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Can robots issue citations? More importantly, can people issue citations?

Let’s start with the big disclosure – this post discusses red light camera systems, and the parent company (Morpho) of my employer (MorphoTrak) sells such systems. Therefore, I have a financial incentive to make sure that every city in the country has red light cameras at every intersection.

But let’s start with an even bigger disclosure – as the linked article notes, the city of Montclair, California used to have a red light camera system (not from Morpho). Back when this system was operational, it cited me for a red light violation. Therefore, I have a financial incentive to make sure that no city in the country has red light cameras at any intersection.

And let me also add that these opinions are my own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of any present or past employer or association with which I have been…um, associated.

Done with the disclosures. Now let’s move forward by moving back to my previous post about automated procurement. Within that post, I went off on a little tangent about self-driving cars.

Initial reactions to the idea [of self-driving cars] were – well, they were emotional. “You’re going to let an uncontrolled car just drive around on the streets where it may hit somebody?” Yet people began to reconsider this when they realized just how bad human drivers are, and how good the self-driving cars perform.

But in the same way that a self-driving car is an automated replacement for a human driver, a red light camera system is an automated replacement for a human police officer or traffic officer. In essence, the systems are programmed to track the locations of the automobiles and compare them against the status of the traffic light. In the case of my citation, I was provided with a set of pictures that showed that the light was red when my car entered the intersection.

Generally, such a system is programmed in the simplest way possible. Was the car violating traffic law, or was it in compliance with traffic law? Shades of gray are usually not programmed into the system.

Which brings us to San Mateo, California and what The Newspaper had to say about San Mateo’s contract with Redflex. The people who write The Newspaper do not like red light cameras – The Newspaper consistently publishes posts about people who vandalize red light cameras and speed cameras. But if The Newspaper doesn’t like red light cameras in general, it REALLY doesn’t like Redflex, for reasons that are obvious to anyone who tracks the red light camera industry in the United States. (Since the parent of my employer is a competitor of Redflex, I’ll just leave it at that.)

But if you boil away these impassioned feelings, and some of the issues surrounding traffic enforcement, there’s a really interesting issue buried within the arguments.

Last year, Redflex issued 4462 tickets worth $2.4 million. Sixty-three percent of these tickets went to drivers who made slow, rolling right hand turns.

Now opponents to red light cameras will look at this and say that advocates keep on talking about how traffic accidents result in death and dismemberment…and in actually, the majority of things caught by red light cameras involve right hand turns without stopping?

(ANOTHER DISCLOSURE: when I first moved to California, I was pulled over by Upland Police one night. The police officer said that I had made a “California stop.” He saw my puzzled expression, and explained that a “California stop” is one in which the car is supposed to stop, but doesn’t stop completely. That human police officer DIDN’T give me a ticket that time.)

Back to San Mateo. One member of the City Council was not bothered at all by the rolling right hand turn infractions.

Councilman David Lim was vocal in his support for each and every one of those citations.

“One area that I’m not convinced is this whole notion that we should not be enforcing these California roll stops,” Lim said. “You know, I’m not here to debate… It’s not worth it. All the emails I’ve received about ‘Woe is us, we’re more important than the law. We should be able to make slower stops and not be punished for it…’ I feel so strongly about this that I had to put that on the record.”

In essence, Lim is saying the following: the law states that this particular action is a traffic violation. It is not up to me, or to an individual driver, to say whether this is truly a violation. If it’s against the law, then the law should be enforced. Therefore, the automated red light system is working properly.

Going back to the previous post, opponents of red light cameras would claim that automation lacks an emotional element. A human police officer would never stop someone for something that silly.

Actually, some police officers wouldn’t make the stop, while others would. And some imperfect police officers would use all sorts of emotional criteria to decide whether this is truly a violation or not. Maybe the driver is a really pretty woman. Maybe the driver is the son of the mayor.

Some police officers enforce the law no matter what. Some of you may have known the late Jim Conley of the Anaheim Police Department. Jim let everyone know that if you were cited for something, and if you said that you know Jim Conley…you’d still be cited for that violation.

An automated system usually employs a boolean system – traffic violation, or no traffic violation. Human beings are more complex, and their decisions have a non-boolean outcome – traffic violation, no traffic violation, or “well, but….”

One of the complaints about red light traffic systems is that they appear to be mainly revenue generators. Perhaps human traffic enforcement, which is more inclined to let people off the hook – the California newbie who doesn’t know what a “California stop” is, the pretty flirtatious woman, the person who is the son of the mayor – isn’t generating ENOUGH revenue.

