Quotulatiousness

June 19, 2014

QotD: You (probably) drive on the wrong side of the road

Filed under: History, Humour, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:29

The heart is (or to be exact, appears to be) on the left side of the body. In the more primitive form of warfare some form of shield is therefore used to protect the left side, leaving the offensive weapon to be held in the right hand. The normal offensive weapon was the sword, worn in a scabbard or sheath. If the sword was to be wielded in the right hand, the scabbard would have to be worn on the left side. With a scabbard worn on the left, it became physically impossible to mount a horse on the off side unless intending to face the tail — which was not the normal practice. But if you mount on the near side, you will want to have your horse on the left of the road, so that you are clear of the traffic while mounting. It therefore becomes natural and proper to keep to the left, the contrary practice (as adopted in some backward countries) being totally opposed to all the deepest historical instincts. Free of arbitrary traffic rules the normal human being swings to the left.

C. Northcote Parkinson, “Personality Screen, Or The Cocktail Formula”, Parkinson’s Law (and other studies in administration), 1957.

June 18, 2014

The liability concern in the future of driverless cars

Filed under: Law, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:04

Tim Worstall asks when it would be appropriate for your driverless car to kill you:

Owen Barder points out a quite delightful problem that we’re all going to have to come up with some collective answer to over the driverless cars coming from Google and others. Just when is it going to be acceptable that the car kills you, the driver, or someone else? This is a difficult public policy question and I’m really not sure who the right people to be trying to solve it are. We could, I guess, given that it is a public policy question, turn it over to the political process. It is, after all, there to decide on such questions for us. But given the power of the tort bar over that process I’m not sure that we’d actually like the answer we got. For it would most likely mean that we never do get driverless cars, at least not in the US.

The basic background here is that driverless cars are likely to be hugely safer than the current human directed versions. For most accidents come about as a result of driver error. So, we expect the number of accidents to fall considerably as the technology rolls out. This is great, we want this to happen. However, we’re not going to end up with a world of no car accidents. Which leaves us with the problem of how do we program the cars to work when there is unavoidably going to be an accident?

[...]

So we actually end up with two problems here. The first being the one that Barder has outlined, which is that there’s an ethical question to be answered over how the programming decisions are made. Seriously, under what circumstances should a driverless car, made by Google or anyone else, be allowed to kill you or anyone else? The basic Trolly Problem is easy enough, kill fewer people by preference. But when one is necessary which one? And then a second problem which is that the people who have done the coding are going to have to take legal liability for that decision they’ve made. And given the ferocity of the plaintiff’s bar at times I’m not sure that anyone will really be willing to make that decision and thus adopt that potential liability.

Clearly, this needs to be sorted out at the political level. Laws need to be made clarifying the situation. And hands up everyone who thinks that the current political gridlock is going to manage that in a timely manner?

Quite.

May 24, 2014

The technological democratization of law enforcement and the rise of “Little Brother”

Filed under: Liberty, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:44

If you care about your privacy, you’re equally worried about the intrusive surveillance state and the unconstrained snooping of corporations. You may now need to worry about your snoopy neighbours also getting in on the act, as Declan McCullagh explains on Google+. This is a response to someone on a private mailing list for Silicon Valley folks, who said that he had no issue with automated collection of license plate data:

Tomorrow one of your PV [Portola Valley] neighbors will set up a computer-connected camera on private property and aimed at the street. It records all those “plates exposed” going by and, by doing optical character recognition with free software such as ANPR MX (C# code, BSD-licensed), it records every time a car goes by. The DMV will happily provide drivers’ names based on the license plate*; there’s even a process for “bulk quantities” of data.** That information doesn’t include a home address, but that’s easy to come by through other searches.

