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AI has fundamental limits. The first limit is that humans have to see value in the AI to design the AI to do a job. If there's no value to some human, they won't design and implement an AI.

Rule #1: The AI must promise enough value so that someone develops it.

Developing an AI isn't cheap. That sort of software takes time and expertise to set up, test, and iterate until the AI works as intended. This process isn't necessarily a straight line. When an AI is going into a new area, it requires development, which almost always requires working with unknowns.

One could design an AI washing machine, but as current washing machines work well enough, and the washing machine market is competitive enough, such innovation will likely result in little to no return. 

Rule #2: The AI must provide more value than it loses.

We could, for instance, create an AI that assembles Legos for children. For those who love Legos, this would would provide no value. However, I can see some entrepreneur using this to speed up assembly for his pre-assembled kit business. (It's a real thing.)

You can see from the example that one group would see value out of such an AI while a second group would lose value from an AI.

The same is true of cars. Some people would gain, such as those who want to own their own taxi, especially if they aren't otherwise independent. Taxi companies would gain value by cutting payroll. However, car enthusiast would lose value because they want the driving experience. People on a low income would lose value because the cars would cost more to purchase and more to maintain. 

Rule #3: Value must be verifiable

It's not enough to claim value, value must be demonstrable. A claim that an AI manages money better, predicts weather better, or find patterns better must be measurable or you don't know whether it actually does something better. Better may mean more accurate, or it may mean shifting through more data than a human can in only a fraction of the time. Better is a metric used by the customer.

Facebook has had AIs that failed to regulate news feeds. They failed this task because the AIs could analyze the new feeds, but they had no practical way of measuring the results. Especially where humans are concerned, analyzing what we want and giving more of that to us can be too accurate of a mirror on ourselves, or lead to provably false notions running amok. The problem here is measuring truth, which nobody has ever successfully accomplished.

Many AIs fail, not because the of the technology, but because the project doesn't have well defined goals. "Do it better" is not a well defined goal.

Rule #4: There must be no cheaper or more effective alternative

Just because an AI is possible doesn't mean that there isn't a cheaper or better alternative. Humans are clever beasts, and while moving the goalposts is bad in a logical debate, doing exactly that can be extremely lucrative if you're the one who moves the goalposts.

Galaxy Zoo was famous for having no budget, but when they asked people to help them identify galaxies, the public gave them so many hours worth of work that they accomplished their huge tasks in two weeks at a fraction of the computational power.
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I think that we are heading towards a self-driving car apocalypse.

Well, may not quite an apocalypse as a problem.

Once we get self-driving cars, the demand for them will spike upwards during rush hour, then dwindle downward at off-peak hours.

Where will we keep those massive car fleets parked when they aren't in use? Individuals will continue using their driveways, which means that the general number of cars on in service won't drop. That's great for the individual, but poses problems for the ever increasing number of cars on the road. Traffic will only increase. Presumably some hours will get so crowded as to become self-driving only times.

For rental services, where will they keep all their cars when they aren't busy? Because there will be such a spike during rush hour, they'll want to station their cars close to the action rather than remote lots. Will they rent driveways or parking garages? Will they build their own parking garages? Will they park on streets, taking up places that people want? (That's  most likely as it's the cheapest.) These self-driving cars can even move themselves every so often to escape parking issues, trading off spaces with each other, shutting humans out of parking.

Paying for street parking will mean new parking meter technology. Those cars will eventually need to pay electronically. 

What's obvious here is that the need for mass transit won't simply remain, it will grow.

Self-driving will get onto the mass-transit bandwagon. Cars will begin hauling multiple passengers on purpose, presumably giving you some sort of fare discount. Car pooling reinvented. Presumably AIs will begin making schedules, maximizing passenger movement between known destinations, in essence creating a second and competing system to the municipal bus system.

Then there's all the pulling over and stopping traffic that will happen, which is bound to get abusive or contentious, which means that laws will happen. When and where you can be picked up and dropped off will grown increasingly complex. 

