Tag Archives: car analogy

Taking the Safety Off

Purism’s explanations for removing various safety features from Librem One’s social network sound like someone explaining why they removed the mirrors, brakes, horns, seat belts, airbags and signals from the cars they’re reselling, because they know those cars are only ever going to be driven on a track where they’ll never have to change lanes or negotiate with other drivers.

Even though there’s a bunch of driveways on that track, connecting to the public road system.

If a collision does happen, we can call in the tow trucks and ambulances. But giving drivers tools to avoid collisions or reduce injuries? That would be interfering with their freedom!

Re-Engineering the Road

Imagine a dangerous road curve. Do you blame the drivers and call it a day? After all, not everyone crashes over the edge or into oncoming traffic.

Or do you bank the turn, calculate a safe speed limit and add a railing?

It won’t stop all crashes, but it’ll reduce them.

Re-engineering the road doesn’t ignore the driver’s decisions, but it acknowledges that they don’t happen in isolation. Change the circumstances, and you change how many drivers crash and burn.

Why would you risk eating out with a food allergy?

On every news story about someone who experienced a severe allergic reaction outside the home, there will be someone who says, “If it’s that dangerous, why would you even risk it? Keep your kid at home and make all their food yourself from scratch all the time!”*

Let’s think about this.

A car could kill your child. Today, tomorrow, years down the line. This is not a hypothetical. This is a fact, and it’s a risk that you live with.

Why on earth would you risk letting your child cross the street? Keep them at home! Don’t let them out of the house in case someone jumps the curb!

That’s…not exactly practical, is it?

You don’t keep your child inside 24/7 to avoid cars. You take them outside, with precautions. You teach them to stay on the sidewalk, cross at corners and crosswalks, and look for cars before crossing. You walk with them until they’re old enough to walk safely on their own.

You rely on drivers to follow the rules of the road…but you still look both ways in case someone’s distracted or feels entitled and plows through a red light anyway.

And then your children can live their lives out in the world instead of being frightened recluses who hide in the basement whenever a car goes by.

You can’t eliminate risk 100%, but you can manage it.

The exact balance is going to be different for each person with an allergy.** But it’s not unreasonable to expect the food industry to follow basic safety procedures to avoid cross-contact — and to not introduce a danger that wasn’t there to begin with.

*Even if you have the time to prepare every meal at home, there’s still the risk of mislabeling or cross-contamination in the supply chain. Right now, there’s an ongoing recall of baked goods produced with peanut-contaminated flour. A year ago, supplies of cumin were tainted with peanuts. That impacted everything from prepared foods down to bulk-bin spices. Everyone’s at risk with the massive listeria recall of vegetables, allergies or no.

**Heck, it’s different for each of my allergies, and I’m one person. I’ll cheerfully walk into a coffee shop that serves almond milk and soy milk, but won’t set foot in one of those burger places that plops a bin of peanuts on the table. Even with my Epi-Pen. That’s just playing live-action Frogger.

Dosage Matters: The Car Analogy

It’s clear that many people online don’t understand the concept of dosage or concentration when it comes to substances of any sort (food, drugs, additives, environmental factors, chemicals*, radioactive isotopes): Something can be harmless or even beneficial in small amounts, but dangerous in large amounts.

Trivial examples:

  • You need salt for neural function, but if you drink sea water you’ll get sick.
  • Vinegar is dilute acetic acid. It’s useful for cooking and great on salads. Highly-concentrated acetic acid is corrosive.

Think of it like turning the steering wheel on your car (or the handlebars on your bike, if you prefer):

  • Turn it too far, and you go off the road, lose control, spin out, or otherwise crash.
  • Turn it just right, and you change lanes, avoid an obstacle, or go down a different road.

Also, most things will have multiple effects, some positive and some negative. (Consider aspirin: pain relief, fever reducer, blood thinner, but high doses can cause ulcers.) The balance of how strong each effect is will change with dosage, so you might have a strong positive and mild negative at one dosage, and a mild positive and strong negative effect at a higher one, and at an even higher dose even the positive effects would become negative as described above.

So the next time you see a warning about how hazardous something is in high concentrations…think about whether that has anything to do with the level at which people are actually exposed to it in the typical case.

*Remember: Everything is made of chemicals, including raw organically grown food.

What’s Wrong With Facebook Updating Itself on Android?

Yesterday, my phone suddenly started downloading something called “Facebook build (somethingorother).” It didn’t show any progress, wouldn’t go away, and I worried that maybe it was a piece of malware or something buggy. A quick search turned up nothing. A later search found other people asking what this was. Late last night, there were articles about “Hey, why is Facebook updating itself!”

It turns out that yes, Facebook is now downloading its own updates on Android phones and tablets instead of just pushing them out through the relevant app stores (Google Play and Amazon, mainly). I’m sure they thought it was a great idea — web browsers like Firefox and Chrome have been doing this for several years on the desktop.

The problem is that it violates expectations of what the app will do, and where your software is coming from.

Imagine your car’s manufacturer issues a recall. Now imagine three scenarios:

Scenario 1: You receive a notice of the recall, asking you to make an appointment to bring the car in for maintenance. (For those of you who don’t drive, this is how it normally works.)

Scenario 2: You receive a notice offering to send a technician out to do the repairs at your home or workplace. (This would be awesome, but impractical.)

Scenario 3: You’re sitting in the living room when you hear a noise from the garage. You go out to investigate and find someone messing with your car.

That’s what this feels like.

It’s one thing to offer software through third-party channels. The fact that it’s possible is one of the reasons I prefer Android to iOS. In that case, notifying me of updates, maybe even simplifying the download would be very convenient — if I know ahead of time that it’s going to happen. And if they’re not switching channels on me. A download coming from some new location, but claiming to be a familiar piece of software, and a notice telling you to install it? That’s how trojans work.

In short, it’s a violation of trust…and if there’s one thing we’ve learned about Facebook over the last few years, it’s that the social network has enough problems with trust.