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Problems for driverless cars

Driverless cars have major unsolved problems

Problems for driverless cars

Not to rain on everyone’s happy dance about the wonderfulness and inevitability of driverless cars, but I will anyway. Driverless cars are nowhere near ready for mass usage. Serious unsolved problems include 1) identifying and reacting to pedestrians, animals, construction workers on or near the road. Will a driverless car be able to recognize that thing is front of it is a cat not a paper bag and react correctly? 2) Inability to handle bad weather, especially snow and ice. and in limited visibility. Dunno about you, but I do not want to be on the Mass. Turnpike in a driverless car when a sudden blizzard hits.  3) Robot ethics. Given a choice to two bad outcomes, which will it choose?, 4) Given a choice between obeying the law and swerving into the ongoing lane to avoid a hazard, what will it do?

A BBC commentator yesterday said drivers in driverless cars will become increasingly inattentive and may even fall asleep, which means they won’t react to crisis situations quickly. This will be made worse by new “drivers” who may have little or no actual driving experience at all.

There is a reason commercial airlines have two pilots, including one who is always paying attention.

Read the infographic in the linked article for more.

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Black Oak Arkansas. Albert Hall

The Confederate Flag, Ethan Allen, and regional differences

Black Oak Arkansas. Albert Hall

Symbols change through time. The Confederate flag at one time was often a symbol of pride in being southern and a fine way to make Yankee heads explode. I saw Black Oak Arkansas perform in the 1970’s in Chicago and during the show lead singer Jim Dandy, grinning hugely, waved a ginormous Confederate flag. I didn’t think this was racist or hate-filled then and still don’t. He was just having fun. Over the years though, the Confederate flag got jacked by extremists and came to symbolize something quite different.

So, I’m not going to bash all Southerners who may have waved a Confederate flag. However, it is clear, the time for that flag has passed.

Regional differences and cultures are often opaque from the outside. Those not part of the culture may not really understand what’s going on. Thinking about regional differences in the South led me to thinking about Vermont.

Ethan Allen is the patron figure of Vermont (because he was no saint!.) “Riot and tumult followed in his wake.” His enemies no doubt loathed him and he could be seriously duplicitous. However, he and his Green Mountain Boys captured Fort Ticonderoga, inspiring colonists to rebel against the crown. He negotiated with Congress and the British when Vermont was independent. Perhaps most important, he strongly championed land grants and ownership over existing feudal, slave-like arrangements in New York.

Ethan clearly understood the crucial importance of property ownership to liberty and self-government. He learned this from visiting the Hudson Valley of New York, where hundreds of thousands of mostly Dutch farmers lived as feudal serfs on the vast manors of the Schuylers, Livingstons and Van Rensselaers.

One can only imagine what Ethan Allen, come back from the grave, would say and do about the land use control schemes so favored by the pretty people who long ago supplanted the frontier freeholders who erected this little republic out of the northern wilderness.

A good guess would be: “Before those villains and schemers steal the property rights of freeborn Vermonters, I will make Montpelier as desolate as Sodom and Gomorrah, by God!”

If you don’t think regional cultures are important, try going to Vermont and seriously badmouthing Ethan Allen. Let me know how that works out.

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Cincinnati homes after being restored

Bringing back Cincinnati one building at a time

Cincinnati homes after being restored

Cincinnati homes after restoration

Parts of Cincinnati have been in serious decline for years. However, one building at a time, the area is coming back. For $15,000, less than the price of a car, you can buy a beater of a building, then restore it. Lots of people are doing so and formerly bombed-out areas are coming back. Look at the After photo and compare it to the Before photo!

People have consistently been buying up cheap run down properties, fixing them up, and incrementally improving the neighborhood. This is no longer a place of permanent decline and disinvestment. The area hit bottom a few years back and it’s already on the way back up. It’s not entirely there yet, but it’s well on its way.

Johnny at Granola Shotgun just bought such a house, ignoring warnings from a grumpy old white contractor about how dangerous the area is. Instead, he mentions a young married couple, originally from Los Angeles, who wanted a nice place to live at an affordable price. They settled on Cincinnati, bought a house for $50,000. The mortgage is $400 a month,

And they’ve had no trouble finding good work or like minded friends. They aren’t the only young people making this kind of move. Which is probably why out-of-state developers are investing in the city.

The same Cincinnati homes before restoration

The same Cincinnati homes before restoration

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Near North Hollywood subway station

Bad craziness coming to North Hollywood subway station?

