Well, Scoot

For anyone who hoped the Era of Disruption was almost over, I have one piece of advice: don’t hold your breath.

We’ve made some progress, but far from backing off on the importance of disruption in defining business models, today’s corporate warriors are doubling down.

That’s right, we’ve left the first period of the era and entered the second: the Period of Meta-disruption. We’re now seeing the disruptors disrupted. Nowhere is this clearer than in San Francisco.

Uber, Lyft, and their various brethren set out to disrupt the taxi industry, and in large part they’ve succeeded, especially here in the Bay Area. But now we’re getting a wave of companies out to disrupt the ride-hailing business model.

Three companies–Bird, LimeBike, and Spin–are pushing motorized scooters as superior to ride-hailing over short distances or when traffic is congested–and when is it not?

San Francisco was late in regulating ride-hailing (just as they were late in regulating short-term rentals) and the Board of Supervisors is determined to get ahead of the curve on scooter rentals.

Frankly, they don’t have a choice.

The model all three companies are pursuing is “convenience”. They want to be sure there’s always a scooter nearby. That means depositing caches of them in high-traffic areas and encouraging users to spread them around by leaving them at the end of their rides.

Which is great for the companies, of course, but not so great for the general public who wind up dodging scooters left on the sidewalk, in bus zones, truck loading zones, doorways, and basically anywhere there’s enough room for them.

And that’s without even considering the impracticality of forcing riders to abide by state and city laws requiring helmets and forbidding riding on the sidewalk. After all, if the app won’t unlock the scooter if the customer isn’t wearing a helmet, nobody would bother with the service.

I do agree that it’s not the rental companies’ job to enforce the law, but they could certainly do a better job of reminding riders that they shouldn’t ride on the sidewalk. Give ’em a great big warning–a sticker on the footboard, or a click-through screen in the app–and let the police take it from there.

On the other hand, it shouldn’t be necessary to get law enforcement involved on the parking end. It should be technologically possible to use the phone’s camera to take a picture of the parked scooter and then use a bit of AI to determine whether it’s been left in a safe spot. If not, just keep billing the user until they move it*. At fifteen cents a minute, people will figure out fairly quickly that it behooves them to not leave the thing where someone will trip over it.

* Or until someone else rents it, of course. Double-charging would be unethical.

All that said, despite the back-and-forth in the press between City and companies, I haven’t seen anyone address the question of privacy.

By design, the apps have to track users: where did they pick up the scooter, where did they leave it, where did they go, and how long did it take? All tied solidly to an identity (or at least to a credit card).

Who gets access to that information? Do the companies sell information to advertisers? Do the apps continue to track customers between scooter rentals?

Don’t forget, these companies think the way to launch their businesses is to dump a bunch of scooters on the street and let the market sort things out. Do you really want them knowing you used your lunch hour to visit a doctor? A bar–or maybe a strip club? How about a political demonstration?

Uber has certainly been tagged for over-zealous information collection. What safeguards do LimeBike, Spin, and Bird have in place to protect your identity?

Flap

Whenever Maggie fills the bird feeders (affectionately known as the Cat Entertainment Devices), we get swarms of the feathered noisemakers.

I’m not a bird person, so I only recognize three types:
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Jays

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Doves
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Little Twitter Birds

Life is even simpler for Sachiko.
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She calls them all “ek-ek-ek-ek [tail swish]”. As best I can tell–and why doesn’t Google Translate handle Cat/English?–that means “Lemme outta here, Daddy! I’ll moidelize da bums!” ¬†Approximately.

You might think that MM and Tuxie would spend most of their time in the yard, watching and drooling. You would be half right.
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To be fair, MM does spend time keeping an eye on the avian activity.
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It’s not a very aggressive eye, but it is an eye.
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Note the orange little twitter bird at the silver feeder and the gray one at the red feeder, which is almost directly above MM’s head.

Based on our observations of MM’s interactions with the birds, we’re fairly sure that she, like me, has three names for them. About three-quarters of them are “Meh. Too much work.” Two-thirds of the remainder are “Missed it by that much.” And the remaining eight percent?

“See? I don’t need hoomins to feed me.”

Meet the Neighbors 05

Since this week’s first two posts were bird-related, I’ll continue the theme today.

In addition to maintaining the backyard food and water bowls, we also have several bird feeders which Maggie keeps stocked with a variety of seeds. Collectively they’re known as the “Cat Entertainment Device”, and replenishing the seeds is usually called “changing the CED’s batteries.” The CED attracts quite a few birds, most of which I couldn’t identify if my life depended on it (I can usually distinguish seagulls, hawks, owls, egrets, and crows. Beyond that, I’m pretty much reduced to describing them by size and color.) I’m pretty sure most of them are semi-regulars.

Then there’s this little guy.
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He was quite talkative — squawkative might be a better way to put it. We suspect he was a home escapee: he didn’t seem afraid of us and let us get quite close. He was wary enough to keep enough distance that trying to capture him didn’t seem feasible. Dodging around us didn’t stop him from vacuuming up an amazing number of sunflower seeds.

He’s only showed up once, although I think I heard him a couple of times over the next few days. Hopefully he found his way back home, or at least someplace where he gets plenty of sunflower seeds and doesn’t have to dodge cats.