Building Digital Infrastructure: Shared Networks

The generation that is shaping our future economy doesn’t understand the importance of product compatibility quite like my generation. They didn’t live through the VCR vs. Betamax era, where you had to pick a side of the movie rental store and cross your fingers.  The iPhone vs. Android battle remains a nuisance, but software advances have helped to force cross-compatibility.  In day to day life, these are annoyances, but it is the behind-the-scenes incompatibilities in our businesses – including healthcare – that is really costing us time and money.  We will see incredible benefits as a community by standardizing our digital infrastructure.  MoveUP will be an example of that, allowing us to share a single transportation platform. 

Over the past few weeks, I have been interacting with as many business and people as I can (mind, while maintaining a safe, virus-free distance).  The goal is to choose a platform for electronic fund transfer, which is why we haven’t embedded this function yet.  It’s an important choice, because we will see far and away the greatest benefit if we all adopt a single platform.

Let me ‘splain:

A bank is where you keep your money, and this is a personal decision.  You may have a nearby branch or ATM, you may be a credit union member, you may have a mortgage with a particular company, whatever.  We have been moving from cash to plastic for a long time, and most are aware that using a credit card costs money – the merchant pays fees for its customer’s convenience.  You may not think about it, but we all pay those fees, it’s just they are worth it.  Progressively, ways of moving money electronically have emerged, like PayPal.  These companies allow electronic fund transfer, and we are doing this more and more.

Unlike a personal bank, electronic fund transfer is all behind the scenes.  It doesn’t matter how it happens so long as it is easy, secure, and inexpensive.

Because these companies make money on transactions, the more transactions, the more money they make, and the more it all costs us.  Transactions between systems such as from PayPal to a bank are more difficult, less secure, and more expensive.  Internal transactions – PayPal account to PayPal account – are easy and flexible, more secure, and much less expensive or even free.  Because we don’t see any of this, if we all adopt a unified system, we will all get a lot more for our money.

But boy is it hard to get people to agree on anything!

As they grow and fight for market share, many of these company’s offerings are beginning to overlap, like PayPal, Stripe, and Square.  PayPal started as a way for online vendors such as people selling on Ebay to accept electronic payment without having a contract with a credit card company.  Stripe is another electronic fund transfer company primarily for online transactions.  Both companies are now expanding into the small business market with systems allowing in-person payments, because there are different needs for each.

Square began as a company that allowed in-person transactions from people on-the-go such as a plumber or a food truck to accept credit card payments anywhere and without a fixed cash register.  Because of its roots, it has led the way in products designed for small business owners, and is now expanding its own offerings to include things like accounting and payroll.  And electronic fund transfer.

As we try to find a path that is best for us, easing the transitions of the long-establish small business into the digital world is a top priority.  I am seeing the real-world challenges of connecting a very analog restaurant with a digital delivery network, and many of these businesses will not survive if we don’t do something to help. The ability to work on a massive scale is the sledgehammer that Walmarts and Dollar Generals use to smash small local competitors out of existence. This is why I am leaning toward integrating square into MoveUP.  I believe this will not only give us an electronic fund transfer platform that is essentially equal the its competitors, it can be more easily integrated into small businesses that currently lack these capabilities giving us greater flexibility, increased security, fewer transaction fees, and minimizing costs for everyone. 

This doesn’t mean that if you currently operate a restaurant or small business using another vendor that you will have to switch – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.  We already have a connection to the online e-commerce platform Ecwid, and this is a flexible and inexpensive way to move into the digital world if you remain a hold-out, like many of our iconic watering holes. This is not about forcing personal preferences like banks, this is about the shared network that connects it all together.  That’s where the real money is.     

If you want something done right…

If there is anything good that is going to come out of all of this, it is the fact that we are going to be forced to take care of each other.  I really like this, because it may be the first time in history that we actually have the full capacity, and I have been looking for a way to prove it.  I didn’t ask for this plague, but I am going to make the best of it.

(You locked me in my house, so get ready for some philosophical rambling… I encourage you to push on through this one…what else have you got to do?)

There are three main forces that shape our lives, that hold together the framework of our modern society, listed here in the order in which they were created: government, industry, and healthcare.     

For a really long time, government was the only significant player, and it was what pulled us out of primitive anarchy.  For thousands of years, government was authoritarian: you did what you were told to do.  Over time – and these United States led the way – societies have shifted to governments that allow personal freedom for the vast majority and mostly serve to keep the jack-o-napes in line.  This works pretty well, but there is a major problem: modern governments in free societies can’t make people ethical.  They can stop people from being shitty, but they can’t force you to be good.  And like it or not, we are all driven to do what we need to do in our own best interest. 

In more recent times, industry has taken on a greater and greater role.  This has truly brought a revolution of products that have changed our world to the point that it would be unrecognizable and almost unnavigable to someone who lived some two hundred years ago.  Water and electricity, boats and trains and cars and planes, and now computers.  Those computers – for better or worse – have reshaped literally everything.  But industry has a deep-seated problem that’s not unlike our own: we can’t force companies to be ethical.  We can pass laws to try to keep them from being too shitty, but we can’t force them to be good.  Just like people, businesses are going to act in their own best interest, and that interest is first and foremost money.     

Healthcare wasn’t even a factor until recently, and that’s because we didn’t have anything that could meaningfully affect your life. In the not-too-distant past, if you got sick, you died.  We are in the middle of a pandemic, but even the worst-case scenario isn’t going to be a fraction of the toll of something like the bubonic plague that killed near on half the people in the world and resonated for a couple of centuries.  The life expectancy then was about half what it is today, and now the pace of medicine is so rapid that it is impossible for a physician to be current in anything but a narrow specialty.  In addition, we apply what we know to everyone, and we still haven’t adapted to that massive change.  So as the cost of these advances continues to climb, the growth of this societal expense is exponential.  Cherry on top: how we live is more important to health than treating things when it goes wrong, so the astronomical spending in healthcare isn’t making us any healthier.

None of these things can save us.  The government can’t make us be good people or force businesses to become benevolent.  The businesses that are our industry, no matter what they make or do, were designed around a profit motive, and so it is a requirement for their continued existence.  Healthcare is focused on fixing things that go wrong despite the fact that our health is determined by how we live, not how we are treated.  So what are we to do? 

I suggest we create our own solutions, and for the first time in history, we can. 

Remember those computers?  They have changed the single most important aspect of our society: how we connect.  Throughout history, all those thousands of years, societies are based on how people interact, how we connect.  Until the last few years, those connections have been primarily personal, face to face.  For a long, long time, we had no other choice.  We invented writing and mail, then things like telephones, and now we have these hand-held computers that let us connect in new ways and almost continually.  Some want this to stop, because it is not how they learned to interact, and it’s just not natural.  But these thoughts are folly, these things are here to stay, and so the way we connect has changed forever.  Whether we want to admit it or not, people like to connect, and industry is going to feed that desire: it is going to sell us new and better stuff that we want.  In a free society, the government is not going to limit this, and even the healthcare system is trying to figure out how to use this to advantage.    

The one thing we haven’t done is the one thing that we can now do: decide how we want to connect.  We can now build systems that let us connect on our own terms, the way we want, as much as we want.  The secret – the magic ingredient – is called software.  These new languages that tell these computers what to do has advanced just as rapidly as everything else.  Software is actually what makes computers powerful, and we can now make – write – almost anything we want, easily, inexpensively, and reproduce it over and over again, for free. 

