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What it feels like to sit behind the wheel of a self-driving Uber

About 20 minutes into my ride in a self-driving Uber, I got a nonchalant offer: Did I want to sit behind the wheel? I’d already seen our Ford Fusion get cut off. And then there was the flatbed that veered into our lane, forcing my cautious test driver to take control and steer us to safety. We’d navigated around impatient pedestrians, cyclists and unmarked railroad crossings on Pittsburgh’s narrow, well-worn roads. The conditions felt a lot tougher than my first trip in a fully self-driving car, about a year ago at Google’s headquarters. “Oh sure, I’ll go for it,” I said, feeling a mix of excitement and anxiety. I knew my editor wouldn’t be happy if I said no. So in a gravel lot a stone’s throw from the Allegheny River, I left the safety of the Fusion’s backseat and climbed behind the wheel. The two Uber employees I was riding with provided a crash course in how not to, well, crash. If things got hairy, I could hit the brake or a giant red button on the center console to regain control of the Fusion. Starting Wednesday, Uber will be offering Pittsburgh customers the option of riding in about a dozen these cars. Passengers will sit in the back while two Uber employees in the front seats monitor the car’s performance. Uber isn’t saying when it will expand self-driving tests to other cities, or when the cars will operate without test drivers. Related: Is Uber’s self-driving car a job killer? [1] If self-driving cars work, the impact on society could be huge. Roads may become safer and transportation could be cheaper and more accessible — but many drivers may lose their jobs. For this revolution to happen, people will have to be willing to literally go along for the ride. Research has shown that most U.S. residents aren’t ready to trust self-driving cars yet. The Pittsburgh trials are a way for Uber to see how customers react to the cars, and what makes them uncomfortable. For me, there’s nothing alarming about riding in a self-driving car. But I started worrying once I was behind the wheel. “Just don’t crash this car,” I thought as I adjusted the mirrors. The Fusion was decked out with a small fortune of computing gear — 20 cameras, seven lasers and 360-degree radar coverage. It has more computing power on board than you’ll find in a typical small business, one Uber engineer told me. Repairs would be especially expensive. On River Avenue, I hit a chrome button on the center console and the car was suddenly driving itself. We plodded along at 25 mph, vigilantly honoring the speed limit. I held my hands gently on the wheel, and could feel it shifting back and forth ever so slightly to remain in the middle of our lane. As we approached a red light, the car eased to a stop behind a Kia. So far, so good. The turn signal flicked on, and we soon turned right onto the 31st Street Bridge. The car corners at a consistent angle, making turns that are slower and wider than the typical driver. At another intersection, a truck blared its horn as we turned, apparently frustrated with the car’s scrupulous style. Related: Uber will soon offer rides in self-driving Volvos, Fords [2] The car’s first real test with me at the helm came a few minutes later on Penn Ave. The car put on its right blinker and slowed for a turn. But a cyclist was overtaking us on our right. I’d driven the old fashioned way, all the way from Washington, D.C., for a moment just like this. Could the car handle a tricky situation? The cyclist kept pedaling, pulling a half-car length ahead of us at the intersection. The car appeared to have aced the test as we started another methodical, gentle turn. But a chime sounded, indicating that the car wanted me to take over. I guided the car through the rest of the turn. It was more than the car was programmed to handle on its own. A few blocks later, the car was back in autonomous mode and hugging the right side of the lane, just a couple feet from a row of parked cars. I resisted the urge to jerk the wheel to the left. We passed the parked cars without incident and came up to a truck parked in the middle of our lane, facing the wrong direction. I tapped the brake, and piloted the car around the truck, following the advice of the safety drivers. They felt the car could handle the challenge, but wanted to err on the safe side with a newbie behind the wheel. I spent almost an hour in the Ford Fusion, and six minutes behind the wheel. Between the test drivers and myself, we intervened five times. The drivers are taught to be especially cautious and will intervene even if the car doesn’t request it. Passengers in the backseat of Uber’s self-driving cars have a tablet to communicate with the vehicle. If Uber’s cars are ever good enough to drive around Pittsburgh without a test driver behind the wheel, Uber’s business will rapidly transform. Customers could book less expensive rides because there’s no