Archive for July 3rd, 2010

Casey Hendrickson and Heather Kydd back on the air soon

Regular readers may remember that, going back to last year, I regularly posted my nomination for “Jerk Of The Week” on this blog. This was a segment on Casey Hendrickson and Heather Kydd’s afternoon drive show on Newsradio 840 KXNT in Las Vegas. Well a lot has happened since then, much of it in my recent hiatus…so to briefly fill you in…(for those of you who know the chain of events, just skip down to the paragraph above the YouTube video)

The segment was axed by The Powers That Be and eventually replaced with a copy of a segment from the station’s breakfast show, which is why the nominations stopped. Casey and Heather were still on the air and were continuing to out-rate every other talk show in town in their timeslot, and regular readers may recall that I still made the occasional reference to them, usually when I gave them credit for bringing a story of interest to my attention.

This year some strange things happened. Firstly, CBS Radio, owners of KXNT, blocked international streaming due to issues with music licensing…this was only ever intended to prevent international listeners from tuning in to the music stations, but somebody obviously decided that it was easier to just put a blanket ban in place…this is when my references to them stopped as it became quite rare for me to tune in due to the extra effort required.

A couple months later, KXNT’s program director was axed, a new program director was brought in, the local weekend shows were axed and replaced with infomercials (riveting listening…hours on end about how you should diversify in to gold investments), which was followed by the axing of Casey and Heather’s show, the shuffling about of some other shows (including moving some shows out of their live slots and on to a tape delay), and the introduction of a three-hour news block as the breakfast show…a format which by all accounts has been tried on a number of occasions in Vegas, and failed each and every time.

The station’s program director called the changes a “numbers game”. It probably was…I’m just not convinced that the numbers in question were the ratings…not that it really matters what I think given that I’m not even in the same country, let alone the same market as the station. Don’t get me wrong here…if they can make the format work, then that’s great and I will be happy for them, especially given that I have a lot of respect for a number of people who still work there…I just wouldn’t have made those same changes if I was in charge.

Anyway, I digress, where was I? Oh yes, that’s right…almost immediately upon Casey and Heather’s departure from the station, a new fan group popped up on Facebook for Casey and Heather, and started lobbying the local stations (and some of the out-of-towners too, I believe) to pick up the show which, as the May ratings demonstrate, was the top rating talk show of its time and was now looking for a new home.

Today, some good news the best news I’ve heard all week. A deal appears to have been struck. Casey and Heather will be back on the air soon. Where and when, I don’t know, but I’ll gladly keep you informed. In the meantime, make of this promo what you will:

Cryptic for sure…but I’ve thought for ages that these two need and deserve a larger audience than just one town. I suppose that, technically they had at least three towns, Vegas (broadcast), Canberra (me via the internet) and that person from Norway or Iceland or wherever they were from (also via the internet)…but they definitely deserve to be broadcast in to more than just one town.

I’m excited now…and so very happy for Casey and Heather. Congratulations guys! I can’t wait for whatever it is that is about to happen.

Samuel

Update: Links corrected…sorry about that. Not really sure what happened there.

July 3rd, 2010 at 11:50am

RBT Galore!

Over the next two weeks on Canberra’s roads you can expect a temporary increase in random breath testing, most likely in the form of large roadblock-style breath testing operations. “Why?” I hear you ask…well that’s simple, the police have new recruits and for whatever reason, all new recruits get stuck on traffic duty for two weeks.

Twenty-one new ACT Policing officers were officially sworn in as Constables of Police at the Australian Federal Police (AFP) College in Barton today.
[..]
The new officers will be deployed to stations within ACT Policing after completing a two week rotation with Traffic Operations.

As I understand it, the way this generally works is that a Sergeant will get stuck with supervising them all in one large group (the official wording for this might be that “the new recruits are assigned to an experienced senior officer”) and will be told to take them out on the road for some practical experience in dealing with people who probably don’t want to encounter the police, such as drink-drivers and people in stolen cars. Presumably they do it in this manner so that the recruits can handle a few angry people in a large enough group to contain trouble if it erupts…so that their first real experience of restraining an angry, violent drunk is not when there’s only two of them out on the beat.

I suppose it also helps with their confidence in asserting their authority over civilians by requesting licences and samples of breath etc.

Regardless, they’re out there, and you’ll probably find yourself in a car near them at some stage in the next two weeks here in Canberra.

Samuel

July 3rd, 2010 at 10:56am

If self-driving cars don’t scare you enough…

Then this certainly will:

The National Federation of the Blind and Virginia Tech plan to demonstrate a prototype vehicle next year equipped with technology
that helps a blind person drive a car independently.

The technology, called “nonvisual interfaces,” uses sensors to let a blind driver maneuver a car based on information transmitted to him about his surroundings: whether another car or object is nearby, in front of him or in a neighboring lane.

It seems that, not content with the already scary prospect of having cars which drive themselves, these researchers want to take a car which could in theory drive itself and have it pass its decisions on to a blind human as directions.

