tymshft

There is nothing new under the sun…turn, turn, turn

I see what you’re doing with that picture

I probably first heard about Section 508 in 2008. If you haven’t heard of Section 508:

Section 508 requires that Federal agencies’ electronic and information technology is accessible to people with disabilities. IT Accessibility & Workforce Division, in the U.S. General Services Administration’s Office of Governmentwide Policy, has been charged with the task of educating Federal employees and building the infrastructure necessary to support Section 508 implementation.

At the time I was a product manager for an automated fingerprint identification system (AFIS) software package, and we could certainly make sure that our software allowed adjustment of colors for color-blind people, and included other features to meet the needs of the disabled.

However, I drew the line at one feature.

An AFIS provides the ability to display two grayscale fingerprint or palmprint images on the computer screen, so that a certified print examiner can visually compare the two prints to see if they came from the same finger or palm segment.

Fingerprint verification
Fingerprint verification screen. Source: Neurotechnology

While it is certainly true that deaf people can perform this activity, I did not see any way that blind people could compare two grayscale images. If you cannot see a picture, it’s possible to read a tooltip that describes the picture (“This is a picture of a watermelon”); however, I couldn’t conceive of any way that one could write a textual description of an individual fingerprint.

In retrospect, my thinking was limited.

Take Kim Charlson of Watertown, Massachusetts, who created a picture of the Eiffel Tower. The bottom of this page includes a document that tells you how to make your own Eiffel Tower picture. The instructions begin as follows:

Line 1: Space 6 times, write The Eiffel Tower
Line 2: Space 9 times, write Paris, France
Line 3: Space 15 times, write 1 s, write 1 wh sign.
Line 4: Space 14 times, write 4 g’s.
Line 5: Space 15 times, write 1 and sign, write 1 y.
Line 6: Space 15 times, write 1 and sign, write 1 y.
Line 7: Space 15 times, write 1 and sign, write 1 y.

As it turns out, I am very familiar with this method of picture creation, since we did it often in Miss Jack’s typing class in school. Of course, back in those days, we created the pictures on a typewriter. (If you don’t know what a typewriter is, see this post.)

But Kim Charlson didn’t create the Eiffel Tower picture for your run-of-the-mill typewriter.

Charlson created this picture for a Braille printer.

Yes, Braille. You see, this picture can be printed on a Braille printer, allowing blind people to feel it and therefore “see” it.

Of course, this 25-line “picture” of the Eiffel Tower is an extremely rudimentary picture, and nothing like the 1,000+ line pictures of fingerprint and palmprint images that an AFIS would show. It isn’t like you can take a picture with a camera and then print it.

Or can you?

[T]he Touch Sight camera makes it possible for the visually impaired to take pictures. The photographer holds the camera up to his or her forehead, and a Braille-like screen on the back makes a raised image of whatever the lens sees….

Designed by Chueh Lee from Samsung China, the camera aims to provide a means of recording the mental photograph that the visually-impaired create of their surroundings using senses other than sight….

Not only is this camera made for people who are blind to take photos, it’s also possible to link this to the vectorization and 3D printers raised images so that the blind can touch and feel and “see” it. This takes this camera a step further.

Now I have no idea if this camera ever made it to market, because the description above is of a prototype camera that was displayed…in 2008.

Yup, the same year that I believed that you couldn’t have blind fingerprint examiners make print image comparisons.

Of course, there’s the whole question of market demand – to my knowledge, the International Association for Identification has never certified a blind fingerprint examiner, so there’s no business call for the AFIS vendors to satisfy their needs – but the ability for blind people to perform print image comparisons is theoretically possible.

When mandatory police cams become public entertainment

“Excuse me,” Steve said to the waitress. “I specifically asked that you substitute bacon for the ground beef in my triple bacon burger.”

Steve and Kim were enjoying – well, Kim was enjoying – a brief lunch break from work.

As the waitress corrected Steve’s order, he turned to Kim. “So, what are you doing tonight after work?”

“I’m going to watch the police webcams,” she replied.

“What, the ones in New York City?” asked Steve.

“No, our local police department has them now. If you go to the Cams page at their website, you can see streaming video from every police officer who is on duty.”

