Talking to Machines

When you need to communicate to another human being it’s pretty straight forward.

Talking to Machines

Trying to communicate with a machine is more difficult.

Talking to Machines

I know there’s a human being behind the machine. But can’t always see them and their vocabulary is pretty limited. So when I get honked at I’m left to guess what they’re trying to express.

Talking to Machines

While I know most people are decent, I’m too afraid to turn around and engage just in case the last driver is the one behind the wheel.

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  • Noah Weiss July 8, 2014   Reply →

    I can definitely relate to this. Normally, I interpret a honk as an aggressive move, but there are times when a friend or friendly person will honk at me to get my attention.

    Unfortunately, because I am easily startled, honking is a bad way to try to get my attention while riding.

  • Ross Lindgren July 8, 2014   Reply →

    To paraphrase Nick Nolte in the Amazon Fire TV commercial, “It’s frustrating when machines don’t listen.”

    • Vocu Dwabe July 9, 2014  

      “It’s frustrating when machines don’t listen.”

      Indeed it is: as so memorably captured by this heart-rending sequence from the 1976 BBC TV comdey “Fawlty Towers”. As a depiction of human/machine non-interaction it remains definitive.

  • Benjamin July 9, 2014   Reply →

    Whether or not the driver intends it, I usually interpret a honk as a giant FU. Probably because that’s the intention often enough and I’m bracing myself for a worst-case scenario.

  • Vocus Dwabe July 9, 2014   Reply →

    We have a convention in Britain that a bicycle is a person perched on top of a flimsy metal frame, doing something that really shouldn’t be allowed in any properly ordered society, and that a motor vehicle is a kind of autonomous unit with a mind and volition of its own, just doing what motor vehicles naturally do, and if you get in it’s way any harm that befalls you is your own bloody silly fault. The approved style for local-newspaper headlines – it hardly ever makes the national press – is “Cyclist Killed by Car”, not “Cyclist Killed by Motorist” or “Bicycle Hit by Car and Rider Killed”.

    At least in the States, despite the best efforts of the NRA, I believe that your headlines still tend to say “Gunman Kills Seven People” rather than “Gun Kills Seven People.”

    It’s well known that the anonymity and physical protection of being inside a motor vehicle makes you apt to do things that you would never dream of doing outside it: if only for fear of having your head punched. Which is why (I’ve found) mass-cycling cultures tend to be far politer societies than ones where driving is the norm.

    Tinted window glass makes matters even worse: which is why so many of the drivers of London-based SUVs – known as “Chelsea Tractors” – like it so much.

    For extreme human-machine interaction, if some driver has really pissed you off and you’ve managed to track the vehicle down to its parking place, I would suggest a rag stuffed up the exhaust pipe. It was a favourite with the French Resistance because it’s not somewhere most people would think of looking when they can’t get the vehicle to start. Plus which, it’s not really malicious damage either.

    • Ethan Fleming July 9, 2014  

      I to all understand where you are company from. In Massachusetts there is a common there in accidents where dirvers don’t want to Take responsibility for their actions. Not all, but a lot of drivers, have a delusional Idea in their head that the Road is for cars and cars only. Like you said, headlines say that a car Caused an Accident a lot and almost Never say a bad Driver Caused it. People don’t like Taking responsibility for their actions.
      Bike face if right by saying look of communication is a big part of it but the same can be said about accidents that Only involve cars.

    • Les Murray July 10, 2014  

      Thanks for that British perspective. I feel that drivers would never dream of coming close to a slow moving tractor where they could do real damage to their vehicle but some of them don’t feel the same about coming close to a cyclist which just seems cowardly to me. I can’t wait for the three foot law to take effect everywhere.

    • Jon Webb July 10, 2014  

      No, no one is ever killed by anyone in a motor vehicle here in the US. It is always an accident, like, say, when you drop something. “Oops! Accident!” is all you have to say to be forgiven. It’s not anybody’s fault, it just happens every so often. Everybody understands that it could happen to anyone, so there’s no sense in getting upset about it.

  • SarahL July 9, 2014   Reply →

    “While I know most people are decent, I’m too afraid to turn around and engage just in case the last driver is the one behind the wheel.”

    I feel the same way! I was waiting at a red light at Davis Sq at around 10am, and a car suddenly pulled up next to me, so close that its bumper almost bumped my leg! I wanted to look back and say something but remembered that I am a petite woman and would probably come out second in any physical altercation, so I moved my bike up ahead instead to put some distance between us, and kept my gaze ahead and mouth shut.

  • Pyrtwist July 9, 2014   Reply →

    When I ride on the streets I always assume someone is behind me and sometimes I have my son follow me in his car and hoonk at me randomly so I am less startled by a dimwit with a horn. “Horns should be as loud on the inside as they are on the outside of a car.”

  • Justin July 9, 2014   Reply →

    I use a mirror, so when someone honks I can yell, ‘I see you!’ while pointing to it. The mirror also helps me to know when I have a vehicle behind me at an intersection that wants to turn right so I don’t block them. I have no qualms about confrontations with the bottom three driver types. It’s unlikely they are as or more psychotic than me. :)


    • Ethan Fleming July 9, 2014  

      Lately, I noticed a lot of drivers never check their passenger side mirror. Then When they almost hit someone because of it they Try to say they person they almost hit was in their blind spot

  • dr2chase July 9, 2014   Reply →

    They’re just honking to let you know that it would be safer if you took the lane.

