Uber and Adelaide

This past September I spent the month primarily in San Francisco on a business trip. Whilst there we used Uber. We used it a lot, multiple times a day.

San Francisco is the home of the ride sharing concept. With Lyft, Sidecar and Uber all competing in the one city — it's the proving ground for ride sharing. From licensed chauffeur drivers to "anyone is a driver" options. Not only that, you can even rent out someone's car on a service like getaround with some pretty easy checks — even for some Aussies under 25 that don't hold a US license.

Then once I got home and read the past news about the Uber rollout in Adelaide and its controversy. After my month in San Francisco all I can think is that the discussion is based around some pretty uneducated opinion.


The primary point raised from Uber moving into Adelaide has been about a part of Uber that hasn't even launched yet. That is UberX where anyone with the proper checks and approved vehicle can become an Uber driver and able to pick up any Uber user that specifically requests an UberX. This does not require drivers or their cars to have the traditional State Government taxi permits or checks but as you would expect Uber does their own checks to compensate. This is because if Uber can't assure their customers that its drivers are safe then they will simply not have customers.

When in San Francisco we only used Ubers 'UberX' option. We would request a vehicle and within a couple of minutes someone with an Uber logo on their windshield would pull up. We'd hop in, state our destination and maybe spark up some conversation with the driver before arriving and leaving the vehicle. No money or credit card exchange because it is handled within the Uber mobile app automatically. Along with the payment we can also rate the driver on the trip which Uber monitors closely.

For the lay person this may sound crazy. The thought that a random stranger that has no affiliation with a traditional taxi company can rock up and take someone to where they want. Isn't that dangerous?

Absolutely not.

At no time have I or anyone I have spoken to that has used UberX has expressed any experience where they felt in danger or even uncomfortable with a driver or their vehicle. None. But a majority of people would know of a or experienced a 'crazy taxi driver' story — speeding or unloading some pretty crazy conspiracy theories about how the 3 tiers of government has ruined their life (something I experienced recently).


Here's something that is one step further, something I know from experience. I believe UberX is actually safer than a traditional taxi. 

Why? Lets take a traditional taxi trip:

  1. Order taxi.
  2. Wait for it to pick you up. May or may not have GPS to notify you of approach.
  3. State your destination and depart.
  4. Arrive. Exchange cash or credit card information with driver.
  5. Exit vehicle

Pretty typical. How is this worse than Uber?

  • The drivers don't have a passenger feedback system. My experience with a slightly unhinged taxi driver in Melbourne would have made me give a lower rating and possibly raise a review of the driver. If you can't remember their obscure taxi driver number then how can you report something?
  • Drivers can't rate their passengers. Drivers don't know who is going to hop in and if they may have a history of abusing other drivers.
  • Taxi companies aren't innovating to even step-up to compete with Uber. I went over this in a post a few months ago.
  • Payments are clunky and introduce a risk of fraud. If you're not paying attention a driver could skim a credit card.

The key point being that both the driver and passenger can't rate one another. On Uber, if a passenger is abusive or just generally unsavoury then they can be banned from Uber altogether protecting other drivers. Moreover, if a passenger reports a bad driver then the driver can be banned from using Uber as well.


Lets run through a scenario using Uber.

Its a late night, and Sarah is on her way home after some drinks. She orders an UberX and also provides her destination with the request. Once a UberX has been assigned she can see the drivers aggregated rating, a 5-star rating system, and what car they will be arriving in including its registration number. She can cancel the trip if she doesn't like the drivers rating or vehicle.

The driver arrives and the journey is underway. The driver will follow the Uber driver app's route to Sarah's destination she entered previously, the shortest route. All metering is done via the drivers Uber supplied iPhone and app using GPS.

Once arrived the driver will end the trip and Sarah exits the UberX. No cash or credit cards are exchanged. She simply leaves the UberX. A minute or so later she can then provide a star rating for the driver and the driver can rate Sarah also.

This scenario has been brought up by State Ministers that safety is a concern with people using UberX whilst intoxicated, impaired or by someone "vulnerable". But they don't actually elaborate or describe the scenario. Just say that something "could" happen.

