How do I drive? – I dunno, Google it!

You know that it is nearing submission time when I suddenly post boatloads, in the same way that you know something special has hit the stream of consciousness when many publications suddenly all talk about the one thing.

Two pieces of news that had flooded my RSS feeds more frequently than any other in the last two days are: Watch_Dog reviews, and this new driverless Google car that has been put properly on the table as a working prototype. Since all I seem to talk about are video games, let’s go with the latter.

So, what is it? And what does it look like?

You look like a dweeb, but you will look like one while doing nothing at all. Image courtesy of The Guardian and Google.

This piece of engineering and computing genius has enough space for two people, and reaches a top speed of 25mph, or ~40km/hr.

Basically, it’s aimed towards people who didn’t want to get anywhere in the first place.

Alright, enough skepticism. The fact is, this car really drives itself. How does it do that?

Driverless car

The Google car contains “no steering wheel, no pedals and no brakes”, and relies on a sensor mounted on top (yeah, that thing that looks like a blender) to “see” where it’s going.

It also has newer and better sensors that give it the ability to see what’s going on up to a distance of two football fields. For example, on the most current version of the retrofitted self-driving Lexus, a mounted laser has about a 12-degree field of view that it uses to essentially zoom in on details of points of interest. On the prototype car, the lasers have full 360-degree views. “It’s going from looking just in front, like a flashlight, to a lantern all around the car,” said self-driving car project director Chris Urmson.

Re/code

Of course, that explains why its top speed is so slow. Having said that, 25mph is the average safe speed for driving in most American cities, and while it’s unfeasible here on bigger and busier Australian roads, 40 km/h is probably a good speed to drive around in the suburbs. The car is also made with lots of foam and safety materials to ensure that a crash, should it ever occur, would hurt a lot less.

What’s it like in there?

I think this video sums it up perfectly.

The testers all seem very happy with their experience, although it must be noted most of them seem to treat it as a rollercoaster ride. I wonder what would happen if in real practise, the driver suddenly decides to stop at a Maccas drive-thru? Or they get a message to go pick someone else up suddenly? I suppose on-board GPS would be so good by this time that they just need to speak “let’s go to McDonalds” and the car will pick the nearest one and drive to it, but I still feel like it takes away from the spontaneity of manually driving around.

Safety

The most important issue is obviously safety. The fact that there is close to no way for a human to interrupt the machine and take over, save for an emergency stop button, can be a problem.

The controls are needed to comply with the law in California which along with Nevada and Florida allows autonomous vehicles but only if a driver can take charge.

The Guardian

And with technology such as these making their way into the mainstream use, sooner or later laws will have to reflect the changes. Perhaps jumpy technophobes will push for laws to stop complete automation. I think, maybe, the problem lies in the way we think about safety, being that we always regard it as something that we need to prevent from not happening instead of something that we act to let happen. But, that’s an issue for another debate.

The main thing is, as the project director pointed out, having a human suddenly wrench themselves into control can be even more dangerous: have you ever had someone grab your steering wheel suddenly while driving? Doesn’t end well, does it?

The cool factor

I don’t think that having a little golf cart cupcake car is going to make you look cool, but if this is the direction that vehicular travel will head, then obviously a prototype from one manufacturer won’t dictate the eventual norm. Still, imagine trying to do burn-outs in one of those babies!

The really cool part is you really can drive and not-drive, text and not-drive, etc etc. That can change the landscape of traffic laws almost entirely, since things like rear-ending and side-swiping would end up being the issue with manufacturers, not the individual driver.

“Hey, this guy was on his phone when he crashed into me!”

“Well, what do you want me to do? I did call 911 as we were crashing to get a head-start!”

Alex

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Move Over Jeeves!

It’s part of the common vernacular to ‘Google’ something – just like you’d stop a runny nose by reaching for the Kleenex, or fixing a cut with a Band-Aid. While it’s hard to argue that Google isn’t the ‘best’ at finding results (if you find yourself in the 2nd page of Google results, chances are you won’t find what you’re looking for), there are definitely different ways in which search engines could deliver results to their users.

First I’ll get the technicality out of the way. I’m going to explain (preaching, really, to a congregation of more faith than I) how to make a certain search engine the default search engine.

Oh wait…no I won’t!

(Kidding, of course I will, it’s worth half a mark just to do it.)

How to set default search engine:

To make things clear: I will simply be outlining how to do it for PC Chrome users. It really should be the browser to use, because not only is it run by the same people who basically run Gmail, Youtube, Drive, Maps, Translate and, well, everything you ever need to pretend to be smart, it’s a very fast browser, and extremely easy to delete the whole bunch of toolbars and plug-ins that your parents got suckered into installing.

