Category: Science

Driver Using “Autopilot” Technology Criminally Charged After Collision

By Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor

A driver reportedly relying on the “Autopilot” function of a vehicle was cited for driving with criminal negligence after his passenger car struck a legally standing police patrol car. Though anecdotal, I believe this incident demonstrates what I believe to be a legal fatal flaw in the foundational concept for vehicles equipped with autonomous navigation and driving technology–that they can cause either the “driver” or vehicle owner into criminal liability for essentially the passive act of allowing the car control over the journey.

Ars Technica reported this most recent collision where a Massachusetts driver was cited for driving with criminal negligence after his autonomously operating vehicle crashed into the rear end of a patrol car on a traffic stop. Though the officer was outside his SUV at the time of the collision, he suffered minor injuries when his patrol car was pushed forward into the stopped vehicle. State Troopers said the driver of the colliding vehicle was “not paying attention”. The mechanics of the collision showed the officer was lucky to have escaped death.

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Red Flags: Chinese Laboratory in Wuhan Cited Two Years Ago For Dangerous Research On Bats and Coronavirus

1600px-Coronaviruses_004_loresWhen the coronavirus first appeared in Wuhan, China, many people immediately raised the concern that it might have been the result of a lab release from a controversial Chinese Lab: the Wuhan Institute of Virology. The lab was working on coronavirus and had raised concerns over its containment protocols.  Then there was the fact that China hid the outbreak, arrested top doctors, and buried research on its origins.  However, a narrative quickly emerged in countering President Donald Trump’s references to the “China virus.”  People, including members of Congress, who referred to the lab were ridiculed on CNN and other outlets as conspiracy theorists.  For some of us, the overwhelming media narrative seemed odd and artificial. It would seem obvious that a lab working on viruses in this area would be an obvious possible source.  Now, after weeks of chastising those who mentioned the lab theory, another cache of documents and information shows that there are ample reasons to be suspicious and that concerns were raised two years ago within the State Department.

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Mars Lander Jams . . . So NASA Orders It To Hit Itself With A Shovel

It appears that NASA follows the same principle of many homeowners that the last resort for any stuck machine is to give it a good kick. In the case of the NASA InSight Mars lander, the solution was to order the lander to literally hit itself with its own shovel. It worked.

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When Will We Finally Treat Ancient Human Remains With Dignity?

By Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor

While I maintain that the scientific community has for hundreds of years steadfastly failed to exercise a modern sense of decency and respect for human remains of the ancients, a recent article in Ars Technica prompted me to type my concern.

The objection I have is that most societies in the world currently place special value and reverence in the preserving and protection of interred human remains, often citing the desire to allow the departed the right to rest in peace. Yet, among governments, scientific organizations, academics, and museums we allow an abandonment of these values and permit the continual insult to the deceased–who’s remains serve as equivalents to rock samples and objects to be endlessly studied and displayed to the curious.

Would we allow such a spectacle to be exacted upon our own families?

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How To Open A Jar: Like A Boss

By Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor

In giving you the reader something you could actually find useful, here is a technique I developed that makes opening overly-tight fitting jars rather easy. The method takes advantage of leverage and large muscle groups of your arms to twist off the jar lid rather than relying on comparatively weaker muscles serving the wrists and fingers. It works well for those having weak or arthritic hands.  One only needs to have a secure grip in order to open most jars.

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“Not Based On Science”: Chief NOAA Rebukes Trump As IG Investigates Allegations Of Political Pressure To Reverse Forecast That Contradicted Trump

I have previously written about the controversy over President Donald Trump’s comments on Hurricane Dorian and the latest self-inflected wound in what is being called “Sharpiegate.” The name however masks something more serious. It is not the bizarre decision to mark up a hurricane map with a Sharpie to extend the path to Alabama. It is not even the bizarre refusal to just acknowledge an honest mistake in not acknowledging that path predictions on that day showed the hurricane avoiding Alabama. The more serious problem is what the statement by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) effectively rebuking the forecast of its Birmingham office contradicting the President. There are now reports that the Commerce Secretary threatened firings if NOAA did not issue a statement supporting Trump’s untrue statement. When Trump issued his statement no one was predicting that the hurricane would hit Alabama (days earlier there was a possibility that Alabama could be effected). Various scientists and experts denounced NOAA’s statement and the politicalization of NOAA. Now the Inspector General is investigating and Craig McLean, NOAA’s acting chief scientist, has called the unprecedented NOAA statement “political” and a “danger to public health and safety.”

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Study: Umpires Wrong In 20 Percent Of Plate Calls

In 2018, Cubs player Ben Zobrist was thrown out in the ninth inning of a 2018 game against the Milwaukee Brewers after telling plate umpire Phil Cuzzi  “That’s why we want an electronic strike zone.” I have long agreed with Zobrist that it is insane that we continue to rely on umpires rather than electronic strike zones. Indeed, we watched games where an electronic strike zone is used to determine if an umpire was right. Instead of using that system, however, we use the less reliable human umpire at home plate. Now  a new study  of some four millions pitches found that umpires were wrong an astonishing 20 percent of the time. That is one out of five pitches in games that often turn on a handful of calls. It is insane to use the least accurate means for calling strikes and balls when so much depends not just for these games but for the players who deserve to be measured accurately on their performance.

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A-Lean Cuisines: Source of Alien Signals Confirmed At Australian Radio Telescope After 17 Years

For 17 years, astronomers at a massive radio telescope in Australia at the Parkes Observatory have been searching for the source of an alien signal of “perytons.” With a new retrofit, they finally were able to isolate the source: their microwave in the kitchen.

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Meet Ultima Thule: Cosmic Snowman

As readers know, I totally geek out with NASA missions and this week is no exception. This is the long awaited image of Ultima Thule (“beyond the known world”) and it is provided by the most distant ever exploration of a Solar System object. The previous record was the New Horizons image of Pluto in 2015.  Ultima Thule is 1.5 billion km further out. Thought to be the shape of a bowling pin, it turns out to be a 4.5 billion-year old, brick-colored cosmic snowman in the cold of deep space. Closer to home: this week saw China land the first probe on the dark side of the Moon.

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And Now The Sound Of The Martian Winds . . .

As many on this blog know, I am something of a geek and particularly love the NASA website.  Having watched the moon landing on a tiny black and white television (at another family’s house because we did not have a television), I still marvel at seeing images from space.  I found the latest posting by NASA thrilling: the actual sound of winds on Mars.

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