An Idea to Stop Vehicle Terrorism

Flinders Street Station Photo via @briannatravers

Last updated on December 31st, 2017 at 06:32 pm

As I write this, news is coming in of another runaway vehicle mowing down pedestrians on a busy street. This time in Melbourne. No details yet other than the police have arrested the driver.

If this is an act of terrorism or a tragic accident, there is a way of preventing these events.

Ban drivers from city centres and legislate provision of driverless cars and trucks to service those areas.

The technology exists. Lobbyists from the legal and insurance industries have muddied the waters for more than a year.

Who is liable if a driverless car hits a school outing? Google, Tesla and other manufacturers have already offered a global liability policy. This is a moot question. There will be fewer accidents once human error is removed.

A favourite thought experiment in ethics is the Trolley problem.

There is a runaway trolley barreling down the railway tracks. Ahead, on the tracks, there are five people tied up and unable to move. The trolley is headed straight for them. You are standing some distance off in the train yard, next to a lever. If you pull this lever, the trolley will switch to a different set of tracks. However, you notice that there is one person tied up on the side track. You have two options:

  1. Do nothing, and the trolley kills the five people on the main track.
  2. Pull the lever, diverting the trolley onto the side track where it will kill one person.

Which is the most ethical choice?

So how do we program an autonomous vehicle to choose between these options?

You can’t. And you shouldn’t.

You can significantly reduce the incidence of requiring this choice by using autonomous vehicles. As the network effect grows and all vehicles are autonomous, the risk to life and limb even by humans running on to a highway is greatly reduced.

If you want the joy of handling a vehicle you can use a track or part of a country road where individual motorists can test their skill. This is akin to flying a private aircraft or microlight. Drivers can still drive for pleasure when they do not pose a risk to others.

This is a reason drones and microlights are not allowed to fly near major airports. The risk is too high. Same thing with drivers of vehicles or trucks.

Hacking Driverless Cars

Update 31 December 2017

A few people have raised the risk of hacking internet enabled vehicles. Surely the terrorists will then hack any and all the vehicles to weaponise them?

There are fewer vehicle manufacturers than there are banks, and yet most of us trust our banks’ internet and mobile services. The notable exceptions are the tinfoil hat brigade, doomsday preppers and those who value extreme security over any convenience (many with good reason). The same applies to contactless credit cards (aka tap n go). This is part of the ongoing, long-running security arms race in technology. I back the good guys on this. Sure there is a hacking risk, but apocalyptic scenarios aside, most zero-day vulnerabilities are found by the good guys.

Even the notorious WannaCry ransomware outbreak of 12-15 May 2017 could have been prevented by patching their Windows OS or by not using end-of-life Windows OS. Given motor vehicles need annual registration, current patches can be mandated and no vehicle on the road has end-of-life software.

What about the Road Death Toll?

In Australia according to Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics (BITRE) in the 12 months ended November 2017, there were 1,209 road deaths. This is a 5.0 per cent decrease compared to the total for the 12-month period ended November 2016. The rate of annual deaths per 100,000 population stands at 4.9. In the USA 2016 fatalities were 37,461 and 11.59 deaths per 100,000 population according to Wikipedia.

I don’t have a breakdown of single car deaths or pedestrian deaths, but all of those would be eliminated. Most multi-vehicle accidents would also be prevented. Let’s say a 50% reduction, that’s 600 Australians and 19,000 US citizens. Add in UK, Germany (heck all of Europe was nearly 85,000 fatalities in 2013). And that’s just fatalities!

What about serious injuries? We’re banning people using a mobile phone while driving, why are we allowing driving at all?

If terrorists killed or maimed 10% of our road death tolls there would be calls for governments to do something™, or a revolution.

Okay, this is an extreme and unpopular argument. But for x% of drivers in y% of scenarios there is no need for citizens to drive anymore. I’d guess the percentages would meet or exceed the Pareto Principle (aka 80/20 rule). So 80% of people don’t need to drive.  Of the 20% that must drive 80% of their driving could be automated.

Next Steps

If you like my idea, please share it using the social buttons below. Add a comment below to let me know.

If you dislike my idea, please comment or let me know in some way. I’m not looking for an echo-chamber here folks.

Please comment, tweet or message me with a link to a Generalised Pareto Distribution on Motor Vehicle Accidents. I’m sure xkcd has one in the archives.

I’ll keep updating this post with additional information and ideas.

iTunes Match and Apple Music Breaks Play Count Edit

Broken iTunes by Speaking of Animation

In 2010 I wrote a script for Windows’ iTunes users called Adjust Play Count. I though some people may be interested in it. It is the most popular post on my blog and it’s had more than 400 comments (although I’ve lost a lot of them in server moves).

There’s a bug on Apple’s side with iTunes Match (and Apple Music as well). Doug’s AppleScripts for iTunes mentioned it last year and it was a problem on Apple’s forums in 2011 and 2014 and 2017 (oops!).

So it’s a problem on Apple’s back end, not with any edit play count scripts for Windows or Mac.

Strangely this does not affect all users (according to the internet). I suspect it does and those of us who use playcounts to build smart playlists are the only one’s who notice.

