Issue XCVI

21 OCT 2016

Miscellaneous

05/28/2014

A Panic Button and No Steering Wheel: A Look at Google's First Self-Driving Car

Misc1

Imagine getting into your car, sitting back and relaxing, not having to stress about hectic highway traffic, parking or just about anything else associated with the driving process. For some people, that might sound like a dream come true. 

It's been more than three years in the making, but Google has finally pulled back the curtain on a prototype of its first self-driving car. It was unveiled late yesterday by Google co-founder Sergey Brin at the Recode conference in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif.

Google's prototype is tiny and appears to have a face on the front and camera attached to the top. The vehicles are not equipped with a steering wheel, accelerator pedal or brake pedal. The only controls a driver has is a start button and a red “e-stop” button for panic stops. 

Related: Are Self-Driving Cars Only a Matter of Time?

Right now, the vehicle maxes out at 25 mph.

"They have sensors that remove blind spots, and they can detect objects out to a distance of more than two football fields in all directions, which is especially helpful on busy streets with lots of intersections," Google said in a blog post announcing the prototypes.

Here's a short promo video of the self-driving car:

Earlier this month, Google showed off its self-driving tech in real-world demonstrations using vehicles made by Toyota and Lexus. 

With this project, Google is assuming the general public will gladly relinquish its control of hitting the open road to a smart car. I, for one, enjoy driving and wouldn't plan to go 100 percent driverless.

Related: The Only Thing Scarier Than Self-Driving Cars Are the Hackers Waiting to Attack Them

In the meantime, Google is planning to build about a hundred of these prototype cars and a team of safety drivers will begin testing them later this summer. "If all goes well, we’d like to run a small pilot program here in California in the next couple of years," Google said. "We’re going to learn a lot from this experience, and if the technology develops as we hope, we’ll work with partners to bring this technology into the world safely."


​Why Google's Self-Driving Car Will Fail

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Gee whiz, a self-driving car! Who wouldn't want one of those? Well, if you look at what it's trying to achieve, it's not actually a great idea. Here's why.

Google says it's made the Self-Driving Car for one major reason: safety. By removing the most incompetent link in the car chain — the human operator — Google believes it can drastically improve road safety.

As Jalopnik's new Silicon Valley Editor Damon Lavrinc says, "There's about 33,000 road fatalities in the US each year. Google might be able to cut that by just .01 percent in the first year, but extract that over 20 years and increased adoption…"

The most thorough analysis of crash causation ever, 1979's Tri-Level Study of the Causes of Traffic Accidents found, "human errors and deficiencies" caused at least 90 percent of road accidents. Astudy performed in the UK confirmed that its not just American drivers who are particularly inept, finding that 88 to 89 percent of accidents there were due to human error. The results are definitive — on the road, we're on own worse enemy.

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Earlier this month, the Self-Driving Car's project leader, Christopher Urmson, put a personal note on the program's safety goal, telling The New York Times that he hoped the car would be commercially available by the time his own son turns 16 — the legal age to begin driving in most American states — in 2019.

The thing is, Mr. Urmson's son would be even safer if he never set foot in a car in the first place. And so would the pedestrians, cyclists and other road users travelling around him. Cars are inherently dangerous, something the Self-Driving car does not and cannot address. That's why it fails.

Google hasn't released an overall investment, projected, to-date or otherwise for this project. Again according to Damon, each of the 10 or so prototypes that have hit the road so far — retrofitted Lexus, Audi and Toyota models — has carried, "$250,000 to $300,000 worth of equipment." That's $2.5 million right there and we can assume many tens and hundreds of millions of dollars, if not much more, will need to be spent before driverless cars reach consumer hands.

Inarguably, that's enough...



05/22/2014

U.S. high court halts execution of inmate claiming rare health defect

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KANSAS CITY, Missouri (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday granted an 11th-hour reprieve to a Missouri death row inmate said by his lawyers to have a rare health condition that could lead to undue suffering from a lethal injection.

Convicted rapist and murderer Russell Bucklew, 46, initially received a stay of execution in a 2-1 ruling by a three-judge panel of the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, but the full court overturned that decision.

Hours later, however, the Supreme Court renewed the stay without comment pending further order in a notice signed by Justice Samuel Alito.

Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster said the high court was expected to consider Bucklew's case on Wednesday, adding that his death warrant remained valid until midnight Wednesday local time.

Bucklew's lawyers argued that malformed blood vessels in his head and neck could rupture under stress, causing the drugs administered during execution to circulate improperly and cause him undue suffering. The condition is called cavernous hemangioma.