I can see some places going the opposite way around. You'll go to Disney world, buy your tickets, and get picked up by Disney's own self-driving cars, never needing to park in the parking lot, getting dropped off in an efficient and pleasant way. This will help Disney smooth the masses coming into their parks, reduce their need for parking lots, and provide a better experience for their customers.

I can see malls taking this approach. "Make it an outing. We'll drive you here and you have fun." The economics for such places aren't as clear, though, and certainly all couldn't do this.

I can also see Disney using the self-driving car system to help casual moving around. Hop in and it takes you to the park that you want. This will still generate lines, so you'll pay more to move up quicker. The monorail won't go away because when it comes to moving lots of people economically, mass transit still rules.

In the end, while I think that self-driving cars will go great distances in changing how the world interacts with cars, they inherit all the problems and limitations of the automobile system. 
dmilewski: (Default)
I've sent both Maid of Shadow and Maid of Memory off to my editor for a final round of cleanup editing. Meanwhile, she's hammering through her primary edit of Maid of Hope.

My new series after that is quite a change of pace. Inspired by the JRPG genre, such as Final Fantasy, Crystal Hope follows the exploits of five teenage girls determined to save the Great Crystals by gaining powers and abilities, fighting bosses, and learning to value each other.
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If there was a theme this weekend, it's raining and pouring. By God, we got some deluges. On both Saturday and Sunday, we got multiple deluges where on a summer's day, you'll usually only get one. This is adding to the general tropical explosion in the yard, with lazy me not being able to halt the advancement of the grow stuff.

DesignGirl swum in divisionals, tying for last. Our team wound up losing by only 4.5 points. It was a close one. In general, we don't have the fastest kids, but we did have the best overall team. With mostly the best kids going to divisionals, we didn't dominate quite so much.

On Sunday, we had an award banquet. The thing went on and on, as usual, but there was lots of good food.

In misery, my Crohn's keeps being a bother. I'm hoping that it will soon begin settling down. We have vacation stuff planned, and I don't want to be miserable while traveling.
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Here's my short list of ways to improved your fantasy novel writing. These are exercises for developing particular skills, not for applying to novels.


I know that this is crazy for an action-adventure style genre, but learning to write this style of novel without a fight scene forces you to broaden the scope and vocabulary of the rest of your scenes. Writing with no fights scenes means that you must set up and resolve conflict in entirely different ways, meaning that you can set up conflicts between allies and friends that don't have to result in death and dismemberment. Then, when you do have fight scenes, you've set up multiple layers of conflict solvable multiple ways.


Writing a story where you provide the reader with no world info develops your skill at providing information in ways other than back story. It also demonstrates that exposition isn't really needed most of the time. You'd be surprised at how more vivid a scene can get when there's insufficient information. This exercise teaches you to think about the conflict and motivations here in this story, where it matters.


Simply not using the word "magic" forces you to think about what magic is, how it looks, and how it interacts with your characters.

I admit that I used #3 in my own writing. I've now written twelve novels without using the word "magic" despite the rampant use of magic. The great thing about this technique is that the characters themselves get to be in doubt about the magic being used. Doubt equals tension, and tension drives a story.
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I've always been a hard one to fit in. I've always seemed never to be enough of anything, although these days I think that my own inability to make a place for myself work against me just as much.

So, way back when I was an English major. One day in college, while waiting for the bus, I noted in the apartment behind me, up on the third floor, faces that I recognized. Apparently, some English major classmates were having a party. Only after some time did the host notice me down there and invite me up. You know that type of invitation, where the host feels guilty, and is only inviting you up because she doesn't like feeling on the spot, nevermind that she didn't talk to me much in the first place, nor invite me. I knew a self-serving invitation when I heard one. Imagine going up to a party where you weren't invited and are only tolerated, not welcomed.

By the time that I graduated, I had no friends in the English department.

I'm not blaming them for not being my friends. Nobody is required to be my friend. I also admit that I was (and still am) bad at making friends, especially given the constant and unrewarding effort added on because I did it badly. (When you make friends badly, other people raise the bar on you significantly, so significantly more effort is required to yield any benefit.) Yet the point remains that given my own major, I couldn't find a place for myself. I'm not sure if that's a failure in me, or a cumulative failure of the community. 

