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Google Maps Out Thanksgiving

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The most wonderful time of the year is nearly upon us.

To kick off the holiday season, Google Maps is offering tips, tricks, and trends to help save time (and your sanity) while navigating the festivities.

Whether you’re prepping the turkey at home, traveling to see family and friends, or gearing up for the sales, keep an eye on Google Maps.

To avoid getting caught in the gridlock, the team analyzed 2018 traffic data to pinpoint the best and worst times to leave for your Turkey Day road trip.

Unsurprisingly, the afternoon before Thanksgiving—specifically, between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m.—is the worst time to hit the road. Traffic, however, clears up “significantly” by 6 a.m. on Thursday, according to Google Maps’ Chief Thanksgiving Officer Genevieve Park.

So you can weigh the pros and cons of waking up early just to dodge congestion.

Ditch the Thanksgiving traffic with Google Maps. (Photo Credit: Google Maps)

In an effort to avoid “fowl” moods once the tryptophan kicks in, Park suggests escaping the Friday or Sunday afternoon rush by leaving once again in the morning, when there are “significantly” fewer cars out.

It’s not just the streets that get crowded over the long Thanksgiving weekend, though.

Whether you’re shopping for last-minute ingredients or early Christmas presents, holiday crowds can easily transform a quick stop into an hours-long undertaking.

Based on its Popular Times data set, Google Maps plotted the best and worst times to visit key holiday destinations like the bakery, liquor store, movie theater, and shopping center.

Avoid the Thanksgiving crowds with Google Maps. (Photo Credit: Google Maps)

“Pro tip: If you hate lines, avoid the grocery store at all costs on Wednesday evening,” Park added.

For more nuggets of wisdom, visit the Mapping Thanksgiving website—brought to you by Google Maps and Google News Initiative.

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‘Star Wars’ Actors Discover What It Takes to Be NASA Astronauts

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As the world prepared to visit a galaxy far, far away last month, two Star Wars cast members trained for a mission closer to home.

On Dec. 11, Kelly Marie Tran (Rose Tico) and Naomi Ackie (Jannah) spent the day learning about NASA’s Artemis program, which will help put the first woman and next man on the lunar south pole by 2024.

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The actors (presumably expendable during the Rise of Skywalker press tour) traveled to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, where they fangirled their way through the facility.

After taking a spin in simulated zero and micro gravity via the agency’s Active Response Gravity Offload System (ARGOS), Ackie and Tran tried on spacesuits, hung out in a space capsule, toured space station mockups and mission control, taste-tested astronaut grub, and drove a lunar rover.

They ended their day with a space-to-ground call from ISS rocketeers Christina Koch, Jessica Meir, Andrew Morgan, and Luca Parmitano.

The pair were accompanied by NASA astronauts Meghan McArthur (a veteran of the space shuttle missions STS-125) and Jessica Watkins (a recent graduate from basic training).

Just as droids roam the moons of the Star Wars universe, NASA sends robotic explorers, science instruments, and technology demonstrations to explore Earth’s satellite.

Star Wars Goes to Space

Star Wars: Episode IX is now playing at an International Space Station (relatively) near you.

Disney recently sent the film through mission control to Expedition 61 crew members living and working aboard the orbiting laboratory.

“Watching films aboard the space station is one way for the crew to bond and decompress,” Bettina Inclán, associate administrator for NASA communications, said in a statement.

There is no word on whether the team munched floating popcorn as they caught up on the final chapter of the Skywalker saga over the weekend.

“On occasion, we’re able to share some of the latest film releases for them to enjoy at their leisure and as free time allows,” according to Inclán. “Science fiction films are often the most popular among astronauts. They also can literally enjoy them while floating in microgravity, which is cool.”

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Uber Test Lets Some California Drivers Set Their Own Fares

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Uber is testing a feature that allows some California drivers to set their own fares.

