Thursday, May 24, 2018

Unless You Don't Program Them To Do That

I've long said safety isn't the real issue with self-driving cars, in that if they work they'll be safe enough, and that programming them not to hit things has to be the bare minimum easiest thing to do. Even this isn't *that* easy as there is a bit of a problem at high speeds. They don't actually see that far ahead at the moment. Still. "If see object, brake or turn." Not hard.

Unless, of course, you don't tell them to do that.

Uber’s vehicle used Volvo software to detect external objects. Six seconds before striking Herzberg, the system detected her but didn’t identify her as a person. The car was traveling at 43 mph.

The system determined 1.3 seconds before the crash that emergency braking would be needed to avert a collision. But the vehicle did not respond, striking Herzberg at 39 mph.

And why was that? Oh.

According to Uber, emergency braking maneuvers are not enabled while the vehicle is under computer control, to reduce the potential for erratic vehicle behavior. The vehicle operator is relied on to intervene and take action. The system is not designed to alert the operator.

There's a lot of chatter about where exactly the civil liability is going to fall for these things. What about the criminal liability?

Afternoon Thread


Shuttle Buses

Building cars is actually very hard and the idea that Apple was going to build its own car (self-driving or not) was always a bit... let's say, ambitious... but the degree to which their ambitions have faltered reflect not just this but their failure to pay me $10 million dollars to tell them "this is stupid, don't do this."

Instead, Apple has signed a deal with Volkswagen to turn some of the carmaker’s new T6 Transporter vans into Apple’s self-driving shuttles for employees — a project that is behind schedule and consuming nearly all of the Apple car team’s attention, said three people familiar with the project.

I'm sure one day we will all upload our brains into robot bodies, but until around that time "self-driving cars" will mostly be segways. Neato, some interesting niche applications, but even where they "work" they'll not live up to the promise of their boosters. Even self-driving technology long haul trucking, which I can see "working" to some degree (specific routes, dedicated transhipment center to transhipment center), probably won't actually get rid of the drivers.

The article documents the long decline of Apple's ambitions, which because Apple everyone thought would revolutionize the world. I know I'm a bit of an Apple cynic, but aside from that they do have a history of failures which people forget about. Not that there's anything wrong with that, aside from a generally uncritical tech press about everything they do.

From 2015:

Apple is building a self-driving car in Silicon Valley, and is scouting for secure locations in the San Francisco Bay area to test it, the Guardian has learned. Documents show the oft-rumoured Apple car project appears to be further along than many suspected.

(ht reader jo)

We All Are, My Friend, We All Are

But The Coin

So predictable.

"Affordable Housing"

I hate this phrase because nobody ever defines what it means and almost nobody has a coherent view about what it would take for such a thing to exist. Yes there's a precise federal definition of it - related to local median incomes - but that isn't what most people who use the term mean. It's a term that means whatever people want it to mean!

All good people agree that people should be able to afford places to live (even if they can't afford anything). I don't object to that. But the "affordable housing" conversation is quite often directed at new construction, which is the weirdest place to focus on affordability. Building new construction is expensive and acquiring the land to build it on in high rent areas is also really expensive. It's the most expensive way to think about providing "affordable housing." Also, new construction has to face contemporary neighborhood concerns and contemporary land use regulations (without arguing these are good or bad they also make things more expensive!). Construction codes (safey, etc.) get ratcheted up regularly and while, again, this does not make them bad it makes new construction more expensive.

Locally the conversation tends to go something like this: developer proposes something (There aren't a lot of big plots in Philly, so most developments aren't massive. We aren't talking about razing neighborhoods or even blocks for things). The neighborhood group objects. Often people say they want more "affordable housing." Also, they want more parking. Also, they want single family homes (rowhouses, so attached single family, but still).

The thing is, granite countertops just don't cost much money relative to the whole. All new construction is "luxury" as you will notice if you read your local real estate listings. Not because they have golden toilets (or granite counter tops), but just because they're new.

The only way to make market rate housing affordable - and I'm zeroing out developer profits here - is to build smaller units and with less land/unit (no parking). Sure you can skip the granite counter tops, too, but that doesn't actually save much.

If I ran the zoo I'd build massive amounts of public housing along the British "council housing" model. But I don't.

Morning Thread

Fasten your seat belts, it's going to be a bumpy morning.

The Prez will be on his favorite television show at 6:00 a.m.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Evening Thread


Just A Setback

Light some more money (and lives) on fire.

