Drezner Denied

by Kieran Healy on October 8, 2005

Dan Drezner reports that he’s been “denied tenure”:http://www.danieldrezner.com/archives/002353.html at Chicago. I’m sorry to hear that, and a bit surprised. (It seems as though Dan was, too, which makes it worse for him.) My feeling is that Dan will quickly find another good job: it’s actually not uncommon in cases like this for the national market to disagree with the local decision. Best of luck for the future, Dan.

Drive, Stanley, Drive

by Kieran Healy on October 8, 2005

The DARPA grand challenge is a 175-mile race for autonomous vehicles — cars or trucks that drive themselves. It’s currently underway out in the Mojave desert in Nevada. The teams in charge of the vehicles were told the route early this morning, and the vehicles set off a few hours later. The course is tough, with obstacles and sections (like tunnels) where it’s impossible to use GPS devices. Last year, the challenge was a bit of a disaster, with no team managing more than a few miles, and many vehicles failing completely. This year only a few have dropped out and three have already covered almost 100 miles of the course. The “DARPA Challenge Homepage”:http://www.grandchallenge.org/ has live updates of all the vehicles. There are three main contenders: “H1ghlander”:http://redteamracing.org/index.cfm?method=page.display&page=technology.h1ghlander (a Hummer H1, you see) and “Sandstorm”:http://redteamracing.org/index.cfm?method=page.display&page=technology.sandstorm are both run by “Red Team Racing”:http://redteamracing.org, based at Carnegie Mellon and sponsored in part by some big defense contractors like Boeing and Harris. The other challenger (currently running H1ghlander a close second) is “Stanley”:http://cs.stanford.edu/group/roadrunner/presskit.html, a modified Volkswagen Touareg run by a team from Stanford. Confirming an observation Dave Barry makes somewhere (about how men are able to sit down in front of a TV showing a tennis match between two anonymous Eastern Europeans from the 1980s and instantly begin supporting one of them), it took about 30 seconds for me to become a strong Stanleyite.

Of course, DARPA is kind of a hit-and-miss agency: sometimes it helps invent the Internet, sometimes suitcase nukes or “microwave-based riot-control/torture devices”:http://www.newscientist.com/article.ns?id=mg18725095.600. So the Grand Challenge can be seen either as the precursor of safe autopilot for cars or the embryo form of “one of these”:http://www.sputnik.com.mx/images/upload/terminator.jpg. The technology behind the vehicles is pretty cool. It reminds me (as the film _Apollo 13_ reminded me) of an old _Punch_ cartoon of two hairy, flea-bitten cavemen standing in front of the gorgeous cave paintings of Lascaux. “Art, art, art,” says one to the other. “When are we going to get some engineers?”