It's my honor to announce that John Carmack and I have initiated a friendly bet of $10,000* to the 501(c)(3) charity of the winner’s choice:
By January 1st, 2030, completely autonomous self-driving cars meeting SAE J3016 level 5 will be commercially available for passenger use in major cities.
I am betting against, and John is betting for.
By “completely autonomous”, per the SAE level 5 definition, we mean the vehicle performs all driving tasks under all conditions – except in the case of natural disasters or emergencies. A human passenger enters the vehicle and selects a destination. Zero human attention or interaction is required during the journey.
By "major cities" we mean any of the top 10 most populous cities in the United States of America.
To be clear, I am betting against because I think everyone is underestimating how difficult fully autonomous driving really is. I am by no means against self driving vehicles in any way! I'd much rather spend my time in a vehicle reading, watching videos, or talking to my family and friends … anything, really, instead of driving. I also think fully autonomous vehicles are a fascinating, incredibly challenging computer science problem, and I want everyone reading this to take it as just that, a challenge. Prove me wrong! Make it happen by 2030, and I'll be popping champagne along with you and everyone else!
(My take on VR is far more pessimistic. VR just… isn't going to happen, in any "changing the world" form, in our lifetimes. This is a subject for a different blog post, but I think AR and projection will do much more for us, far sooner.)
I'd like to thank John for suggesting this friendly wager as a fun way to generate STEM publicity. He is, and always will be, one of my biggest heroes. Go read Masters of Doom if you haven't, already!
With early computers, you didn't boot up to a fancy schmancy desktop, or a screen full of apps you could easily poke and prod with your finger. No, those computers booted up to the command line.
From here, if you were lucky, you might have a cassette tape drive. If you knew the right commands, you could type them in to load programs from cassette tape. But that was an expensive add-on option with early personal computers. For many of us, if we wanted the computer to do anything, we had to type in entire programs from books like 101 Basic Computer Games, by hand... like so.
Yep, believe it or not, circa 1983, this was our idea of a good time. No, we didn't get out much. The book itself was a sort of greatest hits compilation of games collected from Ahl's seminal Creative Computing magazine in the 1970s:
As soon as Ahl made up his mind to leave DEC, he started laying the groundwork for Creative Computing. He announced intentions to publish the magazine at NCC in June 1974 and over the next few months contacted prospective authors, got mailing lists, arranged for typesetting and printing, and started organizing hundreds of other details.
In addition, he also moved his family to Morristown, NJ, and settled into his new job at AT&T. He had little spare capital, so he substituted for it with "sweat equity." He edited submitted articles and wrote others. He specified type, took photos, got books of "clip art," drew illustrations, and laid out boards. He wrote and laid out circulation flyers, pasted on labels, sorted and bundled mailings.
By October 1974, when it was time to specify the first print run, he had just 600 subscribers. But Ahl had no intention of running off just 600 issues. He took all the money he had received, divided it in half, and printed 8000 copies with it. These rolled off the presses October 31, 1974. Ahl recounts the feeling of euphoria on the drive to the printer replaced by dismay when he saw two skids of magazines and wondered how he would ever get them off the premises. Three trips later, his basement and garage were filled with 320 bundles of 25 magazines each. He delivered the 600 subscriber copies to the post office the next day, but it took nearly three weeks to paste labels by hand onto the other 7400 copies and send them, unsolicited, to libraries and school systems throughout the country.
1974 – Ahl founds Creative Computing magazine and acquires the rights to the book from DEC.
1977 – the “trinity” of Apple II 🖥️, PET ️🖥️, and TRS-80 🖥️ microcomputers are released to the public, all with BASIC built in, at prices regular people could mostly afford 🙌
1978 – a second edition of BASIC Computer Games is released, this time published by Ahl himself.
As you can see, there’s no way average people in 1973-1976 were doing a whole lot with BASIC programs, as they had no microcomputers capable of running BASIC to buy! It took a while for inexpensive personal computers to trickle down to the mainstream, which brings us to roughly 1984 when the sequels started appearing.
... in 1973, DEC published an anthology, 101 BASIC Computer Games. The book quickly went into a second printing, for a total of 10,000 copies sold. “That was far more books than there were computers around, so people were buying three, four, five of them for each computer.”
I think we owe it to the world to bring this book up to date using modern, memory safe languages that embody the original spirit of BASIC, and modern programming practices including subroutines.
So let's do this. Please join us on GitHub, where we're updating those original 101 BASIC games in 10 memory safe, general purpose scripting languages:
Java / Kotlin
(Edit: as of March 2022, we've a) offered Kotlin as an alternative to Java, b) removed Pascal since we can't guarantee memory safety there, and replaced it with Rust, which very much can, and c) added Lua which just cracked the top 20 in TIOBE and strongly meets the scripting and memory safe criteria.)