The fact is, that with traditional taxis things already do happen. All too regularly taxi drivers are bashed by abusive passengers and, rarely, the inverse where a driver will assault a passenger or take advantage of the passengers impaired state. After a 24 hour news cycle we, regretfully, move on.


Back to Adelaide. With Treasurer Koutsantonis and other state ministers making some noise about Uber and not exactly understanding it initially; it is not looking too good for the possibility for UberX in Adelaide — or indeed anywhere else in Australia.

Thats disappointing. If Uber and UberX was looked at objectively with recognition of existing usage in the US, where any issues have arisen and having some experience using the US model then there would be no debate — it would be allowed with possible modernisation of taxi legislation.

Instead we have minsters that could be looking out for their friends in lobbies or just not being properly informed and having to deal with making uninformed commentary in the short news cycle.

I would love to talk to Treasurer Koutsantonis or any other state minister about how UberX is something we need and how it will make taxi's more competitive and safer for everyone.


I genuinely believe that Uber is a safer option than traditional taxis. That UberX is actually a great way for someone to make some extra income when they may need it. It will force an incumbent taxi industry to innovate and make their own services better and safer to compete. Isn't that better for all of us?

Dear Universal Pictures…

I've got a question. Why is it that in my efforts to legitimately purchase and watch your movies means I have to wait over 4 months?

Unlike many — or lets be honest, almost all — of my friends and peers I choose not to obtain movies or music illegally. All my music is purchased via iTunes (or streamed on Spotify) and for movies its either the cinema or waiting for it to be available for rental or purchase on the Apple TV. 

Heres my problem. If I don't happen to catch a movie at a cinema the wait before I can rent or purchase the movie is infuriatingly comical. Heres an example.

A Million Ways to Die in the West poster. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia.

A Million Ways to Die in the West poster. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia.

Originally released in theatres in Australia on the 29th of May. At the time I did not make it in to see the movie at the cinema and instead was just going to wait until I could rent it. How long could that be?

After forgetting about it in the proceeding months I was reminded after watching TED on TV one night — "I haven't seen that Seth MacFarlane movie yet." I then checked to see if A Million Ways To Die In The West was available to rent on iTunes (via Apple TV). Nope. Purchase? Nope. Hell, was it still in cinemas? Nope. Local movie rental store? Closed down months ago.

So as a law abiding movie watcher I could not in any way, shape or form pay to watch this movie at that time.

Confused I checked the dates on when it will be released. I found, after some digging, that the physical release for purchase would be on the 27th of August. Cool, at the time I thought "I can wait a little longer" as movies on iTunes usually release for purchase and rent at the same time.

Nope. I was dumfounded to find on the night of the 27th when I was ready to watch a movie that was 3 months past theatrical release that I could not rent it. Instead I had to purchase it. But that wasn't all. The rental date is set for the 27th of September. That will make it a 4 month wait.

Why? I want to do the right thing. I even put up with the ridiculous waiting to a point where in the end I forget the movie ever existed. Why am I and the others that want to do the right thing treated like absolute shit? It would take me less than an hour to download a torrent of this movie. Sometimes I feel like giving up on the motivation to put up with this shit and just do what everyone else does.

Heres a timeline for absolute clarity:

  • Movie released on the 29th of May at cinemas
  • No longer available in local cinemas in late July
  • Available for purchase only on the 27th of August
  • Available for rent on the 27th of September

Expectations

I don't expect, yet, to be able to watch it at the same time as theatrical release. Cinemas are trying to hold onto their business model, with support from the industry, and are making us pay for it. In time hopefully this will change but it will unfortunately be a while.

Is it so much to ask to have at most a 1-2 month wait after theatrical release. Enough time for the rush of movie goers to watch it in cinemas with the popcorn, 3D and what not.

If the aim of the game is to stop people from torrenting movies then why not, I don't know, make it available for them to purchase it in the way they want to watch it? Hint, people are torrenting movies to watch on computers and networked TV's.

Universal Pictures…

A simple request. Wake the fuck up. People who want to pay for your product can't and you treat us like shit. You scream and yell about piracy, lobby the Government to make laws and treat everyone as a criminal. And yet, you don't even make what you sell available to those who want to purchase it. What the fuck kind of business is that?

I'll probably be able to watch the movie on my plane trip to the US next week because, fuck, I don't know why but some movies are available on planes before people can buy them.