About ten years ago, a company called Uber brought us a new way to connect.  Transportation is essential for modern life, and this software – this app – allows someone to connect to a ride.  This connection has value, and the company was built on the idea that it could capitalize on that need, it could profit from our desire to have a ready means of getting around.  This is time-honored economics: supply and demand.  You want it, they have it.  But the company was created to make money, and the design of their app allows them to control that connection; without that control, there is no way to profit.

OK, what if we write our own app?  What if we make a system that is even more powerful, one that can be used by even more people, one that lets anyone connect on their own terms, the way they want, as much as they want?  And what if we can reproduce this system, and make it safer, and make it more flexible, and make it available to anyone?  Well this is no way to run a business, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done.  So what would happen? 

We are getting ready to find out.  We have this tremendous need to connect, and we now have the capability to do that on our own terms.  Connections are extremely valuable, and we can now distribute them to everyone the way they want them, as much as they want.  This is going to change society again, but this time in a good way.  Connections are the asset that we can now provide to others without cost to anyone, where the more you take of that asset, the stronger you are as an individual, and the stronger the community becomes as a whole.  We will be enabled to meaningfully connect with whatever and whoever we want to, to live better, to live healthier.  We will be able to take care of each other, not just in this time of crisis, but into the future. 

What we demonstrate over the next few months will become a template for creating solutions that we will never get from government, industry, or healthcare, because it’s not what they were designed to do.  But that doesn’t matter anymore, because we no longer need to rely on someone else fixing our problems for us.  Instead, we can finally come together and do it ourselves. 

Think Dunkirk.

We are facing a crisis of a magnitude that few of us alive have ever seen. If we want to avert disaster and minimize the damage, we are going to have to do it ourselves.  Think Dunkirk.

The crisis I am talking about is not viral, it’s societal, and we must act now to save it.  

There are a lot of statistics being thrown about, and we use the credentials of whoever is stating their opinion to judge how much stake we should put in their prediction.  I don’t have a background in economics, so I’ll mitigate my lack of training by sticking to things that are either indisputable facts or stuff I do know about.

Here is a fact that falls into both categories: Doctors are terrible at business.  I am not going to argue with anyone about pandemic predictions, but the economic impact of what we are doing is going to be absolutely devastating, and the people hardest hit will be those who were already at or near the point of breaking. 

More facts: money is a proxy for goods and services.  I think we have collectively forgotten that.

Thousands of years ago, the concept of eat what you kill had a literal meaning.  In the healthcare world, it refers to a reimbursement structure based on productivity, but I can think of maybe one doctor who could hack out an existence without the protective veneer of society.  Perhaps a refresher course in the most basic sociology will be a wake-up call.

All those years ago, we started moving away from the nomadic hunter-gatherer life and started settling down in groups.  We began to specialize, with different people taking on different tasks.  As we continued that specialization, we introduced money as a way of exchanging different stuff or tasks, so we could compare things like hunting with cleaning the hut.  That way, we could all eat, even though only a small number did the actual killing.  As we improved on all of this – as we got more and more efficient at the necessities of life – we have been able to spend more and more time doing fun stuff, like sports and recreation.  Today, the more money you have, the less time you have to spend on the necessities, the more time you have to recreate.  For some, there is not enough money to make it work. 

One of our problems is that we focus on the money, and we forget that money is nothing but a proxy.  It’s the goods and services that have the real value, and if they go away, bad things happen.  To all of us.  When we decided to set up this thing we call society, we kinda left behind any backup plan.  This machine we built is literally life-sustaining for all of us, and each cog is interconnected with the others to make it work.

I am going to run with this machine analogy, because I know more about these things than most of my doctor colleagues.  Think of money as gas: it powers the whole shebang.  If you run out of gas, the engine stops.  Put gas back in the tank and you can start it back up.  That’s like a recession.  Now, if you tear up the crankshaft and punch a hole in the side of the engine block, the engine also stops running.  Except now it doesn’t matter how much gas is in the tank, and it’s quite possible the whole thing will catch fire and burn to the ground. 

And that’s exactly what we have done.  There is still gas in the tank, but we just ripped out two of the most important gears of the machine that is our life-sustaining society: schools and restaurants. You may think we can go on without these things, but all of the gears of the machine interconnect, and you can’t just shove a wrench into the works and expect the rest of it to keep turning. But we had to you say; it doesn’t matter why, it’s done, and the effects will be the same regardless.  

So think Dunkirk, where thousands of regular folks did what needed to be done to mitigate disaster.  We need to save our restaurants and small businesses, and no one else is even capable of doing it for us.  If you think the government throwing money at us will help, think again: the machine must start turning.  Remember that money is just a proxy, and we are the ones that will have to do the work.  This morning’s estimate (from people that actually did train in economics) was that more than 75% of restaurants will go bankrupt.  And that’s today’s prediction. The longer this goes, the worse it will get.

To save these essential components of our society, we need a delivery system.  If we are all stuck in our homes, we need a new way to move stuff around.  We have to keep the specialized tasks that are the inner workings of this engine connected together and turning in some sort of harmony, or our entire society is going to come to a screeching, smoking, potentially blazing halt.  These businesses need customers and people need jobs.  We have to be able to get stuff to people that need it, whatever the reason.  Rebuilding this machine is going to take time, so there is none to lose.

Safety.  A valid concern, but the alternative – inaction – ends in chaos, so let’s focus on doing this the best we can.  Young people are probably our best source of delivery people, since they are at lower risk of adverse outcomes.  Plus, they aren’t in school, so this will give them something to do.

Money.  This is not the time to focus on money, focus on the task at hand.  Drivers need to be paid,  restaurants and businesses need to be paid, the flow of goods and services needs to be sustained.  Your retirement account is not going to be of value if the world around you is in shambles.  Unemployment in the Great Depression topped out at something like 25%, and it took us a decade and a big war to dig out. 

Connections.  This is where we have an advantage.  We can use new methods for connecting that allow us to coordinate and collaborate in ways impossible even ten years ago.  Smartphones and social media have changed the way we connect, it’s time we begin using them to advantage.  Thus far, the systems introduced have been designed to profit on our needs and wants.  We will need to move past that and focus on solutions. 

Think Dunkirk.  In that miraculous evacuation, no one thought about money.  No one consulted a tax attorney, no one re-read their liability policy.  The government cannot save us, as it has no capability to keep our small businesses – the core of our society – running.  Money will not get food and supplies to people that need them, we will have to physically go and do it ourselves.  No amount of money could have extracted the trapped soldiers from the northern coast of France. The corporate world is only designed to capitalize on problems, not find solutions.  Healthcare systems treat the diseases of individuals and have no assets to support the health of a community.

Right now, we are developing and implementing systems in our town to facilitate deliveries.  I believe this is going to be absolutely imperative to save our communities, and what we do here can be done anywhere else. If you are thinking I am just trying to sell my widget, keep in mind that I have been trying (using lots of data) to illuminate our desperate need for these things long before Corona was anything more than a mass-produced beer. Nor do I support this whole fiasco, but it’s not about who is right or wrong, it’s about saving our people, our communities, our society.

So we are building a tool that will help people connect and hopefully facilitate doing what needs to be done. Forget politics, forget blame, forget predictions, focus on the problem at hand.   Think Dunkirk, and let’s try to avert this disaster together.    

Keep living.