Then the neighbor launches PVPeopleTracker.com. It updates in real time showing whenever someone is at home, and marks their house in bright red if they’re gone on an extended trip. If there are odd patterns of movement compared to a baseline — perhaps suspicious late-night outings — those can be flagged as well. Any visitor to PVPeopleTracker.com can sign up for handy free email alerts reporting at what time their targeted house becomes vacant each weekday morning. Other network-linked cameras in PV can supplement the PVPeopleTracker.com database, so that everyone driving in town will have their movements monitored, archived, and publicly visible at all times.

With more than one network-linked camera separated by a known distance by roads with known speed limits, it would be simple to calculate speeding violations and send automated alerts, with MP4 videos attached as evidence, to the sheriff and CHP. PVPeopleTracker.com can also be cross-referenced against databases showing, say, marijuana convictions; if your movement profile matches a known drug trafficker, law enforcement can be alerted. (Sorry about those false positives!)

May 5, 2014

The Constitution-free zone near the US border

Filed under: Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:48

A recent decision by a federal appeal court expands the already very broad opportunities for police and border agents to stop and search travellers near the US border:

A federal appeals court just ruled that the police have a legal right to stop, search and arrest you for innocent behavior including driving with your hands at the ten-and-two position on the steering wheel at 7:45 p.m., taking a scenic route and having acne.

To the Tenth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, these factors added up to fit the profile of a person smuggling undocumented immigrants and drugs. The court said, “Although the factors, in isolation, may be consistent with innocent travel … taken together they may amount to reasonable suspicion.”

In other words, the police can now stop you for no reason at all. Law enforcement just needs to add a sinister context to your behavior, and off you go to jail. The court endorsed this expansion of aggressive police behavior in USA v. Cindy Lee Westhoven, No. 13-2065.

[...]

Incredibly the court found that this scenario created a reasonable suspicion for an “investigative stop.” By inserting a context that would make every driver guilty, the court upheld this belligerent law enforcement:

The officer said he spotted the car because “her arms were ‘straight and locked out’ at a ‘ten-and-two position on the steering wheel,’ — as everyone is taught in driver’s ed in high school. He was also suspicious because the road was used primarily by locals in New Mexico, and Westhoven had Arizona plates. She had acne scarring, “indicating to him she might be a methamphetamine user.” He also thought the shopping was better in Tucson than Douglas, so this was also “suspicious.”

“The dark tinted windows on Ms. Westhoven’s truck raised Agent Semmerling’s suspicion that she might be concealing something or someone in the back of her truck,” the court added.

The time happened to be between a 6-to-8 p.m. border patrol shift change, and the cop inferred that Westhoven was a smuggler trying to exploit that two-hour window. Westhoven was nervous, taking long pauses and shaking — which apparently signaled criminality.

The final nail for Westhoven was that she had two cell phones visible in the car. The cop said this was a common practice for drug smugglers. It is also common for people who have a business phone and a personal phone.

April 22, 2014

QotD: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Filed under: Humour, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 12:13

The sporting editors had also given me $300 in cash, most of which was already spent on extremely dangerous drugs. The trunk of the car looked like a mobile police narcotics lab. We had two bags of grass, 75 pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high-powered blotter acid, a salt shaker half full of cocaine, and a whole galaxy of multi-colored uppers, downers, screamers, laughers … and also a quart of tequila, a quart of rum, a case of Budweiser, a pint of raw ether and two dozen amyls.

All this had been rounded up the night before, in a frenzy of high-speed driving all over Los Angeles County – from Topanga to Watts, we picked up everything we could get our hands on. Not that we needed all that for the trip, but once you get locked into a serious drug collection, the tendency is to push it as far as you can.

The only thing that really worried me was the ether. There is nothing in the world more helpless and irresponsible and depraved than a man in the depths of an ether binge. And I knew we’d get into that rotten stuff pretty soon. Probably at the next gas station. We had sampled almost everything else, and now – yes, it was time for a long snort of ether. And then do the next 100 miles in a horrible, slobbering sort of spastic stupor. The only way to keep alert on ether is to do up a lot of amyls – not all at once, but steadily, just enough to maintain the focus at 90 miles an hour through Barstow.

