transportation

When that hark from the air said it was Captain Finsen

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The travel booking systems used by millions of people every day are woefully insecure and lack modern authentication methods. This allows attackers to easily modify other people’s reservations, cancel their flights and even use the refunds to book tickets for themselves.

{ Computer World | Continue reading }

related { By posting a picture of your boarding pass online, you may be giving away more information than you think }

He always had a smile on his face. Maybe it’s because he was working in customer service.

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The shipping industry is struggling through its worst recession in half a century, and that icon of globalization — the mega-container ship — is a major part of the problem.

Between 1955 and 1975, the average volume of a container ship doubled — and then doubled again over each of the next two decades. The logic behind building such giants was once unimpeachable: Globalization seemed like an unstoppable force, and those who could exploit economies of scale could reap outsized profits.

But by 2008, that logic had begun to falter. Even as global trade volumes collapsed after the financial crisis, with disastrous effects on the cargo business, ship owners were still commissioning more and bigger boats. That had ruinous consequences: This year, 18 percent of the world’s container ships are anchored and idle. […]

Such boats make prime targets for cyberattacks and terrorism, suffer from a dearth of qualified personnel to operate them, and are subject to huge insurance premiums. […]

Yet the biggest costs associated with these floating behemoths are on land — at the ports that are scrambling to accommodate them. New cranes, taller bridges, environmentally perilous dredging, and even wholesale reconfiguration of container yards are just some of the costly disruptions that might be needed to receive a Benjamin Franklin and service it efficiently. Even when taxpayers foot the bill for such upgrades, the costs can be passed on to vessel operators in the form of higher port fees.

Under such circumstances, you’d think that ship owners would start to steer clear of big boats. But, fearful of falling behind the competition and hoping to put smaller operators out of business, they’re actually doing the opposite.

{ Bloomberg | Continue reading }

The defender must build a perfect wall to keep out all intruders, while the offense need find only one chink in the armor through which to attack

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The air-support division of the Los Angeles Police Department operates out of a labyrinthine building on Ramirez Street in the city’s downtown, near the Los Angeles River. […]

The division began with a single helicopter in 1956, and it now has 19 in all, augmented by a King Air fixed-wing plane. The aircrews operate in a state of constant readiness, with at least two helicopters in flight at any given time for 21 hours of every day. A ground crew is suited up and on call for the remaining three, between 5 a.m. and 8 a.m. On weekends, considered peak hours, the number of airborne helicopters goes up to three, although in a crisis the division might send as many as four or five “ships” up at once. […]

The heavily restricted airspace around Los Angeles International Airport, Burdette pointed out, has transformed the surrounding area into a well-known hiding spot for criminals trying to flee by car. Los Angeles police helicopters cannot always approach the airport because of air-traffic-control safety concerns. Indeed, all those planes, with their otherwise-invisible approach patterns across the Southern California sky, have come to exert a kind of sculptural effect on local crimes across the city: Their lines of flight limit the effectiveness of police helicopter patrols and thus alter the preferred getaway routes.

{ NY Times | Continue reading }

painting { Michael Chow }

Take me out, tonight

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Before leaving his girlfriend’s apartment in Crown Heights, on the morning of his nineteenth arrest for impersonating and performing the functions of New York City Transit Authority employees, Darius McCollum put on an NYCTA subway conductor’s uniform and reflector vest. […]

Six weeks earlier, Darius had been paroled from the Elmira Correctional Facility, near Binghamton, New York, where he had served two years for attempted grand larceny—”attempted” because he had signed out NYCTA vehicles for surface use (extinguishing track fires, supervising maintenance projects) and then signed them back in according to procedure. Darius has never worked for the NYCTA; he has never held a steady job. He is thirty-seven and has spent a third of his adult life in prison for victim-less offenses related to transit systems. […]

