Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Different Waze to Die

During Easter break, now popularly known as the-completely-coincidental-break-in-the-spring-that-has-absolutely-nothing-to-do-with-a-major-Christian-holiday (see also, Winter Break), we traveled by car down to the LA area.

For those of you unfamiliar with the LA area, that’s sort of like saying we traveled by plane down to the place where all the planes just sit there and can’t fly.

For most of our travels we knew where we were going and didn’t require any electronic navigational aids, except for one destination. We took the boys to Universal Studios one day and needed some guidance to get there.

Earlier in the trip my wife had been experimenting with Waze and Google Maps, comparing which app gave us the most accurate arrival times. But we were driving in the LA area, and consequently hearing all the arrival times became so depressing we kept shutting the apps off before we arrived.

When it came time to use one of them, she chose Waze, and we were off. We left early in the morning, knowing we had at least an hour and a half of driving, and wanting to get to the park when it opened. The early hour may have been the only thing that saved our lives.

Unlike Google Maps, which sticks to freeway routes and just relays the depressing news to you about how late you’re going to be, Waze actively attempts to avoid the red sections of the freeway by using neighborhood streets as shortcuts. That’s just dandy, except for the fact that the people over at Waze are not taking everything into consideration.

In their corporate headquarters, somewhere in the shiny Silicon Valley no doubt, they are simply seeing available streets for use on a nice, cartoony map of the USA. “Hey, look, it will save this nice LA commuter two minutes if we jog them over on I-710 and down Hermosa Avenue to I-10 instead of staying on I-5. Hermosa Avenue – that sounds lovely, doesn’t it?”

Well, let me tell you, Waze employees, Hermosa Avenue may look like a wonderful shortcut on your screen, but in real life, it will scare the hell out of you. In the first four blocks we saw two chop shops, a crack house, a drug deal in progress, three good places to get murdered, two places to pay to have someone else murdered, three liquor stores, four hookers, and an entrepreneur named Skinny T offering crazy-good deals on ammunition and gently used car audio components from a table on the sidewalk.

Not really what we had in mind for our family drive to the amusement park.

I’m sure the early hour of the day was our saving grace, since it appeared to be a shift change. All the really bad guys had no doubt just retired to their comfy beds after another hard night of felonious skullduggery, and the daytime thugs weren’t up yet.

You folks at Waze may not believe this, but this was not my first near-death experience with computer route-mapping software. In the early days of the internet, MapQuest actually tried to route me down a boat launch ramp in Stockton once. Fortunately, I realized the error before finding out how floaty my car was or wasn’t. All their software engineers are probably retired from their careers in the fast food industry by now, but I assume you learned some valuable lessons from their ground work, as it were.

And of course, I realize that your Waze navigation system operates on continually-updating algorithms that are simply trying to get me from A to B in the shortest time possible, and the area of map software as a whole has vastly improved, but I’ll make a few minor suggestions if I may.

For starters, you might try getting some crime statistics uploaded to your databases. Your app did a nice job of alerting us every time there was a police officer up ahead of us on the side of the highway, but I’m guessing that feature was designed to warn speeders. You probably don’t want your users thinking, “Oh, thank God!” when they hear the police alert.

If you were to gather crime data and start overlaying the street names in the police reports onto your maps, you could form a risk model for each route.

I, as the driver, could then input my acceptable level of risk for my trip, and you could route me accordingly. If I was unsure of my personal risk profile, you might even be able to give me options, like showing me two or three different routes and telling me important information about each, such as, “This route will get you to your destination 7 minutes faster, but you have a 57% higher likelihood of being caught in the middle of a gang war than with Route A.”

You might even be able to give me a Murder-Free Routes Only button, for when I’m with the family. A No Hookers button could also be a nice option.

I realize you meant me and my family no harm, and to your credit, we never saw any boat launch ramps. Nevertheless, I sure found myself wishing there was a Stop Trying to Get Us Killed button that morning.

Food for thought.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2018 Marc Schmatjen

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