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Comment Re:Arleady problematic now (Score 1) 588

My car (about 6 years old now) already has those two features. Newer models certainly do a better job than mine, but I have a few comments...

For the Lane Departure Warning, my car won't even turn it on unless you're over 25 mph. It's really meant for highway driving, not city driving. They're applying this treatment only to roads with a speed limit of 30 mph or less.

For Collision Avoidance (my car calls it a pre-collision system, because it won't actually avoid an accident, it will only reduce the severity); it does need to know whether a stopped object is in your lane or not, but it's not using the camera and lane departure warning system to figure that out. The LDW can be very unreliable (a sudden shadow like an overpass will confuse it, as will a break in lane lines from a merge or exit). Instead, it uses the steering angle sensor to figure out what direction you're going. I also think it might be a little more prejudicial against stopped objects; it assumes that if it's already stopped, you probably saw it well in advance, so only when you're indubitably going to smash right into it will it brake. This is how they avoid braking every time you pass a parked car at the start of a curve. On the other hand, if there's a fast-moving object in front of you and it suddenly starts a rapid deceleration, then it's a safer bet that it's on the road with you and not just a random object on the side of the road - and thus it will brake for you.

Comment Re:More nation-wrecking idiocy (Score 1) 588

I would expect that sort of thing to be focused in certain areas where there are higher accident risks due to inappropriate driver behavior. In general, all the things you listed are done to encourage drivers to drive at a safe speed.

In my area of California, there are a fair number of places that are getting "road diets" where they remove a travel lane and re-stripe. A common change is to take a 4-lane road, reduce it to a 2-lane road, and then add a bike lane in each direction and a center left turn lane. I'm pretty sure I've seen parking both added and removed in various reconfigurations. And most of these 4-lane roads were overbuilt in the first place during a suburban boom; they really weren't meant (or needed) for commuter traffic. There's usually a better road nearby that the traffic engineers are trying to encourage people to use. When these overbuilt roads are available, what tends to happen is some hotshot in a hurry decides to drive 50 mph through a residential area because he can save 10 seconds. Instead, these changes encourage people to stay on the main road at 40 mph.

In general, the total capacity of the road isn't reduced by a road diet; the center left turn lane makes sure that nobody has to wait for left turns, and the bike lane gets bikes and right turns out of the right lane. The end result is that even though there's only one traffic lane, it is more free-flowing than a lane would be in the 4-lane configuration. This is true until you get over 20,000 vehicles on the road in a day; after that point, you do indeed need the extra lanes.

Adding more protected bike lanes can also get more people to bike (and thus fewer people slowing your car down), although that's not something that will happen in any measurable amount by adding one bike lane - that's something you get when you make the whole city bikeable.

Comment Re:Laughing myself out of the room (Score 1) 588

That's OK. When we visit, we can still use our native license to drive in most locations (possibly augmented by an International Driving Permit that's basically just holds translated info from our license, but the last 2 times I drove internationally, I didn't need one).

Better keep an eye out for us.

(That said, my parents made me learn and test on stick even though I normally drove their automatic. If I had a choice, I'd probably get a stick, but the hybrids and EVs I tend to like usually have transmissions that don't fall into the manual/automatic dichotomy.)

Comment Re:The Cloud: 1, Users: 0 (Score 2) 432

I switched from a basic 5+2 day thermostat to a Nest about a year ago (though I wasn't hit by the bug mentioned here). This Christmas, we left home for a few days, but left our dogs there in the care of a dog sitter who stopped by a couple times each day. Normally, we run the heat from about 6:30 PM when we get home, until 10:30 PM when we go to sleep, set to 68F. In the morning, we're not home and awake long enough to make it worth running the heat. It gets down to maybe 62 on a fairly cold day before the heat turns back on.

While we were gone, I wanted the heat to be mostly off, but keep the dogs from getting too cold. So I set it to 60 around the clock. Somewhat surprisingly, that actually used more heat than occasionally heating the house to 68 and then letting it cool off for a while while we were away and didn't need the heat, even though the temperature was lower than it would ever get when we were home.

It's possible some of that difference is because we weren't home; that means a few hundred watts less electricity dissipated from things like computers and the TV to heat the house, or the heat from our bodies helping to warm the space. And our house is a typical older California house that leaks like a sieve, because there's not much ROI on adding insulation in such a mild climate. But it can definitely make a difference to set the thermostat back for a while when you're not there.