Motorists ferrying passengers from airports in Palm Springs, Sacramento, and Santa Barbara may now charge up to five times the standard amount, as reported by The Wall Street Journal.

This “initial test,” according to Uber, gives chauffeurs more autonomy—a direct response to the state’s new gig-economy law, which paves the way for better labor protections.

California Assembly Bill 5 took effect Jan. 1, and entitles workers classified as “employees” (rather than independent contractors) to benefits like minimum wage, sick leave, unemployment, and worker’s comp.

Uber—which, alongside rideshare rival Lyft, has been reluctant to reassign drivers—argued that it is a technology platform not a transportation firm, so motorists are not “part of its usual course of business,” the WSJ said.

The San Francisco-based company, however, is slowly making changes to allow workers more control over certain parts of their job: Earlier this month, Uber added a “favorite driver” feature and replaced upfront pricing with price estimates.

“Since AB 5 has gone into effect, we’ve made a number of product changes to preserve flexible work for tens of thousands of California drivers,” an Uber spokesperson told Geek.com. “We’re now doing an initial test of additional changes which would give drivers more control over the rates they charge riders.”

“Since AB 5 has gone into effect, we’ve made a number of product changes to preserve flexible work for tens of thousands of California drivers,” an Uber spokesperson told Geek in an emailed statement. “We’re now doing an initial test of additional charges which would give drivers more control over the rates they charge riders.”

As part of the trial, Uber provides a base fare, which the driver can adjust in multiples of 0.1—from 1.0 to 5.0. So, as Geek.com sister site Mashable explained, a $10 trip could cost upwards of $50 if the user accepts that inflated tab.

Drivers, meanwhile, will soon have the option to opt out of surge pricing and set their costs below the Uber base—turning that $10 ride into an $8 trip.

“One thing that will be interesting to watch … is drivers who set their price too low,” former Uber and Lyft chauffeur Harry Campbell, owner of the Rideshare Guy Blog, wrote in a Tuesday post.

“Drivers often complain about over-saturation,” he continued. “So in a world where drivers have the ability to set their own rates, could this make it a race to the bottom?”

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Tesla: Unintended Acceleration Claims Are ‘Completely False’

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Tesla Model S (Photo Credit: Tesla Inc.)

Tesla calls bullshit on claims that its cars are prone to “sudden unintended acceleration.”

A December petition asking the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to investigate and recall 500,000 Tesla vehicles is “completely false,” according to the automaker.

“We investigate every single incident where the driver alleges to us that their vehicle accelerated contrary to their input,” the Tesla Team wrote in an angry blog post. “And in every case where we had the vehicle’s data, we confirmed that the car operated as designed.”

“In other words, the car accelerates if, and only if, the driver told it to do so, and it slows or stops when the driver applies the brake,” the company condescended.

Signed by 127 Tesla owners, the petition—brought by “short-seller” (someone who profits when a company’s stock drops) Brian Sparks—contends that a defect caused 110 crashes and 52 injuries involving Model 3, Model S, and Model X cars.

“I believe Tesla vehicles have a structural flaw which puts their drivers and the public at risk,” Sparks, of Berkeley, Calif., wrote in a September 2019 letter to NHTSA. “I further believe Tesla must know of this flaw and be unresponsive to it.”

It wouldn’t be the first time someone mistakenly pressed the accelerator pedal instead of the brake. (An elderly neighbor recently did just that while trying to pull out of a parallel parking space next to our car. Thank God for insurance!)

Built-in sensors, however, ensure errors like that don’t occur in Tesla vehicles, the firm asserted.

Always transparent with NHTSA, Elon Musk’s EV manufacturer has worked with the transportation agency to assess “the majority” of complaints in this petition.

“In every case we reviewed with them,” the blog said, “the data proved the vehicle functioned properly.”

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration declined to provide a timeline for its preliminary investigation, instead telling Geek that the agency will “carefully review the petition and relevant data,” and post its final decision online.

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