I did some poking about some old yearbooks looking at the Silhouette literary magazine staff. I don't remember any of those faces. I remember no relationships with them. Given their pictures, I could not identify them. So, we'll call that part a failure within me. 


Jul. 20th, 2017 10:15 am
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We took a trip to NJ over last weekend. Here's the real world mileage report

214 miles each way (approximately)

So for both ways, that added up to 430 miles and 2/3 a tank of gas. The car estimated that I was getting 31 mpg. I figure that I used 13 gallons, so that comes out to 33 mpg. That's fair agreement with the manufacturer's 35 mpg. (My car's self-reported local mileage is closer to 19 mpg, which includes many lights and much stop and go.)

This real world measurement gives my car a range of over 460 miles, possibly up to 500 miles.

As for handling, the car behaved steady at real world highway speeds.No problems. It had power when necessary, and I feel confident could have gone substantially faster without issue. However, driving that fast exceeds my real world requirements and my practical reality, so I don't see doing that any time soon. I found a video of someone taking the Sonata up to 130 mph on a closed course. That's respectable for a 4-cylinder family car that gets 35 mpg.

In comparison, my old Outback 1996 had a limiter of 110 (I never hit near that), and my Honda Civic 1989 had its limiter at 90. 
dmilewski: (Default)
As a fun exercise, let's make a MLP and Talisman mashup.

Twilight - Always has at least one spell.

Rainbow Dash - Rolls two dice for movement, taking the better of the two.

Rarity - Any wearable object does not count against her object limit. Telekenesis, instead of moving, can bring any unclaimed wearable object to her space.

Fluttershy - Never attacked by animals. May charm animals so that they act as companions. May not move onto or through a square occupied by a dragon (except the dragon king). +3 strength when fighting dragons.

Applejack - May build a raft when in the woods or forest. Need not discard a raft. When eating apples, gains health rather than heals.

Pinkie Pie - May draw a card to replace the card that she's just drawn. No carry limit.

Substitute apples for cupcakes. Apples can heal anyone or can be used as payment.

Caste = Canterlot
Village = Ponyville
City = Manehatten
Tavern = Donut Joe's
Chapel = Library
Graveyard = ?
Everfree Forest = the Glade through the Warlock's Cave (Zecora's Hut)

Princess Celestia and Princess Luna are now missing, held by the Dragon King. Now it's up to the brave ponies of Equestria to quest until a rescue can be found.
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The Dolphins of Pern (1994) by Anne McCaffrey is perhaps the beachiest beach read of all her Pern books. It turns out that the Pernese people have yet another thing that they've forgotten about, the intelligent speaking dolphins that came with the orignal colonist. Why the dolphins just didn't shout out, "Hey, you stupid two leggers. How about some fish?", I don't know, but Pern folk are mighty dense, so I rolled with it.
The story itself wanders all over the plays, swaps between main characters a few times, and even has a subplot with no relationship at all to the main plot. (It's Toric again. Same stuff.) It won't hold its place as one of the best dragon rider books, but it's a relaxing read, the characters are generally pleasant and not too stupid, and everyone goes about the same songs and dances as always. If you like the Pern books, this book will itch all the right places.
At this point, I believe that Anne's overall cognitive skills are showing decline. For her career at Del Rey, she'd had great editorial support, but her novels contemporaneous to this one show far weaker story, sometimes to the point of having no actual plot arc. From here, the amount of outside support that needs increases steadily, even if their names are not shown on the cover, putting this book on the tail of of the pure McCaffrey Pern novels. From here on out, she will write novels with co-writers.
In many ways, this book is Anne McCaffrey's greatest hits. You see all her favorite story ideas collected into this narrative, and you'll be able to identify which books they come from. There's nothing really new here. We see many of our favorite characters walk in for a chapter or two, making for nice visits from old friends, although some of these possible plots get dropped as the story progresses.
While the book threatens to fail as a narrative, Anne's Pern has enough internal conflict and stubborn characters that's there more than enough plot to sort out. It's all done rather pleasantly, with some ups and downs along the way. AlI said, it's a beach read. Nothing about it is difficult. It's distracting enough to be distracting, but not so engrossing that you forget to check whether your kids are still alive.
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We went up to the Jersey shore, Long Branch, to spend a weekend with Jenny's mom and Ed, her brother and family (sans Chu Li), and Ed's son Jamie and family.

