Assorted links

by on May 28, 2015 at 12:47 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1 RoyL May 28, 2015 at 12:59 pm

5. Lentils are grown as part of the 3 field rotation in all high yield dryland wheat areas, like other pulses they have Nitrogen fixing bacteria, so they are necessary for maintaining wheat production. Finding a market for lentils was a major marketing effort for many years. Before that they were actually used as feed.

2 kiwi dave May 28, 2015 at 1:15 pm

3. Fascinating. The “men-only” aspect could not have survived the 70s. But more broadly, it is an example of the kind of deluxe business travel that was essentially subsidized by the high MTRs that so many people now are nostalgic for.

3 Art Deco May 28, 2015 at 2:45 pm

The “men-only” aspect could not have survived the 70s.

It’d have survived if the rest of us (especially business executives) hadn’t let the legal profession push us around, making use of obnoxious cretinettes like Betty Friedan as straw plaintiffs. Maybe in another generation or two, we will restore free association and stop defining (normal) men enjoying the company of other (normal) men as something pathological.

4 Dan Lavatan May 28, 2015 at 5:29 pm

It’s perfectly legal to offer men-only flights today, but the public wants Spirit Airlines and you won’t be able to get funding for or profitable operate anything else.

5 Just Another MR Commentor May 28, 2015 at 7:26 pm

I think the reason we don’t see men only flights is mostly due to technology and more open social mores. We have Grindr today, the 1970s bathouse culture probably did away with the demand for men only flights not some obscure legal battle. Stop blaming Lawyers, its just criticising success.

6 Gary Leff May 28, 2015 at 1:30 pm

@kiwi dave – actually the primary driver of onboard opulence was that prices were fixed by the Civil Aeronautics Board. price competition was prohibited. so airlines engaged in non-price competition — a 1975 congressional oversight hearing discussed the problem of airlines competing on the basis of the thickness of their sandwiches, which the CAB was unable to control.

7 kiwi dave May 28, 2015 at 1:37 pm

No doubt airline rate regulation was a significant contributor to “onboard opulence.” Yet I suspect that even absent that regulation, there would have been a significant market for deluxe business air travel, just as there was a market for fine dining restaurants and fancy hotels (which were not subject to such regulation), driven by executives and professionals facing 60%+ MTRs.

8 collin May 28, 2015 at 1:43 pm

I do think it is greatly exaggerated how much regulation has had on air travel prices and other value added services. (Such as the hotness of the flight attendents.) There is also a generational aspect here that for the Baby Boomers and later generations grew up with air travel a reality and going from NY to LA took a day of travel. But for the 1950s and 1960s, it was still a new thing and having lots of air travel was a status symbol.

9 wm13 May 28, 2015 at 3:15 pm

But there still is a market for fine dining and fancy hotels for business travelers.

10 kiwi dave May 28, 2015 at 4:49 pm

wm13: no doubt, but I would be interested to know how much of the revenue of high end restaurants and hotels is expense account as opposed to people spending their own money now vs. in the 1960s. I suspect that the expense account business travel/entertainment trade is still real, but a much lower proportion of revenue than it used to be. Not sure how you could begin to measure that, though.

11 Dan Lavatan May 28, 2015 at 5:37 pm

There is still a market for “deluxe” travel, in the form of private jets and to some extent even first class airline cabins. A lot of people can still expense things and have high marginal rates – including everyone in California. However, a lot of first class is free upgrades given to people who use airline branded credit cards and so on. It isn’t enough to fill an airline cabin and probably would not have been then.

12 collin May 28, 2015 at 1:38 pm

Not that I agree with Megan a lot here but it is going to take to take decades for self-driving trucks to take the marketplace. The item she left out is most of these trucks are carrying +$10M of mechandise so I don’t see companies or insurance companies being comfortable that this is traveling with out some human to protect it.

My guess is self-driving cars take another ~10 years to take the place of taxis and high end vehicle options. (Such as Merecdes at $10K) And then another ~10 years to be on most new vehicles.

In terms of new technology, it takes years for the marketplace to be ready for new innovations. Look the internet was ‘invented’ in 1969 and it took about ~25 years before everybody in the US said it was the wave of the future.

13 Rahul May 28, 2015 at 1:43 pm

Self firing robots?

14 Matt Waters May 28, 2015 at 1:59 pm

I think some insurance companies will at least try it out, probably at the demand of trucking companies. Not hazardous or 10M+ loads, maybe, but the savings on drivers, insurance and time (self-driving trucks don’t sleep) will make companies like Walmart take risks.

