tymshft

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

Give thanks for your automated chauffeur

Good old Edith. Literally old, she’s a character that appeared in my 2013 post about medical advances. But Edith had to get to the doctor’s office in 2023:

So in May 2023, when Edith was 95 years old, she still scheduled her doctor appointment for the first Tuesday in May, and she still took a cab to the doctor’s office….An hour before the appointment, Gacepple Calendar reminded Edith of her appointment, and five minutes later the Toyota in the street let her know that it had arrived. No, not the driver – there was no driver – but the Toyota itself.

Edith was the expert on driverless cars. Outside of the techie circles, most individuals didn’t own driverless cars. But the cab companies that Edith used sure did. While some cabdrivers protested over their job losses, many of them got jobs with churches, nursing homes, and other groups that didn’t have the money – yet – to afford a driverless car. Edith was secretly pleased with the elimination of cab drivers – all of the cab drivers in the past had listened to that horrid country music, and Edith liked the freedom to choose her own music on the way to the doctor’s office. Edith, of course, usually listened to oldies music – early Katy Perry was her current favorite.

Well, we have a little over six years to go to see if my prediction will come true, but we’re moving a little closer. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, who may be unemployed in a couple of months, is still working at his job.

Today I am announcing the launch of a new Automation Proving Ground Pilot Program. Through this program, the Department will designate facilities as qualified proving grounds for the safe testing, demonstration and deployment of automated vehicle technology. We believe that by designating facilities as part of a Community of Practice, we can foster a safe environment for these entities to share best practices related to testing and developing this technology.

As everyone in the United States is well aware, both state and federal governments are essential when revising regulations for technology advances. Certain states have done their part to advance driverless testing, and the U.S. Department of Transportation is doing its part also.

I was writing about “perpetual lineup” in 2014 – sort of

[DISCLAIMER: I am employed in the biometric industry. The views expressed in this post are my own, and are not necessarily the views of any present or previous employer, or of any organization with which I am presently or previously associated.]

For those who completely skipped over the disclaimer because they’re boring, I am employed in the biometric industry, and have been so employed for over two decades. There have been a number of changes in this industry over the years, both from a procedural standpoint (witness the varied effects of the 2009 NAS report) and a technological standpoint.

One of the more recent contributions to the discussion is a report from Georgetown Law’s Center on Privacy & Technology. Obviously the report has its own hashtag – #perpetuallineup to be precise.

It should be noted that the report is not a 100% complete slam on facial recognition technology itself.

The benefits of face recognition are real. It has been used to catch violent criminals and fugitives. The law enforcement officers who use the technology are men and women of good faith. They do not want to invade our privacy or create a police state. They are simply using every tool available to protect the people that they are sworn to serve. Police use of face recognition is inevitable. This report does not aim to stop it.

Rather, this report offers a framework to reason through the very real risks that face recognition creates.

Among other topics, the report touches upon privacy issues. For example:

If deployed pervasively on surveillance video or police-worn body cameras, real-time face recognition will redefine the nature of public spaces. At the moment, it is also inaccurate. Communities should carefully weigh whether to allow real-time face recognition. If they do, it should be used as a last resort to intervene in only life-threatening emergencies. Orders allowing it should require probable cause, specify where continuous scanning will occur, and cap the length of time it may be used.

Because, of course, the public is demanding that the police NOT implement body-worn cameras, or use them pervasively.

Whoops, I seem to have run across another article.

Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman is right that public safety could have been at risk had the officers paused to turn on their body cameras; Tuesday’s incident unfolded rapidly. But we wonder about the wisdom of her suggestion that there could be a technological fix in which body cameras automatically turn on when an officer pulls his or her gun. Police conduct isn’t only an issue when officers shoot people. When a patrol officer is on duty, his or her body camera should be on by default. If this means SDPD has to buy more expensive batteries that last longer, so be it.

So on the one hand, you have people declaring that body cameras are wonderful things that should always be turned on, and on the other hand you have people declaring the body cameras infringe on civil liberties and should only be turned on in certain circumstances.

I’ve been thinking about this contradiction for years. In fact, I wrote about it in this very blog in December 2014.

However, [Sterling] 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….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.

In fact, the all bodycam all the time movement has already resulted in one lawsuit threat:

At issue is body cam video the [Spokane Police] department posted to its Facebook page Wednesday that showed how [Sergeant Eric] Kannberg was dealing with one drunken individual when another person approached him and intervened. That video subsequently went viral on Facebook, racking up tens of thousands of views in the first 24 hours.

