Cars are the
new wallet

Dream Drive

Just hope it never says, “I’m sorry, Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that.”

If Honda has its way, soon your car’s dashboard will offer more than air conditioning controls, music, maps, and a parallel parking assist. It will literally become a payment vehicle—pun intended.

That’s thanks to Dream Drive, which Honda described in a recent press release as …

… the automotive industry’s first integrated driver and passenger infotainment, commerce, services and rewards dashboards within the vehicle environment.

Honda has been working with Visa since 2016 “… to build and enhance the in-vehicle payment experience to make payments more convenient and secure.” And now …

Honda is expanding its in-vehicle payment collaboration to include Mastercard and PayPal. Collectively, Honda is working with these partners to create the vehicle experience of the future.

Drivers can access some Dream Drives features via a touchscreen mounted on the dashboard above the radio to “… pay for goods and services like fuel, movie tickets and parking, make restaurant reservations, food ordering for pickup or delivery, and even share the driver’s location with friends and family.” Passengers can as well, and they can use mobile devices to access additional features to “… play mixed reality games, watch movies, listen to music, read original comics stories, use travel applications, explore new points of interest along the route, and control the radio and cabin features.”

If concern about distracted driving popped into your mind, it popped into Honda’s, too.  Honda claims that the device offers “… a broad range of convenient services and engaging entertainment options, while minimizing the potential for driver distraction.” One can only hope. We already know the dangers of driving while using a cell phone. What is lesser known is that driving while calling on a hands-free device is equally dangerous or nearly so. Honda’s assurances aside, if and when Dream Drive technology becomes ubiquitous, let’s hope drivers use it only when the vehicle is stationary.

Dream Drive is not yet on the market, but even as I write Honda is showing off demos at CES in the Las Vegas Convention Center, where a year earlier it put in an appearance in the concept stage.

Dream Drive and a Coke bottle

Dream Drive doesn’t appear to bring much to the party by way of features that portable devices haven’t already brought. It may not matter. Technologies as solutions in search of problems often succeed in finding them. 

In the 1980 movie The Gods Must Be Crazy, an empty Coke bottle carelessly dropped from an airplane finds its way into the hands of a tribe of bushmen. The curious, never-before-seen object soon becomes useful for curing leather, making music, stamping patterns on headbands, grinding food, and cracking husks. “Suddenly everybody needed it most of the time,” quipped the narrator. “A thing they had never needed before became a necessity.”

The Coke bottle is not unlike many of today’s commercially successful technology products. Thirty years after The Gods Must Be Crazy was produced, Apple introduced iPad. Like bushmen finding a Coke bottle, consumers and the media reacted to iPad with bemusement. Whatever is it for?, many of us wondered. We soon found out. Now we can’t live without the darned things.

To banks, portables have become something of a branch office. Thanks to Honda Motors, every car on the road may someday be one, too.

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Inconveniences from texting

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“Trigger thumb” in the making?

Over the past decade, monthly texts have increased 7,700 percent. Worldwide we send about 19 billion of them a day. Americans send about two for every voice call they place. People between 18 and 25 send 133 a week. Texting accounts for about a third of the time Millennials spend on their phones.(1)

Only in retrospect is it not surprising that text messages would overtake voice calls. Texting lets you “converse” without being overheard. You can dispense with pleasantries and get to the point. You can reply at your convenience. You can end or pause by falling silent, with no need for “kindest regards,” “yours truly,” or “no, you hang up first.” 

In short, texting is great. Except when it isn’t.

Evil twins

Just as no one foresaw the rapid rise of the text message, no one foresaw the host of problems it would bring. 

Inconceivable as it is, and despite the terrifying toll on human lives, there are still plenty of dopes who text while driving.

More on the amusing side is drunk-texting, which, I suppose, you could call drunk-dialing’s evil twin. And then there’s sleep-texting, a more innocent, often entertaining twin. (I guess that makes them triplets.) Unlike its evil sibs, sleep-texts are usually gibberish, which is a good thing, considering they leave a digital record. Sleep-texting is most prevalent among adolescents and college students, possibly due to their more erratic sleep schedules.

Text neck, trigger thumb, and other pains

Excessive texting correlates with and likely causes physical problems. The Washington Post reports an epidemic of “text neck.” The American Optometric Association warns of digital eye strain. And Rush University Medical Center describes “trigger thumb,” which it defines as …

… the constriction of a flexor tendon in the thumb, may result from repetitive gripping motions such as texting or holding a smartphone. Its symptoms include painful popping or snapping when the thumb bends and straightens; sometimes the thumb even becomes locked in a curled position … 

… Elbows can suffer as well if you spend too much time holding a phone to your ear, resting your elbow on a desk, or keeping your arm bent at an acute angle to use a computer mouse. These positions can contribute to cubital tunnel syndrome, or increased tension in the tunnel through which the ulnar nerve passes in the elbow.

“Fortunately,” Rush reassures us, “many of these conditions are highly treatable.”