Hunter S. Thompson, “Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas”, Rolling Stone, 1971-11-11

April 2, 2014

Comparing scandals – Toyota’s phantom acceleration and GM’s ignition switches

Filed under: Business, Government, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:10

David Harsanyi offers this comparison and says it’s another reason governments shouldn’t own businesses:

In February 2010, the Obama Administration’s Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told America, without a shred of evidence, that Toyota automobiles were dangerous to drive. LaHood offered the remarks in front of the House Appropriations subcommittee that was investigating reports of unintended-acceleration crashes. “My advice is, if anybody owns one of these vehicles, stop driving it,” he said, sending the company’s stock into a nosedive.

Even at the time, LaHood’s comments were reckless at best. Assailing the competition reeks of political opportunism and cronyism. It also illustrates one of the unavoidable predicaments of the state owning a corporation in a competitive marketplace. And when we put LaHood’s comment into perspective today, it’s actually a lot worse. Not only did the Obama administration have the power and ideological motive to damage the largely non-unionized competition, it was busy propping up a company that was causing preventable deaths.

[...]

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s acting chief David Friedman testified that GM never told them that faulty switches were at the root of the airbag problem. Fine. Before plowing billions of tax dollars into saving the United Automobile Workers, did the Car Czar or any other Obama officials take extra care to review DOT records to insure that taxpayers would not be funding the preventable deaths of American citizens? Would DOT or Holder exhibit the same zealousness for safety when it came to GM as they did when it came to Toyota? In the midst of the bailout debate and subsequent “turnaround,” news of a coverup and major recall would have been a political disaster.

So it’s difficult to understand why this isn’t a huge scandal. If every obtuse utterance by an obscure Republican congressman gets the media juices flowing, surely the possibility of this kind of negligence is worth a look. Can anyone with access to the administration ask some of these questions? Because if you take credit for “saving” a company (actually, an “industry,” as no one would ever driven again if Obama hadn’t saved the day) you also get credit for “saving” the real-life unscrupulous version of the company. “I placed my bet on American workers,” Obama told union workers in 2012. “And I’d make that same bet again any day of the week. And now, three years later that bet is paying off.” Betting $80 billion of someone else’s money to prop up sympathetic labor unions isn’t exactly fraught with political risk. Unless it turns out that your administration was less concerned about the safety defects of the company you owned than the company you disliked. That would be corruption.

March 12, 2014

The unheard-of withdrawal of a corporate welfare request

Filed under: Business, Cancon, Government, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:28

A strange thing happened in Ontario last week:

A major corporation, Chrysler, withdrew its request for federal and provincial subsidies for a multibillion-dollar revamp of its assembly plants in Windsor and Brampton. Decrying the fact that its request had become a “political football,” Chrysler said it would fund “out of its own resources whatever capital requirements the Canadian operations require.” How about that! A capitalist firm acting like a capitalist firm.

The reason this is so strange is, of course, that capitalist firms haven’t behaved this way in a long time. Instead, they impress upon governments the importance of what they’re doing in terms of jobs, innovation, economic growth, research and development and then not so subtly threaten to take their investments elsewhere if the governments don’t come across with generous financial assistance. It’s a genteel and widely accepted form of extortion, but extortion is what it is and it seems Ontario PC Leader Tim Hudak’s having called it that is what Chrysler is referring to in saying the issue has now become a political football. If that’s true, then good for Hudak. He’s already saved the province a couple of hundred million dollars even before becoming premier.

Chrysler’s decision is also strange in light of the tough-guy lecture its Canadian-raised CEO, Sergio Marchionne, gave our governments just a few weeks ago at the opening of an auto show in Toronto. Canada is “like a guppy playing in shark-infested waters,” he said. The car business “is not a game for the faint-hearted. It takes resolve, and it takes cash.”