We need your help to do this right, and collaboratively together, as with all modern programming projects. Imagine we're all typing these programs in simultaneously together online, all over the world, instead of being isolated alone in our room in 1984, cursing at the inevitable typo we made somewhere when typing the code in by hand out of the book🤬.
Thanks Mr. Ahl. And a big thanks to everyone who contributed to this project when it was in beta, announced only on Twitter:
(I don't want to be "that one guy", so I'm also looking for project co-owners who can help own and organize this effort. If this is a project that really appeals to you, show me what you can do and let's work together as a team.)
Hard to believe that I've had the same PC case since 2011, and my last serious upgrade was in 2015. I guess that's yet another sign that the PC is over, because PC upgrades have gotten really boring. It took 5 years for me to muster up the initiative to get my system fully upgraded! 🥱
I've been slogging away at this for quite some time now. My PC build blog entry series spans 13 glorious years:
(For comparison with The Golden Age of x86 Gaming Consoles, a PS4 Pro occupies 5.3 liters and an Xbox One S 4.3 liters. About 50% more volume for considerably more than 2× the power isn't a bad deal!)
I chose the Streacom DA2 as my personal build, because after experimenting heavily with the DAN A4 SFX, I realized you need more room to deal with extremely powerful CPUs and GPUs in this form factor, and I wanted a truly powerful system:
Compared to my old 2015-2017 system, a slightly overclocked i7-7700k, that at least gives me 2× the cores (and faster cores, both in clock rate and IPC), 2× the memory, and 2× the M.2 slots (two versus one).
The DA2 is a clever case though less perfect than the A4-SFX. What's neat about it is the hybrid open-air design (on the top and bottom) plus the versatile horizontal and vertical bracket system interior. Per the manual (pdf):
Check out all the bracket mounting options. Incredibly versatile, and easy to manipulate with the captured nut and bolt design:
Note that you can (and really should) pop out the top and bottom acrylic pieces with the mesh dust net.
I had dramatically better temperatures after I did this, and it also made the build easier since the case can fully "breathe" through the top and bottom. You'll note that the front of the DA2 is totally solid, no air holes, so you do need that extra airflow.
I only have a few criticisms of this Streacom DA2 case:
The side panels are tool free, which is excellent, but the pressure fit makes them fairly difficult to remove. Feels like this could be tweaked?
(Don't even think about using a full sized ATX power supply. In theory it is supported, but the build becomes so much more difficult. Use a SFX power supply, which you'd expect to do for a mini-ITX build anyway.)
My primary complaint is that the power extension cable gets in the way. I had to remove it and re-attach it during my build. They should custom route the power cable upwards so it blocks less stuff.
Less of a criticism and more of an observation: if your build uses a powerful GPU and CPU, you'll need two case fans. There's mounting points for a 92mm fan in the rear, and the bracket system makes it easy to mount a 140mm fan blowing inward. You will definitely need both fans!
Here's the configuration I recommend, open on both the top and bottom for maximum airflow, with three fans total:
If you are a water cooling kind of person – I am definitely not, I experienced one too many traumatic cooling fluid leaks in the early 2000s – then you will use that 140mm space for the radiator.
I have definitely burn-in tested this machine, as I do all systems I build, and it passed with flying colors. But to be honest, if you expect to be under full CPU and GPU loads for extended periods of time you might need to switch to water cooling due to the space constraints. (Or pick slightly less powerful components.)
If you haven't built a PC system recently, it's easier than it has ever been. Heck by the time you install the M.2 drives, memory, CPU, and cooler on the motherboard you're almost done, these days!
There are a lot of interesting compact mini-itx builds out there. Perhaps that's the primary innovation in PC building for 2020 and beyond – packing all that power into less than 20 liters of space!
In an electric car, the (enormous) battery is a major part of the price. If electric car prices are decreasing, battery costs must be decreasing, because it's not like the cost of fabricating rubber, aluminum, glass, and steel into car shapes can decline that much, right?
What killed the electric scooter back then is the same thing that killed the electric car of year 2000: terrible lead-acid battery technology. It's too heavy, it lacks power, it doesn't have enough range, it takes too long to charge. These are all different ways of saying the same thing: the battery sucks. It wasn't until Lithium Ion batteries matured that both the electric car and the electric scooter — and pretty much electric everything, if you think about it — became viable.
