Critical Section

Archive: December 13, 2013

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billions and billions

Friday,  12/13/13  05:50 PM

This is what 200,000 galaxies looks like:

VISTA deep field

It's a thumbnail of an image which is 17,000 x 11,000 pixels (click to enbiggen, by which I mean download a 250MB file).  This picture was taken by the VISTA telescope in Chile, and yeah, it contains 200,000 galaxies, each of which has billions of stars.  Carl Sagan would love it :)



caravans (cont)

Friday,  12/13/13  05:59 PM

Way back in the dawn of time, April 2003, I first considered Caravans:

I thought about this a bit on my drive home, in traffic. I was trying to think, what could I do, by myself in my car, to make traffic move along faster. I think the best thing you can do is tailgate as closely as possible, without actually risking hitting the car in front of you, and track your accelerations and braking as closely as possible to the car in front of you. A virtual towing rig, essentially. This minimizes the space your vehicle uses on the road, minimizes air resistance, and maximizes your speed for the cars behind you (by yourself, you can't do anything to speed up the car in front of you).

I've discussed this with a few friends, and they all have the same reaction. Paraphrasing, their reaction is "when I get in traffic, I just relax and slow down, and try to drive along smoothly without tailgating". This is what I do, too. I don't want to get too close, because then I have to pay attention, and do a lot of stopping and starting. But this strategy minimizes traffic efficiency! It allows large gaps to open in front of you, "wasting" freeway space, and all the cars behind you can go no faster than you are going, regardless of the speed at which the cars ahead of you are traveling.

Okay, so what if you built a feature on a car that automatically kept you as close as "safe" to the car in front of you?

This generated a lot of discussion at the time, and occaisionally still does.  I came back to it a few months later, as a traffic school teacher commited the caravan fallacy, and then two years after that, as cars began to have adaptive cruise control and the technology became a reality.  Quite a few cars have this now, but it is positioned as a safety feature and a convenience, not as a way to speed along traffic.

So now an MIT professor has discovered my thesis: "an algorithm he says can work in conjunction with rangefinders and adaptive cruise control systems to keep cars moving at the ideal speeds to limit traffic jams."

caravan algorithm in action

I love it, and I'm not proud; I just want this yesterday.  Every time I'm caught in bumper-to-bumper traffic I reflect on the fact that it isn't truly bumper-to-bumper, and it it were, everyone would be moving faster!

PS of all the amazing new technologies piled into the Tesla Model S, it is disappointing that they didn't add this one.  I guess there was the hardware cost of the radar, and the time cost of getting the algorithms to work.  Maybe in the Model X?



Friday,  12/13/13  06:20 PM

Had a great day today; spent time with my friends and colleagues at DoubleBeam, and did a little video shoot with friends and colleagues from eyesFinder.  In between I spent time coding and thinking.  Zero politics.  Wonderful.

The Hobbit / Desolation of Smaug: Dwarves in Barrels!Last night I saw The Hobbit / Desolation of Smaug (midnight showing), and it was great.  Better than Unexpected Journey and closer in spirit to the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  It tracked the book pretty well although there was some new stuff thrown in, but it was good stuff.  And the dwarves-in-barrels-going-down-river-while-fighting-orcs scene alone makes the whole thing worth it.  Smaug is pretty good too...  Going to see it again tonight :)

As an Eichhorn, I loved this: Ten Germans try to say the word 'squirrel'.

Halle Feysinnet train station turned startup hubThis looks excellent: Renovated Paris train station will house 1,000 start ups.  I've always loved the Musee d'Orsay, itself a renovated train station.

The challenge will be finding 1,000 Parisian startups; for some reason the startup culture just hasn't taken hold there.  Fear of failure?

LEGO Star Wars, now on IOSLEGO Star Wars: the complete saga is now on IOS.  Wow.  What an excellent new way to waste spend time!

Maybe Big Data is the killer app for Google's cloud.  Yep.

3D printing cell penExcellent: 3D printing pen lets surgeons draw cells on damaged bones.  What a time to be alive, eh?

Correlation vs Causality confusion of the day: Readers who own Kindles spend $1,233/year on Amazon, those who don't spend $790.  Alternate headline: Readers who spend more on Amazon more likely to own a Kindle.

Plane crash tribute in desertThis is amazing: Stone Plane Crash tribute emerges from Desert.  It's horrible that this terrorist attack happened, but given that it did, this is an amazing way to memorialize it.

Mac Plus surfs the webSuper cool: Browing the web on a 27-year-old Mac Plus.  I happen to have a Mac SE 30 which still boots, and I need to see if I can get it back online.  At one time it had a SCSI-to-Ethernet thingie but that was ... wait for it ... thinnet!  Yep, pre-10BaseT.  And yep, I am that old.

Have you heard of Medium?  Yeah, me too.  This latest creation from Ev Willians (Blogger, Odeo, Twitter) is "YouTube for longform", where by 'longform' they mean longerish stories.  Interesting.  With each of Ev's previous startups I didn't get it, until I did.  And I don't yet get this one :)



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