New York and Chill

The Grand Ave subway station in northeast Queens is a madhouse at 7:15 am. Young people tryna get to school, grownups tryna get to work; it’s crowded; it’s uncivil; nobody gives way; nobody is polite; elbows are out; people are squished; if I don’t get on this train I’m gonna be LATE. (Continual delays and disruptions  are a microagression against all New Yorkers, but I’ll let others moan about that).

However, the same station at 7:00 am is nice. It’s tranquil. It’s quiet. It’s peaceful. There’s a place to stand, maybe even a seat.

So I leave my house much earlier than I need to, just to have a peaceful ride to the city.  I spend the extra time at Starbucks composing original content for all you fine people.

So yes, I’d rather wake up earlier, and get to work earlier, in order to have extra time to chill.

How is your commute? Would you leave your house earlier just to avoid unpleasantness?


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AI Can’t Drive

The previous discussion about AI put me in mind of the accident in which a self-driving car hit and killed a pedestrian last March. This was of particular interest to me because, at that time, I was evaluating some lidar technology for this application for some investors.

Uber vehicle post-collision (from NTSB report)

Details were sketchy shortly after the accident. It was clear that the overall system failed but it was unclear which part. It was hard to believe that the sensors were not able to detect the presence of the pedestrian in time even though the street was dark. After a few months it became evident that the AI was at fault, not the sensors.

According to the preliminary NTSB report,

The vehicle was factory equipped with several advanced driver assistance functions by Volvo Cars, the original manufacturer. The systems included a collision avoidance function with automatic emergency braking, known as City Safety, as well as functions for detecting driver alertness and road sign information. All these Volvo functions are disabled when the test vehicle is operated in computer control but are operational when the vehicle is operated in manual control.

Therefore, safety was in the hands of Uber’s AI system. While the sensors detected the pedestrian’s presence six seconds before impact, while the vehicle was traveling at 43 mph (20 m/s), there was almost no attempt to slow the car; impact was at 39 mph. Instead, the system only decided that there was cause to apply the brakes at 1.3 sec before impact, which would not have been enough time to stop. The human operator, who had previously been watching TV instead of the road, finally took action less than one second before impact.

Even though “…the self-driving system determined that an emergency braking maneuver was needed to mitigate a collision,” it turns out that “…emergency braking maneuvers are not enabled while the vehicle is under computer control, to reduce the potential for erratic vehicle behavior.” This somewhat hysterically-titled article in The Guardian (I know, I know) fleshes out some more details. Ignoring the hysteria and other silly aspects in the Guardian piece, it seems that the algorithm was unable to distinguish a valid hazard from something spurious. Or, as we say in remote sensing, to distinguish signal from clutter. Any human would have had no trouble determining that this was a person pushing a bicycle, or at least something worthy of a panic stop.

The AI system failed to solve the classification problem. Classification is key because it requires a judgment: deciding which detections are worthy of action. If the judgment errs too often on the side of caution, the ride is jerky with many sudden changes in the motion. If it goes the other way, someone gets killed.

Opinions can reasonably differ on whether computer-generated voices are realistic. The situation is less ambiguous for self-driving cars. While computers have managed to excel in games with rules on a well-defined domain (chess, go), the real world is far more varied and unpredictable. Humans in the wild do not obey all the rules and often do unexpected things. The accident victim was crossing the street illegally, away from an intersection, and may have been under the influence of drugs. AI guys, this problem is harder than you think.

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Vacation Ramble from the Curmudgeon and the Red Headed Irish Wisecracker

Just got back from the latest vacation after driving 600 miles from Montana to Oregon in ten hours. I am both tired and wired.

Itinerary: We drove up for a quick grandchildren visit in Seattle with the three girls 8,6 and 4. Delivered each a complete set of Incredibles 2 toys from McDonald’s (courtesy of Grandpa hitting six locations in a week to get all the characters). Once again had a big hit.

Lit out for the border, allowed in despite being an admitted knife owner, and headed northwest into British Columbia, stayed in Kamloops, (Not a breakfast cereal).

On to Jasper National Park in Alberta. Many natural wonders to behold.

A wondrous and awe filled journey down the Icefields Parkway, which runs the spine of the Canadian Rockies from Jasper Park in the north to Banff Park in the south and runs up to 6800 ft above sea level.

Stayed in Banff at a very classy place, treated ourselves to Victorian Luxury in service, atmosphere and food.

Lit out for the US border into Montana and revisited Glacier National Park which we had seen thirty years earlier.

Drove Going to The Sun Road across Glacier Nat Park.

Woke up in Kalispell MT, 605 miles from home in Oregon and drove it today on one tank of gas.

Still tired and wired.

Ground covered- 2685 miles, five hotels from Super 8 to Five Diamond class.

Casualties- One Windshield, One tire

See pics.

First- The wildlife knew their lines, made well rehearsed entrances and put on a good show. All these were shot from the truck window with no telephoto.

Then we suffered from Vacation Interruptus- a truck threw a rock chip into the windshield of the Faithful 150 and a small starburst crack turned into a three foot slice within an hour. We added a day, and the local Ford dealer suggested a little glass shop just outside the park. Next morning, I was there, drank coffee for 90 minutes while a very competent auto glass guy got the windshield in, connected the embedded sensors to the truck network so I could sense rain, maintain lane and sundry other stuff the windshield does for me. Even my insurance worked, so I just paid my $100 deductible in Canadian and was off.

Our highlight was one of the World’s best scenic drives- the Icefields Parkway. You climb almost 4000 feet over 140 miles and there is a photo of awesome nature in every mile. Do it.

On our way back to the States, about thirty miles out from Cut Bank Montana, just on the edge of the Blackfoot Indian Res. We were barreling down a two lane and my dash flashed a low tire pressure warning. My diagnostics panel showed my left rear tire was running at 28 pounds to the other three’s 40, and seemed to be dropping a pound every ten minutes or so. (I was still rolling hot down the road).

So we decided to keep rolling and make it to town. We did with 24 pounds left.

The tire place in town was just closed, but the guy told me to bring her in at 7am the next morning (Saturday) and he would open up and fix it.

On the next morning, of course the tire is flat, so I grab the inflator from the toolbox, plug it into the dc outlet and bring it back up to 40 pounds. Rolled down to the tire place and the owner waved me right in. He apparently had been working at tires since high school and he was my age, so he was what you could call a Master Craftsman of Tire Repair. He and his Blackfoot sidekick worked their magic, plugged the hole made by a small jagged piece of iron, remounted it and I was on my way, happy to pay the whole of $15.00 American, as requested.

I ran the diagnostics the whole trip over Going to the Sun Road and the tire never lost a bit of pressure.

It was great to see real folks who know what the heck they are doing and happy to do it.

Lesson learned from the trip. Even though I was tethered to work by the magic of the interwebs, it was easy to run that from my mind and refocus on the scenery, the sights and the people we met.

It was a good thing.

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What was your first “NEW” car?

Well, mine was bought new in 1972, while I was on active duty in the Army, in Corpus Christi Texas, it cost $2,800. I took it home and after a few days had to take it back because the finance company backed out. I had a loaner for a week and then financed it through Beneficial Finance, (are they still around?). I had it through the 70’s and it finally gave up the ghost in the early 80’s. At best I clocked over 50 MPG! I had it behind the house, where I was working on it, then had a marriage break up. She sold the car for scrap I think. So what was it?

Continue reading “What was your first “NEW” car?”


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A View From The Deplorable Culture

Starbucks, always much in the news and on the lips for the wanna be elites prides itself as the gathering place where the elite meet to transact business over burned and expensive coffee as a vehicle for sugar delivery.

I have spent my time meeting a certain class of clients at such places, usually off the rush hours. It has all the aspects of a tribal place, with the common rituals and intonations.

My current clientele is more oriented to construction trades and manufacturing. Their place to meet seems to be the ubiquitous Golden Arches.

I had to meet my excavator in Chapter 11 client today to exchange data and a review of upcoming contracts he is bidding. He chose the usual place and I pulled up in my F150 around 10am. It seemed the parking lot was about 90% similar Fords, Rams, Silverados, all fairly new with a variety of racking rigs.

Inside it was guys and gals in jeans with laptops, blueprints and folders of bids and RFQs, all reviewing stuff with a serious eye over black coffee and egg mcmuffins.

McDonalds even had a hostess who walked around refreshing coffee and greeting the patrons.

I looked out at the Starbucks across the parking lot and wondered if the cultures would keep moving farther apart, like galaxies after the big bang.

One parking lot full of Beemers, Priusi and Volvos, the other Pickup trucks.

Heck, at least the coffee is not burned beyond recognition at the Arches, and still a dollar a cup with free refills.

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Weekend Reconnection

After a high anxiety week with court, vendor fraud, and such, coupled with virtual popcorn munching at the deep state stuck in the rat trap, it was time to get away.

We took the F150 Travel Cruiser and decided to see the sunset over the Pacific.

Continue reading “Weekend Reconnection”


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Inspiring Falcon Heavy Launch

During these times, when uplifting inspiration is in very short supply (my current motto is “No matter how cynical I get, I just can’t keep up”), the launch of Falcon Heavy literally brought tears to my eyes. Through the things I have learned from other ‘Burgers, I have a sense of the magnitude of the engineering work which has sent the business end of this creation into an elliptical solar orbit which will intersect with that of Mars. It is the human ingenuity and collaboration behind the launch which I find so inspiring. The event was followed by three exclamation points, in the form of the upright landings of the three booster cores.

The payload, a red (purportedly Elon Musk’s) Tesla roadster with a glorified crash dummy in a spacesuit, is whimsical to the max. It is accompanied by  the latest and greatest data storage disc, one designed to endure, to tell of human achievements and to be sent wherever we eventually go in space. Lest we be badly misunderstood by an errant E.T., I hope it explains that the red car is not really a human space conveyance.