Bucklew was convicted of the 1996 murder of Michael Sanders in southeastern Missouri, and the kidnapping and rape of Stephanie Ray, an ex-girlfriend who had been seeing Sanders.

Bucklew's execution, which had been slated for early Wednesday, would have been the first since a botched execution in Oklahoma that brought fresh scrutiny of the death penalty in the United States.

An Oklahoma inmate, Clayton Lockett, writhed in pain when a needle became dislodged from his vein during an attempted lethal injection on April 29. The execution was halted but Lockett died of a heart attack.

U.S. District Court Judge Beth Phillips had on Monday denied the stay and a request to have his execution videotaped, ruling there was insufficient evidence to suggest Bucklew would suffer severe and needless pain.

But the three-judge appellate panel disagreed.

"Bucklew's unrebutted medical evidence demonstrates the requisite sufficient likelihood of unnecessary pain and suffering beyond the constitutionally permissible amount inherent in all executions," the panel wrote.

Koster then asked the full appeals court to reconsider the decision, and it did, vacating the stay, only to be reversed by the Supreme Court.

Missouri's corrections department said in court papers that Bucklew's condition dates back many years and he did not have to wait until days before his execution to raise the issue.

He has undergone surgery while...


Execution of Inmate With Birth Defect Halted

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What would have been the first execution since the botched lethal injection of an Oklahoma inmate last month has been called off with a last-minute stay issued by Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito. Missouri inmate Rusty Bucklew suffers from a birth defect called cavernous hemangioma that causes unstable tumors in his head and neck, which his lawyers argue could cause a "prolonged and excruciating execution," CNNreports. Alito issued the stay less than two hours before the execution, but Missouri could still execute Bucklew before midnight tonight if the full Supreme Court rejects his appeal, reports the AP.

Lawyers for Bucklew—who shot a man dead in front of his two young sons in 1996 before kidnapping and raping his ex-girlfriend—argue that both his condition and the secrecy surrounding the state's lethal-injection drugs increase the risk of something going wrong. "I'm sick about it not working on me," Bucklew told the Guardian earlier this month. "I'm afraid that it's going to turn me into a vegetable, that I'd be brain dead. You saw what happened down in Oklahoma," he said. "I'm the next guy up—am I gonna get all screwed up here? Are they gonna screw it up?"



05/14/2014

Python slithers into woman's bathtub leaving guinea pigs unharmed

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A Texas woman found a 12-foot African python crawling in her bathtub earlier this month.

Veronica Rodriguez had bathed her three guinea pigs in the bathroom earlier that day, reports The Eaglenewspaper in College Station, Texas.

While the guinea pigs were in an outdoor pen drying off, Rodriguez left the back door open, which is possibly how the python entered the house, The Eagle reports.

Rodriguez said she heard strange noises, and went to the bathroom to discover the giant snake.

Rodriguez called the police, and an officer arrived with a brown paper sack.

"I told him, 'you're going to need a bigger sack than that,' " Rodriguez told The Eagle.

The python has been returned to its owners. No guinea pigs were harmed.


Woman gets slithery surprise when she finds a 12-foot snake in her bathroom

Misc2

For most people, walking into a room in your home and encountering a 10- to 15-foot snake sounds like a nightmare.

But what was once a horrible fear recently became a reality for College Station resident Veronica Rodriguez when she went to flip the light on in her bathroom and discovered an African python crawling into her bathtub.

"It was a huge scare," said Rodriguez, who was still visibly shaken from the incident on Monday, eight days after the snake sighting.

It's most likely that the python made entry into Rodriguez's home through the back door, but when exactly the creature slithered in is an uncomfortable unknown for the 50-year-old single mother of a high school senior.

About 6 p.m. and while her daughter was at work, she decided to give the three household guinea pigs a bath.

After bathing each one, she would take it outside to let it run in a penned area while she cleaned its cage and would leave her back door open each time.

She estimated her door was left open about two to three minutes each time she would come out to her fenced yard with a new guinea pig and cage.

Before it was dark out, she and her daughter's pets were back inside the home, and at about 9 p.m. she got a call from her mother.

"I was on the phone with my mom and I kept hearing noises in the back," she said.

Thinking initially it was the guinea pigs, she said she went to check her daughter's room but found nothing.

A few minutes later, she heard more noises and got up to peek into her bedroom. Again, nothing, Rodriguez said.

The third time she heard noises that sounded like someone was knocking things over. She went to check the only room she hadn't: her bathroom.

"As soon as I turned on the light, that's when I saw it," she said. "It was crawling into my tub."

Immediately, she slammed the door and ran outside. While her mother called Rodriguez's brother to see if he could go help, Rodriguez said she called 911 and soon College Station officer Tony Gonzales arrived.