Thus, one way to see if Lithium Ion battery prices are indeed generally dropping independent of all other manufacturing concerns is to examine the cost of electric scooters over the last few years. Let's consider one of the most popular models, the Xiaomi Mi M365:
This graph only shows roughly two years, from January 2018 to now; it looks like the original price for the Xiaomi M365 when it hit the US market in early 2017 was around $800. So the price of a popular, common electric scooter has halved in three years. Very good news indeed for electric vehicles of all types!
This dramatic drop in electric scooter price from 2016 to 2019 may not be surprising versus the parallel rise of the quasi-legal electric scooter smartphone app rental industry over roughly the same time period, in the form of Bird, Lime, Skip, Spin, Scoot, etc.
Early versions of Bird scooters were actual Xiaomi M365s, slightly modified for rental. Only by late 2018 had they migrated to custom built, ruggedized scooters optimized for the rental market. The rental industries have their own challenges, and ironically have started to pivot to monthly rentals rather than the classic 15 cents per minute.
Bird has experimented with its business model in recent months. In early March, the company altered its repair program in Los Angeles, which had relied on gig workers to fix broken scooters. It moved repairs in-house (though scooters are still charged each night by an army of gig workers). Later that month, the company introduced scooters with locks in some markets, in a bid to prevent theft and vandalism.
In April, it announced the launch of a more traditional rental program in San Francisco and Barcelona, in which users could pay $25 per month to rent a Xiaomi m365 from the company rather than paying per ride.
But this isn't meant to be a blog entry about the viability of scooter rental company business models.
I want to tackle a more fundamental question: are electric scooters the future of transportation?
Even Uber, as screwed up of a company as they still are, knows cars are overkill for a lot of basic transportation needs:
Uber believes their current micro fleet of ebikes and scooters can displace trips under 3 miles.
We have plenty of scooters here at my house, and the family and I enjoy them greatly, but I have never actually ridden or owned an electric scooter. So I bought one. It is of course the popular, inexpensive, and well reviewed Xiaomi Mi M365.
Here's a picture of my electric scooter inside my electric car. (I apologize that I didn't have an electric bicycle to park next to it for maximum smugness, but you can bet your sweet electrons I'll work on that next!)
The short version of my review is this electric scooter is incredibly fun, works great, and if you can get it for a price around $300, practically a no-brainer. I love it, my kids love it, and as long as you're conceptually OK with the look, unlike Elon Musk 🛴💨 then you'll probably love it too.
I found a neat video covering the "one year later" experience of owning the scooter, and what you might eventually run into or want to tweak.
(The main thing to take away from this video is that flats super suck on tires this small, so be warned. I put Slime in my Mi's tires out of an abundance of caution, but you could also go with solid tubeless tires – at the cost of some ride comfort – if you're really worried.)
Is this regulated like a bicycle? If not, why not?
Are they allowed on the sidewalk?
Do you have to ride them in the road, with cars … uh, depending on the speed limit?
Do you need a driver's license?
Do you need a helmet?
Are you even allowed to legally ride them in public at all outside of private property?
The answers also vary wildly depending on where you live, and with no consistency or apparent logic. Here are the current electric scooter laws in California, for what it's worth, which require the rider to have a valid driver's license (unlike electric bicycles) and also disallow them from sidewalks, both of which I feel are onerous and unnecessary restrictions.
One aspect of those laws I definitely agree with, however, is the 15 mile per hour speed restriction. That's a plenty brisk top speed for a standing adult with no special safety equipment. Anything faster starts to get decidedly … uncomfortable. Consider this monster of a 1165KWh electric scooter, with dual motors and dual suspension that goes up to forty freakin' miles per hour.
That … is … terrifying. Even the reviewer, in full motorcycle safety gear, wasn't willing to push it all the way to 40 MPH. And I don't blame him! But now that I've shown you the undisputed Honda Civic everyman budget model of electric scooter in the M365, hopefully this gives you a taste of the wider emerging diversity in these kinds of minimalistic electric vehicles. If you want a luxury electric scooter, an ultralight electric scooter, a rugged offroad electric scooter … all things are possible, for a price.
Another reason the M365 is available for so cheap is that is successor, the Xiaomi M365 Pro, was recently released, although it is not quite possible to obtain in the US at the moment.
Having ridden my M365 a fair bit, I can confirm all the Pro improvements are welcome, if incremental: bigger battery and disc brake, more power, better display, improved latch mechanism, etc.
None of those Pro improvements, however, are worth a 2× increase in price so I'd recommend sticking with the M365 for now because its value proposition is off the charts. Did I mention there's a bluetooth connection, and an app, and it is possible to hack the M365 firmware? Pretty cool how electric vehicles are inherently digital, isn't it?
