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Brad Ideas
May 31, 2018

Voting Rights Amendment
Topic: Politics

This is a starting-point draft for what could be a reasonable amendment to the US constitution (and belong in all constitutions.) It addresses the seminal problem of democracies -- the people who are the subject of elections have control over the rules of elections, and can't be trusted not to bend the rules to their advantage. When the legislators can't be trusted is exactly when you need constitutional rules.

This amendment would be designed to ban, among other things * Gerrymandering * Requiring voter registration rather than automatic registration * Depriving felons of votes * Poll taxes and all such related tricks * Much of what the Voting Rights Act stopped

The test proposed says that if you make a rule, and then a court finds either in advance or after the fact, that the rule will disproportionately affect the exercise of franchise by a party or a major group, the rule is invalid.

The rule needs some refinement. It is easy to see how it might actually be used against its goal. It must be clear that to be unlawful, the rule has to affect the elements of franchise -- v

Brad Ideas
May 29, 2018

Is there a limit on how much advertising can make?
Topic: MediaIn my article about how advertising won't pay for robotaxi rides I hinted at one surprise source of the problem. Maybe advertising can never be very valuable.

Right now, the most popular type of advertising, makes about 60 cents for one hour of TV watching. This is with what's known as a $20 CPM (cost per thousand.) Thats 2 cents per ad shown to a person, and an hour of TV has around 15 minutes of ads, or 30 spots.

Remarkably, most of the other media get similar results in terms of time spent in the medium, and ad revenues. The one main exception is print media, that gets about 3 times the revenue per hour of use. Radio, Mobile and internet are similar to TV. Here's a chart mapping time spent and ad revenues of the different media.

The first thing I noticed was it's not a very good deal. I watch a 45 minute TV show with 15 minutes of ads, and they sell my attention to the advertiser for just 60 cents? $2.40/hour for the time I spend staring at ads? That's a fraction of minimum wage. It's why I and many others prefer commercial-free pay TV, or use DVRs to fast forward.

It isn't a fixed number. The Superbowl can pull a $50 CPM because people are paying more attention to the commercials than to the football. Media aimed at rich people or business audiences can pull much higher

Brad Ideas
May 25, 2018

Did Uber really botch the switch to one driver and a timeline of the failure
Topic: RobocarsYesterday I examined some of the details released by the NTSB about the Uber fatality. Now I want to dig deeper with speculation as to the why. Of course, speculation is risky, though I can claim a pretty good track record. When I outlined various possible causes of the incident just after it, I put 4 at the top. I figured that only one might be true, but it turned out that two were (Misclassification as a bicycle, and the car wanting to stop but being unable to actuate the brakes) though I did not suspect Uber deliberately blocked the car from doing hard stops. So I'll try my luck at speculating again.

A timeline of error Coming in: Uber is in right lane, planning to enter right turn lane when it opens up 6 seconds out: Victim perceived with LIDAR and radar. Victim is walking across the two left turn lanes. (Unknown: Were LIDAR and radar targets properly recognized as the same thing, ie. fused?) Victim is classified as an unknown obstacle with no forward velocity, in the left turn lanes. No action needed, things are often stopped in the left turn lanes. Unknown time: Victim is classified as a vehicle (ie. car.) Cars are not expected to move sideways. Car is either in left turn lane or may be now in left lane. Mistake made in measuring its vector of moment. You don't slow because a vehicle is stopped in the left la

Brad Ideas
May 24, 2018

NTSB Report implies serious fault for Uber in fatality
Topic: RobocarsThe NTSB has released its preliminary report on the fatality involving the Uber prototype self driving car. The NTSB does not attempt to assign blame, but there are some damning facts in the report.



Perception and planning failure The high level problem is the Uber perception system failed. She was, as predicted detected over 100m away by radar and LIDAR. It does not directly say when the camera systems detected her. She was first classified as an unknown obstacle (as is common for the first, distant detections of something) and then as a vehicle, but then as a bicycle. (She was walking a bicycle.) In my analysis of possible causes written immediately after the accident I suggested that mis-classification as a bicycle was perhaps my most likely guess. In particular, I suggested that perhaps it thus classified her as a bike going along the road.

The Uber, we learn, as some readers suspected, was planning a right turn. As such, it would not brake for a bicycle that is in the lane to the left continuing on. Though everybody knows that passing a bicycle on the right is a risky move which should be done with high caution.

The investigators say the victim is visible in the camera videos but don't talk much about when that happened and what the visual parts of the perception system did.

Emergency

Brad Ideas
May 22, 2018

Google can spin the "Duplex" calling agent in a much more positive way
Topic: FuturismInternetPrivacySpamMost of the world was wowed by the Google Duplex demo, where their system was able to cold-call a hairdresser and make an appointment with her, with the hairdresser unaware she was talking to an AI. The system included human speech mannerisms and the ability to respond to the random phrases the hairdresser through back.

Since the dawn of AI with Alan Turing, being able to fool people into thinking an AI was a human has been one of the holy grail tests people want a system to pass. It was not explained very well, but the recent Turing movie was given the title "The Imitation Game" because that sort of test -- imitating a human to the point you can't tell -- was the one that Turing favoured. We don't call it the Imitation Game, we call it the Turing Test.