All in all, the weekend went very well.

We drove up Thursday afternoon and drove back on Monday morning, arriving home in the afternoon. The drive each way went very smooth, with only some stop and go getting out of town. We didn't see similar stop and go on our return, so maybe it was just the day? I don't know. Midday traffic around here has slowly been getting worse.

Jen's mom rented a beach house to hold the whole crew. DesignGirl and her cousin, thick as thieves, seized the top floor bedroom for themselves.

We got there in the rain, just before the skies opened up, easing up eventually but lasting all through the next day. We played many games. The biggest game hit for the weekend was the venerable Talisman. All the kids loved it, even my six year old nephew. It wasn't a fast game to play, but that was a feature as a much as a bug.

I only did one day at the beach as I'm only so much of a beach person. I'm not so brave in the water any more and I don't like the cold experience. The ocean really wasn't that bad. I was just a coward.

I did get rather frustrated with getting grill duty again. When it comes to charcoal grills, I feel rather incompetent, and getting stuck with that duty as if I'm the expert really pisses me off. After several rounds, I don't feel quite so incompetent, but I'm not at all skilled. (Take away my man card now.)

I did some document wrangling during some quiet hours. I have a project to sort out some files for a friend. I produced a fairly long spreadsheet just to figure out which are the most likely, best versions of about a zillion files. That worked very well, and fortunately there appears to be very little out of linear sequence editing. I figure that I'm at 80%+ of what the author intended, perhaps as high as 90%. Getting better than that will be work.

We expected Jamie and Mary Clair with one daughter, but they wound up bringing two more of their kids. The girls wound up playing Flux late into the evening. (We brought the color version of the game, not my old monochrome version.)

Surprisingly, we only ate out once. I cooked breakfast for two days (pancake, then biscuits.) If I had brought a waffle iron, I would have cooked breakfast for three. Much beer was consumed, with only much happiness occurring once when I was on an empty stomach. There was a bottle in the house called Cachaca 51 Gold (I think). It sipped too strong, so I put it over ice and it eased up to a vanilla like flavor. Very tasty. 

The beach book was "The Dolphins of Pern." Yes, it's a good beach book. 
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As I was driving home yesterday, I spotted a huge yellow pickup truck. The thing had to be a custom vehicle. The base of the pickup was a semi-style cab, complete with back seat, while the pickup bed came from one of those big pickups. On this thing, it looked too small simply because the cab was so big.

Why would anyone make that? Aside from "it's cool."

I have two guesses. One is that somebody had a really big boat, as in, "a really BIG boat." The only way to move it around is by using really big truck.

The other possibility is that other people have really big boats, so this guy has a custom truck for moving really big boats. Since there were no advertising on the truck, I assume that he gets paid under the table to move really big boats in the summer months, and does other things on the winter months.
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I'm getting close to completing the second leg of my Crystal Hope novellas. I need to start shopping for an artist to do the covers.

I'm still wrestling through the edits on Maid of Shadow. I've got the simple ones done. Now I'm into the two harder sections. The hardest section is where the book turns, and it's hard because it's hard. After that, I'll accept all changes in the document and start reading.


Jul. 10th, 2017 08:36 am
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My daughter's swim team continue their division domination. Go team!

The bread for this week is banana bread. My daughter is happy.

We've finally got a line of credit on the house. The paperwork took two months, digging through all my finances. Shit, this stuff used to be easy. You walked in and the bank just gave you too much money because you had a house. Now they required that you aren't money laundering and lying to them or otherwise up to no good. Can you believe that?

