ber Alles: The Future of Taxis
By R. D. Flavin

9-4-2015

     In a strict translation, “ber alles” is German for “above everything else,” though the expression was later incorporated into the lyrics of "Lied der Deutschen" by Hoffmann von Fallersleben to accompany music composed by Joseph Haydn. That the third stanza became the national anthem of the Federal Republic of Germany is just one of those things... I'm here, in this column, to mention “ber” as in Uber Technologies Inc. and my concern is with the taxi transportation application which almost anyone with a car and a smart-phone can download. To get a hackney (or taxi or cab-driver) license varies from state to state and from country to country. Usually, there's a written or verbal test based on map-based knowledge, but with the modern GPS, tech seems to unpredictably follow the methods of Donald Trump and his neverending fifteen minutes of fame .

     The Canadian re-action, or rather lack there-of, over Uber is a Moosehead joke I shan't be the one to tell... However, some European countries have some legitimate concerns over Uber's lack of “testing.” Here in America the only law we've passed concerning Uber is the drivers can't carry guns restriction. There is a profound irony here... Apparently Uber hasn't paid their NRA membership fees.

     Now, as far as the history of taxis, I would love to begin in pre-historic times (Grog and his wolf-pulled sled of doom) or even historic times with ancient horses (sometimes humans, as well) pulling wagons or chariots, but... perhaps I should forgo the Bos taurus feces and get to a more modern background.

     Yes, we had rafts, boats, and ships which transported folks from one place to another, and also (in those areas of the world which took advantage of the 'wheel', oxen, ass, horse, or whatever beast of burden one could command to pull a cart or wagon from one place to another. However, as some things must, 'transportation' got better.

     Here in Massachusetts, we have the glacial erratic in Lynn known variously as Cannon Rock (after a legend it frightened away British troops who were NEVER in the vicinity) and Phaeton Rock, named by its 19th century 'discoverer' who was a member of Lynn's Explorer Club (and later visited by the founder of our Smithsonian Institute [see: http://www.flavinscorner.com/dolmen.htm ]), who chose the name from the chariot which Apollo used to daily drag the Sun across our sky. In the rest of America, we had the barges going up and down the Erie Canal, the legendary stage-coaches which risked robbery and worse to transport folks from the East to the West, the introduction of the steam-engine railroad to America in 1830 and which culminated in the first transcontinental railroad in 1869, also the same year the Hansom Safety Cab Company set up shop in New York City. So, here would be a good time to touch upon some etymologies...

     With 'cab', pronounced kb, which is a shortened form of the French term cabriolet, a derivative of cabriole, so called from its elastic bounding motion, and first used in 1766 (according to the OED) in T. Smollett Trav. France & Italy I. v. 73: “He goes in a one-horse chaise, which is here called a cabriolet...” The OED implies an association and extension of the Hansom 'cab', though as such, the "cab" did not appear for several decades.

     Now, 'taxi', though a tad more complicated, is well enough understood as to its 'origin' and eytomology.

     I may as well selectively quote the OED on this one, as it seems to not only explain the word, but put it into an understandable context. The OED lists taximeter, n. as pronounced “tksɪmiːtə(r), formerly /tkˈsɪmɪtə(r).” For the word's etymology, the OED states: “< French taximtre (1905), < taxe tariff + -mtre = -meter comb. form. The form taxameter, used a few years earlier, was from German: compare medieval Latin taxa tax. (An earlier German name from c1875 was taxanom.).” For early usage, the OED cites: “[1890   German Patent Spec. 56310   Taxameter-Fabrik Westendorp & Pieper in Hamburg.] and 1894   Times 2 June 19/1,   I have severally interviewed the proprietors of the ‘taxameter’, owners of cabs at Hamburg, and several of their employs.” So, 'taxi' appears to be a shortened form of a machine which measured distance of travel. It'll have to do, I guess...

     As our LEFT COAST has always (usually most proudly) been first to advance new ideas and approaches, they've recently continued their fine record with complaining about the lack of background checks on Uber drivers. District Attorneys from both Los Angeles and San Francisco have joined to bring a civil suit against Uber for misleading its customers in the vetting of its drivers, as court records have revealed Uber drivers who have been convicted and served jail time for such crimes as burglary, kidnapping, murder, and even some sex offenders to ...add that little extra WTF to the fellow in the front seat doing the driving.

