Better Than Humans

In my post about how our intuition can be misleading, I briefly mentioned self-driving cars. I said that ones intuition, might tell them that humans are better than self-driving cars. Not a day later, Google, one of the companies doing the most testing on self-driving cars, released raw data and a report on their self-driving cars.

Since 2012, the cares have been in twelve accidents. Fortunately, none of the accidents were serious. Interestingly, none of them was a result of the self-driving cars. It was always human error. Be it human drivers hitting the stopped self-driving car, or in one case, a human driver in control of a self-driving car causing an accident.

So, to my point in this post. Computers don’t have to be perfect, they just have to be better than us humans. Self-driving cars are showing that in that respect, in some limited situations, they already are. For now, human drivers are still my best option to navigate the unknown road condition here or there. But as computer vision, computing speed, and software gets more advance, computers will get better at that too.

I will point to two sources instead of rehashing the same points that have been cover there more concisely. Watch ‘Humans Need Not Apply‘ on YouTube and this interview on NPR’ Fresh Air with the author of a book about how robots are coming for our white collar jobs.

No Project Is Too Small To Stop, Think, and Plan

I mentioned a project I have been working on and off for some time now. Unlike before, I am actually making tangible steps forwards. And more importantly, I haven’t had to start over recently. For a good part of the project, I would get some work done, then hit some kind of road block in the technology I had chosen. My solution, start over with something else. But finally, I am using the JHipster web application stack and I am not doing that.

The one thing I do realized now though, is that had I done a bit more planning earlier, things would have gone a lot smoother. I did a lot of stopping and thinking about what I wanted and how I wanted it to work. But, by not writing it down on paper to see if it fits, it was just all in my head where if fits easily and consistently. Regardless of the project size, you will always have changes as it starts to material. So pretty much no amount of planning will change that. But, some planning will help with the number of restarts and stalls.

Yesterday, I realized that my page flow was just too confusing as I added more pages. That right there was something I would have noticed I had spent some time writing it down and going over it. I knew that I would be adding more pages, and in my head, it seemed to have worked so well. Once I thought it up, I just started coding one page at a time. Eventually, I have a few pages and the navigation didn’t work well.

Once I started doing what I should have done before, plan. The ideas I had in my head, I now had some more insight about how they might work. I am planning a bit more now before jumping off again.

There is a delicate balance so observe here. No project is too small for some planning. But too much planning and no work, will just keep you in the planning stage. Sometimes you just have to get going and only then you get some insights, you will know if what you are thinking is even feasible. Of course, that is when you figure out that things don’t work the way you think.

If I had to summarize it, I would say always do some planning, especially on paper. May be something like a Passion Planner journal. Easier than using some computer program and doesn’t take a lot of time. But don’t wait too long to start getting your hands dirty, else you might just lose interest. And once you start, it is ok to take breaks to plan. Even if you might have to back up a bit before going forward.

You will be making progress so long as you are thinking, planning, and doing something. If you are not thinking about your project, you are problem not interested in it anymore. If you don’t do any planning, that will make materializing it harder. Whatever you do, do something that helps your project materialize.

Final tip, as much as restarting a project might seem like running in the same place. Don’t be afraid to throw out something that is not working and start over. What you throw out or throwing out to early, will be something you will have to figure out. But don’t get bend out of shape for having to start over, if that is the smart thing to do. Better to correct going down the ‘wrong’ path as early as possible, than later.

Forget Intuition, Don’t Wash That Chicken

Are you afraid of flying? Do you know or have heard of someone who is afraid of flying? If you are not afraid of flying or never heard of anyone who is, then don’t be surprised that there are people afraid of flying. So what’s the deal here? Intuition.

Intuition, it is the thing that we feel gives us reasons for a question that we are comfortable with. For example, if you were to ask someone who is afraid of flying, “is it safer to fly or drive?”. They would probably say driving is safer. Yet, all the data suggests otherwise. Flying, is by far, safer than driving. Just looking at the number of accidents per people transported per million. Ok, that was a mouthful. Let’s say you told you that for every million persons transported by car, there was a chance of 2000 deaths. And for a million person transported by air, there was a chance of 100 deaths. Now I ask you, do you want to travel by air or road? Now you see just how safe it is to fly. But intuitively, that is not host most people feel.

Sometimes, we really can’t go by intuition. Case in point, don’t wash that chicken before you cook it. I will get back to this one in a bit.

Another is self-driving cars. When I tell people I can’t wait for self-driving cars to get here. They are alarmed. They might say, what if they kill someone? Well, people drive now and they kill others, a few hundreds easy across the United States every day. Yet, we don’t stop people from driving.

The truth is, self-driving cars would drastically reduce the number of vehicular accidents and would be more efficient both in time and energy used. Self-driving cars would merge and get off the highway without having to slow down. Merging in and out of traffic at high speeds is not something humans can’t do that very well, not most of us anyway. But all self-driving cars would be able to do this, time over time. What about if one got into an accident? Engineers would examine the data, and try to code around that if possible. But you can be assured that they will see if there is anything that can be done to prevent it. If they come up with some code change etc, all other cars would be eligible for that update. That is something doesn’t and can’t happen with humans. My wife was in a lil fender scrape the other day, someone else turned into her lane. No one else gets to learn from that. Had that been two self-driving cars, they would have been updated and all the others so that particular occurrence would be less likely.

Hopefully you will be a little suspicious of your intuition now. Especially on things like self-driving cars and flying. So why not wash that chicken?

As a practicing engineer, I would described myself as logical. I try to make most of my decisions on logic and not emotion. If I don’t have facts or data to back up my decisions, then I try to reason it out and then may be go with gut feelings. So when I learn some new scientific proof that counters my belief, I force myself to let go. I have been cooking for a long time, since my early teens. One of the things we have been doing in my family, is to wash meats. We would wash it with vinegar, lime juice, or lemon juice. The idea was to take away the “meaty” or “rank” smell if it was fish.

Yesterday on my local NPR’s station, Science Friday cover a few cooking myths. Including washing the chicken before cooking. I have the link to that episode if you want to listen at the end. The fact it, when you wash chicken, you are creating microscopic droplets with the harmful bacteria on the chicken. Some of those bacterias are drug resistant. Once in the air, the droplets lands on your clean dishes and other parts of your kitchen. What you have just accomplished was spreading the bacterias to places they probably won’t have gotten to without your obsessive washing.

So what if you don’t wash it? Well, you are going to cook it right? So why worry? So long as you cook it at the appropriate temperature, you would killed 100% of all the bacterias on the chicken. I haven’t had to cook since hearing this. It will be hard to resist not washing. But science said I don’t have to, so I will try not to.

The Science Friday episode on cooking myths is here. You can listen to the entire episode, but the part about washing is at location 16 minutes 16 secs in. If you happen to listen to the entire episode, the parts about beer can chicken and not eating pink burgers, applies to me too. We have the setup to hold up a chicken for beer can. We always believed that it was the beer that was making it nice and juicy. Problem, counter-intuitive thinking that the beer evaporates. But beer boils way higher than chicken cooks. So it will never, every boil. We were just wasting money putting a beer can in the grill. If you are a beer drinker, find something better to do with your beer than put it in the grill.