It was true. While police webcams became more popular way back in 2014 after the Ferguson incident and the Ray Rice case, some people still felt that the police were hiding something. As the years went on, more and more police departments adopted transparency rules, and by the time that Kim and Steve were enjoying their bacon-infused lunch, several police departments were not only equipping every police officer and police car with a webcam, but were also providing real-time public access to these feeds. The goal in providing these feeds was to not only provide complete transparency into police operations, but also to educate the public on the dangers that police officers faced every day as they patrolled their communities.

As with any technological advance, however, the lofty goals of the originators were soon replaced by other goals. The streams themselves became revenue sources for the police agencies, as anyone who accessed the feeds had to sit through commercials for bail bond companies, defense attorneys, and Progressive Insurance. And the audience, rather than consisting of civil libertarians monitoring police activity, ended up as a bunch of teens watching voyeuristically.

Even Kim, who worked for a public safety software provider, found herself addicted to the feeds. She especially liked them when officers Jim and Pat (no last names used) were on patrol on Saturday nights. While most of the shift work was frankly boring, there was always the chance that Jim and Pat would run into some drug-crazed citizen who was trying to get to Disneyland via Frisbee. She still retained the video in which one citizen boldly shouted, “You can’t touch me! I know Officer Jim,” only to receive the reply, “I am Officer Jim. And I’m taking you to the station to get booked.”

As she was telling all of this to Steve, Kim noticed two officers walking into the restaurant – and then immediately noticed a young teenage boy running toward the officers, his face pointing directly at the camera on one of the officers’ chests.

“18th Street rules!” the teen shouted at the camera. Then looking at the officers’ faces, he shouted, “And what are you going to do – shoot me? You’re being watched! 18th Street!”

As the teen raced out of the restaurant, Kim heard one of the officers say something.

“Too bad for him that we were off duty and our cameras were turned off.”

Emailing an inmate

Back in the old days, when your loved one was in the county jail, you could take your pen and paper, compose a letter, add a stamp, and put it in the mailbox. The mail would be screened by jail staff, and if acceptable, would be delivered to the inmate.

San Diego County is automating the process – well, part of the process.

General Information about e-mailing an inmate

◾There is no expectation of privacy for e-mail messages. Every message will be reviewed by jail staff; therefore this system should not be used for legal or confidential mail, or any other privileged communications.
◾Please limit your correspondence to two message per day in lieu of postcards.
◾Messages are limited to a single page and may not contain pictures or other attachments.
◾Inmates will not receive the message electronically. The message will be received by jail staff, printed and delivered in printed form to the inmate, generally the following morning.
◾Inmates will not be able to respond via e-mail. Outgoing correspondence will continue to be by U.S. Mail.
◾When prompted to enter your address, please enter the address that you prefer the inmate to use for any written return correspondence.

More here.

Sales pitch in aisle 7, but only if you’re in aisle 19

Back when supermarkets first came into existence, marketing to shoppers was so easy. You’d take out an ad in the local paper, or perhaps send some coupons in the mail, and let the shoppers run wild (with their shopping carts) throughout the store.

Then it got a little more complex, as stores began using new pitching methods, such as electronic mail, and new tactics, such as having a person on aisle 7 with samples of Name Brand Tasty Expensive Crackers.

But we haven’t seen anything yet, as supermarkets look for more and more ways to increase their pencil-thin profit margins.

Forbes’ Tom Van Riper reported on some research conducted by the University of Pittsburgh’s Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business. Faculty member J. Jeffrey Inman and others wanted to look at supermarket buying habits. The first part of their research was fairly intuitive, when you think about it.

[O]n average, shoppers cover half the territory in a grocery store, about 1,400 feet. Every additional 55 feet traveled triggers an additional dollar in unplanned spending, which occurs because shoppers end up seeing more items they want to buy.

Considering all of the effort that supermarkets devote to product placement, it isn’t surprising that we shoppers end up buying a lot of things that we didn’t intend to buy. So for supermarkets, the secret is to keep us wandering around in the store, like rats in a maze, so that we see more and more stuff that we want to buy.

But how can we be encouraged to wander around the store? Inman and his colleagues conducted some additional research with smartphone-using shoppers, as Forbes’ Van Riper explains.

