Showing posts with label Technology. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Technology. Show all posts
I love Netflix's service.  I've been a customer since they became available in Canada.  The service is cheap, fast, and has increasingly delivered very high quality original content.  Renee loves to watch Korean drama.  I love to watch zombie shows.  When Netflix came out with Kingdom (a Korean zombie drama), we finally found a show that both of us can watch!

However, this post is not about Netflix's shows.  It's about a much more serious issue.  Recently, the state of Georgia in the US passed a law that disallows abortion on babies whose heartbeat has been detected.  This law is seen as a victory for the pro-life movement.  Unexpectedly, at least for me, Netflix entered into the scene.  They announced that they will be working with the ACLU to fight this law and will be reconsidering its investment in Georgia.

It is one thing for a company to voice its opinion on a matter; it is quite another to take an active role on such a topic.  I think Netflix has crossed the line for me.  If it continues down this path, I believe it would be morally unacceptable for me to continue both paying for its service and owning shares of the company.  After all, part of my money will be going to be used to fight against a pro-life legislation.

So, I decided to write a message to them through their investor relations page.  You can see it below. 

I will be watching this closely to see what actions, if any, Netflix will take.  If it comes to the point where I need to unsubscribe, it will make life very inconvenient for me.  I don't have cable; so what will I watch?  Maybe I can watch Disney+ when it comes out...but unfortunately, Disney is taking the same stance.  What is one to do in this secular world?  I guess this is a cross one must carry.

Hi Netflix,

I have been a Netflix customer since you came to Canada and have recently became a shareholder.  While I respect differing viewpoints on the topic of abortion, I am displeased by the recent announcement that Netflix will be using its resources, which partly comes from my monthly subscription fee and my investment in the company, to take an active pro-abortion role.  If Netflix continues down this path, I will be forced to both unsubscribe to your service and also sell all of my shares of NFLX.  I do not have a unique perspective on this topic; millions of your subscribers and investors, whether religious or not, are pro-life.  Please reconsider your position.  Thank you.

Felix Wong
My Model 3 Driving Itself

About 2.5 years ago, Tesla posted a video of a self-driving Model X.  It completely blew my mind!  You can see it in my old post about autonomous driving.  Elon Musk then promised an autonomous cross country trip by the end of 2017. That year came and went and then another year without any meaningful progress.  This, by the way, is called "Elon time".  However, with most things from promising to land rockets back on Earth to building hundreds of thousands of Model 3s in a year, I think autonomous driving will come to fruition soon.

There are a handful of Tesla owners in my readership and I know you guys already know all this stuff, but the large majority of people who read my blog aren't really that much of a fanatic as I am with Tesla and Elon Musk.  So, the above video is something that will give you a look into what is already available in Teslas.  I personally took that video a couple of weeks ago while I (or really, the car) was driving to the airport (for a Turo dropoff).

Tesla released what they call "Navigate on Autopilot" several months ago.  You probably know what Autopilot is.  It is essentially a glorified adaptive cruise control.  It will follow a lane and also brake according to the car in front of you.  If a car swerves into your lane, it will also be able to maneuver out of the way if it was safe to do so.  Navigate on Autopilot is a step up from there.  You set a destination on the navigation system (and this only works on highways right notw), and the car will know what lanes to take and which exits to take on the route to take you all the way to the destination highway off-ramp.  However, Tesla had disabled the auto-lane change; so, the driver must accept the lane change by pressing on the turn signal stalk, that is, until a few weeks ago.

The user can now disable lane change acknowledgement and allow the car change lanes by itself.  The car still requires you to keep your hands on the wheel and will alert you when it's trying to change a lane via a tone and/or vibration on the steering wheel.  If you watch the video, for the entire 1:17 of the drive, the car was essentially driving itself.  I started taking the video on the on-ramp to the 401.  The car then changes lanes 3 times by itself, while avoiding cars that were driving along in the lane that it was trying to get into.  I don't think I need to talk much more...just watch the video!  If a picture is a thousand words, then a video is a million words!

On April 22, Tesla will be holding an Autonomy Investor Day to show off the next steps in autonomous driving.  Elon Musk has been very vocal about autonomous driving recently and has made a number of statements about how close Tesla is to full self-driving.  Below is an interview he did with MIT research scientist, Lex Friedman, on autonomous driving and AI.  It's a long video but well worth the time.  One thing that he said, which I thought was very interesting was, "I think it will become very quickly, maybe even towards the end of this year, but I would say I'd be shocked if it's not next year, at the latest, that having a human intervene will decrease safety."  I look forward to that day!