So naturally Google was proud and the computer science crowd was impressed. Some however, immediately picked up on the creepy aspect of this being used as a real product. Passing a Turing Test is a great demo, but using that tool to actively fool humans is another story. Some even felt it was unethical to even do it as an experiment, and also illegal in California due to conversation recording rules.



Brad Ideas
May 21, 2018

No, ads won't pay for your robotaxi ride -- but your employer might, and that has big consequences
Topic: RobocarsMost of the press reported a research report from UBS securities [claiming Waymo is now worth $75B] to Google because it is poised to dominate the robotaxi business. In addition to this, it claimed that business would be $1.2 trillion by 2030, with an additional $472 billion for "in car monetization." (Total Google revenue was $110 billion in 2017.)

In general, I agree with the first part, and have been saying so since the beginning. For investors, the main problem has been that this mega-huge business that anybody would like to invest in has been buried inside the $750B market cap of Alphabet/Google itself.

But I want talk about this idea that in-car monetization will be 40% of the revenue (or 28% of total revenue) of a robotaxi business. This reminds me of the very frequent claim that "Rides will be free, paid for by ads." In fact, when Google first came out of stealth with the project, this was a very frequent suggestion. After all, Google is pretty much 100% an advertising company, so if they're making a car, it must really be about advertising. The UBS forecast pretty much puts that down -- transportation is a much bigger business than advertising. Your robotaxi will be more like an extension of your living room or office. Apartments don't get 40% of revenue from "in-room monetization."

But will ad revenue, or other "monetization of the data" from transportation become an important factor, even a dominant one? Could it be the most profitable aspect of running a robotaxi service a

Brad Ideas
May 18, 2018

The improbable secret Kim conspiracy to reunify Korea
Topic: ObservationsPoliticsEverybody loves a good secret conspiracy theory. Here's mine for North Korea. Of course, it is probably not true. But is it impossible?

Seoul Subway stations are equipped with gas masks, ready for attack by the NorthKim Jong-Un is a tyrant, perhaps the last of his kind, and living in the new modern era. With this Swiss education, unfettered access to the internet and a love of foreign media, what sort of mindset might he hold? We don't know a lot.

If you, or I, or most people, found themselves as complete dictator of North Korea, I would hope we would want to do the moral thing -- abdicate the dictatorship, reunify under the democratic government of the Republic of (South) Korea and cut a sweet deal for a dictator's exile.

KJU has worked to build up that cult of personality for himself, sometimes in brutal ways. But even so, the military could still take him out and install one of his brothers or his uncle Kim Pyong-il as figurehead leader in a coup d'etat.

The greatest threat in a coup was his brother Kim Jong-nam, who had originally been tapped as future great leader until he fell out of favour. In 2017, KJN was assassinated with

Brad Ideas
May 17, 2018

Solve the Proposition 13 problem by paying off the difference when you sell
Topic: PoliticsEven if you are not in California, you may have heard of Proposition 13 the ballot measure which changed property tax rules.

It was part of a tax revolt, and it changed how the value of your real estate is calculated for property taxes. As California property started zooming up in price, there were people who owned homes but had minimal incomes. They were facing growing tax bills even though they had not realized the gains on their house. Some were being forced out of houses they had lived in for decades, the story went.

The solution was that while you lived in your home, the tax value would go up at 2% a year, nothing like the real market value. Taxes were limitd to 1% of value.

There have been many criticisms of Prop 13, in particular over how it has seriously reduced local tax income for counties and cities, which is the prime source for funding schools. The bigger problem, I find is the massive inequality it causes. If you buy a home today, you pay tax on its full price. You can afford it, they figure. This means that two people living next to one another in two identical houses pay massively different taxes. My neighbour, who inherited her home from her parents, pays next to nothing. I, who have lived in my home for many years, pay half of what new neighbours pay.

Taxation should not be so different among the same people. In addition, this creates a "moving disincentive." If I decide to sell my house and buy one of equal value, my tax rate will jump a lot. (There

Brad Ideas
May 16, 2018

Safety Drivers for Robocars -- the issues and rationale
Topic: RobocarsThe wake of Tesla's incident has caused a lot more questions about the concept of testing prototype robocars on public roads supervised by "safety drivers." Is it putting the public at risk for corporate benefit? Are you a guinea pig in somebody's experiment against your will? Is it safe enough? Is there another way?



One safety driver may not be enough. But I'm just posing in a parking lot

The simple first answer is that yes, it is putting the public at risk. Nobody expects the cars to be perfect, and nobody expects the safety driver system to be perfect.

The higher level question is, "how much risk?" and is it the sort of risk we can or should tolerate.

Teens For contrast, consider the question of teen-age novice drivers, who are also allowed out on the road, first with an adult supervisor (who is often a driving instructor but not required to be,) and then after a ridiculously simple test on their own. More recently, they have been restricted in what they can do on their own until they become adults.

We usually start the teen out in a parking lot or private road to get the basics, but very quickly that becomes not very useful, and they must go on the real road.

The driving instructor is very much like the safety driver. Many student driver cars have a 2nd brake pedal for the driving instructor to use. I remember the first time a car passed me (with what seemed just like inches) and I swerved away, and the driving inst

Brad Ideas
May 14, 2018

How to fly to Europe Biz Class for $2800 this summer, and in the future
Topic: Air TravelI'm off in June to do some speaking in Europe. I'm flying to Milan in business class from San Francisco for $2,800 on UA and Air Canada, which is about the lowest price I've ever seen for biz class to Europe in summer on the major airlines. The coach fare can be as low as $600 for those not able to splurge. Let me tell you how to use these fares, even if it's not Italy you wish to visit.