February 9, 2014

“A car is a mini network … and right now there’s no security implemented”

Filed under: Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:48

Driving your car anywhere soon? Got anti-hacking gear installed?

Spanish hackers have been showing off their latest car-hacking creation; a circuit board using untraceable, off-the-shelf parts worth $20 that can give wireless access to the car’s controls while it’s on the road.

The device, which will be shown off at next month’s Black Hat Asia hacking conference, uses the Controller Area Network (CAN) ports car manufacturers build into their engines for computer-system checks. Once assembled, the smartphone-sized device can be plugged in under some vehicles, or inside the bonnet of other models, and give the hackers remote access to control systems.

“A car is a mini network,” security researcher Alberto Garcia Illera told Forbes. “And right now there’s no security implemented.”

Illera and fellow security researcher Javier Vazquez-Vidal said that they had tested the CAN Hacking Tool (CHT) successfully on four popular makes of cars and had been able to apply the emergency brakes while the car was in motion, affect the steering, turn off the headlights, or set off the car alarm.

The device currently only works via Bluetooth, but the team says that they will have a GSM version ready by the time the conference starts. This would allow remote control of a target car from much greater distances, and more technical details of the CHT will be given out at the conference.

January 15, 2014

Top Gear – Car hit by train – Safety Message

Filed under: Britain, Humour, Railways — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

January 8, 2014

Tactical “lessons learned” from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan

Filed under: Middle East, Military — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:04

A couple of weeks back, Strategy Page posted some of the things that US and allied troops have had to learn from their experiences in combat since deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan. These tactical tips and tricks include:

The list is long and often embarrassing. For example, in peacetime troops are taught to drive carefully, in order to avoid accidents. But in combat the safest form of driving is fast and, to peacetime sensibilities, reckless. Even if commanders seek to practice “combat driving” in peacetime they do so in the knowledge that after a few bad accidents orders will come down to not drive like that because it causes bad publicity.

It’s a somewhat similar situation with battlefield first aid. It’s difficult to provide many troops with realistic training, especially since it’s harder to train on pigs or goats with the animal welfare zealots constantly trying to sue you into training methods that will get more troops killed in combat.

Another bad habit armies tend to drift into during peacetime is using weapons for training less and less. These things are, after all dangerous and with all the safety precautions and restrictions it is understandable why firing practice is cut and cut until it’s a rare event. But once war breaks out you quickly appreciate why sending troops to the weapons range several times a week is one of those lifesaving things you need to do.

[...]

Along with learning how to drive like a madman, you have to practice hard so you can change tires like one as well. In combat you will often have to do this under fire, so you must learn to do it quickly. This does two things. First, you learn how long it takes, even when you are in a hurry. This can be a useful bit of information if you are under fire while changing the flat. Second, practicing it forces you to make sure the spare tire is in good shape, and can quickly be reached (along with any tools needed.)

Then you must learn how Mister Grenade can be your friend, even on the crowded streets of a city like Baghdad or Kandahar. If your vehicle has a glove compartment, re-label it as the “grenade compartment.” Carry one smoke, one fragmentation and one tear gas grenade. If you’re stuck in traffic and the situation outside it starting to look dicey, then drop a smoke grenade out the window and try to get moving. You MUST be moving if you drop the tear gas grenade, because you cannot drive through the tears. Most other drivers will give you a wide berth when they see the smoke or tear gas grenade go off. For those who keep coming, with evil intent, the fragmentation grenade may come in handy (it is good for getting at bad people hiding behind something.) Remember, when using grenades, do not touch the pin until the grenade is outside the window. Accidents happen, and having a smoke grenade go off in your vehicle will ruin your day, at the very least.