    • Benjamin July 10, 2014  

      You do realize the idiocy of “vehicular cycling” advocacy has stunted the growth of actual bicycle infrastructure by 20 years or more, yes? There is a preponderance of evidence showing the vast majority of folks don’t feel safe cohabiting the roads with cars, most likely because they don’t want to die. We don’t need more advocates of testosterone and adrenaline, we need advocates of infrastructure.

      Oh, and cars /never/ honk at cyclists who do take the lane…

    • Jon Webb July 10, 2014  


    • fred_dot_u July 10, 2014  

      dr2chase, your comment is amusing, especially as I am a strong proponent of controlling the lane. I very often wish to pull alongside a gutter bunny and suggest that they “get into the road!” After learning safe cycling, the horn sounding count dropped to about ten percent of what it was. Drivers are better able to address a cyclist directly ahead and plan appropriately, rather than to hope to squeeze past and learn at the last moment that there is insufficient room to do so. That results in a horn sounding more often than not, especially if the driver has to slow from posted speed or higher to cyclist speed.

      With correct lane positioning, the driver can react well in advance and few find it necessary to sound off, despite the suggestion made by Benjamin.

    • Vocus Dwabe July 11, 2014  

      “They’re just honking to let you know that it would be safer if you took the lane.”

      Try not to make me laugh so much, my colostomy bag is overflowing

  • Lucas July 9, 2014   Reply →

    Horns are LOUD… as a driver and cyclist in the city I keep that in mind and rarely use my horn unless it’s towards another car. On a bike they scare the hell out of me, especially when they are close but you cannot see the car from which the horn is emanating… in those cases I am afraid the car is saying “look out, I’m about to run over you!” … eesh.

  • Sarah McC July 9, 2014   Reply →

    Perhaps we need to learn to speak car, and access a new range of our sonorous capacities.

  • Cuter Commuter July 9, 2014   Reply →

    I too, don’t know what to think when I hear a car honking (at me or not at me). Except one time the honking was persistent. The vehicle followed me until the passenger called out to me through the car’s open window that my pannier bag popped off my bike rack several blocks away. The people picked it up and followed me to give it back. I was so relieved and grateful to them!

  • LVasquez July 9, 2014   Reply →

    I now respond to honks with blowing a kiss with the peace sign – waaaay better for my heart than flipping a bird and cursing.

    • Ethan Fleming July 9, 2014  

      That is a good point. If a Driven hours at you it mean they see you and that is a good thing.

  • Opus the Poet July 9, 2014   Reply →

    August 31, 2001, I met the male version of the last driver when he was doing about 60 MPH (according to the crash reconstruction) and after he had already threatened me once while driving the opposite direction. Even when those drivers are only one in a million, it doesn’t matter when they’re the one behind you…

  • Thomas Arbs July 9, 2014   Reply →

    Sorry, I am not giving the honk the benefit of doubt. The rules say it’s allowed as a warning from imminent danger only, so its legitimate use is very limited. On the other hand, when the horn goes off right next to me, on my bike in the open, the volume is deafening, the startle likely to make me veer into the car’s path, and the deed bordering on malicious injury and coercion.

  • crank July 9, 2014   Reply →

    I loved this post from David Hembrow:

    “I still tense up a little if I hear a car horn when cycling. I still glance around for escape routes. This is a learnt behaviour which comes from many years of cycling in Britain…”

    while noticing someone in a car tooting a ‘hello’ to a pal on a bike. :-)

  • Vocus Dwabe July 10, 2014   Reply →

    There was one suggestion recently which rather appealed to me: that in order to even up the game a little on the roads (as it were) the British Army’s now-surplus main battle tanks and armoured personnel carriers should be mingled into rush-hour city traffic in order to give motorists some idea of what it’s like to jostle twice a day with vehicles vastly heavier and more powerful than yourself, virtually blind, and which can casually crush you like a gnat without even being aware of having done so (Oh, and just to make things a bit fairer, the tank would have a “Motorists Stay Back” sticker, just so that they can’t say they weren’t warned). We might then see headlines like “Motorist Killed by Challenger Tank.”

    PS. Having thought about it, the NRA’s take on firearms massacres would in fact be something more like “Seven People Killed by Person Using Bullets, Gun Possibly Involved Somewhere.”

  • Jon Webb July 10, 2014   Reply →

    Yes, you can’t tell, so you can make up your own mind about what they are thinking. I choose to assume any driver behind me honking is saying “I’ve got your back, don’t worry! It’s OK to take the lane!”
    …So I wave thanks and take it.

    • Justin July 10, 2014  

      Perfect! Who are we to assume auto drivers are out to get us.

  • Justin July 10, 2014   Reply →

    @Benjamin “You do realize the idiocy of “vehicular cycling” advocacy has stunted the growth of actual bicycle infrastructure by 20 years or more, yes?”

    Er, no. What do you mean? Is there less non-roadway cycling options because we ride in the street?

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