The Internet from 1969 is not a good example of how technology gets adopted. If technology is truly better from a usability standpoint, it becomes adopted very quickly. Digital cameras, word processors (vs. digital typewriters) and spreadsheets were adopted very quickly even in pretty poor forms compared to today’s standards.

15 Dan Weber May 28, 2015 at 3:26 pm

Walmart paid around $20 million for one crash involving rich people.

They’ve got 6500 tractors, so if they can pay $3000 each to upgrade them all to avoid one crash like that, it pays for itself.

Whoa, found this while looking for Walmart’s trailer count:

16 Dan Lavatan May 28, 2015 at 5:56 pm

Right, if traditional insures don’t play ball the trucking companies have enough (or could raise) capital to create captive insurers, and they would lose the whole market permanently.

17 Sigivald May 28, 2015 at 2:02 pm

On the other hand, that $10M+ in merchandise driven by a computer is … being driven by a computer.

Not some guy who’ll try to stretch his awake time to make more money [or meet a nigh-impossible demand from his management] and fall asleep at the wheel, or take a corner too fast, or make any number of tired/inattentive/bad judgment errors.

Win some, lose some.

18 Dan Weber May 28, 2015 at 3:15 pm

Or you could have both the meatbag and the computer. The meatbag’s range will be vastly extended, since he doesn’t have to stare at the highway constantly, so he’ll only be called to task for important parts of the trip. Like filling the gas tank.

19 The Anti-Gnostic May 28, 2015 at 4:17 pm

Exactly. Automated freight carriers on dedicated lanes of interstate highways are a lay-up, as opposed to driverless cars having to negotiate far more variables in an urban setting. Same with automated crop harvesters.

The tone of comments on #1 are odd. It’s like overhearing a bunch of Southern plantation owners protesting the abolition of the slave trade since everybody knows it’s impossible to harvest cotton without a stout team of darkies. By contrast, when the conversation turns to these Rube Goldberg-ish driverless cars having to negotiate jam-packed cities, it’s all, “The Future Is Here!”

20 JWatts May 28, 2015 at 3:19 pm

Or some guy who will lift a TV off the load and claim it was damaged in transit.

I don’t know if this problem is still endemic, but I know as late as the 1980’s it was common for long haul truckers to accumulate a fair amount of “damaged” goods. To be fair, a decent amount of such goods were probably legitimately damaged in transit, but a surprising amount of appliances had fork lift damage to the back panel, but were otherwise fine.

21 The Anti-Gnostic May 28, 2015 at 4:19 pm

Believe it or not, there have been advances in logistics and asset protection in the last 30 years.

MR is a sheltered bunch.

22 JWatts May 28, 2015 at 4:25 pm


23 Joe Teicher May 28, 2015 at 2:03 pm

>The item she left out is most of these trucks are carrying +$10M of mechandise

That sounds completely absurd. Do you have a reference for that? If true I’m definitely going into the truck hijacking business.

24 Lord Action May 28, 2015 at 2:43 pm

That’s, at the high-end of cargo capacity, $250 a pound. Maybe if it’s packed with laptops, but not most loads.

Are human drivers really supposed to act as security forces? Don’t they get out of their vehicles at truck stops and such?

25 Hillary May 28, 2015 at 3:22 pm

Pharmaceuticals or electronics could do it. That high value is going to move in a closed loop supply chain where everyone touching it has had background checks and there are lots of locks and cameras. They usually also tend to move in smaller batch, lower value shipments via air instead of full truckload or container. Art or other cultural assets could also do it, but most common carriers won’t take them because their insurance doesn’t cover it.

Her point about running a truck for 750k or 1m miles is good, but that’s only seven years for an OTR driver running hard. A solo driver can get 600 miles a day on the right runs, a team can do 1200.

26 JWatts May 28, 2015 at 4:32 pm

“Pharmaceuticals or electronics could do it.”

Agreed, there have been pharmaceutical loads worth $10 million stolen.

“At twilight on June 17, 2009, Ricky Gene McNew pulled his plum-red big rig into a TravelCenters of America (TA) truck stop in Denmark, Tenn. McNew had been driving all afternoon, starting from Louisville (Ky.), and hauling $10 million in pharmaceuticals. He was bound for Memphis, to the warehouse of a medical supply wholesaler. McNew filled his tank and headed into the truck stop for a shower. When he came out, his truck was gone.”

27 ajg May 28, 2015 at 3:37 pm

I could be wrong, but my guess is that Sigivald is saying $10 thousand, using the convention where $10M = $10 thousand instead of $10 million (they use two M’s for million, as in $10MM). I don’t follow this approach because I find it confusing. For what it’s worth, I would be very surprised if the average load was worth anything like $10 million, although I would not find $50k-$250k surprising.