Inman took one sample of people and divided them into two groups: 1) those getting a coupon [via smartphone] for a product located close to the path they would normally travel, 2) those getting a coupon for a product further off that path, forcing them to cover more ground in the store.

Result: those forced off the beaten path spent $21 more than they had planned to, while those sticking closer to their routine spent $13 more than planned, a 61% difference.

Provided that the shopper opts-in to smartphone use and purchase and location tracking, this provides powerful potential revenue for stores.

And it’s certainly a better incentive plan than having attack dogs chase shoppers through the store.

Our old friend is now our enemy – views on Agha Saeed since 1974

Geopolitics is not constant. A couple of centuries ago, the United States and United Kingdom were warring enemies; next thing you know, the two countries have a special relationship.

Agha Saeed knows how geopolitics can change. He was born in Pakistan, began attending Iowa State University in 1974, and became a U.S. citizen in 1982. In 2007 and 2008 he was under NSA surveillance, according to Glenn Greenwald and Edward Snowden. After being contacted, he made a succinct observation about changes in U.S. policies over the years, from the time of the Afghan freedom fighters (during the Soviet adventure) to the time of al Qaeda.

In the 1980s [the FBI] were suspicious of me over my opposition to arming Afghan Islamists; now they accuse me of being an Islamist.

How to educate large numbers of people – and achieve measurable improvement

Education is often filled with buzzwords. When I was a kid, we had buzzwords such as “new math.” Later, we had “back to basics.” Today’s buzzword is “common core.” These buzzwords often take on religious overtones, as we champion and denigrate each one.

However, the true measure of any educational system is whether it actually educates anyone.

Take this recent example. Many introductory college courses have large numbers of students, and effective methods need to be employed to educate in vast quantities. On the surface, the proposed method may sound like your typical trendy starry-eyed ivory tower theory.

[T]he mechanics faculty at Purdue University have developed the Purdue Mechanics Freeform Classroom (PMFC) – a new approach to engineering mechanics education. This complete, yet evolving, course system…seeks to combine the more successful elements of the traditional classroom with new hybrid textbooks, extensive multimedia content, and web2.0 interactive technologies to create linked physical and virtual learning environments that not only appeal to students, but markedly improve their technical competency in foundational engineering technical areas.

Sound trendy, but what are the results?

New findings indicate that the rate of students receiving a D, fail or withdraw from courses has been substantially reduced since its implementation. The DFW rate in Basic Mechanics I was 32 percent in the fall semester of 2008 and 18 percent in the fall semester of 2013. Likewise, the DFW rate in Basic Mechanics II was 21 percent in the spring semester of 2009 and 11 percent in the spring semester of 2013.

While some may quibble over whether this is an accurate measure of whether students are actually being educated, it’s undeniable that increasing numbers of Purdue students are performing at C level or above.

What goes around comes around – the record industry

I have previously observed that the supermarket chains who are complaining about Walmart aren’t entirely guiltless, since the supermarkets wiped out a whole bunch of markets back in the day. But the evolution of business is not limited to the grocery industry.

On Saturday, May 30, the band Berlin performed at Rhino Records in Claremont, California, and David Allen was there. He recorded the following comment by Berlin’s Terri Nunn:

“Can I tell you how great it is to be in a record store?”

Nunn’s love of record stores isn’t just because of her career as a recording artist. As Allen notes, quoting Nunn:

Her parents owned a small record shop in Reseda in the early 1970s “until Tower and Wherehouse killed us off.”

Now I’ll admit that I participated in that killing – I’d take the bus to the Tower Records on SE 82nd St. in Portland when I could, and I’d drop in to Wherehouse and other chains after moving to California. But those who didn’t like the chains are having the last laugh today, since Tower Records and Wherehouse Music are long gone.

The Virgin Megastore chain, however, is still thriving – in the Middle East.

Virgin Megastore has been a high street icon everywhere from Times Square in New York to Sydney, Australia since Richard Branson opened the first music store on Oxford Street in London in 1976.

You can buy CDs, DVDs, games, books, apparel and electronics from Virgin music and entertainment stores in the Middle East and Gulf countries:

• visit Virgin Megastore in Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, UAE

However, times they are a-changin’, and sad but true – Virgin Megastores are no longer open in the UK, France, Germany, Ireland, Spain, US, Canada, Australia and Japan.

