Relive Earth’s wild history of meteor strikes

In 2010, photographer Henry Lee snapped this stunning image of a Geminid meteor flying over the horizon of Alabama Hills, Calif.

Henry Lee)

Aside from death and taxes, there’s another thing certain in life: meteors. To get a historical perspective on just how many dazzling space rocks have fallen through our skies in recent times, peep at Carlo Zapponi’s visual graph called Bolides, which puts meteor strikes in a chronological view.

Inspired by the Greek word bolis (missile), Bolides features data from a range of historical meteor records, ranging from MetBase to London’s Natural History Museum catalog of meteorites, and displays the data in a way that makes you want to click around and explore.

According to Zapponi, while there are more than 34,842 recordings of meteorites since the year 861, his graph only shows the 1,045 meteorites, observed by people or devices, that haven’t been discredited or doubted.

Some interesting moments to check out: 1933, the year of 16 confirmed meteor strikes on Earth, and 1947, when the mega Sikhote-Alin meteor struck Russia.

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Six reasons to love, or loathe, autonomous cars

Audi TT-S Autonomous car

The technical reality of autonomous cars is coming sooner than you think, but societal acceptance of autonomous cars may be some way off. Technologies such as adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist make the tip of this iceberg among production cars, while Google has already done extensive testing of an autonomous car system. Automakers are beginning their own self-driving car programs, and the Department of Transportation is running tests of vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication, an important safety technology that will also play a key role for autonomous cars.

But not everyone likes the idea of self-driving
cars. CNET editors Wayne Cunningham and Antuan Goodwin took opposite sides on the issue, arguing for and against. Add your own opinion of autonomous cars in our comments section.

Wayne Cunningham
Josh Miller/CNET)

Love for autonomous cars
I love driving, but I also love the idea of cars that can drive themselves. My colleague Antuan Goodwin feels the same way about driving, but is not so keen on self-driving cars. Let me offer a few reasons that might sway your own opinion about why I want autonomous cars on the road.

Zero accidents
Using 360-degree sensors that do not get distracted plus vehicle-to-vehicle communication for over-the-horizon perception, autonomous cars will not crash. Automotive sensors can create a much better perception of the world than our frequently interrupted 200-degree field of vision. With these sensors in place, making cars that do not crash comes down to programming.

Making crashes a thing of the past not only protects us from death and injury, but also eliminates property damage, reduces traffic problems, and should bring down car insurance rates. Antuan thinks that autonomous cars would be subject to major technical failure, but cars are not like cell phones or computers. Testing is much more rigorous for automotive components. Automakers comply with published standards intended to make crucial automotive systems as bulletproof as possible.

No moving violations
While the highway patrol talks a good game about issuing speeding tickets to protect public safety, we all know that they conduct enforcement stops with no obvious pattern. You could merely be keeping up with traffic on the freeway when an officer picks you out of the pack, possibly based on your car’s color. Some officers get sneaky and hang out at the bottom of a hill, picking off cars that naturally pick up a little speed, or look for drivers engaged in perfectly safe passing maneuvers on the highways.

The antidote to having points on your record, and subsequently higher insurance rates, is the autonomous car. Antuan argues that autonomous cars will make driving boring, but the majority of driving, commuting, and errand-running, is already boring. Let the car drive itself at these times, when its programming will not violate traffic laws. You may get the occasional ticket when taking the wheel for some weekend driving on fun roads, but not for absent-mindedly speeding down the highway.

With self-driving cars obeying traffic laws and avoiding accidents, the days of seeing flashing lights in your rearview mirror may be behind you.


Transportation for the elderly
As we age, our perception and reaction times degrade. It’s the sad truth of being part of nature. People who enjoyed the freedom of vehicular transportation their entire lives find themselves facing reduced mobility, reliant on helpful relatives and children or community transportation services for senior citizens. What used to be a quick jaunt to the grocery store now becomes an odyssey of begging others for a ride.