Social distancing?  Sorry, but I don’t agree.  I think life is more important, and life comes with risks.  (I apologize for the exponential infusion of cynicism in this angry ramble, but WTaF…) 

It has become virtually impossible to even know who to listen to, as there are thousands of experts talking about everything from molecular biology to statistics to epidemiology and who is right?  One thing is for sure, we have collectively become Egon Spengler: we are terrified beyond the capacity for rational thought.

As I type this, the current stats for influenza in Virginia are here, but we all know you aren’t going to read through it, so I will summarize: 10,234 cases, 782 deaths.  At the risk of making this argument overly data intensive, I’m going to convert that to a mortality rate: 7.64%.  And that’s the disease we aren’t really worried about, because we have these treatments and vaccines, so hey, no biggie.  Don’t worry about that, because the real big one is coming, so we must stay away from each other, we have to stop living, to prevent this (inevitable) infestation from wreaking havoc upon our society.

Wait, we kinda just did that ourselves. 

An incredibly intelligent friend shared a bit from the NY Times about our perception of risk.  He’s a pulmonologist, which is the type of doctor that takes care of people with influenza in the ICU.  I’d share the link, but the Times wants you to have a subscription or give them a kidney to have access, and precious few would read through it either so I will again summarize: when it comes to assessing risk, we suck at it. 

There is another bit that I read a long time ago which has proven out like the prophecy in an epic fantasy about how we form and maintain our opinions.  Summary: I am not going to change your preconceived beliefs.  No matter what logic I use, no matter the data I show you, your mind will simply continue to believe whatever it is that you want to believe.  If my argument is in lockstep with your own opinion, well… exactly!  But if I present evidence that goes against what you believe, something funny happens: it still strengthens your convictions.  It also proves that nagging insight that’s been lurking for a while: I am a babbling idiot and anything I say from now on can and will be used against me in the court of public opinion.

So we are supposed to all adhere to “social distancing” for the betterment of society, to protect our loved ones, our young, our old, our vulnerable.  To even suggest otherwise clearly demonstrates a wonton disregard for our disadvantaged.  Um, what about smoking and alcohol and (gasp) driving?  Why do we continue to be allow these horrid activities?  And stairs.  Every year, 1000 people die falling down stairs.  Don’t get me started on concussive injury in sports, because a life without football – or the ability to use your head in football, I mean soccer, wait – well it is no life at all.

So we are shutting down the world.  Being together is too dangerous.  We are locking down nursing homes, not allowing people in to see their family members, for their safety, to protect them against a virus that isn’t here (yet!), while ignoring a dozen other viruses that spread exactly the same way and kill them just as dead.  Because the other stuff was just part of life; but not this, it is new! 

Everything we do in life has risks and consequences.  The wise thing to do is assess the risks, try to mitigate them within reason, and then live life to the fullest, understanding that, sometimes, things aren’t going to go as planned.  Right now, we have lost our collective minds, terrified beyond the capacity for rational thought.  We are not even considering the damage we are going to unleash.  Like this virus, the deleterious effects of our hysterical reactions are going to expand exponentially. Our calculated actions will be worse than the damage from the virus had we just gone on with life, happily unaware.

In case you made it this far and agree with me, here are two things I recommend you do, every day, even when there is no deadly pandemic.  These are simple things that will let us all live our lives to the fullest while mitigating risks within reason.  I’d tell you that I am a pathologist (which is still true, even if I am now unemployed) to support the validity of my arguments, but it doesn’t matter.  If you don’t agree with what I said here, I am not going to change your mind, and you now think I am an even bigger threat to society. Fine. You do your thing, I’ll do mine, and life will sort it out:

  • Rule 1: stay home when you are sick, and encourage others to do the same.  If you have a fever, you are sick.  Stay home.  Stay in your own damn bed, don’t bring your plague to work and get everyone else sick.  I don’t care what orifice is affected, keep it away from me until it stops oozing.  If you are an employer, don’t be part of the problem.  You know what I mean.  This is how you mitigate flu-like illnesses that are spread by coughing.  And don’t give me the crap about asymptomatic carriers, because it’s symptomatic people who break this rule (and employers who make them) that are the real problem.     
  • Rule 2: Don’t put stuff in your mouth if you don’t know where it’s been.  Other than some truly scary parasites that can burrow through your skin, things that make you sick have to get in through an opening, and we are usually the ones that do the work.  If you shake someone’s hand – an act that now ranks with squirrel-suit base jumping in absolute risks – don’t put your hand in your mouth.  Or up your nose.  If you are a healthcare worker going from sick patient to sick patient, hand-washing is an important part of preventing the spread of disease from one person to the next.  For everyone else, you wash your hands for your own safety – to make them safe to put in your mouth.  If you feel the need to do this 1000 times a day to reduce your risk, that’s your choice.  I like to live on the edge.  But you don’t have anything to fear from me, because I always follow rule #1.      

Just like old times…

From my new office I can look at my time trial bike hanging on my wall like an exhibit from a past era. In those bygone days, I was a force to be reckoned with, provided you were over the age of 40 and lived within the city limits of Lynchburg and preferred long-course to sprint triathlons.  Ah, those were the days.  Now I gaze at that outlandish bike with its three-spoke carbon wheels and blade-like frame and can’t help but see the cosmic irony: time trial bikes are analogous to healthcare

I know, here we go again… (Cue the Whitesnake video…) h

I was never much of an athlete, but I have always liked biking, and there have been moments in time where I managed some success in competition against my peers.  I hold to the belief that some of this hard-earned success was due to science.  I like to research stuff and use it to advantage, and that is exactly what I did when I wanted to get a proverbial leg up in triathlon-ing.

Cyclist are a funny breed.  The hardcore will sell a loved-one or spare organ to save weight on a bike, or shamelessly leverage the house to buy components they believe will make them go faster.  I am not immune; there was a time when I made spreadsheets comparing dollars spent to increments of 100 grams of saved weight – roughly ¼ pound.  As in a burger.  I am not going to tell you what comes next. I recommend against pointing out the fact that the water in 2 large bottles weighs 1360 grams – over 3 pounds – if you happen to be riding in a group of men who routinely shave their legs.

When I wanted to go faster on a time trial bike – a bike designed for a solo rider’s absolute speed, ignoring comfort or handling or safety or potential impotence – I looked at the data.  And that data is related to the wind, because wind resistance is the main thing holding you back.  Right away I found an interesting stat: 85% of the modifiable drag of a human on a bike is due to the position of the rider’s torso.  In other words, by far the most important factor is how the rider sits on the bike.  Turns out it has nothing to do with what stuff is made of carbon fiber or what pro has signed the frame, the bike just needs to fit right. 

So…85% has nothing to do with the bike.  Well, as they say in both France and Lithuania: bollocks.

We seem to be failing in the world healthcare.  We are certainly performing below the metric I set when  I compared myself to other middle-aged triathletes while systematically disregarding anyone I felt had more time to train, more natural talent, or fewer children than me. The WHO regurgitates a lot of data on our travails in this arena, and there seems to be a hauntingly similar stat: 85% of the health of an individual is due to the environment in which they live, not the delivery of healthcare

Huh?

You heard that right: it matters more how and where you live than it does what doctors do to you when something goes wrong.  And yet, like a cyclist obsessed with bolting on every high-dollar go-fast gadget made by man, we continue to pour money into the healthcare blackhole without taking a few minutes to think about the repercussions of our fruitless efforts, or even consider why – despite our incredible advances – we might be failing. Miserably.  The cost of healthcare continues to climb: between 2012 and 2017, the per-patient spend for diabetes in the US went up over 25%.  Twenty-five percent.  Here.  In the US.