The man who contacted Kannberg, who was arrested on a third-degree assault charge, the arrest captured on video, says the police department shouldn’t have posted the video. The man’s attorney said the department should not have posted the video before the man who was arrested had his day in court.

The police department, however, says the video they posted wasn’t private, and they did it to show the patience Kannberg displayed in trying to peacefully resolve the situation.

But now let’s lighten up, because the Sterling Crispin post was partially inspired by a futuristic fiction story that I had written in September 2014. My fiction dealt with the ramifications of unintended consequences. I’ll give you an example – before I was born, people thought that television would become the great educator, bringing audiovisual education into our own homes. By the time I was born, TV was being called a vast wasteland.

In my fiction story, I postulated that unintended consequences may also affect the movement to expose bodycam footage.

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.

What would Jim Conley say?

My “Edith” character from 2013, and Vinod Khosla (again)

Yes, I am Ann Landers. I re-use old posts whenever I can. But in this case I have a reason for doing so, because a fiction story that I wrote in 2013 has the potential to become less fictional.

The story was called “You will still take a cab to the doctor’s office. For a while.” It described a 95 year old woman named Edith and her May 2023 visit to the doctor’s office. She took a cab there:

Edith had booked and paid for the cab a month before the appointment, using the online Gacepple Calendar service. (Gacepple, of course, was the company that resulted from the merger of Google, Facebook, and Apple – the important merger that saved the tech industry in the United States from extinction. But I digress.) An hour before the appointment, Gacepple Calendar reminded Edith of her appointment, and five minutes later the Toyota in the street let her know that it had arrived. No, not the driver – there was no driver – but the Toyota itself.

Anyway, she gets to the doctor’s office. No doctor or nurse is present, but a voice guides her through the quick and painless examination.

!!!SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT!!!

After everything is done, Edith has a question.

“You’ve been very helpful. But I’ve always wondered exactly WHERE you were. If you were in Los Angeles, or in Mississippi, or perhaps in India or China, or perhaps even in one of the low-cost places such as Chad. If you don’t mind my asking, exactly where ARE you?”

“I don’t mind answering the question,” replied the friendly voice, “and I hope you don’t take my response the wrong way, but I’m not really a person as you understand the term. I’m actually an application within the software package that runs the medical center. But my programmers want me to tell you that they’re really happy to serve you, and that Stanford sucks.” The voice paused for a moment. “I’m sorry, Edith. You have to forgive the programmers – they’re Berkeley grads.”

As time goes by, this scenario is becoming more and more realistic. We are already working on robot doctors that can navigate down the hall to a patient to take readings.

Meanwhile, Vinod Khosla is working on the other part of the scenario – the part where a software package, rather than a human, does the diagnostic work. I’ve mentioned Khosla before – once in regard to “meat”, and once in regard to medicine. Now, prompted by a Scott Nelson share, it’s time to look at a more recent article about Khosla.

When Khosla looks 10 or 15 years into healthcare’s future, he sees a medical landscape seething with data-hungry, intelligent algorithms like Google’s AlphaGo instead of doctors as we know them today.

“Medicine has improved a lot as a practice,” Khosla said. “But I think it’s time to take this practice of medicine and turn it into the science of medicine.”

To make that happen, Khosla thinks we have to hand medical expertise over to the machines.

Specifically, Khosla wants big data and big databases to do the heavy lifting that no single human could do.

Khosla said you can diagnose disease with a single biomarker—the chemical signature of sickness—or you can diagnose disease by looking at 300 biomarkers. You can look at the patient in front of you and compare them to the last few you’ve seen, or you can scan a database of 100 million patients for the last hundred or thousand with the same condition….

According to Khosla, Medicare patients have seven major conditions on average. Wouldn’t it be better to have AI look at those conditions comprehensively—and one doctor, not seven, talk the results over with the patient?

Note that in Khosla’s case, we would still have doctors around, but they would be hired for their empathy skills, and not necessarily for their ability to read every medical journal.

However, I still think that my model, in which there is no doctor at all, is the more accurate one.

Why?

Because of how business works.

The average American publicly-traded company, when forced to choose between a 100% computerized system with no doctor and a 100% computerizied system with a doctor, will choose the lower cost option.

After all, if you don’t have any employees, then you don’t have to pay for healthcare.