Can robots close? It depends on whether they’re selling to robots.

I like a challenge.

I am a subscriber to Sales & Marketing Management, and noticed an interesting article recently. The title? “Robots Can’t Close.” The piece is an interview with Geoff Colvin, who has written the book Humans are Underrated: What High Achievers Know That Brilliant Machines Never Will. While Colvin acknowledges that technology has made great strides, he believes that certain tasks will still require human interaction.

Where the relational element is predominant – where it’s a really complex sale, and it may take years to sell a product or service that may last for years – the people who can do that kind of selling are only going to get more valuable. It’s all about human-to-human interaction. Everybody who has been in the world of sales knows that when a company is buying a power [turbine] for $10 million or buying computer servers, a human being in that company is responsible for that purchase and we all know that with something that big, there is an emotional element in the making of that decision. They need someone to talk to to help them with it. That’s not going to go away.

Or will it?

Today, some purchases can be made by routine or automated means – General Services Administration (GSA) schedules, Lowest Price Technically Acceptable (LPTA) bids, and other things that lend themselves to easy decision-making. Others require that “relational element.” In my employer’s industry, most biometric identification systems are purchased through a relational process that can take years, and often requires final approval by a government agency’s legislative body, such as a County Board of Supervisors.

But even in my industry, there has been at least one exception. I know of one buyer who bought a national biometric identification system via a reverse auction, which can be considered LPTA on steroids. Certain vendors were deemed to be technically acceptable, and the vendors competed against each other to see who could cut their price the most. While the determination of technical acceptability was made by humans in this case, it is possible to envision a case in which even this could be automated.

But what will happen in the future? Is it possible that more and more procurements will become routine – and automated?

For that to happen, the “emotional element” that Colvin mentions would have to be eliminated, and everyone would need to be convinced that automated systems – the robots – are better able to make purchasing decisions than people.

We’re seeing the first glimmers of this in the self-driving car industry. Initial reactions to the idea were – well, they were emotional. “You’re going to let an uncontrolled car just drive around on the streets where it may hit somebody?” Yet people began to reconsider this when they realized just how bad human drivers are, and how good the self-driving cars perform. (Of course, we are now getting to thornier issues – if I am in a car, and the car’s software has to decide whether to save my life by plowing into a crowd of people, or save the crowd of people by doing something that will kill me – what should the car do?)

Perhaps a day will come when automated procurement scoring systems are proven to result in better procurements than an overworked human procurement officer. If that happens, then perhaps the emotional element will be reduced, allowing more procurements to proceed without the need for a human “closer.”

Yet even then, there’s one thing that may derail any such effort.

Human politicians can receive campaign contributions. Robots cannot.

Big Data on the Farm

If anyone refuses to believe that farming has changed over the last 100 years, Bernard Marr discusses farming in the context of Big Data as a Service (BDaaS).

Another is agricultural manufacturers John Deere, which fits all of its tractors with sensors that stream data about the machinery as well as soil and crop conditions to the MyJohnDeere.com and Farmsight services. Farmers can subscribe to access analytical intelligence on everything from when to order spare parts to where to plant crops.

This is how farmers, or agricultural engineers, or whatever talk today.

Turn your data into information you can use with Operations Center. You can see agronomic data from your machine in near real-time, including average yield, total yield, average moisture, seeding variety and rates, and more. The Field Analyzer tool lets you compare these layers side by side. And you can easily share planting and yield data with trusted advisors and receive variable rate prescriptions from those advisors.

And yes, the “as a Service” trend will die down in a few years, but we will continue to see the use of computer sciences and other sciences (remember the GMO people) in agriculture. After all, agriculture has been spurring technology advances for a while – ever since 1862, “when Congress passed legislation to establish a national network of colleges devoted to agriculture and mechanics. These are known as the ‘land grant’ system because each state received an allotment of federal land to pay for its new school.” Yes, I know that we were in the midst of a Civil War at that time, but everyone realized that Northerners and Southerners alike would have to go home to the fields afterwards.

Campaign fundraising outsourcing

In the old days, politicians handled their own fundraising directly, or asked a trusted insider to do it for them. For example, John Kennedy had his father take care of fundraising. But these days, fundraising – like just about anything else – can be outsourced. According to Forbes, one of the emerging companies in this space is Stripe.

[B]y using Stripe, campaigns can avoid hiring employees to handle payments and donations. [Hillary] Clinton’s donations webpage, featuring a simple sign-up flow that promises security and the ability to set up recurring contributions, is powered by Stripe, which will process the gift, store credit card information and disburse the appropriate funds to the campaign.