November 29, 2013

“This bill isn’t a slippery slope. It’s a steep hill greased up with lard”

Filed under: Cancon, Law — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:38

Brian Lilley is against a new bill that would provide the police with the power to demand that drivers submit to breath testing even when there’s no evidence that they’ve been drinking:

It’s the latest attempt to crack down hard on the ever-shrinking problem of drunk driving. The news release touting Bill C-556 states that, if passed, it would, “amend the Criminal Code to allow police officers to perform systematic random breathalyzer testing regardless of whether or not the driver shows signs of impairment.”

That means police don’t need a reason to give you a test.

They don’t need to see dilated pupils, smell booze on your breath or even have you admit you had a beer while watching the game.

The bill would give police a big increase in power and that’s not a step I want to take.

No one supports drunk driving, no one that I know anyway. And attempts to deal with the issue have largely been successful.

Statistics Canada is clear — drunk driving has been on the decrease for years now.

“The impaired driving rate generally declined from the mid-1980s to 2006, when it reached its lowest point in over 25 years, at 234 incidents per 100,000 population,” reads a report from the agency.

Back in the mid-80s there were roughly 600 incidents of impaired driving per 100,000 of population; in 2011 the Canadian average across all provinces and territories was 262 incidents per 100,000.

[...]

The Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees all Canadians are protected from unreasonable search and seizure.

This bill would shred that protection.

This bill isn’t a slippery slope. It’s a steep hill greased up with lard and those in favour of ever expanded police powers are just waiting for Parliament to step on it.

Canadians need to say no to drunk driving and they need to say no to this bill.

November 14, 2013

If you like DRM in your computer, you’ll love it in your car

Filed under: Law, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:05

The Electronic Frontier Foundation thinks that extending the DRM regime to cars (as in the latest vehicle from Renault) will drive consumers crazy:

Forget extra cupholders or power windows: the new Renault Zoe comes with a “feature” that absolutely nobody wants. Instead of selling consumers a complete car that they can use, repair, and upgrade as they see fit, Renault has opted to lock purchasers into a rental contract with a battery manufacturer and enforce that contract with digital rights management (DRM) restrictions that can remotely prevent the battery from charging at all.

We’ve long joined makers and tinkerers in warning that, as software becomes a part of more and more everyday devices, DRM and the legal restrictions on circumventing it will create hurdles to standard repairs and even operation. In the U.S., a car manufacturer who had wrapped its onboard software in technical restrictions could argue that attempts to get around those are in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) — specifically section 1201, the notorious “anti-circumvention” provisions. These provisions make it illegal for users to circumvent DRM or help others do so, even if the purpose is perfectly legal otherwise. Similar laws exist around the world, and are even written into some international trade agreements — including, according to a recently leaked draft, the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement.

Since the DMCA became law in 1998, Section 1201 has resulted in countless unintended consequences. It has chilled innovation, stifled the speech of legitimate security researchers, and interfered with consumer rights. Section 1201 came under particular fire this year because it may prevent consumers from unlocking their own phones to use with different carriers. After a broadly popular petition raised the issue, the White House acknowledged that the restriction is out of line with common sense.

November 7, 2013

Some guidelines on not getting arrested

Filed under: Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:51

In The Atlantic, Mike Riggs pulls some potentially useful advice from a book by a former FBI and police officer:

Dale Carson is a defense attorney in Jacksonville, Florida, as well as an alumnus of the Miami-Dade Police Department and the FBI. So he knows a thing or two about how cops determine who to hassle, and what all of us can do to not be one of those people. Carson has distilled his tips into a book titled Arrest-Proof Yourself, now in its second edition. It is a legitimately scary book — 369 pages of insight on the many ways police officers profile and harass the people on their beat in an effort to rack up as many arrests as possible.

“Law enforcement officers now are part of the revenue gathering system,” Carson tells me in a phone interview. “The ranks of cops are young and competitive, they’re in competition with one another and intra-departmentally. It becomes a game. Policing isn’t about keeping streets safe, it’s about statistical success. The question for them is, Who can put the most people in jail?”

Which would make the question for you and me, how can we stay out of jail? Carson’s book does a pretty good job of explaining — in frank language — how to beat a system that’s increasingly predatory.