Have you heard about these new cameras that print physical pictures?

Because of my involvement in marketing, I’m subscribed to various services that talk about sales. From reading these, it appears that one of the main issues affecting sales today is the ability to give gifts to your salespeople to encourage them to sell more stuff.

So I’m reading one of these publications, and it talks about a special gift; the “instax” from Fujifilm. The name “instax” refers to a group of products with one thing in common.

Stay with me, because this is pretty weird.

As all of my readers know, a camera is a device which captures images through a lens and stores them on the camera itself. From there, you can transfer the images to other devices so that you can upload them to your website or whatever. Here’s an example of a very important image taken with a camera.

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(This was taken at Keno’s Restaurant in Anaheim, California. I didn’t take a picture of the lunch itself because I ate it.)

Even if you only have a camera with 16 GB of storage, you can capture plenty of riveting pictures like this one.

But if you’re a quota-beating salesperson and receive an instax camera, you get something amazing and miraculous. Once you take the picture, THE PICTURE PRINTS OUT ON A PIECE OF PAPER. Imagine that!

Now how can a camera just magically print stuff? Well, the instax camera requires you to load something special into the camera, called “film.” And for this particular type of film, the image that you capture is printed on the film, ejects from the camera, and then you have your physical image.

Now of course, film can’t continue to print images forever. The film itself can only print ten images. But – and here’s the magic part here – YOU CAN BUY MORE FILM!

Can’t you just see millennial salespeople going gaga when they earn this gift item?

However, some older salespeople seem to be grousing that this is just like some “roid” thing that used to exist a long time ago. Maybe they’re talking about this company, which is still around (although it went bankrupt twice along the way).

Rise and fall, indeed – Madness looks back

In 2011, Kronenbourg shared a two-minute beer advertisement in which some older men sang a song in a pub, then walked out. Well, most of them walked out; the saxophone player kinda sorta drifted away.

For some of the younger viewers of the ad, it was probably an entertaining commercial, though they wouldn’t get mad about it.

There’s also a four-minute long version of the ad, in which scenes from the bar are interspersed with black and white scenes of much younger men. This version goes under the title “Le grand pantalon.”

And yes, the band is Madness, and the black and white scenes were actually anti-colorized (whoops, anti-colorised) scenes from the original “Baggy Trousers” video.

The band has come a long way – it broke up at one point before reuniting – and several years after the Kronenbourg ad, Cathal Symth left the band. He just wasn’t feeling nutty any more.

In a sense, the nutty image of Madness did a disservice to them, because when they did get serious, they were often ignored. (“Blue Skinned Beast”, for example, is about body bags.)

The funding gamble at the Arizona Republic

Here’s another newspaper story to follow the last one that I posted. We’re dealing with the same issue – newspapers aren’t getting the revenue that they got in the past, and therefore have to change the way they do things. But while the New York Times chose to decrease its coverage of a particular area, the Arizona Republic chose to increase its coverage. How? By doing things differently:

I’m thrilled to announce the Arizona Community Foundation has given The Arizona Republic and azcentral.com a three-year grant to support in-depth investigative reporting about child welfare in Arizona….

Foundation funding for journalism feels new, but it’s not without precedent, and we believe it holds great promise. The Arizona Community Foundation grant will enable a deeper look than we’ve ever been able to take before, by supporting extra reporting time and resources and multimedia storytelling to explore the problems in new ways.

Our journalism remains independent, as you’ve always expected from The Republic.

But is this truly different?

Think about it. Most newspapers are NOT funded 100% via reader subscriptions. Since day one, newspapers have sold advertisements. I’m sure that the Arizona Republic sold its share of ads to Goldwater’s Department Store. And I’m sure that the politically active members of that family took out political ads that espoused a particular point of view.

However, the revenue from a Barry Goldwater political ad did not mean that the Republic would use that money for Goldwater-related purposes. In this case, the Foundation funds are apparently being allocated to cover child welfare. And although it appears that the Foundation will not be able to name staff to cover the issue, the fact that the Republic has to name somebody to cover the issue does demonstrate a particular allocation of resources.

One could claim that the Republic would cover child welfare anyway, since it’s been doing so for years. And three years isn’t a long time, so presumably they’ll be covering child welfare three years from now.

It will be interesting to see what happens at the end of the three year term. For a variety of reasons, the Foundation could choose to offer or not offer another grant, and the Republic could choose to accept or not accept a grant if offered. But if there is no grant, will activists conclude that the Arizona Republic hates children?