Your assumptions about time are not universal

From Olga Mecking (European Mama):

In his book, “The Shadow of the Sun”, Ryszard Kapuściński writes about differences in the perception of time between African or Western cultures. In the West, the buses run after a schedule. In Africa, it runs when it is full. In some cultures, time is linear, from birth to death, it shows a process, a progress, a development. In other cultures, time is cyclical and always follows the same path: the four seasons, a woman’s monthly cycle, holidays and celebrations.

More here.

The pendulum is shifting away from the cloud. Told you so.

For years, I have been espousing a pendulum theory. Briefly, it states that we alternate between a “benevolent” model and a “rugged individualist” model. In the latter, computers (and things that are like computers, such as refrigerators) stand alone and do not depend upon anything else, but if they fail, they fail. In the benevolent model, an entity such as a time-sharing company or a cloud provider runs the show; you aren’t totally dependent upon yourself any more, but you are somewhat dependent upon this other entity.

Over the last few years, with all of the cloud hullabaloo, we have clearly been on the “benevolent” side of the pendulum. We don’t have to worry about our email, our Adobe files, or our Siri instructions – but if our email provider, Adobe, or Apple go down, we’re in trouble.

But, as any fool could predict (which is why I predicted it), we’re starting to see a retreat from the cloud. It even has a super-cool name: the “fog.”

The problem of how to get things done when we’re dependent on the cloud is becoming all the more acute as more and more objects become “smart,” or able to sense their environments, connect to the Internet, and even receive commands remotely. Everything from jet engines to refrigerators is being pushed onto wireless networks and joining the “Internet of Things.”

Modern 3G and 4G cellular networks simply aren’t fast enough to transmit data from devices to the cloud at the pace it is generated, and as every mundane object at home and at work gets in on this game, it’s only going to get worse.

Luckily there’s an obvious solution: Stop focusing on the cloud, and start figuring out how to store and process the torrent of data being generated by the Internet of Things (also known as the industrial Internet) on the things themselves, or on devices that sit between our things and the Internet.

And so all of the data, and all of the computing power, is starting to move away from the cloud and is moving out toward the edge devices.

Or at least until the pendulum swings back the other way.

Unintended consequences of seawater fuel – you can afford the drive to dinner, but can’t afford the dinner

Larry Rosenthal shared a Justin Rosario post about how a U.S. Navy technological advance will bring grief to evil Republicans as Big Oil gets smaller and no one cares about the Middle East any more.

But I’m not going to talk about that. First, I’m going to talk about the technological advance itself. Rosario quotes from the International Business Times:

After decades of experiments, U.S. Navy scientists believe they may have solved one of the world’s great challenges: how to turn seawater into fuel….

The new fuel is initially expected to cost around $3 to $6 per gallon, according to the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, which has already flown a model aircraft on it.

While the International Business Times focuses on the new technology’s application to U.S. Navy ships, Rosario speculates – correctly – that the technology could also be put to civilian use. While he looks at good things (well, good things from his perspective), it’s wise to remember that everything has unintended consequences.

Everything.

Let’s assume for the moment that the technology can be expanded from military use to civilian use, and that Big Oil companies and repressive Third World dictatorships disappear overnight, and that a vast network of fueling stations appears around the world, but that the fueling stations are all run by really really nice people who pay their employees $100 an hour while providing fuel at pre-1973 prices of 10 cents a gallon.

Everybody’s happy, right?

“Mom, can we go to Red Lobster tonight?”

“No, son.”

“But Mom, the Red Lobster is only 100 miles away, and it would only cost us a dime to drive there!”

“That’s right, son, but I can’t afford to pay $1,000 for a fish dinner tonight.”

“$1,000? Why do fish dinners cost so much, Mom?”

“Because of all the barges that are going up and down the coastline, converting seawater into fuel.”

“I remember those barges, Mom. They were a lot of them. They looked pretty cool!”

“Well, son, the fish don’t like all of those barges, so they all moved to other waters, and now the fishers aren’t catching that many fish any more. So fish dinners cost a lot more today. Back when I was a kid, I could get a fish dinner for less than it cost to buy two gallons of gas.”

“A fish dinner costing less than two gallons of gas? That’s really weird, Mom.”

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