[...]

If police want to hassle you, they’re going to, even if you’re following the above tips as closely as possible. What then? Every interaction with a police officer entails to contests: One for “psychological dominance” and one for “custody of your body.” Carson advises giving in on the first contest in order to win the second. Is that belittling? Of course. “Being questioned by police is insulting,” Carson writes. “It is, however, less insulting than being arrested. What I’m advising you to do when questioned by police is pocket the insult. This is difficult and emotionally painful.”

Winning the psychological battle requires you to be honest with cops, polite, respectful, and resistant to incitement. “If cops lean into your space and blast you with coffee-and-stale-donut breath, ignore it,” Carson writes. Same goes for if they poke you in the chest or use racial slurs. “If you react, you’ll get busted.” Make eye contact, but don’t smile. “Cops don’t like smiles.” Always tell the truth. “Lying is complicated, telling the truth is simple.”

September 16, 2013

Speed Kills … Your Pocketbook

Filed under: Cancon, Law — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:06

Does speed really kill? Sometimes, yes, but when the speed limits are set artificially low, and enforcement is targeted to those areas where the limit is far below traffic speed, then all the speed kills campaign does is keep drivers complacent about paying fines that don’t improve safety.

In this video, I investigate the culture and science surrounding speed enforcement in BC, coupled with my trademark Simpsons, Supertroopers, and Family Guy references.

September 3, 2013

The market for civilian armoured vehicles

Filed under: Americas — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:33

Strategy Page on the growing demand in some areas of the world for protected civilian vehicles:

Since September 11, 2001 there has been a sharp increase in the use of such bullet proof automobiles. The wealthy are buying most of them, but government has become a major customer as well, accounting for about a third of sales. The biggest markets are those suffering from lots of kidnapping and seemingly random violence. Mexico, Colombia and many Middle Eastern countries are the main markets for these expensive vehicles.

[...]

Because of the cartel wars in Mexico, over 2,500 armored sedans, SUVs and light trucks are now produced each year in Mexico alone. The violence down there has been horrendous. The government believes about a thousand people a month are dying from drug cartel related violence. This puts Mexico ahead of the recently increased terrorist violence in Iraq and where Syria was earlier this year. Some 70,000 have died in the Mexican cartel war since 2007, compared to over 100,000 in two years of Syrian violence and 120,000 Iraqi dead in a decade of religious violence. Since the 1970s there have been similar internal conflicts in Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon and Turkey. Mexico is a bit of Middle East style civil violence in North America. This is not the first time the Americas have suffered this. Leftist and drug gang violence in Colombia have left over 220,000 dead in the last 60 years. That’s for a country with only about 40 percent as many people as Mexico. This war in Colombia in finally winding down, but is shows you how long and bloody such conflicts can be. Some 20,800 people have disappeared in Mexico since 2006, including 1,200 children under the age of 11. Another estimate holds that that 24,000 people were missing since 2000, and that around 16,000 bodies have been discovered but not identified.

The armored vehicles must, at a minimum, be protected against pistol bullets. But most now are resistant to sniper and assault rifles. Some manufacturers will also build vehicles that provide some protection from roadside bombs. Turning a civilian sedan or SUV into an armored vehicle is a labor-intensive job. First, you have to strip the vehicle down to the bare frame. Then you install Kevlar and steel plate armor and bullet-proof glass. The standard tires are replaced with run-flat models. The additional weight (up to a ton or more) requires the installation of enhanced shocks and a more powerful engine. It takes a few hundred pounds of armor to provide protection from pistol bullets. Protection from rifle bullets requires half a ton. For protection against heavy machine-gun (12.7mm) and bombs, you need a ton or more. The first armor kits for military vehicles, like the hummer, weighed a ton. Soon that was up to two tons. The additional load on high-end vehicles 1.5 tons, which is enough armor to stop heavy machine-gun bullets.

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