"When the officer showed up, he came with a brown paper sack," she recalled. "I told him, 'you're going to need a bigger sack than that.'"

Gonzales, who's been with the police department about five years, said he'd previously responded to three snake calls, but nothing like that.

"When I opened her bathroom door, there was a 12-foot python," Gonzales recalled. "I didn't know what I was...



05/07/2014

Meddling Joe Lacob to blame for firing of Mark Jackson

Misc1

A lot of words come to mind in the wake of Mark Jackson's firing, but this one says it best: pathetic.

Pathetic that what happened on the basketball floor mattered so little to Warriors' management.

Pathetic that virtually every wise person on the national NBA scene defended Jackson - but no, Lacob and Bob Myers knew better.

And it's a little bit pathetic, as well, that Jackson's ego became such an overriding irritant within the Warriors' organization. Behind that calm, ever-so-spiritual facade, Jackson's defensiveness and insecurity eventually brought him down.

I'll forever remember Jackson as a man standing off to himself during many timeouts while his assistants furiously mapped out strategy. I'll remember times when the Warriors' substitution patterns, isolation-oriented offense and lackluster home performances didn't speak so well for the head coach. Venturing into the catty world of office politics, I tried to figure out how Jackson could have valued two assistant coaches he eventually discovered to be his enemies.

Still, I'm going to dismiss all that. Let us all bow down to Lacob, all-knowing genius of the game. Let's congratulate him for, once again, being the face of the franchise. And let's use that word again: pathetic.

The poor man just didn't know when to step back. Lacob paid a fortune for the team, made some brilliant front-office hires and made good on his promise to win. All good, so far. Dream owner. The anti-Chris Cohan. Things got a little scary when the gamut-of-emotions Lacob became such a courtside spectacle. He spoke of his pickup basketball games, as if that has anything to do with NBA knowledge. It reached the point where if you didn't have to look at him, or hear him speak, it was a good day.

Listen, Lacob earned the right to do anything he wants. But the best owners, in any sport, leave essential decisions to the smart people. Upon hearing that Jackson didn't have a single ally in the front office, I'm a bit surprised that Myers didn't appreciate the Warriors' remarkable cohesion. But I'm sure of this: For all the fans who questioned Jackson's acumen, more of them have to be wondering exactly what happened here.

Let's count the cards stacked against Jackson, most of the issues having simmered for months:

-- Talks for a contract extension broke down last summer, and they couldn't...


Mark Jackson's Extra-Marital Affair, Lack of Support for Jason Collins Factors in His Firing?

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If Mark Jackson was digging his own grave with the Golden State Warriors management, one of the scoops of dirt may have been his less-than-enthusiastic response to Jason Collins' public announcement that he was gay in the face of his own extra-marital affair.

The San Francisco Chronicle had a list of factors against Jackson that helped lead to his dismissal on Tuesday, despite leading the Warriors to consecutive playoff appearances for the first time since 1990-92.

While the picture of the divorce painted Jackson as incapable of performing as a team player on an organizational level, the dichotomy of Jackson's well-documented Christian life (he and his wife are pastors of a church in Van Nuys, Calif.), which led to his Collins' reaction paired with his extra-marital affair sounded like more of a moral reprimand.

The problem, as the Chronicle saw it was, "The odd confluence of a sex scandal (Jackson the target of an extortion scheme allegedly launched by his former mistress) and his tepid response to Jason Collins' coming-out announcement. Jackson made it clear that his religion does not accept homosexuality, and the Warriors' president, Rick Welts, is openly gay."

Stephen Curry would be "shocked" if Mark Jackson were fired

According to Deadspin.com, Jackson, who has been married for more than 20 years, had an affair with a stripper from New York in 2006 when he was a broadcaster for the then-New Jersey Nets.

When Jackson became coach of the Warriors, the stripper, Alexis Adams, and a co-conspirator attempted to extort money from him in 2012, but were busted by the FBI with Jackson's cooperation.

So when Collins came out in April of 2013 and Jackson was asked for a comment, he wasn't overly supportive at a time when Collins was lauded for his heroic act,according to another Chronicle report.

"I will say this," Jackson said the day of the news. "We live in a country that allows you to be whoever you want to be. As a Christian man, I serve a God that gives you free will to be who you want to be. As a Christian man, I have beliefs of what's right and what's wrong. That being said, I know Jason Collins, I know his family, and am certainly praying for them at this time."

The Chronicle added that as associate of Jackson's from his church was arrested on drug-trafficking charges, prompting the newspaper to say, "Those issues led to charges of hypocrisy by a man who...



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