The processing presumably includes compliance with all Federal and state campaign finance laws. For this service, Stripe gets a cut of up to 2.9% of the total dollars raised, which seems reasonable.

But Clinton isn’t the only person using Stripe. People from both sides of the aisle, ranging from Bernie Sanders to Mike Huckabee, are using the service. And some candidates are using more than one service.

[Rand] Paul paid $102,371 to Stripe for donations processing last quarter, compared to the $34,396 he disbursed to PayPal for similar services.

Stripe (like Paypal) is not just used for political donations; it can be used for any financial transaction. Interestingly enough, Stripe can accept Bitcoin payments. I’m not sure how the campaign finance regulators react to that, however.

The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company, 1859 – 2015?

Back in 2008, I wrote a post that noted that while the Krogers and Safeways of the world were complaining that Walmart was putting them out of business, the Krogers and Safeways themselves had done their best to put even older companies out of business. After all, you can’t have a supermarket unless there was a market before that.

And one of the oldest of those markets, the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company, may be about to close its doors.

Back when A&P started, it only stocked tea and similar items, and only fulfilled purchased via mail order. In other words, it was a 19th century Amazon.

Eventually A&P not only began letting people actually come to its facilities, but actually let them wander up and down the aisles and select products themselves. As a result, A&P got big. Very big.

How big? Almost as big as General Motors. Courthouse News Service tells us that A&P was judged to be too big.

By the early 1950s the company’s dominance prompted federal regulators to step in and breakup what they feared was fast becoming a monopoly.

So A&P wasn’t quite as big, but it was still a going concern. When I was growing up in Virginia in the 1970s, I remember a small A&P store that was near my house. It was a small store – only four aisles – and nowhere near the size of the Safeway and the Giant Food down the street.

However, its old-timey size wasn’t the thing that doomed A&P. It was good old acquisition.

Although changing tastes and the market entrance of new competitors like Whole Foods proved challenging to A&P, most analysts say it was the company’s 2007 purchase of the Pathmark chain, right before the global economic crisis, that doomed it.

Since 2007, A&P has filed for bankruptcy twice. In its latest filing, the company states that if it is unable to sell 120 of its 300 stores to three competitors, it will be forced to liquidate.

Maybe it can return to its mail order roots and sell tea via Amazon.

My thoughts on .@tad ‘s thoughts on Microsoft, augmented reality, and virtual reality

Tad Donaghe has posted at Medium again. I’m going to skip over his thoughts on Windows Phone (although I actually owned a Windows phone many years ago) and concentrate on his views about Microsoft’s future endeavors. As Donaghe sees it, Microsoft now has an opportunity to devote additional resources to something else.

Here’s why: Microsoft’s Hololens Augmented Reality offering. By 2020 the Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) markets are predicted to be worth more than $150B. I suspect that by 2025 they will dwarf the current mobile market. So, if Microsoft can grab a significant share of the AR and/or VR market, they will be very well positioned to reap huge financial rewards.

I haven’t really looked at this market other than peeking at Kinect a little bit, so I’ll rely on Donaghe’s assertion that while Hololens may not be as advanced as the competing Magic Leap technology, Microsoft has at least exhibited Hololens to people.

And what if Microsoft gets Hololens to market? We all know the story about Microsoft products – version 1.0 often isn’t that good. But in some (not all) cases, Microsoft perseveres and releases version 2.0 and version 3.0, and ends up dominating the market for many years to come. Look at Netscape vs. Internet Explorer. Internet Explorer will be replaced by a new browser in Windows 10, nearly two decades after IE was originally launched. Netscape itself is long gone.

The Yangtze restaurant, viewed from the context of Tom Peterson’s flat head

Before I came to California’s Inland Empire, I attended college in Portland, Oregon. Now many people think of Portland and think of rain, or roses, or a semi-trendy downtown.

Most people DON’T think of Southeast 82nd Street.

During the time that I was in Portland, Southeast 82nd Street was known for many things. One of those things was its Saturday night lifestyle. Young people with cars would go to 82nd Street and park with their lights on…staring at each other, I guess. Another thing was Tom Peterson, who at the time had two stores, right next to each other at Southeast 82nd Street and Foster, advertised with a cartoon image of Peterson’s military-cropped head – with arrows pointing at the head.