28 Dan Lavatan May 28, 2015 at 5:48 pm

Alcohol (wine), tobacco, and firearms can be worth that much, especially if taxes have already been paid on them. Any type of new industrial equipment like a wind turbine is going to cost close to that.

29 Lord Action May 29, 2015 at 9:51 am

The existence of some valuable loads that require human guards says little about the viability of automating the vast majority of loads which don’t. Like bananas or sheet metal or soda.

30 NPW May 28, 2015 at 2:35 pm

I’ll believe in adoptation of fully automated self-driving trucks sometime after we commonally accept fully automated self-driving trains.

31 Urstoff May 28, 2015 at 2:59 pm

Are subways automated yet? Seems like a really easy thing to automate.

32 NPW May 28, 2015 at 3:21 pm

At very least subways and trains are relatively easy compared to 18-wheelers.

33 Dan Weber May 28, 2015 at 3:33 pm

But trucks have a big liability target. According to about 3000 non-truck-drivers are killed each year by trucks, and trucking companies have deeper pockets than Joe Random. Hand-waving each of those at $1 million in legal costs, that $3 billion-with-a-B each year.

Spread over 2 million tractors in the US, that means something that raises their cost by $1500 a year if it can stop those (or conclusively prove that the truck was not at fault).

34 Lord Action May 28, 2015 at 3:33 pm

Are they?

They’re obviously hard to stop. And light-rail is significantly more dangerous per passenger-mile than cars. Roughly 3x deaths, IIRC.

That suggests maybe it’s a harder problem.

35 JWatts May 28, 2015 at 3:21 pm

“I’ll believe in adoptation of fully automated self-driving trucks sometime after we commonally accept fully automated self-driving trains.”

A truck driver’s wages are a far more significant portion of the total cost than a train engineer’s wages.

36 Cooper May 28, 2015 at 3:40 pm

While that remark about the wages is certainly true, we also need to factor in the cost of strikes, human error and general inefficiency.

When a mass transit system shuts down due to labor dispute, the cost to society is in the millions per day. It’s easy to hold a city hostage. That’s why San Francisco’s BART operators earn $75,000+/year with guaranteed pensions and health care benefits with very low premiums.

Subway operators occasionally make mistakes that kill people or even just waste a lot of time. If my subway driver forgets to stop at the station (it happens to me every few months), there’s a big ripple effect on the entire system.

A more efficient mass transit system would save millions of man-hours in a city like San Francisco or Washington DC. Automation would have enormous benefits in terms of human well being.

37 Rahul May 28, 2015 at 10:56 pm

Computers occasionally makes mistakes too. Or the people who program the computers. It does cost a lot to design a system that can *always* outperform a human even on outlier events.

That’s one reason airplanes still keep a human to compliment the automation.

38 Dan Weber May 29, 2015 at 9:12 am

In subways, the humans know their position is tenuous and will resist any piecemeal attempt at introducing automation.

But in turns out there are a *lot* of systems in the world that are 100% automated:

Search for Washington Metro at that link for a counterpoint.

39 JWatts May 29, 2015 at 4:33 pm

I had forgotten about the Las Vegas monorail.

40 Rahul May 28, 2015 at 10:53 pm

OTOH, a train’s environment is far more predictable & constrained than a truck’s.

41 ChrisA May 29, 2015 at 11:33 am

Technically self driving trains have been around for ever, the Docklands Light Railway had them in the early 1990’s.

42 Urso May 28, 2015 at 2:55 pm

Won’t it start with smaller applications – maybe self-driving vehicles moving around warehouses or other easily mapped areas with relatively little foot traffic?

43 Dan Weber May 28, 2015 at 3:16 pm

Kiva Systems

44 JWatts May 28, 2015 at 3:24 pm

“maybe self-driving vehicles moving around warehouses or other easily mapped areas with relatively little foot traffic?”

That’s already well under way. As Dan mentions, Amazon has a legion of Kiva robots.

“SAN FRANCISCO — An army of 15,000 robots is ready to roll as Amazon’s fulfillment centers prepare for the holiday sales onslaught.”

45 Hillary May 28, 2015 at 5:21 pm

The trend has been to fully automate that kind of environment if you’re going to automate at all – conveyor belts and equipment so an order basically picks itself. Modern Materials Handling is a surprisingly interesting read.

The other challenge is that the ROI isn’t great to do that kind of project unless you can make it substantially more efficient. Fork truck drivers make less than half of what an OTR driver makes, and they’re a lot easier to find, plus you can’t run a fork truck 24/7 because the battery has to charge (or use propane, but then the warehouse gets dirty really fast). Trucking’s major problem is that the pool of people who want to be away from home for weeks at a time is aging and shrinking. A driverless truck could double the utilization by running 24/7 while solving the labor pool challenges.

