Welcome to the Mar 08, 2015 issue of
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description of photoLots of news spots and press articles have been popping up about self-driving cars. ...But before going to our topic for today, I'm happy to tell you that a huge project I've been working on for the past six months is online: I updated my nearly 20-year-old websites that were developed using the earliest versions of HTML and "frames" with a little JavaScript and CSS thrown in later as new things were added. All the "frames" are now eliminated - they're banned in the new HTML5 specs, and instead my sites are using CSS-driven "slider" menus that slide out when you need them and disappear when you don't. Take a look at our Bible Reading Plan and Agape Restoration society and Distance Education Courseware... there's much more - check out the new menus!

Now back to today's topic: Google has brought them fame by its automated cars that traverse the country, taking 360-degree photos of everything in sight. The article "6 things I learned from riding in a Google Self-Driving Car" gives you a good overview (read the whole article!) --

1. Human beings are terrible drivers.
2. Google self-driving cars are timid.
3. They're cute.
4. It's not done and it's not perfect.
5. I want this technology to succeed, like... yesterday.
6. It wasn't an exhilarating ride, and that's a good thing.

How many of you have used a GPS, either a dedicated device or a smartphone app, to give you directions? Ever since we moved from Madison WI to Pittsburgh PA, we've relied on "Mabel" - the nice female voice in Google Maps, to "drive us" to new locations around this rather large metropolitan area. Mabel does a remarkable job (when there are cell tower and satellite navigation signals she can pick up). If we miss a turn on the freeway, she puts "Rerouting..." on the screen and figures out how to get us back on course. This works not merely because of the device itself, but because it's continually communicating with a huge database of information about the highway system, traffic conditions, the weather, any accidents, and even your driving history.

People like us who think they know everything are very annoying to those of you who actually do.

When we moved to Pittsburgh, our auto insurance company sent us a dongle that plugs into the OBD2 port under the dashboard, to track our driving habits and see if we would "qualify for a discount." The whole thing was a scam, because although it tracked the time of day, the car's speed and location, it couldn't see the traffic or weather conditions so it couldn't tell if you had to speed up to merge or slow down quickly to avoid other cars. Also, it burned out the climate control unit in our car when I installed it. As I learned when we switched auto insurance companies (our old insurer denied any responsibility for its dongle damaging our car), it's just a way to make the customers drive more carefully and also feel like they're getting a discount - everyone gets the same discount, whether they use the dongle or not. Our new insurance agent, when I declined using their dongle, said: "Let's see if there's another discount I can give you -- oh, yes! We have a yakety-yak 5% discount!"

But the GPS devices and their distant servers are much more intelligent: they know the traffic or weather conditions, whethere there's an accident or detour that is slowing the flow of traffic to a near-standstill, and how to chart the quickest, safest course. This afternoon, Mabel drove us to a new location using a route we hadn't taken before, and one that will provide us a nice alternative course when we go downtown in the future. Smart GPS-guided and self-driving cars are a threat to auto insurance companies - see Insurers worry self-driving cars could put a dent in their business - because they actually make more money when people have accidents: they raise premiums, and a portion of that, of course, is profit. So if GPS-guided and self-driving cars can reduce accidents by 50%, 75% or even 90%, that's going to make a huge dent in insurance companies' profits!

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The Security Blurb:
You're doubtless familiar with those "CAPTCHA" codes, those twisty-letters that websites want you to enter when you're signing in to their site, especially when you set up a new account. Where did this CAPTCHA term come from? It's an acronym for "Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart" - thanks, Malwarebytes article, for enlightening me about this! Well, computers and some evil people who use them are getting smarter, so that now the bad guys' computers can read the CAPTCHA codes as well as or even better than humans can. This means the good guys must come up with better ways to differentiate between other good guys who are using the websites for legitimate purposes and the bad guys' computers trying to hack into websites.

One way is two-factor authentication: asking you for a piece of personal information that you've provided in person or over a secure link. Another is having you assemble in your mind a picture of an animal or object when the website shows you pieces of the picture that are cut apart and jumbled up. Of course, the next question is: when are the bad guys going to teach their computers how to overcome these methods? Just like the huge pools of data that give GPS-guided and self-driving cars their intelligence, there are huge pools of data "out there" with information about you that we all think nobody else knows: your mother's maiden name, your first grade teacher's name, your favorite flavor of ice cream... even where you were driving yesterday afternoon. Think about it!

The goal of our CN.Net-News is to share information that we think you'll find helpful as you wrestle with that little monster on your desk or at your side, your computer, tablet or phone. And we aim to present this information from a Christian worldview. Thanks for your time!

Best regards,

"Dr. Bob the CompuNerd"

Robert D hoskEN
See the "nerd" in my name? (It helps if you're a little dyslexic!)
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