The upshot of the credit line is that we can get something fixed around the house fixed if it breaks. I've also got my ass covered if the government goes full dysfunctional and nobody gets paid.

We had dinner over Xpioti's house. I saw her new Mini Cooper and drooled. Yet, I also felt somewhat smug that in that I didn't have such a whiz-bangy car. In the end, I truly prefer simpler. I want cloth seats, a speedometer, and a radio. Everything else is gravy. (Okay, the heating/cooling isn't gravy.) The last thing that I need while driving is a distraction. Give me big, manual controls, baby. Things like fancy roofs don't give me much payback because it's either the wrong kind of weather outside, or I forget that I left the roof open in it thunderstorms because I don't have a garage.
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Freedom's Landing (2002) by Anne McCaffrey tacks onto the more or less completed story of Botany, the forced colony. With book #3 having wrapped up the major plot points, this work doesn't so much as explore life after empire as gently stroll through it while drinking iced coffee.

Like the Cattini books that came before, this book lacks any tension in it whatsoever, so you never have any doubts that our heroes will succeed, while failing to provide any character growth or challenges, while also dwelling on filler where everyone is agreeable but nobody gets any character moments.

While the work reads well, the lack of momentum or tension or anything leaves the book wanting. What SF that there is comes across as rather tepid, which is something of a feat as Earth is rebuilding after their occupation by the Cattini and you would think that would be an interesting and challenging story. Instead, Earth seems to have everything in hand, nobody seems to be fighting anybody else, and instead of riding this terrific setup into a challenging and engaging story, sips coffee and sets up an Irish coffee bar.

While I can't call this McCaffrey's worst book ever (because book #2 in this series already did that), the book does demonstrate a stunning degree of banality in the face of a terrific setup. Most of what's here is wasted, its premise completely unexploited.
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My wife has been asking herself some good questions about cultural appropriation and storytelling. She's quite the storyteller.

This brings up two questions for me:
  • Is storytelling cultural appropriation?
  • Can you culturally appropriate stories?
In my mind, which is the only one that counts here for this blog, storytelling is cultural dissemination by definition. The job of storytelling is to spread culture rather than take it. Storytellers usually introduce a story, tell a little about who created the story, give enough context to understand it, then they relate it. In other words, by attributing the story, they seek to give the original culture both context and power, seeking to have that story from another culture speak for itself.

Given that context, that a storyteller seeks to spread the story of another culture, they raise the voice of that culture. They give voice to the other culture beyond the normal reach of that culture. A storyteller breaks the narrative of the dominant culture by bringing in the story of the oppressed culture. Isn't that what you want?

How can a subjugated culture get its voice heard if it can't get its stories told?

Would it be better for someone of that culture to tell that story? Yes, that would be best. That would also be ideal, and we don't live in an ideal world. So what's more important, for a subjugated culture to tell all its own stories, or to have its stories spread so that more people know its stories?

But are all stories meant to be spread? Are some stories private? Are sacred stories not meant for others, but only for the originating culture?

I have no answers for that. 

So storytelling is a problem. It both disseminates the stories of a subjugated culture that they want spread, while also spreading stories that they would prefer not be spread. 

To my mind, a large chunk of cultural appropriation is, do you pose yourself as something that you cannot pose yourself? That which exists at a community level is permitted and recognized by the community. Only the community can permit those things, such as its religious and political leaders.

To make matters more complicated, other cultures have differing standards, which makes cultural appropriation rather relative. There can be no firm definition as there is no one culture.

In the end, I think that cultural appropriation poses an irresolvable problem. As a member of the dominant culture, I am damned to cultural appropriation because of my cultural membership. I cannot move lest I culturally appropriate, which is impossible, because humans cannot make themselves static, so I must culturally appropriate. 

I think that I'll add cultural appropriation to the list of death and taxes. It's unavoidable, but avoiding it is generally a smart idea.
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If I had to wear a sword for self defense, what would I wear?