Virginia Tech first created a dune buggy as part of a feasibility study that used sensor lasers and cameras to act as the eyes of the vehicle. A vibrating vest was used to direct the driver to speed up, slow down or make turns.

The blind organization was impressed by the results and urged the researchers to keep pushing. The results will be demonstrated next January on a modified Ford Escape sport utility vehicle
at the Daytona International Speedway before the Rolex 24 race.

The latest vehicle will use nonvisual interfaces to help a blind driver operate the car. One interface, called DriveGrip, uses gloves with vibrating motors on areas that cover the knuckles. The vibrations signal to the driver when and where to turn.

Another interface, called AirPix, is a tablet about half the size of a sheet of paper with multiple air holes, almost like those found on an air hockey game. Compressed air coming out of the device helps inform the driver of his or her surroundings, essentially creating a map of the objects around a vehicle. It would show whether there’s another vehicle in a nearby lane or an obstruction in the road.

So let me get this straight, the blind human can’t see where they’re going in order to verify the car computer’s proposals, and would instead just be doing what the computer tells them to do, effectively adding a delay to the computer doing whatever it thinks is the right course of action, whilst also adding an extra potential point of error if the human inevitably ends up doing something which the computer didn’t request.

Quite frankly, the idea of cars driving themselves scares me enough given the fact that I have spent far too much time in my professional career and personal time troubleshooting why computers won’t do as they are expected. Admittedly, most of the time if the problem is truly due to “computer error” and not the operator pushing the wrong buttons, then the “computer error” is generally more accurately described as a “programmer error”. Traditionally, this isn’t a life-threatening problem…but when the error surfaces in the subroutine responsible for handling animals running on to the road at night in the wet when another car just veered in to your lane to avoid the animal and you’ve got a five zillion tonne petrol tanker tailgating you…how do you spell “catastrophe” again?

Once you add the delay of having a human merely follow the orders of the computer…do you see my point or should I find a way to spell “catastrophe” in a bigger way?

The argument which is often thrown back at me when I mention my issues with computers driving cars either directly or by proxy is that they’ve been flying aeroplanes for years. In many ways this is true, but aeroplanes also tend to operate in an environment where there is a much greater acceptable margin of error. On the road if a computer decides to accelerate harshly in traffic, it will be only moments before there is a collision. In an aeroplane, if a computer puts the aeroplane in to a nosedive, there is time for a human to assume manual control of the aircraft and avoid a collision.

Quite frankly, I would much rather teach dogs to drive cars manually than to have computers driving cars or (worse still) people, blind or otherwise, controlling a car at the pure behest of a computer. Dogs do, after all, possess some intelligence and an ability to learn…who knows, perhaps guide dogs could become chauffeurs for the blind. It certainly seems like a more sensible prospect than having a computer dictate every driving action to a person who has no way of knowing if the computer has even the faintest clue what it’s on about.

Samuel

July 3rd, 2010 at 06:14am

Nuclear explosion to solve oil spill problems?

I’ve heard it mentioned a few times that a nuclear explosion could kill off the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, but until today I really hadn’t given it much thought as BP seem to be doing a reasonable job of sealing off the oil leak…a task which is clear extremely difficult given the location of the leak and the sheer pressure at which the oil is being pumped out by natural forces (I think many people forget that the oil is being pushed out by the earth and not being pumped by a machine).

BP are getting there, but they have suffered setbacks and that region is entering its hurricane season, so it’s probably a good time to consider some alternative courses of action just in case the current efforts suffer further setbacks or fail outright.

The nuclear option, at first, seemed silly to me…but I gave it another look after Maritz (whom I have invited to resume her regular columns whenever it suits her) sent me some information about old successful Russian attempts to seal gas leaks with nuclear explosions. It turns out that the method is tried and tested, and even more interestingly the Obama administration (who have done nothing but delay everyone else’s efforts to plug the leak, clean up the oil and protect the coastline) have ruled out the nuclear option. It’s clear to me, especially given the Obama administration’s renewed push for Cap and Trade (aka, the ETS or the “Great Big New Tax on Everything” as Tony Abbott would call it) in the wake of the oil spill, that the Obama administration is loving the oil spill as it gives them the opportunity to berate private industry, and in particular the oil industry, for their “evil and nasty ways”.

So, should we consider the nuclear option? Well former Russian Minister of nuclear energy and veteran Soviet physicist Viktor Mikhailov certainly thinks so, and with good reason:

“A nuclear explosion over the leak,” he says nonchalantly puffing a cigarette as he sits in a conference room at the Institute of Strategic Stability, where he is a director. “I don’t know what BP is waiting for, they are wasting their time. Only about 10 kilotons of nuclear explosion capacity and the problem is solved.”
[..]
For some, blasting the problem seems the most logical answer in the world. Mikhailov has had a distinguished career in the nuclear field, helping to close a Soviet Union program that used nuclear explosions to seal gas leaks. Ordinarily he’s an opponent of nuclear blasts, but he says an underwater explosion in the Gulf of Mexico would not be harmful and could cost no more than $10 million. That compares with the $2.35 billion BP has paid out in cleanup and compensation costs so far. “This option is worth the money,” he says.