Every time we create a new treatment, the cost is equitable to outfitting a bike with a comprehensive purple-anodized bolt kit: nothing is going to change except the size of the credit card bill. 

What would happen if we devoted the same collective effort and financial leverage to the community that is the source of all that drag?  We intend to see.*  For sure, solving problems is not a way to make money, which is by far the greatest driving force in modern society.  But, as stated here at least a baker’s dozen times, there is nothing preventing such a lewd quest for speed. So, as they say in Letterkenny: pitter patter, let’s get at ‘er.

 *This ludicrous project was once just a rumination in my arguably tangential brain, but now there are others.  Smart, innovative, motivated, successful others. Read about them here.     

ACTN (Advanced Connected Transportation Network)

(ac-tin  /akten/ a family of multifunctional proteins found in contractile elements in muscle that are critical to the mobility of organisms).

This is the supporting document to the grant application I have submitted to the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transit in the hopes of implementing MoveUP as a digital backbone to a comprehensive, collaborative transportation system for smaller cities and rural communities.

Introduction and Outline

Transportation is a fundamental component of community health, affecting every individual within the community and every component of life including employment, business development and success, education, nutrition, activity, and entertainment.  Transportation has been repeatedly sited as the most important need in community health needs assessments 1,2.  A lack of adequate transportation negatively impacts all aspects of individual health as a major social determinant of need 3.

Buses provide an efficient way to move people when applied in densely populated urban areas.  However, buses continuously demonstrate an inability to meet the needs of small cities and rural areas with a lower population density, where the lack of consistent ridership and a necessity of widely spaced stops negates their advantages.  Furthermore, there are essentially no transportation options in rural areas for people who do not have access to a car for whatever reason.

The automobile has advanced tremendously, and there are many untapped opportunities that could be applied to small cities and rural areas with the combined potential of providing effective personal mobility for all.  Persistence of antiquated models such as buses and taxicabs operating using telephones and taximeters has prevented the implementation and study of a comprehensive model that takes collective advantage of numerous and significant advances in this arena.  Digital platforms with enhanced connectivity; pure electric drivetrains with vastly lower service and use costs; semi-autonomous and impending full-autonomous capabilities for reduced incidence and insurance costs and enhanced fleet capabilities; shared ownership and shared use models; fleet unification for simplicity; assembling these new but currently available components into a cohesive and integrated system has the potential to transform life in more rural settings across the country. 

Application of these advances can be performed in a cost-effective and ultimately financially sustainable manner that will allow data collection on fleet needs such as vehicle number and miles travelled per person, power consumption and costs, insurance models, service requirements, and continued system improvements.  Applied properly, this could bring much needed and viable transportation solutions to unserved rural populations and result in the enhanced efficiency or progressive phase-out of expensive bus systems that only provide inefficient transportation to a small subset of the population that has no other options.

  1.  Enhanced connectivity: MoveUP
    1. Digital solution to connect riders to drivers in any setting.
    1. Accessible by everyone, even those who cannot use a smartphone.
    1. Allow creation of numerous flexible transportation systems that can be interconnected.
    1. Move people and resources (deliveries).
  2. Modernized Fleet
    1. Shift to all electric fleet.
      1. Reduced fuel costs (approximate 1/3).
      1. Reduced service costs (greatly simplified drivetrains)
    1. Semi-autonomous drive.
      1. Markedly reduced adverse incidents.
        1. Reduced insurance costs.
        1. Reduced repair costs.
    1. Development of autonomous drive.
      1. Achieving full-autonomous drive in a cost-effective manner will require industry and community cooperation.
      1. Will provide increased fleet mobility, capability, and safety.
      1. Will not replace drivers (autonomous cars cannot help you in and out of the car or help carry groceries into the house).
    1. Central charging and service center.
      1. Reduced operating costs via commercial vs. residential power rates ($0.08/KWH vs $0.12/KWH).
      1. Efficient use of solar energy through centralized application.
      1. Better ability to balance available grid power supply (centralized battery-based energy storage, ala Tesla PowerWall).
  3. Replacing the current model of vehicle ownership.
    1. Current vehicles sit idle for >95% of their usable life.
      1. Cost of a vehicle ownership is at least 5 times more expensive than needed.
        1. Cost of transportation is major component of cost of living.
        1. Reducing cost of living improves the lives of everyone in the community.
      1. Service costs persist due to material degradation with time regardless of mileage.
      1. Insurance models are based on continuous use.
    1. Shared vehicle ownership models (ala ZipCar).
      1. Pay only for what you use.
      1. Markedly reduced parking requirements for localities.
      1. Reduced living expenses through reduced parking requirements with housing.
    1. Shared vehicle use models (ala Uber, Lyft).
      1. Combined private and for-hire use.
      1. Reduce the costs of transportation for all, whether private or for-hire.

Discussion

Most people have effective transportation options, but some do not.  We often focus on people who do not have enough money to own a car, but there are many reasons that a person may not have adequate transportation, and we need solutions for all of them.  If we only focus on helping those who for whatever reason are failing, we end up with a system that is unsustainable, because it is not designed for the majority of the people in the community.  A sustainable transportation model is one that is engineered to serve the needs of the entire community, not just a small segment.

Because the majority of people can own and operate cars and this is the most desirable option available to them, it is the most highly utilized system.  The reason the majority of people don’t use buses is simply that it is not an effective or attractive option.  If they don’t have to, they will find a more appealing way.  To create a sustainable and effective transportation network, it must be more attractive than the current standard (personal car ownership) to a large enough group of people that the system is self-sufficient.  That means that it must be convenient, effective, clean, safe and desirable.   This is your target customer base, and by building a sustainable system that is utilized preferentially by most in the community, you can then leverage this system to address the needs of those in the community that do not have adequate options.    

Buses have long been an effective method of mass transit, and in the right setting are efficient and useful. However, the effectiveness of buses declines proportionally with the population density.  A bus service is ineffective and inefficient in rural areas where people and assets are spread over a large area.  The bus service in Lynchburg Virginia is inadequate for use as a commuter or regular transportation system.  This is not the fault of the GLTC, it an inherent limitation in the type of service that buses provide within the service area. 

In all rural areas, buses are expensive to operate and do not provide the type of service needed.  In the Lynchburg area, they represent a significant financial burden that poorly assists a very small percentage of the population.  By creating a system that is both advantageous and attractive to everyone in the area using modern vehicles connected with modern technology, a more sustainable, effective, and usable system can created that can then be leverage to address transportation needs that are not being met.

FAQ

1.  I thought this was about patient transportation?

If we want everyone to have transportation, then we have to engineer a system for everyone.  If we focus only on one issue – like patients getting to doctor’s appointments – we end up with a bunch of fragmented systems, none of which are robust.  If we build a single sustainable system that takes everyone into account – no matter who they are or what their needs – then we can use it to solve these individual problems that continue to elude us. 

2.  If you are trying to build a system for everyone, why are you suggesting we buy a small fleet of very expensive cars (Tesla Model X SUVs)?

At $90,000, the Tesla Model X appears to be a frivolous choice, but there are several factors that make this in an extremely valuable investment, particularly as a core component for a rural transportation system:

  • All electric drivetrain from the company with the most experience with all electric drive.  Electric is not only cheaper and cleaner to operate, it has much lower service costs and intervals, particularly in high mileage applications.
  • Tesla has reintroduced the unlimited supercharging option with the Model X, which means the cars can be charged for free for the lifetime of the vehicle.  The Model X has not been attractive to its current customer base, which is individuals (partly because it looks like an egg).  It is the perfect form factor for a city taxi.4,5

3.  There are other all-electric vehicles, such as the Chevy Bolt, and they are much cheaper. 

The Model X is a larger and more suited to a for-hire transport vehicle.  But the main differentiator is autonomous drive. 

