Monday, March 19, 2018

Pedestrian Fatality and Autonomous Cars

(Click on thumbnails for larger image)

A recent pedestrian fatality involving an autonomous car is simply the first such tragedy. Science News reported that a woman died crossing the street when a self-driving car, deployed by Uber, hit her.[1] Writers, engineers, and computer science experts had predicted this for some time. What will this mean specifically for the autonomous car industry and artificial intelligence in general? What algorithms, if any, need to be rewritten? What logic did the self-driving car’s onboard computers use in choosing to enter the area when a human being was also in the crosswalk?

I have previously discussed this possibility and its implications in other posts.[2] A number of questions now come to mind. Did the car make a decisive choice to hit the pedestrian to avoid harm to those in the car? Could the onboard AI have made a different choice? How could the outcome have been changed? Investigators will need to ask these and several more questions to get to a place of assigning responsibility for this accident. What will the law have to say? Who could be fined? What sort of lawsuit could be filed? We await the outcome to see how manufacturers of autonomous cars might learn from this incident and the ramifications for all car makers.

Sunday, March 18, 2018


An ancient Prayer of the Church
(sometimes attributed to Saint Patrick)

May the Strength of God guide us.
May the Power of God preserve us.
May the Wisdom of God instruct us.
May the Hand of God protect us.
May the Way of God direct us.
May the Shield of God defend us.
May the Angels of God guard us.
- Against the snares of the evil one.

May Christ be with us!
May Christ be before us!
May Christ be in us,
Christ be over all!

May Thy Grace, Lord,
Always be ours,
This day, O Lord, and forevermore. Amen.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Jovian Skies

Juno is a spacecraft that was launched by NASA on August 5, 2011. After a journey of approximately 3 billion kilometers, Juno was inserted into an elliptical orbit around Jupiter on July 4, 2016 where it has been orbiting and carrying out its mission ever since. Its primary mission will last until July of 2018 and the spacecraft will eventually be intentionally crushed and burned up in the atmosphere of Jupiter. With its on-board instruments and cameras, Juno has been mapping the structure of the planet surface as well as making observations of the Jovian atmosphere,[1] at some points passing as close as about 4,000 kilometers above the atmosphere.

Juno’s cameras have given us the best resolution ever seen of Jupiter’s polar clouds. It has long been known that the atmosphere of Jupiter is constantly churned by massive cyclones. One fascinating observation made by Juno is that the polar storms order themselves in geometric shapes. The south pole of Jupiter has a storm that is encircled by 5 other cyclones creating a pentagon-like structure, while Juno has shown that the north polar region has eight cyclones situated in an octagon-like structure, surrounding a central polar storm.[2]

Many who have analyzed the data from Juno have been surprised to find geometrically regular shapes, but such shapes are not without precedence. The Cassini spacecraft confirmed the presence of a hexagon-shaped storm on Saturn’s north pole, which was first observed by the Voyager Mission flyby in 1981. We are more familiar with curves on earth, but the extreme nature of storms on other worlds can result in structures containing 5, 6, and 8 points. This will be of great interest to fluid dynamic engineers, and I am quite certain that such findings on Jupiter and Saturn will lead to scientific experiments that investigate the mechanisms involved in these regular geometric structures and the implications for planetary landings and other equally interesting consequences of atmospheric fluid motion.

Beyond our scientific fascination with such storms, the raw power and distinctive structures of these other-wordly storms may also inspire the poets, writers, and theologians to see and dream about what has been created.

Some went off to sea in ships,
    plying the trade routes of the world.
They, too, observed the Lord’s power in action,
    his impressive works on the deepest seas.
He spoke, and the winds rose,
    stirring up the waves.
Their ships were tossed to the heavens
    and plunged again to the depths;
    the sailors cringed in terror.
They reeled and staggered like drunkards
    and were at their wits’ end.
“Lord, help!” they cried in their trouble,
    and he saved them from their distress.
He calmed the storm to a whisper
    and stilled the waves.[3]

[1] Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, s.v. "Juno (Spacecraft)," (accessed 2018-03-13),
[2] Nature volume555, pages216–219 (08 March 2018); doi:10.1038/nature25491
[3] Psalm 107:23-29 New Living Translation

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Cuddy Cavalcade

He may have a “Skyscraper Soul” but his music continues to reach new heights. Jim Cuddy came to Calgary on March 1 and brought with him, in his own words, a "cavalcade of stars." Cuddy gave plenty of space to his two sons who featured in two or more songs each. They are up-and-coming musicians who will blaze their own trail, but the proud father has given them a platform to allow the Canadian public to get to know them. They show great promise. Barney Bentall was also brought on stage to join the Jim Cuddy Band for a few songs and added much to the show.

Cuddy did a great job of featuring his new album as well as playing old standards from his Blue Rodeo music. The new music was sufficiently familiar to the audience as each concert ticket sold included a digital download of the album "Constellation." I might have liked to see a few more songs from Light That Guides You Home and Skyscraper Soul, but the Calgary audience was pleased with his Blue Rodeo selections. I was continually impressed by the level of professionalism of The Jim Cuddy Band. They are an outstanding collection of musicians who bring their best to the game at every concert and they were a pleasure to watch. Anne Lindsay, the only female member of the band, is a virtuoso violinist, and Colin Cripps and Bazil Donovan (both members of Blue Rodeo) are musicians with many years of studio and road experience.

Jim Cuddy is a Canadian treasure whose music stands the test of time. The concert was one of the best I have ever seen.

