• XKCD: ( – it’s true!
  • TicketLeap dissects the technical bottleneck [archived] that caused last weekend’s Comic-Con sales meltdown. (TLDR version: Hostname lookups were turned on in the database, and it was blocking on DNS.)
  • Looking for a new business idea? Try the random start-up generator! [Edit: it’s gone, but archive.org sampled ykombinator.com 31 times, so you can still check out some of the random buzzword/gibberish mashups.]
  • Who would have thought that something called Toxic Waste Nuclear Sludge Chew Bars would be bad for you? Candy Dynamics Recalls Toxic Waste┬« brand Nuclear Sludge┬« Chew Bars (via @ThisIsTrue, originally linked to FDA recall release, link updated to point to NPR article. Apparently it was too much lead in the “hazardously sour” candy.)
  • Even NASA engineers didn’t find any electronic problems causing sudden acceleration in Toyotas. It looks like the sticky pedals and floor pads were it.

All right, all right! ) Happy now?

Want to see what Los Angeles traffic looks like on a typical Friday evening? You can! A co-worker pointed out to me that you can view statistical traffic on Google Maps in addition to live traffic. To see it, go to Google Maps, enable traffic, then look at the inset traffic key and hit “change.” You’ll be able to choose a day of the week and time.

A Scott Pilgrim fan tracked down the real-life locations in Toronto that Brian Lee O’Malley used as reference, then took photos to match them up with the comic panels.

It reminds me of a story that O’Malley told at Comic-Con last(?) year about the movie production. They tried to use actual locations when possible, and at one point went to film a scene with a particular phone booth, only to find it had been torn out. They rebuilt the phone booth for the scene!

How To Be a Retronaut has a fascinating gallery of illustrations from the 1976 Soviet edition of The Hobbit. (via @dixonium)

Copyblogger presents: Five Grammatical Errors that Make You Look Dumb. Please, people: learn the differences between your and you’re, and between they’re, their and there! (via This Is True)

A university library has put together a great parody of the Old Spice ad campaign: Study Like a Scholar, Scholar. (also via This Is True )

NPR story: In Politics, Sometimes The Facts Don’t Matter

New research suggests that misinformed people rarely change their minds when presented with the facts — and often become even more attached to their beliefs. The finding raises questions about a key principle of a strong democracy: that a well-informed electorate is best.

This makes me feel a little less enthused about the next two items:

It’s incredibly cool that we’ve got photos of the Apollo 16 landing site. (via Phil Plait) But that won’t convince people who are absolutely certain that the landings were faked.

And a U.S. Department of Transportation investigation of Toyota crashes blamed on sudden acceleration has implicated driver error in nearly all cases. Of the 75 fatal crashes investigates, only one could be verified as a problem with the vehicle: the Lexus crash last August in which the accelerator was caught on the floor mat, leading to a recall. Of course, the court of popular opinion has already made up its mind…

I’ve driven a 2007-model Toyota Prius for two and a half years, so you can bet I’ve been following the news over the recalls and reports of uncontrolled acceleration. Monday’s runaway Prius incident, which involved a car that looks exactly like mine, has made me think even more about the problem.

Now, I’m not overly concerned, because the number of incidents is still small compared to the number of cars out on the road. And in the entire time I’ve been driving it, I can only think of two circumstances in which the car accelerated in a way I didn’t expect, both of them when driving on an incline:

  • The transmission has been kind of sluggish a couple of times when starting, causing a slight lurch once it switches gears.
  • Hitting an incline with cruise control. The car has to work harder to maintain the same speed, so it feels like it’s accelerating.

From what I’ve heard previously, the acceleration problems have had to do with malfunctioning cruise control, and I don’t really use cruise control anymore. (Not since I realized that it wasn’t a good fit for actual driving conditions.) Annoyingly, none of the articles I’ve read about James Sikes’ experience say whether he was using cruise control at the time or not.

They do say that he wore out the brakes, but refused to turn off the car or put it in neutral (as the 911 dispatcher advised him during the 23-minute call), and finally got it under control when a CHP officer had him apply both the regular and emergency brakes together.

So, what to do in this situation?

  • Brakes aren’t enough, but they’re a good start.
  • Turn off cruise control if it’s on. Some reports of cc-related problems have said that tapping the brakes didn’t disengage it as it’s supposed to, but manually disabling it did.
  • Putting it in neutral should cut off the engine from the wheels and still leave you steering. Sikes’ reason for not doing this when the dispatcher told him to — that he was afraid the car would flip — doesn’t make any sense to me.
  • Turning the car off locks the steering wheel, or at least turns off power steering. Not ideal for 90 MPH, so I understand Sikes’ reluctance here, but if the computer has essentially hung, push-and-hold for a hard shutdown might be the only thing you can do. I’d rather skid to a stop with minimal control than slam into a wall at 90.
  • The parking brake can double as an emergency brake. It might not stop you completely (it didn’t for Sikes), but it should help get the car under control again.

I don’t expect any trouble, just based on statistics, but at least now I have an idea of what to do if I ever do find myself in this situation.