With autonomous cars, senior citizens can retain all the freedom they had when younger. Get in the car, tell it where you need to go, and it takes off, conducting its aged passenger in perfect safety. No more will families have to go out of their way to pick up Grandma for a dinner out; she can meet everyone at the restaurant, arriving with the full confidence that independence brings.

Car valet parks itself
One of the worst types of driving is cruising for a parking spot. You should be focusing on the road ahead, but you have to be constantly scanning to the sides for open spaces. After finding a spot, you then have to hike to your actual destination. Parking lot traffic snarls during the holidays end up in fights. Glad tidings to all, indeed.

The parking problem literally goes away when your car can drop you off at your destination, drive off to find parking on its own, then come back to pick you up whenever you are ready. Parking is actually one of the problems that automakers want to address with autonomous cars, and they have envisaged exactly this scenario. Technology can give us all chauffeur-driven cars.

Productive commute time
Slogging through traffic in the morning and evening, going to and from work an hour or so either way, the necessity of eyes on the road means 2 hours a day out of your life. That’s 10 hours per week wasted in traffic, 500 hours a year with time off for vacation, time that could have been used much more fruitfully.

How about your car does the driving, and you spend your time going through the morning e-mail, making calls, and generally setting up the work day. By the time you get to the office, you’re on a roll, getting stuff done. Eventually, your commute becomes part of the workday, so you can jump in your car at the time you used to have to be at your desk. What are you going to do with 500 hours of extra free time each year?

Always have a designated driver
Anti-drunk-driving campaigns highlight the self-worth and sense of responsibility gained by being a designated driver, but they don’t tell you that hanging out with a bunch of drunken people is extremely tedious, if you happen to be sober. And how many times have you had to refuse drinks just as the party looks like it’s becoming fun, because you have to drive home at the end of the evening?

An autonomous car should certainly be able to double as your designated driver. Current thinking among automakers is that you, as the driver, would still be responsible for the car’s behavior, so could still get a DUI even if the car is driving perfectly. But once trust is built by reliable and safe autonomous cars, it would then make sense, and result in safer roads, if we let cars bring their owners home from bars and parties.

Antuan Goodwin, Associate Editor
Josh Miller/CNET)

Reasons to resist our robo-car overlords

We’re slowly creeping toward robo-cars now — adaptive cruise control here, automatic parking there — and drivers will be wary of the first generation of truly autonomous, self-driving cars. They should be; this technology is potentially dangerous in both literal and figurative ways that I’ll point out below. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not some sort of tin-foil-hat-wearing Luddite. However, I do feel that someone needs to play the devil’s advocate and point out potential issues before the autonomous car is upon us.

When things go wrong, they could go very wrong
Eventually, drivers will get used to the idea and give over more and more control to the machine and its software. But what happens when you car misjudges the distance to the wall at the back of your garage and ends up in your living room? Or when something goes wrong at highway speeds and you’re stuck along for the ride?

“HAL, pull over and let me out!”

“I can’t do that, Dave.”

When the cars can drive themselves, drivers will probably pay less attention to the daily operation of the vehicle, not noticing small glitches until they’re big issues. Outside of glitches, more opportunities for malicious third parties as electronic controls spread throughout the vehicle. One day, a carjacking could be as easy as car-hacking.

Self-driving cars will still have to deal with humans in nonautonomous cars
According to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics, there are more than 250 million registered passenger vehicles on the road in the U.S. I’d be willing to guess that a substantial majority of those cars were built pre-turn-of-the-century and that most of them will still be on the road when autonomous car hit the road in about 10 to 15 years. That means that autonomous cars will have to contend with these cars and their drivers.

Dealing with people requires natural intuitive and improvisational skills that most of us take for granted. Should I be watching the brake lights two cars ahead of me because the guy directly ahead has a phone glued to his face? Is that minivan mom yelling at her kids or watching the road? Is that bro in the Ultimate Driving Machine going to cut me off? (Of course he is.)