Which leads me to one of the things I like about my Nest; I have it hooked up to our smartphones, using the Skylark app. The app uses geofencing to figure out whether we're at home or not. The moment we all leave the circle drawn around our house, it sets the thermostat to "Away" mode. When anybody gets back inside that circle, the thermostat fires back up. The circle can be drawn at quite a wide range; I think anywhere from a few hundred feet to miles, depending on whether you want it to already be at your favorite temperature by the time you get there.

The Nest also lets you set a lot more temperature changes than my old thermostat. That one allowed 4 changes per day, with settings for weekdays, Saturdays, and Sundays. That basically means warm in the morning and evening, cool at midday and overnight. The Nest allows unlimited settings throughout each day, and has a separately-set "Away" and "Safety" temperature thresholds. So I can tell the thermostat to be at 68, but if I'm away it can drop to 55, and if the thermostat is off it can drop to 45 to keep the pipes from freezing. With something like that, you could probably set the "Away" temperature in the summer to even just like 2 degrees higher - enough that you probably wouldn't notice, but could still save maybe 6% or so on cooling costs. (At least personally, I'm more comfortable with the A/C running at 80 than with it off at 78, probably because of the cool drafts of air moving around.)

Overall, I really like it, and it has some nice benefits. Is it worth the $250? Eh, maybe. That is rather expensive compared to a dumb programmable thermostat. But I'm a nerd, and it's a nice nerdy toy, so I'd definitely buy it again.

Comment Re:some people think they're an eyesore (Score 3, Insightful) 336

One way this is a bad thing is applicable whether it's domination by solar farms or anything else; it's a lack of diversification. It's a similar problem faced by the cities of Cupertino and Mountain View in California. Cupertino is dominated by Apple, and Mountain View is dominated by Google. Both of these cities want to be favorable to their respective companies, who pay massive amounts of local taxes. On the other hand, if something goes poorly - for example, Apple hits hard times again and shrinks rapidly - then they're suddenly left with a huge hole in their budget, large numbers of unemployed citizens, and all the resulting downstream issues from that.

The solar business isn't quite so fickle, but it's still reasonable to not want to be boxed in by solar farms. For example, if the companies that maintain them go out of business, or if the maintenance costs of the solar farm exceed the price they can get for the power, the town might suddenly be surrounded by thousands of acres of unmaintained waste. I imagine that these farms will bring a few permanent jobs to the area for maintenance - a quick google shows that a solar farm can create a few hundred temporary construction jobs, followed by 10-15 permanent maintenance jobs. In a town of 800 residents, where maybe half or so are working (ie not students, retired, or family caretakers), then having 40-60 jobs all in the same industry is a pretty big percentage of your workforce, and it can have a pretty big effect if they all suddenly go away.

So it's not unreasonable to limit the expansion of a single industry in a small focused area.

Comment Re:Too much hype about driverless cars (Score 1) 211

Self-driving cars have no test record in conventional commuter traffic (AFAIK).

In Silicon Valley, it's not uncommon to see a Google self-driving car, including in commute traffic. They're still in a prototype phase so there's a safety driver inside. There are currently over 50 of them in Silicon Valley and Austin, TX; 30 custom prototype "neighborhood electric vehicles" that are speed-limited to 25 mph, and 23 Lexus SUVs that are capable of freeway driving. They've done about 1.3 million miles in autonomous mode, and get about 10-15,000 miles more each week. They reason that the 25 mph limit on the prototype vehicles doesn't really limit it much, because most roads in Mountain View (home of the Googleplex) are 25 mph residential roads, and the ones that aren't are so congested during commutes that nobody's going 25 mph anyway.

Assuming for the moment, that the cars are built so that a human driver can instantly take control of the car, I can easily see a situation where a drunk enters the car and decides that he knows better than the automated system.

How is that any different from a human driver taking their own car drunk today? At least there's a possibility that the driver might just pass out and let the car do its thing. It remains to be seen exactly how things will work - Google wants to do away with the driver's controls completely, and that's what their prototypes do.

Driverless cars, it seems to me, is the US answer to climate change. A "have your cake and eat it too" solution.

No, I don't think so. There's nothing inherently more "green" about an autonomous vehicle. Sure, a lot of them are EVs - but as some people love to point out, in many areas of the country, much of the electricity is generated by burning coal, so a regular gas vehicle produces less emissions.

