Uber Good

But first, today’s paraprosdokian

  • I’m great at multi-tasking–I can waste time, be unproductive, and procrastinate all at once.  

In September, Pittsburgh, PA became the first U.S. city to have driverless cars used to transport people from one place to another – a service provided by Uber.  (Just one month earlier, nuTonomy offered such a service in Singapore.) Uber, is the world’s largest taxi company. Pittsburgh is significant because it is the home of Carnegie Mellon University, the leading university in robotics. Both the head of the Uber’s driverless auto endeavor and the head of Google’s division for driverless cars (considered the leader in the field) came from the CMU robotics department.

So, a customers in Pittsburgh can call Uber and order a driverless car to come to wherever they are and take them to any other place in the area. For the present, there will be a qualified, human driver sitting in the driver’s seat, ready to take control at any moment should the need arise. For the early part of this experiment, there will also be a second person in the front seat who will have a computer and will take notes on every aspect of the trip.

There is also a computer tablet in the back seat where the customer can offer any comments on the experience.

Initially, Uber will use modified Volvo XC90 sport-utilities outfitted with dozens of sensors, including cameras, lasers, radar, and GPS receivers. And while GPS is generally accurate to within ten feet, Uber systems strive for accuracy down to an inch.

Many experts in the autonomous car arena claim that self-driving cars uber-car-copywill ultimately save lives. For now, the efforts in this area are under close scrutiny. Last July, a driver using Tesla’s Autopilot service (not driverless, but driver assisted) was killed when the car collided with a tractor-trailer. The crash is still under investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Google has seen a few minor accidents. At present, Google limits its cars to a maximum of 25 miles per hour. Uber has not sustained any accidents since road testing in Pittsburg began in May.

Uber is so committed to this endeavor it  is acquiring Otto, a company working on driverless trucks And it has plans to open two additional R&D centers.

Ford is also working right now to produce cars that would meet Uber’s demands. In a talk several months ago, the head of General Motors predicted they would have completely autonomous cars in production by 2021.

Before too many years, you will be able to order a car to pick you up and drive you to your agent’s office while you put the finishing touches on your manuscript. The car will drop you at the door and go away. When you have signed the contract and are ready to leave, another call will bring a car to the building and take you home.

Last week, I wrote about our robotic vacuum – that actually works. Now, if they would only make a robot that will make the bed and clean the bathroom, we’d be set.

Life just gets better.

James Callan, October 2016

Artificial (not so) Intelligence

Artificial (not so) Intelligence

But first, today’s paraprosdokian seems appropriate.

Artificial intelligence is no match for natural stupidity.

I haven’t written much in the last couple of days. Why? I’ve been watching a vacuum cleaner. Now this may sound strange to you. Well … it is.

We bought a new robot vacuum. It has a laser to scan the room, memory to keep track of what part it has cleaned already, and the ability to go back and plug itself in when its battery need charging. Not only that, if it cannot clean the entire house on one charge of the battery, after it recharges its battery, it will go back and pick up where it left off and finish the job. You can schedule it to vacuum the floors every Tuesday, or twice a week, or every day if you are a clean freak, or room with Oscar of The Odd Couple..

How’s that sound?robovac

However, …

How do we know if it really cleans every square foot? Our floor is not that dirty. We thought about sprinkling sand all over and then we could tell what got cleaned and what got missed. A sure-fire test. As it began, you could actually see the paths it made through the sand. On the practical side, we would have to stop it and empty its dirt bin pretty often. Yes, it tells us when its dirt bin need emptying. But, what if it didn’t do a good job? We would have all this sand on the floor. Cancel that method.

We have a house a little larger than average. And it takes the little robot five hours to complete the job. That means three trips out the gate with a full charge.

random-walkIt’s not quite as methodical or orderly as a person might be, although this model is not just a random go, bump, try a different direction approach.   So say the ads and directions.   At times, it looks like an organized random method.   So, I am drawn to watch it and see what it is doing. Is it more methodical or more random? Does it cover all areas. (Remember, we decided not to put down the sand.)