I don’t know about you, but I don’t trust most humans to drive on the road with other human drivers, so you’ll forgive me if I’m a bit hesitant to turn computers loose on the road with them.

Autonomy may actually increase congestion
Wayne points out that autonomous cars could one day self-valet, but sending an empty car to look for a parking spot while you grab an earlier place in line for brunch is just the beginning of a slippery slope. What happens if the car can’t find a parking spot? Does it just circle the block endlessly until you’re done eating? Does it go all the way home?

I’m sure that a connected robo-car could send you its GPS location, so that you could find it later, but we’re already at the bottom of the “I’m too lazy to walk to/from a parking spot” slope at this point, so these drivers will probably also be remotely calling for their robo-cars to come pick them up at the door.

Also, now more people who would have otherwise walked relatively short distances or taken public transportation will elect to just drive. Add these new drivers to the armies of empty “self-valeting” cars looking for places to wait until their owners call them, and before you know it, the roads are thick with metal.

Google autonomous car

Right now, there are few autonomous cars on the road and few issues. But as their numbers grow, so do the potential problems surrounding them.


Privacy potentially goes out of the window
These self-driving cars will presumably need to communicate with the grid, the cloud, or at least other vehicles in order to operate in the world at large. They’ll also likely keep an activity log for service and debugging. That’s not so bad, right? Wrong.

What this means is that someone — whether it’s your insurance company, the automaker, or your local dealer, or even local law enforcement — will have yet another means to track your every coming and going. Now I don’t think that I have anything to hide from any of these entities, but it gives me the creeps.

And what happens when that data ends up in the hands of the wrong people?

Who’s at fault when something goes wrong?
Wayne hopes that the self-driving car will signal an end to moving violations and accidents. While I agree that we’ll see a reduction, I don’t think that we’ll ever see a true end. Technology is fallible, just like the people who created it. I expect that we’ll see a few spectacular debacles in the first few years of autonomous cars while unforeseen kinks are worked out.

But when things inevitably go wrong — when your car hits something or simply exceeds the speed limit because of a glitch in the mapping software — who is at fault? Is it you, the owner of the robo-car? The automaker that built the car? The tier-one software provider that the automaker contracted to develop the visual recognition software that reads the street signs? This can’t possibly end well for anyone involved.

Does driving really need to get more boring?
We often get so fixated on the getting from point A to B with as little effort as possible, that we forget about all of the awesome stuff that gets passed along the way.

So many in my generation grew up not knowing about goofy roadside attractions or meeting weird people in cool small towns, because we were born well after the Interstate Highway System allowed our parents to simply skip everything between where they were and where they wanted to be. (Fortunately, my parents made sure that my brother and I learned about places like Ruby Falls in Tennessee, South of the Border on the boundary between the Carolinas, and dozens of other places off the beaten path.)

Where am I going with this? I imagine that autonomous cars will eventually have this same effect on neighborhoods. With our cars choosing the most efficient routes through town and while our eyes are glued to our smartphones and
tablets, everything between where we are and where we’re going gets missed. No more randomly wandering past cool shops because of a missed turn. No more discovering wonderful, hidden restaurants, because you spotted a place on the way to the nearby chain.

Goodbye, sense of exploration; you’ll be missed.

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Chris Paul watch: Make it about Cuban vs. Sterling

Which owner does Chris Paul want to trust with the prime of his career?

That simple, direct question will probably be at the center of the Mavericks’ July recruiting pitch to the NBA’s premier point guard.

PODCAST Tim MacMahon joins Fitzsimmons Durrett to discuss the possibility of Chris Paul joining the Mavericks and break down what kind of pitch Mark Cuban would have to make to the NBA’s best point guard.

Listen Listen

There are plenty of sensible reasons for Paul to want to stay in L.A. The Clippers can offer much more money, are coming off a 56-win season and have a young co-star locked up long term, plus CP3 would surely have the typical franchise player’s right to fire Vinny Del Negro and hand-pick his next head coach if he so desired.