I think the main reason for autonomous vehicles is the safety aspect, and that's certainly one of the big reasons for Sebastian Thrun, who led the Stanford team that first won the DARPA Grand Challenge, and later went to Google to lead their self-driving car project. He has recounted how he lost a friend to a traffic accident when he was 18, and a lab manager just a few years ago - and there are 1.2 million more traffic fatalities every year.
There are a lot of other potential benefits, too:
- If the fleet model is adopted, fewer cars are needed - this is useful because a car spends about 98% of its time parked.
- People who are incapable of driving (blind, elderly, etc.) can use them to get around.
- The occupant can read, play games, get work done, etc. rather than needing to drive.
- Aw heck, just go here.

While we are here because we like technology, let's be realistic: VW, GM, etc. - would you trust them to make a flawless device that would keep you and your family safe? I wouldn't.

It'll never be flawless. It doesn't need to be - it just needs to be better than Joe Shmoe, and quite frankly, that's not hard.

Comment Re:Cars beat trains (Score 2) 211

The article is from Australia and I'm not terribly familiar with the attitude toward public transportation there, but at least in the US, apart from a few pockets in big cities, you will not pry cars from their owners without at least a generational change. Also, the author seems to have no clue just how advanced these prototype vehicles have become; they are very able to navigate among unpredictable obstacles on city streets without being slowed to a crawl. The premise is decent - that autonomous vehicles could be used to boost the use of public transit - but it's not the only thing that will happen; nor do I think it's even one of the primary effects that will result.

Comment Re:Too much hype about driverless cars (Score 5, Informative) 211

Something north of 90% of accidents are preventable; take a look at table 8 here: http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/P...
That table shows the 'critical event' in an accident, which is what made it unavoidable. Just 1.4% of accidents are from an object or animal in the road. Likewise, only 1.2% are due to a vehicle problem, although a large percentage of those are improper maintenance, which would be solved by some autonomous vehicle business models where they are owned and maintained by a fleet company (such as Uber).

So we can prevent 90% of accidents, but you think it's not worthwhile because the other 10% still happen?

Furthermore, if the fleet model is adopted, it actually becomes more likely that safety improvements will make more financial sense; far fewer cars are needed in the fleet, so the costs are amortized over more people. But in either case, safety standards are set by the government, and we can choose to raise or lower them as we see fit, completely orthogonally from whether cars are autonomous or not.

Comment Re:abuse from the people with 15GB space (Score 1) 330

I think that they just wanted to have an attractive price to get people on the service, and now that people are there, they want to hike the price. But they're deflecting anger by saying "there's been abuse, so we're cutting our sizes if you don't sign up soon", rather than "we're doubling our prices".

Comment Re:Pretty standard procedure on a large campus (Score 4, Informative) 284

Yes, this and many other things. I volunteer on my company's Emergency Response Team, so I get some exposure to this sort of thing. There are many reasons why they have you call security first:
1. Security is much closer. Even for us, where the fire truck and ambulance are only a block away, Security (and the ERT) can respond at least 3 or 4 minutes faster.
2. Security has a "go bag" that contains a defibrillator, oxygen, and a lot of other useful equipment.
3. If you call from an office phone, the address that shows up at the 911 center is our main visitor entrance. We have about 15 different buildings, and if you go to the wrong one, it'll take you an extra 5 minutes to drive to the correct one. Security knows how to direct 911 to the right place if you call them first, because they know to ask you which building and which cubicle you are located in.
4. Security can meet the ambulance. They get their vehicle out to the street to meet the ambulance and escort them to the door that is closest to the emergency. Then, they can provide access to the building and escort them directly to the emergency, since all entrances are normally locked.
5. Not all emergencies are necessarily worth calling 911, and Security has training on which ones are likely to be critical. Obviously, if someone is unconscious or not breathing, 911 should be called immediately (and that should be communicated to Security). But what if someone is just feeling a little off? Our company has a list of about 10 things that we must dial 911 for (things like chest pain, loss of consciousness, etc.); other things are up to our judgement as to their severity - but with the knowledge that it's always better to call 911 and be wrong about it being an emergency. The ambulance will show up for free, they only charge you if you go away with them.