We made it!  1/3 million kilometers!  This is my beloved 2006 Toyota Prius.  I bought it in 2010 when it was 4 years old with 90,000 km on it.  Since then, I've put more than 240,0000 km on it.  Many people wonder if it costs more to maintain a hybrid, and the simple answer is yes.  However, let me get into the details.

In the almost 8 years that I've had the car, there were a total of 4 repairs that I had to make.  First, the front wheel bearings had to be replaced at 163,000 km.  Then, the hybrid battery started failing at 232,0000 km, and I opted to have it rebuilt for $1000.  This was a mistake, because after a bit more than a year, it started failing again.  This time, I decided to have it replaced for $3000.  Around the same time, the front bearings went again.  So, in total, I spent around $5200 + tax in repairs.  Then, there were other regular maintenance stuff like brakes, 12V battery, etc.  So, the real difference between a non-hybrid car and my Prius would be the battery repairs of $4000.  If I had been smarter about replacing the battery, my hybrid repairs would have costed only $3000 (the battery is still going strong now).

That's the cost side.  Now, to the savings.  I had a Matrix before I bought the Prius.  So, if I had kept that car, let's see what the savings would be like.  On the Matrix, I believe I averaged about 8.5 L/100 km.  On the Prius, I averaged about 5.2 L/100 km.  So, after 240,000 km, assuming the average gas price is $1.20/L, I've saved a total of $9504.  This is compared to ~$4520 in hybrid related repairs.  The net is $4984 savings, plus whatever environmental benefits by burning 7920 L less gasoline or producing roughly 42000 lbs less CO2!  I'd say that's pretty good!

However, the cost of a hybrid is more than a similar non-hybrid car.  Luckily, I bought the car used and it cost me < $15000 (no tax paid due to a government rebate at the time).  I believe a Matrix of the same age would have cost around $12500 but I would have had to pay taxes on it, which would bring it to within $1000 of the cost of the Prius.  So, in the end, I've come out on top both financially and ethically!  I think this was a pretty good decision.

So, the natural next step for me would be to go full electric.  As some of you know, I have a reservation for a Tesla Model 3.  Tesla recently updated the delivery timeline and they are now forecasting mid-2018 for delivery.  It's been just some idea for the past 1.5 years but now it's becoming very real.  It's a bit surreal, in fact.  It will be the first new car that I will have bought (because I hate the depreciation of cars in their first 3 years).  However, the $14000 Ontario rebate is pretty darn good to pass up.  The fact that it happens to be quicker than a Ferrari Testarossa in 0-60 mph time is also pretty awesome!  Lastly, as well, I just want to fall asleep at the wheel! ;)

I'm a frugal guy.  Kijiji and eBay are my best friends when it come to spending money.  So, when I say I see a good cell phone plan, it's a good cell phone plan!  Let me give you some background.  Since around 2012, I've been with, first, Mobilicity, and then Wind Mobile.  I really couldn't justify spending $60+/month on a cell phone plan x 2.  With both of these carriers, you essentially have unlimited calling and data, but with 2 big caveats: poor signal quality and coverage.

I've lived with them because there really was no alternative when it comes to the Big 3 (Rogers, Bell, and Telus, and their subsidiaries like Fido, Koodo, etc.).  Let me cover the 2 caveats.  First, signal quality was extremely poor with Mobilicity, and pretty poor with Wind.  You will have dropped calls and slow/no data connection fairly frequently.  Outdoors, you'll probably be ok, but once you go into a building, you've got a 50/50 chance of getting little to no signal at all.  Second, coverage sucked big time!  Once you're out of (sub)urban areas, you'll go into roaming.  Side note: Wind has a fairly good local roaming plan and a great US roaming (no sarcasm there).  For the US roaming add-on, you pay $15/month and you'll get 1 GB data and essentially unlimited text/calling.  I digress.  Anyway, if you travel outside of urban areas a lot, Mobilicity and Wind are likely not for you.

Then, one day, I found Public Mobile (PM).  PM is a not a household name by any means, but they provide a pretty competitive service.  They were bought by Telus in 2013 and eventually began operating on the Telus network.  So, the 2 caveats of Mobilicity and Wind are non-issues.  Signal quality and coverage are both up to par with Bell and Rogers.  What's great is their prices.  Currently, I have one of my lines on its 90-day pre-paid plans.  I get unlimited province wide calling/global text, voicemail, and 6GB data to use in this 90-day period (2 GB/month) for $38 a month ($40 - $2 discount for signing up for auto-credit card payment).  They are able to keep their costs low because they don't have a real call centre.  Support is provided by fellow users and a few moderators on their forums.  So, if you participate in the forums and are helpful, you can get up to $6 off per month.  So, the plan is really going to cost me about $35/month.