I would wear a small sword. Most sidearms are never used, which is why in the 1700's swords got shorter and lighter, developing into the side sword. If I'm going to get stuck wearing a sword that's usually of no use, and otherwise gets in the way, I want the lightest possible annoyance possible, which is the side sword. In addition, the side sword is thrust only, which means that I can thwap people with the bunt blade somewhat safely, giving me a non-lethal recourse should I need to defend myself. The knuckle bow can even be used to punch should the need arise.

What I would prefer even more than a sword is nothing. In today's age, if I was to go about wearing a sword, it would garner attention from well meaning but ignorant people, which would lead to problems. Too many would want me to draw it, to spar, or to see it for themselves. They would play dangerously. This is the sort of thing that leads to accident. They might not be deadly accidents, but they wouldn't be welcome. Because I was wearing a sword, I would actually wind up less safe than carrying nothing at all.

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So far, our swim team is dominating our division, 3-0, and we took the relay carnival. So about half the weekend was taken up just with swim team.

We went to see fireworks by heading to King Farm, watching them go up in a park a little further on. We got to see the show, but we didn't have to deal with the parking or the loud bangs.

My wife finished the primary edits on Maid of Shadow. Now I get to wade through that hot mess. If I hit the book steadily, I can get a finishing edit done on it and hopefully hit publishing around the beginning of August. I may be better off delaying the launch until September.
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Why Didn't Frodo Ride the Eagles to Mordor?

The eagles would be tempted by the One Ring just like everyone else. And, as the Eagles are very powerful beings, they would be tempted far more powerfully than weak beings.

Eagle: What is it that you have there?

Frodo: Nothing.

Eagle: Show it to me.

Frodo: No, it's dangerous.

Eagle: So's flying to Mordor. I'm risking my life for this.

Frodo: I dare not risk it.

Eagle: Is it precious?

Frodo: No. It just needs to be destroyed.


The eagle flips over, dropping Frodo to his doom. Landing, the eagle picks through the corpse, finding the precious One Ring. "It's is mine. My precious. I found it. It's mine!"
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Freedom's Challenge (1998) by Anne McCaffrey brought an apparent trilogy to a close. Anne took three books to tell a story that any lesser or better author would have taken only one book to write.

I've spent a while trying to figure out why I care so little for the books, and so little for the characters these books. From my point of view, Anne skips over all the interesting bits, instead focusing on the uninteresting bits. Our lead character, Kris, is so forgettable that I had to look up her name. She does little worth talking about, is often left behind, and only later hears about all the interesting missions and development. We don't follow the story as it happens, we follow the story as it gets reported to Kris. This breaks any reader engagement.

Her best cat friend is Zainal, who I never built an affinity with. I don't care about him any more than Kris. So if I don't care about her, or him, or their relationship, then there isn't really very much to talk about with these books.

One bit about Anne's writing that drives me crazy is her childhood development gaffs. Perhaps her children were extraordinary, but most likely, she no longer has any idea of what children under 5 years old are like. These children have no relationship to reality. Don't base any of your ideas on childcare on anything that Anne has to say.

What aggravates me most is that there's a story in there, but she's not brave enough to tell that story. I see so much of what could be done with the setting merely by showing us the episodes that she tells us about. Show us the story, Anne. Show us. That's the interesting bit.

The entire series sails to easily through its own story. The characters rarely see any setbacks or plan complications. They make a plan, fret for a bit, then see the plan succeed. Anne shy's away from any moments of drama or doubt, which means that we don't see the characters tested to any large degree.

This book is no better or worse than the one before it. If you liked the last one, this one should work out fine for you. If you didn't like the last one, this book has nothing to offer. 
dmilewski: (Default)
The speedometer on my car goes to 160 mhp. I cannot fathom any reason why. Where in the US am I going to drive my car at 160 mhp? Even 80 mph is the practical top speed of most highways. I doubt that anyone wanting to go 160 mph will choose a Sonata. So why do it? Why compress the useful speed of a speedometer into half a dial if it provides no practical benefit.

I can see the utility in racing, but relatively few people race. Those folks can buy after-market speedometers [unless they can't]. And as I noted above, they won't be racing in Sonatas. 
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