Saturday, September 10, 2011

An interesting comparison

A friend sent me an article in the New York Times, in which the author uses the data from his GPS bike computer to fill in the gaps in his memory following a crash. The Times' illustrator Johnathan Corum created an infographic depicting the rider's route, and the data from the bike computer. It's a nice figure, but it's gratuitously similar to the classic Minard depiction of Napoleon's 1918 march to Moscow (often cited as one of the best infographics ever, and available as a poster from Edward Tufte.)
Corum's infographic of John Markoff's bicycle crash.

Minard's infographic of Napoleon's march to Moscow.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Suffering for the cause

Last week, the Amgen Tour of California bike race came through town. Last year, we went to watch the local stage, and despite the rain/drizzle/general wetness, had a fun time hanging out with friends and new acquaintances on the side of the road. We had such a fine time, in fact, that we figured we just *had* to do it again this year.

Besides, the route was heading over one of our very favorite local mountain roads - Mt. Hamilton - so we'd have a great excuse get a nice ride in, to go up the hill and check out the race. By the day of the event, however, the crummy weather that had caused the cancellation of the first stage of the tour was making a reprise; despite the forecast of a nice afternoon it was looking quite dark and slightly damp.

To top it off, I had come down with a bronchial cough and lethargy-inducing cold. My body said I should stay in bed, although my heart really wanted to get outside and enjoy the day. What to do, what to do...

My compromise: do both! I slept for a couple hours after breakfast, then roused myself enough to get my bike clothes on and get going. Anna packed up a thermos of hot tea and some lunch items, and off we went.

We saw a few people on bikes as we pedaled up Mt. Hamilton, but most of them were coming *down* the hill. 39 F and wet at the top, one of them reported. Some of the riders had ridden up from our side of the hill, and then came back down when the conditions turned raw. Others had started early, and were riding the whole race route ahead of the peloton. Later, while we were having lunch, I spotted former pro Chris Carmichael riding with a group.

I certainly didn't set any records going up the hill. We sort of doddered along at a speed that allowed my congested lungs to keep working, but it was tough to let everyone pass... I did my best to just smile and wave. We called a halt at Joe Grant park, maybe a third of the way up the climb and a nice open spot to watch the race.

We hung out for a while and enjoyed our lunch -- Anna had packed quite the gourmet picnic. The light that filtered through the thick but broken clouds was dramatic, and we enjoyed hanging out, talking with the other race-watchers, and watching the hawks ride the winds.

Finally the race came through, dramatic as a big group of riders always seems to be. It took a while, as the peloton was shattered after the big climb on the back side of the mountain. Eventually, all the riders and associated vehicles cleared out, and we packed up and headed back down the hill.

There was a small group of locals having a BBQ just a half mile down the road from the park; they were having a fine time standing at the side of the road, drinking a few cans of beer and watching the goings-on. I called out for a hand-up as I cruised by, and got a can enthusiastically (and quite competently) passed over. To their great cheers, I had a mighty swig and hopefully gave them something fun to add to their bike-race experience!

The ride back down the hill was (as always) great fun - we caught up to one guy, and he trailed me most of the way down the hill. The wind was gusting, and the pack on my back I brought to carry the extra layers I needed to sit around at lunch, was catching the crosswind, making the corners extra challenging. I overcooked one tricky corner a bit, but recovered it, and had a fine, fast run to the bottom.

We watched the TV coverage of the race later, and I was surprised to see a bunch of the pros have problems with that very same corner - several guys went right off the road there! So I didn't feel quite such the fool for having misjudged it myself.

It's a week later, and I haven't hardly been on the bike since; my cough is still with me. But I'm sure glad I got out there and suffered enough to see the race.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Ethics and Intelligent Systems

This isn't by any means a new topic; Asimov codified it in his famous Three Laws back in 1942; and Wired ran an article in 2005 that considered some of the broader ethical implications of introducing ever-more-humanoid machines into society.

There now seems to be a burgeoning discussion on this topic, spread widely:

* Illah Nourbakhsh's lecture (below) has spawned a CMU class: http://ethicsandrobotics.posterous.com/

* Patrick Lin (along with George Bekey and others) at Cal Ploy SLO's Ethics + Emerging Technology Group have authored several good papers, with some intro and discussion at the Stanford Law Center for Internet and Society.

* There are several interesting blogs covering this area, such as moral machines