At my company, Security is pretty much always the first on the scene, since they're always communicating via radio. A couple minutes later, people with some basic medical training (first aid, CPR, AED) from the ERT show up after getting an E-mail/phone/SMS page. And a few minutes after that, the ambulance arrives. That's even the case when somebody calls 911 from their cell phone (as long as they eventually call security too) - it's better to get our first responders on site early and get everything prepared for the ambulance to arrive, rather than to have the ambulance wandering the parking lot trying to find the emergency.

Comment Re:Live by the sword, die by the sword. (Score 2) 312

Because they're not much of an innovator. This is not a troll. They've never been terribly good at inventing brand new things.

Agree with everything you said except this part. They're not a hardware innovator. If you've opened up Macbooks to repair them, you'll find the same commodity parts used by every other laptop manufacturer. Heck, they're not even made by Apple, they're made by Quanta, an ODM.

I'd agree that this is often true, but not always. Apple innovates in hardware when it makes sense for them, and buys off-the-shelf when it doesn't.

Here's an obvious example, although from quite a long time ago; Apple developed its own chipset for the PowerPC 970, aka G5. Although it was fabbed by IBM, their architect confirmed that it was an Apple design. That said, I wouldn't be surprised if they bought some of the IP inside from somebody else too.

Another example is touch input. Apple used to get all their trackpads and controllers from Synaptics. I believe at some point, they switched to making their own. They still sometimes use off-the-shelf parts for them when it makes sense - but there are also rumors that Apple is working on its own controller for touchscreens now too.

A more recent example that they've advertised is the "TCON" (the display's timing controller) in the Retina iMacs. When everybody else was starting to think about going to 4K, they just skipped past that to 5K, and presumably couldn't find one that met their needs. It wouldn't surprise me if, in a few years, they go back to an off-the-shelf design, unless they've come up with a unique method of driving the display (like NVIDIA's G-Sync, followed by AMD's FreeSync).

Another example would be the backlit keyboard - I don't think I'm aware of anybody else that had done such a thing at the time - Apple put LEDs on the side of the keyboard, and used optical fibers to spread the light across the whole keyboard, shining through the key caps. The usual keyboard lighting for laptops at the time was an LED embedded in the top center of the screen that pointed down at the keys, illuminating them from above. They've since gone through another generation of the design, with individual LEDs under each keycap.

And finally, you have their iPhone/iPad/AppleTV CPUs these days. Nobody really knows much about Apple's architecture except them, but it's a custom design that undoubtedly has plenty of innovations (some of which may be patented by somebody else, whether they know it or not).

There are also plenty of innovations that are driven by Apple, although largely developed elsewhere. I'd be willing to bet that they are heavily involved with certain display and camera manufacturers - maybe not so much in the engineering/design side, but in the direction that development should go. Few companies would've made a "retina display" the size of an iPhone a few years ago, but Apple really pushed the idea. Or the whole sapphire thing that obviously went rather poorly a couple years ago - without the backing of Apple, GTAT wouldn't have had the funds to buy a bunch of sapphire furnaces to make the huge quantities needed. Unfortunately, GTAT wasn't successful at refining the manufacturing process enough to make it cost effective, and the whole thing imploded.

So yes, 99% of the time, they just buy off-the-shelf parts. It makes sense, because they're usually cheaper and do everything you need them to. But by choosing the right 1% of the time to innovate, they make a much larger impact. It's what any smart company would do.

Comment Re:This is why you call your bank before tourism (Score 2) 345

Maybe because it's not uncommon to test a stolen credit card with some trivial amount first, before making a huge purchase with it. That, combined with it being foreign, probably triggered the fraud alert.

Maybe it's obvious, but if you're having bad experiences with your bank, maybe you should... try a different bank? I can recall only a few instances where my bank has suspected fraud, and they've always called me before my card was deactivated. Once was when I moved halfway across the country, and I spent $350 at Target for random housewares - while I was loading the bags into my car in the Target parking lot, my bank called to make sure it was me. On the other hand, I've travelled to a number of different countries (often without notifying the bank), and I don't recall ever having a problem with my card.

I'll take a stab in the dark, and say it's because my card is through a large but local credit union, where they actually care about individual customers. I think the huge national outfits tend to care about customers in aggregate - if they can offer a better deal than everybody else (e.g. more cash back, or a "double" rewards card), then it doesn't matter if they lose you as a customer - they'll pick up two more to replace you. But that means that to maintain their margins, they have to catch fraud with a much higher false positive rate, because they can't afford any loss.

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