Issue XCVI

21 OCT 2016

Miscellaneous

10/21/2016

4 Reasons Why Tesla's Autonomous Driving Announcement Matters

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It’s not just about equipping all new cars with self-driving hardware.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk is no stranger to risk. Fans of the company have called its leader savvy and visionary; critics and competitors have described some of his decisions as reckless.

Reaction to Musk’s latest move, announced on Wednesday, has been no different. His decision to equip all new Tesla vehicles with radar and cameras that will enable them to (eventually) drive autonomously—without human intervention—has been described as brilliant while others have called it dangerous.

This is a speculator’s game. Here’s what is not: Tesla’s announcement marks a turning point in the race towards fully autonomous vehicles. And the underlying subtext of the announcement as well as the more detailed information on the company’s website contains some remarkable milestones.

There Is Now a Price Benchmark for Full Autonomy

Tesla customers will be able to order “Full Self-Driving Capability,” when they buy a new car. Vehicles with this ability will have eight cameras (not the standard four), ultrasonic sensors, radar, and a supercomputer capable of processing data 40 times faster than previously.

Tesla says this enables full self-driving in “almost all circumstances, at what we believe will be a probability of safety at least twice as good as the average human driver.” The self-driving package costs $8,000. The software, or the brains, will still need to be validated and then eventually rolled out via updates to the system. The proper regulatory approvals will also need to be sorted out, so it’s unclear when customers will be able to experience fully autonomous driving.

Until now, the price of self-driving car has seemed untenable. It’s one reason why so many other automakers are pursuing self-driving taxis first. A personal self-driving car has been viewed as too expensive for the masses.

“People are always talking about how expensive fully autonomous cars will be initially,” Gartner analyst Mike Ramsey told Fortune. “It might be $100,000 and would only be run by cabs. But it’s not. We now have a price for full autonomy.”

Tesla regularly updates the software in its cars via wireless networks to enhance performance and fix security bugs. It’s been using these so-called over-the-air software updates for years. This capability has helped the company continually improve...


The Only Thing on Autopilot at Tesla Is the Hype Machine

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Just over a year ago, Tesla sent out a software update to its cars that made its "Autopilot" features available to customers, in what the company called a "public beta test." In the intervening 12 months, several of those customers have died while their Teslas were in autopilot mode. Cars have crashed, regulators have cracked down, and the headlines proclaiming that "Self-Driving Cars Are Here" were replaced with Tesla's assurances that autopilot was nothing but a particularly advanced driver-assist system.

Given all this, one might assume that a chastened Tesla would take things more cautiously with its next iteration of autonomous technology. But in a launch event this week, Tesla introduced its Autopilot 2.0 hardware with the promise that all the cars it builds from now on will have hardware capable of "the highest levels of autonomy."

Tesla's proof that its new hardware is capable of driving in the "complex urban environment" was a brief, edited video of the system navigating the area around its headquarters near Stanford University in California. Though exciting for enthusiasts who can't wait to own a self-driving car, the video is hardly proof that Tesla's system is ready to handle all the complexities that are holding back other companies that have been working on autonomous technology for longer than Tesla. As impressive as Tesla's system is -- and make no mistake, it is deeply impressive -- navigating the Stanford campus is a hurdle that even graduate school projects are able to clear.

Tesla's new sensor suite upgrades what was a single forward-facing camera to eight cameras giving a 360-degree view around the car. It also updates the 12 ultrasonic sensors, while keeping a single forward-facing radar. Yet independent experts and representatives from competitor firms tell me this system is still insufficient for full level 5 autonomy -- the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's highest rating -- which requires more (and better) radar, multiple cameras with different apertures at each position and 360-degree laser-sensing capabilities.

What Tesla's upgraded hardware does do is vastly improve the company's ability to pull high-quality data from its vehicles already on the road, giving it an unrivaled ability to comply with new regulatory guidelines requiring granular data about autonomous-drive functions in...



07/19/2016

Christie Defends Melania Trump: “93% of the Speech Is Completely Different"

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Melania Trump’s RNC speech got good reviews — until someone noticed parts were taken from a Michelle Obama speech. No matter, says New Jersey’s governor.

Melania Trump headlined the first night of the Republican National Convention yesterday, and she gave what many considered a fine speech. “Melania Trump initially appeared to deliver the speech her husband needed to portray him in a softer light,” CNN reported. “She offered testimony about the character of her husband, Donald Trump, and said he would never let America down.”

But it’s that initially part of the report that is key here. Because about two paragraphs were cribbed from another speech. It gets funnier: The speech it was taken from was Michelle Obama’s 2008 DNC speech. Well, one way to make Melania sound like the first lady is to literally copy the words of the current wife of the president.

Plagiarism is generally not a huge deal in politics, and Republicans rushed to point out VP Joe Biden copied while in college and on the campaign trail. But others have just denied it.