need to pay a human driver. Uber believes self-driving cars will hasten a shift to a world where no one needs to own a car. Uber is testing in Pittsburgh because it hired a group of robotics experts from nearby Carnegie Mellon University. The city’s nature also provides a range of useful challenges. Aaron Steinfeld, an associate research professor working on autonomous vehicles at Carnegie Mellon, believes there is no better city to do autonomous vehicle research. “We have everything going on here,” Steinfeld said. “We have weather, we have hills, we have bridges, we have tunnels, we have all kinds of drivers. We’re in the sweet spot of East Coast and Midwest drivers so you see all sorts of behavior.” CNNMoney (Washington) First published September 14, 2016: 6:29 AM ET References ^ Related: Is Uber’s self-driving car a job killer? (money.cnn.com) ^ Related: Uber will soon offer rides in self-driving Volvos, Fords (money.cnn.com)

War of words escalates as big mouths prepare for White Hut World Cheeseburg Eating Championship at Big E 0

War of words escalates as big mouths prepare for White Hut World Cheeseburg Eating Championship at Big E

WEST SPRINGFIELD Billy “Demolition” Norris [1] is a big dude who’s been using his big mouth to call out a challenger in Saturday’s first-ever White Hut World Cheeseburg Eating Championship [2] at The Big E, which begins its 17-day run today. “I’m coming for you,” Norris, a truck driver and heavy-equipment operator, says in a menacing video message to Colin LeDuc, a seemingly mild-mannered “insurance account executive” from Longmeadow. Norris, who was raised in Holyoke and Chicopee, has been recording the messages during stops along his trucking route up and down the East Coast, then uploading the videos to Facebook. But it turns out LeDuc, whose alias is “Swollen Colon LePuke,” is no shrinking violet. “Billy ‘Demolition’ Norris is going down like a house of carbs! I’ll have room for maple sugar candy from the Vermont building when I’m done embarrassing you!” LeDuc says in an online riposte to Norris, who’s been mocking him for the past few weeks. Although professional competitive eaters are the main attraction at The Big E chowdown sponsored by White Hut, Balise Auto Group, Williams Distributing, Bolduc’s Apparel, and Sampson’s funeral parlor, and run by Major League Eating [3] the amateur card featuring Norris, LeDuc and several other Massachusetts natives is shaping up to be a big draw on its own. In an effort to hype the White Hut cheeseburg event, Norris and LeDuc have been using social media to lob insults at each other. And they’ve managed to attract a following along the way, thanks to their showmanship and spirited exchanges some of which have been downright comical. Billy “Demolition” Norris, left, likes to eat bacon and eggs every day, washing down his high-calorie meal with “a nice cup of tea” and a big, fat cigar. The truck driver and heavy-equipment operator, who grew up in Holyoke and Chicopee, has engaged in an online war of words with Colin LeDuc, a mild-mannered insurance account executive from Longmeadow. The reason for the online enmity? Both men are seeking victory in Saturday’s first-ever White Hut World Cheeseburg Eating Championship at The Big E. Norris and LeDuc, whose new alias is “Swollen Colon LePuke,” are amateurs in the world of competitive eating, but each hopes to make a name for himself at the event. The contest is sponsored by Balise and run by Major League Eating, the same outfit behind the famous hot dog contest in Brooklyn’s Coney Island neighborhood. (Facebook) Sure, LeDuc [4] was raised in one of Western Massachusetts’ swankiest towns. But that doesn’t preclude him from eating with peasants every once in a while even a 382-pound truck driver whose daily diet includes bacon, eggs and cigars. For the record, Norris says proudly, it’s six eggs (scrambled), three pieces of bacon, and a “nice cup of tea,” followed by a Tony Soprano-sized stogie to aid with digestion. LeDuc, 45, isn’t the least bit intimidated by Norris, 50, despite the whiff of classism (reverse classism?) in the trucker’s taunts on Facebook, where he continues to deride LeDuc and question weather the white-collar hero can handle the White Hut challenge. Instead of getting defensive, though, LeDuc has embraced the rich-kid role that Norris has ascribed to him, even hamming it up for comedic effect. “My yachting coach taught me how to eat fast,” he deadpans, fully embracing his inner “LePuke” his pampered, aristocratic alter ego, who’s clearly more at home at a country club than a country fair. “I grew up on the mean streets of Longmeadow, where I had to learn how to eat with speed because I never knew where my next meal was coming from,” says LePuke, who now calls West Springfield home. Henceforth, we shall refer to LeDuc and Norris by their preferred pseudonyms. Like Daniel Day-Lewis, who’s known for staying in character even when he’s off set, Demolition and LePuke