46 Dan Lavatan May 28, 2015 at 5:59 pm

Perhaps, but this could be solved with better logistics. Drivers could have zones and each morning pick up a load from one side of the zone to another, than take a load back. At the end of a day they would driver one mile from the zone border to their house. We just need lyft for trucks.

47 JWatts May 29, 2015 at 5:13 pm

“Fork truck drivers make less than half of what an OTR driver makes, and they’re a lot easier to find, plus you can’t run a fork truck 24/7 because the battery has to charge (or use propane, but then the warehouse gets dirty really fast).”

You’re correct about having fork truck drivers, but the batteries aren’t the issue. Plenty of plants have battery recharging stations and multiple batteries per lift. The primary reason to have a Fork truck driver is because he’s the one human in the loop and placing a cargo onto a trailer (that probably came from somebody else) requires a human’s judgement.

I’ve dealt with multiple packaging systems. The Case Packers are automated, the conveyors are automated, the palletizers are automated and the shrink wrap station is automated. Furthermore, the computer on the Fork Truck will even tell the driver which pallet to pickup and what trailer bay to drop the pallet into.

You can automate the system for cheaper than you can run drivers 24/7, but generally speaking you need a human somewhere in the loop to spot a potential problem and call maintenance. So the Fork truck driver is realistically the line operator for the entire downstream side of the production line.

48 corporate serf May 28, 2015 at 2:56 pm

2. Second ad there: “Laila and Majnu”, nice!

49 wm13 May 28, 2015 at 3:12 pm

3. Wow, imagine a planeful of people smoking cigars. I know the seats were further apart back then, and the food maybe better, and the stewardesses definitely hotter, but the air was just as dry and dirty, if not more so. I would think a few hours in that air would give you a sore throat for a week.

50 Dan Weber May 28, 2015 at 3:17 pm

They didn’t recycle the air back then.

51 Dan Lavatan May 28, 2015 at 5:51 pm

They don’t recycle the air now. It is sucked in through inlets on the wing and release out a diaphragm at the back. The size of the diaphragm adjusts to conform to the desired in-cabin air pressure.

52 Rahul May 28, 2015 at 10:03 pm

They only dump a fraction.

53 JWatts May 28, 2015 at 3:31 pm

From #1. The limits of self-driving trucks?

“Just getting Google’s technology to a point where we could have self-driving trucks would require mapping every inch of the nation’s more than 164,000 miles worth of highways. But then what do you do with the truck? You’re probably going to have to map some of the roads that connect to those highways too. And then constantly remap them, because things change all the time. ”

This seems wrong. First, it’s not a given that the current level of mapping will be required for successive versions of autonomous vehicles. Secondly, mapping 164,000 miles of highways, wouldn’t be necessary. You’d almost certainly start with a well defined, high capacity route and expand from there. And thirdly, remapping them is trivial. The obvious solution is to mount the mapping hardware on a certain percentage of the autonomous trucks and automatically upload the updated data. It would probably make sense to have the mapping hardware do a differential analysis and only upload images that are significantly changed.

54 ChrisA May 29, 2015 at 11:36 am

Indeed this seems an easy problem if you already have tens of thousands of vehicles running around, it’s only hard at the moment because there are just a few.

55 duxie May 28, 2015 at 10:11 pm


“A mother’s (full page) ad calling for her son to come home for Chinese New Year … and saying she won’t pressure him to get married anymore.”

56 Perseus May 28, 2015 at 11:18 pm

3. “They didn’t just ban women, but children also”

A flight without children is a real luxury these days (it’s odd that Asian carriers seem to be the only ones to do it).

57 Axa May 29, 2015 at 4:41 am

#1: Megan McArdle became an autonomous vehicle specialist for the article but forgot a long time known solution for savings on drivers: make every truck haul 2 or 3 trailers.

A few US states allow it. Curiously the places with most snow in the US allow them:

So far, most of Canada accepts semis with 2 trailers on 4 lane highways and selected 2 lane roads. Safety record is the same or better than regular semis. What if the combination of human driver + semi-autonomous safety driving aids allowed driving 2 trailer semis on more US highways?

58 Dan King May 29, 2015 at 10:47 pm

Megan says self-driving trucks can’t drive in the snow. I don’t get that–surely they’ll be better in snow than any human. I think she’s wrong on the timeline. We’ll have automated trucks on the interstate system within the decade. Though it will take a lot longer before they’re driving around on city streets.

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