Near North Hollywood subway station

Up In The Valley, a thoughtful photo blog from the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles, looks at the North Hollywood subway station and sees the area deteriorating. We lived in the Valley in 1993 when the station opened. It was squeaky clean new and quite safe. Now, maybe not so much? And this isn’t a localized situation. Those who make public policy would never dream of living someplace where parolees roam freely. Instead they are cloistered in expensive homes along the coastline or in gated communities with guards. They’ve probably never been to Van Nuys, much less ridden the subway.

You can feel it out there on the street now. Twenty years of sound public policy going up in smoke.

Along the Metrolink tracks, where I once saw two or three parolees and drug addicts during a single walk, I now see twenty.

The distance between those who effect policy and shape our discussion of it, to use a term of art), and the rest of us has become unsustainably wide. There is a particular species of American who waxes sanctimonious about Social Justice but would never tolerate Section 8 tenants on his block for five minutes. They love chewing on phrases like mass incarceration, comfortable in the knowledge the parolees are headed for Van Nuys. Such people are ascendant now.

The chaos is coming west.

I’m old enough to have seen this movie before. It doesn’t end well.

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Keystone  Cops RR tracks

OPM data beach. Our government is almost comically inept

Keystone cops

The Congressional hearing about how OPM managed such stupendous incompetence that highly confidential security clearance data was stolen was utterly predictable. OPM officials, who are political appointees with little apparent grasp of technical issues, said the theft was very sad and they need more money to fix antiquated systems. Congresscritters got angry. OPM was penitent. Nothing will change.

OPM Director Katherine Archuleta has little background in computer security and is a political apparatchik who moves from job to job in the government. Her official bio says nothing about any expertise in computer and data technology and ends with this perky drivel.

As the Director of OPM, Archuleta is committed to building an innovative and inclusive workforce that reflects the diversity of America. As a long-time public servant, she is a champion of Federal employees.

Gosh, that’s just wonderful. Except when it comes to protect highly classified data, maybe the first criteria should be competence, then diversity? OPM rank and file may be competent. Management clearly is not.

Our government is  now implementing a “30-day Cybersecurity Sprint” to fix all these danged problems. Their bold plan is basically what any competent sysadmin in the private sector handling important data would already have done.

These steps include immediately patching any vulnerabilities; restricting privileged user access to sensitive information; requiring multi-factor authentication procedures to access federal networks; and employing electronic “indicators” provided by the Department of Homeland Security to highlight when attacks happen.

Here is what passes for any explanation of the data theft. We didn’t encrypt because it’s just do darned complicated and even if we had, the hackers had top-level access anyway, so encryption wouldn’t have helped. Wow. They paid over $100,000 a year to show they’ve risen to their level of incompetence.

Encryption would “not have helped in this case” because the attackers had gained valid user credentials to the systems that they attacked—likely through social engineering. And because of the lack of multifactor authentication on these systems, the attackers would have been able to use those credentials at will to access systems from within and potentially even from outside the network.

OPM isn’t the only data breach. Keypoint, who provides background checks for the government, was also hacked. They got data on upwards of 390,000 HSA employees.

So let me get this straight: The government wants backdoors to allow access to encrypted data by the organization that had all its security clearance data stolen last September, and which is only just notifying people now?

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Dallas for Change

Cell phone cameras instrumental in documenting police thuggery

This tweet got Carver-Allbritton suspended from her job

This tweet got Carver-Allbritton suspended from her job

The ubiquitous cell phone camera, coupled with social media, is rapidly changing how police act. No longer can they be assured of, sometimes literally, getting away with murder. If someone hadn’t videoed police officer Michael Thomas Slager shooting Walter Scott in the back then planting a Taser on him, Slager probably would have walked away free. Instead, Slager will be arrested for murder.

Ditto for McKinney TX police officer Eric Casebolt, who has resigned after attacking teenagers at a pool party and Tracey Carver-Allbritton who apparently instigated the fight that led to the police being called. Again, cell phone video showed the world what happened. Then, a savvy tweet from Dallas For Change went so viral that Carver-Allbriton has been suspended from her job, showing the power and reach of social media.

We increasingly are living in a 24/7 world of surveillance. Sometimes we can be the ones doing the surveillance too. With Periscope or Meerkat, video can easily be streamed live to Twitter. Videos can quickly be uploaded to YouTube. This is a powerful tool in documenting police brutality, riots, unrest, etc., especially when used along with social media, to get a viral buzz going. (In police brutality situations, it could be crucial to upload the video quickly, both so people can see it and so police can’t grab your cell phone and destroy the video.)

With cell phone cameras everywhere, as well as 24/7 video surveillance, it will be increasingly difficult for police (and the rest of us) to lie about and hide what we do.