haven’t broken character since signing on for the cheeseburg challenge. The daily insults on social media haven’t exactly reached the ferocity of the Ali-Frazier feud, and they probably never will. (Nobody’s called the other a “gorilla” yet.) But this is their “Thrilla in Manila,” after all, and Demolition and LePuke are gonna enjoy all 900 seconds of their 15 minutes of fame. Speaking of minutes, the rules for the amateur White Hut event are simple: The man who stuffs the most cheeseburgs down his gullet in 5 minutes wins. The prize for this feat is almost as straightforward: bragging rights and the glory of being the Greatest Glutton in Massachusetts. “The contest is only 5 minutes,” says LePuke. “I don’t think Demolition has ever closed his mouth for that long. This might be a personal best for him.” Undaunted by his punier challenger’s gibes, Demolition continues to crank out Facebook videos belittling LePuke. Here’s a recent sample of “attempted intimidation” by Demolition, whose flat affect and serial-killer delivery is more comical than menacing: Colin, it’s me again. Remember me? The “loudmouth”? (LePuke had previously called Demolition a loudmouth on Facebook.) Guess what? (Demolition’s eyes widen for a moment.) It’s 5 o’clock in the morning in Boston … and I’m lookin’ for you. (His voice suddenly sounds De Niro-esque.) I’m training right now. I just ate a dozen Dunkin’ Donuts plain and now I’ma have a couple of Egg McMuffins. Then I’ma follow that by a cigar and a cup of tea (long pause). Then I’m going to the Cape, and I’m gonna get some chowda. And after I eat my chowda, I’m probably going to stop at the Lunch Box (Box Lunch?) and get a turkey roll wrap. And guess what? (He pauses again.) I’m lookin’ for you today, Colin. (Demolition’s feigned disdain is palpable.) You know who you are. So where are ya? Why ya hidin’? Why ain’tcha come out lookin’ for me? Meanwhile, the professionals competing in Saturday’s cheeseburg contest are among the best-known competitive eaters in the world. They’re also vying for a total prize purse worth $4,000. Here’s the breakdown: $2,000 for 1st place $1,000 for 2nd place $600 for 3rd place $300 for 4th place $100 for 5th place Major League Eating (the folks behind the annual Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest in Brooklyn’s Coney Island neighborhood) has rustled up a slate of renowned eaters, including California’s Matt “Megatoad” Stonie [5] , the No. 2-ranked competitive eater in the world. Megatoad caused a major upset last year after downing a mind-blowing 62 hot dogs and stealing the throne from Joey Chestnut, the eight-time champ of the Nathan’s contest. Megatoad is also known for knocking back over two dozen Big Macs in one sitting, so the Californian oughta have a field day with White Hut’s classic cheeseburger. Rounding out the field of pros are Eric “Badlands” Booker [6] of Long Island; Carmen Cincotti of New Jersey; Brian Dudzinsky of Arizona; William Myers of Pennsylvania; Jon Taylor and Steven Wojcik, both of Connecticut; and ” Crazy Legs [7] ” Conti, James Burgess and Geoffrey Esper, all of Massachusetts. Conti grew up in Belmont and now lives in New York City, while Burgess and Esper are from Athol and Oxford, respectively. But back to the amateurs for a moment … Demolition and LePuke aren’t the only wannabe competitive eaters in this game. They’ll be joined by Springfield’s own Chris “Grizzly Bear” Silva, Carver’s Derek “Beast From The East” Brady, and MassLive’s dining daredevil, Nick “The Torso” O’Malley, author of the website’s popular ” I ate it [8] ” column. O’Malley [9] is already an eating legend in these parts, routinely tackling spicy foods, yucky foods, and downright scary foods like Burger King’s special black-bunned Halloween Whopper, which has become O’Malley’s ” arch nemesis [10] .” He took the burger for a taste ride last October, and it moved him in mysterious ways. In the name of decency, we’ll say no more about O’Malley’s movements. While Johnny Cash once “shot a man in Reno just to watch him die,” O’Malley once “ate six salads at Ruby Tuesday just because he was bored.” O’Malley’s line doesn’t quite rise to the level of danger as Cash’s line, but everyone knows that crunchy croutons can killya . I dare you to say that line five times fast. The Torso even took a sabbatical from his column to train for the White Hut challenge. And rumor has it O’Malley’s secret weapon is his jaw, which is allegedly more flexible than Nadia Comaneci. The young Nadia (circa ’76), not the middle-aged Nadia. For LePuke, training for the big event has included watching competitive-eating tutorials on YouTube. “I’m taking the more cerebral approach to this,” he says, surmising that Demolition’s training regimen is probably about as unrefined as crude oil. For the pros, the White Hut World Cheeseburg Eating Championship comes with trophies and cash prizes. For the amateurs, the prize is bragging rights and a chance to chew with the big