Thursday, April 28, 2016

Better Ways to Get to Work -- While We Wait for Autonomous Cars

Read about car share and other upgrades coming thanks to technology, over at the WSJ--

Ride-sharing firms Uber Technologies Inc. and Lyft Inc. are experimenting with carpooling services that are changing how people get to work. Both companies, best known for providing a fleet of private drivers that can be matched to individual passengers through their smartphones, have introduced technology that groups strangers as passengers—thus saving commuters money—by using algorithms that match distances and times of trips with other people going to similar places or in similar directions.

In Late March, Lyft launched Lyft Carpool, a pilot program in the San Francisco Bay Area, to address a heavily congested section of Highway 101 between San Francisco and Silicon Valley. That program matches commuters with other commuters rather than private drivers. The company also is working with the regional Metropolitan Transportation Commission to expand carpool lanes along that route...

Researchers are looking at how mobile apps, social media and predictions about traffic flow can all combine to deliver a better commute. Of course, the NYT has information on how Uber is looking to relieve congestion.

Call up the app, specify your destination, and in exchange for a significant discount, UberPool matches you with other riders going the same way. The service might create a ride just for you, but just as often, it puts you in a ride that began long ago — one that has spanned several drop-offs and pickups, a kind of instant bus line created from collective urban demand.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Titanium Bathtub vs the Software-Wacky Boondoggle

The Air Force is offering up a showdown between the A-10 and the F-35. We know which will triumph! The Titanium Bathtub vs the CooCoo Boondoggle

From Wikipedia:
The Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II is an American twin-engine, straight wing jet aircraft developed by Fairchild-Republic in the 1970s. It entered service in 1976, and is the only United States Air Force production-built aircraft designed solely for close air support, i.e. close quarters support of ground troops. This includes attacking tanks, armored vehicles, and other ground targets. The A-10 was effective in Operation Desert Storm during the Gulf War. It has also served in combat in the Balkans, Afghanistan, Iraq, and against the Islamic State in the middle east.
The A-10 was intended to improve on the performance of the A-1 Skyraider and its poor firepower. The A-10 was designed around the 30 mm GAU-8 Avenger rotary cannon that is its primary armament. Its airframe was designed for durability, with measures such as 1,200 pounds (540 kg) of titanium armor to protect the cockpit and aircraft systems, enabling it to absorb a significant amount of damage and continue flying. Its short takeoff and landing capability permits operation from airstrips close to the front lines, and its simple design enables maintenance with minimal facilities. The A-10A single-seat variant was the only version produced, though one A-10A was converted to an A-10B twin-seat version. In 2005, a program was begun to upgrade remaining A-10A aircraft to the A-10C configuration with modern avionics for use of GPS guided weaponry and a Helmet Mounted Cueing System.
The A-10's official name comes from the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt of World War II, a fighter that was particularly effective at close air support. The A-10 is more commonly known by its nicknames "Warthog" or "Hog". Its secondary mission is to provide forward air controller - airborne (FAC-A) support, by directing other aircraft in attacks on ground targets. Aircraft used primarily in this role are designated OA-10. With a variety of upgrades and wing replacements, the A-10's service life may be extended to 2028.

The Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II is a family of single-seat, single-engine, all-weather stealth multirole fighters undergoing final development and testing by the United States. The fifth generation combat aircraft is designed to perform ground attack and air defense missions. The F-35 has three main models: the F-35A conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) variant, the F-35B short take-off and vertical-landing (STOVL) variant, and the F-35C carrier-based Catapult Assisted Take-Off But Arrested Recovery (CATOBAR) variant. On 31 July 2015, the first squadron was declared ready for deployment after intensive testing by the United States.
The F-35 is descended from the X-35, which was the winning design of the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program. It is being designed and built by an aerospace industry team led by Lockheed Martin. Other major F-35 industry partners include Northrop Grumman, Pratt & Whitney and BAE Systems. The F-35 took its first flight on 15 December 2006. The United States plans to buy 2,457 aircraft. The F-35 variants are intended to provide the bulk of the manned tactical airpower of the U.S. Air Force, Navy and the Marine Corps over the coming decades. Deliveries of the F-35 for the U.S. military are scheduled to be completed in 2037[16] with a projected service life up to 2070.
The program is the most expensive military weapons system in history, and it has been the object of much criticism from those inside and outside government — in the US and in allied countries.[20] Critics argue that the plane is "plagued with design flaws," with many blaming the procurement process in which Lockheed was allowed "to design, test, and produce the F-35 all at the same time, instead of ... [identifying and fixing] defects before firing up its production line."[20] By 2014, the program was "$163 billion over budget [and] seven years behind schedule." Critics further contend that the program's high sunk costs and political momentum make it "too big to kill."

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The next hit to the labor market: robot lorries

Autonomous cars such as the GoogleCar tend to get our attention, but the autonomous vehicles most of us are likely to interact with first are going to be lorries and trucks. The big rigs that haul almost anything consumed will be much safer if drivers do not get fatigued on long trips. They are also far more efficient if they can "platoon" together, drafting behind each other.

So check your rear-view mirror: the driverless truck is coming, and it’s going to automate millions of jobs -- I mean, eliminate! From TechCrunch:

A convoy of self-driving trucks recently drove across Europe and arrived at the Port of Rotterdam. No technology will automate away more jobs — or drive more economic efficiency — than the driverless truck. Shipping a full truckload from L.A. to New York costs around $4,500 today, with labor representing 75 percent of that cost. But those labor savings aren’t the only gains to be had from the adoption of driverless trucks. Where drivers are restricted by law from driving more than 11 hours per day without taking an 8-hour break, a driverless truck can drive nearly 24 hours per day. That means the technology would effectively double the output of the U.S. transportation network at 25 percent of the cost.
Robot trucks?! If you just passed a truck glowing blue on the Nevada highway, it means that a robot is at the controls. For testing, autonomous models have LED lights that turn different colors according to whether a human – or the computer – is in control. From the BBC: Daimler’s truck is capable of “level three” self-driving – on a scale that goes from zero to four - which means it can take over the driving itself if required. But the company says the driver will only become a passenger under a controlled set of circumstances.
The system was first demonstrated in Germany last year but on a closed section of road. When BBC Future joins the testing team, it’s on a section of a public highway. And on Nevada’s freeways, the driver can now chill out, or even take care of paperwork on the truck’s built-in tablet.

Friday, April 15, 2016

US anti-encryption law is so 'braindead' it will outlaw file compression Burr-Feinstein's proposed legislation will screw over the NSA, too, says Bruce Schneier

The Register has a good article on the inanity of proposed U.S. legislation regarding encryption.

The proposed bill put forward by Senators Richard Burr (R-NC) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) to force US companies to build backdoors into their encryption systems has quickly run into trouble.

Less than 24 hours after the draft Compliance with Court Orders Act of 2016 was released, more than 43,000 signatures have been added to a petition calling for the bill to be withdrawn. The petition, organized by CREDO Action, calls for Congress to block the proposed law as a matter of urgency.

Meanwhile, in the technical world, experts have been going through the legislation and pointing out glaring holes in the draft bill. Bruce Schneier, the guy who literally wrote the books on modern cryptography, noted that the bill would make most of what the NSA does illegal, unless No Such Agency is willing to backdoor its own encrypted communications.

"This is the most braindead piece of legislation I've ever seen," Schneier – who has just been appointed a Fellow of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard – told The Reg. "The person who wrote this either has no idea how technology works or just doesn't care."

He pointed out that it isn't just cryptographic code that would be affected by this poorly written legislation. Schneier, like pretty much everyone, uses lossy compression algorithms to reduce the size of images for sending via email but – as it won't work in reverse and add back the data removed – this code could be banned by the law, too. Files that can't be decrypted on demand to their original state, and files that can't be decompressed back to their exact originals, all look the same to this draft law.