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Oilsands trucks

Driverless oilsands trucks to replace 800 $200k/yr drivers

Oilsands trucks
Oilsands trucks are among the biggest in the world. A ginormous Alberta oilsands site is planning to replace hundreds of highly paid workers with autonomous, self-driving trucks. The ripple effect from the loss of those jobs will be devastating for the area. Support businesses, restaurants, etc. will go out of business. Driverless vehicles are coming, and in a big way. And the trend is irreversible.

Will driverless vehicles be safe? Mostly, I’m guessing. However there will almost certainly horrendous accidents when parts fail, GPS go down, or systems get hijacked (and they will.) What happens to all the unemployed truck drivers? Going from $200,000 a year to making nothing as your job gets replaced by robots will be jarring. Multiply that by tens of millions, and that will give some idea of what is coming.

Autonomous trucks will save the oilsands owners $160 million a year in salaries.

“That will take 800 people off our site,” Cowan said of the trucks. “At an average (salary) of $200,000 per person, you can see the savings we’re going to get from an operations perspective.”

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Trash Day website

Just the thing for overly-entitled S.F. entrepreneur twits

Trash Day website

Are you so frazzled to death running your San Francisco startup you forget to take out the trash and feed yourself? Well, buck up, all you world-changing innovators, because Trash Day and Here Comes The Airplane, will be happy to assist you!

Trash Day will send highly trained homeless people to your home, where they will be able to enter without you being there, take out your trash, then bring it back the next day. Just kidding about the “homeless” (I think), even if Homejoy, a Silicon Valley home cleaning service isn’t. They really have used the homeless.

Trash Day appears to be presenting an actual service. Thrill to their spelling-challenged description!

We use advances in mobile technology to make sure your keyed entrences remain secure.

Here Comes The Airplane is (I hope) a satire site mocking the idiocy of silly startups.

How it Works
You sign up.

We have an initial visit where we assess the size of the silver spoon in your mouth.

You never have to worry about feeding yourself again.

Here Comes The Aiplane

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Security mistakes by Ross Ulbricht and Bradely Manning sunk them

Two cautionary examples show how making dumb security mistakes can send you to prison if you have something to hide. Ross Ulbricht of Silk Road asked a question on a programming forum using his real name, quickly changed it, but FBI used that to make the link between his handle and real identity. Bradley Manning used his Macbook login password as the encryption key for the files he took. The FBI took his Macbook to Apple and said help us crack the login password. They did.

The FBI did seriously good detective work tracking down Ulbricht’s online personas.

He searched for Tor URLs around the time of the site’s first appearance and found a mention in a Shroomery.org forum on January 27, 2011, days after the Silk Road launch. A user named Altoid talked up this exciting new “service that claims to allow you to buy and sell anything online anonymously.”

Googling elsewhere for the username Altoid revealed a question about database programming posted on Stack Overflow, dated March 16, 2013, asking, “How do I connect to a Tor hidden service using curl in php?” The email listed was rossulbricht@gmail.com. A minute later, that user changed the alias to Frosty.

.Manning learned the hard way to never ever reuse an important password.

Mark Johnson, a digital forensics contractor for ManTech International who works for the Army’s Computer Crime Investigative Unit, examined an image of Manning’s personal MacBook Pro and said he found 14 to 15 pages of chats in unallocated space on the hard drive … While the chat logs were encrypted, Johnson said that he was able to retrieve the MacBook’s login password from the hard drive and found that the same password “TWink1492!!” was also used as the encryption key.

If Manning had used a different encryption key he might well not be in prison.
Manning

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Wall-E

Internet of Things: surveillance state in disguise

Wall-E

“I’m so happy I turned my life over to the Internet of Things”

Cancel my subscription to your resurrection, or rather to your supposedly magical Internet of Things world where we will be tracked all the time by who knows what, all so we can avoid the horrible hassle of having to walk over the thermostat and adjust it manually. And of course there will never be problems when your house has a couple of dozen IOT connections to the Internet and evildoers succeed in hacking in because the security will suck. Because, hey baby, your refrigerator will order food for you. Thus we will all be ablde to loungue like the couch potatoes in Wall-E, seemingly happy, yet monitored and manipulated 365 24/7.

So, I saw thank you to cranky geeks like John Dvorak, and if you like what he says, be sure to listen to the No Agenda podcast with him and Adam Curry.

We can still get closer to 24/7 surveillance of everything we do with the implementation of the Internet of things. There seems to be no outcry or even a single expression (except for, perhaps, this column) of concern over the fabulous notion that every item that can be given an IP address and monitored over the Internet WILL be given an IP address and monitored over the Internet.

The rationale for this has always been sketchy. So you won’t run out of milk?

Nobody recognizes that this is just more of the same surveillance state encroachment that was first enabled by the Internet and was already out of control before the Internet of Things.

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