  • Tesla has the most experience with autonomous drive.  Autonomous drive is going to be extremely valuable (an estimated 800 billion dollar annual industry).  The current Tesla models allow for a one-time charge of $7000 for a lifetime of autonomous drive.  Even more than unlimited charging, this will prove incredibly valuable in coming years (20 autonomous cars running 3 shifts each assuming a reasonable driver salary is easily 3 million dollars annually).  In addition, their current semi-autonomous drive when combined with excellent drivers will provide the most capable combination available today.6   
  • Tesla vehicles have the most robust software integration.  This will allow integration of innovative solutions like MoveUP directly into the operating system of the car.  For example, the car’s functions and features can be modified depending on whether it is being used as a private vehicle or a for-hire vehicle.
  • We can help Tesla achieve autonomous drive.   The biggest hurdle to fully-autonomous drive is enabling the car to perform properly in every conceivable scenario.  By implementing the vehicles in a smaller, more controlled environment such as the City of Lynchburg and fostering collaboration between the Tesla engineers and the city, we can address limitations (difficult intersections, fixed positional markers or other vehicle-environment communications, connected traffic signals, etc.) and achieve working autonomy for our community with solutions that can be applied in more complex environments.     

The submitted plan includes a shift to the Tesla Model Y in FY2022 when it becomes available.  It is less expensive ($60,000) though still more expensive than other options like the Bolt.  One hope is to have a core fleet from a single manufacturer to reduce service and maintenance costs.  However, we have the ability to go with another vender if that becomes the more logical choice when considering all of the variables.

4.  Still, these are fancy cars, I am not sure this makes sense.

In our current world, personal transportation is the preferred method of travel.  If we want to change that, it’s got to be attractive.  Tesla’s are trendy, especially the Model X with its “falcon” doors.  Particularly in these early stages, image will be extremely important.    

5.  In your budget, you are pretty much giving these cars away.  I don’t understand – if you charge more for the cars, you can make money. 

Remember that the goal is to solve a problem – transportation – not capitalize on a need.  Our bus system consumes at least 8 million dollars annually and does not solve our problems.  The goal of this project is to see if we can build a more effective system that is financially self-sufficient.  Because this is a prototype, we don’t have data on how to do this.  We don’t know how many vehicles will be used, how many miles, or how much it will really cost.  We haven’t created the ideal insurance product.

Because transportation is a need that is costing us tremendously, we should reward the ones that provide our solution: drivers.  One of the fundamental issues with current taxi drivers is that the pay is very low.  If we want quality drivers – safe, friendly, helpful – we will need to pay them for the important service they provide.  This is not about making money on a vehicle fleet, it is about providing a much needed service to our community.  Unified Potential is not intending to become a transportation company; we will simply provide the tools (vehicles, connectivity) that enable people to create new and effective systems, and then those systems can be implemented by others.  We aim to completely transform the image of the taxi.     

6.  What about insurance? 

Developing the insurance product is an incredibly important component of this demonstration project.  There is no truly effective insurance product that exists right now, primarily because thus far no system like this has been operational.  This project will generate the actuarial data to build the lowest cost insurance option that we can.  That will create a new market opportunity, and will also decrease the overall cost of everyone’s transportation.

For this project, we have budgeted standard commercial insurance, as that is the only available option at this time.  Using semi-autonomous drive and the best drivers, our target is a zero incidents.  If we can build a less expensive insurance product, we will reduce our expenses during the project, and we will also be able to apply that solution anywhere in the future. 

7.  What about safety?

Safety has been a concern from day one, and we are assembling every feature, including a few new ideas.  For example, we are not just implementing a comprehensive background check process, we are creating a collaborative database such other entities for which background checks are important can share this needed resource. 

We are implementing state of the art security within the vehicles, including high-definition in car cameras and continuous gps tracking with emergency connectivity and comprehensive data collection.  We will be able to effectively vet drivers and provide suitable vehicles for transportation of children, a critical unmet need. 

8.  I thought this was about an app, this “MoveUP” thing? 7,8

It is, and that may be the most powerful component of the system.  The goal of the DRPT for 2019 was to unify all transportation assets onto a single network.  We are going to do that, and we are going to demonstrate how powerful that is.  For example, we have user agreements with two important non-profits in Lynchburg: Park View Mission and Meals on Wheels.  These are two of twenty-eight different non-profits which deliver food and other goods to people in the city, and none of these entities works together.  By enabling each of them to build and manage their own transportation networks as they see fit – managing drivers and connecting them to riders or goods for delivery – they will begin using a shared resource that is stronger for each of them than their current fragmented individual networks.  All of these will now be working together, but without being asked to work together.  And that is just a small example, because the real power will come when all of the assets throughout the city are connected.  

9.  I just can’t get my head around the Tesla thing.  Why not use Chrysler plug-in hybrid mini-vans that cost $40,000?  We could wear out a fleet of Chryslers while figuring out the autonomous thing with one Tesla.

As the (satisfied) owner of a Chrysler plug-in hybrid, I am in a particularly good position to answer this.  Hybrids represent the absolute highest cost of service, as they have all of the complexity of an internal combustion engine combined with a battery and electric motor and the complex hybrid system that has to tie these 2 very different systems together.  Furthermore, the electric range is only 35 miles, after which the vehicle becomes essentially a minivan, and though it gets very good mileage, it is still burning gas at 25 mpg or less in the city.

We want to assemble all of the best components together into a cohesive system with maximum benefit.  The exciting thing about this project is that the end result appears to be science fiction and yet everything in this proposal exists today, and everything we do here can be applied anywhere else. 

References

  1. https://www.centrahealth.com/sites/default/files/files/55/2018_lynchburg_chna_final.pdf
  2. https://www.centrahealth.com/sites/default/files/files/55/2016-bedford-booklet-web_0.pdf
  3. https://nam.edu/social-determinants-of-health-101-for-health-care-five-plus-five/
  4. https://www.cnet.com/roadshow/news/tesla-unlimited-free-supercharging-revived-again/
  5. https://www.theverge.com/2019/8/3/20752955/tesla-free-unlimited-charging-perk-model-s-x
  6. https://www.theverge.com/transportation/2018/4/19/17204044/tesla-waymo-self-driving-car-data-simulation
  7. https://moveuplynchburg.org/
  8. https://moveuplynchburg.org/move-up_video.html

About Unified Potential, Inc.

After twenty years as a practicing pathologist in Lynchburg VA, I am transitioning out of “regular” medicine to pursue what can only be described as a calling in search of collaborative solutions to age-old problems rooted in the way we live together.  The success of healthcare systems depends on the health of our communities, and yet providers have no tools with which to affect change in this most critical environment.  Transportation is a fundamental need.  The ultimate goal with this project is to demonstrate a new and more effective way to approach problems like transportation, and continue to apply successful techniques in a broadening array of interconnected solutions that improve the lives of everyone.  Furthermore, what started as one idealist has grown into a team of highly capable and similarly motivated people who share this common goal.

https://www.unifiedpotential.org/who_we_are.html

Old people (like me), the future, and the past.

Rounding Oak Tree in my RS4, my instructor in the passenger seat.