Even deleted data could be covered, he opined. Are software companies to put in place mechanisms to retrieve any and all deleted information?

Monday, April 11, 2016

Emoji on Different Platforms -- Look Different, Can be Misinterpreted

A study by the GroupLens Research team at the University of Minnesota examines the variations between some popular emoji presentations and how they are perceived. The most widely misinterpreted is the “grinning face with smiling eyes” emoji, which—depending on the platform—can range from the rosy-cheeked cherubic face of glee to the anguished clenched-teeth look of constipation.

Comparing the differences in emoji across platforms is interesting. GroupLens researchers asked subjects to rate 22 anthropomorphic emoji from five platforms by sentiment, using a scale that ranged from strongly negative to strongly positive.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Commercial Drone Service - Set to Take Off?

The Guardian: A committee sponsored by the US government is recommending standards that could clear the way for commercial drone flights over populated areas and help speed the introduction of package delivery drones and other uses not yet possible... The Federal Aviation Administration currently prohibits most commercial drone flights over populated areas, especially crowds. That ban frustrates a host of industries that want to take advantage of the technology...

The first category of drones would weigh no more than about a half-pound. They essentially could fly unrestricted over people, including crowds. Drone makers would have to certify that if the drone hit someone, there would be no more than a 1% chance that the maximum force of the impact would cause a serious injury.
For the three other categories, the drones would have to fly at least 20ft over the heads of people and keep a distance of at least 10ft laterally from someone.
Drones in the second category are expected to be mostly small quadcopters – drones with multiple arms and propellers, and weighing 4lbs to 5lbs – but there is no weight limit. Flights over people, including crowds, would depend on the design and operating instructions. Manufacturers would have to demonstrate through testing that the chance of a serious injury was 1% or less.
Drones in the third category could not fly over crowds or densely populated areas. These drones would be used for work in closed or restricted sites where the people that the drones fly over have permission from the drone operator to be present. Those people would be incidental to the drone operations and flights over them would be brief, rather than sustained. Manufacturers would have to show there was a 30% chance or less that a person would be seriously injured if struck by the drone at the maximum strength impact possible.
Drones in the fourth category could have sustained flights over crowds. Working with the FAA and engaging the local community, the operator would have to develop a “congested area plan” showing how flight risks would be mitigated. As before, the risk of serious injury would have to be 30% or less. Safety tests would be more exacting and the FAA would set a limit on how strong the drone’s maximum impact could be.

The FAA initially described the panel as a “micro” drone committee. The agency defines such drones as those weighing less than 4.4lbs. But the committee decided not to set a weight limit for most of the categories. That means it’s possible that any “small” drone, which the FAA defines as weighing less than 55lbs, could win approval to fly over people if the drone met the safety criteria laid out in the recommendations. For example, a smaller drone that flies at higher speeds with fast-moving propellers may prove more of a risk than a heavier drone that flies more slowly and whose propellers don’t rotate as quickly.
Read more at the Guardian...

Monday, April 4, 2016

Serverless Architectures

Serverless architecture can mean moving the business logic layer of a three-tier solution off to a fully distributed environment. The logic tier of the three-tier architecture that resides in this cloud-based, highly available, scalable, and secure realm means it uses thousands of servers; however, by leveraging the serverless architecture pattern, management is simplified:
- No operating systems to choose, secure, patch, or manage.
- No servers to size, monitor, or scale.
- No risk to your cost by over-provisioning.
- No risk to your performance by under-provisioning.

There is no “one” way of doing serverless, Paul Johnson writes,

Serverless becomes about exposing individual functionality rather than a whole server.
Serverless is about saying exactly what needs doing when responding to an event, and increasingly ignoring what underlying technology is required.
But it’s also about removing the need to manage uptime, server maintenance, upgrades, security vulnerabilities etc. The only bit you need to be aware of is your code. That’s it.

Read more at Paul's blog...