his elbows stayed in.
Not once in the next several hours did he jab me again. It was almost as if, having satisfied an employee with platitudes and his hunger with a salad, he became fully sentient.
Meanwhile, the cabin service was efficient, if not effusive. Just like the biscotti-type things they handed out.
The Flight Attendants performed their duties and then disappeared.
I leaned into my slightly dreary Canadian detective novel — I refuse to work on planes, save in an emergency — stretched my legs right out and wallowed in a peculiar calm.
American Airlines Really Let Me Down.
We didn’t have to divert to Albuquerque because of an engine problem.
My seatmate had excellent noise-canceling headphones, the sort that truly are silent.
A baby trying crying a couple of times and then realized that so much attention-seeking just wasn’t going to work.
The whole thing was eerily tolerable, verging on the pleasant. It was like a blind date that involved easy conversation and even a kiss at the end.
We were at the gate almost an hour ahead of schedule.
This was as close to perfect as I could have conceived.
Even my bag came out quickly, which anyone who’s ever flown into Miami knows is a bizarre event.
I walked away, talking to myself. I try to do it quietly.
I only had one thought: American Airlines, you really let me down. I could find nothing to complain about, because it felt like flying from a few years ago.
The pilots couldn’t even muster any turbulence.
How lovely it is when nothing goes wrong with a flight. And how relatively rare that seems to be these days, especially if you’re flying in the back.
When the airline, the staff and the passengers all conspire to make it a pleasant experience, flying can be genuinely relaxing.
If only these three could conspire to make it happen more often.
Fantasy and science fiction writers have dreamed up some amazing fictional cities, from the gleaming spires of Minas Tirith to the rainy neon streets of the Blade Runner movies. A more recent example is the novel Blackfish City by Sam J. Miller, who drew on his background as a community organizer to create realistic politics for his floating Arctic city of Qaanaaq.
“Fiction is definitely one of the ways in which I process my anger at the imbalance of power in a city, and in the world, and how much I want to imagine a place where that imbalance can be addressed,” Miller says in Episode 307 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast.
Fantasy cities like Fritz Leiber’s Lankhmar have always been popular, but that trend has only accelerated in recent years, as writers like Charles de Lint, China Miéville, and Jeff VanderMeer have pushed the genre away from wilderness quests and toward explorations of city life.
“You had people start calling fiction ‘urban fantasy,’ which sort of implies that the default state of fantasy is not urban,” says Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy host David Barr Kirtley.
New Orleans resident Bryan Camp, author of The City of Lost Fortunes, believes that the mutability of cities is what draws so many people to write about them. “When you live in a more rural place, it’s much more connected to the landscape. You’re looking at the same mountain that your father looked at, and his father looked at, and so on into the past,” Camp says. “Whereas in a city it’s a constantly evolving thing. It’s a created thing, that can be torn down and rebuilt, and over a period of just a few years it becomes a completely different place.”
Lara Elena Donnelly, author of Amberlough, feels that fictional cities have become too relentlessly grim, and she would like to see more stories that describe appealing cities of the future.
“The Blade Runner city is not a place that anyone would want to live,” she says. “I don’t want to live in that LA, I want to live in LA with mist-catchers and green towers and cool virtual reality set-ups.”
Listen to our complete interview with Sam J. Miller, Lara Elena Donnelly, and Bryan Camp in Episode 307 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (above). And check out some highlights from the discussion below.
Sam J. Miller on homeless people:
“There are a lot of messed-up narratives around homelessness—this idea that everyone is mentally ill and a substance abuser and shiftless and lazy. At the end of the day, all homeless people are are people who can’t afford to pay their rent, and I don’t know about you all, but I am always stressing out about paying my rent. So on the spectrum of people who have a hard time paying their rent, or people who aren’t super-wealthy, I think we’re all on that spectrum, and those narratives about homeless people being creatures that once were men, or alien invaders, or zombies, or violent crazies, really help serve to keep us from seeing our solidarity with them, and coming together and saying, ‘Oh wait, if we all work together we really could flip the script in this city and make it so that housing was affordable.’”
David Barr Kirtley on urban living:
“When you’re talking about things that stress you out about living in a city, one thing that stresses me out a lot is finding parking spots, and that’s another thing that I never thought would be a major concern—coming from the suburbs—but I was actually thinking of a story idea the other night where there’s a guy and he’s driving around at night trying to find a parking spot, and this just goes on for hour after hour after hour, and then he realizes that he’s a ghost and he’s doomed to drive around forever looking for a parking spot. But then at the end of the story there’s a crazy twist where he realizes that he’s not actually a ghost, it just really is that hard to find a parking spot.”