At the end of its first battery life, it found its way back to the charge base, got there, turned around and snuggled its behind up to the charge contacts and settle down to be charged. This took about two hours – the charge, not the snuggling bit.

Once charged, it took off again to try to finish the job. I had spent some time having lunch and answering a few e-mails and was just starting to write when I heard it power up, ready to clean. I jumped up to see what it would do.

It had found its way back to where it had left off, and it started to clean. Shortly, it decided to clean under the bed. Now, I know we don’t do that very often. Okay, never. But the little robot decided to do a good job and once it finished, it stopped and displayed a message: “Please clean my dirt bin.” Well, it did say please.

Once the bin was emptied and replaced, the bot was on its way again.Except it didn’t know where to go next. It would turn in a complete circle, then stop and consider thinking-copy(or whatever bots do). Then survey the room again, stop and consider. After several of these, it decided to go left. That was okay, for the bathroom was to the left. It spent ten minutes in the bathroom, then came back to where it had done its contemplating before. And did some more.

You can see why I didn’t get any writing done. I tried talking to it on several (okay, many more than several) occasions. The day was beginning to fade and so was I. So, I paused it, and then instructed it to go back to its charging base. It took off like a shot, perhaps tired of our dirty floors.

It zoomed into the next room and stopped. Again, it displayed that bewilderment it had shown before. Survey 360 degrees, think (or whatever), spin around, cogitate, turn around and consider its options.

In fact, the base was no more than fifteen feet away, in plain view, an easy selection with a laser. Possibly the problem was, not once did I hear it say, “I think I can. I think I can.” And it didn’t.

So, if you’re thinking about buying one, I’d suggest you ask to see its resume or test scores.   I’m going to reset everything and give it another chance tomorrow.

Writing suffers tomorrow.

FREE!  Today, and through Tuesday, the Kindle edition of Cleansed by Fire is free.  Just click here to go to Amazon and download it at zero cost.  It has 63 reviews with an average rating of 4.7 out of 5.0.  You’ll enjoy it, or I’ll give you your money back.

James R. Callan, Oct. 2016

Cover - A Silver Medallion




The Reluctant Heroine

There’s been many pieces written on the amateur sleuth. Quite often, the amateur is pulled into the case and reluctantly takes it on. In my Crystal Moore Suspense Series, Crystal admits the most dangerous thing she ever did was say “no” to a man who never heard the word. And in that incident, she was pulled into the situation against her will. But, she had the will to extract herself, even if at a great cost. However, this is not the main thrust of the book. In fact, this is revealed only when she tells her sidekick about the incident two years later.

As unadventurous as Crystal sees herself, in both of the first two books it is Crystal who pushes herself into harm’s way. a-ton-of-gold-cover-9-1-16

For the main plot line of A Ton of Gold, Crystal jumps into the fray. She gets in the middle of things when she believes someone is trying to kill her grandmother, her only remaining family and the woman who raised her.

My latest book is A Silver Medallion, June 2016. Here, Crystal decides to undertake a dangerous mission to rescue two young girls from a drug lord in the jungles of Mexico. Everyone tries to talk her out of it. Her grandmother, Eula, “who is tough enough to charge hell with a bucket of water”(description of Eula courtesy of a Caleb Pirtle review) tells her it’s a bad idea. Brandi, Crystal’s street-wise sidekick, says she can tell a dumb idea when she smells one. And Crystal’s boss, a former bull rider, tells her it is too dangerous. Lucita, the mother of the two girls is not certain she wants Crystal to go, afraid a mistake might mean harm for the children.

Even Crystal is reluctant. Several times, she convinces herself not to go. But her conscience keeps pulling her back. She is plagues with nightmares about the two young girls and their mother, slaves for the rest of their lives. She tries to think of some other approach. But the circumstances eliminate all of them. Finally, she is convinced if she ever wants to sleep again, or have a normal life, she must go and at least try.

Fortunately, she gets hooked up with mysterious Juan Grande. But if she is successful, she will have two ruthless and powerful men, one in Texas and one in Mexico, who now want her dead.

