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Munged.Org Where Wookie waxes loquatious, because he can.

Everyday Magic: The Clothes Dryer

No matter what color clothes or towels I put in the dryer, the lint is always blue.

Self-Driving Cars

Everyone knows that Google and others are working on cars that drive themselves Some are saying “we’ll all be driven around by these things in 2 years”.

Those people are wrong.

Assuming that by some chance, cars can be self-driving in my lifetime, here are the issue I see and what it would take to get me in such a vehicle:

Failure Modes

I know the assorted ways I can fail when driving. My attention can wander. I can be fatigued. I can be looking behind me to change lanes when something happens in front of me. I could suddenly have a heart attack or some other medical disaster that takes me out.

Because I understand how these things work, I can do things to make sure they don’t happen. I can avoid using my phone, or looking at the screen in the car too long. I can make sure I’m rested and not driving while too tired to stay awake. I can estimate conditions in front of me to know when it is okay to glance back over my shoulder to check traffic. I move the side mirrors so they show my blind spot instead of what’s behind the car.

Yes, every now and then something bad will happen, but I’ve been pretty safe my whole life. Up until last year, my only accident happened in a driveway, when I backed into a retaining wall. Last year, I hit a deer that ran out onto the road before I could react. (Twice. Damnit.) I’ve been driving for 32 years now, and this failure rate is about average.

But when the car is doing the driving, there are all sorts of failures that can happen. Mechanical problems. Sensor failures. Obstructed views. Reaction to a situation that puts the vehicle in other danger.

None of those failures can be predicted. I know when I’m feeling sleepy, or when I’m not paying attention. But the programming of the vehicle’s computer, and its susceptibility to immanent problems isn’t knowable. There is no dashboard light for “I’m going to fuck up now and kill you.” Because the vehicle is operating in real time, any problems are going to be signaled by bad things happening, like suddenly driving into the ditch or into a phone pole.

In theory, there would be backup systems. There would also be self-test diagnostics that would constantly monitor the vehicle for issues that would cause it to be unreliable. In the event that the vehicle suddenly can’t turn the steering to the right, it would stop and sit there until the “driver” moves the car manually. If there are controls for doing so.

Liability

When an accident happens, who’s at fault? The person sitting behind the wheel but not driving? The Automaker? The dealer? The owner? Some third party that is somehow involved?

If the vehicle fails in some way, and causes an accident faster than a human can intervene, is the driver at fault? How do we know if the driver could have intervened in time or not after the fact?

Attention Span

This is actually probably my biggest issue. Say we do get self-driving cars. But also say that the laws say that a human must be at the wheel to take over if the car does something it shouldn’t. Or just to handle an edge case the car doesn’t know how to handle. Like merging into busy traffic or making a left turn on a busy street.

If I’m not actually driving the car, my attention will wander. I promise you this. Maybe I’m not actually reading the paper or taking a nap, but I will be staring off into space out the side window watching the scenery pass by. Daydreaming. Counting the cows and horses in the fields we go by. Looking at the pretty girls on the sidewalk or the park.

If something happens, it is likely it will happen when I’m not prepared to intervene.

How do I stay always prepared to intervene? By driving the damn car all the time. If I’m not in constant and full control, then I must be a passenger with no responsibilities.

Fun

I like driving, always and anywhere, I’m enjoying controlling the car and making it get to my destination. The only time I don’t like driving is when I’m sick or hurting somehow. But in that case I won’t be driving in the first place.

Those who know me know that I drive cross-country for days at a time to get where I want to be. I don’t fly if I can avoid it, even for work. I am often totally wiped out by these 2 day drives, but I won’t stop doing them.

A Long Way To Go

Currently, self-driving cars don’t work well in snow or rain, where visibility is limited and the lidar systems are blocked. They must be able to see the lane markers to function, which won’t be possible in the Northern states during some or all of winter. While they can pick out bicyclists and their hand signals, pedestrians are just cylinders to avoid, not police officers directing traffic. Even assuming they can pick out a person waving their arms to try to stop traffic, how will they know who to obey? I how do they know who the police are, and who’s just waving at a friend on the other side of the road? They will need to understand “social ballet of merging”, and other edge cases.