Another thing was Southeast 82nd Street’s Chinese-American restaurants. 82nd Street was not exactly a dining Mecca, but you could certainly dine there. And your culinary choices included Chinese-American restaurants.

What do my early 1980s experiences in Portland, Oregon have to do with the closure of a restaurant in Ontario, California in 2015?


My Chinese-American restaurants in Portland, as well as the Yangtze Restaurant in Ontario, were part of a larger movement known as American Chinese cuisine. As Adam Lapetina notes, this is American Chinese, not Chinese.

[M]ost of what we eat today from paper takeout boxes would confuse the living hell out of a person in Beijing, and not just because they can’t see it clearly through the smog.

America’s got a type of Chinese food all its own, and it’s super different from what they’ve got across the pond.

Lapetina then proceeds to list ten facts about American Chinese food. Here are a couple of them:

It wasn’t until after World War II that it started to become more mainstream. Chinese chefs would often have two menus: one for Chinese people and one for Americans… but as its popularity grew, the American-tailored menu came to dominate….

The reason the Americanized menu was so popular? It used super-sweet, syrupy sauces as opposed to traditional ones, mostly due to the cheap, widespread availability of canned fruits like pineapple and cherries….

Which brings us to Ontario and its downtown Yangtze restaurant, opened in 1961 and scheduled to close on March 31, 2015. In his article about the closure of the restaurant, David Allen notes that the restaurant is from another era:

Yangtze remained proudly frozen in time, its avocado-green vinyl booths and menu items like chop suey and egg foo yong reflecting an earlier era.

Latecomers like myself didn’t get it.

I can speak to this from personal experience. I had never been to Yangtze Restaurant until a few months ago. I went there recently with some people who have lived in Ontario since the 1960s, and who last visited the Yangtze a long, long time ago. None of us was enthused with the experience; our tastes had changed because of exposure to more modern forms of Chinese food.

Actually, more modern forms of AMERICAN Chinese food. While we may say that Yangtze and other Chinese-American restaurants consciously pandered to American tastes, the truth is that all restaurants pander to local tastes to some extent. While looking for previous posts of mine about Portland’s Tom Peterson, I ran across a 2008 post in my mrontemp blog that also discussed the Chinese-American restaurants on Southeast 82nd Street. And that 2008 post includes a quote from a David Allen blog post:

So there’s a lot to be said in China Gate’s favor.

But in looking over the 100-plus-item menu, it must be said that there’s a 1980s feel to it, and maybe even older. Have you noticed they still serve not only egg foo yung, but chop suey? How very Yangtze of them. And China Gate may be the valley’s most authentic Chinese restaurant.

And even your most authentic Chinese restaurant makes some slight changes in its menu to accommodate the foreigners who patronize it.

So will the post-World War II Chinese-American cuisine eventually die away? Or will it become historically significant, with preservationists insisting on maintaining the lost art of ordering by number?

Daylight Saving Times (in the plural)

Well, another week, and another blip in the stats for a post that I wrote three years ago, Benjamin Franklin’s Daylight Saving Time joke is taken seriously.

If you have CDO – which is OCD in alphabetical order – then you are probably driven up the wall when you hear someone refer to “daylight savings time.” The proper term is “daylight saving time,” in which the word “saving” is singular, not plural.

However, the word “time” should probably not be singular.

Why not? Because there is not one universal time (or even earthly time) when Daylight Saving Time begins.

Case in point – the reason that I received a jump in the stats for my March 2012 post is because Daylight Saving Time started in the United States and certain other countries over the weekend. However, those who actually read the post read something that Franklin happened to publish in the Journal of Paris – and in Paris, Daylight Saving Time doesn’t start until the end of March.

This causes all sorts of confusion in my brain. I work for the California subsidiary of a Paris-based company, and it takes every ounce of my brain to remember that there is a nine-hour time difference between my office and the office in Paris. Except for this month, of course, when the difference is different. I had to count on my fingers (and luckily, not take off my shoes) to figure out whether there is an eight-hour time difference this month, or a ten-hour difference. (It’s eight.)

I’m just thankful that I don’t work for the California subsidiary of an Australian company, because that would confuse me to no end. You see, in Australia, Daylight Saving Time didn’t start last weekend, and it won’t start a few weekends from now. Instead, Daylight Saving Time will END in April, as the Southern Hemisphere ends summer and starts heading toward winter.

I have enough trouble keeping the time straight in Australia, trying to figure out if it’s tomorrow or yesterday over there. (From my perspective, it’s tomorrow over there. I guess that means that my Australian friends are better futurists than I am.)