It’s not the same world I grew up in, and people don’t like change.

As we get older, we are naturally drawn to the things that shaped us into who we are.  As usual, cars become an example (C’mon…you had to see that coming…).  What drives the market for people who invest in cars is the desire of those buying them to relive the days of old.  Right now, everything with a manual transmission is being bought up by speculators like there are cases of EpiPens hidden in the trunk.  Personally, I think these investors are going to lose their shirts, because the next generation of wealthy buyers – the young people of today who will make their fortunes with smartphones and social media and apps – they don’t give a happy crap about driving a stick shift.  To be honest, most of them don’t care about driving at all.  It’s just not the same world I grew up in.  No, I don’t like these changes, but what I think doesn’t affect reality: this is the future, and I am getting old.

Which is why I traded my favorite car – my 2016 GT350, a total beast, possibly the best all-around sports car I have ever owned – for a Porsche Turbo.  Hell, I am not even a Porsche guy.  I have tried to like them, because they do make sense, but they just are not the car I lusted after as a 16 year old kid who thought I might get some attention from the girls if only I had a Ferrari.  But there is one Porsche in my past, and not just any Porsche, this Porsche: a 996 model 911 Turbo, metallic grey with black interior, tuned for the track.  And as I have been forced to embrace a future that I am not all that fond of but simply cannot ignore, I feel compelled to reach back and connect with special events from my past.  If nothing else, perhaps I can retain a little of what I consider to be me.

It’s November 2007, Virginia International Raceway, Audi Club.  I am there in my new, and very blue RS4, a car built to be a dual-duty practical family hauler and weekend track weapon. See the picture? I have a bunch like that.  But it’s my instructor and her car that will leave a smoldering imprint in my brain. I don’t have any pictures of her.

Now, I am going to make a disclaimer, because there are many ways in which the world has changed, and I am getting ready to wade into swirling rapids: I believe women and men are equal (except at Hockey in Letterkenny, but that’s splitting hairs).  In the world I grew up in – even in 2007 – you didn’t see a lot of women instructors at track days.  You still don’t, but that’s not because they aren’t equally good, so I am splitting hairs again.  But in my youth, if you put a woman in a non-traditional role – like a welder that also happened to be a dancer – it was considered attractive.  I have become uncomfortable at even talking about what I might consider attractive, as this realm has become a veritable minefield. 

By the way, Van Halen’s “Hot For Teacher” is now stuck in my head.  But only because it has an epic guitar solo, which is yet another thing from the past that has simply disappeared.  <I don’t feel tardy…>

I am terrible with names, but I remember hers.  That says something, but I sure as hell am not going to say it here.

Anyway, my instructor, she had a metallic grey 996 model 911 turbo.  Hers was a tuned X50, which in the Porsche world is “the one to have,” but it makes little difference here.  What matters is the memory: I remember going for a ride along with her in a slower run group.  I remember her very calm, very clinical demeanor, which was one of the things that made her an effective teacher.  I mean instructor.  Anyway, I remember her positioning the nose of her 911 inches from the rear bumper of unwitting students in her way, patiently waiting for the next straight so that they might ever so kindly get the f*#& out of the… well, give us a point-by.

And I remember rounding Oak Tree, the slowest turn on the track leading on to the longest straight, whereupon she apparently harnessed the warp drive from the Millennium Falcon and quite literally bent the time-space-continuum in my head.  I remember slower cars – hell, every car – being sucked into our vortex and unceremoniously spit out behind us if this epic machine had reached out to the horizon and literally dragged it inexorably towards us, stopping only at the absolute end of the straight, where we would again find ourselves gently rubbing the rear bumper of the next hapless wannabe in our way. 

And I remember giggling like a school girl. Or maybe it was hysterical laughter.  Or cackling.  I don’t know.  I am sure it wasn’t cool, but I couldn’t help myself, because day-em that car was fast!!! 

And you wanna know what?  It still is.  Or at least it still feels that way.  Because things have changed, and cars have changed, too.  Yes, they are faster, but they are also more advanced.  They have all of these computers and scientifically designed aero flaps and appendages and software and all of this stuff that lets anyone go extraordinary speeds, speeds that would have been unimaginable then, with little to no drama.  But not this thing.  It retains all of the drama of a car that rightfully earned the nickname “the widow-maker.” 

And it reminds me of a very special experience from my past.

And the more I have to embrace the future, the more I want to hold on to the past.  And like it or not, as much as none of us likes change, we simply can’t avoid the future anymore. 

Smartphones, social media, and apps.  These things are here to stay.  They have changed the way we interact, the way we are educated, the way we get our news, the way we do business, even the way we fight wars.  They have changed the way we live, and they are here to stay. 

My entire education was directed towards my career as a doctor, specifically as a pathologist: chemistry, medical school, residency, fellowship.  I have practiced in this traditional role for almost twenty years.  But the world has changed.  The challenges we face today are not the same as when I was in high school, in college, or medical school. They are not the same as when I was in residency, or even when I moved to Lynchburg and started working what was and is my first and only “real” job.

I am very much like the people of my generation: I don’t like a lot of what I see.  Though I use smartphones and social media and apps and am probably just as dependent on them as anyone else, I am not happy with the changes brought on by these things.  Like many of my peers, I have thought about ways we might limit their scope, to curb this surging tide of change.  But these things will not be held back.  And therein lies the problem: our dislike for change, our reluctance to accept the inevitable, it has put us in a position where we don’t have any idea what we are dealing with. 

The youth of today are our future leaders, but we – the old people like me – we are the ones currently in control.  And yet we have absolutely no idea what we are dealing with.  And that’s precisely why things aren’t going so well.  If you take a government run by people that know nothing of smartphones and social media and apps and whose only real goal is to stay in office, and combine that with industry leaders who know nothing of smartphones or social media or apps – or worse: ones who do, but whose only real goal is to make money; well, you can just look around to see the results: electronic medical record systems that cost hundreds of millions of dollars but make things worse, not better.  Or Facebook.  Or Uber.

Which means we have no choice but to face the future, to embrace it, to learn everything we can about smartphones and social media and apps, and see if we might not be able to use these things to our collective advantage.  And that means that just as the world is changing, we – and again I am speaking to the old people like me – we have no choice but to change with it.  It’s not the same world that we grew up in, and we don’t like change, but it’s time we let go of the past and do our real jobs and help lead the way into the future.

Still, I think I’ll hold onto one or two things from the past, a few things that are sentimental.  Pardon me while I will grab my original copy of 1984 and feed it into the CD player of a tuned Porsche Turbo… I have some thinking to do.                                                   

Moving the Needle

A very important two day meeting just finished.  I have been to a lot of meetings over the past three years, but this one is going to stand out for a long time.  Five senior executives from a very big company – a multi-billion dollar industry leader – came to our city to begin the step-by-step process of assisting us in becoming the healthiest city in the world. That’s a lot to get your head around, but that is not why I will remember it.  I will remember it as the meeting that allowed me to explain – finally – how  a silly little app will change the world.  (There I go sounding crazy again…)

The meeting itself was irritatingly similar to all of the ones before it; we are all keenly aware of the problems.  If I had a nickel for every time I have heard the word “silo,” MoveUP would be fully funded.  (Actually, we could probably finish the coding for less than what it cost to send these guys here for two days.   But it was super cool, so I’ll just let that go).  It’s not identifying the problems that is the problem, it’s doing something about them that remains the ultimate problem.  And the biggest problem: some things are never going to change.  Like gravity.  And human nature.