     Also on the Left Coast, earlier this week a federal judge in San Francisco ruled a class-action lawsuit could move forward as Uber drivers are fighting to be designated as 'employees' rather than 'independent contractors', which basically comes down to Uber paying for or contributing to health-care and other employee benefits. Of course Uber has balked at this, much like UPS has kept its drivers only working a certain number of hours to be considered part-time, rather than more hours and full-time status, which would result in similar health-care and employee benefit issues. If the drivers win, it could cost Uber millions of dollars, though the company has recently been evaluated as worth around fifty billion bucks (that's ACTUAL monies and earnings + expected future profits). As some studies suggest middle and higher income level folks are combining their own cars plus an Uber ride or an Uber ride with public transportation are improving, the company seems secure enough to move ahead and will likely offer snacks or hors d'oeuvres soon.


Uber HQ.

     Alternative transportation is good, such as bicycling, though I believe too many basic traffic laws are broken and the police are especially lenient because the bicyclists are usually students or yuppies, but deaths have and continue to occur because ...the misplaced illusion some bicyclists (and lawmakers) who are okay with arrogance and accidents are incestuous cousins and ...refusing to admit there is NO WAY some aluminum and a funky helmet is going to win against a ton and a half or more of steel. Many years ago, bicycling was a legitimate (and sometimes one's only) means to get from one place to another, but times have changed, but traffic laws and the basic laws of physics (automobile beats bicycle) remain the same. I believe bicycling is a wonderful exercise and sport, though I disapprove of their growing numbers on the streets of major cities. Accidents and deaths are occurring... This is one Green initiative I do not support.

     In theory, Uber sounded good, but so did Windows 8 and Window 8.1. I'm unsure of the future of personal computers, data storage, and public and private transportation. ber alles? Yes, above all else comes safety and efficiency. I hope Uber does better background check on its drivers, maintains the finest of GPS systems, ...and that Linux gets off its butt and offers a reliable alternative to Microsoft's new Window 10. And, they skipped 9? Creepy... Kind of like buildings without a thirteenth floor. Measure twice, cut once...

     While Google has been experimenting with self-driving cars for some time and ego-tastic Amazon is threatening to enter same robotic-taxi industry, Uber has joined with Carnegie Mellon University to investigate and improve mapping ability, vehicle safety, and autonomy (“self-driving”) technology. Some ethical controversy has developed, though, as Uber has enticed (i.e., hired) some 40 Carnegie Mellon scientists and researchers to work directly and solely for Uber.


Experimental Uber-Ford Fusion test-taxi in Tucson.

     Last Tuesday, Arizona Governor Ducey's office released a press statement which reported a new joint venture between Uber and the University of Arizona. U. of A. has long been respected for its expertise in optics education and is working with such heavyweights as Sharp Laboratories, Oculus, Canon, Raytheon, Johnson and Johnson Vision Care, and others. Uber publicly denies any interest in the future of self-driving taxis, yet such seems to be contradicted by its use of Ford Fusion cars with mapping ability and autonomous deriving technology. The company claims its just interested in optics, which would be fine if it just wanted to improve upon existing tech which can 'sense' or 'see' something in front or directly behind the vehicle which could cause injury or an accident and applies self-braking. It appears Uber is looking for something a little more advanced...

     Extending its UberPool service which gives discounts to passengers who 'share' rides with other passengers, Uber has introduced two 'Smart Routes' in San Francisco which only follow specific routes much like a bus does. Uber boasts the drivers should make more money with more passengers, maximize efficiency, and provide yet another alternative transportation choice for riders (“passengers”). At least until Skynet comes online and the war between machines and humans officially begins. Until then, it's ber alles and service “above everything else" for Uber Technologies Inc.

     Apparently Uber has come out of the closet concerning its interest in self-driving cars, as the company just hired two infamous hackers who took control of a Jeep Cherokee remotely, and they'll be working at Uber's self-driving and research lab in Pittsburgh as “computer security engineers.” Right; if ya' can't beat 'em, hire them.


     As an odd boost to self-promotion and advertising, Uber has offered a promotion tied to the recent game version of the film at the Seattle PAX Prime gaming convention. Riders who use the Uber app are given the option to be transported by one of several Mad Max-inspired so-called post-apocalyptic cars ...at no charge. As the convention ended August 31st, it's unlikely the free-rides will continue much longer. Still, a rare chance to see one possible version of a taxi in the future. I'm not sure Uber CEO, Travis Kalanick, will discuss video games on the third night of the upcoming The Late Show Featuring Stephen Colbert on Thursday, Sept. 10, 2015.

Buying a new pair of walking shoes,


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