Guys, “Check your privilege” isn’t a moral judgment against you, it’s a reminder that we all have blind spots.

The human brain is very good at downplaying or dismissing problems that we don’t see much ourselves to focus more energy on those that we do. It’s the same psychology that makes Douglas Adams’ “Somebody Else’s Problem Field” work in his books and ring true to the reader.

We all do this.

The statement is just to remind us that we need to try to push through that SEP field to really look at what’s behind it.

Imagine a dangerous road curve. Do you blame the drivers and call it a day? After all, not everyone crashes over the edge or into oncoming traffic.

Or do you bank the turn, calculate a safe speed limit and add a railing?

It won’t stop all crashes, but it’ll reduce them.

Re-engineering the road doesn’t ignore the driver’s decisions, but it acknowledges that they don’t happen in isolation. Change the circumstances, and you change how many drivers crash and burn.

Go ahead. Just try parking there.

The office building where I work shares a parking garage with two other office buildings, two hotels, and an airport parking service. It can get crowded, and the spaces are so narrow and tightly packed that it’s a safe bet any given row will have two or three “open” spaces that won’t actually fit anything but a Smart car or a motorcycle, because the cars on either side are just a little bit too close to each other.

Or sometimes they’re parked at an angle into the next space, or flat-out taking up two spaces. That’s when I wish I could call them out by, I don’t know, slapping a sticker on the car that says “I’m an asshole who doesn’t know how to park.” Or starting — oh wait, someone’s done that.

It’s infuriating, especially on days like this past Friday, when I drove up and down the entire structure for half an hour looking for a spot. It took so long that my Prius shut off the electric motor due to low battery…and then turned it back on later, because all the driving on the gas motor had charged it up again.

I finally stopped at the end of a row, when two men got into a van in the last space and turned on the engine. Next to it was one of those technically-open-but-not-really spots. Behind me was another car whose driver had been following me down from the top floor, checking and discarding the same too-narrow spaces along the way. We sat there, waiting, while they sat with the engine on and the doors closed. Eventually I put my car in park, went back to talk to the guy waiting behind me, went up to talk to the guys who insisted they just needed a few more minutes before they could leave (really? they couldn’t back out, let two cars park, and find a place by the side of the aisle to let other cars by?), and just as I was about to pull over to the side so he could go around, they started backing out. I pulled into the second spot, leaving the last one clear for the car behind me.


But why had it been necessary? I had passed probably 30 spaces that I could have parked in, if only the people who’d parked on either side had put in a little more effort. Obviously, people are jerks, right? They chose to park badly…but they didn’t make that choices in a vacuum.

  • Narrow spaces make it tricky to begin with.
  • Small errors compound as a row fills in.
  • On a bad day, it gets really frustrating to find a space you can use, and when you finally do, chances are you just want to get it over with and get the hell out. On the off chance that you found two spaces next to each other, you’re not necessarily going to be thinking about whether you’ve left room for someone next to you.

Sure, people have made a lot of individual choices to park in ways that make spaces unusable…but this isn’t a problem in most parking lots. The design of the garage encourages people to park badly. I suspect that re-striping this lot to have fewer spaces per row would actually allow more cars to park here. Maybe splitting up the width of one space along the entire aisle would be enough to lessen the impact of small errors — and frustration — that often leaves them with two or three useless spaces each. That’s a net gain of one or two cars per aisle, which doesn’t sound like much, but at 2 sides × 8 lanes × 7 floors, that’s an extra hundred or so cars that could fit, with less frustration on the part of the drivers. That sounds like a win to me.

Want to see what Los Angeles traffic looks like on a typical Friday evening? You can! A co-worker pointed out to me that you can view statistical traffic on Google Maps in addition to live traffic. To see it, go to Google Maps, enable traffic, then look at the inset traffic key and hit “change.” You’ll be able to choose a day of the week and time.

A Scott Pilgrim fan tracked down the real-life locations in Toronto that Brian Lee O’Malley used as reference, then took photos to match them up with the comic panels.

It reminds me of a story that O’Malley told at Comic-Con last(?) year about the movie production. They tried to use actual locations when possible, and at one point went to film a scene with a particular phone booth, only to find it had been torn out. They rebuilt the phone booth for the scene!

How To Be a Retronaut has a fascinating gallery of illustrations from the 1976 Soviet edition of The Hobbit. (via @dixonium)

Copyblogger presents: Five Grammatical Errors that Make You Look Dumb. Please, people: learn the differences between your and you’re, and between they’re, their and there! (via This Is True)

A university library has put together a great parody of the Old Spice ad campaign: Study Like a Scholar, Scholar. (also via This Is True )

NPR story: In Politics, Sometimes The Facts Don’t Matter

New research suggests that misinformed people rarely change their minds when presented with the facts — and often become even more attached to their beliefs. The finding raises questions about a key principle of a strong democracy: that a well-informed electorate is best.

This makes me feel a little less enthused about the next two items:

It’s incredibly cool that we’ve got photos of the Apollo 16 landing site. But that won’t convince people who are absolutely certain that the landings were faked.

And a U.S. Department of Transportation investigation of Toyota crashes blamed on sudden acceleration has implicated driver error in nearly all cases. Of the 75 fatal crashes investigates, only one could be verified as a problem with the vehicle: the Lexus crash last August in which the accelerator was caught on the floor mat, leading to a recall. Of course, the court of popular opinion has already made up its mind…