So now that we’re starting Daylight Saving Time and they’re ending it, will it be the day after tomorrow, or the day before yesterday?

Why I won’t watch New Years on TV tonight

I am writing this on December 31, 2014 at about 8:00 pm Pacific time. In 3 1/2 hours, Disney’s ABC television network will present a special New Year’s Eve show. This show, which has been running for decades and is currently hosted by Ryan Seacrest, brings the viewer all of the excitement of the New Year. This not only includes musical performances that ring in the New Year, but also the drama of watching the dropping of the ball in Times Square to mark the end of 2014 and the beginning of 2015.

It’s a stunning television moment.

But I won’t bother to watch it.

Why should I?

You see, I live in California. By the time that ABC shows the dropping of the ball in Times Square at 11:59 Pacific time, the network will be televising an event that occurred three hours previously. Back at 8:59 Pacific time, when the ball will actually drop, ABC will be showing something else out here in California.

This is just an example of how the West Coast hardly ever sees anything on live television. With the exception of sporting events – well, most sporting events – “live” presentations out here are on a three-hour tape delay. And New Years’ Eve is no different.

So why turn on the TV at midnight to see a “live” event that isn’t live? If I’m going to watch history, I might as well watch the History Channel.

Happy New Year.

P.S. Years ago, Los Angeles radio hosts Kevin and Bean hosted a television show that broadcast a West Coast New Year’s celebration. Sadly, it didn’t catch on.

Sterling Crispin asks what facial recognition is recognizing

(DISCLOSURE: I am employed in the biometrics industry.)

Planet Biometrics brought Sterling Crispin to my attention. Crispin is an artist who explores the relationship between technology and humanity.

Technology is an extension of humanity and an embodiment of the human spirit, rather than an external force that one must mitigate. Yet this distributed life-form pulsing on the surface of the earth has its own agency and agenda. My artistic practice explores the relationships between this exponentially growing techno-organism as it relates to spirituality, human consciousness and impermanence.

One of his projects includes his look at my industry. If you are not familiar with the way in which biometric matching systems (such as automated fingerprint identification systems and facial recognition systems) work, it’s important to note that such systems do not compare fingerprints and faces per se. They take images of fingerprints and faces and then process them, reducing them to mathematical representations that can be processed by computers and “matched.” (See this post for an example of how fingerprints are represented in a system.)

The end result is what interests Crispin.

Theoretically, I am concerned with the aggressive overdevelopment of surveillance technology and how this is changing human identity and how humanity interacts with technology. By technology I mean individual instances of technological devices and networked systems like cameras and software, but also what I identify as the ’Technological Other’, a global living super-organism of all machines and software. Technically, my specific focus has been in reverse engineering facial recognition, facial detection, and image correlation techniques in order to reveal how they represent human identity.

The result, according to Crispin, is something that a facial recognition algorithm will recognize as a face, but that does not qualify as a “face” by our common understanding.

Sterling Crispin data mask

While I do not agree with Crispin’s belief that our dependence upon these technologies is somehow converting them into “animistic deities brought out of the algorithmic-spirit-world of the machine and into our material world,” I will grant that the data masks remind us that our biometric records, Twitter avatars, and even voice or video recordings are not us.

However, Crispin’s project doesn’t really touch on a basic conflict in our thinking about surveillance.

In a reactive manner, Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, Missouri has resulted in many calls for police to always wear video recording equipment, so that all encounters between police and civilians are recorded. (I’ve touched on this before.) Many are elated at the fact that the actions of Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev were captured by a number of cameras in Boston, Massachusetts.

At the same time, some of the same people who are demanding that the police record things are also demanding that the police NOT record things. Crispin is disturbed by the fact that the FBI’s Next Generation Identification system can possibly be used on civilians. Many are disturbed by all of those video cameras out there – stationary ones installed by governments and private businesses, and mobile ones on Google Glass and on our own telephones.

You can’t simultaneously demand that things be recorded, and that things not be recorded.

Tangential postscript – earlier in this post, I referred to something that I wrote back in September. Although it was supposedly a fiction story, there was a brief mention of a character named “Officer Jim.”

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.”

There really was an “Officer Jim.” For many years, James Conley worked for the Anaheim Police Department. Among his many responsibilities, Conley was responsible for managing the city’s automated fingerprint identification system – initially a Printrak system provided by my employer Motorola, and subsequently a system provided by my company’s competitor 3M Cogent. After I wrote my post with its “Officer Jim,” the real James Conley passed away suddenly. He will be missed.

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