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Thursday, February 28, 2013

Roshomon, the PAT Bus Panopticon and the Question of Certainty

The movie Roshomon is a wonderful film that deals with perception, subjectivity, memory and the remarkable difficulty of knowing with certainty (which may be an illusion).

The movie presents the story In The Grove embedded in another short story Roshomon, but the kernel is three people on a road - a Samurai husband, his wife, and a bandit. We know that the husband and wife are traveling and the bandit sets upon them, there are some events and transactions, and in the end the husband is dead, the wife attempts suicide, and the bandit is caught. We know the initial state and the end state, but the middle is black-box.

An official inquiry attempts to learn what happened between them. The wife tells one story and the bandit another; both plausibly fit the evidence with slight deviations. The movie teases: how to determine The Truth with two conflicting witnesses? The narrative introduces the third witness, the dead Samurai brought back to give his testimony through the agency of a medium.

At last, the audience might think, now we'll find out which of the two stories is true. The dead husband tells a third story, which also conforms to the evidence with slight variations, completely different from the others. The inquest is left unable to determine what really did happen, and the film leaves us with questions about witnesses, testimony, The Truth, and the nature of certainty. Is truth a probability distribution? Someday when you can't ride your bike, Roshomon is a movie worth watching.

My experience after getting hit by the PAT bus on my bicycle last Sunday felt very much like Roshomon; I had my report and the driver had a different report; without evidence or injury there was no way to objectively prove the event with certainty. The other bicyclist could be a witness, but they were looking ahead and never saw the event; we were stalemated in Bus-said-Bike-said.

This was my depiction of the collision geometry:

And then there was a promise of a third report, sure to reveal The Truth, in a capability and philosophy directly descended from Jeremy Bentham's Panopticon. Bentham's concept called for an institution - originally a prison but also a hospital, a school, an asylum - where the population was subject to continual observation without knowing if, at any time, they were actually being watched.

The Panopticon provided this continual potential observation through a series of mirrors, and the idea was that if the population knew they might be watched by an authority at any time, their behavior would stay within expectations at all times. In this case, it turns out that this model of PAT bus has several video cameras. They would download and play the video on Monday, and then we would have certainty.

On Monday I got a call from the police chief who said: We watched the movie and the bus never touched you, not even close. I was amazed. Tapes don't lie, this isn't a conspiracy novel, and yet I knew I'd been hit. They invited me over to see the movie myself (which was very nice of them).

On Tuesday I went to see the movie. I met a police chief (also a cyclist!) and another officer who was a digital forensics expert. They played a movie from Camera 5 looking forward from the driver's seat, and the movie showed no contact. I said, But wait a minute, that picture doesn't show the contact, let's look at another camera.

Camera 1 sits over the driver's seat and looks out through the passenger door and the front-right corner of the bus. On Camera 1 you can see the bus pass very close to me. You can't tell if it hits me or not because of the blind spot. The forensics expert said, I can't testify that he didn't hit you, and I can't testify that he did hit you. I think that's an honest call and I respect it.

The video, our third witness through a medium, didn't clarify our situation either. The layout of the cameras didn't give us Total Information Awareness, it just provided partial awareness; the tape was inconclusive.

There's no injury or property damage; the video is inconclusive; the driver and bicyclist reports are completely divergent. And so, in the end, PAT does nothing. They really don't care about the four-foot rule, either.

My assertion is that I was hit by a PAT bus driver who left the scene of the accident.

These are the pertinent images:

Initial still image, from the driver's seat camera looking forward. That big green bus on the left is another PAT bus heading in the opposite direction.

This is the camera used to declare there was no contact. It does not present the area of the contact, but it does give a good view of the road condition, the parked cars, the door zone, etc.

First image from the Front Door Camera at 09:34:07

(Does this camera make my hips look big?)

Second image

Third image. The contact occurs somewhere between this third image and the fourth image.

I would also like to point out that Pennsylvania has a four-foot law that says a vehicle passing a bicycle must give four feet of clearance when passing or wait until they can.

Fourth image

Fifth image

Sixth image

Final image, from Camera2, showing me through the window as the bus continues past me.

1 comment:

  1. For them to not even educate the driver about the 4 foot law is infuriating. He could have waited a few seconds to pass you safely and he either chose not to or didn't see you in your bright yellow jacket.