Texting certainly risks miscommunication, which can be harmful to relationships, something the financial services industry should note when crafting automatic messages and training help-chat personnel. Kim Schneiderman L.C.S.W., M.S.W warns in Psychology Today that “… texting is not the way to negotiate a relationship.”

… UCLA professor Albert Mehrabian found that 58 percent of communication is through body language, 35 percent through vocal tone, pitch, and emphasis, and a mere 7 percent through content of the message. We all know that good communication is the cornerstone of relationship. So why attempt to resolve a disagreement using only 7 percent of your full expressive potential? … And that’s a generous 7 percent. Consider all the annoying slips of finger that can interfere with clear communication. When the difference between “mad,” “sad,” “bad,” and “glad” is an errant thumb, wobbly finger gymnastics can be costly and confusing.

At least to a point, emoticons have evolved to compensate for the body-language gap. A winky-face can work wonders for ensuring that humor or irony isn’t lost on a message recipient.

It’s important to beware alarmists who cry out unsupported warnings with every technological advance. Sitting too close to the TV didn’t ruin our eyes; radio, then TV, then video games neither destroyed our minds nor rendered reading obsolete; and home video and, later, streaming were not harbingers of movie theaters’ doom. Likewise, I suspect many if not most of the apocalyptic warnings about texting can be safely ignored. 

Nor is it always bad when technology changes how we do things. I don’t see anyone complaining about no longer having to lug a bushel of clothes and a washboard to the riverbank. To be sure, pedants rue abbreviations like for you and btw for by the way, fearing that humans will forget how to spell and punctuate. Their concerns overlook that fact that rules do not dictate usage; usage evolves while rules scurry to catch up. Moreover, no one suffered severe injury when catalog and dialog began appearing without an appended -gue.

If the texting tide ever turns, it will not be by design. If and when, it will turn only because capricious human tastes will have once again taken us by surprise. Meanwhile, there’s no sense in beating one’s head against the wall. Those of us who make our living in a digital world are best served by watching the trends, doing our best not just to stay abreast of them but to capitalize on them, and remaining alert to pitfalls so as not to fall into or exacerbate them.

__________

(1) (For these and other statistics about texting, see Irene Rufferty’s article in Medium“50 Texting Statistics That Can Quench Everyone’s Curiosity, Even Mine.”)

 

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Resolutions for cynics

ResolutionsAmbrose Bierce defined resolute as “obstinate in a course that we approve” and year as “a period of 365 disappointments.” Taking them together, one might define New Year’s resolutions thus: A chance at 365 disappointments while trying to hold to a course that we approve.

I realize resolutions are supposed to be positive.[1] But a look at their lighter side may offer respite to those of us who are weary of feigning belief and encouragement each time we hear yet another “I’m going to lose weight” or “I’m going to give up [insert vice here].”

Here are a few of my favorite offbeat resolutions, curated from list after list boasting the “world’s funniest.” Speaking of which, I should resolve to lay off click-bait. 

Wisdom from The New Yorker

You can hardly beat The New Yorker for insight and wit. The magazine’s Susanna Wolff advised

Instead of preparing ambitious New Year’s resolutions like we did last year, let’s get ready for [the new year] by collectively aiming a little lower.

Wolff suggests that instead of resolving to learn a foreign language, for instance, “delete the Duolingo app from your phone and hope that ‘Storage Almost Full’ message stops popping up.” Why “spend more time with family” when you can “mute all of your family members on Facebook so that you can still tolerate spending time with them”? And in place of “drink less alcohol,” Wolff suggests “drink better alcohol.”

Here’s how legendary satirist Andy Borowitz’s pledge to quit smoking worked out:

On New Year’s Day, I started using nicotine patches, nicotine gum, and nicotine lozenges but stopped when I began to hallucinate that I was a Lucky Strike. January 2nd brought a new, less arrogant resolution: “I will smoke only cigarettes I did not pay for.”

In “This Is the Year,” Colin Nissan shows how specificity helps:

The more specific you are about your resolution, the better your chance of sticking with it. Don’t just say, “I want to lose weight.” Say, “When my arm jiggles, I want it to look less like a pelican’s throat-pouch choking down a bass.” 

I shall resist further excerpting from The New Yorker for variety’s sake and to avoid tempting a reminder about infringement from their legal department. 

Other voices

If you’re tired of saccharin-laden resolutions, you may like this, from James Agate: “To tolerate fools more gladly, provided this does not encourage them to take up more of my time.” Or this, from major league pitcher Dave Beard: “Many years ago I resolved never to bother with New Year’s resolutions, and I’ve stuck with it ever since.”

