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.

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.


Server woes

Broken Time 1

Last updated on February 24th, 2016 at 06:30 pm

Broken Time 1
Broken Time 1/e_anka

Sorry to those of you whose emails I’m not receiving.

Unless I’m receiving them and you’re in the smaller group of people who can’t receive my emails.

Unless you’re in a non-intersecting group of people who are connecting to an older server (in which case you can’t see this post).

Unless you’re in a possibly non-intersecting group who couldn’t get to this website because of various server configuration problems.

Basically I’m rebuilding my hosting and that has led to wide-spread disruption. I’ll post an update when I think it’s mostly fixed. I think I’m 80% of the way there. UPDATE: I think it’s fixed.

It’s really frustrating and part of me wishes I went with a well supported WordPress hosted provider. But I do run some non-WP projects on the side so I like to have a server or two around for testing.

Fix Google Analytics Spam

Last updated on February 17th, 2016 at 04:04 am

Bottom line up front: Prevent spam in your Google Analytics with only 2 filters

Google Analytics is the most widely used web analytics service today so it is a target-rich environment for spammers to get eyeballs. They hope that web masters will see their url and check out where the traffic is coming from. The reality is there is no new traffic, it’s all bots manipulating the system.

Google Analytics spam is only bad for the site owner. Users never see the consequences, but the owner’s stats are full of junk, devaluing the data.

After long neglect I’m busy behind-the-scenes with this and other websites. My painful reality is bad guys hitching a ride on my corner of the web. Take care of your neighbourhood unless you want to it to go bad.

Change iPhone Backup Location

Last updated on May 3rd, 2016 at 09:38 am

I have a 64GB iPhone 5S but my MacBook Air only has a 128GB SSD which is not enough to regularly hold a backup of my phone. iCloud offers 5GB free online space so I have to pick and chose what gets synchronised via iCloud.

I decided to move my iTunes iPhone backup location to a 2GB external drive called Seagate1. This is a really easy process for Mac and Windows users.

There is no way to change that within iTunes. I am sure there must be tools you can get online to configure it but I used the Terminal to create a symbolic link to make iTunes to use the external drive.

By default iTunes stores iPhone backups in ~/Library/Applications Support/MobileSync/Backup on Macs and \AppData\Roaming\Apple Computer\MobileSync\Backup on Windows. If you already have a backup you wish to keep, move the Backup folder to the new backup location on your external drive. Otherwise rename the existing Backup folder to BackupOld.

The symlink links the folder from ~/Library/Application Support/MobileSync/Backup to a backup directory on my external drive – in my case /Volumes/Seagate1/iOSBackups/Backup.

Mac OS X
Open Terminal either by searching for Terminal in spotlight or use Finder to navigate tothe Utilities folder inside your Applications folder.

Terminal will normally open in your home folder with a $ prompt.

Type the following command create the symlink, change Seagate1 to your external drive name.

ln -s /Volumes/Seagate1/iOSBackups/Backup ~/Library/Application\ Support/MobileSync/Backup

That’s it! Connect your iPhone and back it up.


Open the Command Prompt window by clicking the Start button Picture of the Start button, clicking All Programs, clicking Accessories, and then clicking Command Prompt.

Type the following command to create the symlink ,change SEAGATE1 to your external drive letter.

mklink /J "%APPDATA%\Apple Computer\MobileSync\Backup" "[Your External HDD]:\iOSBackups\Backup"

That’s it! Connect your iPhone and back it up.

ZagZ redesigned

Symbol home from hands isolated on white

Last updated on February 17th, 2016 at 04:06 am

Symbol home from hands isolated on white
Symbol home from hands isolated on white

During a hasty server relocation I discovered that the database that stores was slightly corrupted. Not badly enough to affect the performance of the site. But enough that the backups didn’t notice it and reported themselves happily complete.

The actuality was that the posts and comments tables where horribly damaged and it was only while trying to restore the backups that I discovered how hosed those tables were. Now if this site was my main focus I would not be running it the way I was. But it is my little plaything so them’s the way the cookies be crumblin’.

So I’ve recovered all the posts, and most of the comments. There are definitely missing comments, but they will take more time than it’s worth to find them and reintegrate them in to the new site.

Meanwhile I’ve redesigned and am reworking the backend so that it is the starting point for all my online identity.

Let me know if you stumble across something more broken and lost than normal.