I don't know why these fares are so low. Usual business class on major airlines in runs $5K at least and can often be as much as $10K, particularly for nonstop flights. It may be special competition. Perhaps the Italian tourist board is subsidizing. Perhaps nobody wants to fly there this summer (I doubt it.) But that doesn't matter, because often there are one or two magic cities that can get you across the pond in style.

When crossing the Atlantic, you mainly want to have a business class bed seat for the section over the ocean. If you are not too poor, it can be worth it to get a real sleep, to get a chance to work, and to not be stressed before, during and after the trip. But you don't need one within Europe, and in fact most airlines in Europe don't really even off a business class -- they just charge 3x the price to give you a coach seat with nobody in the middle next to you.

So if you seek business class, it can be worth it to find the "bargain city" and fly in and out of it, then use quite cheap economy fares within Europe. Milan is a nice break as the bargain city, because it has non-stop flights to most other European locations.

Brad Ideas
May 11, 2018

Second driver's revenge: Why does car rental pricing suck so much?
Topic: Air TravelBrad's RantAs a customer, the pricing plans of the car rental companies baffle me. I mean I understand about the goals for differential pricing -- finding ways to charge richer customers more money -- but still, I find it very frustrating, and I am curious why one of the majors doesn't have the courage to break out of the current pricing models and win over customers.



Crazy insurance Everybody knows the insurance prices on car rentals are nuts. They are high mostly because they can be high due to customer paranoia, and also because in theory you have to pay based on the average driver they encounter, your good driving record counts for nothing. It's crazy. While most higher end credit cards will insure your car rental for you, I also discovered that my home auto insurance would cover me on rental cars for $4/year -- not $17 a day like the car rental companies charge.

I was particularly shocked when working with a company which had "take the insurance" as part of their corporate rental policy. For any large company, self-insuring would be the obvious choice, but even if not, I am surprised that corporate liability insurance companies don't sell companies a policy to cover incidents during employee car rental.

I guess one reason to "take the insurance" is the removal of hassle. Obviously dealing with a car accident in a foreign place is difficult, and scary, and people seem willing to

Brad Ideas
May 10, 2018

Flyover: Is the left's vocabulary meaner than the right's?
Topic: PoliticsLike many, I have been highly interested in understanding the rift in US and global politics that has resulted in the rise of Trump, LePen, Ford and Brexit.

While I run mostly in left/urban/secular/keen circles, I try as often as possible to talk to people in other circles to understand their view. My own politics match neither side, which gives me some extra perspective. However, living in left circles, I have encountered more of their terms.

The amount of hate between the sides has grown, and become very polarizing. To the surprise of most of my left friends, I believe that by some measures, the hate of the leftie side towards the right is greater than the hate the other way. Naturally, each side has the intuition that the other is more to blame.

I come to this conclusion by examining the vocabulary and iconography each side uses for the other. Not for the leaders of the other side (where the vocabulary is extremely nasty as well) but rather for the voters in the middle of each side. Here are the terms I have collected that I have seen commonly used, not between politicians, but between ordinary people. Some of these terms are used more by the fringes.

(Keen and Steward are my names for the two sides, I will discuss these terms more in later posts.)

Left/Urban/Democrat/Secular/Keen Right/Rural/Republican/Religious/Stewards Idiots Libtards Racists

Brad Ideas
May 08, 2018

Driving without a map is another example of being cheap rather than being safe
Topic: RobocarsThere was a lot of buzz yesterday about publication by a team at CSAIL and MIT about their research on driving without a map.

Rather than describing a big breakthrough, what is described is fairly similar to the work done in the first two DARPA Grand Challenges, which by 2005 had the winning cars driving a 150 mile course through desert roads with just GPS waypoints. (The CMU teams did try to do some rough mapping in the 4 hour window after getting the waypoints.) Because humans can drive without a map, why can't our robots?

I have discussed the merits of driving without a map before. Any car that can drive without a map is a great resource for building a map -- why would you want to throw away the useful information from another car that drove the road before you, with the addition of the ability to process it with as much CPU as you want, and to see it from different vantage points? It's a huge win.

But I want to discuss the real flaw in this logic, which I see manifest in several other areas of development.

This is the wrong time to make robocar driving cheaper The mistake is the natural instinct everybody has to do things at lower cost. If something is expensive, like mapping, bandwidth or LIDARs, we all automatically want to think of how we might eliminate it, or

Brad Ideas
May 07, 2018

Uber reported to have made an error tuning perception system
Topic: Robocars

The newsletter "The Information" has reported a leak from Uber about their fatal accident. You can read the article but it is behind a very expensive paywall. The relevant quote:


This is true as far as it goes. As I explain in my article on robocar sensors you have the problem of false positives (ghosts) and false negatives (blindness.) Generally, the rule is you must never get a serious false negative, because if you do, you might hit somebody. So you have to build your system so that it will not miss another vehicle or pedestrian. You can sometimes miss them, ie. not spot them in every frame, or not identify them when you first start perceiving them, but you mus

Brad Ideas
May 04, 2018

Waymo has a crash in Chandler, but is not at fault.
Topic: RobocarsA crash today with a Waymo van is getting attention coming in the same area just a short time after the Uber fatality, but Waymo will find no fault -- the driver of the car that hit the Waymo van veered out of his lane into oncoming traffic because of somebody else who was incurring on the intersection. Only minor injuries, but higher energy that prior crashes for Waymo.


