The least autonomous cars?

Since my last post was about the most high-tech cars around, let’s go to the other extreme (well, almost), and look at the earlier days of automotive user interfaces. This, for example, is a handy guide for drivers of the Model T Ford, showing how you should adjust the throttle, and advance the ignition, based on what you want to achieve.

Kids these days have probably never seen a manual choke, let alone a manual ignition advance! (If you want to know what an ignition advance lever is and why you might need one, Wikipedia will tell you). Now, to be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever had to use one either, but I’ve ridden in cars where the driver did.

I’ve never actually ridden in a Model T, though I’ve sat in one, in Henry Ford’s garage, no less. But if you should ever find yourself in the driving seat, don’t assume that the three pedals and the handbrake-like lever will do what you expect.

Here’s a nice demonstration to show you the basics:

Fully Charged Live

One YouTube channel that I’ve been following for really quite a long time is Fully Charged, a series discussing electric vehicles, home power generation, renewable energy and other related topics. It does so in an amusing and light-hearted way, not least because it’s hosted by Robert Llewellyn, also known for his roles in TV series such as Red Dwarf, who’s a naturally engaging host. More recently he’s been joined by the motoring journalist Jonny Smith, previously a presenter on Fifth Gear. They make a great couple.

This weekend saw the first Fully Charged Live event, a two-day gathering at Silverstone organised by the team, with talks, exhibitions, demos of electric vehicles, and much else besides. This was quite a leap of faith for a small, self-published show – it was a big financial commitment and they were very nervous about whether it would be a success, but it seems to have been resoundingly so, to the extent that the catering and A/V facilities were rather overwhelmed on the first day, and extra arrangements had to be made – things went much more smoothly today.

Robert told me that they’d sold well over 5,000 tickets in advance and quite a lot more were bought at the event. Many people, like me, came for both days, so there must have been a good three or four thousand people there, I imagine, and the feeling of goodwill in the air was palpable; everyone wanted it to succeed.

There were lots of interesting vehicles to see; the Jaguar iPace was naturally getting a lot of attention, not surprisingly: it’s the most interesting big cat since the E-type, and the first I’ve actually wanted to own.

When it’s about 10 years old, I might be able to afford one.

In the meantime, I got to try out a couple of electric scooters, which were great fun — I think we’ll see more of those — and there were some lovely electric conversions of classic vehicles: I was particularly taken by these:

I, on the other hand, was staying nearby in my recently-acquired and non-electric campervan (of which more in a future post). This meant, that despite actually owning an electric vehicle, I actually turned up to Fully Charged Live in a VW diesel. I was joking with people that I needed a bumper sticker: “My other car is electric!”

I also got to meet Nikki Gordon-Bloomfield, whose Transport Evolved news show I’ve also been watching and supporting (in a very modest way) via Patreon for some time.

All in all, a fun and informative event. I wish it every success for the future, and will wear my T-shirt proudly.

Testing Turing?

Stephen Pulman gave the Wheeler Lecture in our department this afternoon; an excellent discussion about whether current machine-learning techniques would ever allow us to build a machine that passes the Turing Test.

It made me wonder about the value of a variation on the theme, which I propose to call the Meta-Turing-Test.

It which would work like this:

Can we build a machine which, given a Turing Test scenario, can work out whether the responses are from a human or a machine, even when a human can’t?

Reviewing Amazon reviews

One of the best things about shopping online is the ability to view other purchasers’ reviews. But it is also remarkable just how foolish some people can be when reviewing a product.

I’m talking about the reviews that give something 5 stars, with the explanation: “I haven’t opened this yet but I’m sure my son will love it”.

Or the ones that slam a product with 1 star: “Arrived a day late and the postman left it in the wrong place.” So you want to punish your postman by telling people this isn’t a good camera, say? How does that work?

Discussing this with my friend Mac in the pub last night, we came up with a simple solution: When writing an Amazon review, you should be asked for separate ratings, as you are with TripAdvisor. They might be:

  • Purchasing, delivery, packaging and support
  • Quality of the product
  • Value for money

The first one should then become part of the rating of the supplier, not the product.

You could just have one other value, but splitting it into two like this might make people think a bit more, and allow you to take your price sensitivity into account when making a decision.

And someone who gives everything 1 star is probably just grumpy and their opinion should be weighted accordingly!

Then you could make more informed decisions like “This seems good, but I don’t want to buy it here”, or “I know this is isn’t great, but I just want something cheap”.

What do you think? Please rate this blog post under the following three categories…

Viticulture

I’m used to labels on bottles of wine telling me that I should expect a ‘hint of blackcurrant’ or ‘subtle aromas’.

But in Portugal recently I had a (very drinkable) wine from a vineyard whose marketing department had, perhaps, become a little over-excited.

It’s nice to know there are still jobs out there for people with Literature degrees, isn’t it?

It’s not all bad in Zuckerland…

I left Facebook a little over a year ago, and hadn’t really felt any desire to return even before the recent round of news stories.

This NYT piece by Kathleen O’Brien gives an interesting and more positive viewpoint, though. But where are the ‘lifeboats’?

Is it time to revisit some of those other social networks on which I’ve had accounts in the last few years that never quite made it? I wonder how many of them are still in business…

Seen it before?

Here’s a handy site: TinEye. It’s a reverse image search.

If you’ve got an image on your machine and don’t know where it came from, or you find it online and wonder where the original lives or who uploaded it first, this can help.

I learned about this from Terence Eden, who has a great example on his blog showing how it can be useful…

This is your life

This is either fascinating, useful, or scary, depending on your point of view.

I’m usually logged in to my Google accounts on all of my devices, because I really appreciate the synchronisation of my history, finishing YouTube videos on one device that I started on another, and so forth.

Subconsciously, we all understand that Google therefore knows a lot about us. But if you go to:

https://myactivity.google.com/myactivity

you can see it all laid out before you.

For me, amongst other things, it shows things I’ve searched for, YouTube videos I’ve watched, posts on StackExchange, areas I’ve explored on Google maps, and so on. I generally use Safari, but if I were a more regular Chrome user, there would be a great deal more of my online activity listed here. (If you try this, then switch to ‘Item view’ for a blow-by-blow account.)

This timeline is also searchable, which is very useful for the more forgetful amongst us.

Now, if you subscribe to the ‘Big Companies are Bad’ philosophy, especially in light of recent Facebook news, this would be terrifying, though if you’re of that frame of mind you’d probably not log in to accounts on these services anyway, in which case your record will be less detailed, but you’ll use a lot of benefits too. And Google does offer you plenty of control over what they store, how much ads are personalised, etc. And you can delete your record of past activities.

Wherever you come on the paranoia scale, it is worthwhile and educational, I think, to visit such pages from time to time to develop a clearer understanding of what’s being recorded behind the scenes.

Nibble

Ah, so here’s why my shiny new lawnmower isn’t getting as much use as it might…

Our spaniel is sitting looking out of the patio door, and positively quivering with excitement…

Zooming in the rain

On Wednesdays, there’s an interesting group of catering vans that collect at the far end of the West Cambridge campus, and I like to go there for lunch.

But it’s a bit of a distance, and the weather today was bad, so it was important to find the most appropriate method of transportation…

© Copyright Quentin Stafford-Fraser