The cutback gamble at the New York Times

It’s no secret that these are tough times for firms that process wood, throw ink on it, and send the processed wood to readers. Even the big boys, such as the New York Times, are not immune to economic pressures. So even as papers move their operations online, they also make decisions about where to focus their activities.

If you are a Times subscriber who lives outside of the five boroughs, this will affect you.

The New York Times this week quietly ended its coverage of restaurants, art galleries, theaters and other commercial and nonprofit businesses in the tri-state region, laying off dozens of longtime contributors and prompting protests from many of the institutions that will be affected. They foresee an impact not only on patronage but, in the case of the nonprofits, on their ability to raise funds to survive.

In short, the restaurateurs who have just opened a tony new restaurant on Long Island – one that would be attractive to the average Times reader – can’t count on the Times to enhance their marketing any more.

When I originally saw this article shared by my friends on Facebook, they felt that the Times was shooting themselves in the foot. If the suburbanities can’t get local information from the paper…they’d just go find another paper.

On the other hand, if the Times is concentrating on being a world paper of record, it knows that its readers in Moscow or Beijing aren’t going to care about yet another restaurant in Long Island.

And there are opportunities for others. The article quotes a reviewer from Eater New York, who praised the Times’ local restaurant critic Joanne Starkey. But what wasn’t said – now a lot more people will be visiting Eater New York.

Changes in donation collections

The types of folks who read Jim Ulvog’s Nonprofit Update have had to deal with some changes over the years.

Back when Jim (and I) were growing up, nonprofit organizations of all types could depend upon receiving funds from something called “spare change.” Kids would carry UNICEF boxes around. The Girl Scouts could count on you having a little bit of money to buy a box of cookies. And the offering plate could take a coin or a bill or two.

But even back in those days, we had to deal with Karl Malden urging us, “Don’t carry cash!”

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Now the specific product that he was hawking – American Express Travelers Cheques – has (almost) gone the way of the dodo bird, but more and more of us are using the fantastic plastic (or the smartphone) to fund our purchases, and therefore might not have the spare change to give to the Girl Scouts or whoever.

PYMNTS recently talked about a company called DipJar that provides a solution to this. DipJar has been around for a while, though – TechCrunch wrote about it in 2014. While the idea originated as a way to pay tips to workers by deducting a predetermined amount from a credit card, the idea has extended to the nonprofit realm. PYMNTS:

[T]he payment solution has enabled many charities to accept credit cards, including the Children’s Miracle Network Hospital, which uses DipJar in both a retail setting to collect money for themselves and to collect money at events, and the Salvation Army, which uses branded DipJars for various campaigns.

The reliance on a single donation amount contributes to ease of use. And while there are other solutions (such as SMS-based solutions) that allow the same thing, some people probably feel more comfortable using a physical card to make the donation.

Betamax and VHS: 1975-?

I have not had occasion to mention Betamax or VHS in tymshft.

Well, actually I have.

In 2012, while writing about the narrowing of generation gaps, I wrote the following:

The much-talked-about blog When Parents Text recently published a post entitled Collectables. In the series of texts, a father offering something for an auction that his son/daughter was holding. The reaction: “Who would buy those?”

No, the father didn’t offer a John Denver 8-track tape.

And no, he didn’t offer a Betamax tape of The Breakfast Club.

And a 2013 post quoted from my Facebook rant (a “get off my wedding lawn, you Glasshole” rant):

When I was married, my big innovation was to ask the organist to play “Now the Green Blade Riseth.” I didn’t ask my bride to be to parade down the aisle accompanied by a Macintosh Plus, or with a VHS camera.

Some of the readers of those posts may not have been aware of what I was referring to in those posts. For those readers, I’ll catch you up – although as you can see, it’s too late. (Almost.)

I was oblivious to Betamax and VHS when they first appeared (I wouldn’t experience them until almost a decade later), so I’ll turn to Andrew Liszewski (NOT to be confused with A. J. Patrick Liszkiewicz) to explain the beginning of Betamax and VHS:

[T]he first home video recorder to hit the market back in 1975 was from Sony, and used the company’s Betamax format. Soon after that, JVC released a competing home video recorder that was lighter, cheaper, and used VHS format tapes that could hold a two-hour movie instead of Betamax’s one-hour limit—and that was the key.