First, go into the main menu by pressing the horizontal lines to the top right hand corner of the browser, right under the big red X. Go down to settings, and enter the settings page. On the fourth heading on the Settings page, where you see the word ‘Search’, you’ll also see the button ‘Manage Search Engines’. Clicking that will open up a small box where there might be a whole list of websites that have any form of search function built in. The top section of that list is the list of “default search engines”, and hovering over the one you want to use – say, ‘Bing’ (ha) – will bring up a small choice to ‘Make default’. Click it, and now when you type into the blank searchbar, you’ll be using Bing by default. Quick, change back before you regret it!

Alright, now to the comparisons.

I am comparing DuckDuckGo, instaGrok and the mighty Google.

The search term which I used across all three engines was ‘dofp’, the abbreviation for ‘Days of Future Past’, which is the title for the upcoming X-Men movie. I used this because the theatrical trailer was released yesterday, so the buzz should be quite high.

DuckDuckGo

DuckDuckGo focuses on getting the user an answer, straight away, whereas instaGrok is about teaching the user anything they would want to know about the topic, and all the sub-topics, etc. Google will find you links to sites that would have information on what you searched, placing the most commonly accessed and/or relevant on top, so on.

Because of this, DuckDuckGo gave me an Instant Answer box, which actually told me about the original comic of Days of Future Past. Then, the third result down was the one which mentioned the film in a journalistic capacity – that is, not purely review – with the video to the trailer. The first result was actually to acronym.com, to tell me what dofp could stand for, despite the Instant Answer having told me already.

In this way, DuckDuckGo was rather useless in terms of helping me get to an immediate access to a trailer, a cast list, a release date, or news from major sites, but it did give me an immediate answer, albeit to the wrong medium.

Top results with DuckDuckGo

Top results with DuckDuckGo

InstaGrok

instaGrok is probably not built for this kind of searches. Firstly, I actually had to re-assert that I was searching ‘dofp’, not ‘dop’, but after that, things got interesting. instaGrok works like a mind-map, the kind you drew in primary school with branches that come out of a central idea. In this case, the branches that came out of my search term (when setting the search difficulty to ‘Einstein’) gave me topics such as ‘Avenger’, ‘Bryan Singer’, ‘Evan Peters’, and ‘ Film’. Film was giving a separate part of the branch, meaning that it is of a different significance to the other branches.

So, I still have no idea what ‘dofp’ stands for, if that’s why I searched it, but instaGrok has given me the opportunity to delve into other, similar subjects. Bryan Singer is the director of the film, Avenger is a franchise which is set in the same comic universe as X-Men, although the movie rights are owned by different companies, and Evan Peters is an actor in the film. ‘Film’, on the other branch, gave me a chance to go off on a whole different tangent of knowledge.

Clicking on each segment gave me a few, unexplained choices. I realized that I could look at the key concepts of the segment as defined by other users (completely irrelevant for ‘dofp’), I could look at websites that discuss the search term (still useless but more relevant in terms of gathering some information), but none of them are in any way telling me about the search term, or giving me a chance to be linked to somewhere else that could, in a sentence, tell me about it.

Results with instaGrok

Results with instaGrok

Google

Finally, Google gave me news results to begin with – great, because the 2nd one down linked me to a big site that had the trailer – then went on to give me the Wikipedia link to the comic series page. To the right, Google also had a small box, much like DuckDuckGo’s Instant Answer box, that gave me a fast tidbit to tell me it was an upcoming movie.

Top results with Google

Top results with Google

Now, I spent so long explaining the first two search engines, because the results were very interesting to me. While the search term that I used may not have been the broadest of terms, it is one which would be quite popular at the time of writing given the surrounding societal situation. DuckDuckGo is good for that instant answer, but delved into strange results, especially by prioritizing smaller or unknown sites over large, expansive ones (Joblo.com before IGN.com). instaGrok, on the other hand, was almost completely useless in this search term, but if I was to be doing research on X-Men, for example, I would given segments to explore all kinds of terms related to the in-universe as well as the genre aspects of the term.

In all, DuckDuckGo would be a search engine I use for the Instant Answer function, instaGrok one which would start a research effort, and Google will ultimately be my friend for specific information.

Alex.

It Was A Fun Day, It Was A Fail Day, It Was A Ducking Fantastic Day

That was a long title.

Today, instead of going to singing rehearsals (which I think now that I think about it, I was actually aware of last week, then forgot about until last night) I went out with Katherine again. We went to the city to “research” webcams, speakers etc. Also, I had to run errands.

Got to the Glen uber early because I couldn’t be bothered catching a bus so got mom to drop me off as she went to work, meaning I waited around at Maccas using their free wifi for about an hour. Got the 10:11 train, and Katherine got on at Mt Waverley. This doesn’t sound exciting. It isn’t.

