Sunday, November 29, 2015

"Switzerland Begins Two-Year Trial of Driverless Buses" (plus money, art, glory and sex)

From FastCompany:

Switzerland's New Self-Driving Buses Will Probably Run Like Clockwork
Driverless public transportation may lift off well before private cars.
Excellent chocolate, accurate clocks, a criminal-friendly banking system. These are all things Switzerland is famous for. Now it might soon add driverless buses to the list: The Swiss city of Sion will begin a two-year trial of two autonomous buses beginning in spring 2016.

The buses come from startup BestMile and will be operated by SwissPost transport subsidiary Car Postal. The company’s name hints at the purpose for these small, nine-person shuttles. They are designed to cover the "last mile," the gap between a regular bus or metro stop and the passenger's own front door.

Unlike Google’s private self-driving vehicles, BestMile’s focus is public transport. It also takes a different approach suited to a network of vehicles running on known routes: the network controls the buses "the same way a control tower does in an airport," writes BestMile. The company is also working with the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne to improve the technology for better control and routing.
This hub-and-shuttle model might prove an excellent alternative to the other commonly-imagined scenario of fleets of driverless "taxis"—a robotic Uber network, offering a similar level of convenience but without putting so many vehicles on the road....MORE
You can see where this stuff gets very political, very fast.
I shall probably have to study up on the history of fraud and graft in the development of the traction railways in the U.S. and elsewhere to be on top of the coming game.

Or maybe just skim through Theodore Dreiser's 'Trilogy of Desire'.
Volume I: The Financier:
"..a thinly fictionalized account of the life of Charles Yerkes, a 19th century street-car magnate, creator of the original Chicago Loop, and a major benefactor of the University of Chicago. The story takes place in the 1870s and 1880s and involves insider trading, government loans to banks, and brokers and insurance companies failing and causing financial panic....." 

Here's the Journal's 100th anniversary review of the first volume of the trilogy:

'The Financier' (1912) by Theodore Dreiser
A Life Driven by Desire
Money, art, glory and sex in the greatest of all American business novels
We remember Theodore Dreiser mainly for his deeply felt tales of have-nots who yearn for much more than the world gives them. In "An American Tragedy," his 1925 masterpiece, a young man's longing for money and social standing leads him to the electric chair. But Mr. Dreiser also wrote admiringly of the wealthy, and this year marks the 100th anniversary of "The Financier," his sweeping and minutely observed story of an enormously successful capitalist.

"The Financier" centers on Frank Algernon Cowperwood, whom the author repeatedly describes as possessing "force." Cowperwood proves himself both skilled and resilient in the financial marketplace. He also keeps a cool head when he's discovered sleeping with his business partner's daughter. Mr. Dreiser so insistently interleaves stock-market intrigue with sex, in fact, that one critic described Cowperwood's story as a club sandwich of "slices of business alternating with erotic episodes."

But Cowperwood is no Gordon Gekko. He's suave, not rapacious. And unlike Gekko, who celebrates greed, Cowperwood asserts simply, "I satisfy myself."

Mr. Dreiser drew Cowperwood from life—specifically, the life of Charles Tyson Yerkes, one of the more freewheeling Gilded Age robber barons. Mr. Yerkes made his fortune in municipal rapid transit, but before he started buying up cable-car companies he was a stock and bond broker and speculator.
Mr. Dreiser fictionalizes Mr. Yerkes's personality, but follows his business life closely in the novel. The result is an amazingly intricate description of high-rolling 19th-century finance.
 Cowperwood practices a situational morality that "varies with conditions, if not climates." Invited into shady parley with the Philadelphia city treasurer, he cuts a backroom deal that anoints him an investment banker for the city, allowing him to speculate with the city's short-term loan issues. Although he does so prudently, investing in local street railways (the rapid transit of the time), he gets caught short when the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 triggers a run on his secret holdings before the usual end-of-month settlement. Thus exposed, Cowperwood and the treasurer are convicted of embezzlement and sent to prison....MORE