That’s why the Mavs must hammer the Mark Cuban versus Donald Sterling angle. And it needs to be a vicious knockout.

Cuban couldn’t ask for a better opponent. Mudslinging is awfully easy when there’s so much truthful ammunition.

First and foremost, of course, Cuban has to sell the Mavs and himself. He has to make Paul believe that they can build a perennial contender around him, much like the Mavs’ front office did for a dozen years around Dirk Nowitzki. Cuban’s combination of deep pockets, basketball passion and brainpower ranks right above Rick Carlisle’s coaching genius among the Mavs’ top selling points for Paul.

It certainly helps that Cuban has the track record of taking over a league laughingstock and making it one of the NBA’s most respected franchises. His commitment — financially, emotionally and intellectually — was a major factor in the Mavs reeling off 11 consecutive 50-win seasons and 12 straight playoff appearances, getting to the Finals twice and winning one championship.

Few franchises can measure up to that success, but it’s especially impressive compared to Sterling’s Clippers.

While Cuban helped lead the Mavs out of laughingstock status, the Clippers spent decades among the dregs of the NBA largely because of Sterling, who is widely considered the worst owner in major professional sports.

And that’s not nearly the nastiest thing said about Sterling, as detailed in the 5,000-plus-word 2009 ESPN The Magazine story headlined, “The disastrous tenure of the Clippers owner runs much deeper than losses.” That delves into such disturbing subjects as the lawsuits stemming from Sterling’s attempts to avoid renting to black or Hispanic tenants, sexual harassment of his employees and the married man’s under-oath, unashamed admittance to having a proclivity for high-priced prostitutes.

When it comes to the Clippers, it isn’t necessarily accurate to call Sterling inept. He’s succeeded in his primary goal: Making millions of dollars in profit on a consistent basis. It’s just typically been at the expense of fielding a competitive team.

Since Paul’s arrival in L.A., the Clippers have had the first back-to-back winning seasons in franchise history. They also matched the previous franchise total of playoff series wins, advancing to the second round last season.

The first 30 years under Sterling? The Clippers had a grand total of two winning campaigns and 17 head coaches. Sterling, a billionaire who built his fortune primarily in real estate, became notorious in the NBA for his penny-pinching ways.

“I’m offering a lot of money for a poor black kid,” Sterling once allegedly said regarding a difficult negotiation with No. 1 overall pick Danny Manning, according to former general manager Elgin Baylor’s wrongful termination lawsuit.

Another charming Sterling line from that lawsuit: “Look at those beautiful black bodies,” which was allegedly often uttered while repeatedly parading a posse of women young enough to be his granddaughters through the Clippers locker room while players were showering. (That story has been confirmed by players, many of whom have been subjected to socializing with Sterling and such women.)

Sterling can claim that he’s changed his basketball ways. He can point to the Clippers’ payroll, which was more than $10 million above the salary cap but still under the luxury tax this season. The post-lockout trade for Paul was the most high-profile of several expensive moves the Clippers have made over the past couple of seasons, including signing Blake Griffin to a max contract that kicks in next season.

Questions the Mavs can pose to Paul: Do you really trust Sterling to continue to spend what’s necessary to give the Clippers the best possible chance to win a championship? How could you trust a man with Sterling’s track record in and out of basketball?

Cuban has proven he’ll pay extraordinary prices to compete for titles. The Mavs have made many creative moves to upgrade personnel during his 13-year tenure, and they usually cost him millions of dollars. Nobody west of New York has paid more in luxury tax over the years.

Of course, Cuban has drawn criticism for the cost-cutting stripping down of the 2011 title team. But that strategy of favoring financial flexibility can be easily explained to Paul, whom the Mavs have coveted so long that they tried to use the expiring contracts of Josh Howard and Jerry Stackhouse as trade bait to get CP3 and whatever bad contracts New Orleans wanted to dump from tight-fisted former Hornets owner George Shinn.

