Saturday, March 02, 2013

Why Hackers Hate Driving, And Why I Love It.

"Imperfect systems infuriate hackers, whose primal instinct is to debug them. This is one reason why hackers generally hate driving cars-the system of randomly programmed red lights and oddly laid out one-way streets causes delays which are so goddamn unnecessary that the impulse is to rearrange signs, open up traffic-light control boxes . . . redesign the entire system." - Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution by Steven Levy. 
My wife can testify how much of my daily life is dominated by this primal instinct to debug imperfect systems. Reading this excerpt even resurrected a favorite soap boxes of mine, about why traffic jams are a senseless waste of resources. But there is a pragmatic strain in me as well, because at the same time I genuinely do like driving; yes, even in a traffic jam.

When I am driving I will attempt to maximize my own efficiency within the broken system. On freeways specifically, a large part of this is by outsmarting the other users of the system1. But it's the next stage of my curse that infuriates my wife even more than the traffic. I'm not content to be deluded by a half-baked theory about which lanes are are more efficient at a particular time on a particular stretch of freeway2. I am constantly testing my theory by setting baseline cars in each lane to monitor and refine the effectiveness of a theory.

Instead of being infuriated; I embrace the problem as a challenge to first study, and then develop and test theories on how to subvert the system.

1You could also define the driver, not as a user, but as a component of the transportation system which has a goal of expediency and efficiency. Then autonomous cars would indeed be a significant system upgrade.

2If you ever travel North on I-205 during evening rush hour, I have some tips for you. I'm also working on abstracting what I have learned to general rules that can be applied elsewhere. But that is for another post.

No comments: