Category Archives: Future trends

Please make it okay for KITT to drive itself around

Driverless vehicles are coming. A clear legal framework will make them come all the sooner, and there’s an opportunity to make autonomous vehicles as safe as passenger aircraft.

Don't drive a car like a smuck, get the car to drive you!

Don’t drive a car like a smuck, get the car to drive you!

Make the manufacturer(1) solely responsible for all liabilities incurred by the vehicle, driverless or not. Transfer this liability to anyone who modifies the vehicle without manufacturer approval(2) – covering up sensors, adding systems, modifying software etc. While autonomous, fines for driving infractions are the responsibility of the manufacturer; demerit points are treated as unidentified and the fine for failing to identify the driver is payable by the manufacturer. Annual vehicle registration fees(3) remain payable by the vehicle owner, but third party insurance costs – personal and property – are remitted to the manufacturer, who could be expected to pay you to… not drive the car – if you drive the car, that creates an uncontrollable liability, but if the car drives itself then the risks are only those that are those due to the product, which presumably would lead to product improvement to decrease crashes and injury.

How would you force owners of cars that are the liability of someone else to properly maintain them? Simple; you make the manufacturer cover maintenance costs too – tyres, servicing etc. So now we’re getting to the point where we ask: what are people paying for cars that they only have to cover the running expenses for? How does the manufacturer recoup the cost of maintenance? Doesn’t really matter, but I think you’ll see that driverless cars will only be able to be leased, or hired, or rented, or some other such model. They’d basically be taxis – paid for by time and distance.

Every driverless crash will be investigated by a federal body – the Australian Transport Safety Bureau. To aid investigations, vehicles will be required to detect crashes and refuse to function after them; extensive data logging like on aircraft will be mandated. Because of the lack of humans involved, crashes come down to systems failure and the crash rate should be highly controllable.

 

Fly, KITT, fly

(1) Autonomous vehicle manufacturers might baulk at these plans to make them directly fiscally responsible for their products. Fine; they could instead put an insurance/finance company in as the responsible entity, but whomever is responsible would have to prove to the government their capability to meet their contingent liabilities.

(2) That is, you can hack your car if you want. But if you do, you wear the (potentially quite substantial) risks associated with having done so. Find an insurance company that’s willing to cover you (ha!).

Have you played thePopulation: Tire game? If not, you haven't lived.

Have you played thePopulation: Tire game? If not, you haven’t lived.

(3) Why do we charge registration fees? Owning a car doesn’t impose any costs on society. Driving it does; parking it does. There ought to be taxes on… tyres. The consumption of tyres by a vehicle is roughly correlated to the wear and tear on infrastructure and other externalities. Motorbikes, two tyres; semis eighteen or more. There are already taxes on fuel, again because of externalities – and presumably, because they’re easy-to-levy taxes that are hard to avoid. But infrastructure wear is not a function of fuel consumption, but it is a function of using tyres. The problem with a tyre tax is that people will naturally buy tyres that last a long time, rather than other considerations – for example braking efficiency; to address this some wear factor ought to be applied too.

Summer 2013/2014 starts

The current 7-day forecast for Melbourne:

Friday   30 August           Max 20 Shower or two.
Saturday 31 August    Min 12 Max 23 Sunny.
Sunday    1 September Min 15 Max 25 Partly cloudy.
Monday    2 September Min 12 Max 23 Partly cloudy.
Tuesday   3 September Min 11 Max 25 Partly cloudy.
Wednesday 4 September Min 16 Max 26 Shower or two developing.
Thursday  5 September Min 16 Max 20 Shower or two.

I declare summer whenever there’s going to be 7 consecutive days in a row above 19 degrees.  Previously, the earliest Summer has started was mid-September, but typically it’s been moving forward from October or November.

Remember we’ve got an election coming up in a week’s time, and that’s your opportunity to repeal the carbon tax.  Which we need to do, to keep lovely balmy weather happening in winter-time and to keep the cost-of-living down.  Remember: carbon-dioxide is food for plants, and as such good for the environment, which is made out of plants. That’s just science.

ABC's Labor bias: Vote Compass

I am a single issue voter. I'm not proud to admit being so shallow, but there it is.  If there was a party that wanted to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2020 and also drown kittens, I'd be in like Flynn - and not because I dislike kittens either. Perhaps it's because I take a root-cause view of the world.  Immigration problems?  Address climate change or it's going to get much, much worse. Not spending enough on education? Not much point in edumacation if the climate collapses around us and we're up to our ears in climate refugees. Wrong telecommunications plan? Choosing between having enough food and downloading porn faster than you can watch it doesn't seem to be much of a choice to me.

So, naturally I thought that the ABC's Vote Compass wouldn't have much trouble pigeonholing me. Except, it tells me my views align more closely with the ALP.  Although at one stage in its questioning it allows you to weight the importance of issues (which I gave as 1-3 for most, 4 for a couple and 10 for environmental) this clearly… doesn't carry any weight. The anemic 5% by 2020 cut embraced by the two major parties means neither will get my vote, regardless of the technique to “achieve” such a “challenging” target.

And yet Vote Compass thinks I'd make a good ALP voter.  I think not.  The ABC's Labour bias at it again.

zp8497586rq

Christmas, already?

In Coles on the weekend, I bought (from an enormous stack) this season's Fruit Mince Pies.

At the start of August.

Only five months to go before this particular seasonal treat is only on the shelves for a couple of post-Christmas months as stocks are wound down.

This is getting ridiculous.

zp8497586rq

Flooding with water

So, looking at properties, and a number are down on the floodplain near the local moving body of water, a river/creek.  I wonder to myself if the area is at any risk from floodwater; should I even bother looking at the area?

The council, being the government body most connected to the area, ought to know.  It doesn't; it can't tell me except to tell me if a specific property has a flood-overlay, which says that modelling has determined that it is at risk of a 1 in 100 year flood.

What is the 1 in 100 year flood event?

The 1 in 100 year flood event is the storm that happens on
average once every one hundred years (or a 1% chance of
occurring in any given year).

Now, that means in any given year there's a 99% chance you're not going to get flooded.  In 100 years, that means a 0.99100 or a 36.6% chance of not getting flooded. A 2/3 chance of having water washing through your home at some point there.  Basically, that's a guarantee that in the next century your home will be damper than normal – because the 1 in 100 year events are calculated off historic data, not forward climate models.  And the forward models say that things are only going to get more extreme; have you noticed how 1 in 100 year events seem to happen to the same place every decade or so?

In fact, pretty much anyone you talk to – water utilities for example – will only talk about 1 in 100 events. Vital government infrastructure (stuff that has to keep operating the event of a flood disaster, like hospitals and my home) has to be above the 1 in 500 line. From what I'm told, they calculate this on a site-by-site basis rather than having a map (they're not building a bunch of new hospitals, so it's easier that way).  Sites aren't rated as being 1 in 110 year, you're either in the 100 year box or not rated at all.

The gist of what I was able to read into the subtext of the hints being passed in my conversation with a town planner specializing in flooding was: Floodplains get flooded, even in cities, even if there's a wetlands further upriver that could absorb a sudden influx of water, even if the sides of the creek are quite steep and the channel is surprisingly broad, and even if there are barricades; If you don't like that, don't live there.

So I won't.  It makes searching for a home so much easier, even if the homes out of the floodplain are more expensive and built on those annoyingly sloped hill things.

Actually, this reminds me of the 1972 Elizabeth St Floods my Mum told me about getting caught in. I would never have guessed a major street in our CBD could turn into a river – and then it happened again in 2010.

zp8497586rq

iPod Touch and the 'classic' geek blunder

The most famous blunder of all time, according to Vizzini from the Princess Bride, is “never get involved in a land war in Asia” but the most famous blunder, I think, for a geek is not to research fully the geek tech they are going to buy.

I treated myself to an 16Gb iPod Touch yesterday, I've been meaning to get an iPod for a few years and being a user of iTunes at home for my music collection it was a logical step. The iPod Touch is a great little device, not too heavy and has a great screen but hey you already know that because “we” geeks have read all the reviews, and if lucky enough to have a nearby Apple Store we've had a play with one.

So late yesterday afternoon I took a spin down Pitt Street here in Sydney to Next Bytes (Apple Reseller) and purchased my iPod Touch, I even bought a nice silicon protector for it. I resisted the urge to open it and play with it on the trip home and ripped the packaging off once I was in front of my PC.

Continue reading

Renewable, now, goddamnit!

Although Australia's electricity is amongst the dirtiest in the world,

[Richard Elkington] said there was genuine bipartisan support at state and federal level for the development of clean coal technology. “In the absence of nuclear, what is really the alternative?” he said.

What's the alternative? Taking your hand off it for a start.

Wind. Tidal. Geothermal. Solar (not PV, that's not economic). Coupled with hydro.

Sure, wind, tidal and solar are unsuitable for baseload generation. Geothermal would be fine for that, New Zealand has been running geothermal powerstations for more than thirty years -it's a proven technology. Perhaps it's too expensive to drill the necessary holes in Australia, we're not on top of the ring of fire like NZ is.

There's nothin

http://goexback.com/ How to win back your ex

g stopping you pumping water back into a hydroelectric dam using the fluctuating power generated by wind, tidal and solar plants, and then using the potential energy of the water in that dam as an energy buffer to smooth out generation. For example, solar could pump water during the day, to run the dam at night. All proven, tested, real zero emission technolgies. Windmills have been around for hundreds of years, along with dams. Getting power out of them has been around for a hundred. We know how to do it, really efficiently.

No need for thirsty nuclear, or pixies-at-the-bottom-of-the-garden “clean” coal. “Clean” coal solutions require the rebuilding of power stations (at enormous cost) anyway, so why not build a windmill rather than a smokestack, if the environmental effect is going to be the same (note: “clean” coal still puts out CO2).

It's just a matter of the politicians pulling their fingers out and making it happen. Don't expect that anytime soon.

zp8497586rq
zp8497586rq

SecondLife vs Facebook

Don't get me wrong, I like the concept of SecondLife. And I know some people are really into it. But wandering around an empty virtual world is pretty underwhelming.

This article about the success of Facebook's applications platform and its growing population got me thinking… with Facebook's population booming, and SecondLife's slumping, I reckon some of those organisations that spent a bundle setting up shop in Second Life must be wondering why they didn't put their efforts into Facebook instead.

How much taxpayers' money did the ABC waste building that island, for instance? We do know that a free spell to guarantee getting your wife backref=”http://www.news.com.au/heraldsun/story/0,21985,22571639-2862,00.html”>City of Melbourne project cost around $100,000.

It's not surprising the ABC Island has had barely any visitors: some figures (from February) suggest there are only about 3000 Australians on SL. Compare that with almost 2 million on Facebook, and I know where I'd be building my applications. Do you want to potentially reach a tenth of the population (and growing) or 0.015% of it?

Now, if Facebook come up with a virtual meeting place to chat to your friends (and friends of friends), then I reckon they'd kill SecondLife stone dead.

zp8497586rq
zp8497586rq

Does Second Life have a limited lifespan?

While some are suggesting Linden Labs is suffocating Second Life, and holding a meeting (in Second Life, of course) to discuss it, others are wondering (and I’m among them) why companies are marketing in Second Life given the tiny population and small numbers of sales for those who’ve tried it:

The virtual branded locations that sounded so impressive in the pages of BusinessWeek are basic and devoid of visitors. … American Apparel has all but given up on its virtual store, citing the criticism it has received and “insignificant” sales.

Is it like a Gold Rush, and they have to stake their claim before someone else gets it? Maybe, maybe not… but shouldn’t the priority of marketing people be to push their product where there’s an actual audience?

If SL is really becoming so deserted, I wonder if it has virtual tumbleweeds?

Kodak’s back

I know this one has done the rounds, but it’s pretty damn funny, as well as evidently giving a glimpse of what Kodak have been up to…

He alludes to Kodak’s chequered history with digital cameras… it turns out Kodak invented them in 1975, but didn’t start selling them until 2001.

Twitter hype

Wait a minute, wait a minute… maybe I’m missing something… all this hype about Twitter, letting people know what you’re doing right now… Scoble posted how people on Twitter reported the Mexico quake first…

It’s just IRC with archives, a web frontend and a mobile phone interface, isn’t it?

Seriously, those of us on IRC during the first Gulf War back in 1990-91 would watch the Israelis posting about Scud Missiles raining down on their cities.

Real-time citizen reporting is not a great leap forwards. It’s been around for decades.

So what’s so different about Twitter? Or is it just another case of a new, shiny, evolving (but not revolutionary) thing getting all the hype?