In A Silver Medallion, as with A Ton of Gold, Crystal enters into the dangerous situations willingly, yet fearfully. She has the unusual combination of reluctance and eagerness. It makes for an interesting and engaging character. She is the kind of character that adds to the joy of writing.

For less than a cup of coffee at Starbucks, or a Blizzard at the Dairy Queen, you can get a digital copy of A Silver Medallion. And as one reviewer on Amazon said, “Once I began reading it, putting it down became the challenge.”

Or from the BookLife Prize in Fiction, Critic’s Report: “reads like a gold-medal thriller from page one.”

A Silver Medallion on Kindle at: http://amzn.to/1WxoEaF

A Silver Medallion in paperback at: http://amzn.to/28LIdWs

Cover - A Silver MedallionETWG Contest Award -ASM

Beam me up, Scotty

As I write this, it is the fiftieth anniversary of Star Trek being on television.   So why is it that I still cannot beam myself to … wherever, maybe to visit one of my kids or grandkids?enterprise

In that epic series, Gene Roddenberry gave us everything we needed to accomplish the task. James T. Kirk and the rest of the crew of the USS Enterprise (NCC-1701) demonstrated the process each week – often more than once in a show.

This production gave us the chamber sometimes used, and even the command to make it work: “Beam me up, Scotty.” (In today’s spirit of full disclosure, Captain Kirk never said those exact words in the original series. But the spirit was there. He actually said, “Beam me up,” and “Scotty, beam us up.” And who can forget Captain Kirk giving the command, “Beam them out of there, Scotty.”)

But all of that aside, Roddenberry gave us the blueprint – and more – to develop a transporter, a beam machine, if you wish, that could move people from one place to another, more or less instantaneously. Having worked in research for many years, I can tell you that the most valuable part of the process is the idea. Those are golden.

In the case of Star Trek, we – that is, the scientific community – have been given not only the idea, but plans. Well, at least part of them. And most researchers will tell you that they don’t want to be given every last detail. If that were the case, what would they have to research? If all the work has been done and given to them, what are they supposed to do – just write up the experiment?

Fifty years. And the scientific community has not been able to reproduce, or create, the beam machine clearly outlined in 1966. And these episodes are still available. If today’s scientist needs to be refreshed, pull up as many episodes as needed to get the facts down. Of course, the members of today’s science community are too young to remember those wonder years when the Enterprise ruled the universe. Or at least that portion which could be filmed.

So, what’s the story? Are we spending too much time inventing child-proof caps for bottles? Or Velcro? (Actually, Velcro was invented well before Star Trek.) Probably the new generation of scientists will have to discover the idea for themselves. They will take credit and even give it a different name, maybe something like teleporting. Of course, Edward Mitchell, an American author, wrote about matter transmission in 1877. That was before my time, barely. But I remember The Fly, a 1957 story, and 1958 movie, which had a transporter, although it did not always reassemble things perfectly. But it moved them from one place to another. Fast.

spock-handScientists, get busy. Authors have pointed the way. All you have to do is build it. Simple engineering. As the security lines at the airports get longer and longer, there will certainly be a market for a teleporter. We’re ready to say, “Beam me home, Scotty.”

James R. Callan

A Silver Medallion, A Crystal Moore Suspense, Book #2Cover - A Silver Medallion


Cowboys Saved Her Career


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Today’s guest is Shannon Taylor Vannatter, a stay-at-home mom and a pastor’s wife.  She also happens to be a traditionally published,  award-winning author with series books in more than one genre.  She says it took her nine years to get … Continue reading

The Joy of Historical Fiction


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Today’s guest is Tamera Lynn Kraft.  She writes historical fiction set in the United States because, she says, there are so many stories in American history.  She has received a second place in the NOCW contest and a third place … Continue reading

Beauty in the Eyes of the Beholder


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We pleased to have Kelly Irvin blogging for us today. Kelly has been a non-fiction writer for thirty years. But, she also has three Amish series. The first book in the Amish of Bee County series (Zondervan/HarperCollins ), The Beekeeper’s … Continue reading