“In writing her beautiful speech, Melania’s team of writers took notes on her life’s inspirations, and in some instances included fragments that reflected her own thinking,” Trump spokesperson Jason Miller said. “Melania’s immigrant experience and love for America shone through in her speech, which made it such a success.” Trump ally Paul Manafort blamed Hillary Clinton.

Some have gone even farther. Chris Christie went on the Today show this morning and said that most of the speech was not taken from Michelle Obama. Asked if it was plagiarism, Christie replied that “not when 93 percent of the speech is completely different than Michelle Obama’s speech.” Matt Lauer challenges him, and Christie begins talking about how the worst day of political conventions is the first one. The end, it seems.


Teachers: Melania Trump would have gotten an F — or even expelled — if she’d turned in her speech for a class

Melania Trump’s speech at the GOP convention in Cleveland is drawing comparisons to Michelle Obama’s speech at the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver....

It’s not clear whether there will be any long-term political fallout from Melania Trump’s speech Monday night, in which she introduced herself to the nation with passages that closely mirrored a speech Michelle Obama first delivered eight years ago.

But high school teachers and college professors say it is almost certain that if Melania Trump were a student turning in a paper — rather than a prospective First Lady giving a convention speech — the consequences would be serious, ranging from an F on the assignment to expulsion from school.

Josh Davis, who teaches high school English and journalism in Beachwood, Ohio, said Trump’s speech is a classic example of the kind of plagiarism he sees among high school students.

“Sure, some words were changed, but the shell is the same,” Davis said. “It’s a pretty clear example of what I might see, where a student took another kid’s paper and changed half a dozen words and said ‘Oh, I paraphrased it, so it’s mine.’ And I say, ‘No, you plagiarized it.'”

Davis said a student who borrowed as much language as Trump would likely get a zero on the assignment — along with a lesson on why plagiarism is wrong. Sometimes, he said, such borrowing is a sign of a student who is struggling.

“Frequently, students that resort to that — not to excuse it — but frequently, in high school, it’s issues with ability,” he said. “Students who are in over their head are more likely to resort to something like that.”

Davis plans to vote for Hillary Clinton. But he said plagiarism is not a problem confined to the GOP, citing accusations of plagiarism that helped derail the 1988 presidential campaign of now-Vice President Joe Biden. “Even though I’m a Democrat, I haven’t had much respect for him because of that.”

Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort has denied that Melania Trump’s speech included any plagiarism.

“There’s no cribbing of Michelle Obama’s speech. These were common words and values that she cares about, her family, things like that,” Manafort said on CNN’s “New Day” Tuesday morning. “She was speaking in front of 35 million people last night, she knew that, to think that she would be cribbing Michelle Obama’s words is crazy.”

But a specialist in ethics at Dartmouth College said Trump’s...



06/03/2016

President Barack Obama Backs Expanding Social Security

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The president’s support of increasing retirement benefits is a major win for the Democratic Party’s progressive wing.

WASHINGTON — Marking a stark reversal from his past position, President Barack Obama said Wednesday the U.S. ought to increase Social Security retirement benefits.

“It’s time we finally made Social Security more generous and increased its benefits so that today’s retirees and future generations get the dignified retirement that they’ve earned,” Obama said during a speech in Elkhart, Indiana.

“And we can start paying for it by asking the wealthiest Americans to contribute a little bit more,” Obama said. “They can afford it. I can afford it.”

The announcement represents a major evolution in the president’s public position on Social Security and a coup for the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, which increasingly views benefits expansion as a core element of its agenda.

Obama has previously supported cuts to Social Security retirement benefits as part of an elusive legislative “Grand Bargain,” which he sought in negotiations with congressional Republicans during key moments of budgetary brinksmanship. The proposed deals would have supposedly paired the cuts with revenue increases favored by liberals.

The cut Obama came closest to passing would have come from changes to the formula used to calculate annual cost-of-living adjustments that help benefits keep pace with inflation. The White House repeatedly offered it to congressional Republican leaders during fiscal cliff talks at the end of 2012, despite theobjections of then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

During his re-election campaign, Obama even downplayed the difference between his position on the program and that of his Republican challenger, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

Obama’s suggestion on Wednesday that the wealthy should pay for higher Social Security benefits fits with recent proposals by liberal Democrats in Congress, as well as Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton. While Sanders supports across-the-board expansion of benefits, Clinton has come out in favor of targeted increases. 

Sanders, campaigning in California, issued a statement praising Obama’s announcement and urging Clinton to support his Senate legislation that would broaden benefits. “I applaud President Obama for making it clear that it is time to expand Social...


Obama Wanted To Cut Social Security, Then Bernie Sanders Happened

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Under intense activist pressure, the White House was unable to convince its own allies in Congress that this change was worth the political costs.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA endorsed an expansion of Social Security for the first time on Wednesday.