This does, however, cause people to ask, "Could the Waymo car have done more to avoid being hit?" This question was also asked recently when a stationary Navya shuttle was hit by a truck that was backing up. In that case the Navya could have backed away to prevent being hit, which a human probably would do.

It is my hope that at some time in the future, robocars will start to gain superhuman abilities not just to drive safely, but to avoid being hit by reckless drivers, but that day is not any time soon. The truth is that people forget how hard the problem of building a robocar is, but this particular task is not very high on priority lists. Once the higher items have been well resolved, this will start to happen.

One reason teams will be reluctant to solve this is the fear of making things worse. From a liability standpoint, just sitting there is the low-risk choice. It's hard to blame a car for just sitting there if i

Brad Ideas
May 04, 2018

What if teams were forced to contribute robocar incident data?
Topic: RobocarsAt teams around the world attempt to build safe robocar systems, one key asset has stood out as a big differentiator -- experience. For a company to be willing to certify their vehicle as safe, it needs experience with all the strange circumstances that it might encounter driving the roads.



Right now with over 5 million miles on the road, and 5 billion in simulator, Waymo has more than everybody else put together. Since they also have more money, it's likely to stay that way. The main threat is that companies who operate or control large fleets of cars -- like Uber, Lyft, Tesla and other carmakers -- can collect more sensor data on ordinary human driving or autopilot driving. That's not the same as experience, and the sensor suites in those cars are at present vastly simpler, but there is a chance to get a lot more of it.

There are different types of experience. Highways are simple. Urban streets are complex, and they are much more complex in some parts of the world (like India) than in others (like Arizona.) Everybody has lots more experience to gain.

The value of sharing Experience covers all sorts of road situations, but of particular interest are dangerous situations, especially ones that caused an "incident." An incident is anything risky from a brief lane departure all the way to an impact.

From the standpoint of the entire industry, and the public interest, we want all cars to be as safe as possible. This could be improved if every team had access to the data on dangerous

Brad Ideas
Apr 30, 2018

Can we verify plea deals and make them better?
Topic: Governanceious sources suggest that just 3-5% of inmates in prison are there because of trial. The vast bulk of them got there due to a guilty plea, part of a plea agreement.

This seems shocking, but in fact it is to be expected. Trials are long and expensive and risky. The vast majority of commercial disputes are settled out of court.

The problem is that some of those people are innocent, but they were pressured to accept a plea deal, or simply evaluated the odds of success in a trial and took what seemed to be a better offer. Plea bargains are much less common outside the USA. The plea negotiation is far from a fair deal with equal parties. They are also a relatively recent invention. There are articles about the flaws

It is not known what fraction of defendants are innocent of the charges, or at least of the full charges the prosecutor threatens them with in the opening round of negotiations, but any is too many.

I propose a method of checks and balance on the abuse of the plea deal as follows.

After a negotiated plea is entered, the defendant may be selected at random to get a trial anyway. We might select one defendant in 100, however many we can afford. The goal is not to give them better justice, but to provide accountability on the system.

The defendant could decline the extra trial. This election would be done after sentencing, so the prosecutors should have n

Brad Ideas
Apr 23, 2018

Robocars, Flying Cars and Hyperloops, oh my! The not so fictional future of the city
Topic: FuturismRobocarsThe primary purpose of the city is transportation. Sure, we share infrastructure like sewers and power lines, but the real reason we live in dense cities is so we can have a short travel time to the things in our lives, be they jobs, friends, shopping or anything else.

Sometimes that trip is a walking one, and indeed only the dense city allows walking trips to be short and also interesting. The rest of the trips involve some technology, from the bicycle to the car to the train. All that is about to change.

Transportation has been the driver of the way we live in cities for centuries. The car was the big re-architect of cities in the 20th century, and the tram/train was the factor in the 19th. We don't always like what happened but there is no denying what caused it.

Every aspect of urban transportation is in or big changes in the next couple of decades. Even walking and cycling, to some degree.

The following are the big factors which will affect urban living choices, densities and more. I have written more about most of these topics in other locations, but let's summarize some of the big effects.

E-Commerce and local automated delivery -- affecting retail and value of locations. Robocars -- changing the meaning of distance and location, and freeing up parking. Also rewriting the meaning of public transit. Walking -- new thinking on walking (and biking) and how to integrate them with the new transportation.

Brad Ideas
Apr 20, 2018

How to attack the social media incentive and privacy problems
Topic: InternetPrivacySolve thisTags: data deposit boxA huge opportunity awaits a young social media company that is poised to take advantage of the fall of Facebook (and Twitter). Is somebody out there ready to carry the ball and make it happen. It probably has to be somebody already with most of this done, or even operating.

The great problem with social networks is the natural monopoly. It doesn't matter how good a tool is if your friends aren't on it. So "there can be only one," at least within each culture. There are different winners in different countries, and LinkedIn seems to have segmented business networking from personal networking enough to get past this.

One answer to the monopoly question would be the creation of a protocol that would allow networks to link together in a meaningful way. Ie. if my "home" is on Facebook and yours is on Google Plus, that it is possible to create a friendship link between the two, without requiring either of us to create a profile on the other site.

