Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Internet is cool

One of the reasons that the Internet is cool is that, if your washing machine should stop working one day, and sit there with a blinking LED display reading

then you can go to the Internet, and search, and pretty soon you'll find detailed instructions and illustrated summaries of how to fix the problem.

And, of course, another reason that the Internet is cool is that you can construct a catalog of exactly how not to get the job done.

But, if you were wondering what else might be cool about the Internet, here are a few ideas:

  • The 11th USENIX Conference on File and Storage Technologies has wrapped up, and I've been looking through the conference sessions to get a feeling what was was being discussed. As usual, Robin Harris's blog is one of the best places to get a feel for the material. As Harris observes, a number of the best papers this year were focused on real-world experience with new technologies; it's always worth reading what happens when academic ideas confront the hard realities of implementation.
  • Everybody of course is talking about the Chelyabinsk meteor. I thought that Phil Plait's article on Slate was one of the better summaries: Russian Meteorite Fragment May Have Hit Lake
    it's become clear that the multiple booms heard were in fact explosions, and not just shock waves from the meteoroid's passing through the air. In some videos, you can see multiple flashes of light inside the contrail, which are clearly from the rock breaking up and then burning up very rapidly and with intense energy—the very definition of an explosion. Over the course of just a couple of seconds, the large energy of motion of the meteoroid was converted into heat, and this exploded with a yield of several thousand tons of TNT. It goes to show that you need not have an asteroid hit the ground to be dangerous, and in fact the hole in the ice made by the plummeting meteoroid was probably the gentlest thing it did.
  • If you were wondering why there were so many car-mounted cameras which caught video of the meteor, the reason is that having a camera on your dashboard is common in many parts of Russia: Dash-Cams: Russia's Last Hope For Civility and Survival on the Road
    Dash-cam footage is the only real way to substantiate your claims in the court of law. Forget witnesses. Hit and runs are very common and insurance companies notoriously specialize in denying claims. Two-way insurance coverage is very expensive and almost completely unavailable for vehicles over ten years old–the drivers can only get basic liability. Get into a minor or major accident and expect the other party to lie to the police or better yet, flee after rear-ending you. Since your insurance won’t pay unless the offender is found and sued, you’ll see dash-cam videos of post hit and run pursuits for plate numbers.
  • As long as we're talking about cameras in vehicles, though, we have to talk about the dust-up between Tesla Motors and the New York Times. The event that got it all started, of course, was this review in the Sunday edition of the paper: Stalled Out on Tesla’s Electric Highway
    The car is a technological wonder, with luminous paint on aluminum bodywork, a spacious and ultrahip cabin, a 17-inch touch screen to control functions from suspension height to the Google-driven navigation system. Feeding the 416 horsepower motor of the top-of-the-line Model S Performance edition is a half-ton lithium-ion battery pack slung beneath the cockpit; that combination is capable of flinging this $101,000 luxury car through the quarter mile as quickly as vaunted sport sedans like the Cadillac CTS-V
  • Tesla Motors took offense at the New York Times review, however, and responded with their own information; Mike Masnick provides a great summary of the events: What The Tesla / NY Times Fight Teaches Us About The Media
    Musk is obviously quite passionate about the companies he runs and their products. And that's something that's actually quite appealing. Having followed his work for a while, you know that he really is striving to build "insanely great" products. So I can absolutely understand how his first emotional reaction is to lash out at someone who wrote a less than kind review (I've been there myself too many times). But, in the end, it seems like there would have been much better ways to handle this.
  • I'm particularly intrigued by Seth Finkelstein's observation that what we might actually have been witnessing was a bug in the cruise control of the new, insanely complex vehicle: Tesla Test Drive Controversy Data - Speed HIGH by 10% ?
    Maybe someone just fumble-figured a conversion number for translating the tracking data into a figure of speed in terms of miles per hour. That is, where hypothetically they should have entered "755" (revolutions per mile), instead they might've entered something like "855". Such things have been known to happen.
I can only imagine what fun it must be to debug a car as sophisticated as the Tesla. My life is simpler; I just have to debug my distributed database implementation :) That's plenty fun enough, though...

Happy Generic President's Day, everyone!

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