And the inability to get companies to work together. 

Or people, for that matter.  Especially at the top.  There are reasons why companies – why people – operate in silos.  You cannot change that.  So stop trying. 

There was much talk about buy-in, about getting the influential people in the city to come together to make this happen.  But that’s not a difficult task, it’s impossible.  It is the core reason why everyone keeps talking, and nothing is getting done.  We can all see what the world might be like if we would all just get along, so we close our eyes and hold our breath.  And when we open our eyes, the world is exactly the same as it was before.

And that is precisely why it appears this little app has melted the cheese right off my cracker: we don’t need them.  In fact, it’s quite the opposite: they can’t stop us.  Which is important, because they will try.  No matter how beneficial something is, there are people that will not buy-in, and there are some that will try to stop it, if nothing else, because it’s not theirs.  That’s human nature, and you can’t change that. 

About midday on the first day, Laura Bauer and Ashley Steinweg of Park View Community Mission came to explain what their group does and what this all might mean both to their organization and to the city (this is one of our most important non-profits).  They were in negotiations with Uber in an attempt to better serve the community.  I showed them how MoveUP works, how they can use it to do everything they want to do, but on their terms, and for free.  They don’t have to sign a contract, they don’t have to adapt to someone else’s model, they just do what they do, only more and better.

And they don’t need anyone’s buy-in. 

So just like that, they ended their talks with Uber.  And that’s how a little app is going to change the world.  Because it’s not trying to get us to do something we are never going to do.  It’s just going to let us do what we are already doing, but more and better.  With MoveUP, there are no losers, we all benefit.  And it doesn’t matter if our leaders buy-in.  They don’t even have to understand.  And there is nothing anyone can do to stop us.          

Road Trip!

I bet you never thought small aftermarket auto parts companies could be critical to community health, but give me a bit to circle back around on this one.  I am going to ramble in parallel with the road trip I am on as I head to Houston, Texas, stopping a bit to visit with some good friends and family.  This is the final journey for my beloved Shelby GT350, and I will miss her dearly.  She has helped me through some tough times.  Everyone is different, but I am not only one that finds burnouts to be medicinal.

Work can be stressful, but nothing can punch holes in your soul like family drama.  There are two drugs I used in 2018 when I was keen on zipping up the squirrel suit and jumping off the ledge: repeated viewing of Deadpool (which is all about cancer survivorship) and the YouTube/MotorTrend show Roadkill.

I am not a diehard drag racer as the RK guys are, but they live by the tenets of donuts and burnouts, and some days, a burnout is just what the doctor ordered (or needs, depending on your perspective).

This is a problem for Audi people like me, as the whole quattro/all-wheel-drive thing sorta dampens the fun. 

Enter the GT350, which is so about wheelspin it is genuinely frightening.  Except the axle hop.  It’s a real buzzkill when you tromp the gas and the whole ass-end of the car starts bouncing up and down like one of those vibrating beds.  And that’s where small aftermarket auto parts folks enter into the mental health arena: it seems there is a need for fixin’ the flaws inherent in the Mustang’s rear geometry.  It’s good to know I am not alone.  With the solid rear toe-links, the GT spools up the rear tires so smoothly that only the buried tach needle and screaming V8 – and billowing smoke – alert you to the violence.  It’s truly cathartic. 

Unfortunately, every drug’s potency wanes.  So, it’s time to get a new drug.

And one of my other favorite drugs is the road trip.  It is why the car represents freedom: throw in some supplies, fire it up, crank some tunes, and the horizon becomes your destination. 

As I churn away the miles, I have a habit of ruminating on some inherent issues in our society that are well and truly idiotic.  Like police speed traps.  Perhaps these held some value in the past, but they have evolved into a pointless waste of money and resources.  Before you think I just arrogantly believe my own driving skills are well beyond average (guilty as charged), go through the logic, and don’t forget that good driving is far more about attention than skill: I am travelling in a car that is capable of going deep into the braking zone on the back straight at VIR at over 150, so 85 mph on an arrow-straight, deserted road is as sedate as a cruising Blackwater Creek Trail on a beach cruiser.  And yet this criminal activity would provoke a mandatory reckless driving charge in Virginia, a first-class misdemeanor with a sentence that can be as long as a year in jail.  Seriously? 

Do speed traps make us safer?  Being impaired or distracted are the real risks, not speed.  And most who are impaired or distracted actually driver slower (which is all the more frustrating).  So no, speed traps don’t make us safer.  What they do make is money, and that money is desperately needed by police, who – like teachers – are totally under-appreciated and under-paid.  Follow the money: we raise tax money to pay police, we buy them expensive but functional, purpose-built vehicles, and then we have them drive out and park on the roadways with exotic speed-detection gear in stealthy spots to nab any would-be criminal that drifts above some ambiguous threshold.  And we are paying money for all of this, while the officers are unable to do any other work that might actually be effective.  I am going to assume that someone has done the accounting to be sure the whole process ends up in the black, but I can’t help but think that we are spinning our wheels.

Has anyone ever thought about exempting public K-12 school teachers and police from federal income tax?  None of them make shit, so how much could it really cost us?  In the stroke of a pen, these would be two of the most desired jobs in the country.

I have another idea: why not develop a crowd-sourced app that lets us alert police when there is genuine Tom-foolery (similar to Waze), to make a real dent in distracted driving, since it is genuinely dangerous and thoroughly annoying? 

Which brings me back to Apple and Google and Waze… (which, ironically is kinda Google too) and their frustrating inability to play nice in the sandbox with anyone that they can’t buy outright (and that’s how Google got Waze).  These are now the three top navigation apps, subtracting out the 3% of people who are still using the proprietary nav systems that came with their cars.  You see, navigation is good for all of us, and it doesn’t do me any harm if you are able to get where you want to go, pronto.  In fact, it’s better for all of us if all of us can do just that.   But we just don’t do anything these days unless we can make money on it, so we are all left with this battle of the juggernauts. 

Do you understand how much better it would be for all of us if we were all on the same network?  Like ten times better.  OK, I am exaggerating: if it’s 3 equally utilized networks, it would really be nine times better (3 squared, or nine times).  When I am done with MoveUP, which will put everything on one network and you will see how much better it is, I’ll revisit this.

While driving, I did my first bit of podcast listening (I typically listen to hair metal and sing… horribly).  Ironically, I went through a fascinating one on NPR about the Liberty City – a tiny town in Texas that performed its own experiment in Libertarianism.  Summing up, a fairly visionary citizen recognized that they would probably be annexed by nearby San Antonio, so he rallied the people and they formed the city of Von Ormy.  He then set out to eliminate virtually all taxes.  In my view, they ultimately uncovered the reality of extremes of belief: Libertarians want zero government, but society requires some collective works.  Like sewers.  And you can’t get something for nothing, so with zero money, you get exactly the same amount of progress.  In the end, Von Ormy found a source of revenue without resorting to taxes: speeding tickets.

Sorry, but that whole idea was a kick in Karma’s knackers, and the fact that it didn’t work out as planned makes me feel a bit warm and fuzzy… (read about it here).  

I did wholly relate to Von Ormy’s most basic ideology: we are better off to do this ourselves than to be annexed by the big city and become beholden to their whims.