This is not that hard to do at a basic level, but of course a basic level might not be very satisfying. Even an advanced level would only suppo

Brad Ideas
Apr 09, 2018

NHTSA/SAE's "levels" of robocars may be contributing to highway deaths
Topic: RobocarsThe NHTSA/SAE "levels" of robocars are not just incorrect. I now believe they are contributing to an attitude towards their "level 2" autopilots that plays a small, but real role in the recent Tesla fatalities.

Readers of this blog will know I have been critical of the NHTSA/SAE "levels" taxonomy for robocars since it was announced. My criticisms have ranged to simply viewing them as incorrect or misleading, and you might have enjoyed my satire of the levels which questions the wisdom of defining the robocar based on the role the human being plays in driving it.



Recent events lead me to go further. I believe a case can be made that this levels are holding the industry back, and have a possible minor role in the traffic fatalities we have seen with Tesla autopilot. As such I urge the levels be renounced by NHTSA and the SAE and replaced by something better.

Some history It's true that in the early days, when Google was effectively the only company doing work on a full self-driving car for the roads, people were looking for some sort of taxonomy to describe the different types of potential cars. NHTSA's first article laid one out as a series of levels numbered 0 to 4 which gave the appearance of an evolutionary progression.

Problem was, none of those stages existed. Even Google didn't know what it wanted to build, and my most important contribution there probably was being one of those pushing it from the highway car with occasional human drivi

Brad Ideas
Apr 06, 2018

HODL is bad for Bitcoin
Topic: TechnologyTags: bitcoinYou've probably heard the catchword in the bitcoin/crytpocurrency world of "HODL!" Based on somebody's typo, it is an encouragement to hold on to your bitcoins rather than sell them as the price ramps up to crazy levels. If you're a true believer, you will HODL. Don't cave in to the temptation and pressure to sell (SLEL?) but be sure to HODL. (Previously I wrote about the issues which occur should Bitcoin's price actually stabilize.



I believe that the HODL philosophy is selfish and goes against most of what bitcoin stands for. Let's consider the latter one first.

The goal of bitcoin was to made a digital currency. People want a currency with all of Bitcoin's attributes -- its decentralized trustable blockchain, ability to do smart contracts, privacy of identities in transactions, security, and hopefully quick settlement. Indeed, if you ask a HODLer why bitcoin will be able to justify the high value they are waiting for, they will say that the system has this great value.

Of course, to be a currency, it does have to have a sustainable value. The design of bitcoin requires that value to compensate the miners,

Brad Ideas
Apr 05, 2018

The decline of blogging, and what replaces it?
Topic: Free SpeechInternetMediaYou, by definition, read blog posts. But the era of lots of individual personal web sites seems to be on the wane. It used to be everybody had a "home page" and many had one that updated frequently (a blog) but I, and many other bloggers, have noticed a change of late. It can be seen in the "referer" summaries you get from your web server that show who is making popular links to your site.

The change is that they aren't doing that so much. Now, the vast majority of outside readers to this site come from places like Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and Google searches. One might explain this as a fault of my own, but others are reporting the same thing. Dedicated readers through RSS or sites like bloglines are still there but RSS subscription is on the decline too.

RSS subscription (a rather kludgey replacement for the mailing list) is not hard to understand. To RSS subscribe to somebody is to look at everything they produce. In our world of information overload, there are really only so many feeds you have time to look at all of. This blog does 4-5 longish articles per week when I'm not on the road, others can be 20 short items a day, but no matter how much you might like it, there's a limit.

The replacement for "serial" publishing (like RSS, mailing list and newsgroups) has become "sampled" reading. Twitter and Facebook are examples of that. You dip your toe in a stream, e

Brad Ideas
Apr 03, 2018

Can we reduce "fake news" with anonymous group shaming?
Topic: Free SpeechGovernanceInternetNew DemocracyI have many things to discuss on the problem of "fake news" (which is to say, deliberately constructed false reports aimed to be spread to deceive) and the way it spreads through social media. This hot topic, seen as one of the largest threats to democracy to ever arise -- especially when combined with automated microtargeting of political propaganda -- is causing people to clamour for solutions.

Some of the solutions proposed are problematic on their own. Appointing social network sites to be arbiters of what is real and fake. Censorship executed by web sites or the government or both. Rules similar to the "false news" law in Canada that was ruled unconstitutional after it convicted a holocaust denier. (See: R v Zundel)

Anonymous shaming Here I propose an alternative in the form of semi-anonymous shaming. If we can create consequences for the spreading of fake news, social consequences, we may be able to reduce it. Of course, if your friend online posts some fake news, you may be inclined (as I often am) to call them out on it. This is not typical activity. Most people are afraid of damaging a friendship in this fashion.

Perhaps

Brad Ideas
Apr 02, 2018

Blog now using HTTPS/TLS secure web by default
Topic: AnnouncementsBoring administrative announcement: In a move long overdue for me, access to this blog and my other large sites will now be exclusively through "https" (ie. encrypted web.)

I set up this, of course, using the great tool Let's Encrypt which was created with support from the EFF. This project and the tools around it take a big step towards making the internet encrypted by default. Let me know if you experience any problems. But then I guess you aren't reading this if you are. Oh well!