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Uber has shut down its self-driving car operation in Arizona two months after a fatal crash involving one of its vehicles, the company said on Wednesday.

Uber Technologies Inc [UBER.UL] is not shuttering its entire autonomous vehicle program, a spokeswoman said, adding that it will focus on limited testing in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and two cities in California. It aims to resume self-driving operations this summer, likely with smaller routes and fewer cars.

“We’re committed to self-driving technology, and we look forward to returning to public roads in the near future,” the spokeswoman said.

Uber knows how to throw the money around.

Uber’s behind-the-scenes efforts to court Ducey, and the governor’s apparent willingness to satisfy the company, is made clear in the emails, which were sent between 2015 and 2007 and obtained by the Guardian through public records requests.

They reveal how Uber offered workspace for Ducey’s staff in San Francisco, praised the governor lavishly, and promised to bring money and jobs to his state. Ducey, meanwhile, helped Uber deal with other officials in Arizona, issued decrees that were friendly to the company, tweeted out an advert at the company’s request, and even seems to have been open to wearing an Uber T-shirt at an official event.

Philip Roth, RIP

I'm no Rothologist. I quickly counted that I'd read 7 of his novels. I thought Portnoy's Complaint was dumb and The Plot Against America was overrated and unsatisfying. The other 5 I thought were great. I think the books I read weren't his more dick lit-ish ones, for which many great white men authors of a certain generation have received an overdue backlash due to their creepiness and cluelessness about women (charitably). I don't know how anybody can read Updike, and not just because of that.

That time is long ago and far away, but I thought this passage from The Human Stain captured a certain moment.
The summer that Coleman took me into his confidence about Faunia Farley and their secret was the summer, fittingly enough, that Bill Clinton's secret emerged in every last mortifying detail—every last lifelike detail, the livingness, like the mortification, exuded by the pungency of the specific data. We hadn't had a season like it since somebody stumbled upon the new Miss America nude in an old issue of Penthouse, pictures of her elegantly posed on her knees and on her back that forced the shamed young woman to relinquish her crown and go on to become a huge pop star. Ninety-eight in New England was a summer of exquisite warmth and sunshine, in baseball a summer of mythical battle between a home-run god who was white and a home-run god who was brown, and in America the summer of an enormous piety binge, a purity binge, when terrorism—which had replaced communism as the prevailing threat to the country's security—was succeeded by cocksucking, and a virile, youthful middle-aged president and a brash, smitten twenty-one-year-old employee carrying on in the Oval Office like two teenage kids in a parking lot revived America's oldest communal passion, historically perhaps its most treacherous and subversive pleasure: the ecstasy of sanctimony. In the Congress, in the press, and on the networks, the righteous grandstanding creeps, crazy to blame, deplore, and punish, were everywhere out moralizing to beat the band: all of them in a calculated frenzy with what Hawthorne (who, in the 1860s, lived not many miles from my door) identified in the incipient country of long ago as "the persecuting spirit"; all of them eager to enact the astringent rituals of purification that would excise the erection from the executive branch, thereby making things cozy and safe enough for Senator Lieberman's ten-year-old daughter to watch TV with her embarrassed daddy again. No, if you haven't lived through 1998, you don't know what sanctimony is. The syndicated conservative newspaper columnist William F. Buckley wrote, "When Abelard did it, it was possible to prevent its happening again," insinuating that the president's malfeasance—what Buckley elsewhere called Clinton's "incontinent carnality"—might best be remedied with nothing so bloodless as impeachment but, rather, by the twelfth-century punishment meted out to Canon Abelard by the knife-wielding associates of Abelard's ecclesiastical colleague, Canon Fulbert, for Abelard's secret seduction of and marriage to Fulbert's niece, the virgin Heloise. Unlike Khomeini's fatwa condemning to death Salman Rushdie, Buckley's wistful longing for the corrective retribution of castration carried with it no financial incentive for any prospective perpetrator. It was prompted by a spirit no less exacting than the ayatollah's, however, and in behalf of no less exalted ideals.