As I stewed on all of this and bounced along the thoroughly horrid roads in Louisiana, I casually and unknowingly drifted upward into the realms of revenue generation (I am sorry, officer, but 10 over is just crap, no matter how poor your state is, or how reprehensibly below the poverty-line your yearly salary may be).  At least an online “driving safety” course – which generates even more revenue – will keep said offense from my insurance or DMV records.  It’s all about safety…

And then to Houston, to drop the Shelby off and meet my new mistress. 
If you want to own what no doubt will be an incredibly valuable car after I save the world and become an icon (it’s just as likely as your winning the Powerball), it will be right here for the taking. But it won’t last long after THE movie comes out and regular folks have a better understanding of the impact of Carrol Shelby. Where the Mustang was all about purging frustrations from one’s innards through the creation of two equally wide black lines on the pavement, this new chapter is about revisiting a different kind of debauchery that teases me from my past: warp drive.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that – despite all-wheel-drive – she, too, will do burnouts.

Murica IS the best :) !!!

I do like to be right.  Maybe I haven’t convinced you that we can push aside a multi-billion dollar company with a $250,000 piece of software and some cooperation, but I’ll  take it where I can get it: ‘Murica makes the best sports cars.  Period.  Having recently bought a Ferrari, I can prove it. 

A bit ago, I picked up a twenty one year old 355 F1 berlinetta, my third example of this model, making my car ownership look much like the marriage history of a corporate executive or pro team owner.  I know my way around these beauties, I know their temperament, their needs, their quirks.  I think I can make her happy, and that will make me happy.  And maybe a little money, as I am betting they are at the bottom of their depreciation curve, another similarity to the next Ms. Ex-Wife-To-Be.

I have said it before (here) and I will say it again: there is something magical about Ferrari, about the way they look, the way they sound, the way they feel.  But as sure as God’s car has a normally aspirated V12, they are not for everyone. 

Sports cars are meant to be enjoyed.  But what good is that if only a few can enjoy them?  Or if that enjoyment is limited to a smug feeling of superiority because the thing is pretty much useless and actually driving it is both impractical and financially crippling?

I started writing this in a house in the mountains outside Blowing Rock, North Carolina, situated on the side of a cliff on a winding gravel road in some seriously rugged country, and I didn’t leave anything behind.  I brought my mountain bike and all of the needed gear, my clothes for a week in any weather, my stuff to swim – and not the hot tub, mind; goggles and fins and paddles and shit so I can do my best Michael Phelps impression.  Laptop and stuff for work (because you can never truly unplug anymore), all my gear for a day at the track (because – fingers crossed – I am getting back in the race car next weekend), food for an army, and even my daughter’s violin, all crammed in the back of the best sports car I have owned and possibly the best ever made: my ’16 Mustang. 

Yes, that’s a complete mountain bike and all my shit in the trunk.

I do want to take a second a send a message to everyone at Apple: bite me.  When you created something that people really rely on, working code into the latest operating system of my old iPhone such that it no longer considers Ford to have paid enough royalties to you to keep your stock on the up and up such that it will out-of-the-blue stop allowing the phone to charge via the USB port while using it as a sole source of both navigation and the actual address of my destination, well that’s just beyond unacceptable.  My next phone will be an Android, so you know where you can stuff your lightning cable, and why don’t you cram in a couple of those stupid headphone adapters while you are getting busy.

I have to admit, the GT350 is a very special Mustang (and technically is a “Shelby” but I think we can all get past the branding at this point).  The motor is well and truly a race motor for the street, every bit as special as the stuff Porsche puts into its track-focused models, and just about everything else significant is bespoke to the model: transmission, suspension, brakes, even bodywork.  But the entire car costs less brand new than the typical options list on a Ferrari.  More importantly, it remains a Mustang at its core, and that is precisely why it is so special.

Sweet cheese and crackers does it sound good

Once again, I am assuming any petrol-head reader has a somewhat slack jaw right now, trying to put together this dizzying logic: the GT350 is special because it has all of these go-fast bits that work in synergy to make it one of the most exciting drives I have had the opportunity to enjoy, and yet it is the Mustang part of it – the inexpensive, corner-cutting for production costs, inadequate performance due to the realities of life – that makes it well and truly special.  What the what…?

Here is the thing: what good is fun if you can’t have it?

A bit of history on the GT350:  Somewhere about 2012 (give or take) the true car nuts at Ford had a plan: win the 24 hours of le Mans in 2016.  Why?  Because that’s exactly 50 years after Ford showed Ferrari how we do things across the pond. (We 84REN66).  This was no small feat then (see the upcoming Movie Ford v Ferrari…. November 15) and it’s no small feat today.  So they set to building a GT race car – one that must be built on a road car – from the Mustang.  At least two full years they labored, and faster and faster it became, until they finally threw in the towel: a front-engined, 2+2 coupe was not going to be able to reliably fight a plethora of purpose-built race machines with decades of development in their genome.  So Ford scrapped that plan and went a different way.  And from that after-birth I give you the 2016 le Mans winning Ford GT. 

The GT350 is quite literally, a failure.  And yet it is everything that Ford developed during that intense period, and that everything is quite literally some serious shit.  The motor, the aero, the chassis; it is epic.  But the best thing about it: it’s a Mustang.    

From inception, the Mustang was about bringing a little fun to the people.  No, you can’t bring the type exquisite craftsmanship and attention to detail that characterisze objects of desire at the pinnacle of man’s capabilities (Aston Martin, Ferrari).  In fact, the word “exquisite” shouldn’t be allowed anywhere in the promotional flyer.  But that doesn’t make the goal any less important.  Everyone deserves a little fun. 

And it doesn’t have to be exquisite to be fun; it doesn’t have to be the best. Think on this: I can (kinda) do a back flip off a dock.  Who cares that the judges at the Olympics would be looking for fractions and negative numbers, or just vomiting in their mouths a bit.  It’s no less fun for me.  If you can’t enjoy stuff that’s a bit more basic, maybe you need to relax your sphincter a smidge.

Back to that Ferrari – MY Ferrari – it is over 20 years old.  The Mustang is 3.  They now have pretty close to the same mileage on them.  If you are good at maths, the Ferrari has it’s work cut out for it in the fun-per-unit-time competition.   

The last maintenance bill on the Ferrari is just a bit below the trade-in value of the Mustang. I am not making that up, I have all the records.  When I saw it, when I held it in my trembling, unbelieving hand, I threw up in my own mouth a bit.  Ferrari people demand records of everything that happens to their cars, and how much it cost.  Why would you want to keep a memento of being robbed?  I planned from the beginning to do all the work on this car myself, so I am somewhat insulated from these intrusions.  But that’s not everyone’s cup of tea, and it didn’t take long before I got to take a big swig of my own brew: I heard a funny noise.  That’s never good…

Not everyone wants to be beholden to a small network of specialized shops that require open access to a home equity line to keep their car running properly.  Nor do they find joy in having a car in varying states of disrepair for literally months on end while they go after what is likely a bad bearing in the transmission (fingers crossed). 

Fast forward some additional time and the transmission is in Houston being rebuilt.  Eventually it will be shipped back and a few more 6-packs will see it re-installed.  It will likely be spring.  No worries, I chose this path, and I knew what the scenery would look like.  In the meantime, the Shelby is pushing up against 30,000 miles and had another $160 service.  And it still drives and feels and sounds just as epic.

Power to the people: the ‘Murican beast is simply the better car, providing the absolute most fun per unit time of any car I have owned, all wrapped in a functional package that is accessible to just about anyone who really loves cars.   

I am going to miss it…Because I am getting ready to drive it to Houston – where the ill-fated transmission is languishing – and exchange it for another chapter in this ongoing story.   Another time McClure…