From the Twitterverse

Several collections of alleged all-time funniest tweeted resolutions cite these:

Just write out everything you did last night and at the beginning add the word “stop.” —@peteholmes

My New Years resolution is to be more assertive if that’s okay with you guys? —@megankcomedy

Here are a few more I enjoyed: 

My New Year’s resolution is simply to remember to write 2019 instead of 2018. —@JiteshJain (Found on Buzzfeed)[2]

I am really unfit. Running for a train has almost done me in. A new years resolution of never running again I reckon —@SwtngTwtng (HelloGiggles)

I’ve read so many horrible things about drinking and smoking recently that I made a new, firm New Year’s resolution: NO MORE READING.” —@PhatOfficial (ScoopWhoop)

Encouragement from Mark Twain

It seems fitting to close on this one, from Mark Twain:

Now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions.  Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual.

Twain came up with that early in his career. It was published in an 1863 edition of Territorial Enterprise, a Virginia City, Nevada, newspaperOddly enough, he wasn’t much into tweeting.



[1] In an earlier post I wrote about the origin of New Year’s resolutions and listed some of the most common ones. Click here.

[2] I updated the years.

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This one will be brief

15181196_10211645790159640_200666815884054656_nAstute readers are likely aware that, in a little over a week, 2018 will draw to a close. And, as of a few days ago, the days are getting mercifully longer again. No one wonder celebrations are popping up throughout the northern hemisphere.

However you choose to observe (or not) the holiday season, my family and I wish you and yours the best. Thank you for reading.

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Will MasterCard strengthen blockchain anonymity?

man-1461448_1280A curious application just crossed the desk of the United States Patent & Trademark Office. Two weeks ago, MasterCard applied for a patent on its new “… method for anonymization of a blockchain transaction.” 

“MasterCard’s idea sounds an awful lot like a mixer or tumbler,” reported TNW the day after MasterCard filed its application, “a system often used by cybercriminals to launder dirty cryptocurrency.” 

That may not be an exaggeration. While there are plenty of reasons behind the appeal of blockchain’s anonymity to the law-abiding—from security concerns, to an intrinsic preference for privacy, to a desire to keep Big Brother’s nose out of their business—there’s no question that anonymity protects people who are up to no good. 

And it appears that MasterCard indeed proposes to eliminate what little penetrability exists in blockchain transactions. On the day following the application, Coindesk’s Nikhilesh De explained that  … 

… most blockchain ledgers are not actually anonymous. The [MasterCard] application explicitly notes that transactions can be traced due to “the nature of the blockchain as an immutable ledger.” 

As a result, it’s possible to identify all of the transactions that are associated with a specific blockchain wallet using public data. 

To wit, De goes on to cite the following from MasterCard’s application

“… such data may, as it is accumulated and analyzed, eventually reveal the user behind a wallet or at least provide information about them … However, the existing communications and attribution structure of blockchain technology such as bitcoin require identification of where the transactions are emanating and terminating, in order to maintain the ledger … Thus, there is a need for a technical solution to increase the anonymization of a wallet and the user associated therewith in a blockchain.” 

MasterCard’s technology, continued the above-referenced TNW article,  

… works by providing a primary address for a transaction, this address then stores the transaction data including the amount and final destination address. 

Meanwhile, a new transaction and digital signature is created, with a new private key. This new transaction is responsible for ensuring the funds reach the desired person. 

As a result, when you receive funds the sender address will be associated with the MasterCard system, and not the identity of the sender. 

None other than the International Monetary Fund has expressed a keen interest in piercing blockchain anonymity. Earlier this year, IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde blogged

The same reason crypto-assets … are so appealing is also what makes them dangerous. These digital offerings are typically built in a decentralized way and without the need for a central bank. This gives crypto-asset transactions an element of anonymity, much like cash transactions. 

The result is a potentially major new vehicle for money laundering and the financing of terrorism. 

“One recent example,” Lagarde continues, “reveals the scope of the problem”: 

In July 2017, an international operation led by the United States shut down AlphaBay, the largest online criminal marketplace on the internet. For more than two years, illegal drugs, hacking tools, firearms, and toxic chemicals were sold all over the world through AlphaBay … Before the site was taken offline, more than $1 billion had been exchanged through crypto-assets. 

Of course, money laundering and terrorist financing is only one dimension of the threat. Financial stability is another. The rapid growth of crypto-assets, the extreme volatility in their traded prices, and their ill-defined connections to the traditional financial world could easily create new vulnerabilities.   

Yet CNBC recently suggested that government poses no imminent threat to blockchain anonymity, citing assistant to the president and White House cybersecurity coordinator Rob Joyce’s remarks at the Munich Security Conference in Germany: 

Joyce emphasized the need to better understand the cryptocurrency’s risks and benefits before embarking on any sort of regulatory regime. 

“I think we’re still absolutely studying and understanding what the good ideas and bad ideas in that space are,” he said when asked about the potential for government regulation. “So, I don’t think it’s close.” 

Privacy and money laundering are not the concern of the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office. Its job is to determine whether a submission represents a “… new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof.” If so, it may grant the inventor “a property right.” 

Things could get interesting if MasterCard receives its requested patent and the IMF or the United States government doesn’t like it. 

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