Cuban valued Paul so much that he was willing to take a massive risk, particularly in the court of public opinion, just to have the chance to make the perennial All-Star point guard a Maverick.

It could all be worth it if Paul’s decision comes down to Cuban versus Sterling.

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Google Translate adds five more languages to its repertoire

Google Translate adds five more languages

Google Translate has been getting a fairly steady stream of new features as of late, and it’s now gotten a new update where it counts the most. Google has today added five more languages to the service, pushing the total number of translation options to over 70. Those latest additions include Bosnian, the official language of Bosnia and Herzegovina; Cebuano, one of the major languages of the Philippines; Hmong, spoken in China, Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and the US; Javanese, Indonesia’s second most-spoken language, and Marathi, spoken by more than 73 million people in India. According to Google, all but Bosnian are still in an alpha state, so you may well encounter more hiccups than usual as the company continues to make improvements to them. Those interested can put them to the test right now on either the web or in Google’s mobile apps.

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Four iOS weather apps that exude elegance


It wasn’t very long ago that for a developer to make a successful weather app, it had to have the most information possible. This meant developers would compete to pack tons of graphs, maps, diagrams, written forecasts, and even forums where people could talk about weather, into busy, confusing apps that tried to cover it all. But what you ended up with were long listlike menus when the only information you probably wanted was what the weather might be like for the weekend.

Don’t get me wrong, the feature-packed weather apps have their place, particularly when you’re monitoring hurricanes, tornadoes, and other potentially disastrous weather systems. But recently there has been a move toward minimalist design to bring you the weather at a glance, and some really elegant apps have sprung forth in the category.

As the weather starts to get warmer here in San Francisco, I decided to round up four of my favorites to help you get weather info at a glance while you continue on your busy (or relaxing) day.


Blue is the most simple weather app of the bunch, but it’s just right for those who want to glance quickly.

Jason Parker/CNET)

Blue (99 cents) is great for a quick 36-hour outlook for local weather using an elegant interface, but it offers the least amount of weather information of this collection.

When you first launch Blue, it asks to access your location and then you’re presented with just the basics. You get the day and time, the temperature right now, a common weather icon that shows the current conditions (such as the sun obscured by a cloud icon denoting “partly cloudy”), and several colorful horizontal bars below.

The colored bars are Blue’s main feature. By swiping up, you can scroll farther down and later into the day to see how the weather will change every hour, up to 36 hours in advance. The colors are important, too, showing you by gradations whether it will be warmer or cooler as the day goes on. I think it’s a really neat setup for finding out how the weather will change during the day, and you can get all the information in less than 30 seconds.

Blue is obviously for the person who just wants to know the weather right now, so don’t get this one if you’re looking for extended forecasts.


Solar gives you a bit more, with three-day and multiple-city forecasts.

Jason Parker/CNET)

Solar (free) is similar to Blue in the way the app is laid out, but it offers a little more weather information along with a brief forecast.

With Solar, you get the same weather info upon launch, but you swipe up to move forward in time to watch the weather change by the hour. Solar does a little more, though. A swipe down gives you a three-day forecast with temperatures, along with highs, lows, and weather icons. With a swipe to the left, you can add new locations by name or ZIP code to check all the same weather information in those cities. The app also lets you use a pinch gesture to show your saved cities in a grid so you can see temperatures in each or touch to select the city you want to view quickly.

So, Solar has a little more weather info and more locations than Blue, but it offers a similar experience.


Haze keeps the elegant style, but uses colorful interface elements you can touch for more information.

Jason Parker/CNET)

Haze ($1.99) keeps with my theme of elegant and colorful weather apps, but it gives you a lot more information than the previous two apps.