It was the summer in America when the nausea returned, when the joking didn't stop, when the speculation and the theorizing and the hyperbole didn't stop, when the moral obligation to explain to one's children about adult life was abrogated in favor of maintaining in them every illusion about adult life, when the smallness of people was simply crushing, when some kind of demon had been unleashed in the nation and, on both sides, people wondered "Why are we so crazy?" When men and women alike, upon awakening in the morning, discovered that during the night, in a state of sleep that transported them beyond envy or loathing, they had dreamed of the brazenness of Bill Clinton. I myself dreamed of a mammoth banner, draped dadaistically like a Christo wrapping from one end of the White House to the other and bearing the legend A HUMAN BEING LIVES HERE. It was the summer when—for the billionth time—the jumble, the mayhem, the mess proved itself more subtle than this one's ideology and that one's morality. It was the summer when a president's penis was on everyone's mind, and life, in all its shameless impurity, once again confounded America.


This is a good piece by Henry Farrell is good. Read the whole thing, as the kids say.

In juxtaposition, Sullivan’s and Coates’ pieces provide a miniature history of how a certain variety of self-congratulatory openness to inquiry is in actual fact a barbed thicket of power relations. What Sullivan depicts as a “different time” where “neither of us denied each other’s good faith or human worth,” is, in Coates’ understanding, a time where he was required to “take seriously” the argument that “black people are genetically disposed to be dumber than white people” as a price of entry into the rarified heights of conversation at the Atlantic. The “civility” and “generosity of spirit” that supported “human to human” conversation is juxtaposed to Coates’ “teachers” who didn’t see him “completely as a human being.” What was open and free spirited debate in Sullivan’s depiction, was to Coates a loaded and poisonous dialogue where he could only participate if he shut up about what he actually believed.

The Sean Hannity Expanded Universe

For a long time journalists defended Fox News, basically arguing that they had real reporters that were somehow distinct from their prime time (and morning, and throughout much of the day, but whatever) opinion shows, which MSNBC also has, so, you know, both sides really. There was a bit of truth to that. Fox has had "real reporters" and those were the people who the political press knew and hung out with, because obviously none of them ever actually watched Fox News.

But the Fox News influence isn't just limited to Sean Hannity, it's the entire network and beyond.

A Bit Close

I suppose we can be thankful he lost, but...

Dallas attorney J.J. Koch eked out a win for the Republican nomination for Dallas County commissioner, beating Vickers "Vic" Cunningham, a former judge who drew national headlines over alleged racist behavior and language.

Twenty-five votes decided the race for northern Dallas County's District 2 seat.


On Friday, the last day of early voting, Cunningham admitted to rewarding his kids financially if they marry a white, heterosexual, Christian person in a story that reverberated nationally after it was published by The Dallas Morning News.

Does Anybody Remember Laughter?

Sometimes I forget that part of the point of this sucky blog is to have a bit of fun, to laugh as the fires of hell rain down all around us. We had some good fun during the Bush years! Let's do some more of that.

The Best Of Both Worlds

Which one of you, dear readers, is going to buy me that modest flat in London. It has all I need now.

Chastity Or Comfort Women

Some people think there's a weird contradiction in the conservative movement, between the "teenage girls must put out to keep men happy so they don't shoot up schools and malls" and "celibacy until marriage is the only good and moral thing for women." There is no contradiction. There never has been.

All the conservative men (and, to be fair, women) who push this stuff aren't against fucking. They're against unapproved fucking. Approved or unapproved of by whom? Well that's the tricky bit. By them, of course! Women should have sex when and with whom they say they should. Even though this makes no sense, it makes perfect sense to them.

Of course there are no actual "rewards" for women playing the Calvinbill of promiscuity. Fuck "our" good boys when they want you to, and then when they're done with you, away with you foul slut!

The Tweetening

My president woke up earlier than I did this morning so I missed it. Fun stuff?

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Late Night

Tomorrow is...

Taxi King

Well then.

A significant business partner of Michael D. Cohen, President Trump’s personal lawyer, has quietly agreed to cooperate with the government as a potential witness, a development that could be used as leverage to pressure Mr. Cohen to work with the special counsel examining Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Afternoon Thread


But You Made The Coin

Call off the ball.

President Donald Trump says the planned Singapore summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un “may not work out for June 12” and is suggesting it could be delayed.

But... he is... Supreme Leader...

Broken Brain

Perhaps it is difficult to differentiate between narcissism and a certain manifestation of a degenerative brain disorder like Alzheimer's, but..

Going into the North Korea meeting, senior administration officials say, the president has been almost singularly focused on the pageantry of the summit —including the suspenseful roll-out of details. He has not been deeply engaged in briefing materials on North Korea’s nuclear program, said three people with knowledge of the White House efforts. They were not authorized to speak publicly.