His obsession with the subway manifested itself as soon as he began riding trains with his mother, at age three. […] Darius spent hundreds of hours watching trains at 179th Street. He estimated the angle of every track intersection in the yard. By the time he was eight, he could visualize the entire New York City subway system. (Later he memorized the architecture of the stations.) Family and friends with subway questions began calling the McCollum household and asking for Darius. In small notebooks he recorded arrival and departure times at various stations, and documented whatever he observed: the shrill, keyed-up atmosphere an emergency stop instantly creates on a platform, the presence of transit police, mechanical problems (“E-train to Canal st 0015 L.C. Delay of train leaving Parson’s Blvd Door Trouble”), passengers riding between cars (“A-train to 81st L.C. 4112—Girl riding in between cars approx. 17 Brown Coat Blue Pants Brown Shoes”). He hasn’t abandoned this note-taking. […]

Darius’s apprenticeship began with a motorman he called Uncle Craft, who drove the first train Darius took regularly. When Craft began working at the 179th Street yard, he taught Darius to drive along the generous stretch of track between the yard and the last F stop. Darius learned how to ease a train into a station, aligning it with the markers that match its length, how to read signals while simultaneously observing the track connections the signals predict (he was taught never to assume the infallibility of signals), and how to understand the timers that govern the signals. Darius was an exceptional, methodical student: he learned quickly and thoroughly, building on each skill he acquired and instantly memorizing terminology. Soon he was doing yard maneuvers and taking trains into passenger service, as both a train operator and a conductor. (By the time of his first arrest, he had driven trains dozens of times.) […]

A prison psychiatrist, after a cursory evaluation, noted that a neurological disorder called Asperger’s Syndrome might explain Darius’s behavior.

{ Harper’s/Long Reads | Continue reading }

image { New York City Transit Authority Graphics Standards Manual }

‘To him who looks upon the world rationally, the world in its turn presents a rational aspect.’ –Hegel

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Google started testing their cars on public roads back in 2009, long before any regulations were even dreamed of. An examination of the California Vehicle Code indicated there was nothing in there prohibiting testing.

For testing purposes, Google has a trained safety driver sitting behind the wheel, ready to take it at any moment. Any attempt to take the wheel or use the pedals disables the automatic systems and the safety driver is in control. The safety drivers took special driving safety courses and were instructed to take control if they have any doubt about safe operation. For example, if a vehicle is not braking as expected when approaching a cross walk, take the controls immediately, do not wait to see if it will detect the pedestrians and stop.

The safety drivers are accompanied by a second person in the passenger seat. Known as the software operator, this person monitors diagnostic screens showing what the system is perceiving and planning, and tells the safety driver if something appeared to be going wrong. The software operator is also an extra set of eyes on the road from time to time.

Many other developers have taken this approach, and some of the regulations written have coded something similar to it into law.

This style of testing makes sense if you consider how we train teen-agers to drive. We allow them to get behind the wheel with almost no skill at all, and a driving instructor sits in the passenger seat. While not required, professional driving instructors tend to have their own brake pedal, and know how and when to grab the wheel if need be. They let the student learn and make minor mistakes, and correct the major ones.

The law doesn’t require that, of course. After taking a simple written test, a teen is allowed to drive with a learner’s permit as long as almost any licenced adult is in the car with them. While it varies from country to country, we let these young drivers get full solo licences after only a fairly simple written test and a short road test which covers only a tiny fraction of situations we will encounter on the road. They then get their paperwork and become the most dangerous drivers on the road.

In contrast, robocar testing procedures have been much more strict, with more oversight by highly trained supervisors. With regulations, there have been requirements for high insurance bonds and special permits to go even further. Both software systems and teens will make mistakes, but the reality is the teens are more dangerous.

{ Brad Templeton | Continue reading }

related { Will You Need a New License to Operate a Self-Driving Car? }

‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord.

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Using data from an online hotel reservation site, the authors jointly examine consumers’ quality choice decision at the time of purchase and subsequent satisfaction with the hotel stay.