With Haze you get a few more interface elements for finding the weather conditions around you. Across the top of the screen, there’s a five-day forecast with temperatures and color-coding to show that the weather will be warmer or cooler the following day. At the bottom of the screen, you have buttons to switch among hours of sunshine, temperatures, and levels of precipitation. But in the middle part of the interface is where Haze gets particularly interesting.

When you touch the temperatures button at the bottom, the temperature is displayed in the middle of the screen. If you touch the temperature number, five circles expand outward showing you the high and low for the day, the temperature it feels like, wind speed, and wind direction. When you switch to another screen, like hours of sunshine, the number in the middle shows how many hours of sunlight you’ll get that day, taking into account the amount of cloudiness. Touching the number shows sunrise and sunset times, percentage of clouds, and more. Each of these actions is accompanied by smooth animations, contributing to the overall feeling of the app.

There’s also an animation in the background of each screen that shows the current trend. On the temperature screen, for example, today’s weather shows 70 degrees, but floating bars behind the temperature move downward, indicating that there is a cooling trend. If all of this seems a little complicated, don’t worry; the app tells you what each element means when you get started.

Haze is a beautifully designed app, and it lets you dig a little deeper into your current conditions. Its one drawback is that you can’t look at multiple cities, but for local weather at a glance, it works great.

Yahoo Weather

Yahoo Weather gets you the info at a glance with a beautiful photo backdrop that matches your current weather. Simply scroll down for more info.

Jason Parker/CNET)

Yahoo Weather (free) is an app I reviewed recently, and — before looking at it — figured it would be a run-of-the-mill, overly complicated weather app like I described above. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Yahoo Weather starts off with a very minimal interface, but lets you drill down for more information if you want it. With images from Flickr, this app shows you a photo from your area as the background that matches your location, time of day, and current weather conditions. The city is indicated at the top along with the time, and at the bottom you can see a weather icon, low and high temperature for the day, and the current temperature. Basically, the default screen shows you the weather at a glance when that’s all you need.

If you swipe up you’ll start to get more information. You can look at the forecast for each hour of the day, or below that, the five-day outlook. Scroll a bit farther and you can view a map of today’s radar. Touch the map and you get a larger view where you can touch buttons for interactive radar, satellite, heat, and wind maps. You also can read written forecasts for the day, check precipitation throughout the day, monitor wind speeds and directions, and see sunrise and sunset times. While there’s a lot of information here, it’s presented in a way that keeps it simple, making it easy to move around the app.

Part of the fun with Yahoo Weather is seeing which photograph will be displayed for your current conditions, but all are extremely good shots. Even if the interface weren’t laid out well (it is), the app always looks great.

With multiple-city support, great-looking photos, and a well-designed interface that lets you see as much or as little weather information as you want, Yahoo Weather is surprisingly elegant and useful.

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Two Spocks go where many men have gone before: the golf club

Oh, those poor golf clubs.

Audi/YouTube Screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET)

It’s hard being an old Vulcan.

Younger beings come along and just want to vulcanize you.

Old Vulcans have it so bad they drive Mercedes. Young ones, quite naturally, drive an Audi.

These aren’t the musings of an addled mind; it’s the premise of a new Audi ad. Here we have old Spock, Leonard Nimoy, and young Spock, Zachary Quinto, challenging each other. Yes, they will race each other to the golf club — loser buys lunch. (Do not attempt.)

Quinto has a very fancy Audi S7. Spock is slumming it in an old guy’s Mercedes. Of course the Audi’s faster. This is an Audi ad.

Spock has to content himself with bathing in frustration and musing about hobbits, while his awfully slow Mercedes languishes. He’s had terrible problems getting his golf clubs in at all.

And yet this is not a complete besmirching of the original wise man of space. He delivers an accidental comeuppance — or, rather, go-downnance — to an unsuspecting Quinto.

After lunch, though, as a self-driving
car rolls up to the club, they both realize that neither of their cars is really out of this world.

Is it a Prius? Thankfully not.

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