For decades, it was painful and expensive to get the certificates needed to secure connections to a site. You typically had to pay a small set of companies, usually every year. Now a trusted certificate can be created automatically and for free. While you could in the past use self-signed certificates, a serious error was made in browser design, causing the browser to complain far more loudly about the use of a self-signed certificate than about connecting completely insecurely. Because of this, few people used it. It's also been a lot of work to configure web servers and e-mail tools to use TLS, and in fact today it's still too hard, but tools like certbot have automated a fair bit of that process. In the very earliest days, encryption was considered legally a munition that needed a licence to export. So most web tools were built without it, or using a useless insecure form of it. In the end, it made people decide it was just too much work. The EFF and others fought to ge

Brad Ideas
Apr 02, 2018

Comparing the Uber and Tesla fatalities with a table
Topic: RobocarsThe Uber car and Tesla's autopilot, both in the news for fatalities are really two very different things. This table outlines the difference. Also, see below for some new details on why the Tesla crashed and more.



Uber ATC Test Tesla Autopilot A prototype full robocar capable of unmanned operations on city streets. A driver assist system for highways and expressways Designed for taxi service Designed for privately owned and driven cars A full suite of high end roobcar sensors including LIDAR Productive automotive sensors, cameras and radar. 1 pedestran fatality, other accidents unknown Fatalities in Florida, China, California, other serious crashes without injury Approximately 3 million miles of testing Late 2016: 300M miles, 1.3B miles data gathering. A prototype in testing which needs a human safety driver monitoring it A production product overseen by the customer Designed to handle everything it might encounter on the road Designed to handle only certain situations. Users are expressly warned it doesn't handle major things like cross traffic, stop signs and traffic lights. Still in an early state, needing intervention every 13 miles on city streets In production and needing intervention rarely on highways but if you tried to drive it

Brad Ideas
Mar 30, 2018

Tesla model X fatality in Silicon Valley had Autopilot turned on
Topic: RobocarsLast week, buried in the news of the Uber fatality, a Tesla model X had a fatality, plowing into the ramp divider on the flyover carpool exit from Highway 101 to Highway 85 in the heart of Silicon Valley. Literally just a few hundred feet from Microsoft and Google buildings, close to many other SV companies, and just a few miles from Tesla HQ. I take this ramp frequently, as does almost everybody else in the valley. The driver was an Apple programmer, on his way to work.

With autopilot on, it was just revealed today.

This was only revealed now because the concrete divider was missing its "crumple barrier" and the Tesla was almost complete destroyed, and had a battery fire. They were lucky to get the data.

While they took place in the same week, this is pretty different from the Uber incident. First of all, Tesla's autopilot technology is a very different animal from the full robocar technology tested by Uber, Waymo and others. It's a driver assist technology that requires that the (consumer) driver stay alert all the time. It is, really, a glorified cruise control with lanekeeping ability. There are all sorts of things it doesn't handle, and that Tesla warns customers it doesn't handle. The Uber was a prototype full robocar, designed to handle the situation it failed on, though still a prototype and needing a safety driver.

Even the simplest accidents are never simple, so let's consider the circumstances of this one. First

Brad Ideas
Mar 30, 2018

How does a robocar see a pedestrian and how might Uber have gone wrong?
Topic: RobocarsHow does a robocar see and avoid hitting a pedestrian? There are a lot of different ways. Some are very common, some are used only by certain teams. To understand what the Uber car was supposed to do, it can help to look at them. I write this without specific knowledge of what techniques Uber uses.

In particular, I want to examine what could go wrong at any of these points, and what is not likely to go wrong.

The usual pipeline looks something like this:

Localization (no indication of failure) Sensing (With LIDAR, radar, cameras, etc.) Sensor fusion (also takes place later in the chain) Classification (preliminary) Link to objects previously known, determine velocity Model future paths of all obstacles. Improve classification Detect possible incursions Plan a path forward Execute plan Send commands to car controls Localization Ideally, the car wants to know where it is on its map. This is a continuous process, and involves the sensing system. However, in this case the vehicle drove properly in its lane so there is no sign of failure here.

Sensing I could write a lot about sensing here. All the sensors have different attributes. All of them should have detected the pedestrian fairly early, though radar has some limitations.

LIDAR is extremely reliable. The LIDAR would have sensed her, starting at least 90m out. Radar has challenges on object

Brad Ideas
Mar 29, 2018

Cruise getting a ticket is a very positive story
Topic: RobocarsLost in all my coverage of the Uber event is a much more positive story from San Francisco, where Police issued a ticket to the safety driver of a Cruise test vehicle for getting too close to a pedestrian.

We don't have all the details on this, but based on Cruise's statements -- that the ticket was issued in error and they were never closer than 10.8 feet to the pedestrian and they correctly yielded right-of-way -- it is speculated this incident involved a Cruise car going through a crosswalk which was also in use by a pedestrian.

The law requires cars to yield the right of way to pedestrians in crosswalks, and Cruise claims it does this and did this. It is not clearly defined what the right of way is of a pedestrian. In some places, the pedestrian effectively "owns" the whole crosswalk in front of them. In other places, their ROW only includes half the road or a smaller buffer zone. We have all been there -- you want to turn right on a green, and there are pedestrians in the crosswalk. Often, you will turn through the crosswalk when the pedestrians are coming from the other side and you'll be long gone by the time they get to the lane you are turning through. Or you wait for pedestrians to pass and you turn, with caution, as soon as they have walked through the lane you want.