Seriously, I was very moved by this event. Again, thanks to the understanding gleaned from members of this site, it makes the success of the Apollo program – using materials, methods and computers (don’t laugh at them even though you have a more powerful one in your pocket) from the technological bronze age – perhaps even more incredible in retrospect. I am savoring having a few moments in which I can feel upbeat. I suspect it will soon pass. Actually, it just did. You see, I just caught a glimpse of Charles Schumer on TV out of the corner of my eye. He is speaking… (gloom). There may or may not be life in space. I am poignantly reminded low forms of life surely exist here on Earth and crawls out with some regularity from beneath rocks.

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Falcon Heavy

SpaceX Falcon Heavy

The first launch of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy is currently scheduled for Tuesday, 2018-02-06, with a two and a half hour launch window which opens at 18:30 UTC and closes at 21:00 UTC (since this is a test flight which need not enter a precise orbit, the launch time is not critical).  If the launch is postponed, the same launch window will be used on successive days, subject to availability of the range.  The Sunday weather forecast predicts 80% probability of favourable conditions for launch during the Tuesday window.

Falcon Heavy consists of three first stage cores derived from the existing Falcon 9 first stage.  The centre core is specially strengthened to accommodate the structural loads of the boosters and heavier payload, and to attach the two side boosters, which are slightly modified Falcon 9 first stages (in fact, the two boosters to be used on this flight have previously flown on SpaceX Falcon 9 missions).  The three cores ignite simultaneously on the launch pad, with a total of 27 Merlin 1D engines, nine on each core, providing liftoff thrust of 22,819 kN (5.13 million pounds of thrust).  This compares to the 34,000 kN thrust of the Saturn V moon rocket, and 30,255 for the Space Shuttle (main engines plus solid rocket boosters).

But what matters isn’t thrust, but rather a launcher’s ability to deliver payload to where the customer wants it.  Here, the Falcon Heavy, if it works, will become the heaviest lift launcher in service.  Here, I’ll compare payload to low Earth orbit (LEO), since that’s the fairest comparison of launchers: regardless of the ultimate destination, any rocket must first achieve orbital velocity.  The Saturn V could put 140 tonnes into LEO, while the Space Shuttle had a maximum payload of 24.4 tonnes (the reusable orbiter itself weighed 78 tonnes, but does not count as payload).  Falcon Heavy can launch 63.8 tonnes to LEO, more than twice the payload of its closest competitor, the Delta IV Heavy (28.79 tonnes).  Russia’s Proton M+ has a payload capacity of 23 tonnes, while the European Ariane 5 can deliver 21 tonnes to LEO.

This test flight will not carry a payload for a customer.  Many things which can only be tested in flight, particularly the structural loads and aerodynamics of the three core first stage at max Q and separation of the two side boosters from the core (which runs at reduced thrust from shortly after liftoff until separation, and then throttles up to full thrust for the remainder of its burn), and customers who require this kind of lift capability aren’t likely to risk their payloads on a first flight.  Instead, Falcon Heavy will be carrying a car.

Falcon Heavy payload

This is Elon Musk’s Tesla Roadster with its Starman test dummy on board, attached to the Falcon Heavy payload adapter.  It will be enclosed in the payload fairing for launch and, if the mission is successful, injected into an orbit around the Sun which will venture as far from the Sun as the orbit of Mars (but will not approach the planet).  The payload serves only as a mass simulator, but has a lot more style than the usual steel or tungsten dummy payload carried on inaugural flights of other launchers.

The three first stage cores are intended to be recovered.  After separating from the centre core, the two side boosters will return to the landing zone at Cape Canaveral for near-simultaneous landings.  The centre core will fly downrange and land on the drone ship in the Atlantic.

The second stage is identical to that of the Falcon 9.  Once the side boosters separate, a Falcon Heavy mission is essentially identical to that of Falcon 9; the white knuckle part will be from liftoff through booster separation.

You can watch a live webcast of the launch attempt on the SpaceX Web site.  Coverage usually starts  around 20 minutes before the scheduled launch time.


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Toyota COMS EV

There is a Meals on Wheels service over here. The company usually uses a three wheeler with a trunk on it to delivers the meals to elderly people. Then it happened. I was driving and saw one of these. (I found a picture of a 7-Eleven one.)

I was wondering who made the thing? How fast and how far on a charge? I tried to search on the Internet but couldn’t find it. So I decided to go to the Meals on Wheels company parking lot and check it out further.  Here’s the info.

Toyota COMS EV

Price:  About $10,000

Range:  31 miles

Max Speed:  38 mph

Charging time at 100V: 6 hours

Cost per charge: $1.50

I was hoping for better specs but what do you expect for $10,000.

Here is some more info.

 

First Vehicle

I put vehicle in the title to allow for motorcycles or boats. Stu who is from Canada might put up sled. I think a Member is from Africa so elephants will be allowed.

My first car was a white Chevy II. It had a flat six and I think the same basic model became known as a Nova a few years later. The two things I remember about it was. It took twice as many turns of the steering wheel to turn a corner and it had a generator rather than a alternator. Oh, there was one more thing. In the Owner’s Manual it said I could start the think on a dead battery by putting it into Neutral and getting the thing up to 40 mph.

http://img.favcars.com/chevrolet/chevy-ii/chevrolet_chevy-ii_1962_pictures_1_b.jpg


How about you? What was your first ride?


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