BUZZSTOP

Biceps in this image may appear larger than in reality (lens distortion)

Biceps in this image may appear larger than in reality (lens distortion)

I had the opportunity to be apart of the Moonshine Laboratory GovHack team this year. Over the 48 hours we had to build something using public datasets we came up with BUZZSTOP.

With comprehensive public transport data available its time to start thinking about how that information can be used to help the commuter when it is relevant. For all of that data only a small sliver is needed at one moment but that data is invaluable. Checking the weather in the morning using an app is so quick and simple which can mean the difference between a jacket or a raincoat. Being able to see realtime arrival times can change if we have enough time to drop into the shops on our journey home or if a second service will be waiting at an interchange.

This project wasn't necessarily about the app itself. Our objective was to focus on the use of the data, to show how invaluable it can be even for the everyday commute. Using Bluetooth beacon technology will allow identification of a stop or a vehicle to contextualise the important information without user intervention.

Moreover, making the contextual data available automatically will allow commuters with vision impairments to be able to use public transit with more confidence and efficiency when only the absolutely necessary information is displayed (available with VoiceOver) without the presence of potentially irrelevant, disruptive data.

This is only the very tip of a deep, churning iceberg. From the introduction of such a small passive device and idea of how to use the data we can achieve such a wealth of information and efficiency to improve our interaction with public transport.

↬ WWDC 2014

This year, in lieu of a golden ticket to San Francisco, I had the opportunity to organise a meetup in Adelaide to watch the Keynote live at 2:30am. Not expecting more than a handful of people to turn up at 2am on a weekday morning, I was surprised to have 12 other Apple enthusiasts in town rock up. So with some comfortable chairs set up, enough sugar and Red Bull to keep us awake for at least 24 hours straight we watched the live stream over the Apple TV.

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Because these individual blogs have separate RSS feeds you may not have seen this post.

Commonwealth Bank to introduce smartphone ATM withdrawals

Commonwealth Bank will allow customers to withdraw cash from ATMs using their smartphones for the first time, under a new update to the bank’s mobile apps.
— James Hutchinson, linked

Interesting to think if this will coincide with some third-party Touch ID capability to further increase security of these kinds of withdrawals.

Bank smartphone apps in general would greatly benefit from a basic authorisation feature provided by Touch ID.

"Siri, how many days until WWDC?" — 33 days.

iBeacons and Location Privacy

One of iBeacons greatest attributes is that it allows end-users to control their location privacy and still benefit from location awareness in applications. With the shift from GPS coordinates to the presence of a physical iBeacon it no longer requires persistent location awareness or allow an application to track precise location information at will.

With iBeacon, end-users need not worry that a particular application may be snooping their current location or if that data is visible to anyone else as it goes through 'the wire'. A huge relief in light of the revelations around the NSA programs.

Unfortunately, this concise differentiation isn't passed on to the end-user in iOS. When the application requests to monitor an iBeacon region what the end-user will see is the same request for an application to access their current, precise location.

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Whilst it is somewhat accurate, an iBeacon is fixed to a particular location, it doesn't convey that when outside the receivable region of the beacon the application has no way of tracking your location if its only using Core Locations iBeacon regions. However, I believe this clear differentiation needs to be expressed properly to the end-user to inform them about the applications intent and capabilities with what its requesting. A basic example of the OS handling this would be a message like so.

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This would require that inside of Core Location the request is expressly for — all or mixed options of — iBeacons, GPS locations or Geofencing which is then reflected correctly in the message. However, this may be a problem because of the current implementation of region monitoring is that it can be made at any time in execution. Multiple and mixed region or location monitoring requests may be made independently of one another and not combined in one alert message. This will not be a viable solution for an OS initiated message.

At this time and most likely into the future it will be the responsibility of the developer and their applications presentation to clearly convey their intentions and usage of iBeacon regions. When using iBeacons the request reads the same as "I want your GPS location whenever I want" which is — rightly so — becoming more frowned upon by end-users.

Its up to the developers to be responsible about their location information requirements and educate the end-user consistently as a whole so this truly magnificent technology can be widely adopted and — most importantly — trusted by end-users to reduce the need for GPS location awareness.