Self-driving cars will still be safer in the long run

A demonstration of the Tesla Model S Roadster at Tesla Design Studios in Hawthorne, California, U.S., on Wednesday, July 31, 2013. Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg
A demonstration of the Tesla Model S Roadster at Tesla Design Studios in Hawthorne, California, U.S., on Wednesday, July 31, 2013. Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg

According to the Wikipedia page around 32,000 people die each year in auto accidents in the United States. That's about 90 per day, give or take. To date, that we know of, one of those people have died in a Tesla using its "autopilot" mode.

Naturally, people are furiously debating self-driving cars and automation. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) is investigating the crash.

The information we have right now suggests that the driver was pushing the envelope, doing videos with the autopilot engaged – and maybe just watching a DVD at the time of the accident. (The "autopilot" is, as I understand it, not meant to be 100% self-driving, and the driver is supposed to remain engaged at all times.) The accident seemed to be a perfect storm where the car's software may have interpreted the tractor trailer as an overhead sign, and the driver of the tractor trailer is mostly at fault. The autopilot simply failed to correct for the situation.

Everything about this situation was predictable. We know that the software for these cars will be imperfect. It will improve drastically over time, but it will always be imperfect because humans are imperfect and the real world is damn hard to predict anyway.

Continue reading "Self-driving cars will still be safer in the long run"

No Facebook November

I've been a big fan of the "try something new for 30 days" idea for some time now. My big project for November? Not using Facebook. (Also NaNoWriMo, but that… is not as successful so far.)

I signed out of Facebook completely November 1st and haven't signed back in. Deleted the Facebook apps from my phone and tablets, and removed the bookmark for "most recent" (lies! damned lies!) and the tab in Chrome. Habits die hard.

My time on Twitter is up, predictably, but not enough to offset the time I don't spend on Facebook. Also have dipped a toe into Google+ a few times, but the network there is much different, and  I don't have as many close friends that really use Google+ that frequently.

Net result so far? Positive. Will I start using Facebook again in December? Probably – it's still the most effective way to keep in touch with some friends who don't do email, don't blog, aren't on Twitter, etc. It's also still really useful for organizing events. (Though I've found that people don't always closely read for details in the invites…)

More than likely, though, I'll limit my Facebook consumption to once or twice a day, instead of clicking over when I'm on hold, waiting for something to finish, etc.

I still hold out hope that a more privacy friendly, federated network will take over someday. But that's probably not going to be soon.

Feeling Down? At Least You Won't Be Remembered for Exploding a Whale, Poorly

40 Years Exploding Whale LogoIf you spend too much time on the Intertubes (raises hand), you've probably heard the story of George Thornton, the Oregon highway engineer who took lead on disposing of a whale carcass that had washed up on the beach.

Not familiar? Take a look:

Mr. Thornton died this week, and is remembered for his misguided attempt to use a great deal of TNT to explode the whale.

You'd like to think that if you make a little mistake like raining whale carcass bits for more than a quarter-mile, that 40 years would be enough to live it down. Apparently not.

Rest in piece, Mr. Thornton. You'll be remembered.

In Which I Finally Install AdBlock

For years, I've resisted installing AdBlock or any other type of ad-blocking software. Not because I love ads, but because so much content is ad-supported (including content I used to write) and there wasn't a clear way to support "free" content otherwise.

What finally drove me over the edge wasn't an actual "ad" at all, but the affiliate network run by Taboola. You know the ones, you can't visit many popular sites without seeing something like this:

From the Web (Taboola)

Ads are annoying enough, but the Taboola stuff is linkbait too far. I'm not shocked to see it on sites like Newsmax, but when it started popping up on Daily Kos and Talking Points Memo, I decided I'd had my fill. (That, and the "one weird trick" ads had also just gotten too damn annoying as well.)

I keep wondering when, or if, we'll hit the point when people are willing to pay for quality content online and obviate the need for these crap-festooned banners.

Predictions on Tumblr

If you haven't heard that Yahoo is buying Tumblr for $1.1 billion (mostly cash), then you're probably not paying a lot of attention to tech news.

Here's my off-the-cuff predictions:

  • Despite Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer's promise, yes, Yahoo will screw it up. A company that can't seem to get a grip on its own direction isn't going to be able to execute on integrating a new company with such a different personality and sizable user base without effing it up. Most acquisitions don't do well, and in its entire history, I've yet to see Yahoo do well by an acquisition. Mayer has not explained why this will be any different.
  • Yahoo will futz with the Tumblr terms of service soon to disallow a lot of the content (read: adult content) that drives Tumblr.
  • At some point, Yahoo will insist on integrating the account systems between the two companies.
  • Yahoo will start pushing ads into Tumblr, pissing off the Tumblr user base.
  • Yahoo will be a target for copyright vultures going after content being reshared on Tumblr that isn't being shared legally.

The Tumblr folks will make out like bandits and walk away from Yahoo the moment they're contractually able to. Yahoo will have overpaid for a property it doesn't know what to do with, and Yahoo will continue flailing.

Roger Ebert on Steak 'n Shake

steak-n-shakeStumbled on this today, not the first time, but it was nice to find again. As a Missouri native, I have been eating at Steak 'n Shake as long as I can remember, and always took my TAKHOMASAK privileges for granted.

When I moved to Denver, I realized Steak 'n Shake wasn't quite as ubiquitous as I thought. Nothing like jonesing for an Orange Freeze for a year or two to make you realize just how much you love a place.

Ebert sums it up pretty well:

If I were on Death Row, my last meal would be from Steak 'n Shake. If I were to take President Obama and his family to dinner and the choice were up to me, it would be Steak 'n Shake–and they would be delighted. If the Pope were to ask where he could get a good plate of spaghetti in America, I would reply, "Your Holiness, have you tried the Chili Mac or the Chili 3-Ways?"

(Not kidding about the death row thing, either. You can have your fine dining – I'd be pleased as punch to have a Steak 'n Shake burger for any meal.)

And as Ebert notes, he doesn't order anything not on the original menu. I have had the same order for, oh, about 38 years…

Don't Forget

Don't forget, if you leave a comment telling an author that they "forgot" to say this or that, to preface your comment with "I think everyone should tend to my agenda rather than expressing their own opinions, so here's what I would have written."

If your goal is to point out an additional detail, it can be done by simply saying "another thing to think about is foo," or "I'd also like to point out…" This allows you to contribute positively to the conversation without being that guy.


Day One on the Treadmill Desk

A few weeks ago, I pulled the trigger on a purchase that I've been thinking about for years: A treadmill desk. Stephen O'Grady helped seal the deal with his post on his treadmill desk.

Setup is actually pretty easy, as long as you have a second set of hands. It took about an hour – including the time required to clear the space – and it was up and ready to go.

Right now I'm walking at a clip of about .7 miles per hour and it's perfectly comfortable. I've been adjusting to standing while working for a while, so it's not a huge shock to the system to work standing rather than sitting – it's the constant motion of walking that's going to take some adjustment.

With any luck, this will help propel me to being a lot more active. If you're a treadmill desker, any tips would be welcome!