It's a pretty good plan, but I've been used to using way more than 2 GB/month.  So, I've put off putting myself on the plan, until one day, they started a promotion of doubling the data at no extra cost.  So, I can get essentially 4 GB data/month at $35/month, on the Telus network with no contract (well...90-day contract)!  I don't think that can be beat.  The only minor caveat is if you're out of province, you need to buy a fairly reasonably priced add-on for data and minutes.  I don't travel a lot and when I do, I'm traveling for work, so I would use my work not a big impact for me.

This promo ends November 20th.  If you don't believe me, at least believe Red Flag Deals.  The thread there has more than 450 likes.  See the details there.

One more thing, if you're signing up and would like to thank me for this information, use me as a referral so I get $1/month discount...muahahahaha!  Ask me for my number (it's not my cell #).

Falling a sleep at the wheel... Both my nightmare and dream come true. In the past 5 years, I had gotten into 2 minor accidents when I dozed off at the wheel. Both accidents happened during rush hour in stop-and-go traffic on my way home from work. So, yeah, stay away from me on the roads!

As some of you know, I have a long commute: 100 km round-trip each day on the best highways (not!) in Canada, the DVP and the 401! I'm on the road at least 2 hours a day. And before my current job, I drove 130 km round-trip to work in Cambridge. I estimate myself to have driven half a million kilometers since 2004 or about 1.3 times the distance from the Earth to the moon!! A bit of bragging, sorry, but this will set the context for the rest of this post.

Don't get me wrong, I love driving. I've driven from Ontario to Victoria on one trip and to New Orleans and back on another, but getting stuck in traffic is really not my idea of fun. To make the time more productive, I started listening to audio books. Between 2014 and now, I've listened to more than 70 audio books while commuting to work. It's not a bad way to spend this time.

Can't Wait
In about 2 years time, that's all about to change.  Ever since Google had started doing R&D in self-driving cars, I've been eagerly looking forward to the day when I can get into my car and be chauffeured to my destination.  Looks like Elon Musk will make that a reality, sooner rather than later!  Last week, he announced that all cars that rolls off a Tesla assembly line will now have the hardware required for Level 5 autonomy (essentially, driver requires zero input).  He then went on to post a demo video on the Tesla website.  I've saved you time and posted it below.  You have to watch it!  It's amazing!  The software won't quite be ready yet, but I don't think it would take very long.

Skepticism vs. Optimisim
Many people are skeptical of the technology and I do share their concerns.  However, it's all about how the AI is trained.  There's certainly some computer programmers write code for the system, but the self-driving software uses neural networks to learn how to interpret the incoming data and make decisions.  I can say I'm probably in the top 10 percentile in terms of drivers with the most mileage, but I only really have about 500,000 km of experience, most of which is in Toronto traffic.  However, what Tesla plans to do is collect data from its entire fleet and use it to train its AI.  Assuming Tesla sells half a million cars between now and the end of 2018, it would have that many cars on the road providing it data.  If each car is driven 10000 km in a year, Tesla would have 5 billion km of data after just one year!  That would include data from all parts of the world in all kinds of climate.  Even if 1% of that data is in snowy weather, it would have 50 million km worth of data with which to train its AI.  I think that would trump my 500,000 km experience any day.

Will there be fatalities and accidents with Autopilot?  Sure.  Will there be a lot less?  Absolutely!  How can I be so sure?  I recently read (listened to, actually, during my commute) the book The Rational Optimist by Matt Ridley...a great book by the way.  He talks about how throughout the ages, humans have had many challenges and we have learned to overcome these challenges through ingenuity and creativity.  I have no doubt that the problem of self-driving will be solved within the next 10 years.

I recall about 15-20 years ago, when the Internet was still a new thing, many warnings came with the technology: don't give your email address to somebody you don't know, don't give your credit card number to anyone online, don't post pictures of yourself online and God forbid, especially not your children's...well, the rest is history...It is understandable to be cautious of the unknown, but I'd like to be more optimistic and look forward to the day when I can sleep soundly in the comfort of the driver's seat of my car, while cruising (or crawling) down the 401!

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