Whispers & Screams
And Other Things

The Joy Of Driving

As anyone who has driven on the UK's congested motorways will attest to, when the roads get beyond a critical threshold of overload, the sheer unpredictability of the drivers around you becomes the most important factor in your cognition. All it takes is for one driver to touch the brake pedal, lighting up the brake lights and a chain reaction of terror ensues in their wake. If an accident is luckily avoided then its almost a certainty that one of those frustratingly inexplicable causeless traffic jams will ensue. 

I have always believed in the power of computer network traffic engineering techniques to come to our aid in situations like this. Just like on a crowded pavement, the unpredictability of the individual has made such a solution frustratingly out of reach.

But it seems that automation and machine learning have brought this notion a step closer. By abdicating control to our machines, network traffic theory can be put into practice ensuring that optimal flow continues.

We have always lacked a way for vehicles to work together until recently and it is this collaborative effort overseen and perhaps controlled by a meta intelligence that can bring about the seismic change that has eluded us.

For my own part I detest most driving. Its basically dead time where my brain has to be used for this one mind numbing task despite the fact that I'd much rather be reading a book, getting some work done or even just sleeping. The day when I can tell my car where I want it to go and then switch off until Im there will be a red letter day for me. I was therefore recently pleased to hear the results of some recent research confirming that in tests, a fleet of driverless cars collaborating with each other can improve overall traffic flow by at least 35%.

Michael He, one of the researchers was quoted thus, "Autonomous cars could fix a lot of different problems associated with driving into, within and between cities but there has to be a way for them to work together."

The key will lie in the adoption of standards and, just like during the development of the standards which now dominate the internet, we are in a period of competition where the standard which wins out may not be the best. (Think ATM vs Ethernet for transporting video and VHS vs Betamax for watching it.)

Much of the current testing and development is done using scale models and SBC such as Raspberry Pi or Orange Pi. This enables researchers to avoid the prohibitive costs associated with developing full scale test environments. Using such swarm systems where the component nodes within the network are each able to communicate at least with their neighbours, it became possible for the overarching 'intelligence' to manage the meta priority for optimal traffic flow in such a way as to achieve something approaching harmony in a ballet of competing priorities and near misses that would send most human drivers to the hard shoulder. Cars can now be packed more closely and yet continue to enjoy progress towards the destination in environments which were previously untenable if populated by unpredictable humans.

Interestingly these tests involved simulating a mix of human and automata with the overall network collaboration level set to either egocentric or cooperative. Improvements of 35% were observed during cooperative traffic but during egocentric driving the improvement was as much as 45%.

Machine learning and swarm software modelling is bringing this field of imagined utopia into reality with staggering speed and for this driver, the day when I can tell my car where I'm going and then put my feet up can't come a moment too soon.

 
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Curved Text In Gimp

Photoshop is a pretty well-known piece of software. Indeed its become so well known in the field of manipulating images its transitioned into the catch-all verb to describe the act of artificially changing a photograph. Not so well known, but to all intents and purposes just as powerful as Photoshop is GIMP. GIMP stands for (The) Gnu Image Manipulation Program and one of the best features that place it streaks ahead of Photoshop is the price. It's free.

The power packed into this freely downloadable piece of software is phenomenal. You name it, GIMP can do it. Ok so introductions over, one of the things I get asked about regularly is whether GIMP can create curved text. The answer, you've guessed it is of course yes. Let's take a look at how it's achieved.

 Let's say you have a logo which looks something like this image here on the left. Your friend, who happens to be a Dentist is looking for some help with his website branding and, let's face it, toothy the tooth does look a little isolated over there. So your friend asks if you could help him place some text around the logo to give it some punch. 

The brief is that the words "Toothsome Teeth" need to curve around the top with "Dental Services" on the bottom.

So where do you even begin? Ill explain in the rest of the post.

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Another Spring Cobbler Climb

It was almost a whim which made us decide to make The Cobbler our first climb of the year. We'd left it late for sure. We're normally out there bashing about the hills throughout the winter but this year was different because of the work we had been doing in the house and my own multiple commitments elsewhere.

I'd spent the previous two weeks feeling pretty poor with a mixture of back pain and virus but the weather gods were smiling today. There was nothing stopping us. Had they not been, weaker motivation may have crumbled but even today with the weakest motivation and the briefest preparation, there was only one outcome.

So off we went. When we arrived we jumped out the car and were so eager to get on with it we even forgot the fruit wed bought specifically for the climb. If you know the path up The Cobbler, you'll know that the first section is a pretty tough, winding slog up through the forests which cover the steep lower slopes of the hill and border Loch Long. It was during this section that I discovered that, despite my porridge breakfast and my sirloin steak/fish finger dinner the night before, I had little to no energy in my body. It was all I could do to place one leg in front of the other for a while but I took frequent rests and somehow managed to slog on. I was gutted. It was a lovely day and Brian (and I) had never seen the view from the top of this mountain without it being obscured by clouds. Today was to be that day, but how. I was exhausted and didn't feel like I had anything in reserve. I promised Id make it to the reservoir by hook or by crook and despite plenty of puffing and wheezing we got there and let the dogs play in the water.

At this point, after a bit of a break, I felt a little better and said I'd like to carry on to the shelter stones and decide there whether or not I could carry on. Once there we made up some energy drink from a sachet and I gulped it down. Again the break made me feel like I could go on just a little bit more so I committed to make it up to the point where the path splits 3 ways to head off for Beinn Narnain, Ben Ime and The Cobbler. As I walked the sugars in my stomach seemed to energise me with every step. I was still hurting but it was becoming less of a problem.

When we got to the 3 way split we stopped again and had a good break. The final and steepest part of the climb loomed above me like a skyscraper but I'd decided if I could make it this far I could make it to the top. After popping 3 dextrose tablets we set off. The final part of the climb is like a long hellish staircase with stones of all sizes making up the crazy paving stairs. It was a tough stretch but, with the help of plenty of breaks and the knowledge we were nearly there, we made it. As you can see from the picture at the top, the views were well worth the slog. Spectacular! 

After a linger at the windy top to take in the majesty, it was time to head back down the path to the delights of the chip shop and the chance to undo some of the healthy goodness we'd subjected ourselves to. Well, life is all about striking a happy balance. What a great day!

 

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Venus Over Irvine

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I got home tonight at about 8 pm at the end of what has been a very clear day. The kind of day that just about suggests that winter is over. The skies are still clear now and the stars are looking great as they almost always do up here in the hills. So, lately Ive been experimenting with my camera. Its a Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ40. It seems like its quite a good camera. It takes great shots and seems to have loads of gizmos and functions. One of the functions I've been intrigued with lately is the one where it takes a long exposure shot of the night sky. You need to hold it really still or it just produces a mess so I've lately taken to just putting it down on something to take a picture as I dont have a tripod.

I took this picture from my upstairs windowsill looking west over Kilmarnock and Irvine and, if it wasnt so dark youd see Arran out there over the water. The resulting picture looks pretty good.
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Teejays Guest

It's really nice to have another dog around the place again. Makes the prospect of getting a new full time member of the pack seem like such a nice prospect that can't come soon enough.

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