Favourite Moment:
Anne Lindsay featured in the song "Five Days in May." Lindsay (violin), Steve O'Conner (keyboard), and Colin Cripps (guitar) filled in the parts that one would have thought might be missing without Greg Keelor on this amazing Blue Rodeo song.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Billy Graham and Forgiveness

In light of the recent passing of Billy Graham, a reprint of a previous blog is in order.

The Crown, Season 2, Episode 6: Vergangenheit

Written by Peter Morgan
Directed by Philippa Lowthorpe

This post contains numerous spoilers and explanations of a current episode of The Crown. You may want to watch the episode before reading this article.

The German word, vergangenheit, has many uses [1] in the German language. Its simplest meaning is “the past.” In some contexts, this can be a “time that has elapsed,” a “forgotten past,” a “past with which some have not yet come to terms,” or a “past that needs to be forgiven.” This is the word the producers and writers chose for Season 2, Episode 6 of the Netflix series, The Crown.

The episode opens with the uncovering of secret Nazi documents which reveal the plans and thought processes of the senior Nazi leadership and their collusion with European leaders prior to and during World War II. Most of the documents are translated and published, while the Marburg papers are labelled confidential and stored away in secret so that the embarrassing contents might never be revealed.

The scene quickly shifts to King George, who, on discovering the contents of the Marburg papers, says that the people of the world must never discover the contents. He says, “Our people would rightfully never forgive us.”

Although most will see the story as a depiction of what to do with a former King (Edward VIII) who wants to rehabilitate his image, the interesting part of this British drama is the question of “forgiveness.” If one notices how many times the word is used in this script, they will get the sense that the discussions between the Head of the Church of England (Queen Elizabeth II) and the unofficial Head of Evangelical Christianity in America (Reverend Billy Graham) are much more than peripheral to the overall development of the episode.

Certainly, we cannot get away from the fact that Her Majesty is wrestling with how to, and whether or not to, forgive her uncle, the former King Edward VIII (and subsequently the Duke of Windsor), for associating and conspiring with Nazi Germany in a failed attempt to recover the throne for himself and his wife who wished to be Queen. In this version of historical-fiction, the Duke of Windsor is seen as one who wanted the throne but could not have it because of the divorced woman he chose to marry. Yet, the question of forgiveness is bigger than one act of pardon or denunciation. Forgiveness here, in the context of this well-written and well-directed program, is about forgiveness in all its forms.

It is about God forgiving individuals.
Billy Graham: “The Bible teaches that all have sinned. … God offers hope for the individual, hope for society, hope for the world.”

It is about forgiving Kings.
Duke of Windsor: “Can a former King be forgiven?”

It is about forgiving a German political movement which brought about the Nazi Party and the horrors of World War II. At one point, we hear the Duke of Windsor suggest that, “It could be argued that we were the ones that made him [Hitler] a monster.”

It is about forgiving oneself.
Billy Graham: “The solution for being unable to forgive: one asks for forgiveness for oneself … and prays for those whom one cannot forgive.”

The drama is played out with commentary provided by the private words spoken between The Reverend Billy Graham and Her Majesty, The Queen. Graham preaches a question and then answers it for the small audience in Windsor Chapel.
Billy Graham: “What is a Christian? … A person in whom Christ dwells. … it means, that you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.” (Here he references Colossians 1:27.)

The Queen praises Billy Graham, the evangelist, and says, “You speak with such clarity and certainty.… It is lovely to disappear and become just a simple Christian.” By that, she means that it felt good to be in chapel and not feel that she had to be the Head of the Church.

The scenes shift back and forth but we are soon taken to a scene featuring the Duke of Windsor as he writes to his wife in America. He complains that the evangelist, Billy Graham, has disturbed him and says that “all taste for prayer has evaded me.” We begin to see the Duke transformed from a bored socialite to a demon in disguise. One scene ends with a fade to black in which a menacing glint in his eyes is the last thing to fade. When the publication of the Marburg papers becomes inevitable, the Queen Mother remarks that “this was always going to come back to haunt us.”

Yet, The Queen and The Evangelist are eager to want to forgive The Duke and the sins of others, even as they admit to the difficulty of forgiving those who betray and murder their countrymen. At one point the Queen says, “It is time to discuss forgiveness for Uncle David. … Forgiveness is very important to me.” However, when she is confronted with the magnitude of David’s sins, perhaps there is even an allusion here to King David of the Bible, she speaks these harsher words to her uncle,
“We all closed our eyes and ears to what was being said about you. … But when the truth finally came out, it makes a mockery of even the central tenants of Christianity. There is no possibility of my forgiving you; the question is, how on earth can you forgive yourself?”

It is at this point that the key conversation between Billy Graham and The Queen occurs.
The Queen: “I would like to hear your views on forgiveness. Are there circumstances in which one can be a good Christian and not forgive?”
Billy Graham: “The solution for being unable to forgive [is that] one asks for forgiveness for oneself … and prays for those whom one cannot forgive.”

It is refreshing to see a historical-fiction from the UK tell a redeeming story of the power of forgiveness. The writers have truly challenged us to wrestle with the question of forgiveness for war-mongers, Nazis, attention-grasping former Kings, fair-minded Queens, and a good many other sinners. (Perhaps we might even wrestle with the contemporary issue of forgiveness for men who sexually assault or harass women.) In his time as an evangelist, Billy Graham made it clear that the Bible teaches that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Vergangenheit, the episode, asks us significant questions about how far the forgiveness of God could extend and leaves us wondering how we might “forgive others as God has forgiven us” (Matthew 6:14, 15 and Matthew 18:21-35). Oh Lord, “forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us.” (Matthew 6:12, New Living Translation).