Bryan Camp on New Orleans in science fiction:
“One of my favorite writers is Kathleen Ann Goonan, mostly because she did me the excellent favor of having a future in which New Orleans makes it. I think it was Queen City Jazz, where it’s basically like a giant raft city, where they just float out into the gulf and secede from all the other stuff that’s going on. I have a lot of trouble with being in New Orleans and future cities, because it’s not something a lot of other people notice, but if you go through a lot of the fiction—and it has to do partly with the precarious nature of the city that I live in right now—but if you look at a lot of the fiction, even if it’s not set in New Orleans, one of the ways that they like to show ‘bad things happened in the past and now we’re in this different future,’ is New Orleans is gone in some horrific way.”
Lara Elena Donnelly on the Craft Sequence series by Max Gladstone:
“I started reading them because I heard him talk about his magic system, which was essentially, ‘My books are an analogy for the financial crisis, except the banks are gods, and we’ve killed the gods but semi-resurrected them, and now they only do the bidding of the people who know how to control this god-bank system.’ Which is kind of how money works, right? Only some people understand how to make the banking system—and amounts of money that large—really work for them. … Max’s cities feel real because there is this vast imbalance of power, and some people can make things happen just by snapping their fingers while other people are carried along on tides that they don’t understand and have no control over. And that feels very real to me, that feels like how things work in the real world.”
Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek.
Every time a tech company does something patently ignorant or offensive, it’s rarely worth asking the question: “What were they thinking?”
Almost always, the answer is: “They weren’t.”
And they certainly weren’t feeling.
An example is an ad released by Snapchat last week for its “Would You Rather!” game. It asked whether you’d rather “Slap Rihanna” or “Punch Chris Brown.”
In 2009, Brown and Rihanna were involved in a much-publicized incident of domestic violence. Brown was charged with battery.
And this is something to “joke” about?
Please, take a look.
Rihanna responding to Snapchat’s ad. I can’t believe they did this. pic.twitter.com/TpHQIXTm4j
— Gennette Cordova (@GNCordova) March 15, 2018
Oh, Snapchat finally took the ad down and offered some sort of apology.
“The advert was reviewed and approved in error, as it violates our advertising guidelines. We immediately removed the ad last weekend, once we became aware. We are sorry that this happened,” the company said.
You might have thought that it had somehow slipped out without anyone noticing.
Yet this statement suggests that actual human beings examined it and decided it was appropriate for publication.
For her part, Rihanna has now offered a response — remarkably measured, in the circumstances.
She said: “I’d love to call it ignorance, but I know you ain’t that dumb! You spent money to animate something that would bring shame to DV victims and made a joke of it!!!”
This is surely the point. You can’t blame a rogue algorithm here. You can’t blame a malevolent piece of code.
Someone designed this execrable item. Someone animated it and then someone looked at it and approved it.
And no one stopped to think: “This is so thoroughly vile and tasteless that we should all be ashamed of ourselves?”
Shouldn’t all those someone‘s face consequences?
“All the women, children and men that have been victims of DV in the past and especially the ones who haven’t made it out yet…you let us down!,” continued the singer. “Shame on you. Throw the whole app-oligy away.”
Snapchat tried again with, yes, an apology.
A company spokeswoman told me: “This advertisement is disgusting and never should have appeared on our service. We are so sorry we made the terrible mistake of allowing it through our review process. We are investigating how that happened so that we can make sure it never happens again.”
But it will happen again. And again.
Tech companies rely so much on machines that many of their employees think exactly like those machines.
To reinforce the fatal loop, the people who create the code and algorithms behind the machines tend to think like machines, too.
So when decisions are made, any actual human emotions are cast aside. Or never even engaged.
Worse, too many have grown up — sort of — with the belief that you move fast, break things and apologize later.
Well, your PR people pen your apology, while you’re too busy coding.
Apologizing is easy.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, for example, has made an art form out of it.
For example, after he and a colleague performed a VR promotion while staring blankly at the suffering homeless of Puerto Rico and high-fiving.
Will this complete blindness when it comes to understanding, appreciating and, frankly, even feeling human emotions ever change?
If you’ve ever donated to a charity through PayPal’s fundraising platform, be warned: A lawsuit filed yesterday alleges that money given through Paypal’s Giving Fund may never actually reach the intended recipients.
In an interesting interview with Tsunekazu Ishihara, the CEO of The Pokémon Company, he talks about his surprise at the popularity of Pikachu and that he’s a big fan of the updated Exeguttor in Pokémon Sun and Moon.
Nissan’s BladeGlider concept is for those who like their cars lean, green, and byzantine. The post Too Bad You’ll Never Drive Nissan’s Razor-Like Electric Concept appeared first on WIRED.