The fix for some is 

  • De-authorise your iTunes from your PC.
  • Sign out.
  • Re-boot.
  • Re-authorise and sign in. 

That may fix it, or it may not. Or it may fix it and then the problem returns.

Image credit: Broken iTunes by Speaking of Animation


WordPress There has been an error cropping your image

GD Graphics Library

I was updating my theme with the pretty amazing Twenty Seventeen from WordPress. Attempting to add a site icon it was just… failing. The blue select button in the Media Library would just go grey. When I tried a picture larger than 512×512 pixels I got a step further with the cropping dialogue, but then I’d get…

There was an error cropping your image.

It turns out WordPress needs the php-gd library for image manipulation.

First work out what php version you are running with

php -v

On Ubuntu/Debian hosts with php 5.x run

sudo apt-get install php5-gd

On RedHat/CentOS hosts with php 5.x run

sudo yum install php-gd

You may need to install specific packages like php56-gd for php 5.6. For php 7.x you will need to install php7.0-gd

Finally restart your web server

/etc/init.d/httpd restart

As an aside: I’m regretting my commitment to add an image to every post. What image makes sense with this post? The official logo for GD is 300×230 pixels.

Apple Touch Icon Sizes Updated for iOS 11

App Apple Logo

Last updated on May 27th, 2018 at 12:26 am

Stack Overflow user felipep posted an answer to the question “What size should apple-touch-icon.png be for iPad and iPhone 4?”

His brilliant work is that he updates with all the suggested icon sizes for iOS10, including iPad Pro and every new iPhone and iPad as it is released. As of October 2017 he updated it for iOS11 and the iPhone X and iPhone 8 Plus.

I’m guessing he’ll keep updating it in future.

I started looking for the sizes of app icons when I noticed a lot of HTML 404 errors on a client website. There’s nothing wrong with a client machine asking for a missing file an the web server giving a 404 error. That’s how the internet is supposed to work. But filling an error log with those errors makes real problems harder to find.

As a fix I generated a bunch of icon files of the correct size and dropped them in the root directory of the website. I could have updated the header, or done some symlink magic, but it was quicker and easier to just put the files in place.

The files are currently (as of October 2017)

  • apple-touch-icon.png
  • apple-touch-icon-precomposed.png
  • apple-touch-icon-57×57.png
  • apple-touch-icon-72×72.png
  • apple-touch-icon-76×76.png
  • apple-touch-icon-114×114.png
  • apple-touch-icon-120×120.png
  • apple-touch-icon-120×120-precomposed.png
  • apple-touch-icon-144×144.png
  • apple-touch-icon-152×152.png
  • apple-touch-icon-180×180.png

The two precomposed png’s are probably not required but I want to limit my 404’s and they are being requested by someone out there. It’s probably a scam bot, but I don’t want to take the time to work it out right now.


Mary Karr’s Poetry

Mary Karr photo by Deborah Feingold/HarperCollins
New Yorker Poetry
New Yorker Poetry

I’m really enjoying the poetry of Mary Karra contributor to the New Yorker. From her short bio:

Mary Karr teaches at Syracuse University and lives in Manhattan. Her New York Times best-seller, The Art of Memoir, will appear in paperback this fall.

I first readThe Crotchgrabberher article “On a shockingly casual case of sexual assault”. It is shocking and a bit disturbing, bit is miscleverand full of insight. Read it.

Looking at her other contributions I discovered a wealth of poetry published by the New Yorker.

Serendipitously over the last month I wanted to findcontemporary, literary poetry.

Illiterate Progenitor grabbed me instantly. I want to savour her work slowly so I made this note to returnto her writing.

I spent a bit of time looking for a photo of Mary to use with this piece. Unfortunately I couldn’t find a Creative Commons or otherwise “free” photo to use. Authors (or their Publicists Publishers) should provide marketing collateral like author photos for exactly this use.

Update: I found HarperCollins OpenBook API which gave me the photo credit.

Technically I’m lifting the photo from Mary Karr’s twitter profile, as the original photo via the API is too small. Also the photo is cropped so it’s a derivative work of Deborah Feingold’s original portrait. While my use of the image is covered by “fair use” provisions, but it would be nice to have the licensing simplified.

Mary Karr photo by Deborah Feingold/HarperCollins
Mary Karr photo by Deborah Feingold/HarperCollins

Encrypt iPhone backup

I’ve updated my Apple iPhone to a 6S and adjusted thecustom iPhone backup locationon my external HDD. This time I’veenabled theEncrypt iPhone backup featurein iTunes.

Apple does not backup important data to transfer to a new phone if you don’t encrypt your backups. Things like:

  • Account passwords
  • WiFi passwords
  • Health app data
  • HomeKitdata

iCloud backs up this data fine, but with only 5GB of iCloud storage, I wanted to backup then restore my 64GB device locally.

The encryption is strong by 2016 standards. You cannot restore a backup without the password. Aside: Obviously the FBI (and NSA) can now hack your iPhone but that’s not the use case here.

If your external HDD is ever lost or stolen, you’ll be glad that your iPhone backup on it is encrypted. Just do it.

Oh! And pick a decent password to encrypt it. Not something your already used on FaceBook, LinkedIn and every other website on the planet. You are using unique passwords and a password locker by now, right? This is 2016 after all.