“We can’t afford to weaken Social Security,” he said during a speech on economic policy in Elkhart, Indiana. “We should be strengthening Social Security. And not only do we need to strengthen its long-term health, it’s time we finally made Social Security more generous, and increased its benefits so that today’s retirees and future generations get the dignified retirement that they’ve earned.”

The increased benefits, he said, could be paid for “by asking the wealthiest Americans to contribute a little bit more. They can afford it. I can afford it.”

This was a far cry from Obama’s position on the program in late 2012, when his administration argued for reducing Social Security benefits by recalculating the way cost of living adjustments are made.

“President Obama’s evolution on Social Security, from at one time being open to cuts to calling for an expansion of benefits … is certainly welcome news, but not at all surprising,” said Alex Lawson, the executive director of Social Security Works, a nonprofit group that advocates for protecting and expanding the program.

Lawson’s organization has worked with lawmakers and other nonprofit organizations to oppose Obama’s proposed Social Security cuts and shift the conversation towards expansion. By the summer of 2014, a small group of Democratic caucus senators, led by Sen. Bernie Sanders, started advocating for lifting Social Security’s payroll tax cap so wealthier people paid more into the system, and then increasing benefits to seniors. Polling by advocacy groups found broad support for expansion.

This idea became a central theme in Sanders’s presidential campaign. In the speech announcing his candidacy, the senator said that “instead of cutting Social Security, we’re going to expand Social Security benefits.”

“It has become impossible for elected officials to ignore the simple fact that Social Security is a solution and not a problem, and that the only thing wrong with it are that benefits are too low,” Lawson said.

In both 2008 and 2012, Obama explicitly campaigned on protecting the Social Security program and rejecting plans that would cut benefits. But shortly after re-election in 2012, the...



05/05/2016

App Store search is failing more than usual with wonky search results

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Apple is reportedly experimenting with ways to improve its Mac and iOS App Stores, but right now the company has bigger problems. On Thursday morning, App Store search wasn’t functioning at all.

This doesn’t seem right...

Users on Twitter and Reddit were the first to spot that App Store search was broken. Search isn’t all that functional at its best, but now search results for super-popular apps turn up completely wrong results. As of this writing, a search for Rex, which is an Apple Editor’s Pick in the iOS App Store Featured tab, turns up dinosaur-themed apps, but no Rex. A search for Uber results in other ride-hailing apps, like Easy Taxi and Hailo, but no Uber. Basically, the App Store is taking its normally bad behavior to the next level.

Apple has acknowledged the issue on its services status page:

“Users are experiencing a problem with the App Store. We are investigating and will update the status as more information becomes available.”

We reached out to Apple for comment and will update this story when they respond or when the issue is resolved.

The story behind the story: The App Store is already a difficult way to find apps (which is insane), so Apple has tasked a team to fix the store. One solution isselling paid top slots to developers who want their apps featured in search. Today, developers would probably settle for having their apps show up in search at all.


Apple’s App Store search is completely broken right now

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Apple’s App Store search is experiencing significant issues this morning, which, if allowed to continue for a longer period of time, could end up impacting app developers’ sales. The problem is that keyword searches on the App Store are simply not returning the appropriate list of apps, and aren’t even able to pull up many apps by name. This is true even for major brands, like Google, Uber, Tumblr, Vine, Spotify, Candy Crush, YouTube, and several others.

The issues were first noticed by a number of users on Reddit and Twitter, and have now been covered by Apple-watching blogs like MacRumors and 9to5Mac.

You can see the issue for yourself (as of the time of publication) by doing a search for a popular app like the Twitter client “Tweetbot.” If you search for it by name, you’ll find that it won’t appear in the search results.

Alternately, you can search for a particular genre of app, like “rss reader,” and find that the search results are incorrect here, too. This particular search, for instance, leaves out a number of top RSS reader apps, like Feedly, Reeder, Feedbin, NewsBlur, and many more.

In addition to the search issues themselves, App Store links are also not resolving in some cases, as the developer of the game “Dashy Crashy” noticed this morning.

That is, the URL that begins with “appstore.com/” followed by the app name (e.g. appstore.com/dashycrashy) no longer direct the user to the app in question. Instead, they’re met with a blank web page showing only the error message “Http/1.1 Service Unavailable.”

While it’s unusual for Apple’s App Store search to completely fall apart in such a dramatic fashion, the issue has brought to the forefront of developers’ minds a host of complaints they’ve had with the App Store as well as its discovery issues.

Developers have been unhappy that even at the best of times, saying that it’s hard for users to discover their apps. They also have issues with the often lengthy and not entirely transparent app review process, plus the challenges with monetization that exist even for popular applications.

More concerning is the fact that Apple’s plan to address some of these issues may be to allow developers to pay for a top spot in search results – following an advertising model similar to Google’s. However, if the App...



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