boys. (Major League Eating) “I don’t know how long Demolition has been training, so he might have a leg up,” says LePuke. “Or a belly up.” LePuke isn’t worried, though. He’s managed to stomach Demolition’s braggadocio over the past couple of weeks, so waiting another 24 hours to serve him some humble pie ain’t no thang. Besides, LePuke is pals with “Beast From The East” Brady a Boston bar owner who looks like he belongs on the Patriots’ roster, not at a cheeseburger contest in Western Mass. LePuke is feeling good about his chances with Brady, whom he once bested in an impromptu hot dog-eating contest in Las Vegas. “It was an unsanctioned event,” says LePuke, describing Brady as a 6-foot-5 monster who’s “built like an NFL linebacker.” The decidedly smaller insurance exec still managed to beat the Beast in Vegas, cramming 16 dogs down his throat. A proud moment in Longmeadow history, indeed. But is it a tombstone-worthy epitaph? Hmm … Demolition says all of the pre-contest zinging is purely in jest, though he still hopes to win on Saturday. “I think I can win with 13 cheeseburgs in 5 minutes,” he says confidently. His only real concern is the temperature of the burgers. If the cheese and onions are too hot, Demolition may have to alter his attack. “That’s a huge deal,” he says. Demolition has been getting advice and attaboys from friends and strangers alike, and he’s expecting a posse of supporters at the cheeseburg challenge. “I don’t care if I win or lose,” he says, sounding almost pensive after weeks of lobbing insults at LeDuc. “I just want to have a good show.” The White Hut challenge for amateurs kicks off at 12 p.m. Saturday, while the pros will take the stage at 12:30 p.m. All of the action will happen on the XFINITY Court Of Honor Stage at The Big E, 1305 Memorial Ave., West Springfield. Be there or be square. References ^ Billy “Demolition” Norris (www.masslive.com) ^ White Hut World Cheeseburg Eating Championship (www.majorleagueeating.com) ^ Major League Eating (www.majorleagueeating.com) ^ LeDuc (www.facebook.com) ^ Matt “Megatoad” Stonie (en.wikipedia.org) ^ Eric “Badlands” Booker (www.facebook.com) ^ Crazy Legs (www.crazylegsconti.com) ^ I ate it (topics.masslive.com) ^ O’Malley (connect.masslive.com) ^ arch nemesis (www.masslive.com)

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OOIDA: Speed limiter rule comment period too short

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association has filed a request with U.S. DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx asking he and two of his sub-agencies to extend the formal comment period on the recently published proposal [1] to require use of speed limiters on heavy-duty trucks. OOIDA has asked the DOT s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to double the comment period from 60 days to 120 days, which would push the comment period s deadline to January 7. The owner-operator trade group says its members need more than the current 60-day comment period to adequately respond to regulators proposed rule to require trucks weighing more than 27,000 pounds to use a speed governor that limits truck speeds to an undetermined speed, likely 60, 65 or 68 mph. This is one of the most significant [proposed rule] in decades as it relates to the safety of the traveling public, roadway efficiency, and the livelihood of our nation s professional truck drivers. One way or another, the outcome of this [proposed rule] will impact everyone, OOIDA says in its request. Considering what is at stake, as well as the amount of time and resources it will take for OOIDA and our members many of which are on the road and away from home for 250 days (or more) each year to develop meaningful comments, DOT should accept our reasonable request for a 60-day extension to file comments. NHTSA and FMCSA published the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking Sept. 7, initiating the 60-day public comment period in which fleets, owner-operators, industry stakeholders and the public at large can file formal comments related the rule and its requirements. The rule was short on several key details, such as what the speed limit for trucks would be and to what extend the rule would be retroactive for trucks already in use. The agencies are looking for feedback from industry stakeholders to help guide it in crafting the final rule. To read more coverage of the proposed speed limiter mandate, click here. [2] Click here to visit the regulations.gov rulemaking portal to file a public comment on the rule. [3] From our partners Many industries rely heavily on vehicles and equipment that operate hydraulic systems to get work done. Construction, mining, agriculture,… References ^ recently published proposal (www.overdriveonline.com) ^ To read more coverage of the proposed speed limiter mandate, click here. (www.overdriveonline.com) ^ Click here to visit the regulations.gov rulemaking portal to file a public comment on the rule. (www.regulations.gov)