This is a good thing, and in busy cities, is important for the flow of traffic. The extreme situation -- nobody can turn if a pedestrian is anywhere in or approaching the crossw

Brad Ideas
Mar 29, 2018

Uber settles quickly
Uber has reached an undisclosed settlement in the fatal incident with the victim's husband and daughter. This matches my prediction of Uber's likely best course of action, since it will shut down much of the public discussion and avoid dragging all sorts of details out into the open in a lengthy trial. The settlement comes with an agreement for silence, as you might expect.

Of course, that means the public does not get to see them, at least for now. It will see some of them in the NTSB accident report. If there is a criminal trial over the death, some details will come out, but far fewer than would in a civil trial. If Uber is simply cited for infraction of the vehicle code, it would not want that to go to trial and would just pay the penalties.

Another option lies open. The governments issuing permits for Uber to do its testing may require it to be more forthcoming if they wish new permits. Last week, Uber's permit to test in California expired and it declined to renew. It is unsure who will let them test in the future.

The settlement offer was presumably generous, so that the family would quickly accept it. As noted this is compounded by the fact that society and court cases don't attach large values to the lives of the homeless in contrast with others. While there should have been law firms willing to work pro bono (or certainly on contingency) because of the fame of the case, they would have to be looking at a highly uncertain amount of damages. If the court simply tried to calculate the future income of the deceased and the pain and suffering, it might not have generated a number that would justify the

Brad Ideas
Mar 27, 2018

Uber right turn, what government should do and minimum standards for robocars
Topic: RobocarsYesterday we saw the state of Arizona kick Uber's robocar program out of the state. Arizona worked hard to provide very light regulation and attracted many teams to the state, but now it has understandable fear of political bite-back. Here I discuss what the government might do about this and what standards the courts, public or government might demand.



Waymo / Jaguar Waymo's big announcement today was a partnership with Jaguar to base their next vehicle on Jaguar's expensive electric car. They are going to buy a lot of cars. I think it's a surprising choice. While the luxury of such vehicles is nice, and electric makes sense, I somehow suspect that for a taxi people prefer vehicles like the minivan they now use, with high seats, easy entry and automatic doors. Less green, though.

Making right turn Some folks who have been investigating the video (I hate to watch it myself) have suggested that the car shows signs of starting a turn, and that the right turn indicators might be on. This provides some context which might provide an explanation, though not an excuse, for the system failure. In other words that very sloppy code, planning to exit the lane it's in, erroneously decided it need not treat a pedestrian in its soon-to-be-former lane as to be avoided. We're still at the point of speculation, and still waiting for Uber to release the real logs of what transpired in their spirit of full cooperation.

What should the government do? Some have reacted t

Brad Ideas
Mar 26, 2018

Arizona bans Uber self-driving cars
Topic: RobocarsThe governor of Arizona has told Uber to "get an Uber" and stop testing in the state. With no instructions on how to come back.



Unlike the early positive statements from Tempe police, this letter is harsh and to the point. It's even more bad news for Uber, and the bad news is not over. Uber has not released any log data that makes them look better, the longer they take to do that, the more it seems that the data don't tell a good story for them.

In other news, both MobilEye and Velodyne have issued releases that their systems would have seen the pedestrian. Waymo has said the same, and I believe that all of them are correct. Waymo has a big press event scheduled for tomorrow in New York, rumoured to announce some new shuttle operations there. I wonder how much consideration they gave to delaying it, because in spite of their superior performance, a lot of the questions they will get at the press conference won't be about their new project.

There are more signs that Uber's self-driving project may receive the "death penalty," or at the very least a very long and major setback. A long and major setback in a field where Uber thought "second place is first loser" to quote Anthony Levandowski.



Brad Ideas
Mar 26, 2018

On crosswalks and safety driver interventions for robocars
Topic: RobocarsIn the wake of the Uber fatality, I'm seeing lots of questions. Let's consider the issues of crosswalks and interventions by safety drivers.

The importance of the crosswalk

Crosswalks actually are important to robocars in spite of the fact that they still should stop for a pedestrian outside of a crosswalk.

At a crosswalk (marked or implicit) pedestrians have the right of way. They can, and do, just step out into the crosswalk and have a legal right to expect traffic will stop. Of course, if you are rational, you still watch the traffic and make sure it's really stopping before you go too far.

There are actually quite a few different "classes" of road space that exist, and pedestrians act very differently at them, and cars act differently because of that:

Crosswalks with a crossing guard Crosswalks at traffic lights with walk/don't walk signs or traffic lights General marked crosswalks without signals or lights (at intersections or mid-block) Unmarked crosswalks that implicitly exist at all intersections Non-crosswalks in places where it is still legal to cross, usually yielding right-of-way to the cars Non-crosswalks where it is illegal for the pedestrian to cross ("jaywalking") Non-crosswalks explicitly signed "do not cross here." Which may be known to be places of regular crossing Roads with a physical barrier (fence or wall) blocking pedestrian access Limited access freeways (with different customs in di

Brad Ideas
Mar 25, 2018

Almost every thing that went wrong in the Uber fatality is both terrible and expected
Topic: RobocarsToday I'm going to examine how you attain safety in a robocar, and outline a contradiction in the things that went wrong for Uber and their victim. Each thing that went wrong is both important and worthy of discussion, but at the same time unimportant. For almost every thing that went wrong Is something that we want to prevent going wrong, but it's also something that we must expect will go wrong sometimes, and to plan for it.