The idea of home video recording and playing was revolutionary at the time. Why? Because back in those days, if I wanted to see a movie, I had to walk five miles through the snow in my bare feet to get to a movie theater. Cable movie channels hadn’t really emerged yet, and it was rare when one of the three networks would show a theatrical movie. (You literally had to wait an entire year to see “The Wizard of Oz.”) So the whole idea of having a movie that you could take home and watch whenever you want was revolutionary. (Of course, the idea of just taping shows off the TV was also revolutionary, as the industry would soon discover.)

Betamax did not immediately go away, because it claimed technical superiority to the VHS format. In fact, when I started working at Logic eXtension Resources in 1983, all of the other employees had Betamax players. If I had bought a player at the time, it would have made sense to go Betamax. But I didn’t, and by the time I did, VHS had won the war.

Or the battle. Because eventually DVDs began to emerge, followed by streaming media.

So naturally, Betamax died due to all of the competition.

When? This year. While Sony quit making recorders in 2002, it was still making tapes in 2015, but planned to stop manufacturing tapes in March 2016.

Which leaves VHS.

Um…

Funai, the last remaining manufacturer of the VCR, will cease production of the players by the end of the month, according to Japanese newspaper The Nikkei (via Anime News Network). The company is citing a declining market and increasing difficulty in sourcing parts as the reasons behind the decision.

While Funai might not be a household name in the West, it did sell VCRs in North America, under the Sanyo brand name. With the rise in popularity of streaming services like Netflix, the declining market for VCRs might not come as a surprise, but something else might: how well they were still selling. Funai reportedly sold 750,000 VCRs in 2015.

Interestingly enough, this doesn’t mean that VHS itself is dead. After all, Betamax tapes were manufactured for over a decade after recorder manufacturing ceased.

So it’s quite possible that in 2026 you might walk into a store (a physical place where you can buy stuff) and see VHS tapes for sale.

But when the VHS tapes finally go away, the last free bastion of owning media will have disappeared.

Granted, you couldn’t completely own the prerecorded content on a VHS tape; you couldn’t edit it to your liking, for example. But at least you knew that if you bought a VHS tape in Rancho Cucamonga, California in 1983, it would still play in a player in Sydney, Australia in 2026 (accounting for TV format variations). Starting with DVDs, geographic encoding became the norm, so a DVD purchased in North America may not play in Europe. And of course with streaming media, sometimes the stream is shut off and you can’t enjoy it any more.

Kinda like seeing “The Wizard of Oz” only once a year.

The data was ALWAYS there

DISCLOSURE: I AM EMPLOYED IN THE BIOMETRIC INDUSTRY.

It was the height of the disco era, and the goings-on at Studio 54 had penetrated the great middle of the United States. That’s how Joe the Bouncer got his job. His town had opened up its very own disco, and Joe stood by the door on Friday and Saturday nights, deciding who was in and who was out.

Joe had the absolute perfect background for this job. Not because of his education, but because of his talents. Joe could always remember a face. If someone caused trouble at the club one week and tried to get into the club three weeks later, Joe would remember him and would bar him from the club. The club owner joked that Joe had the brains of an IBM mainframe computer.

Things in Joe’s town got quiet after midnight, even on a weekend, and that’s when the less pleasant part of Joe’s job began. Some kid would be in the back corner of the club, drunk or otherwise unable to function. Since the town was relatively small, it wouldn’t do to just throw the guy out on the street in front of the club. The city council wouldn’t like that. So someone – usually Joe – got stuck taking the kid home. And because the kid was likely to get sick on the way home, Joe had an interest in getting him home as quickly as possible.

That’s where the other part of Joe’s mainframe computer brain kicked in. The town wasn’t that big a town, but there were some things about the town that your average person wouldn’t know. When the Second Street traffic light would stay red for a couple of minutes at one in the morning, Joe knew to take the back alley to get home quicker. And if some road was under construction, Joe usually knew at least three ways to get around the problem.

Joe’s retired now, but he still reads the papers now and then to keep up with what’s going on. (And yes, he actually has printed newspapers delivered to his home.) And Joe just has to laugh to himself when he reads an article about how terrible it is to use facial recognition in retail establishments. Heck, Joe did that all the time in his disco days, and no one batted an eye.

And he really gets laughing when he hears residents complaining about how navigation apps are revealing previously secret shortcuts. Joe wasn’t the only one who figured these shortcuts out long before Waze came into existence.

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