Here are a few other observations after riding my M365 around a fair bit:
Please be respectful around pedestrians. Most of the sidewalks around here are not busy at all, but the pedestrians I encountered on the electric scooter were definitely more freaked out than I’ve seen before when using regular kick scooters (or skateboards) on the sidewalk, which did surprise me. An electric scooter has more heft to it, both physically at 26 pounds, and in the 15 mile per hour speed it can reach – but also mentally in terms of how it looks and how people approach it. I recommend slowing down to just above walking speed when encountering pedestrians, and if there is a bike lane available, I'd definitely recommend using that.
Hills work great. The kryptonite of traditional kick scooters is hills, and I'm pleased to report that even with a cough sizable adult such as myself riding, I was able to sustain a respectable above-walking speed on most reasonable hills. Where I looked at a hill and thought "this probably should work", it did. That's impressive, considering this isn't the upgraded Pro model with bigger battery and more powerful motor. On flats and downhills the performance is superb, as you'd expect. That said, if you are a really big or tall adult, or live in a particularly hilly area, wait for the Pro model or an equivalent.
Portability is good, but borderline. At ~26 pounds, the electric scooter is reasonably portable, but it's not something you a) could really get away with taking inside a restaurant / store with you to prevent theft or b) want to be carrying around on your person for any significant length of time. It's not nearly as nimble or portable as a kick scooter, but that's a high bar. You'll need to carry a bike lock and think about how to lock your scooter on bike racks, which turned out to be … more geometrically challenging than I anticipated due to the small tires, disc brakes, and the engine in the front wheel. They need more obvious locking points on the chassis.
To be honest with you I'm still bitter about the whole Segway debacle. There was so much hype back in the day. That ridiculous thing was supposed to change the world. Instead, we got … Paul Blart Mall Cop.
A Segway was $5,000 at launch in 2001, which is a whopping $7,248 in inflation adjusted dollars. Here in 2019, cheap $200 to $300 electric scooters are basically the transformational technology the Segway was supposed to be, aren't they? Are electric scooters the future of (most) transportation? I'm not sure, but I do like where we're headed, even if it took us twenty years to get there.
I've never thought of myself as a "car person". The last new car I bought (and in fact, now that I think about it, the first new car I ever bought) was the quirky 1998 Ford Contour SVT. Since then we bought a VW station wagon in 2011 and a Honda minivan in 2012 for family transportation duties. That's it. Not exactly the stuff The Stig's dreams are made of.
The station wagon made sense for a family of three, but became something of a disappointment because it was purchased before — surprise! — we had twins. As Mark Twain once said:
Sufficient unto the day is one baby. As long as you are in your right mind don't you ever pray for twins. Twins amount to a permanent riot. And there ain't any real difference between triplets and an insurrection.
I'm here to tell you that a station wagon doesn't quite cut it as a permanent riot abatement tool. For that you need a full sized minivan.
I'm with Philip Greenspun. Like black socks and sandals, minivans are actually … kind of awesome? Don't believe all the SUV propaganda. Minivans are flat out superior vehicle command centers. Swagger wagons, really.
The A-Team drove a van, not a freakin' SUV. I rest my case.
After 7 years, the station wagon had to go. We initially looked at hybrids because, well, isn't that required in California at this point? But if you know me at all, you know I'm a boil the sea kinda guy at heart. I figure if you're going to flirt with partially electric cars, why not put aside these half measures and go all the way?
It's been 5 years, but from time to time I'd see some electric vehicle on the road and I'd think about that Intergalactic SpaceBoat of Light and Wonder. Maybe it's time for our family to jump on the electric car trend, too, and just late enough that we can avoid the bleeding edge and end up merely on the … leading edge?
I've somehow gone from being a person who basically doesn't care about cars at all … to being one of those insufferable electric car people who won't shut up about them. I apologize in advance. If you suddenly feel an overwhelming urge to close this browser tab, I don't blame you.
I was expecting another car, like the three we bought before. What I got, instead, was a transformation:
Yes, yes, electric cars are clean, but it's a revelation how clean everything is in an electric. You take for granted how dirty and noisy gas based cars are in daily operation – the engine noise, the exhaust fumes, the brake dust on the rims, the oily residues and thin black film that descends on everything, the way you have to wash your hands every time you use the gas station pumps. You don't fully appreciate how oppressive those little dirty details were until they're gone.
Electric cars are (almost) completely silent. I guess technically in 2019 electric cars require artificial soundmakers at low speed for safety, and this car has one. But The Oatmeal was right. Electric cars feel like spacecraft because they move so effortlessly. There's virtually no delay from action to reaction, near immediate acceleration and deceleration … with almost no sound or vibration at all, like you're in freakin' space! It's so immensely satisfying!