They identify three circumstantial variables at the time of purchase that are likely to influence both the choice decisions and the postpurchase satisfaction: the time gap between purchase and consumption, distance between purchase and consumption, and time of purchase (business/nonbusiness hours).

The authors incorporate these three circumstantial variables into a formal two-stage economic model and find that consumers who travel farther and make reservations during business hours are more likely to select higher-quality hotels but are less satisfied.

{ JAMA | Continue reading }

photo { Philip Lorca-diCorcia, Roy, ‘in his 20s’, Los Angeles, California, $50 (Hustlers series), 1990-1992 }

‘The future of humanity is uncertain.’ –Primo Levi

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{ How MH17 Came Apart Over Ukraine }

It was Me, L Boogs and Yan Yan, YG, Lucky ride down Rosecrans

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Commercial drone flights are set to become a widespread reality in the United States, starting next year, under a 2012 law passed by Congress. […]

Military drones have slammed into homes, farms, runways, highways, waterways and, in one case, an Air Force C-130 Hercules transport plane in midair. […]

Several military drones have simply disappeared while at cruising altitudes, never to be seen again. […]

The documents describe a multitude of costly mistakes by remote-control pilots. A $3.8 million Predator carrying a Hellfire missile cratered near Kandahar in January 2010 because the pilot did not realize she had been flying the aircraft upside-down.

{ Washington Post | Continue reading }

‘Against boredom even gods struggle in vain.’ –Nietzsche

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Darius McCollum has been arrested 29 times over the past 30 years for a series of transit-related crimes ranging from impersonating subway workers to stealing buses. […]

He first drew notice in 1981, when as a 15-year-old he operated an E train six stops from 34th Street to the World Trade Center without the conductor or passengers reporting anything amiss.

{ WSJ | Continue reading }

photo { Thomas Hoepker, Lover’s Lane, New Jersey, 1983 }

Terminator X packs the jams

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Scientists on Long Island are preparing to move a 50-foot-wide electromagnet 3,200 miles over land and sea to its new home at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Illinois. The trip is expected to take more than a month. […]

The electromagnet, which weighs at least 15 tons, was the largest in the world when it was built by scientists at Brookhaven in the 1990s, Morse said. Brookhaven scientists no longer have a need for the electromagnet, so it is being moved to the Fermi laboratory, where it will be used in a new experiment called Muon g-2.

The experiment will study the properties of muons, subatomic particles that live only 2.2 millionths of a second.

{ AP | Continue reading }

Persistent vegetative state

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These new robot-painting machines can wash, apply solvent to remove dirt, rinse and then spray two different paint types. […]

Manually, it takes a team of painters 4.5 hours to do the first coat. The robots do it in 24 minutes with perfect quality. Boeing began using the machine in February. By midsummer, all 777 wings will be painted this way. […]

Half the 777 wing-painting team has been redeployed to other roles, such as programming the machines, painting the airline liveries on the fuselage or working on the sophisticated paint job needed for the 787-9 tails, which have a special smooth aerodynamic finish, Clark said.

{ Seattle Times | Continue reading }

If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading

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On April 7, 1994, Federal Express Flight 705, a McDonnell Douglas DC-10-30 cargo jet ferrying electronics across the United States from Memphis, Tennessee to San Jose, California, experienced an attempted hijacking for the purpose of a suicide attack.

Auburn Calloway, a FedEx employee facing possible dismissal for lying about his previous flying experience, boarded the scheduled flight as a deadheading passenger with a guitar case carrying several hammers and a speargun. He intended to disable the aircraft’s cockpit voice recorder before take-off and, once airborne, kill the crew using the blunt force of the hammers so their injuries would appear consistent with an accident rather than a hijacking. The speargun would be a last resort. He would then crash the aircraft while just appearing to be an employee killed in an accident. This would make his family eligible for a $2.5 million life insurance policy paid by Federal Express.

{ Wikipedia | Continue reading }

art { Caleb Brown }