Categories: Featured News

In Case You Missed It… Assorted Oddities from Around the Web

What Town Matches My Politics?

Clarity + Campaign (Labs), a start-up founded in 2012 providing “fully integrated analytic solutions to Democratic campaigns, progressive non-profits, and socially responsible corporations” posted an interactive webpage where, after answering 7 questions and selecting a state, users can find the ideal town in the selected state in which to live.

Questions range from the obvious inquiry as to which political party users identify with, to a selection of questions on political issues – abortion, religion, climate change, gun control, and how to best address the budget deficit. Answers are multiple choice: Agree, Disagree, or Don’t Include.

On their page, The Lab, Clarity + Campaign confesses their team “likes to have some fun with both useful and not so useful political analytics projects.” The Town Finder is posted there. Also on the page: a partisan name calculator that assigns a percentage as to how Democratic or Republican your first name is. The calculator will also tell you how likely you are to have a gun in your house, attend weekly religious services, and have a college degree.

Michigan Builds a Fake City for Driverless Cars

The University of Michigan’s College of Engineering broke ground on an automated vehicle test facility earlier this summer. To be operated by the U-M’s Mobility Transformation Center, the 32-acre facility will have a simulated city center, stoplights, intersections, roundabouts, road signs, railroad crossing, building facades, construction barrels, and a four-lane highway with merge lanes. Eventually, a mechanical pedestrian will be introduced.

The intent of the facility is to test how automated and networked vehicles respond to rare but dangerous traffic events and road conditions. Researchers will run initial tests on an automated Ford Fusion hybrid. They’re working now with the automaker to develop sensors and mapping technology.

“The type of testing we’re talking about doing, it’s not possible to do today in the university infrastructure,” said Ryan Eustice, an associate professor of naval architecture and marine engineering. “Every time a vehicle comes around the loop, it can hit something unusual. That will give us a leg up on getting these vehicles mature and robust and safe.”

The patent-pending Mobility Transformation Facility is expected to be ready for use early this fall.

California “Toilet to Tap” Efforts Expanded

California recently allocated $1 billion to use more recycled water in the state’s drinking supply after Governor Jerry Brown signed a measure to explore statewide standards for wastewater management by 2016. “California needs more high-quality water,”says Brown, “And recycling is key to getting there.”

Historically, so-called “Toilet to Tap” water proposals have been strongly opposed by the California public. In 1999, pressured by public outcry, San Diego’s city council scrapped a plan for supplying up to 10% of the city’s water needs through recycling by 2001. In 2000, Los Angeles shut down a brand new water recycling plant in Van Nuys for the same reason.

But the perception is changing. A 2012 poll found 73 percent of San Diegans favored recycled water as part of their supply. And a $142 million Groundwater Replenishment System (GWRS) expansion project is now underway at California’s Orange County’s Fountain Valley water facility.

GWRS is a process by which wastewater is purified to near-distilled quality through microfiltration, reverse osmosis, and treatment with ultraviolet light and hydrogen peroxide. The water is then reintroduced into a natural aquifer.

Human Existence: Five Ways it May End

Last week, Anders Sandberg, a research fellow at the Oxford University’s Future of Humanity Institute, posted a list in the popular science blog, I F***ing Love Science, of what he considers the five greatest threats to human existence:

1. Nuclear War
Chances were somewhere between 1 in 200 to 1000 per year.

2. Bioengineered Pandemic
While the risk of a deliberate release of a devastating pathogen is presently low, odds will increase as biotechnology gets better and cheaper.

3. Superintelligence
Intelligent entities are good at achieving goals, but intelligence itself won’t necessarily make something behave morally.

4. Nanotechnology
When a government can “print” large amounts of autonomous or semi-autonomous weapons, arms races could accelerate to the point of instability.

5. Unknown unknowns
Is there something out there so deadly that intelligent life tends to get wiped out? The absence of contact with intelligent aliens might indicate this.

Sandberg points out that his list is not final, noting the threat of nuclear annihilation wasn’t present before the Manhattan Project, and that another threat – supervolcanoes – wasn’t discovered until the 1970s. So the probabilities will change over time.

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