So What Would It Take?

When will I be willing to let the car drive me around?

I must not have to pay any attention to the operation of the car. If I can’t read a paper or book, use my iPad or a laptop, I won’t let the car drive. This is an either/or criteria: I’m either driving, or I’m not. There is no middle ground.

Failure modes I’m willing to pass on, so long as there is some sort of certification/auditing process for both the mechanical and the software. Airplanes have been flying themselves for a long time, and aren’t falling out of the sky like rain in a thunderstorm. Most airplane accidents happen due to pilot error. But passenger airplanes are designed and certified in multi-year-long tests and maintained religiously. Cars must be designed and tested to similarly rigorous standards.

Cars must also be able to handle even the edge cases and oddball situations. They must be able to merge with human-driven vehicles without being stranded on the on-ramp by assholes who won’t give you an opening.

I must not have any liability of any kind for the vehicle’s actions. So long as I can show I had the car maintained on schedule by a certified shop, I walk away even if the car has a problem and kills someone. This also applies to legal actions in civil court. I don’t care where the liability lies, so long as none of it lands on me.

Fun. I guess I use the self-driving car when I am planning on getting shit-faced at a party or bar. Someplace where the fun of being there is greater than the fun of getting there and back.

Sarah Lacy Interviews Al Gore

My opinion of Al Gore has flip-flopped back and forth over the years. I mostly blame the media for this. Journalists for some reason are never kind to vice presidents, and so I pick that opinion up for myself. In years since, he is portrayed as a bunch of things, but of course the media picks the most sensational stuff, and so I sometimes have believed him to be a nut-job of the highest order.

I realize that I am human, and when I hear enough about something or someone in the media, I’ll tend to pick up whatever slant is presented most often. It is a fact of our psychology, and it is hard to avoid.

My current opinion of Al Gore, is mostly that I’m sick and tired of Al Gore.

When I came across an interview, I decided to watch, to hear something about Al Gore that didn’t come filtered thru the media. This is Al Gore in the words of Al Gore.

It is an interesting interview, and I’m really glad I watched. The interview only briefly touches on climate issues. The rest of it was really fascinating.

Things I liked:

  1. “Information Superhighway”: He didn’t invent the internet, but he did coin the phrase.
  2. His relationship with Steve Jobs, being on Apple and Google boards.
  3. His discussion about how our democracy has been “hacked” into not functioning as the founding fathers intended.
  4. Edward Snowden: Not a hero, broke the laws, but did us a huge service in exposing constitutional violations that probably make the NSA less effective in doing its job.

It is long, but I enjoyed the whole thing. Watch it here:

Porsche Boxster

I’m sad. I don’t fit in a Porsche Boxster.

DemiCon 25 Photos

I carried my camera around for a couple of hours at DemiCon. I wasn’t very serious about taking photos. Most of them were shot in insufficient lighting with the camera in ‘P’rogram mode. So most photos were done wide open, and thus most photos had about 1/8th of an inch depth-of-field, usually focused on the tip of the nose. There were strange shadows. I was manually focusing, but didn’t care enough to actually focus all the time. People moved.

But a few came out nicely enough to share with the world at large, I think. I didn’t adjust white balance, but I did crop a few quickly.

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Wasps

On Wednesday I looked up at the window over my desk, and there was a wasp flying around against the blinds. It took me a while of following it around, but I killed it with a fly-swatter in the kitchen.

Today (Friday) as I was getting a glass of water at the kitchen sink, I saw a wasp shaped shadow on the curtains over the sink. I killed that one with the fly-swatter too, and then a second one flew out at me. After following it around the kitchen for a couple of minutes, I managed to kill it as well.

That’s three in two days. Gonna have to look at the house, to see if I can figure out what’s going on. Off the top of my head, I’m guessing they are either coming in thru the range hood vent, or thru the badly-hung back door. Or the fireplace. Never used it, so never even think of it.

Guess I’ll let the landlord know tomorrow too.