And it’s not just Soviet boffins. Milo Nordyke, one of the masterminds behind U.S research into peaceful nuclear energy in the 1960s and ’70s says a nuclear explosion is a logical last-resort solution for BP and the government. Matthew Simmons, a former energy adviser to U.S. President George W. Bush and the founder of energy investment-banking firm Simmons & Company International, is another calling for the nuclear option.

Even former U.S. President Bill Clinton has voiced support for the idea of an explosion to stem the flow of oil, albeit one using conventional materials rather than nukes.
[..]
The Soviets first used a nuclear blast to seal a gas leak in 1966. Urtabulak, one of its prized gas-fields in Uzbekistan, had caught fire and raged for three years. Desperate to save the cherished reserves, Yefim Slavsky, then Minister of Light Industry, ordered nuclear engineers to use the most powerful weapon in their arsenal.

“The Minister said, ‘Do it. Put it out. Explode it,'” recalls Albert Vasilyev, a young engineer and a rising star in the project who now teaches at the Lenin Technical Institute in Moscow.

Vasilyev remembers the technology behind the program with obvious pride. “The explosion takes place deep underground,” he says. “We pinch the pipe, break it and the pipe collapses.” According to Vasilyev, the blast at Urtabulak sealed the well shut leaving only an empty crater.

Matthew Simmons, energy adviser in the George W. Bush administration, who was mentioned in that article, is in charge of the Ocean Energy Institute these days. The OEA seems to be more interested in “renewable” energy than oil, and even seems to be pushing the “Peak Oil Theory” about the supposed imminent drying up of all the oil wells in the world (a theory which has surely lost credibility given the fact that many experts believe that the oil repository involved in this oil spill alone could keep spewing oil for two years if left open), so one would assume that it would be an organisation which the Obama administration would pay some attention to…but apparently not. Anyway, Matthew explained how the nuclear option would work to Sean Hannity on Sean’s radio show earlier this week:

Matthew Simmons, founder of the Ocean Energy Institute, joined Sean on the show to discuss former President Clinton’s latest comments suggesting that Navy could blow up the oil leak and cover the well with debris. “If we sent a small nuclear device it would turn the rock into glass,” informed Simmons, “President Clinton is absolutely right.” The New York Times reported that the Obama administration has already rejected the idea but the “nuclear” option seems to be growing steam. “What’s the percentage of success,” questioned Hannity. Simmons, without missing a beat replied, “100 percent.” Those are pretty good odds.

It seems to me that if the nuclear option is anywhere near as good as Simmons believes, then there are two main reasons why it hasn’t been deployed already:
1) As previously noted, the Obama administration have no intention of speeding things up as, by twisting the facts, they can use the oil spill for their own political purposes.
2) BP, who have also said that they’re not keen on the nuclear option, want to try to salvage the oil well and re-use it once the leak is plugged. Given their investment in the project to-date, this is a reasonable objective on their behalf.

We need to remember that, if BP had their own way, there is no way known that they would have been drilling so far out and so deep in the ocean; government regulations making it virtually impossible to setup drilling operation on-shore have forced BP out in to the deep ocean. We should also note (and I’m amazed that the Australian media seems to have ignored this fact, I picked it up originally from either The Wall Street Journal This Morning or The Mark Levin Show…don’t remember which one now, but it’s been fairly well reported in the US) that BP, pretty much ever since fishing in the Gulf was banned due to the oil, have been paying the fishermen to get them to use their fishing vessels to assist in the clean-up. They did this of their own accord, long before the government made any pronouncements whatsoever. It is also BP who have been doing everything in regards to slowing and stopping the oil leak.

BP are certainly not blameless in this incident as, by all reports it seems that they may have cut some corners which contributed to the leak…we’ll need to wait for the investigation to publish its findings before we know any of this for sure, however it is BP who have done more than anyone else to try to contain the damage as much as possible.

I’m not surprised at all if BP want to try to reuse the oil well…something which a nuclear explosion would probably prevent…but given the amount of time we have spent waiting for this to be plugged, and the fact that the hurricane season could very well make stopping the leak an even slower process, surely it is time for the nuclear option to be put on standby just in case BP are not able to reach their August deadline for the current efforts to succeed.

Admittedly hurricanes could be of some use in helping to disperse the oil…but that’s only really the case once the leak has been plugged, as there’s not much point in dispersing the oil if more is bubbling up to the surface all the time.

The fact is, the nuclear option is our best option to stop this oil leak if BP’s current efforts do not succeed for one reason or another.

Samuel

July 3rd, 2010 at 02:06am


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