Electric cars aren't just electric, they're utterly digital to their very core. Gas cars always felt like the classic 1950s Pixar Cars world of grease monkeys and machine shop guys, maybe with a few digital bobbins added here and there as an afterthought. This electric car, on the other hand, is squarely in the post-iPhone world of everyday digital gadgets. It feels more like a giant smartphone than a car. I am a programmer, I'm a digital guy, I love digital stuff. And electric cars are part of my world, rather than the other way around. It feels good.
Electric cars are mechanically much simpler than gasoline cars, which means they are inherently more reliable and cheaper to maintain. An internal combustion engine has hundreds of moving parts, many of which require regular maintenance, fluids, filters, and tune ups. It also has a complex transmission to translate the narrow power band of a gas powered engine. None of this is necessary on an electric vehicle, whose electric motor is basically one moving part with simple 100% direct drive from the motor to the wheels. This newfound simplicity is deeply appealing to a guy who always saw cars as incredibly complicated (but computers, not so much).
Being able to charge at home overnight is perhaps the most radical transformation of all. Your house is now a "gas station". Our Kia Niro has a range of about 250 miles on a full battery. With any modern electric car, provided you drive less than 200 miles a day round trip (who even drives this much?), it's very unlikely you'll ever need to "fill the tank" anywhere but at home. Ever. It's so strange to think that in 50 years, gas stations may eventually be as odd to see in public as telephone booths now are. Our charger is, conveniently enough, right next to the driveway since that's where the power breaker box was. With the level 2 charger installed, it literally looks like a gas pump on the side of the house, except this one "pumps" … electrons.
This electric car is such a great experience. It's so much better than our gas powered station wagon that I swear, if there was a fully electric minivan (there isn't) I would literally sell our Honda minivan tomorrow and switch over. Without question. And believe me, I had no plans to sell that vehicle two months ago. The electric car is that much better.
I was expecting "yet another car", but what I got instead was a new, radical worldview. Driving a car powered by barely controlled liquid fuel detonations used to be normal. But in an world of more and more viable electric vehicles this status quo increasingly starts to feel … deeply unnatural. Electric is so much better of an overall experience that you begin to wonder: why did we ever do it that way?
Gas cars seem, for lack of a better word, obsolete.
How did this transformation happen, from my perspective, so suddenly? When exactly did electric cars go from "expensive, experimental thing for crazy people" to "By God, I'll never buy another old fashioned gasoline based car if I can help it"?
I was vaguely aware of the early electric cars. I even remember one coworker circa 2001 who owned a bright neon green Honda Insight. I ignored it all because, like I said, I'm not a car guy. I needed to do the research to understand the history, and I started with the often recommended documentary Who Killed the Electric Car?
This is mostly about the original highly experimental General Motors EV1 from 1996 to 1999. It's so early the first models had lead-acid batteries! 😱 There's a number of conspiracy theories floated in the video, but I think the simple answer to the implied question in the title is straight up price. The battery tech was nowhere near ready, and per the Wikipedia article the estimated actual cost of the car was somewhere between $100,000 and $250,000 though I suspect it was much closer to the latter. It is interesting to note how much the owners (well, leasers) loved their EV1s. Having gone through that same conversion myself, I empathize!
I then watched the sequel, Revenge of the Electric Car. This one is essential, because it covers the dawn of the modern electric car we have today.
This chronicles the creation of three very influential early electric cars — the Nissan Leaf, the Chevy Volt, and of course the Tesla Roadster from 2005 - 2008. The precise moment that Lithium-Ion batteries were in play – that's when electric cars started to become viable. Every one of these three electric cars was well conceived and made it to market in volume, though not without significant challenges, both internal and external. None of them were perfect electric vehicles by any means: the Roadster was $100k, the Leaf had limited range, and the Volt was still technically a hybrid, albeit only using the gasoline engine to charge the battery.
Ten years later, Tesla has the model 3 at $38,000 and we bought our Kia Niro for about the same price. After national and state tax incentives and rebates, that puts the price at around $30,000. It's not as cheap as it needs to be … yet. But it's getting there. And it's already competitive with gasoline vehicles in 2019.
It's still early, but the trend lines are clear. And I'm here to tell you that right now, today, I'd buy any modern electric car over a gasoline powered car.
If you too are intrigued by the idea of owning an electric car, you should be. It's freaking awesome! Bring your skepticism, as always; I highly recommend the above Matt Ferrell explainer video on electric vehicle myths.
As for me, I have seen the future, and it is absolutely, inexorably, and unavoidably … electric. ⚡