October 1, 2015

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If you trade a five year old car for a new one, be prepared for a shock. Computer systems in cars have become ubiquitous. Last Sunday’s NY Times had a long piece on the benefits and risks. For example, VW’s code writers taught the engine’s computer to sense when an emissions test was taking place and then alter the exhaust to pass the test.

Shwetak N. Patel looked over the 2013 Mercedes C300 and saw not a sporty all-wheel-drive sedan, but a bundle of technology.

There were the obvious features, like a roadside assistance service that communicates to a satellite. But Dr. Patel, a computer science professor at the University of Washington in Seattle, flipped up the hood to show the real brains of the operation: the engine control unit, a computer attached to the side of the motor that governs performance, fuel efficiency and emissions.

To most car owners, this is an impregnable black box. But to Dr. Patel, it is the entry point for the modern car tinkerer — the gateway to the code.

“If you look at all the code in this car,” Dr. Patel said, “it’s easily as much as a smartphone if not more.”

New high-end cars are among the most sophisticated machines on the planet, containing 100 million or more lines of code. Compare that with about 60 million lines of code in all of Facebook or 50 million in the Large Hadron Collider.

“Cars these days are reaching biological levels of complexity,” said Chris Gerdes, a professor of mechanical engineering at StanfordUniversity.

The sophistication of new cars brings numerous benefits — forward-collision warning systems and automatic emergency braking that keep drivers safer are just two examples. But with new technology comes new risks — and new opportunities for malevolence.

The unfolding scandal at Volkswagen — in which 11 million vehicles were outfitted with software that gave false emissions results — showed how a carmaker could take advantage of complex systems to flout regulations. …

… And as the Volkswagen case has shown, these complexities create openings for automakers to game the system. Software in many of the German carmaker’s diesel engines was rigged to fool emissions tests. The cars equipped with the manipulated software spewed as much as 40 times the pollution allowed under the Clean Air Act during normal driving situations. Volkswagen executives admitted to officials in the United States that diesel cars sold in the country had been programmed to sense when emissions were being tested, and to turn on equipment that reduced them.

The German automaker got away with this trick for years because it was hidden in lines of code. It was only after investigations by environmental groups and independent researchers that Volkswagen’s deception came to light.

Errors in software, too, can be notoriously difficult to identify. …





The car computer piece above was technical enough to require some humor now. We have Andy Malcolm, but before that, American Spectator published the transcript of President Trumps’s first presser.

Jorge Ramos: President Trump, on your deportation plan…

President Trump: I didn’t call on you.

Jorge Ramos: I represent Univision. I have a right…

Trump: Excuse me. Wait until my lawsuit against Univision gets to the Supreme Court.

Jorge Ramos: By then you’ll have your sister on the Supreme Court.

Trump: She’s smart, very smart. And she knows I love women and I’m in favor of women’s health. Mexican women. All women. Sit down, or I’ll appoint Ann Coulter U.S. Ambassador to Mexico.

Ramos: I have a question. What about your plan to deport eleven million or more…

Trump: Sit down, or the Secret Service will remove you.

Ramos: I’m a fully credentialed American citizen.

Trump: You have an accent. And you’ve never been nice to me. Besides, Helen Thomas asks the first question. Where’s Helen? …

… Reporter: Now, about the future. You did not have a vice presidential running mate…

Trump: Because, obviously, I’m irreplaceable. The Democrats ran a candidate for vice president because they didn’t have confidence in their nominee. …




Here’s Late Night from Andy.

Meyers: Kellogg’s announced today that it will spend $450 million to expand food distribution to Africa. Though sadly, it was reported Tony the Tiger was gunned down by a Minnesota dentist.

Fallon: With Hillary Clinton on the show the other night, security was very tight. The Secret Service was here all day sweeping the halls, the offices, the hard drives. It was very tight.

Conan: Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady said he thinks it would be a great if Donald Trump was President. Which is really weird, because Brady doesn’t like things filled with too much air.

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