In particular, I want to consider how things operate in spite of the fact that people will jaywalk, illegal or not, car systems will suffer failures and safety drivers will sometimes not be looking.

What's new First, an update on developments.

Uber has said it is cooperating fully, but we certainly haven't heard anything more from them, or from the police. That's because:

Police have indicated that the accident has been referred for criminal investigation, and the NTSB is also present. The family (only a stepdaughter is identified) have retained counsel, and are demanding charges and considering legal action. A new story in the New York Times is more damning for Uber. There we learn:

Uber's performance has been substandard in Arizona. They are needing an intervention after 13 miles of driving on average. Other top companies like Waymo go many thousands of miles. Uber just recently switched to having one safety dri

Brad Ideas
Mar 21, 2018

It certainly looks bad for Uber
Topic: RobocarsUpdate: Analysis of why most of what went wrong is both terrible but also expected.

The Tempe police released the poor quality video from the Uber. What looks like a dash-cam video along with a video of the safety driver. Both videos show things that suggest serious problems from Uber, absent further explanation.



You can watch the video here if you have not seen it. It's disturbing, though the actual impact is removed. It will make you angry. It made me angry.

Above I have included a brightened frame from 3 seconds into the video. It is the first frame in which the white running shoes of the victim are visible in the dashcam video. They only appear then because she is previously in darkness, crossing at a poorly lit spot, and the headlamps finally illuminate her. Impact occurs at about 4.4 seconds (if the time on the video is right.)

She is crossing, we now see, at exactly this spot where two storm drains are found in the curb. It is opposite the paved path in the median which is marked by the signs telling pedestrians not to cross at this location. She is walking at a moderate pace.

The road is empty of other cars. Here are the big issues:

On this empty road, the LIDAR is very capable of detecting her. If it was operating, there i

Brad Ideas
Mar 20, 2018

New facts and questions on Uber robocar fatality
Topic: RobocarsUpdate: More information in following posts, particularly impressions of serious possible errors by Uber.

As expected, yesterday's fatal accident with an Uber robocar has created a great deal of buzz and controversy. There have been many updates since I wrote yesterday's post, and I have updated the article with most of them. My biggest question, however, revolves around the police statement that the victim was crossing from the west (left side) but the debris is in the right lane, at about the place where the right turn lane is expanding away from it. I asked the police spokesman to confirm that she was going west to east and it was confirmed.



As we also saw, the right grille of the Uber vehicle is dented. The Uber was going 40mph on a 45mph road (original reports said a 35mph road.)

The big question is, it seems that the victim had to cross three and a half lanes to the point where she was hit. Two left turn lanes, the left lane of Mill St. and finally half of the right lane to where she was hit by the right side of the Volvo. As a reminder, here is the location on StreetView.

This is quite puzzling. Uber's Velodyne LIDAR should have seen her very clearly, and observed her for almost 5 seconds if she was walking, about 2.5 seconds if she was running. A bit l

Brad Ideas
Mar 19, 2018

Uber robocar hits and kills pedestrian in Arizona
Topic: RobocarsUpdate: Did the woman cross 3.5 lanes of road before being hit?

It's just been reported that one of Uber's test self-driving cars struck a woman in Tempe, Arizona during the night. She died in the hospital. There are not a lot of facts at present, so any of these things might be contradicted later.

Police say 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg was crossing the road (not using the crosswalk.) She was walking her bicycle and came out from the median, which is signed that pedestrians should not cross there, and should go to the main crosswalk at the light. According to the police reports, she was in the dark and could not be seen by the safety driver until he hit her. (The LIDAR should have seen her a little bit before but the car did not react, which is odd.)



What should happen very soon is that Uber will know just what happened. The vehicle was in autonomous mode. They'll have a full 3-D recreation of the incident and are almost surely working to understand why their vehicle did not stop in time. There was a safety driver in the vehicle who is supposed to use human senses and judgment to intervene and hit the brakes if they see the car not properly reacting to a cyclist, pedestrian or any other risk on the road. The driver says she did not see her.

Below is the location of the crash on

Brad Ideas
Mar 16, 2018

What happens if/when Bitcoin stabilizes in price
Topic: TechnologyTags: bitcoinI've been doing some analysis of the "HODL" movement (which attempts to use social pressure to convince people to hold on to Bitcoin and other holdings, rather than taking the normal profit-taking steps after such a large appreciation.) I believe that HODL goes against what a cryptocurrency is supposed to be about, since to be valuable it has to be useful, and to be useful, people need to be using it, not holding it. I will explore this in another article next week.

HODL is based on a faith that the price of a bitcoin will continue to rise and perhaps never fall. But to be useful it needs to stabilize, or at the least get to a period of fairly modest and predictable appreciation. You can't do smart contracts for more than a few days when the currency is highly volatile.

So what if Bitcoin did stabilize in price? What would it mean? I'm not sure it works.

If the price were stable, the mining capability would also have to stabilize at a level where mining is close to a break even proposition. If it's seriously profitable, then more people will bring up more mining gear until it's just modestly profitable. In addition, as people bring up newer generations of mining gear that are more profitable, the older gear becomes money-losing, and rational miners would shu

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