Got to Melbourne Central and needed to pee. Then got Caramellatte. Still isn’t that exciting.

(What WAS funny, however, as right before I went into the bathroom I told Katherine to “stay here” and the look she gave me could only be described as “oh-no-you-didn’t-just-treat-me-like-your-dog”.)

So first of all we went to Myer to look at speakers. It took ages to find the entertainment section because we had to go down down down down.

Katherine also looked at cameras because she wants a DSLR. Anyone gonna help her out? Didn’t think so.

By the way, and this has been bugging me all day; to my friends: do any of you use Versace New Woman? Because Katherine was wearing it, and I SWEAR I know someone else who wears it but I cannot for my LIFE remember who. It would, I assume, be someone who I get close enough to smell. Just ignore how ducking perverted I sound right now.

I think that’s the bottle. Google does tend to duck with me sometimes.

Then we left Melbourne Central and went to Bourke St to head for JB. We went into Target first, and got lost. I told her to “ask the Asian chick!” but she refused to. “We can find it ourselves!” “You’re such a guy!” “What?!” “Guys never ask for directions.” “FINE I’ll ask the Asian chick!”

Then we got out of Target and went into JB. This is gripping stuff this is.

We saw the speakers that she wanted. Z4 or something? She gasped. Then saw the pricetag. She gasped again.

Well, at this point (and I just consulted Katherine who also has “NO idea”) I forgot the chain of events, so I’ll just throw in stuff that happened and hopefully the universe doesn’t collapse into itself in a mess of chronological mess.

Mess of…chronological…mess. I need to sleep.

At some point we traversed Russel St. We walked around in the shade (thank you vampirism). We walked a hell of a lot. We went to the Dirt Cheap Books store. Haha. Ha. I made Katherine look at a book about sex or something naughty starting with S. I found it funny. She found it fit to simply walk away from me. I tried calling her name but to no avail. I contemplated using the tried-and-true “MARCO POLO” tactic but felt it not emergency enough.

At some other point I took Katherine to the “secret shop” that Eunice once showed me except she’s been there before with another Alex. We looked at PostSecret books and random books. She found this book called “Wreck This Journal”. At the back of the book, it says “tape this book together, and mail it to yourself!” I think I might actually mail it to her.

At some other point we traversed Elizabeth St. That was painful on my feet too. We walked into a lot of electronic stores. Most of the time I just whinged about how Katherine doesn’t watch FRIENDS, and never has.

(I started marathon-ing Season 2 of FRIENDS again last night. I gotta say that summer when I marathon-ed it all was such a wonderful summer. Michelle, can I borrow all of them again?)

At some yet other point we ate lunch. Had an interesting conversation at lunch. It was interesting because I made Katherine talk and eat. You know she doesn’t do either in public right? Apparently she doesn’t sing in public either. I mean. Who doesn’t or hasn’t once sung in public?

At some yet other other point I ran my errand. We went to National Geographic and I got Eunice her Sea Monkeys.

At some fail point I started going up in the down escalators because my brain said, “No one is going to that one, it’s empty!”

Finally, we were bushed. We were so bushed we decided to find a place to sit down except the downstairs foodcourt at Melb Central was too hot and one of the good couches upstairs was taking by a really PDA couple (there was a lot of space next to them – they were REALLY PDA – but yeah we thought it would be WAY awkward to go sit with them).

So we went down to the Basement and found a couch to crash on. Listened to Katherine’s iPod. Then this group of guys came down and sat on the couch next to us and it was majorly awkward turtle ‘cos we just basically sat still and pretended we weren’t there. Then they left. So we had the gummy people I bought her, and I made her drop one in my mouth except she missed (I swear, oh my god, my mouth was 10 cms from her hand. She missed).

At some point after that we took the train home together after I made her take Glenny with me (the guilty puppy face actually works on her. Wow.) and we tried to solve the Sudoku except I ducked it up. Then we were doing the crossword, and 16-across was “Ass-like”. I wrote “Katherine” next to it.

I guess I can’t be bothered explaining the huge in-joke behind that except just simple to direct you towards “My Humps” by the Black Eyed Peas.

There was a clue that was “seize”. So far we had _rap___ and at the same time both of us wondered out loud, “Crapture?”

After she left I was sending her a text and I tried to write the f word except it came out as “duck”. I think that’s how I’m going to swear as from now on.

Well, I was aiming for 1000 words and I hit it.

Alex.

P.S. Apparently singing rehearsals sucked. Yay. (Annie…Annie…ah duck it)

P.P.S. 14 days ’til Sorrento!