autonomous intersections

August 16th, 2018

Here’s my idea. You take the brain of a Tesla Model 3 and all of the associated autopilot sensors and you install it in one or more intersections. Maybe you add some extra sensors to other locations so it has expanded awareness about traffic which is approaching the intersection.

Then you can do a few cool things.

First, you could have the intersection intelligently direct traffic for optimum flow and minimum wasted energy. It would be aware of not only nearby vehicles, but pedestrians and random obstacles–anything that an autonomous car could be aware of. Think about how many times you’ve stopped at a red light when you didn’t need to, or when if the light had stayed green for just two seconds longer you wouldn’t have had to stop and no other cars would have been seriously inconvenienced. Over the course of a year, a single intersection like this would save thousands of person-hours and many tons of CO2.

You could also have the intersection broadcast the info it has gathered over a V2V network. This would give all nearby autonomous cars additional information which would not only make them safer. The autonomous intersection would have better info than an autonomous car because it has the aditional power of being in control of a finite area with relatively fixed context. That would enable it to be more intelligent about stuff like large non-moving obstacles that might suddenly appear in a roadway. Autonomous cars have a hard time knowing if a big non-moving rectangle is a dangerous road hazard or an innocuous sign.

It would intelligently route traffic to easily allow emergency vehicles through with a minimal disruption of surrounding traffic. It could also prioritize mass transit vehicles like busses, which would reduce the time it takes to get places on a bus and make them a more attractive and feasible option for commuters.

The more of these autonomous intersections you add, the more intelligent and efficient they become. Two adjacent intersections could share knowledge to expand their reach in smoothing out traffic flow. A whole city could optimize traffic on a massive scale. A city-wide grid of these would also be able to provide traffic information to cars and route-planning software that would allow trips to predict with high accuracy when and where traffic would form in the future and route around it.

A city like this would also be able to solve some of the expense issues with lidar on autonomous cars. Lidar scanners are super expensive, which is why Tesla has gone the route of creating an autonomous system that doesn’t use them. But while visual-only autonomy can absolutely be superhuman, lidar provides unquestionably more precise and accurate information about moving objects in a 3D space, especially in dense urban areas with many types of moving vehicles, pedestrians and objects, particularly in intersections. So instead of installing one lidar for every single vehicle in a city, you could have one lidar installed at each intersection, which would make all autonomous cars safer in the city while saving the expense.

Three Pointing Back

June 29th, 2018

We should be critical of others and three times  more critical of ourselves, because it’s ten times harder to see your own flaws than it is to see the flaws in someone else.

Internet Fame: on Being Pirated, Impersonated and Sighted

February 3rd, 2015

So today I discovered that the HTML videos that I made for a few years back are being pirated. You can find various torrents all over the internet!

I Ain't Even Mad

People are willing to break the law to hear me teach! I don’t know why I trust the words of a pirate, but the description of the first one I saw came across to me as high praise.

A nice training session for those who want to learn the dark arts of Proper website building without all the WYSIWYG crapware that’s flying about on the internet….Even the more experienced users will find this interesting….

I made these videos for Educator a long time ago. I figured they’d be mostly forgotten about by now, but I still get ‘thank you’ emails from people who have taken the course and somehow figured out my email address (with a little research it isn’t hard), so clearly people are still watching them. Now that I think of it, I also still get a paycheck from Educator every month, which indicates that at least some people are watching the non-pirated versions on

This isn’t the first flattering but slightly odd realization I’ve had regarding these videos. Have you seen my twitter account? Yep, that’s my name, and that’s a photo of me, but that’s not my account! It’s an impersonator! And it has more followers than my actual twitter account! What does that say about me? (Probably just that I don’t really use twitter.)

The experience that takes the cake, however, was my first celebrity sighting—where I myself was the celebrity! I was working the JPL Open House at the robotics tent when someone came up and said “I took your webmaking course!” I was so surprised I didn’t even know what to say or do. I think celebrities are supposed to want to avoid attention, right? I kind of felt like I was obligated to sneer at her and put on dark sunglasses, but I was so flattered that I wanted to hug her. I guess the right thing to do would have been to get a picture with her. Next time? Will there be a next time?

Gallop: My jQuery Carousel Plugin

December 18th, 2014

In the last four websites I’ve built, I’ve used four different jQuery carousel plugins. I’m not really a super fan of carousels, I think they’re kitschy and make for bad UX. They’re the twenty-ten’s version of a flash intro screen. But designers throw them in and clients like them, and I don’t always get to make all the decisions around here.

Since I’m pretty much an expert at it by now, let me tell you about the process of how to find a jQuery carousel that you hate. First, you hit up Google, and pin the command key down while clicking on links until your tabs look like the Nintendo version of the Sierra Nevada mountains in the top of your browser.

Lots of Tabs

Then you sift through all the  articles like “500 Great Responsive Carousels” and “25 Carousels that are the Last Carousel You’ll Ever Need” until you have a list of twenty or so GitHub pages. Then you start looking through the demos, most of which won’t work. Then you download the code and see if you can get it working. Most you won’t be able to, so you spend some time looking at the documentation and making adjustments and fixes until you get some of them to work. Then you exclude the ones that make the browser run slowly because they’re so bloated. Then you spend some time figuring out the API’s that the plugin vendors wrote to make it “easy” for you to change up the features. When they prove too much effort, you just rewrite the code yourself, slashing out wide swaths of code you probably don’t need until you’ve got a somewhat lean plugin. Then you spend forever working around the skins that they built in since your carousel needs to look different. In the end, you’ll end up with one plugin that kind of works, but is buggy or broken bloated or otherwise inadequate.

I finally got tired of this process, which is why I have contributed my own addition to the jQuery carousel mess. I call it Gallop, and it’s intentionally very simple, barebones, and featureless. We’re web developers. We know how to tweak some jQuery to get the features that we want working. We can adjust CSS to make things look right. We don’t need massive plugins with complicated mechanisms to control a million possible configurations. Maybe we just want some divs to slide across the screen, ok? Is that so hard?

No, it turns out it’s not so hard. Less than 100 lines of jQuery, a little more CSS. You just put an unordered list in a div, and it works. The code is incredibly easy to follow, and if you want to change around the features, you just directly edit the code! If you want an additional feature, you just add it right in!

Anyway, here’s the GitHub page. I even made a fun little demo for it as well. Hopefully this simplifies the jQuery plugin process for some people.

Firefox Developer Edition

November 10th, 2014

Firefox just came out with a developer edition of their browser.

You can install it parallel to your existing Firefox installation. Has a ton of cool features for developers built right in, and is kept up to date on the “aurora” channel so you can test with all the newest features currently in development months before they come out on the standard release channel.

More info here and here, and a video here.