Start Button and Other Damage

startbutton

Car goes in next week for a new “Start Engine Stop” button. The foil is peeling off, and it is a warranty fix, so I’m gonna let them fix it before the car is out of warranty next month.

More serious tho, is the rattle under the car. They found it is a heavy steal cross-member that is bent, and contacting the exhaust pipe. They said you’d have to hit a pretty big rock or something with the full weight of the car to bend this thing. It is part of the bracing for torsional rigidity, and is heavy enough that they had no way to bend it back. It needs to be replaced.

That’s not warranty work, and is probably a 7- or $800 fix. Now to decide if that’s far enough above the $500 deductible that it is worth doing as an insurance thing. I’m curious what a body shop would say about it tho. Maybe they have a big jig of some sort that they can just bend it back for cheap. If it does end up being an insurance thing, might be time to get the second set of deer dents taken care of, too.

First Post!

Going to give this blogging thing a try for a year, I think. Again. At assorted times, I get an itch to write a blog post, and you can do that here. But who knows if I’ll actually post anything after this. I won’t know unless I try.

And it isn’t outrageously expensive, or overly complicated. It is cheaper than a World of Warcraft subscription, and only mildly complicated.

Note: First post on the Squarespace site.

A Health Update

It has been pointed out that posting a title of “Salmonella” and then nothing for 2 months could be a cause for worry. I figure no news is good news, but whatever. Mea culpa.

The cipro did wonders. I felt better the next day, and pretty much cured of all harmful symptoms by Monday. The cipro didn’t do a number on me either, which was good.

A couple of weeks after all that, I got a cold.

Salmonella

Yesterday morning, I had a Clif bar for breakfast, which was a new thing for me. I got two boxes of the chocolate peanut butter bars in the last grocery shipment. I didn’t want the chocolate ones, but whatever, I’ll get the ones I want next order. All part of the Wookie Improvement Project, to eat differently.

Wednesday afternoon, I was feeling a little pukey, so I left work early to get some sleep, since I had to get up early Thursday. I got home tonight, after having suffered thru all day of “stomach flu” symptoms, and checked my email. FreshDirect sent an important email saying that something I bought had been recalled because the FDA was investigating some peanut company for salmonella.

I have every, fucking, symptom of salmonella. And two boxes of recalled Clif bars in the cupboard. Go figure.

Supposedly, it usually goes away in less than a week. (Oh joy, should be an exiting weekend.) But I’m going to go check in with my doctor tomorrow morning anyway. Just in case. The biggest imediate danger seems to be dehydration, which I seem to be able to keep ahead of so far.

EDIT: Doctor says antibiotics and Gatorade. When I asked him (not my doctor, she wasn’t in today) about having too many anti-biotics, he recommended I take them, because it can be serious and I do have all the symptoms including, it turns out, a mild fever.

The Tube

I now own a 46” Sony XBR4 LCD television. A flat-screen. Can I still call it a “tube”? How about a “boob tube”?

“Boob tube” just flows off the tongue. I’d hate to have to give up a perfectly good slang term.

I Think... I'm Turning Into a Mutant of Some Kind

Something strange has happened to me, and I’m not quite sure what to make of it.

The housekeeper came today, and made the Wookie Improvement Plan Location (my apartment) spic ‘n’ span, and lemony fresh. Today at work was kind of long, and I have a 2 day meeting Thurs-Fri that I’m dreading. So when I got home, I just wanted to chill, make a sandwich, drink a beer maybe, watch some inauguration coverage on the tube, and not go downstairs and get some exercise.

So imagine my surprise to discover I was hunting thru the clean clothes the housekeeper washed for me to find shorts to work out in. Then imagine my surprise to find myself in the elevator to the basement. And even more surprised to find myself on a treadmill, going nowhere at 3.5 MPH up a 3% grade while watching “The Biggest Looser” on the TV with no sound.

I didn’t want to go down there. It wasn’t in the plan. The Biggest Looser was not what I wanted to be watching. But for some reason, I did it anyway.

And that kind of thing is just so unlike me, I’m not sure I approve.